By Katie Whyatt
If you’re revising the whole format, you might as well throw the geography of the UK in with the bundle of things to amend. City’s latest (again, ultimately worthwhile enough) EFL Checkatrade Trophy workout saw Cambridge United relocated up ‘ere, into the Northern section of the last 32. (Genuinely, how southern do you have to be to club Cambridge in with the north? That’s either Hampshire pursuing some serious isolationism or us claiming the Midlands for our own. Leicester and Nottinghamshire, welcome aboard, apparently.)
McCall made seven changes from the team that started at Swindon, handing starts, as expected, to Sattelmaier, Killgallon, McArdle, Nathan Clarke, Morais, Hiwula and Vuckic. McMahon would replace Stephen Darby just before the half hour mark – that he was returning from a three month absence was barely noticeable as he worked himself wisely into City’s offensive play, seeing the game out consummately defensively. City looked decent in patches in the first half but lacked their regular rhythm as Cambridge thrice cut the hosts open. Aided by their opponent’s wastefulness, McCall’s men recovered their usual guile in the second to push themselves over the line, an unmarked Nicky Law meeting Filipe Morais’ looping cross in the 64th minute as Cambridge gifted the Bantams the game’s only goal.
It was one of those where the opening 45 probably actually taught you precious little, on balance. McArdle offers the best in game talking ever, if you’re interested, hurtling and hollering a slew of get tighter-s towards the drifting Dieng in the eerily silent Valley Parade night. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Nathan Clarke screech, “Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim!” as Dieng receives the ball. Matt Killgallon advised the substitute Devine in the second half, told him to go right as City worked the channels. McCall told McArdle to shift the backline further up the field, told Sattelmaier where to direct his kicks as City launched it long.
For all their toil, City began unable to fashion a real way through, Cambridge likewise working openings with bright build-up play but never truly testing Sattelmaier as they pursued a pattern of self-sabotage in the final third. Dieng fell short in the tackle to allow Ben Williamson to skip away, unchallenged, but the Cambridge forward fluffed his lines and blazed wide from close range as Sattelmaier started to close down. Piero Mingoia later twisted perceptively to shake off Marshall but his touch was heavy, McArdle lurching in to thwart him before he could instigate a meaningful manoeuvre. Cambridge broke and switched quickly, pumping men forwards, City coherent in fits and starts but arguably too hasty in their decision-making.
The second half saw McCall’s men wrest control, the introduction of Cullen for Vuckic inevitably bringing a greater level of dynamism that paid immediate dividends. Morais started to linger higher up the pitch, and, tellingly, it was seconds after Cullen’s introduction that he would receive the ball on the right and tee up for Law to nod home. Law was, again, typical Law, the key piston in the engine room, bonding grit with aplomb as he worked tirelessly to keep City ticking over.
We’ve reached a point this season where there’s a case for making ‘a Nicky Law’ a legitimate neologism: Law starting on the right and emerging from the wormhole an eyeblink later, on the other side of the field, having effortlessly sliced out a cowering midfield pairing en route without even breaking a sweat. Cullen’s ability to wrangle himself out of the overcrowded, densely packed midfield areas, twisting and gyrating like a football contortionist, remains so impressive, even five months into the season. The pair were key to City’s second half revival, keeping Cambridge contained ahead of a backline that looked unruffled despite four changes.
The initial brief saw Hiwula holding the line as Vuckic was tasked with linking the play from deep, McCall clearly expecting Hiwula to latch onto the spinning deliveries of Morais and Vuckic. Vuckic looked comfortable in the wide areas, threading an inviting ball through to the onrushing Mark Marshall ten minutes in, but ultimately embodied the first half shortcomings of the rest of the team that promising sequences and gritty endeavour lacked a meaningful end. The second half saw Hiwula drop deeper and allowed for a more cohesive build-up, Marshall crossing teasingly only for a flat-footed Hiwula to mistime his run and watch the ball trickle innocuously behind him. Devine later patterned a surging run and laid off Hiwula to be denied from inside the area.
Staggered at first, business as usual by the end. Though not a vintage performance in the vein of the heady heights of Northampton, City checked the boxes and were, as ever, fine. That Matt Killgallon and Rory McArdle are currently limited to forming the backbone of what’s essentially your second-choice City team at the moment speaks volumes about the depth of the squad; that they, and Nathan Clarke, weathered a smart Cambridge side with relative ease but total commitment reveals much about who they are as players.
On a night where Leicester fell in Portugal and Spurs danced the Wembley turf with flair, this week’s usual grumblings about B-teams, about the Football League’s failings to look after its own, will amount to barely a ripple on a Premier League-centric news agenda. Although City step into round three, fresh with a £20,000 progression bonus and three rounds from a Wembley final that McCall is adamant his men want to partake in, the reaffirmation of the depth of the Bantams’ bench stands as the most glaring and noteworthy lesson.
Categories: Match Reviews