Bad, bad night raises worrying questions

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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.

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Categories: Opinion

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9 replies

  1. Great article Katie. Your style of writing is excellent and a joy to read. Some really good points made here and I agree with every word.

  2. Katie this article is one of the very best I’ve read on woap. I think we were all shocked due to the lack of commitment we were served up.
    We don’t expect a team prepared by Phil Parkinson to roll over for a belly rub?

  3. That’s a great article; very much “to the point” and pulls no punches.Let’s hope it was just a blip and the collection of fringe players cannot play as badly together again; worrying though about the depth as displayed on Tuesday night.

  4. A surprisingly hard assessment from someone who wasn’t even there. It is one game after a decent start to the season in a higher division – ergo this is a knee-jerk reaction. Expectations are a constantly thorny issue after last season – note that even the best of teams pick up a thumping at times, the important thing is the nature of the response, and the perspective across the season as a whole. So lets see what happens with the next two home games, and then beyond? If it becomes a regular occurance then you might have points to make such as these, but not yet I believe.

    • Whilst no one should be pressing the panic button (even if, sadly, some are) and you are right in that only limited analysis can be made of a game you are not present for, I’m not sure if just sweeping the defeat under the carpet serves anyone a purpose. I wasn’t at Hartlepool either but I did attend the Huddersfield match and on that occasion the performance of fringe players was also a big disappointment. The starting XI for league games has, so far, being something of a closed door for many players but that will no doubt change if loss of form or injuries occur to first teamers. Or even, in the case of Kyel Reid, they show such a great attitude in training and when they do get their chance that they win back their place in the side ahead of someone (Yeates) who has done little wrong. We’d like to think that there are players pushing the current first choice XI really hard for a chance, and the concern is that defeats such as to Hartlepool show this is not the case. Equally, there is worry – and it’s a worry I have held since attending the Bristol City match – that without Hanson and Wells this team is going to struggle.

      Like with Huddersfield being followed by a resounding 4-0 win over Carlisle, if City win tomorrow the Hartlepool game will be quickly forgotten. But the concern about Tuesday lies in the potential long-term issue of coping without certain players and of being able to trust in others to come and do a job when needed.

      Ultimately, I think Parkinson’s comments in the T&A are spot on I like that he said “Let’s not wear rose-tinted glasses, we had poor defeats last season”. That is absolutely the case and the team showed a capacity and resolve to come back. The challenge now is to do that again.

      • It’s the same with any team Jason. Rooney is off form – panic, van Persie is sold – panic. Yes there are players we miss if they are injured or sold – that means we have some good players! It’s too soon for this sort of soul-searching, and I genuinely believe that if those players brought in (6 in one go was it?) then performances would improve with a couple of games if they are given the chance for a collective run in the team. They are not bad players, as they proved last season on more than one occasion.

      • I completely agree and I would not be in a rush to chuck any player who played on Tuesday night. Although the new signings that featured are yet to prove their worth, other players who came in did prove themselves last year. I think that the likes of Rafa De Vita, Matt Taylor and Connor Ripley look good signings on paper and I’m fully prepared to give them a chance.

        I don’t think we should be too criticial or be writing anyone off, but losing 5-0 to Hartlepool is a concern and that falls a long, long way below the high standards we set for ourselves last season. The bar has to be raised further this year – we are in a higher division – but, so far, some players are well below it on the basis of the limited opportunities they have had.

        There is nothing wrong with being heavily reliant on some players. All clubs rely on certain players and would miss them badly if they were unavailable, but I personally expected a bit more competition than those in reserve have shown so far. That worries me and it worries me to see us bow out of cup competitions because it does affect confidence.

        The league is the priority, and we hope that there is a good reaction tomorrow.I think it’s a really difficult game but I have full belief in what this team is trying to achieve and what it is trying to do.

  5. This striker debate is old ground. All teams would like a bigger squad. (atkinson). Glad were out out of the JP. Less games, small squad. Lets not forget where we were a year ago. Up the Bantams.

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