|Bradford City 4|
|Watt 11, Cook 47, 76 Rowe 90+4|
|Forest Green Rovers 1|
By Adam Raj
It never seems to be a quiet affair when Bradford City play Forest Green. A last minute winner for Rovers at Valley Parade last season, coupled with a last minute equaliser and two red cards in the reverse fixture this campaign, has seen this fixture develop into a must watch. And this afternoon’s encounter didn’t disappoint.
City delivered probably their most complete performance since Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars took over, made even more impressive given the visitors were placed fifth at the start of play.
An injury to Levi Sutton saw Elliot Watt return to the starting line up to partner Anthony O’Connor in midfield in what was the only change from last week’s win at Colchester. Forest Green started the better of the two sides, knocking the ball around with composure and confidence. However, for all their possession, City’s back line remained untested. And in the eleventh minute, somewhat against the run of play, the home side took the lead.
A Gareth Evans out-swinging corner was only partially cleared and fell to the feet of Watt on the edge of the area. He struck a pinpoint half volley through a sea of bodies into the bottom corner for his third goal of the season and second against the visitors.
It was a goal that seemed to spark City into life. Suddenly they started to press higher and with more aggression, winning the ball in dangerous areas multiple times. City should have been further ahead when a good piece of pressing by Anthony O’Connor forced Rovers keeper Lewis Thomas to shank a clearance straight to Clayton Donaldson. City’s number ten found Kian Scales with a great volleyed pass, who in turn set through Andy Cook, but the striker was denied by a good save from Thomas.
But the on-loan Mansfield man certainly didn’t let that miss get to him. Minutes later the ball dropped to the feet of Cook, five yards inside the Forest Green half, and the striker let rip with an audacious half volley which slammed onto the top of the crossbar. City have scored some terrific individual goals this season, but that would have topped the lot. And with some ease.
City were good value for their lead at the interval, with Forest Green clearly being a decent footballing side, but lacking any punch in the final third. What they weren’t lacking in, was theatrics. As their attempts to test Richard O’Donnell failed, they resorted to having their own diving competition.
Two blatant and quite embarrassing dives saw attempts at conning a penalty deservedly fail. Credit to referee Anthony Backhouse for not falling for their shenanigans. It’s clear to see they are missing top scorer Jamille Matt who will be out for the foreseeable after his horror injury last week.
City on the other hand, don’t have that issue. Cook has probably been the standout performer even during the poor recent run. And with Danny Rowe breathing down his neck, he seems to be relishing the challenge of not only being first choice, but also being Bradford City’s main man. Two minutes into the second half and the visitors had shot themselves in the foot. A woeful backpass from Dom Bernard put Bailey Cargill in all sorts of problems and the defender’s attempted header was pounced on by Cook who raced through and calmly finished past Thomas at his near post.
It’s not the first time Cook has found himself on the receiving end of a defensive howler, but all credit has to go to the striker for being on his toes and sniffing out those opportunities.
And if his first goal was a gift, his second was anything but. Good play from Billy Clarke, making his 450th career appearance, saw the ball slipped through Cook in the right side of the area. The striker shaped to hit it first time but sold the defender with a calm check inside and finished almost nonchalantly with a toe poke past Thomas.
Cook is proving to be a real hit in this City side. His brace this afternoon took his tally to seven in City colours. And all seven goals have come in just the nine starts since his move from Mansfield. Out of contract in the summer, Cook has made no secret of his desire to remain a Bantam, and given his performances since his arrival, you’d think the feeling was mutual. Mansfield do however, hold a year’s option on Cook which they could activate if they see fit.
Given their own strikers’ record, Nigel Clough may be tempted to give Cook another chance. If not, they may still be tempted to activate the clause just so they can demand a transfer fee. It proves to be an interesting summer ahead for the striker but I for one would like to see him remain at Valley Parade.
In between Cook’s brace, the much criticised O’Donnell made two fantastic saves. First, Nicky Cadden’s wayward cross nearly flew into the net, but the City skipper reacted brilliantly to clear it off the line. Moments later Jake Young found himself free in the City area, but O’Donnell made himself big to deny the striker and clawed the rebound to safety.
O’Donnell has come under criticism from some City fans, some fair and some harsh, but game-defining moments like these are why Trueman and Sellars were right to put him back into the team, even if it was tough on Sam Hornby.
Sadly though, he was unable to get a clean sheet. Young, Rovers’ best player by some distance, hit a fantastic curling strike from twenty-five yards which left O’Donnell with no chance. It was the only blot on what had been a tenacious and committed defensive effort.
Still, there was chance to regain the three goal lead. A mazy run from substitute Charles Vernam set up Rowe who calmly finished past Thomas at the near post, with the help of a slight deflection. It was a goal that capped off a thoroughly professional but clinical performance from a City side who are once again closing in on that top seven, despite still missing several players. Oli Crankshaw, Clarke and Vernam all returned to the squad today and hopefully Callum Cooke isn’t too many more weeks away. These options as well as the rejuvenated Donaldson only enhance our chances of a strong end to the season.
Newport’s late slip up at strugglers Barrow means the gap to seventh is now only three points. It’s withing touching distance but City still have to navigate a tricky run of fixtures, starting with a trip to a resurgent Stevenage on Monday. But if they manage to put a run of consistent performances together, akin to what we saw today, there’s no reason why they cannot finish in the play off places.
Categories: Match Reviews