At times it’s hard to maintain full emotional control when supporting a football club. Most football fans want to be perceived as the ‘best fans’, patient, supportive and able to make fair and balanced judgements when it comes to player performance and even refereeing decisions. When your team concedes a penalty in the final minute of the match it just highlights just how difficult/impossible this deluded task that we set ourselves is.
The emotion is simply anger. You try and cover it up by blaming whoever you can, the order you tend to go through is first it’s the referee’s fault, then possibly the opponents for pressuring the referee, then it goes to your own player for making an error. Ultimately you’re angry at your own powerlessness in the situation. There’s nothing you can do to stop the events unfolding in front of you despite your emotional investment. If we felt we could we’d have run onto the pitch and kicked the ball away before it crossed the line. For a number of reasons you sit there glued to your seat like one of those dreams where you’re completely paralysed in a perilous situation.
As the final whistle blows and the post-match reaction begins there’s still disbelief and what’s just been witnessed. You try and locate the exact reason why it happened and hope that it wasn’t because your team has mishandled the situation they found themselves in. Goals can be scored at anytime in a football match, in fact they’re more likely to be scored later on, but the last minute goal seems more like an injustice when your team concedes it, a divine intervention when it goes your side’s way. Something about the last minute goal feels outside of and beyond the circumstances of the 90 minutes that preceded it.
The disbelief is then replaced with the realisation that the win that’s already been recorded into your brain, those extra 2 points in the league table, isn’t the reality. The over-riding feeling is theft. However despite any attempt to justify the robbery in your mind a small part of you knows that this is merely a delusion.
Ultimately though the result of the game reflects the performance of the two teams. Coventry started very brightly and could have scored 4 goals in the opening 10 minutes. However mistakes were made throughout the team and a Bradford side who started out-of-sorts were allowed back into the match. Poor defending played a part but Bradford were asking questions of this Coventry side be being assertive and putting pressure on the defence through direct running and passes.
Post-match Steven Pressley criticised Bradford’s style of play but the only guide for how teams should play are the laws of the game. Hopefully we can put this down to a heated atmosphere between the two managers, Pressley very rarely criticises other teams and clearly was still high on the emotions of the match. Although Bradford’s last-minute equaliser felt like an act of burglary it came from Coventry being unable to contain Bradford’s direct style of play.
Although the Sky Blues were seconds away from closing out the game, they never fully closed the door on the Bantams. The team appeared caught between time management, trying to pass the clock away and maintaining their pressure on Bradford’s back-line, doing none of these tasks to full effect. The team looked stretched as a consequence of these conflicting strategies. Which left Jordan Clarke exposed against the physical James Hanson in our penalty area as he tried to use his arms to gain leverage against him. All of this came from Conor Thomas being mid-way in the Bradford half attempting to keep the ball in play when he could have left it for a throw-in.
However we do lose sight of how far this team has come in a short space of time. The game management strategies are still not fully there and we often struggle to control games when we’re not attempting to score. The ‘dark arts’ of football will come as the team learn the importance of staying tight as a unit, where to put the ball in the closing stages of games as well as keeping the ball when under pressure from the opposition. Steven Pressley will also learn that the limitations of the side and his available resources and how to utilise them to greater effect.
Additionally there’s simply the case that young players, particularly defenders, will make mistakes. Conor Thomas now knows that sometimes the ball is best used in the final minutes when out of play. Jordan Clarke will learn how he should challenge physical strikers when he is placed up against them. Hopefully as well the team will work harder not to leave individuals exposed as cruelly as they were at times yesterday.
What has been forgotten at times as well is that a point at Bradford is not a disaster, Brentford lost 4-0 there earlier this season. I suspect that teams in the promotion reckoning will struggle to take points away from them. Also the play-off chase should be wide open this season there isn’t a particularly outstanding team, Wolves, Leyton Orient and Peterborough have shown that they’re not as all-conquering as some suspected earlier in the season, so teams will rise and fall in this league depending on runs of form or runs of ‘easy’ fixtures. Whilst we’re as susceptible as other teams to the highs and lows of a league season, we’ve shown ourselves to be resilient and have only lost 2 games in a row once as well as being unbeaten since losing to Brentford in September.
So whilst the draw against Bradford was disappointing, we need to look at this as part of a campaign where a point against a physical side away from home is going to be good for a team like us. Compared to the capitulation in the second half to Port Vale we’ve also improved in these contests and we’re able to recover from conceding goals fairly well. On the bright side it also removes the sense of complacency that was somewhere in the backs of peoples’ minds prior to the match and gives the team something to prove against what could be a tricky run of fixtures against an improving Tranmere, another physical side in Rotherham and I believe we also have another away game after Rotherham but I can’t remember against which team.