Winger Nathan Thomas was a whisker away from pulling united level at Valley Parade on Saturday when a low drive from a tight angle was fingertipped wide by keeper Richard O’Donnell during what was a very good spell for the visitors.
He spoke to us about the frustration felt inside the dressing room that a good performance had ultimately led to a first away defeat in three outings.
“When you put as much into a game as we did today and come away with nothing, it is disappointing,” he said. “We played with ten men for a long time, but it felt like we didn’t really capitalise once they went down to ten as well.
“We played some really good stuff at times, especially in the first 30 minutes. We know we need to be a lot stronger at one end and be a lot more ruthless at the other. I think the first half an hour was probably the best half an hour we’ve had away from home this season. I think Bridgey is really unlucky to get sent off because it wasn’t the most consistent performance in terms of the fouls the ref was giving.”
“We felt really hard done by with the sending off, but the goals we conceded were still really soft,” he added. “Once you concede two you give yourself a mountain to climb, especially with ten men. The goals we’re conceding are frustrating because we work so hard off the ball.
“In the middle third of the pitch we are really good, but games are decided by what you do at either end of the pitch. At the minute we’re not taking our chances at one end and conceding at the other end.
“It isn’t only about the attack or defence, it’s all eleven of us who have to chip in and do our work. There are no teams who work as hard as us in training or on a Saturday, so we’ll keep doing that and look to iron out the mistakes.”
There was a triple-hammer blow for the Blues in the first half at the weekend when they were first pegged back to 1-1, reduced to ten men and then subjected to a real sucker punch as the Bantams took the lead just before half time courtesy of a set-piece routine.
“When you concede then go a man down and a goal down it is hard, and you know you’ll have to put the work in if you want to get back,” Thomas commented. “We’re a group that’s built off the foundation that we all work for each other.
“When that happens you don’t just have to do your own job, you’ve maybe got to do two or three roles at a time to help the team. It’s all about your character and mental strength to make sure you come through the other side.
“We worked so hard, and in the second half it looked like there was only one team who was going to score. At the start of the season we were fantastic in the final third and we were creating a lot of chances, but we’ve changed the system a little bit and it doesn’t feel like we’re maybe creating as many chances at the moment.
“I think our biggest strength is when we turn the ball over and get on the counter-attack. We look really good when we do that, but it’s about knowing which pass to make at the right time and when to make the right run.
“That only comes from playing games with the lads in the formation. You can do a lot in training, but it’s in games on Saturdays where you have to make it happen. We’re still creating chances, I had one on Saturday and Fela has obviously got another goal.”
With defending and attacking set pieces being a topic of much conversation at the moment, he told us: “I think we all know we need to be a lot better at set pieces at both ends. I think individually everybody has got to be more aggressive with it.
“There has to be more of a willingness not to let the ball go into our net and more of a willingness to put the ball in the other net. It’s as simple as that at the minute. You have to want to get the better of the player you’re up against.
“It isn’t just defending set pieces, I don’t think we look like scoring from one either. We know there isn’t much more that needs to click into place for us to be one of the better sides in this league.
“Some of the football we play at times is fantastic, one of their players actually said that to me at the end of the game, and that’s a compliment to all the hard work we put in. It’s just about getting that performance for 90 minutes, not just in spells during games, but I’m sure it’s not far away.
“As a wide man it’s my job to create and score goals so it is frustrating when things don’t come off, but it’s just that rub of the green we maybe aren’t getting at the moment. One week every chance you get might create goes in, but other times none of them do. We’re just waiting for things to turn.”
But is the feeling amongst the group still positive, despite the league position?
“Without a shadow of a doubt we will turn this round,” he insisted. “It’s all about timing these runs of games at the right time. There’s no point going off really early and blowing up.
“You’re best off being consistently good and we’ve had some pretty good results of late. We think we should have won a lot more games than we have and it doesn’t take much for you to go on a run.
“The games come thick and fast at this level so if you go on a run of three, four or five wins it becomes the difference between second or third in the league than being fifteenth or sixteenth.
“I do think this league will be just as tight as it was last year and even though we had the worst form going into the last day we still had the chance of reaching the play-offs. I think it’ll be similar this year, you’ll be able to chuck a blanket over all of the teams in the middle and it’s then all about putting runs together and picking up results when you can.”
Speaking about his own form since his return to Cumbria, he said: “It didn’t take me long to settle back in once I came back here. It was like I was never away, to be honest, everyone knows I really enjoyed my time here last season and it was probably the easiest decision I had to make when I got the chance to come back.
“I was happy with how I started the season in terms of the performances I was putting in but the last few games have been a bit quieter. They’ve been different types of games and I’ve been learning a different type of role, and there is a lot more defensive responsibility on me now. I’m working hard to get that right, but I feel really good and I’m sure there will be a lot more goals and assists to come.
“My biggest issue has always been getting that run of games and I feel like I’ve had that at the minute. I feel good, obviously I’m disappointed with my goal return, and I do feel I should have had a few more, but I’m sure if we keep doing the right things the goals will come.”
“It’s great to play for a manager who has so much belief in you,” he concluded. “It made the decision to come back even easier, knowing I’d worked with him before and that we play a style of football I enjoy playing.
“It’s hard work, don’t get me wrong, and there’s a lot of leg work, but you get rewards for it because it means we create opportunities. I’m a lot better for it as an all-round player, and fitness wise I’m a lot fitter than I was last season. It will only make me a better player all round and I’m really enjoying it.”
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