|Bradford City 1|
Written by Jason McKeown (image by John Dewhirst)
Derek Adams has cultivated a reputation as someone who cares little what other people think – and yet, inwardly at least, the Bantams manager could not have enjoyed the first show of City supporter disapproval towards his methods.
The moment came 84 minutes into this hugely frustrating home draw with Barrow, when sarcastic cheers filled the air in response to Adams finally making a change. It was followed with boos seconds later, when the second of the double substitution was revealed to include taking Andy Cook off. A like-for-like change, which saw Theo Robinson enter the field and City continue to play with only one striker in a 4-2-3-1. And that suggested a lack of ambition from Adams. An unwillingness to gamble on turning one point into three.
More boos followed at the final whistle, and for the first time there is vocal dissent towards Adams. When any club goes five games without a win, questions have to be asked. But it’s a measure of the huge expectations Adams and the club have placed on themselves that a manager who has only been in charge for eight league matches is already reaching the end of the honeymoon period.
“You’ve got to understand that it was a difficult match from a tactical point of view,” Adams explained after the game, when asked about the substitutions. Why not go for it more? “There was an overload for both sides in midfield. You take away one of them and you are liable to give the opposition the upper hand.”
Away from the raw emotion of the 90 minutes, that’s a pretty fair explanation. Barrow had matched City’s 4-2-3-1, and in truth held the edge going into the final stages. Going with two of three up front would have likely seen City outgunned in the centre of the park and facing more visiting pressure.
But then again, it’s Barrow at home. It’s League Two. And Bradford City fans can and should expect more.
Adams also brushed off the boos at full time, stating of City supporters, “They backed us all afternoon and they’ve seen a really good performance from the players.” There’s another small piece of Adams’ character that supporters of clubs he has managed in the past had warned about – biased post-match comments that the team played well and deserved to win, even when that wasn’t the case.
It certainly wasn’t here.
This was the football match equivalent of wading through mud. A long, exasperating and largely futile afternoon, waiting for City to find a higher gear and stamp their authority on the contest. They were guilty of starting too ponderously and allowing Barrow to gain early encouragement from the ease they got the ball into the City area and created chances. It culminated in Josh Kay hitting a powerful low drive after 21 minutes that flew past Richard O’Donnell and nestled into the back of the net after kissing the inside the post.
Barrow could and have should have been ahead before then, with the was-he-or-wasn’t-he Bantams summer target Offrande Zanzala firing over an easy chance, and the Joshs of Kay and Gordon producing threatening efforts. They had clearly targeted Oscar Threlkeld’s side of the pitch, and from it were able to produce several dangerous crosses. The visitors did not lack confidence and at times their football was easy on the eye.
But as we know only too well in these parts, a Mark Cooper side will always embrace the dark arts. And Barrow’s continued attempts to disrupt the tempo, time waste at goal kicks and go down easily at the slightest contact mirrored Cooper’s Swindon and Forest Green sides. And the last thing you want to do against this type of opposition is give them a lead and have to chase the game.
Barrow enjoyed winding up their counter parts and the sizeable home crowd, knowing that it would contribute towards City supporters eventually turning on their own team.
City did eventually make a decent fist of pushing back, and the 15 minutes before half time were their best over the full 90 minutes. Callum Cooke linked up well with Charles Vernam, who was the Bantams’ biggest threat all afternoon. He, Elliot Watt, Cooke and Andy Cook all had decent opportunities but kept missing the target. The best chance came when Vernam burst free of his marker and ran into the box, but from a slight angle he somehow placed his shot over the bar when it seemed easier to hit the target. He was almost too cute in his execution.
Nevertheless, for all City’s possession and shots on goal, the lack of a clinical edge to their game was telling. 58% of the Bantams total efforts over the afternoon came from outside the box, and 5% were in the six-yard area. As Barrow kept bodies back and pressed City hard, sighters of goal were largely from too big a distance to really suggest that shooting was likely to result in a goal. This was not a tale of Bradford City missing sitters, like they had against Walsall.
In another sign of how much Cooper had done his homework, Barrow’s high press was on every single City player except for Fiacre Kelleher. The visitors were more than happy to sit off and rest when the big centre half was in possession. Kelleher offers some good qualities but his passing ability is not one of them. This became another game where Adams’ reluctance to consider the ball-playing Reece Staunton was curious.
Either side of the break, City were indebted to O’Donnell who made a brilliant save from a deflected long-range drive by former Bantams loanee Jordan Stevens, and then blocked a low Gordon effort with his feet.
City didn’t come out after half time with the same attacking momentum, but nevertheless did get themselves level on the hour when Gareth Evans’ cross was bundled home by Vernam. The roars of home fan celebrations were mixed with relief, but it wasn’t the springboard to victory that everyone expected. Barrow continued to look dangerous when they went forward whilst being happy to completely disrupt City’s rhythm through the dark arts.
It was stalemate, and hence all eyes turned to Adams and when he was going to change things. The lateness of the substitutions, and cautiousness of the moves made, fitted the tone of an underwhelming 90 minutes. Comfortably the worst City home performance of the season so far.
They were just unable to work up a head of a steam. The memories of how City hemmed Stevenage back for long periods are growing distant, as here home attacks were fragmented and lacking assurance. Cooke had a disappointing final 20 minutes where his confidence seemed to drain. There is much to enjoy about Alex Gilliead on the ball, but – just like his previous two City spells, and indeed his time at Scunthorpe – there is a lack of end product. No goals and no assists so far this season.
Caolon Lavery and Robinson are left with limited opportunities so far, but do not appear capable of shifting the dial upwards. Filler material rather than saviours. Cook is not hitting the heights of last season. Vernam was City’s best player here. He had a glorious late chance that was brilliantly saved.
“We got into that penalty box so many times today,” added Adams. “The chances we created was there for everyone to see, we’ve got to score more goals. It was a very good performance.”
His public would struggle to agree with that assessment.
This week, we saw changes behind the scenes at Valley Parade with the news Lee Turnbull has departed as head of recruitment. Adams has explained that he will provide an update on what will happen in the first week of October. That strongly suggests City are waiting to confirm the appointment of someone, perhaps once a contract expires or a notice period is served.
For Adams to be spearheading this change would appear to suggest the manager is taking on a greater level of control and influence at Valley Parade. That in itself is not a bad thing – Adams needs to work with people who he values and trusts, and the suggestion is that he didn’t seek or need much help from Turnbull with recruitment over the summer. But it does represent a shift in strategy. A move away from attempting to build a structure that wasn’t fully dictated by the manager.
Prior to Adams arriving at Bradford City, CEO Ryan Sparks summed up his long-term thinking in an interview for WOAP. “Unfortunately, we all remember that when Phil Parkinson left Bradford City, he took almost all his backroom staff with him. That was a big problem for the club to fix. I want to set up a structure where the performance management side of the backroom team works closely with the manager and coaching staff, but they are also separate. So, if and when we have a change in the dugout, the other side of the backroom structure stays the same. This provides protection and allows us to collectively build our vision.”
Whilst Turnbull’s departure is far from conclusive proof that City are moving away from this vision, the fact Adams is overseeing the changes to recruitment suggests the club are giving him more control over backroom staff than, say, Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars. And, in time, it could throw up a similar issue to what happened when Parkinson left – emptying the filing cabinets of scouting records on his way out the building.
In the meantime, it means that the club are even more committed to Adams and into making this work. Certain principles Sparks and the club have tried to instil – such as blooding young players in the first team – already appear to have been abandoned.
Sparks spoke up this week about his admiration for Adams, saying, “Derek signed a three-year contract and I believe in that time his leadership will transform the football department in this club. I think it’s one of the most important pieces of recruitment this business has done in five years.”
Time will tell, but let’s hope he’s right. So much of the club’s strategy and success is tied to Adams. There is much merit to that – the Scot’s track record clearly shows he knows what it takes to get Bradford City out of this division, and he should be provided all the tools he needs to succeed. But managerial stability has been an alien concept at Valley Parade for almost four years. We’re placing an awful lot of eggs in the basket of the most unstable position at the football club.
Hence, this is not a good time for some manager disgruntlement to appear. However minor, and however quickly it could be forgotten. It is still very early days, but the hopes of storming the league and earning 100 points are once again looking misplaced. Adams isn’t wrong to suggest that the chances City are creating will eventually lead to better results, but without a truly decent League Two striker beyond Cook, it’s hard to see how the next few months won’t feature further struggle.
This was an afternoon of uncomfortable truths – one of which is that this is going to be a slog to success, rather than a sprint. Adams has the capability, track record and knowhow to deliver promotion to Bradford City this season, but it’s not always going to be a fun ride.
And if Adams doesn’t succeed straightaway, the fact the club has planted its flag so firmly into the ground over his capabilities would suggest we’re going to have to be patient and give him the time he needs.
Categories: Match Reviews