By Adam Raj
5pm on a Saturday evening has become a familiar feeling of apathy this season. Defeat after defeat leaves City fans very little hope with each passing game before our impending relegation. The latest trip on this relegation grand tour was a trip to The Valley to face promotion contenders Charlton Athletic, who many expected to sweep us aside with great ease.
However, rather unexpectedly, the game ended only 1-0, with City arguably deserving of a point. It shows just how low we’ve fallen when we’re content with losing a game to a respectable score line. But after recent performances and results, today was a slight improvement.
Thankfully, when the team news came out Gary Bowyer had made a statement and shown the squad and supporters just what he thought of last week’s horror show. Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Adam Chicksen were dropped (40 games too late), and Jack Payne wasn’t even named on the bench. However, the once again ineffective and seemingly unfit Jermaine Anderson kept his place.
The changes saw Paudie O’Connor and Connor Wood come into the defence. After both of them started slowly, they grew into the game more and more. Very comfortable on the ball and some solid defensive challenges makes you wonder how they haven’t been given a chance up-to this point. The pair should keep their place in the side for the remainder of the season after their performances today, especially Connor Wood, who Gary Bowyer must want to see more of considering he still has two years on his City contract.
Ultimately, today City were punished by one moment of poor play at the back. Jonny Williams had too much time to find the ever impressive Lyle Taylor in acres of space in the box, with the striker finishing low and across Richard O’Donnell. As is to be expected, the 716 travelling Bantams feared Charlton would rack up a cricket score with the game only 19 minutes old.
The game plan was clear. Frustrate Charlton in the 4-5-1 shape we set up in, and try to hit them on the break. But sadly when your side has no pace, every break is going to be pedestrian and ultimately predictable and ineffective. When your 1-0 down and playing deep as we did, it can become infuriating to watch. However, Bowyer had them well drilled and organised and intent on keeping the score at 1-0 for as long as possible for us to try and nick something late on.
With this in mind, City were happy to let Charlton have the majority of the ball in the first half as them passing it sideways along the back line wasn’t hurting us. Most of Charlton’s play went through former Bantam Josh Cullen, who plays much deeper now than he did during his time with us. However, for all of his excellent cross-field balls, he didn’t create much. Charlton had two further chances in the first half with O’Donnell first making an excellent block before goal scorer Taylor somehow blazed over from six yards out.
They were let offs for City, but we had a couple of chances ourselves. First Jacob Butterfield’s low cross was put wide by David Ball who probably would’ve scored if he had taken it with his left foot. Then came the chance of the game for City. Great work by Ball and Lewis O’Brien on the break allowed the latter to cut the ball back for Butterfield who, six yards out, tried to be too clever rather than shoot first time. It was a chance that we simply could not afford to miss, but misses like this over the course of the season is a reason as to why we find ourselves bottom of the league.
The second half was a poor spectacle. Not as bad as Oxford was a few weeks ago, but this was like a preseason friendly. Both sides now were happy to let the other have sustained periods of possession without any pressure on the ball and both sides looked clueless as to how to break the other down.
The only chance of note in the second half came to the Bantams, as David Ball’s low strike hit the base of the post before rolling to safety. City couldn’t muster a clear cut opportunity in the second half, with the off the ball movement non existent. Our play was too slow, too predictable and too easy for Charlton to deal with. Again, City had only one shot on target throughout the 90 minutes which was a trickling shot by Ball from outside the area.
Why players have developed the ‘too scared to shoot’ mentality is beyond me, but it is probably indicative of the lack of leaders in the squad and lack of those who are willing to take some responsibility.
As the game ended, and defeat number 24 of the season arrived, the mood amongst the City supporters was a strange one. There was no emotion – most people weren’t angry, some applauded the team off, but most shrugged it off as another game closer to this nightmare season coming to an end – and that is how the majority of us, I expect, will feel for the remaining six games.