No surprises

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Match review: Bradford City 2 (McMahon, Wyke) MK Dons 2

By Jason McKeown

Many managers fall into this trap. You’ve just achieved a great result in your last game after changing your system midway through, so you elect to use it from the start next time out. Only the circumstances behind why it was successful aren’t necessarily repeated, and it has been easy for the opposition manager to predict your strategy.

The MK Dons boss, Robbie Nielson, was able to enjoy the measure of Stuart McCall here. He correctly anticipated Bradford City going with the 4-4-2 approach that had been switched to in the second half of Saturday’s victory over Port Vale, and set up his team to stifle their creativity.

On an evening when former City hero Gary Jones was paraded in front of the crowd, one of the key reasons why he was let go three years ago was replayed by the modern day Bradford City. Packing midfield, with a high tempo 4-5-1 stopped Jones’ City back then, and it was a familiar tale here. The 4-4-2 was outnumbered in the middle of the park.

Neilson’s MK Dons are far removed from their old attractive passing approach, hindered by a soft underbelly, that routinely undid Karl Robinson on trips to Valley Parade, and their dogged approach earned them a deserved point. They weren’t subtle but they were street-smart. Leaving City playing catch up and struggling all evening to find the initiative.

Like many visitors to Valley Parade this season, they pressed well and got forward in numbers when opportunities arose. A fast, proactive start resulted in an away goal within three minutes. Stuart O’Keefe’s long range shot was deflected into the net, but criminally City allowed him far too much space to shoot, and should have prevented him receiving the ball in the first place. It was a goal of good fortune, but City brought on their own bad luck.

And left with an even greater urgency to attack, the MK Dons shackles left the Bantams toothless and frustrated. Romain Vincelot and Josh Cullen battled manfully in the centre, but were outnumbered which prevented them from launching attacks. Nicky Law tried to tuck inside to help, but with space on the flanks to go forward City lacked the balance to make it count. James Meredith, so often City’s best attacking threat, had a rare off night. On a dreadful pitch, MK Dons were happy to let City have possession outwide, only putting pressure on the ball when home players were level with the box. They did the ugly things well.

Certainly far better than City, who continue to look vulnerable at the back and liable to concede preventable goals. Having got back to 1-1 with a debatable penalty netted by Tony McMahon, a freak mis-hit cross deceived Colin Doyle to restore the Dons’ lead. It would be harsh to blame Doyle too much, but in the first half at least the Republic of Ireland international struggled.

Charlie Wyke netted for the third home game in a row to restore parity, but as the players trooped off at half time it felt like the home side had got away with one. Players below par, and a set up that the MK Dons had neutralised. Something had to change.

And though the second half performance was improved, it still wasn’t enough to better an outcome of a third straight 2-2 home draw. City pushed forwards and had spells of pressure, but struggled to sustain it. Alex Gilliead was excellent on the right wing, and the source of much of City’s best efforts. But tellingly the MK Dons had the clearest cut chances of the half, with Doyle back to his best to prevent them.

The problem with going back to 4-4-2 here lied in solving the never-ending conundrum: Billy Clarke. Unquestionably a real asset at this level, but his deep-lying preference was at the heart of the frustrations.

The packed out MK Dons midfield left Clarke too isolated, and at times Wyke had to play on his own, his back to goal. A role he can do well, but not exactly playing to his strengths. And it was why MK Dons were happy to risk allowing City plenty of the ball outside, knowing any crosses would be predictable in the fact they would have to be aimed at Wyke.

The diamond that was discarded midway through the second half against Port Vale was successfully getting the best out of Clarke – and means City can operate within the lines of an opposition 4-5-1. Asking Clarke to play in a 4-4-2 sees City lose something. But even then, McCall’s decision to replace Clarke with Alex Jones on the hour somehow worsened the situation. Not for the first time, Jones struggled to make any impression playing down the middle at home.

All of which left it curious why McCall elected against making any further changes. He’d been outthought in the first half but did little to address it over the closing stages. At one point Mark Marshall looked set to come on but in the end Jones was the only change made.

Watching home players pile forwards in numbers disproves any argument McCall is playing it safe. But having taken such a risky approach to a point, you wonder why he wasn’t prepared to push it that little bit further.

Results elsewhere were kind – League One is a poor division this year – but that added to the sense of missed opportunity felt, once again. City are unbeaten at home for over a year now, but have only won once at Valley Parade in three months.

At least Peterborough manager Grant McCann will find it more difficult than Neilson to predict the Bradford City line up on Saturday.

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Categories: Match Reviews

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18 replies

  1. A slow start and some poor defending meant we were chasing the game. However, a positive has to be the fact that we battled back after being behind twice, but the negative is that we are looking vulnerable at the back as highlighted by our recent lack of clean sheets.
    Overall, we are reluctantly happy to share the spoils against a dangerous team in MK Dons
    Roll on Saturday

  2. Awful performance we did well to get a point. Side to side predictability in the first half – is this really any better than what was served up by parky? second half in an attempt to prevent the counter we decided to play long balls to wyke which was even less effective than the first half . One win in 6 failure to win at home again, 6 conceded in 3 home games – we are very fortunate that other teams have faltered otherwise we would be well and truely out of the playoffs. some major cracks appearing the draws are covering a lot of them up

    • Sorry but I have to disagree with you, the conditions on the night plus the way mkdons were set up contributed to the result last night. Our ultimate undoing this season will be our lack of “streetwise” nous in games. We have all season lacked a cutting edge.

  3. Another good post.
    Last night was only my third game this season due to living away. But each time its been the same crablike performance. Stuart has to roll the dice sooner in games to try get a result. It was clear that the system wasnt working.
    On a plus, Wyke looks a great signing.

  4. Good report as usual.

    For all the analysis it seems to me obvious that if you are 5th in the league and can’t beat the team who are 15th when playing at home then you aren’t really good enough to be sure of a play-off spot,

    • And neither Fleetwood nor Bolton have managed to beat MK Dons at home… funny that

      • Not really interested in Bolton or Fleetwood to be honest mate, it’s City I was commenting on.

      • Then you’ve ignored your own point completely ‘mate’ idiot

      • Should we go through the season and compare each team that we have failed to beat but fleetwood and Bolton have managed win against. League position and league stats would not see your argument stack up. One example we drew with Southend at home Bolton beat them, we lost to Swindon away Bolton beat them.

      • Maybe try and follow my point instead of calling me names, other websites kind of encourage hat sort of abuse. WoaP is generally more interested in the debate.

  5. One of the few times McCall has got it wrong this year and one of the few games where we’ve only got what we deserved – maybe if anything a little more than. 1st half we were dreadful and I’ve only seen a couple of performances like that this season. 2nd half we were better but not at our brilliant best.

    McCall is a little over reliant on Law… I noticed at Shrewbury away his response to one of the other few performances there was to put Nicky in the middle of the park and when doing so he screamed from the sidelines. Nicky get in the middle and get involved. However he now looks very tired and having less impact on games. Perhaps he needs taking out for a couple of games to be refreshed for an end of season push?

    • Echo Luke’s thoughts, which were in line with my conclusions of last night’s game. It’s the first time this season where I questioned SM’s in game management. At the 70 minute mark it was clear where the game was heading – either another draw or MK scoring again. So why didn’t he look to make a change. And why have Marshal on the bench if you’ve no intention of playing him?
      I also think Law is looking off the pace. He’s work rate in games has been phenomenal, but he looks 75% the player he was only a few weeks ago. Like Luke suggests – time to bench him for a couple of games.
      On the positives, Wyke continues ti impress and I’m sure he’s not the finished article. Gillead also was very impressive. My MOTM.
      And a glass half full thought. It’s been a full year sine we last lost at home, which I think was the Colchester game? That was one of the most inept performances I’d seen from City in a long time. I came away from that game convinced our season was over, but we made the play-offs so, why can’t we do it again?

  6. I thought we were lucky last night and got away with one. Good battling performance to get level but were lucky not to concede in the second half. We have a tendency to play out wide at all costs when sometimes an attack through the middle would shake things up and give Charlie a chance against the big center backs, we have the craft to do this.
    I have reservations about Doyle, he doesn’t command his area and for a big man is reluctant to come off his line and challenge for crosses, lets face it keepers are the best protected players on the pitch. The opposition tend to get one shot and score although he did pull off a good save in the second half to keep us level.
    I agree Nicky Law does seem a bit tired and may be due a rest or benching to come on later in a game on the odd occassion as he is an important part of our side and will be needed for the last push

  7. Not surprised that Stuart decided against risking Marshall after MK Dons lost their dangerous striker Chuks Aneke to a recurrence of a hamstring injury. On that pitch I was hoping Marshall was not thrown on. As for the pitch, I have been saying all season that ours sometimes resembles Piccadilly Circus. We had TWO matches of “walking football” at halftime in January as well as all the subs out. On my sole visit to Anfield I could not help but notice the signs saying “only players on the pitch”. Won’t make our surface like Anfield, but at least from November to April keeping the public off would be a help.
    Meanwhile Charlie Wyke – very impressed with his touch and I don’t think you give enough credit for the strength and desire shown in taking his goal. for me he was man of match even though it somehow went to Cullen.

  8. so predictable, ball to Meredith/McMahon, run forward, give it to winger/anyone inside try crossing it. I could close my eyes for 20 seconds, open them and the ball was where I predicted. If I can do that the opposing team/manager can do the same…..try something different please!
    ps Doyle is a liability on any half decent ball into the area

    • Fully agree with this post. At the beginning of the season our forwards were roaming and difficult to pick up, the play was in the neat one twos around the penalty area, we were getting penalties and driving into the area from different angles and looked great. We were so unpredictable and it was brilliant to watch. As the season has progressed we have become so predictable it is not too different from what parky served up. Last season we had 442 (when we did not go long) we looked to work it out wide. Please bring back the roaming neat passing effective unpredictable movement that we are capable of delivering. We can do it we have proven this.

  9. Not sure what your view of it was or if you’ve seen it since but the penalty was clear, Rory complained to the ref before the corner came in that he was being pulled, defender had a huge handful of his shirt and ref I feel was right to award the spot kick.

    In my opinion Law needs a rest. Much as I love Rory I also think we may be better reverting to NKP and Vincelot as the centre back pair, they clicked, whereas Rory hasn’t done with NKP. I’d get Dieng back in and play Darby at right back allowing McMahon to be the tucked in midfielder with Marshall if fit wide and Clarke and Wyke up top.

    Second place has been there for the taking for a while and is still not beyond us but a consistent run of wins which we have failed to deliver so far is needed or it will be the lottery of the playoffs.

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