|Mansfield Town 1||Bradford City 3|
|Cook 85||Stech (8 OG), Wood 14, Donaldson 69|
By Tim Penfold
Bradford City were looking for a response today. A humbling televised defeat to Harrogate on Monday night had drawn some strong and mostly deserved criticism, and the team were looking to bounce back as quickly as possible. In winless Mansfield, they found the perfect opponents for that.
Stuart McCall’s response to Monday’s display was to go back to basics. City lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Bryce Hosannah coming in for his first start at right back and Callum Cooke returning to central midfield. Dylan Mottley-Henry and Harry Pritchard started on the flanks, with Lee Novak and Clayton Donaldson continuing up front.
It was a mixed start for City – Mottley-Henry’s pressing forced one early chance that he might’ve done better with, but Mansfield wasted a good opportunity when Richard O’Donnell slipped while clearing the ball but managed to recover to deny Jordan Bowery.
Not to be outdone, Mansfield’s keeper Marek Stech managed a much worse goalkeeping error to gift City the lead. Connor Wood’s 8th-minute corner was swung under the crossbar, but under no pressure the home keeper let the ball squirm out of his grasp and, as he flailed desperately, the ball bounced over the line. Connor Wood will try to claim the goal, but it will surely be Stech who will end up with it.
There was no doubt about the second goal though – a fine, flowing move saw Clayton Donaldson feed Harry Pritchard, and his backheel flick sent Wood through to fire a low drive past the keeper. The difference between the two goals was remarkable – one comic, one classy.
Mansfield did try to rally, and managed to force their way through the City defence a couple of times, but while O’Donnell’s kicking was suspect his shot-stopping was the equal of anything the home side could provide.
Eventually City regained control of the game and had a flurry of half-chances towards the end of the half, the best of which was scuffed by Donaldson and cleared from just in front of Novak.
Mansfield’s response at half time was to make three subs and match City’s 4-4-2, but it made little difference. They had one big moment, when Andy Cook’s free header was comfortably held by O’Donnell, but otherwise offered very little.
City’s midfield regained control, with Callum Cooke having his best game of the season alongside the metronomic Elliot Watt. Both fullbacks enjoyed the freedom to go forward at will, and City looked as fluid as they have been for a long time.
A third goal seemed inevitable – Cooke’s low drive was pushed away by the keeper, Pritchard’s shot was straight at him when either side would’ve been a goal, and the impressive Hosannah had one cross deflect just wide of the far post.
Eventually Mansfield could no longer hold back the tide. Watt’s long crossfield ball found Novak in the corner, and he held it up until support arrived. His clever backheel flick set Wood free in the box, and the left back’s cross was crashed into the net by Donaldson.
This was Donaldson’s best performance of the season so far, and he fully deserved the goal. Back in February it looked like he and Novak were a little too similar to work as a pairing, but they dovetailed nicely today.
Novak dropped and linked well with the midfield, while Donaldson harried defenders, ran the channels and stretched the play effectively. His experience was on display in getting behind defenders and winning fouls, which gave City a numerical advantage after George Lapslie picked up a 2nd yellow for bringing him down from behind.
For someone who looked like he would end up as 4th choice only a couple of weeks ago, Donaldson has forced his way back into the starting XI via the Football League Trophy and still has a part to play this season.
Donaldson could have had another one, as he couldn’t quite keep his shot down from Pritchard’s cross, but it was Mansfield who got the game’s last goal – a consolation header from a corner by Cook which made the scoreline a little more flattering for Mansfield.
We can’t get too carried away here – Mansfield were as poor as Harrogate were good in the last game – but this was much better from the Bantams. They looked like a good side today – confident on the ball and creating chances almost at will. The challenge, as always, is to bring that into the next game, and the one after that.
If we can do that, we have a shot at promotion this season.
Categories: Match Reviews