Careless Bradford City trip themselves up to lose two valuable points

Bradford City 1

Legge 56 (OG)

Gillingham 1

German 90

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

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9 replies

  1. City played very well today. Link up play and movement between Clarke, stead & yeates was excellent. Morias put 3/4 quality crosses into the box & Meredith got forward and linked up well with yeates. If anything the team defended a little deep and run out if steam given the effort they put in today. There is a much better shape and understanding developing amongst the team and the 442 and wing play is much better to watch and I was entertained for the first time in a long time at valley parade. Liddle & mcardle were very solid today but unfortunately we never got that all important 2nd goal and resorted to long ball up to Hanson once Jon Stead left the field. A good all round team performance with some solid individual performances today. Shame about the last minute equaliser.

  2. Brilliant report and bang on stead realy is a class act roll on next week lo better watch out as we’re over due a big home win,

    • Totally agree on Stead. He made little impact when on loan last season but this time round he has been excellent. He leads the line well, his hold up play is first class, as is his link up play, and we look a much better team with him leading the line. What a difference it made when he went off! If only we can hang on to him!

  3. Stead and Liddle were both excellent for me. Stead did look to have run himself into the ground and the fresh impetus of a new player should have worked. Would a punt on the new lad have been better than Hanson? Just to get into their faces like Stead had done all game?

    Liddle was inspired – some of his sliding tackles were excellently timed – if they had not been he could easily have ended up being red carded (I think of the one in front of the dugouts which would have had them all up and at him if he had been that split second late).

    What is interesting, but no-one seems to have picked it up, but for those last 20 minutes Davies appeared to be struggling with his calf. On a number of times he was stretching and from our position in the stand could clearly see him gesticulating to say he was okay. Did this hamper him jumping for that last corner?

    In addition, how much would it be better for Pickford if we had some pace out on the flanks for him to aim at? His distribution on Saturday was off for the first time in a while, but I wonder how he would benefit from having the option to get it to a speedier player. Above all this year we have suffered from having this outlet.

  4. Such fine margins. Had Hanson scored after coming on, as he very nearly did, PP would have looked like a genius. As it was, though, his late substitution looked to be a mistake. I don’t think it was because of the change in personnel – although we can all agree that Stead was absolutely excellent – but in resorting to a 451 formation, that resulted in a negative end to the game with us seemingly happy to hang on to our slender lead. That’s what ultimately led to us drawing, and drawing with a very average Gillingham side that we should have beaten comfortably had we continued the higher intensity, pressing, second half performance, but with the changed personnel, because Gillingham was hanging on up until that tactical change.

  5. No mentions for Rory Mac who has bounced back from his recent omission with a couple of storming performances. Poor game management at the end cost us. To be fair to the Gills they were compact/organised and passed the ball well without really threatening to hurt us. Not a vintage performance but absolutely no need to gripe

  6. I wasn’t at the game so this is more of a theoretical comment but it seems to me that this is a classic conundrum in the last few minutes of a game when you are only one goal up. The opponents throw forwards on, move centre-half up front etc – so how do you respond ? By putting on more defensive players to cope with the pressure or by keeping the attacking line-up and risk being overrun ?

    The problem, as most have said, is that we are only one up with 5 minutes to go. That always leaves you open to the bounce of the ball in the box as the opposition go gung-ho.

  7. ‘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.’

    What happened? The match report suddenly turned into what appears to be a Daily Telegraph review of the Gillingham Amateur Dramatics Society’s production of Macbeth.

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