|Bradford City 1|
|Leyton Orient 1|
Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)
This is what the abyss looks like. For 14 long minutes, Bradford City were staring into a bottomless black hole. In grave danger of falling in, as they clung unconvincingly to the thinnest of ledges.
Elliot Watt’s late goal brought salvation but there is no doubt just how perilous the situation remains. The Bantams are still struggling just to keep their footing on that thin ledge. Their season in danger of collapsing. The club at risk of imploding.
When Darren Pratley pounced on a weak punch from Alex Bass to smash Leyton Orient into a second half lead at Valley Parade, the atmosphere grew very ugly. A home crowd that was already restless rang out the boos, loudly turned on manager Derek Adams and even chanted ‘sack the board’.
Moments later, Adams made the call to substitute Jamie Walker (who, unknown to the crowd, was injured), leading to even louder boos and a fierce rendition of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’. And coming just days after a dismal home defeat to Crawley, 24 hours on from a disappointing end to the transfer window, and after a season of frustrating underachievement so far, Bradford City was in a very, very dark place.
Yet to the players credit, they dug in and rescued a point. A long punt into the box by Matty Foulds wasn’t dealt with, and Watt hit a half volley effort into the ground that bounced up and hit the back of the net with the aid of a deflection. It was no goal of the season contender. But its significance on Bradford City’s season may yet prove huge.
The goal came in the midst of a final 15 minutes of belated home pressure that left Leyton Orient clinging on for some reward. Adams’ subs might not have won him any prizes for popularity, but they did have a positive effect on changing the game.
With a switch to 4-4-2 over these closing stages, City went long and they went direct. Balls were pumped into the Orient box from deep, with City’s clear height and physical advantage allowing them to knock more loudly on the door. It wasn’t pretty, but at least some purpose and urgency was finally shown. In the end, time ran out too quickly for the Bantams, who during these closing moments actually looked like a credible attacking force.
What a shame that wasn’t the case for the 75 minutes that preceded it.
You can give Adams some credit for getting his players to retrieve something from a difficult situation. But he must take a huge portion of the blame for City falling into that grim position in the first place.
Leyton Orient were as average a side as you can get in League Two. Without a goal in over eight hours or a win since early December, they were workmanlike but dripping in ordinariness. The greyness of their away shirts a fitting representation of their style of play.
Yet for long periods, City failed to pose serious questions of their opponents’ fragile confidence. Some nice moments of build-up passing in the middle of the pitch, but no threat in the final third. Andy Cook, as ever, was deployed on his own up front – but seemed especially isolated. Left to feed off the measliest of scraps, it is to the top scorer’s credit that he sniffed out a couple of decent chances along the way.
City were desperately missing the injured Charles Vernam, and without him lacked a starting player with the ability or confidence to take on opponents, run between the lines and stretch the play.
Instead, behind Cook, Adams deployed central playmakers in the attacking three positions (Walker, Matty Daly and Callum Cooke), plus Watt alongside Levi Sutton. All four are capable of being very good players. However, their strengths are too similar to effectively work together. Each can pick a pass and set up others, but they need runners around them and clever movement to be effective. Too many cooks spoil the broth, as they say, and Cooke, Walker and Daly in particular were hampered by competing to do the same things.
Vernam would have offered something different. Sutton was the only starter with a record of taking opposition players on, but he was strangely subdued and currently looks well short of his best.
It all led to a static, predictable and – frankly – dull City performance. Orient rarely looked troubled. Their backline only breached sporadically, such as when Foulds broke through into the box in the first half. But even then, with only Cook as the focal point, there just aren’t the attacking options to create any kind of overload.
So stalemate ensued for 69 minutes, and the atmosphere remained low key with a hint it could all boil over into anger at any moment. At half time there were boos, which was a touch harsh, but they were nothing on the level of fury that followed Orient’s breakthrough.
Given City held the physical edge throughout, it is frustrating that Adams didn’t seek to spot the weaknesses in the opponents and take advantage sooner. That he seemed happy for his players to play at such a slow tempo, rather than raising the stakes. And his low risk approach was in danger of backfiring. At least until he was left with no choice but to roll the dice and take a bolder approach.
On a night where few City players hit the heights, it was fitting that Watt got the equaliser. The young midfielder – back here from injury – has had his critics this season but here he played with a bravery that was an example to others. He still gives the ball away too much and his decision making must improve, but unlike some of his team-mates he is not afraid to make mistakes. He is bold, and in such a tough spot that was what was needed. Credit should also go to Paudie O’Connor and Foulds, who like Watt stood up to be counted.
There were late City chances and what might have beens. Substitute Tom Elliott won everything in the air when he came on and almost got Cook in for a winner. Another sub, Alex Gilliead, needed to run at people more but did at least produce one wicked cross begging to be tapped home. Theo Robinson also performed well. It was too little too late, but it was something. The smallest crumbs of comfort to take, after such a difficult few days trying to find reasons to be confident in the direction of the club.
Ultimately, nothing has changed. City are utterly unconvincing. They’re rubbish to watch. The manager’s post match comments continue to sound deluded to the point they’re insulting to listen to. The chances of promotion remain far from credible.
They’re still perched perilously on that ledge.
But they’re also still standing.
Adams was never going to lose his job in defeat here – but he was certainly at risk of losing a big portion of fans. In that regard, this late comeback is a stay of execution for the manager. The question is how he uses that limited extension of goodwill – and whether this night can be some sort of springboard to better times.
It’s painfully clear to every Bradford City supporter that his plan isn’t working. The 4-2-3-1 he favours just cannot succeed with the current personnel he has available. He is not even close to getting the best out of his players, many of whom are going backwards. It’s surely time now that he looks to implement a different approach. That he finds a better system for the strengths of the players at his disposal. And that he does something to give supporters more reason to believe in what he’s trying to do.
The three-year contract gives Adams plenty of protection. And, having made such an effort to secure his services, and allowed him to change so much at the club, it’s going to be difficult for CEO Ryan Sparks to sack him.
But this is turning into an unhappy manager-supporter relationship that we are starting to feel trapped in. And it’s time for Adams to prove that he deserves the backing of an increasingly disillusioned fanbase.
Categories: Match Reviews