Oldham Athletic 1
Bradford City 2
Burke 21, Cole 63
Saturday 5 September, 2015
By Jason McKeown (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)
Phil Parkinson declared pre-match that it is unfair to place too much expectation on Devante Cole simply because of what his dad achieved in the game. Yet after this – a second goal in two matches for Bradford City – it was another striker who the new boy was being compared to.
Not since Nahki Wells have the Bantams possessed a clinical striker, and how badly one has been needed. Parkinson has tried many replacements, and adopted different approaches over the past 21 months, but the quota of goals provided by the Bermudian has been lacking ever since his controversial departure in January 2014. These are very early days in Devante Cole’s Bradford City career, but he has hit the ground running and offers the potential to significantly increase the club’s overall goal output. He could be the man to finally fill Wells’ shoes.
Cole’s goal at Boundary Park was special. Latching onto a through ball, but with the angle on goal extremely tight, the 20-year-old nonchalantly lifted the ball over John Coleman arm and into the far corner of the net. In front of an ecstatic away end, Cole raced off in celebration, arms outstretched, in a manner that personified coolness and assurance. It was as though he had barely broken stride when slotting the ball home; and he certainly looked as though he had never doubted himself. It was a terrific finish. One that his dad would certainly have been proud to have claimed. One that Nahki Wells would have been proud to score too.
It capped off another Cole performance full of promise, which had supporters chanting his name throughout. Cole led the line with menace and would come alive in possession of the ball, running at defenders and scaring them with his pace. There is rawness at times, and he needs to improve his awareness of team mates in better positions. But equally, most top strikers have a selfish streak that leads them to shoulder the responsibility for putting the ball in the net, rather than passing it.
Cole is selfish at times. He has an arrogance or cockiness that will rub some people up the wrong way. But as long as he is scoring goals, the only people with gripes against him will be opposition defenders and managers.
Cole stole the headlines here, but he was part of a terrific team effort. For the most part City were excellent at a sunny-but-characteristically chilly Boundary Park, producing their best performance of the campaign by some distance. Right from kick off they pressed the home team and fought hard to win possession. They played on the front foot, pinning their opponents back. An early free kick attempt by Josh Morris forced a good save from Coleman. It was a statement of intent.
Parkinson’s Bradford City teams have always enjoyed greater success playing this way. There was a high intensity, and a strong level of work-rate that saw them go into every 50-50 challenge with enthusiasm. For this first time this season, the players looked like they were enjoying themselves. Relishing the battle. This new-look team are still to fully gel, but crucially have found their identity. The new players are buying into what Bradford City has been about since 2012. After such a shaky start, it is coming together.
Traditionalists will point to the return to 4-4-2 as the key factor, and that’s certainly helped. There is a greater balance to the team, particularly in the way they attack. Mark Marshall was switched to playing in front of Stephen Darby on the right, after ending the Port Vale game on that side of the field. Morris was deservedly selected ahead of Paul Anderson on the other flank and tucked infield when City didn’t have possession to excellent effect. His positional discipline not only allowed James Meredith to be, well, James Meredith and bomb forwards. Morris also allowed Billy Knott – recalled to the side – to dictate the play in the opposition half of the pitch.
And so with Marshall surging down the right, and Meredith doing a similar job on the left, it was a tough assignment for Oldham to resist the tide of attacks. Rory McArdle’s familiar diagonal pass to James Hanson was another route, as was Knott, who excelled masterfully here.
Over his first season at Valley Parade Knott never shied away from possession; but on this evidence he is developing a greater appreciation of his gifts. No needlessly extravagant passes that, in the past, often saw City lose possession. Knott was disciplined but creative. He was the spark behind almost everything good about City’s attacking play.
After Marshall had been needlessly fouled deep in Oldham’s half, the Bantams struck the first blow. Morris swung the resultant free kick into the box, and Coleman’s attempts to rush out and claim the ball were thwarted by the keeper falling into Hanson. It ran out to Marshall, who squared it for Reece Burke to stab home his first ever goal in professional football.
The Oldham team surrounded referee Andy Haines to cry foul over Hanson’s role in the goal. Haines wasn’t going to change his mind, but he was clearly affected by the complaints, proceeding to give almost every subsequent first half decision to those in blue.
Unbeaten all season, Oldham used their sense of injustice as a spur and pressed for an equaliser. Lining up with Jonathan Forte as a sole striker and Mike Jones and Mark Yeates as the wide attackers, much of the home side’s play came through the veteran midfielder David Dunn. The former Blackburn Rovers star clearly retains much of his class, but his ageing body betrayed his attempts to influence the game. The outstanding Gary Liddle largely had Dunn in check.
The former Bantam Mark Yeates was strangely booed by some supporters in the away section – although others applauded and chanted him name. I was far from Yeates’ biggest fan, but it’s hard to fathom what he could possibly have done to deserve such a hostile reception from some, especially after his goal at Stamford Bridge. Yeates, perhaps feeling he had a point to prove, worked hard all afternoon and was a threat out wide. But again, in a game of individual battles, Stephen Darby and, after Yeates later switched sides, James Meredith, were the clear winners.
Oldham’s hopes of recovering from Burke’s goal were seriously undermined by the stupidity of Forde, after the striker – a regular thorn in Bradford City sides over the years – was needlessly sent off for striking out at Darby. The pair had tussled for the ball, and the City captain cleared his lines. It was a nothing part of the pitch, it was inconsequential. Yet Forte – who had been kept quiet up to then – was clearly frustrated and head-butted his opponent. Haines had no choice but to issue a red card. There were only 33 minutes on the clock.
City pressed hard for a killer second goal before half time, with Knott shooting wide from distance and Hanson forcing a good save from Coleman, after he headed Morris’ excellent cross towards goal. Despite a half time Oldham tactical reshuffle, the visitors continued to edge proceedings in the second half. There were mental scars to face and overcome in emerging from the dressing room at the interval with a 1-0 lead to protect – they’d blown such an advantage four times in their first four games, after all – but the steeliness and determination was still there. No one was switching off.
Just after the hour came the second goal, came Cole’s moment. Only minutes earlier he had broken clear outwide and simply had to square it to Morris to tap home, but Cole elected to shoot and blazed over. This time Liddle won possession on half way, Meredith set Knott in behind the Oldham midfield, and the through-ball to Cole was sensational.
Cole had much to do and gets all the credit in the world for his wonderful finish, but Knott’s role in the goal cannot be overstated. When Lee Evans returns from Welsh international duty, the on-loan Wolves midfielder will find that he has lost his place in the team.
In truth, City should have scored more goals. Oldham were poor in the first half, but by now were utterly wretched. Morris twice blew great opportunities, with sloppy shots over the bar. Hanson was similarly wasteful. Luke James came onto replace Cole and should have opened his account when played in by Morris, but he shot to early when there was time to run at Coleman and slot home.
Such profligacy in front of goal could have really come back to bite. With eight minutes to go Yeates swung over a decisive cross and Joe Mills headed Oldham back into the contest. Oldham manager Darren Kelly can be encouraged by the fact his players kept going, despite playing so badly, and they had a chance to snatch an unlikely draw. Kelly’s late substitute, Carl Winchester, made a difference as Oldham pressed. At times they played some decent football.
But City hung on relatively comfortably. After the Nathan Clarke horror shows at Swindon and York resulted in the beleaguered summer signing getting dumped to the bench, there has been a considerable improvement in City’s defensive efforts – and this continued here. Ben Williams is growing in stature. Darby and Meredith are as excellent as ever. Best of all for Parkinson, he has finally found an effective central centre back pairing that doesn’t include the name Andrew Davies.
Burke was once again terrific, fully justifying his manager’s push to allow him to be included here despite international commitments midweek. He is 95% of what Andrew Davies was to Bradford City, only likely to be available 100% of the time. He is young but wise, and in McArdle has a great partner to learn from. A partner who – without any shadow of a doubt – is relishing the greater responsibility of taking on the role of senior man at the back.
After such a torrid start to the season, the recovery from City has been excellent. Time and time again, Parkinson has displayed an amazing ability to turn around difficult situations – but there were some who doubted his chances of doing it again, in the wake of those wretched first four games. He has done it again. The mood was shifted positive once more.
At full time Parkinson punched the air and basked in the glow of the adulation coming his way from the travelling supporters. Whatever was going wrong before, he’s made the alterations that were needed. He’s got his true Bradford City back. One that includes a deadly striker.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Burke, Meredith, Marshall (Anderson 85), Liddle, Knott (McMahon 89), Morris, Cole (James 76), Hanson
Not used: Jones, N Clarke, Leigh, Davies
Categories: Match Reviews