The scrappiest of starts

Bradford City 0

Cambridge United 0

By Jason McKeown

This was oh so typical Bradford City. A big occasion, a huge level of expectation and palpable excitement from a boisterous crowd. But anticipation gave way to disappointment. The buoyant enthusiasm slowly seeped out of supporters like a deflating bouncy castle.

How many times over the years have we set ourselves up for big things, only for the players to fail to deliver? The pressures of playing for this football club are significant. Players need to learn quickly, or the crowd will turn. So it was here. An afternoon that began with the Kop chanting “100 points, Gary Bowyer” ended with a smattering boos. A ridiculous over reaction at such an early moment in the season, but the sense of frustration was shared by all.

There’s no getting away from the reality this was a discouraging performance from the new-look Bradford City. Opening the campaign against a Cambridge United side who finished 21st in League Two last season was as kind of a start as you could ask for. The visitors played with 10 men for the final half of the game, after Liam O’Neil’s dreadful lunge on Clayton Donaldson saw the defender red carded. But City could not take advantage of a favourable hand, labouring to a draw that underlines the true scale of the League Two challenge.

Cambridge weren’t great but they were streetwise and organised. After a dismal spectacle, the celebrations of United supporters at the full time whistle told its own story about the hellhole that is League Two. The Bantams had 22 shots on goal, but only three on target. They had over 60% of possession, but habitually used the ball poorly. In the closing stages they piled forward in growing desperation of finding a winner, but there was no real conviction to suggest they were on the verge of making a breakthrough.

Gary Bowyer spoke afterwards about how players need to make better decisions. This is undoubtedly true, as several promising attacks broke down through taking the wrong option. But Bowyer will surely also need to reflect on how his tactical approach failed to get the best out of his charges, meaning they were predictable and easy to contain.

City lined up in a diamond formation that enabled Bowyer to accommodate Eoin Doyle, James Vaughan and Donaldson, but it proved to be a classic dilemma of whether to go with the best system or the best personnel. The urge to go with all three was understandable, but on this occasion DVD was more DUD.

You can’t fault their effort, and Vaughan – who had the game’s best moment with a flick up and overhead kick effort that crashed back off the crossbar – looks capable of scoring a hatful this season. But Doyle does not suit playing at the tip of the diamond, and the steps taken to incorporate him behind Vaughan and Donaldson stunted the supply line. The limitations of the diamond – a lack of width – were once again on show.

What didn’t help was an anonymous performance from Jermaine Anderson – playing on the right side of the diamond – and the absence of a partner for Matt Palmer. The on-loan Rotherham man impressed and was probably City’s best player, but he was also guilty of giving the ball away too often and his corners were terrible. On the left, Jordan Gibson showed promise. As he was asked to tuck inside, there was greater onus on the young winger to make better decisions – with experience will come greater consistency over 90 minutes.

With 14 minutes to play Bowyer made moves to change formation by taking off Doyle and introducing Sean Scannell, who was sharp. But the manager probably waited too long to make this change, especially given Cambridge had retreated everybody back to protect a point. With the clock ticking, the team’s composure on the ball went out the window. Nevertheless, the 4-4-2 City ended with looked far more effective – with substitute Danny Devine catching the eye by producing some clever passes.

Doyle is one of the club’s highest earners. He is too expensive, really, to sit on the bench. He has ability too, which makes it difficult to leave him out. But Doyle is not a number 10. With City evidently needing to get players out before Bowyer can strengthen further, it will be interesting to see what the club decides to do if an offer for Doyle comes in.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for City here. At the back they performed reasonably well, with Anthony O’Connor quietly taking a step forwards on the path to redemption. The full backs, Kelvin Mellor and Adam Henley, were useful both at defending and in getting forwards. Cambridge offered up little attacking threat, save for a few half chances that City snuffed out. Biggest tests await, but the imminent return of Paudie O’Connor will mean City’s defence will offer a strong platform this season.

Paudie will surely take Ben Richards-Everton’s place, after a decidedly mixed debut. Defensively, the summer signing from Accrington Stanley was solid, making some crucial interceptions. But his distribution isn’t great, and his confidence appeared to visibly drain in the closing stages, as the crowd got on his back following several wretched passes that flew out of play. In the final minute of stoppage time and with City on the attack, the ball came out to Richards-Everton in a slightly wide position, surely requiring him to launch it back into the box. He chose to shoot from an impossible angle, compounding the poor choice by slicing it dismally wide.

So City are very much a work in progress. Normally that would be understandable at this stage of the season. But with all 10 summer signings in the building before pre-season friendlies had begun, there was an expectation the team would be much more fluent by now. Bowyer bemoaned the losing of a second 45 minutes at Rochdale last week as a contributory factor, but he also wasted two pre-season friendlies playing trialists who largely looked nowhere near good enough for the club. They should be ready.

The wait to get high-earning, unwanted players off the books means recruitment is in a state of limbo. On this evidence, City badly need a midfield enforcer to set the tempo and drive the team forwards. They also need other options on the bench, which could look stronger. The windfall from Oli McBurnie’s £17 million move from Swansea to Sheffield United is welcome financial news, although this money will largely be used to pay off debts to Stefan Rupp. You suspect there’s going to some significant ins and outs before the transfer window closes.

The team will get better, of course. And if this underwhelming performance causes sky-high expectations to be dampened, that’s probably a good thing. Bowyer has the ability and experience to build something effective from the tools he does have, and there’s a long, long way to go.

The players deserve praise for their effort levels. This was far removed from the gutless shower who represented the club last season. But effort is only part of the challenge. The players have to be braver on the ball. Try difficult things. Make better off-the-field runs. Deal better with the weight of groans from the crowd by doing what’s right for the team. Each player needs to show a greater sense of purpose and demonstrate true individual responsibility.

Ultimately, this scrappy and disjointed performance offered only crumbs of comfort. On the opening day, City failed to live up to the big billing. Typical Bradford City perhaps, but with the scars of last season far from fully healed, it needs to improve quickly. Patience is a commodity in short supply.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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24 replies

  1. Anyone who even thought we’d be ‘up by xmas’ or amassing 100 points on the way to the championship is totally deluded.

    Yes I woke up buzzing for the first game of the season, Yes I woke up with a good feeling about the season as a whole and Yes I woke up this morning hoping for. win.

    Yes I’m disappointed that didn’t quite happen but what I did see was poles apart from last.

    More to do with this team to get them firing together but there are very positive sign given what we saw last year.

    Mistakes were made in my view by not starting with Scannell and also had no alternative striker on bench for when things began to flag (would have started Scannell instead of Doyle) and Henly is defo not comfortable at LB (has no left foot and gets a nose bleed at half way)….but apart from that a fairly solid start.

    Some people need a reality check!

  2. Obviously lacking quality to mount a serious promotion bid ,the midfield looks Well short of quality and pace and we really need to get shut of Doyle it’s no good for him or the fans if we can not sell him get him out on loan ,but what is a real worry is the manager not changing things on the pitch soon enough.

    • completely agree Sean, it was like Bowyer didnt want to conceded that 433 wasnt working, and by the time he admitted defeat it was far too late in the game to change things. At the very least Scannell should have been on that pitch as soon as Cambridge were down to ten men.

  3. A good summary of this afternoon’s game.

    Playing Doyle in the number 10 role was a square peg in a round hole. Gibson needed to be occupying the space on the wing and we needed to pass the ball on the floor a bit quicker.

    However, we looked more solid at the back and we looked better when Scannel and Devine came on.

    As one of my friends said to an impartial fan as we walked away from Valley Parade: that would have been classed as a good home performance last season!

    Onwards and upwards.

    • Very accurate report Jason.

      Richard I always enjoy reading your thoughts but frankly last season is not the benchmark I wish to compare this season’s (and in a lower division) performances with, my fourth decade of watching my team and by a considerable distance it was the worse season ever.

      Brilliant turnout today but mystified with the line up and tactics and find it embarrassing to see the manager trying to whip the crowd up, get the line up and tactics right first.

      • Hi John,

        I totally agree on GB turning to yell at the Main Stand in the 2nd Half. It just jarred, felt wrong, and was his first public misstep for me.

        I’m a huge fan of his, and admire greatly the way he sets about the job and conducts himself in the media, but he misjudged that I felt. Don’t yell at us Gary, we’ve been here longer than you.

        On comparison to last season, whilst I agree it should never be a benchmark, to be fair it is the only legitimate basis on which to assess GB because that’s what he walked into. They were his circumstances.

        So being better than last year – better organised, more fight, tempo, more of a plan – are all improvements that he has made in his short time here… however much we might be able to locate them in a wider perspective.

        Great write up as ever Jason, think we all felt frustrated yesterday. Classic City!

      • Well put Mark D !

  4. As Paudie is right footed he will surely take Anthony O’Connor’s place not Everton-Richard’s.

  5. Jason, this is a rare moment for me but I agree 100% with everything you’ve written.
    The one observation I would like to add is that only five of the new players were in the starting lineup. I seriously doubt the leftovers from last season should represent over 50% of the starting lineup. Hopefully, that will dramatically change by the end of August.

  6. Longridge in at Left Back for Henley, Akpan in for Anderson and Scannell for Doyle, pushing Gibson wider left..and we’ll best Grimsby…

  7. Perhaps we could ask the EFL for a special dispensation to just be allowed to bring Doyle on to take penalties then go off again, at least that way his wages wouldn’t be entirely wasted.

  8. very good and honest assesment. althoughthefirst game Bowyer is under scrutiny for me. The lack of width at home was disappointing and the system looked too complicated for league2. Hav8ng a right footer at left full back turning back all the time, his fondness of Anderson who hasn’t a clue when he has to pass the ball, Doyle completely baffled by his role, narrowing the play thus helping the opposition, no Scannell for so long were all very questionable decisions…….indeed the devine before scannell sub when going to 10 men is very worrying gping forward….

    it maybe the 1st game but Bowyer got it wrong…

    • Agreed with all you said.

      FYI- I too wondered why Henley was playing at left-back, but after the game I saw that Simon Parker had stated in the T&A that on this occasion Henley has been chosen as starter because the Cambridge right-winger was known to be extremely quick and it was felt that Henley would be more able to combat his speed.

      I think we will see Longridge in their as first choice under normal circumstances.

  9. Sorry……but…
    Defence solid, after that…
    No width…
    No pace……
    Not really any quality…..
    No overlapping fullbacks
    Front three isolated from midfield
    Down to 10 men didn’t press
    Neither Keeper made any saves of note.
    Or did anyone see a different game to me ?

  10. As an exile in Cheshire saw a quite impressive Plymouth beat a decent Crewe side today.Doesn’t bode too well for what sounds like a disappointing City.Things can only get better…??

  11. A very fair assessment and summary Jason, of a frustrating game. Like others, it was shirt on early. Pacing the house in hope and expectation, only to leave the ground disappointed with the overall performance.

    In particular, Doyle again looked lost, so where does he play well in this set up ? A starting point would have been to put the right boots on for the damp ground conditions before the match started. He was slipping for the whole of the first half, but didn’t change his boots until half time. Wasted opportunity.

  12. Spot on review of the game Jason.
    I hope the players and staff take on board your comments.

  13. Great report Jason, I’m glad to see that we’re not turning a blind eye to problems just because it was the first game. As you say, we had enough pre-season games to iron out these kinks, but chose to use two of them to give fitness training to players we were never likely to sign.

    Frustration is the overall feeling, and Bowyer is the main cause of that. After last season, it was really important for us to get off to a good strong start to keep the good feeling and build some momentum. Unless Scannell wasn’t properly fit then he should have started, not to start him for any other reason shows complacency. He is our most creative player and was brought on too late.

    Henley at left back was a huge error which didn’t need a crystal ball to predict. If you play 4-3-3 you’re relying on your full backs to provide width. You don’t play a defensive right back at left back when you have two attacking left backs on the bench. Bowyer did the same with Callum Wood at the end of last season with the same result of no overlap or attacking threat from the left side.

    O’Connor had a very good game, BRE looked ok defensively but when you see his distribution you then work out why he was never a regular starter for Accrington Stanley. Palmer has quality but I’d like to see him further forward where he can hurt teams. Gibson did ok but looked to be to playing within him, making sure he didn’t make an error to make sure he’s still in the team next week.

    Anderson is a problem. Bowyer gave new contracts to Anderson, Colville and Devine (and so really they are his signings too). This indicates that he sees at least one of those as a regular starter. Anderson has had a fair few appearances now and we’ve not seen anywhere near enough to suggest he could be a regular starting box-to-box midfielder for a team that wants to get promoted.

    Doyle is already well discussed. When I watch him, I don’t see any particular attribute that he excels in. He’s not fast, he’s not strong, he isn’t creative, his movement isn’t great, he doesn’t score from nothing. If we were just judging him on his performances in a City shirt and there’s no way we’d even be considering keeping him. But he keeps getting the benefit of the doubt because of his goalscoring streaks at Chesterfield and Oldham. But for me his time is up, regardless of which position or role he’s asked to play.

    A perfect transfer window would be to bring in a left sided midfielder, a tackling midfielder and a decent forward to use from the bench. Doyle, Akpan, Riley and Patrick to leave without us having to pay up their contracts. Think of the quality of the team we had in this division last time and we only finished seventh (ok, we would have finished higher without the cup runs). McArdle, Davies, Darby, Meredith, Jones, Nathan Doyle, Kyel Reid, Hanson, Wells. Just Paudie, Scannell, Vaughan, Palmer and Donaldson isn’t enough.

    Hopefully yesterday’s result will focus everyone. Plenty of work still to do!

  14. We should have got a squad of Romans, although Rome was not built in a day.

    Come on seriously, it was the 1st game of the season all teams are nervous no matter who you have in a squad, I said on the way down to the ground, I would be happy with a point today to kick the season off.

    Let’s put it this way, last season we would have lost that when they went down to 10 men and mustered up an attack on us, but we were solid at the back and kept our shape, that was a positive to me and you knew they were never going to score, let’s see where we are after 10 games, Grimsby won by 2 lucky goals, so we will see next week away to them.

    All these comments today will be a distant memory soon, we are in a far better place now that idiot has gone and all the new foundations are in place, with positive news of Ollie Mac Burnie, so we are back in the black from the losses of that FOOL.

    It is the end now of last horrible 18 months, let’s leave all that negative stuff there buried forever in the archives and start judging after the transfer window shuts, at least then we will know what the final squad will be for the rest of the season and maybe now with the cash input we may get another big signing.

    1 point, 99 to go, I am not deluded, this is going to be a massive season in our history.

    We are everyone’s cup final at Valley Parade, so get use to a couple of shaky games at home.

    • Fully agree with this.

      It wasn’t great yesterday, and most of us walked away feeling frustrated, but I do think we looked like a good team just getting going on a journey together, rather than a poor team on the road nowhere…

      • Plenty of teams will come with limited ambition and will be difficult to break down. Hopefully GB will be given time to restructure/galvanise the club a la Parky. There are plenty of well run clubs at this level with similar aspirations to ours who will provide stiff competition. Pre season optimism is a given i suppose but folk have very short memories if they think we can just walk this league. Personally i can buy into GBs project and would give him plenty of lattitude. Judge him when he has shifted some of the remaining deadwood

      • Don’t agree. Bowyer should have introduced Scannel earlier. Players out of position (right footed left back). Pedestrian in build up. Excuse not enough pre-season player time (Rochdale abandoned game). Players should have had plenty of game time before Rochdale. Cambridge will probably struggle this season and for them to walk away from a game when down to 10 men with a draw doesn’t augur well for City going forward. Bowyer needs to pick a team with attacking intent against a team like Cambridge. The team on Saturday lacked pace and width. No alternative striker on the bench. Let’s hope that this situation is remedied before the transfer window closes.

    • just a point though….been everyone’s cup final you shouldn’t help their cause by condensing play….no width ar home was poor imo….by all means pragmatismawaybut at home against opposition that ate tipped to struggle???? to much fear in Bowyers approach for me….

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