The harsh truth, but optimism still thrives

Rochdale 0

Bradford City 0

Tuesday 2 October, 2012

By Jason McKeown

Rochdale’s red-carded Robert Grant had not yet completed his walk of shame from the pitch when a pertinent phrase was muttered – one that subsequently hung over Spotland for the rest of the evening.

“Promotion challenging teams win games like this”

A man advantage and some 55 minutes to play, Bradford City had the perfect opportunity to bounce back from Saturday and secure a confidence-boosting victory that would lift them to 4th. Time was on the side of the Bantams, control of the game had been firmly grabbed even before Grant’s lunge on Rory McArdle. Keep passing the ball around so impressively, keep terrorising the full backs, and keep believing that repeatedly doing the right things will eventually reap the rewards.

Promotion challenging teams win games like this.

There had been no negative reaction to losing to Port Vale at the weekend. A City side without the inspirational Gary Jones played with a purpose and poise that had Rochdale pinned back right from the opening whistle. Kyel Reid shot over with barely 10 seconds played, setting the tone for another commendable performance from his side.

John Coleman’s decision to play 4-5-1 at home seems a rarity in League Two. But in former Bantam loanee Dele Adebola, Rochdale have a highly effective target man who Grant and George Donnelly were quick to support when he won the ball. Dale were set up for the counter attack and defended in numbers when City had possession. But Ricky Ravenhill – Jones’ replacement – sat alongside Nathan Doyle in the middle, allowing City’s four most attacking players to perform without fear of being caught too high up the pitch, and also enabled the outstanding McArdle and James Meredith to provide overlapping support.

Will Atkinson in particular really stood out. Okay, let’s take a quick timeout at this point to question those supporters who continue to slate him. We know that you hated him last season, we get it that you were against his permanent arrival over the summer. But you don’t need to keep this dislike of him up when he is playing so well. It’s okay to admit you are being proved wrong. The rest of us are being proved wrong too. So consider this your moment of ‘Atkinson Immunity’, where you can belatedly concede he looks an astute capture without fear of someone recalling what you really thought at the time.

Atkinson linked up superbly with McArdle, and the central midfield, to provide an attacking threat throughout; and the obvious frustration he caused ex-Dale teammates led to the game’s flashpoint that saw Grant walk. Atkinson robbed him of possession to cheers from City’s bulging away following, then produced a great bit of skill in dribbling the ball around him to further roars of approval, and then laid the ball off to McArdle who was victim of a desperate two-footed lunge by Grant. The excellent James Adcock was left with no option but to produce a red.

Promotion challenging teams win games like this. Promotion challenging teams win games like this.

Dale got to half time with the 0-0 still in tact – Doyle coming closest to a City goal with a testing long-range drive – but remained firmly on the back foot during the second half’s opening stages. Missed chances began to stack up: Ravenhill heading over, then shooting straight at home keeper Josh Lillis. Nahki Wells – not quite at his sharpest all evening – blasting a free kick into the wall and Atkinson firing an effort just wide. In total this evening, City would have 20 attempts on goal to Rochdale’s 6. But promising approach play continues to go unrewarded.

Promotion challenging teams win games like this.

That Lillis was not busier had much to do with wasted build up play. Equally as telling as Grant’s moment of madness on the game’s ultimate outcome had been an injury to Kyel Reid 10 minutes prior, which meant City’s number 7 had to be withdrawn early.

A funny seven days for his replacement, Zavon Hines. A week ago against Burton he produced arguably his finest City performance to date, only to be harshly subbed for a bang-on-form Reid who would turn that game. On Saturday Hines came off the bench to limited effect and tonight he was once again below par. Tentative on the ball and slow in decision making, too many attacks broke down because of Hines and he was soon feeling the anger of an increasingly anxious away crowd.

When full back opponent Joe Rafferty earned a booking on the hour for a dreadful lunge on Hines, you spent the rest of the night willing Zavon to make the most of playing against someone who cannot afford to put another foot wrong, but more than that you sighed ruefully that Reid himself was not available instead to destroy Rafferty.

The minutes are ticking by faster and faster. The calm and measured build up play begins to fray, giving way to fluster and anxiousness. Keep playing this way and the goal will surely come, but we’ve been saying that for 70 minutes now and it’s still not happened. Promotion challenging teams win games like this.

Eyes begin to fixate more regularly on the City bench, for signs that Phil Parkinson is going to change it. Ravenhill has impressed tonight, but with a man advantage City no longer need two holding midfielders because Doyle is playing out of his skin. Eventually Ravenhill is replaced for Garry Thompson, and soon after Alan Connell takes Wells’ place and instantly brings clever movement that begins to penetrate the Rochdale rear guard. But still the ball isn’t falling right in the box. Good crosses are flashing past. Hines finally gets it right: beating his man and sending into the area a superb ball that is pleading to be nodded home. But both Atkinson and James Hanson somehow fail to make a connection.

What to make of Hanson’s display tonight? Below his best for sure, but still so integral to the team that no one can take his place. Yet, worryingly, it has been a long time since he netted a League Two goal away from Valley Parade. In fact, it was almost a year ago to this day – Burton Albion on Saturday 1 October 2011. That is a growing concern, because tonight – just like in other away games this season – Hanson doesn’t seem to create the same opportunities for himself. It’s almost as is he plays a deeper role compared to when he is on the Valley Parade pitch that he knows so well.

Promotion challenging teams win games like this.

It’s becoming one of those nights for City and, as Rochdale finally force a couple of corners, the fear of a sucker punch begins to grow. But Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies have being typically outstanding all evening, and in the end Davies almost snatches it for City when his header from a corner is cleared off the line by Rafferty. Connell, Atkinson and Hines also shoot wide from promising positions as the game goes into stoppage time. The disappointment is palpable as another corner is wasted. Jones has of course being badly missed tonight, especially for his deadball abilities.

One last, hopelessly optimistic effort from Connell sails past the post, and seconds later the final whistle sounds. Before the match there was talk that a point would have been a good result, but the way it has come about means it feels like a defeat. Including Saturday, 180 minutes of City endeavour and effort has failed to produce a goal; and although the league table still looks great after 10 games there has been a quiet downplaying of the expectation levels. In the pub before Port Vale some talked of us winning the league, but the evidence so far suggests we lack a bit of quality in the final third to finish any higher than the play offs.

That in itself would be a fantastic achievement, but we’ve a long way to go. Not a lot has been wrong with the performances against Port Vale and Rochdale, but a return of only one point heightens the urgency to get back on track before we suddenly discover we’ve lost our way.

Promotion challenging teams win games like this. But even if this result must therefore go down as a setback, there still remains every reason to believe that City will become a promotion challenging team.

City: McLaughlin, McArdle, Oliver, Davies, Meredith, Atkinson, Ravenhill (Thompson 74), Doyle, Reid (Hines 26), Hanson, Wells (Connell 82)

Not used: Duke, Darby, Ritchie Jones, McHugh

Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. I’m happy with a point, we seem able to dominate teams in midfield which hasn’t happened for many years, i can’t see any reason other than serious injuries why that will not carry on all season, the chances created will start to be put away and that will mean plenty of points come the end of April. Looking at who we’ve played also tells me this is a great start for Bradford City FC, i’ll be surprised if a repeat of our last two performances with a goal or two added doesn’t lead to three points this Saturday……….An excellent match report Jason, the crowd figure seemed odd, looking at a photo i’ve seen of Bradford’s large following i’m guessing they’ve forgot how to add up in Rochdale again..

    • It always seems strange that at Rochdale it’s never advance tickets & always CASH on the turnstiles on the night .
      ( it was the same for Sheffield united last season )
      Then a odd looking crown figure that never seems right given the huge away following from city .
      ME THINKS that Rochdale fc have some special turnstiles that only the directors know how to operate !!

  2. When driving over to the ‘Dale game, I commented that i would be happy with a point. Others agreed. But driving home, I was so disappointed that we had not taken all three points, not because we played against 10 men for nearly an hour, but because we had the majority of the possession and had 20 shots at goal (admittedly not all on the target) but because we couldn’t get one to go over the line. Yes, Dale defended well especially after Grant was sent off but City played the better football, had the man advantage, got into goal scoring positions but still couldn’t score.

    On the back of a similar performance against Vale at the weekend where again we dominated possession and created goal scoring chances and still came away away with even fewer points, I look at the 5 points lost not the one point gained. Is it a lack of confidence in the goal area or is it simply a lack of genuine goal scoring ability against a well-organised defence? The majority of our goals and our points have come against teams who are in the bottom half or even bottom quartile of the Division. We have scored precious few goals against any of the teams who are currently in the promotion positions. And that is the most worrying aspect of last night’s very good performance and that’s primarily what’s behind my disappointment from last night.

    • Let me ask width of a post readers this :-.
      It would appear that hanson is an automatic choice and its one of connell or wells that will fight for the other striking role?
      would parky play connell and wells together?
      Or thompson and connell.
      The question im asking is this.
      What is the best striking pair we have?

      • I’m a big fan of Connell but it’s Hanson and Wells for me, the opposition can’t push up with both Reid and Wells in the team with Hanson giving the team another dimension, giving our superb midfield more space to dictate. Goals will come very soon, in fact the domination of some of the best teams in this division says we’ll be in the top seven all season, IMO it’ll be a top three finish.

      • I know one thing Wayne, James needs to chip in with a few away goals this season. Not a criticism as such because he’s been decent enough this season but when did he last score away from VP?

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