Bradford City 3
Wells 45 (pen) + 68, Meredith 83
Cheltenham Town 1
Pack 29 (pen)
Saturday 20 October, 2012
By Gareth Walker
City’s win against Cheltenham yesterday could be described as their most important victory of the season so far. It could prove to be a pivotal win for a number of reasons.
The Bantams were coming off the back of a run of four games without a win, something which was just starting to set minds worrying amongst certain sections of supporters even though the performances in those games had arguably deserved more than the two points that we got.
Cheltenham were unbeaten away from home so far this season and had just gone through six league games without defeat too. They were sitting third in the table, occupying the last automatic promotion spot, four points above City and they are expected to be serious promotion challengers at the end of the season.
It was also important to note that City had failed to win since the much talked about injuries to Gary Jones and Kyel Reid, so getting that monkey off their back will have done the confidence of the team the power of good.
The game was a close fought encounter of two contrasting styles. As we know, Phil Parkinson’s side are at their best when playing with a quick and energetic tempo and an up and at them style that gets the home crowd right behind the team. This is in stark contrast to the tactics of Mark Yates’ side, who looked to do all the ugly things and slow the game down at every opportunity so as to disrupt proceedings.
The first half was one that City dominated against a Cheltenham side renowned for usually dominating possession. The 4-5-1 system that Cheltenham play with Marlon Pack and Darren Carter in the middle proves very effective and they have been described as having one of the best midfields in the division – something which was clear in our two encounters with them last season.
It was therefore impressive that without the combative force of Midfield Tank Jones, the Bantams managed to stand up to their threat and credit must go to the duo of Nathan Doyle and Ricky Ravenhill for this. I have been critical of Ravenhill in the past, and have gone on record as being against the deployment of two holding midfielders. However, I thought that Ricky had one of his better games in a Bradford shirt yesterday. He was ball of energy in the middle of the park making some impressive tackles and blocks. It will be interesting to see now if this midfield partnership continues its dominance in Jones’ absence.
Despite City being the superior side, there weren’t many chances created and James Hanson was guilty of missing a header from a Nahki Wells cross that you would normally expect him to score with consummate ease. He made good contact and got it on target, but it was far too near the middle of the goal and provided a relatively easy stop for Robins Keeper Scott Brown. The chance was perhaps typical of Hanson’s form over recent weeks, where he hasn’t been the clinical hitman that he was in the first few weeks of the season. It is becoming clear that the Big Man needs a goal, because otherwise, his displays have been very impressive. Yesterday he won everything in the air, giving the Cheltenham back line a torrid time and drew praise for his efforts from the opposition fans and manager.
It was typical of City that just a couple of minutes after this chance, the ball was in the back of our net from what was Cheltenham’s first real threat of the game. The impressive Jermaine McGlashan broke clear down the City left and Andrew Davies came across to cover. As McGlashan drove into the box, Davies seemed to lean into him near the byline and the winger went down. Referee Brendan Malone pointed straight to the spot. It was a decision that many described as harsh and probably could have gone either way. The BBC Radio Leeds summary team were quite critical after the game and the linesman apparently told Phil Parkinson that he didn’t think that it was a penalty. However, the man in charge made the call from a much greater distance away. Regardless, Pack stepped up and sent Jon Mclaughlin the wrong way.
The decision fired the crowd up who started to become much more vocal. This became even more noticeable when City almost responded immediately. Davies met a corner from the City right with a powerful header that flew past Brown but was well cleared by a defender on the line. Cheltenham’s poor “sportsmanship” then went into overdrive as the defender proceeded to roll around on the floor seemingly in agony even though there was nobody anywhere near him. Ref Malone stopped the game much to the annoyance of Doyle, who remonstrated as to why the player wasn’t taken off the pitch for treatment. While Malone ticked Doyle off, the player then took the long route off the playing surface having wasted a good few minutes of playing time, only to sprint straight back on when play restarted.
Many teams are renowned for using this tactic, but The Robins were by far one of the worst sides that I have seen for implementing it this season and it was somewhat comical that their manager commented on the amount of time added on at the end of the first half during his post match interview.
Back to the game and it was McGlashan however who was at the centre of the next point of contention when he again went down in the City box, this time under the challenge of Luke Oliver. This time no penalty was given, even though it looked more stonewall than the first and City survived. It was maybe a case of the referee evening things out after a debatable first spot kick. It was noteable however, that McGlashan was clearly Cheltenham’s best player and main threat throughout the game.
Now it was the Robins’ turn to feel aggrieved as just seconds later City had equalised. The Bantams broke quickly and Craig Forsyth, who was quietly impressive and provided much needed left sided balance on his City debut, beat two men as he progressed into the box. The second of these men, Sido Jombati reached out and needlessly handled the ball as he hit the deck and it was a definite penalty. Wells stepped up and made no mistake as he drilled the ball into the top corner and City were level at the break.
The second half was a quieter affair from a City perspective as Cheltenham quickly changed tactic now that they were no longer winning. No longer did they feel the need to time waste in quite the same way and the impressive footballing side that they are began to shine through as they came more onto the attack. Despite this, it is difficult to remember McLaughlin having a save of note to make and it was City who continued to create the better chances. The best of these fell to the impressive Doyle who robbed his midfield opponent just inside the Robins half. Unfortunately as he bore down on goal and looked to pull the trigger, the Cheltenham player got back and made a very impressive and clean tackle from behind.
Shortly afterwards, however, City did manage to take the lead when substitutes Will Atkinson and Zavon Hines combined when the latter nodded down the former’s cross in order for Wells to tap in his second goal of the game. The goal cemented Wells as City’s top scorer so far this season and it came in what was arguably one of the Bermudan’s most impressive games to date. The diminutive striker was a constant threat and looked to be back to his dangerous best.
The home side’s third goal was the best of the lot and a touch of real class. A team move where build up play and numerous passes culminated in Atkinson and James Meredith combining impressively on the left hand side of the Cheltenham penalty area. They played a quick one two and Meredith volleyed the ball home into the near top corner. It was probably the furthest that we have seen Meredith venture forward all season and provided evidence to support the Australian’s comments at a recent supporters club meeting where he said that he isn’t encouraged to overlap the winger. The way that he dispatched the shot however, may lead to him doing so more often.
The game was now won and Yates’ decision to throw on a couple of strikers did little to stop the game petering out in the last ten minutes. Indeed, the only real incident of note was a ridiculous dive in the Bantams penalty area by substitute Darryl Duffy which rightly resulted in him being shown the yellow card.
Listening to the radio interviews on the way home, it was nice to hear Parkinson in buoyant mood and his only real quibble from the 90 minutes seemed to be the conduct of the Cheltenham players and staff. Yates too raised this issue in his own post match comments as well as mentioning his somewhat startling disappointment with the referee. City’s trip to Whaddon Road on the last day of the season may prove to be a feisty affair in more ways than one.
All in all, this was a very impressive win for City. Over the last four games, we have played much better and not got what we deserved. However, yesterday we controlled the game against a promotion rival without ever really hitting top gear. Winning ugly is a good habit to get into and hopefully this will set us up for another hectic period of Tuesday-Saturday games coming up which could define our season and, ultimately, any promotion ambitions that we may have.
City: McLaughlin, McArdle, Davies, Oliver, Meredith, Thompson (Atkinson 62), Doyle, Ravenhill, Forsyth (Hines 62), Hanson, Wells
Not used: Duke, Darby, McHugh, Ritchie Jones, Connell