Still vulnerable

Bradford City 1

Vaughan 45 (pen)

Port Vale 2

Worrall 18, Atkinson 90+3

By Jason McKeown

This was a night that confirmed ongoing suspicions of a fragility within this Bradford City squad. That as encouraging as results in recent weeks have proven, they’re not quite as sure-footed as the form table suggests.

As the post match inquest begins, it’s difficult to pinpoint one definitive issue undermining the City cause. When three minutes into injury time, the former Bantam Will Atkinson played a one-two in the box and finished easily to win the game for Port Vale, defensive frailties were once again evident. Just one clean sheet in the last 13 games is not an obvious platform to a promotion charge. They have to fix the leak.

But as the back four slumped to the ground, whilst Port Vale players ran off to celebrate an unlikely winning goal, the City defenders could also justifiably point the finger at the players in front of them. The home side were well on top and had hemmed Port Vale back, but then a poor Callum Cooke pass was the prelude to the Valiants’ late winner. Danny Devine was also guilty of failing to track Atkinson’s run into the box. They didn’t do their defenders any favours with such sloppy play.

The attack wasn’t blameless either. City had bossed the second half, and were camped out in the box, but the forward line didn’t get in enough attempts at goal and missed some decent chances. And what about Gary Bowyer, who curiously elected against making any substitutions until it was too late. Bowyer had a good hand but was reluctant to push it further. The unused Shay McCartan must feel utterly deflated.

Small but not insignificant failings everywhere then, on a strange night for City. In the first half they absolutely stank the place out, producing a timid performance that was a long way below recent high standards. Did the pre-match talk about injuries – Dylan Connolly and Harry Pritchard weren’t fit enough to make it back – hinder morale? Everyone seemed to be looking towards someone else to take a lead. Cooke was the only player to deserve a semblance of credit.

Port Vale’s highly impressive Dave Worrall put the visitors in front after cutting inside and finishing smartly from an angle. It was not the first time this season City have conceded after a wide player found space on Kelvin Mellor’s side. The right back had been instantly recalled after it appeared he had been dropped for Adam Henley on Saturday. Tough on Henley. And although Mellor slowly improved over the 90 minutes, there remain questions over his defensive positioning.

In Mellor’s defence, City just didn’t get to grips with Port Vale matching their 4-3-3 formation. Both Mellor and Connor Wood were left too exposed to the threat of Vale’s talented wide players. City’s middle three were narrow, and Mellor and Wood needed the off the ball support of Zeli Ismail and Aramide Oteh, which didn’t happen until Bowyer clearly instructed them to help out better at half time.

It meant that with Vale a goal to the good, they could keep white shirts behind the ball and hurt City on the counter attack by working possession wide. On either side of Worrall’s opener, Vale had terrific chances. In contrast City created little, with Ismail having little impact on the right. After recent improvement, Hope Akpan reverted to being anonymous. He needs to get more involved.

Amazingly they went in level at half time. A hopeful punt forward by Cooke went straight through to Vale keeper Scott Brown, but off the ball Devine went down suspiciously as he ran by Jake Taylor. The referee, Graham Salisbury, pointed to the spot. It looked like a clear dive from Devine. James Vaughan finished clinically for an undeserved equaliser.

To their credit, City took advantage of the reprive. They were much, much better after half time. Switching Ismail to the left made a major difference, as he came alive and found joy running at James Gibbons. Devine showed improvement and did well bringing the ball forward, Akpan was more of a menace in the box, whilst Cooke was pulling the strings by setting up attacks.

It became one way traffic. City played some good passing football and cut through a decent Vale defence. When the ball was worked along the ground quickly, City looked as though they would score. But frustratingly there were too many high crosses into the box, which Vale dealt with well. Brown made some good saves and Leon Legge cleared one effort off the line. Ben Richards-Everton, Oteh, Akpan and Ismail went close to scoring. It felt as though there was only going to be one winner.

Cue the Atkinson sucker punch, and a first home defeat in two months. A late City winner would have sent them joint top, but instead they have slumped down to fourth.

Fine margins has been the story of City’s season. Only two of the 15 league games so far have been settled by more than one goal. It has habitually left City wrestling on the edge of glory or failure. There appears to be more in the tank. That even the recent impressive victories shouldn’t have proven such hard work.

In some ways, then, this defeat was coming. A warning, if it is was needed, about the dangers of complacency. But whilst this was a set back,  in truth there aren’t too many reasons to be down hearted. Injuries can often be painted as an excuse, but no club could continue to flourish with 10 players on the sidelines. Disruption leads to bumps in the road. Ultimately, this was an under-performance by a thinbare City team, and for that they were punished.

Saturday’s trip to Macclesfield gives Bowyer and his players the chance to quickly move on. There are lessons to absorb from this defeat, but confidence need not be sapped. It’s a long old season and – even with their frailties – City have demonstrated they’re capable of much better.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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10 replies

  1. “Still Vulnerable” is a good description of City. The validity of the squad’s impressive depth assessment is about to be tested. With no target man available to replace Donaldson it will be interesting to see how Gary Bowyer adapts via tactics and utilization of players.

  2. I agree with the point about Mellor. Discussions with friends we feel he has a habit of standing off the wide player too deep, almost as if he thinks he is a central defender, and therefore allows them free entry in to the box. I felt Henley was very unlucky to lose his place. I also feel Henley worked well with Ismael, far better than Mellor or Wood did last night. There were times it felt like these full backs couldn’t see Ismael who was our most effective attacking player last night in terms of causing the opposition any trouble.

    For the second game in 4 days I have been dreadfully disappointed by Vaughan. He shows odd flashes of what he can do with his strength and skills but seems to spend 75% of the game in a duel with the referee. It’s like he seems to think that the purpose of his role is to occupy the refs attention, and as a result of his theatrics and attention seeking, when he does get fouled he doesn’t get the benefit because he has prejudiced the ref against him. I honestly believe in Saturdays game his battle with the ref following his booking spread to the other players who seemed to be less focussed on the opposition and the ball and more on arm-waving and blaming and that was a key part in the poor performance in the last 20 minutes or so.

    McCarton supporting Oteh upfront would have been a vast improvement on a childish self-centred performance delivered by the talented but flawed Vaughan.

    Definitely missed the direct running and drive that Pritchard and Connolly bring, we lacked effective outlets without them and that creates more pressure defensively.

    • Bit hard on Vaughan mate. He is a class act at this level as his 47 Premier League appearances attest. Feisty and aggressive for sure. He is not an out and out targetman like the Don and is not going to dominate big Center halves in the big mans absence although he wins his fair share (1st half against Crawley for example). Pretty sure he would prefer the ball into his feet ideally. He would walk into every league 2 side and many League One.

      • Hi Paul, I know it may be a point of disagreement with many fans.

        I agree he is a talented player and in some ways maybe why I am being harsh because I expect him to demonstrate a higher level than many players. Hanson took far more clobber than him at times but didn’t resort to the arm waving and mock protests of innocence. Vaughan is a faster more talented player and has shown flashes of that. On Saturday there were s couple of instances where other City players were not playing to the whistle because they were trying to support Vaughan’s protests to no avail. If that had cost us a goal I would have been livid. I do believe he can be best striker in the division if he chooses to let his feet do the talking. Getting booked on his first game back from suspension suggests s streak of petulance that an experienced pro striker should not have at his age.

        A fan of anther club suggested that’s why he had played for so many clubs (12 different clubs in 15 years) without ever really showing consistency with Bury and Huddersfield being the two places he scored regular goals over a season.

        I want him to reign in the talking and show more concentration on the game that’s all.

      • Agree with the observations on Vaughan, he’s been desperately disappointing and spends most of the time arguing or rolling around on the grass. Disagree he’d walk into most other teams as his goal record at city Portsmouth and Sunderland since leaving bury is woeful. No goals in open play since August vs Doyle’s 13 – enough said!!
        He was certainly one of our poorer players last night.

    • been saying it for ages…he is defensively frail.. it hink his return may have had to do with his long throw tactics….before their goal he had already backed off once which nearly cost us and failed to heed this warning for the goal…as for apkan, his couple of goals recently have clouded the fact that he is still jogging around the pitch contributing little imo…when he gets forward he finds it hard to get back but that is partly the fault of the 433 we are playing….this leaves Cooke with to much work to do at times…

  3. City lost this game in the first half. They were so poor. Not dissimilar to the way they played in the second half against Crawley. It seems to me they are only capable of playing for 45 minutes. The way Port Vale reacted to counter City’s pressure was to bring on subs and had the impact of a late goal. Bowyer’s reluctance to do the same when his team failed to score despite the pressure.

    I’m surprised McCarten didn’t start. All those injuries and he does not start him! Paudie must be feeling frustrated. All I can think of is the effort isn’t there during the week. There are injuries but it is same for most teams. Generally, the key players are those amongst the injured. Simply because they warrant attention from opposing players and are more likely to pick up knocks. Again it’s the same for all teams. Donaldson is a big miss imo and we have no one else at the club can do what he does.

  4. Very disappointing. Surprised at mccartan not coming on. Hope it’s a one off. It was certainly a reality check for the fans.
    But most upsetting of all were the racist chants reported on twitter. This has badly upset me. Poor man. No one in 21st century England should do this.

    • Very disappointed to hear this might have been the case. I have to say as a mixed rave family bringing my son to City games I have been privileged not to hear anything racist being said in my earshot. To think that this is not the case across the whole ground makes me really sad as a City fan and angry as a father…. I certainly will challenge anyone who says anything within earshot of me and I believe all fans need to do the same to show these fools that they can’t assume they are the norm here at Valley Parade

  5. Its a long old season, bad day at the office we move on, we were showing a good spell from 55 minutes onwards, they defended like Trojan’s and keeper was outstanding, we got caught out on counter, before that we could have been 4-1 up, then its a different story, take the positives to Macclesfield.

    10 injured player’s out, we have not pressed the button yet, we don’t want to peak until we are ready to be the team of league, still work in progress, building & bonding, the next step will be clean sheets i reckon, come Christmas with player’s back we will be that versatile with all team being utilized, we will take some stopping.

    I remember coming down and watching when we dropped into league 2 last time for 7 miserable seasons, and we are a million times better than that team, watching through your fingers, think yourselves lucky you ain’t watching that shower.

    Loving this season as you can see & sense it coming in abundance.

    3 wins, 1 loss, can we cope with that for rest of season.

    Or am I deluded, Lol

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