By Adam Pickles
So, that’s that then. Bradford City’s 2017/18 comes to an end with two games left to play. Any faint hopes of sneaking that play off place can now finally be put to bed with the club now mathematically being unable to make it following the 2-0 defeat to Southend. Unlike last year where the late push secured our play off spot (only 3 losses in the last 15 games), this season it seems it was just not meant to be.
Despite spending the majority of the season in the play off places, the highest City can now finish, obviously result dependent, is 8th, 3 places lower than last season’s 5th. After the play off final loss last season, and the investment in players (actually paying fees!) it was hoped that we would build on the disappointment and that this season would be our season – the one where we challenge for the top spot. The one where we give the big boys a run for their money. And for those few months it seemed that was going to be the case. How wrong could we be.
Southend travelled to Valley Parade having won their last two games, scoring seven goals, and flirting with a top half finish. They certainly looked good for their victory and stuck to the game plan, which seemed to be set out by manager Chris Powell. Lining up with a 4-2-3-1 formation they were set out to counter attack – and that they did to good effect.
City were unchanged from the Tuesday night win over MK Dons, playing a 4-4-2 formation with the two big men of Charlie Wyke and Kai Bruenker leading the line.
For the first ten minutes City looked bright. Passes were interchanged and both wings being utilised with Alex Gillead especially looking to get on the ball and drive at the Southend right back. Wyke and Bruenker dropped deep to collect the ball and looked to make things happen, and the determination of Callum Guy was something that hasn’t been seen from this flock of City players in recent weeks. Guy took on some serious tackles, winning the ball and never shying away, which really got the stand on their feet and hopeful that the show of the last few weeks had been put to bed, and the players really were standing to be counted.
An injury to Bruenker in the 14th minute seemed to rock the Bantams, with Dominic Poleon replacing the striker who had to be stretchered off after landing awkwardly in an aerial tussle. The club have since revealed that Bruenker has suffered ligament damage. After a promising few weeks this will be a blow to the player who has shown signs of what he can do. We wish him all the best in his recovery.
An early questionable refereeing decision had the City fans incensed – Marc-Antoine Fortune went down in the area after a tussle with Matt Kilgallon with the referee keen to allow play to continue with Southend in possession, however once possession was turned over was quick to blow his whistle whilst Matty Lund broke away with the ball. Other than this referee Trevor Kettle had a good game and an early bad decision and the crowd against him didn’t seem to have any influence.
The best chance of a pretty non-eventful and scrappy first half did fall to the Bantams, with Guy’s 20-yard shot being smartly turned away by Southend keeper Mark Oxley.
The half time whistle blew and my family and I returned to the corporate area beneath the main stand – a treat from my usual seat in the NW corner. My father recently retired and as a leaving gift his employer kindly arranged for him to spend the last home game (or what should have been) as a guest of the club.
As a side note to this match report may I say what a fantastic experience this was. The pre match meal was delicious and the staff are credit to the club. The service was second to none, nothing was too much trouble for Laura who was in charge, we enjoyed interviews with players Jake Reeves and Tyrell Robinson, and the host Nova was an excellent compere. Co-owner Edin Rahic was also sat on the table next to us with his family enjoying the meal and occasion. I would highly recommend any City fan who wants to celebrate a special occasion to consider the corporate experience – we could not fault it. (And before it is questioned, I was not paid to write this!) Personally I would like to thank all the staff for a brilliant day.
We headed back to our seats for the second half hopeful that the match would improve and to see our boys win – sadly this was not to be the case.
Southend were by far the better team in the second half. City huffed and puffed but the quality shown in stages of the first half was just not there. We were second to every ball with Southend pushing and pushing. Tony McMahon was once again on set piece duty, but time and time again his free kicks or corners were poor, some not even beating the first man. Wyke looked isolated up top, and his substituted strike partner Dominic Poleon did not look interested. It seemed at points he even failed to grasp the offside rule, time and time again standing in an offside position meaning his teammates had to look for an alternative pass.
In contrast, Oxley the Southend keeper was well up for it. In the 56th minute he produced a fantastic save from a Tim Dieng header. From the follow up Poleon found the ball at his feet only 2 yards out but criminally shot straight back at the sprawling keeper. This just summed up the strikers day, and embarrassingly he was then substituted off himself on the 74th minute. A very poor display from the striker signed for a fee in the summer, and with a year left on his contract we really hope and need to see better from him next season.
Southend went in front on the 72nd minute. After Doyle had made his first serious save of the game, the City defence did not deal properly with the follow up and a cross in from the right hand side was met with a close range header from John White which found the back of the net.
This was the time which Poleon was hauled off. Unusually Simon Grayson decided to bring on midfielder Nicky Law, rather than one of the attacking options we had on the bench. This seemed a very negative substitution at 1-0 down – a like for like sub would have given us much more attacking option. Both Shay McCartan and Omari Patrick were warming up alongside Nicky Law and it was a real surprise to see Law being the player chosen, leaving Wyke even more isolated.
The second Southend goal came from a City attack. Nicky Law hesitated with the ball and his tame sideways pass found a Southend player, with a quick break seeing City outnumbered 4 to 3. Southend midfield Yearwood raced to the edge of the Bantam’s area, before simply squaring the ball for Fortune whose shot took a deflection off Knight-Percival before finding it’s way past Doyle.
That was it for City. Tools were downed. They seemed to just accept defeat. The last ten minutes were described by my girlfriend as a schoolyard game of football, with neither team particularly trying. Simon Grayson did bring on an attacking option with Dieng making way for McCartan, but to very little effect.
This is very worrying for our beloved Bantams. I have been a supporter and season ticket holder for many years (this season being my 25th season ticket, and aged only 32) and I have never seen a group of players look so subdued. It looked like the final whistle could not come soon enough. After the early season highs and all the talk of promotion and play offs, as a unit we could not be any further away from those dreams.
Whatever happened behind the scenes to cause such a drastic downturn in performances, and as such results, needs to be changed and quickly. Rumours of a low playing budget for next season do not raise high hopes and it is a worry on recent performances of some players, many of who are still contracted for next season, that things can only get worse.
Simon Grayson has announced that he expects there to be a huge overhaul of the playing staff in the summer whether he is the manager or not – and I believe this is needed. Too many players appear to be going through the motions – including those classed as senior pros who should known better than to think such lacklustre performances would be regarded as acceptable.
We have some extremely promising assets at the club, namely Robinson and Patrick, both handed long-term deals, but the older more experienced players really do need to take the summer to reassess. Vincelot, Knight-Percival, Kilgallon and Poleon all have a year left on their deals, with Reeves and McCartan having two, and these are the players with whom the manager will need to work with next season. It is hoped that we will see better from these players. I do not question their ability, with Kilgallon my vote for player of the season, but the application sometimes has bordered on non-existent.
Currently it seems 50-50 as to whether Grayson will be the manager next season, citing a sit down with owner Rahic as being pivotal on his decision. I believe with the correct tools and a good budget that he is the man for the job. Simon was appointed just after a transfer window and has not had an opportunity to bring in the players he wishing, working with what he inherited, and despite a poor start since the drubbing at Blackpool it did seem the corner had been turned. Perhaps the Southend game was just an off day. Perhaps we will end the season on a high with wins over Walsall and Scunthorpe and give the fans some hope for next season.
Perhaps next season will be our season.
Categories: Match Reviews