Soaring Bradford City continue to demonstrate their character

Image by John Dewhirst (copyright Bradford City)

Bradford City 2

Pritchard 18, Devine 49

Crawley Town 1

Grego-Cox 81

By Jason McKeown

If this wasn’t the crowning moment that had looked to be on the cards for most of the afternoon, it was nevertheless a further demonstration of how much Bradford City has rediscovered its resilience.

Ahead from early doors, around Valley Parade mobile phones lit up to the sight of live league tables that showed City heading to the League Two summit. But two late Crewe goals kept the Bantams off top spot. And then some of the shine of this victory was taken away by a needless late scare.

As the dust settles, this was clearly a good day for City – if not the great one it had threatened to be. To climb up to second is still a laudable achievement. Beating Crawley has made it four home victories in a row. Whilst picking up 19 points from the last 24 available is tremendous going. Overall this season, City are averaging just short of two points a game – maintain that, and they’ll be promoted.

But there are nagging doubts, too. City are thriving in League Two but they are not dominating it. They are grinding out victories but not blowing anyone away. They look solid at the back but can’t keep clean sheets. They are full of attacking threat but aren’t scoring enough goals.

It’s why their resilience is so important. It is City’s edge right now. They’ve toughened up. They’ve redeveloped the habit of winning football matches. And given the fact there are now 10 players injured on the sidelines, it deserves genuine respect. The triumphant applause from the stands, as the players and manager Gary Bowyer celebrated this latest victory at full time, shows the club’s knowledgeable supporters recognise this.

Image by John Dewhirst (copyright Bradford City)

It came at the end of a game that showcased much of what is good – and not so good – about City this season. The Bantams came racing out of the traps, and for 35 minutes produced a display of high energy attacking intent that was gripping to watch. Bowyer would label it amongst City’s best of the season so far.

Crawley Town had arrived at Valley Parade without a clean sheet on the road this season. When, inside two minutes, Adam Henley cut through a nervy defence and James Vaughan went close to scoring, it seemed implausible they would achieve a first shut out here.

In the end, it took only 18 minutes to break Crawley’s resistance. It was a goal brimming with quality too. Richard O’Donnell had rolled the ball out to his defence, who patiently played it around. Possession was worked to Callum Cooke, who squared it to Henley. The full back ran forwards, releasing Zeli Ismail out wide, and the Albanian’s low cross was clinically tucked away by Harry Pritchard.

It was brilliant passing football from City. Yet despite the goal offering the springboard for a convincing home win, the players didn’t press home their advantage. City dropped from fifth gear to second, allowing Crawley a strong final 10 minutes to the first half that offered them encouragement.

The second 45 minutes initially began in the same manner as the first. City got back on the front foot. And in front of the Kop, the local boy Danny Devine – on at half time for the injured Pritchard – struck a shot from distance that deflected into the net for 2-0. It was a huge confidence fillip for Devine, who has been falling down the pecking order of late. With Pritchard joining Matty Palmer on the sidelines, there is suddenly a first team opening again for Devine.

Image by John Dewhirst (copyright Bradford City)

Two goals to the good, City were firmly in cruise control with plenty to admire about their performance. In the centre of midfield, Cooke was once again pulling the strings as he contributed a man of the match display. What a signing the 22-year-old is proving to be. The former Middlesbrough youth trainee has had a stop-start career, but seems to have found a home in the engine room at Valley Parade. His quality is growing more evident with each passing week.

Impressing too, in the 4-3-3 formation, was the recalled Henley. Despite the occasional defensive mistake, the former Blackburn man caught the eye with his forward runs. Connor Wood was his usual excellent self, whilst Anthony O’Connor rewarded Bowyer’s surprise decision to keep him in the team ahead of Paudie O’Connor, with another solid display alongside the returning Ben Richards-Everton. One of the wide forwards in the 4-3-3, Zeli Ismail was his usual bag of tricks.

For so much of the contest, it felt like City were on the verge of bursting open the floodgates and netting a hatful. They should have put the game to bed, especially when a menacing run by Ismail saw the ball squared across the box for Aramide Oteh, who had to score. But from three yards out, the striker’s shot was blocked by Glenn Morris. That let off, and the introduction from the bench of Ashley Nathaniel-George and Gyliano van Velzen, altered the pattern of the game in Crawley’s favour.

As City seemed content to run down the clock, Crawley grew more and more into the contest. A whopping 22 shots on goal from the visitors, to City’s 10, tells its own story. They bossed possession for the final 25 minutes, and O’Donnell had to make several saves. Just as Bowyer tried to shore things up by preparing to bring on Kelvin Mellor, Reece Grego-Cox struck a powerful low effort that beat O’Donnell to reduce the arrears.

There were still nine minutes plus injury time to see out, and boy it did it get nervy for City. Their in-game management worryingly disappeared, as panic set in. The home side sat far too deep, and when they did win possession they wastefully gave it straight back. O’Donnell had to make a superb late save to ensure the three points. From sprinting out the blocks, City ultimately crawled over the line. They will have to see out games better than this.

There are some worries lingering. Vaughan – back leading the line with Clayton Donaldson out for two-months – increasingly looks frustrated with how things are going. There’s no disputing his effort and commitment, but he is starved of opportunities to score. You have to go back to August for his last goal, given his winner at Walsall in September was really an own goal. He was expected to be prolific this season, but it isn’t happening. A conundrum Bowyer must solve.

Image by John Dewhirst (copyright Bradford City)

It feels greedy to be critical of City for not smashing all before them in League Two, and yet it seems as though it is within their capabilities to do just that. Still, with another home game on Tuesday offering the chance to top the table – almost exactly a year to the day since they first fell to bottom of League One – there is much to be excited about.

There is real substance behind the inconsistent bursts of style we’re seeing. The foundations for a promotion push appear credible. The League Two competition is not exactly the strongest. If, when the injury list recedes, Bowyer can unlock that missing 5% from performances, City are going to take some stopping.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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16 replies

  1. Donaldsons injury is a major worry for me. Lots of people bang on about his missed chances which is fair but he brings so much more to the team, not least his ability to hold the ball up which was glaringly missing in the second half today when the ball was lumped up to James Vaughan and just kept coming straight back.

    Donaldson is going to be the main miss but the other injuries are a concern too particularly as none of them appear to be short term in nature. Our squad depth is going to be tested to the limit over the next couple of months.

  2. Very good report, concerned that James Vaughan collected his sixth yellow card in league games in his twelfth league start. Not sure how many have been for dissent but from memory at least half. Hopefully he gets it sorted.

  3. The reality is we are likely to win and then top the table on Tuesday night, and i cannot remember the last time we did this in any division. The key for me now is how long Donnelley is out for, and whether Remi Oteh and Shay McCartan can deliver alongside Vaughan between now and New years day. If we are top then then i am certain with the returning Clayton D and Jamie D, plus anyone else recruited in January, that we will take the title. Donnelly’s return is vital, as is the integration of Chris Taylor into the squad with his experience. GK and back line is fine. If we keep the middle and front strongly competetive over the next 2 months we will be champions as even playing at 75 % we are better than the vast majority of league 2.

  4. Good win today, goes to show how far we have come. A major concern for me is the lack of goals from our strikers, the final ball is still lacking. My other worry is James Vaughan, if he concentrated on playing football, which he is good at, instead of throwing himself to the floor at every opportunity and then arguing with the ref, which ultimately led to his obligatory yellow card, he might get an odd shot away.He is supposed to be our captain and should lead by example.

  5. This was my second game of the season, first being Swindon after the cricket season, and the first time I had seen James Vaughan. I thought he was brilliant. In the first half our crosses never beat the first man and never found Vaughan or anyone else. How is he meant to be prolific if he doesn’t get any service? For someone who isn’t very tall he won a considerable amount of headers which were flicked on. His hold up play was very good and the last 10 minutes reminded me of last year when we were lumping it up to him without anyone to support him. Let’s just remember that last year we had a tall German striker who couldn’t win a header if he tried.
    I believe we are in a very good position to now kick on as we are just starting to click.

  6. Ten injured? Jason, are Jackson Longridge and Tyler French injured?

  7. Having ‘lost’ a detailed response, I am not going to retype it. We were lucky to win, we lost the second half, but at the end of the day we deserve some luck.

  8. I am continually surprised at the standard of Division 2. It seems better that it was in 2012/13. Crawley were a pretty good team, very fast, not dirty, not timewasting at 0-0. But City swept them away for the first half hour, making it a very good game to watch.
    If Oteh had scored, which he should have done even with a fantastic save, then my old heart would not have had to suffer the last 10 minutes of agony. In the end, I thought we were a trifle lucky to win.
    3 points.First, I think the referee got fed up of Vaughan diving and claiming fouls, and to get booked for dissent was silly. He is far too good for that.
    Secondly, their substitutes transformed them. Ours were not bad, but did not have the same impact.
    Thirdly, we seemed to concede midfield in the second half, and I thought Akpan in particular visibly tired, as did Cooke.
    We shall miss Clayton Donaldson. But the effort and commitment of EVERY player is a joy to see.
    Nevertheless, a very good win against a team who did themselves credit.
    I am very happy.

    • I’ve not been impressed with the standard. If it has then our squad is better than during our promotion season from league 2?

      I personally think it’s the same. It’s quite simple to get out of league 2 and Bowyer knows just like Parky did, that a solid keeper / defence with a hardworking cm (cooke) combined with getting the ball to the wings with crosses putting the opposition on the back foot eventually prevails.

      For the most part of this season we aren’t getting above third gear (which is good enough to grind out wins) bar the odd 20 min spell when we look light years ahead of anyone else. Keep this consistency and we will be top 3.

      If we start building a gap between ourselves to play off spots then we should have ambition to win the league!

  9. The pleasing thing for me is the visible improvement week on week and the huge change in mentality that the gaffer has installed with this group of players. You can see he clearly wears his heart on his sleeve and this has been equally reflected on the pitch as witnessed in the last 2 victories. Games we would probably lost last season.
    Long way to go and the injured list is a concern but we are moving forward with much optimism.

  10. We are not going to roll over decent teams ( Crawley are such particularly offensively and from which you would be happy to see several players in claret and amber) .The first 45 was the best I have seen thus far. Got to be delighted with where we are given that you can see we are not the finished article. The fact we coped with the injuries made the result and performance all the more creditable. Lets hope the Don heals quickly he is going to be a big miss.

  11. I’m wondering how everyone else views the current, successful, formation we’re playing? To me it appears more like a 4-1-4-1 rather than a 4-3-3. Cooke seems to play between the back 4 and the midfield which, in turn, looks more like a flat 4 with the wide players ploughing the wings rather than tucking in alongside the lone striker. At times I think having two up top would take the pressure off the defence as the ball would be more likely to stick. I don’t want to change a wining system but some in-game flexibility and, perversely, adding a striker might help us defensively? If Pritchard hasn’t got injured yesterday we could easily have switched to a 4-4-2 for instance.

    Regardless, the improvement of individual performances and collective character of late is great credit to Bowyer and hopefully sets us up for a successful season. I’d love to win the league but if you offered me 3rd after 46 games I’d bite your hand off! Surely promotion is now the firm target and, hopefully, automatically so as to avoid the rollercoaster of the play-offs?

    • Agreed Dave – certainly seems like a 4141 to me and credit to Bowyer because it has solved the issues that we were seeing in midfield earlier on in the season. It reduces the responsibility on players like Akpan and allows them a lot more freedom.

      It does however increase the responsibility on Cooke & Vaughan. We have managed injuries and suspensions quite well so far because players have stepped up. But it would be a concern if we lost one of these two because it doesn’t seem certain that we have back up players who could step in to these roles with good effect – especially now Donaldson has a spell on the sidelines.

      Bowyer has us winning games despite having players such as BRE, Palmer, Connolly, Devitt, Donaldson out. Most L2 sides would suffer because of those losses. The positive for us is that it suggests there is more to come.

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