Mansfield Town 3
Rose 7, Maynard 43, Cook 77
Bradford City 0
By Adam Raj
Just when you think it can’t get much worse, Bradford City manage to deliver yet again. Mansfield Town, 20th in League One at the start of play, with the worst home form in the division, absolutely battered the Bantams this afternoon. From start to finish it was as poor as it can possibly be, men against boys would be an understatement.
Gary Bowyer is under immense pressure, he has lost the fans and, in my opinion, he has lost the players.
The draw at Colchester in midweek was a nothing affair which Bowyer managed to grab tonnes of positives from. He seemed delighted with both the performance and the result, which in all honesty, was pedestrian at best. But, ordinarily, it would’ve been a decent point away from home, so long as we followed it up with a victory today. But we didn’t. Gary Bowyer got it wrong yet again.
City lined up in a 4-4-1-1 shape, with Eoin Doyle, yet again, playing the thankless role of a striker under Bowyer. He chased and he harried but with only long balls directed at his head, that’s all he could manage. I feel sorry for the Irishman. Having the best season of his career and top of the league, he now has to play in a side who has no attacking identity whatsoever.
The first in what were three terrible goals to concede came after just seven minutes. Alex MacDonald swung a cross in at the back post for Danny Rose to leap above Anthony O’Connor and head in back across goal. The City centre half didn’t even get off the floor.
What followed was entirely predictable. A flurry of corners and crosses came into the box and City struggled with every single one. And of course, that’s how the hosts doubled their lead. Mal Benning’s in-swinging corner was headed home at the back post by an unmarked Nicky Maynard in the 43rd minute. Totally what City deserved and we were probably lucky it was only two at the break.
Cue the inevitable anti-Bowyer chants from the 1,400+ travelling support. The City manager remained motionless and looked bereft of any ideas.
What happened during the half time break is anyone’s guess. No substitutions, no change in formation or tactics, just the same dire football served up for another 45 minutes. And in case you’re wondering, no, City had done nothing in the final third. Surprise.
It took 13 minutes of the second half for Bowyer to finally realise that it wasn’t working. But, as is becoming a regular occurrence, the substitutions were questionable, bordering on baffling. Kelvin Mellor, who is certainly not flavour of the month amongst supporters after his dreadful performance last week, replaced Harry Pritchard. An out of form defender for a goal scoring midfielder whilst 2-0 down. Cue the boos from the travelling Bantams.
Jamie Devitt also came on for Reeves, making his first appearance since his hamstring injury suffered in September. Mellor went in at centre half, making it a back five and Devitt came on in midfield somewhere. I say somewhere, because what shape was in front of the back five was anyone’s guess.
It seemed as though Bowyer took the ‘throw all the attackers onto the pitch and hope something happens’ approach. Either way, it had no effect. We were still toothless as ever in the final third, and the keeper had nothing to do.
Clayton Donaldson came on for his own comeback from injury, but only a minute later the hosts’ had a deserved third goal. Substitute Andy Cook rolled his man and fired into the far corner on the half volley from the edge of the box. 76 minutes on the clock and the travelling faithful began to head home. Given nothing to cheer about, they had had enough. I never leave games early, but I think if I wasn’t writing this report, I would’ve joined them out the exit door.
The remaining minutes made for painful viewing. Watching aimless long ball after long ball was embarrassing. The players have it as their default mentality now to simply boot it as far as possible. So long as it is away from our goal, all is well. And that is Bowyer’s mentality. His safety first approach has become tiresome.
Zero entertainment, a lack of any attacking intent in the majority of games, means the pressure is always on before the first whistle. Fans can take losing when their side has had a really good go and created chances, but when you play a side with the form of Mansfield and fail to have a shot on target, it is unacceptable. And this approach is the same one we’ve seen at Leyton Orient, Macclesfield, Crawley Town and Carlisle. As Albert Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.”
Back on the pitch and in midfield, Jake Reeves and Chris Taylor were about as ineffective as you could imagine. Poor passes, no energy and a lack of any tackling ability were just a few of the ways in which we lost that battle in the middle of the pitch.
Central midfield is the most important area on the pitch – you lose that battle, you probably lose the game. How many times can we say that this City side have controlled the game in midfield? Because I cannot think of even one occasion. Even under Phil Parkinson, a side who wasn’t interested in possession stats, the Bantams still controlled games in the middle of the pitch. The likes of Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Lee Evans and Josh Cullen knew their roles and responsibilities and most importantly, were of the right blend to play together.
Reeves cannot play in a two man midfield, his best position is as the deepest of three midfielders where he can dictate play, but how many times has he been allowed to play in that system? Taylor? Well I’m not overly sure what type of midfielder he is. He certainly lacks the athleticism to play in a two man midfield. This sort of midfield combination is a recipe for disaster.
Meanwhile, Callum Cooke is probably sat scratching his head wondering how he can’t get a game. Playing out of position, he is still statistically the best midfield tackler at the club and has the third best passing accuracy in the division. Not to mention he is the most athletic of the lot. Perfect for a two man midfield, yet Gary Bowyer sees fit to leave him on the bench for the second straight game after his bizarre substitution last week at home to Scunthorpe.
It is like I said before, Bowyer neglects the attacking phase of the game. That much is evident. No patterns, no identifiable style, players playing out of position and in roles which they’re unsuited for results in what we see now. A team devoid of any ideas and creativity, despite having attacking players available and on the pitch. You only need to look at Eoin Doyle to see how Bowyer lacks the ability to coach a side to score goals. Six games under Bowyer, zero goals. 22 games away from Bowyer, 23 goals.
The toxic atmosphere, which I had hoped we had left behind last season, is creeping back. It’s never nice to hear a fan base so against a manager, but performances and results are now indefensible. Today wasn’t even a one off either. This level of performance, certainly attacking wise, has been existent for most of the season. We have gained a large amount of points through own goals and penalties. We have been extremely fortunate and if not for those moments of fortune, we would be in a more accurate position in the league table.
The luck has seemingly now run out, teams have sussed us out and we are now receiving results more akin to the performances we are seeing.
Julian Rhodes set an ambitious target of 20,000 season tickets. With every passing week, this looks a more and more unrealistic target. The casual fan, who will be the target market for this campaign, will not want to sit through the level of ‘entertainment’ we have all done for a full season, irrespective of promotion. Could this be in the forefront of Rhodes’ mind?
One thing which is for certain is that we are dropping hard. When teams above us play their games in hand, we will likely find ourselves outside the play offs, with what in my mind, is a top three squad. Something needs to change.