Green shoots of recovery

Bradford City 1

Pritchard 42

Cambridge United 0

By Adam Raj

Back to basics. A term thrown around for sides in trouble. A term also used by Stuart McCall in his bid to try to turn around Bradford City’s season. It was a message that the squad failed to understand from the former City manager but a message that they have taken to like a duck to water under the stewardship of Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars.

A first win since the start of November was the result of a real team performance. This group of players have played like anything but a team for the most part of the season, but today’s committed and professional display showed the foundations of a side who are capable of pulling away from trouble.

This afternoon’s visitors in Cambridge United proved a tough test on paper. A side sat in the play offs and boasting the league’s top scorer in Paul Mullin upfront. It was a game where City had to build on the organised and disciplined performance at Crawley in midweek, show a bit more quality in the final third whilst maintaining their defensive solidity.

In what was a scrappy half, City had the better of it. Firstly, Paudie O’Connor saw a powerful header from Elliot Watt’s corner, deflected in by Harry Pritchard, ruled out for a very tight offside. And then it was that combination again which led to the opener. A fantastic cross-field pass by Paudie O’Connor was chested down by Pritchard, in a touch that completely took Cambridge right back Kyle Knoyle out of the game. City’s number seven then hit a sumptuous half volley into the far bottom corner from 30 yards on his weaker right foot. It was a level of quality in City’s attack that has been non-existent for much of the campaign.

City had won the midfield battle in that first half with Levi Sutton, Elliot Watt and Callum Cooke doing their jobs on and off the ball with great success. Trueman’s move to a 4-2-3-1, to give more support to the defensive line as well as give more support to Watt, has proven to be the balance that McCall was unable to find in the most important area of the pitch. Levi Sutton looks a player reborn in the last two games – industrious, energetic and tenacious with some quality on the ball. It seems to be the perfect and necessary foil for Watt to get on the ball more and not be bogged down with being the side’s ball winner and playmaker.

In very un-City like fashion, the Bantams flew out of the traps in the second half. The first ten minutes after the restart saw more chances than the last few games combined. Firstly, Paudie O’Connor blazed a header over the bar from a Watt corner. Lee Novak then missed a glorious chance to double City’s lead. Good combination play by Cooke and Sutton saw the latter released down the right flank to deliver an inch perfect low cross to Novak who side-footed wide.

Novak was at it again minutes later when Billy Clarke set him through on a one v one with United keeper Callum Burton, but the City number nine took too long to sort his feet out which allowed centre half Harry Darling to recover and block the forward’s effort. Callum Cooke then went close with a half volley that he hit straight down the keeper’s throat before substitute Austin Samuels hit a low drive just wide.

Probably the only criticism of City this afternoon is that they should have won by a bigger margin. At the other end, they remained largely untroubled. The visitors’ only real chance of the game came late on when substitute Joe Ironside met a cross-field diagonal ball at the back post with a fierce volley that was expertly saved by Richard O’Donnell.

Max Watters on Tuesday and Paul Mullin this afternoon have one thing in common. Both are tied at the top of the League Two scoring charts on 15 goals apiece. After conceding for fun in recent weeks, it is testament to the work of Trueman and Sellars that both strikers were kept on the periphery in the last two games. It is also testament to both the O’Connors.

Paudie was yet again outstanding today, just as he was on Tuesday. Anthony likewise, although his work has seemingly gone under the radar somewhat. Both won their aerial duels and both read the game expertly on occasions to make vital interceptions. Paudie has looked more like the player we thought we were getting when we handed out that three year deal.

I think, now, we are seeing the benefits of a player who is playing in his preferred back four with the adequate protection in front of him. He’s not being asked to play the sweeper role in a back three where his centre half partners spend more time playing as wingers than defenders and where the midfield in front of him is light in both numbers and organisation.

It is evident that since the change to the 4-2-3-1, City look more comfortable with their roles in the team. Far too many times, the players looked at a loss as to what they were actually meant to be doing. I think the lack of understanding with regards to individual roles and responsibilities was a major factor in McCall’s downfall. In this system, it is stripped back with simpler and more familiar roles for players to understand and carry out.

Having the players understand what exactly is expected of them is the first step to producing a side who are organised and disciplined – words that, generally, cannot be attributed to City this season. But words that are essential characteristics for any good team.

There are obvious deficiencies in this squad that will only be rectified with the addition of fresh blood in the January window. But we are now seeing the foundations of a squad who are up for a relegation dog fight – foundations which were not visible towards the end of McCall’s reign.

The green shoots of recovery may be exactly that, or they may be a false dawn. But on the evidence of Trueman’s caretaker spell, if the new manager is able to sustain this level of organisation and discipline mixed with much needed January additions, it should see us with enough to survive.

Categories: Match Reviews

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12 replies

  1. What a difference a week makes! What a transformation! Trueman and Sellars have given the players and fans a real lift.

    If Ryan Sparks had a big decision to make last weekend, he’s got another one to make now. Does he risk upsetting the apple cart with another change, when these two have provided, so well, what was lacking under McCall and Black?

  2. Well said, That was the one thing i couldnt understand with Stuart was that after so many defeats, surely not loosing was the first step back to gaining some confidence to build on, exactly what Trueman and Sellars have done straight away. Well done gents. I was as nervous as hell in the last ten mins as we all expected the usual outcome, but gladly not this time

  3. I’m reminded of the period 2 years ago when, after a great November, fans were talking excitedly of maybe having a swing at the play offs, Before it crumpled in Boxing Day match at Sunderland, followed by a spiral to relegation.

    This sounds more negative than I intend it to be, as I’m as relieved and happy as anyone that we won today. My point is that, as with any period in the past 3 years, this team does not lack talent. What it’s lacked so far is consistency and determination. Lets all hope they can deliver on both of those, going forward.

    • I’ve got to agree with Andy here. I remember travelling to Rochdale when we thumped them. Fans were singing ‘we are staying up’. We didn’t.
      Let’s not get carried away here. This is a team that has performed terribly this season and can quite easily do it again.
      A great win but let’s not get carried away or try to paper over the short comings of this team.

  4. If ever a new gaffer needed a leg up these last 2 results are it. Can we dig deep again 3rd game in 7 days on a cold night in Grimsby.? Even if the new manager is sorted out I would hope they keep it out of the media until after Tuesday night. It feels like a defining game in the season for this team. Well done Trueman and Sellars for doing the basics well and getting these lads on side so quickly, a feat that we shouldn’t forget when assembling the next back room team. They have come across as humble, passionate and straight forward guys with a plan. Something lacking in football management these days. Rich

  5. Thank you for all your professional writing. We all love Bradford City so much. Each and every one of us wants the best for this club. I have been following them for 35 years. It pains me to say this but our club legend Stuart McCall really had no business going into management. When you have 2 youth development coaches taking the reigns and turning our fortunes around almost immediately, it is a sad indictment on Stuart’s efforts. I obviously want the best for our club and just that glimmer of light has put a smile back on my face. I’m just wondering what’s going through Ryan Sparks mind just now. It’s easy to make a hero out of a couple of guys that were there all the time but wow what a fairy story if it came true.

    • Short memories some people. Were you saying “Stuart McCall really had no business going into management” back in 2016/17 after being unbeaten at home all season and almost on the verge of getting to The Championship?

  6. You are aware McCall had most of that side missing throughout our the bad run. That isn’t a coincidence. Having Novak, Clarke, Evans, Sutton, Cooke etc makes us a much better team.
    The lads have done great but having a stronger squad really helps.
    McCall’s failing was not taking nil nils and draws during our squads lowest points of confidence and injuries.
    There is no way theses two will get the job regardless but I wish them well and thank them

    • Do you seriously think Stuart would have get those 2 results – no chance, because he wouldn’t have set up the team like that regardless of personnel.
      Clarke and Evans didn’t feature Tuesday and Evans for only 20 mins today. Both Cooke and Clarke have played in plenty dismal displays for Stuart this season. These 2 have transformed the back four – which are the same players Stuart had. And we’re arguably missing our best 2 defenders In Hossnah and Sutton. Paudie just put in his best 2 performances of season (he never missed a game under McCall by the way). It’s literally chalk and cheese. Pritchard all said training and formations under Stuart just weren’t up to scratch.
      Loved Stuart as a player but he is / was not a good Manager. If he’d have recruited better in the summer and not chosen to hold so much budget back for January he wouldn’t have had to operate with such a weakened first eleven in the first place and failure to replace Vaughan adequately left us massively exposed when Novak was injured.

  7. What a joy to see Sutton ratting around the midfield and POC doing a good impression of Conan the Barbarian. Nowt to worry about if they perform consistently at that level👏


    Where do we go from here, I am now nervous of another change now, but having said that no pressure is on the youth development two and that is how we want it to be as they are working their magic with the youth team for the future of the club.

    Two Hero’s have come in and immediately stopped the rot from the off, going to Crawley with the form and morale rock bottom and driving back home with a point and let’s face it unlucky not to have all three, the Crawley boss said Bradford were difficult to brake down, that’s what you want to hear with a balanced organized display back to basics with every player enjoying, confident and composed on the ball even when in defence and Paudie putting His head in the way of high kick’s for the cause, club and shirt.

    So then you think I have seen this before emperors new clothes, then they go and do it again at home and this time get all three points, yes we have had players coming back from injury, but the nucleus as always been there and I have said this before, this league is not difficult anyone can beat anyone, no disrespect to Morecambe as they always do enough at the end of the league to stay up, but they must have a nose bleed they are that high.

    I was watching yesterday and I have not felt as confident for a long while now probably from the Parky day’s to be openly honest, as even under McCall after Parky, you always knew you would concede, although it was the Ossie Ardiles tactics as long as you score more than them set up with wingers but obviously this team could not adapt to that system, during the Cambridge game I thought these are not going to score unless a pen or free kick as that was the case.

    Ryan Sparks has just gone from a bad headache to a good headache within the space of week, what could be next Covid free back watching in the stadium with this team climbing that league and a great January window to add into the mix, well it is Christmas, I think Santa got our letter Fans……..

    • Everyone raving about these 2 temporary managers need to seriously take a look at themselves.

      The only 2 things these guiys have done is drop BRE and DMH completely from the squad – and quite rightly.

      However – do you not think the change in fortune over the last 2 games is simply the players themselves waking up to the fact that they just got YET another manager the sack??

      I doubt very much these 2 are performing miracles in training where McCall failed.

      Naturally I’m happy to see the last 2 performances after what we’ve witnessed prior to that so far this season, but I’m also sure who ever we actually get in will also acheive the same.

      After all look what happened the last time we promotoed a young manager from within – every one was buzzing after a couple of good early results only for it to go pearshaped – quickly.

      “We are too good to go down”…rememebr them?

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