Issue The mood that cannot be shifted

As told by Jason Mckeown

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lewis Hunt, Shane Duff, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | David Syers, Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty, Luke O'Brien | Jake Speight, Gareth Evans | Louis Moult (for Evans), Leon Osborne (for Threlfall)

It lasted a few short seconds, its ramifications will be felt for at least another week.

There were just 12 minutes left to play and Bradford City, leading 1-0, conceded a corner. Then, crucially, they switched off for a few seconds as they slowly ambled back, and quick-thinking from two Stockport players saw the corner played short and hurriedly whipped into the box. The Bantams had now woken up to the danger and were racing back to mark players, but it was too late. George Donnelly was able to meet the ball unchallenged and head it emphatically beyond Jon McLaughlin.

Two points criminally thrown away, after little more than a couple of seconds of madness.

That Donnelly’s goal clinched a draw his side more than deserved was no consolation. Draws where you lose the lead are always much less satisfying, and the frustration at surrendering a hard-earned winning position will now contribute to another week of misery and self-pity. The message boards will be full of abuse for certain players, the manager and the chairmen. It matters little this draw stopped the rot of four straight defeats, patience is in far too short a supply.

This was neither an especially good or bad performance from City – but it was a team display chronically bereft of confidence. Balls too often launched long from the back, a lack of creativeness in the final third. Arguments raged between players on several occasions, no one seemed capable or willing to show leadership and take the game by the scruff of the neck. No one wanted to be the one who messed up, when instead they should have been looking to be the hero. Not a fun game to play in, not a fun game to watch.

City’s first half performance was particularly poor and more quality from Stockport would have seen City’s edginess punished. County enjoyed plenty of possession and worked the ball around outside City’s penalty area sprightly. But tellingly in the box, they were as toothless as the Bantams have been all season. Barry Conlon, booed as usual, had one of his off days we remember all to vividly. McLaughlin was kept occupied by easily catchable crosses and a couple of tame shots.

But as we City fans endured a black humour-inducing drenching in the roofless away end during half time – where, unlike two years ago, common sense eventually prevailed and we were allowed to move to an empty stand with a roof – manager Peter Taylor’s words in the dressing room seemed to inspire a reaction from his players, who emerged with far greater urgency.

Half time at Stockport

Getting soaked at half time. Click on photo to view enlarged version.

On 56 minutes, Jake Speight brilliantly turned his marker and charged into the box, got back to his feet – after seemingly been kicked from behind – and rolled the ball into the path of the onrushing David Syers, who tapped City into the lead. Only the third league goal all season, and after his Notts Forest cup strike it makes the young midfielder the Bantams’ top scorer.

It was a goal undeserved on the balance of play, but then Southend and Port Vale’s opening goals in the last two games hadn’t been deserved at the point they crossed the line. City were defending reasonably well – Lewis Hunt and Shane Duff having their best games to date – and there was every reason to believe they could hold on for an ugly win. Though an underbelly of uncertainty led them to players dropping further and further back, without showing any intellect towards hitting County on the break.

But still as long as they continue to concentrate we’ll be okay, right?

After Donnelly’s equaliser City actually showed greater application and attacked with more frequency, even if ex-Bantam Matt Glennon was only troubled by a long range effort from Tommy Doherty. Speight continued to look lively, though City’s two star performers were wide midfielders Syers and Luke O’Brien. The latter in particular was excellent going forwards and embarked on several promising dribbles. The best moment where he beat three players and raced into the box, before what looked set to be a stunning winner was foiled by a last ditch block as he pulled the trigger.

But neither O’Brien or any teammate was able to snatch a second goal that would have lifted the mood, and instead the gloom remains and the pressure going into the home game with Gillingham on Saturday will be that much higher. There are slow signs of progress, and to at least come off the Edgeley Park unbeaten is something to build on. But even though it’s early days, time is running out.

Rumours have already reached BfB’s ears that certain people are eying up a potential managerial vacancy at Valley Parade, but to make a change now risks writing off the season far too early given how often recent history shows a change of manager makes very little short-term difference. And as attendances continue to drop and self-pity among remaining supporters is allowed to be indulged, the club can’t afford another season of nothingness.

The last two games may have only provided small things to build on, but that doesn’t mean we should kick it all down.

Instead, we must remember what’s missing. Stockport were the better team today, simply because their impressive number 4 Paul Turnbull was able to run the midfield and ensure his team enjoyed far greater possession. City’s number 4 is some two weeks away, and Michael Flynn’s return will make a huge difference to a central midfield which still came up short – largely due to a poor performance from Lee Bullock.

Jake Speight is looking an excellent prospect, but his game would benefit greatly from a stronger striker alongside him. James Hanson is further away from fitness and Taylor can’t afford to wait; his planned loan signing for this week has to be someone who can hold up the ball and bring the best out of Speight. Gareth Evans struggled again, but if you want to criticise Taylor today his decision to replace him with the ineffective Louis Moult should be the place to start. When City needed to hold onto the ball, the inexperienced Moult was not the player the team needed.

And as the defence continues to carry at least one mistake in them, the eventual return of Simon Ramsden will prove a massive boost.

These are three big players for City. And if Man City’s Roberto Mancini and Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp can appear on national radio and blame poor results on missing a few key players when they have both spent massive amounts building a squad – as they both did minutes after full time at Edgeley Park – why should City’s injury list be discounted?

Sadly for Taylor, City’s top three performers from last season won’t be fit in time for Gillingham. The last two games have featured as close to a settled side as he has put out so far this campaign. It is largely they who must turn around this increasingly desperate situation – and it needs be a challenge they relish rather than dread.

In an excellent Stockport pub before kick off, a Manchester United supporter reminisced with me about the time he watched his beloved Red Devils play at Valley Parade 10 years ago, where City were 18 minutes and a Gary Walsh miss-kick away from securing a credible draw. But let’s stop looking at the past and shaking our heads at how bad we’ve had it since. Let’s stop believing our heritage deserves us higher status.

Today’s goal was a joy because it was crafted two players who’d overcome considerable setbacks to be playing professional football, Speight and Syers. They have triumphed where millions of us have failed, after it looked as though they had failed too, largely through hard work and overcoming  set backs.

So let’s follow Speight and Syer’s example and not just deliberate how low we’ve sunk, but consider how far we can climb.