Seething and Learning

The question before us, Dear Reader, is one of motivation as Bradford City lost 2-0 at Valley Parade to Dag and Red after a week of two impressive wins seemed to set up the play off charge for the Bantams.

80 minutes gone when Ben Strevens finished off a tidy move for the visitors taking advantage of Stuart McCall’s laudable efforts to play a fullbackless 3412 to try get back on level terms those play off ambitions seemed lost. In fact they probably were before kick off but confidence after wins and good performances can be as much an enemy at the start of a football match as the habitual losing pattern McCall found his team in earlier in the season.

With two fine wins this week on the back of a run stretching back to Boxing Day which has seem good results and good performances Valley Parade turned up expecting and hands were sat on – football supporters have this way of flipping between an attitude of dark pessimism and massive expectation at the recording of two wins – but more crucially the equivalent performances were put in on the field.

Bradford City emerged from the dressing room in the mistaken believe that the win would flow in following previous results and that – in essence – they did not have to put in the effort to claim victory. This game was lost in the dressing room at 14:59.

Bill Shankly would tell all is Liverpool sides of the 1970s were first tasked in a season with avoiding relegation understanding that every game in football had to be won over the course of 90 minutes and that domination in football comes from an ability to not assume those victories against any opposition.

There is a line between confident and arrogant; between thinking and expecting; and City were too far the wrong side of that line. Alex Rhodes is an easy to pick out offender as he hung on the last man waiting for the perfect pass that would free him for attacking play rather than playing with the endeavour that saw him achieve in recent games. Omar Daley showed the same entirely forgetting that it was his harrying and chasing that brought about his goal against Rotherham last week. Joe Colbeck could hold his head up and say that he put in the same effort to try get this win as he did previous but no doubts anyone else could.

The same cannot be said for Dag & Red who at one point had Scott Griffiths block three shots in a minute – one with his face – and showed the sort of work rate that deserved a victory. It is simple to say but very true: They wanted it more.

All of which sounds damning and the margin of error today was slight – Barry Conlon’s missed penalty at 1-0 could have seen City back in the game and go on to win – but this ability to keep a team focused while winning is one of the most difficult things in football and something that even the best managers the game has seen have to learn and get wrong.

The balance McCall must build is on the one hand he must let confidence grow and let his players think they are winning games because of their excellence and on the other hand he must break them down and remind them that they cannot expect to beat anyone without putting in the effort. It is a conversation that goes “You are the best footballers in the world and can beat anyone but if you don’t run yourselves around then you can’t beat anyone” and if I knew a good way of putting that to a bunch of men then I would be doing it and not writing about doing it.

So McCall faces the inconstancy of over confidence and looks to learn what he can as he did that caused by the lack of confidence earlier in the season. One thing that his rookie year in League Two will have done is provide a lot of learning experiences for the ginger one but it should be noted at this point with a quarter of the season to go that League Two in 2007/2008 is freakish.

Today of the twelve games played five were home wins and five away victories which continues that balance as being seventeen more away wins than home wins this season. It is a season in which – for whatever reason – it is more common that the away side picks up the victory than the home side does. To put that in context in the 120 years of English League Football over all divisions ever run it has never been the case that a season has finished with more away wins than home. Never happened before.

City and McCall’s problems are far more common. Over confidence, players putting in 75% thinking they can stroll to wins, feet off the ground and people not thinking that winning game three on a run requires less effort than winning game one did. Something to work on before any side is able to mount a promotion campaign.