Below par Bradford City deliver their most un-Trueman and Sellars performance yet

Scunthorpe United 2
Eisa 5, Green 59
Bradford City 0

By Jason McKeown

The most curious part is the sudden loss of identity. Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars had built a Bradford City team with a very distinctive imprint and sense of purpose. The players looked incredibly well drilled. They were showing a level of consistency you don’t often see in League Two. Methodical, structured and effective. And for once, the foundations looked strong.

Yet it’s all unravelling with worrying ease. Composure has given way to confusion. Assurance replaced with anxiety. Success to stagnation. If the first few months of Trueman and Sellars represented the feast after the famine, it’s back to slim pickings. And slowly falling down the league table.

Watching Bradford City go down to defeat at Scunthorpe United – a third defeat in four – it was almost as though the last few months of hot winning streaks hadn’t happened. This was a performance that took you back to the final knockings of Stuart McCall’s tenure. Of conceding a poor goal early doors, generally playing okay, missing easy chances, conceding again, and then missing yet more easy chances. They even ended the match playing McCall’s favoured 3-5-2.

On another night, the Bantams might well have won this game. Yet equally they could have lost by a lot more. It’s this lack of control over the outcome that is completely alien to what we’ve seen from Trueman and Sellars until recently. A curious disappearance of the previous high levels of organisation that has routinely helped City to come out on top of so many close games.

Trueman made the point after the match that he and Sellars are trying to make City more expansive. An acknowledgement that even during the run of wins, performances weren’t always as good as results. “We went a little bit more attacking tonight, and we got punished,” Trueman stated. “We’re trying to build something and it’s going to take time. There’s going to be lessons to learn.”

Nevertheless, as Trueman and Sellars stood frowning on the touchline deep in the second half, they must have been struggling to recognise the group of players in front of them.

The managerial pair have won so many plaudits for seemingly instilling a tougher mentality in the group, getting players who in the past has been dogged by inconsistency to turn up week in week out. But this was a ragged display from those same players – as though they’re starting to forget everything that was making them successful. “I thought we were below the standards we’ve set,” admitted Trueman.

It was evident as early as the fifth minute, when City had gone forward in numbers but were caught out after the turnover. Scunthorpe countered with pace and menace, the former City loanee Alex Gilliead charging down the middle of the pitch, before arrowing an inch perfect through ball for Abo Eisla to run onto and finish low past Richard O’Donnell to make it 1-0.

A good goal from a claret and blue perspective – I don’t remember such a cutting end product from Gilliead during his season and a half at Valley Parade – but the fact he carried the ball forward from his own half was damning of City. This simply was not the high standards of impenetrable defensive work that we’ve been used to from this team.

The early blow from Scunthorpe put City in a position of chasing the game, which to their credit they did quite well. Charles Vernam – finally given a chance on his favoured left side – produced a wonderful curling effort from the edge of the box that came crashing back off the bar. Elliot Watt also struck a powerful free kick that hit the inside of the post and bounced along the line, before it was cleared.

Trueman and Sellars took the decision to entrust young midfielder Kian Scales in the number 10 position that is proving so hard to fill in Callum Cooke’s absence. The only real criticism you can lay at the 19-year-old is that you’d like him to have been more involved in the game, but the blame for that probably lies more with teammates. When Scales did pick up possession, he looked useful. Unless Billy Clarke is fit to return, Scales deserves to keep his place for now – assuming the 4-2-3-1 is maintained.

In what was an open game, Scunthorpe had chances too. Just before half time, Devarn Green got free in the wide striker position and forced a good save from O’Donnell. Anthony O’Connor had another difficult night, where he was left too exposed by Oli Crankshaw. Levi Sutton and Watt once again found themselves out-numbered in the middle of the park, due to Scunthorpe’s 4-3-3.

The next goal felt huge, and Vernam probably should have grabbed it. When early in the second half Crankshaw’s excellent cross into the box lead to Scunthorpe difficultly clearing their lines, the ball fell to Vernam with the goal gaping. His shot was blocked, but his effort had been too weak.

A more clinical finisher would have made it count. A point demonstrated moments later when a similar chance fell to Green at the other end, and he made no mistake to make it 2-0. Again from Scunthorpe’s perspective it was a good goal, as a cross into the box was well won by Ryan Loft, sparking chaos. But Trueman and Sellars will have spent the pre-match inquest pointing out that Connor Wood should have done more to stop the cross, and that Niall Canavan had the chance to clear but shanked the ball up in the air, which Green latched onto.

Compare the defensive failings of this goal with any of the large number that City conceded under McCall’s final few weeks. This is a backline worryingly returning to bad habits.

There was still half an hour to play, and it became akin to a basketball match. One team attacked, and then the other team had a go at the other end. O’Donnell made three very important blocks that kept the scoreline respectable, whilst Andy Cook, Paudie O’Connor, Gareth Evans and Jordan Stevens will be ruing the missing of some extremely presentable opportunities. “With the quality we’ve got in the team we expect to convert these chances,” groaned Trueman.

Two weeks ago, City were 1-0 up at Newport County with 15 minutes left to play, and about to climb over the magical 50-point mark that would have more than ensured their Football League survival. They were about to cement a season-best placing of 10th, and cut the gap to the play offs down to four points, with two games in hand.

They somehow went onto lose the game that night, and clearly it has had a lingering impact on confidence. It was quickly followed by a very disjointed performance against Carlisle, a timid display against Oldham, and now this sloppy defeat.

The irony is that the attacking aspects of this performance were better than was produced in some of those five straight wins. It’s at the other end where things have really started to go wrong.

Until the Bolton game, City were barely giving their opponents a sight on goal. The following table shows the number of opposition shots on target during each of the five wins in a row, and the subsequent opposition shots on target over the past five games.

As you can see, the average number of shots on target achieved by the opposition is now five times higher. It’s got especially concerning since that evening at Newport, with Carlisle, Oldham and Scunthorpe each registering at least six attempts on goal.

If the Newport defeat was a blow to the team’s self-assurance, the difficult afternoon at Carlisle further accelerated the erosion of spirit and morale. Especially for Sutton and Watt, who have done such a great job protecting the back four until recently.

At Brunton Park, Watt dropped from a season average passing accuracy of 70.3% to just 40% – his second lowest of the season, after the October Barrow loss. Sutton fell from an average of 72.8% to 51.4%, comfortably his worst since he started to find his feet under Trueman and Sellars in December. Both players were substituted.

Such a bad day at the office must have damaged the pair’s confidence, and in the two subsequent games they’ve faced opposition who have lined up with an extra midfielder in the middle, to out-number them. Only Wood and Anthony O’Connor have played more minutes than Watt has for City this season, whilst Sutton has started every game under Trueman and Sellars. One or both clearly need a rest, but there aren’t any senior options to replace them.

With Cooke’s long-term absence causing well documented problems, the central middle spine of the team that has done so well over the last few months looks compromised. Watt and Sutton should be really proud of their efforts this season, but they’re increasingly being targeted by opposition managers and they need more help. “Their performance levels probably have dropped off at times, but that’s because of the high standards they set as individuals,” Trueman reflected.

The danger City face now is they’re heading towards a bumpy end to a season that began chaotically enough. Relegation isn’t going to return on the agenda of course, but the team increasingly don’t look to have enough depth, stamina, quality and conviction to push for the play offs. It means they’ve not got a lot to play for.

Neither Danny Rowe or Andy Cook are getting good enough service, or fully convincing they can lead the line effectively on their own. Vernam and Crankshaw continue to flatter to deceive. Gareth Evans is struggling to prove he deserves a starting place. Anthony O’Connor is having a tougher time at right back. Paudie O’Connor looks increasingly robbed of composure. Canavan has proven he isn’t flawless after all. Wood continues to look average.

Whatever Trueman and Sellars were doing before that was working so well, the team has lost its direction and the spotlight is firmly on the pair to see whether they’re capable of fixing it.

This is turning into a slump. And it’s one that Trueman and Sellars can’t afford to let drift into something worse. They’ve done a remarkable job turning around City’s season, but they’ve suddenly got something to prove all over again.

Categories: Match Reviews

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23 replies

  1. As always great article Jason while watching the TV tonight my 15 daughter after 60 mins said dad were 2/0 not going to the National League why are we not going for it we had 3 forwards on the bench and it took the inexperienced managers over 70s minutes to make any changes and I find that very confusing. If the the ground on Saturday had 15000 people in when they did a like for like swap with Rowe coming off abuse would have hauled down on them from the Kop I’m worried that they may fall back into what Bowyer was giving in the end of his reign and the next 11/12 games may find them friend or foe come start of August .

  2. If this result had not come after poor displays against Carlisle and Oldham then I do not think there would be furore and concern that there seems to be tonight.
    I look on the Newport game as a suicidal defeat. We played well, albeit without scoring a vital second goal and were punished by two silly goals.
    Tonight apart the almost Stuart McCallesque gifting of a very early goal we actually played quite well and I thought at half time we were unlucky to be losing.
    The first goal was so similar to goals conceded pre T&S I was looking for BRE!!!!!
    Once the second went in we could have been 3-1 up. The goal too was reminiscent of the type of goal we often conceded pre T&S.

    I think the captaincy should go back to Paudie and dont believe a keeper makes an effective captain. Hornby apart from the second goal at Carlisle was unfairly dropped.
    The vital Number 10 role is not going to be solved by an inexperienced Scales.
    Lets try playing Rowe upfront without the threat of being hooked after 60 mins for Cook. Cook is unlikely to be here next season and I believe Rowe will score goals if played regularly with the right service.
    The play offs might be too far away now but we need to finish the season as high as possible to carry momentum forward to next season.
    In addition a good finish will drive season ticket sales.

  3. I would like to see how many times Scales actually touched the ball because it didn’t look many to me. This is a young player who, in yep only my opinion doesn’t look ready for first team football. He barely touched the ball all game. Whether that is due to how we went about the game or his teammates, i think that its awry of the managers to want to keep the system and state that Cooke role is pivotal to how they play then put an inexperienced teenager in that role. Yep, at some stage young players need a chance but imo Scales isn’t ready just yet. I could see that we were trying to be ore positive within the shape and its hard to criticise the 1st goal for having more players forward , when many of us are asking why we are been so negative with nothing to lose. The 2nd goal conceded was very poor and the body language of the players didn’t look good when it went in. Sorry to single anyone out but O’Donnell turning his face away from a shot was disappointing and it seemed like AOC in particular wasn’t impressed. Cook worked hard up front but the lone striker doesn’t work, especially when the player behind you barely touches the ball. Yet amazingly in many ways we still had some great chances to score. Too many of the January window signings are making fleeting appearance of having ability. They are anonymous far too much and the pressure is been put on Watt and Sutton to both deliver and defend and ,Watt in particular isn’t producing like he was in this regard. The balance is wrong and even with more options than the previous manager ever had we don’t look that much dissimilar at the moment but overall create far less, which like his tenure isn’t been taken and whilst the focus is on protect old frailties have become apparent again. Tonight we tried to use the system more attacking wise but still it didnt work and the subs were again late and a little strange considering we had nothing to lose again.

  4. I’ve never begrudged Trueman and Sellars getting18 month contracts they’ve earned it. I’ve previously expressed concerns about the sustainability of City’s run of good results re March 2nd.. City had won five consecutive games and were benefiting from a dose of good fortune. I felt it was only a question of time before they were found out and the opposition adjusted their tactics. Not surprising I was heavily criticized (68 thumbs down).

    The current situation represents a good learning experience for the young managers. Hopefully, they will benefit from the experience of this slump. However, I’ve been disappointed by the lack of public acknowledgment being given to Lee Turnbull the “experienced one.” Going forward, Sparks and company are going to rely heavily on his experience. I hope they are successful in rebuilding the Club.

    • There’s a old saying it’s tuff at the top,which way this is going to go over the next five game’s will not only have a impact on this season but more importantly next season i.e season ticket sales and the feel good factor .City have took a massive gamble on the the appointment of such young inexperienced manager’s duo ,which had a immediate impact, but anyone looking at the stats could see lady luck played a part,i personality would have waited until the end of the season to appoint a manager ,and this is not looking back in hindsight ,I believe you can not beat experience ,I just hope they can turn this slump around or I can see the club getting edgy when the season ticket sale’s are due .

  5. Well duo Won the Lottery and. now don’t know what to do with it.Toothless up front no bite in mid field and our once solid defence looked like they were planning what to wear at end of season shindig job done.So disappointing for city fans.Playing like that city will not win another game this season.Only saving Grace is I haven’t traveled to watch that

    • So T & S start to lose and performances drop when they miss a few key players through injuries, fatigue etc etc.
      McCall suffered the worse injuries I’ve seen in 30 years yet the fans turned on him, despite his legendary status. How long before the knives turn to T & S…?
      I hope the fans have more patience this time and give them time to do their job.

      • Don’t hold your breath.

      • McCall was his own worst enemy, always over complicating things. He did it all his managerial career. Difference with Trueman and Sellars is they are just starting out. Honestly, some of the stuff I’ve read over the last week or so. Christ they’ve had one transfer window to change around the mess McCall and Rhodes left. T and S have started to build a good platform, in the summer, along with the recruitment team, they deserve the chance to build a stronger squad because one window was never going to be enough.

      • AL…Stuart had one window to try turn around the mess left by Bowyer. “one window was never enough” for him neither

  6. Self-belief is a manic mate at the best of times. He can turn on you quickly … and this, it appears, is happening right now.

    “Unravelling” fears might be a touch extreme … but yes, a win would do us all a bit of good to calm the fears, leap us over that 50 point hurdle and rid ourselves of the manic mate (at least for a while) to get some of that previous positive rhythm going again.

  7. It’s like someone sat on the self destruct button in cardiff and has not been able to get off it….

    Remember this is practically the same back 4 / 5 that has had a habit of self destructing over the last 2 seasons and Paudie in particular seems to has lost the plot – he’s back to look like he’ll get SO at any time!

    We just seem to throw away possession needlessly all the time which just invites pressure on us.
    Too many wayward long balls from the back, too many Watt passes trying to thread ball through the eye of a needle, too many short balls being fires at 100 miles an hour from 2 yds away away……no wonder the basic skill level looks poor.

    If we stick with most of this squad next season then I fear we’ll have the same outcomes next year – staring over your shoulder at the relegation zone!

  8. One of the most exciting things about the turnaround from T&S was how they came in and quickly did the things that were obvious to many fans; they tightened up the defence, they worked more on shape and structure, motivated the players to play the committed press, and were decisive in terms of bringing in new players and moving on those who were not good enough. Their in-game management for the unbeaten run was superb, including their substitutions.

    Since we hit the wall, there’s been a divergence with what the fans can see. Maybe it’s the commitment to their new system, maybe it’s stubborness, maybe they’re finding it harder to be ruthless now they know the players. The one up top is leaving that game’s striker too isolated. Teams are pressing Watt and Sutton quicker which is reducing the accuracy of their passing (as your article brilliantly points out). This is where a second striker to hold the ball up, higher up the pitch, is needed. The diagonal long ball from Paudie/Watt has been identified and teams are stopping it, but we keep trying. Wood doesn’t do enough to stop crosses and teams have identified Anthony O’Connor on the right side as the defensive weak link. Crankshaw and Vernam as typical wingers in that they are too erratic and we can’t afford them both to play below par. With Cooke to transition the play from the back third to the top third, we lack the time and confidence in possession. And our subs, quite late and usually like-for-like, are not helping to change the flow of the game.

    With so many of this squad here next season, we want to be seeing a little further development of the play, even if not everything works and the form isn’t scintillating. There’s nothing to panic about, T&S are in the middle of a freebie now. I can understand not wanting to change a winning formula, but now it’s no longer a winning formula, I’d like them to be a little bolder in trying to win games (two up top would be a good start) and try new plans B and C.

  9. There is no one on the field driving and leading the team forward. Paudie O’Connor was doing this until he lost the captaincy. Not convinced that the goalkeeper commands his area creating uncertainty in the defence. Another two silly goals conceded last night.

  10. Very disappointed with the result and the way we were set up. Scunthorpe couldn’t get a result for love or money. We gifted them the result. You have to be critical of the management team. They have lost their mojo. Opposition are countering our tatics effectively. They stop our flow by playing an extra midfielder. This is not a one off. Carlisle, then Oldham and now Scunthorpe have found us out. Yet the management duo has done little to change the way city are set up. The recent results should act as a incentive to try something different. The bench is there to change things if they are not working. 70 minutes 2 down before a change is made. We play Colchester on Saturday. It is a must win game. If we perform like we have over the last few matches, we will struggle to get anything from this game. Trueman and Sellars need to reflect on their tactics for that game and look to move from their comfort zone and try something different. They need to be bold in team selection and tactics. Good luck to the two of them. I do want them and city to succeed.

  11. I think whoever said we were lucky a few games ago and that it would even itself out was practically a clairvoyant. We had so many chances last night that to emerge with a 0 was quite incredible. Hit the bar, hit the inside of the post, Crankshaw surely felled in the area, Vernam easier to score than hit the post, Paudie sitter, 3 or 4 scrambles where I was just waiting for the net to bulge.

    Clearly, T&S changed something last night as we were far more open in the middle. They had to change something, as we offered nothing going forward against Oldham.

    Somehow it’s just not happening.

    We can only see what’s on the screen and not the whole pitch but clearly O’Donnell’s return has coincided with the defence looking shaky again. I say ‘coincided’ because he hasn’t done anything wrong that I’ve seen: a couple of superb stops last night, no chance with the goals.

    For me, we have to find a way to accommodate Rowe. We looked so much better when he came on. But he isn’t an out and out centre forward so that’s the conundrum for T&S – find a shape to fit the players.

    • On ROD is it just me or was the cross for the second goal his to claim?

      • and then to tun his face and body away from the shot like he was afraid to get hit was very disappointing. He is an ok shot stopper but he rarely takes command form corners and set-pieces. His shot stopping his mostly parrying it and thus he perhaps has no confidence in himself in catching the ball. His histrionics appear to panic the defence imo, look at him when a goal goes in and he is waving his arms about blaming everyone but himself. Neither keeper are that convincing tbh and before someone says its divison 4 (which it is), we have had some decent performers in goal at this level over the years and neither of these 2 will be remembered that much in a few years.

  12. Get hornby back in goal, and Give paudie the captaincy back ,

  13. I was gutted last night, as we had a false sense building from recent results, but let’s face reality here, anyone can beat anyone in this league as results showed yesterday, and the major factor was not to get relegated this season and job done.

    T&S need to take the shackles off now, we are safe, tell them to go out and express themselves for next season forget the results and let’s see what happens with that kind of freedom play 4-4-2 with Rowe and Cook until end of season and see where we finish ?

    I feel once again too much pressure unnecessarily with where we are in the league, and come Saturday it will be trying to keep a clean boring sheet again.


  14. I agree that city are playing poorly. But anyone who saw that game last night must accept that we should have scored a minimum of 2.
    Expectations were too high during our winning run.
    I personally am still heartened by events since last November and believe our management duo plus Sparks and Turnbull are very much on the right lines.
    They need to think and plan very carefully. Then recruit well. They seem weak on the defensive flanks.
    I do not accept the carping at T and S already by some fans. They have done well so far and will get it right.
    This season to me is a preparation for next.
    I am optimistic.

    • The management duo has done well. However, to progress in football or any other industry you have to move forward (continuous improvement). I fear, the duo have not changed their tactics to give the opposition something to think about. At the moment, the last few games, we have been out done by mediocre teams because they have read our tactics. I want the pair to succeed with the club. To move forward they need to grasp the nettle and change things and be less predictable.

  15. If Rowe is,nt a far better footballer than Cook,I.ii stand the “Drop of York”!!-Alright,he does,nt “gallop” all over the pifch,but you could see iast night when he came on,that his passing was first class!He makes the ball do all the work,and he always calmly looks for a team mate,plus the defenders just dare,nt give him a yard,or the ball will rocket into the net!!-PLAY HIM EVERY GAME,,with someone else with him!!

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