|Colchester United 3|
|Kenlock 16, Sarpong-Wiredu 32, Sears 75|
|Bradford City 0|
By Tim Penfold
They say you learn more from a defeat than a victory, and Mark Hughes will have learned a lot today. Unfortunately, what he will have learned is that quite a few of his fringe players are not really fit for purpose.
Hughes rang the changes after City’s outstanding display on Friday, resting and rotating after the sheer amount of running that the side put in. There were six changes – two enforced as Elliot Watt was suspended and Liam Ridehalgh absent after the birth of his child, but the likes of Gareth Evans, Caolan Lavery and Oscar Threlkeld got rare starts in a 4-2-3-1 system.
The game started slowly, with City having plenty of possession but doing very little with it. Without Watt coming to pick the ball up off the back four and move it forwards, the ball went from centre back to Threlkeld, to centre back, to Evans, to centre back – it never went further forward than that.
When Colchester did get the ball, they threatened in behind City’s full backs but their final ball let them down until suddenly it didn’t. City were slow at a throw in, the ball got hooked across the box and every City defender was dragged under the ball. It came to home left-back Myles Kenlock, who had all the time in the world to control it and fire it into the far corner. In fact, he probably had time to do a couple of keepie-uppies, grab a quick cup of tea and read a book, such was the lack of pressure from Threlkeld, whose eventual attempted block managed to simultaneously obstruct the keeper’s view of the shot while not actually managing to protect any of the goal.
The situation didn’t really change much following the goal. City had a lot of the ball around the back line, but did absolutely nothing with it. Evans lacked the vision of Watt, unable to find a bit of space, turn away from his man and move it forwards, but it was Threlkeld who really summed up City’s problems. He had 69 touches of the ball in the first half, but it was all sideways and backwards. The ball never went over the top, or to the feet of the winger, and only went to Callum Cooke when he got frustrated and dropped deep to get hold of it.
We could accept these struggles in possession from a full back if he was solid defensively – after all, Stephen Darby had his limitations going forward. But Threlkeld showed no qualities here either, and was badly at fault for the second goal. A set piece was floated in from deep, and centre back Tommy Smith had the freedom of the box to head the ball back across goal for it to be finished off. And who was it who had lost Smith completely as the free kick was taken? Yes, Threlkeld again.
Of all the disappointments of this season, Threlkeld has to be very near the top of the list. The worry is that he has another year on his deal, and who would take him off our hands?
It wasn’t solely Threlkeld that was the problem though. He was hooked at half time, and there was a reorganisation, with Levi Sutton going to right back and City switching to a diamond, but the sloppiness continued. Cooke moved deeper but there were still some issues with progressing the ball, and too many players made sloppy errors.
It was Bass, slicing a clearance out of play. It was Evans, getting caught in possession. It was Cook, not looking up and laying it off. It was O’Connor, letting his man slip past him and pulling him back for a silly booking. Mark Hughes must’ve wished he could substitute everyone.
In the end, it was Lee Angol who came on and sparked a bit of life in City’s play. He forced a good save from home keeper Shamal George after Levi Sutton had won the ball back and charged forwards, then fired the resulting corner over the bar, but despite this City seemed determined to shoot themselves in the foot. Evans got caught in possession, resulting in Freddie Sears dragging a shot wide when clean through, before O’Connor completely killed the game as a contest.
Noah Chilvers wasn’t really going anywhere – heading towards the corner flag, and the threat was minimal. But O’Connor decided to lunge into the tackle from behind, and picked up a particularly stupid second booking. No extenuating circumstances this time – just stupidity from the captain.
Fiacre Kelleher – another uninspiring fringe player – was summoned from the bench to fill the gap in defence, but the Bantams weren’t getting back into this. Eventually Colchester got a third, again robbing City in midfield before Sears slammed one home from outside the box, and that was that.
This display will have made the decisions on new contracts much easier in some cases. Evans’ brief revival is over, while Cooke has gone from being almost a certainty a month ago to being halfway out of the door. It’s clear that Elliot Watt is now vital to the way this team plays, and if we lose him in the summer then his replacement is the most important signing that Hughes will make. Only Lee Angol really boosted his chances today, and even he has question marks over his injuries.
Today just shows the size of the rebuild job awaiting the club in the summer. Ten years ago the team was in a similar set of circumstances – some promising players, and some who just weren’t good enough. In that summer we managed to get every single signing right, and it’ll take something like that to turn this team into true contenders.
Categories: Match Reviews