Bradford City 0
Forest Green Rovers 1
J Mills 90+3
By Adam Raj
If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.
A cliche, I know but Gary Bowyer’s decision to change the shape and personnel this afternoon was utterly baffling. After two straight wins starting with a 4-4-2 and players in their natural positions, we resorted to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 which we had deployed in the first two poor performances against Cambridge and Grimsby.
It was a sign of a manager who was far too concerned with the opposition and neutralising their ‘threats’ compared to a manager who was picking a side to give us the best chance of winning the game. It was scarily similar to the ridiculous changes to a winning side made by David Hopkin away at Barnsley in January which proved to be the beginning of the end for him.
Connor Wood was moved back to left back following Adam Henley’s injury at Stevenage, Jordan Gibson was playing on the left of the three-man attack, replacing Sean Scannell, and Matt Palmer was pushed further forward.
That meant the midfield consisted of Hope Akpan, Danny Devine, Jordan Gibson and Matt Palmer. I can’t be the only one who sees absolutely zero creativity in there, can I? It was a totally unbalanced midfield for a home team who wanted to win the game. Only Bradford City could have two strikers of the calibre of James Vaughan and Clayton Donaldson without one creative player in the team to supply them the ball in goal scoring areas.
The first half was a non eventful one in terms of goal scoring chances. Jordan Gibson going closest with a long range effort towards the end of the half. But today’s referee, Andy Haines, set the precedent for his own performance and the quality of the game from the first whistle. The man in the middle had no control of the game whatsoever – Clayton Donaldson had no protection from being constantly assaulted by Forest Green left back Liam Kitching, as well as multiple cynical challenges going unpunished, despite both Danny Devine and Hope Akpan being booked for identical challenges.
I don’t like to criticise referees too much, we all know they are severely lacking in quality and it’s often a cop out for a bad performance, but today’s official deserves a special mention for allowing the game to become an absolute farce.
Make no mistake, Forest Green came to Valley Parade for a fight. The officials fell for every trick in the book and the away side got exactly what they wanted. It’s a tactic used many a times when we were in League One and it’s highly likely that every other side will come to Valley Parade and do the same this season. We learnt absolutely nothing from the Cambridge game and ultimately failed to score at home. Again.
We won’t be lucky enough to come up against such a disorganised side as Oldham were every week, so this needs addressing Mr Bowyer. And fast.
Back to the game and the second half was equally as infuriating to watch as the first half. Jamie Devitt replaced the anonymous Danny Devine and we lined up 4-5-1. At home. With Clayton Donaldson playing left midfield officially, although he spent more time in the left back area. Such negative and defensive tactics in a game we should be targeting to win is baffling.
Forest Green, a possession-based side, were allowed acres of space in midfield to walk past us at will. Rovers keeper Joe Wollacott, on numerous occasions, dribbled the ball completely unchallenged as far as the halfway line, to pick out a pass straight through the midfield past the daydreaming Hope Akpan. It happened so many times that it must have been a deliberate tactic. And if so, why? Why let a team who like to pass the ball play to their strengths? Shouldn’t we be pressing them high up the pitch and forcing them to play long? It’s bizarre tactical decisions like these which have got a small minority questioning Gary Bowyer, even this early on.
For all the negatives, City did create a few chances in the second half. First, James Vaughan’s trademark overhead kick went inches wide from Kelvin Mellor’s long throw. Then Clayton Donaldson saw a half volley blocked on the line by an unknowing Vaughan.
Callum Cooke was introduced for his debut replacing Matt Palmer, somehow leaving Hope Akpan on the pitch. He looked bright, as did Devitt. Ideally, both would start next week, but the lack of any sort of ball winning midfielder to partner them makes that unlikely. Sadly, such an addition looks unlikely given the large amounts of central midfielders already at the club.
The decision to offer sub standard players such as Devine and Jermaine Anderson new deals looks more ridiculous with every passing game. Surely the wages used on those two and what is left (if anything) in the budget would’ve been better spent on the one type of player which we don’t have.
As time wore on in the second half, it looked like being another disappointing goalless draw, but up popped Rovers skipper Joe Mills rising above Kelvin Mellor at the back post to head home the winner in stoppage time. A poor goal to concede from a defensive point of view, coming from Forest Green passing it inside and around our box completely unchallenged and ultimately we paid the price.
There was still time for the officials to rule out a Kelvin Mellor goal for offside and a red card for Forest Green centre half Matt Mills, although in truth, we could’ve played all night and not scored. James Vaughan was totally isolated upfront and Clayton Donaldson was too wide and too deep to have a goal scoring impact from open play.
The most irritating aspect of this loss for me was that it was totally self-inflicted. We weren’t outclassed, we didn’t lose to a wonder goal but we beat ourselves. The tactics were wrong, the play was too slow, the creativity was none existent – all things which were the case in our first two games, yet we learnt nothing.
The 4-4-2 deployed last week against Oldham and from the start in midweek at Stevenage worked, albeit against very poor opposition, there was absolutely no need to make such drastic changes to a winning side, purely to accommodate the opposition.