Bolton Wanderers 1
Bradford City 2
Novak 26, Pritchard 75
By Tim Penfold
From the way the online discourse about Bradford City has been all summer, you wouldn’t have given them a chance in today’s League Cup tie against Bolton.
A poor end to last season before Covid-19 brought a premature finish, four defeats (albeit against higher level opposition) in pre-season and the departure of the club’s main striker without an obvious replacement have made City fans pessimistic about the start of the season, and with games still behind closed doors there was still a feeling of apathy rather than excitement.
City started as expected with a back three and wing backs, but with a couple of surprise starters. Reece Staunton starting on the left of the back three was maybe not a massive surprise considering his bigger role in pre-season but with Dylan Mottley-Henry unavailable Tyler French started at right wing-back – a role that he’s never been hugely familiar with. Billy Clarke got the nod behind the front two, with Callum Cooke and Elliot Watt behind him in central midfield.
It was Clarke who shone early as City made a bright start. He wriggled into space on the edge of the box then aimed a chip at the top corner which the hosts’ keeper just about managed to tip over. From the resulting corner his cross flashed across the face of goal with both Lee Novak and Anthony O’Connor inches away from tapping in. Clarke then put Novak clean through on goal and the striker really should’ve done better, with his shot put too close to the keeper.
Bolton hadn’t mustered a huge amount in response, apart from one looping cross that deceived everyone and hit the angle of post and crossbar, and it was entirely deserved when City went in front. A fine pass from Watt put French clear down the right, and his low cross was tapped in by Novak. The Bolton defending was nothing special, but City took full advantage and were clinical.
Bolton spent the rest of the half trying to respond, but bar one Delfouenso run and shot and some clever-looking set pieces they were unable to get through City’s defence. All three centre-backs coped well with Bolton’s attacks, but it was Paudie O’Connor who really stood out, dealing with everything that Bolton could throw at him.
However, City started the second half half asleep and Bolton took immediate advantage. Delfouenso got free down the right, getting away from Staunton who made an error in diving in, then his cross wasn’t properly cleared by Anthony O’Connor and Sarcevic finished it. This prompted a wobble which allowed Sarcevic to curl a shot wide from distance, and suddenly it was same old City.
Only it wasn’t same old City. After two and a half years of watching senior pros crumble at the first sign of pressure, it didn’t happen here. Tyler French stood out – he was able to get hold of the ball and do the simple things well, keeping it and moving us up the pitch. He linked well with Elliot Watt, who got better and better as the game went on.
Meanwhile Staunton responded to the error by stepping up a level. He brought the ball out of defence very well, adding an extra attacking threat down the left when he went forwards. It was these three players, with fifteen football league games between them, that set the example for the rest.
On the hour mark, Stuart McCall made his first switch, removing Clarke who had faded after a bright start and bringing on Harry Pritchard. This shifted the shape of the midfield – instead of Watt and Cooke as a two behind Clarke, it was Watt sitting deepest and Pritchard and Cooke pushing further forwards. This created more space around Watt, who was able to dictate the game from the base of the trio.
Pritchard has a good initial impact, finding space and linking well with Connor Wood, but it was down the right where City were able to create their winner. Anthony O’Connor had pushed forward when given the opportunity from right centre-back, but hadn’t had much joy with his crosses initially. However, this one was placed perfectly between the Bolton centre-backs, and Harry Pritchard timed his run well to loop a header over the keeper and into the net.
Bolton weren’t really able to muster a major response, kept at bay with good defending and it was City who nearly killed the game on the counter – substitute Clayton Donaldson missed a good opportunity to put Novak in, then got in behind only for his low drive to be pushed behind.
In the end the game was as comfortable as a single-goal win could be. There is still work to do on the squad – we need another right back, and some pace up front would’ve helped in the closing stages – but what we already have looks good. Elliot Watt already looks like some find in the middle of the park, whilst Paudie O’Connor looked like the player we were so pleased at getting last summer.
Reece Staunton looks ideally suited to the role on the left of the back three, and brings extra quality while bringing the ball out. He’ll make errors – all young players do – but given enough game time he could get better and better.
Everything just looks a little bit brighter than it did a week ago.
Categories: Match Reviews