The System

Crewe Alexandra 2

Kirk 42, Lowery 60

Bradford City 1

Vaughan 32

By Adam Raj

Five different systems in the first six league games. Gary Bowyer seems to have absolutely no idea what his best system is or his best XI either. Am I wrong in thinking that we should’ve experimented and tinkered like this during pre-season rather than now? We’re in League Two, with League Two footballers, why are we confusing them every week by giving them a different set of responsibilities and tactics to try to learn and follow? Surely, they need some sort of consistency to try and build up relationships on the pitch?

Today was the latest instalment in what has become another season of formation bingo. We saw it last season with David Hopkin and Michael Collins, and unfortunately it seems to be raising its ugly head again this season. 3-5-2 is how we lined up in Cheshire this afternoon, with Paudie O’Connor making his first league start, Jamie Deviit likewise playing in the number 10 position but, more surprisingly, Hope Akpan somehow keeping his place after last week’s horror show.

I can’t tell whether Akpan is only getting game time because Callum Cooke isn’t fit enough to start a game yet or whether Bowyer actually rates him as a defensive midfielder. I sincerely hope it’s the former.

There seemed to be more purpose in the way City started the game. James Vaughan and Clayton Donaldson leading the press from the front, and it initially appeared Crewe struggled to come to terms with our surprising shape. But then again, City struggled to come to terms with it themselves.

The first warning sign came after 28 minutes where Charlie Kirk, the best player on the pitch, was allowed acres of space down City’s right-hand side to have a one on one with Richard O’Donnell which thankfully went wide. It was a huge let off, one which should’ve been dealt with immediately, but it wasn’t.

Four minutes later and City were rather fortuitously in front. Jamie Devitt’s excellent strike from outside the area was tipped onto the crossbar by Crewe keeper Jaaskelainen, but the predatory James Vaughan was there to head home the rebound. Euphoria in the away end and a sense of relief that City now had a lead to protect in a game where we, yet again, weren’t very good.

For five minutes after the goal, we had the momentum behind us, forcing errors out of Crewe and creating a few goal mouth scrambles. But a few goal mouth scrambles are about the best we’d create all afternoon, in what was another clueless attacking display.

And that five minute period was about as good as it got too, in another game where we failed to turn up for the duration. Only ten minutes had passed since the goal and Kirk, yet again, had the whole City half to himself to this time fire past O’Donnell. It was pretty much a carbon copy of the earlier chance, which we failed to learn from and ultimately paid the price for.

Kelvin Mellor, being a wing back, had advanced into the attacking third, but Anthony O’Connor was virtually playing within the same area. It’s not rocket science that if Mellor goes forward, then Anthony O’Connor should stay back and cover. Or if the worst-case scenario occurs and they both advance, Hope Akpan (being the right sided CM) should cover that right centre half position. But he was also in an advanced position trying to flick the ball over the head of every Crewe midfielder when he lost out on a 50/50 (shock) and the ball was fed to Kirk.

These are basic principles of a 3-5-2 formation. Why did it take until half time for this message to be relayed onto the pitch? This is just one example of players today not knowing their jobs.

Crewe came out in the second half a totally different animal. They had obviously been caught out a little by our shape, but fifteen minutes worth of advice from their manager was all it took for them to devise a game plan to beat us with relative ease. In contrast, City came out lethargic and devoid of any ideas.

After a bright start from the home side and a flurry of corners, the hosts’ second of the afternoon came fifteen minutes after the restart. Matt Palmer and Connor Wood got attracted to the same ball, failed to mark Daniel Powell who received the ball, passed it to Tom Lowery, who skipped pass the half-hearted challenge of Hope Akpan and finished expertly into the far corner. An excellent goal from an attacking perspective but defensively, it was embarrassing.

The lack of an aggressive midfielder who can break up play and tackle was more prominent than ever today, especially in that goal. Multiple passes along the face of our box leading to a goal, just as last week, because not one of the midfielders can tackle. How can a team who are expected to fight for promotion play without a single midfielder capable of making a tackle? Actually, how can any team play without a defensive midfielder?

And from that point the game was pretty much done. We didn’t create a chance of note all afternoon, even the goal was a fortunate rebound and we didn’t look like scoring again.

Crewe and in particular Kirk, toyed with us for the next half hour. Passing it through the thirds with absolute ease, it looked like a training session at times. The overload out wide was a reoccurring theme which seemingly went unnoticed by Bowyer, given the zero changes made to the shape of the team throughout the game. The hosts really should’ve had a few more, given the quality of chances which they had, and it wouldn’t have flattered them one bit.

Clayton Donaldson skimmed a header just wide and debutant Harry Pritchard saw a close range header fly over the bar. Apart from that, it was hopeful stuff from the Bantams, with next to no quality whatsoever.

What is a massive concern at the minute is the fact we don’t seem to have a game plan in games, especially in attacking scenarios. It looks to be all a bit disjointed and unprepared, focused on stopping the opposition rather than giving us the best chance of winning the game ourselves.

We have two fantastic strikers in this division, yet we didn’t create one chance at all for either today. Why is that? Because the strikers we have primarily feed off crosses into the box, whether that be from open play or set pieces. From open play we play without wingers, and today’s wing backs were well marshalled and had very little support when they had the ball.

Our set pieces were absolutely appalling today just as they have been all season. We had six real targets to aim at from set pieces today against what wasn’t a very big Crewe side at all, and 90% of set pieces and subsequent second phase deliveries failed to beat the first man. That’s a real poor do.

But this brings us onto what actually is City’s style of play? Are we a side who keeps it tight hoping for set pieces? Are we a possession-based side? Are we a long ball team? What are we? We’re six games in and I really couldn’t tell you how Gary Bowyer wants us to play at all, and that is deeply concerning.

On the face of it, we seem to have done good business in the transfer window, but for the second year running it seems like we’ve recruited without a plan. We signed players and then tried to figure out the best system when we should’ve recruited players to fit a system. The pace and width we were promised in the summer hasn’t arrived, aside from the forgotten man Zeli Ismail. We’ve signed and re-signed numerous attacking midfielders, have failed to sign a defensive midfielder and have only two fit strikers.

It seems to me that the whole midfield, for whatever reason has been neglected. I think for me in these first six games, I’ve realised just how important a central midfielder is. It’s all well and good having a good attack and defence, but if you don’t have a midfield to supply the attackers or protect the defenders, it’s all pointless. And that I think is where we are now. Hopefully Callum Cooke and Jamie Devitt will be the missing spark going forwards in midfield, but the same problems of teams walking through us at will, will persist unless that Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Jim O’Brien type player is signed.

The latest decision to let Sean Scannell leave the club is an interesting one. On the face of it, his replacement Harry Pritchard seems unspectacular and slightly underwhelming. But with the wages saved on Scannell, you would hope there are further additions to come. If/when they arrive, I think we’ll know if allowing Scannell to leave was worth it or not, despite his own disappointing performances in a City shirt.

I want Gary Bowyer to pick a system and stick to it. Whatever it is (but preferably one with width), because the players need some continuity. The constant chopping and changing has done managers in the past no favours at all and has, in some cases, proven to be their downfall.



Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

Tags: , , ,

12 replies

  1. So many questions unanswered week in week out now-
    Henley how long out for ?
    Longridge fallen off a cliff?
    Akpan – what’s the crack, neither Parkinson or McCall or any manager worth his salt would even consider starting with him.
    MCCarten – why keep bigging him up then not even bench him.
    Ismail – why even mention him when he’s nowhere near fit and hasn’t been now for 6 weeks.
    Reeves – let’s have some truth – can he run about or can’t he ? Let’s start with that. Is he arsed or not ?

    The lack of a reserve squad will once again ruin another squad of players why can’t we realise it’s crucial to at least get some of these lads into some shape and form ? If you get injured then your basically on a hiding to nothing getting any match fitness and form.
    Any ridiculous notion that it’s too expensive etc counter acts itself it should be viewed as as good as a signing when it’s sharpening up the very lads we pay each week for. We play 2/3 preseason friendlies with 0 BCFC players in . Insulting our neighbours and our squad players . That was ridiculous and set my alarm bells ringing .
    Drury never a number 2 too nice. How can nobody have seen that by now? Also part of the original cock up. Nice guys is all we have look at our bench with Anderson . Fitness Coach Rome . Patrick, Devine, Hornby, who’s there to rock the boat snarl a Bit or dish out a bollocking when needed? All nice boys. Well in this league it won’t count for a thing never.
    This is piss poor leadership not recognising that an old school clogger or 2 are needed to battle and old man you out of the league.
    Not a striker in sight other than front 2 who must be wondering what is going on looking at nice choir boy lads being signed up. We have a leader in Vaughan thankfully, but if it isn’t going his way by Xmas it will all go tits up with him you can see it coming. He will ruffle too many nice boys feathers and alienate himself on/off the pitch.
    We said all last season – a proper no9 will save us from the drop. Rupp and Rhodes were culpable as anyone for not forcing that to happen. We are saying a clogger, a back up target man and a FIT winger will maybe get us promoted. We have so far with (48 left!! ) not fulfilled that. What the hell are these 3 running our club currently, seeing that isn’t plain and obvious? If Vaughan is supspended and the don injured we will have Devitt and Patrick leading the line with full backs crossing and no leader in midfield whatsoever. Something isn’t right, I’m sorry it just isn’t.
    Following from the last article on WOA. I’m not accepting this BS for my club. I’m about to be embarrassed over the next 6-8 weeks as we slide down the bottom end of league 2. So why should I sit and watch it happen without sticking my tuppence in?
    Sorry GB your trying to be too clever. It doesn’t work at this level.

    Queeny Rich

  2. Cant disagree with any of this. Bowyer is running out of time already and another 4 games played out in the same clueless style will see him ushered out of the VP ever revolving manager and player front door.

    Pick and buy players to play a settled system Mr Bowyer that your team understands what their roles and responsibilities are.

    Bowyer has had all summer to come up with a blueprint and formation for success but is failing miserably. Unless this changes and quickly it will be manager number 6 in gone in a little over 2 years

    • He has had 6 months (ish) and even though he inherited last seasons squad), his overall record in this 6 months period is absolutely abysmal.

      This season is just a continuation of last season and I feel it will get worse.

      Makes PP and Stuart’s tenure look very good and I am already questioning if to go to games again.

      My first game was FGR and that was very hard to stomach and a total waste of a Saturday.

  3. Your match summary is spot on. I listened to the radio Leeds commentary. They mentioned Kirk as the danger man and pointed out the one on one opportunity he missed. He stood unmarked and picked out after a city attack broke down. Both said he needs to be watched. Low and behold it happened again and this time he scored. The commentators saw this why didn’t Bowyer or Drury see this and address it?
    Bowyer talks about beaten today by soft goals. Yet no acceptance of his own involvement to the soft goals by his bizarre team selection and tactics!
    We are 6 matches into the season and nothing has changed. I agree we need a hard tackling midfield player and cover for Donaldson and Vaughn. We have plethora of similar midfield players that do not make the team stronger. It is the opposite. Whoever he brings into midfield has little or no affect on the outcome. Unless he brings in players that will add bite to midfield. The problems we have now will continue.
    The only answer then is for Bowyer and Drury to go.

    • We must give the manager 10 games then see where we are ,it’s a must we get some pace in the team before the deadline and a ball winner in midfield then we can in my view play 442 and you will see the best of our forwards who are staved of any service ,I just hope G B his on the same wavelength as the fans .

      • But how many games has he had. If you count last season, nothing has changed. We are sinking very fast with a brand of football that is dire. His own signings are proving to be no better than last seasons dross.

  4. Hello,
    I said it after the first home game, and again after that.
    NO WIDTH
    NO PACE
    NO CREATIVITY

    I saw this after the first game.
    I didn’t have a summer bringing players in.

    SO WHY ARE WE STILL NOT PLAYING TO OUR STRENGTHS?

    Come on Julian and Mr Rupp, get rid of this idiot, and bring in someone who has a clue.

    CITY FANS ARE NOT STUPID.

    SHOW US SUM RESPECT

    • We’ve got options Parky and Stuart Mcall are available

      • Like everyone on here has said, yesterday’s tactics were baffling and as manager GB should have spotted the weaknesses and changed them to counter the threat of the opposition.

        GB has been desperate to play Paudie O’Connor in place of his namesake, but such has been our defensive form that he’s not had the opportunity to do so. However, instead of maintaining playing with a flat back 4, GB changes formation to accommodate Paudie, who incidentally didn’t have a good game, but the change clearly did not work especially down our right side where the amount of space was there for all to see! It was only a matter of time before Crewe took advantage and after several misses they did!

        Despite the number of midfielders we have within our squad we are still woefully short of the quality that is needed to be a top club. Hopefully the recent signings are the answer as time is ticking away!

        Nearly 1300 travelling fans at Crewe deserved much more and the frustration of those fans at the final whistle is no doubt echoed by all City fans.

        In trying to be positive it’s still early days and we all want GB to succeed, particularly for the way in which he has bought in to the club and another managerial change would not be ideal. It’s a long old season and as such I’ve always said let’s see where we are in terms of performance after 10 league games.

        Come on Gary! We are watching 👀

  5. It’s not the system per se that’s the problem – 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2, whatever – the problem comes when we don’t have the players in the building to suit certain formations, and the players don’t seem to be trained to play in those formations. Bowyer’s recruitment for defence and attack has, on the face of it, been excellent, but in contrast his choices for midfield seem completely haphazard. We’ve got too many of the same kind of player and we don’t have a mix of players to suit changing formations, or to suit any formation it seems at the moment. We play two in the middle and we get overrun without a ball winner. Try to overcome that by playing five across the middle and we get caught out in the full back positions because we don’t have proper wing-backs or the nous to play with 3 at the back. Play 4-3-1-2 and we’ve got no width and no service to the front two. Maybe having Devitt play behind the front two will make the 4-3-1-2 system work better, but we still need someone to get on the ball behind him. Perhaps Cooke can do that, but I don’t know much about him.

    Earlier in the season I was willing to give Bowyer the benefit of the doubt, as there were mitigating factors – injuries from pre-season, time for new players to gel etc – but yesterday at Crewe was very disappointing. The transfer window shuts this week, so with the squad decided on at least until January, from hereon I hope we see a settled 11 and a settled system, and see if we can try to play our way into some form.

    And for those clamouring for 4-4-2 as the only way to play in this league, it should be noted that yesterday Crewe played 4-3-3.

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