Issue The pain goes on

As told by Jason Mckeown

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.