Match review: Port Vale 1 Bradford City 2 (Vincelot, Jones)
By Tim Penfold
This had all of the hallmarks of an average, frustrating Bradford City game. Opposition that had not won for a long time and have slumped into the relegation zone. A dominant first half performance going forward, complete with the usual missed half-chances. A shaky defensive display characterised by missed tackles, poor clearances and a lack of cover, and the inevitable soft equaliser. Yes, for over an hour this game was following a very familiar script.
City lined up in the diamond midfield that had caused Bolton so many problems, but with one change – Jordy Hiwula in for the injured Mark Marshall. This removed some of the fluidity from the system, as Hiwula wasn’t able to replicate Marshall’s roaming role, but he worked hard and had probably the best chance of the opening exchanges well saved.
City dominated possession and spent most of the first 45 minutes camped in the Vale half, but their final ball and finishing weren’t quite there. They also looked vulnerable on the counter – with James Meredith and Tony McMahon both pushing very hard, it was quite easy for Vale to break on the two remaining City defenders, and some accurate pot shots from distance caused Colin Doyle some trouble. That said, the hosts struggled to gain a proper foothold in the game, and it was no surprise when City finally broke through – McMahon’s free kick headed home by the impressive Romain Vincelot.
At this point, City suddenly became sloppy. They nearly conceded an equaliser almost immediately when they failed to deal with a set piece and Nicky Law’s skied clearance eventually set up JJ Hooper to fire wide. The second half began in much the same manner, although Hiwula skied City’s one good chance from a cross just behind him. City gave the ball away too often and wobbled when attacked.
The equaliser came from another poor bit of Law defending, as a poor touch in his own box gave Vale the chance to cross and Hooper a tap-in. Law’s defensive game has become something of a liability in recent weeks, especially in the diamond midfield where more is expected of him – his attacking work normally makes up for it, but not this time.
It looked like the game was heading towards an all too familiar conclusion, but Stuart McCall reacted quickly to change things. The diamond had stopped working going forward – it places a heavy creative burden on the player behind the strikers, and Billy Clarke had an off day. Alex Gilliead came on, City switched to 4-4-2 and started to use the width of the pitch to stretch their opponents.
Gilliead chased what appeared to be a lost cause and created one chance for Charlie Wyke, who headed narrowly wide, before McCall made another switch. This one was Alex Jones, a surprise appearance on the bench after his injuries, coming on for Nicky Law, with Hiwula moving wide on the left and City’s system became 4-2-4.
Jones has had a frustrating time at City so far. Signed with some fanfare in early January, his early performances hadn’t been spectacular and he’d struggled with injuries. What he undoubtedly is, however, is a finisher. Gilliead swung in another good cross, and after a scramble, a block and a large hint of handball Jones drilled it into the net. It’s early days, but we have started scoring a bit more since Wyke has arrived. We may have found a solution to the problem going forwards.
Defensively however, City have been wobbling in recent weeks and McCall knew this. He reacted to going in front by bringing on Timothee Dieng for Wyke, going to a 4-5-1 and aiming to close the game out. This time, unlike against Bolton, City managed it without many alarms.
It did seem like this game was going to be another one of those days – the game following a predictable pattern. But Stuart McCall’s substitutions and tactical changes, combined with the fight and skill of the players on the pitch, ripped up the script and earned City a vital three points. This City side has the ability to go up – in this game they showed the mental strength and professionalism needed to as well.
Good luck Katie!
WOAP’s Katie Whyatt is one of the three finalists for the Sports Journalists’ Association Student Sports Writer of the Year Award. The ceremony where she finds out is on Monday 27 February. You can tweet her good luck here.
Categories: Match Reviews