One foot in League Two

By Adam Raj

A game that was billed by both clubs as a six pointer and even a “cup final” by Walsall boss Dean Keates, has ultimately ended in utter despair for the Bantams. At the start of the day, Walsall were two points ahead of City, having played the same number of games. A win would have seen us overtake the Saddlers and move up to a potential 17th spot (depending on results elsewhere), yet a miserable defeat leaves us where we started the day, second from bottom and three points from safety – and it could well become a bigger gap when Shrewsbury and Bristol Rovers play their games in hand.

A defeat was unthinkable today, given our position and horrendous looking March fixture list. It was imperative we gained three points to give ourselves some form of insurance for the run ahead. The game couldn’t have started any better for City. Andy Cook, Walsall’s top scorer with 16 goals, flew into a challenge with Nathaniel Knight-Percival with his elbow raised and referee Brett Huxtable had no option but give the striker his marching orders.

It was a massive boost for City, which they quickly capitalised on. Good work from Jack Payne down the right hand side of the box produced a great cross for Eoin Doyle to net his ninth goal of the season with a free header into the far bottom corner.

So far, so good for the Bantams, who remained in control of the game for the next 30 minutes. The busy Jacob Butterfield was at the centre of everything. Whilst in control, City never threatened the Walsall goal again in the first half, only racking up one shot on target in the first period. That was to prove our undoing, as in the 42nd minute, Walsall winger Matt Jarvis was halted by Paul Caddis only to create a scramble in the box, in which neither David Ball, nor Knight-Percival cleared the ball. It left striker Josh Gordon to fire past former Walsall keeper Richard O’Donnell. It was a poor time to concede and gave Walsall a lift and something to hold onto.

It was arguably the biggest half time team talk that David Hopkin has had to give all season – a season defining fifteen minutes, and ultimately it failed. Minutes after the second half started and City were unbelievably behind for the first time in the game. Knight-Percival was dragged out of position into the left back area and Adam Chicksen allowed far too much time for a cross to be delivered. Matt Jarvis powered a header onto the crossbar, and Joe Edwards was given the freedom of Walsall to plant the rebound into the bottom corner. A cheap cross and a cheap goal, but ultimately more appalling defending.

This goal in particular highlighted the biggest two defensive weaknesses City have had all season – failure to stop crosses and being too slow to react to second ball situations.

An instant reaction was needed from City to give us any chance of getting the essential three points, and it arrived nine minutes later through skipper Anthony O’Connor. Billy Clarke’s quick thinking from a corner picked out Lewis O’Brien, who’s strike was parried by keeper Liam Roberts straight into the path of O’Connor, who had an easy tap in. Game on, and City really had to up the intensity and throw the kitchen sink at Walsall.

But instead, it was the home side who retook the lead. A corner conceded far too easily by Knight-Percival was flicked in at the near post by Gordon for his second of the game. Another cross, another goal.

City and the under pressure David Hopkin had no answer. The build up play was far too slow, far too safe and far too easy for Walsall to deal with. Even then, we still created enough chances to win about five games, but poor finishing and some excellent last ditch defending meant that City would come away from the Midlands with zero points. Simply, an unacceptable result given our predicament.

Frankly, it’s hard to argue that Walsall didn’t want it more than City today, and that’s what really hurts. We were far too soft, weak and gutless when it mattered. You’d be hard pressed to find a softer centre half partnership in the country than O’Connor and Knight-Percival. But that’s not to say Hopkin should get away Scot free, far from it.

His tactics since the away fixture at Barnsley have been bizarre to say the least. The frustrating and totally inappropriate hoofball seems to have vanished over the last game and a half thankfully, but worryingly, so has the high press which served us so well during that run in December.

Today, just like previous weeks we were far too narrow and crying out for some width and pace. January was a period in which Hopkin himself stated he wanted a winger, yet none arrived – instead more attacking midfielders in Billy Clarke and Jermaine Anderson came. Whilst January is a notoriously tough month to sign players, especially in our position, I find it hard to believe there were no wingers available. So we are left with an attacking trio with very little pace and ultimately no width, leaving us far too predictable and one dimensional.

Today was a defensive spectacle worthy of the Benny Hill music which boomed out of the PR system at the Banks’ stadium at half time. Walsall hadn’t scored in six hours and were minus their top scorer for 84 minutes, and we still managed to concede three. Utterly dreadful and amateurish defending from experienced professionals.

Questions have to be asked of David Hopkin as to why a defence which he’s had nearly six months to work with is still so poor and conceding so many goals. And if he doesn’t rate them as individual players, why weren’t adequate defensive reinforcements acquired in January? An upgrade on the left hand side of our defence (Knight Percival and Chicksen) was crucial to our survival, yet we signed a injury prone left back who unsurprisingly only took a game and a half to pick up an injury, and a centre half who appears to be no better than Knight-Percival.

I appreciate Hopkin’s hands were tied to an extent but we had funds available and just like in the summer, we seem to have spent it on the wrong type of player and the wrong individuals.

Post match, Hopkin talks about making changes for the Portsmouth game next week. However any changes are likely to weaken what was arguably our strongest (and I use the phrase lightly) side. By the end of next month, after trips to Portsmouth and Charlton as well as home visits from Peterborough and table toppers Luton, we could well be dead and buried.

It’s hard to imagine us picking up any points from these fixtures, which could ultimately lead to a gap opening up between us and the other sides at the wrong end of the table. From what has been served up this season, once that gap opens up, I’m afraid it’s curtains for us.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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20 replies

  1. 2 feet firmly planted after today, with the fat lady singing in Bradford tonight!

  2. For once I agree with every word said in this article and if our fears are realised I wonder what is in store for us next season

  3. I’ve been disappointed on many occasion over the years, but today was certainly up there!

    We all knew this was a huge game, the proverbial 6 pointer, with a massive damaging blow resulting to the loser and so it proved.

    The feeling of frustration, disappointment and anger was palpable come the final whistle in the knowledge that a wonderful opportunity had been missed to lift the players and the fans for the final run in of games.

    Whilst it’s never over till it’s over, today was a game we should have won, particularly given the start and come May could be the different between staying up or getting relegated.

    Let’s all hope against hope that we can somehow still avoid what is beginning to look like the dreaded drop!

    • After 20 years of optimistic watching from Premiership to the basement, I thought I’d seen everything, but today’s display hit rock bottom for me too. So many wasted opportunities and unforced errors. Never felt like this before – staring down the barrel and for the first time I’m not sure we can dodge the bullet. Like you, I travel in hope that this can still be turned round, but it’s testing my optimism now.

  4. I’d say defensively Walsall wanted it more, we didn’t really squander any chances there was just always someone putting their body on the line in every goalmouth scramble, whereas the few attacks they had we didn’t have that urgency to see things out. Even at 1-0 & a man up I said we weren’t playing well and 1 moment could change it all, and so it proved.
    Knowing City we’ll go and beat Luton and Portsmouth now! – Dare to dream

  5. A very well written article Adam!! I still cannot believe we actually lost that game with 11 v 10 for such a long period. How the hell do you concede 3 goals playing against 10 men in team that has lost its last 5 matches?!? Our 3 last games have produced 1 point and March looks very tough! Just feels like the last time we dropped out League One just simply edging our way week by week to relegation seemingly powerless to prevent it!! Spineless and then some!!!

  6. This is a dire situation. Watching from afar it seems to me that city have never recovered from the pre season mess, which was epitomised by the humiliation at Harrogate . Getting rid of kilgallon was an appalling decision. We now have a team lacking in fight and filled with loanees and short term signings. The January window was a mismanaged failure. Obviously rahic is the underlying cause but David Hopkin has not really shone. All persons involved in city’s management are at fault. I believe city will go down and I have real fears about the future. I know Mark lawn was very keen to get out but he must rue the day he sold to r and r. The only people who come out with credit are loyal fans who simply don’t deserve it, and mccall who did a job that seems more amazing the more you read about what he had to put up with. Today’s defeat was a new low.

  7. Well today I really am a Sad Bantam. A sending Off – Going one up- despite going 2-1 down, scoring to draw the game (against 10 men). Yet despite that, perhaps in spite of it………City secure a defeat.
    Mathematically not down (yet), but this feels like the start of the final end game. I honestly hope I am unduly pessimistic.

  8. If it’s True regarding the Rhodes family selling out to people who no nothing about running a football club and didn’t they say they would only sell to people who would Move us on to the next level,and now if true Lawn must have had doubts and was over ruled, it took Phil Parkinson one meeting with the new owners and he was off, if the owner pulls the plug and we end up in administrations again the Rhodes family should finance the club ,by grabbing the money and running without due care to the background of the owners they have put this club grave situation in which we may not recover for years.

  9. I didn’t go yesterday, so only have second hand information on how shambolic we were, but based on recent weeks, Rahic etc to one side for now, the man in the dugout now has to take a lot of responsibility for what is happening. His transfers have been poor (possibly negligent), his tactics inconsistent and his subs baffling.

    I think he got caught up, with everyone else, with our giddy December form. He must have thought “We have enough to stay up now.”. It’s the only explanation for our bizarre January transfers, strengthening in areas we were already covered, not strengthening enough in key areas, allowing players to leave without being replaced, and trusting/bringing in players with injury records/lacking match fitness. It was complacency. He may have had little budget, but then surely he could have found a winger for the wage of Jermaine Anderson. He’s had one eye on next season, thinking that he doesn’t want to get stuck with players not good enough for a League 1 promotion push, so short term deals before the big summer reshuffle. Well, we’re going to be in League 2 and signing League 2 players.

    What is he doing to coach that defence? How many more soft goals before we start thinking “Maybe we should work to prevent the crosses going in?” NKP and McGowen looked ok together in December, so why shoehorn O’Connor back in? I keep thinking is what would Parky have done, had he been appointed in September. He’d have sured up the defence straight away, we’d have sat through some defeats, then some frustrating draws, but we’d have tightened up; a platform to build on. We are still as soft as we were in September.

    The third goal yesterday was appalling goalkeeping from ROD. But he’s been without a goalie coach since November (?). Why?

    Like for like subs, refusing to go 2 up top when behind, clearly playing hoofball when he says he isn’t, stopping playing the pressing style, I could go on. Is this Hopkin, or his players failing to carry out his instructions? Either way it’s taking us down.

    Just imagine for a moment that Josh Wright and Joe Riley are not the bad apples that everyone makes out; what must their teammates think of their treatment? If Omari Patrick is training on his own, what he he done to deserve that? That’s Rahic levels of vindictiveness. Has Hopkin called his man management wrong? Because we’re obviously still fragile mentally.

    Brunkner was no League 1 professional. But in the game at home (Oxford I think) he gave a near MOTM performance because he disrupted their defence. His presence, and the prospect that he might actually win a header, forced Oxford deeper and created space for our creative midfielders. City players got forward because they thought there was a chance he’d win a flick on. With Doyle, he goes through the motions and none of him, his teammates or the opposition really believe he’s going to win a header and so adjust their game accordingly. You can’t tell me Brunkner, Connor Sammon or anyone else of that ilk (not good enough really but could play a role for us in our system) wouldn’t be a welcome addition to this squad now. We brought back the wrong ex-striker in Billy Clarke; what we really needed was a fit Jamie Proctor. In January Hopkin thought he had the luxury of choice; “We won’t bring anyone in unless they are the player we actually want”. No mate, we need someone to win headers and hold up the ball otherwise there’s a good chance we’re going down. And he might have wanted Billy Clarke, but we didn’t need him.

    And the winger – we don’t have anyone who can carry the ball when we are in trouble, vary our style or disrupt the opposition defence with pace to get around the back or stretch the play. If we had a Kyel Reid/Mark Marshall on the bench, well, they wouldn’t be on the bench. Scannell, watching from the treatment room, will be one of the best paid spectators in League 2 next year. Parky used to collect centre halves, Hopkin likes his No 10s and his sitting midfielders.

    We’re going down, largely because of Rahic’s regime, but I believe a half decent manager inheriting this situation in September could have got us into mid-table bottom half.

  10. At last a spot on article. Listened to the post match comments on pulse. At no time was there derogatory comments against Hopkins tactics. Instead all the blame was on the players. Why is it that opposition teams out think us? I have said it before, Hopkins is a one trick pony. They closed us down. We were pedestrian in our build up. Giving them plenty of time to get behind the ball. We have no width, no pace, no height and no idea. It is no point replacing Hopkins because any incumbent would not improve what’s there. I listen to Hopkins post match comments and like before never his fault. He said we train them well all week etc. etc. I am sick to the teeth with the manager and players lining up to tells that we are up for the fight. I say this less of the talk and just focus on each match. There are tough matches coming up and the destiny of this club is on the line. So do a Walsall and play as if your life depends on it.

  11. Excellent post Andrew. The big question is what do JR and Rupp do with Hopkin ? A few weeks ago (before the end of what turned out to be a shameful exercise in strengthening the squad during the transfer window) I’d have said stick with him …”he’s as likely to bring us back up as anyone else”. But now I’m not so sure. How the hell he got the success he did with Livingstone is a complete mystery to me. Maybe Parky will be available soon !
    Sad, depressing, worrying times.

  12. Scouring the message boards since the Walsall reverse, the overwhelming response appears to be to “sack Hopkin”. Certainly, the massive task being faced by Julian Rhodes is not being made any easier by the faltering performances on the pitch. Not only is he unlikely to entice back those fans who refused to renew this season, there must be the possibility of a significant number of existing ST holders not renewing next season too. No matter what miracles Julian achieves behind the scenes, they’ll count for nothing until fans are attracted back by success on the pitch.

    When you analyse the coaching set up, Hopkin has been away from English football for sixteen years, mainly in the lower reaches of Scottish football. His Assistant Manager, McElhone is, in fact, a Conditioning Coach. I seem to recall reading that his expertise is assisting players in injury management. A strange appointment as “Assistant Manager”, I’d say. We’re then left with Martin Drury, a relatively inexperienced coach with no real experience of coaching at this level. Rahic has gone and, undoubtedly, he’s caused the shambles that has pervaded the club. However, our league position would suggest the coaching staff don’t have the ability to get the best out of the current squad, in terms of commitment, performance or tactics. I don’t care for players, regardless of ability, being humiliated by being forced to train away from the main squad. Furthermore, their inexperience of lower league English football means recruitment has failed to improve results and, in some cases, has been bewildering.

    Under the current set up, we seem doomed and I’m not sure anyone new coming in now would have enough time to turn things round to save this season. There’s only money that can restore our fortunes. A significant sum to pay off the contracts of the outcasts training on their own and other players considered to have no future with us. If Julian’s got to go cap in hand to Stefan, then he might as well include another bundle of cash to clear out the coaching staff and let’s start with a clean slate in League 2, with an experienced coaching team who know what’s required at that level. All very easy for me to suggest!!! I live in hope!!

  13. I do think that, whilst we blame Rahic, i we have had enough time to have sorted out a team that should be able at least holding our own, which we aren’t doing. A centre half should have been a priority over a striker,but thats history now. Having said that we know need to stand by our club, i have renewed myr season ticket and i hope others follow and do the same. If we don’t get the season ticket money in any volume, then we could be set for a long time in Div2.

  14. Hopkin has had since September to sort this team out
    rahic has left team tactics and players still suits
    League 2 here we come
    New Manager and owners please

  15. Now that Hopkins has resigned, we are in dire straits again. For all his good intentions, he was never able to adapt, and think through tactics. In December we were pressing high but that seemed to go out of the window. Despite lacking a goal scoring centre forward, we had 23 shots at Walsall. We were standing behind the goal and it was obvious to us there were gaps for players to run through but again we fluffed it in the final third. When the goal is in sight we had no cool heads to finish. This has happened week after week, yet nothing changes. What do they do in training? They are full time professionals with a manager who is supposed to have experience in the game. Why are they not putting in the time to work on weaknesses. As for lack of concentration, perhaps its time to bring in a psychologist. Every week the usual propaganda is trotted out. We are told it is a happy squad who work together. No sign of this on Saturday with players squabbling after the final whistle. Was this because they cared, as Hopkins has been telling us. His last plea was to demand they give something back to him and the fans. Probably, he realised he was not going to get it. At this late stage it is going to be difficult for a new manager to pull off a miracle, so perhaps it should be left to the players to work it out themselves for the rest of the season. I know they seem to lack collective and individual intelligence but they need to take responsibility if only for their own futures in the game.
    Someone commented recently they would like a manager with a more cheerful personality. After watching the pantomime on Saturday, perhaps Billy Pearce should be approached, and he could bring along the pantomime horse which might be more effective either in defence or up front.

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