Back to winning ways…just

City v Dons - TG

MK Dons 1

Lewington 41

Bradford City 2

Mclean 24, Clarke 26

Tuesday 16 September, 2014

Written by Mark Danylczuk (images kindly provided by Thomas Gadd, see note below)

Phew. That was one mentally and physically exhausting evening of football. The two-mile walk to the stadium (out of choice), the sprint back to the pre-booked taxi after a ridiculous five minutes of injury time, the nervous and intense chanting backing the boys, the nail-biting tension of holding onto a precarious away lead.

Throw in some humour such as the emergence of a contingent of AFC Wimbledon fans in the Bradford City end, with their humorous chants (‘Franchise FC’, ‘Your ground is FAR too big for you’, ‘I’ve heard more noise at church mass’), and the fracas at the tea bar when the pies ran out at half time – and it was some experience.

Still, when all was said and done, it was three points which was just what the doctor ordered. A much-needed boost of confidence when City’s early season form was being tested coming off the back of two consecutive home defeats. It wasn’t going to be easy for City with the Dons flying high in the league – recent results included an impressive 5-3 away win at Barnsley and the famous 4-0 thumping against Man United in the League Cup.

City were forced into a couple of changes from the team that lost to Swindon at the weekend. Christopher Routis came in at centre back for the suspended Alan Sheehan, and Billy Clarke replaced James Hanson up front, after City’s top scorer was injured during the pre-match warm up. It was the usual 4-4-2 diamond formation, with Mark Yeates at the tip of the midfield, Billy Knott on the left, Jason Kennedy on the right and Gary Liddle in front of the defence.

The previous encounter between the two sides at StadiumMK, last November, was an entertaining affair in which Jason Kennedy lead City to an impressive 3-2 win. This game started where that one left off. The Dons had the first chance in just the third minute when Antony Kay’s header was cleared off the line by Stephen Darby. Moments later, it was Aaron Mclean for City who pounced on a mis-clearance to force the keeper to save well from a half volley.

Both teams settled into similar playing styles, content in a passing game along the floor. Chances continued as the sides pressed for the opening goal. The impressive Clarke had the next opportunity, picking the ball up in midfield before heading on a mazy run through the Dons’ midfield before driving a low shot comfortably into the keeper’s gloves. The best opening came to MK Dons after 21 minutes, when an incisive break down the left saw Liddle unable to clear his lines and a Daniel Powell shot forced Jordan Pickford into a good save at his near post.

Then the goal flurry came. Firstly Mclean scored with a low header from a Knott corner; and then, just two minutes later, Clarke picked the ball up in midfield and drilled a superb 20-yard low shot home. City were relishing the underdog role, helped by a completely unintimidating home atmosphere in a stadium that was less than a quarter full. At one point, one of the AFC Wimbledon fans yelled a mild obscenity which could have probably been heard by the whole stadium. Eerily silent. Very weird.

The two City goals forced MK Dons into a change of pace, as they became the dominant team; the tempo of each teams play becoming more evident. The Dons were attacking with a high pace intensity and slick passing, whereas the Bantams were playing a slow, containing game with many a pass back to the defence or sideways rather than forcing an attack.

It was the turn of Rory McArdle to make a superb intervention with a last ditch tackle to block the advances of promising Northern Ireland U19 international, Will Grigg. But the increasing pressure ultimately forced a goal due to an error from the increasingly erratic Pickford. The on-loan Sunderland stopper had dropped the ball from a corner moments earlier, and it happened again to enable MK Dons defender Dean Lewington to turn the ball home.

It was no less than the home team deserved, and the Dons were tactically aware in trying to exploit Pickford’s uncertainty in the box with an increasing number of in-swinging right midfield crosses from the left-footed midfielder Ben Reeves. Half time gladly came for City, who were in much need of a breather and re-group.

City v Dons - TG 2

The second half began much as the first ended with City on the back foot, although the outlet of Clarke was proving useful in relieving pressure as City attacked more to try and get the killer third goal. The Bantams’ first substitution came on the hour mark, with Mclean making way for Oli McBurnie. There is no doubting Mclean’s work rate and his goal was a vital contribution, but he still seems to lack the sharpness and killer instinct to be a prolific scorer. Let’s hope more goals bring more confidence and an improvement in his output.

The game continued in an entertaining fashion with both sides continuing to create chances. McBurnie was being deployed on the front left cutting inside and he forced a comfortable save from a shot on the hour. The Dons replied with a well worked move in which Deli Alli laid off a ball inside for Powell to blast over from 20 yards. In the midst of all the action, MK Dons manager Karl Robinson was sent to the stands for an altercation with the referee.

City made their final two subs in the last quarter of the game, with Filipe Morais coming on for Knott and Mason Bennett replacing Clarke. Knott again had an ineffective game on the left, and perhaps Parkinson needs to consider him at the tip of the diamond, where he excelled in earlier games of the season. Yeates didn’t really fit the bill in that role tonight. As for Clarke, he put in a worthy man of the match performance. Full of running, a great touch, purpose and clinical finishing, he seems much better suited to partner Hanson upfront and provide competition for Mclean.

Both managers had made effective right-midfield substitutions, with Dons attacker Benik Afobe causing all sorts of problems for James Meredith and Morais similarly in the City attack. It was Morais’ scintillating run after a wonderful passing move down the right that resulted in a pull back to Yeates, who tried to place it, but shot tamely at the keeper.

The last ten minutes were desperate indeed. The Dons continued to pile forward, as City couldn’t get out or retain any useful sort of possession. Balls continued to fly in the box and mis-cued clearances and near chances tested the emotions of the City faithful, who grew in voice in willing on the team to see the game out. After what seemed like an eternity with the mystifying five minutes of injury time, it was job done with a gutsy, workmanlike and somewhat lucky performance to grind out a win.

City’s superior and still undefeated away record would suggest that more good results are ahead, withColchester at the weekend and the Cup game at MK Dons in a week’s time. I am fortunate, as a southern based Bantam, in that I seem to see the superb away performances, yet at home it is still lacking for some reason.

The squad seems to be there as well as the formation and passing style. If the frustrating inconsistency with the home form can be addressed, a play off push can surely be maintained.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Routis, Meredith, Knott (Morais 74), Liddle, Kennedy, Yeates, Clarke (Bennett 78), Mclean (McBurnie 61)

Not used: Urwin, Wright, King

With special thanks to Thomas Gadd for allowing us to use his superb photos. Please visit Thomas Gadd’s website for more details.

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