A game of two halves

Cambridge United 2

Darling 84, Knibbs 90+1

Bradford City 1

Reeves 17

By Adam Raj

October 12, that’s the last date City managed to leave an away game with all three points. It’s a pretty pathetic record for a side supposedly challenging for promotion to League One. Today was another, in a long line of City collapses on the road.

Stuart McCall had waved off the unwanted away record, overseen by Gary Bowyer, but his side were clearly affected by that added psychological pressure this afternoon. 0-1 ahead with six minutes to play, the game has to be won. To lose is unforgivable. But, on the balance of the second half performance, there was only one side who looked like winning the game.

Initially, the game started well for the Bantams. Glenn Middleton made his debut on the left wing, whilst Shay McCartan, fresh from his midweek brace, was deployed in his favourite number 10 position, in a 4-2-3-1 shape.

City started brightly on what was a fantastic surface at the Abbey, a complete contrast to the mud bath at Valley Parade. The Bantams were knocking it around with confidence and purpose, and Cambridge couldn’t get a sniff.

Jake Reeves in particular was excelling having options in front of him to pass to. And the City number 8 would be the one to break the deadlock on 17 minutes. A bobbling ball inside the box was deflected out to Reeves on the edge of the area and he hit a wonderful curling effort in off the post to give City the lead.

It was the least City had deserved, but with the wind on our side in the first half, it was a lead that had to be capitalised upon. Sadly, it wasn’t. City had plenty of the ball and got into numerous promising positions, but as is a regular theme at the minute, the final ball was not good enough.

As the half wore on, City’s sloppiness allowed Cambridge to get back in the game. Seven minutes before the interval, Richard O’Donnell had to make a fairly routine double save from first, Paul Mullin and then Paul Lewis’ follow up header. But that’s as hard as it got in the first half, where City were comfortable.

The second half, though, was a completely different story. Everything that had served us so well in the first period, was not even attempted in the second. City resorted to hoofing it upfield, the wingers saw next to nothing of the ball and the midfield squandered possession far too easily.

Cambridge started to pile on the pressure with cross after cross that was fairly well dealt with by Anthony O’Connor and Ben Richards-Everton, but City’s poor ball retention meant that the ball kept coming back. Lee Novak had a very poor afternoon. It was a game where the centre forward had to hold the ball up and win fouls to relieve the pressure, but the City number 9 really struggled.

Cambridge continued to pile cross after cross into the City area and Stuart McCall felt it necessary to bring on another centre half in Paudie O’Connor for Shay McCartan. On 66 minutes, this substitution was far too early. It meant that City lost the extra man in midfield and the ball retention got even worse.

The move to three centre halves in fact just piled more pressure on City who couldn’t get out their half from there on in. The equaliser was inevitable. The fact it took 84 minutes, however, was somewhat of a surprise. A bobbling cross from the right wing somehow made it through to the back post where an unmarked Harry Darling was able to turn home. City had deserved credit for hanging on, but the way they then collapsed following the equaliser is a grave cause for concern.

First Idris El Mizouni slammed an effort onto the crossbar from 20 yards and then the winner from the hosts finally came in the first minute of stoppage time. It was a near identical goal to the equaliser – a cross found it’s way to the back post where an unmarked Harvey Knibbs tucked home. To allow a man to be unmarked at the back post not once, but twice, is criminal.

City had just fallen apart. Collapsed. When the equaliser goes in, you make sure you don’t lose the game. But Cambridge could sense our fragility and couldn’t wait to get the game restarted, and you can see why. City were furious with referee Nicholas Kinseley when they thought Harry Pritchard was fouled in the build up to the winner, but it would’ve been a soft free kick to give. However, in the context of some of the comical decisions he gave the hosts’ this afternoon, it was a foul. To say he was a ‘homer’ would be being kind.

However, the referee is not the reason we lost the game. It was poor game management from the manager and players and a mistake to change a shape and system that had proved to be working. Equally, the lack of a ball winner in midfield meant we struggled to make tackles higher up the pitch, meaning the team just dropped further and further back. In the end, we invited the hosts to attack us for 45 minutes and couldn’t complain at the result.

The first half was flashbacks of the good football team Stuart McCall can produce, slick football and enjoyable to watch but the second looked like Gary Bowyer was back in the dugout. That substitution to bring on Paudie O’Connor was a real poor error of judgment from McCall, who you’d put money on not making that change again if he could turn the clock back.

Today was the third goal we had conceded in the final 10 minutes in the last three games, throwing points away from winning positions twice. We could easily be sat here after three straight wins but instead we’re sat in ninth place. I think it’s evident that Stuart will have to change the mentality of this group of players who seem far too fragile. But maybe those necessary changes will be too late to achieve anything this season.

Categories: Match Reviews, News

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11 replies

  1. I really dont know what’s left to be said about this group players and I am truely lost for words with just how brittle and fragile they are.

    Mind numbing substitutions and game management from McCall switching to 5 at the back with 25 minutes left to play. Lost for words.

    I just cant see McCall been able to motivate this team whilst improving the ball rentension and keeping clean sheets to make the play offs, especially with Bowyeresque tactics like today.

    McCall has to learn from this but I fear it is a massive rebuild in the summer. I for one cannot wait to see the back of this spineless squad but I believe this is a much bigger rebuild than initially first thought.

  2. Adam, thanks again for an excellent game report. From a timing point of view (65th minute) I thought Paudie coming into the game was the right move. The problem being he replaced Shay when he should have replaced Akpan.

    I’m not sure how relevant the final goal can be blamed on a likely missed call by the referee. The foul occurred on the halfway line 16 seconds prior to the winning goal. Prior to the goal there were three passes and the first pass should have been intercepted by Paudie in the penalty area.

    City didn’t lose this game because of a lack of effort but sad to say a lack of quality. City clearly lack a ball winning midfielder and I find it puzzling that Stuart thinks Akpan is a suitable alternative. An additional note, is that Cambridge outcrossed City 42 to 18.

  3. So disappointing

  4. In Stuart we trust .

  5. Why not try Anthony O’Connor in the holding midfield role. Can’t be any worse than Akpan or any of the others we’ve tried.

  6. Everything what went wrong in this game has been said. One thing that hasn’t been said is why did O’Donnell kick in to a strong wind when playing out from the back,it would have brought our midfield into play to help the forwards.In stead the ball just came back all the time McCall has to take responsibility, he was stood on the halfway line surely he should hve a word with O’Donnall

  7. Agree with all above, I think this lot need a day out on one of them team building experiences and a paint balling session where they are all on same side attacking another team, to cover for each other, trust each other, so one of them gets into a shooting position to pull the trigger, maybe then this will relay into matches while we still have a shot at the playoffs.

    Get rid of that Bowyer safe play, it brings teams on, like smelling blood.

    Be brave, show passion, talk to each other, attack, then the quality will come with Mc Calls guidance.

    We still have to play 6 teams out of the 12 left who are above us, so to get results from them would have a massive impact on our final position.

    We can accept losing as long as we go down fighting, so let’s fight for every game left now, 12 cup finals to go.

    Come on City…..

  8. I did not attend the game, but I think Phil W sums it up when he says “a lack of quality”.
    We have seen, ever since the “hendrie incident” at Yeovil, a deterioration in City’s quality and effort. We are now signing players who are unwanted by 2nd division clubs, who seem to lack the ability to concentrate for a whole game, and who possibly do not really care as much as they should. See how often we fade in the 40th and 85th minutes, which is not unfitness of body but of mind.
    Gary Jones epitomised Phil Parkinson’s teams. Hope Akpan epitomises this squad.
    I look at the squad and see some decent players, but I look at the performances of the squad and see dross.
    The last 2 years have been a nightmare for City fans. We all blame Rahic because, basically, it was his fault.
    I think this season is a write-off, and hope McCall will use the rest of it to prepare for next season. Then I hope he will rid us of under-achievers, coasters and not-good-enoughs. I hope the directors will back him in this.
    Finally, in the last 2 years we have seen players join City and deteriorate. Devine is an example of this. As is Doyle. We have also seen competent managers fail, showing there is a deep-seated malaise.
    There needs to be a deep-clean at City, . I think McCall is the man to do it because he is competent, because he cares and because , generally speaking, the supporters believe in him.
    I personally shall watch this season to the end, and, health permitting, renew our season tickets, but matters have to improve drastically, or disaster awaits.
    I am sorry to harp on about them, but Chesterfield are a reminder of what can happen.
    But Burnley are a reminder of what good management can achieve.

  9. The report is an honest assessment of the game yesterday.
    For me, Reeves and Akpan aren’t the answer to a central midfield pairing who can dictate play.
    In the first half on a couple of occasions Reeves was pointing at Wood and appeared to be having a go at him. If this was the case, Reeves needs to be encouraging players on his team. I don’t like to single out individuals, however, for me we need central midfield players like Jones, Syers and McCall if we want to be successful.
    Some supporters are clinging on to the fact that we might make the play offs at the end of the season. Whilst on paper, we could indeed finish in the top 7, realistically I think that we will finish mid-table.

  10. I believe Stuart is still finding out about the team and suited formation. I would however thought he should have replaced like for like. The substitutions were made at a time when we were winning. Fresh legs were needed but midfielder would have been more appropriate. However, easy for me to say after the event.

  11. As others have said, it really was a case of Cambridge capitalising on the conditions greater than we did. We had the same opportunity in the first half but, as Adam says in his report, we allowed Cambridge back into the game towards the end of the first half rather than seizing the opportunity.

    I’ve seen questions over Stuart’s subs but there was zero complaint at the game. He had to try and change it and used what he had. What he really needed was someone to sit in front of the back four and clean up but we just don’t have that Ricky Ravenhill type player. The switch to the back three made sense as an alternate approach but Paudie O’Connor hardly covered himself in glory with his performance.

    In terms of the “foul” on Pritchard in the lead up to the goal, its a borderline one but in the context of the game it was a foul. The ref had been giving those all game so I can understand Stuart’s frustration. Stuart will be equally frustrated with the defending that followed.

    Despite the result, I still came away feeling more confident that we can put together the results required to reach the play offs than I was a few weeks ago. We look more of a threat already and Stuart hasn’t had long with them. Its still going to take a lot of work and improvement in a short space of time but there’s still plenty to play for.

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