Issue Rock bottom?

As told by Jason Mckeown

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.