Out-of-form Bradford City continue to nosedive with fourth straight defeat

Port Vale 2
Robinson 16, Conlon 32 (pen)
Bradford City 1
Donaldson 14

By Tim Penfold

Port Vale put the final nail in the coffin of Bradford City’s play off hopes, as the Bantams slumped to a fourth successive defeat with another lifeless display.

City lined up in the 4-4-2 system that a vocal section of the club’s fanbase has been asking for, with Clayton Donaldson leading the line alongside Andy Cook and Callum Cooke pairing Elliot Watt in central midfield. The hosts, meanwhile, lined up in a 3-5-2 system. Former Bantam Kurtis Guthrie was missing from the matchday squad entirely, which marks the first time since his transfer to the club in January 2020 that Guthrie’s absence has harmed City’s chance of winning.

A 4-4-2 formation is not inherently more attacking – remember Phil Parkinson’s 2015-16 version with three defensively-minded midfielders – and even when it’s trying to be it can be limited by its personnel. Colin Todd’s version had two wingers and only sometimes a holding midfielder, but had full backs that weren’t allowed to cross halfway. The attacking central midfield was often a pushover, so the team relied almost entirely on the quality of its wingers. When it was Nicky Summerbee, Jermaine Johnson or Lee Holmes, that worked. When it was Bobby Petta or Ben Muirhead, it didn’t.

This version did have a holder in Elliot Watt, albeit one who is more of a deep passer than a destroyer. It had Levi Sutton at right-back in place of Finn Cousin-Dawson, adding an extra attacking dimension which nearly worked early on when Sutton overlapped and found space only for his low cross to find the keeper. And it did have two out-and-out-strikers, who combined for the opening goal. A Watt through ball set Andy Cook free down the left, and he squared for Donaldson to crash it into the roof of the net.

Unfortunately, it also had a defence that, without Niall Canavan, has been somewhat disorganised. Vale hit back instantly with a goal that dragged the City backline all over the place – in the end, with the centre backs pulled out of position, it was Levi Sutton and Charles Vernam who had responsibility for marking Theo Robinson, who got between them to equalise.

City didn’t have a huge amount of control over the game, though threatened on the counter with Donaldson not quite getting enough on his attempted chip. However, Vale got themselves in front with a goal showing one weakness in the system. They were having plenty of joy down City’s left, with their right wing-back Worrall causing problems with his positioning. He was normally too deep for Connor Wood to come out and close him down without leaving a massive gap behind him, but left winger Ollie Crankshaw wasn’t tracking him well enough.

When Worrall did come far enough forward for Wood to engage him Vale’s right-sided centre back Nathan Smith would push on as well. Crankshaw switched off, left Smith in behind him then pushed him over in the box trying to recover. Penalty, and 2-1 to Vale.

The second half started in much the same way the first ended. Crankshaw had hobbled off injured but his replacement Gareth Evans had gone very narrow, leaving a gap on the right again and Connor Wood had two to deal with. This allowed Worrall an opportunity to cross without any pressure, and City were quite fortunate to escape.

It took quarter of an hour for anything else of note to actually happen. Vale failed to clear a free kick properly, allowing Andy Cook to get a low snapshot off which was well saved by Scott Brown. Vale then looped a header over from a corner, before Trueman and Sellars decided to ditch the 4-4-2 and match the hosts with a 3-5-2. Matty Foulds came on for Charles Vernam and went to the left of the back three, with Wood and Sutton pushing up as wingbacks.

This didn’t change the completely flat performance, however. The two sides just stalemated, with each having a spare man at the back and cancelling each other out everywhere else. Lee Novak returned in place of Clayton Donaldson, but wasn’t able to link well with Cook, while Vale occasionally threatened on the counter or when Paudie O’Connor overplayed it at the back.

In the end, City’s play off charge has ended not so much with a stumble but with a full trip and faceplant. With the exception of Forest Green, even the performances when winning have largely not been good enough, and results have finally caught up.

For all the good work that the club has done over the last few months, it needs a big step forward in the summer.

Categories: Match Reviews

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18 replies

  1. Probably as many as twelve new players will be needed next season for a promotion push. Experience suggests that promotion teams, however. over two or three windows. The last window was quantitatively great but it now looks like only Canavan was indisputably worth bringing in. We might question whether Turnbull is quite the expert he was introduced as. Sparks may well be flattering to deceive and the management duo have been exposed as naive and inflexible. We have, moreover, an absentee owner. As ever hope springs eternal.

  2. Current form is relegation and Stuart was sacked because of the dreadful form we were in. Today we started like an express train and scored a well worked goal. Once they equalised it was over for City. They just stopped playing. When we matched their 3 5 2 formation, it made little difference. Port Vale was catching us on the counter. City never created anything threatening in the second half. Kept losing the ball or being caught in possession. It was a dire watch. What has gone wrong? Maybe, it is down to the fact we are safe! The performances over the last few weeks does worry me. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. I see little chance of improvement.
    The decision I guess is can we improve the squad before August. Will Trueman and Sellars have the ability to gel together a squad capable of playing different styles different and switching from one to the other.

  3. Probably as many as twelve new players will be needed next season for a promotion push. Experience suggests that promotion teams, however, are assembled over two or three windows. The last window was quantitatively great but it now looks like only Canavan was indisputably worth bringing in. We might question whether Turnbull is quite the expert he was introduced as. Sparks may well be flattering to deceive and the management duo have been exposed as naive and inflexible. We have, moreover, an absentee owner. As ever hope springs eternal.

    • After a very promising start to the duos managerial careers ensuring the clubs survival with let’s be fair a very mediocre squad the short comings of both players and managers is evident to see.

      The last 10 games games apart from FGR have been a borefest and an excruciating watch.

      The transfer window in January which initially appeared very promising has seen Cook and Canavan looking anything like good enough to move the club forward. 1 striker signed has already been shown the door! Another never setting foot on the pitch! Vernam and Cankshaw were brought in to offer width but just don’t look ready for the expectations placed upon them.

      The last week has been an absolute PR disaster for the club and Trueman’s post match analysis of the Tranmere game was frankly embarrassing, misjudged and left him looking foolish.

      For all the shortcomings of this squad T&S had a free pass once relegation was banished to push on and try something different. However, the duo chose to carry on with a system that has been found out by opposing teams and is just too lumbering and slow. The tactics and formation lack any ambition to break out from the 1 up front conservative safety first mentality.

      Reading between the lines it appears that Sparks has had words with the pair to change the tactics and make it clear to the fans that there will be a major rebuild for next season.

      Sparkes has some big decisions to make on whether to go with the duo and trust them to rebuild in the Summer. 3 more defeats will take it to 7 straight losses for T&S 1 more defeat than McCalls run which cost him his job.

      It will interesting to see how this strange season plays out but whatever happens there is a massive job to be done to turn the mentality of the club on and off the pitch around and deliver sucess to a deflated and fed up fan base.

  4. I would describe this City team as very limited. We constantly go backwards when we have the ball. Cook has done well to score as many as he has with the atrocious service he gets. We lack pace, physicality, desire, leadership and tempo.
    Although we have done well to stay up, the standard of the division this season has been poor and the league table reflects our ability. Average at best.
    It looks like we need to start again as our current performances are reminiscent of early season. Yet another crucial transfer window beckons(again). For me, only Cook and Canavan have been good signings from January.
    Today, I thought only Callum Cooke showed any real desire. We need to bring in some experienced players. I would build a team around Cooke, Cook, Canavan, Staunton, Sutton and Watt next season. All other places are up for grabs.

    • Watt won’t be here next season – Hull are sniffing, and why wouldn’t he want to chance his arm in the Championship?

  5. What a mess we are in how many of our present squad would you keep next season ,not many I guess ,so we are starting to rebuild a team again ,and you know what will follow, it will take three or four transfer windows to get a squad which can challenge for promotion we can’t expect to rival such teams as Morecombe, Forest Green .What a joke,to the owner back us with a top three budget and not the one you have announced a competitive budget but not a top three budget, de ja vous springs to mind, we have a competitive budget this season which Stuart said would challenge for the top ten (midtable) we are one of the biggest city’s in England let’s act like one, pay the money you will get the right players and Manager to get us up next season ,if not I fear for the future of our club the decline in our support base we can not keep treading water we will end up sinking it nearly happened this season.

    • City don’t have a top three budget but likely a top five this season. That to me is a very competitive budget. Since Rupp purchased the Club we have gone from one crisis to another solely due to very poor management. I don’t think you can blame Rupp for not spending money. He’s a nonresident Owner with no interest or knowledge of football. You really have to question his choice of management personnel. They have done neither him or the fans any favours. The latest hiring of Ryan Sparks symbolizes to me a complete loss of interest in City and what little’s left of his investment. This doesn’t bode well for City going into next season.

  6. Not a mention of Rowe leaving I think you have ducked one there .simply predictable and not good enough we are supposed to be a big club in this little town league with a midtable budget and that’s where we end up and next season it’s been announced we will have a competitive budget not a top three budget de ja vous ,unless the owner has a change of direction or we get a new owner who will invest the rights sort of finance to get us out of league two ,I fear we will be stuck there for year’s

    • A Real Fan. Ever heard of punctuation? I get out of breath reading your posts – generally good points made but badly expressed.

  7. I’m not a fan of joint managers and don’t know of any other club in the EFL operating with a similar set up. The buck has to stop with one person. The job must be all the more difficult when our two are so young with no professional playing careers on their cv. How difficult it must be to command the respect of experienced, hardened pros.

    They deserved the right to get the roles permanently, but the cracks that appeared weeks ago, are widening by the week. They won’t be helped now by the usual end of season malaise that affects mid table teams. Contracted players in the comfort zone and out of contract players, avoiding injury, knowing they’re probably destined for the exit door.

    Personally, I don’t find either of the duo inspirational enough to lift the team when the chips are down. In addition, they have the obvious disadvantage of being inexperienced at this level. Are the Board and fans patient enough to give them time to grow into their jobs? By the end of the season, it’s looking likely they’ll have racked up seven successive losses, in which case it’ll be a case of “over to you”, Ryan.

    • “Over to you, Ryan” and what experience does he have to guide himself? I expect Sparky to have several challenging issues to deal with this summer. The decision on Trueman and Sellars may already have been decided on due to limited financial resources. Season ticket sales are likely to continue to dwindle which begs the question, how sustainable is the £150 season ticket price especially compared to the League average of £450? Any rise in the price will likely be met with resentment in light of City’s continued slide down the table. I expect Sparky’s marketing skills to be put to the test. Probably Sparky’s biggest challenge will be ensuring City have no working capital issues. I doubt Rupp would be receptive to another bailout.

  8. 4 consecutive losses against poor teams, with only Vale in any sort of form. T &S had the budget McCall wasn’t allowed to spend. (Plus they’ve never suffered the horrendous injuries Stuart endured.) They have reworked the squad but their negative tactics, understandable at first, are now useless and the squad still average.
    We look a mid table side at best. Maybe more people will realise it’s not them, it’s not McCall, it wasn’t Grayson or Bowyer but the want a away, disinterested Chairman.
    A lack of true financial support, leaves us floundering. As mentioned earlier in the comments, McCall tried to warn us but many fans turned on him instead.
    One Big City but with small town thinking. It’s not good enough

  9. It’s quite simple – with these 3 in charge (Sparks / Trueman / Sellars) we’ll be fighting relegation again next season!!

    The whole thing will start again!!

    Naivety personified !!

  10. Imagine the atmosphere if fans were in and we lost to bowyer on Tuesday…

  11. Big Dave.
    In actual fact the club encouraged SM to spend the budget. He elected not to.. I think his intention was to buy in the January window.

  12. With the season ending so badly there will be a temptation to get rid of all out-of-contract players. Personally I think a couple of them should be offered new contracts and equally a few contracted players should be moved on if possible. Next year’s squad needs a blend of youth and experience, strength, height and pace. Can we have some tall players appropriate for this division and some hardmen for a change.

  13. Of those OOC in the summer, I would try to re-sign AOC on reduced terms (akin to the deal ROD signed a year ago), I would also offer a new deal to Novak as he has shown (injury excepting) that he will always try to put a shift in.

    Others I’d offer 12mth deals to are Hornby, Scales, Foulds and Pritchard. Rest, for me, can go.

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