The Michael Wood Column

Monday 15 April, 2002

Where did it all go wrong?

Where did City's promotion charge become a grim trudge away from relegation? When I predicted the championship for City this season people scoffed, rightly as it turned out, but that was only because most people were predicting and edge of the play off's finish for the Bantams. No one saw us as the 16th best team in the First Division.

Somewhere along the way the wheels fell off the wagon. It started, without doubt, on the 1st of September against Burnley when Glenn Little inspired them to a 3-2 win. City had been rampant against Barnsley and Coventry and picked up a tidy result at Portsmouth but the word was out that Jim Jefferies had done it using a 433 formation that left the wings week and the full backs exposed. Burnley knew this and exploited it but more importantly, we knew it.

While we were tanking teams it was fun to see the caviller football of 433 but it was never going to last. Gillingham fell for it 5-1 but the Kent side apart, City had been found out.

Still, no damage done. With a tweak here and there we could be back on the road to the Premiership. No so, and this is where it all fell apart.

Jim Jefferies needed to sure up the flanks. He seemed to have two ways to do this. One get more work out of the two wide forwards, something that worked pretty well at home to Grimsby but only for the 45 minutes that the flank men operated under that details. Jefferies did not seem ready to discipline the side into playing in 433 with a nod to defence that we needed.

JJ's other option was to switch formation. 442 was blindingly obvious. It lost some of the attack but gave solid flanks. By the end of September City should have been a 442 side. We were not.

Jim Jefferies tried every single formation imaginable before arriving at the most obvious when he signed Matthew Etherington to play wide left. It was embarrassing to see Jim flail between tactics, discarding working formations for further experiments.

As Jim played tactics the squad's confidence plummeted. It seemed that Jefferies had not built the robust bunch of guys who believed in themselves but rather a bunch of players who had not forgotten two years getting pummelled in the Premiership. Jim's job had been to rebuild the team, but the mentality of a playing squad that had got used to losing was clearly still there. Jefferies brought in the likes of Andy Tod and Juanjo, but that seemed to further fragment the squad between Jim's guys and "the other camp".

The other camp seemed to be led by Stuart McCall and sure enough the two clashed, Jim won the battle, McCall being dropped for the game at Manchester City but lost the war, resigning on Christmas Eve, the clash with McCall not unrelated to his going.

So low on confidence, managerless, with a lengthy injury list that many put down to Jim Jefferies pre-season boot camp and a lack of transfer funds as Geoffrey Richmond closed the club's wallet things were never going to be as they could have been.

As I have previous commented I do not think that this season was Richmond's fault. I imagine having gone on the spending spree many fans called for only to witness the ITV Digital deal fall apart. Funny, those who were calling for the club to spend then are strangely silent now.

After Nicky Law joined City there was the merriest hint of a play off push that quickly gave way to a slog to stay about the relegation dogfight. The 3-1 win over Portsmouth and two late goals at Barnsley kept City above the rising tide. The draws at Rotherham and Burnley made it more comfortable towards the end but the brittle confidence of this squad was always liable to trip up the team. One thing Jim Jefferies was spot on about was the lack of self-belief in the players. For every Wimbledon away there was a Stockport.

Nicky Law's remit, that is how far he is allowed to go to stop another season like this one of waste potential, seems to stretch to breaking up the squad and building a new one. After this season you can only conclude that this is a good thing. We have a team that is comfortable being behind, which is familiar with losing.

The lesson we need to learn from this season is that when a team gets into habits, it cannot break them easily. In the promotion season we went to the likes of Bury and won because we were in the groove of winning. This season we were the reverse.

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