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.
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.
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