A major step backwards

By Tim Penfold

We thought we were past this.  That we’d found a style that worked and personnel that could play this, and that we’d have enough about us to pull out of trouble.  But Bradford City showed all of their old flaws in collapsing to a 4-0 defeat at home to Southend.

It was almost inevitable from the moment that an Anthony O’Connor error gave Southend an early shooting opportunity in the second minute, taken superbly by Simon Cox.  City have not got a single point in the league this season after going behind, singularly lacking the fight and heart of previous incarnations of this team.

You could not imagine the squads assembled by Phil Parkinson collapsing this badly this often when faced with adversity.  There was some hope of a comeback after the first goal but one Sam Mantom hit a superb second City offered very little.  Three shots all game tells its own story.

David Hopkin comprehensively lost the tactical battle as well.  City lined up in a 4-1-3-2 system that had been impressive in previous games, but there were personnel issues.  Instead of bringing in Connor Wood for the suspended Adam Chicksen, he shunted Nathaniel Knight-Percival across to left back and went with a centre back pairing of Ryan McGowan and Anthony O’Connor.  This pairing hasn’t really worked all season, with both of them favouring the right sided central defensive role.

O’Connor looked particularly uncomfortable on the left of the defence and was substituted for Wood with 24 minutes to go having been badly at fault for the third goal.  Meanwhile Knight-Percival offered nothing going forward and his decreasing mobility was exposed more than it would’ve been at centre back.  This was a case where picking the best individuals meant sacrificing the strength of the defensive unit.

In midfield Hope Akpan was badly outnumbered, with Southend’s 3-5-2 system flooding the area that he was supposed to be patrolling with three men.  This meant that the midfield area belonged to the visitors, so City had to be more direct in their distribution from the back, and if we’ve learned anything from this season it is surely that long ball to Doyle and Miller does not work.

Even the high press was ineffective – City lacked their usual intensity and Southend were intent on not taking risks, opting to concede throw-ins and reorganise rather than try to play through the press at times.

This left City with a broken and disjointed side – a defence struggling with players out of position, and an attack that just wasn’t getting the ball because it was overwhelmed in midfield and forced to feed off scraps.  It’s all very well having excellent creative players but there was no strategy in terms of how to get them the ball.

The sight of Jack Payne dropping to halfway to pick up the ball was symptomatic of this – he needs to be picking the ball up 25 yards out and facing the opponents goal, not on halfway facing backwards.  It was remarkable under the circumstances that it took so long to get an extra midfielder on.

That said, the bench also lacked game-changing options.  One centre-back, one left-back and four central midfielders does not give you the tactical options to change the game, and attacking reinforcement is desperately needed, particularly in the shape of a target man to give us a plan B.  Some extra pace would also be welcome.

We cannot have this January turn out like the last one, with players not arriving until too late and in some cases not of the required quality.  This defeat must be a reminder that we cannot take survival for granted.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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21 replies

  1. Indeed. Very dispiriting. Nobody had a good game apart from Caddis. O’Connor and O’Donnel are probably not speaking after the third goal.
    Let’s hope it’s a temporary aberration.

  2. As you say i too thought we had left this behind us. It almost had you looking to see if Rahic had returned! Certainly his spectre still haunts Valey Parade and the excorcising of his time is still.inconplete.
    There waa nothing in this.display to instill any confidence that we wont be relegated. The mass exodus of much of the crowd after goal 3 is indicative of the kind if support we would get if we were to fall.into league 2.
    My own thoughts thar anything gained at Barnsley would be a bonus and normal services would be resumed yesterday. When a player like Dieng is better than we had yesterday, you know you have problems
    So the rennaisance is put on hold and every game lost is one less to recover. Much more of this and the pressure is cranked up. We must get back to the way we played before the break, which in terms if Bradford City seems to have destroyed the momentum we were building.

    • Dieng was excellent yesterday and had the good sense to turn a contract offer down from us (one of those out of contract who did get an offer and explicitly because he foresaw the carnage of the summer).One of very few who came out with any credit the latter part of last season.Decent player at this level with a good future in the game

  3. I could not go yesterday, however, I listened to DH on the radio. He was tentatively asked about his tactics and all he would say was playing Woods from the start would have made no difference to the outcome. Again he was playing players out of position. Surely he knows by now that we struggle when he does this. He did have players at his disposal so why does he not play them?
    Many more performances like this is going to test the patience of the owners. To date, Rupp has played his part by funding the retention of Payne and O’Brian. Let us hope that this investment does not go to waste.

  4. Some supporters won’t like this but I been saying from day one the most important position we need to improve ASAP a keeper ,a centre forward,a winger with pace and a center midfielder who can tackle,and a left back if possible this would give our manager choices and it down to him ,and he needs to improve his tactics .

    • True as days long, new keeper Hanson back up front

    • Right lads who responsible for all the goals we are letting in ,first rule in my book after been a manager at school boy level and open age for 20 years start at the back get that right and move on ,we have defence built on sand and it starts with the keeper in my opinion thats where we need to change things first,closely followed by a target man who can hold the ball up.

  5. I have no idea what Hopkins was trying to achieve at Barnsley or Southend with tactics or personel. Does Hopkin himself know? It appears not. The fans deserve much better than the last 2 excuses for performances.

    The team is crying out for a winger a left back and a centre forward. So far a centre half and midfielder have been signed that quite frankly is not what’s wanted at this point in the season.

    The recent sucess of results with a high pressing game, with no wingers or a target man suprised me in terms if how effetive this formation has been and the chances created and goals scored all be it against out of form opposition.

    Hopkin appears to be tinkering with the formation too often and the pressing game has ceased meaning we are no longer winning 2nd balls or harrassing mistakes out of teams.

    We are no longer getting Payne, Ball, O’Brien or Caddis on the ball in the last third of the field creating chances. Once the pressing game, high tempo movement and passing ceases it becomes a disorganised formation with the defence bye-passing the midfield and pumping long ball to Doyle and Miller. All this achieves is more pressure on an already creaking back line with no confidence to carry out the basics of defending.

    Maybe it is unrealisric to expect this high tempo pressing game week in and week out and just maybe the christmas period glut of games has taken too much out of the players and last 2 games to me are showng just that.

    However, unless Hopkin can sign further quality players notably a winger, a left back and centre forward and play a settled formation with players actually bothering to show up then relegation is a nailed on certainty.

    There was talk at Valley Parade yeterday that the club is up for sale and these have been and contunue to be worrying and uncertain times for the club and its supporters.

    Lets hope in the short term Hopkin can get the team playing that high tempo hgh pressing game again and secure ourLeauge 1 survival. It’s a tall order given the last 2 games however, Hopkin and the players have to have hard long look at themselves or consign themselves to this been the most costly squad put together in recent times meekly surrendering to another spell in the basement league. Embarressing.

  6. Excellent analysis as ever. The key is our goalkeeper playing the long ball, which lost us possession every time. I don’t know if this was a Hopkin instruction or whether O’Donnell just remembered all those matches earlier in the season where he played the ball out to a CB and two minutes later it was back with him. Either way, at least Wood has a bit of pace, and he might have provided a useful outlet when he came on, but we just got more of the some. Hopkin clearly has some of the characteristics of a fine manager but he needs to quickly find a plan B (or actually a working plan A).

    • The long ball comes directly from Hopkin’s instructions. He is well-known for it, and if you watch him during games he is constantly reminding O’Donnel that it is required. He tinkers with formations, also players and their positions, and yet remains inflexibly wedded to the long ball whatever else he changes. Not a good combination in my view, especially when we don’t even have a target man. It’s not much fun to watch either, and even if we do bring-in a target man during January, he obviously doesn’t appreciate that doing the same thing in football every single time – in this case using the long ball – has rapidly diminishing returns. It is a particularly useless tactic against two decent central defenders, such as Southend’s, who mopped-up everything with ease, and especially since Doyle can’t head for toffee (and I fail to see what else Doyle offers either, although that is a slightly separate issue).

  7. An excellent piece Tim, which reflects the mood of the home crowd and the woeful backward step in form. It was a truly dispiriting display from start to finish, and our blushes were only further spared by some excellent stopping from O’Donnell. We remain inexplicably fragile under pressure, but hopefully Hopkin will be able to deliver new blood in the form of a proven frontman and a full back, whilst encouraging our remaining “passengers” to move on, to pay for the wages.

  8. A good summary Tim. Southend game management and tactics were absolutely correct and it’s a big concern that we were not able to adapt. Any other opponents scouting this game will now be aware how best to play against us.

    I know it’s difficult to confront these issues in an immediate post match interview but I hope some brave reporter will raise all the issues highlighted in the article and comments when the pre Burton press conference is held. The reaction might tell us if there is a plan B. Fingers crossed!

    • Excellent article Tim, also John H. you are quite right in noting that City have been tactically found out. Flooding and controlling the midfield will restrict City to using the long ball. Until we get an experienced targetman City have very few tactical options. Hopefully, yesterday’s result will open the eyes of management and the next recruits will be based on quality and not cost.

  9. Raising this again as I believe we are shooting ourselves in the foot or rather the Manager is.

    We have five players including some of the highest wage earners training on their own and very publicly made clear they are not in the Manager’s thoughts.

    None appear to have left the club as yet, none appear to be in breach of club discipline or have publicly criticised the club but simply are not in the Manager’s plans.

    At the very least they should be considered for the bench as we have a core of 10-11 players who are selected every match unless injured or suspended.

  10. Strange situation, John. Ostracising these players must be having some effect on the morale within the squad, which has been effectively been split into two camps. I wondered whether some had clauses in their contracts which provided for sizeable appearance money if they were included in the match squad, but I can’t imagine that applying to all of them. There are no reserve games and, by excluding them from even a substitute appearance from the bench, how is Hopkin going to shift them?

    Something has happened, akin to Yeovilgate, to have prompted another collapse in form. A few weeks ago Hopkin was being lauded as the Messiah, now his tactics, strange team selection and treatment of some squad members have placed him under close scrutiny.

  11. I do not see 4 or 5 quality players coming in in he 10 days. We are down as far as I am concerned and I think we need to be thinking of next year in L2 rather than busting the budget in a desperate attempt to retain out status. We need new owners and a very clear direction of travel which whilst slightly improved under Rhodes is still poor. ST sales will be shocking next year. I think it will get much worse before it gets better. Shoot me down if you wish. . . . .

    • Dave, I find it hard to believe that Rupp will not spend the money to ensure League One survival. It makes such good business sense in light of the £2 million or more he will lose via relegation.
      Having said that, based on the last twelve months, nothing would surprise. I’ve tried to rationalise their thinking and business plan and totally failed.

  12. What does Wood have to do to start a game, he gave Chicksen a run, to no real end, playing NKP at left back is stupidity, no pace offers nothing going forward. Maybe should have played wood and nkp in tnere respective positions and moved oconnor into holding midfield. Akpan for a big lad runs around abit and couldnt tackle my old dad, hes 86, complete waste of a shirt. Doyle and Miller hopeless with high ball, watching Doyle mistime every half hearted jump for a ball is embarrassing. Surely Jones cant be still injured, if he wasnt a footballer he would be long term unemployed, as for Reeves i give up, should be ashamed. Its time this lot, top to bottom grew some cahooners and gave it a proper go. Totally fed up. They can all move on in the future but us supporters are left to watch the remnants oof the mess they created.

  13. Hopkin is a fraud…there is no other explanation. All I can come up with in my little machiavellian mind is that there is some kind of power struggle ensuing between McElhone and the manager, with Hopkin putting his foot down for the Barnsley game and insisting that 64% of the team are defenders and begone with this pressing/passing to each other/playing out from the back nonsense.

    This carried on in to the Southend game…I mean why play a dynamic, attack minded young left back – at left back – when you can play a relatively immobile (albeit left-footed) centre half – at left back – and put two of your right-footed centre halves together (who have shown themselves to be poor partnership at various junctures in this season) in the middle?? Frankly, I don’t blame any of the players for this inept display – they must be all collectively so dispirited at suddenly having to play what, in effect, was hoofball. Chris Powell did not carry out a tactical masterstroke in ‘nullifying’ us, he was simply doing due diligence in his job as a football manager…The fact that the situation – ie. the introduction on to the field of play said left full back, Conner Wood – was not addressed until more than an hour had elapsed was, frankly, beyond belief. His excuses/explanation of reasoning post match did nothing but insult the intelligence of every Bradford City fan.

    I seem to remember Stuart McCall, not too long ago, got off to a fabulous start in his second stint as our manager playing Josh Cullen and one Danny Devine in central midfield; I also seem to remember in the abject Checkatrade tie against Aldershot earlier this season young Devine D played for about 15 minutes in central midfield – the only spell in the game when we looked remotely like a football team – before being hauled back to makeshift full back for extra-time. He has not played since…but Akpan has.
    I don’t suppose you get anywhere with kids…

  14. Good post Mark….
    I thought Devine was possibly the best player on the pitch for a good part of the game against Aldershot…in both roles. Yes he made one bad mistake and that seems to have coloured Hopkins’s view of him. I was 100% behind Hopkin until recently but Increasingly I find myself questioning his decisions in a number of respects. You could add to his woefully inept tactics for Saturday ( Doyle at 5′ 10″ v Southend’s central defenders at 6′ 4″…. do the maths Hopkin) the very strange January recruitment….particularly Anderson. We could field a full side of midfielders ….were they all to be fit. What is about Anderson that makes him a hugely better prospect than Devine or Coleville….two other League 1 clubs have decided he’s not worth sticking with. I cannot see the case for Anderson however hard I try…..I hope I will proved completely wrong. January recruitment needed to be highly selective – maybe nothing more than a big striker – (why weren’t we in for Humphreys ?? ) ideally from 2 January or not at all. I fear we will be now “forced” into buying a big donkey who will do very little to enhance our longer term prospects.
    The big question facing Hopkin and indeed Rhodes/Rupp is do we spend – increasingly desperate to stay in League 1 and thus clouding judgement on genuine player quality, fitness for purpose etc etc ) or accept what is beginning to look inevitable and start thinking seriously and constructively about League 2?

  15. Thanks, Rick and agree 100% with you re Devine…superb is probably overstating it in the heat of the moment but he was very good indeed against Aldershot at both FB and in CM – I cannot believe for one minute that McElhone and Drury do not want him in – or very much around – the starting eleven…

    I know we have payers to shift and, hopefully, replace but I suppose what I am saying is that we should be doing a whole lot better with what we’ve got!! I fully subscribe to the above mentioned ‘Yeovilgate’ theory because in my eyes it is blindingly obvious that, indeed, ‘something has gone on’.
    I have been overseas for 2 weeks, returning just in time for the Southend match but The make-up and set-up of the team against Barnsley prompted me to come out of the T&A live blog, close the lap top and put my boots back on and head back out into the snow to spend the next two hours eating curried bratwurst wandering round a small German town trying to deal with my own angst…because I knew what what going to happen!!
    After December I was genuinely excited by what I had seen and I am not just saying it now with the benefit of hindisght, but I suspected ‘a rabbit was off’ once I had read for the umpteenth time on line Hopkin telling us, basically, how good Barnsley were and THEN, post-match, pulling individuals to pieces in the media for their ‘individual errors’ having ‘cosy us’ (insert here a line re Sir Alex, deflecting crticism etc etc…).
    The point made in the earlier post above re KP is utter codswallop by the way and just apologising for bad management – yes, he’s coming into a bit of form but he was not picked at LEFT BACK to pursue any policy that had anything to do with what has already become the mythical ‘Hopkin Press’…he way picked there because DH has determined, from my seat in the Midland Road anyway, that from now on we are going to do it My Way.

    One more quick point because my homemade (yellow split) pea and ham soup beckons – Scunthorpe did their Biz when we were told we were going to do ours…right at the start of the window and, it is glaringly apparent, in accordance with a well thought out plan as to whom they both needed and wanted; they are now 11th. We, on the other hand, continue to perform in the window like you now who from Viz.

    Regrets….he’ll have a few.

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