Rampant Peterborough United crush below-par Bradford City

Taylor

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Katie Whyatt 

“Their front three are as good as anything in this league,” explained Stuart McCall, post-match, as he reflected on how his Bradford City side had endured a bruising afternoon at the hands of Peterborough United’s Jack Marriott, Marcus Maddison and Danny Lloyd. “But we knew that. It was how well we were going to cope with them – which we didn’t, first half.”

McCall’s post-match assessment was as searingly honest as ever, and highlighted the toxic combination – City’s own under-par performance plus a side that take no prisoners – that tripped City to their sixth league defeat of the season at Valley Parade, this time against a Peterborough side that produced football bordering on the terrifying. Lloyd made the most of their vibrant start 14 minutes in, shooting across Rouven Sattelmaier from a tight angle, before Marriott’s diving header doubled their lead. City stemmed the onslaught in the second half but it was an expertly-crafted counter that saw Marriott fend off Tyrell Robinson and dink the ball over Sattelmaier. Paul Taylor’s party trick salvaged a consolation goal for the hosts but this was a game that was over before the break: Peterborough’s bite, menace, nerve and pace had scissored through City and shot the visitors out of sight within half an hour.

Grant McCann’s side offered a masterclass in finishing, pressing and game-management. This was one of the most complete Valley Parade performances by an away side since Steve Morison and Lee Gregory schooled City in the 2016 play-off semi-finals and Tony McMahon was so incensed he slapped a defender. Even as City enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the second half, Posh’s backline, bar a goal-bound Robinson shot, looked relatively untroubled. City picked some team to have an off-day against.

All the warning signs were there, but this was still a particularly accomplished showing. In League One this season, only Wigan Athletic have scored more league goals than Peterborough’s 42, and this marked the third league game on the bounce in which McCann’s men have put three past their opponents. That lauded front three of Marriott, Maddison and Lloyd began today with 35 goals and – ludicrously – 20 assists between them. Their cool finishing – one for Danny Lloyd, two for Marriott – ensured their side finished the day within four points of their opponents. To put that into context, City’s highest goalscorers – Taylor, Charlie Wyke and Dominic Poleon – have collectively managed 22 goals and six assists. Maddison alone had 15 assists in all competitions before today, and more league assists than any other player in the top four leagues – even the likes of De Bruyne, Sane and Silva do not run him close. Won’t somebody think of the children?

An injury-hit City faced League One’s most dangerous forward line with no Knight-Percival and no Adam Chicksen. Adam Thompson partnered Matthew Kilgallon at centre half and Luke Hendrie replaced Tyrell Robinson – today a winger – at left back. McCall admitted post-match that “the writing was on the wall very early on” and it easy to see his point: the game was eight minutes old when Lloyd latched on to Maddison’s cutting pass and Sattelmaier got down quickly to repel the danger with his chest. Eight minutes later, Michael Doughty had flicked the ball between Kilgallon’s legs and into the drifting Marriott’s vicinity and only Sattelmaier’s knee retained parity.

Yet from the resultant goal kick it was the white shirts winning the key aerial duels, and Marriott, climbing just higher than Thompson, pointed his header at towards the (unmarked, unnoticed) Lloyd on the left flank. Lloyd powered forward in a blur and by the time Kilgallon had made up the distance Peterborough’s number ten had shot across Sattelmaier with the kind of slickness and ruthlessness usually reserved for Manchester City.

A few faces will be averting their gazes from the post-match video review this week and it will have troubled McCall deeply that, for Peterborough’s second, City were so preoccupied with Maddison’s trickery on the flank that they uncharacteristically left three men unmarked inside the area. This is a side, after all, that has made it their mission to resurrect the offside trap and yet none of the organisational qualities that have made over the years for such a robust defence were in evidence today. Maddison’s deadly cross met Marriott, whose diving header looped over Sattelmaier.
McCall replaced Thompson and Hendrie with Shay McCartan and Timothee Dieng at half-time, Romain Vincelot and Robinson dropping into the back four. There was a more redemptive feel about City’s second half showing – this was McCartan’s best outing in a City shirt, and he was the source of his side’s most golden opportunity when, darting up the right, he crossed for Tyrell Robinson to be denied by Jonathan Bond’s leg.

In truth, though, none of their usual tricks really looked like working. Peterborough pressed and harried so relentlessly that there was a moment in the second half where Kilgallon – arguably the home side’s player of the season, for context – was put under so much pressure that the ball he had attempted to bring down on his chest glided up his neck and smacked him in the face.

At times, Peterborough felt like some bizarre House of the Dead monster without a weak point – “once you go a couple of goals behind, it makes them a bigger threat,” McCall reflected – and there was a grim inevitability about the moment Madison, meeting a loose ball on the edge of the box, cushioned the ball over Nicky Law’s head and unleashed Marriott to lob Sattelmaier for his second – and Peterborough’s third – of the afternoon. There was still time for Paul Taylor to, um, do a Paul Taylor, but it was telling that City’s goal came from a moment of individual brilliance that saw Taylor gifted yards of time and space to repeat the same move he has pulled off time and again this season.

This was the first time since McCall’s June 2016 return that City have sustained back-to-back league defeats, and it serves as a striking reminder of their resilience when one has to go all the way back to December 28th, 2015 and 2nd January, 2016 – in the days when Phil Parkinson was in the dugout, Burnley, Brighton and Huddersfield Town were chillin’ in the Championship and David Bowie was alive – to find the last time they lost two on the bounce. One Direction had just performed for the last time as a group and Roy Hodgson was still the England manager – that’s how long ago we’re talking.

Equally noteworthy is the fact City have spent a grand total of three games outside of the play-offs under McCall in the past two seasons, a measure of their remarkable consistency and mentality that, notwithstanding today’s defeat, still carries clout.

Nonetheless, the gulf between City’s home and away form will not have escaped McCall’s notice. Only six League One teams have a worse home record than City yet McCall’s side have picked up more points on the road than anyone else in the division. Even allowing for today’s litany of mitigating circumstances in a) the injury list and b) the quality of their opponents, it remains a curious conundrum to which today’s result offers few answers.

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Categories: Match Reviews

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7 replies

  1. I think yesterday showed that you just can’t afford to play Law in a midfield two against the better sides, and as a result we were completely overrun, with Peterbro’ fully deserving their half time lead.

    Credit to Stuart for changing to a 4-2-1-3 after the break, and with us having an extra man in central midfield, they no longer had the freedom of Valley Parade; we’ve put them under sustained pressure, then they score totally against the run of play, with their 1st attack of the 2nd half.

    I just think we are too open at the minute, and one of the main reasons for this is that we are only playing with one holding midfielder.

  2. Love your reports Katie, but for accuracy McMahon “slapped a defender” when we won the penalty that put us ahead (for a few minutes) in the 2016 play offs first leg.

    Having listened to Stuart’s post match interview if Peterborough had the best front 3 in the division, why did we play with 2 wingers and 2 central midfielders in the first half.

    But to repeat love your reports – thanks.

  3. Thanks for a good report, speedily produced. Given the (known) attacking potency of Peterborough it was difficult to understand our midfield selection that left the understrength back line exposed. Given the way a similar selection was pulled apart by Rochdale it was cannot have been a surprise that better quality players punished us.

  4. As good as Peterborough were – and they were very good, not just going forward but at the back – we also didn’t help ourselves yesterday. McMahon was done all ends up for the first two goals and not enough individuals showed enough to suggest we’d have stood a chance of beating a much lesser team.

    But I don’t feel the same strong reaction that I’ve been reading elsewhere (and that might be because I didn’t expect very much). We know where our weaknesses are and so now do other teams. Yesterday reminded me very much of the Fleetwood game (and to a lesser extent Scunthorpe). We are allowed to have a lot of the ball in safe areas of the pitch, but don’t have whatever it is (guile, quality, invention, ruthlessness, luck) to truly threaten the opposition. They allow us to have it, and then exploit the space on the break.

    Peterborough ‘worked us out’. They stationed Grant on Wyke and isolated him. With him cut-off, we had no one making the runs into the box. Some good crosses in the first half and no one gambled. There were times when crosses were going in and Taylor was stood almost in a defensive midfield position. We can’t just rely on Wyke to be the only goal threat.

    McCall using a formation he’d previously said he didn’t think would work doesn’t suggest he knows what the answers are either. The irony being that I don’t think the 4-4-2 was a big cause yesterday, as the first two goals came from wide positions which should be reinforced rather than weakened in a 4-4-2. Last season we had a nice blend of Parkinson’s steely defence and McCall’s more free flowing attack. We’ve now lost the strong defence, and injuries are not helping as the defence seems to change game-by-game.

    We also need better in-game management. McMahon put some good corners in, but Peterborough were first to 80% of them. Instead of varying it up, we kept just doing the same (from both corners and open play). High balls into the box. Our best chance – Robinson’s – came from McCartan getting down the inside of their central defender and playing a low ball.

    If we were to make a January shopping list, then a list of McArdle, Meredith, Cullen and Marshall would go a long way to addresses our problems (then throw in the Alex Jones we saw last season).

  5. What worries me most about this poor display is that you could see it coming. I do not go to away matches, but Rochdale repeatedly ripped City open. Peterborough took us apart. They were bigger, faster, stronger, tougher, better organised, even rougher than City. When we attacked it was fairly slow and deliberate. They were lightning fast. If our management knew this about them, why did they not set up the team to counter it, and not leave gaping holes at the back ?
    I thought our biggest failing was in the defensive organisation, and City must address this.
    I am terribly disappointed in our management yesterday.

  6. I’m a City fan who lives in Kent. I am also a season ticket holder at Charlton. Today I watched a very well organised Gillingham team outplay Charlton both tactically and on the ball. Very impressed with the Gills centre forward Eaves. Tall, strong and technically very good. Knows how to play the lone striker role. As it appears City are looking for a support forward in the Wyke mould, Eaves would be worth a look. I also like the look of the midfielder Oztumer from Wallsall. After watching Charlton at home for most of the season, Clarke and Marshall have not been used to their best effect. Marshall appears to be a little frustrated at the role he is being asked to play. I can honestly say that man for man City are by far the better team. Looking forward to revenge when City play at the Valley in February. So my point is that if you read these posts Stuart, have a close look at Eaves and Oztumer. CTID

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