Five-star Bradford City continue to succeed through their quiet winning formula

Bradford City 1
Rowe 32
Mansfield Town 0

By Jason McKeown

Considering the way their careers have quickly climbed to such stratospheric heights, there remains a remarkable level of calmness in the way Mark Trueman and Connor Sellars speak. But it’s perhaps evenings as labouring as this that explain why the Bradford City managers remain so grounded about the record-shattering progress they’re achieving.

This hard-fought, battling 1-0 win over Mansfield Town means the Bantams have recorded five successive wins for the first time in 17 years, lifting them into the highest league position of the campaign, with the gap to the play offs chiseled down to just three points. But it was by no means a convincing display. The visitors merited more than a fourth defeat in five. They pushed City all the way, but a lack of conviction in front of goal betrayed their purposeful efforts.

It was a crawl rather than a sprint over the finishing line. And that’s been a notable part of the story of City’s stunning run of form. Of the now-10 amazing victories in the 14 games Trueman and Sellars have overseen, eight have been achieved by a single goal. City are beating all before them, but success is being habitually achieved through fine margins rather than being delivered at a canter.

Trueman and Sellars might still be relatively new to this Football League managerial game, but they’re clearly not daft. Those fine margins can easily go the other way, and they seemed guarded against getting carried away. “There’s loads of things to work on and improve,” reflected Trueman after the match. “But if we can win games that way we’ll take it.”

In so many ways, this Bradford City team reflects the personality of their managers. They are not flashy. They do not play with a swagger or an arrogance. They just quietly get on with the job, chalking up victories with a devastating level of consistency.

The players look incredibly organised, displaying commendable assurance from knowing exactly what they need to do. If, at the top of English football, Liverpool have made their name for playing “heavy metal football”, this Bradford City team are producing soft melodies that subtly lift your spirits and leave you feeling warm inside. It is invigorating if not always pulsating.

Whatever feelings of injustice Mansfield Town will take with them on the journey home to Nottinghamshire, the bottom line is Nigel Clough’s men didn’t register a single shot on target all night. They edged possession and won more than twice as many corners as their hosts, but Sam Hornby was protected magnificently by the back four.

It’s a common theme of recent weeks. In both good and average spells of overall play, City have developed an uncanny ability to keep their opponents at an arm’s length. No shots on target for Mansfield tonight, after Walsall, Leyton Orient and Cheltenham were each restricted to just one shot on goal in the games before that, and Morecambe had only two on target attempts before that. It all means that, across these five straight Bradford City victories, they’ve let the opposition collectively have just five shots on target.

That is mightily impressive.

Mansfield’s best moment of the night came with the game less than two minutes old, when Jason Law produced a wonderful curling effort at goal that flew past Hornby but smacked back off the post. The visitors were compact in their 4-3-3 set up. Winning the ball high up the park and knocking it around with no little creativity to try and find gaps. But City just defend incredibly effectively. When the ball is worked into their box, they are organised and methodical in snuffing out the danger.

It can look untidy at times. The Bantams give away an awfully large amount of free kicks in the wide areas or in front of their box. But it all seems to be part of the plan when there is any hint they might be about to be stretched by the opposition. Take the foul, stop the momentum and regroup to successfully defend the free kick. Which they invariably do. “We’ve set the foundations collectively in how we defend, how we press from the front, but also in how we defend our box,” Trueman added.

On a night where none of City’s attacking players really hit the heights they are capable of, the home side found joy in playing on the counter attack. Charles Vernam’s pace is a real threat that was sorely missing in the City’s armoury before the January window. At one point he intercepted a pass and carried the ball from his own half to the edge of the box, and he was only stopped by a crude foul from Farrend Rawson.

On the opposite side in the attacking midfield three, Oli Crankshaw produced a mixed display but showed flashes of his talents. Callum Cooke continues to look a player reborn. Even if not everything he tried came off, he rarely seems to lose the ball. Eliot Watt and Levi Sutton were once again solid.

But much of the headlines will go to the man brought back in up front, Danny Rowe, who netted the game’s only goal just after the half hour mark. City had won a free kick that Watt swung over the Niall Canavan, and his header towards Rowe caught Mansfield unawares. Rowe delivered an exceptional side footed volley that Aidan Stone had no chance of keeping out.

The crown on Rowe’s head has slightly fallen of late after such an attention-grabbing start to life at Valley Parade. The illness he suffered at the start of February has had a lingering impact on his fitness, and performances began to dip, with Andy Cook stealing a march as first choice striker.

But with Cook ineligible to play, Rowe took his chance and looked much more his old self. Over the game, Rowe had five characteristically powerful attempts at goal that kept Stone on his toes. It was a welcome reminder of his qualities, especially after his less than inspiring substitute cameo at Walsall on Saturday.

The second half proved to be a war of attrition. Mansfield continued to push City back, but the defence was exceptional. Anthony O’Connor does not look like a centre back playing out of position, and he produced several terrific clearances and blocks. Connor Wood has benefited from getting back to basics and was solid, whilst the two centre halves Paudie O’Connor and Canavan mopped everything up.

What a brilliant signing Canavan is proving to be – against some heavy competition, he might just be the pick of the January bunch. “He talks really well and helps the players around him,” Trueman enthused of Canavan, adding of the back four, “Collectively as a unit they’ve got that togetherness.”

In the final minute of normal time, Mansfield’s Ollie Clarke somehow headed the ball wide after latching onto Law’s corner. And the midfielder’s swift demise from potential Stags hero to villain was sealed in the 93rd minute, when in frustration he swung an elbow at Wood. A deserved red card, as much for the intent as it was for the amount of contact he made.

If Mansfield had possessed a more clinical striker, it might have proven a different story. And that, coupled with the impact he’s made at Valley Parade, makes Clough’s decision to allow Cook to join City all the more curious. Since Cook left Field Mill on loan, Mansfield have won just one of their subsequent seven games, scoring just six goals along the way. One wonders what Cook – watching on from the Main Stand – made of his parent club’s toothless display in front of goal.

But if Clough might be facing some uncomfortable questions from his own fans, for Trueman and Sellars the supporter goodwill towards them continues. It’s now 33 points from a possible 42, and a climb of 12 league places. Oh, and in case you’ve forgotten to check recently, City are now 20 points clear of the relegation zone. “Are we mathematically clear [of relegation]? That’s our focus,” Trueman batted back when asked about rising expectations.

The next three games look really, really interesting. On Saturday Bolton travel to Valley Parade – the only team in League Two who can edge City’s form over the last eight games – for a true test of both teams’ resurgence. Then on the Tuesday, City travel to previous League Two pacesetters Newport County – who are fading fast. Before they go to Carlisle United the Saturday after – the Cumbrians are another frontrunner now stumbling to stay in contention.

The nine points up for grabs represent a real opportunity for City to demonstrate their promotion credentials. To make that scarcely believable leap into the promotion places. And to have City supporters believing that a return to League One could be on the cards.

Just don’t expect Trueman and Sellars to start sounding giddy.

Categories: Match Reviews

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17 replies

  1. City’s five successive wins coincides with the realigned back four. That plus a dose of good fortune is likely the reason for City winning these games via fine margins. Looking forward to the Bolton game.

    • Phil, why do you always have to qualify any rare praise you post in anything connected to Bradford City? 33 points out of 42 and you’re talking about a “dose of good fortune”.

      It really must break your heart to see City doing well! In fact, if watching a successful City side makes you miserable, why don’t you find a poorly performing Canadian Ice Hockey team to support, and content yourself in negatively posting on their social media site?

  2. One improvement which WOAP hasn’t really commented much on is the issue of captaincy. The upsurge in City’s form has clearly come on the back of a solid back four, but almost by accident, O’Donnell’s replacement by Sam Hornby has pushed the captaincy on to Paudie O’Connor, who despite his youth is proving to be an outstanding and inspiring captain. So much so that if O’Donnell does return at some stage, I would keep Paudie as on the field captain. O’Donnell as club captain is still right, but there have been times in City’s past where the on field and off field captains have been different people, and that is where we are heading now, I feel. Goalkeepers are not really the ideal captains,in my view, though a number of them have indeed done well.

  3. So we can give thanks for a dose of good fortune.

    Don’t good sides make their own fortune? You can be lucky in one off games but not be consistently so.

  4. Thanks for your article Jason. Being a little light hearted how about: Rowe, Rowe, Rowe your boat gently down the stream, if you see City score, don’t forget to scream!

  5. Well another win and the absolutely amazing job that Trueman and Sellars are doing just keeps going on and on. .
    I totally agree with Gary S. This isn,t luck or good fortune,this is a management team that took a team under Stuart, a team that most said were poor and simply not good enough for league 2, who had only got 13 points from 16 games and lost their last 5 games and immediately turned that same team in the next 5 games to 3 wins and 2 draws.
    14 games on with 33 points in the bag and sitting in 10th, 3 points off the play offs is not luck or good fortune this is down to Trueman and Sellars unbelievable management of a team that wants to play for them, everyone knows what’s expected of them.
    The first thing they changed was going to a back four and what a back four we now have. Its not luck that stopped us leaking goals. So forgive me for a rant about people who say we keep been lucky or we have good fortune. Luck doesn’t happen every single game . What we are witnessing here is something that no one dare dream about and that’s a management team that have taken us from the bottom 3 to a team that will be knocking the play off door very soon.
    We are making history and I for one am going to sit back and enjoy the ride

  6. I’m sorry but not surprised to see the critical response to a “dose of good fortune.” City are experiencing a stunning reversal of form and in no way am I trying to detract from that. If anything, I’m trying to add a dose of reality and question the sustainability. Most of City’s games tend to be tight affairs that could go either way. It’s true that good teams tend to have their fair share of good fortune but winning by fine margins looks unsustainable for the long term. However, in some ways City remind me of Leicester City’s PL champions ( 2015-16) and how they surprised most. Maybe we are seeing a similar achievement from City. Theirs no denying that Trueman and Sellars are doing a fantastic job and I think the back four of Wood, Caravan and the O’Connor’s are arguably the best in the league.

    • Dose of reality? Dose of being miserable and begrudging about the team’s success. Struggling to save face after the change in outlook?

      • Gary S why do you insist on putting a negative spin on my opinions? I just feel this forum requires some objective opinions which are not outrageous. I consider my opinions to be far more grounded on facts than some on here. Aspirational beliefs are fine as long as they remain in touch with reality. There’s a big difference between hoping and expecting. I’ve gone from considering the glass to be half empty to it being half full. In other words, City appear to be finally making some progress, “hopefully” to be continued beyond the current run of good form. That is an aspirational thought on my part. Time will tell.

      • For once I’m tending to agree with Phil in part.

        The results speak for themselves and the fact we’ve got such a good record over the last 12 games shows its no fluke.

        However – both the Orient and Mansfield games were tight. We took our chances well and the defence has been excellent but they could have gone either way.

        I’m sure T&S will be concerned at the low numbers of chances we are creating and our difficulty in breaking down highly organised teams but would hope they are equally delighted with the defence. It’s not often I watch city confident in their ability to keep a clean sheet!

        I’ll end on a positive. Whilst POC is getting all the plaudits I’ve been really impressed with AOC on the right. I think he’s been a real revelation.

      • I suspect that the Orient and Mansfield games are going to be typical of remaining fixtures at Valley Parade and they won’t be the last where BCAFC win by a narrow margin. Both sides adopted the most effective tactics to frustrate City and the narrow pitch has always made those tactics easy to adopt. It might not have been pretty but you can’t fault the workmanlike effort to grind out results and for all the talk about our luck, frankly we never looked like losing either game.

        I suspect that we’ll see more open football in our away matches.

        So long as the defence keeps tight at VP and the strike force carries on converting the few opportunities that arise we will continue making progress.

        The Bolton game is going to be tough but their six consecutive wins have been against lower table opposition and to have won at Cheltenham is a sufficient endorsement of City’s credentials. I doubt that Bolton will come to defend on Saturday and I also doubt that it will be another solitary goal that seals the result.

        Onwards and upwards!

  7. 10 points off Top spot with a game in hand, and we have a lot of 6 pointer games coming up, interesting times and if you look below, we can afford to slip up in a very promising position, also we have players returning as well so looking forward to the next few weeks, I don’t know if T&S are tacticians or magicians, but I do know is that they can see out game management under any circumstances……..

    Watch This Space……

  8. The comments about luck fascinate me. City are winning by the odd goal but it does seem that most games in division 2 are very close. Teams like Mansfield are very well organised and are difficult to beat. They are well managed motivated decent players.
    City are preventing them scoring. Hornby hasn’t had more than 3 shots to save since Exeter.
    That’s not luck.
    That’s good play and good management.
    Maybe we should score more.
    But I’ll take this.
    Remember the Harrogate and Oldham matches.
    This is wonderful.
    City will lose games and might not reach the play offs. But let’s be thrilled at what our management and players have achieved.

  9. Luck favours the brave.
    One could take the stance that we were unlucky in the earlier games of the season when we lost by the odd goal. Should have had penalties, should have gone in rather than hit the post/bar or should have not had two players
    Struggling teams are unlucky and teams doing well are lucky.
    It’s always been that way. It’s the way of the world. You make your own luck.
    We were.unlucky at Exeter to concede the.penalty.but we were a bit lucky for Crankshaws goal. Otherwise we would be unbeaten under T&S.
    May our luck continue and take us up.

  10. A lot is being made of the January signings and rightly so but week after week our best performers and man of the match contenders are those who were already here. POC, AOC, Watt, Sutton, Cooke (along with Canavan) are the players that have stood out the most for me during this period.

    Also the statistic about shots on target is most interesting and the biggest difference the new managers have made. ROD stood out in the early part of the season but shot stopping should be a small part of a goalkeeper’s game. The ability to command a back 4 and deal with what’s coming into the box are the most valuable attributes and Hornby appears to be competent in these skillsets.

  11. Another great article, thanks WOAP.
    Its a refreshing change to have something to be positive and excited about.

  12. Im not looking for a pat on the back but when McCall left the majority of fans were calling for reinforcements up front. Maybe Im old school, having being a defender myself in my limited amateur football career but to attack you need to have a solid building block. I called for the defence to be sorted first. Canavan is the most important signing but the managers effect on the defence is key. It doesn’t shine a good light on McCall though as the management due have done it with existing players

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