Bradford City 1
Colchester United 2
Ambrose 23+ 57
Tuesday 1 March, 2016
By Jason McKeown
Forget talk of the play offs. Forget hoping to make it to the Championship. Forget all the recent pats on the backs.
Forget it all, because Bradford City still remain a few steps behind where we expect them to be. Better than many of their League One peers, but a top six side? There’s not nearly enough evidence to support this; and until we really see it, let’s forget believing it is there.
This was a disgraceful performance. So far below what is acceptable that nearly every player should hang their head in shame. It doesn’t matter that Colchester were bottom of the league and complacency set it. That type of gutless Bradford City performance should never happen against anyone. It was truly appalling.
This continues to be an up and down season, but what undermines the mood is that City can’t seem to get ahead in the promotion race. They started the season awfully, then recovered. They stuttered again, and then recovered. They struggled through January, and have recently recovered. But they’ve yet to do more than recover past failings. They’ve never done anything better than perform to their capability on some occasions.
And that is not a sentence to describe a top six side.
Sometimes games of football can become too easy. Sometimes players can get carried away by their dominance. They start taking short cuts. Stop working as hard. They allow their energy and intensity to drop. And soon, they’re in trouble.
Because a team that has a first 20 minutes as bad as Colchester did here can only get better. And if you let them do just that, it’s hard to rediscover your discarded focus.
And that happened here to Bradford City. 20 minutes in, and the only outcome was going to be a cricket score. City, attacking the Kop end, were a goal to the good and looked threatening with every attack. They could – and should – have scored a hatful. Colchester’s high defensive line was seized upon, with Kyel Reid in particular forcing numerous errors.
The only goal was a good one – and it was a product of City’s promising January window activity. Josh Cullen robbed his man of possession, charged towards the penalty area with no defender near to stop him, and eventually crossed low for Wes Thomas to tap home for a first goal for the club. The two were amongst City’s brightest performers, and the fact neither wouldn’t finish the game became a major talking point.
Either side of the goal, good chances came and went. James Hanson was guilty of blazing over a cross, when through on goal in a wide position and with team mates running into the box. After Thomas forced a good save, Hanson could only head the rebound straight at the keeper. City’s leading scorer was unlucky to see a more powerful drive at goal roll just wide. Reid was the architect of that chance, he had U’s right back Kane Vincent-Young on toast, to the point he had to be subbed by his manager before half time.
But playing really well in fits and starts is the story of City’s season. They inexplicably dropped off here, and were punished by a Colchester equaliser that was messy and avoidable. Darren Ambrose the scorer.
And with the goal, the pace went out of the game. Colchester abandoned the high line and sat deep, whilst City looked reluctant to commit players forward and attack. The fearless and high tempo approach, which was so effective early doors, was forgotten. It became timid, slow and utterly frustrating.
The 65 visiting Colchester fans – and massive respect to them for travelling so far on a Tuesday night when their team is in such woeful form – were buoyed by their players’ efforts, and at times their chanting could be heard over the thousands of home supporters. A draw was no good for them in their circumstances, so they went for it early doors in the second half and were rewarded for it.
George Moncur was excellent and hit the woodwork twice in three minutes. And then Ambrose was one of a number of visiting players queuing up at the back post to smash the ball past Williams for his second goal. City’s marking was non-existent. This was a bad night for Stephen Darby, James Meredith and Nathan Clarke.
What do you do if you’re Phil Parkinson? When your entire team stops following the gameplan and collectively plays so poorly? The City manager will inevitably face post match criticism, and elements of it will be justified, but his players let him down big time here. They let the fans down, and they have let the club down.
Tony McMahon has had plenty of plaudits of late, but was dire. Moving him to the centre of midfield for the final half hour helped no one, least of all his team mates. How many times is Parkinson going to try him in the centre? It never works.
Equally damaging to City’s feeble fightback attempt was bringing on Billy Clarke for Thomas – a decision prompted by an injury to the latter, not that the crowd, who booed the change, knew this at the time. Billy Clarke and James Hanson have never formed an effective partnership in a 4-4-2. Billy Clarke has never thrived in a City 4-4-2. This is a major problem. He is not the answer right now.
Cullen and Thomas were City’s two best outfield players, and losing them had a major effect (Lee Evans was not the same player without Cullen alongside him). The home side lost their way and lost the plot. They rarely looked like coming back for a point.
Having the crowd on their backs caused players to go into their shells. But that is not good enough. It is not easy to play for Bradford City, but it does not justify going into hiding when the going gets tough.
Which sums up where we are at, and where we are failing. With a fair wind behind City can go again and recover quickly, but these slips ups keep happening and they are hugely damaging. When things start to go wrong, this team lack the capacity, know-how and bravery to turn it around. They fold. They have to be better than this. And the frustration lies in the fact that they should be.
Unless something radically changes, this is going to go down as a season of underachievement and disappointment. In a wide open division, City keep tripping over their own shoelaces rather than mounting a credible promotion push. There are some mitigating factors, but not enough to excuse nights as wretched as this one.
A big, big response on Saturday is the least that should be expected. But even if that does happens, forget getting excited again. This team now have a hell of a lot to do to win back our faith.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, N Clarke (Proctor), Meredith, McMahon, Cullen (B Clarke 60), Evans, Reid, Thomas (Marshall 60), Hanson
Not used: Cracknell, Knott, Leigh, Routis
Categories: Match Reviews