Crewe Alexandra 1
Davis 21 (pen)
Bradford City 0
Tuesday 20 March, 2012
I’m sorry, but this simply isn’t good enough.
Actually, scrap that. I’m not sorry at all. Why should I be? To attend tonight’s uninspiring Bradford City defeat to Crewe I gave up half a day’s holiday allowance (when frankly I have too much work to do, and will probably take work home this weekend to make up for it). My 90-minute journey to Crewe actually took over three hours, because an overturned vehicle caused the M6 to close and the diversion route was extremely painful. And then the ludicrous way you had to queue up to buy a ticket before entering Gresty Road forced me and many others to miss the first five minutes of the game.
Years of abject defeats on the road have taught me that you should never righteously believe your commitment deserves to be rewarded by a win or good performance, but frankly this season has worn my patience too thin to keep tolerating yet more rubbish like this. It’s hard to be sympathetic of a relegation plight so obviously self-inflicted, and the crap I’ve had to put up with from my beloved football club this season – even costing me a friendship with someone who meant a lot to me – has proven very testing.
I – and the 348 other City fans present tonight, and the thousands following events at home – deserve better than this.
Deserve better than to endure watching a Bantams side so obviously badly set up. Ricky Ravenhill and Lee Bullock were tonight’s preferred central midfielders by Phil Parkinson. This combination looked good against Accrington two weeks ago, but tonight both performed deep holding roles - which provided a woeful lack of balance to the side and meant the attack struggled to function.
Parkinson’s cautious stance in playing two defensive-minded midfielders was in theory to enable him to deploy two out-and-out wingers in Kyel Reid and Deane Smalley, but they were left badly isolated and it became easy for Crewe to blunt their threat. Despite both producing good performances defensively, full backs Simon Ramsden and Matt Fry struggled to get forward and help their wingers.
The front two of James Hanson and Chris Dagnall received no support, meaning a strange scenario of City having four players entrusted with attacking - but all too remote from each other - while the other six outfield players were reluctant to even cross the half way line.
So Crewe, looking a much sharper side than the one rolled over by City on Boxing Day, were able to take the initiative and attack with greater purpose. And though there might have been a touch of harshness about the penalty they were awarded, after Andrew Davies was adjudged to have handled the ball, the way City were set up and the fact our back four rarely keeps a clean sheet meant Jon McLaughlin was always going to be picking the ball out of the net at some stage. Harry Davis converted the spotkick for what proved to be the winning goal.
City at least came out fighting in the second half, with Parkinson clearly encouraging them to give it a go. Hanson – who had a good game – headed a presentable chance wide. Smalley briefly came alive to be more of a threat, nodding a corner the wrong side of the post. Two good penalty shouts were turned down; Reid and the promising Dagnall become more involved in the game; and a growing mood of apprehension from Crewe players and fans confirmed City had them on the ropes.
Yet not for the first time in recent months, they were unable to land a knockout punch – or even test home keeper Steve Phillips. And despite bossing the first 20 minutes of the second half, the players soon began to look out of ideas. Crosses into the box proved too straightforward for the Alex defence to clear, especially given the lack of City bodies making runs in the final third. There was not enough movement off the ball, and the player in possession rarely had decent options to pass the ball onto.
Despite the introduction of David Syers and Nahki Wells from the bench, the initiative had been passed up and Crewe saw out the game with reasonable assurance. Syers had a glorious chance to net an unlikely equaliser deep in stoppage time, but his shot at goal following a scramble dropped wide of the post.
Those last 20 minutes, when City lost control and looked increasingly forlorn, really hurt to watch. It is not acceptable to see the players seemingly surrender, and to lack the creativity and composure to keep fighting until the end. They were a team beaten before the referee blew the final whistle. I can take defeat if we’ve truly given it a go – but tonight the tactics and effort levels deserved what they got.
We are Bradford City, for goodness sake. This should mean something in terms of the pride the players feel wearing the shirt and the way we approach games, at this level in particular. Yes it’s arrogant to talk of how big a club we are relative to our League Two peers, but we are a big club – and we should not be allowing our standards to drop so low. We set ourselves up to focus on keeping out the opposition, and then struggled to grasp control of the game when we had to play catch up.
The mood in the away end was not good – particularly at half time, where criticism of Parkinson and his tactics was the only topic of conversation wherever I went. You want to bang your head in frustration at why Syers or Ritchie Jones – who can both do the defensive midfield responsibilities Parkinson craves, but who also have the energy levels to get forward – are repeatedly left out of the starting XI. You just want to see City go for it properly and at least lose through being brave, instead of holding back and losing anyway.
Three games is a ludicrous timescale to turn on the manager, as many are doing; but there is no doubt that Parkinson goes into this weekend’s back-to-back home games under a certain amount of pressure. The gap above the bottom two is still four points, but the need for victories is growing more urgent.
Gillingham on Saturday is now a huge, huge match.
City: McLaughlin, Ramsden, Oliver, Davies, Fry, Smalley (Wells 71_, Bullock (Syers 71), Ravenhill, Reid, Hanson , Dagnall
Unused Subs: Annerson, Kozluk, Atkinson