Preparing to cope with impending gloom

tim

By Jason McKeown

So let’s talk about happiness, and let’s talk about achievement.

After Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Aldershot Town on Saturday, many City supporters are far from happy about another winless home game and the lack of reduction in the gap to the play off spots. There may be 11 games to go, and we may be unbeaten in four, but a top seven finish is looking increasingly unlikely. Something has to change, and change fast.

The sense of disappointment is palpable. Look at the team. Look at the manager. The 11th place that we currently reside in is clearly not what we expected. On the face of it, a huge underachievement. The reality of another season in the basement division – that’ll be a seventh straight year – is starting to sink in. “We will keep going until the final kick of the final game” was the battle cry from Phil Parkinson straight after the final whistle on Saturday. Nice words, but it really is now or never for City’s promotion chances.

The unhappiness is evident, and it is clearly understandable. Relegated to League Two in 2007, all we Bradford City supporters have wanted for six years is to climb out of the league. That has been our sole objective. Our holy grail. Our one wish. And for the first half of this season, it actually looked like we were going to finally realise our goal. That this time it really was going to be different.

We haven’t spent the last six years wanting to get to Wembley for a major cup final. And so the distraction of the epic League Cup run has, understandably, created something of a conflict in many people’s minds. Amazing as it was (and it really was) we didn’t really ask for it. A welcome sub plot to what was shaping up to be one hell of a season, but no one thought it would go on for as long as it ended up doing. And no one wanted to see the damage it has clearly done towards achieving our one wish.

No one wants to feel as unhappy as we did trooping out of Valley Parade on Saturday.

People argue that the cup run has covered over the cracks. That those of us who point to the collapse in league form after beating Torquay 1-0 in December – three days before Arsenal came to town – and up to losing carelessly to strugglers Wimbledon in February – a week before the Cup Final with Swansea – are making excuses. A game like Aldershot offers weight to such claims. Because with no Wembley showpiece to distract minds, how do you explain the two dropped points? How do you explain the wastefulness of so many chances? How do you explain the post-Wembley return of six points from 12?

The game encapsulated much of the frustration of our season. We were motoring along nicely, creating some good chances that forced a series of superb saves from Shots’ keeper Jamie Young. But just as the initiative was there to be seized – getting in front and, maybe, winning by a few goals – we slowed down and ended up going backwards with the concession of an Aldershot goal. You could easily compare that goal to City’s fall from 4th in the league post-Torquay and the run up to Wembley – soft, preventable and very self-damaging.

And the second half reflected the current struggle to get back into the play off hunt. Perhaps we will end up only finding our top, top form deep into the metaphorical stoppage time of this season. Too little too late, in order to have won the game. (But hopefully the fact we kept going against Aldershot will reflect our level of effort during the final 11 matches.)

The failings are evident. We don’t create enough clear cut chances. Our final ball can be lacking in quality. We are struggling to settle upon the right partner for James Hanson. We don’t make the opposition work hard enough to earn their goal.

The balance in midfield is a worry. For sure we look better at this moment with Ricky Ravenhill, protecting the back four and enabling Gary Jones to get forward; but suddenly Will Atkinson is failing to link up in the effective manner that he was with the Jones/Nathan Doyle partnership. Opposition sides had got wise to us playing Jones and Doyle in-between two out and out wingers in Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid. But perhaps the new central midfield will enable us to go with Reid left and Hines right, once again.

But then what of the strikeforce? Nahki Wells’ form has suddenly become a huge concern. No longer can you put it down to arrogance, but something more troubling – a loss of confidence. How do you get it back? Can we risk playing him in the hope he quickly rediscovers his mojo? Taking him off on Saturday led to team improvement, but it cannot have helped the Bermudian’s morale.

“Start Alan Connell” is the cry after Saturday. But Parkinson’s upfront explanation for his lack of starts – that he doesn’t have the pace to get in behind, which doesn’t suit the midfield in the way that an on-form Wells does – makes sense. “Why didn’t Thompson start?” was the other retort. Whoever plays, we need them to start scoring more often than anyone is doing at the moment. From the 15 games played since the start of 2013, no one has netted more times than James Hanson and Nahki Wells’ three each.

The unhappiness is easy to understand. Since Wembley, many of us have studied the fixture list and privately predicted future results in order to gauge whether it would be enough to finish in the play offs. Aldershot home is the type of fixture that everyone assigns three points too without giving it a second thought. Home win, next. Football doesn’t work like that; but as marker of confidence in those other predictions, the failure to fully profit from a so-called home banker would make anyone wobble.

“Can’t even beat Aldershot…” is an arrogant statement that does not reflect well on those who utter it. But no one would pretend that successful promotion campaigns are built upon home draws against struggling teams.

So it looks as though this remarkable campaign is going to have an unhappy ending. And the growing question is where that leaves us. Are the achievements of this season – a first major cup final in over 100 years, an improvement in league position from last year, the construction of arguably our best team in six years of battling in League Two – sufficient to stick and continue the re-build? Or does the unhappiness of the likely failure to make the top seven, the weaknesses of the squad, and the failure to sign the right striker in January mean the club should twist? I know where my own view lies.

Happiness in football supporting is a curious thing to measure. The league dominates all and is the biggest contributory factor to setting happiness. But the cup has given us bigger highs than the bread and butter appears capable of ever providing, and it’s plotting on to a happiness graph would fall very differently to the league.

Because if you consider, for example, the scenario of Santi Carzola’s extra time shot for Arsenal flying into the Valley Parade net instead of hitting the bar, thus City losing the quarter final tie, we’d have filed out of the ground that night still feeling happy and proud. We expected nothing more than to put up a good show. It was much easier to be happier that night, no matter what happened.

But instead of a heroic loss we got something much bigger – a night we’ll never forget, and two more just as special, against the Villa, and a day out at Wembley that we never thought we’d see in our lifetimes. Unadulterated happiness.

And it was a level of happiness that hits the top of any contentment graph. A league promotion might come close to providing us with that level of exhilaration, but during the cup run we were part of something that – unlike getting out of League Two – we will talk about for the next 50 years.

I’m not saying that the cup heroics make the increasingly likelihood of missing out of promotion okay, but for me it does go a long, long way towards softening the blow. It should have re-energised our faith. Given us the facility to cope with the impending disappointment that we surely must now mentally prepare ourselves to swallow up and cope with.

I hate the fact that this six year quest to achieve the holy grail is probably going to go on for a seventh, but I’m sick of feeling unhappy about life as a Bradford City supporter. So whatever happens over these last 11 games, I refuse to consider this season as anything but a happy one.



Categories: Opinion

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9 replies

  1. Im at home looking into work issues for the coming summer .
    Suddenly I start to remember the relegation battles we’ve had to endure over most of the six seasons in lge 2.
    Managers coming and going players arriving with big reputations not living upto the hype.
    Injuries that have robbed managers of big players for long periods .
    When Phil Parkinson arrived I’ve seen effort and commited performances a team of players as good as any if not better than all lge 2 squads.
    I ask myself how unlucky we’ve been with officials decisions this season (plenty)
    How does a team come to valley parade have 1 goal scoring chance score and end up taking pts of us when we’re clearly the better team and more goal scoring chances from us?
    It so frustrating to watch in my seat at Midland road!!. I look on thinking were just one very lucky team our luck has to change!
    One player said to me playing for such a big club at this level is like playing for no other team in lge 2 ,clubs come to valley parade and have there cup final give there all , we have to earn the right to play and don’t our players do just that we are never second best our performances are of a high standard to anything I’ve seen at valley parade for years.
    Over the season players at times do lose form.
    I look at nahki wells his form has dipped but I see a young man in his first real season been a first team regular 18 goals scored what have the midfield added to our goals tally?
    James Hanson (Mr dependable) on 10 goals for me acceptable with him been a target man more involved with our play( hardly ever gets Freekicks awarded ) . Maybe we expect to much of Hanson at times but the lad never hides in a game gives his all.
    G.Jones is class the best midfield player I’ve seen at picking the second ball up and playing the pass! However he’s not scored the goals he has at Rochdale ?
    Nathan Doyle what a signing excellent on the ball and superb at dictating the play from deep but sadly not many goals.
    Reid , Hines are the best two wingers I’ve seen at valley parade for ages yes there inconsistent probobly why there playing at this level.
    My point is this we have a team that now competes at this level and Phil Parkinson has given us belief that were running in the right direction , 18months in the job and im sure another season will have given Phil Parkinson a very good idea of where we are short and im sure if he stays will address this in the summer.
    We’ve had some great times this season to many games and injuries have finally caught us out .

  2. Final sentence sums it up for me as well, and looking at the make up of the remaining games (almost a quarter of the season) I don’t think we are out of the promotion picture. Compare and contrast with where we were 12 months ago! The comments made on individual players and selection issues have relevance, but above all it is a team game and it is almost impossible to say what makes a side perform well on one day, and poorly the next. Any division is littered with teams that go on runs (good or bad) at different periods of the season, and I believe that we have enough talent and spirit to produce a decent haul of points. But I am a “glass half full” man, this has been a season of progress, it has been memorable and it could get better.

  3. Some great comments here, I’m encouraged that people are so upbeat still. I seem to remember that before the season started WOAP ran a poll of its readers to determine what they thought a successful season would consist of. I can’t remember exactly what the consensus was but I thought it was a place just outside of the playoffs – ie exactly where we are now!

    People think that the cup run has been a distraction, I don’t think it has. I think the problem with the run is that is has heightened expectations unrealistically. I think that most supporters would have taken our league position before the season started.

    I also think that there’s a few more twists and turns yet to come in the league. Wayne’s right – we do have the players. We are more than capable of going on a run. We are traditionally poor against teams lower than us in the league. I wouldn’t put it past City to get some big results against the likes of Cheltenham, Rotherham and Exeter.

    What’s key is that everyone, players, management and supporters get fully behind the cause. I think its going to go to the wire – I really do.

    • Indeed we did run a poll, which saw readers predict a 6th place finish and state that 9th was the minimum position they would be happy with. We are on track for that at the very least.

  4. This has probably been one of the two best seasons for City since 1911, the other being 1998-9. I really believe that the players, being human beings, are finding difficulty in coming down from a massive high, and also the opposition raise their game.
    I think that we shall miss the play-offs because of this, and the lack of goal-scoring.
    But my big worry is that the Chairmen, given their track record, will not keep Parkinson, and that would be a mistake. I hope they will not make that mistake, but fear they will.
    Well done, as always, Jason.

  5. I have been supporting Bradford City for 30 years, and it has always been a few high with a lot more lows. But this season has seen the most incredible cup run imaginable. The best day out you could ask for except the obviously bad result. But who would have thought it at the beginning of the season.

    We ignore the fact we have a small squad and have played over 50 games already this season there are bound to be cracks, and dips in players forms there League Two players they are simply not used to playing in the types of games that they have done. I know people will say Wembley is over and done with but it will have left its mark on everyone of the players.

    I love this club and want the very best for it and if have to suffer another year in this league then so be it. We’ve been on the best ride ever, and until it is mathematically impossible for us to get in the play offs everybody should still believe and get behind the players. You hear week in and week out, read week in week out on forums on the comments on the T&A what bad players we have and its a disgrace the position in the league and we should be much higher. How about turning that energy into supporting the lads for the rest of the season and maybe just maybe we will be back in London for the Play Off Finals.

  6. Some thoughtful comments both within the main article and by fellow fans. Apart from the emotional “high” derived from the cup run, we must also remember the financial rewards it brought to the club. The improved bank balance should mean we are able to compete effectively next year, no matter in which league we play.

  7. Good article the one criticism i have is why are we just searching for the right person to play along side him and replace him?

  8. If we had lost in the first round of the League Cup, we would probably now be happy contemplating a step forward from last season and encouraging signs for the future. I think the unhappiness has come from the fact that we know our players can perform and are, man-for-man, better than most teams we have come up against.
    At least no-one can accuse anyone of lacking effort this season.
    But, to be honest and like many others, I am sick of watching poor sides come to Valley Parade and go home having stolen a point or three. Aldershot were boot it up in the air merchants; strong in the air at the back (the great James Hanson managed only parity in this one). Yet they got that scrappy goal which we concede out of nowhere and then we lack the imagination/skill/tactics – call it whatever you want – to get two. The bottom line is yet another in the run of 1-1 draws or 1-0 defeats to sides who are to put it bluntly, crap.
    I don’t mind it when sides like Rochdale turn up, do a number on us and beat us with something to spare. But the Dagenhams, Oxfords, Aldershots, Barnets, etc just seem to be able to drag us down to our level.
    So I’m feeling despondent. Not because we are unable to play like Swansea; not because we are not in the play-offs. But because this whole division is like Groundhog Day; Pub team parks bus, gets result.
    Solution – sorry I am just a supporter but as the Parkinson regime has made undoubted progress. We would be stupid to seek changes at the top. So I’ll bottle my despair, remember how real gloom was how I felt in mid-March last season and trust the manager to resolve the conundrum of working out how to “turn Valley Parade into a fortress”.
    By the way – what’s happened to the £200,000 transfer fee we owe Falkirk for a player whose limitations were quickly sussed out by Mr P??

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