Antoine Semenyo’s stock has never been higher than it is right now – his blistering form for Bristol City over the last two Championship campaigns rewarding him with a move to the Premier League, a first international cap for Ghana also came his way. He’s not always been in the limelight however for positive reasons, loan spells in the infancy of his career and up and down spells in the Robins’ first team set-up could’ve thwarted his progress.
Yet, a few years on from being loaned out of the building at Bristol City to Sunderland, he’s now a player worth £10 million who’s ready to launch himself into a Premier League relegation battle with Bournemouth. The 23-year-old had spent virtually his entire career at Bristol City before a late January move to Gary O’Neil’s Cherries, signed by the Robins as a youngster after being spotted playing at the South Gloucestershire and Stroud football academy all the way back in 2017.
Not long after signing the teenager, Bristol City gave him his first-team debut – coming onto the pitch as a second-half substitute in their final game of the 2017-18 season, given a run-out against Sheffield United to close out the 46-game campaign. His appearances would be few and far between after this surprise debut, making occasional cameos in Bristol City colours whilst being loaned out to near neighbours Bath City and travelling over the River Severn to ply his trade with Newport County.
He would get his first professional goals at either team, his spell with Newport in particular caught people’s attention – his skill on the ball levels above the fourth tier of English football, leaving defenders for dead with ease. It would lead to Bristol City recalling him from the Exiles, six goals in 32 appearances for the Welsh side was enough to warrant Bristol City to give him a go in the first-team fold two leagues above.
It wasn’t plain sailing however for the six-time Ghana international when Championship football was put in front of him again, a learning process with another loan away from Ashton Gate materialising with Sunderland signing him. It was a loan move that never really got off the ground for the attacker, 7 appearances for the Black Cats saw no end product with zero goals registered. Alongside that, the season was eventually cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic – a forgettable period away from Bristol City for the man who showed glimpses of brilliance at Newport.
Despite an unmemorable loan switch at Sunderland still being fresh, Semenyo would break into the first-team at Bristol City during the 2020-21 season. 44 appearances for the Robins that season made him a guaranteed starter under manager Nigel Pearson, the same manager that would later unlock the best out of the 23-year-old to earn him a Premier League switch.
Semenyo netted four goals for the Robins during that season, his first ever for the club that had supported him since his early development coming in an early season Carabao Cup tie versus Exeter City. Despite the calibre of the competition being up for debate, and the fact Ashton Gate was behind closed doors due to Coronavirus restrictions, it was a proud moment nonetheless for the now Bournemouth attacker.
He was in the perfect position to flick the ball in the net after being found in the box, wheeling away in celebration with that goal deciding the match at 2-0 in favour of Nigel Pearson’s side. His post-match thoughts spoke of a ‘weight being lifted from his shoulders’, no longer just the player who impressed away from the pressures of Ashton Gate.
Now, he was ready to showcase his ability in a tough and demanding Championship. Again, however, it would take time. Three more goals would follow in League and Cup for Semenyo that campaign, even registering five assists. His overall individual campaign mirrored that of Bristol City’s as a collective – Nigel Pearson’s men would finish dead centre in the division, an unremarkable 12th spot.
Semenyo could show so much more, evidence of his explosive ability coming in the two seasons that followed. Even with Bristol City slumping even further down the division the following season, Nigel Pearson’s Robins finishing 18th with relegation narrowly avoided, Semenyo began to shine as a bright spark. He would develop a fantastic relationship up-top with former Aston Villa striker Andreas Weimann, Semenyo often assisting the Austrian and vice-versa.
Football League journeyman Chris Martin would even get in on the act, the three-pronged attack for Bristol City scoring 42 goals between them. Semenyo would win Young Player of the Season for his 8 goals and 12 assists, a man possessed after lukewarm displays prior. Bristol City’s number 18 was ridiculously effective, always on-hand to play Weimann in for a strike or popping up with a goal for himself. Unfortunately, these goals and assists didn’t always result in wins.
Two assists against Huddersfield at Ashton Gate during that season epitomised their blossoming strike partnership, Semenyo putting in inch-perfect passes in the box for Weimann to simply score from. That match, however, also perfectly summed up why the Robins finished precariously near the Championship drop-zone – losing 3-2 to Huddersfield despite the best efforts of Semenyo.
A comprehensive 6-2 loss to eventual Championship title winners Fulham didn’t even stop Semenyo from shining, gliding past white shirts at Craven Cottage before empathically firing home early on to make it 1-0 to Nigel Pearson’s men. His second of the afternoon even gave the Robins an unlikely lead after Fulham equalised, his pace causing Fulham defenders all sorts of problems with two shirts in white unable to stop the Ghanaian attacker from barnstorming forward.
His finish was superb too, clipping the post on its way in after Semenyo unleashed a fierce strike. At that moment, Bristol City were 2-1 up away at the side who would later walk the Championship. At full-time, Semenyo and co would leave Craven Cottage red-faced as 6-2 losers. He would continue to impress whilst the collective team faltered, scoring away at Preston in a 3-2 loss and even sticking out a leg to assist partner-in-crime Weimann in a 2-1 loss at Kenilworth Road to Luton.
This season, it’s been more of the same. At the time of writing, The Robins find themselves in 15th position in the Championship table. If they were to push on, they could well make an ascent up the division and challenge for the play-offs. They’ll have to do that without Antoine Semenyo present however, the Ghanaian moving on from Ashton Gate and joining AFC Bournemouth in the top flight.
His final goal for Bristol City came in a 1-1 draw at home to Blackburn Rovers, his last three games for the Robins saw a mini purple patch of three goals. He ran himself into the ground even with transfer speculation rife, hitting the side netting moments before his equalising goal. Not exactly the prettiest goal to close out his City career but one that showcased the clinical edge he had mastered at Ashton Gate, finishing on the rebound after the Blackburn keeper spilled an effort from Zak Vyner.
Six days later, Semenyo would put pen to paper on a move to the Premier League. Nigel Pearson’s men haven’t really suffered in the wake of their former star-man departing, the likes of Alex Scott staying at Ashton Gate a big plus alongside the addition of Anis Mehmeti from Wycombe softening the blow.
Semenyo won’t be the finished article by any means in making the step-up, three appearances already for the Cherries showcase a player who will grow and learn from the monumental change in quality, but he will give it his all for Gary O’Neil’s men. If they get relegated, expect Semenyo to star in the Championship once more. If they stay up, as he did at the Robins, he could gradually become an excellent talent if fans remain patient.
By: Kelan Sarson / @SarsonKelan
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / David Horton – CameraSport