Bradford City 0
Sheffield United 2
Harris 66, McNulty 83
Saturday 18 October, 2014
By Jason McKeown
This sudden outbreak of adversity does not bode well for Bradford City. Back-to-back defeats have firmly placed a negative slant to the early season mood. In this latest loss, the team captain was sent off and the club captain made a result-sealing mistake. When even those who you can always depend on start to make costly errors, you know these are difficult times.
The stats suddenly make troubling reading. This was a fourth home defeat from seven league games; and since the start of the September it’s just two league and cup victories from eight. What appeared to be such an encouraging opening month to the campaign is beginning to seem like a distant memory. And up next are two of the most difficult away matches you could ask for.
It could yet get worse, before it gets better.
Only nine seconds had been played in the second half when referee Simon Hooper blew up for Stephen Darby’s tug on Jamie Murphy. Already on a yellow card after a reckless lunge five minutes before half time, the City right back was turned and in desperation twice pulled back his opponent. There was no argument in the second booking issued to the City skipper – it was one of the most straightforward red cards you will ever see. But with 44 minutes left on the clock, it tipped a tight contest firmly in favour of Sheffield United.
The visitors subsequently dominated possession and showed commendable patience in waiting for their opportunities. Eventually, left back Bob Harris found space on the edge of the area to emphatically smash home his-ever goal for the Blades. And though City belatedly staged a late rally, Andrew Davies was undone by a ball that bobbled over his foot and through for substitute Marc McNulty to run clean through and smash home the second.
And it was tough on City in many ways. Almost back to full strength with the return of James Hanson from injury, they gave as good as they got in the first half – as the front trio of Billy Clarke, Aaron Mclean and Hanson linked up reasonably effectively.
With Gary Liddle suspended, the decision to play Christopher Routis at the base of the diamond was a masterstroke. Routis sat in front of his back four, consistently won back possession and showed a great range of passing to set up attacking moves. The Frenchman looks very at home in this role, and his greater discipline in maintaining his position allowed Mark Yeates and Jason Kennedy to push forward. The first half performance was decent.
Sheffield United always carried the greater cutting edge. Out wide, Jamal Campbell-Ryce put in a mixed display but carried a threat throughout. He routinely beat his former Notts County team mate, Alan Sheehan, although his crossing was wasteful. Jose Baxter was also effective on the opposite flank, and he and Murphy regularly tested Jordan Pickford.
Darby’s early dismissal changed everything, leaving his manager Phil Parkinson – who was still walking down the touchline for the start of the second half when the incident occurred – with a huge problem. He pushed Routis to right back and sacrificed Mclean, so Filipe Morais could take his place in a revised 4-4-1. But without Routis in front of the back four, Sheffield United found it much easier to cut through. Parkinson evidently realised this and quickly threw on Billy Knott to sit in the centre of midfield alongside Kennedy. The game turned into a training session of defence vs attack.
Harris’ superb strike left City with the problem of needing to get forward, and in truth a better side than Sheffield United would have clinically pressed home their huge advantage. They had two very good penalty shouts turned away – especially when Rory McArdle wrestled Stefan Scougall to the floor right in front of Hooper. Yet as the minutes ticked by, the visitors increasingly sat back rather than ruthlessly finish off the game – and City slowly began to find encouragement.
Hanson’s tame header from a corner, after 70 minutes, was the Bantams’ first effort on target all evening. Seven minutes later, a Sheehan free kick flew under a pathetic Sheffield United wall and forced a brilliant save from ex-City trialist Mark Howard. The biggest chance of all fell to Kennedy, however. Superb work by Routis enabled Yeates to whip a cross straight into the path of an unmarked Kennedy, but his header smashed against the post when the former Rochdale man should have scored. It was a shame that such an opportunity hadn’t fallen to Jon Stead; after he came on as sub for a tired Hanson and led the line well.
Davies then had a header cleared off the line, as a grandstand finish looked in prospect; but less than a minute later, McNulty latched onto the stand-in captain’s’ mis-control to finish off the game. City kept going in the closing stages and Yeates – who had yet another good game – was desperately unlucky with a jinking run and chip that hit the bar. Special mention to Morais too, who caused problems and forced two late saves from Howard.
Nevertheless it’s hard to shake off the feeling of despondency. A Tuesday night trip to runaway leaders and still unbeaten Bristol City is the worst possible follow-up fixture – although it would be typical of the Bantams to rip up the form book and get something from Aston Gate. Then it’s in-form Oldham at Boundary Park next Saturday, followed by another home Yorkshire derby against Doncaster.
Momentum is such a big thing in football, and Bradford City’s has completely disappeared right now. That glorious week where Leeds United and Rochdale were defeated should have been the platform for a tilt at promotion – but already it looks like a season of consolidation at best. City are not out of their depth and have a squad that should be good enough to avoid any serious relegation concerns, but the pressure is starting to mount during what are still relatively early days.
The turnaround needs to happen and happen fast. Previous Phil Parkinson sides have often being at their best when their backs are up against the wall – ably demonstrating their true character when the chips are down.
It’s time to found out if the new guard are made of the same stuff.
City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Sheehan, Routis, Kennedy, Yeates, Clarke (Knott 57), Mclean (Morais 53), Hanson (Stead 74)
Not used: Williams, Meredith, Dolan, Halliday
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Categories: Match Reviews