Vital win can’t disguise the ongoing challenge of fulfilling Bradford City’s potential

Bradford City 1

Vaughan 58 (pen)

Newport County 0

By Jason McKeown 

They needed this. With the goodwill towards Bradford City’s season showing signs of fading, and after five games without a win, this was a timely pick me up. A welcome, if stuttering, return to form. A victory that can be the springboard to better things.

In many ways this was a performance that summed up the Bantams’ promotion push so far. They had too much quality for their opponents, and eventually made it count. But it was far from convincing, and City certainly won’t win any awards for entertainment.

It wasn’t a win to shake off the lingering suspicion that City should be capable of more than they’re showing this season. That with the quality available in the squad, it appears they have the capacity to become more dominant. Of playing a more attractive style of football. Of creating more chances. They won here through a James Vaughan penalty, after the striker had latched onto a poor backpass and was fouled in the box by Newport keeper Nick Townsend. There was no particular pattern in play that had led to the opportunity. Not many noteworthy chances that suggested City were on the cusp of scoring.

That’s not to deride the efforts of the players – or the simple value of winning football matches. After a stronger second half, City undoubtedly deserved to win this game and they deserve credit for grinding this out. With both teams lining up in a 3-5-2 formation, it was a war of attrition that City did well to conquer. Newport were very physical and worked hard to deny the Bantams space in wide areas especially. The game management of City at 1-0 was also largely exceptional.

After a sticky run that has fuelled doubts, they couldn’t pass this opportunity by. This might not be a performance to allay recent criticism, but it shouldn’t exacerbate the grumbles either.

Gary Bowyer’s decision to go 3-5-2 raised eyebrows. The positive was City lined up with a front two pairing, leaving Vaughan less isolated as he regularly linked up with Aramide Oteh. Whilst a 4-4-2 formation would also allow for a front two, having the extra man in the middle through a 3-5-2 enabled City to play without an obvious midfield ball winner. A middle two of just Callum Cooke and Jake Reeves would be unlikely to work, as they’d be easily bypassed. But with Chris Taylor joining them, City were solid in the centre of the park.

However the downside was that, even with a set-up that should have encouraged playing short passes through the middle, City still resorted to playing long ball. Putting Adam Henley and Connor Wood as wing backs failed to provide the attacking thrust. The Bantams were crying out for someone to run with the ball, take people on and stretch the game. But wingers Zeli Ismail and Dylan Connolly were benched. In a wing back set up, there is no starting place for either – which suggests this isn’t going to be a long-term solution. A 4-4-2, with Taylor a tucked in wide midfielder, could ultimately be where we’re heading.

Both teams cancelled each other out during the first half. City were too direct, regularly handing possession straight back to Newport, who almost as quickly did the same. Oteh and Kevlin Mellor wasted decent opportunities. It was a cagey affair. This was not one for the purists. No one will be petitioning for the club shop to bring out a DVD of this game.

But in football, we all have a part to play. And it was a more vocal home crowd who did much to inspire the players to up their urgency after the interval. There is regularly a major contrast in noise when City are attacking the Kop end compared to the halves where they’re playing towards the Bradford End. Here, without a lot to cheer, the Kop came to life early in the second half. The chants grew louder and more regular. And the players responded. Given it was Newport mistakes that ultimately gifted Vaughan the decisive penalty, we can attribute the assist for the goal to the back of the Kop.

Townsend’s trip on Vaughan when he was last man brought predictable howls for a red card. The double jeopardy law meant the County goalkeeper was never going to dismissed. But there was an irony that, after conceding the penalty, Townsend played a huge role in keeping Newport in the game. He tipped an Oteh header onto the crossbar, and later produced an excellent low block to deny Paudie O’Connor.

Oteh had the most efforts on goal of every home player. He is now six games without a goal for City. The on loan QPR man is well liked by the crowd for his work rate, but in crucial moments can lack quality. If there is one club who should be concerned about Bowyer going back to playing a front two, it’s probably Swindon Town with their heavy reliance on Eoin Doyle. This 3-5-2 set up would certainly suit Doyle’s game better than the 4-3-3 of before.

The failure to get that second goal meant for a nervy ending, especially when an inexplicable nine minutes of injury time were announced. The groans around Valley Parade quickly gave way to fear and panic in the stands. It went eerily quiet, as though a late Newport equaliser was an inevitability. With the Newport manager Michael Flynn having sent on Dominic Poleon as substitute, you grimaced at the prospect of another painful episode of Law Of The Ex .

Yet whilst Newport pushed hard, they were restricted to half chances from distance. City’s trio of centre halves played very well – it was especially good to see Paudie O’Connor back in the side – and Richard O’Donnell had very little to do. Newport only had one shot on target all afternoon, and that was a slow rolling effort from distance that was straight at O’Donnell, deep in added time.

Full time was met with relief, but not exhilaration. It was 90 minutes to get through rather than savour. Of course, no team in any division plays rip-roaring football every week. Those who are clutching the trophies and the prizes in May can inevitably point back to moments in the campaign where they had to dig out ugly victories like this one. Afternoons like this are the bedrock of a promotion push. And with City back to only trailing second spot by two points, with a game in hand, they’re in a strong league position once again.

It’s just that the worry remains that performances like this are towards the ceiling level of what this team will achieve this season. We’ve seen a lot of afternoons like this already, where City have won but not particularly won with conviction. With the injury situation now upgraded from crisis and heading towards run-of-the-mill level, Bowyer now has a much stronger squad to choose from. It feels like he needs to start making more of what he has, otherwise supporter patience could start to wear thin.

Bowyer has real quality at his disposal. Jake Reeves, in what was his third start since returning from injury, was once again terrific. This was his first outing back in front of a full Valley Parade crowd, and he got a great reception throughout. If Callum Cooke can rediscover his best form alongside him, Oteh and Vaughan can build on promising signs of forging a strike partnership, a place is found for at least one out and out winger, the ball is passed more often on the deck rather than so routinely direct, the defence continues its strong form, and if Bowyer is prepared to let off the shackles – City could really take off over the second half of the season.

There’s a massive opportunity for Bradford City this season. And this victory was a small step forwards towards grasping it.

Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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27 replies

  1. Plenty to be positive about unless you expect to be royally entertained every week. Centre backs outstanding. Oteh put a prodigious shift in culminating in forcing the error leading to the winner. Great composure from Vaughan in waltzing round the keeper and thereafter sticking in the pen. Reeves (and Cooke to leeser extent) bossing the midfield. League 2 muck and nettles and a winning feeling on Saturday night. No complaints from me

    • Thanks Paul,

      Nearly felt I was going to have to apologise for the fact that myself and grandson Oliver (11) quite enjoyed the match. Good game management to see the nine minutes through.

      • My son (16) and I thoroughly enjoyed the battle as well. It takes seasoned perspective sometimes and it is very impressive that an 11 year old was able to grasp what was happening.

      • Agree mate. Got try to enjoy it for what it is. Attritional sometimes. They saw the game out well. How many times have we seen a late sting in the tale and a homeward journey with our chins ont floor!

  2. Yes. Despaired at the endless stream of long ball goal kicks that all too often came back like a boomerang. Wished I stayed at home for the first half and..well, even watched paint dry…but thought the magic of the match was the Kop rousing the support base…and then the players. The Twelfth Man in action.

    I desperately wish Gary B would make a substitution earlier- both Ismail & Connolly on at half time would have put a rocket under that match.

  3. Good evaluation Jason. Newport came specifically to play out their usual disruptive technique which often served them well. City did enough in the end, only the fat lady will tell if we will get out at first attempt. The constant weekly manta of ‘There’s still more to come from us yet’ from the city dressing room will have to bare fruit sooner rather than later though.

  4. First half was forgettable. Second half much better. Other than nearly giving Newport a goal in the second half, Reeves was the best player on the park. Always looking for the ball and pass. I thought overall, there wasn’t a bad performing player on city’s side. The closing down was better. I thought Oteh worked hard. He ran well with the ball. Vaughn and Oteh could be a good partnership if they stay free from.injury. Oteh were causing problems with Newport’s defence he was a handful. I took more positives from this than negatives. Onwards and upwards.

  5. I do wish people would stop making snide references about Bowyer’s tactics, as if he is somehow not being successful. We won; Newport didn’t bother our goalkeeper; we had at least another three chances to score that were thwarted by superb goalkeeping. What more do you want for your £6.00 per game? For periods we weren’t royally entertained but there was plenty of exciting play, too. That was down to the players and the strategy applied, not some mythical alchemy of the Kop! You are right, though. If we go up in May, this result will be important but no-one will quibble with how it was accomplished.

    • Without checking, I believe that is now 6 home wins out of 7 (league) and a points tally of 2 per match since the start of the seventh game. Moreover, the team selection on Saturday was excellent. .

  6. City struggled to another unimpressive win and in all honesty continue to look like a mid table team rather than playoff contenders. Interesting to note, Newport have the third worst goal scoring stat in the League at 17 goals. Happy and contented fans on this Forum appear to have no concerns about being entertained. I guess to them, winning ugly is beautiful!!

  7. We’re definitely not the best to watch at the moment, although the second half was ok and we should have won by more, but I think (hope) that Bowyer is playing the long game on this and doesn’t want to let the players “off the leash” too early. Once again, after the match, he empathised it’s a long season and we still have 27 matches to play. If we win our current game in hand we’d possibly go 2nd. My reckoning is Bowyer is happy for us to keep there or thereabouts, then go for it in the last few weeks or so. It may not be what we want as fans right this minute, but Bowyer is about delivering promotion at the end of the season, which I think he’ll do (maybe not champions, but promoted).

  8. A good hard fought and well deserved result straight from the Bowyer/Parky text book! If it brings us promotion at the first attempt then job done! I do think that some supporters will never be happy?

  9. Watching the game yesterday was quite frustrating, we never got out of 2nd gear in the 1st half. As everyone has pointed out things got much better in the 2nd half. Interesting though, in the interview after the game Bowyer pointed out we had 3 last minute changes due to injuries on the Friday. Not much mentioned about the enforced changes just criticism about the tactics, but it showed.

  10. Without a single beat of the drum in the first half, VP felt eerily quiet. Then a glimmer of hope, the drummer and chanting starts up, City kick into life and it’s game on. Respect to the team and the kop who give us all a tonic when we most need it.

  11. Agree with a lot of the comments. Similar to a Parkinson games yesterday. First of all stay in the game and turn the screw in the second half (the first half was woeful).

    We may be 20 games in but due to injuries and suspensions Bowyer hasn’t had the ‘quality’ mentioned for most of the season. During his tenure he’s seen Jake Reeves play 3(?) games of football but has identified him as the man to run his midfield. He’s also missing Clayton Donaldson still who is clearly pivotal to the way he wants to play.

    Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying we couldn’t be in an even better position with the resources we have available but more importantly we are still right in the mix – despite having had to play with Hope Akpan as a focal point in our midfield. I fully expect us to get better and better but don’t necessarily expect us ever to be the divisions exciting team under Bowyer.

  12. Far more positives from this game than some of the previous ones:
    – Happy to win and win ugly too
    – Good performance by the three-man defence
    – Nice to see Taylor perform and thought he had a solid game for a home debut
    – Reeves played a full game and played well
    – 3-5-2 allowed Oteh and Vaughan to be more involved in the game than they have been in many previous games in other formations

    My concerns are two-fold:

    – Playing so many long balls over the top of our 5 man midfield to a front two that doesn’t include Donaldson was pointless. At one point the ball went so high over their heads that even if the strikers were 12 foot tall and had the pace of Daniel James they wouldn’t have won the ball. I have nothing against the odd long ball, but the fact the players persisted means they are either panicking and hoofing it or that they have been told to do so despite the lack of opportunities it is creating. Both cases are worrying

    For me the question about formations all season has been obscuring the more important point about selecting the right players for the selected formation.

    This I am happy about most formations as long as the essential personnel are in the right place. A formation with one up front is fine as long as that is Donaldson. In the absence of Donaldson it seems like every fan in the ground worked out that we cannot play one up front or long balls in a swifter period than our manager or coaching staff.

    Talking about wanting to win the battle in midfield and then persistently playing Akpan in midfield when he repeatedly struggled to win tackles or force mistakes and therefore put more pressure on Cooke and the back four.

    Yesterday’s line up was pretty fair and I felt it played more like a 5-3-2 more than the intended 3-5-2. Woods was at one point (still is maybe?) at the top of the crossing charts for the whole country and so I guess made him a viable left wing option in that basis, however Henley ahead of our three attacking wingers was a strange call. Henley didn’t play badly I just felt that by half time we knew that there was not enough attacking threat from wide and that at least one winger should have been brought on to create more problems out wide and create more space for the two strikers.

    I want to make it clear I fully support Bowyer and want him to remain at the club and carry on building a stable and secure structure and I think when he has cleared out most of the dead wood in summer we will see him in a accurate light, but st this stage I feel he is frustratingly cautious with his selections and in particularly his use of substitutes

    • on formations is prefer Reeves to be playing in front of Cooke not the other way round…McCall had him short passing higher up the pitch and I think it suits his game better….he was also guilty of giving the ball away quite a bit and a better team would punish us losing it where he us playing

  13. I, for once, don’t entirely agree with Jason.I think City struggled to beat a team of spoilers. I agree there is too much long ball, and believe we really do miss Donaldson. I like Reeves, he seems a bit too good for that division.
    I also like Vaughan and thought his rounding of the goalkeeper was classy. I still don’t understand double jeopardy, because, reading the rule on the internet, it seems a sending-off. But, so what.
    What I do want to highlight are the superb attitude of the fans , roaring our team on. I am far too old to roar, but it makes me feel good.
    Also, the dreary, time-wasting, boring, unpleasant tactics employed by Newport. Surely, Michael Flynn can do better than that. 350 fans travelled halfway around Britain to watch them. They, and we, deserved better. Poleon hasn’t improved. His speed sent him clear, them he tripped over the ball. Deja vu!
    I rarely comment on referees, but I do hope Mr Backhouse thinks very deeply about his appalling performance yesterday, sinking to an abject low. His total misinterpretation of an uncontested dropped ball summed up an abjectly incompetent display by him, contributing greatly to a fairly poor game.
    Still, we won, and the week-end is now very pleasant.

  14. Bowyers’ late subs are becoming pretty annoying. Yesterday it was plainly obvious that bringing Ismail and Connolly on earlier would have changed the game for the better by giving us a more attacking option. Not only that but bringing on 3 players for 5 minutes of football costs the club in pointless appearance fees!

  15. On a totally separate note I found it intensely moving that the Salvation Army band was playing in the main stand concourse before the match and at half-time. I ask all City fans to support these wonderful people who try at all times to help their fellow human beings. Thank you to them.

  16. I’m seeing and hearing lots of moaning this season and comments like, ‘Performances like this are toward the ceiling level of what we’ll achieve’ and ‘City have won but not won with conviction.’

    However, I saw this yesterday, ‘Yesterdays win means this is now Citys best start to a league season at home for over 30 years, with 22 points from a possible 30.’ – Courtesy of Bantams Heritage

    The thing I don’t understand, Parky was revered by those same fans for a standard of football that was worse than we’re seeing now and a win record nowhere near as good. I’m struggling to see how that works. Some of our fans are obviously a strange, fickle, bunch.

    • Sobering thought, other than Reeves, what other current City player could get a starting spot in Parky’s 2012/13 starting lineup???

  17. I think that there are some short memories of what Parkinson actually achieved for City. At times he had us playing some very good football. Even when we were direct there was high second half energy and amazing commitment. It was great to watch. And we achieved some amazing things. We also won a lot of games very convincingly.

    Parkinson’s final season was undoubtedly a more dour style of football but that shouldn’t cloud the excitement levels of his reign overall.

    Bowyer’s City side this season have a better points tally than Parkinson’s in 2012/13. But I and others think there is more to come still.

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