Too little, too late

Jon Stead

Oldham Athletic 2

Forte 7, Jones 24

Bradford City 1

Halliday 45

Saturday 25 October, 2014

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

It’s cold in Oldham. They say it’s the coldest ground in the league, former boss Joe Royle labelling it the ‘Ice Station Zebra’. Some of this must have been passed onto the Bradford City players, who took 45 minutes to finally warm up and start playing some decent football. Oldham on the other hand, were hot out of the blocks and a largely dominant first half display along with a woeful City showing virtually handed the hosts three points.

Boundary Park (sorry, the SportsDirect.com Park) is also the third highest above sea level, behind The Hawthorns and Vale Park. The Bantams performance certainly ended on a high but alas, the damage had been done in the first 45 minutes.

City made a few changes from the team which got an encouraging point at leaders Bristol City on Tuesday. Stephen Darby was back in the team and, to cover the injured Andrew Davies, Chris Routis moved into the centre back role. Alan Sheehan replaced James Meredith at left back whilst a fit again James Hanson joined Jon Stead up front with Billy Clarke dropping to the bench. City started with a 4-4-2 formation with Mark Yeates on the left wing and Andy Halliday on the right.

It was Oldham who began the brightest with the dangerous and imposing strike force of Jabo Ibehre and Jonathan Forte causing Routis and Rory McArdle, respectively, all number of problems. The Bantams were almost replicating this with their own centre forward pairing of Hanson and Stead, who were starting up front for the first time since the Good Friday game earlier in the year against Peterborough.

City had barely had time to settle in the game and they were 1-0 down. The excellent left-back, Joseph Mills, providing width and pace all game, crossed the ball in the box, Ibehre headed down and Forte latched onto the ball to tuck it home from close range. The City fans and players were calling for a foul for some pushing in the box, but the referee was unmoved.

Andy Halliday

I’m still unsure about the partnership of Stead and Hanson upfront. For all the presence they offer, there is a sincere lack of pace for any through balls to run onto. Stead’s work-rate cannot be faulted and his afternoon’s performance was one of the more encouraging. It was Stead who had City’s opening chance in the tenth minute, volleying high and wide from Kennedy’s knockdown just inside the box. Stead won another ball a few moments later and spread it to Yeates to cut in on the left and shoot into a comfortable save for the keeper.

A sense of regression was kicking in as City failed to settle into any sort of rhythm. It was back to McArdle and the worrying long ball approach (the City fans muttered accordingly) and, as the Bantams were narrowing their play, there was no width to provide any crosses for the front two to attack.

Defensively, it was turning into a shambles with Oldham being allowed to dictate play with space in the middle, and numerous times it being two on one down the left hand side. Stephen Darby was seen to be urgently asking Kennedy to help cover him.

Things got worse when Bradford City conceded a second. Sheehan lost the ball in the middle of the park and it was spread to the left hand side where, with Mills as a foil, Mike Jones was allowed to cut inside and from just outside the box, drill the ball into the net with a slight deflection.

The defensive mess continued as City cheaply gave the ball away numerous times and a lack of communication became apparent. After half an hour, confusion in the area between Sheehan and Routis allowed Forte to nip in but his close range shot was saved by Jordan Pickford who angrily berated his two defenders.

Routis was having a miserable afternoon and was subbed for Meredith to offer width on the left, and for Sheehan to move into the centre back role to better cope with Ibehre.

James Meredith

Miserable and angry? Yes. Wishing I was in the pub with a pint? For sure. Possibly the worst first half of the season? Maybe. Did I see a City goal coming? No chance.

But it did and my god, was it a game changer. The so far quiet and ineffective Halliday scored with a volley from a downward Hanson header right on the stroke of half time to suddenly spark City into life, and provided voice again to the City fans who responded with strong encouragement. A lifeline was given.

A game of two halves? It certainly was. The first belonged to Oldham and the second to City. With a switch to 4-3-1-2, with Yeates behind the front two, and then virtually back to the diamond with Yeates at the tip, Liddle the back, Kennedy the right and Halliday the left, things improved massively.

Stead and Hanson were coming shorter to retrieve the ball and distribute, the midfielders supported better – whilst Darby, and particularly Meredith, offered width on the wings. Meredith was outstanding and arguably the man of the match, providing width, numerous crosses and attacking options.

There was a major talking point just after the hour mark as City almost equalised when a Jon Stead cross into the box was waiting to be converted by Halliday, who seemed to be pushed and fall over just as he was about to strike the ball. The City fans and players seemed incensed, as why would he go down unless he was fouled, being in that position?

Billy Knott entered the frame for Kennedy in the 75th minute to offer more energy, and City continued to probe as Oldham were pegged back A short corner moments later provided an opportunity for Sheehan to drill a powerful shot towards goal which was well parried away by the keeper. Balls were coming in the box, half chances here and there but it would not drop. City’s best chance for an equaliser came minutes from the end when another Hanson knockdown fell into the path of sub Billy Clarke, whose instinctive chip over the keeper just missed the target.

City’s misery was compounded when McArdle was, it seemed rightly, sent off with a second yellow card after a cynical challenge on the Oldham attack. It was almost a replica of the first booking he received, and a ban for McArdle along with the Davies injury could see City desperately short at the back in the coming games.

James Hanson

It certainly was too little, too late. A very encouraging second half performance left more positive memories, but it that first half was truly abysmal. It is one point from 12 now and a win is desperately needed.

The point gap between teams in the lower half is tightening up, but a much-needed three points against Doncaster next week would stop the Bantams from looking over their shoulder too much down the wrong end of the table.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Routis (Meredith 39), Sheehan, Liddle, Kennedy (Knott 73), Halliday (Clarke 79), Yeates, Hanson, Stead

Not used: Williams, Dolan, Morais, Mclean

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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