Bradford City 1
Colchester United 1
Saturday 31 January, 2015
By Jason McKeown
The stunning football from last weekend was lacking in Bradford City, but the character and spirit that caused Stamford Bridge shockwaves remained in evidence. The Bantams dug in, kept plugging away and eventually earned parity after they trailed from minute five. And whilst a draw at home to a team fourth-from-bottom rarely looks clever, the point rescued was a point made.
There’s a backbone to this team, one which was evidently lacking earlier in the campaign.
Staring a third straight league defeat in the face, the soundtrack to the weekend was easy to imagine. Just at the point of crashing into the play offs, this team would stand accused of throwing promotion hopes away by allowing themselves to be distracted with the romance of the cup. That a squad lacking in numbers could not multi-task.
Filipe Morais’ late half volley dug his team out of a hole, and ensures they retain a healthy interest in the play offs. They stand eighth and two points off the top six with a game in hand. In what is proving a hugely competitive division, City are firmly in the hunt to climb out of it.
Morais’ goal and performance summed up his side. No one was ever going to match the standards of last week, and the Portuguese spent most of the game frustratingly taking the wrong option. Again and again he took on the outstanding Ben Gordon, and again and again he lost the ball. Yet Morais never gave up or looked downhearted. And after Jon Stead produced some magnificent hold up play on the opposite flank, before sending over a cross; the winger spotted the opportunity and charged into the box to smash the ball into the opposite corner. 1-1, and another great moment from a player whose reputation continues to grow.
It was rough on Colchester United, who were terrific here. They kept men behind the ball but broke at speed, with Chris Porter playing on his own up front and impressing greatly with his strength, intelligence and work-rate. The former Oldham, Motherwell and Derby County man was only signed from Sheffield United last week. It looks a shrewd piece of business by the division’s sixth-lowest scorers.
Porter got Colchester’s early goal with a brilliant run and lob that posed some questions of Jordan Pickford’s positioning. Either side of this superb strike, Gavin Massey should also have netted. First, at 0-0, he took too long with a shooting opportunity from close range, allowing Rory McArdle to get a block in. Then with his side a goal up, Massey had time but screwed his effort wide. Two minutes later, Sammie Szmodics charged through and forced a good save from Pickford.
The game was not 10 minutes old and the Us had already created four brilliant chances.
That Colchester only managed one goal during that period would later come back to haunt them; but they remained the better team throughout the remainder of the first half. They routinely found gaps between City’s midfield and defence, whilst Andrew Davies continued to come off worst in his battle with Porter. It is a rare day indeed to see Davies lose a physical tussle, and the influential defender struggled for much of the afternoon.
City just couldn’t get going. Stead had forced a good early save, but in general the home side’s build up play was laboured and little was created. There can be numerous theories thrown up for this below-par offering – after the Lord Mayor’s Show, and the ridiculous state of the pitch, for example – but credit should go to Colchester too. Just like Scunthorpe United a month ago, the visitors offered proof that the gap in quality between League One’s top and bottom is narrow.
And perhaps more significantly, for 63 minutes Colchester also demonstrated that there is a way to stop City’s attacking prowess. United packed the midfield, including deploying a holding player who stayed glued in front of his back four. Manager Tony Humes had done his homework and knew that his team’s opponents like to play it through the middle. He made sure City could not.
Billy Knott was denied the space in his role behind the front two; Andy Halliday and Morais were heavily pressured when in possession. The wide threat of Stephen Darby and James Meredith was neutered by ensuring the ball was rarely worked out to them. The game might have been over had Pickford not made a superb save from Gordon after 62 minutes.
It was only after Phil Parkinson threw on Mark Yeates, a minute after Gordon’s chance, and City went to a conventional 4-4-2, that the balance of the game changed. The Bantams were finally able to instigate pressure on the United goal by adding width to their game, and the tempo was increased a notch. They were more direct, getting the ball up quickly to James Hanson and Stead. The crowd, which had been silenced for a long period of the game, re-found its voice.
All the chances came at the Kop end City were attacking. Morais saw a shot strike the post, and shortly after screwed another effort wide. Hanson’s header fell the wrong side the post. Eventually Stead found Morais for the equaliser, and the momentum was firmly with City.
Stead, who once again had an excellent game, came the closest to winning it with a superb curling effort that whistled wide of the target. There were other goalmouth scrambles, and Yeates was a constant threat. But time was against City, and three minutes of stoppage time came and went too quickly. Colchester deserved something for their superb start, although City merited a share of the spoils in the end.
They kept going. They never gave up or felt sorry for themselves. And they worked out a way to stop Colchester’s game-plan succeeding. Character and mettle proven yet again.
In a sense afternoons like this feel like we are just killing time before the real prize comes back into view. The outlook has completely changed on the Bantams season, in more ways than one. Whilst the early rounds of the FA Cup went a long way to giving the players confidence to turn around their dreadful autumn league form, these games initially seemed enjoyable distractions. A day off from the bread and butter. But ever since Chelsea’s name was picked out of the hat, the FA Cup has completely dominated the focus.
The league is not forgotten, but by getting distracted about the cup, a fantastic league position has been downgraded to a decent one. This week the cup will once again be the centre of attention, as Tuesday night’s replay at Craven Cottage is followed with keen interest.
Whoever City end up playing in the fifth round of the FA Cup, there are still two important league games to get through first. It’s time to put talk of beating Chelsea, and of being in the last 16, on the backburner for a few days. It’s time to stop talking about the cup and to concentrate on the league.
Otherwise, City risk going into the final few weeks of the season having nothing to talk about.
City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais, Liddle, Halliday (Yeates 63), Knott, Hanson, Stead
Not used: Williams, Sheehan, Routis, Kennedy, Clarke, Zoko
Categories: Match Reviews