Bradford City 1
Wigan Athletic 1
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
Categories: Match Reviews