|Carlisle United 3|
|Bennett 37, Zanzala 39+56|
|Bradford City 1|
|P O’Connor 64|
By Adam Raj
Back to back defeats seemed to be a thing of the past after Bradford City’s recent run of form. In fact, it looked like this Bantams side had forgotten how to lose. But this afternoon’s grim performance in Cumbria condemned City to only their third defeat under Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars, but second in five days.
Callum Cooke was once again missing from a City side that made one change from the defeat to Newport in midweek – Gareth Evans returned, whilst Danny Rowe dropped to the bench. Sellars had reported that Cooke’s omission in midweek was a precaution, after the midfielder had felt some tightness in the warm up in Cardiff. And it’s clear that the management duo are not willing to take any chances with their most influential attacker.
But how much they missed him today. In what was an extremely poor first half, City couldn’t string two passes together. 46% pass accuracy from the visitors by the interval was nothing short of unacceptable for a professional side. City looked bereft of any composure whatsoever, launching it long at every opportunity, often with no success.
Their hosts on the other hand, started the game bright and full of energy. Carlisle’s recent run of poor form had clearly been used by their squad as motivation to get promotion hopes back up and running, whereas City still looked to be feeling sorry for themselves after Tuesday’s last minute sucker punch.
January signing Offrande Zanzala, who seems to always have a lively game against the Bantams, proved to be Paudie O’Connor and Niall Canavan’s toughest test yet. In truth, he bullied the centre backs and the pair looked uncharacteristically rattled. Whilst credit has to go to Carlisle for the way in which they started the game, it was bitterly disappointing to see City start so negative.
Carlisle’s midfield trio of Jon Mellish and former Bantams duo Callum Guy and Joe Riley were unrelenting in their aggressive press and tacking which City failed to cope with. Levi Sutton and Elliot Watt failed to get a grip of the game all afternoon. It was a performance that made the decision not to sign a more physical midfielder in January all the more strange.
But despite the hosts’ pressure, City still had the better openings on goal. A half cleared freekick was knocked back into the box for Gareth Evans who took too long to get a shot away when he really should have taken the chance on the volley first time. And then Ollie Crankshaw capitalised on a poor piece of defending by George Tanner to go through one on one with keeper Paul Farman, but a heavy touch allowed the Carlisle stopper to block the effort on goal.
Predictably, however, the hosts took the lead. Sam Hornby initially made a save from a long range effort which fell to the feet of Lewis Alessandra and with the goal gaping, completely mishit his shot, allowing Paudie O’Connor to make the challenge and put the ball behind. A let off, but the resulting corner saw the Bantams deservedly behind. Centre half Rhys Bennett got free of his man and had a free header from six yards out which he couldn’t miss. It was a goal that gave the home side even more confidence and they went in search for a second.
Minutes later they had it. Another corner, another goal. Except this one wasn’t as straight forward. Hornby flapped at Guy’s inswinger amidst a sea of bodies from both sides, which effectively led to a pile on in the goal mouth. Someone scrambled the ball over the line and City were two behind. Zanzala claimed it, and the referee was too far away from the action to see whether there was a foul. Although, City’s claims were half hearted at best which probably suggests it was fair game.
Carlisle were well worth their lead at half time, but from a City perspective, it was a worrying half in terms of performance and attitude. It was the first time since Trueman and Sellars took over that I can say that City just didn’t look up for it.
The second half mostly was much of the same. City lumping it long, Carlisle in control of the game but the visitors having the better chances. That was however, after Zanzala grabbed his second of the game and the hosts eased off the pedal. A left wing cross from Brennan Dickenson found Zanzala in the box who cushioned a lovely header back across goal to extend the Cumbrians’ lead. It was a scoreline that you couldn’t really argue with, but it became about damage limitation for the visitors.
City were handed a lifeline after Evans’ effort deflected off Paudie O’Connor and found the back of the net, after an Anthony O’Connor knockdown. Evans then wasted a glorious opportunity when he again took too long to get a shot away after being sent through by Billy Clarke. Andy Cook then spurned an even better chance as he went through one on one with Farman. The in form striker tried to lob the onrushing keeper but put his effort wide.
It was a game that despite being second best throughout, City should’ve been level in.
Ultimately though, City paid the price for a very poor first half showing and slumped to a second successive defeat. After their fantastic performances in recent weeks, the performance of the back four can probably be attributed to it just being an off day as today they certainly didn’t demonstrate the calmness and assurance that we would associate with them.
In front of them however, it hasn’t been clicking for a while. Sutton and Watt look exhausted, both mentally and physically, and have failed to control a game for a number of weeks and were again outrun today. Kian Scales showed up fairly well in his cameo in the closing stages this afternoon. It will be interesting to see if he gets more of a chance in the weeks ahead.
The front four were largely starved of the ball and both Charles Vernam and Crankshaw spent more time defending than attacking. Evans, despite his goal, looked off the pace but he wasn’t alone. It was a performance, in an attacking sense, that hasn’t been too dissimilar to the last four or five outings. City seem to be lacking any cohesion or familiarity in the final third. It all feels a bit off the cuff.
Our recent form has largely been built on a rock solid defence and scoring from a set piece or goal of the season contender. But as WOAP has mentioned previously, this isn’t sustainable.
It feels unfair to be criticising Trueman and Sellars after the job they have done in avoiding relegation to the National League. But whilst a safety first approach was needed back then in line with the club’s objective of safety at all costs, it seems that their approach hasn’t changed, despite City now looking up rather than down. They don’t score enough goals, nor do they create enough clear cut chances at the minute.
And that’s the next step for the managerial duo, to build on what has largely been a reliable backline and go into games with more of a positive mindset to take the game to our opponents, whether that be this season or next.
You wonder whether it will require a pre-season to really get it clicking in an attacking sense, time that Trueman and Sellars could only dream of having at the minute.
Categories: Match Reviews