Danny Rowe – Bradford City’s Big Number 9½

By Paul Askham

A couple of weeks ago in the aftermath of the Bolton game, Alex Scott’s match report described Danny Rowe as “Windassian”. I think any of us over the age of 30 would struggle to disagree with that likeness, as on his day Rowe can morph from brickie to ballerina in a split second. You wouldn’t want to defend against him as he could put you on your backside using either brains or brawn. It’s just a case of how he fancies making you look inadequate.

Our issue at the moment is that the shape of the side and/or the style of play aren’t suiting our wild-card at all. He’ll willingly have a sleeves-up battle with anyone when he’s the one up top. The montage after the Morecambe game, where he put several players on the deck in his 25-minute cameo, showed that he’s not shy of a battle. I absolutely loved it and shared it in my group chats saying “Look at this lad. He scores screamers as well *heart-eye emoji*”

Bottle’s a great trait, but that isn’t where he will win games for us. We saw enough of James Vaughan picking fights with centre-halves last year, at times seeming to put more emphasis on daftly sparring with his assigned centre-half than applying his obvious footballing talent. Danny Rowe’s best work is where he sneaks up on people and finds pockets of space. A traditional number 9 doesn’t have much of a hiding place, as he has an assigned defender, whereas a number 10 has more scope to subtly ghost into space and not be anybody’s property.

Before I go too deep into squad numbers, I’ll admit my perception isn’t particularly relevant nowadays as my starting point is a 1990’s Mike Bassett 4-4-effing2. The teams indelibly etched on my brain when growing up were England in Euro 1996 where Gascoigne 8, Shearer 9 and Sheringham 10 were correctly numbered, and City in 1998/99 where Blake 8, Mills 9 and Whalley 10 were incorrectly numbered (for younger readers, Whalley and Blake needed to swap shirts).

This squad number parlance is no longer really valid in modern-day football where fourth-tier Bradford City are playing a fluid 4-2-3-1. If I could grow a proper beard I’d go full football-hipster and educate myself on liberos and trequaristas, but I can’t, so I won’t. The fact remains though that if you are hitting more than ten long-balls in a game, as we currently are, a number 9 remains a number 9, whether the year is 1971 or 2021.

When Dean Windass returned to City in 2003, he (like everyone else) struggled as we were relegated from the old First Division to the new League One. If I remember correctly, he was ploughing something of a lone furrow up front, expected to be both chief-aggressor and chief-architect. The following season we signed Dele Adebola on loan, he did all the number 9 donkey-work, Windass was liberated as a number 10 and had a 30-goal season. Adebola was gone by Christmas, but Andy Cooke (the original), Zema Abbey and Aaron Wilbraham continued to do the unglamorous things to free Deano up to earn himself and Nathan Doyle their moves to Hull.

I personally think this is what we need to try to achieve with Rowe to get the best out of him. Get the new Andy Cook in at number 9, which he’s really good at, and engineer a way to let Rowe scheme behind, as he’s a butterfly with a sand-bag on his back foraging up top on his own. His best work comes when dropping off, but the Catch-22 as lone-striker is that he leaves a void on the penalty spot when he does that.

For Rowe to be truly Windassian, Cook needs to be on the pitch being Adebolian.

It’s a given Rowe’s not mobile enough to fill the Callum Cooke role through the middle unfortunately. It appears nobody in the squad has the same legs or skillset as Cooke, which seems ominously as though it could be our ultimate undoing. There must be scope for Rowe to fill the role either Vernam or Crankshaw played against Oldham though. I’m not trying to dig either of them out, but the youthful exuberance they’re in there to show isn’t quite translating into putting the opposition onto the back foot at the moment.

Trueman and Sellars have a conundrum on the horizon. 4-2-3-1 worked very nicely up until the last fortnight and I’m not advocating change for the sake of it. But with an understandably tired workforce, now is time for squad rotation and/or a tweak to the team shape. Sticking to the same shape and personnel seems as though it is the one thing that would guarantee the play offs being out of reach for this year. Maybe the way for a next push would be a Plan B neither us as fans, or opposition managers will be expecting.

To go back where I started referencing the article after the Bolton game, if the question a fortnight ago was “Stick or Twist?”, it must now be a case of “When Do We Twist?”. The build-up to Easter will define whether we’re still going to be in the mix come April. The next few games are a free-hit to experiment. The best-case scenario would be the completion of a miraculous play off push, but if that’s not to be we would at least go into next season wiser having tried and tested some alternative methods.

Categories: Opinion

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12 replies

  1. I would agree that of all the positions in the existing prefered formation, that No10 is the best fit for Rowe to try and get to grips with.

    I know some are claling for a change in formation and whilst I am not necessarily against it I dont think any will be greatly sucessful without alternatives in centre of midfield.

    Sutton and Watt have no competition so they have to play in any formation we use and they look either exhausted or needing dropping to provide the bolt that might refocus their attention. Without any replacements there we will always fail to create more chances as we cant work the ball from our generally solid defence to our fairly clinical strikers (Cook / Rowe have both been pretty clinical with our low XG).

    It doesnt matter how the rest of the team are shaped every formation needs 2-3 in the middle of the park and we have no options without turning to Scales or pushing FCD or AoC in there.

    I would happily see Scales in midfield for a game and hopefully his youth might provide some positive momentum in a idfield that looks like it’s always looking for a safe pass out of trouble rather than a look forward for what options are on.

  2. I actually liken Rowe more to Paul Taylor – scores a worldie once in while but does little else for the team.

    A luxury we can’t afford!

  3. Nice summary. To further add to the hipster analysis (puts down Mundial Mag for a second), you hear so much these days about teams operating in blocks – a high block, standard block and a low block. T&S have us operating with a standard block and I think this is based around the defensive frailties that have been on show so much this season. A standard block allows a back four extra protection with two players in front and doesn’t require the team to operate with a high press (high block) or sit in and soak up pressure (low block) – neither of which we are good enough to do at the moment.

    The standard block also allows teams to maintain possession easier which is something we have struggled with many times this season. The downside of a standard block is that it relies heavily on every player successfully fulfilling their role or the system can break down quite easily. We have seen this with our inability to find cover for Callum Cooke in the central attacking midfield role. This has led to wide players becoming ineffective, the team surrendering the ball too easily by going long and, going back to Danny Rowe, the striker becoming isolated.

    T&S have been completely correct to operate with this system as, in the main, it has been very successful so you can see why they are trying to figure out one position before changing the whole team around. They have tried a few players in the CAM role that haven’t worked. The role needs someone with heaps of energy and also the bravery to receive the ball in tricky areas. Evans & Rowe have the bravery but not the energy. Vernam, who largely played there on Saturday, has the energy but maybe not enough of the bravery. I think their next effort should be with Kian Scales as he has shown signs of both the above in his sub appearances. Its asking a lot of a young player but we’ve seen Staunton & Cousin-Dawson take their chance this season so why not Scales.

    • Agree totally with all that. I noticed T&S talking about working in blocks in their early interviews. they’ve evidently got their noses in Mundial as well.

      I nearly got side-tracked when writing the article going into the importance of Cooke. When he starts CAM, he’s encircled the the two DM’s, LAM, RAM and CF. He’s like the centre of a sunflower. As such, he has a direct relationship with all five of those players and helps stitch it all together. The energy and bravery you mentioned are pivotal to making it all tick, and the trust of his teammates for him to get it right is just as important.

      Sutton’s not getting forward half as much at the moment, which could be legginess kicking in, but also there may be a lack of confidence somebody will drop in for him defensively. With nobody bursting forward we have less random factors and therefore are becoming more predictable.

      • Exactly right and I think the other elements that you mention bring it back to Danny Rowe quite nicely. Its pretty clear that Rowe isn’t the most mobile (albeit surprisingly agile when in control of the ball), so needs others to do a lot of that running for him. I think he can be a success in this system and the summer recruitment will factor that in. Although whether he still has Lee Novak or Andy Cook to contend with will be interesting, especially as we seem to be a better side with Andy Cook playing at the moment.

        But for me, I can see why T&S are trying to tweak the formula that has worked so well for them rather than ripping up and starting again. Its just frustrating that we don’t have that time available to us having got ourselves into a good position on the back of an appalling start to the season.

  4. Or we could just try playing football?

  5. Can see the similarities, just wish he was half as good as windass was

  6. “Butterfly with a sand bag on his back” 😂. Class. WOAP pushes the literary boundaries once more. Top read.

  7. I think we signed him without much thought as regards how he would fit in.

    This continual rotation with Cook on starts and substitutions must be mighty unsettling to both of them, and the team.

    At the moment Cook seems the better option at 9 and as, T&S don’t appear to want to pair them up front, that leaves Danny as a bit part luxury, sat on the bench, waiting for the odd twenty minutes here and there.

  8. In football there are ‘Natural goalscorers’.
    I believe Rowe is one of them. He had already shown an ability to score with rasping drives from distance and poacher style goals closer in.
    He is never going to run around and look ‘busy’ so to play him at number 10 would not work.
    It’s simple.
    Stick him at 9 and give him
    service and the goals will come. No more swapping Cook and Rowe in the 60th minute.
    Rowe will score goals given the right service and played in the right position

    • You’re right, it’s the service it hinges on.

      I felt sorry for Cook last night as there were too many aimless balls sent in his general direction. The only person who hit him with any sort of measured ball was Rowe when he came on.

      If we could clone Rowe and play him in behind himself that’d be marvellous. He could absolutely play number 9 if he was fed correctly and the Crankshaw/Vernam types could use their mobility to get in and around him.

  9. I did not understand the clamour for Scales to be included as from albeit limited appearances i have yet to see him really do anything. I do not want to question him too much due to his age and fledgling career. Its not his fault i believe that he is not yet ready for 1 st team football but others believe that he is. Tonight whilst starting though he barely touched the ball and apart from the one wayward volley was anonymous. He looked very much still a youth player in application and physique. Cooke missing is proving difficult to replace, but i also remember him been missing in Stuarts poor run plus having to return as quick as possible and probably not match fit, due there been no one else. For all the lauding off Turnbulls January recruitment only Canavan and Cook have shown any consistency. There is still a lot of work still required before this team is ready to challnege imo.

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