|Bradford City 2|
|Sutton 43, Cook 66|
By Adam Raj
Four straight wins and four points off the play offs. Who would’ve thought that was possible only a few months ago? The turnaround under now permanent mangers Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars has been nothing short of sensational. And with every positive result comes that extra glance at the gap to the top seven.
That gap, of four points, is as small as it has been since Bradford City hit rock bottom in December. And with games in hand on many of the teams above, there is a growing feeling that this City side can muscle their way into the promotion picture.
Today’s victory was, for the most part, as comfortable as it has been for City since Stuart McCall’s departure. Walsall, still without a home victory in 2021, looked every inch a side going in the wrong direction. City had made two changes to the side that beat Leyton Orient in midweek, with Andy Cook and Ollie Crankshaw coming in to replace Danny Rowe and the injured Gareth Evans. It meant that Charles Vernam moved to his more preferred role on the left with Crankshaw on the right.
The first half was one of few chances. Crankshaw had the best effort for the visitors firing just wide of Liam Roberts’ goal after a fine sweeping move that involved Elliot Watt and Anthony O’Connor. Crankshaw was very lively in the opening exchanges of the game, not lacking the confidence to strike from distance and make intelligent runs in behind.
Watt, Levi Sutton and Callum Cooke controlled the game in midfield as expected with their energy and tenacity off the ball, overpowering a very young Walsall midfield partnership of Alfie Bates and Sam Perry. And it was one of the dynamic trio that opened the scoring. Sam Hornby’s goal kick was cushioned down by Cook to Crankshaw where a Walsall man managed to get a foot in, only to play it to Sutton who took one touch before hitting a thumping effort into the back of the net via the underside of the crossbar.
It was very Kyel Reid-esque, albeit at the opposite end of the Banks’s stadium to the winger’s famous Bescot stadium strike in 2013. Some differences maybe, but I’m sure the away end would’ve been just as lively today. Hopefully, that isn’t too far away.
It was a perfect time to score to further demoralise a Walsall side clearly lacking confidence. The home side did start the second half with slightly more urgency, after a switch to a 3-4-1-2, but failed to trouble Hornby. City once again controlled possession in the midfield and stopped Walsall’s style of playing through the thirds, often forcing them into turnovers through long balls or misplaced passes. Niall Canavan and Paudie O’Connor swept up everything that came their way.
And just as the game looked like it was petering away, up stepped former Saddler Cook to net his third City goal. Sutton whipped in a delightful cross from the left for Cook to be afforded the freedom of Walsall to take his time and finish. The on-loan Mansfield man showed real composure to take the ball down on his chest and finish across goal. The movement in between centre backs Dan Scarr and Matt Sadler was intelligent, but equally, the defending was atrocious.
Cook had a quiet game yet popped up with what was to be the winner. He continues to demonstrate his striker’s instinct and looks like a good addition. It is unfortunate for him though, that he’ll be watching from the stands on Tuesday as City take on Mansfield, with the striker ineligible to face his parent side.
Cook and Cooke, who was on the end of a heavy challenge in the second half, made way shortly after. Danny Rowe and Billy Clarke their replacements. But just as City looked nailed on for another three points, Walsall were handed a lifeline. Tyreik Wright’s out-swinging corner was flicked on at the near post and hit Scarr to fly in off the post. It was somewhat of a freak goal to concede, considering the initial flick on was going well wide and the Walsall skipper knew nothing about it. But with 13 minutes remaining, City had to dig deep to see it out. After all, City have been known to throw away leads at this ground.
Jordan Stevens and Clayton Donaldson came on to protect the lead, with the former almost playing as a secondary left back at times. City lost their composure, after the goal predictably lifted a Walsall side who had created nothing for the most part. Donaldson, Stevens, Rowe and Clarke were all guilty of giving the ball away too cheaply at a time City needed to regain control in the game.
Walsall huffed and puffed but failed to create anything in the closing stages other than a questionable penalty appeal. City had failed to clear their lines and Josh Gordon went down under a challenge from Canavan, but referee Olly Lancashire waved away the protests. You’ve certainly seen them given but Gordon looked to have initiated contact between the pair, although I’m not sure we could have had too many complaints if it had been given.
However, on balance, City were deserved winners on the day and the hosts can have no complaints at coming away empty handed. It was a thoroughly professional performance that demonstrated everything City are about under Trueman and Sellars. Organised, dogged and resilient all whilst being able to play good football and score some terrific goals.
This form doesn’t look to be fading anytime soon, with City confident of beating anyone in front of them. That confidence and momentum will only continue to grow. It will certainly make for an interesting and exciting end to the season. And you can only imagine it’s now a matter of when rather than if City will break into that top seven.
Categories: Match Reviews