It has been a challenging time at Bristol City, but amongst the looming clouds a silver lining has emerged in the shape of Antoine Semenyo.
After a series of loan moves and multiple stints playing out wide with the Robins, as well as a tough spell out injured last year, the 22-year-old is now flourishing in his natural position as a striker.
Since starting his first game of the season against Derby in early December, Semenyo has notched six goals and seven assists in just 13 appearances. No player in the Championship has recorded more goal contributions in the same period. It has been a remarkable run of form, and it saw him win the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award for January.
Regarding his incredible spell of performances, Semenyo is in understated mood.
“It’s just been a confidence thing I think,” he tells Sky Sports. “When I was coming back from injury I just wanted to make sure that if I got the opportunity to play as a striker that I would show the manager what I could do.
“And when I got that chance it gave me the confidence to flourish. That’s been really key to my form. I’m happy, and now I just need to kick on from here.
“I much prefer playing in the No 9. If I need to do a job out wide then I’m happy to do that, but my main position is as a striker.”
It has been something of a slow burner for Semenyo. who made his club debut nearly four years ago, and has also had loan stints of varying degrees of success in non-league with Bath City, as well as with Newport and Sunderland in League Two and League One.
Throughout every spell home and away from Bristol City he had mostly been used slightly intermittently in and out of sides as a wide player or in midfield, with his versatility and natural attributes perhaps making it too easy for managers to use him in a variety of positions away from where feels he plays his best football.
“Playing out wide was tough,” he says. “It was new to me. I did it out on loan too and it was all off the cuff. I am willing to learn that side of things as well, and I’m happy to play out there if needed, but I’d rather be through the middle. I feel like I can get more goals and assists there, and contribute more to the team.
“I’m versatile, I can go in behind and I can link up play when I need to. I feel like I can provide both those skills as a No 9, which is really helpful for the team. If we’re struggling in possession I know I can help.”
Injuries also delayed his surge at the start of this season, but it speaks greatly of his character that it was a period he used to his advantage, rather than waste it away fretting on more missed moments of opportunity.
“Of course you don’t want to be injured, but it might have been a blessing in disguise,” he says. “It gave me time to assess where I’m at and where I could be. It helped me analyse my game and get me to the point where I’m at now by implementing some new things. I’m thankful for that.
“I think it’s going really well now, but there’s always room for improvement, and there are small things I can always make better. But overall I feel like it’s been really good since I came back from injury.
“I’ll enjoy this success a little, but I won’t get too big headed! I’ll be keeping my head down to make sure I still get the job done.
“In the last few games I’ve watched and analysed I think I’ve been a little bit slow about anticipating where the ball is going. I need to be more on my toes, and that will help me nick a few more goals. I’ve given myself a little objective to get to double figures this season. With the amount of games we have I’m hoping I can achieve that.”
As well as keeping an eye on his own displays, Semenyo also takes inspiration from two legends of the game to help improve upon what he feels are his two main attributes as a striker.
“In terms of my link-up play I loved watching (Didier) Drogba,” he says. “For running in behind Thierry Henry. They are the perfect examples of both. Drogba’s link-up play was unreal, and with Henry’s pace and power, he literally had everything. I try to model the two sides of my game around them.
“In terms of who I’m a bit closer to in terms of my game I’d say Drogba. He could play into feet and run in behind and dribble too. It’s probably a little bit more like me.”
Semenyo, naturally, dreams of one day playing at the highest level like two of his old heroes did. But he’s not in any kind of hurry to get there.
“It has always been a dream of mine from when I was young,” he says.
“But whether it comes now or in a few years, I’m not in any kind of a rush. I just want to keep working on my game so that if I do ever get to the top then hopefully there’ll be no problems.”
If he keeps going the way he is, it won’t be a surprise to see it happen sooner rather than later.