|Bradford City 0|
|Colchester United 0|
By Jason McKeown
How do you revive a football club when it’s on a winless run? It’s a question the last seven Bradford City managers were unable to answer, with lengthy periods of struggle leading to a change in the dugout. The club is desperate to buck the trend with Derek Adams, but this dreary 0-0 stalemate was a further testament of how difficult a man he is to love.
Here, once again, there were groans from the crowd as the players struggled to overcome a dogged but limited Colchester side. There were boos, especially at the full time whistle. But more than anything else there was boredom. A flat atmosphere, as a crowd who braved the freezing elements were provided very little encouragement by the pattern of a turgid match.
On an evening where the rest of the nation was talking about Plan B, Adams’ attempted solution to City’s fading form was to stick steadfastly to his season Plan A of 4-2-3-1, despite its reoccurring failures of recent weeks. Only here, he went even more workmanlike by picking a middle three of Elliot Watt, Yann Songo’o and Levi Sutton. The latter took the number 10 role, whilst the player with the league’s best chance creation stats – Callum Cooke – sat on the bench.
Sutton offers many great qualities, but an ability to pick a killer pass isn’t amongst them. And City struggled all night to break down a defensive-minded Colchester side as a result.
The home side’s efforts to break the deadlock were further hampered by a tepid display from the forward line. Lee Angol endured a difficult evening where little went right. His terrific impact on his return from injury at Port Vale, a month ago, was a tantalising taste of what he can offer. But he has since struggled to hit the same heights. Angol’s lengthy absence was routinely held up by Adams as a reason for City’s early season struggles, but his return has showed that he alone is not the answer.
It was a curious front three selection from Adams. Angol’s best position appears to be wide left forward. And the manager’s best wide left forward option tonight was Angol. But his best available striker was also Angol. And so – to accommodate Angol wide left – Adams put Theo Robinson in the striker position, when his best position is wide left forward.
It didn’t work.
It is this thinking that defined much of the team selection from Adams. Playing what he probably considers his best available players – or at least those he trusts the most – but at the expense of not selecting the best balanced overall team. So Sutton was shoe-horned into a role where he doesn’t get to bring the ball forward from deep and take people on, as he had no space. And Robinson had to attempt to keep holding up the ball and play with his back to goal, when he is better running onto things.
You wanted to see something cuter from City. Something more creative. For the Bantams to out-football their very limited opponents, instead of trying to win by brute force. There are undoubtedly serious limitations in the available squad Adams has to choose from, but is he really playing his best hand from the options he does have? After 90 minutes of huff and puff with no reward, the jury is firmly out.
It did look more promising early doors. With new performance coach Andy Kiwomya joining the players for a final warm up just before they kicked off, the Bantams started well and Angol and Robinson tested United goalkeeper Jake Turner, who made two excellent saves. Sutton was typically busy, and Angol and Gilliead linked up well with the full backs Oscar Threlkeld and Liam Ridehalgh to get in behind the visiting defence. For 20 minutes, City asked some serious questions of an opposition side who have struggled on the road.
Alas, it fizzled out. The pace of the game slowed. Colchester began to keep possession better and plugged the early gaps at the back. It was another war of attrition, with City looking short of wit and craft to unlock the door.
There was a moment early in the second half that summed up the unconvincing nature of the display. Ridehalgh sent over a good cross. Angol appeared able to reach it, but pulled back and let the ball go through. It ended up at the feet of Robinson, who had a chance to shoot – but he laid it off to no one. The crowd groaned loudly.
In this sequence of play, neither Angol or Robinson had easy chances on goal – but both appeared to shy away from at least trying. Was it down to a lack of confidence, a failure to take enough ownership, or were they just unlucky with their decision making? You could ask the same question of the squad’s overall contribution so far this season.
Adams might have been happy at half time, noting City had managed 8 shots on goal to Colchester’s 2. But by the end of the night, the shot count was only 10-8 in City’s favour. And that said much about the dismalness of the second half. Attacking the Kop, against a team below them in the league, and yet they would manage just two shots in the second half.
Indeed, Colchester could have easily gone home with the three points, as they created two excellent one on one opportunities at the start and end of the second period. Each time they were thwarted by Sam Hornby, brought in for a first league start of the season.
Hornby’s restoration was recognition by Adams that Richard O’Donnell’s powers appear to be fading, after a series of not-terrible-but-not-brilliant performances. Hornby took his chance really well and the two one on one saves were terrific – albeit the second one prompted Colchester appeals for the City stopper to be red carded. What especially impressed was the speed Hornby came off his line to make the blocks. He smelt the danger and reacted really quickly.
Hornby merited the clean sheet – only City’s third of the season – and deserves a run in the side now.
The second big Colchester chance came after a late flurry of visiting pressure after they had spent most of the night looking reluctant to venture into the City half of the pitch. Yet despite the overall lack of ambition shown by their opponents, City simply couldn’t capitalise. They never got up a head of steam that would encourage the crowd to really get behind them. Colchester took a few punches yet were never on the ropes.
Adams did eventually send on Cooke, taking off Robinson and moving Angol into the centre. Caolon Lavery looked lively when he came on but was introduced too late into the game.
It looked like all the battling might have been rewarded when in stoppage time Angol broke through on goal from a wide angle. He had to at least hit the target, but blazed wastefully over the bar. And with that, the slump in form was extended to just two wins in 21. Or two wins in 22, if we count the 3-0 FA Cup loss to Exeter that was later voided.
So where do we go from here? In terms of the table, it’s as you were with City still 12th and the gap to the play offs six points. Just five wins, but only five defeats. It’s all those draws – which have now reached double figures. No one in the league has shared the spoils as often.
It’s a far from hopeless position, but there are very few signs to suggest the corner is being turned. The next two home games against play off chasing Sutton and Harrogate feel huge. And in between them is a trip to struggling Carlisle.
They have to start winning.
But it’s more than just results – where is the entertainment? What happened to the high tempo pressing football of early doors? Where has our swagger disappeared to?
We knew to expect less than thrilling football from Adams, but do we want to feel this level of boredom? It just feels so frustrating that a club of our stature and resources isn’t making a stronger impression on this league. That it struggles to play in a way that matches the huge ambitions of the club and its fanbase.
The trade off of having someone like Adams as manager is that you accept less entertainment for winning more matches. But sat here on a freezing cold night, watching such a boring game end in more frustration, it’s hard not to feel short changed. Where is the reward for tolerating such dull football?
This is a season where you especially wanted to feel the buzz of going to watch the Bantams. Through Covid, we spent some 18 months largely locked in our homes, unable to go places, and stuck watching our football club play in empty stadiums through our laptops. We absolutely missed Valley Parade. The thrill of cheering a great goal, watching a brilliant win, and contributing to a terrific atmosphere.
Now, we have the release of the world returning back towards normal (even with recent developments slowing that progress). Of getting to go back to Valley Parade and cheering on our players live in the flesh. And yet, it’s all so flat. This isn’t exciting to watch. And the happy moments that you typically collect through a season, to add to your lifetime of City supporter memories, are so far in short supply.
It will surely get better. It has to. But right now, this is grim football and iffy results and few goals to cheer and barely any wins and a depressing league table and doubts about the manager’s magical powers and frustration at the limitations of the players and concerns about the future.
And we’ve had all of this many times over the last few years. This is the repeat no one wants to go through again.
It’s time to change the script. And for a Bradford City manager to find that elusive answer.
Categories: Match Reviews