Issue Everything looks bad right now

As told by Jason Mckeown

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Lee Bullock, Tom Doherty | Gareth Evans, Omar Daley, Louis Moult, James Hanson | Robbie Threlfall, Jake Speight, David Syers

In the immediate minutes that followed Anthony Grant’s second half KO blow for Southend, the overriding mood in the air was not provided by the vocal anger of many apoplectic home fans – but the melancholy of everybody else.

This was all very miserably familiar. A game Bradford City ‘should’ win turning out to be a morale-denting defeat so formulated and repetitive over the past few years that it feels like we’re trapped in our own version of Last of the Summer Wine. Just like the world’s long-running sitcom, it ceased to be even mildly amusing a long, long time ago.

But as many supporters reacted with rage, unleashing levels of vociferous abuse that, even by Valley Parade standards, has not been reached for a good few seasons; it was the silent resignation of others which arguably represents the most concern. Worry not too much of those who text into Radio Leeds and log onto message boards to angrily point the finger, worry about those who may now be questioning their sanity in attending next time.

Prior to kick off I was buying my tickets for Stockport away and found a healthy queue of City fans handing over £20 to watch this evening’s game. With the first two league attendances of the season falling below the 11,000 mark, the hope that the shortfall of season ticket sales would be rectified by pay on the day supporters will be quickly dashed by evenings as wretched as this. Where three seasons ago a similarly woeful defeat to Accrington brought out a defiant spirit amongst supporters, tonight there was not even the slim consolation of an enjoyable atmosphere to keep the floating supporter interested.

Tonight Valley Parade was simply an ugly place to be. The boost of a commendable cup performance against higher division opposition was supposed to be act as the springboard that finally got the season going. When Tommy Doherty superbly played James Hanson through on goal after 10 minutes, we all prepared to celebrate the commencement of a promotion challenge after some false starts. Last season’s top scorer badly screwed his shot wide, and that was as good as it got for City.

Six minutes later Southend grabbed a lead that at the time seemed undeserved and slightly controversial – Barry Corr played through on goal but looking borderline offside, finishing impressively past Jon McLaughlin. But for the remaining 74 minutes the visitors made sure they were full value for the three points.

City’s formation and tactics were hard to fathom, but it appeared Peter Taylor had adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation particularly popular at this year’s World Cup. Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty sat deep; Gareth Evans, Omar Daley and Louis Moult interchanged positions behind Hanson. But the three attacking midfielders/forwards were highly ineffective and left a hole that saw attacks quickly break down. All three were guilty of failing to utilise space and charging down blind alleys while in possession, when they needed greater awareness of what was around them. The uncompromising Southend defence easily lapped it up.

Home pressure was sporadic and little thought was paid to setting the tempo. Southend chased and harried the ball high up the park and hit City effectively on the counter attack by flooding players into the box. Josh Simpson and Craig Easton both squandered easy chances to double the advantage as a ponderous City defence panicked and continually lost sight of runners. Taylor headed to the dressing room at half time with the Bradford End chanting at him to sort it out.

Yet rather than address the trimmings, he uprooted the foundations. If there weren’t many bright spots to the first half, surely the performances of Doherty and Bullock should have been considered something to build on. While at times forced too deep, both showed composure while others hastily whacked the ball up the pitch. Doherty seemed to benefit from Bullock’s close support and everything good came through them. But the dismal performances of Evans, Daley and Moult just ahead left them hopelessly outnumbered and they needed an extra body to help. How Michael Flynn was missed.

But although Taylor made the right decision to bring on Flynn’s understudy David Syers at half time, he oddly took Bullock off in a straight swap. And while Luke O’Brien brought a bit more balance by being pushed to left midfield, with Robbie Threlfall replacing Louis Moult, the taking off of James Hanson – which may have been due to picking up a knock – for Jake Speight saw the problems largely remain. Speight played well, but he was the only one who could effectively hold up the ball.

City went 4-4-2, and a midfield which had played reasonably well but been outnumbered became even more out-gunned, Doherty struggling to exert any influence. Initially City at least carried more purpose and came close through Speight and Luke Oliver, but on 55 minutes Grant fired home from the edge of the area after a free kick was partially cleared and the mountain became even steeper.

There was an element of misfortune, however, as only seconds before the goal City had been attacking with some purpose. But when Syers’ ball to Doherty hit a bobble just before it reached the midfielder, Southend were able to break up the pitch, force a throw in and score. That’s how bad things went tonight, even that much-trumpeted new playing surface let us down.

The anger poured down from the stands, with Daley the obvious target and bizarrely told to “get off the pitch” by some fans in the Midland Road stand. We’ve used all three subs, so are we supposed to play with ten men? But while you can argue he and the rest deserved it, the fury reigning down does not present a productive atmosphere for the players to perform in. It is no surprise that certain players disappeared into their shells and left others to take responsibility. When O’Brien whacked an improbable crossfield ball over that Daley stood little chance of keeping in, it was the Jamaican and not the young defender who received the torrent of abuse.

With 13 minutes to go hope briefly flickered in the shape of the stupid sending off of right back Sean Clohessy, after he needlessly hacked O’Brien having already been booked for time wasting. But there was no way back despite pushing Oliver up front, with ideas long since run out. An awful evening was summed up by second half captain Steve Williams lashing a shot high into the Kop from a ridiculous distance, for no obvious reason than frustration.

Valley Parade emptied long before the end, sparing the players from volume 11 boos. But most will be back. And if City are to live up to the pre-season expectations there is a battle they must overcome – coping with this pressure. Half the people screaming abuse were livid for City launching long balls at the back, the other half were having a go for passing sideways and not getting it forwards quick enough. The players need to learn to ignore their frustrations and play in the right manner. The only people they need to obey are their team mates and management.

Taylor took full responsibility for the defeat afterwards, admitting his team selection had been wrong. And in this situation City have exactly the right man to cope with the pressure and get the players going again. He needs to find a system that works for the players and he has to stick with it, rather than constantly changing tactics and players. He needs to get the most out of the ability of Doherty by setting up the team so he can dictate the play. He needs to select a regular back four that are familiar with each other’s position on the field rather than having to look over their shoulders. He needs to address the worrying lack of chances and goals the forward line is delivering.

But as the sun went down during the second half, it will rise again on Saturday morning. There are eight days to work on the training ground and 42 games left to fulfill expectations. Paul Jewell was in the commentary box this evening, a reminder that, while everything looks bad now, a bad start to the season needn’t prove the end of it.