Fulsome living

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

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15 replies

  1. Seriously did you watch the same game as I did? Hiwula should have been taken off at half time, he is the new Aaron mclean/ devante cole. Most of the people in the cop lost the will to keep singing in the second half, if Stuart could see that changes needed to be made (as we did then why wait till 10 mins from the end?

    • Can we not have a constructive debate instead of this tone? There’s plenty of places on the internet for Bradford City anger. Until recently WOAP comments have been polite and constructive. Debates reasoned.

      Thank you.

  2. From what I have seen, Vuckic can’t really be arsed a lot of the time, Mcnulty does something quite good from time to time, but today Jordy was working, running, getting in good positions, laying the ball off, having shots, and not letting himself be discouraged. And if you heard discouragement from our crowd, I didn’t. He does not deserve being mentioned in the same breath as Mclean/Cole – esp Cole who was in the Vuckic mould. I also think your response is a bit precious, no matter how much I disagree with Chris. We were singing in the Midland, and I’m sure I heard the Kop too. Counter his opinions with reasoned argument.
    And wasn’t it an entertaining game? Brilliant!

    • Sorry Tim I am just tired of this “I disagree with you so that means you’re an idiot” type of debate that is creeping into WOAP reader comments. I’ve already set out my case for Jordy in the match report. Good to see I’m not the only one who valued his performance.

  3. I think we just have to keep with it until January, we all know what is required, and so do the club and SM, ok a few were off it today, missing Billy Clarke big time at the moment and it is showing, hopefully we can bring a goal scorer who wants to move up a level who can finish and who we can afford, I would rather take a punt on that, than someone coming down the other way as we witnessed with Mr Mc Clean, also great news on the back of a draw, I know a draw against a Previous Championship club how dare we, sorry can’t help it to the knockers, back to the news, the Best Left Back in League 1 wants to sign on again, yes our own Mezza and that was music to my ears, and I think He shown that Today, Also I don’t know if anyone saw this Today, but James Hanson cleared a defencive header that was ready to drop at point blank range, I seem to see little things like this with the Big Fella, holding the ball up and playing simple passes, oh and the presence of strengh in the air as Charlton witnessed early doors. I would like to finish on from the turmoil at the start of the season, I would have said no chance to be in this position now, so I take that as a massive positive, with new owners and backing, I think we will be Ok.

  4. I actually wondered if you had listened to literally conversation on the way out, pretty much word for word what we said.
    Waa most definitely exciting and there for both to win, a draw probably fair though.
    Hiwula did have a good game in all but his finishing, he gets himself into some great positions. His pace and movement pulled their defence all over,giving others space.
    I think maybe when Clarke is out, we maybe need a Vuckic to play in his role.
    I disagree with what Stuart said, he delayed his subs because he felt a goal was coming.. I felt like we could’ve played all day and it wouldn’t have gone in. Although the subs are no better, a change may have just given us something different that gets us that goal.
    a win would’ve been nice but its a hell of a lot more entertaining than recent years.

  5. I live on the south coast and Charlton was the first game I’ve been able to get to this season. It was exciting to watch, not all my fingernails made it to the end of the game and the football on offer is like night and day compared to last season, but at times it was also an incredibly frustrating game to watch – time and again we carved out really good chances but just couldn’t put them in the back of the net, or ended up overplaying the final ball. Make no mistake, we should have won, there’s no excuse for not putting away some of those chances we had. We have to score chances like Hiwula’s in the first half and Hanson’s header in the second if we want to be successful.

    I felt a bit sorry for Hiwula – he has skill and running and obviously works his socks off and seems to read Hanson’s flick-ons reasonably well, I noticed, but he should have had at least two goals today. Given all the chances that were going begging, that McNulty couldn’t get on until the last ten minutes and Vukic not at all is particularly damning of them. Though based on his run that drew the foul and sending off in injury time, I’d have liked to have seen McNulty on a little earlier today.

    First half, I thought Meredith and Hanson were by far our best players. Meredith was outstanding and the only player that seemed to want to play with intensity during the first half hour. I thought Hanson led the line extremely well in the first half – won his headers against uncompromising defenders, found team-mates with simple balls, was vital when defending our own box with some great headed clearances, and fashioned a couple of decent chances for himself. In the second half though I felt he faded a bit as we didn’t get the ball in the box from crosses quite as well as we did first half, and when we did he should have buried that header.

    Given this was the first time I’ve seen them live this season, I was expecting impressive things from our midfield but first half I was really disappointed. They seemed to be barely there, allowing Charlton to play balls through them or burst past them and run at our centre-backs (who seemed intent on playing Russian roulette in that first half). For me, Dieng spent much of the first half chasing shadows, Law and Marshall were peripheral and the ball seemed to be going around Cullen rather than through him, and when we did have the ball there was no intensity from the midfield. I noticed it was only when we did start to get Cullen on the ball more towards the end of the first half that we began to weather Charlton’s early onslaught and really start to play. Cullen was excellent in the second half. I read somewhere we’d actually tried to buy him in pre-season, but West Ham said no. I don’t know how much money our owners have, but I’d be tempted to ask West Ham to name their price, invest in Cullen and build a team around him for years to come.

    I do think we need someone who is more efficient at scoring some of these great openings that we carve. Maybe not a 20-goal a season striker, but at least someone who, when presented with a one-on-one, isn’t going to miss. But it was also noticeable that our midfield offered no goal threat yesterday – Law screwed one wide and Dieng had a chance second half I think, and that was it? It can’t just be down to the strikers, our midfield needs to take more chances when having a pop at goal. How many goals have been scored from outside the box this season? Marshall’s against Coventry, Vukic’s free kicks, are there many others? Maybe what we really need in January isn’t the fabled 20-goal-a-season striker, but a goal-scoring midfielder.

    We’re a really good team. We’re *that* close to really being able to threaten the top two places in the division. Just that one missing piece in the jigsaw.

  6. For what it’s worth, I thought Hiwula had one of his better, if not best games for City. He had opportunity to score at least 4 goals and if had scored from (say) 2 of them, we would all have been lavishing praise upon him now. Yesterday he played like a striker but really should have scored. Another recent debate has been Darby or McMahon at full back?
    McMahon certainly offers a greater threat offensively but for defending instinct, Darby is probably the best in the division. What a goal line clearance! Another for Darby scrapbook of vital clearances/interceptions.


  7. Having read the report and the other comments there is much that I agree with. Hiwula is young and possesses raw talent. He is developing as a footballer which is why he is on loan at a third tier club. It’s easy to say that he should have scored yesterday, however at least he forced their goalkeeper into a few saves and had to confidence in the second half to continue shooting. Hanson was my man of the match. He won plenty of headers across the pitch, made plenty of good lay offs and put in his usual high work rate. As much as Lawrence has been good this season, I thought that we lost our shape too many times yesterday with no width on the left hand side to support Meredith. As for signing a 20 goal a season striker in January, forget it. It’s mainly a myth having such a goal scorer at our level of football. A regular 20 goal a season striker will only play in the top division. What we need for the remainder of the season is for more goals to be scored by our midfielders along with the defenders chipping in with a few. Finally, Darby’s goal line clearance was added good as a goal for us. We are still unbeaten at home in the league this season and we are exceeding my pre-season expectations. ISMWT.

  8. I have to say that I disagree. I thought it was a match of low quality with City being a yard off the pace all afternoon. The centre halves, and goalkeeper were uncertain at times, although I thought that Darby and Meredith both had decent games.

    I’ve never been a boo-boy (and never will be) but I simply don’t Hiwula is up to league football standard. There’s nothing wrong with his level of effort and application, but how many promising moves broke down when he received the ball.

    I think priority in the winter transfer window is a left winger to help Mez out, He can’t do it all on his own, and was blowing out of his backside by the final whistle. Plus the hunt for the possibly mythical “20 goals a year striker” – although the midfield need to do their fair share in the goalscoring stakes,

  9. Predictive text! My post should read as Law not Lawrence. Also, it should read as good as a goal. LOL!

  10. In agreement with most of the comments above, thought Charlton looked a good strong side (apparently they had a number of first eleven players missing), the fact that we could only match them with our strongest eleven (with the exception of Billy Clarke) suggests we are far from the finished article; something I think is accepted by the majority and nothing to be ashamed of given our starting position this season but it is maybe starting to dawn on a few who got a bit carried away with our ‘top two’ position. Agree with Richard regarding the ’20 goal striker’, far more chance you find a prospect and develop one than being able to go out and buy one; I also thought Hiwula had one of his better games (other than his finishing obviously) but the issue for many here is that he is not ‘ours’ (and even worse he is from that lot down the road) so taking a longer term view of his development by persevering with him does not sit well. Given the refreshing longer term thinking of our new owners I hope that the presence of Hiwula, McNulty & Vuckic was more a response to a lack of numbers and that Greg Abbott has been tasked with finding our own younger prospects to bolster the numbers coming through the junior ranks that will take time to build some depth following its lack of attention from the previous regime.

  11. These posts provide good examples of the variety of opinions yet we all watched the same match!

    For the record I was impressed by Hiwula for his running and getting into positions to shoot, that he didn’t score was partly down to the Charlton goalkeeper who made 2 good saves. I certainly agree about the defence in the 1st half – Knight Percival seemed too keen to keep his boots clean and the large gap between him and Vincelot assisted the opposition. (I thought that Vincelot is a midfielder and was only playing in defence due to injury to McArdle. Now that McArdle is fit surely he should be in midfield where his quality distribution is needed.)

    I did feel that McCall’s substitutions were too late. It was not reasonable to expect either McNulty or Morais to make much of an impact when only given a few minutes of game time – and also to make a judgement on their performances.

    From my reading of these posts opinion on Hanson is divided. In the past I have been a fan but for the 1st time I felt that he had reached his sell by date. Yes, his work rate was high but his touch was poor, his lay offs mostly went to the opposition and when he had chance to score he found the goalkeeper. Perhaps it is time to build the team around someone other than Hanson.

  12. The margin between top two/six and mid-table is vast Jason. Time to get the cheque book out next month. as we haven’t a striker on the books! Billy Clarke is our nearest, but injury prone unfortunately. Hiwula no confidence, McNulty not getting game time to see if he has anything to offer and Vuckic is Vuckic!!

  13. We have had a good start especially with the changes in pre season but ultimately we are facing the same problems we had last year and that is our inability to finish chances that are created. We are relying on billy Clarke coming back to save us – remember his return from his injury last year? I was really impressed with the football at the start of the season the players roamed linked up and it really was exciting – I feel we have become rigid ( similar to last season) again ball gets worked to the left again we create a crossing opportunity the attack is ended. Get back to having the slick passing across the whole of the final third quick one twos move the centre halves about. We are also starting games a lot slower the intensity has dropped right off. I believe we have gone backwards over the last two months not just with results but also in our approach.

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