Faltering Bradford City struggle to find a promotion mentality

Harrogate Town 2
Muldoon 22, McPake 89
Bradford City 1
Cook 72

By Jason McKeown

The irony of the moment is that, for once, Bradford City were showing a willingness to take more risk. The game tied at 1-1, and with the tantalising opportunity to make a decisive leap up the queue for the play offs, the Bantams were pushing players forward, accepting the dangers of leaving gaps at the back. They pinned Harrogate in their own half. Huffing and puffing in search of what would have been a huge goal to win the match.

But then a City attack broke down. The impressive Jack Muldoon picked up possession and ran through the wide-open space. Levi Sutton tried, in desperation, to stop Muldoon illegally, but the ball ran through to Josh McPake, allowing the referee James Adock to play advantage. McPake cut inside Finn Cousin-Dawson and picked his spot. The ball flying into the net past the helpless Richard O’Donnell.

It was a huge blow to Bradford City’s play off hopes, which now seem very unlikely. Although results elsewhere once again suggest the door still isn’t fully closed. Win all five of their remaining games, and the Bantams would finish on 73 points. Which might be enough.

The problem is, it’s very difficult to see City winning all five of their remaining games.

They took more of a risk at last, and they were punished. This could prove to be an influential afternoon in shaping Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars’ mindset of how adventurous they should be. After two under-whelming performances in a week – albeit they won one of those two games – Sellars had to deal with pre-match questions about he and Trueman’s risk and reward appetite.

There was pressure, late on at Wetherby Road, to take off the handbrake. Go all out attack, especially with the incentive that seventh-placed Newport were losing. So the managers upped the gambling stakes. And lost. They might feel justified in their original cautious mindset.

Although that of course would suggest they got their tactics and line up right in the first place. City’s performance over the first 70 minutes at Harrogate offered scant evidence this was the case. In a game the Bantams had to target winning, they once again began with a slow tempo. They probed but rarely panicked Harrogate, who seized on City’s tentativeness by opening the scoring.

It had been almost six weeks since Harrogate last won, with a dreadful run of five defeats in seven. Like Crawley on Tuesday, the form guide suggested City were up against opponents low on confidence, ripe for the taking. But like Crawley on Tuesday, City’s lack of tempo in the early 20 minutes offered Harrogate the chance to get a footing in the game and take the lead.

There were even similarities in how City conceded. After Gareth Evans had failed to track the run of Josh Wright midweek, this time the man who took Evans’ place, Charles Vernam, left a huge gap behind him that allowed George Thomson and Mouldoon to double up on Anthony O’Connor. Mouldoon was played through by Thomson and finished well.

City can argue they had deserved to be ahead before that point. After just three minutes a brilliant Billy Clarke corner was met by a glancing header from Clayton Donaldson, only for the former Bantams keeper Joe Cracknell – who had a terrific game – to somehow claw it away. Clarke had another early shot blocked by Cracknell, and Cousin-Dawson hit the bar with an overhead kick attempt.

The biggest chance of all came just moments before City conceded, when a weak back-pass allowed Andy Cook to run at goal. He nudged the ball beyond Cracknell and should have been cute enough to fall over the keeper’s trailing leg to earn a penalty. But the striker stayed on his feet and saw the ball cleared by Will Smith, before he could tap it home. Honesty is not always the best policy.

Prior to conceding, Trueman and Sellars once again appeared justified in sticking with the 4-2-3-1 approach. But again, its limitations were on show when City need to chase a game. If the Bantams had shaded the first half of the opening 45 minutes, Harrogate then took over. The goal boosted their confidence, and they had some good chances before half time. Jon Stead – a Bradford City cult hero for his exploits six years ago – led the line and caused problems. He had one particular good chance where he was thwarted by the excellent Cousin-Dawson.

It needed a big second 45 minutes from City, but all too predictably they took too long to get going. Sutton did force a smart block from Cracknell, Cook saw another effort saved (with Vernam failing to make more of the rebound) and Donaldson headed just over the bar from another promising Clarke set piece. But Harrogate had good chances too, none more so than when Thomson ran clean through on goal but wastefully hit a shot against the bar.

Thomson and Josh Falkingham were especially dominant in possession over the 90 minutes. There was a simplicity to Harrogate’s 4-4-2. The players seemed comfortable in their roles. The wide players in particular took advantage of space behind Vernam and Clarke. The league table shows that Town are far from getting everything right, especially of late, but they were organised and difficult to play against.

In contrast, City’s 4-2-3-1 looked sluggish when a higher tempo was demanded. Donaldson was once again entrusted with the number 10 role, but this was a long way short of his performances against Colchester and Forest Green. The fact Donaldson’s pass success rate was a woeful 41% said much about the fall in standards compared to the 83% benchmark Callum Cooke was consistently setting. Donaldson definitely gave the team a kick-start at a really crucial moment a few weeks ago. But he’s not sustaining that impact. (Free Billy!)

The turning point for City came on 70 minutes, when Oli Crankshaw and Gareth Evans were brought on for the disappointing Elliot Watt and Vernam – neither player produced the form they’re capable of. Within two minutes, Crankshaw went on a brilliant solo run down the middle, before passing the ball to Cook who finished superbly for the goal he deserved.

Since signing for City in January, Crankshaw had struggled to show his capabilities and demonstrate he has an end product. This was without doubt his best performance so far for City, aided by the switch of formation that placed greater emphasis on him to play wider and run at people.

Within minutes of his goal assist, Crankshaw had set up Donaldson for a chance. The 22-year-old nearly struck a winner himself, as the game finally became more open. And even in stoppage time, when City trailed again, Crankshaw came the closest to equalising with a powerful close-range volley from fellow substitute Kian Scales’ pass. Cracknell miraculously saved Crankshaw’s effort.

There was not a lot to complain about City in those final 20 minutes. Moving to a 4-4-2, players pushed forward with better effect. Evans did a decent job alongside Sutton in enabling City to win the ball higher up the park and attack. It wasn’t quite a case of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it – Danny Rowe, amazingly, was left as an unused substitute – but they did show more adventure compared to Tuesday.

You just hope that the consequence of doing so – Muldoon’s goal – doesn’t put them off trying to be bolder in future.

If City had won here and on Tuesday, they’d been sat in the play offs now. They’d even have an outside shot of the automatics. And these last three fixtures were the easier games of their run-in. It is a missed opportunity for sure.   

But what’s becoming clearer now is that this Bradford City team are not quite ready to make the next leap. They don’t have the mentality to go into games and dominate the opposition. They don’t seem to play with the conviction of a side who believes they could get promoted.

It’s probably not something that you can easily find. It’s only three months ago that they were still looking over their shoulder, focused on climbing out and away from the relegation zone. They’ve been playing with a mindset of not getting beat, setting up to contain the opposition and waiting patiently for moments to pick them off. It’s difficult to suddenly change that mentality into one of promotion contenders.

The other issue is the lack of experience of being in this position. Obviously, it’s easy to level that at Trueman and Sellars – the latter spent part of the pre-match media conference recalling how he played for Harrogate Town during their non-league days – but when you look at the team, the experience isn’t really there either.

Of the starting XI today, only Clarke, Donaldson and Cook have been part of teams who have won promotion. Anthony O’Connor has twice played for clubs who reached and lost play off semi finals – Burton and Plymouth – and on the bench Evans has won promotion at Portsmouth, but that’s it really. This is not a dressing room full of players who have been in this sort of position before. And on top of that, they’re playing for a club that has seen significant failure over recent years. The culture of success has been absent from Valley Parade for some time.

It all adds up to a management team and group of players who have been handed this sudden, unexpected opportunity to get into the play offs and win promotion – and they don’t seem to know how to deal with it. They’re falling back on what has got them into this stronger position in the first place, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be enough to meet the revised demands.

Sellars spoke before the game about how a move to a more adventurous formation would be “unknown territory” for the squad. Given the players have built and maintained a mindset of making sure they protect the back four, don’t concede goals and counter attack, perhaps that’s a fair comment.

“We’re not just going to be able to flick the switch,” added Sellars. And he’s right. When you’ve spent months and months doing exactly the same thing – and achieving the success of 45 points from 22 games by sticking to that – it is clearly going to be difficult to suddenly change to a different gameplan. Especially with time on the training ground limited by the churn of Saturday-Tuesday fixtures.

Nevertheless, if – as seems likely now – Bradford City are not going to get promoted this season, they can’t begin the 2021/22 campaign with a target of merely avoiding relegation. They might not be ready to change the mentality right now, but the managers are going to have to do it eventually. This is a club that cannot accept League Two as a long stay. And Trueman and Sellars’ hopes of building something long-term at Valley Parade will rest on demonstrating their ability to get City into League One over the next 12 months.

Taking risks today ultimately brought punishment. But over the longer-term Trueman and Sellars will have to find a way to be less conservative.

Categories: Match Reviews

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20 replies

  1. I agree with just about everything you say Jason. I always thought talk of play offs was premature and feel that city are lacking in a few areas.
    As an aside I personally thought the pitch was terrible and prevented any meaningful passing game.
    I also thought City were unlucky in front of goal.
    But I would like to make a few points.
    1.Our managers must not be swayed by comments on social media. But must adopt the tactics formation and personnel that they believe in.
    2. It seems to me that injured players are out too long. Perhaps this should be looked at.
    3. Summer recruitment needs to be correctly targeted.
    4. Thanks to the management that we got out of November’s mess.
    5. Make my year and win the next 5!
    6. Please let us watch games properly in 2021/22.

    • 1. The last article on Width of the Post itself suggested putting Clarke in the 10 role and found it “strange” that he hadn’t been tried there. Point been its all media and fans that has an opinion on “formation and personnel” that’s a major part of football following and quite often the fans/contributors are proven right.
      2. Agreed that some of the prolonged injuries have not been explained and it was only a few weeks ago that we heard that some were back in training, then silence again.
      3. Some claimed the January window “the best transfer window ever”. The reality does not support this. Only 2 players of the 7 again started today. ” 3 (ialbeit ncluding the ex avenue keeper) have not even featured and cannot make the bench above players deemed youth players a year ago. Only Cook and Canavan have really proven to be decent signings, Rowe , Crankshaw and Verdan have all flattered to deceive. Although i feel that the latter 3 might benefit from a more attacking system. Point is that it thus far isn’t a great ration of success and with 14 players out of contract in the summer we are going to have to improve this success rate.
      4. Yep they have done. I always felt that with players returning and the window that we would be ok anyway but there is know way of knowing that so credit where it is due.
      5. With you all the way but we need a miracle and a more positive intent imo.
      6. Anyones guess how this will go

  2. Stats favoured City. 23 attempts compared with Harrogate’s 15. City had 8 on target against their 4. City were ponderous in their build up. Harrogate were more cutting. City would have been in a play off place if they had maximised their points from the last 2 winnable matches. We blew it and I believe tactics and formation are partly responsible. Injuries haven’t helped. Had we had a fit Cooke and Kovac we would be in a strong position. Its water under the bridge. For the remainder of the season I would go for it. Get 2 up front and pace wide. I would rather go out trying rather than on a wimp.

  3. We had our ‘nose bleed’ situation when we hit our ‘peak’ with the game against Bolton – something happen after that game whereby the mentality of this team just switched off and reverted back the start of the season.

    It’s got even worse since we lost firstly cooke and then canavan at the back.

    This team simply has a soft underbelly and needs wholesale changes in the summer.

    Quite frankly I don’t know what’s more embarrassing to lose 7-0 nil in a pre season friendly or to have a non league team do the double over us in the league!

    Ah well at least there’ll be no squabbling between fans as to who should get a playoff ticket and who shouldn’t!!

    • What do you mean a non league team do the double over us! I thought Harrogate were a league 2 team now or have I missed something!!

  4. The board have a decision to make in advance of next season.

    Will the ambition be to avoid relegation in which case these joint managers are the right people to have in charge given their negative outlook on the game.

    Or is promotion the target with an entertaining brand of football? In this case Truman and Sellars should not be in charge come August.

    • Sparks and most City fans including myself approved the signing of Trueman and Sellars. But I also have serious reservations about all three of them (including Sparks). They’ve earned the right to start next season. Fingers crossed with a big assist from Lee Turnbull the “Experienced One” everything will turn out OK and City will gain promotion next season.

      One piece of advice, promotion cannot be a taboo subject. In general, fans are going to be demanding promotion so they should face it upfront.

    • Well one things for sure – if we keep the majority of this squad together we’ll be facing a relegation fight again regardless of what next season’s ambition of the club is!!

  5. Simply not good enough what an opportunity missed I put it down to the negative mindset of the management and player’s, there’s a big decision to make at the end of the season, go with inexperience or go for an experienced manager who’s been there and won promotion with other clubs and can bring in quality player’s .

  6. No surprise that the some are sharpening their knives already sadly.Plus ca change etc. They have earned the right to move some on and fill the obvious gaps in the squad in the summer

  7. It is said that it is the hope that kills you in football. Well we certainly had lots of hope 2 games ago and even now all hope of the play offs is not completely lost. However if we are being honest does this team feel like a promotion team? The momentum has gone and the way we play with limited ambition relies on a rock solid defence. The loss of Canavan has meant that 4 of the back 5 who have struggled as a defensive unit previously are now back together with a rookie right back who clearly has ability but is very raw. Harrogate were nothing special today and you could sense in the first 15 minutes they were there for the taking. The last 15 minutes showed they were definitely beatable when we finally went for it. We just lack that bit of quality when it matters with misplaced passes, scuffed shots and lots of nearly moments. The reality is that our best 11 is just about play off material but the loss of a couple of key players makes us an average league 2 side. Not quite back to the drawing board but it feels like our moment has gone for this season.

  8. It’s bewildering reading the comments on here. There are so many football experts that I’m surprised they even have time to make a comment, surely they are busy analysing the football league team they are currently managing.

    So all you who say we need a change of manager who do you want?Someone like John Sheridan – he’s been around, seen it and done it. Look what you get. He will be available soon too.

    Or you could have any of the managers who have been sacked this season from League 2 – there must be plenty of them. Or we could have Grayson, McCall, Hopkin, Collins, Bowyer, etc. Or we could get Parkinson back, but you wouldn’t be happy with that either.

    Get behind your team and support them. By all means express disappointment, heap praise on them but be careful what you wish for because we could very easily have disappeared this season. I’m as disappointed as anyone we lost today but change the manager? – come on!

  9. We are safe now, can’t go into National League, I am sure there were concerns earlier in the season of dropping out of the football league, was that the case or have I had a dream about that, I get so confused these days as one minute we are going down, then that disappears from a great run and then we are totally no good again, funny thing is that we might still get in playoffs or maybe not or get in then drop out on last game, how bad will that be if that happens, but lets get things in perspective this year, anyone can beat anyone in this league and we have achieved the task in hand from Christmas to get safe, get behind your team anything else is a bonus, we have recruitment staff on board and the right ethos to take us forward, looks like we have hit a wall at the moment, but I am still looking forward to next season no matter where we are because we will get there no knee jerk decisions are required.

    The future is bright a lot brighter than it was at Christmas, if we fail we come back stronger from the off next season with fans there to cheer it on like the good old days. CTID…….

  10. 11 games 12 points
    back to relegation form
    Fan base divided
    Teams beating us with ease, players running the length of the pitch without being stopped, too slow, no plan B, useless at substitutions
    Its like Jan/Feb never happened
    Chances of Trueman still being manager by end of next season very low
    Its a shame for him he didn’t get fans applauding when he was doing well, it will be booing at this rate.

  11. 45 points from 24 games and fans are seriously calling for new managers…christ. They’ve taken us from doomed to go down to potential playoff hopefuls. We are in League 2 because that’s where we deserve to be. We have no devine right to thrash teams at a canter every week, however some seem to believe it.

    It is not possible to win every game, like in cricket you cannot score runs every week. It just doesnt happen. Teams always have poor runs of form, usually a few during a season.

    Since December as a club, not just as a team, we having been heading in the right direction and we continue to do so. With another summer of good recruitment, we will finally see the team that truly belongs to Trueman and Sellars, the one that emulates them. They’re taking us up next year!

  12. Surely in the last 5 matches they need to experiment & go for wins- because what have they got to lose now?

    My personal bare minimum expectation now is at least top half of the table- we are currently 13th, and its unacceptable to me that a squad of our scale can’t achieve top twelve. And Play offs is still a dream. Yes, we’ve stalled. But so have all the teams round us. I always felt that injuries would be the joker in the pack. It maybe our best hope of achieving the play off miracle is 2-3 matches with Callum Cooke, Lee Novak maybe Canavan back. And can Paudie O’Connor please stop collecting yellow cards in every match. He is on course for a 3 match ban- which would carry over into next season?

  13. I personally find myself very annoyed and disappointed by the way recent games have been approached.
    Surely once safety was achieved there was absolutely nothing to lose but chase a play off potential.
    Yesterday I thought it was obvious.
    Play two up front with Vernam and Crankshaw told to run at Harrogate. Few outfits at this level like that and the `posh lads` would have crumbled. In fact when Crankshaw came on thats exactly what happened and we got a goal from it.
    Instead we start and slow and allow the home team to settle.
    “Oh right. if this lot dont want it then we do” You could almost hear Harrogate say.
    The same with Crawley on Tuesday night.
    Harrogate and Crawley two ordinary and poor teams.
    An opportunity spurned and I for one very disappointed.

  14. 442 is only feasible with players who have discipline and the legs to cover the central areas. Credit to T+S for not bowing down to the mantra of if we lose a few games 442 is our default setting as fans. Evans, Clarke, Watt both O’Connors and Niall simply don’t have any pace and or discipline to enable us to play that system. Only Levi and to some extent Cooke of the players who can play centrally has any pace and or expertise to play this way. At no point have T+S said they won’t play a different system as managers. What they have said is they are working with the players they have inherited and that were available to them in 1 rushed transfer window and need proper time on training ground to implement it. We cannot assume that they are a 1 trick pony management team and simply run them out of the club as we have done before with a few good managers. They need there own players in those areas to enable them to adapt to that when necessary. Parkys team were only successful as 442 when playing 1 out and out winger with the opposite wise man playing more tucked in (Will Atkinson generally) this worked well as 442 allied to having brains and or legs in central areas. Playing 2 out and out wingers (who rarely have the discipline to work back when needed) is fantasy land. I do see that Cook is the type of number 9 that a poacher would love to play alongside. Unfortunately we don’t have 1!! We surely expect a signing in this mould in the summer. Our average age mixed with the inexperience in the squad and the unfortunate injuries to the game changer type players is IMO catching up with us now. Another good transfer window signing the right type of player and clearing out some that aren’t up to it or over the hill like they did so efficiently in Jan will help T+S no end. Expect a few to leave that have had more than there chance in a City shirt to be leaving . Please…
    If we win our next 2 anything bizarrely can still happen!
    Onwards and upwards.

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