A bump in the road

Exeter City 3
Sweeney 42, Bowman 61, Jay 79 (pen)
Bradford City 2
Vernam 17, Crankshaw 45

By Adam Raj

Bradford City’s eight game unbeaten run came to an end this afternoon at the hands of an Exeter side who temporarily moved into the automatic promotion places with the win. This afternoon’s performance and result against a promotion chasing side is probably evidence that the play-off talk, which has become louder in recent days, is somewhat premature.

Off the back of a busy and impressive transfer window and deadline day, City handed debuts to the two newest arrivals. Ollie Crankshaw and Charles Vernam came into the side along with January’s first signing in Jordan Stevens, replacing Danny Rowe, Billy Clarke and Gareth Evans.

In the absence of Rowe and also Andy Cook, Vernam was preferred to Clayton Donaldson to lead what was a particularly pacey forward line. It was evident from the team sheet that the gameplan was to soak up pressure and hit the hosts on the break, and that did in fact turn out to be the case.

Exeter boss Matt Taylor demanded a fast start from his side and he certainly got it. New signing Robbie Willmott was seeing plenty of the ball on the right flank and City failed to get to grips with the winger throughout. The lively Matt Jay caused City problems all afternoon and it was his invention which saw City nearly fall behind. Jay wriggled his way into the area, crossed for Jack Sparkes who’s header was blocked on the line by Paudie O’Connor.

It was evident from the first minute that with the presence of Ryan Bowman leading the line, Exeter’s game plan was to get the ball into wide areas to cross it in for the big striker. And with real quality in the deliveries of Sparkes and Willmott, it was of no surprise.

Yet for all of Exeter’s possession and territorial dominance, it was the Bantams who took the lead. With 17 minutes on the clock, Vernam picked up a loose ball in the middle of the park and drove towards the home goal. City had a three on two and Vernam squared left for Callum Cooke who cut inside, struck low towards the near post where centre half Pierce Sweeney blocked. But Vernam was there, on hand for the rebound to slam home the ball into the roof of the net for his first City goal. It was against the run of play but a breakthrough that showcased the City gameplan.

City should have extended their lead just before half time. Levi Sutton robbed Sweeney in possession and again, City found themselves with a numerical advantage, bearing down on goal. But Sutton’s pass to Vernam was under hit and easily cleared. It was a great opening for the Bantams, but the decision making in the final third, as has often been the case, was lacking.

From the resulting clearance, the hosts forced a corner. Sparkes’ in-swinger found Sweeney, who outmuscled Finn Cousin-Dawson to head home the equaliser. It was particularly notable that City, without a target man upfront, were particularly lacking in the aerial department this afternoon from a defensive perspective.

Just when it looked like City would go into the interval level, Exeter decided to gift wrap the lead back to their visitors. Crankshaw’s mazy run was stopped by Tom Parkes, who played the ball back to Sparkes on the edge of Exeter’s area. The left back then decided, inexplicably, to step over the ball and let it try to run through to goalkeeper Jokull Andresson, but the pass simply didn’t have the pace on it. Crankshaw had continued his run to close the keeper down, nicked the ball away from Andresson and finished into an empty net.

It was a gift for City, who’s plan had so far worked fairly well.

The second half initially started in reverse. It was the Bantams who were playing the football, picking up the second balls and creating opportunities, with both Cooke and Vernam firing wide. But sadly, it didn’t last long. Exeter regained their foothold in the game and began getting dangermen Sparkes, Willmott and Jay on the ball more often. Willmott had come over to the left hand side after a first half injury to Lewis Page and together with Sparkes they gave Cousin-Dawson a torrid time.

Too often the young defender simply failed to stop the cross coming in and was caught out positionally with long balls in behind. He wasn’t particularly helped by Stevens in front of him, who also had a poor game. The young loanee has so far failed to assert himself in this City side and he was again quiet today. Exeter seemed to note the fragility of City’s right wing and looked to exploit that side more often. It is therefore of no surprise that the equaliser came from that side.

Willmott again got in behind Cousin-Dawson and played a cross into an unmarked Bowman to head home his eleventh of the season. Both Cousin-Dawson and Anthony O’Connor were found sleeping for the goal, the latter of whom allowed the striker to run off the back of him unnoticed.

Trueman and Sellars realised what Exeter had begun to do and swiftly made changes. Cousin-Dawson and later Stevens were replaced for Niall Canavan and Clayton Donaldson. It meant that Vernam moved to the right wing and Anthony O’Connor to right back. It certainly seemed to stop the hosts marauding down their left flank, but going forwards, City still failed to create any opportunities.

In the 79th minute, the hosts took the lead for the first time. A hooked up and under was sent forward, where Bowman had got free of Canavan. Sam Hornby was too hesitant in coming off his line and tripped Bowman as the striker knocked it past him. The resulting penalty was scuffed down the middle by Jay but still had enough to evade Hornby’s outstretched leg.

It was the first time under Trueman and Sellars that City had been behind in a game and it was slightly concerning that they failed to create a chance when trailing. Rumarn Burrell and Kian Scales were thrown on as the last throw of the dice, but neither managed to make an impact.

Whilst on the balance of the game, City can have no complaints at leaving empty handed, there will be rightfully frustration, considering the Bantams twice led in the game. City’s problems today were largely of their own making. A set piece and two balls in behind are really sloppy goals to concede for a defence that has been relatively reliable over recent weeks.

Really poor ball retention led to City bringing pressure on themselves as there wasn’t a Rowe, Cook or Novak to hold the ball up. City failed to play the ball into the channels or in behind a suspect Exeter backline, instead favouring the long balls directly at Vernam, which offered no reward, and which made it a particularly frustrating watch.

But it wasn’t all negative. Vernam and Crankshaw were both impressive. It is notable that both City goals came from the recent additions running at the Exeter backline with pace and purpose. It is something this side hasn’t displayed at all this season, and it certainly bodes well for the future.

Whilst today saw the end of an impressive unbeaten run, it is now up to Trueman and Sellars to address the negatives from today’s performance and use it as motivation to embark on another run of form. Starting with fellow strugglers Scunthorpe on Tuesday.

Categories: Match Reviews

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15 replies

  1. A good summary. Exeter were a decent side and exposed Cousin Dawson’s inexperience. Antony O’Connor could maybe be rested for Canavan for a while. Stevens didn’t seem to bring anything to the party at all.
    Both our goals were a pointer of things to come hopefully. We shouldn’t be downhearted, Truman and Sellers are doing a great job and we still have key players out of action.
    Onwards and upwards .

  2. Did we get reasons why Rowe, Novak, Cook, Clarke and Evans were out today or is being the wrong side of 30 beginning to show in a hard season. ?

    • Yes, Rowe reported a bad cold that could have been covid, and they thought it a bad idea to have him on a coach for 10 hours with everyone else. The covid test came back negative and Trueman said he was hopeful he’d be back Monday. Very much needed!
      Cook & Evans have “taken knocks” which is generally code for short term injuries- altho managers tend to go optimistic in their PR on injuries!

  3. Yes it wasnt as good as we have recently become acustomed to watching however the debuts of Crankshaw and Vernam did offer some glimpses of better times ahead. The targetting of Finn Cousin-Dawson may have been deliberate as past few weeks he has possibly looked like a weak link in a tight defense. If Exeter had been doing their homework maybe they set up for that today. I have nothing against the young kid learning his game, however I do think the return of Hosannah cant come soon enough, particuallry as French has left the club and we dont have many options without breaking up the recently burgening O’Connor partnership to move AoC out there.

    I felt the forward line did harry well particularly in at the start of the second half, hwoever I didnt feel we ever had the numbers or the performances in midfield to get a grip on the game, which meant our defenders seemed more nervous and troubled than they have looked since the start of Trueman and Sellars reign. I felt all three of our goals were defensively weak, but would we have been in as many of those crucial situations if we had been more competative in the middle third?

  4. Hoping today was just a bump in the road. Because the standard of football played was way down from resent weeks. Too many changes maybe. Onwards and upwards hopfully.

  5. Overall, if someone told us mid December would we mind losing to Exeter in Feb after an undefeated run of 8 matches, we’d have snatched their hand off with joyous disbelief…defeats happen to the best of clubs.

    What concerned me most today was how little possession we had, how poor the tackling & especially passing, and how few aerial battles were won (none?). Hopefully this was just a blip against a strong side. T&S seem to be good tactically, their next challenge is to take a bunch that have the talent, and blend the new starters in, and strengthen the team play.

  6. Thanks Adam; good report.

    Hopefully T&S will have learnt that the Stevens / Cousin-Dawson partnership on right side is a non starter. They were late in addressing this weakness. It was obvious a change was needed several minutes before their second goal. It may not havre made a difference in the end but feel it would have given us a sporting chance of getting a point. On the left, Cranksfaft impressed – has some ball control and is prepared to take on a defender. In contrast Stevens looks little better than DMH. Or is this a touch harsh ?

    Hopefully more balance back for Tuesday night.

  7. City weren’t good today. They faded and put no pressure on Exeter in the second half. Exeter were dangerous down the flanks
    It’s far from a crisis. They need 5 wins in 21 for safety and can build for next season.
    A lot of new players and need to learn to work together
    Managers are learning every game.
    I am confident of the next 18 months

  8. A pretty fair assessment,let’s be honest we didn’t deserve anything out of this game, let’s look at how we move on from this, hopefully we have enough to build for the future

  9. We don’t have a right to win all matches. It would have happened sooner or later. I was more worried about the way we lost. 2 inexperienced players in Stevens and Fin on the right. It is clear Exeter had done their homework. They targeted the right side and exploited our weakness. My criticism is why two young players were selected on the right side? Both were removed and things became tighter. It is an important lesson that has to be learnt. Going forward I hope it is heeded. I am still optimistic that going forward we will continue to improve.

  10. This is the moment now for the Dynamic Duo and how they respond from a knock back, I certainly saw some signs of positive things to come, it will definitely be a case of rotating the squad in the weeks ahead with Saturday Tuesday games to keep a fresh fit squad and also experimenting from what we witnessed against Exeter.

    The past recent games we have played have all been solid and we have been very difficult to break down, so we will see the response on Tuesday, still positive up against a top side with new players bedding in, hopefully T&S will show their metal now, just chalked off a game in hand no harm done.

    Come On Lads…

  11. Respect 4what the interim bosses have done so far but my gripe is if it’s not broken leave well alone ,the team over the last few games has jelled nicely why tinker the 2new boys should have started on the bench that’s my take C.T.I.D

  12. Nine players on the injury list who were not in contention for yesterday’s game. That’s a lot of players unavailable for any team.

    This defeat was coming and all 5 goals conceeded by both sides were all preventable. However, I think talk of the play offs are unrealistic given such a poor start and I would be happy if we can finish the season around the 60 point mark.

    We can gel the team together between now and the end of the season with only a couple of additions in the pre season we can be real contenders next season.

  13. One of the primary goals of the January transfer window was to build a foundation for the future. I think Crankshaw and Vernam are the type of recruited players needed to build a team around.

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