Bristol City team news vs Rotherham United: Zak Vyner, Dire Mebude, Jamie Knight-Lebel

Liam Manning has indicated that Dire Mebude could still be involved for Bristol City before the end of the season with the loanee last featuring for the Robins almost eight weeks ago.

Mebude has played just three times since arriving on loan from KVC Westerlo on transfer deadline day, comprising 45 minutes off the bench against Southampton, QPR and Cardiff City. His last appearance was on March 2 and despite featuring in each of the nine squads since, he’s remained an unused substitute.

With only Saturday’s fixture at Rotherham United and the trip to Stoke City on the final day of the season remaining, the window is rapidly closing for the 19-year-old to show what he’s capable of in a Championship capacity before his temporary stay comes to an end.

The former Manchester City Under-23 winger was seen as a potential x-factor off the bench when he arrived on deadline day. A raw and untested prospect but an individual whose profile wasn't present in the City squad. But, evidently, either the above performances weren’t deemed of a sufficient level, and certainly his 32 minutes against QPR were alarming in terms of his disconnect with his teammates, and/or he’s not been able to convince in training.

Beyond maintaining their unbeaten run and ensuring the Ashton Gate crowd go into the summer with a win to remember, there is no jeopardy on the game against already-relegated Rotherham, while Stoke City’s Championship status could be secured by next weekend, representing another game which won’t have any lasting impact on the league, giving Manning an opportunity to experiment to a degree.

The head coach has always maintained players have to earn everything, whether that be a starting role or even a place on the bench, but at least by playing Mebude for a portion of one or both of those games it will help answer a question heading into the summer.

“His level in training has been decent this week,” Manning said. “It’s one where he might get an opportunity in the coming days. He now needs to be ready, whatever the opportunity, make sure you grab it and show what you can do.”

Another younger member of the squad who could feature against the Millers on Saturday or potentially at the bet365 Stadium next Saturday is Under-21 captain Jamie Knight-Lebel who made his debut in October under Nigel Pearson and has been a fixture in the matchday 20 since Manning arrived.

The 19-year-old was handed his first home appearance in the closing stages of the 5-0 win over Blackburn Rovers but then wasn’t in the squad for last Saturday’s draw at Norwich City due to the U21s playing at Swansea City.

Manning was in the Ashton Gate stands on Tuesday lunchtime as Knight-Lebel scored for the Young Robins in a 3-1 win over Hull City in the Professional Development League before he was taken off after 60 minutes, perhaps with a nod to the weekend. But the head coach insists that was due to a slight back concern rather due to any first-team considerations.

“It was actually an accumulation, he actually felt his back a little bit at the weekend so we wanted to make sure at this stage of the season,” Manning said. “He could have probably played on, but the decision was to look after him a little bit.”

Knight-Lebel’s potential for some minutes could be aided by the fact that Zak Vyner looks doubtful due to a knee problem. The centre-back has missed the last two matches and although has been continually close to a return, given the stage of the campaign and the fact he’s still feeling some discomfort, risking the 26-year-old is unnecessary.

“We’ve still got a few days,” Manning added. “He didn’t train today (Wednesday), he was still feeling it a little bit so we’ll see where he is tomorrow and the coming days but it’s looking doubtful at the minute.”

Although Vyner’s absence has been a minor one in the context of the season, the defender starting 35 of a possible 44 games, Manning is determined to try and improve player availability for next season.

Earlier this year, City lost Sam Bell and Kal Naismith for the rest of the season due to hamstring and calf problems, while the comebacks of Rob Atkinson and Ayman Benarous from ACL injuries have been delayed as a result of repeated hamstring problems.

Some of that is unfortunately a byproduct of the game and the increasing physical pressures but Manning is continually reviewing and analysing training programmes to try and mitigate any lasting impact, while not impacting overall preparation.

This week, Saminder Singh from the Essex-based Body Alignment Clinic posted pictures on Instagram of him alongside Naismith, Benarous, Tommy Conway and Anis Mehmeti with the message, "another road trip, this time to Bristol City to assist with first team lads". The post also reads "essential work to help increase: mobility, strength, reaction time, injury prevention and accuracy".

The Body Alignment Clinic have previously worked with West Ham and England midfielder Kalvin Phillips, Ipswich Town and boxer Connor Benn.

“That wasn’t on me but there’s discussions going on about it in terms of what we need to do moving forward, assessing how we work and reviewing everything,” Manning said. “That naturally happens, it should do, it’s best practice for me at the end of the season where you’ve got that period to reflect and review.

“Everybody - individually, collectively, departments - should be reviewing and assessing how they work and whether they should seek external support, advice or having discussions in-house. They are things that have happened and are happening in the next few weeks.”

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