Dangling on the edge

Bradford City 1

Donaldson 11

Cheltenham Town 1

May 84

By Jason McKeown 

There’s a famous scene at the end of The Italian Job where the anti-heroes are riding off with all the gold, only for the bus they’re travelling in to skid off the road and be left dangling on the edge of a cliff. The crew are left stunned and clueless over what to do next, knowing the slightest of movements could have serious ramifications.

It seems the perfect analogy of where Bradford City are, where manager uncertainty and transfer window controversy leaves the club clinging on the precipice, knowing the actions of the next few days could haul them back from the brink – or push them over the edge. And in truth, this battling draw at home to Cheltenham offers no decisive outcome on the uncertain direction of their season.

Is a draw enough – with the mitigating factor of City playing with 10 men for more than half the game – to save Gary Bowyer from the sack? Probably just about, but he remains under huge pressure and is probably still a bad day at Oldham away from losing his job. And what does that mean for the Eoin Doyle/James Vaughan situation? All eyes will remain glued to what happens at Valley Parade over the next few days.

Bowyer will rightly take pride from this City performance. Amid rumours that a disunited squad would be happier without Vaughan and Doyle in the dressing room, the players on show here rewarded their manager with a hugely committed display. Almost to a man, they ran themselves into the ground. This looked to be a team playing for its manager.

There were some genuine heroes out there on a difficult night. Circumstances meant that Clayton Donaldson had to be fast tracked back into the starting line up, where he assumed Vaughan’s captain’s armband. Donaldson gave it absolutely everything for an hour, in what was his first start since October. He must have collapsed with exhaustion, back in the dressing room.

Donaldson gave City an early lead with a cooly taken penalty after Shay McCartan was deemed to have been fouled in the box. A soft penalty decision, but one City absolutely needed on a night where the first goal was so vital.

Alongside Donaldson up front, Dylan Connolly put in a huge shift. His work rate and dedication for the Bantams is hugely impressive, given he is a loan player. On a night where he and his team ended up with so little of the ball, Connolly’s non stop running was priceless.

Bowyer had returned City to the five at the back set up, but made tweaks to midfield that for the first half proved fruitful. The recalled Callum Cooke played in a deep role, while in front Jamie Devitt and McCartan lined up as number eights. The pair did well as City attacked the Kop end during the opening 45 minutes. They found space to run into and bring the ball forward with purpose. There was an obvious aim to play more football on the deck, and plenty of attempts to thread throughballs for Donaldson and Connolly.

The opening half hour belonged to City, although by half time the game had descended into a heated battle. The referee, Seb Stockbridge, lost control of the match, upsetting both teams with some bewildering decisions.

Devitt was slightly harshly yellow carded as the tackles started flying in. And then just before half time, when cool City heads were needed, Devitt again went in rashly for a tackle, earning a booking and red card. It was a silly decision from Devitt, given he made the challenge in a harmless area of the pitch. He might have got something on the ball, but he gave Stockbridge an easy decision. City went into the interval a goal up, but with the complextion of the match suddenly looking very different.

Cue a second half of attack vs defence. Cheltenham had already bossed possession, and in the second 45 took it even further – overall they would have more than 77% of the ball. They were an impressive side, knocking the ball around patiently but with a purpose. City’s defence – which early in the second half included Adam Henley, who replaced the injured Kelvin Mellor – fought an impressive rearguard action.

If Donaldson had been fit enough to last 90 minutes, it might have been a different story. But after he and the fading McCartan departed on the hour, Cheltenham really stepped it up. Donaldson’s replacement, Aramide Oteh, had a very poor game. As City held a good shape off the ball, they badly needed Oteh to press the Cheltenham defence and stop them coming forward with the ball. Oteh was utterly ineffective and that ultimately really hurt City.

Cheltenham corners and free kicks piled up, but despite several promising opportunities Luke McGee didn’t actually have much to do. Nevertheless, City’s ball retention was exceptionally poor. Everytime they won possession, they gave it straight back. The pressure ultimately told, and Alfie May bundled home a loose ball for the equaliser, with six minutes to play.

It was hard to begrudge Cheltenham their point, but there was some satisfaction to take from the spirited way City dug in. Valley Parade was worryingly empty tonight, but those of us who were there produced one of the best home atmospheres in months. There was recognition, in the stands, of the difficult position the team had been left in by Devitt’s foolishness, and an appreciation for the high level of effort put in.

If Bowyer loses his job in the next few days or weeks, it won’t be based on performances like tonight. The manager and team have struggled in recent weeks, and deserved the outpouring of anger directed their way. But this was an evening where they stood up for themselves and for the club. There is still fight there to turn around a season drifting away.

Too little, too late? Perhaps. But it might also be the first shoots of recovery. Now,  a strong end to the transfer window is vital. The club remains dangled on that cliff edge, bracing itself for a tumultuous few days.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

Tags: , , ,

13 replies

  1. Certainly a much improved effort and only the referee was been us and a win so think Bowyer has lived to see the next game in charge!

  2. Jason you certainly know how to polish a t*rd. Obviously, you saw more positives than I did. A gritty performance by City in the second half and a well earned point. Certainly nothing to indicate that City are about to turn the corner. Currently 3 wins from City’s last 17 games in all competitions probably sums it up the best. Not much more to be said until the end of the week.

    • I am sure there are many readers of Jason’s articles that appreciate the time, skill and eloquence he puts into his work. For these reasons, I find your disrespectful rebuff of Jason’s writing unacceptable. You were recently banned from this site because of your inability to behave in a manner that was acceptable to a significant number of readers and contributors.

      I think I am on safe ground when I claim that the vast majority of readers and contributors, who regularly look forward to articles and comments on WOAP, do NOT want WOAP to be reduced to the level of the comments in the T&A. So show some respect man!

      If ‘polishing a turd’ is your best appraisal of the value of Jason’s article then I assume you can provide an alternative piece of work on Tuesday’s game and that it would stretch to more than the 6 sentences and 72 or so words you turned out above?

      It takes courage to write articles that open oneself up to challenge from a mostly anonymous readership on a public platform but Jason and others have done this. How about you taking on the challenge, I am sure Jason would be glad to have you contribute an article, and we can all critique your effort and, who knows, you might be successful in getting us all to see things with a far more negative insight than Jason is achieving.

      Over to you Woody.

  3. I think credit should be given where it is due and the team stood up for themselves by coming out punching. They seemed like they were playing to save their Manager’s job although they’ve left it very late in the day for that! All eyes are fixed on the club for news now so let’s see what happens next.

  4. I really don’t think that the circumstances before this game, the atmosphere, the referee and the pitch could have allowed for anything more from this game. Our most talented players, reeves. Doyle and Vaughan were cast aside, the guys out there responded by playing as hard as they could and I applaud that.
    It means nothing if we don’t see the same at the weekend but I certainly had some faith restored.

    side notes:
    I was so happy not to see reeves slowing down play, sideways backwards sideways backwards give it away
    The don, we’ve missed him so much, Bradford lad, what a spot kick
    It felt like we could actually accommodate mcarten for the first time
    Dylan, effort

    Looking forward to Saturday

  5. patience required.

  6. Possession stats. 23…77.
    This means that every time City got the ball after the sending off they gave it back.
    City are supposed to be promotion contenders.
    No. This is not good enough.
    To hang on with 10 men shows guts and effort. But the stats don’t lie.

  7. Pithy but how true. Patience with a bit more of the sang froid good old Maurice Micklewhite so ably portrayed. Existential crisis? Really? Last night was one for the City purist….shocking weather and a gritty backs to the wall performance and commendable backing from the City hardcore. I doubt JR has given much serious thought to sacking GB and the desire shown last night (which has been lacking of late) was ample evidence that GB has not lost all the players and those who did not want to play for us or were playing for themselves are on the way. Care should be taken not to rely too heavily on “Twitterland” when judging the mood of City fans. As “Magic Grandpa” discovered reality can be somewhat different to the hysteria on social media. Glad to see that those hoping for a City defeat were disappointed

    • Bravo, Paul! Agree with every word of this. The “cauldron of hatred” apparently awaiting GB and the players – as anticipated by the bedroom warriors – was replaced instead by the resilient hardy souls who will back this club to the hilt.

      Lambast them as “Bantams Family” if you wish; prefer the 40 likes you get from your mates on Twitter for typing the untypable; but what will always keep this club moving forward is the quiet and not-so-quiet determination of those of us who truly have the best for this club coursing through our DNA. I really enjoyed last night and there was vocal support from all sides of VP in a manner that has been missing this season – we’re often at our best when fiercely up against it!

      Whatever your assessment of GB so far – and I’ve been as bored and underwhelmed as anyone since October – any sober assessment would admit he’s working with very limited resources (no assistant, only Dreary as his coach, limited scouting support, etc.) and the fight was back last night suggesting this squad was dysfunctional for reasons other than GB’s tactics.

      He strikes me as a good man, doing his best in difficult circumstances, and whilst I want us to be on the front foot far, far more, give me a City team that will scrap for absolutely everything every single time. I don’t feel entitled to storm League 2, I can quietly admire how other teams play against us, and I can accept that I don’t always have perfect knowledge of why certain players / formations are adopted. It’s not a computer game, there are emotional / human reasons behind the scenes that need managing too – including dressing room squabbles and personality clashes.

      You can’t win every football match, but you can play in a matter than reflects the values of the club you’re playing for. To a man, I thought they got closer to that last night. A very, very long way to go – but last night was a reminder there are some decent people at the club and maybe ripping easy strips of them every day is only ever self-defeating in the end.

      • Absolutely mate. Cheltenham are a very decent outfit and show how far togetherness can take you on a bottom four budget. Whilst they did not create much their approach play was good and we did well to contain them once we had gone down to ten. If you did not enjoy last night you need to be finding something else to do on a cold Tuesday neet

  8. If there was disruption in the camp, then why continue playing those causing the problems? They should have been dropped. Play only those that like us have the club in their hearts.

    • It’s clear Doyle was brought back, short term, to push Swindon into making an offer. With regard to Vaughan, it seems something happened towards the end of last week, that brought matters to a head. Sometimes, in life, it’s a trade off that an Employer puts up with an awkward employee in return for what they bring to the business. In the simmering atmosphere, the inevitable fall out is never far away.

      The secret, of course,is to carry out due diligence in the recruitment process. A clue is to look at how many different employers an individual has on their cv.

  9. Great analogy.

    I’m probably in the minority as I wouldn’t sack Bowyer at the moment.

    Dylan Connolly put in one of the best performances by anyone in a Bradford City shirt for a long time.

    Our midfield posed more attacking threat in the first half than in previous months.

    Was that our lowest home league attendance in a long long time?

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