Bradford City home and dry despite concerning second half

Wyke celebration

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Katie Whyatt

Stuart McCall’s post-match interviews began with an honesty to capture what a bittersweet afternoon this ultimately became for Bradford City. “I thought that was the best part of it – the three points,” he said, of a match in which a decent first-half showing gave way to a second in which his charges were a little meeker, a little more frenetic, than certainly he would have liked. There was a grim duality about this City performance that has overshadowed the three points it adds to the tally – with 23 from a possible 33, City are up to third – and McCall was firm in his evaluation: “I felt we stopped playing second half. For all the endeavour we had, I thought possession of the ball was pretty poor.”

In many ways, this was routine enough stuff for Bradford City. By now, their goal compilation reel plays as a clinical copy and paste job: deadly cross, deadly Vincelot / Kilgallon / Wyke / Knight-Percival (delete as appropriate) header, goal, and then a handful of wonder strikes and Matt Kilgallon piggybacks to halt the sense of déjà vu.

So it was today, twice: firstly, Adam Chicksen’s looping cross found the head of the potent Charlie Wyke to break the deadlock inside twenty minutes. Then, for the next box on your Bradford City bingo card, Tony McMahon’s corner arced into Nat Knight-Percival’s vicinity and the defender applied the header to double City’s lead. McMahon has spent a sizeable chunk of the season hurtling in crosses with the accuracy and nonchalance of a man mindlessly shooting paper planes into an office waste paper basket and everyone’s favourite shrinking violet was on point again, on the day of his 100th Bradford City appearance, to notch up his seventh assist of the season.

The Expected Goals stats might not look so favourably on City – viewing, as they do, crosses and set-pieces as unreliable routes to goals – but it is difficult to think of a team who have ever been so consistently lethal in their delivery. It is hard, too, to think of many players more primed for aerial combat than Wyke, teaming stern hold-up play with blitzed finishing like a lower league Álvaro Morata. As much as his absence on Tuesday night was a cause for concern – at their best, City look perfectly fine without him; at their worst, a tad rudderless – he remains an opportunistic focal point, seeing a second chalked off for a foul on Marko Maros before coming close with another header. There is no obvious like-for-like replacement for him in the squad – Dominic Poleon and Omari Patrick are similarly instinctive finishers, but are decidedly different strikers. For sheer nerve and power in and around the box, and astuteness in his hold-up play, Wyke remains unmatched.

Like against Rotherham, a disciplined first half was required to compensate for a second in which City found themselves tested. This time, however, was a slightly less comfortable affair, and the 2-0 scoreline belies a second half littered with poor decision-making, stray passes and nervy moments. It might flatter Doncaster to say they looked like finding three in reply – the outstanding Colin Doyle was unbreachable, producing three saves in five minutes to deny Ben Whiteman, Harry Toffolo and Tommy Rowe – but City’s defending fell into the realm of ‘last ditch’ at times, Knight-Percival booting the danger over the bar before Alex Gilliead frantically cleared off the line. Inescapably, it was nerve-jangling and uneasy viewing occasionally.

McCall noted in his post-match thoughts an “edginess” about his side and it was difficult to argue: the game needed a midfielder to take a stranglehold of proceedings but unusually sloppy distribution marred the second half performances of Jake Reeves and Romain Vincelot. The pair did, however, screen the backline diligently despite finding themselves outnumbered at times, McCall having elected to use Gilliead and Nicky Law as out-and-out wingers against a pacy and swift Doncaster break.

This was by design – McCall admitting post-match that he had anticipated facing three at the back and “wanted to play four right up against them… We were going to have to give up a little bit of the middle of the park at times”. Paul Taylor, in his first start of the season, was a useful outball and enjoyed some decent moments, even if he exhibited some of the same shortcomings in distribution that dogged Vincelot and Reeves.

One of City’s issues last season was the tendency to dominate games but have little to show for their endeavours. This season so far has been the reverse – and McCall’s post-match comments certainly demonstrate there was a calculated willingness to surrender ground today – but the most glaring issues for City today were not being caught on the break after periods of reckless abandon, but failing to get the basics right. They are sharper in front of goal for sure, but McCall noted his side’s difficulty in retaining possession as Doncaster began to wrest control of the contest. In doing so, they made life difficult for themselves.

The result was pleasing for City and caps off a September in which they have lost just once amid rapidly rising expectations. There were, however, some areas for concern in the uncharacteristic anxiety that punctured their second half.

Categories: Match Reviews

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14 replies

  1. ‘Looping punt’? I would say ‘pin point cross with his weaker foot’ might be more accurate? 🙂

  2. Thank you for your speedy match report Katie.

    Like McCall’s post-match interview, your report has an air of honesty. I spoke with a young guy whilst walking down the stairs in the main stand after the game and we were saying how frustrating it was that we struggled throughout the second half to put three passes together.

    I thought that Wyke and NKP were excellent today and a special mention to Colin Doyle who in the words of Wayne Jacobs was: ‘neat and tidy’.

    Now for the month of October.

  3. Thanks for a same day match appraisal which as a City geek on a Sat night after 3 points is ideal! Well done for Sept all in all very impressive. I’m a happy city fan and never been as proud of my club/fans etc as I am these days. 30+ years. wanted to put this out there as I’m a tad confused. Despite the club stating want to build a young hungry squad with local talent a big part of that (Rahic – Webb Foster comments on arrival ) Our 1st 11 this season generally has a couple of young lads in it at best and probably average age of 27 at a guess. The bench has 2/3 defensive loaned players on it + a loaned keeper. Macarten and Dieng will take up 2 more bench spots in next week or 2 also. Does anyone know what Daniel Devine in particular has done wrong? 12 months ago he played so very well at full back and defensive midfield. We were all buzzing for him. What does it say for Pybus, Hanson and Hudson all of whom have shown promise in city 1st team colours? They’re another 5-6 lads beyond these that have been bigged up by JM / GA on arrival over last 4/5 months that realistically don’t stand a cat in hells chance of playing this season or beyond not to mention our own Peters, fit again Webb Foster, the mysterious Sam Wright 3+ years pro contract 20 year old and no 1st team game yet? Laird, Payne, Windle etc. Approx 35 lads given hope of 1st team at City in summer meaning 15-20 each week left out wondering what’s going on + wages etc. Only 1-2 out on loan surely balance not right somehow?

    • A couple of points, its not the same Sam Wright. He’s only 17, the other left. As promising as the youngsters are thats the key word, promise. Do you seriously advocate playing the likes of Peters, Laird etc before Reeves, Killa etc? Pybus, Hanson & Hudson have had a chance and need to use it to push for regular involvement by producing and improving in training, not just handed a spot because they are young. Devine was thrown in the deep end and performed well but his game did tail off as the season progressed as is normal with young players. Can you imagine the uproar if Stuart threw all these lads in and we got a hammering? League 1 is a tough old league and the young lads need to be taught how to be professional footballers first & foremost.

    • I have got to say I disagree. The owners said they wanted to bring in young talent, and I’m sure in an ideal world they would like the team to contain several local lads, but they can only be included if they are good enough.

      That is why we have had to look elsewhere and in the last 2 transfer windows, we have brought in the likes of Wyke, Jones, McCarten, Reeves, Poleon, who are all in their mid 20’s at most, and fit in with the template of young hungry players, with the potential to improve.

      Would I also start Devine above Vincelot, Reeves and Dieng, certainly not.

      As for the likes of Hanson and Pybus, they would come under the category of not yet being ready for consistently appearing in the 1st team, but with further coaching would hopefully improve, so they will be knocking on the door, as the season progresses. You probably could’ve put Patrick under that category at the start of the season, but it shows just how quickly things can change.

  4. Despite seeming a team of one good winger, two up front who could barely keep their feet, and two thugs at the back, we couldn’t get the ball off them for the first 18 minutes.
    Wyke was admirable – at times illegal, but admirable. What a guy!
    And Doyle may be neat and tidy but I wish he could catch first time.

  5. Sorry Katie,’Perfectly fine without’ Wkye in the team?
    No we are not!

    • When “at their best” they are fine without him – that’s what I wrote, and they were fine without him against Blackpool and Gillingham. I said otherwise, at their worst, they were a tad rudderless without him.

  6. Whilst agreeing with most of what you say, I think particular mention needs to be made of the referee. Unlike most supporters I think the general standard of refereeing is pretty good, but Mr Backhouse was appalling. Wyke must be black and blue from the elbowing and pulling he received, but the referee saw nothing wrong in it. City’s passing was not good, but, truly, I never in the second half thought Doncaster would score.
    Finally, thanks for the speedy repoert. Like many others, I do miss them when not given.

    • I agree with the issue about the low standard of refereeing, & I do think it can have a negative effect on how a team plays, if you keep getting pulled up for (let’s say spurious) offsides then eventually you stop making runs, & if you keep getting penalised for making legiitmate challenges then you stop making challenges. I thought Reeves’ yellow card was justified, but by the same token then Doncaster should have had at least one player booked for exactly the same thing.

  7. To come back with a victory after losing our last home game 0-3 is a great feeling. Doncaster played some good stuff, but apart from a couple of heart in mouth incidents first half, we looked solid at the back. I thought Kilgallon and Doyle, were outstanding. Definitely room for improvement keeping possession which I think is down to new personnel and partnerships not on the same wave length this early in the season.

  8. To be honest I don’t think we have come close to firing on all cylinders. Apart from the Bristol Rovers home match, I don’t feel any other games at home were really comfortable or where we put the team to bed. That’s probably a sign of a very good team. Yesterday, we didn’t really get out of own half in the 2nd halve. I think McCall was spot on with his analysis on post match radio interviews.

    Also Im sure Donny will go away annoyed to come out with nothing having had 19 attempts on goal compared to our 7. It wasn’t pretty watching the 2nd half but I’d didn’t feel overtly worried. Maybe if their chance early in 2nd went in it might have been a different story. We are having a bit of luck so far so long may it continue. I look forward to when we spank a team at home.

    • This is spot on, we’ve done enough to win games but nowhere near to firing on all cylinders. As you mention, the Bristol Rovers game and i would say Peterborough. McCall’s analysis post match is pretty much always bang on the money and he’s admitted in most of them there is definite room for improvement. The views about Wyke in other posts are also true, he is so pivotal to what we do, forget the Blackpool and Gillingham games, we weren’t anything special in either of them but did enough to win. With Charlie we’ve got a real chance of going up. Without him, forget it.

  9. For me the last two games have outlined a shortcoming in our squad which must be addressed in the January window…..”There is no obvious like-for-like replacement for him in the squad – Dominic Poleon and Omari Patrick are similarly instinctive finishers, but are decidedly different strikers.” add to this Alex Jones who, in midweek was attempting a job for which he is patently unsuited. of course I am talking about City with Charlie Wyke and City without. he is the focal point for the way we play. without him we have players who can’t do his job in the way we play or we have to adapt what is our successful style of play. in short we need another front man with aerial presence and hold up play who can do a worthwhile taget man job in his absence if we’re serious in aiming for an automatic promotion spot.

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