Oldham Athletic 3
Dearnley 11, Smith 20, Maouche 45
Bradford City 0
By Jason McKeown
Gary Bowyer is finished as Bradford City manager. There is surely no coming back from this.
If he doesn’t choose to resign, Stefan Rupp and Julian Rhodes have no option other than to relieve Bowyer of his duties. Defeat at Boundary Park was one wretched performance too many. The toxic reaction of a packed out away end was too fierce for there to be any hope of reconciliation. Anti Bowyer chants were loudly aired throughout a horrendous 90 minute showing. There is no supporter left, it seems, with any desire to defend him.
The players are not playing for Bowyer. They had started the game okay, and could argue they were unfortunate to go a goal behind when Anthony O’Connor slipped over and Zachary Dearnley was free to run through and slot past the returning Richard O’Donnell. But it was the way the players collapsed from that point that dooms Bowyer.
Confidence was never going to be high. City went into this game with just three wins from 17 games – and no away victories in nine. But the dreadful reaction from the players ran much deeper than fear. They just weren’t willing to run and tackle as hard. To go in where it hurts. They ducked responsibility, to their team mates and to Bowyer. They fell to pieces, and they badly need a manager who is capable of repairing them.
A manager’s job is to motivate players. Pick the strongest team. Get them organised. Set them up in a way that wins football matches. Bowyer is failing miserably on all these fronts. Once again, he persisted with the five at the back formation. He deployed a midfield lacking a player with the ability to win the ball. The strikers were hopelessly isolated. Who did he think was going to supply the service to them?
It means there were such few chances on goal created. Once again, City had just one shot on target. The creativity just isn’t there. Attacks are easily neutered. It’s predictable and easy to play against. And the gap between midfield and defence allows the opposition to attack with much greater purpose.
It was 2-0 on 20 minutes, when the lack of midfield off-the-ball cover saw Oldham drag City defenders out of position. Jonathan Smith unleashed a shot that flew past a crowd of confused claret and amber bodies, and past O’Donnell. The defending was even worse for the third, as a set piece was easily worked to substitute Mohamed Maouche to slot home with Paudie O’Connor fast asleep. It wasn’t even half time.
From front to back, the team was appalling. Ben Richards-Everton had a nightmare first half where he made mistake after mistake. Paudie O’Connor wasn’t much better, getting the hook at the break. Jake Reeves was also dragged off early after a wretched display in midfield. Watching his form and confidence drain away over recent weeks – after such a promising return from long-term injury – is depressing. Chris Taylor, Callum Cooke and Dylan Connolly were completely ineffective. Connor Wood was the only player to emerge with any credit. But even that’s a stretch.
It’s well documented that Bowyer inherited a mess of a squad, and the legacy of that continues to weigh down his squad building. But seven of the starting XI here were his signings. Including the bench, it was 11 out of 18. Bowyer’s own recruitment has simply not been good enough. Several signings started reasonably well, but have faded badly.
There was little positive to take from City’s second half showing, other than a promising second debut from half time substitute Dylan Mottley-Henry. Unlike his new team mates, the midweek signing from Barnsley was actually brave on the ball. He took people on and tried to make things happen.
The contrast in Mottley-Henry’s attitude and his fellow sub, Shay McCartan, was stark. McCartan was unlucky to lose his place after a promising performance midweek. But he seemed to take his grievance onto the field, and produced a dismal display. At one point, after receiving ire from City fans, he appeared to sarcastically clap at the away end. Two and a half years on from signing, I’m still waiting for McCartan to turn into the decent player he occasionally threatens to be.
The game was lost in the first half, and City never looked like saving it after the break. Oldham remained the more likely to score, and O’Donnell produced several brilliant saves – he was easily City’s man of the match. In all, Oldham had 26 shots on goal to City’s three. And this from a club in crisis, who are just 14th in the league.
For the first time since August, City are out of the play offs. And with it, the last reason to keep Bowyer has gone. All eyes are now on the Valley Parade boardroom and how they handle this crisis.
Inaction doesn’t seem to be an option. A season of such promise has fallen apart. In October, the Bantams were edging to the top of the league, now they trail leaders Swindon – boosted, once more, by Eoin Doyle’s goals – by 12 points. Just one month ago, City were one point behind third-place Crewe. Now, the Bantams are seven points off the automatic promotion places, having played two more games.
This isn’t a slump. It’s a collapse. This performance isn’t a blip, it’s become a normality. And Bowyer seems to be completely devoid of answers. He seemingly has no ability to turn around difficult situations – only twice this season has City come from behind to win. To have a better chance of earning promotion this season, a change needs to happen.
Naturally, Rupp and Rhodes will be criticised if they sack Bowyer after allowing him to make last week’s controversial transfer decisions. And removing the manager, before his new arrivals even get to make their debuts, wouldn’t look clever. But the pair will have to take that criticism. Doing the right thing is more important than looking right. And besides, they’d be looked upon worse if they leave Bowyer in a position that now seems untenable. If the poor performances and defeats keep coming.
Bowyer has now become the most unpopular manager since John Docherty, if not even more disliked. No manager can come back from the level of supporter anger that he has just endured. So now, action needs to be taken.