By Katie Whyatt
Stuart McCall had spent the past week stressing the importance of mentality and in that regard he can have few complaints as Bradford City secured their passage to the FA Cup second round with guile and discipline. Goals from Alex Jones and Alex Gilliead ensured there was to be no galling exit to the country’s basement side, and no repeat of the performance that saw his charges lose limply to Accrington Stanley at this stage of the competition last season. On Wednesday, McCall recited from memory the team that lost that game and joked, “It shows I’ve been speaking about it a lot this week.”
McCall fielded today a side that could easily pass for a full-strength League One team. He was rightly pleased with his squad’s attitude but noted with his typical candour that Chesterfield saw more of the ball than he would have liked: both sides were often guilty of squandering possession but equally there were moments when each controlled the middle, Jak McCourt a lively match for City’s deep midfield pairing of Vincelot and Dieng.
Much of the first half was played at a frenetic pace that occasionally abated, but never left the game entirely. Initially, Chesterfield found themselves stifled by City’s relentless pressing and harrying, players snapping and darting into challenges to stop the ball at source. There were times City had the game in a vice-like grip with their closing down but also moments where Chesterfield proved equally combative and abraisive.
Charlie Wyke dashed back to halfway with the pace and trajectory of a human cannonball to wrest possession from McCourt, before, moments later, careering wildly into a second ball like a sprinter out the blocks – head bowed, body angled downwards – to stop it landing at the feet of a man in blue. Andy Kellett lunged so prematurely in anticipation of a pass that never was that he tackled the invisible man, wriggling towards nothing and no one like a FIFA 07 player at the mercy of an errant circle button. Ian Evatt had Jones in a headlock midway through the first half, before Jones scooted past the defender on the next phase of play to find Dieng at the near post. It was bruising viewing: handbrakes off, seatbelts off, Wile E. Coyote hurtling after Road Runner, and had it gone to a replay both managers would probably have consoled themselves with the words, “At least no one got hurt.”
Heads crashed into heads, legs smacked faces, Paul Taylor probably lost a couple of teeth. As if to emphasise the point, there was a moment in the first half when McCall could be heard – as is often the case with early round cup ties – imploring Gilliead to keep the line high. You can drop deep later, he instructed.
For all City’s unwavering hounding, though, there were moments Chesterfield glided through the middle of the park with concerning ease: at one point, Chesterfield thought they had levelled, Kristian Dennis having beaten Colin Doyle at the near post from a corner, only for the flag to come to City’s rescue. If City had reduced the visitors to pot shots from range in the first half, the second was a little more open: with 15 minutes to go, Joe Rowley missed an inviting opportunity to change the complexion of the tie as he fluffed his lines inside the box, his poor connection instead allowing Adam Thompson to scramble clear.
Still, there were enough moments of genuine quality from City. In McCall’s disciplined 4-4-2, Jones was the highest forward and shimmered with intent, reading Alex Gilliead superbly. Indeed, two bolts of class from Jones proved the difference: it was his through ball, laced with danger, four minutes in that perceptibly found Gilliead for an easy conversion, before Jones got his own moment in the sun by assuredly guiding the ball past his man and dinking it into the far corner. It has been a testing season so for Jones as he has struggled to make an imprint on the first team, but as auditions go this hardly could have gone better and Jones braved a rough encounter well to staunchly and artfully exert his vision and verve. Tyrell Robinson replaced Alex Gilliead with four minutes of normal time remaining and made a lively cameo, skipping past Bradley Barry with confidence to deliver a teasing cross.
Paul Taylor was planted on the left wing and, with the freedom to move wide and deep, his natural agility and craft were in evidence once more. Taylor can carve openings with a drop of the shoulder and was a deadly fusion of vision and pace, eluding defenders to unleash a fearsome snap of a shot that almost beat Joe Anyon. If there were times last season when McCall’s men were too lateral, spinning the ball on the area but struggling to forge an opening, Taylor brings the incision they lacked, and he thought he had made it three when, standing by the corner flag like a golfer debating which club to select, he planted a perfectly-executed cross onto the head of Charlie Wyke before the referee blew for pushing in the box. As it was, it didn’t matter: City would go on to secure Stuart McCall’s first FA Cup win at Valley Parade since 2007.
Categories: Match Reviews