|Bradford City 1|
By Tim Penfold
After resurrecting their play off hopes on Good Friday (a few days too early to use a cliched Easter metaphor) Bradford City stumbled again today, drawing away at an in-form Stevenage side in a game that could be placed in the dictionary next to the definition of “frustrating”.
City named an unchanged team after Friday’s impressive display, but any hopes that they would pick up where they left off were thwarted almost immediately. The game had barely started when the defence misjudged the bounce of the ball and Elliot List ran through, only for Richard O’Donnell to pull off a fine save, deflecting the ball on to the bar and over. City then switched off at a quick free kick only for the Stevenage header to loop tamely to the keeper.
Slow starts have been a problem for the Bantams recently, and this one was eventually punished. City, as they have a habit of doing, gave away soft free kicks in their own half and faced a barrage of set pieces as a result. Eventually Stevenage got themselves a corner which was swung in to the crowded six yard box. Nobody from the away team went for it, with O’Donnell seemingly stuck to his line and the defence slow to react, and this left Luke Norris with a close range header that went in.
O’Donnell has taken some deserved criticism for his ability to command his area recently, and it was clear that Stevenage were targeting this at set pieces. There were a couple of further worrying moments, with Connor Wood swinging his foot wildly to clear a ball that O’Donnell was coming to get at one point, and the defence did seem unsettled by this. However, it’s not clear that swapping back for Sam Hornby would’ve done much good today – for all of Hornby’s greater ability to claim a cross, City would most likely have gone a goal down earlier without O’Donnell’s shot-stopping skills.
Conceding a goal didn’t seem to wake City up much. They couldn’t seem to get on the ball and play, with Elliot Watt’s radar a bit awry and Anthony O’Connor looking like a centre back in midfield. Stevenage were happy to disrupt things, helped by a referee who loved the sound of his own whistle, and it was looking like a frustrating afternoon until suddenly the visitors produced a moment of genuine quality.
Watt managed to navigate a tight space in midfield and get the ball out to Connor Wood on the left flank, who produced the sort of cross that has been missing from his game for too much of the season on to the head of Clayton Donaldson for the equaliser.
The goal did lead to an improvement in City’s game for the rest of the half, but it still remained scrappy, and the half-time break didn’t change a huge amount either. Stevenage looked like a Phil Parkinson side on a bad day – direct, functional and doing the simple things fine, but not particularly good – and City couldn’t get going. The pattern of midfield scrap, referee’s whistle and another midfield scrap was occasionally broken by a speculative effort from the otherwise quiet Andy Cook, but those efforts generally tested the ability of the cameraman to track the ball as it sailed over rather than the home keeper.
Just after the hour mark the first subs were made, with Billy Clarke and Charles Vernam coming on for Gareth Evans and Kian Scales. Clarke went close almost instantly, getting on to an Andy Cook flick and looping a shot wide, while Vernam went on to the left and linked up quite well with Connor Wood only for Wood to slice the cross behind. Further subs followed, with Cook and Donaldson replaced by Oli Crankshaw and Danny Rowe, swapping the entire front four around in search of that extra spark.
It nearly happened – Vernam’s scuffed ball across was inches away from Crankshaw, and City started to get on top and apply pressure. At the other end, Stevenage had a shot or two blocked but were lucky to keep eleven on the pitch when their sub Matty Stevens appeared to elbow Paudie O’Connor in the face. The ref, so happy to whistle for everything, seemed to have misplaced his red card though, and Stevens got away with a yellow.
In the end, the breakthrough didn’t arrive. There were half-chances – Anthony O’Connor mistimed his jump and headed a Clarke cross wide, Vernam took the ball off Clarke’s toes as he prepared to shoot and Finn Cousin-Dawson, deep in stoppage time, couldn’t quite keep his header down at the far post – but the lack of creativity that has been an issue for much of the season, particularly without Callum Cooke, meant that City weren’t able to get the winner.
City still remain in the chasing pack, albeit five points behind seventh after Newport won against Bolton, and there is still a decent chance due to the sheer inconsistency of this division, but they will need to step up their general performance from today. They cannot afford to give teams a head start, and just aren’t creative enough going forwards to break down teams that sit back.
It’s been a fine run from the bottom to mid table. But to break into the play offs, City will need to go up another gear.
Categories: Match Reviews