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.