Dagenham & Redbridge 1
Bradford City 0
Saturday 3 March, 2012
It’s when your football team lets you down in the areas you expect them to be strong that the ultimate betrayal is felt.
Matthew Saunders had put Dagenham & Redbridge 1-0 ahead with a stunning free kick – but with 19 minutes still to play, weeks of watching Bradford City stage late fightbacks and always battle to the end left you feeling confident they would be able to come back. Sadly on this occasion, weapons were laid down and defeat ensued.
Perhaps it was just one setback too many for a squad which has had to battle against deficits so often this season; maybe it was down to the fatigue of playing a 5th game in 19 days. Whatever it was, we got no late rally and few credible moments where it looked like a draw could salvaged. It was a 20-minute period of play as wretched and as spirit-lacking as anything we’ve witnessed all season.
Defeat can be accepted, but not the white flag.
Collectively, the body language of the players was poor during the closing stages. Other than the commendable centre back Andrew Davies - who was thrown up front for the final 20 minutes - no one in the attacking third of the pitch was willing to accept responsibility of being the catalyst. When in receipt of possession, players would look to pass the onus onto someone else, rather than swing the ball into the box or have a shot. That was worrying.
It was too half-pace. Lone striker Craig Fagan was replaced with four minutes to go. Perhaps he was as baffled as the rest of us by this, but he failed to notice his number had been called up for a good few seconds until Nahki Wells went over and told him. He then walked off very slowly, eating up precious time by seemingly wanting to make clear his disappointment at being taken off. Three minutes into the four added on for stoppages, Matt Fry was under slight pressure when chasing a loose ball and opted to boot it out of the stand, rather than at least try and work it to a team mate so City could have one last attack.
We’ve not seen such a lack of courage from City for a number of months. And it’s to be hoped such a poor reaction to adversity was simply a bad day at the office, rather than a hint of darker things to come over the next few weeks.
For the majority of the afternoon this looked like a game the Bantams could win if they stepped up the tempo another notch. Dagenham didn’t seem as rough and physical as they have in recent years, but still presented plenty of problems from set pieces that required Davies and Luke Oliver to be at their best. Fry’s inclusion for the injured Marcel Seip looked welcome given his extra height. And though there some close calls, it seemed defensively the Bantams were solid enough to lay on the platform for a third straight away success.
Lee Bullock had been brought in to play the hole behind Fagan in the absence of Michael Flynn and David Syers, and he let no one down. We had all expected the more attacking Will Atkinson to take on this role, but the extra solidness Bullock offered his midfield colleagues when City didn’t have the ball was a worthy trade for a reduction in flair. Bullock had the first half’s best chance when he headed a Kyel Reid cross narrowly over the bar. Earlier the club’s longest-serving player saw another header blocked by Dagenham keeper Jonathan Bond, while on half time Davies had a stabbed effort at goal blocked by a defender.
For the first half of the second 45, City looked to be shading it. Reid was once again a handful; even though there was a feeling he was being relied upon too much by team mates, who also failed to provide enough support to give him the option of a short pass. Fagan ran a lot and tried to make clever runs over the top. Ritchie Jones was once again in outstanding form alongside the dependable Ricky Ravenhill.
Then came the Dagenham goal, and the sudden elevation in the level of urgency required caught out the Bantams. They just couldn’t muster the energy levels and composure to come back. It was desperate and aimless long balls, when at 0-0 passing moves had found some success. The play just lacked intelligence and thought.
Despite the need to bring on Wells, taking off Jones was a mistake for me - as he was the one player looking capable of charging from box-to-box. The still-frustratingly-average Deane Smalley was earlier taken off, with replacement Atkinson offering more quality on the ball. The forgotten Andy Haworth also came on; but the game was up and Jon McLaughlin had made three excellent saves at 1-0 vs Bond having nothing to do.
The referee James Linington – sigh, seriously, do we have to complain about a referee yet again? – played into Dagenham’s stop-start time-wasting tactics by penalising City players for any physical contact with a Dagenham opponent; but compared to recent dreadful performances we’ve seen from officials, it’s hard to blame him for defeat with any credibility. This was a game we let slip through our hands, when we should still be in the mindset of fighting for our lives.
Dagenham’s improved away facilities included the dressing room and tunnel being located by the City fans, which was always going to guarantee a magnified supporter reaction when they departed the field. Those fans who rushed to the very front attempted to applaud City as they trooped off directly in front of them, but very soon others had gathered round to yell abuse at Parkinson over his “boring” tactics and at the players for their underwhelming efforts. I swear I heard a faint chant of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” too.
On days like this it’s difficult to muster the enthusiasm to defend the players, but the fickle manner in which Parkinson is being treated by many fans has to condemned. He was slated last Saturday, lauded on Tuesday and now a quick glance at the Official Message Board this evening was abruptly ended by noticing a thread titled “How long does Parkinson have left?”. We simply should not go down this route of placing a manager under pressure. It is unthinkable that we fans could be demanding that a search for another manager starts up soon, yet again.
There is much for Parkinson to contemplate for sure. His conservative tactics didn’t pay off today when the game was there to be won at 0-0, and without Flynn and Syers there must be doubts about whether it is wise to persist with 4-4-1-1 in the two home games that occur this week. But the safety-first approach is slowly leading us to safety, and afternoons as frustrating as this will hopefully be looked back upon as minor bumps in the road.
Not a time to panic, but a big week for Parkinson in terms of ensuring City don’t slip back into previous bad habits.
City: McLaughlin, Kozluk, Oliver, Davies, Fry, Reid, Jones (Wells 74), Ravenhill, Smalley (Atkinson 60), Fagan (Howarth 86).
Subs not used: Annerson, Mitchell.