|Forest Green 2||Bradford City 2|
|Winchester 60, Collins 90+6||Novak 49, Watt 66|
By Adam Raj
Well I’m not entirely sure what to make of that. To quote my dad, “it wasn’t terrible but it was nowhere near enough.”
On the one hand the performance in terms of quality from the Bantams this afternoon leaves a lot to be desired, but to concede in stoppage time in the circumstances was heart-breaking. This afternoon’s encounter and City’s first visit to the New Lawn had everything: goals, penalties, injuries and red cards. Sadly, we were on the receiving end of most of those.
Stuart McCall had promised to ring the changes after Tuesday’s wretched defeat to Lincoln and made 4 alterations to today’s lineup – Billy Clarke, Lee Novak, Zeli Ismail and Reece Staunton were recalled. However, the formation chosen by McCall was about as bewildering as the choice to use white lettering on the back of our grey third kit.
City lined up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with four players playing out of position. Two centre halves in Tyler French and Reece Staunton played RB and LB respectively, moving Connor Wood into a holding midfield role with Kurtis Guthrie pushed out to the left wing. There were far too many square pegs in round holes, and it showed in the performance. It would be fair to say the players did not look comfortable whatsoever.
In all truth, it was a bit of a car crash of a game. Full of action but lacking any quality. I’m sure the Forest Green Rovers fans who were fortunate enough to attend today’s pilot event thought it was a great game to welcome them back home, but for City it drew up more questions than answers.
The first half was a poor showing from both sides. Little in the way of attacking quality on show, it became a scrappy affair, with the hosts keen to play for the free kicks at any opportunity. Hardly surprising given how we defended set pieces on Tuesday night.
Rovers had the first chance of the game on 35 minutes, when striker Jamille Matt failed to get a strong enough connection on the ball to divert it home from a corner. City then responded with a corner of our own, this time Paudie O’Connor powering a header towards goal but former Bantam Luke McGee managed to divert the effort onto the bar.
After that tepid first 45, I’m not sure anyone saw the second half coming. Four minutes after the restart and Elliot Watt struck a fierce effort from the edge of the area, which McGee spilled, and Lee Novak was there to confidently chip the ball over the onrushing keeper and finish into an open net. A goal that the game probably needed, and it was a catalyst for what was to come.
Eleven minutes later and Billy Clarke gave a needless free kick away on the edge of the City box and Rover skipper Carl Winchester found the back of the net with a low drive. The City wall parting like the Red Sea left Richard O’Donnell with no chance. It was a sucker punch, but a fair reflection of the game up to that point.
From the resulting restart, City were all over the place. A minute after the equaliser, a long ball forward caught Anthony O’Connor napping and allowed midfielder Ebou Adams to nick the ball away from the Irishman. With no other option, O’Connor pulled his man back to prevent a certain goal. The result was a penalty and red card for O’Connor. Dreadful defending initially, but you have to ask why O’Connor didn’t make a challenge with his feet. I say this because under the double jeopardy rule, if he had made a genuine attempt to play the ball, he would have only received a booking.
Fortunately, the resulting penalty was as awful as the defending preceding it. Winchester put his right footed penalty wide of the post.
It really was a let off that City needed to capitalise on. Six minutes later, Kurtis Guthrie did well to win a foul on the far touchline. Elliot Watt stepped up and his fantastic delivery caught everyone off guard and flew in at the back post. At this point it was about remaining focused and disciplined to see the game out.
Sadly for City, Paudie O’Connor didn’t get that message. After the ball ran harmlessly out for a City goal kick, an altercation between Adams and Tyler French saw O’Connor get involved. The result was Adams throwing himself over the advertising hoardings like he’d been shot, despite zero contact from O’Connor. It really was embarrassing to see such blatant cheating. Either way, the referee bought it and showed O’Connor a straight red for an alleged headbutt.
Whilst O’Connor did nothing to warrant a red card, he needed not to get involved in the situation and gave the referee a decision to make in the first place. Awful judgment and decision making by the Irishman. You would hope that on review, the red card will be rescinded, although bizarrely, McCall appears to have no plans to appeal, based on his post-match interviews.
The second red card meant Lee Novak dropped in alongside Reece Staunton at centre half. And whilst the hosts huffed and puffed, City were fairly comfortable in dealing with the endless crosses into their box. It is a shame then, how the equaliser came about.
In going for a clearance, Staunton appeared to slip and roll his ankle allowing Scott Wagstaff space to cross in for Aaron Collins to volley home in the 96th minute. It was a sickener to lose a goal so late after the Bantams showed good character to defend the lead they had.
It was bodies on the line at times but City can be pleased with how they defended after being reduced to nine. You have to hope Staunton’s injury is not a major one, given the start he has made to the season and who the potential replacements are.
Sadly, that’s where the positives end. The same old problems in City’s performances were unfortunately evident once again. Offensively we were very poor, despite scoring twice. Two poor pieces of goalkeeping by McGee got us off the hook a little bit. Aside from the goals, we failed to create a clear-cut chance in the 90 minutes.
We looked, far too routinely, for the long ball over the top of the Forest Green backline but with zero pace in forward areas, this was simply handing the ball back to the hosts. The midfield at times was easily penetrable. Wood looked lost in that area and it is bizarre that as our best crosser of the ball, McCall decided to move him into a central position. The lack of a ball winning midfielder was once again a big concern.
McCall has a lot of work to do. Anthony O’Connor will receive just a one match ban for his red card whilst you would suspect Paudie will be free to face Stevenage at Valley Parade next week. But the window is still open and this City side lacks quality from top to bottom.
It remains to be seen whether McCall is favouring the back four and winger approach as he deployed today, as a long-term system. If so, he will need to add two wingers to his shopping list. Zeli Ismail failed to take his chance again today, whilst Dylan Mottley-Henry continues to not look up to standard.
The need for one if not two strikers is clear as day to every supporter and that, whilst vital, is pointless if we play like we did today, and create very little. It’s a big week for McCall as he needs to add a few faces in urgently both for the morale of the squad and the fans, after what has turned into a very frustrating start to the season.
Categories: Match Reviews