Below par Bradford City shines brighter spotlight on familiar failings

Image by Thomas Gadd copyright Bradford City)

Image by Thomas Gadd copyright Bradford City)

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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7 replies

  1. How DO you turn around match reports so quickly?!

    My take on Vincelot was that he needs time to acclimatise to playing higher up. Often when he lost the ball, or gave it away, it was a result of being pressed from behind, which is not something he would have been used to recently, playing in central defence.

    I’d assumed that Rory was brought back to help deal with Southend’s height, which was an issue Stuart had mentioned in the build-up, but there was a rumour going round that Dieng turned up late this evening, and so he was benched. The result of the changes was that Stuart looked to have instructed the keeper to play it long, rather than take risks playing it out from the back with Rory and Kilgallon drafted in, and I think it might have been that which upset our flow of play as much as Southend’s pressing.

    I’m pretty sure the boos at the end were for the performance of the referee.

  2. Great report Jason and one which mirrored my own view of the game.
    We looked heavy legged in the later stages of the second half. Especially against a Southend team that looked full of running all night.
    Our style of play (if it is to work) is high tempo and requires high levels of energy. I think Vincelot struggled at times because he had to do more running than he has previously this season. This, and the understanding he needs to develop with his new partner meant he did look out of sorts. It will come if he gets more game time in that position.
    The two most fustrating aspects of the game were Vuckic and the referee. Vuckic at times, especially in the second half, looked disinterested when play broke down and Southen had plenty of space in which to run due to his unwillingness to track back.
    The ref was dire. The worst I’ve seen at VP for a while (and he’s up against some pretty strong contenders). At times he would allow play to go on, without talking to, or booking the offender after the play broke down. Later he simply ignored synical challenges from Sarfend and deliberate hand ball. But his best was the offside 10 yards in the opposition half for which he awarded a free kick 10 yards in our half.
    As results showed last night, there are no easy games in this league. Oldham’s and Swindon’s victoried over Scunny and a very much in form Rochdale, demonstrate we can’t take any team for granted.

  3. We missed Mezza big time last night, his bursts forward and support of the forward players. Kilgallon is a CB so not blaming him but its just not his game. Vuckic is definitely an enigma who is going to polarize fans this season. Definiitely a ‘marmite’ type player. We didn’t give Marshall enough ball and the build up was so slow and deliberate at times it seemed like passing for the sake of it. This let Southend push high and deprive us of space to play our game. Mcnulty made several great runs that weren’t spotted and he had to check back because no one had their head up looking for him, they were more concerned with pointless sideways passes.. Credit to Southend who sussed us out aand at times bullied us a bit and the inept Mr Kettle let them do it yet the first time Josh Cullen fouls someone he gets a yellow. Some truly bizarre refereeing from Kettle who has been poor for years. As said above , the boos at FT were for the referee not the team

  4. Good report Jason, once again. One point with regard the referee and the offside being placed in our half. New rules this year means that if the player coming back is active the free kick is taken from where they became active. So Vukic running back received the ball in our half and that was where it had to be taken. This is the first time it has happened this year at VP. But his decision making was odd to say the least – none more so with Demetriou more or less catching the ball on the edge of the area and straight away he penalised NKP for a marginal push on Mooney who played the dying swan act in going down.

  5. Got to agree with the comments on Vincelot – think there was a rustiness because he has been playing CB and a number of times he was pick pocketed from behind. My thought would be more how impressive Dieng has been in previous week’s and that he should get his place back. I’d still move Vincelot back to centre half – as good as the ever dependable Rory was last night.

    I thought the biggest positive last night was McNulty. NKP was clearly MoM but it was McNulty who looked like the closest thing we’ve had to a striker in a long time. Countless clever runs often not picked out by his team mates and I also thought he didn’t get enough credit for the goal because of the defenders slip. His run lost the defender which meant he had to commit for the ball causing the slip. Had the ball been weighted right he’d have been in regardless of the slip or not. He also had a thankless task up there on his own especially with a lack of support off the ball from Vuckic and there was a moment in the second half where a scuffed shot ended up at bouncing at Hiwula’s feet only for him to lack composure and swing a leg at fresh air. Couldn’t help but think McNulty would have done better. Also not having a go at Hiwula I’d like to see them as a 2 pronged attack in a traditional 442 as I think Hiwula would be a good foil for McNulty.

    Finally with regards to Vuckic he certainly is and enigma with a lot of quality but my thoughts on these players is that you are happy to carry them as long as they are doing enough when they get the ball to justify their position. At the moment I don’t think he is – especially if you compare him to Clarke who offers more off the ball and probably as much on it.

    A friend said to me last night that perhaps having such a strong squad is causing issues that we don’t know our best 11 after 14 games. I don’t think that’s the case I think Stuart know his best 11 with the exception of the front 2. Getting that right will be the difference.

  6. No mention of the disallowed ‘goal’. Having seen the replay on Sky I have to say Law looked level at worst. Also thought Billy Clarkes absences was a big miss, hope both him and Denge are back on Saturday.

  7. As the resident Private Frazer, and having seen us lose at Oxford, I have to say that we were lucky to get a point against Southend. They put a man clear from a quick free kick early on, and he fluffed it! Doyle made 2 great saves; and near the end they missed an open goal. Our answer was to score with our only legitimate shot on target!

    McCall has said it better than I could: we lacked magic.

    For me all the tippy-tappy football we have seen this season, we have have not had enough magic yet to convinced me we are top 2 contenders.I still think we are good enough for the play-off’s, with luck.

    Second is good, but to be there at the end of this season our best needs to be better (goals when we are on top) or we need to be better over a whole game, and not let soft goals in. I did not go to Peterborough or MK, but in the games I have seen the best we have done is brilliant for 40 minutes. That’s just not enough.

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