When the lights go out

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Bradford City 0

Bristol City 6

Tavernier 17+73, Bryan 35, Ayling 54, Flint 65, Wilbraham 79

Tuesday 14 April, 2015

By Jason McKeown

Well that’s that then. It’s certainly over now for Bradford City’s play off hopes. Mathematically possible, but logically impossible. Tonight was the night where even glass half-full supporters joined the glass half-empty lot in calling last orders on the Bantams season.

Bristol City strolled this one. They overcame limited home resistance, and never looked like letting slip the chance to seal promotion. They are a side packed full of talent, one that will next season be gracing the Championship. The home side will not be joining them. Unwanted hosts here to a West Country knees-up.

Phil Parkinson’s side were set up to attack, but carried passengers that they could ill afford to. For all the criticism of James Hanson’s shift to the left hand side over recent weeks, bringing Mark Yeates onto the left wing instead left the Bantams woefully lacking in off the ball cover.

Yeates probably sealed his future with a wretched first half performance that saw him hauled off at half time. At times he has threatened to be a very big player for City, but such fleeting form is not the stuff of promotion-winning sides.

The defence was unusually shambolic. There was little midfield support. Bristol City were two goals to the good at half time, and there was no way back. Especially after Ben Williams pathetically let in a third just after the break. 4-0. 5-0. 6-0. A biggest City defeat since Manchester United beat the Bantams by the same scoreline in 2000.

Valley Parade emptied long before the end. I gave up at 5. It was too much to bear. It was appallingly bad from the Bantams.

Bristol City ran rings around their opponents. It was utterly embarrassing how easy it became. With their strong financial backing Bristol City are on course to be a force in English football. They were fantastic. And this is not their peak moment.

And for Bradford City, we must redouble our efforts in making sure this isn’t our peak season.

There has been a polarised reaction to the unexpected sudden collapse in City’s play off bid. There are those upset and angry over the team and manager’s failings, and the way in which results have fallen away. Then there are those who argue it has been a great season anyway, and that promotion was never expected last summer. That as a club we are progressing in the right way.

Everyone is right, in my view. Of course this goes down as a brilliant season. We beat Leeds. We beat Chelsea. We beat Sunderland. We made some excellent summer signings who have fitted in very well. We have played some excellent football – especially on the road. We have been involved in some memorable games. We have challenged at the right end of the table.

But equally there is no doubt that these positives helped to raise the bar of expectation, especially at the turn of the year. We might have feared a relegation battle before a ball was kicked, but at the half way stage we stood fifth in the table. And for the middle part of the season, we hardly lost a game of football. And though the FA Cup endeavours came at a price, we emerged from defeat at Reading in a very healthy position, ready to kick on.

If you’re not bitterly disappointed by the way this season has fizzled out, what was the point of bothering to challenge for the play offs? There’s an argument that City aren’t ready to be a Championship club, but this isn’t even about that. We spent most of the season competing for a play off place, then fell over on the home straight. That really sucks. That really disappoints.

Tired, run out of ideas, just not good enough – all legitimate factors in failing to make the play offs. But there has to be a wider inquest. More thought and consideration. What was missing? What can be done differently next summer? It’s not a bad analysis to have, because there is so much to build on. We go into the summer in a slightly downbeat mood but still in a position of strength. How do we keep this going?

The squad does not need an overhaul, but it needs more quality. It especially needs more depth. That’s not a criticism of Parkinson. From day one we know he has preferred a quality over quantity approach to player recruitment and this was emphatically the right call. Whilst his predecessors Peter Jackson and Peter Taylor presided over bulky squads with no heart and little ability, Parkinson has found big characters and fostered an incredible team spirit. But he needs more big characters.

The summer is going to be very interesting to say the least. Width of a Post understands that the board are in talks with a significant investor which – if a deal is reached – could significantly alter the financial strength of the club (we have a name, but best not disclose it for now). It is perhaps because of these talks that season tickets for next season are as yet not on sale. But whoever is responsible for selling them, they will have a big target market to go at.

Because ultimately this is a fantastic football club. The spirit in the team is shared in the stands, in the wider city itself. And it has been strengthened by the events of this season, even if the ending has turned somewhat sour.

We have made progress in 2014/15, even if it is not the level we threatened to make just a few short weeks ago. And we must continue that progress. So that the next time Bristol City are at Valley Parade, it is for a Championship fixture.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, MacKenzie, Meredith, Morais (Routis 75) Liddle, Knott (McMahon 75), Yeates (Stead 45), Clarke, Hanson

Not used: Urwin, Dolan, Zoko, Halliday

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Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , ,

20 replies

  1. Suggest that signing expensive players that take up a big slice of a small budget and then sending them into exile (Sheehan anyone) has wasted a big chunk of the budget.

    • Would you rather keep an unhappy player in the club with the chance of him causing problems?

      • Cheers Ian,

        It’s all about management, we sign players on big money and then the management team fall out with them and blank them or send them into exile, your a smart guy, it’s all about management – McLean, Sheehan, Kennedy are this seasons – how much of the budget is those three?

    • Do you know Sheehan’s on big money for a fact? Not read anything to suggest this. I’d have thought he’d be one of the lower paid of the ‘first eleven’, coming from L1 Notts County. Kennedy also won’t be one of the highest-paid players in the squad. Those two and McLean have left because they were ineffective. PP gave them plenty of chances but they didn’t improve so he had to loan them out. What’s the problem?

  2. My only frustration this year is the home form, is it 9 defeats? That is awful in any situation. We were awful tonight as a team & i felt sorry for a couple of the team who never gave up despite the uphill task in front of them. We win together, we lose together but please Phil, sort the home form out.

  3. Spot on report. Very disappointing performance & result. Bristol city were a class outfit but how we gifted them 4 goals. Worse performance I can remember but plenty pluses for this season and plenty to build on. Never knew about mystery investors eating in the wings!

  4. What kind of investor? Hopefully like the fellow at Hargreaves Lansdowne who bankrolled the team that tonight where streets away from us.
    Yes the team capitulated tonight but Bristol collectively were better quality ,faster both in thought and deed and are worthy of the Championship and unfortunately I feel for Bradford City to get anywhere near the level of Bristol City it will take more cash than we have at the moment.

  5. A very disappointing night, but given the constraints that the team have been under this season, it’s still good that it took this long to happen with them running on empty for so long. You mention above that PP has always gone for quality over quantity, but weren’t we told at the beginning of the season that the playing budget would be cut (although still competitive) but Phil & the team would still be aiming for promotion? I think wherever the limits on the strength in depth of the squad have come from, they have hobbled us. And the pitch situation didn’t help – PP has put together a team with an emphasis on playing football, then had to play their home games in an environment that hampered their efforts to play (and the ensuing spat between PP and the club showed his unhappiness at the hand he’d been dealt, suggesting that ignoring the pitch early on hadn’t been a decision he’d been involved in).
    The disappointment caused tonight will no doubt polarise opinion online for some time after tonight, but upset as I am, I’d rather look at the achievements of this season rather than the missed chances, I think on balance we had more of the former although it doesn’t seem like it right now. As Andy R says above, there is plenty to build, players to move on, players to bring in & we go again next year. And new investment? It would certainly solve the problem that we’ve had for the last few seasons; we need money to move the team forward, the directors (regardless of your current opinion) have steered the club through some choppy seas in recent years but don’t have the kind of money City need, & what do we do about season ticket prices? Another reason for cautious optimism next season, provided we hold our nerve…

  6. The tipping point for the change in fortunes was the loss of Pickford and Davies, we have not recovered and must try to negotiate their return/retention. I am certain that the top 7 sides have had their top 3 earners contributing for the majority of the season. If ours had, on merit, we would be in the play offs. The foundations of the team are encouraging and the support of the fans will ensure that Parkinson stays to build a team worthy of the championship !

  7. I don’t think you can draw too many conclusions from the game, as basically we stopped trying after the first goal.

    I think all the setbacks we have had through throwing away an endless amount of points, by not killing teams off, conceding injury time goals, and defensive lapses in concentration, all suddenly took their toll.

    Like a boxer knocked down so many times, and with no longer the carrot of the play offs, there was simply nothing left to give.

  8. The size of the squad has ultimately been our downfall.As someone says “Running on empty”.
    The team are physically and mentally whacked and tonight it showed.
    But we go again……

  9. One lesson of last night is the need to sign a decent goalkeeper. I see that Phil is bemoaning shambolic defending, but to my eyes it looked as if the back four had no confidence in the keeper and so were taking desperate measures to clear the ball.
    Jason mentioned the third goal but for me the second and fourth might well have been prevented by a keeper who comes off his line and commands the 6 yard box.
    And I know that it’s tough for the keeper and when others have bad games it’s not so visible – but that’s part of the job.
    Shame you left before the end Jason, you’d have seen that Valley Parade hadn’t emptied end and you missed the chance to applaud the team who have been by far and away the best in the league this year, deserved champions

    • Fracturing the goalkeeper union, I agree with Andrew on this.

      Williams was simply embarrassing tonight. Failed to react in the box to their first, never anticipated and set himself in case Darby was out-jumped for their second, and threw himself at their third like he’d never ‘played in nets’ before. As someone infront of me said, when he threw a hand up impressively to stop a shot before their fifth, it was as if his body had finally reacted to their first shot on goal and spasmed into action…

      I am not singling out Williams to be vindictive, but to stress like others above, that we aren’t that far away from a decent squad. A few key positions needs solving in the summer, with better quality than we have in the building, and journey-men like Yeates, Kennedy, Dolan, Zoko and others thanked but moved on.

      Bristol City were very good tonight, an expensive but expansive side that will do better than most who move up from this level. We aren’t there yet, and I don’t think we need to be. Progress is by definition incremental, little bits get better over time, and we are doing this in the right way, with the right spirit on and off the pitch.

      Any new investment would do well to support the current approach, rather than change direction…

  10. It’s all been said above really, but I don’t think you can under emphasise the impact the poor pitch had on our season. If you look at the results since the problem became more obvious, there’s no doubting we’ve had a real tail-off. Not only does a pitch like that stop flowing football, but more importantly it saps a player’s energy much quicker than a slick flat surface. On top of the extra games from the cup run, this has had a real knock-on effect to our season.

    We wouldn’t swap the cup run for anything and is hopefully something we can have again, but the pitch NEEDS sorting. It’s no surprise that our better results since the turn of the year have been away from VP. The end of the season can’t come quickly enough for me now and a chance to sort out the little problems which have blighted our chance to make the play-offs in what has clearly been a very poor League 1. Other than the top 3, the rest of the division is very ordinary. Looking at what is likely to be coming down from the Championship, only Wigan will be very confident of going back up, but even they look to be in turmoil. It doesn’t need much, in my opinion, to give us a chance of stepping up next year. A keeper is one of the priorities and Jordan leaving did dent our chances. I’m not sure he’s the definite answer, but is clearly a step up from Williams. The other priority has to be clearing some of the dead wood. In a thread bare squad you clearly can’t be carrying passengers and getting these players off the books will free up the funds needed to allow PP to freshen things up again.

    After everything though, it’s been a terrific season and one I didn’t expect. I was firmly of the belief that we might struggle this time around with the budget constraints, but yet again our amazing manager has delivered above and beyond. So well done to everyone involved.

  11. I stayed to the end.
    What I did not like was half the team racing off the pitch at the final whistle while half came over to applaud the Kop, who were magnificently defiant at the end. I would also have liked to have seen PP come over. Cotterill came over to applaud us before joining the Bristol fans which was a touch of class.
    Yes they were disappointed and perhaps embarrassed but where was the “togetherness” this website has praised so much?
    Anyway, let’s see it as a one-off.

    • As did I.
      The comments above more than capture the short-comings of the squad and summarise the season. Don’t blame anyone for leaving early as the loss was hard to take but not in my opinion embarrassing. Yes, we gifted them four simple goals but they were clinical in front of goal and mightily impressive in every position. Their work rate and fitness levels were phenomenal, when Bradford were in possession, the Bristol players closed them down straight away giving them very little time on the ball. Going forwards, movement of players of the ball meant that they always had options and easy passes. By contrast, our team looked sluggish and jaded and bereft of ideas. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and admit you were beaten by a far superior team on the day. But, this season we have had a few ‘days’ ourselves so there are more positives than negatives. The game should serve as a reality check to fans and board members alike. Good season with progress made. However, we do need extra players – a decent goalkeeper has to be on top of the list. Some pace and width up front wouldn’t go astray either.
      Most positive thing for me last night was the home support who were fantastic to the end. No comparison to the dark times 6/7 seasons ago. We all want to be at least a division higher but financial stability has to come above all else. Unless we get bankrolled by a Russian Oligarch or similar we have to live within our means. On that basis, I view this season as a qualified success.
      Agree that Cotterill showed a touch of class last night – as did his team.

  12. I agree with Andy about the pitch. My concern is that after PP’s justified outburst there has been no statement from the club about what they plan to do to improve it. It won’t be simple and work needs to start on 27th April after the last home match – surely plans are in place already.
    Maybe Jason, with your contacts at the club, could find out from James Mason or Mark
    Lawn what will be done. With so much poor publicity this season which decent players will want to come join City and play on a cabbage patch?

  13. let’s not lose sight of what actually happened lat night. in a first half of two clear cut chances, the took both theirs and we couldn’t take our chance. 2-0 at half time and early in the second half and we were still in with a chance of salvaging a draw from the game. then early in the second half two bad keeper mistakes gifted them two more goals. 4-0 and it was game over. our players (particularly the defence) visibly wilted and wanted the game to end.
    although i felt sorry for williams, the fact has to be faced. he is weak and doesn’t command his six yard box. who knows how many points we might have had if we had been able to keep pickford till the season’s end.
    Add keeper to a pacy striker on our close season wanted list.

    • Can’t agree. They were all over us in the first half. From minute 10 onwards we barely had a couple of passes together in their half. When they had the ball there were men streaming forward at pace into our box. 2-0 at half time could have been far worse.
      However, no need to go into hysterics. We played poorly against a classy side. Parky will get a response and then we can look forward to next season

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