Some things never change as Bradford City suffer a dismal defeat to struggling opponents

Bradford City 1
Eisa 29
Rochdale 2
Henderson 63+70

By Jason McKeown (image by John Dewhirst)

Eat, sleep, lose to a team near the bottom, repeat.

Once again the unpalatable part of Bradford City’s DNA has proven their undoing. Like falling flat on your face moments after tying your own shoelaces together, here a winning advantage over Rochdale somehow turned into an avoidable mess of a dismal home defeat. Another night of infamy, for a club forever flawed by its soft underbelly.

Players and managers come and go. Seasons can prove to be successful or full of failure. But whatever the backdrop and the cast, this type of inglorious Bradford City loss always seems to feature somewhere. After a weekend where we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Bantams amazing League Cup semi final victory over Aston Villa, we forget that just three days before it Phil Parkinson’s men had lost 2-0 to a Barnet side ranked 89th in the pyramid. That is the ridiculousness of Bradford City – give the best sides a bloody nose, only to slip over on the banana skins of teams in dire straits.

It’s what we do, and it’s absolutely infuriating.

This was both shocking and yet dismally predictable. Rochdale came into this game winless in over two months, with just one victory in their last 13 matches, and just two away successes all season – the last of which came over three months ago. If Mark Hughes had been allowed to pick which opponents to face right now, Rochdale home would probably have been right at the top of the list.

This, one of our games in hand over others. The chance to go fourth and close the gap on the automatic promotion contenders to just four points (with a further game in a hand). The chance to build a cushion over the play off chasing pack. The chance to build on two really promising home victories and develop some valuable momentum.

And for a while it was heading that way. Abo Eisa marked his belated full home debut with a goal of real quality at the half hour point. Brought in to replace the departed Tyreik Wright, Eisa produced a brilliant touch to bring the ball away from his marker before firing expertly past former City stopper Richard O’Donnell. With Rochdale showing a strong defensive resolve up and little attacking ambition in the first half, breaking the deadlock felt so crucial. A platform to go on and win from with comfort.

It really did feel comfortable too. City were not playing at their best but had a measure of control over an initially dispirited-looking visiting side. In horrendous conditions caused by a day of non-stop rain, the sticky pitch made for a game littered with mistakes. Rochdale seemed to find the going especially tough and their already brittle confidence was dented further by a pass success rate that – up until Eisa’s goal – stood at just 49%. In other words, for every two passes they attempted, one failed to find a team-mate.

All that was needed was a ruthless edge from City. To continue to press high up the park, put pressure on a suspect defence and get a second goal that would surely lead to a Rochdale surrender. Yet just as we all began to believe the change to a diamond formation and slightly more direct approach had made the Bantams less charitable, they once again showed their passive side that too often this season has seen them fail to grasp control of games and truly dominate.

The wily Ian Henderson almost scored just before half time, and after the break Dale manager Jim Bentley – who deployed a conservative 5-4-1 formation – encouraged his charges to push further up the park. City’s diamond four began to look a little too isolated, and when Devante Rodney hit the post from a speculative free kick, the warning signs were growing that the Bantams were far from having this victory sewn up.

In some ways, Rochdale’s greater attacking intent helped City. A tepid game began to become more open, and Harry Chapman started to find space where he could run with the ball. Eisa continued to look excellent at charging forwards, although there are questions over how effective his partnership with Vadaine Oliver might prove. Eisa likes to drop into deeper positions than Wright has been occupying when he played up front in the last two games. Oliver suffered from not having a player running beyond him to flick the ball onto.

Still, it looked like a below par City were on track, at least until the hour mark and two huge penalty calls by Paul Howard. First, he failed to point to the spot when Eisa was played through on goal and seemed to be clearly tripped. Then just two minutes later he judged Brad Halliday to have pulled back Rodney. Watching replays of the two incidents, it’s utterly baffling how Howard can deem one a penalty and not the other, given they looked so similar.

This lack of consistency from Howard was a frustrating feature of the whole night. If the terrible weather and Rochdale’s defensive tactics were hardly going to be conducive to creating an entertaining game of football, Howard’s non-stop blowing up for fouls and erratic decision making made it even more stop-start. His inequality over the penalty calls especially changed the game.

For the third time this season, Harry Lewis faced a penalty in front of the Bradford End. For the third time this season, Lewis saved the spot kick. But crucially for the second time this season, he could not prevent the opposition from scoring the rebound. Rodney was foiled from 12 yards, but Henderson was the quickest to react and slammed home the equaliser.

Seven minutes later, Hendrson struck again after getting free of Romoney Crichlow and Matty Platt to finish from close range. The Rochdale build up play down their left hand side did not reflect well on Halliday – who had a poor night by his recent standards – and both City centre backs should have reacted better to the unfolding situation. It was also a goal that highlights the limitations of the diamond. City play without width, which means opposition sides have space to attack down the flanks, doubling up on City full backs if they can. It’s something for Hughes to consider.

The City manager has impressed of late for the changes he’s made to the team to get them back on track, but he wasn’t winning any popularity contests with City fans this evening. As the minutes ticked down and Dale continued to hold their 2-1 lead, the inactivity of Hughes from the bench was perplexing. He had four subs still to make, but he waited and then waited some more.

Each time he finally acted, it was at the same time at Rochdale were making changes. Perhaps Hughes thought it was best to wait for Rochdale to make a move, to limit the momentum stalling impact of the game being stopped too often for substitutions to be made. But it meant the introduction of top scorer Andy Cook was delayed until the 83rd minute.

To provide some balance, the personnel City had on the pitch prior to that point – which included the 66th minute sub Jamie Walker – provided a decent attacking balance that allowed the home side to push for an equaliser. They may not have been keeping O’Donnell busy, but were at least getting forwards and winning plenty of corners. After Cook replaced Sutton, City arguably ended up with too many forwards on the pitch and not enough players to work the ball up to them.

As such, when Cook came on Rochdale actually took control of the game. They kept the ball in the middle of the park, with City having barely anyone in a position to win the ball back and launch it forward. The stats bear out the counter-productive effect of both Cook’s introduction and the two even later subs. Up until the 83rd minute, City had enjoyed 59% possession to Rochdale’s 41%. Yet in those crucial final stages that followed, Rochdale had 56% possession to City’s 44%.

Even more tellingly, City didn’t manage a single shot on goal in those closing moments. They couldn’t get near a Dale side who – let’s remember – were second bottom of the league, winless since early November. A ludicrous way to end a game that the form guide suggested should have been a comfortable home victory.

It is such a missed opportunity for City. All that good feeling built up of late has once again fallen away. And with the Bantams next eight league fixtures against sides pushing for promotion, they will have to do it the hard way if they’re to maintain their still promising position.

For Hughes, the questions he must have thought he’d answered have come back to the fore. Richie Smallwood and Alex Gilliead once again struggled. There doesn’t seem to be enough of a goal threat in the team. And they can’t seem to maintain a 90-minute performance. Does the manager stick with the diamond or revert to type? Is it time to bring back Cook? And what does Ryan East have to do to get a chance?

All this will be contemplated as Hughes picks up the pieces of this set back. There’s still an awful long way to go and no one should be overly despondent by this defeat. But just like his predecessors, Hughes has found he too can’t overcome a familiar issue that has held back this club for years – the abject failure to win the most winnable of games.

It’s what we do. And something we appear doomed to forever repeat.

Categories: Match Reviews

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19 replies

  1. Criticisms- our crossing tonight was awful, shooting is poor (Chapman, Gilliead blazing high and wide).

    However, City were winning without too much fuss and should have had a penalty to go 2 0 up. Looking back, he may actually get a touch on the ball but he’s completely taken Eisa out so much so he took him into the stands- that’s a penalty. Then a minute later he gives a penalty for a foul on Halliday. Rodney (who was the star man) pulls Halliday back and falls over – a tangle of legs at best but initiated by him pulling Halliday back.

    The ref was incompetent. People said he was OK in the first half – well, he failed to book their lad who hauled Sutton down when virtually clean through. It was as clear a yellow as you’ll get. He had no control at all in the last 20mins it was verging on being farcical – players taking throw ins as much as 20 yards further up the pitch, the Rochdale physio and player refusing to get off the pitch, the decision at the end with Cook. It was just farcical- I don’t go in for the fix suggestion but utterly incompetent yes.

    Very disappointing, but get the decisions right and every other point is irrelevant, we comfortably win the game.

    • We can criticise Hughes all we like, and blame the players. But City should have had a blatant penalty and Rochdale should not.
      The referee decided that game.
      Frankly, I see little point in getting upset any more about football if we have to endure that kind of incompetence…….if indeed it was incompetence. I fear it was more sinister.
      I like many others am truly angry that important matches can be decided in that way.
      And yet the efl will do nothing about it.

  2. MH doesn’t seem to able to read opponents tactics and nullify them .

  3. No mention of the fact that four Rochdale players were almost level with the penalty taker before he even struck the ball?

  4. Yes the ref had a big impact on the game and made some very questionable calls, but looking at ourselves we simply weren’t good enough.

    I think our only shot on target (of any note) was the goal. Rochdale even hit the inside post and the ball went across the goal-line and somehow stayed out. We didn’t create or threaten enough and I couldn’t see where a 2nd goal was coming from.

    The substitutes were also much too late. Who leaves your top scorer on the bench until the 83rd minute and then make 2 more attacking subs in injury time, when chasing the game?

  5. This isn’t about referring decisions. It’s about Mark Hughes and his (lack of) abilities to set up a team, to adapt to the opponent (or the weather), to make timely decisions for subs and to accept that s owing more goals than your opponent is the ONLY way to win a game. You should not rely upon the referee to help you win.

    If the team isn’t good enough sort it Sparks but why we handed out such lengthy contracts to players is beyond me.

  6. It’s rare that I still emotional the day after a game – we’ve had lots of practice at getting over bad defeats – but this morning is one of those rare occasions. I am still fuming this morning because it was entirely predictable and entirely avoidable.

    The referee was bad, yes. You could tell that from the first few minutes when he failed to book two of their players for professional fouls on two of our players as they broke away. An underappreciated lowlight for me was booking O’Donnell for time wasting after O’Donnell had taken the free kick, therefore wasting more time, and then watching O’Donnell take the free kick again but from outside the D when the supposed foul (I thought it was a foul on Cook) was committed in the six yard box. The ref had no control over the game (I thought both the notable incidents were penalities) but let’s be honest, this was self inflicted.

    You’re at home against a poor, out of form team. The weather is bad and the ball isn’t rolling well. We have a big chance to close in on to the top three but do have a record of dropping points at home and have a curse when it comes to playing teams that are out of form. Do you adjust your game to the circumstances, keep your concentration, try kill the game off early and make use of the strong squad depth to keep the energy levels high? Or do you allow complacency to creep in, sit back, drop the tempo, and sit on your hands until the game is out of reach?

    In the second half the midfield was overrun, and the defence couldn’t cope and so dropped deeper. Our energy levels were really low. It’s a theme of our home form, that we don’t kick on and kill the game off as evidenced by the number of draws and defeats.

    As much as we can talk about the ref, or individual performances (Halliday, Platt, Smallwood should all feel a bit sheepish this morning), Hughes also has to take blame. I like Oliver but he didn’t win much at all in the air last night, so why not swap him? What are Pereira and Nevers going to do being brought on at 90 minutes, especially when we can’t even get the ball into the Rochdale final third? The tactical changes that Jim Bentley made at half time and in the second half outfoxed Hughes. We didn’t respond, and kept trying to same failing thing as we have on many occasions this season. Not for the first time, there was a lack of leadership on the pitch and in the dugout last night.

    I thought we’d turned the corner after the last two home games, and that Hughes had cottoned on to what you need to get out of this division, and realised he needed to be more pragmatic. But last night was terrible. We might be sitting 5th still, but we are also three points from 12th, and who can honestly say that they think this team and squad has it in them to get promoted? Maybe we’ll need two seasons and this is building a base for next season, but when you see teams like Orient and Stevenage go straight from being poor one season to being good for promotion the next, you wonder whether you’re just clutching at straws.

  7. ‘Retrospective Predictability’, a term used about stock market crashes we might have seen coming, springs to mind about this defeat. The best teams, those destined for promotion, usually get the job done one way or another regardless of bad luck and setbacks. We, on the other hand, seem to have the uncanny knack of finding ways to fail. But, yes, based on our long-term knowledge of ‘market conditions’ we might have seen this coming. City have form when it comes to losing matches like this. What I found the most frustrating was the way players and management reacted to the twin
    misfortunes of being denied a stonewall penalty and conceding a soft one. Heads went down. The subs were too late and made us unbalanced. On a slightly different note, no matter how good Nevers turns out to be, do we really need another player of his type! We just keep stockpiling forwards when the urgent need is for a robust and mobile midfielder in Lee Duxbury’s image.

    • Totally agree about the midfield Mitchell. Did we really need to replace Wright? How many more attacking midfielders do we need?

      We desperately need a midfielder that can control a game, and the budget freed up on Wright would surely have been better placed there.

      I don’t believe the team has another level to go to, which it’ll need at the business end of the season, and I haven’t for some time. It was pleasing to see a change of approach for the new year, but it was still very low tempo and passive. The two recent home wins weren’t in the least bit convincing, and a change in attitude rather than just the system is needed.

      • The answer to your question is clearly we don’t need any more forwards. We already have Cook, Oliver, Angol, Derbyshire, Chapman, Walker, Eisa and Young as well as the two loanees – all competing for three positions. It makes no sense to me to sign more.

  8. I thought we were ok in the first half and very poor in the second. I’m a keen onlooker of underlying performance data and have been tracking ours this season, it doesn’t make for good reading.

    We sit 12th for Expected Goals (xG) Ratio so far this term. At home we are posting a negative xG process (opposition have created a greater volume of strong goalscoring chances than us). That’s pretty criminal for a side harbouring hopes of automatic promotion.

    There are some mitigating factors, we have taken the lead early on a few times which will affect game state. Nevertheless, our inability or unwillingness to put teams to the sword is quite depressing. Once you go in front against a team low on confidence like Rochdale you should be going to hit them again straight away. We try to settle for 1 goal wins a lot, surprising given Hughes expects us to take some team to the cleaners as he said in a recent interview.

    People clamouring to get Cook on is all well and good but our service to the forwards hasn’t been great and was poor last night. There was one point where Chapman (who’s output has been extremely disappointing) got into a great position on the byline but apart from that and the Eisa goal we never got into those golden positions for chance creation.

    I’d like to see our local press ask Hughes about the underlying data.

  9. Poor game (yet again). The failure of the midfield to score goals is telling. Chapman as a central ‘attacking’ midfielder be it in a Diamond or the 4-2-3-1 has a dreadful return. Eisa looked a handful and for me, irrespective of the goal was the City Man of the Match, but Oliver offered little and later Cook (perhaps introduced 10 minutes too late).
    The display against a team in the relegation zone was poor, the result dreadful.

  10. Jason, I agree with your comment ‘re what does Ryan East have to do to get a chance.

    I’d also enquire why this season’s joint second highest goal scorer, has been left out in the cold since September? Jake Young had a highly promising start to the season and has now dropped off the radar. We’ve hastily replaced Wright with another young loan recruit, showing our keeness to develop other clubs players, whilst leaving our own young talent sat in the stand on match days. I’ve read MH’s explanation ‘re Young’s omission and his comments just don’t wash with me. A lad, who’s still our second leading goal scorer, despite not having played for four months, whilst Hughes persists with duds in his match day squad.

    • I agree the complete absence of Young is strange but do you think training has anything to do with selection?

      For what it’s worth, I’ve seen him play twice or else three times and he was very poor. I think Colchester was one.

      However, he showed he has an eye for goal which bearing in mind some can’t keep their shots inside the ground, is a big asset!

      I suspect selection is down to current performance on the training field as opposed to a few goals when it was still cricket season.

      • Given that Hughes has continued selecting some consistently “out of form” players this season, I’m not sure the non-selection of certain other players is down to “performances on the training field”. East came in for one game, acquitted himself well, and was promptly dropped. Young proved he could find the net, got dropped- never to be seen again.

        There must be other factors.

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