No banana skins as not-quite-ruthless Bradford City ease past Chesham United in the FA Cup

Image by Damien Wilkinson

Image by Damien Wilkinson

Bradford City 4

Reid 22, Hanson 43, Liddle 90, Cole 90

Chesham United 0

Sunday 6 December, 2015

By Jason McKeown

It was too easy, and that was both to Bradford City’s credit and to their detriment. They marched into the third round of the FA Cup for the third time in five seasons, swatting aside a spirited Chesham United side with little fuss. The gulf in class was as stark as you would expect between two clubs separated by more than 100 league places. It could have been double figures.

That it wasn’t a greater scoreline hardly matters. Any 4-0 victory is an excellent result, and there was plenty to enjoy about this romp; yet there was concern too about a sloppy second half performance that suggested the home team had switched off and dropped its intensity. A better side than Chesham would have capitalised and, indeed, the Southern League Premier Division side will rue some promising moments that they just couldn’t quite capitalise upon. At the stage of their best spell, the game was still 2-0 and a visitors’ goal then would have caused a nervy final stages.

Two stoppage time goals finished Chesham off and confirmed City’s superiority, but in truth the scoreline flattered the Bantams. At times City played some wonderful football and, when in the mood, easily cut their non-league guests to pieces. But during the second half, such moments of quality came in sporadic bursts, rather than proving to be a true reflection on the pattern of the match. Chesham United had less than half the number of attempts on goal, and corners, as City overall, but still created plenty. They spent a lot of time in City territory, with their long throw a particular menace.

Of course, any opposition side is capable of having threatening moments, and no one should be demanding perfection from City. But the bar has been raised at Valley Parade. The standards are now much higher. The recent excellent run of form was characterised by impressive consistency in the performances the players were producing week in week out. They fell short of that level in the second half here; and whilst it was probably the right occasion for any such dip, it is not something that Phil Parkinson will want to see creep into the bread and butter of League One.

Compare the casual surrendering of possession here with the ruthless and focused manner that saw Dartford eliminated from the FA Cup at this stage of the competition last year. The professionalism 12 months ago was that much higher.

Chesham United departed the field to hearty applause from their excellent away following, and from City supporters too. They emerge from this game with plenty of credit and some new friends. They will also look back on several ‘what if’ moments, such as Ryan Blake blazing over the bar in the 14th minute, following some clever build up play. Blake also had a volley shot that landed in the Kop at the midway point of the first half. Both chances came with the game still goalless.

The visitors attempted a high pressing game plan of closing City down and charging forward in numbers. It contributed to a wide open game, rather than an afternoon of the Bantams trying to break down the Generals. It was brave to attack in the way they did, and any suggestions of naivety should be countered by the fact it was a tactical approach very similar to the one that City pulled off so famously at Stamford Bridge. On this evidence Chesham were a much better side than Dartford. They had a real go, on what for them was a big stage. Departing home with ‘what ifs’ is infinitely preferable to leaving with regrets.

When City found their stride, however, they were too much for Chesham. Rory McArdle and Reece Burke set the tone at the back with dominant displays, whilst in the middle the outstanding Lee Evans and the industrious Billy Knott took a grip of first half proceedings. They bossed the middle of the park. The breakthrough came after a flick on from James Hanson that landed in the path of the onrushing Kyel Reid, who finished expertly with his weaker right foot. A first goal for Reid since re-signing for City in October. A first goal for Reid, in fact, since scoring at the MK Dons for City, two years ago.

Chesham’s noisy following was silenced, but their players were not deflated. They continued to press, leaving gaps at the back that were exploited by City’s quick-fire passing in the final third. Tony McMahon had already blazed over when he should have passed to a team mate in a better position, and then a Hanson header from a corner forced an excellent block from Shane Gore. Chesham’s best hope was to get in at half time just 1-0 down, but City scored their second at just the right time. An astonishing through ball from Evans, from deep, was volleyed home by Hanson, two minutes before the break. Hanson deserved that goal for his excellent performance all afternoon. He was terrific in both penalty areas.

The second half could have been a cricket score but this was when the easing off, and slacking and standards, occurred. Simple passes were turned down in favour of over-ambitious balls that either drifted out of play of were gobbled up by enthusiastic yellow shirts. City’s tempo dropped to pedestrian. They invited pressure through sitting back. A poor back pass from McArdle saw Ben Williams strike the ball against a Chesham player, and it looped wide of the goal when it could have easily bounced into it.

If there was anyone who personified the struggle it was McMahon. He kept taking the wrong option; giving the ball away tamely or shooting when he should have passed. Yet, still, he never shied from possession, and continued to put in the effort. Give me a poor Tony McMahon game over many other players’ bad days at the office. There was something rewarding about the fact he would ultimately lay on two assists after such a tough afternoon.

Hanson could have made it 3-0 with a volley over the bar following another breathtaking Evans pass. Increasingly, Evans is playing like an American Football Quarter Back, sitting deep and dictating the play. Reid sent over a brilliant cross that Billy Clarke connected to with a diving header, but the ball flew past the wrong side of the post. Knott should have scored when Clarke worked the ball to him on the edge of the box, and there was space for him to pick his spot, but blazed over.

These moments came amid ongoing Chesham interest at the other end. The wily veteran Barry Hayles was brought on from the bench, and was clever in his link up play. The 43-year-old became the focal point to Chesham attacks, and produced some promising lay offs that resulted in a couple of corners. In the final minute of normal time, Hayles played in Blake with just Williams to beat, and the City keeper made a notable block. A Chesham goal would have raised real concern given how much the Bantams had switched off. In the end, the clean sheet was a hard-earned one.

As the fourth official signalled three minutes of injury time, McMahon swung over a corner and substitute Gary Liddle brilliantly volleyed the ball into the net for 3-0. 90 seconds later, McMahon crossed low in the box and another sub, Devante Cole, delightfully back-heeled the ball home.

Both of the scorers of the late goals can consider themselves slightly unfortunate to have fallen onto the fringes of City’s first team, and will be buoyed by the moments of class they delivered here. That Parkinson can leave Liddle and Cole on the bench shows just how much the bar has risen over recent months. It’s amazing to think, also, that there are four key players out through long-term injury.

The most important thing, of course, is that City are into the third round of the FA Cup. We can watch the draw on Monday night with a mixture of nerves and excitement. Fortune will hopefully favour them, as you have to go back a long way for the last time City received a truly exciting FA Cup third round draw. (You could argue it was the 1995/96 season, when third tier City welcomed Premier League Bolton to Valley Parade, although for true third round glamour you’d have to go all the way back to 1988/89, when Tottenham were defeated 1-0 by City.)

Whoever lies ahead, it is likely to prove a much sterner test than this. Lucky then, that when it comes to Parkinson’s Bradford City and the cups, they much prefer to face the tougher assignments.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Burke, Leight, McMahon, Evans, Knott (Liddle 88), Reid (Marshall 77), B Clarke (Cole 77), Hanson

Not used: Cracknell, Meredith, N Clarke, James

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Categories: Match Reviews

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4 replies

  1. Totally agree with your comments on McMahon,he never hides and winds up the opposition and rage assists speak for themselves

  2. Perhaps Reid could tuck in more regularly as a ball is launched into the vicinity of James Hanson’s head, Reid seem to know where the flick on was going to drop and got into the perfect position, which has rarely happened with the other forwards this season. Thoughts anyone?

    • I have thought this myself. If we continue to play with Hanson up top then Reid should come off his wing and gamble on every opportunity in the same way Wells used to. Clarke can always fill in on the left in these situations and it makes it more difficult to defence because the full back doesn’t know whether to stick or twist.

  3. Hanson ran their centre back ragged, particularly in a dominant first half. Reece Burke impresses me immensely and he just gets better every time he plays. He’s one top quality player and PP must try hard to keep him for the season come January

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