The ordinary boys

By Tim Penfold

Bradford City were outclassed by Blackburn Rovers last night, and were lucky to come away with just a 2-0 defeat.  It may be that we never really stood a chance – there are not many clubs in this league that can compete with the quality and resources that Blackburn have at their disposal. But this was a meek surrender, with the Bantams unable to cope with Blackburn going forward and failing to get hold of the game in midfield.  

But it was the attack that really summed up the issues facing City, with the first shot on goal in the entire game coming in the 83rd minute.

This has been a problem for weeks now. With the exception of the second half at Charlton, Simon Grayson’s brief tenure has been defined by a side that throws men behind the ball but offers nothing going forwards.  Even in the Gillingham victory, our goal was from outside the box – a good strike, but not something that can be relied upon week-in week-out to produce goals. So where can the goals come from?

If you look at the line up after Grayson switched the formation to 4-5-1 midway through the first half, you see a side devoid of creators.  Neither full back has the pace to get up and down the flanks like James Meredith did, and against a side with the quality of Blackburn they were naturally cautious of getting caught up field.

In midfield, for all of his admirable qualities Callum Guy is not a creator and neither is Romain Vincelot. On the flanks Alex Gilliead should be doing more but his confidence looks shot, while Dominic Poleon on the left has never been a creative player, and this leaves the entire creative burden falling on Nicky Law.

Law has come in for plenty of criticism this season, and some of it is justified – for an attacking midfielder he has not scored or assisted enough  Last night he broke from midfield several times only to stop and check sideways to groans from fans. But when nobody else is making a run or showing for a pass what on earth is he supposed to do?

When we were at our creative best in the autumn of 2016 Law had so many options on the ball. Meredith was overlapping, Billy Clarke was dropping into space, Jordy Hiwula and Mark Marshall were running in behind and the sideways option was a pass to Josh Cullen, who would often move us forward again. We have none of these players any more, and the replacements are either injured, not of the standard required, or both.

Given all of this, how is this team supposed to create chances with only one even partially-functioning creator? It is no real shock to see that we aren’t scoring goals, and the defence, despite Colin Doyle being in his best form since joining, just isn’t good enough to grind out 0-0s under pressure.

So how can we fix this for the future? After all, we don’t have a game against a team with the quality and depth of Blackburn for the rest of the season, so surely we can make a start on fixing the creative issues?

Some personnel changes could help – I’d like to see Shay McCartan given a run up front off Charlie Wyke and maybe Adan Chicksen in for Stephen Warnock, to add more dynamism from left back. And there are plenty of players who need to step up and stop hiding in games – we can’t create if nobody wants the ball.

But fundamentally the issue is one of recruitment. Even earlier in the season when we were in form we weren’t creating enough and were relying on Charlie Wyke’s finishing. There’s not a huge amount that Simon Grayson can do when the players at his disposal are so lacking in both ability and heart.

We need to rebuild, and cannot afford another summer like the last one.

Categories: Match Reviews

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18 replies

  1. I can’t disagree with a word of this article. But when you’ve reached a stage of describing Nicky Law as your only creative player it’s maybe time to pack up and go home.

  2. I can hear people grumbling already but what Stuart did looks like a miracle. Those of us at the time who wanted him to stay knew this was the case and unfortunately we have been proved right.

    All season our problem was midfield. Centre mid weak and so are the wide areas. The one good thing to come out of midfield is the find of Tyrell Robinson. On a good pitch he can be excellent.

    If we keep Grayson I believe he will do a good job in time but he needs a big clear out (not sure how easy that will be) and bring in his own style of players but will he be backed to do that?

    The biggest disappointment for me is Gilliead. He works hard but I don’t think he has IT even at this level. When there was talk of Championship clubs in for him I was amazed. For his reputation he doesn’t score or create enough.

    I don’t want to single him out only that would be unfair but if possible I would get rid of 9/10 players at the end of the season

  3. I agree “fundamentally the issue is one of recruitment”. The issue going back to after Wembley last year when Rahic asked Stuart to resign because he didn’t agree with Stuart’s desired recruitment approach.

    But we’ve got to stop blaming the players. Professional footballers are no different to professional anybody elses – nobody in any profession performs well in an environment of criticism and toxic management. In my (admittedly chequered) professional life I have seen great sales, finance, operational people suffer crashes in performance when new owners/directors come along with aggressive, unreasonable critical attitudes. Usually it’s the most professionally minded of people who hate under-performing who move on to find other roles in enabling environments to reach their potential again. It can take a long time to build a high performance culture and only take a crass moment to kill it. Why are footballers any different? Would a pep talk from Rahic motivate anybody come to that? His pep talks to fans have demotivated me!

    Our current crop of players are not the best for sure but they need better performances coaxing out of them to reach their potential again. Assuming Rahic is taking more of a back seat and is less of an influence, it’s worrying that SG seems to lack Stuart’s man management skills and is publicly critical – how will that help?

    • I agree with what you say about motivation and toxic atmospheres. Crisis behind the scenes leads to bigger crisis on the pitch and we are now reaping the rewards(?) of Edin thinking he knows best as he’s taking his coaching certificates! The fact that he doesn’t is now blatantly obvious for all to see.

      Stuart had many critics, but for the most part the comments directed against him were totally unjustified and that becomes clearer with every kick of the ball. He had everyone punching above their weight consistently, week in, week out. Until that was, the ill-fated trip to Yeovil killed the dressing room with the totally unprofessional sacking of Luke Hendrie in front of his peers.

      At that point, if they hadn’t already surmised, they saw what Edin’s approach and master plan meant and in that instant, all lost the will to battle. When players lose trust and respect for the owners, it doesn’t matter a jot what name is on the coachin jacket!

      It’s going to be a huge uphill battle now to try and regain the old values and try to steer the ship back on course.

    • Well – that’s spot on.

      The good managers have that ability to conjure something greater than the parts. McCall, Parkinson, Cherry, Clough, Ferguson, Wenger. For different reasons and under different expectation levels and in different contexts these managers have sprinkled a little magic on the team and got them performing above where they should be.

      Parkinson builds a team around a 35 year old journeyman, Cherry and Ferguson built teams around kids and experience (and in Cherry’s case kids on free transfers), Wenger delivers consistent top 4 finishes despite not being able to compete with others in the transfer market and Clough won the European cup with Nottingham Forest twice! Many of Clough’s charges from both Forest and Derby County bombed at other clubs – it was his persona that got the most out of them.

      A good manager is not enough though. All those I mentioned worked in stable environments with supportive structures – and as you alluded to that team spirit, ethic, and values that were built up by Parkinson and maintained by Stuart over years seems to have been blown away in 4 months.

      Unless someone’s got a rabbit in a bag I think its going to be a long road back from here….

  4. I too agree with all of Tim’s key points. I would not be quite so critical of the players. The Grayson/McCall contrast is starting to emerge. Last night and in preceding four games, Doyle didn’t throw the ball out and we hardly ever took quick short free kicks. The result is the ball is in the air and possession often lost straightaway(particularly bad when Wyke was out). My point is that it is not just lack of creative players but a lack of a creative style. After all we were doing well enough in the first part of the season.

    Secondly, we have a thin squad and started to lose it when Tony Doyle was out. Until he was injured we were conceding just over one goal per game. And then when he was out we were losing over two goals per game. It was not just a question of goalie mistakes as much as lack of confidence through the defence. If nothing else, Doyle is reassuring. Then in January’s defeats we sometimes had no fit full back or fit winger. Crazy just to blame McCall for that state of affairs. However, sadly he and the chairman did not seem to work well together and so he has to go at the first sign of problems.

    And now we are suffering from lack of creativity and too much negativity in selection and tactics.

  5. Totally agree with this summary. Young Gilliead has lost all confidence and one wonders about the man managers around him.. I’m afraid Poleon has never risen to the standards we were led to expect,he appears frightened of a challenge and gives up too easily in the defensive roll. We are seeing too many hoofed balls forward and seem to have lost totally our sharp passing and triangles. At the moment there just isn’t the ‘ bite’ from far too many players and I hope Mr Grayson has the ability to sort it out.

  6. There are some supporters who don’t see the significance of ‘Hendriegate’ at Yeovil. They say he was not that good a player which is irrelevant. What happened was the straw that broke the camels back’. It was witnessed by the whole squad and apparently senior players reacted, hence the loss of McMahon and he hope for a move.
    From that moment onwards SM was a dead man walking and the spirit of the team had gone. It has never come back. Good players who had us the play off spot, threatening the automatics and with a good points cushion from the also fans lost something. Good players don’t become bad players overnight.
    The fact that SG has so far been unable to get team spirit or morale back says a lot about the damage done in that horrible incident at Yeovil.
    So whilst is it easy to blame the players the real reason for everything that dates back to then lies squarely with our owners.

    • It appears that Yeovil was the catalyst for the most spectacular collapse in form I can recall in my history of supporting City. The effects are far reaching and I await the release of the first phase of season ticket sales information with some apprehension. Very little communication is coming out of VP and I wonder whether the owners are desperately trying to find a buyer. There is nothing to encourage season ticket holders to renew and the owners must be quaking at the prospect of funding what could be a massive shortfall in income. “You reap what you sow” springs to mind.

    • Rahic didn’t go to Yeovil, it’s just fake news that he entered the dining room and upset Hendrie. Even if there was a problem it’s up to a strong manager, which Stu wasn’t to make sure players don’t down tools and sulk. They’d have only underperformed once under Clough or Fergie even if they didn’t agree with the decision by the chairman. I imagine Stu encouraged the moan against the owners with his body language.

  7. For me, the recruitment has been wrong.

    We had a good creative midfielder with Jake Reeves. However he obviously picked up an injury, seems to have tried to play on, but the injury reduced his effectiveness and ultimately he is out for the season. The lack of one player in the squad having his attributes is, in my mind, a key shortfall in the squad.

    Dack showed how it could and should be done. We have numerous strikers. Poleon, Patrick, Bruenkner,Grodowski,Taylor and Wyke.

    Rather than having six, lets have four, who could compete.

    Similarly having three senior keepers, then two with a better quality (remember Duke V McGloughlin) makes sense.

    Twenty five good seasoned professionals with a development squad makes sense.

    Two full teams and three utility players is in my view the way forward.

    Sadly Blackburn showed how far we have to go!

  8. Great article that sums up what most are thinking

  9. The key comment in this article is the last.
    Rebuild and cannot afford a summer like the last one.
    My fear is it will be a lot lot worse. Reported season ticket sales only at 4k suggest we will be looking at a very young and inexperienced squad next season,playing in a stadium 3/4 empty.
    We will have all on to avoid relegation.
    If we think it can’t get any worse than it is now…………..TBC😪

    • If the season ticket figure is 4K, towards the end of the cheapest prices period, then we have massive problems ahead. I can envisage the sale of Wyke and Robinson and, as you say, next year’s squad comprising of inexperienced youngsters. With savings needed to be made throughout the club, I can see Edin having to combine his Chairman’s duties with Head of Youth Development and part time physio on match days!

  10. In my mind there is confusion regarding what actually happened at Yeovil. Greg Abbott – in the fans forum – stated that they just couldn’t do a deal with his club. However, I’m reading on here, and on other sites that he was sacked publicly? Was told he wasn’t good enough? It would be nice to know exactly what did happen and nothing else regarding the form since then, makes sense.

    • John Hendrie used to write a fairly regular column in the T & A. Since “Yeovil”, he hasn’t written a bean. That suggests to me he is unhappy with something that’s gone on at the club.

  11. We have had various explanations for our poor run since January; Rahic interference, the players stopped playing for Stuart, Grayson is too negative, the players are not good enough etc.

    The one group that seems to have escaped a lot of the criticism is the players. We certainly haven’t got the best squad in the division, but to me it is one of at worst mid table quality, yet over the last 3 months they have performed like a team fighting to stay in the football league.

    I think they have got off very lighly from the criticism, and it is about time they started putting in performances worthy of themselves, the supporters, and the club.

  12. A very sad situation. I celebrated watching City for 50 years at the Gilingham game and though things are not right at the club, maintain my interest in their efforts, if not my joy.

    Not a great game but the 3 points were welcome. Even getting to the play offs,though unlikely, would mask some fundamental issues at the club. Here is an open letter I have put together, hopefully to make the owners think (I assume/hope they read this forum). Unfotunatly, I suspect it will get lost in all the “noise” around social media connected with the club at this moment.

    Dear Edin,

    You might like to consider the following from a lifelong supporter.

    1. There is a growing erosion of belief in you. The shameful use of Nazi imagery you recently had to endure after the SM sacking was disgusting and shameful and you were rightfully appalled, wounded and indignant. ….but that is the work of a crazy, moronic minority element among our followers (I cannot use the word supporters as these idiots are not real supporters). However, having promised to communicate better, you, Mason et al have fallen short of what is required to continue to connect with us, your true supporters; even if that communication was a tough message for us along the lines of “we have got it wrong, we have learnt, we stick to our decision to sack McCall but we have a plan to get us out of this situation”

    2. Allowing SG to join on a short term contract , looks flawed, despite his undoubted pedigree (by the way Simon, always better for people to view you as a Championship manager and keep your mouth closed, rather than open it and make it clear and leave them in no doubt that you are no.In football, you are sometimes only as good as your last game and City fans don’t like braggers. Your criticism of the side (probably technically sound), leaves a lot to be desired in the leadership stakes. The players confidence looks suspect already,so do you really think a public lambasting is wise?)
    You should have made it very clear to SG that City’s requirement was a manager prepared to commit himself to the long term and if SG wasn’t prepared to do that, I would have favored a different candidate (and I believe most clubs have a decent choice when looking for new managers).We seem to have the worst of all worlds at the moment.

    3. The season ticket situation is looking poor. Great value for money if the club has owners who seem to connect emotionally with the supporters and buy into the clubs values (and goodness knows, I am not a Lawn supporter, but he did put his money and efforts where his mouth is and supported arguably City’s best manager for a long time who brought us cup runs and Wembley appearances). Lawn would have put the SM sacking decision under more balanced scrutiny than you appear to have done.
    However, even without this and notwithstanding the cheap season ticket prices (which are brilliant but which only work if you take most of the supporters with you, which you appear not to be doing, in spades), the match experience at a purely functional level is sub-standard. Ever queued for a beer or pie at half time in the NW Stand? Appalling, with the slowest , poorly customer focused cafe staff imaginable with poor stewardship of the queue,leading to poor sales and a lost opportunity to increase revenue but more importantly, deliver an acceptable customer experience (as opposed to one which rightly riles most cafe customers). Do you measure customer satisfaction in this area of the ground, or others, because in my experience it is equally poor?.
    What other venue could get away with no soap in the gents toilets for a whole season and the most disgusting smell in these toilets since the first game of the season? Despite complaints, nothing has been done and so what message do you think gets out to the fans? From what I hear, their view is “the tickets are cheap, so they won’t do much about it” Except of course once results go bad, supporters will vote with their feet and use the customer experience (not just on the field results) to justify their decision.

    4. Forget the fans forum for a second (and that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it has value, it could). Edin, come and join some of your fans in the stands and have an informal chat with them. The the vast majority are reasonable, enthusiastic (but not stupid) individuals who love the club and “get” Brand “Bradford City”. They are not impressed with “Do you believe ?”… how condescending and off the mark. Perhaps the strap line should be ” Can you forgive us please; we, like you, love the Club but recognise we have made some mistakes; here is how we plan to address it” (admittedly not as punchy, but closer to the feelings of real fans and likely to at least rekindle a bit of the lost trust).

    5. There is a strong belief building that you put all your money into buying the club and now have none to build it. If that is true, at least have the decency to admit it and ask the supporters to stick with you; you will find the majority would. If it is not true, then say so.It is growing in momentum as a explanation for reason inactivity and poor decisions and can be explosively toxic.

    6. The people who have already renewed season tickets are probably the most loyal, understanding and enthusiastic fans you have; have you considered consulting with them? It takes a big man to admit they got it wrong; these fans would at least listen if you could find that level of humility within yourself and probably offer some real insight into how better to communicate. In its absence, you leave yourself open to the fickle finger of some of our recent fans, who know mainly of only the recent good times and need something more than you are giving them to continue their support.They measure your value in what you deliver for them, not necessarily the emotional pull that loner term fans do. Their views and expectations are equally valid and they are key stakeholders in the club.
    Their message to you may well be …..”Do you believe?”

    Good luck.

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