Hartlepool United 5
James 25, Franks 48, Burgess 56, Compton 59 (pen), Rodney 87
Bradford City 0
Tuesday 3 September, 2013
By Damien Wilkinson
In what is fast becoming an annual JPT cup tie fixture, Bradford City made the trip to Victoria Park, on the back of the continued positive momentum infiltrating the club, buoyed by fears of the departure of Nahki Wells proving unfounded, following the closure of the transfer window.
Hartlepool, on the other hand, are currently displaying the hallmarks of a downward spiral after relegation last year and currently sit second from the bottom of League Two, having failed to score in any of their league fixtures to date, a trend new management team Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett will be looking to redress over the season.
The JPT competition, despite being treated with some scorn, particularly in its early phases, offers a viable route for lower league teams to reach a Wembley final. After the heroics of last season, this may be less of an attraction than previously, and there was an understandable level of apathy perceivable amongst the Bantams faithful.
What tonight’s fixture did usefully offer, though, was the chance to blood new faces into a side which has required little change in the league campaign so far. Phil Parkinson, as widely anticipated, made the maximum number of changes allowed bringing in debutant Connor Ripley, Matt Taylor, odd man out Jason Kennedy and Raffa De Vita. Mark Yeates also returned to the side as Parkinson elected to play a 4-3-3 formation. The changes saw a bench containing Jon McLaughlin, Kyel Reid, Carl McHugh, Nahki Wells and Alan Connell, with only five subs permissible in JPT ties.
Colin Cooper had earlier promised to put a strong Pools team out and this included former City players Jack Compton and Nialle Rodney, the latter starting on the bench. Veteran striker Steve Howard was not risked, following his half time exit due to stitches in a head injury in the previous league match at Torquay, and he joined skipper Anthony Sweeney on the sidelines. Luke James was drafted in to replace Howard and Andy Monkhouse was also recalled to the team.
A crowd of 1,740, with 320 from City, filed into in the compact ground after an unexpected, but much welcome bout of earlier sunshine, turned Hartlepool’s marina into St Tropez, and after kicking off at the earlier time of 7pm, the match soon sprung into life.
City started relatively brightly knocking the ball around well, and early exchanges suggested an extra bit of quality to their play, akin to the respective league standings. Indeed, a rasping drive from Garry Thompson in the second minute seemed to auger well and it was hoped this would propel the Paraders’ forward. Whilst the pattern continued, there was less penetration from the Bantams and Hartlepool began to create decent chances, a drive from number 7, Jonathan Franks, just clearing Ripley’s crossbar. City fought back forcing a couple of corners, in-between a useful free kick whipped in from Yeates, that was almost converted. A further chance went begging after Thompson was brought down outside the area after a good run, and City went close from the resulting free kick.
However, somewhat against the run of play, Hartlepool broke down the right hand side with their winger Franks finding lots of space and time to deliver a ball into Compton on the far post, who intelligently nodded the ball back across goal to Luke James who headed the ball past Ripley into the Bradford net, after 25 minutes. 1-0.
City tried to regroup and respond, but the resurgent home team poured forward forcing Ripley to make a great save from Andy Monkhouse, again after space had been exploited down the right, and this was followed by a couple of close calls, where confusion was the order of the day in the defence, and last ditch clearances or tackles managed to prevent almost certain goals.
Hartlepool continued to look more composed going forward, a slip by Rory McArdle almost punished as the half progressed, and a less than convincing punch from Ripley put the defence under some pressure, but thankfully the ball was eventually cleared. A snapshot from Monkhouse on 42 minutes caused some consternation as it just went the wrong side of the City goalpost and, following the half time whistle, it was generally felt that City were lucky to be only going into the break with a one goal deficit to claw-back. Surely Parkinson would be able to read the riot act and get the Bantams back in the match?
Alas, whatever was said at half time didn’t have any time to work. Despite the introduction of Carl McHugh and Connell, replacing McArdle and James Meredith, Hartlepool managed to double their lead on 48 minutes, with Franks lashing home in style after an initial effort had been thwarted.
The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of City and the Pools again started to dominate the match and create more pressure on the faltering visiting defence. Going forward City also struggled to exert themselves, and seemed to continually select the wrong options/ final ball when attacking.
Hartlepool continued to press and were rewarded when a free kick was emphatically nodded in by Christian Burgess on 56 minutes to effectively finish the match as a contest. Indeed it was to quickly get worse, a rash challenge on Luke James by Matt Taylor saw the home side awarded a penalty, and Compton stepped up to despatch it confidently into the top corner past Ripley on 59 minutes.
At 4-0 some murmurs of discontent began to creep in from the City fans, and by this stage the final whistle couldn’t come quickly enough – the closing 20 minutes or so were played out with a distinct lack of purpose on City’s part, with any real chances of note few and far between. Nialle Rodney entered the fray on 67 minutes and Compton departed to applause on 75 minutes, shortly after Kyel Reid had replaced Garry Thompson. Reid managed to create some sort of spark and caused some panic in the Hartlepool defence, but it was ultimately too little, too late. It never really looked as though the Bantams would score.
To compound the misery, Nialle Rodney scored a textbook overhead kick on 87 minutes to make the scoreline 5-0 and put the “tin lid on the evening”/“icing on the cake” (Bradford/ Hartlepool – delete as applicable). In all fairness as good a goal as you will see, but why could this not have saved for League Two and the replenishment of Hartlepool’s goal drought!
Much has been made quite rightly of City’s resilience to adversity and capacity for a fightback, but this was much lacking tonight. Walking to the ground it was noted that the foot of the back of Hartlepool shirt has the words “never say die” on it – the City players tonight would have been well advised to take heed of this.
So what should we make of tonight and what lessons have been learned?
Parkinson had spoken earlier of his desire for the players coming into the side to show pride and make a statement that they should be in the side every week. From what we saw tonight, the standards we have witnessed on countless occasions over the last season were by no means attained, and no player really staked a claim for a start in the league on the basis of their performance, so this has got to be very disappointing.
Furthermore, the defeat will again raise the question of the importance James Hanson and Nahki Wells have to the City team, and the lack of goals in their absence. This remains a difficult one to grapple with, and is possibly the biggest headache Phil Parkinson faces. Connell certainly flattered to deceive and whilst Thompson gave his usual committed performance it was again not capped with a goal. Tricky to say the least….
Having said that, now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions on the back of one performance and players do not become bad players overnight – let’s not talk ourselves into a lack of squad-depth crisis. This was one match – with a number of changes to the team in one go, so it is important to retain some form of perspective, and if ever a squad deserved the benefit of the doubt this is it.
Furthermore, the changed sides in previous cup matches have generally given a good account of themselves so perhaps there is still an element of ‘blip’ to the performance tonight. Perhaps slight tinkerings may be more in order with loan signings over the coming weeks, but it may be more appropriate to gauge this after a few more games.
Thankfully, no real damage is done and City have a home double header to go into, with the visits of Brentford and Colchester, so there is a great incentive to get things back on track and put this result both into perspective and behind us.
City: Ripley, Darby, McArdle, (Connell 52) Taylor, Meredith (McHugh 46), De Vita, Ravenhill, Kennedy, Doyle, Yeates, Thompson (Reid 75)
Not used: McLaughlin, Wells