A message to League Two

Bradford City 2

Sweeney 31 (OG), Vaughan 45+1

Exeter City 0

By Jason McKeown 

This was the biggest moment of Bradford City’s season so far. Their promotion credentials were authenticated with an impressive scalp of a top three rival. Confidence should be soaring through the veins of everyone connected to the club. For this was a victory of real significance.

The intelligence and wit of this City team is what stands out. For possession, territorial advantage, shots on goal and corners, the Bantams were second best here to a confident Exeter City side. Yet they showed tremendous character and application to find a way to win. As the Bradford skies grew darker in the second half, the vibrancy of Exeter City faded until they were reduced to a frustrated shadow of what they had been.

By eventually demoralising the Grecians, City have climbed four places up through a congested leading pack. They sit second in League Two, and would have gone top had Cheltenham found a late equaliser in their home game against Forest Green. It was the perfect way to bounce back from the disappointing performance against Port Vale. And in doing so, that grit and resilience is once again on show.

Of course, it could have been a very different story. After James Vaughan smacked an early effort against the post following an excellent cross from the returning Harry Pritchard, Exeter bossed the first 30 minutes and delivered the strongest opposition performance that Valley Parade has witnessed all season.

Matt Taylor has Exeter playing some very good football. From front to back, players look comfortable in possession and well-drilled at running into space to receive tight passes. It was notable that even in wide areas they were reluctant to swing over high crosses. Instead they would look for another pass, and work the ball into the box for a shooting chance.

For a 10-minute spell City barely saw the ball. Every time they cleared their lines, Exeter quickly won it back and swarmed forwards. Even the centre backs ran with the ball to join in the attacks. Over the 90 minutes, the Bantams only had 34.3% possession. It is rare to have so little of the ball at home.

But, tellingly, when City did have possession they made better use of it. They were more direct for sure, getting the ball down the channels for Zeli Ismail and Aramide Oteh to run onto. Pritchard and Hope Akpan were in decent form, albeit Callum Cooke was curiously quiet. Still, when City went forward, they were a greater threat. The Exeter backline looked suspiciously weak.

Sure enough, on the half hour mark a deep cross by Adam Henley caught Pierce Sweeney napping, and Oteh got free to head the ball downwards and over line via the Exeter defender’s body. Then right on half time, wretched Exeter defending somehow allowed Oteh to help the ball onto Vaughan, who went in where it hurt to stab home from close range. It was a complete mess from Tom Parkes and Aaron Martin. The latter was having a ferocious battle all afternoon with Vaughan. The former Guiseley goalkeeper, Johnny Maxted, didn’t cover himself in glory for the goal either. He was very unconvincing during the first half.

So against the run of play, City went in at half time 2-0 up. But any Exeter indignation was undermined by the wounds they’d inflicted on themselves. Ultimately, Exeter played like a team of Nicky Laws. Enjoyable to watch, and often on the verge of producing something truly devastating – but ultimately limited. That the former City midfielder Law is Exeter’s top scorer, on six goals, speaks volumes. They are a couple of decent strikers short. And that may hold them back in the promotion race.

Attacking the Kop in the second half, Exeter pushed forwards to get a goal back, but were up against a much more resolute defence than their own. City’s back four was outstanding, with Ben Richards-Everton and Anthony O’Connor winning everything and both full backs working so hard. Henley – recalled for Kelvin Mellor – shook off a slow start to play very well. Connor Wood is growing into a truly excellent League Two full back.

Huge credit also belongs to Richard O’Donnell, who early in the second half made a crucial save from Sweeney. A goal back for Exeter would have changed the complexion of the game. But O’Donnell’s heroics allowed City to keep Exeter at arm’s length.

The final half hour amazingly saw three red cards, none of which could be disputed. Jake Taylor recklessly flew into Wood for no other reason but frustration, giving Exeter a mountain to climb. But two minutes later, Cooke tripped Law for a warranted second booking. It was the only lapse of intelligence from City. Cooke was trying to atone for a poor touch that cost him possession. But he was never going to win the ball back, and Law was running away from goal. Cooke’s actions threatened to put City back under pressure.

As it happened, the swapping of reds hurt Exeter more. Law had to drop deeper, and became less effective. Exeter kept going, but belief ebbed away as the clock ticked down. Gary Bowyer bought on Dylan Connolly, who hit the post. He was later hauled back by Parkes when through on goal. Another red card, and there really was no way back for 9-men Exeter.

City have played better – much better – this season. This was not a performance full of man of the match contenders, apart from the back four who earned a first clean sheet since mid-September. Nevertheless, to come out on top of this six-pointer is a real statement of intent. To win in this manner, and with all those injuries still, speaks volumes.

The mood amongst Bradford City fans feels very fragmented this season. From some quarters there has been fierce criticism of the club even with City’s strong run of results. From other areas, a passionate defence is regularly aired over how well the club has responded to the nightmare of last season. But whatever your view, there was something truly special about the atmosphere in the second half. A loud and resolute coming together, to support the players over the line. A Bradfordian defiance that their team would not be breached.

Bradford City is gradually getting its soul back. There is a long way to go and you still want to see more from this team. But there is a depth to their levels of resolve. They don’t fall to pieces like last season. They know how to win football matches. There is substance, even though at times it comes at the expense of style.

Something is stirring once again at Valley Parade, and this is the kind of result that will make everyone sit up and take notice.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

Tags: , , ,

16 replies

  1. Winning ugly is good. Happy that we seem to have that knack.

    Impressed with back 4 today. Though Henley 4-5 times got caught from behind dawdling on the ball and lost the ball, a bit worrying if he doesn’t become more aware – going forward at full pelt he looked more comfortable.

    I can’t agree about Akpan though, I felt he was a passenger or too long which was on if the treasons why Exeter just ran through the middle of the park a few times in their strong spell in the first half. I don’t think he has done enough for me to warrant first team status when Palmer or Reeves come back

  2. Today was a big win for City and certainly goes a long way to establishing their playoff potential. I thought the defending in particular was effective.
    In my opinion, Nicky Law playing in an attacking midfield role was the best player on the pitch. I wonder why City rejects like Law, Doyle and Wright are thriving away from Valley Parade? These three players have scored 26 goals this season which is two more than City.

    • For teams that are all sitting below us……

      • So every player in sides below your team are worse players? Law was a very good player in a side which got us to the play off final and a side which were excellent until the Christmas dip. He signed for Exeter as he liked the area. My opinion of course but anyone who thinks he’s rubbish can’t like football. A lot of people just jumped on a social media bandwagon and he became a scapegoat

    • Phil did you attend the game when Law was in our team? He was crap then, and today he missed two easy chances to score. There’s a reason he’s in League 2, hes found his natural level.

    • We never played law in his number 10 position, always played out wide or sitting deep in midfield. Didn’t help with various manager changes. Doyle was played behind the front two,he is an out and out striker. And with our wingers we now have,which we didn’t at the start of the season .he would get ample goals and service. BRING DOYLE BACK IF WE CAN!!.and Josh Wright well personally I thought he was poor,but was injured alot.maybe he is fit now,and he feels wanted at Orient. Always got the feeling at CITY we were trying to offload him,not great for the lads confidence. Anyway for me PRITCHARD AND CONNOLLY have made a huge difference to the team.And o Donnell is a reformed keeper.up to 2nd point off top.i set a target back in September, 40 points on boxing day,and were well on the up.CTID!!

  3. I agree with your comments Jason. A great manager once said that it doesn’t matter how much possession you have if you do nothing with it. Law always in my opinion flattered to deceive. Lovely cross field runs then an easy pass. I think he lacks a finished product.
    BRE and O’connor impressed me. The challenge by Pritchard which you highlighted got city going.
    Oteh is a true handful. I have to say I can’t really weigh Akpan up. But bowyer obviously likes him so I have to go along with him.
    City give 100%. They didn’t last year. I am enjoying it and think there is a great deal more to come.

  4. Ugly win today. Exeter looked a very well drilled side and very comfotable on the ball.
    I wonder why Bowyer persists with Akpan, I purposely watched him, for the first 27 minutes he did nothing, no challenges, no pressure on the ball and god forbid a tackle, sorry if this is the best he can offer than a slight chance of the subs bench, when we are desperate,is a possibility. When Devine came on, at least he got about Law who had run the show for Exeter.
    We were fortunate today, if we were playing a team that were more clinical it could have been embarrassing.
    Sorry to sound downbeat but we need to improve in midfield if we are to really offer a threat come May

    • We’re in L2, they aren’t more clinical teams that can also control the midfield like they did for the first 30. Every team in this league has deficiencies.

      We’re showing character, strong defense along with some pace and skill.

      We’re 2nd in the table.

  5. 2-0 and one point away from top of League Two..with other players to return..Donaldson, Devitt, Reeves, Palmer and Gibson..in my book means only one thing..Champions !

  6. It’s Only A Matter Of Time……………

  7. Agree with everything you wrote today apart from you saying Akpan had a good performance. I’m sorry but for the first half, we looked liked it was us down to 10 men. Defenders walking through our midfield like it wasnt there. I think it will cost us if we keep him in the team.

  8. A massive boost for City today winning ugly is good they showed guts and a strong team spirit which made such a difference from last season they are beginning to play with confidence in themselves to grind out a win. Don’t think Bowyer has any option because of injuries than to play Akpan can’t see him keeping his place when there is competition from players who are fit again Loving the atmosphere back at VP long may it continue Caz

  9. obviously there is still a long way to go this season but there is still a lot to appreciate now. i won’t have been the only person whose heart dropped in the first half when Exeter started pinging the ball around and we couldn’t get a touch, it would have been easy for the team to give in there and then, and they would have last season. But they found a way to not just compete, but to win. I was also heartened by the response in the second half, players and fans, and when the team came to applaud the fans at the end, you can tell there’s a good team spirit that might be just what we need to keep going if and when things get tougher. And to say we’re second, one point off the top, with the injuries we’ve still got, is another plus.

  10. Cont. From above.

    Before we start to put a gap between us and the rest of the league, now we have ability and Formation to win ugly, with key players out.

    Challenge my opinion at your own peril, and receive a Told You So, in March.

    I have been a season ticket holder since the last time we dropped into league 2 and not witnessed this ever.

    When you have a 24 year old winger from Wimbledon on loan warming up on touch line, and after going 2-0 up runs down line waving arms to Kop and patting the badge after the game, that is when you are in the early stages of something Special.

    There’s a Star Man running down the right, He’s called Dylan Connolly and He’s ******* Dynamite.

    Watch this space………

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