By Tim Penfold
Bradford City remain in the relegation zone despite a much improved second half performance against Plymouth today. City dominated the second half but squandered multiple chances to take all three points against opponents that were there for the taking.
David Hopkin selected a team with as many ball-playing midfielders as he could fit in it, with Jacob Butterfield and Lewis O’Brien sitting behind a three of David Ball, Jack Payne and Billy Clarke. There’s a lot of creativity there, but it showed how unbalanced City’s squad still is – there was nobody to stretch the play or run in behind. It was also a line up fundamentally unsuited to last week’s direct tactics.
The first half can best be described as forgettable. City did, unlike last week, try to get the ball down and play. But there were too many loose passes, and too many times where there was no movement off the ball. The play became compacted in the middle and ended up scrappy.
Plymouth were more direct but did have a striker in Freddie Ladapo who could compete physically with City’s centre halves. Despite this they also struggled to get their playmaking trio of Ruben Lameiras, Graham Carey and Antoni Sarcevic into the game, with the exception of one moment just before half time where Carey got a shot away from the edge of the box which Richard O’Donnell tipped on to the post.
The second half was a different story. City began at a higher tempo and looked a bit more fluid. The creators were finding space, with David Ball firing over then a few minutes later wriggling into space and hitting the post from the edge of the box. Paul Caddis also had a drive from inside the box turned away as City pushed forward.
Plymouth fought their way back into it, with the introduction of former City target Ryan Taylor giving them another physical presence up from and putting Ladapo up against Adam Chicksen instead. But despite the physical mismatch, City’s defence held firm, with Chicksen and Nathaniel Knight-Percival impressing.
City continued to push forward and created several good late chances. Hope Akpan should’ve done much better when he skied an effort from just inside the box, then Eoin Doyle drilled a cross that substitute Jermaine Anderson flicked goalwards only to be denied by Kyle Letheren. But the Plymouth keeper’s best save was from Doyle’s looping header.
No matter what City did it would not go in, even when David Ball got clear in stoppage time. He tried to take the keeper out of the equation by squaring it when a shot was on, but was denied by a superb block from Niall Canavan, ensuring that it finished 0-0.
There are plenty of positives to take from this performance, if you will excuse the cliché. City look a much better side when they get the ball down and play, to the relief of a crowd that made it clear very early on that they would not tolerate another 90 minutes of aimless hoofing. They created plenty of opportunities, and the defence looked much more solid than it did last week.
But despite the improved second half performance it’s difficult not to look on this as another opportunity gone. February’s fixtures were a chance to get points on the board ahead of a March that looks incredibly tricky. The bottom of the table is still tight – if we’d got the win we deserved today, we’d be 18th – but if we don’t get points soon, we will end up cut adrift. Everything now rides on next week’s trip to Walsall.