|Bradford City 2|
|Rowe 5, Cooke 49|
|Quigley 37 (pen)|
By Jason McKeown
Sometimes you find a player who seems like they’re born to play on the Valley Parade stage. Danny Rowe might only be at the end of his first full week as a Bradford City player, but after netting another goal and inspiring his new club to back-to-back victories, the self-assured way he has slotted in and elevated the team is mightily encouraging.
Just five minutes into this, his home debut, Rowe latched onto a Paudie O’Connor through ball from a wide position, he cut inside and raced past Barrow’s Tom Davies – who fell to the floor – before picking his spot and planting an angled shot past Joel Dixon. A truly terrific goal. The 32-year-old seemed to pass the ball into the back of the net. Less of his trademark brute power, just devastating accuracy.
Rowe’s early strike was the personal highlight of another accomplished performance leading the line. It proved the catalyst to a second victory in a week. One which all but puts to bed any lingering relegation concerns.
That Rowe has so quickly stamped his personality on the team is hugely impressive. You can see the positive effect he is having on those around him. The way in which team mates are quickly adapting to his style of play, and thriving themselves. Callum Cooke, who got the second half winner, is flying. Gareth Evans also delivered a match-clinching assist, to add to his two midweek goals.
Far bigger, more celebrated names than Rowe have taken on the task of playing up front for Bradford City and struggled badly. Rather than be inspired by the grand old surroundings of Valley Parade, they wilted. But the new arrival exudes confidence, clearly relishing the biggest opportunity of his career.
“I was actually quite shocked when I turned up,” Rowe said this week of his first impressions of Valley Parade. Just over 12 months ago, he was playing away games at Bromley and Boreham Wood, and the prospects of making it in the Football League appeared to be fading. You get the feeling that the hard yards he’s done over the last decade mean he won’t let this chance slip through his fingers. That he’ll be loving every minute of this.
There are echoes of Gary Jones about Rowe. Nine years ago, the veteran Rochdale midfielder was brought to West Yorkshire and not a great deal was expected, but he instantly lead from the front and visibly inspired those around him. Not only did Jones produce terrific performances full of energy that defied his advancing years, he clearly made those around him play better. Jones was deeply loved at Rochdale, but flourished playing in front of the larger, passionate Bradford City fanbase. Relished the late career chance to play on a bigger stage.
Rowe got City going at Roots Hall on Tuesday, when early in the second half the team looked lost. His impact was less striking here, but no less pivotal. The way he comes deep hunting for the ball, and the clever positions he takes up in wide areas, almost makes it seem as though he is doing the job of two players. Cooke, Evans and to a lesser extend Billy Clarke have been strongly encouraged to get forward and support Rowe. With the base of Levi Sutton and Eliot Watt providing the back four suitable protection.
The set-up is clearly working, even though the performance here – like aspects of Tuesday’s win at Southend – was generally average. Sometimes the psychological impact of scoring so early can cause teams to struggle, as they wrestle with the dilemma of whether to attack with the same intent or prioritise preserving the slender advantage. The intensity can drift out of the performance. It definitely happened to City here.
In the first 20 minutes, they had threatened to run riot. Rowe’s early goal was followed by several good chances, with Cooke running past the last man and latching onto a brilliant Watt pass, only for for his shot to travel straight at Dixon, who palmed it away. Clarke also got in behind the defence from a wide area, but with team mates charging into the box his low cross narrowly failed to reward Evans with a tap in goal.
Yet from the mid point of the half, Barrow came back into it. The 5-4-1 formation adopted by Michael Jolley suggested the visitors would be conservative, but the midfielders broke forward well in supporting lone striker Scott Quigley. They had much less of the ball, but looked equally threatening in the final third.
Josh Kay smacked a shot against the post when he got free of Paudie O’Connor. Minutes later the same midfielder had an effort well blocked by Anthony O’Connor, after Clarke had weakly lost the ball in midfield. Quigley broke through one-on-one on a Barrow counter attack, with the former Halifax Town forward beating the on-rushing Sam Hornby but pushing the ball too wide. With an unguarded goal, he could only shoot the wrong side of the post. If he’d looked up, he’d have seen other Barrow players rushing into the box that he could have squared the ball to.
But Quigley did get on the scoresheet soon after, after he was pulled back in the box by the arms of Anthony O’Connor. It was poor defending by the City centre half, who looked short of his best all afternoon. It’s a regular pattern over O’Connor’s near-three years at Valley Parade. He has had some excellent games in a City shirt, but every five or six matches his standards seem to fall. Today was that day.
Quigley beat Hornby from the spot, and the Bantams went in at half time in a similar position to the Southend interval on Tuesday – drawing, whilst looking increasingly unimpressive. But though Barrow – just like Southend – began the second half sharper and created some decent chances, the Bantams crucially got back in front.
It was Rowe again involved, winning the ball on the edge of the box and laying it back to Cooke. The City number eight played it out wide to Evans, and charged into the area to meet the return pass, from which he powerfully struck the ball into the corner. Another lovely City goal. And once again, it was the result of players getting further forward because of Rowe’s intelligent play.
City had chances to extend the lead, with Connor Wood – who didn’t have the best of games – charging through the middle, beating two men, but shooting just wide. Rowe also had another powerful low effort that was blocked by Dixon. It was curious to see Rowe taken off with 12 minutes to go and his presence was missed, although his replacement – on loan debutant Andy Cook – was full of running.
Barrow again came on strong, but unlike in the first half they posed less of a goal threat. Defensively City were once again fine, with Finn Cousin-Dawson probably enjoying his best game for the club so far and Paudie O’Connor producing several good blocks. If, over the latter part of the first half, questions could be raised again about the team’s mentality, the determination to get through the final minutes without letting the lead slip again was evident. After winning one important tackle, Cousin-Dawson bashed his fist on the turf in celebration.
So that’s seven points from the nine available this week. The gap to the relegation places has increased to 10 points, with two games still in hand. Remarkably City are now closer in points to Newport – who’s season seems to be collapsing – in the last play off spot. Nine points is the gap. Food for thought.
The club are looking up. Dreaming bigger. A measure of the progress made is that there is some disappointment in this performance, despite winning yet again. There’s a buzz about Bradford City once more. A growing belief from supporters in what the club is trying to achieve.
There’s all sorts of reasons for this resurgence – first and foremost, the great work Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars, which at WOAP we will discuss in more detail this week – but Rowe is adding an extra layer. He has the charisma, confidence and charm to keep the wind blowing in the right direction. He is the talisman the Bantams have desperately needed all season. And, in fact, have missed for several years.
Danny Rowe looks made for Bradford City, and his early beginnings suggest he can inspire the club to greater things.
Categories: Match Reviews