Bradford City 1
Oldham Athletic 0
Saturday 16 January, 2016
By Damien Wilkinson
Bradford City returned to winning ways against an Oldham side reduced to 10 men just before half time. But familiar failings surfaced, as the goal-shy Bantams failed to capitalise further on a solitary Tony McMahon header early in the second half, and there was a somewhat unconvincing air to the match.
After what seems like yonks (well 24 November, 2015 when Coventry visited to be more precise), City finally returned to a dry but bitterly cold Valley Parade, and their first home match of 2016.
The Bantams approached the game, the first back in league action after a miserable festive period, with some degree of confidence restored after the battling 0-0 draw in the FA Cup at Bury in the previous week. Phil Parkinson made an unexpected change to that side; bringing Nathan Clarke back in central defence and switching Chris Routis into midfield, at the expense of Gary Liddle. In Phil Parkinson’s interview on Pulse after the match he revealed that Liddle was the subject of interest from another club, and whilst Liddle was keen to stay with City, he decided to go with only one midfielder on the bench (namely Billy Knott, for his creativity).
Without reading too much into this there is a suspicion that there might possibly be more to this than meets the eye and maybe Liddle’s days are numbered. After a brief cameo at Bury, Josh Morris again made the bench, looking to build up his match fitness.
The return of Steve Davies to training during the week was a welcome boost to Parkinson’s attacking options, but obviously came too soon for any involvement in today’s encounter (with possibly a place on the bench on Tuesday night beckoning). It will be interesting to see how Parkinson shuffles the pack once his striker options expand.
Further good news saw defender Reece Burke commit to a further loan stint at Valley Parade until the end of the season and is due back into training on Monday. This is beyond what many City fans were expecting, so is a very positive development in the context of a play off push over the remainder of the season.
Oldham, on the other hand have experienced a very traumatic season so far, entering the match in 22nd place in the division, five points from safety, but were boosted by the return of ex-player and manager John Sheridan, who had left his post at Newport County to replace outgoing David Dunn, sacked after 20 matches by the Latics earlier in the week.
In echoes of the axe-wielding Italian across at Beeston, Sheridan has become the 5th manager in the space of 12 months that Oldham have utilised. Further issues behind the scenes at Boundary Park also led to reports of late wage payments to the players during the back end of last year.
Given the recent weather conditions and in particular the temperature drop over the past few days, the pitch looked in great condition and the match kicked off, watched on by a crowd of 18,552, which was swelled by a larger than expected, and vocal, Oldham following of 992.
City began reasonably well and in the opening play it was clear that they were trying to play the ball around more the usual to try and push the midfield players further up in attacking positions.
Tony McMahon was at the centre of the Bantams early attacking moments but a final pass of any real quality seemed to elude the men in claret and amber; Kyel Reid, McMahon and Billy Clarke were all guilty of either wasted or over-hit passes and as a result attempts on goal were very limited, with Oldham keeper Joel Coleman having little, if any, saves of note to make.
An over-hit free kick from McMahon from the left was replicated in carbon copy detail almost a few minutes later and you could almost feel the confidence start to drain from both the crowd and the team as City’s lack of incision surfaced. James Meredith did try to spice things up with some forays down the left flank and was a useful attacking option.
Oldham on the other hand, looked more confident going forward then their league position would suggest, though did show signs of nervousness at the back. They did cause City some problems at the back themselves with Jake Cassidy testing Ben Williams; who made a great reaction save from his effort.
McMahon was booked midway through the half for a late lunge on James Wilson but there was some inconsistency from referee Ben Toner with regard to what tackles he was happy with. James Hanson was the victim of a wrestling challenge which was waved on and there was a further incident in the box where he seemed to be hauled down but the referee was again unmoved.
The match changed significantly on 41 minutes when Connor Brown (who has entered the fray on 25 minutes replacing the injured Cameron Dummigan) was given a red card for what appeared to be a two footed lunge on Kyel Reid. Reid went down in a heap, referee Toner’s view was black and white (sorry), having no hesitation in sending Brown for an early bath. Whilst Oldham fans barracked Reid thereafter it was difficult to see that he had milked the challenge in any way.
City pushed for a goal as half time approached, James Hanson had a great chance but the Oldham defender put in brilliant block, but were not able to find a break through and the half ended 0-0 with Oldham no doubt relieved for an opportunity to re-group.
The Bantams pushed on as the second half unfolded and McMahon headed in on 50 minutes as what looked like an over-hit cross from James Meredith made its way to him beyond the back post. His looped header bypassed keeper Coleman, who was rooted to the spot, and found the opposite side of the goal. One of those goals that seemed to be scored in slow motion, not that McMahon, City or the majority of the crowd had any complaints as he notched his fourth strike of the season.
So the perfect storm for City emerged; one goal to the good against 10 men, furthermore a team at the foot of the league, with the rest of the half to play, surely the desired platform to go on and finally rattle in a few goals, gain some confidence and exorcise the demons of the past with regard to the weekly mantra of ‘unlucky missed chances’.
Well of course not, or it wouldn’t be City otherwise would it?
There was an expected onslaught of sorts from the Bantams but the pressure tended to fizzle out from either missed chances (again!) or a desire to over-elaborate attacking opportunities. Probably a confidence thing, but the number of times the ball was knocked sideways rather than forward, a touch or a further pass attempted when a shot on goal looked good, became a repeated theme and infiltrated itself into subduing the crowd.
Indeed, a spell of pressure around half way through the second half saw the Latics noticeably up the ante, sensing they could indeed get an unlikely result, and City began to become edgy, struggling to retain possession. Oldham created some chances, which the Bantams just about dealt with but as Sheridan introduced further attacking substitutes to his side, you began to fear the worse.
However, City managed to stand firm, Rory McArdle and Nathan Clarke putting in strong performances, and as the match reached its conclusion, Oldham understandably began to tire leading to further City pressure. The introduction of Josh Morris, replacing Reid, Devante Cole, replacing Billy Clarke and Mark Marshall, on for Routis pepped City up to an extent, and all looked fairly lively and helped create chances (Morris and Cole having a good half hour of action), which will hopefully provide Parkinson with food for thought regarding his team selection for Bury and other forthcoming fixtures.
Before he left the field Routis nearly managed to score from the half way line, as Coleman found himself in no-man’s land, but the shot agonisingly ended up on the roof of the net.
With regard to the starting attacking line up, Billy Clarke unfortunately again looked slightly off the pace – in a similar fashion to the Bury match he just didn’t seem to have his usual spark and he might potentially benefit from a slight break. James Hanson, perhaps the subject of the most column spaces on on-line forums, had a typical ‘curates egg’ performance; some good play and presence during the first half, some notable misses during the second half. Okay no missed sitters this week, but it all unfortunately adds some fuel to his detractors, and even his biggest fans will have to admit that he absolutely can’t buy a goal at the moment.
However, the biggest disappointment regarding the second half was City’s attacking intent.
Whilst chances were created there was still a reluctance to really throw bodies forward, and in a way this sums up the season so far. The Bantams were seemingly happier to grind out a 1-0 win, and whilst three points is very welcome, the reluctance to push on definitely dampened the mood of the crowd. To be honest, at times it looked as though Oldham had the numerical advantage.
As an example, with around 15-20 minutes to play, the fact that City often only had two men in the box to receive a corner/free kick spoke volumes; whilst on this occasion City triumphed and got the three points, a neutral would probably argue Oldham were unlucky to not get anything from the match, so this represents a precarious approach.
To rub further salt in the wound, Meredith’s booking for taking too long to take a throw in, struggling to find a team mate in a side with a one-man advantage, was embarrassing to say the very least.
Indeed, the match ended in a see-saw manner, City tried to kill things off but late Oldham corners and pressure which resulted in a hand ball shout against Nathan Clarke had City fans squirming in their seats, but the referee eventually whistled and Oldham suffered only their second defeat on the road this season.
To sum up, never mind the performance feel the result – a win is a win. Looking at tonight’s league table City, along with Fleetwood, have played the fewest matches in League One (24) – so winning their games in hand will propel them comfortably into the play off zone, which isn’t too shabby at this stage.
So City now face a flurry of matches given re-arrangements and replays, with the Bantams back to business on Tuesday night with Bury visiting for the FA Cup replay. This will give them the chance to capitalise on today’s result in a period of fixtures that will no doubt define how the season pans out.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, N Clarke, Meredith, McMahon, Evans, Routis (Marshall 80), Reid (Morris 61), B Clarke (Cole 63), Hanson
Not used: Cracknell, Leigh, Knott, James
Categories: Match Reviews