Issue A Series of Own Goals

As told by Michael Wood

It was a nothing bit of play on the Rochdale left wing but probably it was relief for the visitors who has been under the cosh for the opening fifteen minutes of their visit to Valley Parade and as they wandered forward with the ball one doubts they expected much.

When Adam Le Fondre placed a long range shot past Scott Loach in the third minute of injury time to give Rochdale a 2-1 victory Stuart McCall must have looked at his Bradford City team and thought that rather than being beaten by a good display by the side from Spotland the Bantams had beaten themselves.

Give credit to Keith Hill’s side they put up a good away display at Valley Parade but even as Le Fondre wheeled away in celebration the visitors must have been pinching themselves that they had not so much robbed the points and been allowed to pick them up so unguarded were they.

For most things that should have been good about the Bantams was not. Most things that a team needs to do to take advantage of the typical home game the Bantams were off the mark on.

So when the ball came towards the right hand side it was a bit curious when Ben Starosta seemed panicky but in front of him he could probably see the bald figure of Lee Thorpe rushing forward and were Starosta the type who made a mental note of these things he might wonder why Rochdale players outnumbered Bradford City players in the crucial area of the field.

This was a defeat of self inflicted wounds. The Bantams had enough of the ball in the first twenty minutes to have created the chance to win this game but rather than building those chances into the kind of opportunities that have been winning games in recent months the ball was rushed, hurried, snatched towards goal too soon.

Instead of assurance at the back the Bantams slipped into a habit of assumption. Instead of working at winning the ball back to often were players looking at team mates and waiting for possession to be returned to them.

No where was this more prevalent than in the midfield of Eddie Johnson and Lee Bullock who should have been the fulcrum but turned themselves into spectators.

Starosta probably wondered where Lee Bullock was and why he was not tracking Thorpe back and he is right to do so. Thorpe and Bullock are no threat at all. Thorpe on his own charging towards the penalty area is cause for concern as the ball is motivated in from the left.

Both are able players but as the Bantams enjoyed the best of the opening exchange Bullock took it as his role to be moving in between Peter Thorne and Willy Topp – both of whom performed well – and adding to an attack that in the end would need more ball and not more men. Eddie Johnson, on the other hand, works hard but played badly failing to take up positions, failing to use the ball well when he had it, failing to win the ball back. As a central midfielder he made a substandard drifting forward.

So once again Stuart McCall’s City were left lacking a Stuart McCall to put the foot in, to stay back, to protect the back four and to be able to use the ball. I’m told by many and would judge by body size that Tom Penford can not do this role yet watching him last week against Bury and comparing his willingness to hold and his ability to play the ball simply I’m amazed he was excluded for the honest endeavour but little else of Johnson.

I know too that Paul Evans can play this role. I know Craig Bentham can. I know Stuart McCall knows how important it is because he played the position for twenty years.

Scott Loach probably shouted something to Matthew Clarke as the not at all threatening ball came in low from the left hand side of the box but whatever it was Clarke didn’t hear it or he misunderstood it because as the keeper – impressive thus far in his stay at Valley Parade – too up a position to take the weakly moving ball Clarke made a sudden, jerking movement back towards his own goal and in the yards in front of the penalty spot his leg made a connection with the ball.

When Rochdale scored a fortuitous first via a Matthew Clarke own goal this became more of a problem as Bullock and Johnson abandoned all sense of getting goal side of the ball in search of a equaliser which eventually came through Peter Thorne following a deflection and while McCall tried to solve the problems at half time he failed and so did City.

Problems were compounded when – as City lacked attacking threats – a series of curious substitutions hamstrung the Bantams. Omar Daley and Willy Topp provided an attacking thrust to the side and while both could have mistakes pointed out to them City looked much less likely to score in their absence.

Should that be true of Topp and Daley then it is triply so for Thorne who was replaced at exactly the wrong time by David Brown who’s inability to hold the ball caused a pinging back and put the Bantams on the back foot. Thorne’s volley that faded wide of the post could have got the win but in the last ten minutes after the 34 year old strikers leaving the field.

Slowly the ball spun away from Loach who was left flat footed and to the disbelief of all it began to creep towards the goal. So slowly it moved. So slowly.

De-toothed in the last time minutes that would define City’s attempts at a promotion push the win became a defeat and now City look to getting points in an effort to make sure that the end of the season is not in any way troubling.

McCall on the other hand is left looking at his team and wondering how to maintain the kind of momentum that saw us unbeaten for so long this year. His team today resembles the one Chris Kamara left Paul Jewell. It is a mish-mash and not a unit. One wonders how the players still on salaries from higher divisions are viewed in the dressing room as the formation of the team changes. One wonders who the players look to on the field for inspiration.

The ball in the back of the goal a noise came from the visiting end of the ground as they reacted to seeing their players celebrating the goal or perhaps they noticed the looks between Clarke and Loach and the way David Wetherall tried to gee them up following the error. Loach had his say and Clarke accepted the blame as well he might because it seemed that ostensibly it was entirely his fault.

McCall needs a McCall. Every team needs a McCall but Stuart McCall’s Bradford City team needs one and one would expect the man himself to be able to see that. One hopes he can and certainly when he comments after this defeat about his players that “(Those players) already here have to show me they are good enough if they want to stay” then he throws down a gauntlet to the squad to get into the team and make positions their own.

Constancy of selection is important to Bradford City but more so the team needs players ready to take responsibly and on Saturday that was lacking in key areas.

Matthew Clarke, who’s inclusion the Bradford City team had done so much to turn the side from habitual losers into a team harbouring play off aspirations which had all but vanished with his lunge, put his hands on his knees and caught a breath knowing the scope and scale of his mistake. Out of mind of his contribution and hearing the low mumblings of discontent around him.