Match review: Bradford City 1 (Law) Bury 1
By Jason McKeown
There’s a statement that keeps being banded around Valley Parade of late, and few would disagree with its sentiment. It goes like this: if we’d been offered a play off positioning at this stage of the season back in the summer, we’d have all happily taken it.
It is absolutely correct of course, but there’s a very real danger of it beginning to sound like a broken record. Of course we are glad to be amongst the top six at the end of the year, and there is much to be excited about. But back in October City were second, and a month ago the Bantams looked to be part of a four-team tussle for the automatic promotion places. That has slipped away. We can’t keep patting ourselves on the back just because we’re still exceeding worst fears.
A slight dip in results has turned into something more long-term. Three wins from the last 11 matches is not promotion form. This fourth successive draw has left City ripe for being overtaken by the chasing pack. It has to get better quickly.
And considering Bury’s on and off-the-field woes, there can be little disputing that this was two points dropped by the home side. They paid the price for a lethargic first half performance that offered the beleaguered Shakers encouragement and eventually the initiative.
The visitors were predictably compact, kept men behind the ball and did all they could to slow down the pace of the match. But they kept finding joy on the counter attack, and Scott Burgess’ 39th minute opener was far from a shock.
Stuart McCall, who with two games in three days to consider had rotated the team, will have been exasperated by the drop in standards during the first half. Whatever criticisms levelled at the team over recent weeks, effort and endevour were never in question.
Aside from James Hanson’s excellent header from Jordy Hiwula’s cross that was superbly saved by Rob Lainton, there was once again not enough potency in the final third. Bury looked panicky at times, but simply weren’t tested enough in the first 45 minutes. The half time boos from the stands were understandable.
It got better – a lot better – in the second half. City emerged from a McCall dressing down to show more urgency and imprint a higher tempo on proceedings. They went more direct than has been typical, encouraged by Hanson winning so much in the air. Nicky Law equalised with a rebound effort after Hiwula’s drive at goal had been blocked by Lainton. And at that stage there were 39 minutes to win the game.
City completely dominated the second half. They ended up with 62% possession to Bury’s 38%, and forced twice as many shots at goal. But they couldn’t find a winner. It was an utterly frustrating repeat of so many games this season. Superb approach play, with Josh Cullen and Nicky Law outstanding once more, but no end product.
At times the balls into the box were poor. Mark Marshall arguably had his worst game of the season, not helped by picking up a first half knock. Tony McMahon’s corners and delivery were not quite up to the right back’s extremely high standards. Matt Kilgallon was excellent defensively in covering for James Meredith, but offers nowhere near the same level of threat going forward. Danny Devine took more of a wide position in the second half to enable Law to be more central. The young midfielder had a good game overall, but City clearly need another wide player in January.
Inevitably the post-match criticisms were centred on the strikers. James Hanson endured some awful criticism, but was once again the best forward by some distance. To those who don’t think he should be in the team – right now, who would you pick ahead of him? Hanson is not in his best run of form for sure, but today he created lots of opportunities for team mates, and more should have been made of them.
Jordy Hiwula ran his heart out and was his usual mixture of good and bad, but the real problems in the striking department lay with the other two forwards on the books. Unfortunately the late August arrivals of Haris Vuckic and Marc McNulty simply haven’t worked out. Their failure to emerge as credible alternatives are no one’s fault but their own.
It was somewhat fitting that the final two chances of the afternoon fell to each of them, and were both wasted badly. McNulty is probably going to remain at Valley Parade for the season and perhaps there is hope for the Sheffield United man yet. As for Vuckic, his return to Newcastle is surely a forgone conclusion. He has offered nothing to suggest he should remain, and his tepid cameo here was hugely frustrating. Vuckic should be much, much better than this.
As the January window opens at last, it is going to be a huge month in trying to find the answers to arrest City’s decline and reinvigorate the season. Speaking on the Pulse after the game, McCall’s comments on the club’s attempts to sign a striker were curious and concerning. “That part of it’s out of my hands” he said. Before batting back a question on Ched Evans that suggests he at least does not see the controversial Chesterfield frontman as the answer.
It is all worrying because it suggests that McCall is not in full charge of the players who come in to the club this window. There is talk of a six-hour transfer meeting this week featuring McCall, Greg Abbott and Edin Rahic, with suggestions reaching WOAP’s ear that there was not a universal agreement over which players to target. In that context, McCall stating “that part of it’s out of my hands” would suggest City will be signing players by committee rather than going solely on what the manager says. And that could cause problems in the long run.
Of course, McCall will have known last summer that he was being employed by German owners with strong views on transfers and who to sign. Rahic has a philosophy for building the club and a view on the type of players they should be bringing in. It is said that one of the reasons Phil Parkinson chose to leave Bradford City was discovering he’d have to concede some control over which players to sign. McCall must have accepted this reality when taking the job, but that doesn’t mean he will find it easy if he is not in full control of signings in January.
Whoever is ultimately making the decisions, the fate of the 2016/17 season rests upon the transfer activity over the next few weeks. If City carry on as they are, they are going to struggle to make the play offs. If they can invest in the right areas and bring in the right quality, big things could happen.
McCall, Abbott and Rahic all share the same goal – building a football team that scores more goals and wins more matches. Let’s hope they can collaboratively find the right answers.
Best of luck to Nathan Clarke
Just before kick off against Bury it was revealed that Nathan Clarke is departing Bradford City for Coventry City. Clarke has barely featured this season after signing a one-year contract extension during the summer, so his departure makes a lot of sense.
It’s hard to think of many players who had a more torrid start to their City career than Clarke, who was mightily embarrassed at Swindon Town on his debut in August 2015, and was just as dismal three days later at York City. Yet Clarke eventually recovered and made an important impact last season, filling in ably when other centre halves were injured and contributed to the club record clean sheets in a season. He also received a lot of praise for the on and off the field way he supported Reece Burke.
Coventry have got themselves a very solid professional who can help them in their increasingly difficult plight.
Categories: Match Reviews