McArdle 48 (OG), Winnall 65, Hemmings 90
Bradford City 1
Sunday 12 October, 2014
By Jason McKeown (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)
I will be honest with you, valued reader, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this one.
Why was I bothering to pay £23 to watch a game that – thanks to a Sky subscription – was available to view in my living room? When at 1pm and I was crawling to Oakwell via the M1’s 50mph speed restrictions, I thought ruefully about how I could instead have taken my daughter to the park, to enjoy these last few decent weather weekends before winter arrives. It was a 100-mile round trip from my Skipton home to Barnsley; I was out from 12-6.30pm. Too much of my Sunday was wasted.
I never thought I would start to feel this way, but the truth is some of my passion for Bradford City has died over the past 18 months. I’m still very consumed by all matters claret and amber, but having a child brings other priorities and – frankly – other things that I would rather be doing than spending every other weekend driving up and down the motorway, watching City.
2012/13 was my peak year following the club – I saw 52 of the 64 games (and yes, I’d be happy for that personal triumph to appear on my gravestone). But since that incredible season, which was followed two weeks later by the arrival of McKeown Junior, my appetite for away games has waned (home matches are thankfully a different matter). I just do local away matches now; and I pick and choose the ones that I enjoy the most.
It won’t last forever, but I’m at that period of life where I’m happy to no longer be amongst the club’s most committed supporters. I feel like I’ve done my time, and then some.
And when it all boiled down to it, I only opted to go to Oakwell as it was a new ground for me to tick off my 92. To anyone but a committed football fan, that sentence will seem absurd. Given I have no great ambition to one day complete the set of visiting every Premier League and Football League stadium (I’m in the 50s so far, which seems respectable), it is a tedious reason to have gone I admit. I pay around £60 a month to have Sky and, really, today I should have made the most of that sizeable expense.
I didn’t really want to be here.
Still, for a period at least, I was glad I made the trip. There was less than a minute on the clock (44 seconds to be precise) when Jason Kennedy finished a flowing attacking move that included excellent build-up play from Billy Clarke and Mark Yeates. You always cheer a goal on the road with more fervour than at home – I guess it feels more special because of the extra effort involved getting to the away ground – and some 2,000 City fans were bouncing.
And for a long time, it all seemed very comfortable. It was almost too easy. In the final analysis, scoring so quickly was probably City’s undoing today. There is a football theory that a team can score too early in a game, leaving the players in two minds over whether to continue attacking or to sit back and defend. Unless a team is so dominant that an early goal sets them up to thrash their opponents, scoring in the opening stages is usually the cue for an indifferent performance.
There is no doubt that Kennedy’s early goal for City – as welcomed as it was by all – had this tentative effect on the players. They scored without much effort, and had no reason to climb out of second gear for the rest of the half. City looked in control, even though Jordan Pickford became increasingly busy as the half wore on.
There was a cracking atmosphere in the away end during the game’s first half hour. Barnsley’s North Stand, which houses the visiting supporters, is impressive and offers excellent acoustics. The early goal had us all in excellent spirits. The song book was opened and we ran through all the classics.
But then, out of nowhere, a darker chant was aired by some. A derogatory ditty about Nahki Wells. And straight after, a pocket of fans on the right-hand side aired an even more horrible chant about the former City striker. And after that point it all went quiet across the stand. The atmosphere seemed to change.
I was bewildered, uncomfortable and upset about this chanting. Why – 10 months on – were we suddenly singing about Wells?
At best, Nahki has become a divisive figure amongst supporters. Some will never forgive his defection to local rivals Huddersfield and all the supposed nonsense that came with his transfer; others remain grateful for what he did for the club and want to retain the many happy memories he provided. Where has this anti-Wells chanting come from? What is the point of it? Rarely has our big support looked so small.
The positivity and happy mood evaporated with those Wells chants, and we never recaptured the collective thunderous backing towards the players. I guess I wasn’t the only person upset by it. I looked around at dads and mums who have brought their kids along, and wondered how they feel when someone nearby is singing about a former club hero having no penis. I want to take my daughter to away games when she’s older, but sometimes I don’t know how I can justify it.
I was back to wishing I was sat at home, where I doubt I’d have heard such horrible chanting on the TV.
The second half went wrong for City almost as quickly as the first half had started badly for Barnsley. Three minutes after the restart and Rory McArdle inadvertently headed Conor Hourihane’s free kick into his own net. By 65 minutes, Sam Winnall found half a yard space from McArdle and tapped home a low cross for 2-1. It was a funny afternoon for McArdle, who played well at times and was certainly not the worst City performer. But where it really counted the Northern Ireland international was found wanting. He had a bad, bad day.
The 17 minutes between the Barnsley goals was where the game was ultimately won and lost. City just didn’t respond to the equaliser. They couldn’t find the energy and drive. Billy Knott – who had another poor afternoon – perhaps should have put City 2-1 up with a shooting opportunity he misjudged, but Barnsley piled on the pressure and fully merited their advantage.
And when behind, there was also no great response from the Bantams. Substitute Filipe Morais produced a mazy run, but couldn’t finish; and a brilliant low cross from Kennedy should have been rewarded by a team mate gambling in the six-yard box. Yet pressure was sporadic at best. The character was badly lacking, and Barnsley seemed to win every 50-50 going. Up front, on-loan Man City striker Devante Cole – son of ex-Man United forward Andy – was outstanding for the home team. The Tykes had double the number of shots on goal as the Bantams.
Phil Parkinson threw on Oli McBurnie and Mason Bennett late on, but neither made any great impact. And it’s a familiar tale for the manager – he simply doesn’t have the options on the bench. He can’t introduce players who are capable of turning a game.
The squad’s lack of depth was once again evident. It’s not going to change anytime soon, but it leaves the manager with some big problems. If only he could inject some pace into the team. Everything was too laboured and too reserved. It is very easy to defend against City, especially without James Hanson.
Deep in stoppage time, Kane Hemmings added a third and it was no more than Barnsley deserved. Whilst City were supposedly chasing the game, Bennett and Kennedy ducked out of tackles. Unacceptable in the heat of a Yorkshire derby. Barnsley wanted this more, and in a game of two reasonably matched sides that greater desire proved to be the difference.
I hope the players were upset in the dressing room at full time. I hope it was a really quiet place to be. It is days like this which must underline to them just what a big club Bradford City are. We supporters are fantastic when we are on their side; but it’s a mighty big pressure to deal with when we turn upon them, like most of us did today.
And there is a pressure playing for Bradford City. Seventh in the league, and unbeaten on the road before today – but the expectation levels generally outstrip reality, and there is no room for these poor displays.
It’s going to be a tough season at times, because this is likely to keep happening. Knott, Gary Liddle, McArdle, Andrew Davies, Stephen Darby, Alan Sheehan, Clarke and Aaron Mclean have proven good players on their day – but they were well below their best at Oakwell, and it’s not the first time. The lack of squad depth means a lack of competition for places.
Only Pickford emerged with any credit today. Mark Yeates was decent too, and certainly did not deserve some of the criticism that came his way at full time. There is a concern, however, that – on the road – Yeates’ tendency to drift all over the final third is a luxury that cannot always be afforded. Still, he has been City’s best player this past month.
It was a very downbeat mood at full time; and although the bigger picture remains encouraging, this is not going to be an easy campaign for the Bantams.
After 12 games they look every inch a mid-table team. One that has the potential to deliver exceptional results on good days, but shockers on others. One that will probably retain some interest in the play off spots, but equally could find they are looking over their shoulders at the bottom four. One that has promise for the future (most of the squad are on two-year deals, underlining the expected shelf-life of this new-look team), but which also needs to be significantly strengthened in order to really challenge for promotion.
And I guess the frustration many of us City supporters feel at the moment stems from the fact we didn’t expect it to be this way. 2012/13 and all that – the club was supposed to be set up life. There are, without doubt, very good reasons as to why the League Cup financial windfall didn’t last (such as paying back the £1 million loan to Mark Lawn, with interest, that simply had to be done). But to be dealing with budget cuts, when we thought we’d start pushing for the Championship, well it’s not quite the dream future that we envisaged.
It’s hard to take at times.
Is this as good as it can get under the current owners? Is the only way to really move forward to find a rich benefactor? I hope that the answer to both questions is no (because there is no sign of Mr or Mrs Rich Benefactor). We are still growing as a club, and the current stability is a welcome progression from more recent, darker times. It’s also likely there will be a greater financial push next season. Another ‘go-for-it’ year.
Yet this is the reality of where Bradford City are at, and why the excitement levels in the short-term are somewhat muted. A decent, competitive team, but one which will always struggle when key individuals are absent. A strong first XI, but one that is supplemented by youth players and a Stevenage reject (sorry, Filipe) due to lack of finances.
No one wants to go back to where we were pre-2012 – and, indeed, no-one wants to go back to where we were in the summers of 2002 and 2004. We are on a journey, we are moving forwards, and this quiet period needs to happen for the long-term progression of the club. It’s just that, for now, it’s not causing you to perch onto the edge of your seat, fearful of missing something incredible.
And it’s certainly not worth £23 and a 100-mile round trip when you could have watched the debacle at home, with cuddles from your daughter for comfort.
City: Pickford, Darby (Bennett 87), McArdle, Davies, Sheehan, Liddle, Kennedy, Knott (Morais 62), Yeates, Clarke (McBurnie 79), Mclean
Not used: Williams, Routis, Meredith, Dolan
Categories: Match Reviews