From October, 2007
Grimsby Town 1 Bradford City 1 At Blundell Park in League Two, 2007/2008
Football, least we forget, is all about goals.
A miserable afternoon of failed effort and frustration can be wiped away by the sight of the ball crossing the white line. The result that appears in the following day’s newspaper is all that matters and all of us would gladly swap a good performance for a good result.
So when City equalised with the final kick of the ball at Blundell Park on Saturday, the disappointment of what had gone on before was eclipsed by wild celebrations and a pitch invasion so enthusiastic City manager Stuart McCall had to run over to the away stand and appeal for calm.
Were such celebrations justified? The build up to this fixture included whispers of ‘six pointer’ and ‘must win’ for two sides desperately short on form. Imagining the game would end as 1-1 draw before kick off would have certainly felt disappointing to the 1,000+ City fans who journeyed to Cleethorpes. On Saturday evening I met with friends, plus received text messages from others, who supported different teams and all seemed to be of the opinion that ‘only’ drawing with Grimsby was a poor result. “Can Bradford sink any lower?” was one text message I received. Well yes and no was my reply. Of course it can get worse than this, but it probably won’t.
From the moment former City striker Isaiah Rankin’s outstretched foot collided into City goalkeeper Rhys Evans’ shoulder, as the two players contested a low cross, it was easy to imagine a sixth defeat in seven was on the cards. Evans was left in a lot of pain and, although he tried to play on, had to come off shortly afterwards. With Donovan Ricketts sat in the stands rather than sat on the bench, City had to see out the remaining 70 minutes without a recognised goalkeeper.
Mark Bower was elected back up keeper and swapped centre back duties with Matt Clarke, who made an impressive first league appearance of the season, replacing the injured Evans. It was easy to be fearful of conceding every time Grimsby poured forward but, curiously, City actually began defending better, as though they knew they had to protect Mark Bower’s goal at all costs.
The half time mutterings from some fans were of disapproval at Stuart’s decision not to include a keeper on the bench, although no one knew at the time that Ricketts was in fact injured, which was why Stuart didn’t include him in the 16. To be fair to Bower, he didn’t put a foot wrong in goal and even produced an excellent tip over from a second half free kick.
The goal that he did concede was easily preventable though. Matt Clarke picked up a loose ball in the area and appeared to ignore the calls of Bower charging up behind to leave it for him to collect. Even then this would have been okay had Clarke’s clearance not been so woeful. The ball went straight to Grimsby’s Shaleum Logan and the on-loan Man City full back produced a delicate lob over the back peddling Bower which flew into the net.
The dreaded moment had happened, although in some ways it felt like a positive. I’d personally felt sick to the stomach every time Grimsby poured forward for fear of our non-keeper conceding a soft goal. Now that had happened and it was up to City to come back.
The next fifteen minutes saw heavy pressure from City with Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu looking a real threat and twice going close. Kyle Nix and Paul Heckingbottom also had chances, before City seemed to run out of ideas and Grimsby got on top again. It appeared as though the game was lost with City’s season-long difficulty of finding the back of the net continuing.
Two substitutions changed that tide with Alex Rhodes impressing after replacing Nix. He whipped in some of the best crosses of the game, although no one was able to get on the end. Barry Conlon, with two previous brilliant performances, was a major disappointment. He failed to hold up the ball adequately and couldn’t seem to get in the game. Conlon was hauled off to a mixture of jeers from some fans and cheers from others. Supporters’ views of our big number nine clearly remain mixed and those who don’t rate him were given more ammunition after this performance. It’s becoming clear that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency.
Conlon was replaced with Luke Medley who, like Clarke and Rhodes, proved an effective substitute. He was a handful and soon had the ball in the back of the net after a Grimsby defender and goalkeeper Barnes collision left him with a tap in, only for the referee Dave Foster to controversially rule it out. It was the latest in a string of decisions City failed to get from Foster but then, perhaps conscious he was wrong to disallow the goal; he appeared to start favouring City.
As the game moved towards stoppage time and City looked beaten Medley chased a through ball which Barnes came out to collect in his hands, but just stepped over the penalty box line in doing so. A free kick and, after a pause, a red card; neither team were going to end the day with the keeper they started with.
The free kick was well saved by sub keeper Gary Montgomery before Wetherall headed the rebound over and it appeared the game was lost. Then Medley chased another lost cause, managed to win the ball and ran through to the penalty area. He was blocked by Justin Whittle and the referee blew for a penalty. Fans were already running on the pitch in celebration. The tension was huge, but Ndumbu-Nsungu kept his cool to fire home the spot and cue the wild celebrations which again spilled onto the pitch.
Unlike others I didn’t really believe this game to be a six pointer. City might be low down the league at present, but I believe we’ll soon be climbing up regardless of if we had have lost on Saturday. With the backdrop of no goalkeeper, a point was something we would all have probably settled for after 25 minutes and it was just a relief to see that the efforts of the players, most of who played below their best, was rewarded with something. Defeat would have left us back to square one after the promising Darlington draw last week.
So while wild celebrations for a point at Grimsby might seem unusual to some, it was perfectly understandable to every one of us present who had suffered a tortuous 92 minutes where every time the home side came forward you felt they would score, where you wished Ricketts had been available, where it looked like City were going to fall short yet again and where we were facing a long journey home debating and pondering what’s gone wrong.
Before that, six games of nothing to cheer. The performance against Darlington felt good, but it wasn’t a cause for celebration. The only thing good since Bower’s winner against Peterborough, our last win, was when Bower again scored against Morecambe and we thought we were heading for a win. That feeling lasted less than half an hour and soon after we were feeling even more pain.
So while I can’t speak for everyone there, I personally celebrated wildly because every time I’ve been to watch City lately there’s been little to cheer and I was at last able to let out some of that frustration. This was for getting stuffed by Accrington, for losing late on against MK Dons and Morecambe, for watching City slump from play offs to relegation candidates and, in the process, become something of a laughing stock.
This season has seen a magnificent level of support from City fans and the huge numbers at Valley Parade and on the road is far more deserving of the performances and results we’ve been watching of late. We’ve been desperate for something to cheer and we deserve something to cheer.
Football is about goals and, while a 93rd minute equaliser against Grimsby Town might not sound much, it felt fantastic just to be celebrating something.
Ask any Bradford City fan what they want in a player and they will say the word “Passion” pretty soon.
Our hero is Stuart McCall – a man for whom every kick was done with passion – and our greatest teams are known for the hard working ethic they portrayed. Peter Beagrie is known as an idol at Valley Parade and a malingerer at Manchester City because he discovered this passion late on in his career – and cause for all his World Cup Winners medal Alan Ball was a tenth of the manager Paul Jewell is.
Passion is what got Bobby Campbell out of the pub and got us into the pubs of Bradford to raise the money to keep the club going twice the last five years. We love passion.
Joe Colbeck on the other hand is unloved by man.
Colbeck – who has joined Darlington on loan – has split opinion at Valley Parade for some time and for sure much of the debate centres on his abilities rather than his attitude. For what it is worth I believe that Colbeck can cross a ball better than most and with the right motivation and coaching he could be a valuable asset and a very good player. The fact that he is joining a rival League Two club having already been sniffed at by Derby County at one point suggestions that I’m not alone in rating the home grown winger.
Debate over ability aside what is uncontested is that Colbeck shows passion. The ginger winger will and does run up and down the right wing for every minute of every game he wears claret and amber and provides a stark contrast to his competitor on the right wing Omar Daley.
Daley is an impressive player running with the ball but we have all seen his head sink down when backs are to the wall and for all the excitement of him running at a full back one could never describe him as showing the desire to win for Bradford City which we would suggest he rate so highly.
It would seem that City can have one or the other – attempts to field right wingers on the left almost always fail – but not both in the starting eleven and Colbeck’s exit shows which one Stuart McCall has selected but one worries about the signifier which allowing a player who’s passion puts many to shame to leave on loan has. Play hard for this club, the move suggests, and it will mean nothing compared to the odd flash off skill
Colbeck – and for that matter the likes of Craig Bentham now and Danny Forrest before him – have a purpose in a squad of keeping the rest of the players honest. Having Joe Colbeck at the club should have showed Omar Daley that the minimum required for the right wing slot was to match the effort of the other player in his position.
One hopes that Colbeck’s exit does not tell all that putting in all the effort – all the passion – that one can muster is not the minimum required to be in Stuart McCall’s team.
Bradford City 0 Darlington 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
It was not feeling miserable when leaving, that was the best part about Saturday.
After four weekends where City have lost, not to mention the midweek Accrington debacle, that empty feeling that stays with you most of the week and leaves you not wanting to think about football had become all too familiar. I walked down Midland Road after the game feeling a little disappointed that City had failed to turn their superiority into a win and felt worried about the lack of goals and decent service running through the team, but I also left feeling much more positive about City’s prospects for the season and had renewed belief that happier times were not that far around the corner.
A lot of people came out of Saturday with credit. Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs have clearly worked hard on the training ground at lifting sagging spirits and raising confidence. Stuart has recently commented that it’s going to take a while to build a team that he is happy with, but the one assembled so far competed much better to belatedly demonstrate that fourth bottom of the entire Football League was a false position.
There wasn’t much different about the way the team lined up against Darlington than in previous games and Stuart resisted the urge to make wholesome changes. He was rewarded by those he kept faith with and seems to have a clear vision of how he wants his team to play. The sight of a second place team clearly time wasting and settling for a draw in the closing stages showed just how effective that play had been.
Credit also to the supporters who got behind the team. I was partly dreading Saturday’s game for fear of another defeat, I also feared the reaction of supporters to another loss. After the first 20 minutes there was barely a moan to be heard among supporters, apart from at the officials anyway, as everyone seemed to recognise that the 11 in claret and amber shirts were giving their all. The atmosphere felt a bit flat in the first half, but those in the Kop again got suitably behind the players as they attacked towards them in the second.
Having the biggest crowds in the division can be an effective weapon, but it can also be a hindrance. 12,000 moaning and complaining is a lot louder than 7,000 and we’ve already seen certain players disappear into their shells when the grumbles get louder. It’s hard to stay positive at times, but it was heartening that the crowd really got behind the players and encouraged them to keep going forward. It’s extremely rare for a 0-0 draw to be recognised with a standing ovation and it seemed clear the players really appreciated the support, by the way they held back to applaud the three stands. I don’t think they could have got off the pitch quicker at the final whistle against Accrington!
But credit most of all should go to the players. Their performances and general attitude have been openly questioned in recent weeks and deservedly so. We all know they can do better than five defeats in a row, but the criticism must have hurt. Only a year ago a couple of defeats became a crisis and performances got worse, as those paid to represent City struggled and failed to handle the pressure. Stuart spoke before the Darlo match of expecting no one to hide and every player responded well. It was hard to find fault with anyone’s performance, if only one of the numerous chances created could have been put away.
I arrived at Valley Parade expecting little, I certainly didn’t imagine I would witness City’s best home performance of the season so far. To an uninformed observer, it would have been easy to be confused over which team sat second in the league and which was near the bottom. The quality of the final ball still leaves a lot to be desired and I can’t remember a City side who have ever put in so many awful corners, but we weren’t far away from giving Darlo a real spanking.
Perhaps the most heartening thing about the display was the work rate from everyone, something lacking in recent weeks. Omar Daley has excited and then frustrated all too often, but has barely tracked back into his own half during the last few defeats. On Saturday he was helping his defence and getting up and down the pitch really well. We know he has plenty of skill and pace, but it’s the end product and desire to work hard when City don’t have the ball that’s been lacking.
Omar was often back in the City penalty area on Saturday helping out Darren Williams, who was outstanding, while he also looked a threat going forward. On the other winger Kyle Nix looks a really impressive player and a winger who can also tackle. He’s not the quickest, especially compared to Daley, but his dribbling is excellent and he showed a cool head to work the ball into good positions and find a team mate.
Up front, Barry Conlon has looked a different player the last two games. Yes he should have scored at least twice and he does seem to hesitate when a chance comes his way, but as a target man holding up the ball he was phenomenal. Players could clear the ball up to him, when under pressure, and the ball would stick there. He helped lay on some excellent chances and also has a reasonable first touch.
It’s hard to imagine Conlon reaching double figures for us this season, but if he can get a goal from open play his confidence will surely go up another notch. The challenge for Conlon is to maintain and perhaps better his last two performances. Should he keep it up, he will be a regular name on the team sheet regardless of how often he finds the net.
Defensively City were much better and, while Mark Bower and David Wetherall have performed much better the last three games, the protection the whole midfield gave them also helped. Watching recent games, to me it has felt too many forward players were expecting the defence to win the ball back and waited up field for a pass. Against Morecambe we often appeared outnumbered when the home side attacked so it was good to see Nicky Law and Eddie Johnson working hard in both boxes. Paul Heckingbottom also bounced back well after a series of poor displays.
Ultimately it’s down to the players to turn around the slump and get City into winning ways. Saturday was a great start and hopefully confidence and belief will have returned. The performance was heartening and we should have won, but it’s important the result becomes something to build on rather than a high point. It’s worth noting that Saturday’s failure to find the breakthrough means it’s over 300 minutes since City last scored at Valley Parade.
On Saturday City travel to face a Grimsby side which has lost four on the bounce and so won’t be feeling too confident themselves. It’s important City stand up to the challenge and come away with something. After our own dismal run it’s fair to say that our players will know how Grimsby will be feeling right now – and also know why we shouldn’t underestimate them. Hopefully Darlo will be the turning point but, for how well City’s players performed against the high flying Quakers, it’s a level of performance and effort required every week.
So we left Valley Parade much happier than we arrived, with more confidence about our season and the hope that the slide has been arrested. After four Saturday’s in a row feeling miserable, let’s hope we’ve had our quota for a while and can enjoy the rest of our weekend once more. Surely it’s time the footballing gods started sharing out the misery, starting with that lot t’other side of Pudsey.
Bradford City 0 Darlington 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
Despite dominating the game and play for the most part, City were forced to settle for a point in this frustrating encounter at Valley Parade.
A point against a team placed second at the start of play today looks like a half decent result – But the overwhelming feeling of the home support walking away from the ground was a feeling of two points dropped rather than one gained.
That said , many positives have come out of today’s game. City looked very assured and comfortable in defence for the first time since the Peterborough game, with Mark Bower particularly outstanding in a whole hearted performance. Rhys Evans, on his home debut, looked commanding from set pieces and corners but was never properly tested by a very disappointing Darlington side.
A revelation today was young Nicky Law. He gave an accomplished performance throughout – doing the simple things well, getting stuck in and hardly misplacing one pass throughout the 90 minutes. He was tenacious defensively and was clearly thinking through every attacking move he initiated – reading the game brilliantly.
If Darlington are a benchmark in this division, then City must think they have a chance of getting into the playoffs despite recent turbulent results. They offered hardly a scare going forward, whereas City carved out numerous very presentable opportunities. The best of which fell to Barry Conlon in the first half, when Kyle’s Nixs’ clever cross floated across to the big Irishman who was totally unmarked on the right hand side of the box, but he drifted his header wide of the target.
Conlon did not do anything in this match to persuade his growing army of critics at Bradford that he can do a job at the club. He shows some OK basic control when the ball is played up to him, but he wins hardly anything in the air (despite his large presence) and never seems to have the cutting edge in front of goal.
Prowess in front of goal was the key missing link in this performance and highlighted City’s lack of a regular goalscorer. Pre season hopes of a 20 goal a season striker in this league were pinned on Peter Thorne, who is yet to find the mark or his form, and we must be concerned about his proneness to injury given his history over the last two years. And with the Willy Topp deal appearing to have gone sour, a City striker needs to step up their game and become a consistent goal scorer week in week out, or any playoff hopes this season will certainly be banished. Ndumbu-Nsungu is an exciting front man, with bags of ability when he gets the ball to feet, but it was fully evident against Darlington that he needs a strike partner who is going to smash away the goals consistently so the pressure is taken off of him, allowing him to create and put in all the effort that is guaranteed with him chasing down channels and putting defenders under pressure.
In the final stages of the game, City nearly won the match with a freak goal, when a routine, wayward cross from the left was astonishingly dropped by the Darlington keeper, and just as it looked it was certain that the ball would drop in, it drifted wide and out for a corner. Such is our luck at the moment – had we been on a winning streak, it would have been the goal that won it for us 1-0.
But the attitude and commitment from all the players in this game was something to be proud of, and the appreciation for the players was shown by the home crowd after the final whistle. The performance was excellent, and a neutral watching the game would have been shocked to learn of our lowly position in the table compared to Darlington.
The next three games are huge for us. All very winnable, and the most optimistic fan will hope for 9 points out of the games which will really get us back on track. Losing five in a row really hurt (especially the Accrington game) but this performance has given us renewed hope.
A regular goal scorer in this team will get us shooting up the table and I really do not believe we need to worry about any other teams in this league. Macclesfield, Wrexham, Wycombe, Peterborough and Darlington have all come to Valley Parade and looked nothing short of poor. Sorting out our home form, and winning every match where the opposition has nothing to offer will turn the table on its head so that we are looking up from the right end of League Two.
I’m seriously considering returning my Morecambe ticket to the Shrimpers’ ticket office and making a formal complaint. The stub included details of what stand I would be in and which turnstile to go through, but it should also have included the word ‘WARNING’ in big red letters followed by a disclaimer about the risk of extreme stress I could suffer by entering their ground.
If I’d have been warned of the impending misery I would experience at Christie Park last Friday I might have thought twice before purchasing our tickets before the Accrington game. Last minute defeats are surely the cruellest and most painful. Suddenly an hour and a half journey home felt long and daunting. Christie Park is set up so that we had to walk around the whole stadium to get back to our car, so we had to wade our way through a sea of happy home supporters enjoying another great moment in their rise to professional football. And as we drove home through the Lancaster traffic, it was impossible to think of anything other than the failings of our players.
Five defeats in a row; less than a month after City defeated much fancied Peterborough, who saw that coming? An encouraging start to the season has turned into a complete nightmare as the Bantams sink to new depths. It seems ludicrous to think that City might be battling against relegation to non-league obscurity this season, but it feels more of a possibility with each passing defeat. The pressure is building and already some of our more impatient fans are openly questioning Stuart McCall. I want to believe that City are better than this and that promotion this season is not a forlorn hope, but at the moment all I have to go on is blind faith.
The return of Stuart to City as manager seemed to herald a change in fortune…yet so far it hasn’t happened and Stuart is probably still realising the size of the task he has in turning this club around.
The doom and gloom most of us seem to be feeling right now is partly contributed by recent history. Personally I’m sick of it, absolutely sick of City losing all of the time. Last season we saw City plummet from early play off contenders to relegation and there was just a handful of wins to celebrate during that period. We’ve watched City get relegated three times in seven years – and every other season has involved some, albeit often brief, relegation concerns.
Part of the pain with Morecambe’s last minute winner was the familiarity of the feeling that engulfed me. I’ve seen City concede late winners too often during the last few years. As soon as the ball crossed the line I knew that the feeling of misery inside would rise and quickly get worse within the next few minutes, and then stay with me all night.
I dreaded waking up the following morning and feeling the pain all over again when I remembered the match. I also knew that the gloom wouldn’t go away until well into the week and, when it did, it would be replaced by foolish optimism that City would win next weekend and we would all be celebrating again. Yet again my weekend will be ruined by raised hopes being crushed.
The stress and misery is part of being a football fan and I accept that, but why can’t we have a season where we win more than we lose? Why can’t we have players who do their job properly and excite us with brilliant football? I occasionally fantasise about a safe, boring midtable season with little stress. The night before travelling to Morecambe I met up with a Burnley supporting friend who ridiculed me mercilessly about City’s recent efforts. How I wish we could be Burnley, always finishing mid table with no promotion or relegation concerns. Great, now I’m jealous of a Dingles fan!
Our party travelling to Morecambe was unexpectedly boosted by two extra people, one who stopped going to watch City during the Todd reign and another who had not been since the Premiership adventure. As we drove home I thought about what they had both missed since giving up on City. What truly great moments has there been? The occasional memorable victory, but that’s it. No promotion challenges, no cup runs; continuing survival has been the only thing we’ve been able to get excited about.
The return of Stuart to City as manager seemed to herald a change in fortune, especially with new investment and phenomenal season ticket sales quickly following. Yet so far it hasn’t happened and Stuart is probably still realising the size of the task he has in turning this club around.
With just six senior players when he took over, Stuart had to bring in a near full squad of new players. It’s becoming painfully clear that certain members of the existing squad aren’t good enough to challenge for promotion or play for the best supported club in the division; whether it be for their ability or attitude. Stuart has spoken of bringing in new blood but, while there is some money to spend, it will need to be loan players until January. By and large, we’re stuck with the present lot until then.
The biggest disappointment of the Morecambe defeat was the lack of passion shown from some players. The home side chased and harried every ball and won nearly all the 50/50s. Their players gave everything to the cause and dominated the second half. In contrast some of our players seemed to believe they didn’t need to work hard as others in the team would win the ball back and do the ugly bits. Both Alex Rhodes and Omar Daley were guilty of failing to track back and help the defence, which was badly under the cosh for long spells in the second half. They also failed to adequately support Eddie Johnson and Nicky Law as City weakly lost the midfield battle.
Debates about midfield balances take place at all levels, look at England, but City’s felt wrong against Morecambe without a ball winner included. Both Law and Johnson appear more comfortable going forward rather than tackling. Paul Evans is badly missing and Scott Phelan has struggled to date. Craig Bentham has yet to be given a chance and, in hindsight, Stuart must have wished he’d included a more defensive Phelan or Bentham in his team at Christie Park. I’ve heard a few City fans say, “We need a team of Stuarts.” Well just one against Morecambe would have been nice!
Playing two wingers away from home can be a risk, especially when they defend like Daley and Rhodes. Neither were much better going forward either and I felt sorry for Barry Conlon and Guylian Nsumbu-Nsungu. Both got into good positions but were often ignored by Daley in particular, who usually elected to shoot instead. City improved when Kyle Nix came on, but the winger situation must be causing Stuart to tear his hair out. Daley has moved from been the big hope last year to key player this season, but his performances haven’t really improved.
The lack of pace in the defence is a concern and led to Morecambe’s winner, our strikers aren’t getting great service and the right formula for our midfield has yet to be found. With second place Darlington due at Valley Parade on Saturday it may get worse before it gets better. It’s still early days in the season and too soon to write off City completely, but things can’t go on as they are and we can only trust Stuart and Wayne to get it right.
Hopefully better days are around the corner. Hopefully the pain and misery which has become too familiar for us City supporters will be less frequent. Hopefully I will soon be able to bring myself to look at the league table for more than five seconds, because City will have climbed it. Hopefully when I go to buy my Grimsby tickets they will have thought to remember the appropriate health warning.
Bradford City Reserves 0 Nottingham Forest Reserves 0 At Valley Parade in Reserves League, 2007/2008
This was how it all started for Donovan Ricketts with Bradford City.
After been signed by Colin Todd in July 2004, a wait for a work permit meant his place in the team was initially taken by trialist Paul Henderson. Ricketts was consigned to a near full season playing for City’s reserves before finally earning his chance when Henderson rejected a longer contract.
Through everything that has happened to the Jamaican international in recent weeks, that original determination and patience to wait for a chance with City should not be forgotten. As Ricketts lined up for City reserves against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night in front of the very goal where a week earlier he made a mistake too many which cost him his place, there’s a sense that the Jamaican goalkeeper won’t be pushing to exit the Valley Parade door just yet.
The long road back from zero to hero in City fans eyes began with a decent clean sheet against Forest’s second string, with The Don putting in an encouraging display and making three excellent saves. With just a smattering of fans present to analyse his every move, Ricketts’ confidence will have improved a notch as he successfully dealt with everything Forest presented him with. He was even able to loudly berate others for not doing their jobs so well.
Another of City’s recent villains was also in action for the second string. Last Saturday’s substitute cameo against the MK Dons saw Joe Colbeck claim two unwanted assists as 70 minutes of good work by the team was thrown away by some kamikaze defending. Joe to probably benefited from playing away from the glare of a growing army of critics and looked lively once again, if lacking an end product. Defending is clearly a weak part of his game and twice he switched off to allow Forest to roam forward, fortunately without the same consequences as Saturday.
As with any City team on a bad run over the years, supporters start chucking in the names of players not featuring and demand to know why they aren’t been given a go. Of those in the second string available right now, Craig Bentham gave a confident and assured display in the middle of the park to suggest he could do a job. His route to the first team is currently blocked by several others, but against Forest Bentham bossed the middle of the park. He got his foot in, can pass the ball and did the simple things really well. Given the captain’s armband, he dictated the play and was at the heart of City’s best efforts.
As for a striker coming in to score the goals lacking, supporters shouldn’t be expected too much from those not in the team. Nathan Joynes held the ball up well but didn’t seem to take up many threatening positions. Luke Medley came on as a second half substitute and, while his touch was fantastic at times, his attitude didn’t seem quite there. Luke appeared to be playing for himself and on a few occasions good moves were broken down by Luke’s desire to do bits of skill that made himself look good, rather than play the ball to others in good positions. He has some talent, but his performance made it understandable why Stuart isn’t throwing him into first team duties just yet.
The Chilean striker Willy Topp did play and showed some excellent touches. He clearly has some talent on the ball and produced a couple of exciting twisting runs while beating defenders for skill. He also seems to have a good first touch, although it might take him a little longer to adapt before he’s ready to make an impact in the first team.
Other youngsters showed some promise on the night as City should probably have won the game. They created the better chances in the second half, although were grateful for a blinding Ricketts’ save in the final minute.
If those on reserve duty can maintain their decent performances, keep improving and show patience; their chances of a first team spot will surely come around. If they need any inspiration they need only ask Donovan Ricketts.
During City’s post millennium slump from the riches of the Premier League to the slums of League Two, the club have always retained that special capacity to prove us wrong. Just when we don’t think they could possibly sink any lower, they go and surprise us yet again.
Ever since Southampton recorded a 1-0 Premiership win at Valley Parade in September 2000, we’ve had matches described as the ‘worst ever’ with increasing regularity. The worst City performance ever has since become an annual event – Southampton was followed by Stockport, then there was Sheffield United, Sunderland, Wimbledon, MK Dons, Oldham, Huddersfield and Chesterfield. All moments in recent times when it was felt, performance wise at least, that City had hit rock bottom.
On Tuesday the latest rock bottom moment occurred but the fall out and awful taste in mouth that this defeat left will take some time to forget. It’s all very well getting stuffed by Sheffield United or Sunderland – but Accrington Stanley? Let’s be honest, they played us off the park and the 3-0 scoreline probably flattered us. But with the greatest of respects we were playing Accrington Stanley, not a team of world beaters. And while the current crop of players wearing Claret and Amber wouldn’t get near those who lost to Southampton seven years ago, they should be far better than the school boy efforts they provided us on Tuesday.
There’s no where to hide, the pressure and expectation is not going to go away. The players need to learn to deal with all of this and will hopefully emerge from the Accrington debacle much stronger characters.
Defensively we were a complete mess. Only two-and-a-half weeks ago City earned a clean sheet and defensive plaudits after a hard thought win over much fancied Peterborough. Since then eight goals have been conceded in just three games. Donovan Ricketts has taken most of the blame and our Jamaican keeper’s Valley Parade days appear numbered with Stuart McCall announcing a new keeper is being sought urgently.
Ricketts was undoubtedly at fault for the second goal when he came out and allowed a five foot striker to out jump him and head the ball into an empty net, but his back four must shoulder much of the blame too. Paul Heckingbottom was looking an assured player up until Hereford and his performance on Tuesday was dreadful. Time and time again he was caught out of position, continually beaten by wingers and cheaply giving the ball away. His free kicks were awful and, on one occasion during the second half, his feeble free kick effort almost turned a chance for City into a goal for Accrington.
In the centre the lack of pace was badly exposed. David Wetherall, the only survivor from that Southampton defeat, will always be loved by City fans, but doubts about his ability have been surfacing for a while. He is ageing fast and is simply not the force he was even two years ago. A tough decision over the captain’s place in the team may have to be made by Stuart and Jakes.
Wetherall has seen the whole sorry slump over the last seven years first hand. As he kicked the ball up pitch in frustration when the second goal was scored, I wondered how many times he has watched opposition put the ball into that net over the years and whether the psychological affect of been part of such an underperforming club has taken away some of his dogged determination. Mark Bower also had a poor night and some fans are calling for both to be dropped now, although I still believe that our longest serving player deserves a chance to redeem himself.
Midfield? What midfield? Eddie Johnson’s careless back pass that allowed Stanley to score after 90 seconds was the worst moment of a forgettable night from those in the middle of the park. Eddie continues to split opinion among fans with some believing he simply isn’t a midfielder. Scott Phelan has followed the Steven Schumacher path to City but has failed to make the immediate impact his predecessor managed. Some times Phelan has been excellent, but he too set the tone for an awful night by giving away a free kick five seconds into the game. To say we missed the injured Paul Evans is an understatement.
Omar Daley was awarded ‘Man of the Match’ by the sponsors. What game were they watching? The one I witnessed included a City number 7 who put in minimal effort and was wholly ineffective. No tracking back to help the often outnumbered defence, dribbles that led no where and no awareness or thought to pass the ball to a team mate. On the few occasions that he did look to pass, he played balls so ridiculously ambitious and risky that attack was turned into defence. I don’t know where Daley thought he was playing but his first half performance in particular was nothing short of disgraceful. Alex Rhodes at least started brightly but the front two were both starved of service all evening.
Ultimately, too many had an off night. What we were left was a displayed blighted by defensive howlers, woeful passing and players with heads down. Free kicks, corners and crosses were truly appalling. On a night full of frustration, the six minutes of first half stoppage time and final 20 minutes were perhaps the most telling. During these periods, the players had clearly given up, were shying away from touching the ball and were just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle. As supporters we can forgive players having an off night, they’re only human. But when we see players clearly not trying and giving up so feebly, it really hurts.
As for where it leaves the rest of the season, Stuart has plenty of work to do. A trip to the league leaders is arguably the last place we want to be heading and we travel to the MK Dons on Saturday as genuine underdogs for the first time this season. A fourth defeat in a row seems unthinkable but highly plausible. Yet perhaps facing opposition that has played such a significant part in City’s darker days (both as Wimbledon and MK Dons) can be the launch pad for brighter moments.
The players ears will have recovered from the boos, the anger of Stuart and Wayne will have had some form of impact. The players will surely have realised they have let a lot of people down. Through all the misery of such a horrible evening, the fantastic backing that many fans (Kop especially) still gave the team should act as a spur to get their act together. This level of support only reinforces the belief that Bradford City are too big for League Two. That doesn’t guarantee us promotion and it certainly doesn’t guarantee wins over Accrington, but playing for this club comes with responsibility that those in the dressing room need to face up to. There’s no where to hide, the pressure and expectation is not going to go away. The players need to learn to deal with all of this and will hopefully emerge from the Accrington debacle much stronger characters.
Is promotion a forlorn hope? Not yet. City may be 19th as it stands, but are only four points off the play offs. Now is the time for those being paid good money to represent Bradford City to show their mettle and prove their worth. Speaking on the radio after the match, Stuart sounded as devastated and miserable as the rest of us who suffered such a wretched display. He can drop half the time and try to bring in new faces, he can shout and rant that they are disgrace and haul them in for extra training. Ultimately it’s down to those players who continue to represent us to ensure that they don’t let down their club and its supporters down so badly again.
So surely this is what rock bottom feels like and hopefully this is the last time City prove us wrong. I don’t want to find out how we can possibly sink any lower.
Bradford City 0 Wycombe Wanderers 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
Two things. Thing number one: Very little could not have been better about Bradford City’s 1-0 defeat at home to Wycombe Wanderers.
The refereeing was appalling – if the standard set with Omar Daley’s fifth minute booking had held through the game then the match would have ended with eighteen players on the field – as was City’s defending for the goal of the game although anyone looking to blame Donovan Ricketts is very generous to the back four that dropped so far back into the six yard box that the keeper was amongst them rather than behind them.
Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu’s header in the opening minutes from Tom Harban’s cross should have been better executed – free headers in the six yard box are not to be wasted – as should Omar Daley’s dribble and shot although Stuart McCall was rightly incensed by the Referee’s refusal to give a corner as the man in black seemed set to give Daley nothing all day long.
The creativity City showed was poor. If City have played well then Eddie Johnson has completed many passes. If we have been bad then Johnson gets the ball in midfield and the likes of Daley, Ndumbu-Nsungu, Peter Thorne and Kyle Nix are all hidden or have run off behind defenders as if the ball cold be spirited to them rather than passed over a short distance well. If Johnson is looking to make killer balls to find a man – and he was forced to – then the forward players are not making themselves targets well enough.
City failed to test the Wycombe keeper seriously until a Paul Heckingbottom free kick late on although two or three good shouts for penalties were obviously turned down cause – well – they always are aren’t they? Searching for penalties is always the sign of a bad display.
It was a bad display. Very little that could not have been improved on in some way.
Thing two: Very little that would not be better without the stream of barracking and booing that has plagued City for years and still does. Half time and the Bantams are booed and those who do applaud effort are barracked, Donovan Ricketts is ironically cheered for fielding the ball, Barry Conlon is booed when he comes on although why I have no idea, full time and City are booed once more and while the performance was not good it is hard to see that being rectified with jeering.
It is just this simple. This is the last chance for Bradford City. Mark Lawn, Stuart McCall et al. Last chance. If we do not make a go of this then the club – which having seen the books myself I can guarantee you has been dangerously close to closing about a half dozen times in the last three or four years – will go out of existence.
Atmosphere? Getting behind the team? Trying to raise the players? These are not options any more if we want a club. Everyone has a right to an opinion I’m told as a justification for the kind of barracking that has plagued City for years now and if that is true then this is mine. This club is on it’s knees and rather than trying to help us get back up there is a not insignificant section of the Valley Parade “support” who want to hack those knees away.
Very little at Valley Parade would not be improved if those people found something else to do with their Saturdays.