By Adam Raj
It’s not often I’m speechless but after watching a truly pathetic 90 minute display from Bradford City and the utter farce surrounding the referee and the winning goal, I’m truly lost for words.
No two ways about it, this was a must win game for City today – the chance to go only one point behind today’s hosts and cut the gap to safety to three points was an opportunity we had to take. But judging by most of the players’ performances you’d think they were already on the beach rather than in the midst of a relegation battle. And I use the word “battle” lightly, as most of them don’t know the first thing about battling and fighting for everything on the pitch.
City lined up in a 4-2-2-2 shape with Billy Clarke replacing Lewis O’Brien as the only change from the defeat to Luton Town. It was a change in system from the diamond which had served Gary Bowyer fairly well in his first two games. And in truth, the change in system was a complete disaster.
The City midfield could get nowhere near the ball for the majority of the game, Oxford were first to second balls and handled the wind much better than us. Jermaine Anderson, following his very poor performance on Tuesday, somehow managed to put in a worse 90 minutes today. He was totally off the pace and looked completely clueless when he got the ball. But he wasn’t alone, the whole performance was too slow, lethargic and devoid of any ideas.
The game was a dreadfully poor spectacle, in particular the first half when both teams looked like they’d never met their teammates before. Misplaced passes, hospital passes, sliced clearances were occurring in every passage of play but there was still a hope that Bowyer could get them in at half time and give them a rollicking.
Whether he did or not we will never know, but the players certainly didn’t come out fighting for the second half. The second half was as bad as, if not worse than, the first half – and that took some doing.
Oxford seemed determined to get their shot count up by shooting from here, there and everywhere without really threatening the City goal. The last time I made the trip to Oxford, we lost via a stoppage time Chris Maguire free kick and when Oxford striker Jerome Sinclair went down in exactly the same area I got that awful sense of deja vu. However this time, Michael Jacobs saw his free kick in the same corner of the goal read and saved well by Richard O’Donnell. Aside from a couple of corners, Oxford didn’t create much at all.
But then neither did City. In fact we created absolutely nothing. 97 minutes and not a single shot on target is absolutely abysmal whatever the game, but in a must win relegation six pointer, it’s disgraceful.
The game was heading for what would have been a fair 0-0, when five minutes of madness ensued. On the break from an Oxford attack, Eoin Doyle linked up well with George Miller, with the former playing the ball across goal for Lewis O’Brien to tap in. But he didn’t score, he put what was an easy chance, wide. Ready to celebrate a last minute winner, I fell to the floor in disbelief just as I did when Tony McMahon infamously shot in the last minute of the play off final instead of crossing it. Could this moment be as significant?
Probably, given what happened 10 seconds later. A quick goal kick was taken, the ball worked upfield and there was Jamie Mackie to volley the ball home to take all three points. Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? Of course not.
City infuriated about something surrounded the referee Andy Davies, who after a few minutes, consulted with the linesman on the side of the pitch where O’Brien had just shot wide, and disallowed the goal. For what, I have no idea as the referee signalled in the general direction of the Oxford goal, whether that was for a corner or a penalty, only he knows.
Predictably, Oxford were furious and the usual handbags from players and staff started with the man in the middle losing complete control. Then after further consultation with the other linesman and fourth official on the other side of the pitch, he awarded the goal again. It was a situation which probably summed up City this season – clueless, amateurish and weak.
On reflection, there was probably no corner or penalty but arguably the most basic rule in football was missed from all four officials. When the goal kick was taken, there were four Oxford players still inside the box, which rendered the goal kick void. The rules states that all players must be outside of the area when a goal kick is taken. How all officials can miss this is unthinkable and totally unacceptable.
But referees won’t be the reason we fall into League Two. Sure, we’ve had more than our fair share of horrific calls over the season we are absolutely the masters of our own downfall. The decision to play Anderson and Clarke ahead of Payne and O’Brien today was as mad a decision as I’ve ever seen – probably our best two players over the season dropped for the two worst players on the day. We lacked any invention all day and an inability to control possession so it’s a mystery as to why it took 75 minutes for Payne and O’Brien to come on. And when they did come on they ended up playing out wide in a system that was not working at all – they were totally ineffective.
It’s a result which leaves City six points from safety and rock bottom of League One. A truly depressing position which, realistically, there is no way back from. We’ve got eight games left in which our League One counterparts can rub salt in our wounds, and in all honesty, I really don’t care anymore.