Bradford City 0
Tuesday 25 March, 2014
By Gareth Walker
From a Bradford City perspective, the game against Walsall was an opportunity to show that the ‘performance’ against Shrewsbury Town on Saturday was a one off. Unfortunately, they didn’t take it, and instead continued where they left off in Shropshire.
Listless, abject, uninspiring, insipid and abysmal are all terms that I have seen used to describe the fare served up last night and, in truth, it is difficult to argue with the use of any of them.
The problems filtered right down from the management team, who got the ball rolling with a strange decision to play Matthew Bates in central midfield alongside the returning Gary Jones. Did the changes send out the wrong message to the team? Who knows, but many of the players seemed to play like their minds were already on the beach for their summer holidays.
The fact that Nathan Doyle injured his groin at the weekend and Matty Dolan had a shocker of a game at New Meadow meant that Magic Man was certain to start this game, but the decision to play Bates alongside him, whilst leaving a specialist central midfielder Chris Atkinson on the bench, was somewhat of a puzzler.
Bates has been much maligned by City fans whilst playing at centre back since he joined the club, and unfortunately the former Middlesbrough captain didn’t do much to change that opinion whilst plying his trade in a new position. Bates appears to me to be someone who doesn’t do much himself, yet is quite good at shouting and laying blame at teammates’ door.
The other change from the weekend was the restoration of Andy Gray to the starting line up in place of the injured James Hanson, who was only fit enough for a place on the bench. Phil Parkinson revealed afterwards that Hanson was only 60% fit and, oh, how we missed him!
Since Nahki Wells left the club in January, Hanson has really stepped up to the mark as City’s main goalscoring threat; with Aaron Mclean struggling to hit the ground running. But last night showed more clearly than ever how reliant we were on the departed Bermudan’s pace, in particular.
It is difficult to knock Mclean because the lad is clearly a trier – and his failure to make an impact so far is definitely not through lack of effort. However, the former Peterborough and Hull player just looks completely lost. He runs around like a headless chicken because he simply doesn’t seem to fit in with our style of play. However, strikers will always be judged on goals and his and Gray’s failure to test the Walsall keeper even once last night was a damning indictment of their time at City so far.
It wasn’t all the front two’s fault however, as the midfield and, in particular, Adam Reach completely failed to create anything for them. Parkinson was right in his post match assessment when he said that we created nothing in the final third. It was strange, therefore, when the manager took off the only two players who were looking remotely interested in trying to create something. Kyle Bennett was having a much better game than Reach, and Jones was giving 100% as ever, but it was these two players that Parkinson sacrificed in the second half in order to introduce Garry Thompson and Dolan to the action.
I am told that Jones in particular didn’t appear to be happy at being withdrawn from proceedings, as he completely failed to acknowledge Dolan when he came off and he threw a water bottle out of the dug out. He also apparently didn’t do his usual lap to applaud the crowd at the end. As City supporters, we can only hope that this was out of frustration rather than being a sign of deeper-rooted issues at the club.
Reach and Bennett’s careers at City have contrasted each other to date. Reach started like train when he first came to the club and many supporters were asking how he wasn’t getting a regular game at Middlesbrough. His more recent performances, however, have seen his contribution to the team diminish considerably and it makes one wonder if it is this inconsistency that has prevented him from establishing himself at a higher level, so far in his fledgling career.
Bennett on the other hand had a slow start to life at Valley Parade having hardly played any recent football for parent club Doncaster Rovers, and he then got sent off on debut. His performances in recent weeks have improved considerably, however, and it was him who provided any slight glimmer of a threat to Walsall last night. The fact that he is out of contract at Doncaster this summer means that he has a point to prove, and he is showing the desire that you would expect from someone in his position.
Walsall for their part are known to be a very decent footballing team and they will consider themselves to have put in an almost textbook away performance. They dominated possession from start to finish, as they implemented their neat passing game. Although in reality they didn’t really have too many goalscoring chances.
I texted a friend during the first half to say what a dull game it was and how, in the stands, most people were already discussing how it felt like a 0-0, simply because there really hadn’t been that many shots on goal. The nearest that the first half came to breaking the deadlock was an awful mix up between Jon McLaughlin and Rory McArdle that almost gifted The Saddlers the lead.
Unfortunately, it was the away team’s greater cohesion in possession when contrasted with our long ball tactics that made them look a class above us. When we did get the ball off them, we were too quick to squander it either through sloppy play, through not holding it up well enough or through the midfield simply not getting involved enough.
Romiane Sawyers, Craig Westcarr and Fabien Brandy had looked to be a threat to us throughout, and it was these three players who combined to open the scoring in the 68th minute. From a City point of view, it was an incredibly soft goal to concede as what looked like a totally innocuous low ball to the near post was turned home by Westcarr who somehow got in front of McArdle and McLaughlin, neither of whom covered themselves in glory.
McLaughlin did make amends for his error less than five minutes later, however, when he made a fantastic full length save to deny Brandy adding a quickfire second. But it was the compete lack of a reaction from the rest of City side that was the most worrying aspect to see from the stands, and many supporters started to vent their frustration.
When the second goal did eventually arrive, it had a certain air of inevitability about it. It came just ten minutes after the first and from the best move of the match which Westcarr finished with a fine curling effort from the edge of the area. The City players looked like strangers, whilst the crowd booed and started to head for the exits in their droves.
Many supporters who I normally consider to be positive about the team were worried by the complete lack of effort, desire and fighting spirit on show last night. These are issues that we don’t normally identify with a Parkinson team; we thought that we had left them behind in the dark days of Peter Taylor’s tenure. However, the number of players who simply appeared to be going through the motions has led many to again question this manager’s tactics and his record in the transfer market. Even on his best days, Parkinson has appeared overly reliant on Plan A and the same old faces in the team.
The boos that echoed around Valley Parade at half time and at full time were noticeable because it has been so rare to hear them during Parkinson’s tenure. Most of the dissent probably came from people who were shocked at how bad we were. The only people who weren’t shocked will have been those who, along with me, were unfortunate enough to travel to Shrewsbury at the weekend.
After the game, Parkinson didn’t come out of the dressing room in time to speak to the radio before Pulse Sport went off air, and Sticks speculated that there would be a few players getting a dressing down. When he did eventually emerge, the manager was extremely subdued and said that he didn’t blame the crowd one bit for voicing their discontent.
It’s sad to say, but the complete lack of a goal threat makes this game as bad as any I have seen under this manager. It is true that this group of players and management have dug us out of holes in the past, but they need to show the fight that made them famous in order to do it again.
The gap to the relegation places is currently six points, but it will be down to five if Stevenage win their game in hand. City’s next two games are both tough looking away fixtures to Leyton Orient and Coventry, and we will have to perform a damn sight better than we have in the last two games if we want to pick up any points from them.
Somebody needs to get us going again, because a return of zero points would leave even the most ardent optimist amongst us having to admit that we are in a relegation battle.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 56), Bates, Jones (Dolan 81), Reach, Mclean, Gray (Hanson 60)
Not used: Bentley, McHugh, Atkinson, Yeates
Categories: Match Reports