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.
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.
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.
Categories: Match Reviews