Tonbridge Angels 0
Bradford City 7
A O’Connor 6, Clarke 14+44, Donaldson 55, Samuels 68 Pritchard 83, Wood 90+1
By Jason McKeown
For a side that was stumbling into a crisis just one week ago, this has proven to an uplifting, potentially season-turning few days for Bradford City.
Two wins, 10 goals and back-to-back clean sheets have significantly shifted the mood and offers a springboard for the Bantams’ season to really lift off. Confidence is returning to the players and momentum is building.
Naturally this goal-laden FA Cup first round win – and the comfortable midweek triumph over Southend United – both come with an asterisk. They were victories against inferior opponents, who offered nothing like the same level of test as the ones that City have recently failed. But after the miserable loss at Barrow last Saturday, there was a widespread feeling that Stuart McCall had to win these next two games. There was genuine pressure on the manager and club going into this week, and they’ve delivered in style.
The attitude and application that the Bantams brought to Longmead Stadium deserves real credit. Right from the moment it was announced McCall had kept with the same team that dispatched Southend, the professional intent of the League Two side was clear.
It’s easy to get sucked into the usual FA Cup narrative that it was a huge day for National League South side Tonbridge Angels, but it was an important occasion for City too. An all too rare live TV appearance on BBC, which they were determined to make the most of.
It’s over 35 years since City had lost an FA Cup tie to non-league opponents, and any Tonbridge hopes of ending that run were effectively ended within six minutes. A visiting corner was played short to Connor Wood, who whipped over a typically brilliant cross that Anthony O’Connor was left unmarked to power home. Surprisingly it was O’Connor’s first goal since the February 2019 loss to Walsall that saw an end to David Hopkin’s tenure as manager. A lifetime ago now, it feels.
The early marker set City up for a trouble-free afternoon where the goals quickly racked up. By the 14th minute, Billy Clarke fired home a free kick that he himself had won on the edge of the penalty area. And just before half time, the Irish forward had his second when he headed home another excellent Wood cross.
City’s open, wing back style of play does leave gaps behind Wood and Bryce Hosannah that Tonbridge manager Steve McKimm had clearly targeted. The part-timers did have some moments of promise cutting in from wide areas, particularly over a 10-minute spell just before the break. But their growing enthusiasm was ultimately dampened when Clarke made it 3-0. Ultimately, City were a cut above about their non-league hosts, and – for the second game in a row – had the contest wrapped up at the interval.
But whilst the second half of the Southend game saw City disappoint, there was no taking the foot off the gas here. The high standards were maintained in the second 45, with some terrific build up play between Callum Cooke and Hosannah leading to Clayton Donaldson slamming home the fourth. Cooke hit the post shortly after and Paudie O’Connor flicked another effort just over. Tonbridge never gave up and had a corner attempt that hit the bar, but they were always chasing shadows.
The scorer of the fifth goal could be a telling moment, as substitute Austin Samuels ran through and finished smartly, just six minutes after coming on for Donaldson. Much has been said about the on-loan Wolves forward, who has ultimately being brought in to replace James Vaughan and has struggled to get going. He has been written off by some supporters. Chalked up as a hasty mistake. Apparently dooming the club to a season to failure.
Samuels’ rawness has been a hindrance so far, but when you see the 19-year-old’s attributes of playing on the shoulder of the last man and offering pace in behind, there is a logic to bringing him in. Samuels offers something different to what the squad had. His inexperience makes him a gamble that has understandably prompted questions over McCall’s judgement. But if Samuels can build on this moment, he could yet go from strength to strength for City.
The sixth goal was struck by Harry Pritchard, who once again had a very effective game. His second goal of the week came after a scramble in the box that saw substitute Tyler French have a decent effort blocked by home keeper Jonathan Henly. It was encouraging to see City continue to get so many players forward when they attacked.
A minute into stoppage time, Wood deservedly got on the scoresheet too. He began a move by charging from out wide with possession and getting into the box, setting up an attack that saw another bout of pinball, before the loose ball fell at his feet to slam home.
Wood – the unofficial player of the season for the aborted 2019/20 season – is once again excelling this campaign. The 3-5-2 approach plays into his forward-minded strengths. And with Hossanah on the opposite side getting better and better each game, there’s finally some pace and energy to the way City attack. You can see relationships on the field visibly getting stronger.
It’s the first time City have netted seven goals since a September 2000 7-2 win over Darlington in the League Cup. An emphatic afternoon’s work, for a team who up until Tuesday had gone 386 minutes without scoring a goal from open play.
Everywhere you looked there were solid individual performances. Wood and Clarke were probably the strongest contenders for man of the match, but Reece Staunton was superb and shows increasing confidence in the way he came forwards. Paudie O’Connor appears to have gone up a notch. The Clarke-Donaldson partnership looks decent.
The midfield three of Pritchard, Cooke and Eliot Watt built on their match-winning midweek display. Cooke is finally settling down after a slow start to the season and is revelling in the greater freedom he has been awarded in the middle of the park. More is asked of him and he is embracing that responsibility.
After weeks of chopping and changing personnel and systems, McCall has found a formula that’s working. Players that were struggling for confidence are beginning to thrive. There is a greater level of organisation and overall balance. A clearer sense of direction.
Tougher challenges await, and there will inevitably be more ups and downs to come. But after the loss at Barrow with Watt left on the bench, the club was heading down a dark path and the fear was that McCall was struggling to find any answers. The emergence of a new plan has lifted the dark clouds of gloom. And the manager’s confidence in this group of players is beginning to look better judged than it seemed a week ago.
Categories: Match Reviews