Low entertainment adds to supporter frustrations over Bradford City’s stagnant form

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?

There’s more.

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

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29 replies

  1. If only yet another change of manager alone would somehow spark a surge into league 1 & beyond, but I for one fear it’s not quite that simple in my humble view
    As a club we must firstly realise & truly grasp where we are, or more importantly, who we are. Simply put, we are a league 2 football club, & I’m afraid to say, not a very good one at all just now.
    When I was a younger man, it was called the 4th Division. In those days we were scrapping with the likes of Hereford United, Halifax Town, York City & Workington, usually I would be stood on the Midland Road in a crowd of less than 3000, & usually watching very basic boring dire football. That was who we were, & the point is, that’s exactly who we are today. The name of the league has changed as has many of the names of the team we have to play, but names aside, that’s exactly who we are. We are not a Premiership club, or a Championship club, or even a league 1 club, fact. I constantly hear our fans bemoaning that we are forced to play some of the opposition in this league, the Harrogate Town’s, the Barrow’s, or the Colchester’s, but the hard unpalatable truth, is that we are playing those teams because we are just one of them, we are right now absolutely no better. Yes we have ambitious goals nothing wrong at all with that, but there is a world of difference between ambitious goals, & an arrogant sense of entitlement. When Derek Adams came in, he talked about his apparently simple singular mission to get us promotion this season, the club echoed the message insisting, this was the year. By taking this reckless approach setting the bar so high, & publicly hyping our chances up at every opportunity, any poor form or dip in results would be greated with huge frustration, disappointment and anger amongst our long suffering fans, along with added pressure on all involved with the club, manager included.
    All of this groundless needless false optimism obviously transports itself to the player. The start their careers at Bradford City full of arrogant swagger, playing almost with a visible sense of, ‘we shouldn’t have to try too hard in this tin pot league to get the wins’ mentality, only for the first few weeks to pass & that swagger is then replaced with a disabling tangible pressure to perform, work, scrap, & actually score goals & win games. Those players inevitably move on & only then do we see what good players they actually are. Crankshaw, Doyle, Morris, but to name afew of many many more.
    Bradford City will play in league 1 again, nothing more certain than that, but only when we foolishly stop expecting to be in league 1, when we stop thinking we have some kind of ridiculous entitlement to be playing our football in a higher league. Our future success will come, but it can only come when we first truly accept who we are.
    Up the Bantams!

    • I am sorry to say that I have to agree with you.

    • Wholeheartedly agree that there has to be a reset of expectations. We may have a big fanbase but we also have a Gibb sized millstone hanging around our neck. The bit of extra revenue we have can be easily balanced by those clubs who are at present better set up to make the best of limited resources and bearing in mind also that there are a number of clubs which outspend us with all the potential long term problems that deficit spending brings.
      You have to get a lot of ducks in order to challenge at the top. Get some of it right and you end up where we are mid table.
      The sooner we all accept that we are going to have to pull together and fight our way out of this division the better rather than expect it. A bit of the underdog spirit of the 1980s club/fanbase would not go amiss

    • I agree with all you say until you talk about Morris and Crankshaw. I don’t reckon Morris has pulled any trees up and we need to assess Crankshaw when he’s doing it in league football.

  2. 2 wins in 16
    Another night of disappointment
    Roll on the next win.

  3. 2 wins from 22 games and STILL no sign of this joker turning it around!

    Colchester were a very poor team – probably the worst to visit VP this season – and STILL couldn’t take our chances or win the game!

    That was a game we absolutely should have won but under DA we no longer know how to win a game!

    He needs to go NOW.


    Time for Flynny!

  4. DA knows how to draw games in League 2. To be fair to him I think he got the team selection right and we should have been 2/3 up at half time. Colchester were there for the taking, that was clear from the start. Gillead was mostly wasteful and our finishing is not good enough, as we all know. We missed Cook in that respect. Most disappointing for the fans is that we can’t get that second half head of steam shooting towards kop going – his formation doesn’t allow that with Yann in the team – but when he was taken off you saw how much it opened up for Colchester to win it so maybe DA does actually know best after all. Ridehalgh crossing deserves a mention, great quality for this level – again Cook might have shown more desire and instinct to put one of them away.

  5. Seen manager’s with better run of results get the boot here…. Watch this space 😉

  6. At least next year fans will be able to watch super bright LED advertising screens when the football is boring. I’ll personally will be giving it a miss. 34 years of supporting will end when they come in

  7. I dont know whether its City or the game in general but to be honest it’s become a boring spectacle.
    No juicy tackles anymore. No wingers that run at defenders and whip in tasty crosses a la Hendrie and Beagrie.
    No towering headers at goal in the way Hanson and Campbell did several times per game.
    If you win 1-0 then that is acceptable.
    Where have all the 3-2 and 4-3s gone.
    We seem to get the ball on the edge of the box and tap it around until we lose it.
    No 30 yards shots. No wonderful ball winning tackles in midfield.
    The game has gone sterile and boring and we are not even.good at that.

  8. Maybe a trifle too negative that, whilst the second half was a set back… there was more entertainment in the first half than in several of the games I have seen at VP put together.

    So whilst wearing my “we-are-where-we-are” hat I was grateful that after I bothered to turn up last night after a day of shocking weather that made me wonder if being bored and wet and cold was worth it.

    Bottom line is that we don’t have enough goals in any of the front 4 attacking positions and that isn’t about to change bar some very shrewd work in January. I thought Robinson looked the better of the attacking players with at least 3 shots on target and with a willingness to have a shot he looks more likely to score than any one else we had on the field, though as you point out the way we get the ball to him is holding him back as its not the way he plays.

    Moving forward the small crumb of comfort from last night is that 2 of those 3 clean-sheets have come in recent games and if we are going to struggle for goals all season then its critical we can keep clean sheets so that those odd goals that do appear might get us some wins, so hopefully we can turn 3 clean sheets in to 4 and 5 and with increasing confidence in our ability to defend well, Adams might instill a more attacking ethic.

    Yes its small comfort but talking about where we want to be and our ideals is pointless unless anyone has a huge big wand, and I don’t want to see a death-spiral of negativity that sees off another manager and keeps this bad cycle at city where we start something and knock it down and start again for another few seasons.

    • “Death spiral of negativity” ! Love it. Quality turn of phrase and an apt description of the pernicious influence of social media.

  9. Good report as usual Jason. The only thing I’d contest is the line about groans from the fans. On the Robinson shot, I’d imagine any groans were because Robinson took the cross away from Angol who was better placed, rather than because Robinson didn’t score.
    But I didn’t hear many groans around me, on account of no one being sat near me, and that has to be a growing concern for the club. It felt like a dead rubber end of season game last night, both on the pitch and in the stands.
    Adams can come out with his eye-rollingly repetitive post match lines about us missing chances, but Colchester had the best chance of the game. Against an even marginally better team and we’d have lost last night. I don’t even know where to start trying to rescue this season, I’m not sure it’s possible now.

  10. Agree with much of the comment. Let’s write off this season and begin the re- build now rather than at end of the season. Get the best of our younger players playing regularly. Use the best of the old donkeys to bring them on. And, as regards the January window, don’t waste money on tired, has been’s and never will be’s. Please not another Guthrie or Robinson (and countless others of a similar standing who year in year out simply flatter to deceive). Recruit lively looking ‘hungry’ young lads, with potential, from non league clubs and, importantly, play them. The aim being to build a side capable of challenging for promotion next year and not trying to patch up and cover up what is quite clearly a defunct unit.
    It is depressing to write this but the sooner club and supporters face up to reality the better.

    • Writing off this season and playing the kids would be just about the worst thing we could do. It would lead to poor results and killing off the already declining interest in the club that we have at the moment. We need a January window similar if not better than last Jan when we brought in Rowe,Cook, Vernam, Canavan, Crankshaw. We then at one point took 34 points from 15 games which is winning the league form. Hungry young lads from non league sound great in theory,but most are simply not good enough and the better ones are at wealthy non league clubs. The club need ambition,remember Geoffrey Richmond who declared that the days of mediocrity are over, or the dynamic chairmanship of Stafford Heginbotham to drive the club forward. Sparks is good at this but is just an employee of the club under Stefan Rupps ownership. Rupp makes sure the club is stable which I thank him for, but he will never have that ambition or drive to make things happen like Stafford or Richmond did. To kickstart our season we need a lot of wheeling and dealing this January, possibly saying goodbye to some popular players whose contracts end next June.

      • Well put. SR is not a toxic owner thankfully, but he is a fairly dis-interested one and that is always going to be an issue for us.

  11. We kept a clean sheet last night but only thanks to Hornby getting his teammates out of bother. Again individual errors which shouldn’t be happening while we generally look solid.
    In fairness to Adams he didn’t have much to go with last night. while I agree leaving Cooke on the bench seemed bizarre it may have been as part of the plan to press more out of possession which I feel we did.
    Two things, summer recruitment looks very poor – our better players Ridehalgh apart were already here last season. Ridehalgh also replaced the capable Wood so not a particular area that needed addressing had Wood stayed.
    Injuries and with that muscular injuries – I feel this did for McCall and I can’t help but think something is going wrong in this department. Underperformance over a considerable period of time.

    • Wood didn’t want to stay and had didn’t look worth offering improved terms anyway after a poor season so it was still a good signing getting Ridehalgh in.

  12. I agree Rob
    As with many previous games I enjoyed the first half – I thought we looked like a winning team, passed the ball around them, created several good chances and were unlucky not to go in at half time at least a goal up.
    We need that rare commodity, a twenty goal striker who will convert the opportunities we are making.
    Meanwhile we need our team to keep believing in themselves and maintain a challenge for 90 minutes and not just 45.
    And we, as City fans need to have a little patience with the manager and our players. I felt the atmosphere in the second half changed and the players looked nervous and unwilling to take a chance or shoot at goal in case they failed.
    We are on a three season journey with a manager who has a proven record in this league and are better placed all round than we were last year both on the pitch and behind the scenes.
    So come on City fans – let’s make our New Years resolution to get behind our team and our manager whatever the situation – it could have been much worse!

  13. I really have little faith left for this season. I think the summer recruitment was unsuccessful and we have had real injury problems
    But I think calls for Adams to be sacked are misguided. He needs time to change round the whole ethos of the club.
    Sparks similarly needs time. I think he talks a lot of sense.
    We supporters need to give them time. The disappointment of the last few years make that difficult but our experience of Parkinson shows that a good manager needs time and can then succeed.
    The trigger happiness of recent years shows what happens if you expect quick success.
    Please keep the faith.

  14. This poor stuff is driving people away in droves.
    Who is going to even contemplate buying a season ticket next year?
    The sustainability trotted out by Sparks will go out of the window if fans find there are other things to do.
    You only have to look and listen to fans at the moment. There has never been such a level.of disinterest.
    Last nights crowd figure shows it and it could well be worse on Saturday. One of the traditional days pre Xmas for low crowds.
    After 60 plus seasons I am really struggling to support what I see at City at the moment. They dont deserve the support they are getting and I fear that patience is running low amongst even hardened long term.fand such as myself.
    We have a manager who despite the fact that he might ultimately get us out of this god awful.division seems content in the meantime to be quite happy with mind numbingly boring systems and results.
    We have an owner who is so anonymous that he makes Julian Rhodes seem like an extrovert. Surely we are a bigger better club than the village green teams that not only populate our division.but even top.it.
    If not and you add all the dwindling support for Bradford City then we might as well.pack it in now.

  15. The lack of ambition shown to attack the opposition goal in search of a winner (for at least 45mins) is quite frankly insulting to all who attended. As a home crowd, this is the minimum we should expect for investing our time and money, especially on a cold Wednesday evening.
    The excuse is that we are lacking attacking options, but does this mean we can’t give it a go? Talent should not dictate that (for the record, I think we do have some talented players in there). Even Sunday League teams try to win football games.
    To be able to walk away from VP knowing we’ve put in the effort and ambition to win the game – that’s all we ask for really, win lose or draw. I haven’t seen this for months now

  16. Some fair points Keith but not sure the results could get much worse . And whilst I would agree with you about the signing of Canavan I would stake a fiver that over the years, at the January window, injury prone dross outweighs quality. We never seem to ask the obvious question – why are these supposedly quality players available in the first place. And, of the five you cite, two have gone and two are long-term injuries. Look at the sides that have come up from non league in recent years. Young, strong, tough players moulded into a team and willing to go the extra mile for their club..not a patchwork quilt of tired misfits weighed down by the prospect of having to play twice in a week…heaven forbid. And, speaking of tired misfits, Gilead’s second half performance last night, sums this up. He looked like he wanted get home for 9.00 to watch tv and have an early night.

  17. It’s only recently though Rick that Cook and Vernam have become injured and I wouldn’t describe them as long term injuries. Even Canavan has had a spell out,it happens. They were five decent signings last January that transformed the results and I’m still disappointed Crankshaw was sold. I think you’ll be surprised how many leave and how many come in this coming January as Adams will hopefully start his revolution. Agree about Gilliead and most of this summer’s signings were poor.
    P.S A long time ago, but do you remember a really great night when City manager John Docherty invited yourself ,myself and a friend of mine for a long chat about City that went on to the early hours.

  18. Well, wasn’t inspired to comment this morning on this. And very depressing to read the comments above. My contrarian streak leads me to determinedly looking for the silver linings from last night….

    It wasn’t actually as cold as I expected and I didn’t get rained on.
    My 16 year old son was in surprisingly good mood, notwithstanding the turgid outturn of the game (prompting his favourite if controversial line “I’d rather lose 1-0 than watch a nil nil draw”), so a bit of good banter there.
    I was pleased to see Sam Hornby (or James Acaster as we refer to him in our house) between the sticks. I felt before the season started he should have been No 1 by a nose. Having reflected on the MoM nomination, I agreed with it. The best moments of drama were when he raced off his line not once but twice to tackle the oncoming threat his 10 team mates had failed to notice. Could have ended as humiliatingly embarrassingly as the spectacular Songo’o own goal, but they didn’t. Real s**t or bust stuff, set the pulses racing for the only time last night.
    Following on from that theme, our first clean sheet in a while.
    Good to see Caolan Lavery back. He’s no Nakhi Wells, but offers the faint hope of a bit of upfront action.
    Listening to Derek Adam’s post match interview reminded me of Eric Cantona discussing seagulls. They have a real surreal quality to them.

  19. Two topical points. I remember years ago Whitley Bay stopping training on Tynemouth Beach because its heaviness was leading to hamstring injuries. Might a damp field alongside the River Aire have a similar effect? Secondly, I can’t see it being easy to get players out in January to make space for new signings.

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