Re-discovering the right path and sticking to it

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Bradford City 1

Hanson 63

Wigan Athletic 1

Jacobs 53

Saturday 24 October, 2015

By Jason McKeown

This was not so much a point gained as it was a point proven for Bradford City. In a week where they twice had to face rapidly growing home demons, the class of 2015/16 have now twice demonstrated their mettle.

Just like on Tuesday, the Bantams were full of character, courage and determination. It wasn’t enough to defeat a very impressive Wigan side here, but they more than merited a share of the points. And it keeps City looking upwards rather than over their shoulders. Four league games unbeaten and their two best home displays of the campaign so far. The season is ticking along once again.

When Wigan took the lead early in the second half, that character was really put to the test. The goal was controversial and the City players could have felt sorry for themselves and gone into their shells. But this was no repeat of the Peterborough surrender. They kept fighting, pushed hard and were rewarded with an equaliser.

James Hanson got the goal, when he headed home a Tony McMahon corner. It was a big moment for Hanson, as he sought to justify his sudden return to the team in the place of the long-term injured Steve Davies. In his six years at Valley Parade, Hanson has never lost his starting place and so his recent demotion was a massive test of mental strength. Hanson came back strongly here; leading the line with authority and with an edge to his game that had been missing during September

Hanson set the tone for others. Phil Parkinson stated after the match that “We are looking like a Bradford team again” and it is hard to disagree with that statement. Against Bury and here again, the team’s work rate has improved dramatically on some previous home efforts. The sound of loud roars of approval when City players harassed the opposition spoke volumes. This is what is expected around these parts: full-blooded commitment.

Tony McMahon personified this more than anyone. He is not the best footballer in the team but his endevour was faultless. Up and down the pitch with boundless energy, McMahon was good on the ball and tough in the tackle. You could see how much he irritated the Wigan players.

McMahon helped ensure Lee Evans and Billy Knott weren’t outgunned in the centre of park. Wigan’s 3-5-2 formation is unusual for this level and the recently relegated club attempted to make the pitch as wide as possible, whilst instigating attacks through the middle. Evans and Knott made mistakes, but never let their heads drop. With McMahon’s support, they did the ugly things well and ensured Wigan’s wide players were rarely in the game.

Wigan wanted to play it out from the back, but as soon as they crossed the half way line they were chased and harassed by City players, until they lost possession. Early doors this high intensity approach resulted in numerous mistakes from the visitors, and enabled City to get on the front foot. They forced numerous corners and came close when Rory McArdle headed a cross just wide of the net.

If City could have scored the first goal, it would have been interesting to see how Wigan would have responded, and whether they would have abandoned their patient passing approach. When they did get going, they were excellent in the final third with Max Power especially impressive. Ben Williams was quickly called upon to make two brilliant saves.

Whilst Wigan began to dominate possession, City defended well. Reece Burke – who it was announced after the game has had his loan from West Ham extended another month – was outstanding alongside the ever-reliable McArdle. Rarely could Wigan get through them, and often attacks came to an end through wild shots from distance.

Going the other way Kyel Reid – another loanee who will be staying around a while longer, as his switch from Preston has been extended until January – linked up well with James Meredith behind him. There wasn’t a glut of chances, but the first half was open. It was a good game of football between two good sides.

Wigan took the lead early in the second half, as referee Richard Clark took centre stage. Hanson had the ball in his own half and was clattered to the ground. No foul was given despite Hanson lying on the floor injured, and Michael Jacobs – who four years ago netted a stunner for Northampton at Valley Parade – repeated that feat with a shot from distance that flew into the net, despite Williams getting a touch. Wigan cheered, the City players and management team protested over the lack of a foul. Hanson had to go off for treatment.

Clark was unpopular all afternoon with a packed out Valley Parade, and turned away two strong home penalty appeals when McArdle and Devante Cole appeared to be fouled in the box. No matter, City responded well to adversity and Hanson popped up with the equaliser 10 minutes after falling behind. It was all up for grabs.

There was no further goal action, leaving both teams with reasons to harbour mixed feelings at full time. Wigan boss Gary Caldwell changed his team around to a more conventional 4-4-2 style, with the excellent Grant Holt and Craig Davies brought on from the bench. Both made a big impact and caused lots of problems. Wigan came closest to winning the game when Holt ran through and forced another strong save from the impressive Williams.

Caldwell will be pleased by how well his team played over the final 25 minutes, but will also feel they should have won it. City were doing most of the defending, and of the two sides looked happier to settle for a point. When they did attack, it was in reserved fashion.

That the Bantams didn’t push on in the closing stages was a source of frustration to many fans, but in truth it was a reflection of the squad’s current limitations. Parkinson did not have the level options on his bench compared to Caldwell. He certainly couldn’t change it to a more attacking formation.

This is largely due to the growing long-term injury list, and the absences of Billy Clarke, Paul Anderson, Filipe Morais and Josh Morris are especially keenly felt. Such players can change a game and enable Parkinson to alter his approach. For now, he is reduced to swapping like for like.

Clarke is close to a return and is needed to boost a forward line low on numbers. Whilst Hanson had a good day, Cole did not. The former Man City striker impressed greatly with his work rate and overall game against Bury, but here he struggled to match that intensity and stopped making as many off-the-ball runs. It is a concern just how little chemistry there is between Cole and Hanson, given Davies and Cole were showing promise as a partnership.

Cole is young and susceptible to inconsistency, but needs to keep up his work rate at least. Luke James was the only alternative on the bench and to date hasn’t demonstrated nearly enough potential from the opportunities he has been given.

But whilst City are light in numbers right now, those who are available are largely giving it everything. That wasn’t happening a few weeks ago, and big problems were brewing. The response in the league to dismal back-to-back September defeats has been a near flawless October so far.

For all the talk of the style of football City should play, and who should and shouldn’t be in team, what it ultimately boils down to is that the Valley Parade crowd will always value passion and effort above all else. Produce 100% as a minimum, and mistakes are quickly forgiven and shortcomings are accepted. It has been a steep learning curve for some of the new faces in that regard.

After an up-and-down first quarter to the season Bradford City are still not quite where they want to be, but it seems as though everybody is now fully on board on what they need to do in order to get there.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Burke, Meredith, McMahon, Knott, Evans (Liddle 87), Reid (Marshall 76), Hanson, Cole (James 90)

Not used: Jones, N Clarke, Leigh, Mottley-Henry

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Categories: Match Reviews

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12 replies

  1. Agree with there having been a huge improvement in terms of effort and commitment in recent weeks, epitomised by McMahon on that right hand side.
    I like that we seem to have identified our strengths in the away performances and made a conserted effort to bring them to VP. Long may it continue.
    The game did peter out towards the end but I think that our lack of zest going forward in the final stages had a lot to do with the players looking very fatigued after two high tempo pressing performances in five days.

    • PP’s team meeting on Monday has certainly been reflected on the pitch. As you say we are now putting in a shift at home as we do away

  2. Spot on summary of what was an excellent game against a side that will certainly be in the mix at the end of the season. We are improving every game and with key injured players on the mend it augers well for the second half of the season

  3. First game of the season for us and with no games down in the south west this time, Xmas will be the next. I thought it was an excellent game with both sides giving 100% for 90+ minutes. It could have gone either way which would have been harsh on the losing side so a draw was a fair result.

    Obviously it’s my first view of Cole and I thought he played well and certainly didn’t lack effort. Not sure the style today suited him but those defenders will know they’ve been in a game.

    McCardle and Meredith were superb and Burke looked excellent.

    However the main topic I’m writing about is the ref. I’ve listened to Pulse and read comments and read Simon Parkers report and I disagree. I thought the ref was superb. From where I was Cole played for his penalty, I cannot remember the Mccardle one but corners are a joke, the amount of pulling and holding. Parker called him fussy; he was the opposite of fussy. He kept his cards in his pocket for a long time until he had to and he just ignored the diving from one of their players – he just ignored the nonsense.

    As for their goal, it was a foul on Hanson but we had the ball and I thought the ref was playing advantage. It’s debatable whether we wanted the advantage either way but we had the ball and under no pressure stumbled and they scored. I don’t think that’s the ref’s fault.

    Ultimately though I was content with an entertaining afternoon and a good point.

    • Great article as always Jason and Tony McMahon doing a great job of being Ricky Ravenhill Plus!

      However when Wigan scored it was a ball given away to them and a pretty flappy attempt to save it (from behind the goal). Possibly poor decision from the Ref, but if we had not gifted them the chance, then no goal.

  4. Entertaining game & a point well earned that. If the players continue to turn in cracking shifts like that we’ll have an enjoyable (& potentially exciting) remainder of the season as fans. One concern I do have, & I write this with a huge not-meant-to-sound-negative disclaimer, is that this week’s good home performances have both been against good attacking teams; in the counter-intuitive world of Bradford City we’ve often seen us thrive against ambitious sides then falter when weaker ones park the bus at VP! Still, that’s a hurdle for another day. Here’s to reflecting on a very decent month in the league. 👍🏼

  5. Performance not as good as Tuesday night, particularly regarding the younger players. I acknowledge that they gave so much against Bury that it was too much to expect a repeat performance. Today, we defended too deep throughout and when you have Hanson in the team the dynamics seem to change? Too many long balls resulting in not enough bodies in box when/if early crosses came over.
    Still, a well earned point!

  6. Two enjoyable home games in the space of a week, both in terms of result and the standard of football played. Thank you to Wigan and Bury for playing open football right to the very end instead of stifling the game.
    Billy Knott stay on your feet and McMahon cut out the play acting and I will be even happier.

  7. I echo many of the comments above. For those lucky enough to see both games this week, we saw two very good city performances. One against a team undefeated since Jan away and then against Wigan, who still have players on premiership wages and a bench most teams would envy. With Billy C and Morris back very soon we have game changers to add to 1st team squad.

    Also thought the crowd were great in both games, really got behind the team. When we do Im sure its add 10% to the players output.

    Important we carry the same attitude away to Millwall

    ………….IPWT.

  8. A decent return of points over the last two homes games and out of the last four. We have looked more solid at the back. I thought Williams had a decent game but shud have saved their goal and he has a mistake in him. He is better than Jones but I do not think he is the quality we need to gain promotion. I am concerned that we have a distinct lack of goals scored from open play and hoof ball was used again far too much.
    However hopefully this will change wen Clarke and Morris return, though I am not sure who they will replace as Reid (been involved in all our recent form) McMahon has played well in last two at home. Should be some exciting times ahead with positive options with a real strong squad (apart from our keepers) for parky to utilise.

  9. Agree and disagree! IMO City were excellent and contributed to a game of differing styles against the best opponent I’ve seen at VP this season. However I felt the ref was the best I’ve seen this season. Fair for both sides. Hanson even got a free kick! The goal we conceded was due to Evans mis control and Williams limp wristedness. Hanson was fouled, but we had possession we played on as the ref played advantage yet we buggered it up! IMO not the refs fault. Yet city rolled up their sleeves and got the equaliser. No less than we deserved. A tribute to Parky and how he sets his teams out to play. They give it their all. Cole chased down the Wigan back three and was knackered when he went off. Fair play to Cole he had given his all. The rest of the lads gave s Bradford city performance and on another day would have been victors but the one thing that stood out for me was Reece Burke. How at 0-1 with 3 attackers running at him he managed not only to push Wigan down a blind alley but let them also put the ball out for a city throw was impressive. 0-2 would have killed us. All in all it was a Parky performance. Full of industry and effort. Concerns remain at centre half when Burke goes back and at keeper. Williams was faultless apart from the goal. But to me that’s still 2 points thrown away. Jones has been a big disappointment do far. Loan keeper anyone? Or is it just me?

  10. Wigan played a weird formation and I’m not sure City coped all that well with it. Quite often in the first half they had 3 players down the right which meant that Hanson/Cole were having to press in areas that Reid would normally cover, he was hamstrung by having to look after their Right Wing Back. They didn’t seem too bothered about doing the same to McMahon, probably because he’s not as quick. It looked odd but was pretty effective at nulifying the threat of Reid meaning we had to go long to Hanson/Cole who were being pulled out of position.
    It might have been interesting to see what happened if Reid/McMahon had swapped positions, even if briefly, just to cause a bit of confusion.

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