Bradford City 3
Vaughan 4, Donaldson 32, Scannell 72
Oldham Athletic 0
By Tim Penfold
There shouldn’t be any such thing as a must-win game in August, but after a slow start for Gary Bowyer’s new-look Bradford City, the visit of an Oldham side without a point and beset by off-field issues reminiscent of the worst days of the Edin Rahic regime was as close as you can get to one.
Gary Bowyer sent his side out in the system that many City fans had been screaming for – a standard 4-4-2. And within a few minutes the new system had worked – Connor Wood, making his first start of the season on the left wing, sent a superb cross over which was put in by James Vaughan at the far post. Wood’s crossing and Vaughan’s penalty box presence had already caused Oldham problems – surely Oldham would crumble?
Unfortunately the answer to that was no. For the next 25 minutes City were shown the advantages of a three man central midfield as Oldham dominated. Danny Devine and Matt Palmer were outnumbered and swamped by blue shirts, and this allowed Oldham’s number 10 Mohamed Maouche to run the show.
The visitors won a succession of corners and almost equalised when a drive from the edge of the box came back off the inside of the post. City looked like being overrun, but then Kelvin Mellor played a ball over the top, Oldham’s defence vanished and Clayton Donaldson had all the time in the world to make it 2-0.
It was a goal that gave the Bantams breathing space. They coped with Oldham’s dominance in midfield by going over it to Vaughan and Donaldson and almost got themselves a third when Vaughan headed against the crossbar. That said, the half time scoreline of 2-0 did flatter us and Oldham could easily have been in the game if they’d had a cutting edge.
The second half was very different. Oldham switched to a back three, which kept the numeric advantage in central midfield but gave City an easy out ball behind the sides of the defence. Clayton Donaldson spent the second half running into this space in the right channel and caused all sorts of problems. In midfield Danny Devine grew into the game and effectively disrupted Oldham’s passing, while on the left flank Connor Wood motored up and down and found space behind the wing back.
Oldham still had possession, but far fewer chances, with Ben Richards-Everton heading away most of what they put into the box. And on the counter City found huge amounts of space. A third was coming, and it came when Donaldson got free down the right and passed the ball inside for Sean Scannell to burst through and score. From then on it was a question of how many, with substitutes Omari Patrick and Shay McCartan causing problems against a demoralised Oldham backline.
The switch to 4-4-2 did suit the players available to City today. Adam Henley, freed by the presence of Connor Wood from having to provide all of the left-sided width, put in his best performance of the season, while both strikers linked well and provided a major goal threat.
This doesn’t, however, mean that 4-4-2 should be the only system that City should ever play – the issues caused by Oldham’s extra man centrally were negated today by City being better in both boxes, but might not always be against better opponents. With a striker like Vaughan who suits the lone forward role, an extra midfielder can be a useful option.
But for all the talk about systems, this was in the end a triumph of superior players – Vaughan and Donaldson up front and an increasingly solid-looking backline meant that in the end City looked comfortable. With a trip to Stevenage, also without a league win, coming up in midweek there is now a huge opportunity to build on this display and kick-start our season.