Saturday, August 6th, 2016
A dramatic late turnaround clinched a memorable victory for Bristol City on the opening day of the season at the expense of Sky Bet League One champions Wigan Athletic.
A double substitution from Lee Johnson midway through the second half was the catalyst, as debut hero Tammy Abraham headed City level with nine minutes to go, before Bobby Reid redirected Gary O’Neil’s shot past Adam Bogdan for the winner.
Alex Gilbey’s expertly-taken first-half opener threatened to spoil the party as City played in front of a four-sided Ashton Gate in competitive action for the first time in two years, including the newly-named Lansdown Stand that towers over South Bristol.
Johnson handed competitive debuts to four of his summer signings, as Hordur Magnusson, Josh Brownhill and Callum O’Dowda were all handed starts along with O’Neil, who captained the side.
Fellow new recruits Adam Matthews and Abraham, who joined on a season-long loan from Chelsea yesterday, were among the substitutes.
The head coach wanted to see his players putting Wigan under pressure right from the first whistle and that’s what he got.
The Latics, newly promoted from League One, were constantly rushed – particularly inside their own half – in a frantic start.
Jonathan Kodjia caught David Perkins napping but scuffed his shot, before O’Dowda combined with Luke Ayling and fired wide from 20 yards.
O’Dowda was the brightest spark in the opening exchanges. One long run carried him from the right wing towards the left corner of the penalty area, proving he was quicker with the ball than defender Dan Burn was without it.
Ultimately, his attempted cutback for Lee Tomlin was intercepted, but the youngster’s directness brought Ashton Gate to its feet.
To their credit, Wigan recovered from their ropey start and began to get a foothold. Yanic Wildschut shot tamely into the hands of Richard O’Donnell before Gilbey eyed up the top corner with a rising drive only a whisker over its intended target.
Then Will Grigg, he of the viral chant, temporarily broke clear of Aden Flint and one-on-one with O’Donnell, only for the defender stick out a big size 13 and halt the hitman in his tracks.
But Flint would be facing his own goal again when Grigg found Wildschut racing into the left channel. The Dutchman had time to lift his head and pick out the onrushing Gilbey, who, it must be said, finished quite brilliantly with a firm side-footed finish that beat O’Donnell high to his left.
City’s response to falling behind was positive. Two quick-fire corners had the visitors worried, not least when Kodjia’s header nearly dropped inside the far post, while Joe Bryan’s cross that fell to Brownhill was another good chance but the midfielder drilled it into the turf.
City needed a second-half spark to get back on level terms. Flint’s looping header from O’Neil’s deep corner had Bogdan beaten but not rookie defender Luke Burke, who crucially cleared from his position on the post.
Meanwhile, Kodjia’s influence was growing as City’s chief goal threat set his sights on opening his account for the new season.
First he twisted and turned in the box only to drag a left-footed shot wide, before his glancing touch on O’Dowda’s free kick dropped just past the post.
Tomlin was unusually quiet and City needed something from him, but their new number ten would become increasingly involved inside the final half-hour.
A raking diagonal pass to rampaging left-back Joe Bryan sent the Bristolian into the penalty area, but Bogdan got down smartly at his near post as another chance came and went.
Exactly halfway through the second period Johnson opted to shuffle his pack for the first time, handing a debut to striker Abraham, who was joined by Reid in a double change. Brownhill and Marlon Pack were sacrificed as Tomlin moved into a more central role behind a front two.
As a spectacle it had started to resemble a game of attack against defence – perhaps a theory Latics boss Gary Caldwell may have subscribed to as he withdrew his only out-and-out striker in Grigg and replaced him with a midfielder.
Johnson introduced Luke Freeman as his third and final change with set-pieces raining down on Bogdan’s goal, but it was from an O’Neil corner that City finally broke through.
Abraham rose along with Magnusson, but it was the striker who got the final touch from inside the six-yard box to haul his new employers level.
Ashton Gate was bouncing and roaring the hosts forward in search of a dramatic winner. When Tomlin forced a fine save from Bogdan it did not feel forthcoming, but O’Neil’s speculative volley was turned in by Reid to complete a fairytale ending on the opening day.