A dose of reality

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

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27 replies

  1. We looked dead on our feet from first minute to last.
    Let’s hope a break and some good time spent on the training pitch will do us good.
    I would say take 3 days off come back in and reset.
    See if the players actually have any aspirations for the remainder of the season.

  2. Agree with all the points made. A dose of reality that we have a solid team but weren’t going to waltz our way to League 1.

    Such is the division we could go on another run and still make the play offs. Let’s remain hopeful rather than expectant.

    We are safe and anything from here is a bonus.

    • Wrong team selection playing with two wingers who don’t seen to have any end product especiallyaway from home not good ,Evans his obviously not match fit and should have been on the bench the keeper is our number two why his he playing ,the strikers play them together ,alone they are isolated and the midfield needs rotating,and let’s not fool ourselves we have been lucky in a lot of the close result the next three games are pivotal or the season over this where experience is vital.

  3. Whatever will be, will be. We know that we have a good team and we know what it is capable of but if the squad lacks the collective stamina – whether physical or mental – there is no point deceiving ourselves or having unrealistic expectations about promotion.

    In 1983/84 when the team similarly had an incredible turnaround mid-season with the ten wins in a row, the momentum eventually gave way through exhaustion in conjunction with fixture congestion. Maybe that is what we are facing now.

    T&C have an interesting challenge in terms of knowing exactly how far they can push the squad. The risks are injuries and the season ending in massive disappointment at the final hurdle and being remembered for the wrong reasons. Next week there is a welcome break and the chance for players to recharge themselves. If by the end of this month the momentum has not been recovered I would encourage realism about the chances of promotion this time and start to look further ahead.

    Mathematically it is still entirely possible that we can get promoted this season but there is a strong case to start focusing on next season and making it one to really remember – just as in 1984/85 – with the added attraction of it being played in front of a packed Valley Parade. It would not be a disaster to finish outside the play-offs in May, we all know that things are going in the right direction and it might be better to be patient.

    • John, “whatever will be, will be.” That is a dramatic change in stance from seven days ago when you stated “I don’t think there is a reason to panic” and City are “better in quality than the vast majority of other sides in this division.”

      It looks like my sustainability concerns based on xGoal stats and good fortune appear to be finally showing their influence on results. Like I said last week, if City are to challenge for a playoff spot, they need to score more goals. T and S need to look at other formations and likely two strikers (one with pace).

      • If you read what I have said previously, I have been consistent about highlighting physical and mental stamina being the critical factor. Post Newport I expressed potential concerns about tired legs and today has confirmed them. The team has demonstrated its capability as one of the best in the league but if the players have tired legs it is academic. And as I said before, if the players are worn out there is little chance of experimenting with new formations.

        No, it is not about luck running out. Period.

      • You don’t mention injuries that have limited options for team selection and player rotation. Or is that also to do with luck?

  4. Adam. I don’t understand what you mean in your last paragraph. Good report.
    I thought City looked tired.
    The referee did not cause city to lose but he was as bad as it gets. How he could give a bounce up when Evans was Rugby tackled defeats me.
    Remember the wise comment of Brian noble that a good team doesn’t become a bad team if it plays bad once.
    A bit of a rest then regroup and come back strongly.

    • Hi John

      Re: last paragraph. It might be my dodgy editing of Adam’s piece. Basically Adam was stating that the managers might need a pre season to get the players up to better speed attacking wise (in terms of having time to develop things with the players) and that they probably wish they could have such a time out period to improve the attacking play when the games are coming so thick and fast right now.


      • Thanks. Agreed.
        I also think the wind didn’t help us because we conceded 2 in the deluge. Then it dropped in the 2nd half.
        But we were poor.

  5. Listening to the Radio Cumbria commentry was interesting as they mentioned that City looked flat in the warm-up whilst Carlisle’s warm up seemed to show much more spirit. Watching the game was odd as it wasn’t like I could say “so-and-so” played badly etc it was just that Carlisle were just so much sharper than us and kep the ball so well we rarely had a sniff and when we did it wasnt for long enough. We could have been 2-0 up before Carlisle scored but the Cumbrians were definately worth the 3 points. They wanted it more than us and bossed that game. Hornby did well enough to stop it being 5 in my opinion.

    No midweek game is a blessing, hopefully Cooke is fit again and the team can work on training ground to regain their mojo

  6. Agree completely Adam,difficult to know what happened today ,didn’t look up for it at all ,although with better finishing could have got 2 in first half.
    We played very little football ,hoofing it away and giving possession back but at 3-1 if Cook puts that one away it would have been interesting.
    Really bad day at the office but still plenty to play for .

  7. I’m sorry but if you think that second goal was fair you’re wrong , having said that we didn’t deserve anything from the game. Onward and upwards see how we go Saturday after a breather

    • It’s the sort of goal that 99 times out of 100 would be disallowed for sure. But equally, watching it back a few times, I can’t see an obvious foul. Just a mass of bodies coming together.

      • As the flight of the ball comes in from the corner, just watch the Carlisle player obstruct Hornby trying to come for the ball, the Carlisle player makes no attempt to win the ball, his sole objective is to stop Hornby, that’s where the infringement is.

  8. It was a poor performance for sure and when I went to bed after the game (4am Sydney), I was thinking – that’s the play offs out of the window. However, after looking at the table this morning, I’m not feeling too bad at all. Plenty of winnable games coming up next and say we win the games in hand, we’re only just short of the mix. I’m not down and neither should City be! All still to play for and that table could look very different again in a few weeks time. Glass half full for me not half empty!

  9. I thought City looked lathargic. The passing and pass options were poor. I thought Carlisle did their home work on us. They kept the ball better even facing the wind. City were more hit it and hope. I have considered the point of city being jaded because of the amount of matches played recently. Isn’t that the same for most clubs at this time?
    The defence I can give for today’s performance is down to unavailable personal. They missed Cooke. That was clearly evident. I am confident had Staunton, Hossanah, Prichard and Novac been available we would have been in the top 7. They are not. So we have to work with what we have. We need to look at the tactics adopted. We need to make sure they are right for the squad we have available. We definitely need a plan B in case things are not going to plan. A true test for our 2 new managers. I still believe they will learn from today’s performance and turn it round against Oldham next Saturday.

  10. Thanks for the report a fair one at that.
    The defence absolutely has earned its stripes over the last 15+ games so no need to panic there, they just need a week off ! Our midfield was over ran from min 1 unfortunately which again hasn’t happened often but today the legs weren’t there. We missed Cooke for sure, he’s the link man with accuracy to feed the forwards. He also to me is a leader and moaner at ref and other players to get the best out of them and today and Tuesday they needed that more than ever. We only lacked 1 more signing in Jan which was a central midfielder to complement the 3 who’ve done so well up to now. We will have to make do. I’m afraid Clarke looks unrecognisable from the spritely one we’ve seen earlier in the season at times, a shocking week from him if I’m honest and unfortunately looking every bit his age. Steven’s touch for a young technically gifted player who isn’t fatigued was unbelievably poor today when came on. Evans doesn’t have the turn of pace or finishing prowess to offer anything other than a steady hand coming off the bench (still a useful role) However Cooks hold up play was and is simply superb and he deserves to play with a partner every week between now and the end of the season. Ideally with some pace alongside him. He looks about as fit as John McGinley did with us but don’t be fooled by that the lad -in my opinion is a really good striker. A note of concern for me is the growing use of cloak and dagger around Staunton. Hossanah and Novak. These are 3 excellent players that we’ve been told are “back on the grass “ etc etc. This has gone on for circa 2 months ! I really hope Cooke isn’t added to this list between now and May. Get 2 of the 3 back and we may still have a shout still . The guys overall have been outstanding. Newport was a killer last 10 which hasn’t helped us today coming fast on the back of that. Regroup – reset and let the handbrake off now – we are safe and should go for it. Who’s knows in this mad season…!

  11. Woap, Jason et al are seemingly been proven correct with their expected goals stat which was derided by some who just looked at the results. Today for me was the day when the management duo needed to impose ourselves on them in an attacking sense. They had not won in 8 games and had 2 points from a possible 24. After recent games you would think that we would have got at them from the off. However the stats show that as in the previous game we had just one shot at goal in the first half but this time it wasn’t even on target. We gave the impetus to a side lacking in confidence and results by again been far too negative. Some fans are asking what Vernam has been doing lately but in his defence he as been defending far too much and far too deep. This is not a one off performance going forward when you consider Orient and the games since. Where as Suttons driving forward runs gone? The interplay between the midfielders? Fans are saying well at least we have stayed up? With returning players and a transfer window and Turnbull in place i think we would have anyway. The management duo made us hard to beat and deserve a lot of credit for that. But we have been feeding off scraps of attacking intent. I repeat what i have said earlier and you MUST get results playing this way. Imagine a packed valley parade watching our team playing counter attack at home and not getting the result? We were on the verge of an amazing challenge for the play=offs but in reality it was built on a do not get beat formation and tactic. The stats at goal support this and theprevious WOAP piece on expected goals seems very prophetic now. ps they cost me money today 😦

  12. A fair analysis, of a City team which is starting to lose the ability to put good passes together and show composure on the ball. We failed to control the midfield for any meaningful period of time.

    I would change one word in this sentence, ‘It was a game that despite being second best throughout, City should’ve been level in’, to ‘could’ve’!

    Over the totality of the match we were well beaten.

  13. Great discussion following a disappointing day. I agree there’s still lots of positives and far too soon to ‘write off’ the season….although I did feel a bit that way when they scored their third !

    I have two main concerns….

    – the length it seems to be taking to get Staunton, Novak and Hosannah back. Wish club would be a bit more.open about the problems…and let’s hope Cooke doesn’t join this list
    – Cook: not overly impressed with him week in week out. I know he’s scored some of our goals but a few of these have been gifts. I don’t think he wins enough ball in the air. Not for lack of trying but basically he’s a couple of inches too short. And when we end up hoofing ball upfront invariably it just comes straight back. Not someone we should be looking to sign permanently in my view.

    I’m sure we’ll see a response Saturday.

  14. I personally think it was inevitable that we would at some point see the physical & mental battery start to flash ” empty”. This season is relentless & the last week as seen the squad travel not far short of 800 miles. As someone who used to travel up & down the country for work you cannot under- estimate the draining nature of this type of travel. You see it all over the Leagues this season that tiredness is a big factor in results. There is still hope this season cos the battery ” empty” will be flashing for a lot of clubs between now & May!

  15. It’s understandable that people look to the injury list when things aren’t going so well, and also question the degree of involvement of certain attacking-type players, with Vernam in particular mentioned in this respect.

    But it seems to me that the reason for yesterday’s performance, or lack of one, has a lot to do with the game-plan: knock it long and hope for the best. The managers took a similar approach at the end of January for a two or three game spell, and performances, if not results, dipped then too (except for the loss to Exeter). Every goal kick was long, and every time the ball fell to a defender it was sent long, with the inevitable result that it came straight back, and often with interest – a City goal kick ended up leading to Carlisle’s first.

    Maybe if Cook had been available they would have done it differently, but I can only guess at what sort of impact this tactic has on the players, as it doesn’t seem to confer that much trust in them to play actual football. Their involvement as a result is confined to scrapping for possession, and in those conditions, rather than building from the back, as did Carlisle for the most part. And so Vernam et al are principally consigned to defensive actions instead of attacking ones, which given the type of players brought in during January seems such a waste, and it also flies in the face of what had been working so well under the new managers. I hope, as with the earlier spell of long-ballism, that they revert to what was working before, and which was far more enjoyable for the players (it seems) and supporters alike.

  16. City won the toss , why oh why didnt we chose to turn Carlisle around and make them face the wind in the first half ? And also agree with poster above that second goal was like a brawl , bug mistake by another crap ref whom was nowhere near play , maybe punishment for our dynamic duo slating last weeks terrible reffing .. onwards and upwards, CTID .

  17. Agree with pretty much all of the above. When fine margins often determine goals, the weather and refereeing were factors, but the underlying structural issue was more about tiredness, the telling stat on passing accuracy, and some of the resulting tactics, such as far too much hoofball.

    I’m reminded of Jason’s comment in the last article that Parkinson, in the history maker’s season, juggled his players at the same crucial point, to leave enough in the tank for a final push. Trueman & Sellars, who have done magnificently to get us this far, need to face into this next challenge in their fledgling managerial journey. They’ve been saying for weeks that “rotation would be key” but haven’t put it into practice.i share the frustration above about news on the injured players- the last news on Staunton was 4th Feb stating he’d been training for a week. But even assuming key players such as Reece remain unavailable, I think T&S need to gamble with a wider squad for a couple of matches to rest key players like Watt & Sutton. I would risk a few more draws & losses now rather than injuries and demoralisation of exhausted players.

  18. Good report and summarises the game fairly.

    During the whole match I remember remarking that it feels like we haven’t put 5 passes together in a row, also telling that the 5 best chances we had (including the goal) came from a set piece/one looped pass/defensive error rather than brilliant build up play (e.g. Vernam hitting the ball back into box for Evans 1st chance, Cook hitting the ball over the defence and the defender missing it for Crankshaw, Rowe heading a clearance through for Cook’s 1-vs-1).

    You can see how much the team does miss Cooke’s creativity and ability to keep the ball in that no 10 role.

    Also, agree with people commenting about the lack of depth in midfield, currently we have 3 experienced midfielders who should be available next week (e.g. Watt, Sutton & Cooke).This is why I felt Pritchard being out for the season is a bigger blow than most people have seemed to suggest. He’s had an up and down time at City but he can play centrally, offers height and is a good goalscorer from midfield, which would be welcomed. Also, the fact that he would allow the regular midfield 3 to be rested (while not being a direct replacement for them, he would good T&S that option).

    We also have no obvious cover aside from playing someone out of position or an inexperienced player like Scales. For example, Rowe has been tried in the number 10 and has the ability to keep the ball and be creative but it is better to keep him between the goalposts and in the box. I’d be interested to see if Staunton could do a job in midfield, he’s clearly got good feet and is calm on the ball and T&S will know him well and if could be deployed as a midfielder.

    I think Watt and Sutton have been brilliant during this run and deserve massive credit for playing 90 minutes Tuesday-Saturday for such a long period but I do feel that us not having depth in central midfield could be a key factor in us dropping away in this play off chase. Maybe it could be worth considering a change in formation to allow 1 of the central midfield 3 to rest, although as many people have mentioned meddling with a successful formula could backfire.

    • If Staunton was fit, maybe you could try him & Finn Cousin Dawson in left & right back, push Antony O’Connor & Conor Wood into the defensive midfield roles, and rest Sutton & Wood. There was talk pre season about building a squad with “utility players” who could play in multiple roles.

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