This site isn’t known for its photography (or writing), but I hope the above picture says it all…
OK, if only we could have held on for a couple more minutes. If only it was three points rather than one.
Or as somebody put it to your editor after the game, if only we could just get it over the line.
But something happened at Bradford Bulls 2 London Broncos 2. And it was a good something…
No, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and all that. It was only one game where we didn’t win.
Last night and today though, the mood is very different. It’s almost as if you’ve wondered where this side has been the last four weeks.
Indeed, how did we get from freefalling certs for dropping out of the League last week to being two minutes away from the result of the weekend?
The best way to answer that is to start from the beginning. It’s a long tale, but one worth sticking with.
I don’t like going to games with a feeling of impending doom, especially when it’s been de rigueur these past few seasons.
It was probably just as well I didn’t know Bradford had won their last three League games until a few hours afterwards.
As an SW19 reader put it to me beforehand, “I bet you’ve written your report already”. They have no idea how true that was.
Needless to say, it took six minutes to justify my pre-match optimism. We’d gone 1-0 down to a decent free kick caused as much by ourselves.
Bradford could, and perhaps should, have got a second soon afterwards.
Inbetween that, Alex Pearce went off injured, and Ryley “Doors” Towler came on, decreasing the average age of the back line by about half.
So, it was turning into yet another clusterfuck of an afternoon, and my mind was already thinking about how to write this.
Do we sack JJ after the game? Or give him until Colchester/Walsall/Sutton to finally turn it around?
Can we really afford to axe yet another manager? If we do, won’t that prove how bad our decision making is in the boardroom?
I don’t know what caused it though, and I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when we started to lift our game, but we were slowly making those arguments academic,
We started to realise that the only way equalise was to, well, start aiming towards their goal.
Granted, we lacked a cutting edge up front, and Bradford were capable of a second, but there was just a tiny, little smidge of hope.
You could sense that in the concourse at half time. We weren’t playing badly after what the OS understatedly termed a slow start.
It was always a case of the next goal deciding things, and with us – we usually come out slowly in the second half.
I’ve never worked out why that’s been the case under the last few managers. Maybe we should change the music at half time?
But we didn’t look flat footed after the restart after all. If anything, we were edging closer without getting our reward.
Then, it happened.
When the ball luckily deflected in front of Harry Pell, and he managed not to miss from about six yards out, you could feel the collective weights lift off everyone’s shoulders.
Not just because we got the equaliser we deserved, but because of Barrow. And Stockport. And Northampton. And especially Carlisle.
It’s been rough for everyone, especially for those who can make a difference.
OK, the hosts hit the bar, and it’s easy to forget we equalised at Brunton Park a mere week ago, before letting that slip.
At the risk of sounding a smart-arse though, I had that feeling we could get a second. And on 76 minutes, Chislett duly obliged.
The picture at the top of this piece is the celebration when he rifled in that free kick, by the way.
Yet that snap doesn’t do the reaction justice. It was beyond the usual fist-pumping, as though it was something more primal.
We were winning.
The trouble when you take the lead on 76 minutes or thereabouts is, it’s still a long time to hold onto a one-goal cushion.
Their fans were certainly using their 17000 man advantage to effect, and the referee was definitely influenced a couple of times by that.
Unfortunately, one could argue that we got a point rather than three because of the amount of times our players went down injured.
Mostly legitimately, though if we’re finally starting to learn gamesmanship – that’s a good thing.
But you forget that six minutes of injury time is an exceptionally long time, and sadly it proved when they finally got down the left flank, delivered it in and Tzanev was stranded.
It was a blow but oddly enough it didn’t feel like a sickener. Although had they won, it would have been…
We deserved a point at least, if only for the way we fought back after the horrible first fifteen minutes.
And if yesterday becomes the turning point to what has so far looked like a bad season ahead, then even letting in a late equaliser is almost worth it.
I’ll come onto JJ later, but it’s also easy to forget we had two youngsters in Jack Currie and debutant (?) Isaac Ogundere.
Neither looked out of place, and more depressingly for your editor their combined ages are still less than mine.
Maybe they’ll need to learn the dark arts a bit better from time to time, but that’s where you need the grizzled veterans.
It’s a mild glow this morning, but it’s still a good feeling. We haven’t had that for a long while…
Plus points: We didn’t lose. Coming back. Looking much better. Currie. Ogundere. Chislett’s free kick. Being disappointed with the draw.
Minus points: We didn’t win. Late equaliser. Still some shiteness at the back. Pearce going off.
The referee’s a…: Just seen it was Darren Drysdale. All previous comments about him ever said or written remain relevant.
Them: Could have killed us off after 20 minutes, should have done. But didn’t.
As said earlier, they’d won their last three on the bounce and it’s just as well I didn’t know that pre-game.
But like so much of League One – let alone League Two – they weren’t so good once you start probing them back.
It’s worth remembering they spent a lot of money, and should be auto promotion contenders, but they were still quite ordinary for a lot of it.
One of those away days where you have the very real outnumbered feel when parking up in the city centre.
That said, Bradford are a bit like a northern version of Plymouth – Championship level support, but permanently rooted in the bottom two EFL divisions.
Strange place, Valley Parade, insofar as it’s one of those venues that I’ve been to about three times but can never remember going there IYSWIM.
And that’s not down to alcoholic consumption, either.
Locals seemed OK, wouldn’t have wanted to go in any of their local boozers alone afterwards, but they have a little element who didn’t look any older than twelve.
Perhaps the police should let Gary Glitter on them? He’ll certainly be willing to use his fists.
Oh, and I still haven’t forgotten the “Goodbye Wombles” banner from 2000. Old grudges die hard.
Point to ponder: I wonder what JJ is thinking this morning?
He was clearly pleased with the performance yesterday, and this past month must have really taken a toll.
Perhaps for the first time this season – and certainly since Crawley away – he can feel vindicated in what he’s trying to do.
It’s clearly been tough for him, and we’ll never know if his job was (is?) still in danger.
I don’t think it should be, but he was a lot more animated than usual on the bench. Especially doing a gesture that really seemed to annoy Mark Hughes.
If nothing else, it proves that he can get something out of the players after all.
Yesterday was a fighting performance we’ve seen far too little of in recent years, and we got at least a point because of it.
Granted, JJ might have changed it so we go more direct, and if he sticks with it – a good manager won’t be afraid to do that.
We look better when we do, and the players seem to prefer it as well.
This might be a false dawn, but equally it could be when things start to turn around.
After all, it happens to a lot of clubs, so why not us…?
Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) £2 for the above “hot drink”. Tea, apparently. 2) Driving past Elland Road on the way back. Wonder if we’ll ever play a competitive fixture there again? 3) Music over the PA not changed since the 1990s. 4) The toilets legitimately stunk of something bad. Perhaps something/someone died in there.
Anything else? I do wonder if we’re not going to get anywhere until we properly sort out our defence.
That’s odd to write, considering we have Gunter (who might start for Wales against Poland this evening), Pearce and Brown.
But it could have killed us again yesterday, and it’s a small mercy it didn’t.
Nightingale still doesn’t inspire – he was at fault for the first goal – and PK seems to be playing with his nob too much on the treatment table.
It’s not a total wipeout – Towler came on yesterday and started to get into it. And Ogundere impressed.
But the latter is still only 19 and Ryley isn’t ours. We’ll need more.
I haven’t mentioned the goalkeeping, although to his credit Tzanev kept us in it at 1-0.
To sort out the back line is either going to need free agents coming in, or more likely another transfer window or two.
Because it’s too mistake prone – even for a League Two defence.
Going direct will help us a bit more, while we figure out what to do in January. Although there’s still plenty of games before then.
Passing around the back should only be used sparingly from now on, and why modern football coaches like it I’ll never know.
Perhaps the best way of tightening it up might be the Occam’s Razor answer – just stop conceding goals.
Do that, and the confidence starts flowing again.
I’m not sure what effect Bradford’s equaliser will have on everyone, especially our back line.
Hopefully it will be treated as an annoyance, and just that little bit of extra motivation to do better.
After all, Mark Bowen figured out that not conceding is the first thing to do. And he almost succeeded…
So, was it worth it? Yes. Yes it was.
In a nutshell: More of the same, please?