|Carlisle United 3|
|Halliday (OG) 21, Guy 98, Barclay 112|
|Bradford City 1|
|Carlisle win on 3-2 on aggregate|
Written by Jason McKeown (images John Dewhirst)
I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about this. That was such a devastating experience. To watch a season’s work ripped up over 120 tortuous minutes. To be so close to going to Wembley, only to trip over at the final hurdle. It really hurt. Draw the curtains. Turn off the phone. Don’t leave the house. This one is going to take some getting over.
There will be no Bradford City promotion. Again. League Two purgatory continues. In the words of Mr Burns from the Simpsons – “don’t forget, you’re here forever”.
As the final minutes of this contest ticked by, and as we faced up to a crushing defeat, I turned and noticed a young boy stood two rows behind me in the away section – probably not even 10-years-old – who was clinging onto his dad’s arm as a tear began to roll down his cheek. And it choked me up.
Because as much as we long-standing supporters know only too well this crushing feeling of disappointment, here was a young lad probably going through Bradford City devastation for the first time, surely too young to have seen the likes of Rory McArdle, Gary Jones and Stephen Darby in a City shirt, or other glory days that make going through this type of gut-wrenching occasion somehow worthwhile.
All of the emotions are magnified at moments like this. The play offs are a wonderful invention, full of riveting occasions where one set of supporters are celebrating ecstatically and the other are left utterly heartbroken. We were on the wrong side of those margins, watching on in despair at full time as Carlisle United fans ran onto the pitch in triumph. Many City fans chanted defiantly. Some were shouting angrily. Others slumped dejectedly. That young kid I saw was still trying to hold back the tears, but failing.
I hope that he gets to see the other side of football supporting – the glory moments – very soon. I hope we all do.
Ultimately, what made this defeat so agonising was knowing that City didn’t turn up. This was probably their worst performance of the entire season, right at the moment they needed to be at their best. They surrendered their slender first leg advantage with little resistance, and spent more than two hours with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head, racking up mistake after mistake in their flawed attempts to crawl over the line.
I mean, which City player comes out of this one with any credit? Scott Banks is probably the only one who can hold his head up high, for his endeavour and impact on the contest. You couldn’t fault the effort of everyone else. But both individually and as a collective, they were just not at the races. They buckled.
Mark Hughes spent much of the pre-match build up urging his players to use their experience to keep a clear head – “make sure you do the right things under pressure”. He suggested that Carlisle United would find it hard to cope with playing in front of an inflated Brunton Park crowd, whilst boasting about how his players are comfortable dealing with big atmospheres. “It is what we are used to week in week out. So it won’t faze us.”
Words that precede unfortunate events.
The reality is the occasion got to City. I hate to use the phrase ‘bottled it’. But if you want to throw that accusation at the players, I’m struggling to argue against you. Sadly, we had seen this coming. In recent weeks the players have struggled to handle the rising pressures of a promotion run-in. We saw them lose their heads in the second half at Swindon, for large spells at home to Gillingham, and certainly for the majority of their last away game at Crewe. Any street-wise composure within this squad has been lacking when it really counts.
Especially here. They started edgily, struggled to get any footing in the game, and soon began to face a heavy onslaught from a Carlisle side set up to attack from the off. They hit the post in the 15th minute through the lively John-Kymani Gordon, who was back from suspension and straight into the United starting line up alongside Joe Garner, giving the home side an effective mixture of pace and brawn up front. Gordon and Garner were ably supported by a middle three of Callum Guy, Owen Moxon and the more advanced Alfie McCalmont.
Carlisle went in front midway through the first half, with a goal that was bewilderingly bad for the Bantams. Joel Senior was given too much space to run with the ball into the box. Senior played it to Garner to set up Moxon, who hit a shot that took a small deflection. Harry Lewis was slightly caught out but did palm the effort away. As Gordon charged in for the rebound Brad Halliday just got there first, yet somehow knocked the ball into his own net.
Was the City right back off balance? Was he just under too much pressure from Gordon? He was unlucky to some degree, but it just didn’t look great from Halliday, and put Carlisle level on aggregate.
With a Carlisle set piece smacking the woodwork soon after – Lewis brilliantly keeping out Moxon’s rebound effort – City were on the ropes and simply not responding. The Bantams did hit the post themselves through a combination of Banks and Jamie Walker, but it was a rare moment of pushing back against the Carlisle tide.
The back four was harried into so many sloppy errors – Sam Stubbs, Romoney Crichlow and Halliday badly struggled all afternoon. Richie Smallwood and Alex Gilliead were hounded off the ball too easily. Adam Clayton had a really poor game that almost seemed to get worse every time he touched the ball. His return to the starting line up over the last three games has not given City the midfield dominance they were looking for and has made them too limited attacking-wise. Clayton had a good spell when initially signing mid-season, but you’re starting to see why Doncaster were happy to let him go.
The lack of balance was a big issue. Especially as Walker was completely anonymous – just not able to get into the game at all – and Andy Cook was well marshalled. League Two’s top scorer just hasn’t had an impact in either play off semi final leg, and it’s a further illustration of the over-reliance on his goals that make it clear to the opposition that if you stop Cook, you stop City.
Carlisle were happy for the Bantams to have possession in their own half but were very successful in isolating any City player with the ball in the final third. The lack of support from midfield meant attacks quickly broke down. When you’re main hope is to launch crosses into the box towards an outnumbered Cook, your approach is flawed.
A poor first half performance from City is not an unusual occurrence this season – but, pleasingly, in such moments they have generally responded better in the second half. So it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a stronger showing after the half time break. The players did deliver that to an extent, but not by enough to take any real control of proceedings.
Good spells of City play were limited to a run of corners easily cleared, rather than turning the heat on the home side by creating clear cut chances. Perhaps City’s best moment came right at the end of the 90, when Smallwood was suddenly through on goal, slightly wide, and opted to punt a cross over when he could have taken the shot. In some ways, this not-quite-taking-full-responsibility moment sums up much of the City captain’s patchy season. He had a really bad afternoon here.
So extra time arrived. Often in football, those two 15-minute periods can be timid affairs where not a lot happens. But there was plenty of drama here. First, a Moxon corner wasn’t properly cleared, and Guy – the former Bantam – produced a wonderful powerful volley from distance that Lewis could not get near, the ball nestling into the back of the net after arrowing through a crowd of players.
It was some noise from the Carlisle fans, who roared in delight at their team taking an aggregate lead. Carlisle’s supporters were generally brilliant throughout – all through the tie they’ve come across as a proper football club that deserve greater success.
City kicked off the second period of extra time and pretty much immediately scored. Banks did really well to run with the ball into the box, and was able to produce a perfect cut back for sub Matty Derbyshire to slam home. The celebrations in the City away section were absolutely fantastic. At last, some reward for an afternoon of struggle.
What happened next defies belief.
For two minutes after the goal, and with their tails up, Hughes decided to withdraw a pumped-up Banks. To make it even worse, he replaced the on loan Palace man with Matty Platt.
A winger off. A centre back on. With the tie level. And with 12 minutes left to try and find another goal that would take City to Wembley. I do not understand what Hughes was thinking. I’m not sure anyone does. He made some post match comment to Jamie Raynor about trying to match up Carlisle’s formation. In the context of the fact this was the 108th minute, those comments made little sense.
It killed the growing spark of City momentum and deflated the away following. City moved to five at the back. It was as though Hughes was trying to hold on for a win, even though his team were not in front. Perhaps Banks was dead on his feet, but Hughes still had Thierry Nevers and Dion Pereira to call upon. Bolder moves he could have made.
And having three centre halves on the pitch looked completely pointless when four minutes later Moxon – who else? – sent over a brilliant high hanging cross. No one was near enough to centre half Ben Barclay, who sent a looping header that caught Lewis slightly out of position. The City goalkeeper would have expected to have done better. But where was the marking? And once again, no one had been picking up Moxon, who was given a criminal amount of time and space to send over the cross. City stood off and let Carlisle score the goal that sends them to Wembley.
We can and should be unhappy about the way players’ performance here. But Hughes cannot escape criticism. It’s obvious to everyone watching City this season that he can be too cautious, and doesn’t take enough risks – from tactics, team selection to his use of subs.
This was a moment where months of conservatism built up to Hughes making a cautious-minded decision that cost City – right where there was no longer any margin for error.
It all meant City went down without enough fight. Carlisle are certainly not world beaters, and you suspect Stockport will prove too strong for them in the final, but they played with real courage and character here. They stood up when it really counted and delivered. In contrast, City crumbled and will now spend the summer trying to pick themselves up to go again.
And it hurts. It really does. Here, the atmosphere in the City section was absolutely incredible. We gave the team such a fantastic backing, even during the long periods where they were struggling. It’s one of the best away atmospheres I’ve ever been a part of. We really are such an incredible fanbase. We put many other clubs to shame.
We have no divine right to be successful just because of our noise and our numbers, but we deserved better than this.
Yet for all the anger and disappointment we all justifiably feel right now, when the dust settles and the pain eases, we can look back on this season with some pride. This game was played exactly six years to the day that City lost the League One play off final to Millwall at Wembley. Since then, we’ve all had to endure so much misery and despair. The roughest of rides, when at times it felt like there was never going to be any light at the end of the tunnel.
The damage of Edin Rahic. The unjust 2018 sacking of Stuart McCall. Relegation to League Two. Awful hammerings at the hands of Blackpool, Gillingham, Mansfield, Oldham, Newport and Harrogate. Covid, and behind-closed-door football. Derek bloody Adams. Ben Richards-Everton. Dylan Mottley Henry. Kai Brünker.
We have had so many false dawns. So many broken promises. So many bottom half finishes.
Yet this season, it has been different. We’ve improved. We’ve competed all year long for promotion. We’ve played some decent football. And we’ve got a team that we’ve fallen in love with.
More than anything else, we’ve reconnected with the club. For the last few years, I’ve personally had periods of feeling really disengaged. You turn up still, and you’re happy when they win – but not at the levels you felt in the past. When they’ve lost, you’ve felt angry and critical. Not particularly sympathetic, and certainly not gutted.
It’s not been ‘we’. Bradford City had become ‘they’.
But over the last few weeks and months, as the possibility of promotion grew, and we experienced some great wins like Salford, Stevenage, Doncaster, Colchester, Grimsby, Sutton, Rochdale and Northampton, the old levels of passion and unity have returned. I’ve begun to feel really nervous before games again. Celebrated goals more gleefully. Felt more down about defeats. I’ve remembered what it’s like – really like – to be a Bradford City supporter.
I know that doesn’t count for a great deal in the grand scheme of missing out on promotion. You can reach out for that meme of the FIFA computer game – the one where a bunch of Ipswich players are holding up thin air like it’s a trophy. Or type social media messages with capital letters in the wrong places to illustrate your sarcasm – aT lEaSt wE’rE mOvInG iN tHe RiGhT dIrEcTiOn.
But I do think it is something. The club has its soul back. We’ve come together again. We’ve had incredible attendances, especially over the second half of the season. We’ve clearly got new fans coming in and loving the amazing atmosphere. We’ve got a team and manager who have flaws but who you can get behind. Going to Valley Parade on a matchday has recently felt more and more like the good old days. The club feels special again.
It hurts so much right now, because Bradford City have turned themselves back into something worth caring about.
Categories: Match Reviews
Hughes’s negative tactics and then his baffling substitutions after we scored cost us dearly. Gutted at our loss but Carlisle were the far better team and deserved their win, which eases the pain a little bit.
A lesson for Hughes in positive attacking football. Is he really going to Birmingham in the summer?
Hughes must think the fan base are stupid. “I took Banks off because he was tiring” – so why did he replace him with Platt, a central defender?
Come on Hughes, we needed one more goal to go through so you don’t take off an attacking player and replace him with a defender.
Be honest, you were hoping for a penalty shoot out.
You, and only you, bottled it.
Our centre midfield has been dire pretty much all season. No mobility and not an ounce of creativity. The lack of quality showed against Carlisle’s midfield 3. We won’t go anywhere if changes aren’t made in that area.
As for Hughes’ decision to take Banks off for Platt – absolutely baffling.
Exactly this. The only time our centre mid has been competitive is when they have put 100% effort in, which sadly hasn’t been enough. Gilliead and Smallwood watch the ball too much and no anticipation of where it might go- second balls unchallenged and poor pass completion.
A pacey attacker and creative midfield to link with Walker required.
It says so much about Smallwood and Clayton that our best CM this season has been Gilliead who is actually a winger. How Smallwood has played in the Championship is beyond me, he doesn’t excel at anything and brings nothing to the team. Not saying it is all on him but he’s been a massive let down
For me it’s been a season of Ifs and Buts, If we hadn’t conceded sloppy late goals, If we didn’t have a soft centre, If we scored goals from other areas of the team, If we had been more consistent we wouldn’t be in this position.
But we have to hope that Hughes will learn from the mistakes of this season and use them as a template for creating a team that is capable of getting out of this league. He has a lot of games to watch back and look at the Ifs and Buts.
Promotion wasn’t lost yesterday, it was lost in the weeks and months leading up to this weekend.
Soft goals, failure to win the big moments, a single point of sucess (or failure) in cook, lavk of hosls from elsewhere. There can’t be many city fans that, deep down, felt over the course of the season that we were good enough to go up.
Whether we go up next year depends on the next few weeks. Retaining our better players ans adding quality will be key in maintaining the progress we’ve seen this season.
A large turnover – maybe a new nanager – and we’ll be back to square one….
This one sits with Hughes. Just didn’t go for it with his team selection and Cook was totally isolated. Can’t revert to long ball tactics with one up front. No coincidence that the team who made midfield and defensive substitutions lost against the team who went for it with attacking options. I agree fully that the decision to replace Banks with Platt was an absolute disgrace. What on earth was Hughes thinking? Very disappointing end to a reasonable season.
Well written as always, I’ve enjoyed your writing on this page for a long time now
I can relate to this article in particular as that was my lad who you so eloquently wrote about. He was simply devastated and it took me a long time to turn his emotions around yesterday
From then football side of things, I am as baffled as everyone else. Yesterday was just so predictable. Set up negatively – go behind – attack when we finally had to – and then go even more negative with the obvious end result.
A real opportunity missed
Thanks for writing another great article Jason, so soon after ground zero.
Your right of course, we did see it coming if we’re honest. We can afford to be honest now, & remove any rose tinted glasses we might have opted to wear over the last few weeks.
I was thinking on my way home, how in the last 4 games, we had lost twice, drawn once, & actually only won one. I was thinking too, what a stranger decision Mark Hughes had made, the second we managed to level the tie with a Scott Banks assisted goal, he takes him off replacing him with a defender (Platt). Carlisle were rocking & creaking when we scored, surely that was the time to go for the kill, & not to meakly allow them to come at us again, while we attempted to defend our way to a penalty lottery? I would have respected more at that moment, a change of tactic to go even more attacking & really have a go. After all, would a boxer take afew steps backwards to allow his opponent time to recover, after knocking him backwards with a left jab? No, he’d step forward, looking for that perfectly placed right cross that would end the bout wouldn’t he? Appogise for the poor boxing analogy, but that’s how I see it.
It’s a huge bodyblow for our club, having to somehow dredge up an ounce of enthusiasm for a fixture list littered with the likes of Forest Green, Accrington, Morecambe, Milton Keynes et al, Oh, & yes the ‘big’ Yorkshire derby against….. Harrogate!
Back to the Carlisle tie, & for me the standout play was Lewis, our actually very talented goalkeeper. I suppose that fact alone tells its own story, without his top class saves especially at Brunton Park, it could have been embarrassing.
I’ll try my best to get over this big disappointment over the next couple of months, & try & focus on abit of cricket.
I’m sure, wether Mark Hughes is still there or not, I’ll be there again next season God willing. But I won’t be mentioning the ‘P’ word for quite awhile 😉
Hughes is not adventurous. He relies heavily on experience. What on earth was he thinking taking off Banks for Platt. He deserved this outcome. The supporters didn’t. We were woeful. Talk before the game is meaningless. Action is needed. We have no flair. We are predictable. Easy to defend against and always failing to deceive. Carlisle deserved their place at Wembley. Another year of drudgery and if we cannot recruit well then we will continue to fail. I’m so pessimistic with this current team. Hughes persistence with a plodding midfield of experience with no flair has dogged us this season. Rarely creative and dreadful in defending set piece situations. Hate to say this I don’t believe we have a base to build from.
Hughes stubbornness to change formation, to change personnel and lack of attacking intent (one upfront at home) has been our downfall this season. Sticking with Smallwood and Gilliead for the majority of the season, despite having a young, forward thinking player in East on the bench, tells you everything. For such a big squad, most have only seen 5 or 10 minutes here and there, because Hughes has his favourites and despite the many below par performances, he’s stuck with them. At no point this season have we ever looked like a top team capable of taking an opponent apart. Hughes just doesn’t take risks. Is he capable of changing, history tells you no. Unless he somehow manages to recruit the right players for the system he wants to play (whatever that is), we’d better get used to seeing dull, possession based football with a distinct lack of excitement.
In the words of Ronnie O’Sullivan – to be a winner you have to take risks – the more risks you take – the bigger the winner you become….
MH has taken ZERO risks all season and so negative in his selections and tactics – typified by that Banks substitution yesterday.
He may have been a decent players and a ‘legend’ of a name in football circles – but as a manger- he is bang average at best!
I would not be too disappointed if MH goes!!
It’s been a weird season, for all the being in and around the top 6 it has been a hard slog to watch. To have a 30 goal striker, marque signings in Walker & Smallwood and the highlight of the emerging a real talent in Harry Lewis this season has to be another failure.
Yes there has been progress, but let’s be honest it was a very poor league. Next season will be tough with the likes of Notts County, Wrexham and their free spending owners not restricted by the salary caps due to the ridiculous rules that gives promoted teams grace before the have to comply with EFL rules.
Only a handful of players can say they had a great season. The Midfield has been poor (again) lacked leadership & the tools to unlock the opposition. How we have missed Wright, who we never replaced. Instead we signed an even slower carbon copy of Smallwood in Clayton plus Costello & Nevers who were let’s be honest garbage. Smallwood & Walker have been real disappointments & failed to live up to the ‘hype’. Hughes needs to get more players in the midland who can bring energy to the game, press & play quickly next season. He already has one in East, but that would mean dropping his captain & favored Smallwood (worked at Salford away) or Gilly?
The positives for the club are the connection with the fanbase is back, increased commercial deals & 15,000 season tickets sold for next season. The club needs to use this now to get promoted.
We need to learn having the biggest following alone doesn’t get you promoted.
Thanks to Cooke for single handedly getting us into the playoffs, Harry Lewis for ‘getting it’, The City Vent lads for their work with the flags & crowd displays, The City Gent & WOAP teams for being a continued fixtures of BCAFC life & North Parade for giving us the best pre & post match watering holes in the EFL.
Enjoy the summer, roll on August when we do it all again…
An excellent, and what must have been difficult, report on an all too predictable performance and outcome.
I was hoping pre match noises in the press about digging in and penalties were mind games and City were going to reprise a Mansfield or Gillingham away. But no, we saved our worst ’till last.
The substitution of Scott Banks for Matty Platt was baffling and showed Carlise we had no intent of winning the tie in extra time.
I agree we have our connection with the club back, but summer recruiting will be absolutely vital.
Mark Hughes hopefully now realises the difficulties of footballing your way out of the 4th Division.
Yes we want good players, but we also need more bite and an up and at ’em approach.
Look no further for the right intent than Carlisle United.
Agreed success in L2 depends on a winning mentality and doing the basic’s well. We were short in both respects compared to the top 3. Nevertheless it has been better this season across the board. Recruitment was better (if far from perfect). Off the pitch there is a steadier platform to build on with a thriving Commercial department.
There was always a question mark over MH’s ability to adapt to this level and there are signs that he is taking on board the realities of the attritional nature of the game. He has earned another chance
Ps can we please see Ryan East given a fair chance next season and get some one with some “legs” who can keep the ball
I don’t think the recruitment was great in January and I’m not as convinced with Stephen Gent as some are. The loans of Costello, Nevers and Bola have been very poor. The signings of veterans Clayton and Derbyshire have been dubious. It’s going to be another rebuild in the summer as a lot of our players will be off, including Cook and probably Lewis as well as most of the out of contract players and the loanees. It’s crucial we get it right with more attacking options in midfield which has been very sterile this season.
Watching yesterday’s game was similar to watching every other City performance this season. We go trough the same motions and movements game in, game out. The difference is how other teams play, or a slice of luck. Not once this season have I gone to a game excited at the prospect we might spank someone 4-0. We are steady away, try to get a goal, then hang on. Let’s be honest, we’ve not been treated to one home game full of the menace of attacking flair. And that is the main reason I can’t fully engage with the current crop of players. Something is missing.
It would make a huge difference if we had midfielders with the courage to turn and look towards the opposition goal and play a pass forwards, maybe to an onrushing player. Yet time and again, that midfielder plays it sideways or backwards and whatever momentum was building evaporates. On rushing players seem to be at a premium too. Where is the off ball movement in to attacking space? There’s also a lack of players with the pace, and ability or the confidence to take their man on throughout a game. Kyel Reid used to get a lot of criticism, but boy was he exciting to watch.
Based on the 23 home league games I’ve seen this season I was astonished to see us in the play offs in the first place, which must surely have been down to our (better than average) away results, and yesterday we looked like a team who should not have been anywhere near them. A bang average performance.
There has been a huge improvement from recent seasons, and its been great to be involved in the payoffs. Let us hope that lessons have been learned, the squad is added to with some craft, creativity and pace, and that we can go one step further next season!
So what happens now? Of the team that played against Carlisle four are out of contract and two are loanees. Yet the remaining squad is still huge and bizarrely three players who hardly figured, Young, Oliver and Odusina, have two more years left on theirs. Can we really hope that those who were on the fringes can step up to form the nucleus of a promotion-winning side. This was hugely disappointing but not unexpected. We have been found wanting so often this season at crucial times. Personally, I think the squad was too big and unbalanced. At the halfway point of the season we knew we needed to pep up the attack but brought in Nevers and Costelloe on loan. They added nothing. Some will say that getting to the playoff represents progress. Yes, on paper, it looks like some sort of achievement – but considering the size and cost of the squad a case could be made to say we should and could have done far better. Did the manager’s tactics help or hinder us? Would we have the number of points we have without Andy Cook’s exceptional goal-scoring record? Will he stay next season? He certainly will not be short of offers from elsewhere. Today, we were the poorest of the four teams involved in the two playoff matches. The besuited and mostly sedentary Mark Hughes stood out for being the least animated of the four managers. By contrast, Paul Simpson was on his feet throughout, constantly urging and cajoling his players. He gave the impression of wanting it more as did his players. Carlisle were worthy winners. Many questions need to be asked but who is going to ask them?
On the money, as always, Mitchell.
Thank you kindly, Steven. And thank goodness for this civilised channel where we can express our views and read other people’s informed opinion.
Watching on TV yesterday I shouted out “what are you doing?!” when he took off Banks to replace him with Platt… I know its a tactic (i.e. 3 at back) Hughes has done before when chasing a game (e.g. 0-0 away at walsall) but this was not the time… Banks had just produced an assist out of nothing and with the game going to penalties why lose a player who would probably be in your first 5 for a CB… also what message did that send to the Carlisle players and fans. It has been a much better season than last year and probably the best season we’ve had since 16/17 (not that there is any competition) but to see our team go out of the play offs with a whimper hurts. Over the 180 minutes I do struggle to think of how many dangerous chances we created, maybe 4 maximum?
It never felt like a “promotion” season anyway. “Underwhelming” is a word I used regularly and we produced another underwhelming performance yesterday. Incredible to believe some posters on social media felt we had nothing to fear going to Carlisle!
It’s not hard to see why Hughes has won nothing as a manager. Sat, emotionless, in the dug out while Simpson was geeing his men up. That crazy substitution of Banks typifies his negative approach.
There’s nothing to suggest, given his character, that things will change next season. Why should we endure another wasted season as he sees out his contract?
Steven, we shouldn’t have had anything to fear yesterday. What do you propose, that we should have packed our white flags to wave at Brunton Park or just give up?
Hi John, true, as a player, they should have had nothing to fear. However, as a reasonably knowledgeable fan, having seen the first leg, it was obvious it wasn’t going to be the foregone conclusion some fans assumed.
Sadly, judging by yesterday’s performance, our players were overawed from the start and, indeed, looked to have packed the white flags to wave, as they came off the bus.
If the players take any notice of the negativity and doomster comments on social media or the T&A online pages it likely makes Mark Hughes’ job of instilling self-belief and confidence a lot more difficult. Likewise with regards some of the comments made after the first leg victory at VP I am sure that they made Simpson’s job a lot easier to convince his players that they could overcome City at Brunton Park. Sometimes the doom and gloom becomes self-fulfilling, glass half-full / glass half-empty or bottle empty etc. Anyway let’s enjoy the summer.
Sorry but the negative football as cost us points , not the fans. It wasn’t just the Banks sub yesterday but has been happening all season long. We even defended a 1 nil lead in the 1st leg for much of the entire 2nd half knowing we had anorher 99 mins where they would have the advantage. The fans have been fantastic (pun intended) all season. It’s a shame that yet again they have been mostly served pragmatic cautious football.
Danny, I am not saying it is the fans’ fault and yesterday the support was fantastic. I share the frustration about tactics – I can only assume that the decision re Banks yesterday was down to HR data about his energy levels, otherwise baffling. However the point i am trying to make is that the negativity on social media is not constructive or helpful.
Fair enough. But if the players are reading this stuff and letting it effect them then it’s still on them. The overly negative fans aren’t going away. I am more concerned about how the negative tactics affect the mindset of the players. I would like to hear the real thoughts of the players about how we have approached and ended games. If Hughes wasn’t Hughes I imagine he would be getting the same sort of treatment that Adams did, and with far better resources at his disposal imo.
It was nothing to do with data my friend, if it was then a like for like would have been the right move and would have been done at half time in extra time (2 mins before he was subbed) it was a tactic that said either Platt is the best pen taker we have or I will now retreat and take a draw. Ended up with Derbyshire and Cook marking (or not) on the edge of the box the former losing his player who scored. Absolutely lost the plot at the back there and paid big time. Slightly cocky from Hughes all week in many ways with the cameras back on him I’m sure he would have felt a tad embarrassed by it all really given what he’s done in the game. It should…be a platform to build on and go for auto next year…Hughes, Cook and Lewis probs all 50/50 to be around in reality. Do not be surprised by the next few weeks guys. We have a soul back as a club and that’s all I care for really. Nice to have a good name manager etc but it only means anything if he really is in it for the long haul otherwise it was a desperate move to get back into the game I mean leaving for Birmingham would be a poor end to it all after everything. I hope he stays and learns a few tricks (which I think he has gradually this season to be fair) A little more risk and a little less stubbornness at times I think we could have been straight up.
Everything has been said above about yesterday. Ultimately we weren’t quite good enough all season. Let’s hope we do learn and add quality over the summer. Mainly I wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone at WOAP for all the excellent articles, analysis and hard work. Enjoy the summer.
I think it sums up the season perfectly – does anyone know what the seasons results would be if we took the score of any game with 10minutes to go.
all season long the team have come up to a crucial match… if we win the next one…
and have failed
if we had won this one…
as a btw
I hadn’t realised that the away goals rule didn’t count – I have just looked it up in puzzlement! – but I thought it was in place, and was puzzled by people saying we had a slender lead…
could it be that the Manager didnt know? and substituted to preserve a winning lead he didn’t have? It could be an explanation…
Thank you for this excellent series of articles – as someone who follows the Banatams but doesnt really understand the game at depth, I have gained an understanding of the issues/strategy/team selection – I would love to see a podcast with the three of you quizzing MH.. you could at least ask?!! perhaps you do
If we’re honest we’ve not been consistently good enough all season. In the moments that have mattered we’ve bottled it. Today can be added to the long list.
We should stick with Hughes but when you look at what Wellens and Evans have done in similar timescales then he has failed badly. His recruitment and tactics are questionable at best. We have an ageing squad and rely on loans. Bar Lewis, we have no young talent heading upwards. That’s poor recruitment.
Although we’ve made “progress” that was always a very low bar that’s difficult to celebrate. In reality, we’re a bang average league 2 side elevated only by a freakish season from Cook. That won’t happen again. We’re left to rue yet another wasted season of underachievement and failure.
Another big summer ahead. We’re going to lose Banks and Critchlow. Not confident Cook or Lewis will be around either. We’re not left with very much. In this formation the full backs need to be better. Not convinced by Platt. Although Osadebe is a nice comeback story, football wise for me he offers nothing. Consistently very very poor. Clayton is like a crab and plays like the ageing journeyman he is. Our bench offered little when it mattered.
Recruitment needs a massive step up.
We know as soon as we hit June and July many will be “drunk” on the usual pre season hype but the reality hits a lot harder. This club still has a long long way to go.
Very poor. Very disappointing
Thanks so much to you Jason and all at WoaP….and also to all my ‘comrades in adversity’ as we struggle to make sense of what happened yesterday and indeed over the course of the season.
Pessimism about the future is perhaps greatest after such a humbling defeat. Only once in the game – the Banks run and cross to Derbyshire to net – did we look like a team that might, just might, prevail, over an energetic, forceful and committed Carlisle team. And then what happens ? The spark of possibility, the glimmer of hope is instantly snuffed out with Banks’s withdrawal. Bizarre, baffling, as Jason and others have said. I would rather have lost ‘going for it’ in the remaining minutes than tamely waving the white flag.
Hughes is reported by the BBC as saying “We came up short this year but next year we won’t”. But what will change ? There will be some personnel changes of course but I struggle to find anything to suggest that Hughes will seek to manage and operate any differently ? This said, I do not countenance managerial change – this would be to ignore the progress that Jason rightly highlights. Hughes must be given a second year. But, and back to the pessimism, I can already read the WoaP analysis for next May….and it does not make for a good read !
Sadly, the whole season has been leading up to this seemingly inevitable conclusion. We don’t have the right mentality for the playoffs, and I haven’t genuinely believed we’ll get promoted all season.
The first leg was a microcosm of the entire season, and ultimately what has cost us.
Thank you yet again for another great article Jason. Unfortunately I was one of many supporters who logged on to the online ticketing system on Tuesday morning but didn’t get a ticket. So I ended up watching the game on television with my friend and his son (my 14 year old Godson) who I attend games with. In relation to the young boy you refer to in your article, I wanted to say how proud I was of my Godson at the final whistle yesterday. He was disappointed but he took it a lot better than six seasons ago when he was heartbroken at Wembley when we lost to Millwall. I hope that he perseveres supporting Bradford City.
Regarding the Banks – Platt substitution, enough has already been written on this point. Perplexed.
Seeing Harry Chapman get injured at Swindon Town had a big impact on our team over the final few games of our season.
Despite the disappointment of yesterday, in my humble opinion, we should hope that Hughes is our manager next season. Yes, he’s been more defensive than attacking, but let’s hope that this changes next season. Plenty has been written on WOAP about the managerial merry go round at Valley Parade in recent seasons. I’m not sure who is out of contract at the end of this season but we do have good players. Osadabe could be influential next season as could East if given an opportunity. I think that Gilliead has played to a consistently reliable standard this season too. I don’t think that it will happen but I would give Scales another opportunity in the first team. We need more pace and width in our squad too. I will be supporting Bradford City again next season.
I gave not seen one single thing that Osadebe has added when introduced. No goals,no assists and no shots from memory. Would Dion and even Young have fared better. I think so. And that includes nevers and Costelloe too. All of whom ask questions about some if Gents recruitment.
We totally fizzled out
Disappointing end to a promising season. We overcame quite a lot but at every opportunity to cement our place we faltered.
I wouldn’t have fancied us at Wembley if we had scraped through this. We just look like a one dimensional team who struggles to handle the big occasions.
These last two games sun up our entire season perfectly. Sigh.
On to next season. I feel quite disconnected with the club today. But I think that’s me. I need time to get over this.
It must be so nice following man City. Or Wrexham for that matter. Good for those fans mental health. This is heartbreaking and mindbendingly infuriating
CTID (I think)
No one mentions our poor home atmosphere
If we has 5 points more at home than away we would be up
Need to make the atmosphere better at vp
Attacking football would help
But also get the loud fans near the pitch
Safe standing in TL dallas
How many times were we booed off the pitch this season
How many times do you reckon Salford Stockport or Carlisle were booed off
Fingers pointed at MH now. Understandably so. Is he a “good manager?” Maybe … but if good managers can, as you say, Jason get their players performing with courage and conviction, determination and perseverance, then MH is far from good. In fact he is average (maybe).
Let’s face it, the difference between “skill level” among all the L2 teams is minimal. Every team has their stars. We have (had?) at least two. A good L2 manager can mentally prepare his side to win and close out games (we dropped 12 points this season not closing out games).
MH spent all week saying all the wrong things — and that’s just the stuff he said publicly. What he said privately to the players obviously didn’t work either! Worst game of the season?
Should he be sacked? I personally don’t think so.
But I do think he needs an assistant who is truly top notch at the mental side of the game. Does that person exist?
If found, would MH be willing to work with that person? If no, then, well, he should definitely go, because a “good leader” always knows his weaknesses and seeks to find solutions.
And right now, City needs solutions.
Have a good off-season everyone. Many thanks WOAP team for the great match summaries!
Stuart springs to mind!
It never gets easier. Add yesterday to the list of other painful journeys – ie Peterborough (1980); Middlesbrough (1988); Reading (2015) or Wembley (2017). It feels like a bad addiction. I can’t disagree with the tactical assessments above but I think there was another ingredient to this. I was struck by the confidence of the Carlisle fans before the game yesterday and those I met were convinced without exception that it was to be their day. You could see the same in the body language of their players when they arrived at the stadium. Contrast that with the self-doubt that has expressed on this forum for the last week – I think it fair to say that the majority of us had concerns. Crucially I got the sense that the players had the same self-doubt and they looked a very nervous bunch getting of the team bus at Brunton Park. The same could be said on the pitch and you certainly cannot fault the way the City fans encouraged them to raise their game.
Undoubtedly we had the better squad and Moxon or Gordon apart, on paper at least we had better individual players. Frankly we should have won but by 3.05pm yesterday it was becoming clear it was not going to happen. This was the victory of an over-achieving squad (who will likely struggle in Lge One) over an under-achieving one an I am afraid it felt like that a sense of entitlement would be sufficient for us to defeat Carlisle. Their manager has done a fantastic job motivating his players, typified perhaps by the bonding session on the VP pitch immediately after the final whistle. The message was clear: that despite the 0-1 defeat his side had won and that City had lost the play-off when the chances of Walker and Banks went missing in the first half of that first game. Had we managed a second goal I am convinced that Carlisle would have crumbled but the failure to secure a bigger lead combined with the way Carlisle fought back in the second half served only to raise the self-confidence of the Carlisle players at the expense of our own. Simpson made clear his players believe that they were going into the second leg with a lead.
I have always had favourable impressions of Carlisle United as a club and I genuinely hope that they win at Wembley. They won in a way that we have always wanted BCAFC to do – with conviction, work rate and urgency and the attitude of an underdog (as bantams). For us to have won yesterday on a penalty shoot-out would have been unfair so good luck to them in the final.
Ultimately we missed out on promotion weeks ago and you can put your finger on any number of setbacks during the season. Throughout we could console ourselves that there was always next week. Then we had the play-offs as a consolation. Yesterday it was extra time that was the opportunity and then the possibility of penalties. Leave aside the issue of recruitment and tactics for now. In my opinion the ingedient that needs injecting into the team is the sense of urgency and possibly more of the McCall gung-ho spirit to get points and goals in the bag instead of waiting for the next game.
I always fancied our chances at Wembley and to consolidate next season in Lge One but defeat yesterday has highlighted in stark terms that to escape from Lge Two it needs fair greater workrate and conviction. To be fair we HAVE seen this from the City team BUT inconsistently this season.
Off-field there has been considerable progress made at Valley Parade and I believe that Mark Hughes deserves a lot of credit for professionalising the club and providing much needed stability. I very much hope that there is no substance to the Birmingham rumours and that he stays at BCAFC. Mark Hughes is a proud man and yesterday will have been a very humbling moment. Ironically the outcome yesterday will not have enhanced his CV and make Birmingham question whether he would be suitable. I suspect it will also make him question his approach.
In the meantime let’s enjoy the sunshine and a welcome break from football.
No doubt Hughes got yesterday wrong but fully agree with you he deserves credit for bringing the club on and reconnecting with fans
Surely he’s also had a bit to do with Andy Cook becoming a 30 goal a season striker?
For me we’ve got to stick with him and back him for next season – I can’t face another Bowyer, Grayson or Adams
Yet cannot Hughes be accused of playing exactly the same way?
I hope Carlisle don’t win at Wembley. Nothing against them personally but I’d rather we were up against them next season rather than Stockport.
As I have alluded to before it’s never felt like an exciting promotion.season to.me.
As a result I never felt ‘gutted’ yesterday as I half expected it.
The die was cast in the very first game. We lost a ‘key’ player and failed to overcome a Doncaster team employing the ‘dark arts’.
I always thought we were hard to beat, had the best keeper we have had for several seasons and a remarkable proven goalscorer in Cook.
The midfield has never looked the part for me, and this is proven by the lack of goals from that area.
Unfortunately none.of the additions added have been enough to get us over the line.
Near but not near enough.
And now there are question marks regarding players leaving, or staying, with even rumours about the managers future.
So very very frustrating.
Here’s one for the statistically minded. What percentage of teams with a 30-goal striker fail to achieve promotion?
I don’t think many strikers score 30 goals but when Windass got 27 I think we finished mid-table
We signed a 22 goal Boulding from a Mansfield side that were relegated. Dennis got 20 for a Chesterfield side that finished rock bottom.
This year Clarke-Harris isn’t going up with Peterborough after scoring 25 goals. Akpom got 28 for a Boro side also staying in the championship. Telford got a similar number last year for Newport.
I’m disappointed, it hurts but also not angry. This was a 92 game project to correct the mistakes of the Adams era and we also lost the only 3 players everyone unanimously wanted to keep.
Yes we can compare ourselves to Stevenage and Orient and they’ve managed to turn it around in 1. Well done to them but let’s not takeaway from the steps forward our squad have taken.
Hughes gets a lot of criticism about where we would be without Cook…
…From the same fans who wanted Cook out of the club in the summer as he wasn’t good enough. I don’t think Cook has scored despite this team’s style of play but in fact Hughes should be credited for getting his best season out of him.
If Cook stays which I don’t think he will – I wish him all the best in maximising his final big pay day – he is unlikely to score 30 goals but he might get 20-25 and we’d have to supplement that with others.
Does Hughes back Walker to get 10 and Chapman to get ~10. I know Chapman’s end product would question that but we’re only 2 years on from him netting 7 in 23 for Shrewsbury and how many times have we seen a player leave and do really well elsewhere.
I’d also be on the phone to Plymouth about the return of Wright who I think could have got us over the line either automatically or given us a better chance in the play offs.
We have a good squad and a good manager. It’s percentile gains we need to make but with 1 big challenge – keeping or finding an adequate replacement for Cook. A couple of upgrades elsewhere should take us from 6th to top 3.
It feels like everything has been said about yesterday’s game and the disappointing result. Overall its been a big improvement and play offs is where many or most of us thought we’d end. Thanks to WOAP and its followers for the imaginative and intelligent views aired, avoiding inane name calling that some other forums descend into.
Summer changes will be interesting, let’s get behind our team for next season.
Jason, it must have been very difficult for you to write this article but much appreciated for a job well done.
Interesting watching the golf last night, that Brooks Koepka said he “choked” when leading in the final round of the Masters, and played “not to lose”.
It seemed to me we did exactly the same thing yesterday.
There has been progress this season, but that will be completely overshadowed by yesterday, because when it came down to it, on the big occasion, when it really mattered, and there were no 2nd chances; we just simply didn’t perform, and unfortunately we’ll have to live with that throughout the close season.
A great summation as usual and its amazing how Jason can take my own thoughts and i presume others too and put them in words.
The only sentence i dsagree with is “We’ve played some decent football”. Imo thats has been quite rare at times. The obsession with inverted wingers for instance always seemed to stifle us and hold us back. The end of last season we won 3 games on the trot with Vernam, Walker and Dion with Cook in front of them. We were attacking and it suggested good times and decent football ahead. yet in the very first game against Doncaster the die was seemingly set. Playing at home against 10 men and unable to break them down and refusing to get to the bye-line and behind them and cross the ball from decent areas. and Hughes and co continued to play this way throughout the season. Is Nevers, Costelloe, Osadebe et al really that much better than Dion for instance? the continual sitting back and failing to hold onto leads. Indeed even ion the play-offs the choice to sit and protect a lead for the 2nd half in front of a packed home crowd and advantage showed our intent and it cost us. This was a great opportunity this season to go up automatically imo and we beat ourselves in many ways.
Here’s my (very) amateur assessment of the season tactically and Hughes’s approach to league two football…
When Hughes arrived he tried to play fancy man city-type possession-based football. But he found that these fourth division players weren’t good enough to play that way, they could pass it around at the back all day but weren’t savvy enough to open teams up. Part of the problem for Mark Hughes was that Andy Cook kept scoring goals! So he had to keep him in the side, but he’s not the most mobile of players is he, despite his many qualities. He had to accept the system wasn’t working, plus the fans were getting increasingly impatient, so he started mixing it up more. Which worked for a while and got everyone back on board. But by the end of the season he still hadn’t really found a style of play. I don’t really understand what kind of football they’re trying to play now. I think the idea is to get wide and ping millions of crosses at Andy Cook and hope to get lucky? It’s not quite what he had in mind is it.
So what will he try next season? It’s fascinating to watch.
I think Hughes would find things easier in league one, and even easier in the championship…
Which for me means the first half of next season is huge for Bradford City, and for Mark Hughes too. If things click, we could go on to take a top three spot at a stroll. Hughes, with renewed self-confidence, will then go on to take City even higher, who knows what’s possible…
But if new players don’t gel quickly, and the football stays incoherent and inconsistent, the fans could quickly turn against him, we miss out on promotion again, Hughes leaves with his reputation in tatters, and we’re stuck in league two, swapping managers, forever.
We’ve been bang average all season and for most of the games only turned up for 45 minutes!!!! No real fight , striker isolated up front again , amazing he scored 30 goals . Without Cook and Lewis we’d be down .
The playoffs was a fair reward for this group of players, lot’s of effort, some good talent but not quite the balance needed. Injuries to Walker, Banks and Chapman played their part as did the loss of Wright.
To my eye, all season we’ve had a disconnect between how Hughes wants to play and what he believes the squad capable of. That creates a lack of confidence that has been witnessed when under pressure.
Time will tell if that is on MH or with a bit of rebalancing this summer we get a trophy next year.
Firstly, thank you Jason and the rest of the contributors for all your excellent match reports and comments all season. I had to follow the match on live blog with patchy wifi being on holiday atm. Judging by the highlight on YouTube, the only bit of quality we produced was Scott Banks assist and Derbyshire slooted it home. For me, this has been typical of us all season. Just brief flashes of quality now and again. The rest of the time just dour workmanlike play just about holding our own against every team we’ve played. I’ve only seen home game but have never seen a complete performance where we’ve taken a team apart. A promotion team should do this from time to time. Even if we’d got promotion , without significant additions , expecially midfield, I think we’d have struggled in league 1. Anyway, see what happens and let’s hope we can make another serious effort next season and not suffer playoff defeat hangover.
Great Acticle Jason reading between the lines i bet you wanted say a lot more.We could go on about the squad size and balance of the squad and half of it unused,and the tactics and slow build up in games which made us so predictable to play against ,also not getting the attacking midfielder in January, which i believe cost us promotion.But thats for another day what i can’t forgive is the decision to sub Banks and put on a center half ,i have a lot of experience in Sunday morning football and you simply don’t change your defence unless you have to basic football nous,and to do what our manager did was so Negative it sums up our season.
I wasn’t going to make a critical comment because of the sensitivity of the situation and especially because of my past criticism of Hughes and his inability to adapt to L2 football throughout this season.
I will park my concerns regarding Hughes and if he returns I expect to see significant improvement in tactics and squad management befitting of a manager with significant PL experience.
I’m sure your expectations will weigh heavy on MH through the summer.
Let me just say this. The Fans Were Amazing Yesterday, I was there singing and chanting on every scrap of the little bit of going forward in 2nd gear we could muster up, but unfortunately it was a no show at one of the most crucial games of the season, hard one to take and difficult to digest because I did not think Carlisle were that good, just that they wanted it more and we were like rabbit’s in headlights and gave them the victory.
It has been a triumph just to get to the playoffs with the results and silly points dropped but we managed it, so why the negative play, can’t get my head around this, I bet Mansfield are gutted we did not drop points on the last game, because if they had made it they would have won the playoffs FACT.
Just keeping my fingers crossed for next season that we hit the ground running with some quality midfield recruiting to get promotion automatically, we need to be the Man City of L2 week in week out.
Improved but not sufficiently given all the hype last summer. Hughes needs to accept his part in the failure this year despite that improvement. Home form and playing style is woeful and needs to change. Attack at all cost and hope the defence can cope. Why have we become so poor at defending set pieces? We need a mobile midfield and to be more like Carlisle :-). Whether Hughes or not lots needs to be change but is he too stubborn?
Thanks to all at WOAP for providing the much needed analysis. Let’s hope its a positive couple of months signings wise.
A crushing disappointment which may take a long time to get over. Another crucial summer of transfers in and transfers out must surely come. While ‘size isn’t everything’, it feels weird for a club of such potential to be stuck in League 2 year after year after year. Wonder what our generally benevolent but passive-seeming owner makes of it all?
Don’t know what to think. So close yet so far. I thought it may take 2 seasons to get promotion. Hopefully that will come next
year. To achieve that a lot of things need to be addressed. We need to keep Cook and get another striker who can score double figures . Definitely a midfield creater. Defenders who can defend for 90 minutes+.
Wide players who can attack and keep the opposition on the back foot. In other words an attack minded team that can hurt opponents. A positive mind set, players willing to give it all and give the supporters a team to be proud of. Yes progress has been made, a lot still to come.
Come on MH finish the job, but let the fans see the passion they give returned with an exciting team.
Big shout out to FC Halifax on their FA trophy win, today.
Frustrated but ever a City can.
When Hughes put Platt on I was convinced his intention was then going to be to push Stubbs up as the target man going long-ball tactic and for Cooky and Derbyshire to feed off him. I couldn’t see any other reason for taking off Banks -who was certainly fitter/faster than the Carlisle full-back he had just skinned to provide the lay-off for Derbyshire’s goal- for Platt. The move to an extra centre-half appears to have just confused matters as to who should actually do the the critical job of picking up an attacking opponent in one’s own 18 yard box. I always believed we had a goal in us but I never thought we would be so poor as to concede such 3 very soft goals.
I happened on this and cant afford it myself….
it may interest some of you … or perhaps Jason!
What a bargain 😂
We can debate the life out of the match but the bottom line is we bottled it. I’m not sure who’s responsible, the players, the manager, Stephan fecking Rupp or whoever but we choked.
Something about this team hasn’t sat right all season. The history makers with Jones, Darby, McCardle, Hanson etc would have beaten Carlisle at their own game and socked it to them in front of their own fans.
My money is on Stockport to win at Wembley, Carlisle have had their cup final.
All the dross of this division raise their game against us and we still don’t have the players to handle it.
On another note I’d like to say a big thank you to all the WOAP team for all their match reports, articles and podcasts this season, it’s much appreciated and I hope you find the energy for it to continue in future seasons👍
Well done Jason. After such a gut-wrenching, dispiriting let-down of an end to the season, I felt like switching off all devices and not thinking about football for the rest of the weekend. It’s impressive that you are able to not only confront the disappointment but also put it into words.
I agree that, in terms of connect between the club and fans, we’re in a much better place now than towards the end of Derek Adams’ tenure when the atmosphere around Valley Parade was toxic and almost entirely negative.
So, yes, we have our club back and Hughes has conducted himself in a dignified and professional way. But specifically this group of players? If I’m honest, I’ve found them really hard to like. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I honestly think even if they had reached Wembley and somehow won, I wouldn’t have had the same affection for them as heroes of old. All season I haven’t been able to put my finger on why. Maybe it’s a combination of the tactics and pragmatism, the settling for draws, the passing across the back, the not letting wingers be wingers – none of which are exactly the players fault. Have they not been given the freedom to impress and express, have they been hampered and tempered too much?
Or is it that they’re just too flaky, too inconsistent, too easily bowed by poor teams who press hard. Too easily discouraged. Too tame at the start of matches or at the end. Very few of them ever seemed to find their mojo, to show off, to be exuberant, to even basically look like they enjoy what they do. Cook found it and rode on a buoyant wave of confidence for a while and has become a folk hero in the process. Lewis, too, through his sheer talent, consistently displayed. But who else in between those two can we really say has done enough? The soft middle. A lack of charisma where the captain should be? Smallwood’s manner is a little inscrutable, a little detached. Detachment doesn’t help the midfield become a cohesive unit.
I hope Hughes stays and has another go. For a while last Summer it looked like we had changed philosophy. We were signing young prospects on longer contracts, which seemed to signal support for a longer-term strategy. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of that and the young prospects were either loaned out or banished to the burgeoning subs bench. Maybe if we could give the likes of East, Young, Osadebe more of a fighting chance and put a little bit more focus on youth, energy, flair, dynamism. That could be something to get behind?
From the first game of the season to the last,the slow tempo,lack of energy and vulnerability late on in matches add up to one thing-a level of fitness not sharp enough to be competitive and to compensate for lack of individual skill at this level
I suggested earlier in the season that a strong and inspirational leader on the pitch is essential.
I fear that without addressing both issues we will continue to struggle to exit this league next season.
There was a moment in extra time on Saturday when the camera caught Hughes in the dug out. Simpson was out in his technical area, urging his players on for that final push which would get them over the line. In stark contrast Hughes was all alone, unanimated, and seemingly lost in thought. Was that the moment when he realised the enormity of the task facing him?