…whatever will be will be, we’re going to Forest Green”
By Adam Raj
The traditional song for a Wembley bound club rang round Fratton Park this afternoon, after the hosts booked their place in the final of the Checkatrade trophy in midweek thanks to victory over Bury. For the 493 City fans, the afternoon was not remotely one to celebrate, but one more to realise the absolute mess we’re in. The realisation, by the day, that City will be plying their trade in League Two next season is growing and, to some, all we can do is laugh and accept it.
To the neutral, today’s defensive display from the Bantams was nothing short of comical, but is that really a surprise? Last week showed how City were so vulnerable and utterly clueless from wide areas, and today further exemplified this, with Portsmouth taking full advantage of City’s frailties.
There was nothing in the first half hour of the game, with City having decent build up play in the middle third of the pitch but producing nothing in the final third. Pompey favoured going long to the handful that was Oliver Hawkins, who City couldn’t deal with from the start. The writing was on the wall after just seven minutes when the Pompey number nine slammed a header against the foot of the post – a let off for City, but there wasn’t to be many more.
It took the home side just 23 minutes to go ahead. Public enemy number one Anthony O’Connor pulled a Pompey shirt in the area from a corner and the referee pointed to the spot. From the away end, it was hard to see if there was a foul or not, they are situations that could go either way that’s for sure. Anyway, former City man Gareth Evans stepped up and slammed the penalty into the top right corner. Unstoppable. Now the capitulation begins.
Since the start of January 2018, the Bantams have fallen behind in 36 League One games, only managing to stage a comeback in a pathetic five of those. In other words, City have accumulated only seven points from the 108 available in those games. It’s hardly a surprise to read these stats given the weak and fragile ‘characters’ that Edin Rahic accumulated.
This is not a team, it is a collection of individuals, without the right mentality and temperament to play for a club the size of Bradford City
As soon as City fell behind today, there was almost an air of acceptance in the away end that City would come away with nothing, and unsurprisingly, we were right. 18 minutes later and 1-0 became 2-0, courtesy of Tom Naylor’s tap in. By this point I think it’s pointless mentioning how the goal was scored, as it’s that predictable. For the record, it was a corner, just like the first goal. Two goals and two former City players on the score sheet.
City didn’t have an attempt of note for the remainder of the half and in all fairness we were fortunate to be only two down at the break. The second half saw Kelvin Mellor replace newly announced skipper Paul Caddis, who suffered an apparent dislocated shoulder. This is a big blow if it’s a long term injury – we’ve seen how bad we defend when he’s in the side, it doesn’t bear thinking about how many we’ll ship if he’s out of it. Pompey started the second half as they ended the first, quicker to second balls, and their wide men causing all sorts of problems.
A rogue drone then halted the play for a few minutes, when City fans pleaded with referee Oliver Langford to “call it off”. Unfortunately, the chants fell on deaf ears and play resumed. City then grew into it and were handed a lifeline in the 65th minute through Hope Akpan. The recalled midfielder managed to prod home Mellor’s header from Jack Payne’s corner.
A glimmer of hope maybe? Well that’s what the headline of this report probably would’ve been if City had managed to salvage anything from Hampshire. But of course that was way too unrealistic, and it took just two minutes for Pompey to restore their two goal advantage. The excellent Ronan Curtis played in full back Lee Brown, who had the freedom of Portsmouth to play in an excellent yet simple cross into the box for winger Jamal Lowe to chest into the back of the net.
3-1, game over and it was just a case of by how many City would lose by.
The fourth goal was a carbon copy of the third, this time midfielder Ben Close finished past Richard O’Donnell. And for those watching the “highlights” tonight, the fifth goal may look like an accidental rerun of the fourth but I can assure you it was indeed the fifth for Pompey. The same goal, with the same scorer, the cross from the same side and the same hopeless and amateurish defending.
I thought I had seen the worst of Knight-Percival and O’Connor in last week’s disasterclass, but today took the biscuit. They didn’t win a header between them against Hawkins and didn’t manage to block a cross or shot in the entire game. In contrast, Pompey, even when 5-1 to the good flung themselves in front of every cross, every shot and every pass that City attempted. Aside from the goal and one trickling shot from Jacob Butterfield, I don’t think we managed a clean shot on goal in the entire game. If only we had that sort of commitment from our so called defenders.
Performance and result wise, it was absolutely clueless, hopeless, spineless and a total disgrace from both the players and staff. Martin Drury, somehow still here after failures with both Michael Collins and David Hopkin, set the team up to supposedly attack Portsmouth, but we did nothing of the sort and had absolutely zero organisation at the back. Connor Wood, arguably our best player on the day was substituted meaning Lewis O’Brien had to play LB against probably the best winger in the division. A ridiculous tactic from someone who has clearly been reading the Michael Collins book of coaching too much.
A group of friendly Pompey fans at the station after the game commented on how poor they were today by their standards, yet they still gave us a hiding. What does that say for us?
Well, if one man currently epitomised Bradford City, it would be Anthony O’Connor. In a week where the talk has been dominated with Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri being disrespected by goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, Bradford City have their very own soap opera it would seem. Allegations on social media arose over the week about a comment he was said to have made after last week’s defeat, which lead to him being stripped of the captaincy.
Today, he was given back the armband after Caddis’ departure, yet after giving away a needless corner, he took the armband off and flung into Richard O’Donnell’s net. As I write this, O’Connor has issued a statement claiming he did this because the armband was proving to be a physical discomfort for him and the other allegations were totally false.
Maybe this is true, but after the way he sulked around the pitch after Evans’ penalty and his history with Aberdeen fans, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he’s not telling the truth. Nevertheless, the sheer arrogance of a player with limited ability, who produces abysmal performances more often than not and a player part of a ‘team’ as pathetic as us, is astounding.
Going to Bradford City is now a chore, it no longer gives me pleasure and I’m sure a lot of others feel the same. Just how is the club going to sell season tickets for next season? The future of the club both on and off the pitch is up in the air, no one knows who will be leading the boardroom after Julian Rhodes’ temporary stint ends in the summer, and no one knows whether Owner Stefan Rupp really is in this for the long haul or is thinking of selling up in the summer.
A full and rocking Fratton Park today reminded me of what we had not so long ago. A packed stadium with players giving their all for the shirt, a manager who gets the best out of these players and the success to go with it. I cannot bear to see a half empty Valley Parade again next season in League Two, but that’s exactly what will happen with so many who are totally disillusioned with the club.
So where do we go from here? The next managerial appointment is huge, it can either be a Sam Allardyce type quick fix to try and keep us up, or it can be an appointment with next year and League Two in mind. Personally I’d go with the latter, get the best manager we can for League Two (easier said than done, I know), give him the rest of the season to keep us up, but if not, no worries as he’ll be the man to take us straight back up.
It’ll also allow him to take stock of a very poor squad of players to decide who will be part of his plans next year. We can’t afford to be going into the summer and not having a manager, we need to be totally prepared both on and off the pitch if we’re to give ourselves the best chance of an immediate return to League One.