It was July 4th and Lee Johnson cut a sad-looking figure as he stood on the touchline at Ashton Gate. It was to be the last time that the former midfielder turned manager would manage his Bristol City side again. Following the result – a 1-0 loss to play-off chasing Severnside rivals Cardiff City – he was relieved of his duties after four years in charge at the club.
It was only in 2019 that he signed a new deal at the club, one that should have seen Johnson stay on with the Robins until 2023. However, after a run of just one win in their last ten, the City board decided it was time to put an end to his stint at the club.
Top Three Candidates for the Bristol City Job
Search is On
When Johnson took over, Bristol City were a relegation-threatened club. He managed to turn their fortunes around and turn them into a side battling at the right end of the table. It looked like they could be challenging for a top-six spot again this campaign, only for their bid to fall apart since the start of the season again following lockdown.
Now, the search is on to find a suitable replacement and one who can finally turn the Championship side into a team that can break into the top six and launch a serious bid for promotion.
1. Chris Hughton
Last Club Managed – Brighton & Hove Albion
Chris Hughton is the overwhelming favourite to take over at Bristol City. The 61-year old has a history of managing in the Championship and is, therefore, more than capable at this level and has the honours to prove it.
In his last job, he took Brighton into the Premier League as runners-up. It was the first time in the club’s history that they had been in the top-flight and not only did he take them there, but he kept them safe and secure in the top flight for two seasons.
It’s not the only time he’s led a team to promotion either. To prove he’s no fluke, he also led Newcastle United to the Championship title in the 2009/10 season. Along the way, he also received the Football League Championship LMA Manager of the Year award, an accolade he additionally was given during his stint at Brighton.
How about experience of managing a team into the play-offs too? It’s an area Bristol City will be keen to ensure their next manager is skilled at, and Hughton has it.
The former player took charge at Birmingham City and led them into the top six, where they were ultimately beaten in the play-offs by Blackpool in the 2011/12 campaign.
Hughton has, therefore, proved that he can crack it in the Championship but he’s also proved to be quite adept at keeping teams out of relegation trouble in the Premier League. At Norwich City, he kept them safe from relegation during his time at the Canaries and while at Brighton, he managed to steady the ship and take them to respectable positions.
Even for Newcastle, he took them up to ninth in the league before his untimely sacking.
If Bristol City do decide to go with Hughton, it could prove to be a clever appointment and a sensible one. Instead of taking a risk with a manager unproven at this level, the Robins could turn to Hughton, a proven winner and promotion-chaser at Championship level. Although he might not get the pulses entirely racing in terms of a ‘glamour appointment’ like the next manager, he would be a solid piece of recruitment.
2. Steven Gerrard
Current Club – Rangers
It would be quite a statement of intent, wouldn’t it? Steven Gerrard, although having never managed in the second tier of English football, is certainly an appointment that would catch the eye and get people talking about Bristol City.
It was the same with Frank Lampard at Derby County. Having taken the risk to appoint the former Chelsea man despite no experience, the midfielder proved that his wealth of experience at Stamford Bridge had carried over into his managerial capabilities. He took the Rams into the play-offs, where they were unfortunate to miss out on promotion back into the top tier.
He was rewarded with a move back to Chelsea as manager, where is currently impressing with his style of play and emphasis on youth and he has taken the Blues to (currently) a place in the top four.
Gerrard could be a similar risk that would pay off, although arguably not even as big a risk as Lampard. The former Liverpool man has already proven he has what it takes to be a manager, having taken charge at Rangers and achieving a tremendous win rate of 62% so far.
He’s led the Scottish club into the knockout stage of the Europa League (they remain in the competition and are set to face Bayer Leverkusen in the second leg of their tie in August) and has finished second in the Scottish Premiership in his first season in charge.
Gerrard has managed to make Rangers a team that can compete with Celtic again. His team have played with flair and impressed in Europe and if he can carry this kind of ability over into the Championship at Bristol City, you wouldn’t bet against them being at the top end of the league with him in charge.
3. Ryan Lowe
Current Club – Plymouth Argyle
Ryan Lowe appears to be a bit more of a risky appointment but it could prove the right risk to take.
The Liverpudlian has no doubt impressed in all of his managerial roles so far. Taking charge at Bury, he managed to completely turn the fortunes of the club around. After relegation to League Two, he completely reshuffled the team and then proceeded to lead them back into League One.
After that achievement, he was then hired by Plymouth Argyle with the intention of also helping them to bounce back into the third tier following relegation. He duly complied.
Although the League Two season was ultimately ended early due to the ongoing pandemic, you can’t take anything away from Lowe, who has taken Argyle into the top three and once again led a team to promotion from League Two.
The risk is whether he would be able to cut it at a higher level. He is clearly one of the better managers at the lower end of the Football League pyramid but could he compete as a manager in a league two above his own?
He’s not really been tested in League One or in the Championship and it could go either way. But, you could say that about most appointments and the Championship is no doubt one of the most unpredictable leagues in world football. Maybe risk is what the Robins need to take.
Give Lowe a chance to cut his teeth in the second tier and prove that he is a manager to be reckoned with. It could ultimately prove to be a masterstroke. If he wants to prove his worth as a manager, then giving him the chance to potentially become a hero with Bristol City by finally taking them into the top six (and even the Premier League) would certainly do that.