NOT quite a return to the dark days of autumn for Bradford City but a worrying afternoon all the same for those braving a Baltic afternoon clad in claret and amber.
After all the plaudits that had deservedly accompanied the points garnered by David Hopkin’s men since the start of December, this was wretchedly poor fare.
Second best all over the park, the Bantams slumped to their joint heaviest defeat of the season.
It could have been worse, too, with goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell pulling off a couple of fine saves during the first half to deny a Southend United side who broke with pace and purpose throughout.
Bradford, in contrast, were ponderous in possession and barely able to perform even the most basic of defensive duties to leave Hopkin a frustrated man at the final whistle.
“A defeat like this brings home how much hard work we still have to do this season,” said the former Scotland international to The Yorkshire Post.
“All over the pitch, we were second best. Southend came here with the bit between their teeth and did a job on us to get the three points.
“We conceded four but it could have been a couple more.
“We have to get back to basics after two games where we have not been doing it (City lost 3-0 to Barnsley the previous week). This was a reality check for everyone at the club, as to where we are in the league.
“The only way we can get out (of trouble) is by making sure we all stay focused.”
A defeat like this brings home how much hard work we still have to do this season.David Hopkin
In condemning Bradford to a defeat that matched those hammerings suffered at Gillingham and Luton Town earlier in the season, Southend displayed exquisite finishing.
Be it the curled effort from Simon Cox with the outside of his left boot after just 72 seconds or the cool manner in which debutant Stephen Humphrys left O’Donnell grasping at thin air for the afternoon’s fourth goal 17 minutes from time, all the 15,517 crowd could do was sit back and applaud.
Less impressive, however, was the defending that preceded each of the four strikes that shattered in spectacular fashion what had been a four-game winning run on home soil for Bradford.
For the first goal, City were opened up down their left far too easily. Then, when Paul Caddis did have an opportunity to clear as play switched to the middle, the right-back could only divert the ball to Cox and he did the rest from 15 yards.
Southend’s second in the 27th minute was, if anything, even more impressive with Sam Mantom firing into the net from 25 yards. But, again, the defending that immediately preceded the Shrimpers man letting fly was woefully inadequate.
Anthony O’Connor being brushed aside 10 minutes into the second half for the visitors’ third goal, scored by Humphrys, was similarly poor with the Bantams captain being knocked off the ball far too easily.
That this came just moments after Bradford’s solitary on target effort of the afternoon – a George Miller header that Nathan Bishop did brilliantly to tip over the crossbar – meant, for the one and only time in the 90 minutes, the hosts had cause to feel hard done by.
Had Bishop not been able to deny Miller from point blank range than maybe the Bantams could have found a way to rescue a point.
As it was, Humphrys’s debut goal after making his permanent switch from Fulham earlier in the week was followed by the striker netting a second.
Again, the Bradford defending was non-existant as the Oldham-born striker collected the ball wide on the right before being allowed to cut inside and unleash an unstoppable shot that flew past O’Donnell.
The afternoon would have got even worse for City had substitute Charlie Kelman squared a pass to the unmarked Theo Robinson rather than gone for glory himself when firing into the side-netting.
This let-off, though, fooled no-one at the end of an afternoon that had seen Bradford muster a solitary effort on target to the 10 created by the visitors.
A chastening afternoon and one that Hopkin knows his side cannot afford to repeat in the weeks and months to come.
“The manner we conceded the goals was poor,” said the City chief, whose side had not conceded for 438 minutes on home soil in the league before this one-sided encounter.
“All the things that we had worked on – being hard to beat and going the extra yard for your team-mate – just were not there.
“We have had plaudits over the past four or five weeks but nothing has been achieved.
“We have to go again and make sure we get back to doing the basics well.”
Bradford City: O’Donnell; Caddis, McGowan, A O’Connor (Wood 66), Knight-Percival; Akpan; L O’Brien, Payne, Ball, Miller (Colville 76), Doyle (Anderson 87). Unused substitutes: Wilson, P O’Connor, Devine, Ellington.
Southend United: Bishop; Turner, Moore, White; Bwomono, Mantom (Yearwood 81), Dieng, Hyamm Hart; Cox (Kelman 86), Humphrys (Robinson 76). Unused substitutes: Smith, Kightly, McLaughlin, Hendrie.
Referee: Michael Salisbury (Lancashire).