There’s trouble at t' mill. Up to this point, the 2015/16 campaign has been poor from a Bradford City perspective. We are a fifth of the way through the season already, and we lie in 19th place. This was widely predicted to be another season of progress, yet so far the main direction of travel has been backwards.
Although not a full blown crisis, it feels like more than just a bad patch. There are too many recurring areas of concern to call it that. There are too many characteristics about the performances that do not sit well.
The midweek defeat at Colchester United was a display which can be put into the boxes labelled ‘Not Good Enough’ and ‘Warning: Fragile’. We have seen these two themes fairly often this season. We have seen them often enough for them to become a concern.
Now before we reach for the revolver, pills and whisky it is important to acknowledge that the situation is not irreversible. This season can be turned around relatively quickly. There is no reason at all to believe that Phil Parkinson is not the man to do this. The excellent first half against Sheffield United was less than two weeks ago, and there have been other bright spots this season. Yes, there have been some positives.
However, there have been negatives. Many negatives. The fragility. The lack of leadership on the park. The goalkeeper. The lack of firepower. The injuries. The form of established players. The quality of new players. The transfer activity. The lack of a Plan B. The predictability. I could go on. Combined, all these elements are leading to poor performances and we end up where we are.
So where do we go from where we are?
Parkinson is right to focus on one key thing - fragility - judging from his comments this week. He has warned against self-pity and he would be absolutely spot on, if it did not look like some of the players are carrying that trait in abundance when the chips are down. At the moment, this Bradford City side has a soft fleshy underbelly and it is all too easy for the opposition to roll them over. Scoring goals in quick succession against a shell-shocked Bantams side has been as easy as taking candy off a baby at times. This Bradford City side is struggling mentally more than anything. The monkey is not on their backs, it is in their heads. It is the opposite of what we are used to from a Phil Parkinson side, which makes it all the more baffling.
You can analyse tactics, line ups and formations until you are blue in the face, but there is something on a more basic human level that needs to happen as well. The players simply need to man up. There has been too much waving of white flags in adverse circumstances. Too many heads have been lost in the face of difficulty. You cannot win football matches acting like that. We have proved this repeatedly in the first few months of the season, with a number of worryingly tepid and scared displays.
It is easy to forget in the post-mortems that have followed both matches, but against both Colchester and Peterborough, we went behind against the run of play at the time. Had James Hanson given City the lead on Tuesday, things could have turned out differently. Instead, he misses, Brad Jones straps his Duckhams gloves on, and then we fold. Against Peterborough, the second half started brightly and Davies should have given us the lead, but a soft goal was conceded and then we fold. We keep folding. We seem to fold as deftly as a fresh fluffy towel.
When Sheffield United were two down against us, they rolled their sleeves up and did something about it. They changed things early and did not lie down. Can our staff - players and all - say the same? Against Colchester we did nothing in the second half until McMahon hit the bar late on. From Parkinson down, this entire group needs to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves if they have had big enough cojones and if they have responded to adversity well enough so far. The answer is no.
Parkinson is right to demand a lack of self-pity but I’d go further. The best Bradford City sides and performances in history have come when backs have been up against the wall. They need to conjure up that spirit, group together, toughen right up, and get stuck into their job. That starts at Rochdale.
I doubt any player reads this but if you do, take note. You outplayed Sheffield United and Swindon Town for 45 minutes. You looked good against Oldham and Fleetwood. Individually and as a team, there have been bright moments and I have no doubt that you can succeed this season. But first, stop worrying, stop sulking, get out there, and express yourself. Play your game. Fight for everything. Be loud. Stick together. Embrace the battle. Do not look at us unless you can say you have genuinely stepped forward and given it your all. If you have, chances are we’ll be singing your name loudly. You are better than this.
The mental game is not everything of course. There are other problems, some of which I have alluded to, but first we need the players to man up. 4-4-2, 4-3-3, diamond - it matters nothing if the players are running scared. Technical aspects of the game such as converting defence to attack more quickly, attacking as a complete unit, utilising the wide men better, and getting Cole to link with Hanson will work more effectively when the players are out there competing with fire in their bellies and no timidity.
So lads, put that shirt on, pull yourselves together, take a look in the mirror, listen to that support, get out on that pitch and bloody fight. Winners respond to adversity. If a player wearing a Bradford City shirt cannot respond to adversity then I suggest you find somewhere else to go and feel sorry for yourself when things do not go right.
Over to you, lads.