Colchester United 0
Bradford City 0
By Jason McKeown
This wasn’t the calamitous, drop-out-of-the-play-offs evening for Bradford City that some had been forecasting. But neither was it a convincing redemption from recent troubles.
Gary Bowyer’s men dug in deep to earn a deserved point against a Colchester United side unbeaten in the league for over three months. Late goals elsewhere ensured City didn’t drop a league placing, or lose any further ground on the automatic promotion places. As you were, then.
After the fall out of Saturday’s disappointing draw with Scunthorpe United, which had followed a dismal defeat at Crawley, this goalless draw has at least halted the slide. Many questions have been asked of the manager and players, but they displayed some resilience here. It was not a performance that will earn them many plaudits, but it won’t do them any real further damage either. It offers something to build on. The smallest of steps forward.
Of course, much more is needed if City are going to get out of this lull. In a game woefully lacking in goalmouth action, the impotency of City’s attack offered little to suggest they could snatch a first away win since mid-October. It wasn’t until the 63rd minute that the Bantams registered their one and only shot on target, after Eoin Doyle hit a low speculative effort from distance that barely troubled United goalkeeper Dean Gerken. Chris Taylor hit the bar with a terrific long range effort with 14 minutes to go. But in truth, it was the one and only occasion City looked like scoring.
The regular problems of recent weeks were again painfully evident in City’s forward play. They can knock the ball around nicely between midfield and defence, but lack the conviction to work possession forwards with any sense of urgency. Colchester, like City, adopted a safety first attitude, which meant they quickly retreated behind the ball when the visitors were in possession. Despite going back to a 4-4-2 formation, City failed to produce enough creativity to get through the stringent banks of blue shirts.
Jake Reeves was recalled to the side, playing in the centre next to Taylor, with Connor Wood and Dylan Connolly in the wide positions. The onus was on Reeves to take up the quarter back mantle of spreading killer passes around the park, but he was largely disappointing. So often Reeves cheaply gave the ball away, and he was caught in possession several times. Taylor was a willing worker alongside him, but offered little flair. Connolly tried manfully to make things happen out wide, yet he was easily isolated by Colchester, who had pin-pointed the Irishman as the chief opposition threat. By the end, Connolly was a peripheral figure.
It’s far from solely the midfield’s fault. In games like this, City badly need to get the ball into the final third and for it to stick there, so midfield players can get forwards in numbers. To set up a base camp to build attacks around. In other words, they need a Clayton Donaldson – happy playing with his back to goal, taking the ball in his feet and using his strength to hold up possession. It is not a role that the front two of Doyle and Shay McCartan are capable of performing. Both players ran around plenty, looking for space, but they were starved of possession. It was a particularly frustrating night for McCartan, who given a rare start failed to make any impression.
So it was that a game where both teams were more conscious of avoiding defeat – rather than going all out for victory – proved to be a stalemate. Colchester recorded 18 shots on goal to City’s eight, but only had two on target themselves. At both ends, almost all the opportunities were speculative efforts from outside the penalty area. The Bantams were indebted to Luke McGee for producing a fine block from Harry Pell’s long-range shot, and Luke Prosser should probably have scored when he volleyed over from close range following a corner. But with Anthony O’Connor and Ben Richards-Everton back in form after struggling on Saturday, the Colchester forward line was relatively well-marshalled. Adam Henley recovered from a very poor start to perform okay, although he looks uncomfortable in the left back slot.
The sight of Kelvin Mellor kicking the ball away to waste time, two minutes from the end, underlined the true level of ambition City had in winning the game. They pushed forward sporadically, with the safety mode once again firmly on display. They had spells on top, but never ran up a head of steam that suggested they were on the cusp of scoring. Once again, it was a low risk and reward approach. And that will shock no one.
Much more will be expected from City at Mansfield Town on Saturday. The Stags have lost their last three matches, won only one of their last 12 league games, and have the worst home record in League Two. They’ve not won at Field Mill since the same day of City’s last victory on the road. It is a game the Bantams simply have to target winning. A cagey set-up and performance like this won’t be tolerated.
These remain tricky times for Bowyer, and this dour point is unlikely to appease the growing discontent about recent results and performances. But this result does offer some breathing space, ahead of a very important three games in eight days. The situation hasn’t got worse, even if it hasn’t really gotten any better.