Plymouth Argyle 2
Moore 5, Edwards 25
Bradford City 1
Canavan (OG) 51
By Adam Raj
It’s another loss to one of the top teams in the division to add to the deserved defeats at Crewe and Cheltenham and the home game to Forest Green.
Sure, we had good results to Swindon and Exeter, but it was a Swindon team minus the country’s top scorer and an Exeter side with poor finishing on the day. In particular the games against Crewe and Cheltenham, as well as today, we have looked really poor, especially in terms of ball retention and chance creation.
Today was a similar story to what we’ve seen so far this season already. City turning up for spells but not for long enough and a series of bewildering tactical decisions from Gary Bowyer.
City were unchanged from Tuesday’s lifeless defeat to Shrewsbury, which meant Aramide Oteh would continue his uncomfortable role out wide on the left and James Vaughan would remain isolated upfront. It took only five minutes for the hosts to take the lead, through striker Byron Moore. Antoni Sarcevic got past Harry Pritchard far too easily and Moore prodded in at the second attempt. It was woeful defending which was eerily similar to that which we saw last year.
The second goal was a gift. Richard O’Donnell took too long on the ball and under pressure from Joel Grant, he couldn’t clear his lines far enough. The ball landed to goal scorer Grant, who played in defender Joe Edwards who side stepped Callum Cooke and slotted home in the 25th minute.
It was a disastrous start for City who failed to recover in the first half. In fact it could and should’ve been more for the hosts. Richard O’Donnell made a low save to deny Grant who really should’ve scored, after Ben Richards-Everton dallied. You can look at these situations as individual errors or mistakes, but the bigger picture is the lack of support and options for the man in possession.
Bowyer wants us to play out from the back, which is admirable, but the movement ahead of the ball is non existent which is making this style an impossible task and quite an uncomfortable watch.
City were lucky to get to half time only two down and I think it’s accurate to say they had a roasting at the break. Two substitutions followed, Kelvin Mellor on for Cooke and Zeli Ismail on for Oteh. It meant City matched up the hosts in their 3-5-2 shape for the second half, a system which effectively killed the tie once we changed to it on Tuesday.
Initially, we started the better of the two sides and were thrown a lifeline six minutes after the restart. Mellor and Anthony O’Connor kept a free kick alive and the centre half’s cross was turned into his own net from one-time Bantams academy player Niall Canavan. That goal seemed to shake the hosts, with Argyle defender Callum McFadzean receiving a booking for stopping a promising counter attack and Anthony O’Connor forcing a low save from keeper Alex Palmer.
Danny Devine was then introduced for Hope Akpan in what was a very strange change. Akpan was playing well and having an influence in midfield. He didn’t deserve to come off. Particularly as it definitely weakened the side. Devine did well to block a couple of crosses but on the ball he was anonymous. I think it’s fair to say that if not for the homegrown rule, he wouldn’t have been offered a new deal in the summer. He, like one or two others, look out of their depth at this level.
66 minutes on the clock and City’s best chance arose. A goal kick missed Vaughan and found its way to Ismail who prodded wide of the far post on the half volley – he should’ve scored. But that’s as good as it got for the Bantams in what was a dreadful last 25 minutes.
City failed to even register a shot in what was in truth a totally toothless display. It was the hosts who should’ve scored more. Firstly Canavan headed an unchallenged effort wide from a corner, then O’Donnell had to make good saves to deny Sarcevic and Canavan again.
I think it’s fair to say that apart from the odd spell in a couple of games, we have been generally average performers this season at best. Our league position is more an indication of the tightness of the league rather than an accurate representation of our performances.
Today was a culmination of what have been large concerns of our play over the last few weeks. We’re far too rigid and predictable going forward. Once Plymouth nullified Dylan Connolly and left Vaughan 3v1 in the box, we had no answer. We only have one way of playing and that way is not making the most of a striker like James Vaughan, who is looking more frustrated with every game, and who can blame him really. He’s a goalscorer and we’re using him in everything but that role.
This is my issue with Eoin Doyle. It’s no secret that he was mismanaged both last season and at the start of this. Like Vaughan, he was used as anything but a goalscorer, which begs the question, would he do any better of a job than Vaughan is doing now? I’d hazard a guess at no, unfortunately. And with the system Bowyer wants to play, it’ll be one or the other rather than both.
Watching Plymouth today it was hard to see a team so fluid going forward and a team who wanted to attack and score goals. They knew they didn’t have height or good aerial ability in the striking department, so all crosses came in low or as pull backs into the centre of the box. Contrast with us, who keep lumping the ball into the box at head height at every opportunity despite the lack of goals we’ve scored with this tactic.
It feels like this side at the minute is playing with the shackles on and that, as a whole, the team isn’t reaching the heights which they’re capable of. Certainly in the attacking department, we’re quite boring to watch and don’t seem to be playing with the confidence or belief that we’re going to score.
This needs to change, otherwise I fear we’ll get more results and performances like today against the better sides in the division.