A bad night for Bradford City leaves frustrated fans needing reasons to believe in the magic of Derek Adams

Image by John Dewhirst
Bradford City 1
O’Connor 72
Hartlepool United 3
Cullen 1+59,, Songo’o OG 89

By Jason McKeown

Derek Adams will on some level be enjoying this. When he was first interviewed for the Bradford City job in December 2020, he told the Bantams CEO Ryan Sparks that he thrives under pressure. And, in fact, invites it. He’s certainly got plenty of pressure to thrive under for the next few days, after this dismal first home defeat of the season.

There will be no panic in the boardroom about this loss to a vibrant Hartlepool side. Adams is in no danger of losing his job – and nor should he be – but he would certainly have been feeling uncomfortable as he made his way to the dressing room with the crowd booing his side off. The scale of the job at hand looking more steeper than ever.

This was a dismal night for the experienced manager, one that throws up more questions about his ability to deliver a second straight promotion out of League Two. His players were seriously unimpressive, tamely surrendering their unbeaten home record to the side with the worst away form in the division. Out-fought and certainly out-thought, the Bantams fell further behind in the race for promotion.

And it puts Adams under the spotlight. Bradford City were the promotion favourites after all. And the noises from the club made no attempt to play down those expectations. After this loss, City are 12th in a table at the quarter point of the season. Three points off the play offs, and 10 away from the summit. They have a goal difference of just +1. And the four victories chalked up so far have occurred against sides currently sat 18th, 20th, 21st and 22nd in the table.

The next three fixtures are against sides in the top four. It could be about to get worse, and that feels hard to believe after such a wretched night.

We’ve been here before and it hurts. This is a club that has long suffered from infamy of slipping up to sides at the bottom of the league or who are on long winless runs. Well versed in embarrassing their own supporters with collapses to mediocre opposition. The hope with Adams was that he would steer the club clear of suffering more of these sort of nights. Instead, he has just overseen the writing of a new chapter. A new scar for long-suffering supporters to bear. “Remember that time Hartlepool came to us when they had the worst away record in the league?”

The visitors rocked up at Valley Parade without a goal on the road for over eight hours. Within 50 seconds, they had broken their duck. The gap between midfield and defence was exposed by a player running in between, the ball worked out wide to space vacated by Oscar Threlkeld. A shot on goal was unconvincingly dealt with by Richard O’Donnell, and Mark Cullen was able to squeeze the loose ball home for 1-0.

You waited for a reaction but it never came. City were too lethargic. Players hid from the ball. Everyone waited for someone else to lead the fightback. No one stepped up to the plate. Some players – notably Elliot Watt – did try to rile up others. But began to fall apart when they too made mistakes. It wasn’t nice to see how Watt deteriorated this evening. He is a good player who badly needs direction to start playing to his potential. We are still waiting to see Adams improve him, and indeed others.

Hartlepool lined up in a diamond formation that City couldn’t get to grips with. The home midfield was crowded out, attacking players badly isolated. As defenders brought the ball out from the back, they too often resorted to hit and hope. When they did try to pass it to midfielders, the Hartlepool press often resulted in a successful interception or forced a mistake. Midway through the half, Luke Molyneux broke through and had a great chance to make it 2-0. He missed the target – a big let off.

Adams did change it before half time, matching up Hartlepool’s diamond by pushing Charles Vernam up front with Andy Cook, switching Levi Sutton to the left – with Callum Cooke at the tip and Watt at the base. It did neutralise the threat of Hartlepool, but it was small crumbs of comfort. The biggest achievement of the half was stopping Hartlepool’s game plan.

There were hopes, naturally, of a strong second half response. But it never came. And just before the hour mark, Cullen netted a second with a header after yet more awful defending. Adams responded by taking off Threlkeld – who had an appalling game – but he will be really concerned by the whole defence. This proved a game too far for Yann Songo’o as centre back, whilst Matty Foulds struggled badly – why Adams won’t consider Reece Staunton, who is so much better on the ball, is a mystery.

As the anger grew in the stands, Adams seemingly kept shuffling his cards. Caolan Lavery, who had also come on just after the second goal, was moved up front with Cook. Cooke was moved wide left, then to the right, then to the centre – his silly booking betraying his own frustrations. Vernam was moved to the tip of the diamond and to the right, each shuffle making him look less effective. It was a low bar, but Vernam was again City’s best player.

There were hopes of a late comeback when Paudie O’Connor headed home a Cooke corner. Theo Robinson was thrown on, and several crosses worked into the box. But pressure was sporadic, and City’s disorganisation left them susceptible to the counter attack. Sure enough, a late mistake by O’Connor saw Songo’o needlessly slide the ball into his own net. 3-1, and Valley Parade quickly emptied.

This was such a bad night for the players, with no one covering themselves in glory. O’Donnell is showing signs his powers are fading. Gilliead’s decision-making was consistently bad. Cook was anonymous. Sutton full of running but not enough intelligence at times. Lavery and Robinson once again made no impact.

But here’s the big thing – what’s going to change? Adams has made it obvious through his words and actions that he only trusts certain members of his squad. Several fringe players – especially the younger ones – have been publicly slammed. But the reluctance to move away from a core group of players has seemingly seen standards to slip. Players who have been poor have been allowed to get away with it, by keeping their place in the next game. They’re not looking over their shoulders and sensing someone breathing down their necks to take their place in the team. And that is never a healthy situation.

You could make a case for dropping 6 or 7 payers from tonight. But who do you bring in to replace them? Where are the answers waiting on the sidelines?

There are a lot of good reasons for the squad’s current lack of depth, and certainly not all of them can be blamed on Adams. But the manager has to take accountability for this poor performance and recent results – it’s now a less than inspiring one win in 11. It is Adams who we look towards to address and improve it. And quickly.

The club made an almighty effort to bring Adams to Valley Parade in the summer, and over recent weeks they’ve agreed to an awful lot of change – even compromising some of their principles – to give him the tools and support to succeed. Given his impressive track record and unquestionable expertise, that was a very understandable approach to take.

Let Adams do what he does, and in time the rewards should come. That is still absolutely the right thing to do.

But the problem facing Adams and Bradford City at the moment is that – to date – we fans have seen scant evidence of the powers of this manager. What has he done, so far, that can truly be considered impressive? We’re waiting for the magic to appear in front of our eyes, whilst growing a little impatient at how long it’s taking.

Right now, the worry is that all the talk and actions from Adams would suggest he thinks success is only alluding the team because they’re not taking their chances. That eventually it will turn, and the approach and methods he is sticking to will begin to bear fruit.

He might very well be proven right in his convictions. After all, the underlying stats are undoubtedly encouraging. Ahead of this round of fixtures, Bradford City stood joint top of the League Two expected goals table. This is the measure of the quality and volume of chances created and conceded by teams in each game. And on this performance measure, City are faring really well.

Just as last season we could use expected goals to accurately predict that City would fall away under Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars, this time the stats suggest the Bantams could eventually go on a winning streak and should in time climb the table. We know Adams is a fan of expected goals and studies these indicators closely – it is this, as much as anything, that seems to allow him to retain belief in his own convictions.

There will naturally be changes for Saturday’s trip to Swindon – Niall Canavan’s worth to the team has never looked stronger than tonight and Trelkeld needs a spell on the sidelines. But we all know it will largely be the same players, asked to play the same way. And with each and every week it doesn’t quite work, the fear in the stands grows that there isn’t a back-up plan in case it fails.

It’s a long season and lots will change. We’ve just got to hope the magic will eventually become visible. And that the growing pressure has the positive effect on Adams that he claims it does.

Categories: Match Reviews

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28 replies

  1. Look at the fixtures coming. I cant see us winning for a month and by the scunthorpe game we will be in a relegation battle. We will not turn this club around till Rupp leaves

  2. Not trying to be too pedantic, but this was our first home league defeat of the season but actually our third defeat in league and cup.

  3. The next five games are against the teams currently in 3rd, 1st, 4th, 6th and 5th places. It is not going to get easier and unless there is significant improvement City will find themselves in the lower end of the division by the end of November.

  4. Time for OD, Watt and Threkeld Gillead to be given a spell. Absolutely shot to bits these lads . Hopefully will improve Cooke’s game somehow as he is looking shot also! Same issue a year later. WHY?? RS LT et all? No replacements in the middle hence Watt and Cooke are struggling and also under no pressure for their place. It would help them both mentally more than anything. DA will end up alienating himself in time with his nothing to see here it’s all good nonsense comments after a defeat. Embarrassing fitness/effort levels and squad balance – again!

  5. Out thought and out fought on every level this evening. Another promoted team from non league football the previous season that rock up at VP and leave with an easy, well deserved 3pts and hand out a footballing lesson to boot. No goals in 8 hours away from home and it takes less than minute to break their duck. An absolute embarrassing performance only trumped by Adam’s post match analysis and odd ramblings on the current goings on at VP.
    The spine of the team that finished 15th last season with minimal additions does not maketh a promotion push.
    No strength in depth, no competition for places and players warming the bench that have had little or no game time that make zero difference once introduced to the fray.
    The club appears rotten to core from the top to bottom. Next stop Swindon… you know the rest.

  6. Dear Mr Sparks.
    The result from VP tonight is very poor. However, keep your nerve and on no account even think about jettisoning Adams. To be clear; the responsibility for our position is all yours ( and of course Mr Rupps).

  7. We had more shots…
    Patience wearing thin

  8. The problem for Adams is the players he continually picks week in, week out. Firstly, as Jason mentioned there’s no pressure coming from anyone else in the squad. Secondly, and probably more importantly, when a team continually gets a run of bad results, as we are, then the players stop believing in what the coaching team are trying to implement. Adams talks a good game. It’s up to him now to show his worth.

    • There’s a lot talked about the small core of players that DA picks week in week out.
      Not sure that’s the issue.
      Parky only used a small number of players, albeit backed up with a small number of good, trusted replacements. The difference is Parky’s players drove a culture of setting the highest standards (Jones, Darby, Meredith et al). Added to this I can’t really remember players getting injured (Davies aside).
      I guess what I’m saying is there is nothing wrong with using a small group of players but you better make sure that they are high quality, have the right mentality and are physically able to play twice a week.
      Some may argue but I think broadly we have some quality in the side but I don’t think the mentality is there (yet) and we have to question why players are getting injured. The latter two points are things that DA and his team have some control over even if he didn’t recruit a large proportion of the team.
      Final point. Alex Gilliard. I was really excited to see him return but so disappointed with his performances. Why does he keep cutting in on his left….?

  9. Unfortunately the season is panning out exactly as I expected before a ball was kicked. The good start to the season gave me hope I was wrong in my assessment – turns out it was false hope. This always looked a thin, weak squad to me and one not capable of challenging. There’s a core of players here who downed tools last season and the recruitment has been poor. The squads so poor Adams can’t or won’t rotate players who are badly out of form. Watt is struggling badly, Gillead started brightly but is now reverting to type, Threkald was just a very average signing and Lavery and Robinson are just bodies (much worse than last years striking options in my opinion). There’s been a lot of talk about fine margins over the last few days and that we’re not far from being a good side. Never bought into that. 1 win in 9 isn’t fine margins, it’s called not being good enough sadly.

  10. Adams needs to rotate the team and give a few non-performers some time on the sidelines.
    Hornby in for OD – he’s always got a mistake on him
    Canavan in for Songo’o
    Songo’o in for Watt as the deep midfielder, need someone much tougher playing in that role. Watt for all his nice football is just too lightweight for a ball winning midfielder on L2z
    And Gilliead needs some time out of the team, but this is where our strength in deep is an issue. I honestly have no idea who would be an upgrade on Gilliead despite his weak performances of late.
    ..and that is why we need to strengthen in the winter. No real strength in depth.

  11. The only thing think we can look forward to is January and hope we can compete in the transfer market and don’t sign anymore journey men.I am not confident the money will be made available as the budget is spent, it will probably come out if next season budget.I just hope the real Adams comes out soon and shows what he his about ,at the moment there is a lot of words and not a lot of substance.

  12. At this level you can understand a lack of ability. We’ve witnessed that for years. What I can’t stomach is the lazy start we had. 3 mistakes /lazy attempts to pass /win the ball and a goal keeping error lead to the first goal. It was like watching a half cut pub team kick off. Lack of care / awareness call it what you want. Then a half hearted attempt to up the ante. The problem remains that I’m unconvinced by this team. It’s awareness Or mental strength to address and cope with a first minute blunder. Hartlepool were bang average. But they had heart and put in more effort than we did. And THAT is unforgivable. This team has the ability to win over the support but I remain sceptical based on us repeating the same failings over and over. We’re soft through the middle of the team and don’t appear to have replacements capable or trusted to make a difference. Adams really is up against it. Appalling performance.

    • The lack of “mental strength to address and cope with a first minute blunder” – last night summed up perfectly. A wretched performance.

  13. If every time we suffer a bad defeat Derek Adams is going to try to absolve himself from blame by referring to the sins of the last four years, he is going to find himself in terminal conflict with the owner. Who else can he be talking about in that time frame? There is nobody else at the club who has been here that long. This suspicion is all but confirmed when Adams says there are things he could say but is not allowed to – or words to that effect.

    So we need recruits in the window, he reveals. This flies in the face of Sparks’s revelation that we ‘stretched the budget’ to make our deadline day signing – a free transfer who never gets a game. Barring windfalls from a glorious cup run or, even more unlikely, the big money sale of a player, where will the finance come from to strengthen?

    The squad – as most fans knew and many said – was never large enough or sufficiently balanced and already we are a man down having shuffled off Crankshaw. So precisely how will we fortify the promised promotion campaign which is clearly faltering?

    Furthermore, even if the owner makes cash available, how do we get rid of the superfluous contracted players to make way for the necessary new ones and conform to the prescribed squad size?

    Only a few weeks ago Adams pronounced himself happy with the squad. He’s stuck with it and needs to get the best out of what he’s got. That’s the art of management. He will only do that if he utilises all of his players and shows confidence in them.

    I think it is now incumbent on Sparks to come out and publicly back his manager, clarifying the financial implications of fresh recruitment.

  14. Totally agree with your point about the none inclusion of Staunton. It’s an absolute disgrace to see young talent sat on the bench, while inferior players are picked every single week. Adams does have favourites that can do no wrong in his eyes. His attitude must be keep playing them and they will come good. Those players not in the favoured group do not get a look in! Is that approach a measure of a good manager? I don’t think so. He has to give opportunities to the likes of Scales and Staunton.
    He continues to play players out of position, while others more capable in that position are benched (Canavan is an example of this). Adams has a excellent CV and I think we are lucky to have him. Why is he struggling at VP? Is VP a graveyard for all football managers?

  15. Jason, whilst others will comment quite rightly on this disorganised shower of unfit soft centred players I just wanted to respect your ability to write such a coherent piece so quickly whilst still wrapped up in the emotions of the night. Incredible. ✊ Do you write it initially with expletives and then delete them?

  16. Great report Jason.

    Where to start?

    I’ve seen a few fans saying that there was a lack of effort last night. There’s something in that, but for me that the players looked tired; they were static in and out of possession and didn’t show enough energy to get control of the game. I saw effort from Cook (who ran around like a dog off the lead), Cooke (who, while not blameless, is cutting a more despondent figure by each passing game), and in bursts from Sutton and Vernam. I think it was said that yesterday was Watt’s 70th consecutive league start – he’s mentally and physically exhausted and needs a rest.

    There are clearly players who are not good enough, and yet again (for what, the fourth season in a row?) just as the transfer window closes we are left pinning our hopes that we can stay with the pack and have a better transfer window in a few months time. But experience is triumphing over hope now. Every man, woman and child could see in July that we needed a quality addition at the top end to challenge Cook for his place. I don’t know about available budget, but we have no senior squad places in our allowance so we have to let go of players first. Padding the squad with one-year deals instead of loans that can be ended looks a complete mistake. To bring anyone in, we’ll have to move on Kelleher, Lavery. Robinson, Evans minimum. Who will take them? If I’m Rupp sat in Germany, being asked to yet again sign-off on termination payments for players, I’d be getting rightly annoyed and wouldn’t be inclined to put more money in when I can’t trust that it will be spent well.

    People are also highlighting Rupp, but Rupp doesn’t appoint the manager, manage the club each day, sign the players, devise the tactics, work on fitness, make the substitutions, put the crosses into the box or take the shots on goal. Just as it’s not Rupp’s success when we beat Stevenage so convincingly, it’s not his fault for losing last night. Rupp didn’t demand that we buy two forwards released by lower League 2 teams instead of getting one better player.

    Adams deflected all blame away from himself in his post-match interviews, even suggesting some deeper rot in the club. Not one hint that he might have got his selection or tactics wrong. He suggested Hartlepool were just the better team, ‘so what can you do’ and then effectively said “I’ve got promotions on my CV, you need to trust me”. It was very Simon Grayson. But as you say Jason, where are the signs that we’re moving forwards?

    He had his red folder out on 30 minutes, and the way Canavan was warming up led me to think that he would be on at half time and Songo’o would be pushed into midfield. But no, and he makes his subs when we’ve just gone 2-0 down. Can we think of a game this season where Adams has made a positive difference through his in-game management? He also seemed to point the finger at recruitment, but we know he had a hand in deciding who was offered new contracts last season and I can’t believe he had no role in bringing in selecting Threlkeld or Songo’o to come in. In that case do we think he didn’t have any say over Kelleher, Lavery, Robinson Gilliead, Eisa, not even a veto?

    I hope, at least privately, he’s reflecting on what he too could be doing better.

    • Adams is proving a major disappointment, compounded by those rambling, innuendo laden, post match interviews. Knows the problem, can’t mention it but, of course, not his fault.
      Given he has a three year contract and appears to have the full support of Sparks, I’m afraid we’re likely lumbered.
      There were signs of discord and apathy amongst the players last night and, given the struggle against a newly promoted National League side, the current record of one win in the last eleven games, doesn’t bode well to back up pre-season boasts of promotion from our CEO.
      If the slide continues, unchecked, then Ryan Sparks will be faced with a dilemma in January.

      • Yes. Sack the manager in January. Our usual recipe for success. Good job Man Utd didn’t sack fergie in February. It was never all going to change this summer. The same team played superbly 72 hours before the horror show. We’re going to see more good and awful displays in the coming months.
        Fortunately the people in charge seem to realise that changing the manager every time we have a few bad results doesn’t work.

  17. I do not intend to repeat the fantastic analysis of the game that Jason has written, but just add a couple of points about what type of football seems to bring success at L1, L2 level. Fast tricky wingers who can take a man on and get the ball into the penalty area to an effective Centre forward (Think Mark Ellis to Bobby Campbell). A decent number 10 who can score goals, supporting the Centre forward and playing just behind him. (John Hawley, Robbie Blake types). Solid Centre halves and full backs that link up with the wingers. (E.g Wayne Jacobs, Meredith). A reliable keeper who commands crosses and talks to his defenders. Add to that a team with high energy who harass and hound the opposition, particularly in midfield. (McCall, Singleton and Abbott were superb at this in the mid 80’s team). We have one fast direct wide man at the moment. Vernam. Cook is decent but lacks support. Ridehalgh links up well on the left and has performed well. Our midfield has some ability but is too passive and over complicate things at times. The Central defenders are decent when Canavan is one of them. Levi Sutton is a bit raw at times but has passion and takes players on to good affect. We have some pieces of the jigsaw but we are still some way off the complete picture. Hopefully Derek Adams can find the missing pieces of the jigsaw. It may take a while.

  18. Ilkley Bantam
    I did not go to the game as my protest at the way the club is being run,nobody as yet told the fans who recruited all the players at the start of this season however it is obvious that Mr Adams
    Had a big input on who stayed and who went.all the players signed came from our division and all of them had either a history of injuries or non existing scoring records.
    For a club getting such huge support it is a disgrace that we are only signing players on free transfers and players other clubs don’t want some given two year contracts would you believe.The final straw came when our manager praised the players for the way they had kept two clean sheets saying how well they had defended when anyone who watched those games knows that it was the opposition who failed to take there numerous chances and should have won not our defending.Mr Adams you are watching these games through rose coloured spectacles and insulting the supporters who watch these matche hence the result last night.
    You may have got Plymouth promoted but you were eventually sacked that says a lot.

    • Simply trying to get promoted on the cheap again and again. Where the extra money gone ? transfers, bigger revenue from extra ticket prices, major sponsorship announcements every week during the summer? This has gone on long enough Rupp. Either dig in your pockets deaper or do 1. We deserve better.

  19. Another contributor referenced “The Little Red Book “ . There was a moment that left some of us incredulous last night. As their player sped past Adams and Lavery en route to delivering the ball for their second goal, our manager continued to consult his notes, ignoring the play. The fact that as we were so open and dispersed that a goal was all but inevitable didn’t seem to register. As the header hit our net, he didn’t even look up. Not bothered or totally self-obsessed? Either way, not an encouraging moment.

  20. I want to like Adams but his after match interviews are getting ridiculous. Last night insisting it wasn’t so bad as this was our first home loss! That’s not the bloody point Derek, we were a shambles!
    Every team in this 4th division sees the visit to VP as their cup final and build themselves up for playing at a big stadium in front of a big crowd. It seem the opposite with our players, many don’t look like they can handle the pressure of playing at VP. How many have the character of the likes of McArdle, Darby, Jones , Davies, Hanson and Wells etc? Big difference between playing in front of 1,500 at Morecambe and the like and playing in front of 15,000 at VP.
    Adams has a lot to do to win the faithful over and honesty in his post match interviews would be a good start and less of the cryptic comments about what’s wrong at the club but he can’t say so! What’s all that about?
    And that’s before we get onto his man management skills which seem to be sadly lacking in the way he has publicly decried players he never selects and stubbornly sticks with the players who are for whatever reason not doing the business!

  21. I agree what you are saying about xG going forward and that given that we are underscoring xG, the hope is that this will resolve it self if we start making more of these chances.

    What is worrying is that teams are outscoring their xG against us. Bristol Rovers scored two goals from 0.7 xg or something and Hartlepool scored 3 from an xG of 1.1 last night – that suggests to me that we are conceding more goals than we should or conceding goals from supposedly difficult chances/chances that we should be able to defend and that is a worrying trend!

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