Crawley Town 2
Bradford City 1
By Adam Raj
Well, that was as bad a defeat as you can get. City were out fought and out classed from start to finish against the team who has won twice in the last 16.
The score-line completely flattered the Bantams and no one could’ve complained if we were 4-0 down at half time. It was another one of the countless performances this season where you would struggle to say which team is the promotion contender and which is lying in mid table or lower.
Most of the pre-match chatter was regarding the recall of striker Eoin Doyle. He was the only change from last week’s side, coming in to replace the ill Callum Cooke, as City lined up in a 4-4-2 shape, matching up the hosts. Most of the talk was whether Gary Bowyer would be able to get a tune out of the Irishman who was totally mismanaged during his time at the club. But on this evidence today, you can see why Doyle was reluctant to return.
City could’ve fallen behind in the opening twelve minutes, when striker Ollie Palmer slammed a header onto the underside of the crossbar, but City managed to clear. It would only take ten minutes for the hosts to break the deadlock, though. Matty Palmer lost a header in midfield to Crawley skipper Danny Bulman and Ollie Palmer got in the middle of Anthony O’Connor and Ben Richards-Everton to slam a half volley into the bottom corner. A goal out of nothing, but a deserved one nonetheless.
18 minutes later and City were 2-0 down. Ashley Nadesan found himself in acres of space on the left wing, side stepped a diving Richards-Everton and squared it for Palmer who had an easy tap in.
City limped to half time managing to keep the scoreline respectable. Berry Lubala had the beating of Adam Henley on the left wing every single time he had possession. It was a good job the Crawley number ten didn’t have his shooting boots on, unable to test Richard O’Donnell from a number of promising positions.
City’s only chance fell to Eoin Doyle when a long ball was misjudged by Crawley keeper Glenn Morris, leaving the City number nine with a near empty net. His shot, however, was acrobatically cleared off the line by defender Jamie Sendles-White. This, although our only effort in the first half, wasn’t a chance created by the Bantams. It was a hopeful punt upfield from which the goalkeeper nearly gave us a gift. That seems to be the only way we score from open play these days.
Gary Bowyer curiously failed to make a tactical or personnel change at half time, after arguably the worst half of the season. Predictably then, the second half was just as bad. It took City just 13 minutes to make the changes with Aramide Oteh and Hope Akpan replacing Jake Reeves and Chris Taylor. The changes in personnel had no real impact without the necessary change in approach and tactics. City continued to pass it around the back and then proceeded to boot it long when they ran out of ideas.
Crawley had a good structure of four players, effectively playing in a 4-2-4 shape, pressing our backline when we had possession. They had clearly done their homework as to how incapable we are at passing through the thirds and their tactics were spot on. City didn’t really have a plan.
City have a big problem with passing the ball forwards. We are fine at passing the ball along the floor backwards and sideways, but the ball doesn’t go forwards in this team unless it’s in the air. And as we’ve seen, that is inappropriate for the players we have. Jake Reeves and Matty Palmer are two of the same player, they cannot play together. Chris Taylor is ineffective at best, his legs have gone so he cannot play out wide but he also lacks the technical ability to play in the middle. Callum Cooke and Harry Pritchard were big misses today.
City eventually got one back when Palmer’s free kick bobbled around in the area before eventually being scuffed in by Oteh in the 84th minute. That goal made the game appear far closer than it was. It was as easy a defensive performance as Crawley will have to put in all season, they had nothing to concern themselves with.
We never got in behind, we never dragged them out of position, we never bombarded them with crosses, nothing. Absolutely nothing resembling any sort of cohesive attacking unit was on display. But then again, that has been the case for the vast majority of the season.
You could maybe write this performance and result off and forget about it, but today was not much different to what has been evident all season, except this time we got punished for our substandard performance. I think we can all agree that Gary Bowyer’s football is dull to say the least, but it was somewhat ignored whilst we kept scraping over the line.
The results and performances over December, whilst keeping us unbeaten, have been a cause for concern. City limped to scoreless draws against struggling Leyton Orient and Carlisle United whilst having to rely on two penalties to defeat Mansfield Town. City do not create anywhere near enough chances to give ourselves the best chance of winning matches, which has lead to a dismal away form of three wins in 13.
Credit to Gary Bowyer needs to be given for how he has solidified the defence after the shambles of last year, but the excessive approach in this area is more akin to a team trying to survive than get promoted. It is very hard to flip the defensive mindset of a team, mid game, to an attacking one once you go behind. As soon as the second goal went in today, it was obvious we would be leaving Sussex with nothing.
We struggle to score one in a game let alone two. Bowyer has a strike force of Doyle and James Vaughan which most managers would kill for in this division, but they aren’t strikers who create their own chances. They need to be supplied with goalscoring chances from crosses from out wide and through balls down the middle.
The current style is not suitable for either striker and unnecessarily limits our attacking ability. We have the players proven to be attacking threats in this division and higher, yet there seems to be no pattern of play going forward. It is all a bit hopeful, with very little in the way of an attacking plan.
As it is, following today’s defeat, we fall to sixth. The gap to eighth is only two points, which is an unthinkable position to be in for a team aiming for automatic promotion. But if we want automatic promotion, the performances must improve and Gary Bowyer must let this team of talented attacking players express themselves and create chances for two of the best strikers available at this level.
Otherwise, as the season wears on and more and more teams work us out, we could see more results like today.