Bradford City 2
Colchester United 2
Monakana 28, Ibehre 32
Saturday 14 September, 2013
By Jason McKeown
For a team which has achieved so much success through perfecting a template of hard work and intensity, it was curious to observe Bradford City completely forget the basics and produce a sloppy 20-minute spell of football that cost them their Valley Parade clean sheet run and, ultimately, two points.
1-0 up through yet another Nahki Wells strike, the Bantams looked good value to put the game beyond their opponents’ reach before the interval. Yet standards slipped unexpectedly and the foot was taken off the gas. Certain players hit the auto-pilot button, and the team were to slump off at half time with a deficit to make up and a collective look of shock on their faces.
A stirring second half comeback salvaged a point, but Colchester United – and League One – had made theirs emphatically. These are higher standards to live up to, and City cannot afford to take anyone lightly. For all the pre-match talk of doing anything but, that seemed to be the case in the first half. Recent signs have suggested that the Bantams are capable of becoming a good League One team, but today proved they are not yet at the stage where they can pick up points when short of their best.
Nor will teams roll over. Colchester United may have narrowly avoided relegation last season, but their resilience and direct style presented far more problems than the open 4-4-2 formations deployed by City’s three previous home opponents. Playing five in midfield, with runners ably supporting the hard-working targetman Jabo Ibehre, the Us successfully isolated Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle to exploit worrying gaps between the midfield and back four. It was disconcerting to see the previously impregnable defence be picked apart and concede two soft goals. Colchester were full value for their draw.
There was little hint of the problems to come in the opening 15 minutes. The ball was knocked around by the Bantams with authority and pace, with only some excellent defending and mis-directed shots keeping it at 0-0. Then a dodgy back pass was latched onto by Wells, who got away with a poor first touch to spin and fire an unstoppable shot past Sam Walker. 1-0 City, 1-0 Wells. It felt like another typical Saturday afternoon.
It was soon after that things went wrong. Ibehre blasting a shot over the bar a minute after Wells’ goal was one of several warning signs not heeded. City enjoyed a five minute spell of utter dominance after that, suggesting Colchester were on the ropes, but failed to press home that advantage. Then the visitors’ knocked on the door with increasing frequency, and debutant loan signing Jeffrey Monakana dribbled the ball past Stephen Darby before unleashing a powerful shot past Jon McLaughlin for the equaliser. James Meredith – who endured a difficult first half – had been caught out of position in the build up.
Four minutes later it was 2-1 to Colchester. City’s backline were defending high up the pitch, and when a low ball was played into the feet of Ibehre, Rory McArdle made the fatal mistake of going to make a tackle when he just needed to hold his position. The experienced front man simply pushed the ball past McArdle’s leg and was able to run clean through on goal unchallenged, finishing low into the bottom corner. McArdle was a long way below his best all afternoon and was caught out on several occasions, presenting Phil Parkinson with a dilemma next week, in view of Luke Oliver’s impressive display against Brentford, when deputising for the Northern Ireland international.
Having stuttered their way to half time without taking any further damage, there was a big response to Parkinson’s half time team talk that saw City get back on level terms within seven minutes. It was fitting that Meredith played a part in the equaliser – providing the low cross which Wells’ head looped into the far corner of the goal – as no one represented the struggles of the first half and improvement in the second better than Aussie’s individual display.
Wells’ goal was his 17th in 16 games, a phenomenal achievement. Relatively-speaking, how does Nahki compare to some of the best strikers in our history? He is certainly becoming one of my all-time favourites. At times during the second half, he looked on a different level to every one of his team-mates and you sometimes felt for him that superb runs on and off the ball were not made more of by others.
City pushed on and created plenty of chances. Garry Thompson driving just wide of the goal and, later on, frustratingly hesitating to pounce on a low cross in the box that might have seen him receive a clattering from a defender but more likely would have seen him celebrate a goal. James Hanson – who led the line superbly once again – saw a header from a corner go wide of the post. I enjoyed Kyel Reid’s performance today and his fantastic attitude. Not everything came off and you’d like to see more quality in his final ball, but he had defenders on the back-foot and was unfortunate to be taken off with 10 minutes to play.
Colchester attempted to slow the tempo down whenever they had the opportunity, and were overly physical in their approach, but they also continued to pose a threat on the counter attack and substitute Gavin Massey hit the post with a superb curling drive. As the game headed into stoppage time, Walker made a superb tip over from substitute Mark Yeates’ flick attempt at goal. It was, yet again this season, a really entertaining game of football.
Alas there was a sour note to end, when Daniel Poppe was sent off just five minutes after coming on, for a despicable challenge on Yeates. Farcical given the referee had already blown for a free kick and so stopped the game, and the Irish winger was fortunate that he was able to shake off what had the potentially to have been a leg-breaking lunge. Poppe, to his credit, was clearly distraught and sought to seek Yeates out to apologise. An upset Parkinson had heated words as he headed to the dressing room, and later described the Colchester fans applauding him off a “disgrace”.
With not enough time to make the extra man count, City’s 100% home record came to an end. Yet there was little dissent in the stands – even at half time and when things were going wrong – and the Valley Parade bubble of positivity remains un-breached following its first major test.
It was disappointing to see City struggle for a time, but the determination and courage to come back ultimately adds even more kudos to this hugely popular group of players. They sit proudly on the cusp of the play off spots in seventh position and, if they continue in this vein, talk will soon grow about the prospects of challenging for Championship football next season.
From what we have seen to date, it seems that this team can handle the challenges of League One and maintain its position amongst the pace-setters. That is so long as they don’t repeat the mistake of today in forgetting what it has taken to get us this far.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Thompson (De Vita 75), Doyle (Ravenhill 83), Jones, Reid (Yeates 80), Hanson, Wells
Not used: Ripley, Oliver, Gray, Connell