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