Cambridge United 2
Darling 84, Knibbs 90+1
Bradford City 1
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.