Wretched Bantams cup exit leaves big questions about team strengthening

Bradford City 0

Lincoln City 5

French (OG) 4, Scully 6, Montsma 29, Jones 41, Morton 90

By Jason McKeown

What was proving to be a calm and composed start to Bradford City’s season has suddenly jolted into calamity.

Atrocious defensively, toothless up front and collectively lacking bravery, the Bantams bowed out of the League Cup – and the opportunity to play Liverpool – in the most fainthearted way imaginable.

Lincoln City might be in a division above, but this was embarrassing. Hopes took their first dent as early as the fourth minute, when Tyler French sliced the ball into his own net. By the sixth minute, City had a mountain to climb. By the 31st minute, it was all over. And by the 41st, it was humiliating.

A horror show is an understatement. This goes down as a new low point in Bradford City’s post-Wembley 2017 demise. The starkest of illustrations of just how far the club has fallen. And just how much work there is to do in order to climb back.

Lincoln were always likely to win this contest, that was never really in doubt. Michael Appleton made only a couple of changes, picking a strong team. Like Swansea City at Wembley in 2013, or Reading in the FA Cup quarter finals of 2015, Lincoln are a middle-of-the-road club that meant they were never going to waste such a big cup opportunity by underestimating opponents from a lower league.

But it was the margin of victory that was so shocking. The Bantams were swatted aside with such ease. They barely laid a glove on the Imps. Fortunate, in some respects, to go in at half time only four goals behind. That the second half was more even was of no consolation. By that stage, Lincoln had taken their foot off the gas, save for adding a fifth in stoppage time. It was their biggest ever win in this competition. And next week, they’ll welcome Jurgen Klopp to Sincil Bank.

What added to the City worries was that Stuart McCall had picked a strong side as well. It was hugely troubling to see the back three – which had only conceded one goal in three games – look so awful, just from changing one player around.

The resting up of 18-year-old Reece Staunton, and deployment of the experienced 28-year-old Ben Richards-Everton, backfired badly. If Richards-Everton was feeling aggrieved to lose his status as first choice centre half, he failed miserably to stake his claim. His performance was so bad, you can’t see McCall giving him any game-time for weeks.

French’s early own goal was a careless flick by the inexperienced defender yet it had an element of misfortune too. But it set the tone for a defensive collapse. Two minutes later, Richards-Everton had crept up to half way to press and try to win possession. But he dived in without success, and the ball was worked to Harry Anderson to charge through the space Richards-Everton had vacated. To push so far up, just minutes after conceding, but still so early in the game, was utterly stupid.

With Richards-Everton left on the floor, Anderson passed to Conor McGrandles, whose low shot from distance perhaps wrong-sighted Richard O’Donnell. The keeper still might have done better as the ball rolled past him onto the post, and Anthony Scully tapped home the rebound.

It was such a terrible goal to concede, and at 2-0 down with only six minutes gone the Bantams looked shell-shocked. Their considered, patient, passing football was lost in the panic. We want this team to be made of stronger stuff than the 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 Bradford City teams. The signs were not encouraging.

City did eventually settle down and have a spell. Callum Cooke struck a low shot from distance that Alex Palmer did well to keep out. A goalmouth scramble saw several City players stab efforts at goal that red and white shirts blocked. Clayton Donaldson – brought in for Lee Novak – missed a glorious chance when he turned and volleyed over from just yards out.

But just as the pressure was mounting, Lincoln earned a free kick from a Richards-Everton foul. The City centre half had the chance to head the resultant set piece away but failed to make contact, and Dutch defender Lewis Montsma volleyed home.

The fourth, scored by midfielder James Jones, was a belter. A stunning drive from a long distance. When you’re 3-0 up away from home, you can try such things. When Harry Pritchard spurned a great chance from much closer range, the difference in attacking quality between both sides was glaring. The Bantams were limping to half time, with O’Donnell making a great save after yet more shambolic defending.

A furious McCall made two half time changes, taking off French and Richards-Everton. French won a lot of plaudits for his performance as right wing back at Bolton, but this was a cruel reminder of the importance of City getting a specialist for this position, if the back five approach is truly going to work.

There was huff and puff about City in the second half, but never really a sniff of the beginnings of any comeback. Kurtis Guthrie – who had a very poor night, frustratingly failing to justify McCall’s public words of encouragement towards him – should have done better with a header. The only bright note was how much better City’s set pieces were tonight, with several very good balls pumped into the box by Elliot Watt and Connor Wood. But it’s not much comfort to take.

On this evidence, the team looks miles away from where they need to be. Staunton slotting back in for the second half did see City look largely more comfortable at the back, but placing too much weight on such a young person’s shoulders is not without its risks. Watt looks a decent player, but Cooke’s form so far this campaign is starting to worry.

Up front, there’s just nothing to suggest the firepower is there. Donaldson’s first season at Valley Parade was underwhelming, and this one hasn’t begun much better. Just 17 goals in his last four seasons – the 36-year-old’s powers are fading. He offered nothing here. Guthrie (32 goals in the last four seasons) and Novak (also 32 in four seasons) aren’t likely to provide much more. Since 2016, Donaldson, Guthrie and Novak have averaged 20 goals a season – but that’s between them.

It’s becoming very clear that the hunt for a top striker goes right to the heart of supporter confidence in the direction of the club. And whether accusations of a lack of ambition, and claim there is no real plan, have merit.

Letting James Vaughan leave made a lot of sense, but he is unquestionably a quality player that has to be adequately replaced. The pre-match revelations that City have tried – and failed – to sign Kieran Agard, Jordy Hiwula, Nicky Maynard and Ian Henderson do hint at an ambitious intent for the club to aim high. But it ultimately counts for very little. When the dust settles on this transfer window, there isn’t going to much patience for hard luck stories. No medals are given out merely for trying.

There is pressure on the club to bring in a good striker as a statement that they really do mean business. That promotion is not just as aspiration, but a genuine objective. There is said to be budget available. It must be used wisely, not in a late panic.

There is plenty of time still – and options – before the transfer deadline. As clubs settle down into the new season, several players will be discovering they are not in their manager’s plans and start eyeing up pastures new. Others, still out of contract, will have to start lowering their sights.

McCall is clearly trying to hold his nerve and bag the right striker, and his judgement deserves to be backed. But if City get this wrong, they’re not just going to be going into League Two with a limited strikeforce – they’re going to be battling against a disillusioned fanbase, wondering how on earth the club could get itself into this position. And the fallout will get ugly, especially towards Stefan Rupp and Julian Rhodes.

McCall has talked about how goals can come from unexpected sources, citing the rise of Nahki Wells from nowhere. He can point, with justification, to the scorer of Lincoln’s fifth goal, Callum Morton, as a good example of this. The 20-year-old West Brom loanee had a terrific impact at Northampton last season, helping them to get promotion. Success is not always achieved by bringing in big names, as Donaldson sadly proves.

But relying on unproven potential, or hoping players with previously moderate goalscoring records can suddenly net 20+, isn’t a robust plan. So far, there’s not being anything to suggest City’s current forwards can step up and out-perform their moderate goal records – and there’s no sign of the next Wells waiting on the sidelines. Ultimately, the answers have to come from outside the club.

A bad striker signing arguably condemns Bradford City to a third season in League Two. Potentially ends McCall’s managerial career, six or 12 months from now. So with such much riding on it, McCall is justified taking his time to sign the right player. But the clock is ticking. And the stakes are getting higher.

“Judge us after 46 games,” stated a frustrated McCall after the match. The team is not far off being effective. The promising 2-1 win at Bolton was an early benchmark of what it is capable of. But they’ve not scored a goal in the subsequent three games. And they go to Forest Green on Saturday dealing with an angry fan backlash. “I don’t want supporters thinking there is no ambition at the club to sign a 20-goal striker,” declared McCall, adding he is looking to bring in players in other positions too.

“For the fans out there, rest assured, we know that’s not good enough. Rest assured, we’re not resting on our laurels and thinking we don’t need players in the building. We know we need players in the building…I could go out tomorrow and sign 20 players, but they’ve got to be better than what we’ve got.”

McCall’s passion is evident as ever, but the supporter disillusionment is hard to shift. Bradford City has a fanbase scarred badly by its post-2017 collapse, and after this morale-smashing defeat the club has got to come up with some positive answers. And they’ve got to find them very quickly.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

Tags: , ,

27 replies

  1. I’ve been a City supporter for over 60 years and tonight’s result doesn’t surprise me. It looks to me that Stuart is being isolated and abandoned by Rhodes and Rupp. Even Ryan Sparks gone silent. Yet in the recent WOAP polls indicate that 15% of readers expect City to make top three plus an additional 50% expect at least a playoff finish. How blinded are you people to reality? All you have to do is look at how inept Rhodes and Rupp have been since the departure of Rahic almost two years ago to know that City are continuing on a downward slide with no improvement insight.

    What does surprise me is how City fans and the media have put Rhodes and Rupp on a pedestal to be admired and held blameless for the current demise of the Club. When are you people going to wake up to reality??

    Hopefully, there will be changes at the top before it’s too late. Having said that, I seriously doubt there is any interested potential buyers. Yet 73% of WOAP readers are confident about the future for City. Really???

    • The fact that 20 people have disliked this comment shows that where not just up against apathetic and vision less leaders but a large part of the fan base are happy to trundle along and accept this constant regression and are more upset at criticism of those in charge than the fact the club is a a complete rudderless shambles. Desperate time’s indeed.

      • Send them on a re-education camp. They know nothing. And teach them some grammer whilst your at it. Desperate time’s indeed.

      • When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. Socrates. 🤫

      • When an activist rigs a vote he will inexorably fail in his ultimate goal ( Chomsky/ Politics and Morality in the social media age/ New Statesman) 📖

      • Clutching at straws with that one Paul…great comment though if it had any relevance. 😘

      • Very relevant bearing in mind some juvenile is lame enough to mess with the voting buttons (again). Just as an aside it would be libel not slander (spoken word). Little details make all the difference 👍

    • What a load of tripe !

  2. You can’t build anything on quicksand.

    I thought we would struggle this season & play offs is pie in the sky dreams.

    We have no foundations behind the scenes, who is our director of football?
    No scouts or tactical analysis people at the club either. This has to be improved if we want to prosper & succeed.

    What is Bradford City A.F.C. 2 year plan on the field? We don’t have one just get out of league 2.

    Need a director of football who has a 2, 5 & 10 year plan on what the club wants to achieve & how we can achieve it.

    Clubs with a plan for the future prosper long term because most clubs like Bradford City at the moment only think short term.

    That’s not Stuart McCall fault but we must build proper foundations for the club to improve on. Give McCall some extra tools effectively to help him.

  3. Last night was terrible and it is plain to see the squad has to be strengthened. It was a reminder that this is going to be a long haul and not a quick fix. Stuart has his targets and signings are expected. However his comments about the difficulties signing new players are also a reminder that it will not be easy. Not necessarily for financial reasons but the fact that it is not the easiest task persuading proven strikers to come to Valley Parade, to a club in perpetual transition where reputations can easily be lost and to a ground that often has little grass and where it can be difficult to play good football. The likely difficulty also of persuading players to come to Bradford, let alone Bradford City. My suspicion is that agents are a factor in this, amplifying negative perceptions about the club and the city.

    Inevitably we have the siren calls on social media for a change in ownership and management. As far as I am concerned, Stuart is the right man for the job and he needs to be allowed to get on with it. Besides do people really believe that BCAFC could attract applications from credible candidates for a new manager?

    History has continued to repeat itself at Valley Parade for the simple reason that from the beginning the club has been under-capitalised, under-invested and unglamorous to boot. Hence the foundations are not deep to which can be added the ongoing liability of the rent. The fact that the grass struggles to take root might tell us something.

    In the current environment and circumstances therefore what chance is there of someone throwing millions at Bradford City AFC? Even if there was someone with the funds to buy the club, the willingness and ability to inject further money to make good the decades of under-investment is wishful thinking. There is no investment logic for clean money to be introduced and hence it seems unlikely that we can expect the magic fix. (That said, the club would be a wonderful investment opportunity for dirty money and perhaps that is the best chance of attracting a local investor with deep pockets if that is really what the critics want.)

    Julian Rhodes is the scapegoat for the failings at Valley Parade but his critics will hopefully be appeased that the club is understood to be looking for his replacement. Payment of a decent salary to attract such an individual will have to be funded of course but how many credible candidates would seriously want to come to Valley Parade to risk his/her reputation and put up with the moronic comments on social media and unrealistic expectations about ‘ambition’ or instant transformation? Frankly it wouldn’t be worth it. No doubt the same thoughts going through the minds of decent players are those echoing in the heads of prospective managers, executives and owners who need only spend a couple of hours undertaking online diligence or have a quick call with those in the know to get the picture.

    This is the reality check and frankly the noise on social media will do little to alter it, arguably only serve to make matters worse. No doubt we’ll hear shortly from the individual reminding us that a £30m new stadium would be the answer to all the club’s problems. Indeed it would (but then you’d have to find the land to built it).

    • The talk of a new stadium particularly in the current economic climate is risible. Where is the funding coming from?! Lower league clubs can usually cover the cost a relocation of the back of sale of their existing freehold for redevelopment an option not available to us. It is a schoolboy suggestion.
      JR is the whipping boy for cretinous minority but they always have to cane somebody irrespective of the reality of the situation. The Roswellesq conspiracy theories of financial peculation long ago are a fair reflection of the level of debate elsewhere. JR/ML left the club pushing toward tier two and in the black. A decent legacy was pissed away and now he is left to sort out the shambles. He did not have to come back and although you can legitimately question his reluctance to engage with fans his competence as a football administrator and his commitment to the club is without question. It may well be that the clubs strategy needs to be reviewed now given the new football landscape but that will have to wait for a permanent CE. As JD says appointing an experienced CE with football know how on the sort of money we can pay will not be easy.
      You are right that the best chance of investment may be from dirty money whether it be Eastern European or Middle Eastern. The Newcastle fans joy at this type of investment sadly shows how many fans will welcome new money at any moral price.
      As far as last night is concerned no one with an ounce of sense will read too much into one result against opposition who will be top half in League One. Similarly lets judge recruitment at the end of the window just for a change. Not read any of the BS overnight on social media but i hope Stuart can harness that as good motivation for the players

    • Nice little dig about the stadium John. Its a pet interest of mine as a planner and I make no secret of having a dream for a new stadium with wider benefits for the two main sports clubs and the community and economy of the City. But obviously my “grasp of commercial reality is zilch” I’d have debated about it with you on Twitter, but you never reply to tweets, your usual MO is to send long private messages criticising other fans views, then last night you told me to f*** off and blocked me on twitter. Nice work.

      • To be fair this isn’t Prime Minister’s question time.

        Nobody is compelled to engage with anyone or anything on Twitter or indeed any other social media platform.

        If somebody doesn’t want to enter into a conversation with you, you have to respect that…

      • Andy, do I “have to respect them” when they tell me to “crawl back under your rock” and “fuck off”?

        Genuine question.

      • Hi Leon,

        Clearly that sort of language is clearly unacceptable and unfortunately all too common on social media.

        In answer to your question you dont have to respect ‘them’ but you do have to respect their right not to respond. Nobody is compelled to answer questions or enter into debates on Twitter.Its not your tight – clearly.

        If I had my way I’d ban Twitter but I understand I’m somewhat of a dinosaur in this respect and the horse has well and truly bolted.lea

      • You miss the point Andy. John does engage, or at least he did. He just always responds privately, so the people he is slagging off cant see what hes saying about them. John was very keen to strike up dialogue with me about my stadium ‘dream’ when I first mooted it a couple of years ago having written about it for a uni assignment (indeed Julian Rhodes invited me to a meeting at VP earlier this year to discuss it, whilst Ryan Sparks has also been messaged me on the same subject in recent months) but now uses it as a stick to beat me with. To be fair it’s not an old idea, I wrote an article for BfB a long long time ago about the merits of a ground share with the Bulls. But I’ve not mentioned the idea publicly for some time, so it strikes me as odd that John would add that little footnote to his ratty comment above. Maybe it’s because hes an arrogant arse who thinks hes more intelligent than us and looks down on his fellow fans? Dunno, what do you think Andy?

      • Twitter has a limit to the number of characters in a message and as a consequence it is difficult to have a nuanced debate. For that reason i will resort to DMs to engage with people.

        For the last few months I have had you on mute because frankly I have become fed up with your comments and outlook. Whether you choose to describe me as arrogant is your prerogative. However I have found yourself and the online company that you keep pretty dismissive of alternative opinions so maybe i don’t have the monopoly (of arrogance).

        As regards a new stadium, it would be fantastic if it could be afforded and a site could be found. However it is clearly not going to happen and is a complete distraction in the current circumstances.

  4. Very worrying Jason has I said in my previous reply what is happening was very predictable, when our rivals where recruiting early doors to avoid the cap deadline we seem to have been sat on our hands and the marketing for season ticket sales was very timid ,I don’t blame Stuart, his hands seem to have been tied behind his back ,the blame is at the top ,it could been the owner his on his way out ,and his getting his investment back ,what we need is leadership the owner and only the owner needs to show up and face the music and give us some confidence and hope for the season.

  5. I’m not sure what is more depressing, facing up to a defeat like last night or reading the ludicrous comments on social media. That opinionated Queensbury white van driver is in his element telling everyone he was right all along. Maybe he should have a go at running the club for himself.

  6. We are lacking real investment, there are what we would consider smaller clubs out there, knocking chunks off us because they have people willing to invest heavily, you saw it last night, Lincoln have come from nowhere in a short time with proper investment, we need a investor who is willing to pour millions into the club, not just to make it tick over and rely on the gates, proper cash, £50 million or so, Middle Eastern rich oil tycoon, Donald Trump I don’t care, but we are going nowhere and it looks like we will spend another year in the doldrums hoping and willing our Bradford city on…I may be wrong but that’s my thoughts.

  7. I’m sorry but letting James Vaughn leave made zero sense whatsoever. A proven goal scorer, whose wages effectively wouldn’t count towards the cap? Maybe he was being a bit of a tool, but he was only really pointing out the glaring inadequacies at the club.

    Saying it made sense is rank revisionism.

    • It might not have counted to the salary cap but it was still a very large part of the budget committed to a player who made it very clear he didn’t want to be here. If he had been forced to stay, what kind of performances would he be delivering right now?

      It’s very sad all round because he is a quality player, but he didn’t want to be at the club and that created a real problem.

  8. The crises seem to start earlier and earlier each season, and it’s hard to know what’s a real problem and what’s an overreaction. But this feels like it has there are elements of the real thing here.

    It’s possible, as I do, to think these two things at once:
    1) Last night was a ‘last season’ performance which isn’t really a surprise given it was last year’s squad (plus Watt). The transfer activity has not been good enough, not purposeful enough and not serious enough about moving on and being a contender this year. Whoever’s fault that is, and why that is, I don’t know.
    2) Commitment, effort, organisation; they were lacking last night (again) and for that you have to look at the manager and the coaching staff too. The mentality hasn’t been permanently fixed but we may need new players to do that (see point 1!).

    I think the flames are fanned when nearly all the fans are saying the same thing, and then this bares out on the pitch. We’re a right back, central defender, midfielder, wide player and a striker short. McCall publicly naming targets suggests to me that he’s getting exasperated, having to evidence to fans that he’s trying, and so something has to give.

    The players need to turn up at the weekend and grind something out at Forest Green, and then the club needs a completely new approach to it’s transfer strategy in the run up to the window closing, otherwise I can see 10th-12th place being our ceiling this season and I don’t think fans will quietly (and quite rightly) think that is acceptable in League 2 and with this quality of opposition.

  9. With regard to a new stadium. Whilst there are both financial and emotional reasons why a modern purpose built state of the art ground might be unlikely, staying at VP is a proverbial millstone round our neck.
    Changes in the demographics of the area notwithstanding there are problems with parking and traffic on matchday. I have long advocated a move up the Aire Valley with good road and rail links.
    Many fans, and I understand the reasoning feel that to move away from the place where we lost so many fans in the 1985 fire disaster should not be a consideration.
    But could the emotions attached to this hold us back.
    We have seen several clubs move into new stadiums in recent years (Shrewsbury, Scunthorpe, Huddersfield, Chester, Walsall, and Rotheram).
    I noted when passing through Boston recently that they too are about to leave York Street for a brand new stadium.
    Am I not the only one that thinks “if they can do it why not us”?
    By staying at VP we are swimming against the tide and maybe, just maybe its holding us back.
    Maybe a completely new start is required.

    • The Aire Valley doesn’t have ‘good road links’. There is a massive block called Shipley and Saltaire, the latter I am sure you know is a World Heritage site, so little chance of them bulldozing a dual carriageway through! Try driving along Canal Road or Manningham Lane and you will be come aware of gridlock.
      You quote a number of moves of stadium. These are often to ‘out of town’ locations’ with very few facilities close by, seen by many as totally soulless. The fact that Spurs have built a state of the art stadium in the same area that White Hart Lane was located, seems to be airbrushed away.
      Sure VP has its faults, but just where would this dream ‘Aire Valley’ stadium be built? You must have some idea, otherwise you wouldn’t propose it, would you? The river often floods and to get from the M606 motorway, to ‘somewhere up the Aire Valley, could take around an hour.
      If you are going to come up with a bold statement, provide some detail.

      • {If you are going to come up with a bold statement, provide some detail.}

        Agreed, exactly where would it be built?

        It’s become fashionable for people to make bold statements about fixing BCAFC, most of which are devoid of detail and substance but sufficient to get attention.

        And another minor detail – how would a new stadium be funded?

  10. I did say finance would be a major stumbling block making it very unlikely. In terms of location I am thinking on the Bypass between Bingley and Keighley.
    Yes I am thinking `out of town` developments which is the where most of these new stadiums seem to be located often surrounded by the usual conglomeration of McDonalds, KFC etc. Perhaps a cinema too so that the location has a 24/7 attraction rather than just matchday.
    Lots of car parking and maybe served by the Aire Valley railway line giving fast links into Bradford.
    I was just trying to determine fans thoughts on this, and thinking `outside the box` to prompt discussion etc.

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