Issue Just not good enough

As told by Jason Mckeown

This weekend was the first anniversary of one of the more painful moments in Bradford City’s recent history. It was this time last year that nearly 4,000 of us travelled to the Galpharm Stadium for an incredibly important local derby against Huddersfield Town. With the battle against relegation becoming increasingly desperate, a good result was vital.

We were ‘rewarded’ with a feeble and pathetic performance, going down 2-0 to a mediocre Town side. Falling behind inside two minutes, there was just one woeful effort from Steven Schumacher which could be counted as a City shot on goal. The players showed a shocking lack of commitment and, considering it was a derby and we were fighting for our lives, it was unforgiveable.

12 months on and, while the bigger picture has undoubtedly got worse, thankfully we’ve not seen a performance as poor from City since. There will no chewing of the nails and worrying about relegation during the final 12 matches of this campaign, although Saturday’s defeat to Stockport has ensured we won’t be feeling any butterflies at the prospect of promotion either. And as the season drifts away it might be worth showing the current players the video nasty of that Town defeat to help them contemplate whether they’re currently doing enough to remain a City player beyond this summer.

If the players were to look in the mirror and ask that question following the Edgeley Park defeat, the majority of responses are unlikely to be positive. Yes Stockport showed they were a decent side and the conditions were difficult to play in; but with 700 or so City fans singing non-stop to spur you on, even through the half time break, and the knowledge that a new contract this summer is far from certain for many of them, you’d expect them to show a lot more than this. Stockport now lie sixth in the division, a place where we’d expect City to at least be this time next year. It was an opportunity for the players to demonstrate they are good enough to reach this standard by competing against a side with a decent chance of playing League One football next season. Sadly too many fell short.

Omar Daley and Kyle Nix were punished for bad performances the previous week by losing their spots to Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans as Stuart lined City up in the 4-5-1 formation which has caused heated debate amongst supporters this season. Whilst criticisms about its negativity may be valid, this tactic relies on runners from midfield supporting lone striker Peter Thorne. Unfortunately City failed to find any rhythm going forward and, considering we had five in midfield, it was concerning how easy Stockport passed the ball through us as they enjoyed territorial advantage.

Joe Colbeck and Alex Rhodes were too isolated, though at least Colbeck showed willingness to come central for the ball and worked hard defending. The same can’t be said of Rhodes, one player desperate for a new deal this summer. Rhodes recently returned to the side with two impressive performances against Notts County and Rotherham, but we need more than two good games followed by two below average efforts and Rhodes has a lot to do in the final weeks to convince he should be part of next season’s plans.

Stockport, with Shaleum Logan and Liam Dickinson looking lively, dominated the first half and only Scott Loach prevented them going in front with a string of impressive saves. Defensively City played reasonably well with Darren Williams, recalled after Ben Starosta was ruled out through illness, looking solid on his return. There were some impressive blocks and defensive headers which showed commitment was not a quality lacking at the back at least. A couple of wild shots from distance were the only attacking response from City and the half time whistle was a relief.

Many of City’s away games this season have featured dull first halves, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when we took the lead seven minutes into the second. A long ball forward was cleverly controlled by Thorne, who then did well to lay it into the path of Colbeck. The in-form winger charged into the area before been tripped by County keeper John Ruddy, leaving the referee with no choice but to award a penalty. With Barry Conlon on the bench and most City fans desperate for Thorne to take over duties, City’s top scorer looked nervous as he placed the ball on the spot. He duly despatched his 11th goal of the season to set up the platform for a fortuitous win.

Yet City still couldn’t get going and continued to invite County to apply heavy pressure. Loach made a string of impressive saves and Stuart brought on Daley for the ineffective Rhodes. The Jamaican has previously shown he’s a useful player to give the ball to when City are in a narrow winning position and the opposition are throwing players forward, unfortunately the defensive side to his game is still inadequate. Daley half-heartedly tracked back but failed to deny Logan space and his low cross was fired home by Anthony Dickinson.

Ten minutes later County edged in front through Michael Rose’s superb free kick from the edge of the box. It was rough on Loach, who seconds earlier had made his best save of the afternoon by denying Dickinson when through one-on-one, yet no more than his team mates deserved. Surely City now had to start forcing some pressure to get back into the game? Yet attacks in the final stages remained sporadic. Colbeck, who put in another decent performance, sent over a superb cross after Daley’s charged down shot had fallen to him and David Wetherall, thrown up front in desperation, had a free header and the whole goal to aim at. Incredibly he put it wide.

As we trooped out of the ground while listening to the odd City fan muttering that Stuart “hasn’t got a clue”, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of County. The final whistle was greeted with huge cheers from home fans and their players and manager Jim Gannon savoured the moment by staying on the pitch for a few minutes to soak up the applause of an important win. I wasn’t just envious that they can still dream of an extended end to the season, but of the spirit around the place which was evident. They had some decent players and their determination in battling on even after they had fallen behind impressed. They kept playing the right way and were ultimately rewarded. It’s a spirit which is sadly missing with City at the moment.

It’s easy and predictable to blame all of this on Stuart, but where’s the personal responsibility from those paid to play for Bradford City? The reality is that Stuart is stuck with this bunch of players until the summer, only then can he bring in better players. Sounding characteristically downbeat in defeat, an honest Stuart took responsibility for the tactical switch of bringing on Daley which failed to work. It’s another hard lesson to take on board; but if Stuart is going to make mistakes he’d be as well to do so now and learn from them for next season, which is surely the time to judge him. The manager left no doubt he will be making changes for next season and those players who wish to remain part of his plans will need to prove themselves in these final 12 games.

Not just prove they are committed, but that they have the ability to take this club forward. As Barry Conlon came on with ten minutes remaining to be met with a chorus of boos from some fans in the away end, there was a timely reminder that 100% commitment, woefully missing a year ago at the Galpharm, is only the minimum requirement. There are big question marks hanging over whether a number of current players are good enough to help City to a better shot at promotion next year, they’d be advised not to start dreaming of their summer holidays yet.