The never ending story

Leyton Orient 1
Happe 64
Bradford City 0

By Jason McKeown

No one is in the mood to indulge in a hard luck story. Not after the year we’ve just had. And the year before that. And the year before that too.

So it barely matters that Bradford City did not deserve to lose this game. That for a good hour of this contest with Leyton Orient, the visitors were the better side and carved out several promising chances. That the balance of the team looked better. That Austin Samuels and Clayton Donaldson showed signs of forming a competent partnership. That this was much improved on Saturday’s abject hiding to Salford.

It barely matters, because Bradford City lost. Again. A sixth defeat in nine matches. And it pushes them a further place down the league, to the troubling position of 20th in League Two. Two points above the relegation zone. Their next league opponents, Cheltenham, are second in the table – with double the amount of points the Bantams have recorded.

You just despair. It’s cruel to do this, I know, but it’s almost exactly three years to the day that City had just recorded a 1-0 away win at Shrewsbury to climb up to fourth in League One. They’d recovered, it seemed, from the heartache of losing the 2017 League One play off final. They were pushing for the Championship, again. 

2018 would prove horrendous. 2019 barely any better. And now 2020 – the most challenging of all years for everybody – has offered no football-related relief for us long-suffering Bradford City supporters. It’s just getting worse and worse.

How we could do with a team capable of grinding out a 1-0 away win, like the Stuart McCall side that defeated Shrewsbury three years ago. There was a mental toughness about the Bantams then, which has subsequently proven impossible to regain. A resilience. A spirit. A club where fans and the team were on the same wavelength, refuelling and inspiring each other. 

Not like now.

When, 64 minutes into a contest the Bantams had up to then bettered, Jordan Maguire-Drew swung over a free kick and Dan Happe found space between two City defenders to head home, a weary sense of familiarity crept in. It was Leyton Orient’s only attempt on target all evening, but was entirely preventable. Paudie O’Connor had given away the initial free kick cheaply, and Happe was granted too much space.

Teams that habitually concede goals like this aren’t unlucky. They get relegated.

It was a goal that undid a great deal of promise. With Billy Clarke and Reece Staunton surprisingly able to return to the starting line up, City looked much stronger. Clarke slotted into the number 10 role that Callum Cooke had been playing well in before injury. He provided a good link between Eliot Watt and Levi Sutton and the front two. When the ball went to Clarke, it stuck, and this allowed Connor Wood and Tyler French to get forward. 

It looked good from City. Samuels is beginning to show what he can offer. He has a good turn of pace and looks increasingly confident running with the ball. Donaldson continues to exceed some admittedly low expectations and perform the targetman role with some effect. For periods in the first half, City were quick in tempo and bright in their passing. 

Wood had two decent chances that arose from getting forward and cutting in, but his shots on goal went wide. From a brilliant piece of passing football, Wood was able to set Clarke up for a header that flew just over. Clarke had another shot that deflected off a defender and forced Lawrence Vigouroux into an excellent block. Donadson, Samuels and Anthony O’Connor also tested Vigouroux. 

The return of Staunton at the back made such a difference to City. They were confident bringing the ball out from the back, linking up in midfield. They dictated the tempo, and Orient looked second best. But they didn’t score when they were so on top, and that came back to bite.

The game really went away from City when injury struck. 10 minutes into the second half, Staunton went down and was in no fit state to continue. The gamble of rushing him back for this game ultimately didn’t pay off. Within five minutes, McCall also elected to take off Clarke – the plan was probably to always give him an hour, but seeing what happened to Staunton probably spooked the manager. 

Staunton and Clarke have arguably been City’s two best players this season. And when not available, the side has suffered. So when they went off, the momentum went away from City. Ben Richards-Everton and Kian Scales could not match the performances of the players they replaced. 

It was a painful turn of events. 55 minutes, Staunton off. 60 minutes, Clarke off. 64 minutes, 1-0 Leyton Orient. 

But we don’t have patience for hard luck stories. And besides, tales of misfortune struggle to hold weight when the reaction to going a goal down was disappointing. City couldn’t recover from the blow of conceding. The composure, authority and confidence of the first half faded into the East London night. Without doing a great deal themselves, Orient saw out the remaining 25 minutes in comfort.

It’s the lack of intelligence in the team that infuriates. The poor defending from the goal, but then the lack of fight to come back. The unnecessary mistakes, and the woeful passes, quickly tallied up. The ball was rushed forwards with little thought. The side woefully lacks a character to calm everyone down and get them playing again. It was as though they’d forgotten everything they had done well up to going behind.

There was no threat of an equaliser. A couple of free kicks into the box caused a bit of discomfort, and City earned a few corners, but there was no sustained pressure. The expected goals graph of Bradford City’s performance shows they stopped creating anything the minute Clarke left the field. 

Three years on from that win at Shrewsbury Town, and City have subsequently won just nine league games on the road. Frighteningly bad. 

We’re all familiar with the current storyline, but the problems still need to be mentioned. In his previous two spells as manager, McCall was always successful in inspiring players to give everything they have. He’s not getting that same response from these players. They’re not running through brick walls for the club. And that’s a real concern, because if the quality is lacking you at least want to see players show the right commitment. Clearly, confidence is a real issue. 

As for McCall, it’s becoming painfully clear that the small squad ethos he choose was the wrong one for this season. The games are too compressed, throwing up the greater risk of injuries flaring up. City need far greater depth. We need players on the bench who are capable of improving the team over the 90 minutes, not weakening it. 

McCall has once again made clear he does not intend to bring in any out of contract players, reasoning that it would take four weeks to get them up to speed. On the one hand this logic is understandable – the January window opens in five weeks – but the fear is that there is so much football to be played before any cavalry arrives. Even if a player signed this week can’t play until late December, the chances are we’ll still be desperate for more bodies by that time.

It also leaves a large reliance on the January window to fix the problems. And, well, the club’s form of addressing problems in that window in recent years is utterly appalling. It’s a library of farcical tales and shattered promises. It has to be different this time. 

Whichever way you look at it, there are no quick solutions to the current issues. The injury situation will hopefully ease, but results will continue to be overly influenced by who is in the treatment room. All McCall can do is build on the positives that were in evidence tonight. And keep that tin hat on, as social media criticism intensifies. 

“It’s not a good position to be in,” McCall reflected after the game. “We’ve got to keep at it. But I’m not stupid and I understand people’s frustrations and grievances. As we stand here at the moment it’s not good enough, but there have been mitigating circumstances.”

McCall was defiant about his future too. “Give me 18 months here and I will get the club back where we want to be, I’ve got no doubt about that,” he explained. “This will end up – and always was always going to be – my last job in England. Either being really successful or unsuccessful.

“I know what’s been going on at this football club behind the scenes for the last 18 months and I know where this club is at this moment. On the pitch not good enough, no doubt about it and I can’t make excuses for that. But I’ve still got a belief that I can get it moving. I’m going to do absolutely everything I can in my power to get the club back to where we want to be.”

What has become painfully clear is that this season is not going to turn out how we’d hoped. The expectations of a promotion push are sadly giving way to merely surviving. A mid-table finish will be gratefully accepted if it was offered at this point. Because when you look over your shoulder, it’s incredibly worrying.

Ultimately, this club has not rebuilt from its falls of the recent past. Short-termism has been corrosive and continues to be. If results don’t improve soon, some tough decisions might have to be taken. We all know how this plot goes. 

It may yet get worse before it gets better. Or it might continue the form of the last three years, and just keep getting worse. 

And that’s a story no one wants to experience. 

Categories: Match Reviews

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22 replies

  1. i for one never expected a promotion push. One look at the squad for any supporter with any football knowledge could predict this, However tonight we didn’t deserve this result. I disagree that tonight the players didn’t give everything, there was a lot of effort and some good pressing throughout the side. The lack of character is probably correct but does forget the ages of the squad. a Lot of these players were playing youth football this very year. Even the likes of Paudie have only around one seasons worth of league appearances. and then the experience we do have some are towards the end of their careers.

    Stuart is currently a lone voice at the club. Rupp and rhodes are anonymous and we have no idea for their expectations this season. Even the communications manger has seemingly disappeared and not communicating lately. This leaves Stuart, an honest, emotional guy having to front everything it seems and defend the situation. He got his tactics spot on tonight and he got the effort from the players imo. We had 3 times more attempts at goal than the home side which suggest he got it right. He inherited a squad with no midfield players at all, 3 left backs, no right back and a club refusing to move before the salary cap was implemented as others did. We promote 5 youth players, loan 2 more youth players and yet some are expecting them to challenge seasoned pros? You can say its excuses but i believe that changing the manager changes little with this squad. We need leadership form the top and not the current anonymity. The manager needs supporting and a longer term vision not only stated but put in action. I feel for Stuart at the moment because there is a lot of ignorance and rumour flying around along with the usual dreams, hopes and expectations all football fans feel. Its very hard to accept that we may have to have patience to rebuild as we all want to win every game and feel it when we don’t, but we really now more than ever need some leadership and honesty from the club and if that means that they request patience then we need to accept this. However if the truth is that the chairman wants out, the CEO wants out, which most of us believe and understand this to be the case , then we need to support the only guy who wants to stay at the club but is directly effected by the actions of those that don’t.

    • I not sure way so many thumbs down on this.
      That is the situation, Apart from McCall we here nothing from the club. Can’t people see that.
      Danny describes the situation perfectly, is exactly as I see it.
      I sound like old record but we had 4 managers in just over 2.5 years.
      So new manager comes in , like Grayson , Hopkin , Bowyer, change players etc, What happened nothing , actual football served up was poor, never mind the results.
      Surely stability is the key or something we need to try. Last time we did it with Parkinson ,look what happened.
      Also the slagging off of team selection and tactics bu McCall, don’t get it.
      How come all these armchair leaders critics know better.
      Obviously they played in World cups , gained 40 international caps and played in Premiership.
      McCall knows what’s required, looks like he has his hands tied.
      Get non contracted players in . Don’t work .Gareth Evans is example , injured , not for as was not playing regular. Same happens a couple of years ago with Jim O’ Brien .
      Plus if these guys available 3 months into season , s something not right.
      Similar scenario with the younger players , they not use to 2 games a week so the likes of Staunton and Hosannas are out injured , too much football.
      So all in all things not perfect at VP but change of manager does not work,our recent experience as I highlighted is testament to that .
      Stability is the key in my opinion.
      I wait for keyboard warrior onslaught, I afraid these people do not look at the full picture.

      • Easy way to sum it up, we keep changing managers but nothing has stopped the rot. The problem is at the top, until Rupp has gone this won’t change no matter what CEO or manager is brought in. Leadership starts from the very top, something sadly lacking that means Rhodes and McCall are merely fire fighters rather than proactive.

      • its funny 🙂 there is at least one person not so keen on me who keeps logging in to thumb me down Caesar style. Another manager change could actually REALLY be the move that sends us down. Its all about allowing him to recruit now. There is something not ringing true about our transfer policy this summer. I accept that we had to wait until we knew we were going to even start the season. Stuart then had to prioritise a midfield has they had all gone. He will have looked at our forward line and wanted more there, hence him wanting to keep Vaughan, but what was his remit from above? We here there was some money left in the budget but what if the ‘plan’ was again to wait to see if the season would be continuing beyond then due to covid and save having players on wages with no football? Who knows but we were very quick to say that we would operate within the cap, whilst others recruited before it took effect. And quick to promote 5 youth players to fill out the squad. Regardless he has had one limited window and inherited an unbalanced squad of varying abilties. Any manager would be finding it difficult imo

  2. I am firmly of the belief that the apathy shown at the very top permeates downwards throughout the club and eventually reaches those on the pitch.
    We have a reluctant owner who is said to be holding out for an offer that would give him back his purchase price plus money spent on supporting us since, amid a free fall which devaluing the club week on week.
    We have a want away CEO and at present despite rumours that a replacement will be announced tomorrow we do not see a replacement.
    We also have a media and communications manager from whom all we hear is a deathly silence.
    We dont have any effective links between the supporters and the club.
    We do have a manager who passionately wants to be here and the majority of the fans would like to see succeed.
    We need a complete reboot of the club with control going back to people, some still at the club, who are passionate about Bradford City.
    It is vital now that the club is now honest and communicative with the fans, who would still be supportive and patient if they were given a realistic short, medium and long term plan.

  3. Seems to me we are suffering from some poor recruitment over the summer, where the policy seemed to be, we’ll only sign players if they played for us last season, or if they had played under Stuart earlier in their career. In Samuels’ case, then surely it wasn’t just based on him scoring against us in the tin pot trophy.

    The two main weaknesses from last season were also not addressed, in that we don’t have a defensive midfielder so we get easily overrun, and have a lack leaders in the team, which is why we struggle to fight back when we go a goal behind. How also can you not have a left winger in the squad?

    I know it was a close season like no other, and understandably the aim was probably to keep the budget as low as possible, so possibly Stuart only wanted to sign players he was familiar with, as he knew what he was going to get, but it just seemed a totally amateurish approach to recruitment, and you’ve got to question the scouting network

    That being said the players have also got to take some responsibility, as they are a lot better than to be sitting in 20th place right now.

  4. The league table doesn’t lie. We’re not competing.

    All managers have their weaknesses at this level, I believe Stuart has too many. Recruitment, tactics, subs, game management. I understand what is and isn’t under his control.

    New management from the top sounds good right now even though that would be a complete unkown. Give me someone who cares.

  5. Great summary Jason and I always look forward to reading your articles. Rightly or wrongly I’ve pretty much given up on this season and we’re still only in November. If we’re still in this division come May, I will be happy.
    Stuart is still the man for the job and should have our support. He’s been working with both hands tied behind his back. As Danny says above he is a lone voice who lives and breathes our club when others want out.

  6. Brilliantly put into words .
    Sums up the feelings of all city supporters.

  7. Do we want to change manager again? No one really wants that, but when you look at some of the overall mistakes McCall makes – supposedly for an experienced manager with 13 years of experience – you wonder if he’ll ever improve.

    Going into the season – which we knew would be intense – with a small squad was always a gamble. So you may have thought if things went sour (a very realistic possibility) the option of the free agent market was one we would be prepared for, but he’s dismissed it outright twice.

    He has what, 6-7 18 year old in and around the starting team, effectively now in a relegation fight? He needs experience and leaders before it gets too late. He complained about them getting upto fitness, but if brought someone in a month ago when first asked they’d be upto speed by now. Besides, someone sat on their arse for 8 months would probably still offer more than some of our experienced professionals.

    There’s a lot of football – and points – before the window opens, and if we behave like we often do, we’ll leave most our business until the last week of January. And we can’t afford another January window as poor as the ones of 2018 and 2019

    Last night may have been better, but in context of everything else it’s still very poor – we haven’t scored in 7 of our 13 league games. Last night wasn’t just unfortunate – a chronic lack of ability in actually hitting the target which unfortunately was another of the realities a lot of us predicted as the season started.

    This club and McCalls reputation and further career may well be defined by the January transfer window. And I’m not confident he’ll be able to deliver under pressure – he rarely has, unfortunately.

  8. Reading between the lines after Stuart post match interview last night he came as close has he could to to telling us what is going on ,he basically said a lot of the players are not of his choice and most would not be here if he had his way ,the club have tied his hands behind his back and are not supporting him ,he said you all know what’s been going on for the last eighteen months,the owner must come out and lead from the front and not hide away in Germany either say he wants out and the club is up for sale at least we will all know what is going on.

  9. I agree with Danny and Mark. Whilst I have many doubts about Stuart’s managerial skills I do feel he is being hung out to dry by the club. There is very little communication from within the club about anything either on or off the field. We are supposed to still have a board of a sort, who,thus far this season have been totally silent and appear to be no longer empowered to voice any opinion. I’m not sure a new manager is the answer right now but some shake up or kiss of life in the boardroom may be a start.

  10. Another good piece Jason.
    I would give Stuart McCall a deal until the end of next season. Some of our players in their final year of their contracts will hopefully move on in January, if not June. McCall will then have the flexibility to sign the players HE wants.
    In his first spell as manager McCall failed, whereas 2nd time around he didn’t. This is a best of 3 scenario which I hope and feel he can succeed. He deserves the opportunity of another season IMO.

    • Best of 3 scenario? By Summer 2021 he will have around a collective 5 and a half years in charge of the club.

      If it wasn’t for him being called ‘Stuart McCall’ he wouldn’t have been given another chance – at this point his passion and love for the club is becoming desperation to succeed, which not a tangible quality anymore for him as a manager for us.

      I do think he’s under a ridiculous amount of financial restrictions though in terms of what he’s been able to spend money on – including a full and complete modern backroom setup for this level. We were the club that couldn’t afford an assistant for Bowyer remember? Its obvious McCall is wearing a lot of hats – which isn’t feasible, even at L2, in 2020.

      To be honest, if Rupp and McCall are still here for next season along with an uninspiring CEO, I won’t renew (and cost isn’t an issue). And a lot of people will probably do the same – if games this season were open to fans the atmosphere would be absolutely toxic, again. And I don’t think a lot of fans have the patience anymore.

  11. The way the club is being run at present from tip to bottom is an absolute disgrace and so against that needed to stay in this division. I sincerely hope the mooted announcement of a CEO is true, that it isn’t the communications guy and that it leads to structure and focus missing in the last 4 years. If not I fear we are relegation bound and God knows what future.

  12. Sacking yet another manager at this point will not change anything. The problem lies above Stuart. As others have said, Rhodes’ time is up and he needs to go immediately. Fans need to know who the new CEO is, not because we have a vendetta against Rhodes & Rupp, but it is a clear marker on the future of our club. If it is an internal appointment in Ryan Sparks I fear for the future. Nothing against Ryan, he was doing a good job communicating with the fans until, we can only surmise that he was told by above to keep quiet. The CEO is too big a task for him at this stage and given the huge repair job that needs to be done, finding a new owner, a foundation up rebuild of the football club as well as getting fans to buy into something positive again. Non league football beckons and the board can no longer dismiss fans concerns as ‘social media noise’.

  13. Lets all take the rose tinted specs off. As a manager Stuart McCall is an absolute disaster who tactical nouse makes John Doherty look like Jurgen Klopp.

    You say that he was always good at inspiring players to give everything, but I have to disagree. On the pitch as a player, yes, absolutely no doubt that he had the same drive and leadership as Gary Jones showed for us, but as a manager the only two players I’ve seen him really inspire were Romaine Vincelot and Mark Marshall. Other than that he’s failed abjectly.

    As a man I would crawl naked over broken glass for Stuart, but as a coach and football manager he has nothing at all to give the modern game. This stupid three at the back formation will never work in league two and David Blunkett could see that. League Two is all about two solid banks of four. If they get past the midfield then their are four defenders to cover. Parkinson knew that and built a team on it, even to the extent of only releasing wingers in the last quarter of a game. It wasn’t pretty at times, but it was effective. Stuart’s formation seems to ignore that the wingbacks need to defend and leaves us wide open, and his choice of three at the back (Staunton excepted) is flawed. Captain Tom is quicker reactions than BRE.

    The club is rotten to the core, we have players who don’t care, we have very poor recruitment from SM in resigning players who didn’t add last time like Clarke & Cooke. He’s signed Evans who doesn’t even know himself if he’s a fullback, winger or striker. Austin Samuels isn’t ready for adult football and why oh why did he give Donaldson an extension when he’s two years at least past retirement. The keeper has super glued his feet to his line and all three senior centre halves wouldn’t play regularly for East Bowling Unity.

    10 days ago we were shown exactly what a centre half should do when McArdle gave us a 45 minute display in how to get your head on every ball that came into the box. He was immense.

    Now on to the management structure, Rupp has gone missing in action and doesn’t care. He is interested in one thing and that’s a profit on his investment. He’s deluded and just doesn’t get football as an industry that doesn’t make money without serious progress being made. Rhodes is, as ever, the most amazing “invisible man” in history. I get that he’s a private man and quite shy, but at this time we need a vocal leader. He’s not that. In fact other than when he had Richmond in 98/99 and latterly Lawn as mouth pieces to hide behind, Rhodes has presided over the worst years of our history. He needs to grow a pair and politely arrange for Stuart to resign. TODAY.

    This club is going nowhere apart from the National League. Look at the tables there and be amazed at the clubs we used to play who are in the National League and the National League North. Teams who never in a million years would have expected to be there. York City, Wrexham, Stockport, Chester City, Torquay, Hartlepool, Notts County, Halifax, Aldershot, Chesterfield – and that’s ignoring the teams that have come and gone. All stalwarts of the Fourth Division.

    Our only hope for this season is that Southend & Stevenage don’t improve and we finish third bottom, but in the meantime we can slowly get rid of 90% of the dross in football shirts and replace Stuart, his useless sidekick Black, oust Rupp as owner and bring in a CEO (NOT Ryan Sparks) who has experience of effectively running a football club.

    If we go down, its the end. We won’t come back.

    • Hi Jonathan. To be fair to McCall re: Donaldson, I think the extension was in Donaldson’s favour (ie Donaldson could chose to extend or not). Same with Ismael. I’d be surprised if Stu wanted to keep either given their injury records last season and I bet Donaldson is one of the higher earners.

  14. Another defeat and more rants after it having gone quiet for a fortnight.

    Blame the owner, blame the CEO. The only thing that will provide the transformation of BCAFC is money. Money to buy the club, money to invest, money to attract the backroom staff. In the absence of that magic ingredient it is going to be a long haul and the best way of being successful in that long haul is a degree of stability at the club and a degree of realism about the art of the possible.

    It’s easy said that done shouting for a new owner. Julian Rhodes searched high and low for a new owner and no-one credible could be found until Stefan Rupp came along with Edin Rahic in 2016. What chance finding an owner now whilst we languish at the bottom of League Two. We can all agree that a new owner is needed and by all accounts we will have a new CEO soon but where is the magic ingredient – money – going to come from to rescue the club? In the meantime spare us the praise of Geoffrey Richmond.

  15. Looking at the comments, people are pointing out lots of different reasons for why we’re where we are. It’s a sign of how bad it is when you think there’s probably some truth in all of them!

    We’ve been drifting since Rahic was bought out. Rupp doesn’t look to have a long term interest in the club, so we’re just treading water, but until when? What is he waiting for? It’s not like we’re going to discover oil under the training ground, and if we did we don’t even own the training ground! There is no vision, no leadership, nothing proactive at the top of the club and that effect is dripping down on those below. Apathy from the top, apathy from the players.

    But Stuart – God love him – doesn’t escape criticism. He should be doing a lot better, even with this limited squad. He resigned DMH, reportedly turned down inquiries for Guthrie and BRE, chose Evans and Samuels (‘last piece of the jigsaw’) to sort out our attacking woes. ‘A lot of people’ said we needed a leader in the middle of the pitch, ‘a lot of people’ said we didn’t properly replace Vaughan, ‘a lot of people’ said we needed some more quality from the wide areas. And those ‘lot of people’ were right and Stu was wrong (or wasn’t allowed to act). But he sets the transfer strategy (small squad etc), organises the coaching, sets the tactics. What we do in training is a mystery, do they do anything around either box? Because we seem soft in both, no conviction or determination to win the ball, no ruthlessness to either clear the ball or put it in the net. And now he sounds like he’s in denial about how bad it is, which is one of the first steps towards the managerial exit (to be followed by having meltdowns at the ref, playing players out of position and finally turning on the fans). I hate to think what Valley Parade would be be like now if fans were allowed in.

    While I don’t want to sack another manager (I buy into all the comments about consistency, long term planning), you have also have to be sure you’ve got the right manager to stick with in the first place. I’m still not convinced that the way McCall wants us to play, the way he’s approached it so far, will get us out of this division.

    Rupp and/or Rhodes need to get a grip. We need clear communications from the club about the short and medium term. What are Rupp’s intentions? Does he back McCall? Who is going to run the club for him? If he’s staying as owner, are we going to start to start to address the structural shortcomings? If he’s leaving,, advertise the fact and be realistic about what City is now worth. Realistically we are going to lose a lot of games in December, we have some harder fixtures that month, so if this just festers without being addressed then we could be in an even worse state come the new year.

  16. “THE NEVER ENDING STORY”…. City continue to never learn from past mistakes, repeat, repeat, repeat.

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