Grimsby Town 1
Bradford City 1
By Adam Raj
The first away game of the season and 1,786 faithful and hopeful Bantams packed out the away end at Grimsby’s Blundell Park this afternoon, in what was, for the second week running, a very disappointing display. The gloomy mood from last season has been lifted over the summer and optimism has finally started to return in the stands, however, more performances and results like the first two of the season and that optimism will slowly drain.
Last week saw a lack of width, pace and penetration in our attack. Many, including myself, expected to see changes to the line up for today’s game, in particular the inclusion of Sean Scannell and Jackson Longridge. However, Gary Bowyer chose to stick with the front three of Clayton Donaldson, James Vaughan and Eoin Doyle, as well as the right footed right back playing left back Adam Henley, and in all honesty it didn’t work at all.
The first half was a hard watch, the play was far too slow and City were far too ponderous and indecisive in possession – at times it was just possession for possession’s sake. Anthony O’Connor and Ben Richards-Everton especially took far too long to make a pass, but to be fair to them, the midfield didn’t offer anywhere near enough options for the man in possession. City created next to nothing in the first half and Grimsby, despite getting themselves in some promising wide areas, lacked the final ball.
The second half was a much better spectacle all round but City had the same sort of problems. Jermaine Anderson, yet to even remotely justify his new contract, was anonymous for the most part and when in possession, he looked way out of his depth, with some terrible passing. Grimsby started the second period the livelier of the two sides, exploiting the vast amounts of space which we afforded them out wide.
The Mariners’ game plan was clear – get the ball out wide to their full backs or wingers and aim for James Hanson in the middle. Yet, we allowed cross after cross and gave away far too many corners and cheap free kicks.
It took 53 minutes for us to create a chance for either of our strikers, Jordan Gibson with a sublime cross into the box for James Vaughan to nod home his first goal for the club. The scenes in the sold out away end were brilliant, celebrations which have been missing for far too long, as the Bantams skipper celebrated with the corner flag in typical style.
It was imperative that we pushed on for a second and built on the momentum which we had. However, for fifteen minutes after we scored, the game wasn’t managed properly at all. We were still being exploited out wide and the midfield did not get a grip of the game and try to keep possession.
Grimsby had an equaliser ruled out for offside and Richard O’Donnell made a terrific save moments later. The goal was coming. Adam Henley, who got run ragged, gave away a corner, and in typical Bradford City fashion, James Hanson scored with a free header. This was a desperately disappointing goal to concede, no matter how poor the performance, there’s no excuse for giving a player like Hanson a free run at a set piece.
Sean Scannell, somehow confined to a place on the bench again, was introduced moments before, meaning we switched to a 4-4-2, allowing our players to play in their preferred and best positions. His introduction gave us everything we were missing – pace, power and someone who could drive forwards with the ball. He caused City old boy Luke Hendrie all sorts of problems when he came on, creating a great opportunity for Clayton Donaldson who couldn’t get his feet sorted in time to apply a finish, as well as having an effort cleared off the line by Grimsby skipper James McKeown.
In the end, the game slowed and it seemed both sides were happy for a point, which was a fair result but there are still some pressing questions to be asked after the first two games of the season.
The diamond system which Bowyer has employed thus far is not working at all. It seems Bowyer is trying to keep all his strikers happy by shoe-horning Eoin Doyle into a system which he does not suit in the slightest. He is playing at the tip of the diamond in a position where he is expected to create for the strikers as well as get beyond them when they win long balls.
However, Doyle doesn’t have the technical ability as the likes of Jack Payne or David Ball do, who played a similar role last year. He’s also painfully slow so struggles to get beyond the front two. This system, as well as his unnecessary inclusion, is stifling our attack. If Eoin Doyle plays, it should be either in a front two or not at all.
Doyle however, isn’t our only problem – our midfield is worryingly poor. I can understand why Bowyer wants to play a three man midfield, as he wants to dominate possession in the middle of the park, however we don’t have the midfield options to play this way.
Jermaine Anderson is obviously extremely limited and I struggle to list his attributes, he is a passenger who we can’t afford in this side. This means Matt Palmer is being asked to defend, attack and play his normal game all at the same time which is obviously hampering his own individual performances. I’d also include Jordan Gibson in this as the lack of a proper holding midfielder who can get a grip of the midfield, is holding him back from expressing himself further forward.
It’s imperative that we address this area before the end of the window, otherwise these issues will continue to suffocate our progress.
Defensively Adam Henley looks lost at left back. Full backs are vital in providing width in the diamond system which we’re playing but being a right footer, he is slowing down attacks as he is always having to take an extra touch. After two poor performances by him, I’d expect Jackson Longridge to come back in next week.
However, with this system, the full backs are left far too exposed. Far too many times Grimsby had two v one out wide and against a side who’s main asset is width, the selection of this system and the perseverance with it for 60 minutes, is bewildering.
City fans sometimes have an unhealthy obsession with playing 4-4-2 given our recent successes, however I totally agree that this system suits us best given the players we have. In the two games we’ve played, we’ve created only two real chances for James Vaughan who has scored one and hit the bar with the other. It’s clear that given service, both he and Clayton Donaldson will score at this level. But, creativity is non existent in midfield, with Scannell and Gibson our only really creative players, both of whom play out wide.
I’d like to see Donaldson and Vaughan play together (not miles away from each other like they do in the diamond), and being fed by Scannell and Gibson out wide, although I still think we need to sign a left winger, something we haven’t had since Kyel Reid was here four years ago.
The optimism is still there amongst the vast majority of fans. But more uninspiring and lifeless performances like today and that will fade quickly. We have a chance to go and attack teams and build on the positive energy emanating from the stands, let’s not waste it.