The right way to lose

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Bradford City 1

De Vita 14

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2

Henry 28, Stearman 32

Saturday 26 October, 2013

Written by Jason McKeown (pictures by Rachel McKeown)

The dream start was quickly punctured by the rudest of awakenings. 1-0 up and seemingly in control of the game, Bradford City suddenly found themselves over-powered by a vibrant Wolves side, who charged into a lead that they would stubbornly keep hold of despite a second half Bantams onslaught. A fourth defeat of the season for City; but, significantly, the first occasion where the players had been bettered.

The stats suggest there was little in it, but there was a gulf between the two sides that is reflected in the league table that now shows Wolves 10 points clear of City in the second automatic promotion spot, with a game in hand. The home side gave everything to the cause and on another day would have earned a point that their second half performance more than merited; but the visitors’ quality was matched by a steeliness that saw them vigorously celebrate a hard-earned win at the final whistle.

It was undoubtedly a tactical victory for Kenny Jackett. The 4-5-1 the Wolves manager elected to start with was overrun in the early stages, as City chased and harried Wolves onto the backfoot with their trademark high-tempo approach once again impressing. It climaxed with Rafa De Vita scoring his first City goal on his full home debut, drilling home a rebound after his initial shot had been cleared off the line. Yet Jackett showed a ruthlessness to change a plan that was not working, as early as the 24th minute, replacing midfielder Lee Evans with striker Kevin Doyle. Six minutes later, the reshuffled, 4-4-2 Wolves were 2-1 up.

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That City were caught so cold by their opponents’ change of approach was a concern. Prior to then, lone striker Lee Griffiths had screwed a couple of shots wide as most of the play took place at the other end; but the move to a four-man midfield allowed the previously quiet widemen, Bakary Sako and James Henry, to run the game. They each gave Stephen Darby and James Meredith a tough time, as they created opportunities for team-mates. Numerous let offs ensued, but City’s luck would not last.

The self-inflicted nature of the equaliser made it feel especially painful. The ball should have been cleared by either Meredith or Gary Jones; but the pair got in each other’s way, with the loose ball falling into the path of Henry with only Jon McLaughlin to beat. Even then, Henry’s low shot should have been saved by the City goalkeeper, but it somehow squirmed underneath his body and over the line.

Predictably, McLaughlin’s terrible error is giving rise to a post-match debate about his worth to the team and whether Phil Parkinson needs to recruit another goalkeeper. That is harsh, in view of the Scot’s excellent form of late and particularly memorable save against Preston in midweek. It is not his first mistake (nor will it be his last), but City’s longest-serving player has previously shown commendable resilience to bounce back from errors. He now needs to display such character again.

McLaughlin had no chance with the second goal, which followed four minutes later. A corner was cleared back towards its taker, Henry, with the on-loan Millwall winger given far too much time and space to return the ball into the box. The quality of the cross was phenomenal, and Richard Stearman glanced it home to trigger jubilant scenes in the away sections.

And at that stage, Wolves had City on the ropes. They continued to charge forward with menace; as insightful passing and off-the ball running uncovered troubling gaps between the Bantams’ midfield and defence. Over the past year there has been a concern that any side that deploys three central midfielders against Jones and Nathan Doyle will nullify City’s attacking threat. But this was two sides playing the same system, only one dominating the other.

Perhaps the curious thing with Wolves today, however, was the way they eased off. City stumbled their way to half time just a goal behind thanks largely to the visitors slowing the game down rather than finishing it as a contest. They have some good players, a wily manager and strong resources, meaning promotion must surely be a given. You suspect their biggest threat to this goal is their own complacency.

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To their huge, huge credit, City dusted themselves off and came back at their illustrious guests. The second half saw lengthy spells of home domination. This was largely due to Parkinson’s half time introduction of Nahki Wells for the anonymous De Vita, with the Bermudian showing no signs of the injury that has kept him out for almost a month to cause a whole host of problems.

What a relief to see James Hanson – who was outstanding – reunited with his strike partner. The greater energy Wells provided, compared to the underachieving Garry Thompson, who was pushed back to the right wing, brought greater purpose to attacks. Kyel Reid – who was nowhere near the heights of Tuesday, but had his moments – linked up well with Meredith on the left. Doyle was outstanding in the centre of the park, dictating the play.

Hanson saw a header saved by Carl Ikeme, Reid wastefully blazed a free kick over the bar, and a handful of goalmouth scrambles saw half chances for Doyle and the excellent Matthew Bates. Then there was a penalty appeal when Reid ran through and fell over Ikeme’s outstretched hand. I personally think the referee Graham Sailsbury – who had a good game – was correct to book Reid for diving.

Mark Yeates replaced Thompson – who still failed to impress in his usual position – and was at least more involved in the game, but when his shot from the edge of the area crashed into Hanson, it seemed set to be one of those days. The crowd and players never gave up and, in the final stages, Wells forced Ikeme into a superb double save, but Wolves saw the game out to record a fifth successive away victory.

As Bradford City supporters, we have to learn to cope with numerous set backs over the years and the pain of defeat is an all too familiar feeling. Yet in the closing stages, I glanced around Valley Parade and felt pride in the huge wall of noise from supporters, the manager urging his men forwards and the players continuing to give everything for the cause. And it struck me that this is the type of defeat – where nothing is left in reserve and commitment is unquestionable – that I can handle.

I hate losing. We all hate losing. But this is the right way to lose.

If we must be critical of City, it could be argued that at times our play was predictable. Too much is geared around Hanson flicking the ball on for others – he was double-marked at times – or of attacking down the flanks. Henry and Sako dropped back in the second half to support their full back colleagues, denying Reid and Thompson/Yeates the space they needed to get the ball into the box. That the Jones and Doyle partnership continues to work so well is a big positive, but over the long-term there has to be thought paid towards bringing in another creative midfielder who will get into the box more regularly.

But we are where we are. Our limitations, for this level, are hardly significantly high to prevent us from competing, and the team’s outstanding commitment and work-rate goes a long way to making up for any deficiencies in talent. Keep doing what we are doing, and we will win more matches than we lose. It may not prove good enough to see us ranked top six come the end of the season, but we won’t be far off.

Today was a harsh lesson, but the reality is that Wolves’ quality, backed by those £16 million parachute payments, is an anomaly for this level – not a yardstick of where we need to be in order to fulfil that play off aspiration.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates (Folan 85), Meredith, De Vita (Wells 45), Doyle, Jones, Reid, Hanson, Thompson (Yeates 70)

Not used: Ripley, Taylor, McHugh, Kennedy

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Categories: Match Reports

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19 replies

  1. Spot on and my feelings on leaving the ground were very much of pride in the performance.

    On another day we might well have squeezed a point against a Wolves side which oozed quality right through it.

    Thought De Vita did alright and judging by the strapping on his thigh when returning to the field at the end, his half time withdrawal was possibly enforced? Thompson at least had a better second half.

    Great for Nahki to get 45 minutes under his belt and he certainly showed why he had been missed.

    October always looked tricky but a decent performance and result at Crewe should help steady the ship….

  2. Fair comment Jason, it felt like a cup game against a higher league team. Looking at Wolves fans forums it is heartening to see they consider it a great win at a hard place to play.

  3. Even by your high standards that was a good report. I thought Wolves shut Reid out very well and looked a class team. I thought City did their best , but were not as good as Wolves. Funnily enough, we had a good view of the penalty incident. I thought it was a dive, my wife thought he was fouled.
    But what really pleased me was the whole ambience of the event. I am not a season ticket holder, so my wife and I had to sit in the top tier of the main stand, with a superb view. The ground was pretty full, the atmosphere was great, the City and Wolves fans noisy, the team and fans never gave up, and the crowd even cheered the players at the end.
    I detest losing, but if you could be fair-minded you would have to admit that this was a wonderful advert for the third tier of English football—-the standard of play, the crowd, the stadium, even, in my opinion, the referee.
    I personally would take 12th in the league, keep Parkinson, and keep strengthening.

  4. Good article Jason. Feels it sums up the majority of city fans yesterday. I just wonder how long Gary Jones can keep going? I thought his run back to goal in the 70th ish minute was typical of him but will he be able to play like this all season? Reid. For me, personally, was poor yesterday. Too many touches and lack of first time crosses meant that Hanson was marked easily before the ‘cross.’ Shame about de vita after a good start. Where did he go after 15 minutes?

    Doyle was brilliant yesterday. Hanson copes well. Good to see Nahki back and agreed that Bates played well. Wolves will well should go up and I think they proved a real test that is definitely something that we can replicate.

  5. An accurate and well-structured report. Keep it up Jason. Thanks

  6. I’m a regular reader, but first time I’ve commented on here.

    Normally I agree with the majority of what you say Jason, but it’s funny how you can go to a game and have a completly different interpretation of it.

    I won’t deny that Wolves defended pretty well, but apart from about a 20 minute spell up to half time, when they caused us a few problems, i thought they looked quite ordinary.

    I also thought Sako was largely ineffective, as Darby played him out of the game, with another typical accomplished display.

    Personally, i thought we were unlucky not to come away with at least a point, and i would love to see that penalty incident again.

    • Hi Rob

      Thanks for you for reading WOAP and thanks for your comment.

      You are certainly not the only one to disagree with my report! I think it’s one of those games where there was a spectrum of opinions. I’ve heard and read people slating Bates and Jones, which I find bizarre, at the opposite end of that spectrum. I thought we played very well in the second half and you are right we were unlucky not to get a draw, but I think Wolves had a greater quality overall.

      It reminded me a bit of the Crawley home game in League Two a few years ago. Crawley showed greater ability to get in front, but we came back strongly. Chris Dagnall equalised, but I remember at the time thinking we had scored too early and that Crawley had time to step it up again and overpower us. Sure enough they did and won the game.

      I felt like Wolves were similar (apart from playing good football, unlike Crawley) in that they always looked like they could step up another couple of gears with ease. They were outstanding for 20 minutes but then eased off. Had we have equalised after, say, an hour, I think they would have stepped up again and re-taken the lead. I don’t think a Wolves fan would say they played brilliantly, but I think they looked a better team.

      As for the Reid penalty incident, you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_9jm-p-VGc&feature=youtube_gdata_player

      • Thanks for the link Jason, but it’s inconclusive. I think the most telling aspect of the incident, is that the keeper doesn’t angrily go and confront Reid, and acts rather sheepishly in my opinion, giving the impression that he might just have got away with one.

        I think the key to any successful side, is to win when you are not playing well, which is what I thought Wolves did on Saturday.

        The overriding feeling I got coming out of the game though, is that we are due a bit of luck.

    • I was at the same game as you, Rob. I wonder which one Jason was at?

      • Okay we don’t have to go down the route of being rude to each other on this site, just because my opinion differed to yours.

  7. Pretty harsh on DeVita Jason, i thought he worked quite hard chasing back to help Stephen Darby who was superb by the way. I was mystified that he didn’t appear for the second half but it appears he was injured. Surely Thommo would have gone otherwise, he was anonymous for most of the game in my opinion

    • HI Ian

      I think that football is a 90-minute game (or in De Vita’s case on Saturday, 45) and whilst he started brightly I felt he disappeared when the going got tougher and was anonymous. This followed a display at Preston where he set up a goal brilliantly but was quiet thereafter. That may sound harsh but I don’t mean to be. I think De Vita has talent and is someone to work with rather than write off, but I don’t personally believe he has contributed enough in either game. He will get better with more time, but injured or not on Saturday I can see why De Vita was taken off so Wells could be accommodated.

      You could argue Thompson should have been sacrificed, but I think on his side is a greater physical presence that is a benefit out wide. That said, clearly Thompson’s form of late is not good enough and presents Parkinson with a dilemma.

  8. It is remarkable how much better the side is with Wells in it, the team just seem to be able to play on instinct when he is on the pitch, rather than having to take time to think about how play should be geared. The way he dropped back and turned the ball round the corner for wingers and the way he ran in behind was hugely encouraging and gives a focus to every attack that is much quicker and much more dynamic….

  9. Plus, on Jonny McL, i think, because of the nature of the position, i think many think goalkeepers can be picked up and swapped easily and don’t need to mould with the team and the squad as much, though in my opinion this is not the case.

    McLaughlin is improving all the time and has a lot of games for his age and a couple of mistakes in an otherwise positive season doesn’t call for drastic changes. Experienced, solid goalkeepers are hard to come by and “up and coming” keepers are even more inconsitent. For every Scott Loach, there are several Martin Hansens

  10. 1-0 up so shame to finish empty handed. Even game, Wolves worked the ball well and though the lad they brought on for last 20 mins could have finished us off. Reid went looking for the pen appeal so no arguments, ref well placed, good game. Great to see Nakki back, our system (off hansen) doesn`t work too well without him. Tough month. Time to react.

  11. Two things disappointed me a bit on Saturday. The first was the way De Vita celebrated his goal in front of the Wolves support. Has there been some history between them? Either way I think its needless and I expect more class from a City player. There’s no need for it risks some ugly scenes if things get out of hand. Similarly I was surprised at Reid who in my opinion dived to try and get the penalty. Call me naive but I don’t want to see that in a City player.

    What didn’t disappoint was the level of commitment both on and off the pitch up to the final whistle and I totally agree with Chris’ first comment, City are a different side with Wells. Those who think he’s just an opportunist, speedster running onto flick ons from Hanson need to think again. He’s so much more than that when he drops off the front to receive the ball. I’m looking forward to see him develop that side of his game more.

    For what its worth I’m with Jason. I thought Wolves were strong, efficient and clinical. Sometimes the better teams make the game look easy and I felt Wolves had several more gears to go though. We can take comfort from the fact that they had to adjust their shape to cope with our threat and from the celebrations at the end you’d have thought they’d won the FA cup, not narrowly beaten a newly promoted team full of last year’s league 2 players!

    • Personally I don’t think there was any mallice in De Vita’s celebration, he celebrated by the stand nearest to him and everyone had swarmed him by then. Not half as bad as what Adebyor did a few years ago when he ran to the other end of the pitch!

  12. For me Reid was looking for the penalty but even though he was I still feel he was brought down and should have been awarded one.

    I would have taken Thompson off and tried Reid on the right wing because he was very ineffective where he was plus his touch was shocking an De Vita tried on left.

    Glad Nakhi is back but if he needs a rest id try De Vita up front with Hanson which I think would be mre effective than Thompson,Connell and Gray.

    I still dont understand why Jones doesnt take the free kicks and Reid always does it doesnt make sense to me.

    Im not deliberately having a go at Reid I just thought he was very poor unlike at Preston where he was totally brilliant.

    As mentioned if we lose thats the way to lose just disappointed because Wolves were there for the taking

  13. Excellent summary of a great game. It worries me a bit that City don’t appear to have a particularly solid Plan B. Most forward play is either aimed at Hanson’s head, or at Reid, and when the opposition work to negate that, I don’t see enough imagination.

    We were spoilt “in the old days” with overlapping full backs, Meredith certainly needs to do more of that, especially when teams double-up on Reid.

    Also, why when we have an attacking dead ball situation does Reid need to be within three yards of the taker, he should use his pace and skill and park himself on the far edge of the box to pick up any loose balls.

    On Saturday I didn’t like that De Vita celebrated in front of the away fans. That is one of my biggest pet hates in football, especially given 15,000+ Bradford fans were behind him.

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