Leyton Orient 0
Bradford City 0
By Adam Raj
A team aiming for promotion sets up for a point away at a side in a relegation battle, who haven’t won at home in two months. Weird statement that isn’t it? Sadly though, an accurate description of Bradford City’s latest performance.
19th placed Orient, struggling for goals themselves, had let in almost double our tally. Yet the Bantams again went into a game with a fear of attacking and a reluctance to go for the win.
Last week’s turgid attempt at football was a hard watch, despite the result being handed to us on a plate by Newport County. But today, was somehow worse.
Gary Bowyer had adopted the ‘never change a winning team’ ethos and named the same starting side from last weekend. Five defenders, three midfielders playing in defensive midfield roles and two isolated strikers left to feed off scraps. The gap between the defence and midfield was tight, the hosts had no space to play in that area. But the gap between the City midfield and attack was embarrassing. You could’ve park a jumbo jet in there. It’s no wonder we can’t score.
City actually started slightly better, with Orient paying us far too much respect. Jake Reeves, impressive again, was finding space to dictate play, but his teammates were sadly not on his wavelength. He’s a class above and it’s painful at times to see it.
The first real chance of the game fell to the hosts. Adam Henley failed to stop a cross and Connor Wilkinson slammed a header against the crossbar. Orient’s game plan was clear by making the most of their two big strikers with crosses and long balls. Sadly I couldn’t tell you what our game plan was aside from making sure we don’t get beat.
City’s only chance of the half came as a long ball by Connor Wood was misjudged by Orient defender Jamie Turley, allowing Aramide Oteh to be through on goal – his shot though, was straight at the keeper. Oteh should probably have gone down and won a penalty, Turley was pulling his shirt off his back and would’ve seen red too. That’s a minor criticism though, and you can’t blame a striker for wanting to score.
City limped through to half time, having seen their early enthusiasm dampened by an Orient team who realised we weren’t that good.
As has been the case in most games this season, the second half started as slowly as the first ended, from a City perspective. Orient definitely ramped it up a gear and took the game to the visitors. Connor Wilkinson robbed Anthony O’Connor of the ball near the corner flag, raced into the box, but dallied and dallied before seeing his eventual shot blocked by Kelvin Mellor.
It was the spark that Orient needed. Cross after cross into our box were resulting in goal mouth scrambles and last ditch blocks, notably from Paudie O’Connor. Admirable defending from City and, on another day, we could’ve easily have found ourselves 2-0 down.
You’re probably wondering what City had in response down the other end. Well, nothing. Not a single effort to trouble the home keeper. Two crosses across the face of goal from Oteh and Vaughan were about as ‘good’ as it got, but typically City didn’t have enough bodies in the box to make anything of them.
Midfielders appear too scared to get in the box, in fear of deviating from their defensive system. Anthony O’Connor, a centre half, was the only City player who was prepared to dribble the ball forwards. His mazy run ended inside Orient’s area after being left with nobody to pass to.
The City crowd had to loudly scream at Adam Henley on the near touch line after he checked back on the halfway line despite having 20 yards of space in front of him. Clearly, like Connor Wood, our best crosser of the ball I may add, he is under instruction not to go past halfway. And when Henley eventually ran into the space? It lead to a free kick in a promising position. Amazing what a bit of attacking intent can do isn’t it?
Sadly that was that. The 1,000 travelling Bantams had travelled in fantastic voice and number across to the other side of the country, an expensive trip two weeks before Christmas, and we did not deserve to witness that. We deserved to lose the game on the balance of chances.
If there was ever a game to demonstrate that stats lie, it would be this. Orient ended the game with zero shots on target but peppered the City goal with efforts. A mixture of heroic, last ditch defending and poor finishing bailed City out of what would have been an embarrassing result.
Why embarrassing? Orient had won twice at home all season, conceded a bucketload of goals and had already been dispatched by our ‘rivals’ Crewe, Swindon, Plymouth and Forest Green with utter ease already this season. Yet Gary Bowyer seemingly plays for a point.
Today’s substitutions were a sign of the manager’s intentions. Every single one was like for like, two enforced due to fatigue. The other, Shay McCartan, got five minutes to try and do something. Zeli Ismail and Dylan Connolly were left on the bench when we were desperate for some pace and creativity.
There was no need whatsoever for City to have a three man midfield of the makeup which we did. One should’ve made way at half time for Ismail or McCartan to play the number ten role, if Bowyer was so insistent with sticking to five at the back.
Remember when Bowyer described what characteristics he wanted in his City team this season? Pace, power and width, I remember were the buzzwords. Today’s team had neither pace nor width. In this system though, the width can and is expected to come from the wingbacks. However, Gary Bowyer seemingly had no intention of allowing either to get forward. Why?
Supporter discontent is growing. Some may not believe it, but when you have a large majority of fans ironically cheering for a shot on target, a limp one at that, in the latter stages of the second half, it shows opinion on Gary Bowyer is mixed. That and the chants of ”boring, boring Bowyer” – it doesn’t reflect well on the manager whatsoever.
It’s strange to me that I’m angry after a performance that leaves us fifth in the table and beyond frustrated at the manager who has us here. But Gary Bowyer is holding us back and I’m frustrated at the thought of where we could and probably should be.
Clean sheets alone don’t get us promotion, it keeps you in the division. Goals win you games, goals get you promoted and quite frankly our attacking play is worrying.
In the last seven games in all competitions, we have scored a pathetic two goals from open play. One of which a defensive howler at Shrewsbury and the other an own goal at Plymouth.
Understandably people will say “it doesn’t matter how we do it as long as we go up.” And I agree, although my biggest concern is that I don’t think this current approach is anywhere near sustainable over the course of the season, it feels as if the wheels could fall off at any second and we could start to receive the type of results that our recent performances have deserved.