By Alex Scott
Where do you even start?
It’s not good, is it? There are dismal away defeats. There are dismal away defeats against ten men. There are dismal away defeats against ten men where your only chance is a soft penalty. And then there is whatever that was.
They say it’s sometimes harder to play against ten men. City partially proved that on Saturday as they were thoroughly outplayed by an outnumbered Fleetwood Town. That said, they didn’t look up to much against eleven either.
At times during their abject second half performance you began to wonder how few opposition players it would take before that City team would look like an adequate third division team. Nine? Six? Eight, but their keeper has his hands tied behind his back?
It’s not good, is it? The way this team plays and the futility you feel when they inevitably fall behind is disappointingly reminiscent of the last City team that was relegated from this division. For what I am sure are many good attributes I’ve not had a chance to see yet, George Miller and Eoin Doyle are demonstrating a little too much of the Moses Ashikodis for this fan’s liking.
The team looks out of their depth in a pool too deep, with their lifeguard stood watching pensively on the side, blaming them for losing their shape as they drown. The shape is the least of their worries.
Fellow Bradfordian Adil Rashid played in a Test Match for England recently where he didn’t score a run, take a catch, or take a wicket. England still won the game. Whilst a team can probably carry one Adil – up against a collapsible middle order at least – building an entire squad in his image seems to be an admittedly admirably parochial, but ultimately ill-advised, strategic decision.
If you’ve seen City at all this season, I doubt you really need me to fill in any blanks about what happened on Saturday. They could have fallen behind immediately, twice, but didn’t before City’s defence broke out its already well practised Keystone Cops rendition. Eoin Doyle cooly converted a soft penalty against the run of play, before Wes Burns slid in rashly on Adam Chicksen and saw red just before half time.
In fairness, after restricting myself to the Barnsley and Southend games thus far, the first half was certainly the best 45 minutes I’ve seen this season. The subsequent imbalance in personnel from the red card led to a surprisingly positive half time where dreams of maybe creating a chance from open play in the second half took hold throughout the away end.
Nine months ago to the day, City battled to a 2-1 victory on the same ground maintaining their run of two and half years mostly unbroken play off football. 2018 had promise. Watching City attempt to replicate that comeback in the second half brought that contrast to bear.
Not one of that squad was in today’s squad. Nor anyone in the dugout. That team in January wasn’t close to the strongest side we’ve had over recently years, but it was competent, committed and organised.
Not one of this squad has yet demonstrated in a City shirt they are an improvement upon any of that squad in January.
The second half performance was abject. At times, it bordered on performance art. A dispiriting cocktail of several experienced professionals abdicating responsibility whilst hiding from the ball, and many young players who whilst trying admirably, had, at best, been put in a position to fail by their manager, or, at worst, had been hung out to dry in an attempt to deflect pressure off himself.
It became the latest in a run of matches where you stare at the names of the players who finished the game and wonder what on earth happened during it to lead to that jumble.
City finished a game chasing a goal with two inexperienced wingers (one of whom was a full back on debut), a teenage attacking midfielder (in his fourth game) as primary playmaker, the squad’s only striker in the hole, two full backs in a back three and a combined 89 City appearances across the pitch (24 of them from Adam Chicksen). Their captain, star player, and Australian international defender had been withdrawn to enable this.
It has become clear over the first few weeks of the season as they have been routinely outplayed and outcoached that there is a fatal problem with either the message or the messenger. It’s becoming clearer by the week that it’s probably both.
In 1969, Canadian academic and hierarchologist Dr Lawrence J. Peter famously established the Peter Principle, which went along the lines that every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.
Forty two years later, former businessmen and City chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes established the less well-known Peter Jackson Principle, which went along the lines that it is never too soon to admit a mistake when it is apparent to everyone paying attention. Both of these felt pretty apt walking away from Highbury.
In two years and a few months, the club have managed to lose the services of their two most successful managers this century, as well as dismantle not one but two play off teams. And, for what? The promise of a new, exciting, ambitious club the fans could get behind? They already had that! Twice!
When the man in charge of strategic decisions at your city’s premier sporting asset is following axioms established by a poor man’s Homer Simpson you end up with performances like Saturday afternoon.
At the away games at Southend and Fleetwood, I’ve cumulatively seen a soft penalty and a Jordan Gibson one on one in the form of chances created. Two decent fish and chips at least, so not all lost.
But whilst the mostly southern based City fans could find solace in the fact that “I don’t know, maybe Southend are good?” The crowd at Fleetwood appears to have made up its mind and it wants to convict on all counts.
The owners – and in a spectacular showing of hubris, the manager – may put this discontent down to the fickleness of the fanbase, but they are betraying their lack of understanding about the motivations of their fans (their customers), and human beings in general.
You methodologically, and with malice of forethought, remove every single player from the squad with whom the fans have a relationship and wonder why the fans aren’t giving the benefit of the doubt to the team?
You sack the club’s iconic figure as manager for one bad run and replace him with the miserable dirge of Simon Grayson, then whatever this is supposed to be, and wonder why the fans are frustrated?
You make the exact same series of decisions a sleeper agent trying to ruin the club would make over a prolonged two year span, and wonder why the fans don’t have faith in your vision?
The final ten minutes on Saturday watching City fail to locate the screw, let alone turn it, bore out the myriad ills of the club at the moment. Not only have they managed to recruit an entire squad of players who to a man are not replicating the performances of their predecessors, they are organised in a way where every in-game decision or substitution makes them weaker in defence, and also somehow less dangerous in attack.
It isn’t just that the team are performing poorly, or are failing to adapt together. It’s feels more fundamental than that. The machine feels broken. Everything we are seeing feels like a symptom of something worse.
I’m sat here on the train back home trying to think of the positives in the manner of a man who has earnestly picked up a broken appliance, stared at it for ten minutes before concluding, “nah… it’s fucked, that.”
Where do you even start?
Categories: Match Reviews