What should happen next?

Football is a game dominated by the word should – in its margins, in its illusions and even in its contradictions.

A team defending a set piece should never concede – listen to the regularity of managers declaring it “unforgivable” their team conceded from a set piece – yet the team with an attacking free kick or corner should produce a meaningful threat on goal. A winger charging forward with just a full back to get past should beat their man, yet when the same team’s full back faces a winger in similar circumstances they should always stop the route to goal.

And so it was at Valley Parade on Tuesday night where a story of two penalties saw the outcome of the match decided by achievement and failure to do the should . Bradford City’s Michael Flynn should have scored the first half penalty – despite a wonder save preventing him – while Lincoln City’s Rene Howe did what he should from the exact same spot in the second half, firing his penalty into the net. It was a game that, based on chances and territorial advantage, the Bantams should have won, but instead they ended the night beaten when they should not have been – on this occasion should have won and should not have lost proving to be two separate things.

The first half showing from the home side was notably more impressive than anything mustered so far this season. Overcoming a tentative start, the ball was passed around with greater urgency and attempts on goal belatedly began to be unleashed with regular occurrence. Of course City should have scored from one of a number of presentable chances, though the slightly lowered confidence and slightly heightened apprehension due to not yet finding the net this campaign contributed towards making what would normally be relatively simple opportunities more difficult to take.

The clearest opportunity of them all was that spot kick from Flynn. While the penalty taker should always score in such circumstances, penalty misses are a fact of life and it’s difficult to attach too much blame on Flynn’s effort given Lincoln keeper Rob Burch’s impressive athleticism in keeping it out. Nevertheless what happened between the referee blowing for the spot kick and Flynn beginning his run up was troubling, with Flynn, Gareth Evans and Peter Thorne all seemingly fighting over who should take it.

Which doesn’t reflect brilliantly on manager Stuart McCall. When debates rage over the great managers of this sport, one of the most common features among the success stories is a meticulous attention to detail and level of planning. If, as the evidence of the argument suggests, City took to the field without a designated spot kick taker it would appear certain preparations were overlooked by the management staff. Nothing wrong with Flynn being the penalty taker, but his thoughts while preparing to take the spot kick should have been focused solely on which direction he was going to dispatch his effort, not on fighting off team mates from taking the ball off him.

Thorne’s role as captain is also open to question. He may have only been part of the discussion to moderate proceedings between Evans and Flynn – his last penalty kick for City was a tame and costly effort – but if he was arguing his case to take it, his subsequent failure to do so leaves question marks over his authority. A penalty miss is forgivable, but the decision for who was to take it should already have been made on the training ground.

But if Lincoln should have trundled off at half time two or three goals behind, their second half response was a lesson for everyone. The Bantams continued to press forward, but a half time tactical switch from Lincoln, which saw Andy Hutchinson replace Scott Kerr, exploited a weakness in the way the home side were lined up. The Imps time wasted, fouled at every opportunity and took steps to keep slowing and stopping the game, but retained an ambition to get forward on the counter attack that was to prove decisive.

Stuart should have spotted Lincoln’s intentions sooner, twice they broke through and almost took advantage of slip ups at the back, but steps to close the gaps were not taken and eventually punished. Both the quick-fire goals were the result of defensive slip ups, with every member of the back four seemingly culpable at differing points, but they can justifiably argue that a lack of cover from the rest of the team left them too exposed to Lincoln’s attacking pace.

Chris Brandon is showing himself to be an effective, if sometimes frustrating, player going forward. In an effort to make City less predictable and break down defensive-minded teams like Port Vale and Lincoln, he’s been afforded a free role to roam around the pitch stimulating attacking moves. James Hanson has lined up on the left side of midfield, with the instructions to support the attack rather than play a traditional winger role. Yet when City were not in possession the positioning from both caused problems, with both Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien left too exposed. With Lee Bullock and Flynn also neglecting their defensive responsibilities after the break, too many home players appeared only concerned with breaking the deadlock. This could be gotten away with against a Vale side short of attacking purpose, but with Peter Jackson successfully able to spot the flaws a game City should not have lost was.

All of which leaves questions over the way City lined up. Playing Brandon is such a role looks good and will surely lead to goals in time, but is allowing one member of a hard working but limited team the freedom to charge around with few defensive responsibilities a luxury that can be afforded? With the relatively higher wages and undoubted higher level of ability, Brandon is hardly a player Stuart can ignore, but his role in the team may have to be adapted at the sacrifice of roaming around to find a match winning pass in order to be a more integral part of a side that is harder to beat.

The second half was far from doom and gloom, with City’s response to going 2-0 down encouraging given the heads didn’t drop and the chances were created – watch a re-run of the many home defeats in recent years and compare. Even a consolation goal might have made a significant difference to the mood ahead of a tough trip to Cheltenham on Saturday, where defeat is entirely possible and will see pressure growing ahead of the next home game against Torquay.

This in turn leaves Stuart under increasing scrutiny. With each impressive performance and League Two-busting signing from Notts County, the 5-0 opening day defeat appears less of a shock. Few could have expected a result at Nottingham Forest in the cup and the Port Vale game was generally encouraging, but defeat on Tuesday came when City should have won and while that is largely down to chances that should have been taken it also is also partly down to Stuart, who should be doing better at maximising the advantage his team appeared to have.

So what should happen next? A heavy cloud of doom and gloom has descended on BD8 since events at Meadow Lane, and shows little sign of shifting just yet. City badly need a goal, which will be the start of bad luck reversing and the unquestionable high effort being rewarded. A win at Whaddon Road makes the world a brighter place, a follow up victory over Torquay would raise the status of the start of the season from ‘bad’ to ‘indifferent’. Stuart has to prove himself good enough, the players have to prove themselves good enough, but we supporters should also consider ourselves part of the team that must turn it around, too.

It’s time to crank up the volume and back this club louder than ever – at least that’s what should happen.

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