Bravado and passion, or sadness and resignation?
By Baz Barry
Young family commitments and an outrageous hike in matchday prices have meant I've only seen four games this season. Villa, Leeds, Derby and Liverpool last week. An embarrassingly pitiful four games. Good Lord, I've seen the reserves in action more often. So presented with the opportunity to use a Bradford chum's spare season ticket I jumped at the chance, even though I'd have to sit on my hands and offer glib, whispered, platitudes at the appropriate moments. And besides, I wouldn't have a distracting seven-year-old with me and I could watch my Golden Boys in detached concentration.
Sadly, I have to report that after showing signs of recovery last week, the patient has relapsed and the family should prepare themselves for the worse. Either that or pray for a miracle.
What we have is a team, in particular a defence, whose confidence is shot to pieces and struggling to come to terms with a way to play out of the mess they're in. They attempt neat passing football, but often choose to do it in the wrong areas of the pitch. Although at the time I only noticed the embarrassing and appalling poor cause to the third goal, we all know now that all three Bradford goals came from losing possession in our own half. The apparent solution is to lump it forward and hope Helguson wins the ball or a free kick. GT's words about Helguson in this week's WO hint at this approach. But this is where the dilemma hits home. For large parts of the game on Saturday it just didn't work. Our new and unfit front man was dominated in the air by the impressive and young Bradford central pairing and when the ball did stick the overrun midfield was so deep, helping the creaking defence, that the ball was soon lost in isolated frustration. Apart, that is, when for the first and only time in the opening half-hour we did put three passes together and scored a stunningly simple and beautiful goal.
Perhaps we need to stretch our midfield so the defence is helped and the attack not left so isolated. Perhaps Gibbs should hold in front of the back four, Hyde or Miller behind the front two and Bonnot and Johno fighting the middle of the park. The alternative, I guess, is to go for width. Either way what I saw on Saturday was an anonymous Perpetuini, whose recent fine performances had to come to an end, and a Charlie Miller lost in the trenches. It was ironic that my new Bradford chums saw Hyde as our best player because surely Miller is as good as Hyde and Micah didn't play that well. Our "best player" but "unaided" - their words, not mine. Which is peculiar because amongst all this frustration, particularly in the first half-hour, Des Lyttle was our one beacon of hope, thundering a powerful shot past the post when cleverly turning inside. If only that shot had curved the other way. He also worked well on helping Cox with the ever-tricky Beagrie. The middle of the park picture was completed with the opposition players appearing to have more time and space to run the show, McCall everywhere and dishing out a series of crunching tackles left, right and centre.
I've yet to understand why the emphasis of the game changed when our double substitution was made with twenty minutes to go. Whether an extra striker caused the problem or the influence of Bonnot? The later did have an extraordinary amount of ball but failed to deliver, threateningly.
Up front, Xavier appears to be a wonderful player. When he gets the ball good things happen. His reverse pass to Helguson for the goal was sublime and Dwight Yorke would have been proud of his two snap shots, which weren't that far away. Heidar toiled manfully and there are signs of a useful partnership but I do wonder if he has an Italian mother judging by his exaggerated tumbles to most of the tackles he receives.
Which leaves the defence. Alec Chamberlin has always been a shot-stopper and never dominating his area. Last season he didn't need to because of the strong partnership in front of him. Now, with Page and Palmer struggling, his reluctance to leave his line is exaggeratingly exposed and sadly, and perhaps as a result, he's not stopping as many shots. Yikes. Cox looks solid enough but not spectacular and Robbo had his best outing of the last three games. Still strongly flawed but hopefully he's got over the worst. I just feel he needs an experienced and confident mentor beside him to guide him through his problems. He doesn't have one at the moment. Our central pair somehow enabled Saunders and Windass to look like a useful strikeforce, which those seating around me assured me they are not.
So not a pretty picture.
We were poor. We shot ourselves in the foot three times. On balance we deserved to lose and we enabled Bradford to look useful.
But we have started to score goals and we have players with the ability to change a game.
The Bradford crowd also couldn't believe that Saunders got away with his elbowed assault on Palmer at half-time, right in front of referee Alcock, but they like me have given up trying to understand how refs work these days. Most of all they marvelled at the away support, which was loud and impressive and has to be where this report ends.
We have to carry on supporting the team, urging them positively through their bad times and giving the players the belief they deserve. Encourage the good things and keep stum about the bad. The players can only take heart from such support and the fans can play a part in restoring confidence. The alternative is for the fans not to react or, worse, to moan 'n' grown. To pinch a thread from this week's mailing list, the fans and players can approach the impending resurrection with the bravado and passion of a Charlton or the sadness and resignation of a Nottingham Forest. And look where they are now.