Match review: Bradford City 1 (McNulty) Southend United 1
By Jason McKeown
A deep sense of frustration hung heavily in the air tonight. No longer cloaked in invincibility, Bradford City struggled to rediscover their self assurance which only exacerbated familiar issues. They just couldn’t get out of second gear, and are left clinging perilously onto second place.
It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. On another night they could have sneaked all three points, yet Southend can justifiably claim the same. What looked like a mouthwatering derby with Sheffield United on Saturday suddenly seems a game to fear. They will have to improve and quickly.
Stuart McCall had made four changes to the team for this one, but will rue the fact that they didn’t really pay off. City were not any better for the switches and, indeed, went backwards in some areas – and that will really concern the manager.
He was always going to miss James Meredith, a big early contender for player of the season. Matt Killgallon was an able replacement defensively, but offered nowhere near the same level of attacking threat. It left City looking imbalanced all evening; whilst Mark Marshall was left too isolated, causing him to be quiet for long spells.
And then there was the moving of Romain Vincelot to his natural midfield position, with Rory McArdle brought in as centre back. The Northern Ireland international was as excellent as ever, quickly forging a useful partnership with the ever-reliable Nathaniel Knight-Percival, who was head and shoulders above everyone else as man of the match tonight. What was strange and unexpected was just how ineffective Vincelot looked in the middle of the park.
Perhaps he is rusty in that role, but it was disconcerting to see his composure and calmness give way to a ruffled and anxious presence. Vincelot gave the ball away far too often, and even when he did well personally he was inadvertently slowing down attacks. He and Josh Cullen are too good to not make this work, but they very quickly need to build up a better understanding.
Marc McNulty – brought in up front for Jordy Hiwula – did at least score after taking advantage of a Southend slip to run clean through and finish cooly. Right now though he struggles to get involved enough in the build up play. Some clever off the ball runs simply aren’t being picked up by team mates.
The fourth change was Haris Vuckic up front with McNulty. The Newcastle loanee deserved this chance, but failed to grasp it. The more you watch him, the more of an enigma he seems. Clearly a player of talent on the ball, but you can see why his career has been spent in and out of teams. And why several managers have tried but failed to fully unlock his talents.
Vuckic just seemed so slow, and perhaps that matters less in a team of pace. But with Meredith and Hiwula out the side and Filipe Morais also on the bench, there simply wasn’t enough quickness in City’s play. Too often attacks slowed down by someone taking too many touches, or passing the ball one too many times. Like Arsenal under Wenger, City are at times guilty of over-playing.
That, coupled with the ongoing impotence in the box, remains a big concern. Tonight players seemed to fall to pieces in front of goal. Chances were passed up by a lack of clinical edge. City have five strikers to choose from, but four of them are impressing more for their work outside the box than what they are producing inside it. Southend’s second half equaliser brought this all back into sharp focus. City huffed and puffed but failed to seriously threaten a winner.
Southend could have sneaked a second goal and their approach play was interesting given it is part of a growing trend. Phil Brown followed Coventry’s then-boss Tony Mowbray and Fleetwood’s Uwe Rosler in coming to Valley Parade to press. They’ve identified City’s desire to play it out from the back, and are trying to use it to win the game.
What that means is harassing every City player from high up the pitch, pushing to force mistakes and attacking in numbers. Such a high tempo approach demands huge levels of fitness. Southend had more stamina than Fleetwood and especially Coventry could muster, but it still isn’t an approach that can be deployed for a full 90 minutes.
But it does mean away teams are starting games on the front foot and pushing City back, and the home side have to deal with a tricky 20 minutes when their own efforts might not look too clever. City rode the storm without conceding first this time around, but could never assert control of the game.
It will be interesting to see if other teams keep copying this approach, or start to park the bus. For now it adds to the entertainment level.
And that remains important. City were below their best and displayed weaknesses, but the style of football remains great to watch and it continues to be a strategy to support. Expectations are creeping up and a loss on Saturday will spark greater criticism from some fans, but McCall and the players should retain conviction in what they are trying to do.
There’s a right way to win football matches and City are mostly doing the right things. The blueprint needs to be stuck to in good times and bad. The frustration tonight only really lies in the fact Stuart McCall has already raised the bar much higher than this.
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Categories: Match Reviews