Bradford City 1
Sutton 60 (OG)
Oldham Athletic 3
Keillor-Dunn 7, McAlmont 84, 90+3
By Jason McKeown
There will, as usual, be few tears shed from the now traditional early exit from the Football League Trophy. Instead, there will be relief that a small bit of breathing space has emerged for Bradford City, as they face up to a schedule already overloaded with 13 games in the next seven weeks.
But not having a second round Football League Trophy fixture to look forward to in December has its downsides too, as it slows the progress of the Bantams youngsters. Just at a point when many of the kids are really starting to impress.
Tonight, the club made a small slice of history as they ended an entertaining tussle with Oldham with seven academy players on the pitch. With the help of WOAP’s expert statto, Tim Penfold, we think this could be a record for the club.
Delving into the Bantams past found no obvious occasion to match it. The closest Tim found was six academy players who featured in a 2-1 League One victory over Doncaster Rovers in April 2006, when manager Colin Todd ended the game with Lewis Emmanuel (who scored both City goals that day), Mark Bower, Jon Swift, Craig Bentham, Joe Colbeck and Joe Brown.
Two weeks before that, Todd had started with five academy players in a 2-2 draw at Walsall. And a couple of years before that, Bryan Robson bowed out as City manager in May 2004 with a 1-0 Division One loss at Millwall that saw him also select five academy players – Bower, Tom Penford, Kevin Sanasy, Emmanuel and Danny Forrest.
A youth academy is a relatively modern day thing of course. When Stuart McCall himself joined Bradford City as a trainee 40 years ago, lower league clubs would typically only have a handful of YTS players. There was no such concept as squad rotation and playing youngsters in cup games. So there is every reason to believe that tonight set a new record.
The unusual events of this season have created conditions which have favoured the prospects of City’s emerging youth players. The very late start to the campaign – due to the pandemic – have led to a ridiculously compressed fixture list. Saturday’s visit of Exeter will be City’s 11th game in 39 days. And with several senior injuries already disrupting McCall’s plans, few would disagree he was right to rest as many first team players as possible for this cup tie.
McCall’s preference for having a relatively small squad of senior players also puts more expectation on the younger members to do more than just make up numbers. And so Finn Cousin-Dawson, Jorge Sikora, Kian Scales and Connor Shanks were given another opportunity to impress – joined, from the bench, late on by the even more youthful debutants Charlie Wood and Oliver Sukiennicki.
With Reece Staunton – now somewhat cemented as a first choice defender – coming on at half time for Paudie O’Connor. And Dylan Mottley-Henry picked to lead the line alongside Shanks – it was a team of raw, Bradford-developed youth that took the fight to Oldham. They ultimately fell short, bowing out after conceding two late goals, but individually several of the academy players have shown plenty to suggest they can play a part in the future of the club.
After drawing the first two group games against Doncaster and Wolves, City knew they realistically had to beat the already-qualified Oldham if they were to progress to the knock out stages. So falling a goal behind after just seven minutes left them with plenty to do.
Not for the first time this season, it was punishment for a slow Bantams start. Oldham pressed from kick off and found an opposition defence struggling to impose itself – not helped by a napping central midfield.
A high ball in the air was contested by Levi Sutton and Davis Keillor-Dunn, before landing at the feet of Danny Rowe. Sutton criminally failed to track the off-the-ball burst forward of Keillor-Dunn, and the summer signing from Wrexham charged past Ben RIchards-Everton and O’Connor, collected Rowe’s through ball and finished smartly past Sam Hornby.
Oldham – who had won four of their last seven league and cup games, and who started with six players over the age of 23 – initially played with greater poise and composure. Rowe almost added an instant second, forcing Hornby into an excellent block. City did eventually get going and Sutton, Shanks and Scales tested the palms of Ian Lawlor. But Hornby remained the busier keeper over the first half, producing a string of brilliant saves.
It is a curious predicament for Hornby, who will rue this cup exit as much as anyone. When he was signed from Port Vale by Gary Bowyer in the summer of 2019 it was said he was very highly rated at Vale Park, he just happened to be stuck behind the excellent Scott Brown. Hornby has found himself in a similar situation at Valley Parade, where Richard O’Donnell comfortably commands the number one spot.
There is not a lot Hornby is doing wrong when he does play, but the opportunity for him to enjoy a run of games in the league is hard to envisage unless O’Donnell suffers a rare injury. This was only Hornby’s 51st career league start and yet he is 25-years-old. You suspect he will leave Valley Parade next summer, and he badly needs to make the good decision over where to move to next. The talent is there.
At half time McCall pushed his wing backs, Tyler French and Jackson Longridge, further forward as he switched to a 3-4-3. Inevitably it left plenty of space behind that Oldham looked to capitalise on, but City themselves went up and notch and began to play well. Sutton, Shanks and Scales were particularly impressive. Cousin-Dawson improved from a slightly disappointing first half.
The growing home pressure told when French got free and sent a ball into the box that Oldham debutant William Sutton headed into his own net. And when moments later Sikora set up Cousin-Dawson for a header that smacked back off the crossbar, City were in the ascendency.
That they didn’t go onto win the game owed much to some poor decision making in the final third and a lack of an obvious goal threat. McCall is evidently trying to turn Mottley-Henry into a passable forward, but the results are highly questionable.
Mottley-Henry is stuck in a downwards spiral of making poor decisions on the ball that are damaging his confidence, leading to even more poor decisions. At times you want to see him stretch the play and run at people, but he will often take the ball towards the corner flag when he could run more direct towards goal, or he overhits a cross when there are few options in the box. It’s really not looking great for the 23-year-old at this moment.
City’s second half pressure merited better than to ultimately lose the game, but as they pushed forward for a winner that would take them through to round two, Oldham’s on-loan Leeds midfielder Alfie McCalmont struck two late goals to ensure the Latics ended the group stage with a 100% record.
McCalmont’s first came after a good run into the box and poked effort at goal – he arguably took the shot earlier than Hornby anticipated, with the keeper getting a hand to the effort but probably reflecting he could have done better. As City pushed forward deep in injury time – Mottley-Henry wasting a glorious chance – Oldham counter attacked and McCalmont finished smartly for 3-1.
A harsh defeat, but these are the standards that these young players have to match up to if they are to ultimately turn potential into something more meaningful. But still, they’ve acquitted themselves well and the best thing you can say about Shanks, Scales and Sikora is that – like Staunton and Cousin-Dawson – you wouldn’t be fearful if they did get more opportunities.
Clearly, not all eight of the academy players on show tonight will carve out a career in football, especially at Bradford City. But there is a lot to be encouraged about from the production line of youth talent that’s coming through.
Behind the scenes, something is going in the right direction with youth development. And in McCall, City have a manager who will give young players a chance. Over three spells as manager, McCall has now selected 28 different City academy players. And with the games going to continue thick and fast over the months ahead, the opportunities will be there for the current crop to grasp.
Categories: Match Reviews