Derek Adams struggles to convince his Bradford City players can match lofty expectations

Bradford City 1
Vernam 59
Barrow 1
Kay 21

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

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21 replies

  1. Hi Jason,

    Any truth in a comment I’ve seen elsewhere that things are turning toxic behind the scenes again with Adams seemingly very disgruntled over budgets etc?

    Also on a lighter note I wonder if there are any stats anywhere that compare our win/draw/loss ratio on games where we’ve been turned around at the KO by the opposition compared to the stats of when we play our favoured way ?

  2. Adam’s surprised me last weekend in a radio interview when he said he didnt care about what happened last season.
    “Its none of my business”.
    But it is as how can he make statements like he has done tonight without knowing what went before?
    He clearly is single minded and does not care about the media or fans.
    He does not see that element of the game as his responsibility but he forgets the emotional investment of supporters.
    The booing today was frustration carried on from last season and before.
    That we seem to have not progressed.
    He is in charge of a well supported club who are demanding.
    I dont think he gets that.

    • Agree with Mark’s comments. The post match interview by the manager on BBC consisted of “we just need to take our chances” but ignored our lack of so called “high press” and constant misplaced passes.
      Frankly I thought Barrow wanted to win more than ourselves which was really quite depressing. I just hope Mr Adams is more honest with his comments to the players than he is in media comments.

  3. Jason, your reservations regarding Adams being allowed to bring in his own man to overview recruitment and scouting is very valid. Concerns regarding a repeat of the Parkinson scenario where he emptied the filing cabinets before walking out the door are very legitimate.
    Looks to me that Sparky needs Adams more than he needs Sparky and Adams knows it. Long term, that’s not a good scenario for a good working relationship.

  4. It was never going to be easy was it?! A number of teams sit below us with similar resources and expectations at the moment(Salford/Tranmere/Mansfield/Bristol Rovers). It might stick in the craw to be categorized with these titans of the game but it is the reality.Last season Evatt took dogs abuse at Bowton well into November before they turned the corner. The hierarchy is going to have to trust their initial judgement and give it a good go and we are going to have to be patient.
    There was a lot in that performance to perplex but at the end of the day Adams is a handful of games and on transfer window into the project.

  5. I’m not trying to be controversial here. Genuinely. But the article states that “The fact that Adams is overseeing the changes to recruitment” tends to lend itself to a fact.

    Where is this proved please. He said I will inform you of developments in October. That doesn’t mean he is in charge of recruiting the new head of recruitment at all. Unless I’ve missed something.

  6. Once again the word I’d use to describe what this side lacks is composure.
    in the mid part of the second half when we finally upped the tempo after the goal we couldn’t make the pressure count. Instead we again looked frantic.
    The “never looked like scoring” feeling has been there too many times this season in these still fairly early stages.
    Optimism has drained away over the winless run mainly because we really could and should have won at least three of those games.
    The manager is clearly entitled to his preferences but I cannot understand why Sutton who likes a tackle and is quite mobile and songoo who was signed seemingly as the new anchor / midfield enforcer are not getting a look in. Surely the team could benefit from a bit of healthy rotation or even using the subs during games (when there’s time left to make an impact)
    It’s quite telling that Simon Parker is already predicting unchanged lineups before the game when frankly the team didn’t perform that great in the last one. Have we become so predictable to the oppositions already? and therefore easy to play against?
    I usually try to take the positives where I can so I’ll end with at least our next league game is away from home. Maybe we can use that as an opportunity to get a much needed win on the board ahead of more scrappy opponents at VP

  7. I am concerned that Adams will not play Sutton or Songo. Sutton was outstanding when selected. His man of the match performances contributed to the positive early results. His absence through injury resulted in a downturn in performance. Clearly Adams seems to have a different opinion. Staunton is another example. Last season he was a shining light and featured in different defensive positions. He does not feature at all this season. Players like him are the future of the club.
    I admit I am not privy to the going ons behind the scenes at the club. However, it’s clear to me that Adams will not select his strongest team despite them being fit. He compliments performances that are at best average.
    The last thing I want is another management sacking. This will be detrimental to the club moving forward. I just hope that he can turn the current slump around and start winning matches. He needs to give opportunities to Sutton, Staunton and Songo. His current selection is just not good enough.

    • How do you know they’re fully fit? They might be 75% fit; fit enough for the bench but not the game. He probably doesn’t want to risk losing more players at the start of a long season.

      • My guess is Songo’o isn’t fully fit but given Adams relationship with him he will be the first name on the team sheet once he is. We’re not privy to what goes on in training but from what I’ve seen this season I’d be tempted to swap out Gillihead for Robinson to give Cook a helping hand in and around the box. It might mean more work defensive work for Robinson than he’s used to but I’d be interested to see if he’s up to the job.

  8. Good points made by “Cyprus”. For me I feel that we need to set the tone/tempo from the start of the game for in this encounter we conceded the first 20 minutes and invited Barrow to build confidence. Players do feed off the crowd and vice versa – that connection was lacking today in the first quarter and Cooper and his side took advantage.

    • Any opposition manager even just looking at our game highlights will focus their attacks on our right. It isn’t just threlkeld because it was happening when cousin-dawson operated there. The common denominator is Gillead. He is neither contributing in attack but getting lost in his defensive duties. The problems out there have been noticeable for weeks , yet Adams has done nothing about it. Adams focuses in interview on what we created and missed, yet never mentioned that we could have been 2 or 3 down after 20 mins.

      I’d get Sutton out that side at the minute and i’d even consider starting him and crankshaw against man utd under 18s to see how they perform together. Don’t hold your breath though as Adams looks happy with the way we are playing

  9. I rarely comment on match players and tactics but feel the need ….
    Why play cooke as a lone striker, winning 80 percent of headers but absolutely no one to feed off him it smacks of Hanson in the post wells era
    Our keeper is a massively underwhelming character who neither commands his area or gives any confidence to the team , and as for Gillead…. give me strength what a poor player .
    I don’t mind Adams being a strong character but surely he can see we look poor and sticking with the same first eleven and tactics will ultimately turn off many fans , for god’s sake be brave change it around, shake it up a bit no one is going to criticise him for that !

  10. Sitting amongst the traditionally loyal and patient City supporters in C block, this was hard to watch, and feelings of frustration suddenly erupted towards the end of a match we were very capable of winning. The team are playing, and clearly speaking to the manager’s instruction and voice.

    Listening to his post match interview I thought I had just arrived from another planet. Clearly, and not for the first time this season, I had been watching another match to one viewed by the manager.

    To invite the opposition to attack with growing confidence and see our own players’ confidence drain away for the first half hour, says it all. Had they scored another goal it would have been all over by half time and the shutters up.

    I certainly don’t want to see further disruptive change which would potentially harm the Club, but having watched messrs Adams and Truman plotting with their heads together for the whole of the match and seeing no change to formation or method, I get the distinct impression that any expectation and desire that we fans might have to see attractive and enjoyable football are of no consequence whatever to the present management team. So sad to see….

  11. Can someone please tell Derek Adams that when 15k go to watch Bradford City play Barrow at Valley Parads, they expect that City will at least have a good go at trying to win the game? Will save us all a lot of agonising in the long run!

  12. I really hope we do not see a growing groundswell of opinion to remove Adams, even at this early stage. This club cannot be fixed in one season and we need to give Adams time. He is exploring options and I feel he will get it right, but for goodness sake ,give him a chance. The only risk is that our CEO feels the need to pull the trigger and we are back into the revolving door manager game again, which helps no-one. Be careful what you wish for. Overwhelming evidence that clubs who given proven managers time (and Adams is a proven, successful manager) reap the rewards in the medium to long term. If we get this wrong, we could be marroned in this division for even more years.

    I was at Valley Parade to see Greaves in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham in 1969 in the F A Cup. What a player!

    Lets hope the very small minority of poorly behaving City away fans behave themselves next week. An utter disgrace that they are allowed to drag the club name through the gutter and shameful that the club seems to do nothing to address it. The evidence was there to see at Orient. The club know who these morons are; time to act!

  13. I agree with the sentiments of Herbydawg in the comments,however tongue in cheek,it was 3 Jan 1970 when City played Spurs in the FA Cup in a 2-2 draw after trailing 2-0.Jimmy Greaves so unbelievable quick on a mud heap of a pitch,he hit the post before City had time to blink in the first minute of the game.What would be have been like on todays “crown green ^ bowling pitches.He had a fantastic goal scoring record.Keep the faith .

  14. I was there too at the famous Spurs game.
    First City match I ever saw where there were tv cameras present and later watched City in ‘Match of the day’s.
    My memories are if it being a sunny frosty day and we were in the ground and on the kop earlier than usual. A tannoy announcement was made for fans to move further towards the Midland Road side of the kop to allow more fans in.
    Yes Greaves hit the post at the kop end early in the game. They took an early lead and soon had two but we hit back and got it to 2-2.
    In the second half John Hall had a shot and it was going in. Cyril Knowles appeared from nowhere to head it off the line. Jennings was beaten. It prompted the famous Spurs song ‘ Cyril’

  15. “But managerial stability has been an alien concept at Valley Parade for almost four years”
    Hardly surprised, Jason, with negative articles like this with very little perspective.
    I.e go see where Ryan Lowe and Gareth Ainsworth were four months into their regimes. And then look where they are now.
    We have too many on forums and I’m afraid you’re one of them, who have less patience than Sunderland or Newcastle fans.
    And no that doesn’t mean the poor performance shouldn’t be criticised. But it’s phrases like “There’s another small piece of Adams’ character that supporters of clubs he has managed in the past had warned about” that seem to suggest you’re sitting back waiting for it to go wrong, so you can justify your doubts about the appointment.
    If this appears harsh. Why not give some balance. Last autumn Morecombe won 2 out of 14, including a 5-0 home thrashing and a 4-0 defeat. Yet they still got promoted.
    Maybe Adams does know what he’s doing.

  16. Now I have had time to think about events 50 years ago, Marks comments are spot on regarding the City v Spurs game. The passage of time does cloud the memory,although I do remember on Match of the Day it was highlighted that Spurs 2nd goal came from a throw in when clearly the Spurs player had his foot in play when taking the throw in.
    It was 10 years earlier that City played Burnley on a very heavy pitch,so heavy that Jimmy McIlroy the Irish International in his auto biography said Valley Parade was the worst pitch he had ever encountered,and complained that he could not inspect the pitch prior to kick off as the mud was over his shoes.!For the record City led 2-0 until the last 10 minutes when Burnley scored two late goals for replay at Turf Moor which like the replay 10 years later ended in a 5-0 defeat.There was 26.000 at VP and over 52.00 at Turf Moor.I knew of people who turned round at Colne due the traffic knowing that they could not make the kick off.
    This forum makes for interesting reading and is a credit to all concerned who are involved in the production and the passionate subscribers who just want the best at Valley Parade.

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