Bradford City 2
Akpan 47, Oteh 78
By Pete Moss
In the close season, other than getting rid of the ‘high earners’ there was also talk of having options and ‘strength in depth’. Based on today’s game against an able Morecambe side, I believe we have it.
As requested by Dhriti Ahir in her excellent preview on Friday, Gary Bowyer ran with a 4-3-3 formation. The only change from last week’s Swindon game was a replacement at right back, with Adam Henley taking the place of Kelvin Mellor. Putting James Vaughan on the bench was a bit of an eyebrow raiser and the formation that morphed from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1 for much of the first half made me question why he would omit a two up front strategy.
Morecambe lined up in similar fashion to City, a flat back four with two holding midfielders to counteract our attacking midfielders. This had a nullifying effect on our midfield, resulting in long balls up to Donaldson or forays down the flanks.
The first half began with Morecambe attacking towards the away end, and attack they did. For the first ten minutes, City struggled to contain A-Jay Leitch-Smith, who combined well with John O’Sullivan down the right to create a few good chances. George Tanner did a complimentary job of breaking up play at left back for the Shrimpers, getting the ball up to Leitch-Smith quickly.
However, for all their huff and puff, City remained largely resilient against them. Connor Wood struggled to keep up with O’Sullivan’s tricks and pace, again exposing his weaknesses defensively. Anthony O’Connor kept a calm head and filled the gaps left by Wood, preventing Morecambe getting balls in to Shaun Miller.
After a tricky first ten, City began to play with Callum Cooke picking out Henley with an excellent pass down the right. Henley then whipped in a difficult low cross which was bobbled about by the Morecambe defence before being cleared to safety. Two minutes later, Cooke unleashed a powerful shot from outside the box which wasn’t far away, not that the home crowd were having any of it. Their jeers seemed to fall on deaf Bradford ears as they began to put pressure on the home defence.
Hope Akpan, largely anonymous thus far, suddenly leapt to life and dashed forwards to pick up a loose pass and passed a lovely through ball to Ismail who cracked another low cross into the box that Clayton Donaldson couldn’t hit cleanly, knocking it past the post. Another missed chance for Donaldson, and this one was a sitter.
All afternoon, Donaldson and Morecambe’s Sam Lavelle did battle. As soon as Don got the ball, Lavelle was there to put pressure on him, forcing mistakes. A couple of challenges by Lavelle were borderline fouls, but the guy exhibited enormous strength to keep our big man in check. Donaldson also got mixed up in a quick one-two with Dylan Connolly after being played through by Wood. The ball ended up out of play, with more jeering by the home crowd.
By the 40th minute, Donaldson was having treatment. Although there were some moments poor control by the target man, his positional sense put him in the right place at the right time. The football brain is there, but the luck with the ball seems to elude him.
Morecambe continued to counter City’s incursions into their box, using the flanks well and trying to keep the ball. What I did notice about Morecambe was the good quality of their passing, aided by a really nice looking pitch. I didn’t expect to see this from a League Two side and it was great to see Jim Bentley trying to get his side playing good football. The home fans clearly wanted to see a win, having not enjoyed a victory at the Globe Arena since Easter Monday. But for all their clever footwork and ball retention, they lacked a cutting edge.
As the first half drew to a close scoreless, I reflected on the performance. Morecambe had impressed me and looked like they could make something happen against a slightly hapless Wood. Last year they might have got the better of Adam Chicksen though and have been a couple of goals up, so its unfair to single out the youngster. He improved as the half wore on and that’s all you can ask of him at this stage in his career.
Akpan also came into my thinking. In his allegedly favoured ‘attacking midfielder’ position he didn’t seem to be running at the same pace as the game. His nonchalant jogs around the pitch when the ball was in play almost infuriated me. But every player has a style, and that is definitely his. He seemed to read the game pretty well and his passing was accurate enough. I wanted to see urgency from him and in that area, I was left disappointed in that respect.
The second half started in the way every home side dread. Within two minutes, City were in front. And would you believe it, Akpan was on the scoresheet! Shows what I know about midfielders and I began to see his value to the team. Akpan started the move, sneaking the ball off the portly Shrimpers right back, Adam Buxton, inside the half and slipping a quick through ball onto the advancing Connolly.
The left winger weaved his way towards the by-line, cutting into the Morecambe box before a crude challenge knocked him to his knees. Connolly bravely regained his footing, knocking the ball across the goalmouth for Akpan to pop up and finish convincingly. The packed away fans erupted which was great to see.
Sadly, yet again some travelling idiot let off an amber flair to the dismay and annoyance of the home supporters. This kind of behaviour, as discussed before is not Bradford City. It’s not who we are and I don’t want to see it from our travelling ambassadors for the club. Thankfully the stewards dealt with the issue, finding a handy bucket of sand to extinguish it in. It was great to see the seaside had made its way up Regent Street to the ground!
For the next ten minutes, City were in control with the away fans making all the noise with promotion songs and the team pushing for a second. Ismail came close after being fed by another quality ball by Cooke. The Shrimpers were bereft of confidence by this point and Bentley was forced into a change, replacing the injured Leitch-Smith with Kevin Ellison. The veteran was straight into action, defending a Wood corner that the Morecambe goalkeeper, Barry Roche, claimed decisively. Before the game was out, Ellison, had hit the bar with looping header. Not bad for a 40 year old. Donaldson take notice!
Harry Pritchard was pushing further forward in this half and fizzed a strong shot wide after picking up a loose ball from Cooke. After the City wingers swapped sides, Ismail won a corner after a jinking run. That was his last involvement in the game as Aramide Oteh replaced him. Another bizarre decision I thought, after Ismail’s impressive performance thus far. He is a very tricky winger and one that will endear himself to the City faithful just like Omar Daley did all those years ago. But like Daley, Ismail tries on trick too many and frustrates as often as he excites. That said, his contribution today was excellent, and I think he will be a good player for us this year and hopefully beyond.
His replacement, Oteh made his mark almost immediately. After being clumsily challenged by the rotund Buxton, Oteh made his way into the box and waited patiently for Pritchard’s free kick. Some clever movement kept him free of defenders and the pinpoint cross met his head well, to the groans of the home crowd. Sadly, the connection was directed powerfully at the grass, bouncing over the bar. But Oteh had staked his claim and his moment came soon enough.
Morecambe began to combine short passing at the back with some direct diagonal balls up to Ellison, who managed to cut inside his marker, Paudie O’Connor, but his placed shot was comfortably held by Richard O’Donnell. Another chance and a corner from Morecambe was almost in the back of the net, was it not for Anthony O’Connor’s actions to clear the danger. City were affording Morecambe too much space and respect which was allowing them back into the game.
As the game entered its final 15 minutes, Vaughan replaced Donaldson whilst Danny Devine came on for Akpan. A double substitution seemed like an attempt to increase the energy in the final third. Before long, the Shrimpers were strong-arming the former Bury man. Vaughan used his experience and guile at one dead ball situation to back into the jumping Morecambe defender, who had his outstretched arms on Vaughan’s shoulders. The inevitable front somersault onto the floor by the defender was pure comedy, leaving Vaughan to play the pantomime villain, arms outstretched shouting “What? Me?” at the ref.
Soon, Oteh got the second goal for Bradford. Again, Pritchard was the deliverer of a fine ball that Oteh dispatched into the right-hand corner of the goal with a technique and composure that dismisses his relative youth. Oteh was the player who made a real difference today and looked a handful for the tiring Morecambe defence. I dared to mouth the words ‘a tall Nahki Wells?’ to my wife, who promptly rolled her eyes at my prediction of the latest ‘second coming’. The next few months will be interesting to watch with him in the team.
With the game largely won, City did what they almost always do… let the opposition in. Several crosses into the box were dealt with ineffectively and it was clear as Morecambe piled on the pressure that a consolation goal was on it’s way. And with 93:30 on the electronic scoreboard, Tom Brewitt struck with a close range shot following yet another goalmouth scramble.
O’Donnell’s trademark beating the ground reaction, as he saw his goal bonus slip away into the seaside air, reminded me of the awful year we had last year. An entirely preventable goal, but this time in a game that we won. Think for a minute how far we have come in 13 games.
As the City fans skipped back down Regent Street to the pubs or trains home, a murmur of contentment was heard all around me. We are now sitting third in the table whilst Morecambe are now bottom and need to get points on the board to prevent being cut adrift.
We were not excellent in this scrappy, end to end game, but we won and take three points back to Bradford. We also take the belief back that this squad has some strength in depth, which City will need for the long, tough League Two road ahead.