AFC Wimbledon 2
Midson 83, Alexander 90
Bradford City 1
Saturday 16 February, 2013
By Alex Scott
I haven’t been looking forward to today. There’s been a dread in the pit of my stomach which has been building for weeks. The 2-1 reverse, and especially the performance that led to it would imply the same feeling amongst the squad.
The talk from within has been about focus, rectification, priorities. Phil Parkinson and the players have been out in force this week preaching the party line, appeasing our fictional overseers, the Football Gods, re-emphasising how our priorities were in the ‘right’ place. Even though they weren’t (his team selection tells you that much). And even though none of us had a problem with that anyway.
This past couple of weeks hasn’t felt like football at all. It’s felt like a gauntlet.
Everything has been viewed through the lens of next week; us, them, the media, everyone. Players have to focus and perform to ensure their starting place at Wembley. We need to build momentum for Wembley. For Wembley.
Every mention of focussing on the job at hand has highlighted it, ‘we must ignore what’s coming’. The blinking light amidst the darkness. The silence is deafening.
The segment of fans complaining about the league form, rueing the cup run have grown louder. They cannot be changed. They do not want to be changed. It will be always thus.
I really wanted to see a reserve team, I really did. Not because I didn’t care about winning, although I didn’t. It primarily a selfish act in that I couldn’t face the prolonged anxiety of panicking over every challenge, every jump, every run.
This is the downside of caring. The other side of the coin. After the semi final I wrote about how this team dragged me out of my cocoon of reason, making me feel again, this is an unfortunate side effect. I’m invested in these guys, not the win next week (I couldn’t care less), but these guys. These guys who are living out their (and my) dreams.
I’m not sure I could deal with a last second injury or suspension. I care about them. Damn me but I care. I wanted a reserve team.
An unchanged side from Tuesday partially allayed my fears, although anyone who has had to watch Gary Jones play whilst hyper-aware of his safety knows the wringer I’ve just been through. Terrifyingly all-action.
The game followed the path of many a Parkinson game. An illusion of control, a fragile dominance. A side good enough to dominate, but restricted by themselves. They don’t know how to be front-runners.
I’m not going to critique Phil Parkinson, he’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know, and come on, look where we are. But it isn’t a surprise that his greatest successes, even going back to last year, even with makeshift teams, have come in the cups. In the underdog role.
That he isn’t able to convert the team’s man-for-man superiority into points on the board is the other side of the coin.
I imagine there will be complaints about the referee, the corner that led to the winner, the pitch. Do not be derailed, these are sideshows to the actual issue. The ref wasn’t great, but he was the norm. And he was non-discriminatory. As a referee, when both sets of fans are ironically cheering free-kicks, you are either doing something right, or a whole lot wrong. It was probably the latter, but whatever.
What cost us the game was that, against the worst defence in the division, the worst home team in the division, the worst team in the division, we created two chances. And I’m defining ‘create’ loosely.
The goal game from a defensive howler, wonderful finish that it was. Shout out to Garry Thompson by the way. Amid a woeful attacking effort, he played as well as I’ve seen him today. He stands alone deserving of praise.
He was through again seconds after the opener, but the pitch did for him with an awful bobble. That chance came from another defensive mishap.
That was it. The midfield never got the ball; Michael Nelson et al had their phasers set to ‘hoof’. If I was being generous, I would say that was a function of the pitch. It also isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you have a striker who can hold it up, and midfielders who can get past the forwards. We had neither.
City’s ‘control’ and I really feel uncomfortable using that word here, was a function of their opponent’s incompetence. It’s true that Wimbledon didn’t have a chance until late on, but that was because they were incapable, not because they were overpowered. This fragile dominance has been a running theme this season, a tentative step into the fog masquerading as control.
The fact is, and I know I’m repeating myself here, the side haven’t shown an ability to play without Nahki Wells, or James Hanson, all year long. Today was merely another page in the book which seems set to damn our promotion hopes.
Looking forward to next week (to the extent we haven’t been this entire time), the only worry to come from today was Andrew Davies who took a knock early into the second period, refusing to come off when prompted by Parkinson after the opener.
I imagine he would be fit enough to play (if selected), but he was a shell of himself for the last half hour.
Kyel Reid had a frustrating day, where everything he tried didn’t work. Some may say, some who may have a narrative to fuel, that he was trying too hard to stake a claim for next week. I’m not sure that’s right, but I wouldn’t disagree with the sentiment. The fact Zavon Hines didn’t feature bodes poorly for the former Charlton man.
That same man with a narrative to fuel would note the lapses of concentration in the closing periods leading to the defeat, and although that would be really useful here, I just didn’t see it that way. Jones was his normal self, Nathan Doyle doubled over at the final whistle, Thompson fell to his knees. They wanted to win this game. Whilst the shadow of the arch loomed over the team selection, the performance was wholehearted. It just wasn’t particularly good.
Stood at Norbiton station after the game on the way back into London, a surprisingly sizeable and unsurprisingly loud selection of fans were rueing the cup run, complaining how they “wouldn’t want to get to Wembley again” (as if it were a choice). They cannot be changed, and come the end of the year, they may not be wrong. But I really struggle to care that we lost this game. It was a poor performance, they deserved no more, and now we can get to the matter at hand.
Next Sunday is a new day. City can sit back, play to their strengths. The big guns will be back for their moment in the sun. Fans can go back to their negativity on the Monday. As a week of magic is about to begin across Bradford, especially here on Width of a Post, this game will fade into the ether of terrible away defeats. Next week will be immortal. I can’t wait.
City: Duke, Darby, Nelson, Davies, Dickson, Atkinson, Jones, Doyle, Reid (Wells 84), Thompson, Gray (Hanson 66)
Subs: McLaughlin, McHugh, Hines, Turgott, Good