Balancing act for boss as he makes finding the net his main goal

Highs and lows: Robins manager Keith Millen.
Highs and lows: Robins manager Keith Millen.

THEIR women’s team are preparing to enter the UEFA Champions League.

But while Bristol City’s men harbour less lofty ambitions next season – challenging for sixth place would represent commendable progress for Keith Millen and his side – the former Brentford and Watford defender plans to use tomorrow’s game at Bramall Lane to road-test some of the plans he believes can help them deliver.

Rectifying their problems in front of goal – Sheffield United’s latest opponents have failed to score in nearly 200 minutes of football – will be the main priority, with Brett Pitman, David Clarkson and Jon Stead all vying to partner Nicky Maynard in attack.

Outlining the reasons behind his decision to dispense with Andy Keogh following a brief spell on loan from Wolves, Millen said: “When you look at the type of centre-forward we have here you can see that Andy is quite similar to what we’ve already got. I’m looking to try and get a balance and allow myself different options in different areas.

“I’ve got four good strikers here already and, when they are all fit, that’s one area I don’t need to strengthen.”

Worryingly for United, who already boast the bluntest attack in the division, Millen could be set to recall Louis Carey at the back providing he reports no ill effects from nearly a fortnight’s worth of training.

The experienced 34-year-old has been absent since fracturing his skull against Scunthorpe in February.

“Louis is back doing everything now,” Millen confirmed. “He’s able to do the full-contact stuff and is heading the ball without any problems.”

While City, who also hope to retain Jordan Spence when his loan from West Ham expires this summer, ponder minor adjustments United are preparing to undergo major surgery when their relegation to League One is mathematically confirmed.

These two teams were 18th and 21st in the Championship table when they met at Ashton Gate in November with Millen, only three months into his new job following Steve Coppell’s departure, able to celebrate a comfortable 3-0 win when United, still under the tutelage of Gary Speed, imploded.

Two first-half penalties and a red card for Richard Cresswell early in the second lends further weight to the argument that Micky Adams, rather than being responsible for the South Yorkshire club’s demise, has merely been unable to devise quick solutions to a number of long-standing problems.

Now United are bottom while City travelled north yesterday in 15th.

“We have created enough chances lately but not scored,” said Millen. “We’ve got to be more clinical though and it might be a concern I have to address over the summer.”

Tunisia midfielder Nabil Taider has joined City on trial after leaving Sivasspor in Turkey earlier this season.

The 27-year-old featured for the reserves against Yeovil Town. Carey also took part.

“I’m just pleased to get 90 minutes in after being out for so long,” he said.

“My muscles and feet are a little bit sore and it was hard work for the final 15 or 20 minutes, but I was happy to be back and touching the ball.

“I’d like to play some part in the last four games, as much for my mental state as anything else. I don’t want to go from February to August without playing, because that is a very long time to be out.

“My fitness feels fine and I’m ready if the gaffer says he wants me in the squad at Sheffield United.

“The fracture has healed now and I just have a bit of a problem with my hearing in one ear. I find it difficult to hear what people are saying to me when there is a lot of background noise, but I’ve been told that will improve with time.”

City won only one of their opening 12 games this season. Defender Jamie McAllister cited that miserable start as one reason why they are in no mood to surrender against United.

“These last five games mean a lot, it’s like an early start to next season,” said McAllister. “We want to win every game with an eye on next season to go into it in a positive frame of mind on the back of a good run.

“This season was the worst start we’ve had since I’ve been here.

“Every other year we have started really well, and it puts you in good stead.

“The first ten games, if you are up near the top half and the top six, you usually stay there for most of the season, much as we have done in previous seasons, so it was really disappointing this season to start so poorly.

“The boys were talking about it the other day, if we’d had one or two wins early on we would have been around the play-offs now.

“But we can’t think about that now, we have to finish the season on a high and take it from there.”

Millen, proposing a summer forum with supporters, said: “There were a lot of issues, not just on the football side, that needed to be sorted out.

“We seemed to pick up for a while after that, then had another downturn before coming good again. It has been a season of highs and lows, but I believe things are better now.”