|Bradford City 1||Walsall 1|
|Clarke 76 (pen)||Nurse 23|
By Adam Raj
This stalemate was probably the most predictable thing to happen in 2020 thus far. Four draws for Walsall and two for City in the opening weeks of the season – coupled with the same goal difference, goals scored and goals conceded – meant tonight’s encounter was always going to be a tight affair.
But it was a game City really needed to perform well in to back up Saturday’s convincing win at Mansfield. The Stags were unbelievably poor at the weekend, so understandably most City fans were eager to see whether the team could perform to a similar degree against a side who have yet to lose this season.
Pre-match fears that Stuart McCall would tinker with a winning line-up were thankfully allayed as the Bantams’ boss named an unchanged eleven. Just like Saturday, it wasn’t a 4-4-2 as it may have appeared. Harry Pritchard tucked in to make it a three man midfield, giving Connor Wood the freedom of the left wing, whilst Dylan Mottley-Henry was deployed as a more natural winger. Lee Novak and Clayton Donaldson deservedly started once more after finally resembling something like a striking partnership at the weekend.
City started the game fairly well by getting the ball down and keeping possession. An early chance was wasted as a Mottley-Henry cross was swung at by Novak and Pritchard, with the latter slicing the ball over the bar. A couple of other half chances fell the way of Novak, Donaldson and Pritchard again, but the City attackers were failing miserably in getting a proper connection on the ball.
Nevertheless, it was an encouraging opening 20 minutes, with City seeing the ball in some promising areas.
Then out of nothing, Walsall left back George Nurse ran from his own half to unleash a fantastic 25 yard strike in off the post. An unchallenged drive running between both Mottley-Henry and Callum Cooke, with nobody seemingly wanting to make a challenge. It was a goal seen far too often down at Valley Parade. And It was a lesson for City who had failed to take the chances they created and as expected, they paid the price.
It was a goal that woke up the visitors who went close again two minutes later. Elijah Adebayo found acres of space in the City box, was fed the ball in from midfield, turned and unleashed a powerful half volley towards the City goal. Anthony O’Connor managed to get a block on the forward’s effort, although it was going wide.
The goal had rocked City and the hosts were all over the place. It was pleasing therefore, to see the Bantams ride out the pressure and get back into the game. But at that point, it was a minor positive in what looked to be the predictable smash and grab by an away side at Valley Parade.
Novak had City’s best chance of the first half as he found himself one on one with Walsall keeper Liam Roberts, following Donaldson’s flick on. Bizarrely, he took far too long and allowed two Walsall defenders to nip in and clear. It was a chance that summed up City in that first half.
It was much of the same huff and puff with no reward stuff from City for much of the second half. Anthony O’Connor went close with a back post header, Donaldson likewise with a long range strike. But there was nothing really clear cut for City.
Mottley-Henry had yet another poor game and continues to bewilder fans as to why he was re-signed. The winger lost the ball far too often and looks scared to take on his man. He has a big responsibility in this City side, playing as the sole winger, yet he continues to look out of his depth.
As the game wore on, City seemed to be running out of ideas. The hosts resorted to crossing the ball from deep, rather than try to be a bit cuter in the final third and work an opening. Donaldson and Novak, who produced a strangely lazy performance, failed to win many, if any, aerial duels in the Walsall box. It really required a different approach.
Hence Billy Clarke’s arrival on the 65th minute, as the Irishman replaced Pritchard. Eight minutes later and Clarke would have his first goal since returning to the club. Cooke’s cross into the box was met by Wood who was then clattered by goalkeeper Roberts. Referee Andy Haines had no hesitation pointing to the spot and Clarke’s confident penalty gave City a lifeline.
It was a shame therefore, that Haines hesitated a minute later. A long ball by Tyler French saw Novak get the wrong side of right back Hayden White who pulled the striker down through on goal. After deliberations with his assistant, the referee only brandished a yellow card. Admittedly, there wasn’t an awful lot of contact, but as soon as the foul is given, then White had to be sent off as he was the last man and Novak was through on goal.
A potentially game-changing decision went against City, and they can feel hard done by.
The equalising penalty was as close as City would come to scoring on the night, however. And in truth, it was the only way they looked like scoring. The lack of quality and a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch was laid bare tonight. Decent chances and half chances were frustratingly wasted by a side clearly lacking a goalscorer.
Austin Samuels remained an unused substitute, which begs the question as to why he was signed in the first place. It looked a panic signing at the time and we’ve seen nothing since to change that opinion. Kurtis Guthrie, who continues to be anonymous, was the preferred change tonight but showed nothing to convince McCall that he should be starting.
In truth, Samuels’ omission was even more strange considering City were crying out for a different dimension upfront. As already mentioned, City’s frontline struggled to win aerial duals so it would have been purposeful to have seen if Samuels could have offered something to trouble Walsall’s backline.
Ultimately, it was a night that further emphasised City’s deficiencies. A lack of a goalscorer and a lack of a quality wide man – two issues that have failed to have been addressed this summer really looks like it could cost City this season.
Whilst City may have dominated territorially, especially in the second half, the quality of chances being created were not good enough. Far too many times, the cross failed to beat the first man or was overhit into the Kop. And when the final ball was produced, the finishing was extremely poor.
The start to this season feels somewhat like the start of the 16/17 season where City amassed an eye watering 19 draws. A lack of a goalscorer in the first half of that season is what ultimately cost us automatic promotion. But whilst, in that campaign, McCall had the incredible Mark Marshall to depend on for that real magic moment, where is that spark and moment of real quality going to come from this season?
Categories: Match Reviews