No day one miracle as Mark Hughes’ first game in charge of Bradford City ends in familiar fashion

Bradford City 0
Mansfield Town 2
Oates 44, Longstaff 48

Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

So this is what crashing back down to earth feels like. After a wonderfully surreal couple of days scarcely believing the identity of the new Bradford City manager, this was the all-too-familiar pain of a home defeat.

Everyone had a spring in their step entering Valley Parade today. The atmosphere was transformed. Pragmatism has been replaced by romanticism. It wasn’t a day to feel cynical. “Mark Hughes’ Bradford Army” boomed out pre-match, and everything felt great.

But then the game kicks off. And reality bites. Hard. Again. This defeat was another punch to the gut. A reminder that miracles rarely happen around these parts. At least not after only one training session.

Mark Hughes has never faced a challenge quite like this one. And during this, his first game in charge of the Bantams, the Welshman was given a sobering glimpse of the scale of the task he faces reviving the Bantams. Hughes would have been encouraged by the spirit and effort of the players that he’s only just getting to know, but there was no disguising the lack of quality.

“It was great to be back, I had a fantastic welcome and reception – hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll be able to repay that,” Hughes said after the game. “We want to be better than that in terms of performance. We have to cut out individual mistakes.”

With goals just before and after half time, Mansfield Town took their chances and won with a confident swagger. The Stags are now victorious in 16 of their last 21 matches, a superb run of form that has taken them up to sixth place, after languishing 23rd at the end of October. Backed by a superb away following, Mansfield were everything that City aspire to be. Hughes would have been wise to have spent a post match beer picking the brains of his opposite number, Nigel Clough.

If Clough and Mansfield do succeed in their promotion quest, it’s safe to say they won’t be facing Bradford City in League One next season. During the shock unveiling of Hughes on Thursday, the CEO Ryan Sparks was still talking up a late push for the play offs. Yet the gulf in quality between the two sides, and the now 12-point gap to the top seven, underlines just how unlikely this has become.

There’s just no way this group of players can confound all evidence they’ve presented so far this season by suddenly bursting into form and going on a winning run, similar to Mansfield’s. This is now a fourth defeat on the spin, and whilst that run should come to an end soon – the last two performances are hardly that of a team in freefall – there’s far, far too much to do to make the play offs. And there is barely any margin for error.

Just like the Harrogate Town defeat midweek, City weren’t bad here and gave their in-form visitors a tough afternoon. After Mansfield made a confident start and probably should have scored twice in the opening four minutes, City settled down and played some good football.

Hughes had kept with the same 3-5-2 formation Mark Trueman implemented midweek, and he was able to build on the improvements his new assistant had garnered. There is an evolution taking place from Derek Adams’ low possession/direct approach that was evident against Harrogate, and it was even more notable here. So far this season, City have the fourth-lowest average League Two possession (46.7%) and fifth-lowest average passes per game (347). Today, they had 58% of the ball and attempted 432 passes.

The football is becoming more pleasing on the eye. It feels like they’ve having more of a go. And though back to back home defeats is hardly enjoyable, there was again some consolation taken here from the manner of the performance. You went home feeling more entertained than had been the case under Adams. It’s a small crumb of comfort right now, but it’s definitely something.

That a better performance wasn’t enough to deliver any reward was largely down to the fact Mansfield were stronger in both penalty areas. City’s defence remains hesitant and full of mistakes. Matty Foulds will take the blame for the opening goal after a poor header allowed the excellent Rhys Oates to run through at goal and finish brilliantly, but it could just as easily been Paudie O’Connor or Yann Songo’o taking on the role of fall guy.

All three defenders kept making mistakes and giving the ball to Mansfield in dangerous areas. For a time they were somehow getting away with it, usually because one of the other centre backs would bail out one of the others. But eventually their luck ran out and Oates struck.

At the other end, there were some promising City attacks, but either a poor final ball or a weak effort at goal thwarted good intentions. The Mansfield backline was excellent, but at times City made it too easy for them. City have got to be braver in their passing in the middle of the park. Too often it goes wide and they elect to cross it – which was largely meat and drink for Mansfield. “There were elements of the play I liked but maybe at the top end we need to create more chances,” Hughes admitted.

Theo Robinson – who had played well when he came on against Harrogate – faded after a promising start. Andy Cook was more lively than in recent weeks and put himself about, but he badly needs a better strike partner. Levi Sutton was behind much of City’s better first half attacks, whilst the wing backs of Alex Gilliead and Luke Hendrie got up and down well. Gilliead looks much better in his new role on the left and deservedly scooped the sponsors’ man of the match.

Cook had City’s two best chances. At 0-0 he capitalised on a great run from Gillead by hitting a shot from an angle that Nathan Bishop clawed away. Then at 2-0 down in the closing stages, the striker had a powerful header that was superbly tipped over by the on-loan Manchester United stopper. There was some excellent City build up play at times with Elliot Watt having one of his better days. But ultimately they have to hurt the opposition more when they get near the penalty area.

Mansfield were certainly more clinical. And when Matty Longstaff pounced on more defensive hesitancy to put Mansfield Town 2-0 up just three minutes after the interval, City had a mountain to climb. Hughes showed some of his managerial acumen by making changes that made his side more effective – Callum Cooke’s introduction for Matty Daly saw him go with a diamond formation – but they still struggled to lay a glove on Mansfield.

“We changed it quite early in the second half. I think that helped us,” Hughes added. “We matched them up in midfield and got more control of the game. Moving forward that’s the key for what we want to do. We want to dictate to the opposition.”

Further improvement came when Caolan Lavery replaced Robinson. Lavery is no one’s idea of the answer, but has been slightly unfortunate not to have had more game time under Adams. His cameo saw him offer much more than Robinson.

The biggest compliment you can give the players, in these circumstances, is that the game remained interesting even going into injury time. They didn’t throw in the towel like they had at Oldham a week ago. They’re fighting for the cause. Sadly, they’re just not good enough.

It all means that Hughes’ reign kicks off with defeat and he now has an important week on the training ground to build on the positives that were on display. He could also do with a helping hand on the injury front – Charles Vernam and Jamie Walker are big misses for City, and their return to fitness can’t come soon enough.

There remains an awful lot to play for. The final 12 games of the season will give Hughes a chance to get to know League Two, and the individual capability of this group of City players to be part of a successful promotion campaign. Having never managed or played at this level, there is a lot for Hughes to learn and the positive spin to apply is that he can start operating with one eye on preparing for next season.

He will need that. Because here was another lesson, if it really was needed, that football managers aren’t magicians. That City hired arguably the best manager in League Two last season, but sacked him after only eight months, shows that’s it not just about who is in the dugout. Hughes can hopefully succeed where Adams failed in getting a tune out of these players, but the biggest failing of this season lies in player recruitment – and those mistakes can’t be repeated.

The bottom line is that City have a squad that does not match their aspirations. Hughes will ponder why he only has only one decent striker in Cook, and how he can get more goals in the team when his other four striker options have such limited goal career records. He will scratch his head at the lack of central defensive options, and wonder how the club ended up selling its captain in January and expects someone who has spent the last few years playing as a central midfielder to fill in at the back. He will wonder where all the wide players are.

Last summer’s transfer business wasn’t good enough, and the January window efforts were a long way short of fixing the problems. Another clearout looks inevitable this close season, but there needs to be a plan to recruit much more effectively – and Hughes’ considerable expertise must be trusted. Sparks has already said that Hughes will be given whatever he needs. He and Stefan Rupp must be true to this pledge, if he’s going to succeed.

Mark Hughes is probably the most exciting and remarkable managerial appointment in the history of Bradford City. But the biggest lesson of this season – and, indeed, recent years – is not to invest all hope in the cult of the manager. Just appointing Hughes won’t guarantee success. There are 22 weeks until the 2022/23 season kicks off. Bradford City has got to make this time count.

Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , ,

20 replies

  1. Good summary of the game and the atmosphere generated. Like the monochrome photos,too. Is the intention to go to colour whenever we win?

  2. Not disponded by the result today. When you consider the stats. Mansfield had just 1 more shot on target than us. Mansfield were more clinical today but City did not disgrace themselves. We must also remember we have key injuries. Had they been available the result would have been different.
    I feel more positive moving forward. If we can get the key players back we will progress. City worked hard today and I give them credit for that. I bet before Hughes appointment, what odds for Evans to get a game? He did OK and so did Lavery. Come on City, have faith and we will succeed.

    • Glad you are not dispondent, in our seven February matches we have taken a total of four points, with three successive home defeats. We need to better that in the remaining twelve matches to stay up, not least as the majority of teams below us have games in hand.

      Our key injuries are significant and we do not know how many will play a part in the next nine to ten weeks.

      After thirty odd years, I’ve lots of faith but that alone (unfortunately) does not and never has translated into results. I believe our best assets are the new management team and am sure they are already looking at free agents on short term contracts.

      The support today was great – for both teams – for myself the highlight was the Ukrainian Bantams and the support from both sets of supporters.

  3. Good review. I think if can get 3or 4 wins in to ensure safety that’s about all we can expect now . It’s then up to M.H to sort out the squad for next season.
    I think Mansfields first goal was a cracker , goalie well beaten. A sweeper may have prevented it but sweepers are a thing of the past . Keep up your reviews please I really enjoy them .

  4. What a reception as Mark Hughes came out! Just a shame we couldn’t get a win to give us even more to cheer about. I thought the team played fairly well although the back 3 made me nervous every time the ball come to them – a plethora of errors in the first half! Gilead and Watt both did well. I think Watt in particular is at his best when he keeps his passing mainly neat and tidy with less of the Hollywood-type stuff. I was pleasantly surprised by Evans as well when he came on. He was very neat on the ball, and made some good runs and passes/crosses into the box – perhaps he can come back into the team under Hughes?
    One thing that really struck me about their first goal despite the defensive errors, was the way their striker was able to run onto the ball, get control of it and finish calmly. He still had a lot to do when the ball bounced through to him, and it made me realise, I can’t remember seeing any goals by a City striker, where they have had to take on a man or “create’ the opening for themselves, it’s mostly been just tap-ins/headers. I think we need this kind of striker for next season.

  5. I wish we would stop still talking up a final push for the play offs, especially the CEO, who having fired the last manager after just 8 months, needs to display a longer term vision and desist from unrealistic expectations. If Hughes get the funds to buy a new team that plays how the fans like it (and especially with the really excellent new no.2) then I would have full confidence that at some stage in the next 3 years, we could get promoted. Past history at this club suggests that 3 years is a realistic expectation. Otherwise, even Hughes reputation won’t save him and we will start the Sparks merry go round again.
    Stay calm, let him build, back him to the hilt and enjoy life in League 2. WE can still have ambitions to get to the Championship; but not quickly and not with beer money.

    • The trouble with city this season and to an extent last season,weve signed too many players with sick notes.They as much as anyone have let thier managersWho ever is at fault and fans down. You bring players in hoping they will strengthen the team,and they dont play because there injured.Is that the managers fault thier agents fault or the training methods?Who ever it is has let Bradford City down.We must now stop signing pansys ,and sign men.

  6. There was a clue from the interaction of MH with the players on the pitch before the game and from the touchline (including gestures to those who were substituted) that he is working with them and not against them to build a wider team. I’m not convinced that we saw this with DA and I am quite sure it will have gone a long way to build some self-belief in the team. For example I think there was more composure on display but ultimately MH will have seen for himself the challenge of rebuilding this squad.
    The combination of MH and Glyn Hodges is encouraging. The latter is familiar with the lower divisions but I would have thought that the prospect of playing under and learning from MH will be an attractive option to attract new signings. It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the guy has a lot more class than DA.
    MH’s appointment could not have come a moment to soon and it is a big positive that we haven’t had a few weeks before a replacement manager was appointed. I think it will be a nervous end to the season but I am upbeat about prospects.

  7. Whilst agreeing with the report I think we should emphasise the dreadful injury list.
    Vernam Walker Angol Ridehalgh. Plus Eisa Pereira Staunton. Maybe others.
    With Vernam and Walker I think the outcome could have been different.
    That said it was a good game and Mansfield and their fans were good.
    The only downside was the cheating particularly the bald defender pretending to be knocked out..
    As an aside has anyone ever seen a worse fixed refereeing decision than the var denial of Everton a penalty?

  8. By far the best performance I’ve seen since Swindon away. Hope for the future!
    I’ve seen no news on the injury front – Vernam, Walker, Angol, Ridehalgh – we’d be a different side with those 4 in particular.

  9. In all honesty we have a terrible squad of players. Yes, their application and effort were there to see yesterday but that has not always been the case.
    I know football has changed significantly over the years and transfer fees are rarely paid. Supposing they were, who in our team would attract the attention of a rival club? Of those on the pitch yesterday who would you be scared to lose if we were still in an open transfer window? Who would you be willing the club to offer improved terms to in the hope they’ll sign a contract extension and stay for another season or two?
    It is like an old game of Championship Manager where you have a laugh by taking over your most hated rivals, sign poor players, employ fanciful formations and smirk at their decline.
    Here’s another question… who on our bench could you turn to to change a game?
    I know we have injuries, but where is a player in a similar mould to Kyel Ried or Mark Marshall? Our team has NO pace what so ever. Even when he’s fit Charles Vernam isn’t exactly jet heeled.
    I’d go as far as to say this team would be improved by the introduction of Omar Daley or Joe Colbeck. They may have been inconsistent, but had me on the edge of my seat in at least half the games they played.
    The defence was criticised for mistakes made. Has anyone seen the highlights? What about the keeper’s positioning for their first goal? He left so much of the net unguarded I reckon I might have had a chance if I’d been their striker. The lad we have from Huddersfield (on loan) might as well have not been on the pitch (again). And the formation we played allowed them to constantly attack behind the wingbacks, pull our defenders all over the place and cause panic and mayhem in our back line. I’m willing to bet the only reason we faired batter in the second half was because Mansfield were 2-0 up and didn’t need to move up the gears.
    Mark Hughes has a massive job on his hands. It is so sad how poor we are!

  10. I think one line in your report sums up my feelings: “sadly they are just not good enough”.
    In 25 years watching City I have never seen so many players who lack what as a spectator I would have thought were basic skills: being able to control the ball when it comes to you with no other players around, having the awareness of where to postion yourself (e.g. Faulds for the first goal being a metre too far forward so the ball goes over his head), making 20 metre passes to no-one.
    I get that the pace of profressional football even at this level is incredibly fast, sit in the front few rows for 10 minutes and it’s phenomenal, but why do we sign players who are just not up to it?
    One thing I hope that Hughes can bring is team spirit, 11 players on that pitch who appear to be less together than a Sunday team who meet for 2 hours training in the week and the match on the weekend.
    It’s a case og hanging on this season and then start again in July,

  11. Mark Hughes is gonna need time, there’s no magic wand here. As expected, there was no new manager bounce in terms of the result. The first half showed signs of promise and after a difficult start City rallied and started pushing Mansfield back. That’s where the good news ends unfortunately. There was a chronic lack of quality throughout the game (particularly in both boxes) and the second half performance was extremely disappointing. Foulds and Songo’o seem locked in a battle to be worst player on the pitch and only Gillead could satisfied with his performance.
    Get some of the better players back and we’ll be more competitive and get the wins we need to ensure survival. Talk of the plays offs in the lead up to this game was dillussional from Sparks – has he not been watching games this season – and puts unnecessary pressure on Hughes from day one. Fingers crossed Hughes is backed in the summer and we can have a right good go next season.

  12. I see a lot of comments, here & previously that this squad is not good enough, but I question if that’s true. Was that our perception at the end of August? Are they man for man, lesser quality that the rest of L2?
    Injuries are weighing us down..but is that worse than other teams? If so, why is that? Even Adams public acknowledged the prevalence of hamstring injuries was puzzling and something he planned to look into more deeply. With what conclusions?
    Our team week in, week out, seems to lack the energy, the aggression, the speed & directness on the counter of every team they play. Morais in his match day commentary comments on their legginess. Why is that?
    Right now, I have more questions than suggested answers. Fingers crossed that Hughes has the experience, acumen and also the backing, to find answers to these.

  13. Spot on Jason. The qualities of one or two of our players yesterday (Sutton, Hendrie, Watt) cannot make up for the glaring mediocrity of many of the others (Robinson, Daly, Foulds, Songo, Cook, Evans). I’d like to think we’re safe but upcoming fixtures are tough and Hughes desperately needs three of four points to avoid a nail biting last few weeks. Pessimistic ? Maybe, but not sure there is a worse team in League 2 – barring Scunthorpe perhaps – at the moment.
    Rick H

  14. Define ‘good enough’. Is it ability? Mentality? Or both? I think I know the answer, hence the reason why the majority are not good enough to take this club forward.
    Although I’ve accepted the season is over (barring another three wins for absolute safety), I’m confident in Hughes’ ability to demonstrate small signs of improvement until the season ends.
    Then, during the summer with plenty of players out of contract, it will be all systems go with outgoings and incomings.
    Just because of the stature of the new gaffer I’m already enthused for the 2022/23 season.

  15. Ricky.
    I agree with you.
    We need a few points on the board and we need to make that our own.
    My own take on signings.
    When Angol, Lavery, Kellegher, and Eisa arrived I was underwhelmed.but it was early in.Adams tenure so like many I was prepared to see if he could get the best out of them as his reputation led us to believe.
    Songo seemed a predictable signing given Adam’s history and we thought he also knew Threlkeld so maybe also decent signings.
    My doubts began to surface when we signed Robinson to bolster our goal output when Cook was unavailable.
    These doubts increased when Elliot, Delfouenso arrived in the window. A quick look at their recent history showed they had not played many games and certainly not been prolific.
    The less said about Perreira the better.
    Is Bass an upgrade on Hornby or ODonnel?
    Only Walker and Hendrie added to the squad.
    So what was Adam’s doing signing these players and more to the point what were his scouts doing?
    Hopefully the next summer window and the next January window will be used better.
    Songo and Threlkeld to Morecambe. A certainty.

  16. For the second game on the trot I can’t fault the effort of the players despite deservedly losing. What this exposes is that the vast majority of the players are simply poor in terms of quality and decision making which makes them poor players.
    Sparky now has the short term task of keeping us up – yes that is a real danger as we need at least 8 more points to ensure survival and the form table would tell you that it’s touch and go as it stands.
    Assuming the short term goal is achieved it will be interesting to see how many he keeps and where he decides to strengthen. For instance, Matty Foulds was poor in this game (he looked better when he went to left back in a back four) but prior to that he’d been one of our better players. Players are playing for their futures and some will care about that whereas others will shrug their shoulders and be happy to move on. The interesting part about the former group is that even if they give it their all they may simply not be good enough to stay.
    Hopefully we stay up, Sparky is given the backing he needs and we can look forward to next season and a promotion push 🤞

  17. Incidentally, it’s all about relevant experience and history, so I am not sure Hughes is the biggest profile appointment in our History.
    Arguably, Ray Wilson (66 World Cup winner, one of only 11 in the whole history of the English game),Bryan Robson (probably the best England captain since Moore), Roy McFarland (arguably, even better than Moore), Colin Todd (a magical player), Frank Stapleton (top class for Arsenal and Man Utd),Trevor Cherry and Stuart McCall had similar haloes.
    Granted, Hughes has Premier League experience, but not exactly a stellar record.
    I wish him well, but let’s keep it in perspective.

  18. Forgot Bryan Edwards of course, a great servant to the Club as Manager and a host of other roles. Once sat next to him in the Stands and he told me about his FA Cup final appearance for Bolton Wanderers in the 50s. So modest and unassuming.
    I would swap them all however, for Gary Jones, but sadly, not likely to happen. Only with us for a short time but City through and through.
    However, the reality is that Hughes is our Manager and he gets 110% from me :>)

%d bloggers like this: