A reality check

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.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

Tags: , , ,

11 replies

  1. Lost the rhythm with the lack of games recently!!!

    Thats what killed the 4/5 game unbeaten spell last dec coupled with the fall out at yeovil!

    We need to get Doyle back now he’s in form and build around him!

    Vaughan is the new Doyle of last season, Bowyer needs to be asking serious question of Vaughan – like how come Doyle is out scoring you?…what are you going to do about it? Needs his arse kicking!

  2. Adam, having watched the game myself, I totally agree with everything you’ve written. I have been promoting the return of Doyle but after today it has become abundantly clear to me that even Messi would struggle to score in this team. City lack QUALITY and because of this, they are playing a very direct style of football. I fear that may be the reason why Reeves was not used today. He would be wasted and frustrated with just watching the ball fly over his head. I would give Vaughan top marks for his impressive effort. He ran himself ragged.

    All this talk by Boyle and the media pundits about City’s impressive depth is in reality, false. Sad to say but come January 1st I doubt City will be in a playoff position.

  3. To be fair to Bowyer he said he needed two, possibly three transfer windows to get this team right. Inconsistency will do for us with regards the autos and possibly playoffs this year. January activity will be essential if the club are serious about promotion this year. Dont care about Doyle as he won’t re-sign in the summer but Vaughan with that three year deal looks interesting (not).

  4. A bit harsh saying we struggle against the top teams, as those fixtures were a lot earlier in the season, and I would argue we are a better side now.

    Now I know there were mitigating circumstances to our recruitment in the summer, as we were in part waiting to see if the high earners would leave, but to me we are facing the same problem we have had for at least the last 10 years; we only have one target man, then we get injured and we start to struggle.

    So an interesting dilemma in January, do we recall Doyle in January if we can afford to, or try to get Swindon to pay more of his wages or even buy him, then bring in a big man and possibly also strengthen in other areas. Personally I would take the latter scenario.

  5. A good summary of my own thoughts on the game. Every free kick and corner was entirely predictable. If that’s all that Pritchard can deliver, then at least change who takes these set pieces. Off topic slightly, the biggest laugh of the afternoon came from the loudspeaker announcer. Everything obviously read from a script with a boredom that was almost cringeworthy. At least at Valley Parade you cant heard what’s being said!

  6. Thank you for that report. It is not nice to travel a long distance in winter and see a poor performance. I know, I have done it.
    But let’s just put this into perspective.
    We were relegated last season, and were relegated badly. We now basically have a new team, and, let’s face it, they are not brilliant players.
    We have had a very bad run of injuries. The loss of Donaldson, I think , has been a big loss. As have Palmer, Devitt, possibly McCartan.
    We are the highest placed of the 4 relegated teams.
    We do not appear to have a financial crisis.
    Our manager has a very good record, and, in Julian Rhodes, we have a sound man at the helm.
    Most of us, in August, expected mid-table.
    Yet we are seventh with games in hand.
    I personally am not despondent. Disappointed , yes.
    The “window” approaches, and could help us. So could the return of the injured players. If as good as he was, Reeves could be a huge asset.
    But I think we shall improve as the season progresses. Promotion? Possibly, but no more than that.

    • Agreed John. Having made the trip, your comment about being disappointed but not despondent is a fair judgement. The context is that it was a decent Plymouth side that should challenge. The further context is that a win at Macclesfield could put us back 3rd depending on midweek results.

      The disappointment and concern is that habits from last season crept back in with panic at the back, midfielders hiding for certain periods and the lone striker far too isolated. Both full backs in particular struggled and Bowyer’s switch to 352 helped stem that. The form of Cooke & Akpan seems to be drifting and Pritchard probably had his worst game for us – the return of Reeves & Palmer will be a welcome boost as Devine isn’t really the type of player to come on and change a game.

      We are still in a strong position though and have proven we can bounce back from a disappointing loss already this season.

  7. Why oh why oh why is Jake Reeves, given his explosive return in the EFL Trophy game 2 weeks ago, a complete bystander on the bench n the last 2 games?

    I agree with comments above- we are not in a bad position, stalled momentum looks to be mostly down to key players missing and some good players proving inconsistent; but I’d also add to that some strange selection/ substitution choices.

    • If City insist on hoofing the ball from the back four there is no purpose to be served in playing Reeves. I’m sure that is the likely reason for not playing him. In retrospect, I think Bowyer’s compassion should be commended. However, what I find puzzling is why Chris Taylor is missing??

      By the way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jake leaving the club in January by mutual consent. I think this would be the best for both parties.

      • I was at the recent EFL Trophy match where Reeves was played. He was fantastic, in terms of both effort and performance, as the T&A also reported. His involvement isn’t compassion, its a sensible selection.
        I dislike long ball, it clearly doesn’t work without a good target man. Presumably a strong midfield gives confidence to play it out from the back.

      • Good question re Chris Taylor. Presumably he’s either picked up the seasonal lurgy, or isn’t shining enough on the training pitch to get a look in on the match day squad.

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