City find beauty in the ugly to record third straight win

Bradford City 3

Hanson 24, Wells 30, Fagan 49

Shrewsbury Town 1

Morgan 78

December 31, 2011

This time it feels different. Numerous false dawns – both during the first half of this season and over recent years – have instilled a wariness in getting carried away. But as Bradford City overpowered high-flying Shrewsbury Town to earn a third consecutive victory, it was difficult to avoid concluding that something  seems to have clicked.

The league table suggested this should have been a difficult game. The absence of two key players from the Boxing Day triumph posed questions over the team’s ability to continue in the same manner. Yet by full time such doubts and fears were replaced by optimism about the year ahead. These three straight wins have doubled the number of league victories City have achieved all season. It’s all coming together, finally.

There was so much to admire about the way in which the Bantams maintained their improved form in the defeat of Shrewsbury. Let’s be frank, the style and manner in which City are currently playing is hardly aesthetically elegant. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a City side produce such a level of direct football as has been seen over the last couple of games in particular. It is a high tempo, get-the-ball-up-the-pitch-and-chase-it-down style of play. Opposition players are not allowed time and space to settle on the ball. Challenges to win the possession are strong but fair.

We have become an ugly side, but one which is performing the ugly things beautifully.

It is, surprisingly perhaps, wonderful to watch. Straight from kick off again, City chased and harried – setting the tempo of the game to one that Shrewsbury quickly appeared uncomfortable living at. Your mind flicks back to countless afternoons where the Bantams have begun games slowly and then struggled to exert serious pressure to win the game later on.

Instead the ball is now sent forwards much earlier, with James Hanson once again leading the line in outstanding fashion and Nakhi Wells alongside making intelligent off-the-ball runs. Wingers Jack Compton and Craig Fagan both got forward with urgency, and the drive of David Syers alongside Ritchie Jones quickly proved to be another effective combination in the centre. Fagan and Syers had early chances to put City ahead, as a pattern quickly emerged which would set the tone for most of the game.

It took 24 minutes for City to get in front, after Compton’s corner was met well by Andrew Davies, who’s flick on found Wells to head an effort that was saved by goalkeeper Chris Neal.  However, Hanson was on hand to head home the rebound. Six minutes later, City hit Shrewsbury on the counter attack with Syers’ terrific low through ball proving perfect for Wells to run onto. With just Neal to beat, he gave the keeper the eyes before chipping a delicate shot over his head and into the corner for 2-0. Far from proving a daunting afternoon, it seemed as though the game might already be over.

To the players’ credit, the high workrate and energy did not recede even then. Shrewsbury players continued to be pressured on the ball, prompting numerous personal mistakes or possession to be squandered – this from a side which had been defeated only once in 11 games. City supporters, again in fine voice, lapped it up and roared their encouragement and approval for the style and effort on display. It is a long way removed from the crisp passing football that manager Phil Parkinson seemed to be installing during his first few games in charge, but it is working.

A strong second half response from Shrewsbury seemed inevitable, yet three minutes after the restart Fagan had made it 3-0 after Compton’s clever run into the box and shot resulted in a weak punch away from Neal that sat up nicely for a first time volley. Fagan didn’t catch it brilliantly, but it squirmed underneath Neal and over the line. Having been relatively quiet in recent weeks, this was undoubtedly Fagan’s best game for sometime as he evidenced his higher level pedigree.

It might have been four or five-nil by the end, with Wells finding the side netting with an effort and Syers shooting narrowly wide. But the flow of the game began to change as Shrewsbury came more into it. Then referee Dean Mohareb took centre stage with a series of controversial decisions, which threatened to change the outcome of the match itself.

First Syers saw his first start since the Leeds Carling Cup defeat in August ended by a dubious red card. With Shrewsbury exerting pressure inside the final third, the young midfielder’s attempt to clear a ball by sliding in was deemed punishable by an early bath. There is no doubt, after seeing TV replays, that Syers won the ball cleanly before his momentum took him into tripping Nicky Wroe. The Shrewsbury midfielder’s reaction in rolling around the floor did Syers no favours, but the quickness that Mohareb pulled out his red ensured it seemed a hasty decision.

There were huge similarities to Davies’ sending off against Torquay earlier in the season: a successful tackle attempt which was deemed illegal, because both feet were off the ground. Perhaps Syers’ challenge was a foul in the current climate, but – given he and Wroe were contesting a 50-50 ball – it did not seem worthy of a sending off.

Lee Bullock – also absent through injury since August – was brought on from the bench to shore up midfield, and for the final 20 minutes City defended deep and showed admirable organisational skills in denying Shrewsbury an opening. The visitors had plenty of possession and tried to find space to manufacture a chance, but were denied time and time again. When they did eventually get through, Luke Oliver was in colossal form and seemed to tackle or block every opposition player who made it into the penalty area with the ball.

With 12 minutes to go, however, Shrewsbury pulled a goal back through Marvin Morgan after Mohareb and his officials failed to spot at least two handballs from the striker, as he attempted to control a high cross before bundling home. More so than Syers’ red card, it was a dismally poor decision to allow the goal to stand and home protests were strong. Tellingly, Morgan’s demeanour during the rest of the game was that of a man embarrassed to have got away with it. Another goal from Shrewsbury at that stage would have triggered a frantic final stages, but despite a poor attempt from Terry Gornell to win a penalty by diving inside the box – triggering yet more fury from City’s players and a yellow card from Mohareb – the game was seen out relatively comfortably.

For the second match in a row, the opposition manager, Graham Turner, commented about his side’s struggle to live with City’s style of play. Midway through the first half, Parkinson was the subject of a home supporters’ chant of support – the first time his name has been sung since the honeymoon period of his first few games – which suggests his tactics are finding favour. Previous comparisons to Peter Taylor’s methods do Parkinson a disservice. Both managers played in a direct way for sure, but Taylor’s tactics prioritised keeping men behind the ball and slowing down the tempo. Parkinson’s City are gung ho in how they get forward and uncompromising to the opposition in the speed at which they want to play.

They are becoming not just a team of footballers, but a machine. That taking out Kyel Reid and Ricky Ravenhill presented few difficulties is evidence of how organised they are becoming. This is the start of a new dawn, and -unlike all those false ones before -I swear the light seems very real this time.

City: McLaughlin, Ramsden, Oliver, Davies, Seip, Fagan, Jones, Syers, Compton (Bullock 74), Hanson, Wells (Hannah 69, Threlfall 90)

Subs not used: Duke, Bryan

Categories: Match Reviews

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