Newport County 2
Inniss 28, Bennett 33
Bradford City 1
By Adam Raj
Stuart McCall has been in charge of four games. We’ve scored the first goal in three of those. How many of those three have we won? Zero. This Bradford City team has it’s glaring deficiencies, but probably none more so than the obvious lack of game management and character.
The phrase ‘character’ is something I’ve often scoffed at in the past, seeing it as something used to excuse players of limited ability. But, it’s only now when you have the displeasure of watching this Bradford City side on a weekly basis, that you really understand and value the players who have that winning mentality and that never say die attitude.
You look back at the last Bantams side who you could call largely successful, and that is the side of the 2016/17 season, and the characters we were truly fortunate to have. Colin Doyle, Tony McMahon, Rory McArdle, James Meredith, Billy Clarke, Romain Vincelot, Mark Marshall, I could go on. Even those who had limited game time that season like Stephen Darby and Matt Killgallon. It’s only when you list those players off, you realise that they are a world apart from what we have now in terms of their mental strength.
Last week’s late collapse at Cambridge was not much of a surprise to the 800+ City supporters who witnessed that second half. And today was probably not a surprise to any City fan at all. Newport County had failed to score in their last four outings and were in the midst of an injury crisis. City, not only handed them their first goal in that time, but also their first win in six. Typical.
In response to last week, Stuart McCall made one change, Clayton Donaldson replaced Shay McCartan as City lined up in a 4-4-2 shape. Playing on a cow field of a pitch, as bad as Valley Parade, meant the game was not going to be one for the purists. McCall had spoken about this during the week and commented on the need for City to really dig in and fight if they were to come away with the three points. Instructions and directions that fell on deaf ears right from the start of the game as the visitors were second to every ball and giving it away for fun.
It was the hosts who had the first golden opportunity of the game. An in-swinging Ryan Haynes cross from the right flank was headed high and wide by towering centre half Ryan Inniss, who should’ve done better. City grew into the game slowly and went close through Donaldson when his header was saved by Tom King following a Glenn Middleton knock down.
Then, out of nothing, a deep Connor Wood cross was headed home at the far post by Donaldson. City, ahead after 26 minutes, needed to do what we failed to do last week, and that was capitalise on our advantage.
Instead, the goal seemed to galvanise the hosts, who responded imminently. City, expecting a cross from a Haynes corner were caught out as he played it short to skipper Josh Sheehan whose bobbly hook towards goal was headed home by Inniss. City heads dropped and Newport, in stark contrast to the Bantams, had the bit between their teeth. They sensed the fragility, as Cambridge had done last week, and like their amber rivals, hit City with a quick one-two.
Another corner resulted in another goal. This time, Lee Novak, who had another torrid afternoon, failed to react to the second ball, allowing Scott Bennett to slam home on the half volley. Two goals in five minutes for the side who had gone 443 minutes without scoring.
The game fizzled out to half time with City offering nothing since going ahead. A half time substitution saw Adam Henley replaced by Paudie O’Connor. City moved to a 3-4-1-2 with Dylan Mottley-Henry filling in at right wing-back and Middleton having a free role behind the strikers. Initially, the second half was more of the same – long balls, misplaced passes and a lack of control over the game. However, as was in the first half, City grew into it.
Jake Reeves saw a long range effort deflected onto the crossbar five minutes in, before Newport were denied a third goal by a good Richard O’Donnell double save. Clayton Donaldson somehow failed to connect with a Middleton corner which saw Newport keeper Tom King in no mans land. But, City came a little closer in the 76th minute, as Middleton had a shot excellently blocked by Inniss who then blocked Paudie O’Connor’s follow up when he was still laying on the floor. It was the sort of bodies on the line commitment that typified the hosts this afternoon.
A few decent enough chances to salvage something from a game which showed us up in many areas. But, our current striking options simply aren’t good enough. Lee Novak looked a fairly adequate addition in his first two games, scoring twice, but the two games since have passed him by. The job we needed him to do both last week and this week of holding the ball up to relieve pressure simply didn’t happen. And then when presented with scoring chances, he fluffed his lines in both games.
The decision to loan out James Vaughan and replace him with Novak and Kurtis Guthrie looks more and more ridiculous as the weeks go on. That decision, in my opinion, hampered McCall before he even walked through the door. I have seen some people criticise Vaughan for the fact he is quick to hit the deck, but ironically, it is exactly that which we have been missing, among many other things of course, in the last few games.
Neither Novak or Donaldson have done an adequate job of holding the ball up and winning fouls high up the pitch. An ugly job, but a necessary one with where we are.
One of Gary Bowyer’s favourite terms to describe this squad was ‘honest’. He used to roll it out at every press conference but I’m not so sure that’s the case. What I see, is a squad lacking in confidence and belief. A squad still containing some players scarred by last season’s disaster. A squad lacking a strong spine. A squad which contains several good players but who have, for want of a better word, been ‘bowyered’.
It may not be a popular opinion, but I think the damage which Gary Bowyer did to this squad, in terms of their confidence, is huge. I don’t see our players enjoying playing for us and playing with a smile on their face and you have to wonder why that is the case. Even the goal celebrations have been muted.
It’s a hard task for McCall to overturn. One which he may not be able to do without a summer clear out, which would be the third in three seasons. Whilst that does nothing for the want of stability within the squad, it may present our best option, with the last of Edin Rahic’s remaining expensive purchases being out of contract.
For this season, whilst it’s hard to throw in the towel, only being four points from seventh, it does feel like its unlikely that this group of players will achieve what was deemed a necessity this season and each passing game at this moment in time does nothing to ease those fears.