Strength and pride in defeat

SAM_3699

Millwall 1

Gregory 34

Bradford City 1

Proctor 44

(Millwall win 4-2 on aggregate)

Friday 20 May, 2016

By Jason McKeown

In the end it was proven that the damage had already been done. There was no redemption in South London. No miracle comeback. There will be no visit to Wembley stadium over Bank Holiday weekend. The season ends on a sour note. The heavy sense of disappointment is destined to linger on for weeks to come.

To turn around the considerable two-goal deficit, what was needed on the night was an Bradford City outstanding performance. But instead we only got a decent one. If this had been the first leg, the 1-1 away draw and overall performance would have been credible, fueling optimistic talk of promotion. In reality it was a case of too little, too late. This was a long way short of the extraordinary that was required. And it leaves a heavy sense of emptiness and deflation.

Ultimately, Millwall were too good over the two legs. They surprised with their positive, attacking approach in the first leg. They seized a major advantage at Valley Parade, and were crafty and wise enough to finish off the job back at the Den. They deserve their place at Wembley, and there is no disgrace for Bradford City in losing to them.

There are, alas, a few too many if onlys.

If only City had not frozen on Sunday. Reacted better to the shock of conceding a quick equaliser. Held firm during the final 15 minutes of the first half, when Millwall produced two knock out blows. If only Tony McMahon, Josh Cullen, Lee Evans and Kyel Reid had done themselves justice in the first tie. If only Filipe Morais hadn’t missed that second half sitter. If only James Hanson and Reece Burke had have been fit.

The if onlys continued tonight. They needed to get on the front foot. Disrupt Millwall’s rhythm and really give them something to worry about. Phil Parkinson elected to pick the almost exact same team, and the same City players who lost their individual battles on Sunday were second best again. Millwall are full of street-wise, assured players with the ability to win football games and stick to their manager’s instructions. They are not pretty, but wholly effective.

It might have been different if City could have gotten their noses in front. The first half hour was even, although the home side looked the more threatening. Josh Cullen – in what was surely his final appearance for the Bantams – produced an outstanding block to prevent a Millwall goal. Ben Williams muddled his way through an early defensive mix-up. The back four were shaky early doors, but much improved as a unit from Sunday. Yet still, the absence of Burke – who was on the bench at least – was keenly felt.

Millwall took the lead 10 minutes before half time, thanks to their deadly strike duo of Steve Morison and Lee Gregory. There are obvious similarities between the pair and Nahki Wells and James Hanson, and just like for City in the 2013 play off semi final against Burton, they were the difference over the two games. Morison latched onto a knock down, played a one two with Gregory and ran at the City defence. Four claret and amber shirts were drawn to the ball, leaving Gregory unmarked. Morison played the ball into his partner’s path, and he made no mistake with a cool low finish.

City could easily have imploded and given up the ghost. But to their credit, they fought back from going a goal behind to level before the break. Kyel Reid had a poor evening, but his one moment of quality was to cut inside, beat defenders and play in Jamie Proctor through on goal. The striker’s first shot was blocked, but he fired home the rebound with no little skill. 1-1, and for a few moments Millwall looked shaky.

Indeed if Proctor had made more of another opportunity, a minute later, the outcome could have been so different. He was played through by Billy Clarke’s crafty pass, but from an angle opted to cut the ball to Reid at the back post. It was too ambitious, and the pass across goal lacked the necessary pace. Millwall scrambled the ball clear. City would not come as close to threatening again all night.

The half time whistle sounded at the wrong time for City. For the first time all night they were in the ascendancy, pushing Millwall back and prompting fear. Had the first half featured a few more minutes, City may have scored and home panic would have ensued. Instead Lions manager Neil Harris used the interval to calm down his players. They emerged from the dressing room more composed and retook control of the tempo.

City fought hard but simply didn’t threaten. Tom Thorpe was brought on for the injured Josh Cullen but was more inclined to pass the ball sideways than attack. Just like Sunday, the other substitutes, Paul Anderson and Steve Davies, made no impact. It is truly damning that City did not have a single shot on target in the second 45. Millwall were terrific at the back, but hardly endured their most sternest of tests.

The blame for that may lie partly in midfield – Reid, Cullen/Thorpe, Evans and McMahon/Anderson did not do themselves justice once again – but ultimately City’s lack of a Lee Gregory was telling in the final shake up. Proctor caused problems in the first half but was nullified over the second 45. Billy Clarke was largely anonymous. He just wasn’t able to improve upon his poor form over the course of most of the season.

Time ran out, with any hope of building up a late rally disrupted by premature Millwall supporter pitch invaders. At full time the referee ensured that City players could leave the field quickly, as the pitch was taken over by cheering home supporters. You don’t want to begrudge them their moment, but it left a sour taste that thousands decided to use it as an opportunity to run up to and goad City fans, rather than celebrate their team’s triumph.

It was truly sickening and just so alien to the culture of Bradford City supporters. When we were celebrating reaching Wembley after beating Burton in 2013, it wouldn’t have crossed anyone’s mind to have taunted the opposition fans.

Millwall were terrific on the pitch both tonight and last Sunday, but a large part of their supporters were truly classless and only reaffirmed the negative view that the rest of football holds towards them. I’m sure I won’t be the only City supporter rooting for Barnsley Sunday week.

It was their night, and it was a night to forget for City. But it can’t and mustn’t detract from an excellent Bradford City season. We improved our league finish by two places, reached 80 points for the first time since 1999, set a new club record number of clean sheets, and conceded the fewest goals in a season in 100 years. To get to the play offs is something to be proud of.

We all know that the problems have lied at the other end, and in that respect chasing a two-goal deficit was never going to be Bradford City’s comfort zone. There is a rebuilding job to do in the summer. But come August we must go again stronger and not let this disappointment hinder that. All three of last season’s beaten play off teams had disappointing seasons this time around. Phil Parkinson’s job now is to manage failure.

And he will do just that. When City were thrashed by Swansea City in the 2013 League Cup Final, they used it as motivation to get promoted three months later. When in January 2015 the Bantams came from 2-0 to beat Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge, the defeated Jose Mourinho came into the dressing room to congratulate the City players, telling them about how the late and wonderful Sir Bobby Robson had taught him how to lose. We must do the same.

We have to learn and grow from this experience. This should not be the peak moment of Bradford City’s rise from the depths of League Two. We have to make it the catalyst for more success. As a driver to aim higher and do better. So tonight is one day looked back upon as a mere bump in the road. A necessary defeat that caused us to grow and progress as a football club.

Phil Parkinson has already spoken about going for automatic promotion next season, and that’s absolutely right. As the dust settles, no one can take away from the fact that he has done another remarkable job this campaign. There is absolutely no one better qualified to get us through this and to make sure we go again.

We have to be stronger as a club for going through this miserable moment. And under Parkinson, I have no doubt that we will be.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, N Clarke (Davies 74), Meredith, McMahon (Anderson 67), Cullen (Thorpe 45), Evans, Reid, B Clarke, Proctor

Not used: Cracknell, Burke, Morris, Marshall

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Categories: Match Reviews

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18 replies

  1. I must congratulate you Jason for such a speedy and detailed report. If this is really you leaving the stage of WOAP match reporting, your views and analysis will be greatly missed. As ever I find it difficult to argue with anything you have written. Let’s hope Mr.P does some decent business in the Summer.

    • Wholeheartedly agree – width of post will be greatly missed for some great insights and often sensitive and sensible articles.

    • I agree, and I hope you can continue the site, even in a less comprehensive way. We have a much stronger base to build on for the summer, and should be looking to secure the likes of Lee Evans & Jamie Proctor. These are the type of players we need to carry the club forward & bridge the gap Parky referred to. All in all a solid season with much to be positive about, hopefully the much vaunted German interest will give Parky the tools he needs to take us up next year. Thanks again Jason

  2. A fair and balanced report, Jason ……….and thank you for taking the time to write it, tonight.
    Yes ….effectively City lost the tie on Sunday. A lot of changes, I feel will take place over the summer, particularly in defense, which has been our rock, this season……. too many mistakes, at crucial times.
    The midfield will see Cullen leave, as I suspect also Evans.
    The strikers appear toothless – so that may change too.
    Like I say – taking all the above into consideration – many changes.

    Yet let’s not take anything away from our boys – we hit a great high on 80 points !
    Is there a further ‘year upon year’ improvement ? Let’s hope so.

  3. Tony Thorpe?? Tom Thorpe dont you mean?

  4. In the two play off games Millwall were just a little bit too strong for us. It’s a shame that we lost Hanson and Burke just before the play offs and they were both a huge miss for us. However as Jason says we have reached 80 points and finished 5th which is a great achievement. Now let’s enjoy the summer and prepare for a crack at the top six next season. I read rumours of German takeovers and done deals- sounds a bit like last year only it was Italians then- so let us see what the summer brings and see what the squad looks like in August. Thanks for the match reports Jason and still hope your web site remains next season.

  5. We will miss your key eye for detail and the grasp of the soul of the club, and its supporters. When you take a well earned sabbatical. Only comments I truly enjoy when reading about City. Nice one.

  6. Firstly, I want to applaud the players, fans, club and the WOAP. Its been a great season (80 points, yes 80 points) and whilst it was one bridge too far, we should look at the season as another successful chapter in book of ‘Bantam Progressiveness’. Its just great seeing a new generation of young City fans (<18) getting hooked on the Bantams. The decline of our neighbours has meant more kids than ever in the district choose City to be their team.

    Did we punch above our weight this season, that's one to debate but no doubt the 3 excellent loanees (Burke, Evans and Cullen) had a pivotal impact on how the season panned out. How Parky replaces this talent and blends others, into a newly crafted team for the 16-17 season will be interesting.

    Millwall did us last Sunday, so be it as we cant change want happened. It hurts but we'll re-group. We'll come out stronger from this experience. However, my current emotion is pride, PRIDE for being part of the Bantam journey, where ever that might take us. #IPWT #CTID

  7. As a Millwall fan I have got to say it was a good two legs and your boys played excellent thank you for a great play off and good luck for next season well played Bradford 👏

  8. Excellent report Jason. One aspect of Parkys job is to constantly manage change. In his interview last night he has already identified where we need to improve and the difference between the teams. I just hope he has an uninterrupted summer of rebuilding unlike last year. To get do close when he patently missed out on several of his preferred targets last summer due to the takeover uncertainty speaks volumes about the bloke. IPWT. We are very fortunate to have a him as manager. In 30 years his tenure will still stand out. Mr Lawn and Rhodes both deserve credit for his appointment.

    I’m hoping for an exciting summer with no doubt some rebuilding. We should all get behind the £149 campaign again and be aiming for 20k crowds. The ground was bouncing this season with the best atmosphere around. The drum and flags adding to the occasion. Despite last nights disappointment I can’t wait for August. CTID.

  9. Jason, Millwall season ticket holder, totally agree with your report including some of our clueless so called supporters!! Travelled to your place last Sunday and loved the buzz your fans and our fans created. Truth is if we could retain the ball like Bradford, defend and score like millwall we would have an excellent football team. Good luck next season, hope we see you in the championship some time!!! Harry the Lion Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

    • It is such a shame that your club is tarnished with some of the most vile supporters ( some of whom last night would have been their first home game) in this country. I feel really sorry for the genuine fans of ‘wall.

      I have never read so much (I don’t know how to describe it) swearing, racist bile in all my life about Northern xxxxxxx etc etc.

      Just look up north stand on millwall vital football.

      What is it with these numpties. Small club in London complex. They do it to make themselves sound like hard men hiding behind the Internet.

      I bet you are ashamed of them as well.

      A shame that “nobody likes us, we don’t care”

    • Thanks for the good wishes Harry. Unfortunately there’s an element in every club who have the ability to spoil the game for the majority – Bradford City have a few too! Lets hope they are back in their boxes for the final.

      I’ve been really impressed with the Millwall supporters who have come on here posting comments. Good luck in the final – although, as you’d expect I’ll be rooting for Barnsley!

  10. Jason thanks for another season of first class writing. WOAP is the first (and often only) place I go to read about the club – checking in most days to see if there’s anything new. How I will miss you guys.

    We did superbly to get to the playoffs with a side that was far from the finished article. The team spluttered for months with players injured and out of form and Parky performed a minor miracle in finding a combination that got us where it did.

    Its Its going to be an interesting summer.

    Lots of players out of contract and the end of loan periods for players who have defined or reshaped the season. I will remember this season as the one where the West Ham youth system gave us a much needed shot in the arm.

    New strikers are required – which is no news to anyone – and maybe next season players who have missed through injury like Anderson and Morris will play more of a role.

    Are we in for a takeover? Will the germans reappear?

    With regards to WOAP – I’m secretly hoping that Katie will keep the fire burning during Jason’s time away. Katie?

    And for Christs sake – can we go back to stripes next season?

    #IPWT #CTID

  11. suspect big summer changes to come. at the back we’ll have to replace Burke with another top notch central defender. in midfield, with evans and cullen almost certain to leave, we’ll need two in. I personally would like one to be a more mature and combative (but not dirty) type of player as, in the crucial first half of the play-off first leg our central pairing were bossed by the millwall centre. out wide we have a surfeit of options and I suspect that at least one will be shown the door. up front, if we’re seriously aiming to be one of the top two, we simply HAVE to solve the shortcoming which has hampered us for so long and, in several attempts, we haven’t fixed for 2.1/2 years….the lack of a potent frontman who will get us 20+ goals a season.

  12. If you believe what you read online, you need your bumps felt. Those comments on vital football will have come from anyone but Millwall fans

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