The last, last knockings of hope dies

By Jason McKeown 

And now it really is over. When Nat Knight-Percival fired home Jacob Butterfield’s cross to make the score 2-2 late on, there were five minutes of injury time to find a winner that would reduce the gap to safety to six points. Risks were taken, but there was no reward. Jonson Clarke-Harris struck for Bristol Rovers. A sixth straight defeat all but brings to an end six years in League One for Bradford City.

Relegation could be confirmed by 5pm on Good Friday. Or it could be drawn out until Easter Monday’s home game with Gillingham. Either way, League Two beckons for the Bantams. And despite how inevitable that has felt for weeks, this team still find a way of making it painful.

Because just like last week’s loss to Doncaster, this was an undeserved defeat. The players had a real go here. Dominating for large spells. They had a nervy Bristol Rovers side on the ropes, wilting under the pressure of disgruntled home fans. But they couldn’t make their dominance count. And as usual, conceded too easily.

There has been a response from the players since the Blackpool disgrace. They are showing signs of buying into Gary Bowyer. They’re more organised. Have a shape. They’re working hard on and off the ball. Yet ultimately, it’s a familiar story of poor application leading to defeat. Bad decisions in both penalty areas, undermining their progress.

And that has sped up the impending relegation. The fight that the team is now showing is too little too late. It is hard to take solace in crumbs of comfort. Especially when you’re on defeat 26 of the season.

Bowyer set the team up well here. Sean Scannell was judged fit enough to start after his injury issues and Josh Wright was a shock inclusion. In possession City were 4-2-3-1, but when they didn’t have the ball reverted to 4-5-1. Scannell and the returning Jack Payne worked back to maintain a shape. Bristol Rovers, who played a 4-4-2, struggled to attack with purpose.

With the workrate off the ball matched with a commitment to attack in numbers and support Eoin Doyle, the opening 38 minutes was the best City have produced since their December purple patch. They took the lead after good work from Payne allowed Lewis O’Brien to seize on hesitant defending and finish smartly. Bristol Rovers struggled to get out of their own half. If only the City dominance had led to a second goal.

For out of little Rovers equalised. The impressive Liam Sercombe had got a long range volley effort on target that Richard O’Donnell – initially wrong footed – made a meal of stopping and he conceded a corner. Clarke-Harris charged in to head home an equaliser from that set piece. Poor defending undermining all that had been so good about the Bantams.

Whilst not hitting the same heights, City dusted themselves off to take the game to Bristol Rovers again in the second half. Scannell had a superb game, demonstrating what he could have offered had a back injury not ruled him out for six months. Pace, trickery and smart decision making. A fit Scannell all season could have made a difference. He ran himself into the ground, eventually having to go off in the 72nd minute.

A moment before he did, Ollie Clarke had put Bristol Rovers in front with a decent long range effort that O’Donnell might have dealt with better. Behind for the first time, we initially got the usual poor reaction from City. But they regrouped and pushed hard in the closing stages. Knight-Percival’s late equaliser was the least they deserved.

At that stage, with the gap to safety still eight points, Bowyer had to go for the win. Paudie O’Connor – terrific again – was pushed up front. They attacked in numbers. A 2-2 draw would have stopped the rot, but wouldn’t save City from certain relegation. Bowyer rolled the dice hoping for a 6, only to land a 1.

Clarke-Harris slammed home the winner on the counter attack to break hearts. It was his 11th goal in 11 games since signing in the transfer window. That substitute Billy Clarke – City’s own January striker signing – wasted one last chance for the visitors was symbolic. At the time of Clarke-Harris’ January arrival at the Memorial Ground, Bristol Rovers sat below City in the league. He saved their season. Clarke has yet to score for the Bantams since his return. He is not the reason we are going down, but his return to Valley Parade hasn’t worked out so far.

Speaking to us on the radio after the game, Bowyer looked shell shocked and struggled for words. He was furious at the defending. Quite rightly, he has had to keep up the talk of fighting for survival. But this latest set back seems to have robbed him of that belief. It really now is all about preparing for next season.

If there is a consolation for Bowyer, the players gave him everything here. Wright made a slow start, but grew into the game and showed he could still have something to offer. Paul Caddis is a player to fight to keep in the summer. Lewis O’Brien is a credit to himself. Although Doyle struggled after half time, this was a day when most players performed well.

But it was all in vain. And the lights are going out on City’s League One dream. Bristol was the city where the third tier adventure had all began for Bradford City. It was Saturday 3 August 2013, Bristol City away. A late Rory McArdle header earned us a 2-2 draw and sparked jubilant scenes in the packed away end. It was a really exciting time to be a Bradford City fan.

What hopes and dreams we had back then. And what a ride the six years in League One have proven to be. But now, 2079 days later and five miles from Ashton Gate, Bristol is one of the final stop offs in Bradford City’s journey to League Two. Reality bites. Sharply.

Still, the brilliance and curse of football is that it never ends. This is not the finale of Bradford City, it’s just the last page of a difficult but short chapter in our history. Gary Bowyer can now start writing the next one, largely from a blank page.

The magnificent response to season tickets for next season demonstrates the loyalty of Bradfordians – and the faith that remains in a brighter future. We’ll suck up a bit more pain yet soon move on from relegation. It might take a while, but the sun will shine on Bradford City again.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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12 replies

  1. A sad day. Only hope you are correct Jason.

  2. There’s nothing to be said that hasn’t already been said this season. A team built by an ego maniac in his own image that is both spineless and disappears when the going gets tough.

    However, the cancer has been removed from the club and the city fans release that under Bowyer we have a clean slate and in the summer we have the opportunity to reset, remould and revamp the club on the pitch.

    It’s a remarkable number of season tickets sold and we are possibly heading towards the 13k mark given the torid and unforgettable last 18 months.

    On a final note I only wish we had a reserve side that could play the final 4 games of the season thus spelling it out to this current squad that it is truly abysmal and not wanted.

    The scene is now set for a certain James Hanson to really cap a a truely awful campaign. Roll on next season.

  3. The players are an utter utter disgrace.

    We can only play the unlucky card a certain number of times.

    We are dreadful. End of.

    Roll on next season. Let’s all spout an endless number of rhetoric nonsense.

    We are awful. End of.

  4. We have been a team facing relegation all season, managers have been unable with this group of players to put a run of wins together (apart from December). As individuals they are talented players but as we have found they can’t play together. Add some bad moves in the January transfer window and it sealed our fate.
    Bowyer has tried to use the players at his disposal in a system to try and balance the team but let’s face it he has not got the players.
    Let’s just press the reset button and go again next season with a settled squad of players who Bowyer wants and more importantly want to play for BCAFC.
    It will be interesting to see out of the current squad who will be here next season.

  5. Well written piece to effectively sign off our season. Watched on Ifollow and was impressed until almost half time. Confidence faded towards the end and in other circumstances a draw would have been acceptable, but we had to go for broke. Clarke-Harris rubbed salt in to the wound and showed us what we have been missing all season in finishing.

    Renewed my season ticket for next year and am looking forward to August and a fresh start.

  6. Agree as usual with most of you say Jason but to say that GB can begin next season with a blank sheet is a bit wide of the mark. Even any decent budget he is given would be largely taken up paying up inflated current contracts to arrive at a blank sheet. As unpalatable as it seems he is gonna have to sort the seed out from the chaff and some faces that we don’t want to see are going to be back. Surely a few could more than hold their own in div. 4. So let’s pray that the blank sheet is achievable but don’t hold your breath. It looks like it’s gonna be a massive task for Gary and a second 2 million loss for Stefan to get us back at the first attempt . Good Luck.

  7. Sorry it’s me spouting again. Just checked the list at the end of Width of a Post. SIXTEEN players still contracted to mid 2020 or beyond. Bloody Hell.

  8. Well Swansea are in big financial doo doo .They wilk have to sell Mc Burnie .They dont have a financial choice .The Swans aee drowning in massive debt.Every non playing member of sraff have had redundancy consultation letters .Bradford City’s percentage of Mc Burnies transfer fee would go a long way towards paying these 16 players off Getting rid of these players is a priority .THEY MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO PLAY FOR THE CLUB NEXT SEASON .THEY SIMPLY DO NOT DESERVE IT .AND WE FANS CERTAINLY DONT DESERVE TO BE PUNISHED BY HAVING TO WATCH ANY OF THEM PULL ON A CLARET AND AMBER SHIRT AGAIN. Ive been going to V P since 1968 and i have never ever seen such a weak set of players like this shower .After 51 seasons i have never felt angry at my beloved Bradford City BUT IM ANGRY AS HELL AT THIS INSIPID TALENTLESS CHICKENS DRESSED AS BANTAMS .CHICKENS DRESSED AS BANTAMS .I FEEL A SONG COMING ON THE NEXT HOME GAME .OR IF I MAKE IT TO COVENTRY NEXT FRIDAY .THIS SQUAD HAS GONE DOWN MORE WILLINGLY THAN A THORNTON ROAD LADY OF THE NIGHT .OH BY THE WAY THE SONG GOES CHICKENS DRESSED AS BANTAMS CHICKENS DRESSED AS BANTAM JUST F’XXX XXF JUST FXXX XXF .REPEAT 50 TIMES .Or so .They might get the message .I know it sounds a bit nasty and perhaps we shouldnt But they bloody well deserve it

  9. Who gets in our League 2 team? Caddis , P OConnor Mellor Wood, Scannell , Reeves, Robinson, Doyle?

    • Mellor seems to be regularly injured, Reeves appears to be permanently injured, Robinson may well be “unavailable” and Doyle is National League level. Without his penalties, his goal scoring record is abysmal and
      he brings very little else to the table.That’s thinned it down a bit!!!!

      • Doyle?? First out the door.

        He epitomises everything that is wrong with this bunch of players. Very little effort, runs around ineffectively, never there when a chance finally arrives, not seen one flash of inspiration all season. Shows absolutely no sign of giving two hoots about this club.

  10. ……and Paudie O’Connor isn’t our player! Is there anyone else left!!!

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