Stuck in a moment you can’t get out of – trying to make some sense of the season

Cheltenham Town 3

Spencer 46, 63, Burgess 71

Bradford City 1

Wells 8

Saturday 28 April 2012

By Damien Wilkinson

“Don’t say that later will be better, now you’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it”

With apologies to U2, it certainly feels like City are glued to their current position of 18th in the League table.

Indeed, as the 2011-12 season draws to a close there is a mixture of opinion amongst City fans as to what conclusions to draw from the campaign. The upheaval following the departure of Peter Jackson and arrival of Phil Parkinson, the rebuilding of the squad, including numerous loan players, the use of 39 players before the start of today’s match, and inconsistent stop/start form have meant that an almost limitless permutations of opinions can be formed, as to whether we are better or worse than at the start of the season and perhaps more importantly now, how this may or may not translate into next season.

So against this backdrop, a noisy and impressive City following of some 356 supporters made the trip to Whaddon Road (or the snappily titled Abbey Business Stadium if you prefer). The ground, which has undergone a number of improvements in recent times, is compact and fit for purpose with chanting curiously confined to one corner block of the stand of the ground next to the away end! The crowd of 3,939, whilst above the average crowd this season of 3,401, was accompanied by a somewhat over the top police presence outside the ground.

Despite mathematically confirming survival in League 2 in the previous match, Phil Parkinson has spoken of the desire to finish the season as well as possible. Accordingly, City fielded a strong side, making one change (Will Atkinson replacing Craig Fagan, whose contract it was announced earlier, had been cancelled, along with that of Michael Flynn and Chris Mitchell, as the pre-season clear out begins). This also respected the importance of this fixture to Cheltenham, who at the beginning of the day stood in 6th place in the division with 71 points, and needed a win to cement their place in the play-off positions.

A place on the bench was afforded however, to young striker Adam Baker, a perfect end to a week which saw him earn his first professional contract and win youth player of the year. Despite serving his 5 match ban Andrew Davies didn’t travel with the squad, perhaps suggesting his time at the club may have come to an end.

Cheltenham, who have spent a good part of the season in the top two, have experienced somewhat mixed results, certainly since the start of 2012, resulting in them dropping into the play off positions. On a more depressing note to City fans, and as an illustration of Cheltenham’s dipping form, Cheltenham managed to match City’s current point tally before the match, some 20 matches ago on 2 January 2012! Cheltenham manager Mark Yates made three changes to the team to that which lost 1-0 away to fellow play-off contenders, Crewe, in the previous match, bringing in Bennett, Low and Burgess.

Interesting to note that for a well-placed side, their joint top scorers, Daryl Duffy and Kaid Mohamed (both starting on the bench) have scored 11 goals in 40 and 44 league appearances respectively, before today’s match. Contrast this with James Hanson (13 goals from 37 appearances) and Nahki Wells (9 from 34) as evidence that the requirement for a “20 goal a season” striker is perhaps not the necessity some may believe for a tilt at promotion.

One of the things that stands out in League Two this season is the lack of real difference between sides at the top and bottom of the division. Recent City matches and performances have illustrated the perils of predicting results, with any side, bar perhaps the bottom two, seemingly capable of beating the other. As a result, matches can often hinge around the narrowest of margins, such as chances being taken, refereeing decisions and sendings off. The “width of a post” never felt more relevant.

So on to the match itself.

City came storming out of the blocks, showing similar desire and commitment to the previous away fixture against Northampton. After both sides hitting the woodwork in the opening stages, it was no major surprise when Wells, turned sublimely and rifled a shot into the net to put City in the lead on 7 minutes. A great piece of skill from the Bermudan, illustrating his recent form, and he continued to torment the Cheltenham defence as City pressed forward in the first half.

A number of chances came and went with Wells again going close a couple more times, whilst City’s defence also looked comfortable in defence, with strong performances from Guy Branston and Luke Oliver again catching the eye. This domination looked set to reap further dividends for City and perhaps recognising this, with a few minutes left to half time remaining, Cheltenham sought to change things, bringing on forward Kaid Mohamed.

City were rightly cheered off at half time with hopes of a third successive victory looking well placed.

The second half was to make a mockery of such hopes. City managed to concede within a minute of the restart – soft defending allowing substitute Mohamed to cross for Huddersfield loanee Spencer to turn the ball past Matt Duke. Despite an almost immediate response with Hanson thwarted by keeper Brown, there was to be no recovery. City then struggled to string passes together and retain the ball for any meaningful pressure and this led to Kyel Reid, in particular, becoming increasingly marginalised, and snuffing out any attacking threat.

Parkinson sought to change things with Ritchie Jones, somewhat surprisingly, making way for Lee Bullock after 55 minutes.

Cheltenham, in the meantime stepped up their pressure and the City defence became under continued siege. Almost inevitably, the defence yielded, after the ball ricocheted to Spencer, who arrowed a fine effort into the top corner of the net on 63 minutes, giving Duke no chance.

At this stage the match certainly looked like it was slipping away, and this was confirmed 8 minutes later, when an over the top ball eluded Branston, leaving Burgess clear to lob the advancing Duke.

Further changes were then made with Branston and the again ineffective Atkinson being replaced by Dave Syers and Deane Smalley on 77 minutes and, in a last throw of the dice, Bullock dropping back into central defence as part of this reshuffle. This ultimately made little difference, and despite a couple of late City chances, Hanson hitting the bar with a looping header, and Syers going close, the second half came to a depressing end.

Cheltenham celebrated their confirmed play-off place and, as the City players trooped off, fittingly a good number of them shaking hands and mingling with the away fans, it was difficult to avoid frustration with another Jekyll and Hyde performance, and the wasting of an encouraging first half performance.

So the end of the season draws another match closer, leaving only the home fixture against newly crowned League 2 champions Swindon Town to contend with. City fans can only hope that the positive form within the last few matches can be turned into a more consistent start to the next campaign, but will be apprehensive given experiences over the last few close-seasons.

Indeed, until the season ticket uptake is known at the end of May, the retained players list announced, and so forth, it will be difficult to gauge what to expect. Furthermore, recent renewed speculation regarding moving Bradford Bulls to Valley Parade, potential investment channelled in from George Galloway and so on will no doubt also gather momentum over the coming weeks, adding to the uncertainty.

But then again this is Bradford City after all, so it certainly won’t be a dull moment we are stuck in!

City: Duke, Ramsden, Branston (Syers 77),  Oliver, Kozluk, Reid, Ravenhill, Jones, (Bullock 55) Atkinson (Smalley 77), Hanson, Wells

Unused Subs: McLaughlin, Baker

Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: