By Tim Penfold
Considering the gulf in league position between the two teams, Bradford City can be fairly pleased with their performance even in defeat at home to Luton. Gary Bowyer’s Bantams pushed the visitors all the way in the second half, but weren’t able to break down an impressive defence to get an equaliser.
Even after Saturday’s impressive win it was an optimistic prediction to think that City would gain points from this game. Luton came into it unbeaten in 23 games and are arguably the best team in the league, and at times during the first half they showed why. There was an impressive fluency to their play in midfield and their full backs consistently got forward well and stretched the play.
Their goal came from a combination of these – some sharp midfield passing dragged Jermaine Anderson and Lewis O’Brien out of position and found Andrew Shinnie in space. With Adam Chicksen forced to tuck in to cover, right back Jack Stacey had the space to charge into the box, get on to the end of a clever through ball and finish. Stacey in particular kept finding space and was denied twice more by O’Donnell as the first half went on.
Gary Bowyer kept his system from Saturday, matching Luton’s diamond midfield, which was one of the reasons for the space enjoyed by the away side’s full backs. With the narrow midfields matching each other up there was plenty of space on the flanks, but the Luton full backs were more positive and kept Adam Chicksen and Paul Caddis pinned back throughout the first half.
With Jacob Butterfield struggling to find space between the lines and very little chance of Eoin Doyle or David Ball winning the ball aerially against Sonny Bradley, City weren’t able to impose themselves on the game or create chances. The closest they came in the first half was from a corner, where a Hope Akpan flick was almost turned in by Nathaniel Knight-Percival at the far post. City did, however, manage to get themselves into the game a little more by the end of the half, assisted by a Luton injury to holding midfielder Alan McCormack that allowed the home side a long period of possession against ten men.The subsequent Luton reshuffle also had the consequence of giving Butterfield a bit more space.
The second half performance was improved from City, pressing hard and pushing Luton back. However, Luton then showed the other side of their game, with some impressive and organised defending ensuring that City got very few clear openings. Long range efforts from Hope Akpan and Butterfield flew off-target, but otherwise City found a solid mass of bodies in their way when they tried to pick their way through.
They weren’t helped by some poor decision making, particularly from Jermaine Anderson who seemed uncomfortable with his right sided midfield role, but it would’ve been difficult for any team to pick their way through Luton’s back line.
However, City did threaten to break through on a couple of occasions – David Ball was denied well by Luton keeper James Shea, while Nathaniel Knight-Percival had a big shout for a penalty turned down when he seemed to have his shirt pulled in the box. This, combined with an unwillingness to crack down on Luton’s time-wasting until a token yellow card was shown in stoppage time, made the referee particularly unpopular with the home crowd.
It was a spirited 2nd half from City, but they lacked the creativity and guile to break down a solid defence. Given this, it was surprising that Jack Payne spent the entire game on the bench with Bowyer unwilling to change the tactical balance of his side. However, they can come away with some confidence – Luton were relieved when the final whistle went.
Frustrating though this defeat was, it is not games like this that will decide City’s fate in the survival battle – anything we got from this would’ve been a bonus. It is the games against the teams around us, starting with Saturday’s six-pointer at Oxford, which will matter most in determining whether we remain in League One next season.