By Katie Whyatt
With ten minutes of normal time remaining, Tony McMahon and Shay McCartan stood astride a free-kick on the edge of the Oldham box. They had scrabbled briefly for the ball, eyes like daggers before McMahon reluctantly surrendered. There was a brief surge of hope. Then McCartan launched his delivery high into the away end and the onrushing McMahon halted his run, elbows square against the hoardings, exhaled, turned, and City trudged back, trying to ignore the growing sense of deja vu as they re-started the clock to go again.
It was as fitting a symbol as any for Bradford City’s shortcomings today, perhaps surpassed by the moment, minutes later, Tim Dieng passed up the game’s most glorious chance, fluffing his lines inside the box when McCartan squared the ball for the substitute, unmarked and inches from goal, to watch the moment trickle away. Jordan Gibson’s well-taken finish offered immediate riposte to Aaron Amadi-Holloway’s header, but while the teenager’s goal reinvigorated the visitors they couldn’t snatch a late point. With a minute of stoppage time left, Charlie Wyke’s inviting through-ball picked out Dominic Poleon to fire wide from inside the area, and that was the end of that, the erratic decision-making that had hampered City all afternoon laid bare for all to see.
The end result was a welcome three points for an Oldham Athletic side now a lone point from temporary safety. This was the Latics’ first league win since December 9th, and victory today ended a stretch of nine games without a win, six of those defeats – a run of form that had been Oldham’s worst since (wait for it) January 2017.
For City, then, today’s defeat makes for six on the bounce. It will be concerning in the extreme for Stuart McCall that four of the five league ones came against teams in the bottom six, and if there is any shred of consolation to take from this barren run it is that they have somehow lived, again, to fight another day in the play-offs, and have – courtesy of Oxford United rather than their own endeavours – at least one more week’s residence in top six. Increasingly, however, staying there looks a sizeable ask, and on today’s second-half showing there is much to resolve before City – even bolstered by six changes from the side that capitulated against Wimbledon – begin to look like bona fide promotion contenders once more.
City had started brightly enough but were still given to defending verging on the death-defying. Duckens Nazon slipped between Matt Kilgallon and McGowan for Colin Doyle to deny the Dutchman from a one-on-one, the shot cannoning off Doyle’s outstretched leg. Nazon had earlier dipped a free header inches wide and Stephen Warnock had guided Ben Pringle’s curling cross out for a corner. City have faced – and beaten – better teams than Oldham but there was still enough to like about the home side, the impish Ryan McLaughlin and roving Nazon snatching and scything at will through a Bradford midfield that, again, looked porous.
Ryan McGowan was the pick of City’s back three, but the tipping point came in the moment, twelve minutes in, defender Cameron Dummigan met a clearance on 25 yards and unleashed a shot that whistled over Colin Doyle, smacked off the crossbar and landed in the far corner. Arguably, Matty Lund could have closed Dummigan down with greater conviction, but that still might be harsh given a finish of this quality. Indeed, City’s beleaguered away following could only stand and offer muted applause as Dummigan toasted his second-ever career goal, one so eerily similar to many of the rockets City have fired through teams this season that one was half-expecting the swathe of Oldham supporters swarming Dummigan to tear off his face and reveal the head of Paul Taylor, chuntering and writhing like a cornered Scooby Doo villain: “And I could have got away with gatecrashing today’s game, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”
After the break, City’s woes began in earnest. They, as always, toiled, but have the feel at the moment of a broken circuit, wires crossed and lightbulbs flickering three stops short of a Eureka moment. McCall noted post-match his team’s lack of creation – “I think that system was more set-up to be strong, first and foremost” – but it was hard to escape the feeling that individual decision-making was as much at fault. For sure, City have never quite recaptured the Pinball-style movement and interchanging that defined them last season, but often today they looked rudderless offensively, lacking a focal point despite the presence of Wyke. They mustered a lone shot on target all afternoon and at times it was startling how ill-at-ease and off-key they looked going forward.
Oldham, with the goal to defend, invited pressure but slashed at City on the counter, almost unleashing McLaughlin to scamper in behind with ten minutes to go. Six minutes later, Oldham shot themselves out of sight, Aaron Holloway meeting McLaughlin’s cross and arrowing a header beyond Colin Doyle from eight yards.
City, to their credit, found immediate reply. Anthony Gerrard’s clearance from Poleon’s cross fell to the sprightly Gibson, whose shot – from the kind of angle Nahki Wells used to like – slithered under Johny Placide at the near post. It was game back on, and City pushed relentlessly from the subsequent restart, but Poleon spurned a golden opportunity to salvage a point when he fired over from that one-on-one.
Categories: Match Reviews