Still not quite there as Bradford City undo their dominance to allow Sheffield United to roar back

Image by Thomas Gadd

Image by Thomas Gadd

Bradford City 2

Meredith 33, Cole 47

Sheffield United 2

Meredith (own goal) 65, Sharp 70

Sunday 20 September, 2015

By Jason McKeown

In full control of this Yorkshire derby and with only the closing stages to see out, Bradford City were on the cusp of making a firm statement about their promotion credentials. But then their early season demons came back to haunt them again. Their frailties were unearthed, with discouraging results. On the edge of demonstrating League One excellence, they stumbled back to square one.

Going 2-0 in front two minutes after half time, it appeared as though the Bantams had put the game beyond a dispirited and limited Sheffield United side. They had won every single individual battle on the field. If this were a boxing match, it would have been called on points there and then. It was a perfect illustration of the Phil Parkinson way at Bradford City. It was a performance characterised by City’s power, work rate and bravery. They just needed to keep it going another 25 minutes and three points were assured.

But a combination of effective Sheffield United substitutions by Nigel Adkins, and City switching off, proved decisive. Out of nothing a throw in from Sheffield United resulted in James Meredith attempting a back header that looped over a badly positioned Brad Jones, to put the Blades back into the contest.

City couldn’t rediscover their authority, and five minutes later Billy Sharp ran onto a perfect long ball from Jose Baxter, struck a low shot that was well saved by Jones, and was on hand to smash home the rebound. A great moment for a great goalscorer. After a dreadful week, Sheffield United were back from the dead and had sucked up all of the home side’s momentum. It was a remarkable turnaround.

There are questions that will be asked by Parkinson of his players in the aftermath. How could they get so complacent? Why did they become so sloppy? But he will worry too that this is not the first time. This is the fifth game in nine this season that City have scored first but not won. And there were issues last season too with failing to hold onto winning positions. It is maddening and it simply has to be addressed if City are going to mount a serious promotion push.

A gripping last 10 minutes could have resulted in a winning goal for either side. Sharp smacked the sanction with an angled effort. In the game’s last moment, James Hanson’s header from a corner was blocked on the line by Baxter. City tried to undo the self-inflicted damage by chasing the victory but were somewhat held back by a fear of losing it too. Gaining a point in such circumstances was a hollow experience.

The secret to Sheffield United’s revival lay in matching what City had done so well. If City brought the brawn, the Blades initially tried to contest it with brain. They were tidy on the ball but bullied by a City side who relished every tackle and the huge cheers that occurred from home fans whenever they won possession. After the dreadful start to the season Parkinson talked of getting his players to produce ‘Bradford City performances’ and this is what he meant. With Lee Evans brought in for the unlucky Billy Knott it was clear that City wanted to make the game a battle and succeeded in doing so.

A lightweight Sheffield United couldn’t compete. Their ball playing players were starved of possession. Evans and Gary Liddle ran the show in the centre, aided by an effective, no-frills performance from Paul Anderson, who tucked inside whenever City didn’t have the ball. The former Ipswich man also left space for the over-lapping Meredith to rampage forward with menace. The Aussie was free to attack at will knowing Anderson would be holding the left back position for him behind, in case of a United counter attack.

With Devante Cole and Mark Marshall working as hard as anyone, the tone was set. Former City trialist Mark Howard made a good early save from a dangerous Evans free kick whipped into the box, but on the half hour Meredith was first to a ball that had spun free in the area following a loose header by David Edgar, with the City man lifting it over the keeper and into the net. It was a first goal in nearly three years for Meredith and a sign of how he can still offer more to City’s attack. He deserved this moment as he built on a terrific start to the campaign.

Sheffield United might have emerged from the half time break fired up, but Cole struck a third goal in four games before most of the visiting players had touched the ball after the restart. A long ball by Liddle prompted panic in Edgar as Cole was breathing down his neck, and his attempted clearance hit the City hot shot’s foot and bounced into the goal. When you’re on form and doing the right things, lucky goals like this happen. Cole was excellent today and is on course to net a hatful over the coming months.

The game seemingly won, City initially maintained their dominance before slack standards started to creep in. They dropped deeper. They stopped pressing the ball inside the opposition half. When a home player was in possession, other people stopped making runs into space for them to find. The frantic tempo of the game dropped. City couldn’t ramp it back up again when it was suddenly required.

Eventually Adkins went for brawn against brawn. In particular, the introduction of Connor Sammon added physical presence lacking and his team mates were inspired. They started to do to City what City had stopped doing to them. The pattern of the game was reversed.

Neither of Sheffield United’s goals reflected well on City’s defence. Parkinson opted to bring Jones in for his debut, which seemed very harsh on Ben Williams. Whilst Williams has struggled to convince, his form had improved over recent games and the fact he was dropped following a first mistake in a while, at Fleetwood last week, suggests Parkinson had been waiting for a slip up in order to switch it. It is rarely a helpful culture to have players dropped for one mistake, as it dissuades people from taking risks. If Parkinson prefers Jones as his number one he should have changed his keepers around sooner.

For now Jones has come in and had a shaky debut. Imagine what the reaction would have been had Williams conceded a goal like the first one here? Jones looked hesitant on crosses too. Parkinson needs to stick with him now that he has made the change, but on this evidence Williams still has a future at Valley Parade. You could envisage a scenario similar to how Parkinson rotated Matt Duke and Jon McLaughlin during the promotion season.

Jones was not the only player visibly rattled by the end. Liddle and Evans looked shaky in the closing stages and lost control of the midfield, not helped by Adkins’ other inspired substitution, Jose Baxter, tucking inside so the Sheffield United midfield could outnumber their counterparts. Reece Burke had a few uncomfortable moments at this point, but overall he continues to look a class act and it was notable to see him ordering around other members of the back four. Much of City’s prospects seem to depend on how long Parkinson can persuade West Ham to let City to keep Burke.

Nine games into the season and it is still hard to make firm judgements on the Bantams. There have been some real lows but also some memorable highs. The issue of replacing Andrew Davies has been addressed by Burke, whilst at the other end Cole looks the answer to the long-term problem of a lack of goals.

When City were in control and coasting this contest, the summer upgrading to the squad looked like inspired business. There is, as yet, no reason to believe that it ultimately won’t work out. But City have not yet reached the standards that are needed to take the next step and improve upon almost making the play offs last season.

Perspective is needed. This was the first set back for a month, and it is a fifth game unbeaten too. But with a heavy fixture schedule over the coming six weeks, they must produce a positive reaction quickly. And they must learn the painful lessons from this morale-sapping draw.

City: Jones, Darby, McArdle, Burke, Meredith, Marshall (James 90), Liddle, Evans (Knott 79), Anderson, Hanson, Cole (Davies 79)

Not used: Williams, N Clarke, Leigh, McMahon

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Categories: Match Reviews

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12 replies

  1. Great report Jason and impressively quick. Wasn’t there but watching in bar in Spain and sadly when Sheffield pulled one back, it was inevitable what would happen…. Jones didn’t impress and based in that performance PP would have to bring back Williams to be consistent.

  2. Our attacking threat was excellent throughout. We didn’t seem to know how to deal with Nigel Adkin’s switch to a more direct style though – our midfield kept getting dragged up the pitch only for the ball to sail over them into the big space behind. We needed a change of personnel and/or tactics to counter this and it was disappointing not to see one, especially after we conceded. Still, plenty of positives to take from the game and hopefully we won’t make the same mistakes again.

  3. Glass half full or half empty? For me definitely half full, yes a tad disappointed to leave VP with just a point but you can see this team starting to gell. Bossed the game for 60min, against a team who will be in the mix at the end of the season. Many good performances Marshall, Evans, Hanson, and Liddle plus we started to see glimpses of what Anderson can bring to the team. Cole in and out of the game but always had defenders on the their toes. The goal he scored was a case in point. Though we still need to work on the Hanson/Cole telephony. Thought Brad did reasonably ok too, find it hard to blame him for either goal. Good to see his ball distribution from goal kicks, big improvement on Ben there.

    As the cliche goes, the seasons a marathon not a sprint. Undefeated in 5 and all to play for. Up the Bantams!!!

  4. The team is starting to gel and the first half represented a significant improvement on recent performances, I think the quality of our passing should also be acknowledged. Still early days and good progress, we have found a potential 20 goal striker who is creating chances who will get fitter.

  5. Very fair assessment of today and our prospects for the season, which I believe will surpass last season. The team is relatively new and improving week on week but key will be retaining the loanees and avoiding any further major injuries.
    A bit early to make an assessment on Brad Jones but it wasn’t the greatest of home debuts especially re the first goal, which totally changed the complexion of the game.
    I’m confident this team can improve and achieve success but time will tell

  6. Very important we keep Burke as long as possible – a capable replacement for Davies has been found but only temporary. On another note imagine the two of them together! Not that I’d want to drop Rory but a rare poor performance by his standards and probably the weakest player in the team yesterday.

    Devante Cole needs to gamble more off Hanson – first half he won everything and into the path that a strike partner should be lapping them up but they look like a very effective front two. Didn’t see the reason for bringing on Davies especially with Knott coming on who may have found the key to pick out Cole.

    • Cole’s understanding with Hanson will keep developing but Hanson too needs to play his part in this partnership by improving the accuracy of his heading at times.

      • I’m not saying Hanson doesn’t need to play his part but on Sunday his headers were almost impeccable. Into the space where his partner should be attacking. That isn’t the case every week but on Sunday Cole was on his heels. Just more chances for Cole the Goal II to develop

  7. Please, if you sit by the dug-out can you advise Parky when and how to make substitutions – why does he have to leave it until it’s too late!? The game was crying out for a change, Sheff U had slowly but surely taken charge of the 2nd half. I could see it and I’m sure 18,000 others could too. At 2-0 we were up against – no sign of a sub; at 2-1 we were even more up against – still no sign of a sub; finaly at 2-2 and when it’s too late he alters it. Another 2 points thrown away! I know it’s an old cliche but Parkinson does seem to struggle with a plan B – Adkins is one of several managers that have the ability to change the course of a game from the bench.

    • In his defence (and my opinion) we began to struggle because Sheff U started going more direct and brought on more physicality in the forward positions. They began missing out our midfield a lot who had dominated and after were being bypassed. City’s subs yesterday were:

      01 Williams
      05 N Clarke
      11 Knott
      15 Leigh
      24 Davies
      29 McMahon
      33 James

      Who would you have brought on to combat this? Although they were beginning to get on top we still looked to be containing them comfortably and it was only a lucky goal / positional error from Jones that let them get back into the game.

    • His tactics with substitutes worked a treat against port vale…

  8. I’m just hoping we gel and pick up points as quick as possible – before the loan players leave. Burke looks nice and calm, with good distribution, covering and communication. Evans set piece play and determination was a joy to watch on Sunday, and he was clearly disapointed to be subbed (allbeit he was flagging a bit). Lose those two, and we’ve lost two very valuable players. Hopefully Routis is back to keep the strength in depth up, but I do worry about the centre back position when Burke goes back to West Ham.

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