Same old problems

Carlisle United 1
Huntington 34
Bradford City  0

Words and images by Adam Raj

Well, we’ve been here before. Middle of winter, Carlisle away, zero goals scored, a defeat and a terrible performance for good measure. The only surprise was just how bad of a performance this was from Mark Hughes’ men.

Following a 23-day layoff since the defeat at Leyton Orient, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect City to come out all guns blazing this afternoon with a real freshness about their play. Hughes himself had even talked about making a statement in his pre match press conference. What was served up, however, was the complete opposite.

The problems that have plagued the Bantams for a number of weeks were painfully exposed on an afternoon where they looked as average as their league position suggests. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the biggest problem continues to be the centre of midfield.

Richie Smallwood and Alex Gilliead just aren’t it. Not to say they’re bad players individually, but that partnership is broken. There’s no cohesion or authority about their play and there’s no obvious or identifiable delegation of duties between them. The much maligned Elliot Watt had his faults, but you knew what his role was, and in turn, you knew what Gilliead’s role was.

But that was last years side. In comparison, Bradford City 22/23 doesn’t have a Watt, yet want to play in the same possession based style that he was an integral part of. It seems counter intuitive to build a squad to play a specific style of play, without arguably the most important type of player to make it work. But that is forgetting about Ryan East who has gone awol since impressing against Salford in October. He was billed as the deep lying midfield replacement for Watt and has looked every inch that player in his limited minutes. But for whatever reason, Hughes seemingly doesn’t trust him.

The result is that you have two players in Smallwood and Gilliead who try to interchange that role, but who don’t have the qualities to pull it off and quite frankly look dreadfully uncomfortable in attempting to do so.

As for Gilliead’s role, Smallwood has come in and taken over that ball winning position, leaving the former winger, come utility man looking like a spare part. There is more dependency and expectation on him this season to be the attacking number eight in that partnership, but his skill set does not match the job description.

Despite City’s many issues, they have been strong starters of late. The last two defeats to Orient and Northampton may have looked particularly one sided, but City were the better side in the opening 20/25 minutes in both games. Today did not follow that pattern.

Carlisle dominated the centre of the park. That word is often thrown about in football but domination is no exaggeration in this case. The Cumbrians won every second ball from minute one. Smallwood and Gilliead, in particular, were too reactive and never seemed to anticipate where a loose ball wood drop. It meant that the Bantams were constantly on the back foot and had no hope of settling down a fast paced game inspired by an energetic home side.

The less said about City’s midfield in possession the better. The issues have been highlighted and are there for all to see. The range of passing is inadequate for a possession based side, resulting in no relationship between the defensive and forward lines.

City were rather fortunate to still be level by the time the opening goal arrived in the 34th minute. Harry Lewis made two strong saves to deny Jon Mellish and Paul Huntington but the former Preston centre half was not to be denied a second time. Taylor Charters’ in swinging corner was carried by the wind to the back post where Huntington was on hand to flick his header in off the post to give the home side a deserved lead.

Rather curiously, Carlisle thought the best way to preserve their lead was to abandon ship, sit back and time waste their way to three points. It was a strange approach, but one which I’m sure Hughes wasn’t complaining about. City could now get a foot on the ball, have periods of sustained possession and work their way into the Carlisle half. However, the outcome, from City’s attacking perspective was the same. Zero shots on target and nothing for goalkeeper Tomas Holy to be even remotely concerned about.

The second half was marginally better, in that City actually created a few opportunities. They even fell to the one man you’d want them to. Unfortunately Andy Cook’s finishing was well short of what we’ve seen so far this season. He fired wide from 12 yards out following Harry Chapman’s mazy run and then missed an even better chance when he met Smallwood’s back post cross but once again failed to trouble Holy.

It would have been daylight robbery at that point because Carlisle looked at Cook’s finishing and decided they’d have their own compilation of horrendous misses. Jordan Gibson was first up when he blazed over from six yards out whilst completely unmarked at the back post. Mellish was next as he prodded over from the same distance right in the centre of Lewis’ goal after Owen Moxon’s free kick was helped back across the box.

But when Cook is off target, there is nobody else to step up. Nobody even remotely looked like scoring aside from City’s number nine and that’s simply has to change.

But that’s not an easy fix, it’s pretty difficult to suddenly make players into goal scorers. At least City’s midfield problem is more of an easy fix. The most obvious and probably necessary course of action is sign one, if not two midfielders in the mould of Watt or Josh Cullen (if only) in January. Until then, it may be a simple case of reinstating East into the side so that in possession at least, City become a better outfit, even if it doesn’t solve any of the problems off the ball.

Or, it may be time to drop one of the four attackers in favour of East and switch to a 4-3-3. I hesitate to suggest that as it would no doubt be a negative change. But at this stage, City need to give themselves a fighting chance of winning a game by having a midfield who are not constantly losing duels and being ineffective in possession.

Whatever the answer, something must change. As the saying goes, if you lose the midfield, you lose the game and far too often that has been an apt description for this City side.

Categories: Match Reviews

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18 replies

  1. At the start of the season promotion was our declared aim. Our captain was even heard to breathe the possibility of consecutive promotions. The automatics are now almost certainly beyond us. At best we are aiming for the lottery of the playoffs. At the very least Mr. Hughes has to acknowledge that things are not going to plan. We can’t keep pretending all will be well next time out. We have a huge squad, a huge backroom staff, a hugely respected manager but performances are not matching our huge expectations. We need a change of personnel, fresh and imaginative tactics and to rid ourselves of the complacent notion it’s just a matter of time before success comes. Good teams don’t lose three consecutive six-pointers. As things stand we are not good enough.

  2. It was a poor game. We looked devoid of questions, never mind answers.
    The very scary thing is, that Carlisle are now fourth.
    They were grim, lacking in cohesion, flair…..we were just plain awful.

  3. This could be a defining moment for the season, the realisation that the midfield is just not up to it, things have to change to get the season back on track.

  4. A lot of supporters have been able to see for a long time that the midfield is our major issue. We’ve been found out because neither of them are good enough on the ball to play at high tempo and until Hughes changes it then results won’t improve.

  5. I did not watch the game due to illness and a family tragedy. I have watched city this season on ifollow but old age prevents me from attending games.
    However my son and grandsons rarely miss a game.
    I yield to no one in my lifelong love for Bradford City. In 2017 we were as good as Millwall, much better than Luton. But we are where we are due to bad management off the field and continual football managerial changes. Look at Scunthorpe and Oldham.
    We now have a good and supportive owner, a top class chief executive,very good marketing and excellent value retail goods.A top stadium and a specially good manager.
    Not to mention very loyal fans.
    On the brave assumption that Sparks and Rupp stay,and the prayer that Hughes will also stay ,I truly believe that the next five years will see great strides forward by City.
    This season is not yet half over.
    Please have faith in the management,please Sparks and Rupp have faith in Hughes. Please supporters keep the faith.
    I am convinced we will succeed .
    Happy new year to all .

  6. But the problem is not just confined to midfield. There are a number of other players putting in below par performances, but remain fixtures in the side.

    I’ve already lost faith in Hughes and have no confidence that the situation will change even if we bring in new faces during January. The bloke is persisting with tactics and personnel that are clearly not working.

    Why is East not being given a chance? What’s the real story with Jake Young? Why, on earth, did we sign Oliver? How come a notable Championship player joins us and looks so mediocre? Three players signed on three year contracts in the summer and and none of them trusted to start.

    I’m bored stiff with the style of play and see no glimmer of hope. The players look as fed up as the disheartened fans.

  7. The midfield may need strengthening but it would be foolish to ignore the evidence of our own eyes. Look at the goalscoring stats, they don’t lie. We have only one goalscorer/finisher on our books (i use this term advisedly because the word “striker” hides a multitude of sins….particularly where City are concerned). We have arrived at a situation where, if Cook doesn’t score then City don’t score. We need another finisher to provide genuine competition for Cook and cover should he be a long term absentee.

  8. Can we have some apologies now?

    Apologies from those people who persisted in posting a ship with the Bradford City logo on it’s side. Purporting to be now ‘sailing’ into League 1?

    Apologies to the ‘cynical’ fans who asked nicely that we should not be so big headed and we won’t simply ‘sail’ into the next division? Whom were ‘torpedoed’ with comments such as ‘get a life’.

    Finally to the opposing fans, whom we do have, in general, a good relationship with. An apology for offering a ‘boat’ load of disrespect too? Just maybe they do have a better club and players than we do?

  9. Ive have said all season the balance of the team is not right,the squad is to large it needs to be reduced with more quality.The lack of goals was apparent from day one ,just look at the history of goals scored from the players signed ,guess what they are still not scoring.Who is in charge of player recruitment .Why are we playing players out of form and not using a very large squad. Questioned are been asked we need answers.

  10. Thanks Adam. A pretty damning report but largely justified on the evidence.
    As each poor performance follows the last I find myself questioning the “faith” many seem to have in Hughes.
    Tactics: I readily acknowledge that I have little tactical awareness about formations and styles of play but even I can see that it is not working. The vast majority of WoP contributors and my City network seem to think that the main problem is the midfield and I have no evidence to counter such arguments. Hughes, though, seems to see things very differently. Can we all be wrong ? Furthermore, I see other failings; a prime one being the lack of confidence or basic inability to take a man on down either flank. A managerial tactic ? or a player’s lack of skill/speed?
    Cover: We supposedly have a squad that provides ‘cover’ for all positions. If Hughes is (was) to be believed we have no reason to look for cover for Cook, for example, because we have it in the existing squad. Much the same goes for Smallwood, Gilliead, Chapman, Halliday, Foulds etc etc..But the evidence suggests a very different picture. Hughes refuses to utilise this supposed quality ‘cover’. In defending Smallwood and Gilliead, for example, is Hughes in actual fact avoiding the admittance that this ‘cover’ is in fact not very good and quite possibly much worse than we see on the field. And if so, this begs the question how good in reality can we rate City’s overall recruitment ?
    Perhaps, despite all the claims and rhetoric at the start of the season about quality players, strength in depth, and a wonderful new manager, we may have to face up to the fact that neither the manager or the players are good enough for a genuine promotion challenge.

  11. Contrary to what Mark Hughes is constantly saying, City are not superior to most clubs in this league. I should add, at least, not when focusing on ball possession, playing out from the back and a dysfunctional central midfield. His sense of superiority and arrogance is certainly being noted by the opposition media ( I listened to the Carlisle iFollow commentary).
    MH post game comments implied that we can finally expect changes in the squad for the next game. I would be pleasantly surprised if they include East and Young.

  12. Did anyone else see Tyreik Wright gesticulating not to pass the ball back to him on at least two or more occasions or have I have I hit the Christmas sherry a bit too hard?? I found that a little odd! Love him as our player though!

  13. We have a manager that acts like a politician he keeps to a plan that is clearly not working tactics are woeful and does not listen to public or fans Hughes is stubborn and his quote I will do it my way may lead him to the Highway out of valley parade cheers laurie

  14. I have questioned the midfield set up personnel wise at City before. Good individualy but as a functioning unit are very poor. Stats of possession and attempts on goal do not mean a thing. City had 7 attempts but 0 on target despite over 63% possession. This cannot go on. There have been changes in attack and defence but no changes in midfield despite poor performances. Mark Hughes has pulling power when it comes to potential signings. What is questioned is his ability of turning the quality into positivity on the pitch. I don’t want to see Mark being showed the door. He needs to listen and take action. Some of those not playing must think what they must do to get a birth in the team. Mark is loyal to those 2 in midfield but that loyalty is bearing no fruit and it’s a no brainer that changes are needed.

  15. I’m beginning to wish Sparks hadn’t seen Hughes’s job application in his spam email, we would have Steve Evans and be top of the league now!

  16. Think about Steve Evans’ success at Stevenage, an utterly tinpot club with average crowds of 3,000 compared to our 17,000 – have been to Stevenage a few times over the years to see us play. Unlikely to put him on my Christmas card list of course, but have to acknowledge that in the lower divisions his record is impressive – before he arrived, Stevenage were in danger of relegation from League 2…

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