By Katie Whyatt
It was the kind of scoreline more suited to a game of FIFA. The sort of result from a tie between two mismatched Sunday League teams. What you’d get if you pitted a fourth tier side against the best passing outfit in the Premiership and played the whole thing out on the national stage.
Except, City weren’t locking horns with the eventual League Cup winners, buoyed by a sense of immense pride at getting to such a stage. Not this time. On Tuesday night, the Bantams played a club currently lying in penultimate position in the fourth tier. And lost. 5-0.
As we were holidaying in Spain at the time, it was the occasional text message by which news of the Bantams’ weekend result and subsequent league standing filtered through, but the hotel did have a lounge with computers and newspapers, so we later used the internet access to read the previews and obtain the line-up for Tuesday’s game.
Among the players, the consensus was clear: this was their chance to prove that they were worthy of a place in the starting eleven (which had remained unchanged in the league but for Kyel Reid and Mark Yeates), and that their role was not limited to understudy or impact player or cannon fodder or friendly competition. Raffael De Vita waved away suggestions that the match was unimportant because it was in the ‘tinpot’ trophy and, recalling his exploits in the same competition with Swindon Town, stated that he wanted City to string a cup run together. After all, the way we’re going in the league, this may well be the last year we’re eligible for the JPT.
Yet, the text that pinged up later that night painted a very different picture to the one of quiet optimism and professionalism that had been exhibited by the players beforehand. The text that pinged up later that night seemed to suggest that, well, we didn’t put in a good show. The text that pinged up later that night implied that we hadn’t even bowed out with dignity.
The text that pinged up later that night said we’d lost 5-0.
“5-0? Lost? I know it’s only the JPT, but flipping heck!”
“Well, it was a weakened team…”
Weakened, yes, but not weak. True, there was no Jon McLaughlin in between the sticks, no Andrew Davies at centre half and no Gary Jones to frame the midfield. James Hanson and Nahki Wells also missed out. But there were still six of the players who had featured in the win over Sheffield United: Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith, Nathan Doyle, Garry Thompson and Mark Yeates. Although it was a thinned down version of the usual starting eleven, there were key players in the bunch, and quality within those ranks.
What did it matter if Jones, Hanson and Wells didn’t start? There was still experience there. There was enough skill and ability to book a place in the next round, or at least to limit the damage a little better. A result that dire is inexcusable when one notes the calibre of some of the players fielded.
Which raises worrying questions about the depth of the squad – or lack of it, rather.
If this defeat proves anything, it’s how reliant we are on our key few. There’s a near-constant worry about where the goals would come from if anything happened to Wells or Hanson, and that’s now been compounded by fears over how the Bantams would fare if Jones, Davies and McLaughlin were lost. An intelligent dip into the loan market and the rise of Carl McHugh limited the effects of injury during the last campaign, but there’s something slightly more worrying this time: this loss suggests that never-say-die spirit, that winning mentality embedded so strongly in the fabric of this team, doesn’t reside with everyone.
We’re always proud to say that we can put out any players in any formation and be sure that they’ll put in a good show, but that just wasn’t there on Tuesday.
Was it that they didn’t care? Was it a blasé, dismissive attitude to the JPT? Was it quite simply a case of bad luck, of decisions not going our way and the ball just not trickling in?
As they say: one’s unfortunate and two’s carelessness. But five? That just seems…untrue.
It’s not the fact that we’ve gone out of the cup that’s upsetting – it’s the manner of it. 5-0 against a team that had, before their rout over the Bantams, only mustered one goal this season. Not even a win under their belts. Two points from a possible 15. Maybe that’s League One arrogance talking, us believing that we should have ripped them apart because we’re now in with the big boys, but, at the end of the day, we should have done better. And that, to be so ruthlessly stamped out without so much a flicker of staging a fightback… That’s not Parkinson’s City. That’s got the hallmarks of a downtrodden, deflated, under-13s team being thumped 11-1 in some marshland on the rural outskirts of Bradford.
At least we can empathise with those Arsenal fans now.
At the end of the day, once the dust settles, it’s only a cup. I highly doubt it will come to the end of the season and, regardless of whether we’re toasting promotion or not, someone will pipe up and say, “I wish we’d stayed in the JPT.” The league, as always, remains the priority, and we can’t exactly complain about our current position. But the lack of depth unearthed is a concern and could be a long-term problem.
The bottom line is that the Bantams weren’t there. This was an alarming blip in proceedings. It wasn’t our Bradford City that turned up that day. Well, it was, obviously, but the performance was anomalous at best.
It feels wrong to criticise this team after all they’ve achieved, especially based on this one result, and we shouldn’t read too much into this loss. It could be a lack of squad depth, and Parkinson talks of snapping up some Premier League and Championship aces within the next few weeks. But if the summer recruits lack that competitive mentality, it might just be a case of getting them to take a leaf out of the others’ books – success breeds success, and winners make winners.
Whatever root cause Parkinson addresses, I have every faith that the City boss will make sure this minor stumble is just that – a minor stumble.