A cause for concern

Image by John Dewhirst

Crawley Town 2

Palmer 21+40

Bradford City 1

Oteh 84

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.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

Tags: , , ,

12 replies

  1. Pritchard. Zeli, Connelly and Clayton. Play 442, makes sense
    With Taylor, Connelly and 2 short arses, never. What was that, what did he expect.

    4312 for me,
    Reeves Akpan Palmer
    Othe Doyle

  2. The next four games are pivotal to where we will end up this season and to our manager future if it looks like possible play offs ,and missing out on the top three ,I can not see a side who can’t score goal going up through the playoffs ,and I can not see the club excepting a mid table finish or the thought of trying to sell 20k worth of season tickets playing football which sents you to sleep,big decisions will need to be made over the transfer window ,I for one thing we need physical midfielder who can head a ball and a quality attacking midfielder and a back up keeper.

  3. Adam let me start by thanking you for another excellent game summary. I have been a harsh critic of Bowyer’s negative tactics this season. My primary reason for thinking Doyle’s return was pointless was my skepticism about Bowyer’s willingness to change tactics.

    I watched today’s game and was pleasantly surprised by Bowyer’s change in tactics which focused on possession and a season high 77% successful pass completion. I hope we are now going through a transition period with the emphasis on possession and passing rather than speculative hoof ball. I noted on Twitter that Simon Parker called this the worst City game this season. Well, I recall three games in December alone which were far worse to watch. At least today, both teams tried to play football rather than hoof ball gridlock.

    I think it is premature to be demanding Bowyer’s firing. Based on City’s performances to date, City should feel flattered to be in a playoff spot. Like I’ve said before, there is a lot of parity in this league and a fine margin between a playoff position and mid table or lower. Bowyer has done himself a disservice with his negative tactics and contradictory excuses but we cannot ignore our current playoff position and the good work he’s done in the change room. Let’s not have another repeat of the Stuart fiasco.

  4. As a Crawley supporter your report is so refreshing- at least you acknowledge how good we actually played – and we were without our one of our first choice centre-backs – it was only Jamie Sendles-White second game of the season that he had started – one thing I will comment about is to get the best out of Doyle you have to change your style of play – long balls is the wrong way, he needs the ball at his feet so that he can run at the defenders

  5. How long do we have to put up with this poor inept football. We can have 99% possession but if we can’t score goals then what’s the point.
    Who is responsible? Is it the players? Is it the tactics? Some believe Bowyer is doing a steady job. Some disagree and suggests he goes.
    I believe we have a good squad of players. We are not getting the best out of them. No team has the right to win every match. Today was a turning point. We cannot continue like this. Someone needs to take responsibility of the issues that exist at VP. Supporters will not put up with performances like this for much longer. I believe Bowyer needs to take stock. He needs to explain why performances this bad is allowed to continue during his tenure of the club. Doyle for example was scoring goals for fun at Swindon. Surely, Bowyer should know how to get the best out of him! Hoof ball from defence to attack is not the way. 77% pass conversation on paper sounds positive but if it’s in the defensive quarter then it serves no purpose. Doyle and Vaughn will score goals just so long has they get the right level of service. Bowyer needs to address this because patience is growing thin. Excuses are meaningless.

  6. Setting aside discussion of tactics for one moment I have thought for some time that what the team lacks is an on-field leader in the type of Gary Jones and Stuart McCall to inject some urgency and drive. That attitude was woefully lacking at Crawley yesterday.

    No club is too big and no team is too good for the division it is in but I do wonder whether the misplaced sense of entitlement is as prevalent among our players as among many of our supporters. It needs a 4th division attitude to get promoted from the 4th division.

    Sadly we have to accept that we are a basement club and it needs the sort of direct, purposeful approach demonstrated yesterday by Crawley for us to achieve the objective of getting back into League One.

    • I think this is spot on John. I was at the game yesterday and Crawley were stronger and quicker to the ball all over the pitch. They were braver and more purposeful in possession and regularly got into our final third to make things happen. We played seventeen passes square and backwards before launching it – admittedly we were marginally better at finding the feet of two 5 foot nine strikers that earlier in the season but both were still feeding off scraps and struggling to get possession usually 30 -40 yards from opposition goal.
      The huge continuing problem is the midfield but it would help if the back 3 or 4 or 5 pushed up and squeezed the play when we are in possession.

  7. While there’s lots that can be said and will be said, there are a couple of things apparent about our play over the last couple of months. Firstly the pace of our play is really very slow; we slip into low pace passing which allows other teams to get into position and doesn’t help us exploit space for openings. The other is our movement off the ball; it’s not existent, which is why we play so many sideways and backwards passes. Reeves’ gesticulations when he has the ball show that he can’t see any forward options. You can change the formation but if keep the same mentality then nothing will change (and neither 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 stops you from ‘moving’). Fitness could be an issue here (hampering us being able to play at a higher tempo) but I think mentality is the main cause.

    As for the Crawley game specifically, it’s the first time I’ve thought “I think Bowyer is losing the players”. Not all the faults were directly Bowyer’s, but the players looked for large parts uninterested and going through the motions. If you’re being drilled to do things or asked to do things you don’t agree with week after week, and can hear the fans grumbles (and you share them!), then it won’t take long to loose faith in the manager yourself, no matter how much you like him personally.

    • I agree that all the talk of formations is pretty much a red herring. Its all about confidence/belief and attitude with a bit of added quality when it counts. I cannot comment on yesterday but we were far two passive at Swindon for the first 20 minutes. I left feeling buoyed by the fight from there on but we have to start the game on the front foot. Midfield is an issue. Cooke was mighty impressive at Swindon real drive and quality. Palmer flatters to deceive for me. Reeves now seems to have gone into his shell after a decent start and needs to show some attacking intent. There needs to be a gear change now in terms of intensity and desire. The best way for us to help is to keep the vibe in the stands as positive as we can

  8. I agree with the past few comments. We lack drive in midfield.

    As Phil says above there was a definite attempt to ‘play football’ yesterday, they got the ball on the deck and passed it about but as John says there was no ‘oomph’. Reeves and Palmer are ‘nice’ players, Taylor had a poor game. Cooke, as Paul says, was a big miss in the middle.

    Every time they passed in a little triangle or little 1-2s they created space because they did it quick, every time we did it, we were so slow that they had filled that space.

    I don’t agree with the ‘going through the motions’ comment at all.

    One thing that hasn’t been commented on was Shay McCartan’s impact. He changed it in one instant by picking up the ball and running at the defender. I feel he has to start and be given a chance with this new style. McCartan and Connolly (who was well defended yesterday) with Doyle and Vaughan up ahead of them – that is a promising attacking line-up. Oteh also made an impact and is decent back-up.

    I don’t feel doom and gloom – I think they were just better than us on the day but there is promise if we can get the right players on the pitch and learn from yesterday.

  9. Midfield rant :

    Our great club with a history of great midfielders currently has 13 on the books inc wingers and McCartens role whatever that can be defined as.

    Devine – fallen off a cliff with no explanation. ? Anyone ?
    Gibson – no sight of 1st team football ahead under bowyer by the looks of it. Never given a chance really so we have no idea if he is good or not.
    Anderson – bench warmer shop window job. Poor
    Akpan – bench warmer shop window job. Poor
    Palmer – not able to drove and run a game + loan
    Reeves – ineffective assist and goals wise as he was 1st time around. Looks pretty but no impact.
    Cooke – 1 good game in 3 depending on opposition with right partner can look good. + loan
    Devitt- absolutely no idea where he would fit in our line up given he’s supposed to be an attacking midfielder + not played for months + on loan
    Taylor – other than a bit of a tackle here and there not sure what job he’s is supposed to be there to do . Definitely hasn’t got the legs to be out wide that’s for sure. Promotion with him running midfield? Nope
    Connelly – speed ✅ End product? Goals and assists? + loan
    Ishmael – Never fit so cant comment on. Looked good for about 60 mins all season in total
    Pritchard- good attacking presence good legs and has a goal in him ✅ fitness a problem?
    McCarten – can’t play upfront with someone and can’t play in midfield. Odd flash here and there good bench impact player at best.
    Not 1 of the above are anywhere close to being able to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and impose on the opposition. Beset by poor fitness or so called illness ?
    4 loan players and 3 that are on a ‘we don’t really believe in you’ contract till June.
    0 of the 13 are likely to be sold or called back in January so what an earth are we to do. Bring in number 14 on another poor deal & contract ?
    To be fair sort this mess out and we have a great defence and attacking threat and should get promoted.
    I think the club should consider paying some of this deadwood up early or sending the likes of Anderson and Devine Gibson and Akpan to Park Ave , Guisley to give them a taster for there next level as I see no other way they and a few others can move forward career wise. We have to sort the midfield out to get promoted. It can be done but not the way it’s been done upto now.


  10. ““It’s all right passing it sideways and backwards but you’ve got to go forwards.”

    In all the post match hand wringing, this is the most encouraging insight I’ve read. Because it comes from Gary Bowyer. It echoes a lot of the comments above.

    Here’s hoping….

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