A familiar story

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

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9 replies

  1. Whilst Guthrie , who lets remember isn’t a Stuart signing like the majority of the forwards looks a very average player at the moment,the pedigree of Samuels hardly supports the view that he should be playing or even getting on before him. The failings of one player does not equate to the improvement of another. Stuart attempted to explain that they were playing deep anyway and in reality after the draw, and that there would be no space for Samuels to run into. He isn’t a physical presence so i understand Stuarts reasoning. Overall we were the better side. We all know that there are failings and questions on where the goals will come from but imo its still better to watch than last year despite the budget and relative riches Bowyer had. In Watt we have found a very useful player and there are other positives such as Richards performing as well as he has after been dropped. Signs of man management imo. Those expecting or demanding promotion merely because we are Bcafc and have crowds etc are acting on emotion and not looking at squad realities….Lets see positive signs this season and build on and off the pitch from there. despite what options he has Stu is doing a good job imo in instilling a better work ethic and maximising the performance from individuals. If it isn’t good enough so be it but i think that there are seeds of improvement from the past 2 years.

  2. I wasn’t too disheartened from tonight’s game. A lot of pre match talk by media and fans was of Walsall’s strength and they had the division’s only unbeaten record for a reason.

    Whilst there was a lack of quality in the final ball or finishing tonight, I felt they were generally positive and there were plenty of attacking opportunities which is certainly a big change from the team of the last two seasons.

    Defensively we were fairly decent too and didn’t fall to pieces after we went 1-0 down. Yes we had the better of the first quarter and they had the better of the second quarter buoyed by their goal and pretty decent striker, but the second half was all City which was reflected by the possession stats at half time 49% City at half time and 57% at full time.

    The corners were very good with obviously well worked routine to back post causing trouble 3-4 times that on another night could have picked up a couple of goals. There keeper made two really good saves during the game too.

    We can do better but seeds for some more really good performances are there to see.

  3. What a depressing assessment of last night’s game. It is strange how some view matches differently. City never reached the heights they did against Mansfield, but I thought they fought well in patches. Walsall were a tough organised team. They have not been beaten in 11 games. So give some credit to city for coming back from going behind and earning a draw. They could have won towards the end. Great deliveries from corners were causing panic in the Walsall defence. I for one would say it was a reasonable game with commitment from both sides.

  4. Terms like ‘ground out’, ‘uninspiring’, and ‘unmemorable’, come to mind, having watched last nights game. I thought Woods header, had been delivered before the keeper actually collided and had gone wide. A bit fortunate in my mind.
    The big problem with last nights result is that we are already six points off the automatic places. Yes we have a game in hand, but we would have to get a result from that, and to be fair a point away from home would be reasonable. If we could achieve that it would still leave us trailing in the wake of the current pacemakers.

    • Fouls are given based on where the incident occurs. The position of the ball is irrelevant. The referee has the discretion to allow play to continue and then and the bring play back to the point of the infringement and award a free-kick (or penalty in last nights case) if it is deemed no advantage was gained by allowing play to continue. It was a very late challenge.

  5. Plenty of positives for me albeit lots to work on (no surprise for a team in the making). A decent result from our game in hand and we are handily placed. Two possibly three players look well short of the quality needed for a promotion push.

  6. Given the circumstances Stuart has with this squad ( I’m sure he will offload plenty at the end of the season)
    I think he is doing a pretty fair job , we probably haven’t got a good enough squad for automatic promotion this season but if he can keep us in and around the play offs I reckon that’s not a bad job, we have only lost once so far and maybe we could get a decent striker in in the January window but if not I reckon 6th to 8th as a finishing position isn’t too bad

  7. “ The Recovery Continues” WOAP article from October 15, 2019 worth reading again for fans who want to maintain a proper perspective of then and now, one year later.

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