Defeated Bradford City given lesson on the hidden quality of League Two

Cheltenham Town 3

Riley 59, Doyle-Hayes 69, Tozer 80

Bradford City 2

Anderson 51, Richards-Everton 76

By Jason McKeown

This uncomfortable evening for Bradford City should go a long way to extinguishing any remaining hopes that League Two is a walk in the park. After a topsy-turvy second half, the Bantams came out the wrong side of a five-goal thriller against an impressive Cheltenham side who now sit third in the table. There were positives about City’s performance, but it was hard to make a case for the visitors meriting a victory.

Cheltenham’s 60% possession spoke volumes about their superiority. For much of the evening, they were enjoying more than 65% of the ball overall. It was only the late push for an equaliser that made the possession count slightly more respectable for City. Michael Duff’s men are in excellent form and their soaring confidence showed. They were a cut above every other League Two side City have so far faced. These are the standards the Bantams must ultimately reach.

As City still adapt to their fall into the League Two abyss, it can be difficult to make allowances for any defeat. But in the players’ defence, Cheltenham Town deserve respect for their achievements. They are now unbeaten at home in 15 games – the last defeat on their own patch coming all the way back on 12 January. That was a 3-1 loss to Tranmere, which came on the same day the Bantams were trounced 3-0 at Barnsley in what proved the beginning of the end for David Hopkin. That day at Oakwell feels like an awfully long time ago now, illustrating the length of Cheltenham’s home invincibility.

So this was far from a disgrace from City. They might not have seen much of the ball over the 90 minutes, but the 4-4-2 approach proved reasonably effective and – shot-wise – City gave as good as they got.

Jermaine Anderson was brought in for the struggling Danny Devine and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. An early booking for a late challenge left the former Peterborough midfielder walking on a tightrope and he was caught in possession more than once. Nevertheless, City had a decent shape and Dylan Connolly was a major threat.

In a first half of little incident, City had a decent spell before the interval when Clayton Donaldson and James Vaughan spurned promising opportunities. Ben Richards-Everton also saw an effort cleared off the line. City were more direct in style, either in launching it forwards quickly or using Connolly and Harry Pritchard to run with the ball. Cheltenham’s passing football was easier on the eye, but City – with the O’Connors swapped over, as Anthony started ahead of Paudie – defended resolutely.

It all burst into life after the break. Cheltenham looked dominant initially, with Luke Varney firing just wide. But a terrific counter attack saw Connolly given room to charge through, and the Irish winger did brilliantly to cut the ball back to Anderson as he raced into the box. After a scramble, Anderson eventually bundled the ball over the line at the third attempt.

A third straight City win beckoned, but it proved a fleeting possibility. A good piece of Cheltenham passing in the final third saw Gavin Riley get away from O’Connor to clinically finish past Richard O’Donnell for 1-1. After Riley missed a good chance to put Town in front, Jake Doyle-Hayes fired an excellent half volley into the net, following a long Cheltenham throw in that was flicked into his path.

Gary Bowyer will be encouraged to see City again fight back in adversity, and within seven minutes it was 2-2. Richards-Everton – outstanding once more – equalised with a powerful header from an excellent Pritchard free kick. But the summer signing’s joy over his first City goal was quickly tempered by him giving away a rash free kick four minutes later – a set piece that led Ben Tozer heading home what proved to be the winner.

It was that sort of evening for City. Promise at times, but ultimately the players paid the price for some sloppy moments. They put in a better performance than the scrappy display at Walsall three days ago, but to concede three times in the league for the first time this season – two of the goals from set pieces – was hugely frustrating. The final 10 minutes saw the Bantams push hard for another equaliser, but a Vaughan header from a Zeli Ismail cross was the only late save Scott Flinders needed to make.

Bowyer will be far from down-hearted, but this was a defeat that once again highlighted the weaknesses in his squad. It’s getting repetitive, but that central midfield hole isn’t getting repaired. Anderson will be boosted by his goal, but like Devine doesn’t appear to offer the solution. Callum Cooke’s 20 minutes from the bench saw another accomplished display from the Peterborough loanee. It is hard to see how Bowyer can keep him out of the starting XI much longer, but the fact remains Cooke’s attacking style will only be effective if City can find a competent ball winner to shore up midfield.

The defeat also highlighted the need for City to be more resourceful with possession. Cheltenham’s commitment to passing wasn’t flawless, but they had 81% passing accuracy compared to just 65% from City. In other words, one out of every three passes the Bantams attempted saw them lose the ball. This is in keeping with their season – they’ve averaged just 65.3% pass completion over the nine games so far, the 18th best in League Two. This simply has to improve.

Yet for how disappointing this defeat feels, it doesn’t feel right to be too downhearted. The uncomfortable truth is that Cheltenham are a better side than City right now, further on in their development as a group of players. This was a fifth home win out of six for the Robins. They’re at the top end of the standard of opposition the Bantams are up against this season.

City need to take on board the lessons of defeat, but there is no reason to approach Saturday’s home game against a struggling Carlisle United side with dented belief. League Two isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but there is also nothing to fear.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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19 replies

  1. Hopefully one positive to come out of this result is that Gary Bowyer stops hyping the quality in his squad. At times he sounds deluded. It was only two weeks ago that City struggled to beat Bolton’s youth team.
    The Club is definitely a work in progress and the season is young with lots of time to make that playoff run.

    • Come on wake up we are not good enough last night for 15 minutes Donaldson and Vaughan played as a 2 working near each other we dominated Cheltenham yet second half reverted to them being well apart
      Does Anderson know how to pass ? 17 misplaced passes for first goal he stood and watched scorer instead closing him down
      When we attack we look good when is the manager going to wake up to the fact we need to win rather than defend

      Tom w

  2. Getting a little bit bored of the boom or bust mentality of some ‘fans’ on social media. The ones whinging this morning weren’t whinging after the Walsall win. Its all got to be instant gratification or catastrophe these days. ‘We should be hammering these village sides like Cheltenham & FGR’ they say. Why should we? We don’t have a divine right to win any game, show some respect to these teams. So called reputations count for nothing in League 2, you have to fight & earn every point.The withering entitlement of some fans is shocking. The club is a work in progress, that progress might be slow but for crying out loud, every defeat isn’t a calamity & every victory isn’t the start of world domination. I want us to win every game playing ‘total football’ but i’m old enough & realistic enough to accept it ain’t gonna happen. After the Rahic era, the club needs time & stability to heal itself. Screaming & demanding the manager goes after every defeat doesn’t help. Give Bowyer the chance & lets see where it takes us by actually giving a manager time to get his ideas across. Short termism certainly hasn’t worked for us in recent years.

    • Agreed.

      Never mind social media, some of the supporters at the game were just as bad. One nil up and we were Barcelona, 20 minutes later at 2-1 down we were Bangor City.

      I thought that odd as if you’re making that journey midweek I would have thought you’d have a little more perspective.

    • Excellent post Ian. I think some forget that it has been a total car crash for the last 18 months or so, with players not playing for each other, and folding at the 1st sign of adversity. While we have made some progress, to suddenly reverse this culture, and on the back of 15 new signings, it is going to take time, but some fans expect us to be playing champagne football and be near the top of the table, all because we have 14,000 season ticket holders paying cheap prices.

      The lack of a midfield ball winner is obvious, but I would try Antony O’Connor in that position, as he did ok when he played there last season, and should help give more protection to the back 4, plus bring some extra height for defending set pieces, which are becoming an issue for us.

  3. I actually came away from the ground feeling pretty positive.

    I thought our shape in the first half was excellent and defensively I thought we were solid. At half time I thought the game had a draw written all over it and when we went ahead I thought another victory was on the cards.

    I can’t really understand what happened next but we seemed to just fall apart. Whether it was lack of concentration, a knock to someone or a switch from Cheltenham maybe but that gaping hole in the middle reappeared and Cheltenham were right back into it. Whilst their first was a nice goal the other two were dissappointing to conceed quite frankly.

    Our second came out of nowhere but towards the end of the game we did assert some pressure and we could have sneaked a draw at the death.

    Yes, Cheltenham had the pocession, but Leicester City a few years ago proved that you don’t need to dominate pocession to win things. How many times did Stuart’s teams dominate the ball only to get mugged on the counter? A look at the statistics on the BBC will show that whilst Cheltenham dominated pocession, shots on goal, corners and fouls were pretty much even.

    We’re not far away. Last night, after we went ahead, we just needed someone with a cool head, to put a foot on the ball, to disrupt the play a little, slow the game down. Its that experience in the middle of the park as much as anything that we’re missing, If we’d have held that lead for another 15 minutes the result could have been different.

    All in all not a bad away performance.

    • Like you, I don’t get carried away with the ‘possession’ statistics either Andy. A lot of Cheltenham possession was played in their own half. They were wanting City to chase them down in order to open up the midfield -very much like FGR tried at VP recently- and, frustratingly for me, Vaughan and others wasted energy pointlessly doing just that too far up the pitch when they had no need to away from home. Strange that when we didn’t close FGR down when at home.

      Anyway, my main point is that if a significant % of possession of the ball is by centre backs and full backs in their own half then that isn’t the sort of possession that impresses me,

  4. Watched it on I follow and it was a very entertaining game but Cheltenham were much better than us, deserved the win and passed the ball around superbly. We have too much hoof to Donaldson and Vaughan but when Cooke came on we started to pass the ball around a lot quicker and looked a better side for it. One great positive from last season is that we no longer give up after a setback. Last season concede a goal, game over,heads drop. Miss a penalty, heads drop. This season we have come back from setbacks and even after conceding in injury time at home to Forest Green we still managed to find time to have a goal disallowed for a marginal offside and last night we fought to the end despite losing our lead. We are a work in progress and a fair way to go yet but the work ethic is back.

  5. Move anthony O’Connor into the centre midfield role or move prictchard across as hes played there recently….i’d personally try A O’Connor as he’s done this before and has more presence than the current options. Anderson is simply not good enough. He can occasionally break up play but offers nothing when he has the ball. Devine has struggled to be consistent and i think due to his partners that palmer has been stifled somewhat…..

  6. good honest reporting and positive 😋

  7. For me the biggest worry over the first few games of this season is that our forwards may not be as good as we think/hope they are. We have clearly staked a huge amount of the budget (and hence the season) on Vaughan and Donaldson. This has led to big holes elsewhere in the team but i had hoped we would score so many goals that the gaps wouldn’t matter.

    Vaughan has done OK in the games I’ve seen but Donaldson has looked off-the-pace and ponderous. I know he missed a few chances last night but actually my biggest concern was the number of times his touch was poor and gave the ball away.

    I desperately hope I’m wrong but unless those two actually start firing up front then this season is already gone.

  8. Living in the South West this was my first opportunity to see City this season. I have to say that I was not particularly impressed. Cheltenham thoroughly deserved their win. At times we allowed them to play like Man City! Whilst our defence was good, midfield was non existent. Vaughan and Donaldson had no decent service other than the long ball out of defence and they played as individuals rather than a pairing (I.e. they never seemed to know what the other was going to do). In my view, midfield is the beating heart of any team, influencing both defence and attack. Hopefully GB is working hard to address the midfield problems, otherwise I can’t see us being anything other than an ordinary Lge 2 team this season.

  9. Never mind Anderson’s limitations, if we are going to do well this season, Donaldson simply has to improve in front of goal. Three good chances wasted last night.

  10. Strikers and central midfielders will likely be top of GB’s shopping list come January.

  11. What the games we have played have shown is that we are good enough to beat the poorer teams in this league but not the better ones..We are a progress and GB says it will take 3 transfer windows to sort it out.

    • But will he be given the time? Many posts to this site and others have said the same thing, good defence, no service for the strikers and no strong tackling midfield player. Mr Bowyer you have eyes. We supporters.have eyes. Why can you not see what is missing from this team? You have wasted valuable resources in contracting similar midfielders all lacking the key attribute which is that of a dominant hard tackling midfielder.

  12. Cheltenham are the best side we have played against so far this season FACT.
    This game could have gone either way, unfortunately it was their way.

    So I will not moan, and accept this defeat, to get behind my team against Carlisle at home this Saturday, building & bonding 2 places from the play offs, I hope the wheels do not come off and lose another game, can you imagine what a catatrosphe that would cause to our hopes & dreams, it may take another 10 games to get anything near the play offs again, OMG

    But what if we win Saturday, we will be Barcelona again, Lol……………..

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