By Philip Jackson
Ever since the weekend it’s been on my mine and perhaps on yours; come Tuesday, do I bother? 72 hours of dithering and debating.
Come 7:20 tonight I was still on the fence, had been all day; it’s too cold, too toxic, too much else to do.
Yeah, but it’s City and you never know.
Light traffic, green lights, quiet roads and we’re there, through the deserted concourse and down the steps of a quiet ground. The rake of the Kop swathed in empty seats. As expected many have made the opposite decision and stayed away.
It takes a couple of minutes to register the play, the match, the flow of a game we have broken in on late. We attack and the referee finds a fleeting moment of clarity, pointing to the spot and giving a penalty.
The remainder of the half, with some attempts from both teams to create something meaningful, meanders away. Broken up by whistles and fouls and attacking intent snuffed out by indecision.
The boys in claret and amber showed more fight, resilience and willingness than seen in recent weeks. Encouragement came in the return of Clayton Donaldson, seemingly attracting and holding the ball up more than all other attempts by any other City forward during his three month absence put together. Dylan Connolly and Shay McCartan beside him more purposeful and probably hopeful of feeding off him,
Added enthusiasm needs to be tempered by good decision making however. This is essential when you throw in the true wildcard of the first half; referee Stockbridge. Reading from the league two referee’s handbook of ineptitude, he gave fouls where there were none and missed the plain and obvious. I can only assume he’d decided to penalise one team solidly for ten minutes then swap and do the same for the opposition for the next ten, I felt that the football was merely a conduit allowing him to take centre stage.
Faced once more with the irrationality only a referee can bring, the City players fell into the trap and made it easy for him to book and penalise with alacrity. The returning Jamie Devitt more than most. An encouraging first half was soured as he received a second caution for a sliding challenge, and you knew it was going to happen. He may of got the ball, he may have caught the man, but he slid into a trap and Mr Stockbridge did what comes naturally.
The second half seemed to sum up the team’s stuttering season perfectly. The inability to make decisions. The inability to retain the ball and do anything at all with it.
My inevitable neck strain of always looking left I had predicted came true.
Instead of the midfield deciding to pressure Cheltenham as wave after inevitable wave endlessly, slowly and inaccurately washed up onto the shore of City’s penalty area, they erred. Backing off and backing off, getting a boot on it, to kick it to no-one except a blue shirt to advance again.
As a collective they just didn’t seem to know how to find an answer, unaware of being able to pass to a team mate find space and allow the team to breathe.
I wonder if this is indecision comes from a lack of belief in Bowyer?
Araminde Oteh, on for the tiring Donaldson after an hour had a couple of runs, but fell over on both occasions. He didn’t seem to worry the Cheltenham backline the way Donaldson had. The younger man lacking the guile and command and experience of the veteran. A fitter Clayton may have encouraged a greater willingness from his teammates to commit more to attacks.
In the end, a rare shot on target was parried and redemption fell into the path Alfie May, gesticulating at the crowd on his way back to the halfway line.
Perhaps I’m too harsh, half the team lay drained and empty on the Valley Parade pitch at full time, clasping a hard-earned point in the hands with applause rather than boos filtering into their ears.
There are still more decisions to be made. My gut tells me that, like the team in the second half, the club will just keep booting it away and try and see this storm out, hoping they can get through it by making the easy decision of keeping the status quo. Deciding not to pay off the manager and his staff is cheaper and easier, instead of putting your foot on the ball, making some passes and working your way out of the mess. Whatever that may look like.
They will point to the first half and see the fight and commitment. That the dressing room and season are not lost and to stick with their man.
As for me, I’m just happy with the decision I made, late though it was. I heard no boos or Bowyer out chants. Bradford City looked like a team desperate to win, to please, to claim some pride back, so that is a start. It is all any of us have right now.
I enjoyed laughing and shouting at the referee, the opposition’s ineptitude, bad throws and wayward passes, paid professionals kicking the ball into their own face, a million droplets of rain dancing in the floodlight’s glow, worrying why the tunnel traffic lights went to yellow, being with my son in a place we love, and many other moments that somehow add up to something.