By Fraser Watson
At kick off, Nigel Pearson sat calmy, sipping out of a coffee cup as he prepared to take in the opening stages of his first match in charge of Bristol City.
The serenity lasted less than a minute.
Indeed, throughout Pearson’s colourful managerial career – which has brought controversy and success in equal measures – one accusation that can never be levelled at him is that of a shrinking violet.
And by the half hour mark of his team’s 3-1 win at Swansea City he had chastised his players for the failure to “pass the ball”, loudly accused Marc Guehi of cheating after going down in the Bristol penalty area, and had argued vehemently with Andre Ayew.
But after seeing his side on the ropes for much of a goalless first 45 minutes, it was a tactical call and not a vociferous one that arguably changed the course of the afternoon for Pearson’s new side.
Bristol left back Ryley Towler had endured a torrid opening at the hands of Connor Roberts, and was living dangerously on a yellow card before being hauled off moments before the break.
“It was both,” said Pearson afterwards, when asked if Towler’s withdrawal was based on strategy or ill-discipline.
“We just felt it was important to change the shape so our extra man was at the back. So we switched to 4-5-1 which was important as it allowed us to press the ball higher up the pitch.
“I don’t like taking people off before half time that wasn’t my intention to make it obvious that we needed to make a change.
“But he’d been booked, he’d got away with a second challenge and was on thin ice – and at that stage we were fighting to stay in the game and needed 11 men on the pitch.
“But young players have to have the right framework to be able to perform in and I’ve just said to him you’ve been part of two away wins this week so be proud of yourself.”
Swansea did still take a second half lead through Andre Ayew’s penalty, before the game turned in the final 25 minutes as Nakhi Wells, Kasey Palmer, and Antoine Semenyo all struck for the visitors – who finished with a summary of three goals from four shots on target.
Pearson admitted it was a win that at one stage looked improbable.
“It looked unlikely during the first half. Swansea were by far the better side – they dominated possession and our quality on the ball was poor. It was a relentless task for us just to stay in the game.
“Let’s not kid ourselves we were second best and we couldn’t have had any complaints had we have come in two or three goals down, it was a really tough half for us.
“So I have to give our players an unbelievable amount of credit for the way we stuck at defending and put bodies on the line – it was a very satisfying day.”
And like his side, Pearson didn’t peter out late on, getting embroiled in a running argument with officials over the manner of which Swansea were quickly being presented with new balls for throw ins and goal kicks and appearing to pull a mobile phone out of his pocket in the closing stages.
He saw the funny side of the latter.
“Do you think as a manager I’d take my phone pitch-side?
“I’d been tucked up with the wrong gilet to wear but it was quite nice as it was messages from other players who were not with us.
“But it’s important to remember that to create an atmosphere at a football club there need to be lighter moments and these things happen sometimes.
“I always like players to enjoy the moment but it’s as important to debrief wins as it draws and losses as a way we can try and improve from. It’s important we try and finish the season with not just a positive outcome, but a positive feeling as to where we go from here.”
Bristol City lie 11th, seven points off the play offs with 13 games to go. A top six finish still appears a tall order, but regardless of how the remainder of their season pans out, you suspect with Pearson at the helm it will be anything but a quiet period.