Issue The problem, and the scale of the problem as City lose to Northampton

As told by Michael Wood

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lewis Hunt, Luke Oliver, Shaun Duff, Luke O'Brien | Tommy Doherty, Lee Bullock, David Syers | Jake Speight, Luke Oliver, Lewis Moult | Zesh Rehman, Lee Hundrie, Leon Osborne

If you set off in the wrong direction to Northampton – setting off in the wrong direction being as especially apt metaphor – and end up driving away from Bradford to Leeds past Appleley Bridge then one gazes over the grassy football field with City make their home for the rest of the week.

It looks like what it is – a football pitch with some room at the side to run around on and probably one could be forgiven for wondering what is wrong with it. For sure it is uneven, even to the naked eye but perfectly flat grass is not found even in a modern build like Northampton’s Sixfield Stadium. It looks like a football field suitable, one might think, for practising and playing football on.

The afternoon at Northampton’s Sixfield Stadium was as disheartening as one might imagine looking at the raw stats of the game. There is a single chance of note for the Bantams that was squandered by Lewis Moult and while City enjoyed much of the ball there was little to suggest that a win would come. Peter Taylor had talked much about the home side’s exertions in the League Cup in the week where they knocked out Liverpool on penalties and the effect that would have in the final half hour of the game but for the opening sixty minutes the Cobblers could have mistaken the League Two game for a practice game so low key was City’s offering.

The highlight – such as it was – for the Bantams came ten minutes into the match when Moult turned his man and hit a shot which was saved and there is no special blame attached to him for not doing better with that single opportunity but he – along with the rest of the team and the squad – stand undeniably and fairly obviously accused of not putting in enough effort.

That said none of the players who took the field for City could look to his left or his right and feel embarrassed by his performance being lacking in comparison to his team mates – there was no light to follow – but none of them could be said to have done anything which would have spurred the side on.

The effect was a general failure on the field, a sense that City were second best in every way. It may have been after an hour when Tommy Doherty almost played a great pass, and a minute later when Lee Bullock almost made a tackle it became clear that the home side had not been worked for the opening hour and had not tired, and thus would not fade.

So it proved. Billy McKay and Newcastle United loanee Ben Tozer scored for the home side in this supposed period of tiring and the home side celebrated the end of a good week leaving Peter Taylor to talk about how easy the Bantams had made it for the team which added City to Liverpool in the bested column.

Indeed Taylor was utterly accurate in his assessment of City’s failings – a point which makes it all the more frustrating to see the same problem reoccurring – and when he watches his City team put in 99% effort he must know how they struggle against any team who will put in the full hundred. Being a half second late to the tackle, a half yard wayward in your passing, a little bit shy or making the chance, and in effect one may as well be a mile away.

Five miles away from Valley Parade is Apperly Bridge. “It was good enough in 1997, and 1999” said one voice in the debate over the Bantams’ failure to find new training facilities “so why is it not good enough now?” Sir Bobby Robson talks about arriving at Newcastle United and finding a training pitch covered in dog poo. He told the club – and this was a man who had come to St James’ from Barcelona – that while carrying on as they were would be no worse other clubs would improve their facilities, and would over take them.

So while City spent the last eight years paying debts and administration costs – oh for the chance to have taken a seventeen point penalty back in 2002 and carried on as a debt free Championship club – other clubs have moved on and City are obviously lagging behind. This is an issue that goes beyond training pitches though – the symbolism aside – and into every aspect of a football club that seems to believe that in almost every way, at every level that all it has to do to get on is “turn up” and is constantly coming second best not by a mile, but by enough.

The solution to City’s problems are the subject of any amount of debate – perhaps the people who told us the problem was Stuart McCall being manager have all the answers, they seemed convinced that they had the answers six months ago just as the people who wanted rid of Colin Todd had all the answers back then – but one worries that the scale of the problem has yet to be fully appreciated.