Trueman and Sellars keep faith with the plan to deliver another important Bradford City victory

Bradford City 2
A O’Connor 28, Vernam 63
Morecambe 1
O’Sullivan 9

By Jason McKeown

On the rarest of moments – and it really is rare – the lack of crowds inside stadiums can be a blessing. So it was 62 minutes into this hard-fought League Two encounter, with the game tied at 1-1, when the Bradford City managers Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars introduced the fit-again Danny Rowe from the bench.

The Bantams were playing one up front once again. And the expectation from City supporters watching at home was to go for a more adventurous set-up in order to win the game. But instead, Rowe was brought on for lone forward Andy Cook – a like-for-like change that kept City playing just one up front.

In more normal, fans-present-at-Valley-Parade times, it would have been a moment where collective groans would have filled the air. How many City managers in the past have been criticised for making like-for-like substitutions? But with supporter dialogue consigned to households, WhatsApp groups and social media, Trueman and Sellars had no concerns about crowd feedback influencing their decisions.

They have the upmost faith in their 4-2-3-1 formation approach. And it was a confidence that would be quickly rewarded. Within a minute of the straight swap for Rowe, the January arrival turned and ran with the ball before spraying a pass out wide to Charles Vernam. The fellow transfer window signing – making his home debut – cut inside and delivered a cross that evaded everyone and ended up in the back of the net. Two goals in two games for Vernam, who like Rowe is hitting the ground running.

It was a goal that earned City three precious points, lifting them to 16th in League Two – their highest league position since early November – and within genuine touching distance of climbing into the top half of the table. The cushion above the bottom two is a healthy 11 points now.

Testament, once more, to the virtues of the settled 4-2-3-1 formation that Trueman and Sellars have largely maintained since they were first put in charge, two months and one day ago. It is a system where City look organised and tough to break down. Proving the platform to play some very attractive football.

The cultural challenge Trueman and Sellars still face is that this is a club and a fanbase that retains a deep-seated love for a 4-4-2. Supporters have habitually accused past managers who went with one up front of being too negative. On the risk vs reward spectrum, the dynamic duo’s 4-2-3-1 is a much more cautious set up than Stuart McCall attempted, and as expectations rise it is one that the pair will inevitably face criticism for.

But tonight will give them a lot of confidence in sticking to their principles. As they demonstrated how 4-2-3-1 can be the right approach even in adversity.

At WOAP we wrote only two weeks ago that two of the biggest unknowns of Trueman and Sellars is they had yet to be tested with falling behind in a game, and they hadn’t had the opportunity to show how they would respond to a defeat. Tonight, we got some answers in the shape of City’s first come-from-behind victory since September. It was a positive response, also, to the Exeter City defeat 10 days ago.

It wasn’t always pretty, and the Bantams were far from brilliant over the 90 minutes. But there is plenty to admire about the way they dug in after the set back of falling behind in the ninth minute. Heart to take from the bright, methodical manner they attacked and earned an equaliser midway through the first half. Encouragement from how they improved significantly after the break, earning the breakthrough through Vernam’s winning goal. And pride about the way they held out for victory with relative comfort.

More than anything though, it’s the self-assured manner in which City are passing the ball that offers the greatest encouragement. Morecambe can reflect on the match statistics that showed they had more attempts on goal and won more corners, which indicate they merited the three points. But City had 63% possession, and a 76% pass success rate that was comfortably above their 69% average for the season.

In contrast, Morecambe’s pass success rate was a dismal 52% – in other words, one out of every two passes they attempted saw them lose possession.

Of City’s 487 passes attempted, 368 were accurate – that’s more than double the 147 accurate passes Morecambe managed from 284 attempts. Callum Cooke successfully completed 93.9% of his passes, Niall Canavan – who had an excellent full debut – kept City in possession 84.8% of the time. Elliot Watt was just behind with 80.3%. Morecambe’s best passer from their starting XI? Nathaniel Knight-Percival with a 69.6% pass completion. Eight of City’s XI bettered that ratio.

It was this greater care in possession that ultimately enabled City to wear down a spirited Morecambe side who possessed plenty of talent. They are a typical Derek Adams side, ugly on the eye. Some very good players that are clearly being utilised effectively, given the Shrimpers’ impressive league position; but it’s not a style of football you’d pay to watch. A good job then, perhaps, that rumours of City’s interest in Adams to succeed McCall seemingly came to nothing.

Adams will feel, with justification, that his team were unlucky to lose this. The early stages of the second half were wide open, as both teams attacked. And the dangerous Carlos Mendes Gomes got in behind the two O’Connors, with just goalkeeper Sam Hornby to beat. The Spaniard got his feet twisted, and Anthony O’Connor nipped in behind with a crucial touch that stopped Gomes’ charge but left him lying on the ground.

City hearts were in mouths, but no penalty was given. “Seen them given” is probably a fair description of the validity of the visitors’ appeals.

And that wasn’t the only big decision to go against them. Vernam’s winning goal had more than a hint of controversy about it, as his cross was almost converted by Gareth Evans who was probably just offside. Evans didn’t touch the ball, but certainly tried to. And his actions could be argued to have affected goalkeeper Kyle Letheren’s decision-making. A tight call, that City benefitted from. Them’s the breaks.

What was perhaps the most bizarre aspect was the similarities between Vernam’s match-winning goal and the way Morecambe had taken the lead early doors. Attacking the Kop end, the ball had been worked to Morecambe’s right side where winger John O’Sullivan ran into space left by Connor Wood. His cross strangely looped away from everyone, and flew into the net past Hornby. Two goals in the same match, from the same side part of the pitch, that were crosses gone wrong.

It wasn’t Hornby’s finest moment, and threatened to lead to a post match inquest over why Trueman and Sellars had kept faith in their back up when Richard O’Donnell was fit to return, at least on the bench.

It’s been a curious few weeks for Hornby – his biggest opportunity, yet, to make an impression at Valley Parade, with a clear run of games. But all the match postponements have robbed him of more game time, and right now the jury remains out on whether he should have a future at the club beyond his contract expiry in the summer. Is he good enough to be Bradford City’s first choice goalkeeper? We still don’t know.

Morecambe’s early goal was a bolt from the blue after early stages that had no real pattern – both sides creating a good chance, with Vernam shooting wide after great work by Wood and Levi Sutton. But rather than allowing the Morecambe’s breakthrough to rattle them, there was an encouraging level of composure from City and they grew into the game.

Having not quite been at their best in recent weeks, it was a welcome return to form for Watt and Sutton – who are striking up an excellent understanding in the holding roles. At one stage Watt weakly lost the ball, but then quickly won it back, set up an attack, and won the ball back straightaway when that attack had broken down. You forget he is still only 20. Sutton excelled in bursting forward with the ball. His energy is infectious.

It was Sutton who set up City’s equaliser when he ran into the box and received the ball, before turning and laying it back into the path of the onrushing Anthony O’Connor. The make-shift right back – who had an excellent game – struck a shot that deflected off former Bantam Kelvin Mellor before bouncing into the goal.

Morecambe had their best spell in the 17 minutes in-between City’s equaliser and the half time break. But the defensive solidity provided by the 4-2-3-1 meant there were few visitor sights on goal. Still, there were a lot of corners conceded by City during this spell, and some untidy defending led to dangerous free kick opportunities. Trueman and Sellars will have spent the half time break making clear their displeasure at aspects of the performance.

City were much improved after the break. They survived the Gomes scare and Mellor should have done better when played through on goal in a wide position. But there was good City play too. One particular passing move between Anthony O’Connor, Levi Sutton and Callum Cooke was delightful, ending with City’s number eight shooting just wide. Cook also headed over after Anthony O’Connor teed him up.

It wasn’t a great night for Cook. Given a full debut – after the Scunthorpe game was called off – he was too isolated. It threatened to expose the limitations of the 4-2-3-1 – at least until Rowe came on and showed much better mobility and movement than Cook. The on-loan Mansfield man lacks the presence of Rowe and also Lee Novak. He will need to show more if he is to nail down a starting berth in a team with just one opening for a striker.

Rowe’s instant impact in setting up Vernam was just the beginning of another impressive run out for a player who is fast becoming a City cult hero. As the Bantams played out the final 25 minutes with one eye on getting a third, Rowe produced a beautiful piece of play and cross from out wide that Vernam wastefully headed over. Another terrific Rowe cross almost saw fellow substitute Oliver Cranksaw tap home. No matter, as the home side held out.

It was a really good City win. One that re-injects enthusiasm after the mood was slightly dampened by the Exeter defeat, Scunthorpe abandonment and Salford postponement. Performances were strong across the park – Paudie O’Connor continues to impress, and his partnership with Canavan has real promise. Gareth Evans, now that he is fit, is starting to look like a very good signing, and Cooke and Vernam were also excellent. If 4-2-3-1 sounds negative, the bright attacking movement of Evans, Cooke and Vernam provides genuine flair that is difficult to play against.

The players are bought into the system, and it’s offering the balance between defending much better than earlier in the season whilst attacking with greater purpose. The new additions are starting to prove their worth, and the substitutes bench is looking its strongest all season. It can only get even stronger too. Bryce Hossanah, Reece Staunton, Billy Clarke and Lee Novak are all still to come back into the mix when fit.

Nights like this should offer a real confidence boost to everyone connected with the club. The managers have a clear plan, which is getting the best out of the players. The underachievement of the first few months of the season is being rectified. And, for the first time since McCall’s sacking, they had the opportunity to demonstrate that the foundations are stronger than before. Something they showed by bouncing back from defeat, and by recovering to win after falling behind.

Little by little, bit by bit, it’s getting better and better.

Categories: Match Reviews

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26 replies

  1. City are now top of the form charts picking up 21 pts from the last 10 games. This team can only get better as the players gel together and form better understanding
    of each others game. There is certainly balance and determination in the team now.

    Within this run we have beaten Tranmere who are 2nd in the form table and we have taken 4 points from the league leaders Cambridge. This is impressive progress given where we were placed in December
    The atmosphere around the club has changed whole sale for the better and the future is looking far healthier for the club and it feels together for the first time in over 3 years.

    It remains to be seen if the team can continue in this rich vein of form with the gruelling schedule of games between now and May.

    13 wins and 3 draws to secure a play off place from the last 20 games? Its possible. Certainly T&S philosophy of keeping with a winning formular in the 4-2-3-1 system is helping which looked much better once Rowe was introduced to the fold. Rowe’s strength and knack of dropping deep certainly brings in the speedy wingers running from deep. It would be very interesting to pair Rowe and Novak together with 2 out and wingers in a 442 formation to really give this team an attacking edge. Espicially at Valley Parade
    that would be an exciting prospect.

    Role on Saturday and an away win at Cheltenham would really get the the fans believing in what this team can achieve.

  2. Solid play and good fortune go hand in hand with a big assist to the game officials on the missed offside call re. winning goal.

    • Go on Phil, just try to be positive for once and not be so mean spirited. It’s good to smile. Set an example to all those others struggling to escape their pathological negativity.

    • I would not even attempt to guess at the offside from that camera angle when the ball was played. The Linesman was best placed to make the call. Decent performance against a well organised albeit limited team.

      • Paul, after seeing the replay I tend to agree with you. However, it wasn’t that long ago that you were claiming the Millwall playoff goal to be offside. Interesting how your perspective changes depending on who benefits.

    • Sorry mate now you just making stuff up. I have never expressed a view publicly about that goal.

  3. The system is only a negative one if you don’t have the right 4 players at the top of it. Thankfully it seems City do and in subs like Crankshaw we have positivity off the bench too. I can see him being an excellent long term signing for the club.

  4. A great second half. AOC and Vernam were class. AOC takes a lot of stick but T&S seem to get the very best out of him.
    I had a zoom call after the game with 6 other season ticket holders and I cant remember the last time everyone actually agreed on how well this is all going under Trueman and Sellars, even the 2 die hard Stuart fans have agreed that the turnaround is unbelievable.
    We still have a long way to go but surely a few more straight wins and who knows we could be knocking on the door of the playoffs.. The glass is very half full at the moment for me and I don’t want to spill a drop..
    Well done to all at City.

  5. Some lovely football last night in spells, the pitch played excellently despite how it looked. I dont recall such a- high standard in any of our previous spells in 4th tier. Vernam looks like a quality addition and Rowe is really something else. Cook will always cause problems – so many of our centre forwards have been anonymous figures, these 2 are far from that. All our rubbish players were binned in the window, the rest have stepped up a gear in terms of passion and desire – the huddles, the high fives, the blocks, last-ditch tackles – Morecambe would have won that game comfortably 4 months ago. Looking at the players contracted to June 22+ no reason we cant go up next season, beyond our own habit of self-implosion (or Covid). Feeling very positive -just wish Jamie Raynor would stop insisting on telling us the stands are empty.

  6. I wonder how long it will be before we hear moaning from the perfect supporters about the style we are playing at the moment,those who only want us to play with a 442 system?As it is I for one am quite happy playing the system we are at presently playing, Very entertaining,and goals to boot.

    • Don’t tempt fate. There are plenty enough contrarians commenting on VP affairs who will look for something to complain about. The problem is that so many of them have got their attention from the negativity and they know of nothing else.

      • You are, of course, completely wrong. You see, this idea that ‘certain’ fans moan for the sake of it is completely unfounded. Its a myth, infact the fans you’re probably referring to were pretty much spot on for the duration of what was the worst spell in the clubs history, culminating in being second from bottom of the entire league when Rhodes left. You and a couple of others need to move on, those negative fans you longingly search for have and are now enjoying the benefit of watching a football club that has half an idea of what its doing. Yeah, i’m one of those very fans who calls it like it is and doesn’t sugar coat it.
        The football is good and long may it continue. If it isn’t i’ll be the first to let you know.

      • Gary, imagine you went to the same restaurant every week, and the food was rubbish but you kept quiet, hoping that the chef would improve, but he didn’t. That is what you are suggesting fans should do/have done.

        Meanwhile, Al, me, and lots of others complained about the standard of the food and consequently received a far superior meal after that. As a result we’re over the moon and singing the praises of the chef to anyone who will listen. Weirdly, your meal got better too.

        To continue the daft analogy, your suggestion is that me and Al will now complain about the service, which was never a problem, or perhaps the drinks. You’re wrong. As Al says, who has got time in their lives to be negative for the sake of it? Not me.

        Now, with Ryan Sparks having addressed a number of pressing issues and hopefully changed the trajectory of the club, if others were to materialise, fans are perfectly entitled to suggest/request that the club try to address those too. That’s not negativity for the sake of it either.

        I moaned about how things were when they were rubbish and we were drifting to non-league, I’m now loving watching entertaining football from a club with purpose and a squad with potential, and shouting it from the metaphorical rooftops. Its not a difficult concept to grasp, surely?

      • Ryan is a good fit for this club. He’s brought an air of ambition sadly lacking within its browbeaten fan base. The moves he’s made so far convince me he has what it takes to run a football club on a professional footing. Amazing what a forward thinking CEO can do to the moral of a club in desperate need of change.

      • Hi Leon,

        I always read your contributions with interest and although I don’t always agree with your view, I do see where your coming from.

        I have no problem with people criticising the club so long as it’s done in a respectful, fair and ideally constructive manner. Quite frankly some of the contributions, on other platforms, have fallen well short of this.

        To extend your analogy, whilst it’s fine to criticise the food at your restaurant it’s bang out of order to call the waiter a f****** c*** whilst doing so.

        As my mother would say “it’s not what say, it’s how you say it”

        I also don’t particularly think it’s appropriate for sections of supporters to label others ‘gompers’ or ‘happy clappers’. It just shuts down debates and sows division.

        I think those are the sort of behaviours Gary is refering to rather than any particular point of view.

      • It is also stretching credibility far beyond breaking point to suggest that the recent up turn in fortunes is somehow a vindication of the TCA social media approach . More than anything it ignores the fact that Ryan was brought on by JR who saw his potential when those at TCA HQ were salivating over rumours of Huw Jenkins (never gonna happen)and the like and rubbishing Ryans credentials as a potential CEO. If JR made a mistake it was to stay on too long after the initial financial black hole had been filled. However right now the appointment looks a good one …that will be his legacy .

      • Andy, you make a fair point though I’m pretty sure Gary was referring to negativity itself, not how its delivered. My mum also said to me that language is all about context, and whats fine for the tap room isn’t always fine for the lounge. No one is forced to visit TCA if they’re offended by swearing, though much of what has happened since Ryan took over is exactly what posters on there have hoped for. Thats not trying to claim credit, its just a fact.

        Likewise, Twitter has a handy mute and block function, though what Paul refers to as the TCA social media approach appears to me to be a few years out of date, and I’ve seen Bantams B****r being pretty nasty about outgoing players recently on more than one occasion, yet they never seem to draw the same level of ire.

        Anyway, all this is to miss the point both myself and Al were replying to – people don’t moan for the sake of it, or for “attention”, they moan because its rubbish. Its overly simplistic and insulting to suggest that those people are now actively looking for something new to moan about. Al and I were merely pointing out that no, in fact, the past ten games has been fantastic. Fans like us being labelled as “keyboard warriors”, “negatrons”, “moaners” is just as divisive and shuts down debate in the same way as terms like “gompers” etc.

  7. I have just re-read an article I wrote about City on 25th November last. I was in total despair.
    Last night’s performance showed me how far City have come since those dark days.
    There is a freshness and team spirit. They are well organised. They are tough.
    They pass it around well.
    They defeated a well-drilled, well-organised, dour big team. And they beat them well.
    Credit goes to Sparks for the re-organisation of the Club and the forward planning.
    I cannot even imagine promotion this season, but I now feel happy about City. I am looking forward to Saturday.
    I want the spectre of relegation to be gone in the next 10 games, and then the future looks bright.

  8. Phil – I love you to bits but just for once try to be a bit more positive!

    There’s no way you can call the offside decision given the camera angle we were presented with. As Paul said the only person who could make that call is the linesman.

    The ref got the penalty spot on.

    Had the penalty been given, and the second goal ruled offside people wouldn’t have been cursing our luck, they’d be picking fault with the players, management, CEO, owner, team selection, recruitment etc etc etc.

    What’s the old adage? Bradfordians always wear raincoats, because if it isn’t raining it soon will be!

    • AndyC, I must admit after closely reviewing the replay that the call was a lot closer than I originally thought. However, I was both mislead and perturbed by the BBC Leeds commentary who totally misinterpreted the offside rule by claiming that Evans was “offside” but didn’t touch the ball. Totally ignoring the interference factor.

      • Although I certainly believe what you’re saying has merit, Phil, it takes a special kind of fan to reflect more on the decisions that shouldn’t have gone our way instead of all of the other positives from the game.

        If your point is that we’ll struggle to score goals, then make that point! We’ve had enough “away” Refs at the Valley to spend any serious time questioning the efficacy of a decision that went our way (for once). Enjoy it!


  9. Great write-up Jason on another great night for Trueman & Sellars. Good to be looking towards the top half of the table with a bit more comfort.

    One area I would disagree on was that Andy Cook had a poor night. Yes he didn’t have the creative impact that Danny Rowe showed but he did a job in occupying the Morecambe centre backs for an hour and I’d say he was left isolated more because the midfield was operating a little too deep in the first half, something that seemed to be rectified at half time.

    How demoralising it must have been for the Morecambe centre backs (NKP in particular) having grappled with Cook for an hour, only to see Danny Rowe arrive off the bench. Rowe is the better of the two all-round but Cook is an excellent option to have when we need a bit more of an aerial/physical presence up front.

    • Absolutely, and I’d also argue that the Don could do a job, especially holding the ball up away from home in a tight game. Then there’s Novak – star of the show before Xmas to come back.

      We also have Clarke to come back. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I’m a big fan. He can drop in that three.

      Going forward, with the fixture congestion we have the front four could me rotated quite easily in my opinion.

      The concern would be in the two holding players. I’m struggling to think of good back up options – maybe AOC when Hosanna is back fit could play in there.

      • Exactly right that rotation is going to be key with the congestion we have between now and the end of the season and we are well stocked up front and out wide after the January window. Crazy to consider that Novak wouldn’t be an automatic pick on his return considering how important he was to this team not so long ago.

        I, too, would be worried if we saw injuries to Watt or Sutton. Both play such a big part for the team whether its Watt’s passing range or Sutton who has a surprising turn of pace and good ability to move with the ball. Moving Cooke back would be the obvious option but I think we’d all prefer to see him further upfield. I believe Evans could also cover there if needed and has played a similar central role in the past.

  10. I think this third lockdown has been quite hard on folk, so where I disagree with an article I’ve chosen to keep it to myself.

    However, I’m compelled this time to comment and right one assertion in this article.

    Before I do so I will state this. This site is my first point of reference for all City matters. It’s the best coverage and mature debate in my view.

    Also, this article is by my favourite writer. The organ grinder. He’s skilfully written about this club for years.

    But, I just cannot agree with the opinion that there would have been disappointment when Rowe was brought on as the only one up top last night. Had I have been in that ground I would have loved it. Roared it on.

    This is a system that has been proved to work. One loss in ten proves that. I think the majority of fans are totally behind it and the results it creates.

    I agree Cook just didn’t come off last night and therefore the introduction of Rowe was both necessary and exciting. You just knew we’d win the game with him on, regardless of formation. No one even cares about formation when you lose one in ten, especially on the back of that coming from the most atrocious football and results. The turn around has been unthought of.

    So, just a tad negative for me and not reading the room. That’s all.

    As ever, thanks for your dedication.

  11. 3 words:

    The Real Deal.

    Just Enjoy The Ride……

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