Match review: Bradford City 1 (Law) Oxford United 0
By Tim Penfold
We knew from the beginning that Stuart McCall’s teams would play prettier football than Phil Parkinson’s. That was the Parkinson style, especially last season – results over aesthetics, and it turned us from a team on the verge of dropping out of the league to a team on the verge of the Championship. But the big question was “can McCall’s teams grind out the results needed?”
In his first spell as manager this was their weakness. McCall’s teams could destroy opponents, but when the pressure was on they fell apart. Eight years and a spell at Motherwell later, and how things have changed. Oxford played well today – their pressing game shut us down well in the first half and they caused us problems at the back – but City scrapped for everything and saw the game out. This team is tougher than the 2008/09 squad, and it shows.
The first half was low on quality chances. Both teams tried to play short passing games, but both were neutralised by the pressure and defence of their opponents. City, reverting to a 4-4-2, were unable to get their main creators into the game – Nicky Law forced too deep and Mark Marshall double marked – and what scraps fell to Jordy Hiwula and Charlie Wyke were well mopped up by the Oxford defence, and going forward the pacy Marvin Johnson and the tricky Chris Maguire threatened. Oxford’s best chance was put wide by centre back Curtis Nelson, while City had a Hiwula shot blocked and a McArdle header pushed wide.
City, as they have made a habit of doing recently, came out stronger in the second half. Wyke’s header from a corner was cleared off the line, and they were able to pressure the Oxford defence more, with a couple of openings denied by some bizarre refereeing. But still the breakthrough did not come, and Oxford looked dangerous.
Then came a moment that shows how different a manager McCall is from the first time around. During a break in play, Hiwula and Law were called over to the touchline for new tactical instructions. City now played a 4-2-1-3, with Hiwula on the left and Law in the hole, and it soon produced an opening. Hiwula found space with good control and a quick one-two, and spread the ball over to Marshall on the right. Finally free of his markers, Marshall swung a cross in towards Wyke and his header down fell into the path of Law a yard out, who made no mistake.
Oxford immediately responded, and Conor McAleny forced a couple of good saves from Colin Doyle, but City looked good defensively with Tony McMahon making one spectacular saving tackle in the penalty box. City also looked dangerous on the counter, with Josh Cullen firing over and Charlie Wyke, for once able to get away from the constant presence of Oxford defenders hanging on to his shirt, spun and volleyed from wide of the box, forcing a good save from Simon Eastwood in the Oxford goal.
Oxford brought on more forwards as the game went on and went more direct, but Rory McArdle and Nathaniel Knight-Percival headed everything clear.
This, then, was a victory of heart as much as it was of skill. City’s players left everything out on the field. Charlie Wyke, who was given no help from the referee despite the Oxford defence’s attempts to swap shirts during the game, was superb, winning headers, holding the ball up and causing so many problems. Late on in the game he finally got a free kick for an offence that had gone unpunished numerous times before, and it was greeted with a standing ovation. Most of that was aimed sarcastically at the referee, but City’s number nine deserved just as much for a brilliant display.
And it was a victory for Stuart McCall. His substitutions, like at Bury last week, were spot on, with Timothee Dieng and Stephen Darby coming on to kill the game off, and his in-game tactical switch was key to our win. He’s a much better manager now than he was the first time around, and deserves both the plaudits and the play off spot.
Categories: Match Reviews