Finding the right kind of normality, as Bradford City’s unbeaten run comes to an end

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Walsall 2

Bradshaw 11, Lalkovic 73

Bradford City 1

Evans 64

Saturday 28 November, 2015

By Tim Penfold

Consistency is a great quality for promotion-challenging sides. Inconsistency within a season costs teams promotion, but it was inconsistency within the 90 minutes that cost Bradford City points today.

The first half had very few positive moments for the Bantams. James Hanson had an early header saved, but apart from that City were unable to get the ball or consistently keep it, with Lee Evans a particular culprit for giving the ball away too sloppily, too often.  The early goal, breaking Ben Williams’ run of clean sheets, had an element of luck to it, with Tom Bradshaw pouncing on a deflected shot to slot it in to the net. But when the opposition camps in your half, there is every chance that the ball will break for them – the way to prevent it is not to let them have the ball in those areas in the first place.

City slowly grew into the game as the half drew to a close, with Evans having a shot from distance parried away. But the general pattern of the half was Walsall dominance, without a true cutting edge – with one, the second half would’ve been an irrelevance, as they would’ve been out of sight.

The second half was a completely different game. City played at a much higher intensity and pressured Walsall into errors. Tony McMahon headed one cross over, and Billy Knott hit one narrowly wide of the post, before the pressure finally told with Evans volleying a strike into the bottom corner following a Billy Clarke flicked header.

It was at this point that you’d expect the side with the momentum to go on and push for a winner, but inconsistency struck again. City sat back, Walsall pushed forward, and the pattern of the first half began to repeat itself. Evans, who had got away with gifting the ball to the Saddlers in the first half, did it again and was punished as Milan Lalkovic sprinted through to score.

Phil Parkinson’s response was to throw off the shackles and go for it. Devante Cole came on for Nathan Clarke, as the system shifted to 3-4-3.  City swarmed forward again, and Mark Marshall, on for Kyel Reid, swung over a cross that McMahon should’ve buried. He snatched at it, the ball went over and the chance was lost.

The last ten minutes was attack against defence. Walsall tried desperately to take the pace out of the game, picking up two yellows for time wasting, but struggled to keep out wave after wave of attacks. Jordan Bowery came on, and City were 3-3-4 at the end. Knott had a curler saved and Hanson had a header tipped wide, before a Devante Cole drive in stoppage time was brilliantly saved by a Walsall defender. Remarkably, the referee did not give the clear penalty, and the hosts escaped with all three points.

City have been remarkably consistent in recent weeks. A rock-solid defence, combined with a set piece threat, has led to a run of fine results. Today, none of these qualities were on show for the first 45 minutes, and it was this, more than anything else, that ensured that the Bantams went home empty-handed.

The challenge going forward is to ensure that the second half performance, rather than the first, becomes the normal level of this team.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, N Clarke (Cole 79), Meredith, McMahon (Bowery 89), Knott, Evans, Reid (Marshall 79), Hanson, B Clarke

Not used: Cracknell, Leigh, Liddle, James

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Categories: Match Reviews

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