Issue Jackson’s hopes hang in the balance as the feel-good factor recedes

As told by Jason Mckeown

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | David Syers, Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke O'Brien | Gareth Evans, Tom Adeyemi, Michael Flynn, Scott Dobie | Jake Speight, James Hanson | Darren Stephenson, Leon Osborne

Suddenly the unifying feel-good factor witnessed at the Globe Arena two weeks ago seems like a distant memory. 180 minutes of subsequently apathetic football have loosened Peter Jackson’s grip on pole position for the manager’s job full time. It may be wrong for his chances to fluctuate game-to-game like this, but this afternoon and last week have hardly offered compelling evidence in support of the interim manager’s cause.

Speaking ahead of this disappointing defeat, joint-Chairman Mark Lawn revealed it is likely Bradford City will make a final decision on the next manager around Easter time. Therefore Jackson probably has at least another four games in the hotseat to build a stronger case than his first five games provide. Few would doubt he has made an impact as he reaches his one month milestone in charge on Sunday, but seven points from 15 is hardly a significant improvement on the six points Peter Taylor collected during his final five games.

And therein lies his major issue to date. There just isn’t enough of a difference to the way City are performing with Jackson at the helm when looking at the widening picture. Initially the Bantams were playing a much more appealing passing style of football compared to efforts under Taylor. Yet both today and last week there has been a frustrating reverting back to direct football that sees the ball punted aimlessly in the direction of Jake Speight and James Hanson. Jackson can argue he doesn’t want his players to perform in this way, but this would hardly generate confidence over his leadership abilities.

Amazingly in a game where they were so clearly second best, City took the lead and for 10 minutes looked on course to sneak an undeserved victory. But a very impressive Shrewsbury side demonstrated why they are in the promotion shake-up by coming back to earn a valuable win. Rarely do dropped points look acceptable when you’ve held a lead in a match; and, although Shrewsbury’s winner came with six minutes left on the clock, the fact City had been unable to curtail their opponents’ dominance from kick off reflected badly on everyone.

Sure there were mitigating circumstances. Much of the pre-match focus was on how Jackson would compensate for the injured Luke Oliver at the back, but ultimately the absence of the suspended Jon Worthington was more crucially felt. City’s midfield four were badly out-gunned for much of the game and lacked the energy and drive to function as an effective attacking force. They lacked a David Syers.

Syers himself was thrust into a right back role he at least looked more comfortable performing compared to his efforts in this position against Northampton a week ago. With Lewis Hunt moved over to centre back to cover Oliver and putting in an extremely strong display, Jackson could argue he’d made the right call. But as the midfield already featured two strikers as widemen, there remained a suspicion all afternoon that there were just too many players lining up out of their best position, tipping the balance in Shrewsbury’s favour.

Particularly as Tom Adeyemi was asked to perform a defensive midfield position which appears more naturally suited to Syers and certainly isn’t ideal for the on-loan Norwich midfielder. For the first 45 minutes especially the midfield four were on the back foot and struggled to find time and space to attack, with Michael Flynn very average again. Shrewsbury hunted in packs down the flanks, forcing Gareth Evans and a much more willing Scott Dobie to defend for much of the half. But with so many players forced deep, the front two of Hanson and Speight were left badly isolated.

In other words, it was the same balance conundrum that Taylor had failed so badly to solve.

Were it not for an outstanding display from Jon McLaughlin, Shrewsbury’s dominance would have been rewarded with a 2 or even 3-0 half time scoreline. After getting away with making a hash of a low cross into the box, McLaughlin maintained his confidence and made a terrific double block from the dangerous Matt Harrold and Mark Wright. Just before half time Nicky Wroe was played clear on goal, but McLaughlin stood up well to make a brilliant one-on-one block. At half time all four sides of the crowd afforded the keeper a standing ovation.

City did begin to improve in the second half, with Jackson pushing Adeyemi further forwards so he could link up with Speight and Hanson. Though McLaughlin was still busy, having to tip over David Davis’ long-range shot and later on keep out Wright’s header. Darren Stephenson was handed a senior debut in place of the woeful Speight, and the crowd’s positive reception to his arrival helped the players to temporarily stem the tide.

Midway through the second half Adeyemi took advantage of a woeful punch downwards from Shrewsbury keeper Ben Smith to volley the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the area; and for Jackson and City it was looking like a good day after all. Yet the wily Graham Turner made two inspirational substitutions – bringing on Tom Bradshaw and opening-day-of-the-season-City-tormentor Lionel Ainsworth – that re-shifted the momentum again.

City switched off from a throw-in, and Bradshaw struck with venom from distance to beat McLaughlin at his near post with 13 minutes to go. The substitute then won the game on 84 minutes after Jon Taylor had got free of Syers on the left – despite a strong suspicion of fouling the makeshift right back – and crossed for him to tap in.

In between City had effectively played upon Smith’s hesitancy in goal by swinging in some decent crosses that left him flapping. The best chance saw Hanson’s excellent run and cross for Dobie to head home thwarted by a defender on the line. On another day and with a bit more luck City could have won it instead of going on to lose, but then again they had benefited from some good fortune in defeating Rotherham and Morecambe.

In the end the day lacked conclusions. City are just about safe from relegation, but another few points are still required. Jackson could have been packing up his desk at full time, but Lawn’s pre-match comments revealed the assessment will go on a while longer. Lawn also claimed that results are what matter, and one has to wonder whether Jackson’s chances are little more advanced than a game of musical chairs. Will his latest result be win, draw and lose when the music stops – and will that determine the outcome?

Almost every manager I’ve known is popular at first – and there’s always that period where we almost believe they’ll be a superhero in what they are capable of achieving, before over time they prove themselves to be human with flaws that drive their popularity downwards. So while the six other managerial candidates can still hide behind their cape and remain superhero in their potential, Jackson – with some questionable team selections, iffy tactics and average performances – is left to reveal his defects that all the while reduce his chances.

Two weeks after looking a shoe-in for the job – for Jackson, you begin to suspect this story isn’t going to have a happy ending.