Bradford City 1
Legge 56 (OG)
Saturday 22 November, 2014
By Katie Whyatt
In a word: ouch. That was a tough one to take, as results go. I consider myself fairly astute at dealing with City-based disappointment, having had years of practice – but today? Against Gillingham, of all teams; against Peter Taylor, of all managers; and after that run of season-saving results, you know?
I don’t usually feel anything when Bradford City concede – I’m so confident in the spirit of Phil Parkinson’s squads that I always believe they’ll find the mettle to pull anything back – but today hurt like crazy. Even this setback – occurring, as it did, right at the death – was met with that trademark staunchness in the form of a last-gasp drill from Mark Yeates – but it was never going to be enough. And that sudden reversal of fortune bit hard.
70 minutes in and I, presumptuous as I am, had marked that off as a win, mentally planned out my entire match report and merrily set about demolishing the last of my brother’s Starbursts. Then 90 + 3 happened and I was sucked back into that football-induced existential crisis we’ve all been a victim of at some point: that high-walled world of what-ifs, and of soul searching; of plot-twists, helplessness and anti-heroes. Back to square one, again.
For a performance that had, until that fateful final few minutes, been marked solely by intelligence, confidence and discipline, it was an unworthy ending that left the bitterest of aftertastes.
The Bantams will look everywhere for the cause of their descent into downfall circa-4:45pm, but they’ll find it in the most obvious of places – the mirror. Not entirely self-inflicted, exactly, but close, however steeped in injustice the result may feel. Demolishing their own handiwork, City stopped pressing, lost composure and surrendered the grit and guile that had steered them to a deserved lead, settling instead for a smaller share of the spoils as Taylor’s side finished the job in the closing stages.
After a run of games in which things had seemed to fall into place, to have their hard work undone for lacking the basics was the cruellest of prices to pay – but that’s football. And it’s never over until the final whistle.
That is the lesson Parkinson’s men will have to take from today. By the time the penny had dropped, though, it was too late. Ten nervy minutes of Gillingham dominance came to a head with just a minute of stoppage time left to play, City defending slackly to gift the corner that provided the final fatal blow. Instead of hounding for the buffer of a second goal, the Bantams’ complacency invited the visitors to a party they’d suddenly just decided to gatecrash.
Sensing the hosts’ hesitancy, the reenergised Gills rediscovered their conviction and converted one of a smattering of half-chances. Set pieces – this squad’s glaring Achilles’ heel – marked the true sucker punch, but they have only themselves to blame. They missed the chance to kill it off and paid the ultimate price.
In a welcome return to their trademark 4-4-2, City initially took the game to a staunch Gillingham side determined to weather every blow: a side whose game plan was absorption, sponge-style, peppered with bouts of clout and quality. Billy Clarke played just off the shoulder of Jon Stead and put in an impressive shift, even if his influence dulled in that frustrating second half. The cultured Filipe Morais shielded Stephen Darby and performed with a refreshing vigour and tenacity until an early collision signalled his demise; Andy Halliday shifted out wide and Billy Knott joined the combative Gary Liddle in the centre of the park.
It was tidy from City – at first. From the off, they were sleek, comfortable and collected. Disciplined and drilled, Stead looked a class, class act, full of smart shoulder-drops, mazy runs and tidy, tidy distribution; Mark Yeates, arguably the Bantams’ brightest player this term, twice found space to send through Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle, and ran rampant down the left flank. Clarke, the king of the cutting through ball, was a treasure trove of slick flick-ons, nifty movements and well-timed runs.
The attacking triangle of Yeates, Clarke and Stead boasted some of the most finely-tuned link-up play we’ve seen in a long time, with Stead’s additional mobility and ambition in possession making for compelling viewing. There’s something special about those three – City’s main clever ball players have all the vision and creativity to really change the game, undoubtedly – but there’s an understanding, a cohesion, a lucidity, that was never even hinted at with the Hanson-McLean partnership.
You doubt those three have 20 + goals a season in them, even collectively, but they are an utter joy to watch. If the newly-acquired Francois Zoko proves to be the answer, you just hope it’s not at the expense of this mightily impressive trio.
Gillingham were disciplined in their approach, but it was hardly one to set the heart racing. Sitting back, they withstood the onslaught before launching into swift counters, the striking Bradley Dack – an exciting bundle of tussled brown hair, blistering pace and well-placed ambition – at the centre of every threatening move they made. Unpredictable and energised, I would sign him in a heartbeat.
They were poor, Gillingham, but there were moments of individual brilliance and flair, Dack the pick of the bunch in that regard. In a way, you kind of felt sorry for them – technically gifted and imaginative players stifled by a conservative system that had Taylor’s stamp all over it. You wonder where the fingers will be pointed if their campaign continues in the same vein.
City broke the deadlock early into the second half. Halliday’s low cross was converted by Gills’ defender Leon Legge, and the hosts swooped to a deserved lead. On the terraces, the message was clear: nice work – now see this out with a second goal.
There, ironically, was where it all fell apart. City relinquished their dominance, relented and regressed to a state of manic tentativeness, giving possession away cheaply and almost parking the bus too early. To a degree, you could understand their thinking – Catch 22 and all that. Go all out in the final twenty minutes and risk the narrow lead against a side built for hurting on the counter; sit back, cruise-control, and, well, today happened.
What the Bantams never rediscovered was the balance that had seen them pass the hour mark a goal to the good and in total control – and that, I think, is the biggest sucker punch of all. Of all the ways to lose a game, carelessness – especially in a Parkinson team – hurts the most.
In an agonising ten minutes, the inevitable lurks ominously in the shadows, twisting the knife deeper with each cruel retort forward. Closer, closer, closer, still. A startled bird breaks into flight as the wind changes – for real, this time, and fatally so. Gillingham hear the final whisper of resignation, of a team out of ideas; they ride the waves of change and pounce.
The last grain slips from the hourglass of borrowed time.
City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais (Knott 18), Liddle, Halliday, Yeates, Clarke (Kennedy 82), Stead (Hanson 69)
Not used: Williams, Sheehan, Routis, Zoko
Categories: Match Reviews