|Salford City 3|
|Burgess 8+45, Henderson 21|
|Bradford City 0|
By Tim Penfold
The last Bradford City game of 2019/20 was a dispiriting trip across the Pennines to Salford. Stuart McCall’s Bantams were outplayed and slumped to a poor 2-0 defeat that left it their playoff chances hanging by a thread. It would be an understatement to say that quite a lot has happened since then, but for all the turmoil and upheaval in the world since then, today’s game was very similar.
We were outclassed, again, this time by a team that is surely bound for League One.
Yes, there are injuries to contend with. There were, by my reckoning, five players unavailable – Reece Staunton, Bryce Hosannah, Callum Cooke, Billy Clarke and Lee Novak – that would’ve got into Stuart McCall’s first-choice XI. But injuries are an inevitability, especially in this season’s covid-shortened and crowded calendar.
Good squads can, to a degree, cope with these, but City’s squad is not a good squad. There is quality, but no depth – no Will Atkinson, or Carl McHugh, or Ricky Ravenhill to come in and fill a gap or push their claims to play every week.
Yes, Salford are a very good team – but this season we have only beaten the teams in 21st, 23rd and 24th in the table, as well as a cup win against the team 16th, and an FA Cup hammering of a side two divisions below us. Surely we can expect a little more than this?
With Staunton missing, Ben Richards-Everton returned to the line-up. Within a minute he’d slipped over in possession, then picked up a booking. His sloppy passing almost gifted Salford a goal, and he was hooked at half time.
Also returning, and also subbed at half-time, was Gareth Evans, who gave away possession for the third goal then laboured slowly back, not even able to get close enough to his man to foul him. He looked half-fit and unsure of his role, and that leaves another question. He was a big signing this summer, but where does he fit into this side?
City’s midfield did not function defensively, with runners from deep surging away whenever City gave away the ball. Salford’s skill and movement were too much for them, and the wave of attacks overwhelmed the weakened defence.
There were failures from City all over – failure to close down, failure to react to a loose ball, failure to mark, failure to track – and it meant that they went into half-time three goals down with the game effectively over.
The second half saw three changes then another midway through the half, as City shifted to a 4-3-3. Some of these substitutes – particularly youngster Kian Scales – pushed themselves further up the pecking order with bright cameos. Others, such as the anonymous Dylan Mottley-Henry, did not. But the game was long since over as a contest – the closest City got was when an Elliot Watt long-ranger was almost fumbled into his own net by the Salford keeper.
This game showcased all of the problems with the club’s recruitment this summer. A small squad was always going to be a risky choice considering how many two-game weeks there were going to be, but it can be done. Phil Parkinson’s squads were generally fairly small, but the backup players normally had the quality to step in and do a job (with the exception of Matthew Bates).
This squad’s quality drops off a cliff after the first couple of injuries. It also doesn’t seem to have been put together with any one system in mind – we seem to have settled on 5-3-2 that leaves no obvious place for Gareth Evans. It reminds me of January 2019, when we ended up with no wingers but plenty of creative playmakers. That fundamentally didn’t work.
This is not how smart clubs recruit. They don’t just give the manager an iPad and a wyscout subscription – they give him proper support from scouts and analysts. It’s unreasonable to ask the manager to do everything, and it doesn’t lend itself to long-term planning either, as the manager is the first to get the sack when things go wrong.
We’ve got a squad recruited by Edin Rahic, David Hopkin, Gary Bowyer and Stuart McCall at the moment and it shows. Three very different types of manager, and an incompetent megalomaniac playing at being a director of football. The result is a mish-mash of players that suit very different styles, and the poor performances that follow are inevitable.
The club needs to pick a plan and stick to it. It has the security to do this – even with this team’s struggles, the rest of the division is weak enough that relegation is incredibly unlikely. If that means we spend the rest of the season building towards next season, then I think the fanbase would accept this as long as it was communicated well.
But at the moment it doesn’t look like we have a plan – we’re just flailing about in the hope if we try every different strategy at random we’ll eventually hit the right one. But how long will that take?
Categories: Match Reviews