Issue How much should we analyse City’s uninspiring win over Stevenage?

As told by Jason Mckeown

Since I have been in football there has been a basic question to face. Are you pretty or are you efficient? It’s as if you’ve got to choose. What is dangerous for football is when people become convinced that you have to play a boring game to win.”

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager, May 2004

It was the complete reversal of football’s usual full time etiquette – supporters of the winning team warmly applauding, the losers receiving a mixture of boos and appreciation for at least trying – that encapsulated Saturday’s outcome in all but result.

Bradford City may have won the game 1-0, but we home fans trooped out lacking that warm feeling of satisfaction a win usually generates. Meanwhile the Stevenage fans stayed back to afford their players a standing ovation that lasted beyond the emptying of the rest of the stadium. When they did finally depart, their chanting was kept up on Midland Road outside. Any passer-by could only have concluded, from seeing the glum faces of City fans and the smiles of their Stevenage counterparts, that the Football League newcomers had just won the game.

As the roads around the stadium clogged up from heavy traffic, City manager Peter Taylor admitted live on BBC Radio Leeds that it had been a poor performance from his team, probably caused by tiredness from the midweek extra time heroics against Nottingham Forest. The listening Huddersfield Town summariser Kieran O’Regan quickly and emphatically rejected Taylor’s explanation, claiming it was too early into the season for fatigue to play a part.

And he might be right, perhaps instead Taylor’s squad rotation had more to do with an under-whelming display. There had been seven changes from the team at Shrewsbury to the Forest starting eleven, and a further five changes from that were made for Saturday’s game. Three games in, and already 19 different players have been used. The grumblings that the team played like a bunch of strangers arguably carried some merit.

But while a poor performance should largely be tolerated by City fans if it still achieves the desired result of three points, it was the manner of how City played which prompted the most concern. Once Omar Daley had lifted a shot over the bar early in the second half, Boro keeper Chris Day was not even troubled by so much as a wild long range shot into the Kop. City sat back and defended, many players seemingly fearing to cross over the half way line.

Were they too tired, shy among each other’s company, or was playing so conservatively the result of quite deliberately and effectively-employed tactics from Taylor?

When it became apparent City were just going to defend dourly for the game’s final 30 minutes, restricting visiting attacks to long range efforts, fears began to spread about whether we’d have to become used to this. Ever since he became manager in February, there’s been a Jekyll and Hyde nature to Taylor’s reputation. A strong track record at several clubs provides encouragement he can deliver some belated success to this club, but listen closely to supporters of the teams he’s managed and complaints about boring football are a worrying constant.

During the initial 18-game spell last season, we were treated to some exciting and unpredictable football, but on other occasions City played some unappealing and tedious stuff. The final five games of the campaign saw a 4-3-3 formation used to generally-thrilling effect, and the manner in which City battled back to defeat Forest last Tuesday was anything but boring. So which is the real Bradford City, and which is the real Peter Taylor?

Perhaps it’s best not to over-analyse Saturday’s events, for the time being at least. It went by almost completely unnoticed, but tagging on the results at the end of last season meant this was a fifth straight win at Valley Parade – a feat not bettered since the promotion-winning side of 1998-99. At this level few teams can play consistently well, and with justification we can perhaps view Saturday’s showing as the type of game we’ve regularly lost over recent years.

But Taylor cannot discount the importance of entertaining either. It won’t have escaped Mark Lawn or Julian Rhodes attention that Saturday was – officially at least – City’s lowest league attendance since dropping to League Two level in 2007, and any floating fans present will hardly be rushing back.

Those who were there produced an atmosphere both pitiful and wholly embarrassing. To be completely out-sung by barely 200 opposition supporters is a situation we cannot simply allow to continue in the future battles ahead.

The question is whether it is the team’s responsibility to provide the fans with the spark to sing or the supporters to lift the players is one we’ll never universally agree on. But if the boos that filled the air at full time deservedly gave Taylor food for thought, the continued chanting of opposition fans as we filed out of the ground gave us fans something to reflect on too.

Despite the victory, Valley Parade was not a happy place to be on Saturday. Supporters, management and players all have a responsibility to in future reverse all outcomes but the result.