Aden Flint 2014/15: An Anomaly in the Dying Art of Goal-Scoring Defenders

Whenever the topic of goal-scoring centre-backs in English football arises, there is one man who often springs to mind. After an extraordinary 19-goal season in 1990/91, Manchester United’s Steve Bruce set an unbeatable precedent in a subsection of the game that has slowly dwindled ever since.


During that year under Sir Alex Ferguson, Bruce was the club’s joint-top scorer in the league with 13 goals. Compare that to the modern day, only three centre-backs have managed to reach five goals in a Premier League season since 2020/21 (Gabriel Magalhães, Kurt Zouma and Lewis Dunk). 



As a result, you would be safe in assuming that all hope of a Steve Bruce successor at the top level is now lost. However, it only takes a step back two divisions and nine years to find a story that stakes its claim in competing with Bruce’s 1990/91 exploits. Bristol City’s 2014/15 season was historic for many reasons: the Robins won their first league title in 60 years which, partnered with their EFL Trophy triumph, was the first league and cup double in their history.


During a campaign in which they started 16 games unbeaten and never seemed to slow down, they also earned their record points total for a season (99).  This was an outstanding time to watch Bristol City by all accounts, though from an outsider’s perspective, more and more eyes were turning towards one player as the season went on. 


After enjoying the early stages of the season in a team that kept 11 clean sheets and scored 52 goals in their opening 29 matches, putting them four points clear at the top of League One, centre back Aden Flint decided he wanted a piece of the attacking action. Having scored four in the league at this stage, the six-foot-six defender had displayed an eye for goal, though it quickly became apparent he was yet to truly hit his stride in the opposition area. 


On matchday 30, Peterborough United became one of many of Flint’s victims, his close range finish eight minutes in set Bristol City on their way to a comfortable 2-0 win. Next up was a trip to Colchester on February 25th, and though Flint’s thunderous header was only a consolation, the defeat proved to be the last of the season for Steve Cotterill’s men.


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Leyton Orient, Crawley Town and Crewe Alexandra soon suffered the same fate at a point where you might start to question why teams were so ill-prepared for this secret weapon with nine goals to his name. But through a combination of an impressive short sprint speed for his size, sheer willingness to win the ball, and the power and precision with his head as good as any striker in the league, it was becoming increasingly tough to stop him. 


Following the 3-0 victory over Crewe, the promotion pursuit was put on hold as the Robins headed to Wembley for the EFL Trophy final against Walsall, and with that came an opportunity for the in-form Flint to write his name in club folklore. An opportunity it seemed, but an inevitability it ultimately was as Flint towered above Paul Downing in the Walsall defence to put Bristol City ahead 14 minutes in, a lead which was doubled by Mark Little on 51 minutes as the Robins earned their first silverware of the season. 


Flint was firing on all cylinders with six goals in his last 10, but at this stage, it is also worth mentioning the ludicrous technical quality he had around him. Heading into April, an emphatic 6-0 win away at Bradford in which Flint, Joe Bryan, Luke Ayling and James Tavernier all scored was a showcase of their superiority. 


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Such is the unrelenting nature of this Bristol City side, this match sealed their promotion back to the Championship with three games to spare. A 0-0 draw at home to Coventry confirmed the title four days later, and yet their desire to beat anything in front of them never waned.


Next opponents Chesterfield were pushing for a play-off spot going into the penultimate game, however the Flint formula worked once more: aim anywhere within his reach on a set piece and he will do the rest. Even Tommy Lee in the Chesterfield goal launched himself fist first towards an incoming corner and couldn’t beat Flint to the ball. 


The visitors for the final game of the season at Ashton Gate were Walsall who, looking to rectify their recent Wembley defeat, took an early lead. Unfortunately for them, Luke Freeman’s deflected cross three minutes later found its way to Flint, who had saved his best until last with a perfect left-footed volley into the far corner via the post. 


Another goal apiece sent the teams into the break at 2-2, but Bristol City certainly weren’t done there. By 63 minutes, the hosts found themselves 5-2 ahead with goals by Kieran Agard, Marlon Pack and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, though there was still time for Flint to steal the spotlight. 


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Another Freeman cross was turned home from close range with an outrageous rabona finish by Flint – a rabona finish from a 6″6 centre back in case you thought you read that wrong, and a 6″6 centre back who still had time for one incredible twist to end an already inconceivable season. With four minutes to play, he ghosted in at the back post once more to score his hat-trick, and the seventh of eight goals for Bristol City on an extraordinary afternoon.


Two trophies, 57 appearances, 24 clean sheets and 15 goals in all competitions. A faultless season from start to finish from the 26-year-old, and one that would without doubt set him onto bigger things going into the prime of his career. Although Flint went on to have a successful time in the Championship, netting 19 times in the league across his final three seasons with the Robins, it is a shame that no Premier League team took a punt on a potential challenger for Steve Bruce’s title. 


His defensive deficiencies, namely his speed mid-to-long-distance and his agility were always a cause for concern, but taking the rough with the smooth purely for entertainment and unconventionally effective purposes – à la Rory Delap at Stoke in the late noughties – and the dying art of defenders doing things defenders never should in front of goal may well have lived on.


By: Brad Jones / @bradjonessport

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Joe Giddens – EMPICS / PA Images