Match review: Bradford City 0 Charlton Athletic 0
By Jason McKeown
What’s making this Bradford City team so engaging to watch is the fact they always seem to be living on the edge. The risks that are taken threaten to deliver high rewards; but at times also throw up the danger of it all going terribly wrong. It’s rarely dull, that’s for sure.
And this goalless encounter with Charlton Athletic offered a interesting examination of this adventurous outlook. In contrast to the softness of the Karl Robinson-led MK Dons teams who have visited Valley Parade over recent years, the recently-installed Charlton boss took a physical approach at both ends of the field. They posed a lot of questions of the home side, and really tested the higher risk vs reward approach that Stuart McCall has introduced.
The streetwise visitors were full of brawn but had plenty of skill too. They could have been 3-0 up inside 20 minutes, hitting the woodwork twice and forcing Stephen Darby into a miracle block on the line. At times City were awful defensively, with Nathaniel Knight-Percival having easily his worst game for the club and Romain Vincelot faring only marginally better.
But City stuck at it. The attempts at playing out from the back had to be compromised at times due to Charlton’s high pressing. And in getting the ball into the final third they were more direct than usual. But the principles remained in tact.
When home players were under pressure to clear their lines, they continued to look for team mates rather than taking the easy and low risk option of row Z. Even though Charlton found gaps at the back, the midfield continued to focus on supporting the attack, and the two full backs never stopped bombing forwards. This is a footballing side, committed to playing football.
And it’s not just the polar opposite approach to Phil Parkinson, it differs greatly from pretty much every City manager of the last 20 years – even McCall’s first spell in charge didn’t see this level of attacking football. There will be times when this bold strategy leads to defeats that City teams of the past wouldn’t have experienced, but it will also bring lots of victories.
What we’ve seen over the last two months in particular is an evolution of the approach – moving further away from the ultra pragmatism that was successful in its own way last season.
Earlier in the campaign, City were resolute and solid – drawing seven of their first 11 games. They were tough to beat, but struggling to win games. Since the 0-0 draw at Bolton, City have become more adventurous – Saturday’s draw was only their third in the last 16 matches. The Bantams are losing more often than they were earlier in the season, but are now winning more games too.
They’re pushing more players forward than they were before. They’re leaving gaps at the back. They’re more concerned with winning games than worrying about losing them. They’re living on the edge.
And it meant that – despite affording Charlton plenty of shots at goal and enduring some uncomfortable moments – City routinely attacked with vigour and purpose, particularly dominating the second half. It didn’t lead to a winning goal here, but they carried a threat to the end. City played well, they entertained, and as a supporter you can’t ask for a lot more than that.
Of course, another blank in front of goal is a concern and the inevitable focus on post-match debate. Since Billy Clarke got injured, City have scored only two goals in five games. This lack of cutting edge undermines the attractive build up play and leaves McCall with remarkably similar headaches to that Parkinson experienced a year ago, when the team was playing very, very differently.
As the goals dry up, the top three sides are starting to disappear into the distance. Meanwhile the play off challengers are creeping up closer behind. This is a minor concern that could grow. The Christmas period is huge for City.
With Clarke still sidelined, Jordy Hiwula joined James Hanson up front here. The on-loan Huddersfield Town man has delivered some promising performances this season and chipped in with some goals, but his standing amongst fans has taken a battering over recent weeks.
Hiwula not only had to contend with an uncompromising Charlton defence, but cope with the burden of a crowd losing trust in his ability. Hiwula had two glorious one-on-one opportunities either side of half time, in both instances forcing a save when the back of the net should really have been bulging. He had other efforts too that flew wide of the target. If you wanted anyone to get the goal for City today, it was Jordy you were rooting for.
When judging Hiwula’s worth, you can’t be black-or-white definitive. More composure in front of goal is needed, and other strikers on the books would have taken at least one of the chances he passed up, but his overall workrate and ability to stretch the play add a lot of value to City’s attacks. Hiwula takes up a lot of intelligent positions and plays a big part in the final third. There was some sarcastic cheering when he went off, but City lost something after he departed the action.
That Hiwula has basically become third choice striker, behind Hanson and Clarke, is damning on Haris Vuckic and Marc McNulty. Both are more experienced and better finishers of chances, but in the games they have played they have offered far less to the team in terms of the build up play. And with Billy Clarke injured, City’s approach play is weaker without that extra man to make a difference. So Hiwula gets the nod.
Aside from getting a Charlton defender sent off through some clever running, McNulty showed very little after he came on for Hiwula. Neither Hiwula, McNulty or Vuckic seem to be the perfect answer to pushing Clarke and Hanson, but Hiwula runs them the closest. Still if Clarke had been fit enough to start here, City probably would have won the game.
And despite how well Charlton played, the Bantams deserved all three points. Nicky Law was once again superb with his darting runs and vision. Josh Cullen fared better in the second half, when he pushed up more to support the front two. Timothee Dieng was probably the home side’s best player in the first half, breaking up Charlton attacks and setting City on their way. Mark Marshall worked hard and sent over several threatening crosses. James Hanson battled hard and benefited from others getting closer to him in the second half.
With James Meredith – watched by a scout from Brighton – and Stephen Darby getting up and down the flanks well, the threat of a City winner never went away. At no point did they look ready to settle for the draw. They carved out the better chances.
We know what’s missing – it has been debated even before a ball was kicked this season – but the margins are thin. The improvement needed isn’t vast. And whilst the lack of cutting edge means Bradford City aren’t the most effective team in League One, they’re up there with the best to watch. This living on the edge style is making for a brilliant ride. It’s even making 0-0 draws feel like fun.
Categories: Match Reviews