Saturday 14th November, 20095 years ago, mid-November

Struggling to find more

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Bradford City 1 AFC Bournemouth 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/10

How do you get more out of 100%? As Bradford City manager Stuart McCall observed his players running themselves into the ground while attempting to get the better of League Two early-pace setters Bournemouth this afternoon, that’s the conundrum which must have occupied his thoughts.

Injury-ravaged to the point a central defender had to play in midfield and a central midfielder was deployed up front, it was difficult to find fault with the level of effort his last men standing devoted to the pursuit of earning three points. Coaxing out a greater level of application and smartness already looks key for effort to be rewarded by success.

For as extreme as the injury list seems at the moment, such circumstances appear more likely to be later repeated than addressed by sizeable team strengthening in January. As the second half began to drift into a pattern of stalemate, a look behind his shoulder at the substitute options offered Stuart few solutions.

The danger of a reduced investment in the playing squad was always going to be a lack of strength in depth. Stuart is left with no choice but to fill his bench with youngsters who may not yet  be ready for first team responsibility and are even less likely to be ready to be trusted to deliver a desired level of influence on matches. The worry is those senior players giving 100% will be allowed to get away with dropping a few percentage points, while still keeping their place. Not only does Stuart face the challenge of getting more from 100%, he must ensure 100% remains the minimum.

For the opening 45 minutes at least, City got about the Cherries in a crafty manner which might well have brought greater rewards than Gareth Evans’ cancelling out Brett Pitman’s opener. The visitors were far removed from then-manager Jimmy Quinn’s defensive stranglehold tactics which had paved the way for a 3-1 success at Valley Parade last season, commendably passing the ball around in a confident manner which ran throughout the team. Eddie Howe’s side were comfortably the best team City have entertained this season, but their attempts to play a high defensive line encouraged the Bantams to find success from playing low through balls in behind it, which might have been punished more often but for some tight offside calls.

Michael Flynn – the midfielder deployed up front – was effective in holding up the ball and working space to thread passes in the path of forward runners, while Chris Brandon and Scott Neilson – playing more as orthodox wingers in the first half – showed a willingness to make runs from deep. Evans wasted the best opportunity when a through ball had been timed exactly right and he charged clear with plenty of time to weigh up his options. His attempt to shift the ball to his preferred left foot saw the angle closed down by Cherries’ keeper Shwan Jalal and the eventual shot was screwed well wide of the far post.

Four minutes later Zesh Rehman – the central defender playing in midfield – helped to gift Bournemouth the lead after his hesitancy in clearing a loose ball allowed Anton Robinson to be played through into space between Steve Williams and the recalled Matt Clarke. With just Eastwood to beat, the former non-league player laid the ball into Pitman’s path for an easy tap in.

There were angry complaints from home supporters, who claimed Pitman had been ahead of Robinson and the ball played forwards, thus making Pitman offside. Both referee and linesman missed any such infringement, and Pitman curiously ran off to gloat at City supporters in the Main Stand.

But if heads dropped, the 100% remained and Evans atoned for his earlier miss three minutes before half time after Lee Bullock’s perfect pass enabled him the time and space to round Jalal and run the ball into an empty net. It remains a troubling statistic that only once this season have City come from behind to win – Rochdale away in the JPT; but since Lincoln triumphed 2-0 at Valley Parade last August, only one side – Crewe – has managed to score first against the Bantams and maintain a lead for the full remainder of the game.

Though City dominated the half’s final minutes they were to enjoy less territorial advantage after the break as Howe re-organised his defence so they held a deeper backline. It was at that point the effects of so many injuries were starkly visible as City struggled to execute a game plan that would lead to meaningful control of the match. James Hanson’s injury had been kept quiet – one suspects the local media are starting to become frustrated by Stuart’s economical sharing of team news this season – and City’s top scorer was especially missed once the space for Evans, Brandon and Neilson to run onto through balls was no longer afforded.

City needed someone who could hold up the ball so other players could get forward and provide options, but despite best efforts this is less Evans’ game and certainly not Flynn’s. Neilson and Brandon were able to pick up the ball out wide, but were too isolated with attempts to dribble forward ineffective. Rehman – the defender playing in midfield – largely stayed deep alongside Bullock and Flynn – the midfielder deployed up front – was too high up the park to make his trademark surging forward runs.

City went narrower in midfield with Neilson pushed further forwards and Brandon encouraged to roam, but by then Bournemouth had reverted to playing on the break and the pace in their locker compromised how far full backs Luke O’Brien and Jonathan Bateson could support the attack. It meant the best efforts to play through or or over the Cherries defence went largely without reward.

Which is where more than 100% is needed. The craftiness to try different things, switch play more often and attack with more fluency was compromised by tiring minds and legs, and the options to freshen things up were limited. Other than James O’Brien’s curious non-involvement and the welcome sight of a recovering Simon Ramsden, Stuart had three youngsters with five career Football League starts between them as his subs bench.

One of them, Rory Boulding, replaced the injured Evans with five minutes to go and looked lively, but the inevitability of the stalemate had set in long before. Bournemouth had the better second half chances, although but for the occasional slip up both Williams and Clarke defended well. Bullock might have won the game for City in the closing stages after his header from a corner was superbly kept out by Jalal.

The result leaves City exactly where they were before kick off and exactly where they were five weeks ago – four points off the play offs. With another 30 league games to play it’s a reasonable position to be, particularly taking into account the woeful start. But that the last seven league games have returned just one win suggests more is needed in the tank to stay in touch with and ultimately climb amongst the front runners.

The returning injured players will add to what’s in that tank, but getting more than 100% from the players available is the puzzle which must be solved to avoid the busyness of the physio room determining the outcome of the season.

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  1. Paul Wrigley says:

    Good match report and incisive comments Jason.

    Another enjoyable game at Valley Parade. The whole team battled for each other and raised their game. The effort and application shown yesterday convinced me to find the money for next year’s season ticket for myself and my nephew.

    Keep up the spirit in the camp please, Stuart and team.

    All we need now is a reasonable standard of refereeing.

  2. Mark Williams says:

    It’s the wins against the likes of Accy and Grimsby that will determne how our season ends – yesterdays point could prove vital come May – as we all (well bar the usual) could see, the players chosen yesterday all gave 100% and some out of their preferred positions.

    Whilst we talk of strength in depth – cast an eye at Bournemouth who have around 18 players to call on in total – yesterday they had 4 subs – so were missing a few.
    They looked cocky and had that swagger and arrogance that comes with being top of the table, but were well drilled and had a few outstanding players in key positions.
    Their manager seems to be getting the best out of them, but can they last the pace if key players drop out through injury or loss of form?

    The only negative for me yesterday was the lack of subs use once it became evident 2 or 3 of our side were running on empty – perhaps Stu does not have the confidence in some of the lads struggling to break through – but with Evans carrying another knock surely young Rory deserved a better chance than the few minutes he got.

  3. Steve Benson says:

    I felt it was a decent result, all things considered, particularly the injuries.

    Once Bournemouth dropped deeper we looked far less likely to score than when Evans was getting behind their high line in the first half. An effective tactical response by their manager.

    I, too, found it a bit odd that Stuart persisted with the same personnel and approach throughout the second half when nothing much was happening. Flynn played well up front first half but looked less effective as the game went on – playing back-to-goal isn’t really his forte and we badly missed his surging runs and organisation in midfield. I’d have been tempted to move Bully up front as the target (since he’s done that before quite successfully) and drop Flynn into central midfield, but perhaps Stuart felt that would have weakened us defensively. Not sure why he couldn’t have given Rory B a bit longer, since Evans was clearly struggling, nor why James O’B didn’t get on for Neilson, who started brightly but was largely an onlooker throughout the second half. Still, this is nitpicking. It was a result that most of us would have taken before the game.

    From where I sit, admittedly on the half way line, it looked obvious that the pass was forward and their scorer was ahead of the passer and therefore must have been offside; but the ref and linesman were both so far behind the play, without the higher view from the stands, that they presumably couldn’t see anything wrong.

  4. Paul Firth says:

    Having replayed the Bournemouth goal several times from the TV footage, I have to concede that Pitman was behind Robinson when the pass was made. The line at the front edge of the penalty area is conclusive, even with the camera being on the half-way line. The goal was legitimate. This does not necessarily mean, of course, that the assistant referee made a wonderful decision. Based on the majority of the decisions made by the officials, an old expression about ‘luck’ and ‘judgement’ comes to mind.

  5. Michael Wood says:

    There is little doubt that the goal was onside (Well, I have a still of it that for copyright reasons I can’t post and it is totally onside) but the key words here are “little doubt” and at the time there was doubt that the goal was onside which the linesman rightly gave to the attacking side.

    Perhaps we must then wonder why against Hereford similar doubt went to the defensive side? The laws (of the game, not the land) tell linesmen to give the doubt to the attacking side which means that in the last three situations of this nature one has been officiated correctly and two not.

    One might further go on to ask why Anton Robinson and Marvin Bartley were allowed to rampage around the midfield and not pick up more than a talking to from the Referee. Certainly the Referee who booked and sent off Lee Bullock for two offences against Hereford would have not allowed the pair to carry on with a series of aggressive tackles (or indeed Zesh Rehman after 85 minutes but after ignoring two footed tackles all afternoon he could hardly start carding then) without a caution.

    Every game is supposed to be played under the same set of rules but yesterday’s match and the game with Hereford were simply not.

  6. Chris Newell says:

    My real grumble yesterday was with Stuart. Fair enough we have injuries but I just wish that now and then he’d second guess opposition managers instead of waiting to see what they do and then deciding whether to react. As soon as Bournemouth changed things it was a different game and we badly missed Flynn in midfield. For me the 2 options were to either take of Rehman for Boulding and drop Flynn back into his preffered position, or if we can’t trust R. Boulding for 45 minutes then just swap Flynn & Bullock, at least that way we have a target man (of sorts). Giving Boulding 6 minites was a waste of his energy. You really can’t knock the players this season, but sometimes I just think Stuart’s tactical naivety shows through a little.

    Having said all that the performance was good, we created chances and when you look at who we’ve got to come back in the next few weeks/months I would say that things can (and will) only get better. Daley’s return could be the turning point of the season, he’ll give us a whole new dimension and with defenders worrying about him the likes of Brandon & Neilson may just slip under the radar.

    Roll on the good times!

  7. David Smith says:


    Good article and a fair reflection on the game itself.

    I left the ground a little disappointed we hadn’t pushed for more against what was a dangerous, but there for the taking AFC Bournemouth side. However, listening to Stuart being interviewed after the game, he talked sense and although I felt we could have done more to win the game second half, a constant thought in his mind must have been that AFC Bournemouth are top of the league for a reason and they won’t need that many chances to win this game. They attacked with pace and enough menace to suggest that if they found their stride we would be hanging on.

    I felt that Luke O’Brien was outstanding again, he just keeps improving and the only area to work on now is set plays – far too close to the keeper. However, when everyone is fit, James O’Brien plays and has a wonderful delivery so it’s not a massive issue. Bullock had a decent game, one of those where you don’t really notice him but he never makes mistakes. Flynn is so far for me the player of the season. He does everything that’s asked of him and on Saturday, he won his fair share of headers for someone who isn’t’ really that tall against a big back line.

    The only real issue I have with the club at the minute is Rory Boulding. This is now his third season with us and that’s the first time I’ve seen him play. He looked lively enough but 5 minutes isn’t really enough to judge him on. The thing that bothers me is that it’s now his third season, we’re in a situation where midfielders are playing up front and yet we’ve got a striker on the bench the manager won’t play. If he’s not good enough, get rid or play him. I understand there’s been a lot of talk about how he’s part of Michael Boulding’s deal but surely, that can’t be right?

    On a final note, I thought Eastwood had a good game. He’s come in for some criticism recently (from myself included) so it’s only fair to offer credit where it’s due also.

  8. Steve Benson says:

    Having looked at the footage on the BBC My Club site it is clear that their goal was onside. Just goes to show how appearances can be deceptive – everyone around me was convinced it was offside.

    Actually, Zesh’s hesitation aside, both goals were really well worked. Bully’s pass has been singled out for praise but the threaded pass to him by Brandon should also be noted, as it opened up the opportunity. I thought Brandon had his most effective game so far, particularly first half.

    I see that Stuart has publicly said that he is looking for a striker on loan to tide us over this injury crisis, which seems to suggest that he doesn’t have much confidence in young Rory.

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