Those days where everything feels rubbish – Bradford City well-beaten at Barnsley

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Barnsley 3

McArdle 48 (OG), Winnall 65, Hemmings 90

Bradford City 1

Kennedy 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

With special thanks to Thomas Gadd for allowing us to use his superb photos. Please visit Thomas Gadd’s website for more details and also see his other Barnsley vs City photos here.

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Categories: Match Reviews

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7 replies

  1. I think many of us will share your sentiments today Jason. Something is just not right.

    I honestly think Barnsley were there for the taking during the early stages of the match but we just didn’t have the drive (or the players) to capitalise. I have said this before but our midfield is just too pedestrian and if Kennedy had hair if would be hard to tell any of them + Billy Clarke apart. They all move at the same pace (medium slow) and go round in little circles, little touches and flicks but seemingly without the ability or awareness to seize the opportunity and put a tentative opposition to the sword. Barnsley ultimately grabbed their opportunity and were worthy winners – and would have been more so without a good display from Pickford.

    As the game wore on we looked well overstretched at the back and upfront we offered nothing (surely PP and the Board have to sit down and address this). But there is something more, at this stage there just don’t seem to be the characters we can easily associate with – the new players all have much of a likeness so its hard to really distinguish between them and even some of the longer servers just seem to be more muted. Then again perhaps its just me.

    And apart from the return of Hanson (I think a lot of fans are worried by his total none involvement today, especially after all indications over a week ago that Crewe might be just too soon but Barnsley was looking good) we have absolutely nothing to keep the existing team on their toes.

    And again, I know we are still 7th in the table but for reasons I cant totally put my finger on it does not feel that good. Whether its just down to the fact that I have not yet fully adjusted to the style of football we are now playing I don’t know but the lack of width and pace today was alarming. For all their faults there was something potentially exciting and anticipation grew when JJ, Daley, Reid bombed down the wing – I know if often ended in a let down but you were on the edge of your seat just in case………

    I felt for the 2,000+ fans today who were at the game and it is disappointing to hear they not only had to contend with the let down on the pitch but also what sounds like some unsavoury incidents off it. Anyway enough said for now, and hope you got a cuddle when you got home Jason!

  2. On a lighter note, an interesting talk point from the game was the quickness of Jason Kennedy’s goal. It got me and my friends talking – what’s the quickest Bradford City goal you’ve ever seen?

    I honestly have no idea if Kennedy’s has been beaten by a City player over the last 20 years.

    • Not sure of the accuracy of this but I think the fastest ever Prem goal was scored against City – Ledley King after 10 seconds…

  3. Poor performance but still early days in the season. Early goal stunned us all. Expect a reaction against Sheff Utd. Sorely miss Hans, hope he is back for weekend. Up the bantams. PP is the man.

  4. Excellent article yet again , I do my bit travelling 198 mile round trip for most home games and my take on the season so far is ……
    We are slipping back and it worries me , we played basically the worst two teams in the league in our last home games and struggled to break them down , there is no plan B no inspiration on the bench , no one who can turn a game .
    Is it the players ? The budget ? The board ? Parky ?
    I don’t know but we look like a team who will loose a couple of thousand on the gate and finish around 12th at best which is hardly grounds for much optimism

  5. Jason, Yes, it was a disappointing performance at Oakwell and probably more so given the encouragement and optimism which recent away results have provided. It’s difficult to put your finger on this but despite the quality of the first XI, the squad is smallish and the depth and quality remains a concern for me. Having a small squad was a deliberate strategy because a number of influential decision makers at VP didn’t want to see expensive bums sitting on the bench. Injuries, suspensions, loss of form are all part and parcel of football and without the depth and quality of a slightly larger squad then I’m confident that this issue will continue to rear its head through out the season.

    Like you, I have been a regular supporter of our club at away matches. This has declined over the last couple of seasons because of the antics and behaviour of some of our so called fans. Since Chesterfield away two seasons ago when the behaviour of some of our fans before, during and after the game was simply deplorable, my friends and I are very selective about our away attendance. Unfortunately we have also been to Oldham, Tranmere and Rotherham in the recent past and genuinely wished that we hadn’t been there to witness and hear our fans’ behaviour. We didn’t go to Oakwell because we had anticipated that there might well be a recurrence of the yobbish behaviour which seems to be so prevalent at local games. Unfortunately we were correct with our pre-match assessment and I now hope that the two clubs and the police are successful in dealing with the small number of yobs who are now part of our away following. Those involved should be ashamed of their behaviour.

  6. Good report Jason. I think the bigger conversation now needs to be about our old friend money. Basically even after the two Wembley appearances, the cup run, promotion and selling Wells we are still skint. Does this mean we need a windfall every year to balance the books? As far as I can tell Hanson is the only sellable asset so will he be sold next?
    With our fan base we shouldn’t be in this position, the cheap season tickets are well and good but it defeats the object if we are only getting people through the turnstiles because the tickets are cheap rather than the fact we have a good team pushing for a play off spot. How long is it since the ST price went up? Four, five years? Sorry but in my opinion the price should have gone up at least in line with inflation each year or minimum £5 whichever was the greater. Sooner or later the price will have to increase by a decent amount and then the moaners will be saying it is too big an increase in one go. Another point is why is the age for concessions set at 60? My mate turned 60 this year and got a cheaper ticket but like me he has more disposable income now than he has ever had with the kids having left home and no mortgage to pay.
    Some say that if prices go up then people will stop coming but is an £5 or slightly more extra per annum really going to stop anyone coming to VP? Look how much we pay for pre match drinks, away tickets and travel etc. there is always money found for cup games and away travel etc.
    The club need to balance the ST prices with the outgoings without the need to sell a player every year or hoping for a good cup run to enable the manager to have a decent budget for a strong enough squad of players to allow for loss of form, injuries, suspensions, different styles of play as dictated by circumstance etc. Until we get the revenue balance right we are not going to progress.

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