A night of regrets as Bradford City fail to take up big opportunity to close the play off gap

Bradford City 0
Crawley Town 2
Tunnicliffe 20, McNerney 86

By Jason McKeown

This was not a lethal blow to Bradford City’s play off chances, but it was certainly a missed opportunity. On an evening where each and every one of their immediate top seven rivals dropped points, the Bantams stumbled too. Enduring a first home defeat since December, just as the congested road to promotion had opened up for them to accelerate through.

They will kick themselves and right so. Whilst Crawley Town’s energetic and determined display shows there are no free hits in League Two, the fact remained the Red Devils were winless in seven matches, and had picked up just five points from 27 on the road since early January.

It was a result to rip up the form book. And with games beginning to run out to make the play offs, for City the margins of error have now significantly reduced.

In truth, City played better here than they had in their fortuitous victory over Grimsby Town over the weekend. The home side recorded 20 shots on goal – by some distance the highest amount in a game since Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars took the reins almost four months ago to the day. There were enough what-if moments to suggest City could have won, which would have lifted them to one point and one place below the top seven. But instead, they remain marooned in 12th, with four points and four clubs sandwiched between themselves and the play off dotted line.

Regret will be the overriding emotion. Not least after 20 minutes, when after half clearing a corner, Gareth Evans lost sight of former Bantam Josh Wright, who ran in behind him to latch onto a pass and send over a brilliant cross into the box. Paudie O’Connor and Finn Cousin-Dawson were guilty of giving Jordan Tunnicliffe too much space, which the Crawley centre half profited from by timing his leap to perfection and powering a terrific header into the top corner of Richard O’Donnell’s goal.       

It was a huge moment. Crawley Town’s middle-of-the-road season has already ensured they’ll barely get a mention when the 2020/21 League Two season is looked back on in future years. But they do have the fifth best record in the division when it comes to picking up points after scoring first.

A side who had only scored one goal in their last four games – and that was a 90th minute consolation when 3-0 down at home to Oldham – had a confidence fillip. And they had a gameplan ideally suited to defending a slender lead by sitting back, disrupting the tempo and playing on the counter.

City will argue – with huge justification – that the man who laid on the goal shouldn’t even have still been on the field. Josh Wright will be more grateful than most that his first return to Valley Parade came with no fans present to boo his every touch. But his obvious determination to prove a point saw him seemingly cross the line barely two minutes in, when he contested for a high ball with Charles Vernam and caught the City winger in the face with a flying elbow.

Referee Martin Coy – who all evening long tried to ensure the game flowed – pulled out a yellow card for Wright. The relative earliness of the encounter probably saved Wright from a red card, but it’s a pretty feeble defence for Coy not sending him off. Wright was incredibly lucky to stay on the field, and it meant he could go onto provide an assist for Tunnicliffe.

But although Crawley’s opener was against the early run of play, there was a nagging feeling that City had failed to fully grasp the initiative, because they were performing at such a slow tempo. Eliot Watt did have an early shot comfortably saved by Glenn Morris, and Anthony O’Connor spurn a clear chance when Paudie O’Connor found him free in the box, but City were too passive. “We can’t start the way we started today and expect a positive result,” admitted Trueman after the game. “We lacked intensity.”

When you’ve achieved the sort of results the Bantams have over the last four months, the virtues of slow and steady winning the race have been justified time and time again. But not for the first time, the idea of taking more risk by playing in a higher gear appeared to offer tantalising rewards.

Tonight, City were made to pay for their conservatism. They were left with 70 minutes to come back from 1-0 down and they gave it a good go, but the 4-2-3-1 formation is evidently less suited to chasing a game. Spells of pressure were sporadic rather than consistent. The Bantams struggled to muster wave after wave of attack. A promising few minutes of attacking play would give way to long pauses of nothingness, as Crawley regained their footing.

Part of the issue is the wide players in the three behind the lone striker. It has been a feature we’ve highlighted on WOAP before that, whoever has been chosen to play in these roles, they’ve delivered little in the way of goals and assists.

The two wide players are not expected to hug the touchline and get in crosses – largely because there is only one striker in the box to aim at. They are limited in effectiveness when going narrow, at least on the right, because there is no full back overlapping. They don’t get beyond the striker. And as Evans showed tonight with the first goal, they don’t always provide brilliant defensive cover.

What they do reasonably well is link up with the number 10 and the two holding midfielders, to create triangles of possession. And when City don’t have the ball, they maintain a good shape by dropping slightly deeper. Steady, but not spectacular. The wide players are doing a job for the team, without question, but their roles aren’t significantly contributing to City’s attacking prowess.

It would be easy to blame this on the players – Evans and the young Kian Scales this evening – but we’ve seen Charles Vernam, Oli Crankshaw, Billy Clarke and Jordan Stevens equally struggle to make a strong attacking impression when selected. It is not a concidence that none of them have offered a great deal in end product, it is a consequence of the wider system that – overall – works well.

All of which suggests that, in such circumstances of City needing to wrestle control of the tempo and force sustained pressure, they needed a different way of playing. Yet over the 90 minutes, the five substitutions made by Trueman and Sellars were basically like-for-like. There was no move to commit more bodies forward, at least not until deep into stoppage time when Paudie O’Connor was pushed up front.

Questioning the lack of Plan B is – frankly – a boring and tedious route to go down. Every Bradford City manager I’ve ever known has faced the ‘No Plan B’ accusation at some stage. And, unlike the vast majority of Bradford City managers I’ve seen over more than two decades, these two have a brilliant Plan A – one that has delivered exceptional results.

But, sadly, tonight showed a one-dimensional aspect to the Bantams’ approach. And if the brilliant progress of the past four months is to continue to the next level, at some point they’re going to need to successfully deploy other formations. The sight of Danny Rowe being replaced with Andy Cook, rather than going with two up front, was underwhelming. Cook has been excellent overall since signing in January, but he failed to make any impact against a deep-lying Crawley defence – he was starved of service.

That all said, on another night, the number of openings City created over the 90 minutes would have led to an equaliser, giving them a platform to go on and win the game. Just before half time, Rowe – who was curiously subdued early doors – came to life and had two dangerous efforts at goal that flew just over. Anthony O’Connor narrowly failed to get onto a Finn Cousin-Dawson flick on that would have meant a tap in. And right on half time, Watt hit a shot wide of the goal.

Early in the second half, Cousin-Dawson got free of his marker to meet a delightful Vernam cross, but he planted his header just wide. Evans saw a long range effort narrowly fly over the bar, and Morris made a brilliant save from Vernam.

With seven minutes to go, Clarke sent an excellent ball through to fellow sub Clayton Donaldson, who produced a stunning dipping volley that smacked off the woodwork. That was City’s best moment, on a night where they created plenty of chances.

“In the second half we looked more like us,” added Trueman. And he was right. But sometimes, the ball just doesn’t go in. For a club that has managed the fine margins so well, tonight was one of those nights where those narrow moments went against them.

Crawley sealed an unlikely three points with four minutes to go, after Jack Powell sent over a free kick that Joe McNerney powered home with barely a challenge. The two O’Connors angrily led the inquest over how the goal had been allowed to happen. It didn’t help that the free kick was conceded in the first place by Donaldson, with a crude challenge out wide that earned a yellow card. For a player with such valuable experience, this was a moment of rashness that betrayed his normally cool character.

In any end of season run in, there are twists and turns. The weight of expectation can do strange things to the form guide. This was a defeat out of keeping with what we’ve seen under Trueman and Sellars since December; but they will hope that it sharpens minds and deepens the resolve in the dressing room. “Now it’s about sticking together and showing our character,” declared Trueman.

City have come so far, in such a relatively short space of time, that simply having this shot at making the play offs is a bonus. But having worked so hard to reach this healthy position, this management team and group of players surely won’t want to quickly pass up this-still-glorious opportunity to earn promotion.  

There are six games left. Six games to try to ensure that tonight is not looked back upon with any lingering regret.   

Categories: Match Reviews

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19 replies

  1. Andy kiwomya gets a lot of critics complaining about his commentary, ( i have grown to love it btw, so much better than an out of town cold media trained expert), yet his post match comments were spot on. None more so than the fact that the sole striker role does not suit the strengths of none of the 3 strikers available. Only possibly Novak when available suits the lone striker role. Rowe comes deep yep, but thats his game. Surely the management duo see that? A few weks ago they brought on Donaldson on behind Rowe and that to me s the clearly the wrong way round.

    BTW the team was wrong form the start, To say as Trueman did post match that he doesn’t want to risk injuries with less than a potential 10 games to go? and then to stumble when he was asked why he doesn’t go 2 up top give effectively the same reason. Really? Well we lost and the starting team was wrong imo. Is Scales better than what was on the bench? Really? He is young and i do not want to single him out but apart from a great goal he has barely done anything in every game he has been involved in. Is he better than Crankshae, Donaldson, Clarke?? They pick the team and the ethos of how we play. To complain about our slow start after the event is forgetting how they set us up to play i.e. safety first. They have both got results to get us in this position but it is now disappointing to see that with nowt to lose they are so negative in approach. It is also worrying going forward that despite options they continue with the same approach again and again, even when it is clearly not working.

  2. After all these years of watching Bradford City you would think that I should be able to accept disappointments, but sadly not!
    Huge opportunity missed tonight, which perhaps reflects the fact that there’s little difference between nearly all the teams in L2.
    The big enigma for me is offensively and how T&S can get the best out of Danny Rowe, who I feel has much to offer as a goal threat, particularly at this level.
    Whatever the remaining 6 games hold in store and I’m sure there will be some inevitable ups and downs we must not forget where we were in December and ultimately look forward to the challenge of next season, albeit in L2 or L1 😉

  3. A fair assessment. A very frustrating and hard watch yet again. It appears that T&S have no confidence in letting this team move further up the field and still need 2 defensive midfielders lying deep to protect the back four as protective blanket to keeping things tight. Tried and tested.

    The wide players are also very deep but as you rightly point out Evans didn’t go with the runner for the goal and he offers so little going forward. Donaldson our best player in the last 4 games was relegated to the bench. Why? Rowe is brought in as the lone striker who drops deep and wide but there’s no support or service for him from wide areas.

    Very frustrating tactics for a team needing a victory. For Rowe to be affective he has to be facing goal in and around the box. He is not a lone front man and requires a partner to play off to getvthe best from him. Crawley, no win eight games is a common theme where city need to start on the front foot against a club lacking results and we seem to struggle to get onto the front foot and create good opportunities. Instead we surrender possession and give a team on a loosing streak the upper hand.

    The style is so similar to Parkinson and Bowyer who set up to contain and go a goal up then defend and look to win the 3 points. That’s great but when push comes to shove this will only take you so far.

    If city do reach the play offs a more adventurous style is needed or at least a different style to go that step further. Its difficult to be critical of the management team given the results gained but the play offs look out of the reach of this team.

    I’d like to see T&S go for a different formation for the remaining games and be more adventurous. The management duo have negotiated our survival and surely its time to to be more attack minded formation and go for broke in the last 6 games?

    • I agree with your last point. Finishing 8th means nothing. I also agree that the management duo have done a fantastic job and deserve credit. Unfortunately they have what appears a stubborn reluctance to change their ethos of team formation and tactics. There are regular under performers who are pick week in week out. I know there some limitations with key players unavailable. Unfortunately, those available are played in a position that’s not suited to them. Good players out of position does not improve their form. The remaining matches should be used as an opportunity to change to a formation which creates more goal scoring opportunities. Strikers should not be left isolated they should have back up. We have nothing to lose. Let’s go for it.

  4. Rowe’s strength is in and around the box getting shooting chances. Playing him deep and wide is virtually keeping him out of the game. We must be more adventurous in the remaining games looking to win rather than looking not to lose.Still in with a shout let’s be positive.

  5. For all the madness this season has thrown up not just for City but results everywhere in every league it really wouldn’t surprise me if we ended up getting promoted! There I’ve said it….tonight a chance missed for sure but I still think we’ve got enough to scrap on to get a few more results. You only need to be 3 points behind (GD obviously realistic as well) with 1 game left to get over the line. As with our promotion season in League 2 last time it’s as though nobody wants to win all of a sudden! The final 3 games will see different approaches by every team to get the job done. T+S are still learning as managers it’s what we would expect no matter what level. They also are working with one arm behind their back with the players available to them. I do agree on the tactical comments etc and 2 up top yes. For me Danny R unfortunately slows the game down more than speeds it up which is a concern. I’m sure he’s being given advice to do things better and differently but is he adaptable at 32 with the ego of a goal scorer he will always no better I’m sure. He needs runners going beyond him when he gets it but must look up and think ..ah it’s just me then and sigh! Anyway we fought and tried and it wasn’t happening but keep the faith for another week which in itself is truly remarkable that come the 17 April we are still in with a shout at all!
    As I said it’s a mad season and come end of play Saturday we could still be 1 point behind play offs with 5 games left!

  6. There are always slips between cup and lip.
    I was persuaded by your “we need to get 20 points from the last 10 matches” theory.
    Going by that, what last night means is that we can only afford to lose one more match.

  7. A night of naivety more like – both on and off the pitch.

    Management duo made major blunder not starting with strongest most experienced side possible at this stage of the season given what’s potentially at stake – and don’t give me the rest / fatigue argument – Donaldson not played half the season so he can’t be fatigued – there’s only 6 games to go – surely they can manage that!!!

    And then we should that inexperience on the pitch by giving away stupid silly free kicks every 2 minutes that disrupted play and allowed Crawley to make the most of any hand in the back or tap on the ankle – utterly stupid – and don’t go blaming the ref either!!

    We’ve not been at the races at the beginning of a game for ages now – managed to get away with it for a while but teams like Crawley and Grimsby have sussed us out – Grimsby was a fluke to win that game given the stats too!!

    Ah well least it’s over now – always was a tall order really to make the play offs.

  8. To echo the comments with regard to DR we have to be getting him more possession in the attacking third as player who can create consistently from apparently nothing situations. There seemed to be an admission from MT post match that tactically we were constrained by the type of players we have in the squad. Hopefully next season we will see some flexibility.

  9. Fair enough article, I agree on most points.

    I am in a minority though because I thought we played well last night. We wouldn’t have scored if we’d still been playing now, but not for the lack of opportunity. Rowe had two good shots and several close moments, AOC with a bit of composure should have scored, Vernam shot was a brilliant save, FCD missed a sitter, another good save at the end, Donaldson hit the bar – lots and lots of chances.

    Josh Wright should have been sent off after 2 minutes – no two ways about it – the ref saw it, he stood him aside to send him off as they do, then for some reason bottled it. Then failed to give any fouls in the second half. Donaldson must have hand prints in his back from the number of times he was pushed. However, the ref didn’t cost us the game.

    Crawley are a good side. I had them and Salford as favourites to go up. Unfortunately for them instead of concentrating on football and playing Leeds off the park, they decided to engage in gimmicks like signing celebrities. From that moment, their season started to slide – unfortunately last night, they showed they are still decent and Josh Wright showed City for 88 mins that he can actually play football – unfortunately for him he then spoiled it with his twitter antics – shame for the lad that he feels the need to do this!

    I’m also going to pick up on the commentary – whilst his pre and post match analysis is fine, Kiwomya is not a commentator. “He’s in, he’s in” – he’s a supporter and he shouldn’t be anywhere near the microphone. It’s entertaining when you’re winning and you can laugh at him but last night his moronic comments were irritating to say the least.

    So 2 games in 4 days and they were criticised for playing poorly and winning AND then criticised for playing better and losing – which would you take next game?

    • Let’s not mess about ,poor team selection ,poor subs no plan B very negative ,every game is now is a cup final you have done the hard work we are safe from going down .Now let the dogs out ,surprise the opposition go on the attack ,the opposition have worked us out ,the top manager will react stop been so predictable, take my advise go for 442 formation, the fans will back you all the way ,if we fail at least we give it ago .

    • Agree that the performance was ok without being outstanding – certainly in the second half. Clarke and Donaldson made me eat my post Grimsby comment as I thought the team played a lot better after they came on.

      Disagree about AK. I know he’s a marmite commentator but I like the fact he’s a fan and enjoy the ‘Kiwonyaisms’ on social media post match! It’s like he’s won a raffle to commentate on the game – he’s one of us!

  10. A decent assessment Jason but the Josh Wright incident which you mentioned at great length is a smokescreen. Andy Carroll would do that all afternoon , and had we won the game it wouldn’t have rated a mention. No doubt the Crawley bench would have thought justifiably, that the Donaldson tackle merited the same. And our pathetic performance against the ten men of Grimsby showed that we probably wouldn’t have beaten Crawley either. I’m afraid our problems lie deeper than worrying whether the referee has been “kind” to us or not.

  11. A frustrating watch, although it is worth noting that we did have a lot of shots and could have equalised but for the Width of a Post or if A O’connor had been aware he could have taken a touch and then shot rather than swinging at the ball with his left; it never felt like we were going to score due to our inability to dominate the game. Also, we never seem to work the goalkeeper, the only 2 difficult saves he made were from Vernam’s shots.

    To help us go up a level, a dominant and aggressive midfielder leader is needed in the summer, it might be a cliché signing request, but, we were bullied across the middle of the park. Crawley looked more aggressive and were able to bully our midfield which meant we struggled to play through them.

    Sutton made a good impact when he came on, with his energy, drive and aggression but not sure of his ability to be vocal and manage others.

    I echo the calls for T&S to be braver and go for it in games more, it would be great to see 2 up top and 2 wingers having people to cross too. I respect they may feel that their best chance of winning is to stick with the formation that has got us in this position but they must be aware we aren’t hurting teams enough and creating enough good chances.

    They’ve got a contract for next year and have a lot of goodwill from fans and the club, so surely they can take the risk to be more open and got for it in at least a couple of these coming games.

  12. This report articulates the benefits and issues of the set up far better than I could. When we play the 4-2-3-1 formation, we have good shape in and out of possession. When played well, we have options for the man on the ball and we don’t leave gaps for the opposition. However a drawback is that it restricts our attacking midfielders, leaves our one striker a little isolated and is quite conservative when we need to chase the game, like last night.

    The like-for-like changes last night didn’t do enough to shake up the game because the players remained constrained by the formation. Second half I would have liked to seen Vernam and Crankshaw on the wings, with the full backs helping to overlap. There would be more space behind us but this would allow us to break into space, and get bodies ahead of Rowe/Cook in support. With Rowe as a roving lone striker, we often have no one in the box to play in towards. With FCD at full back, we miss the attacking intent that Wood offers on the other flank.

    I feel we could see bigger changes in the summer than most expect. Assuming the loan players all return to their parent clubs (Cook being the only possible returner), and for a variety of reasons (money, age, manager’s preference, injuries, and in Wood’s case ambition) I’d be surprised if any of A O’Connor, Clarke, Wood, Donaldson, Novak, Ismael or Pritchard signed back on. Last night feels like the door closing on this year’s playoff chance, which is a shame because none of the teams from 4th-8th are in great form or are anything to be scared of.

    • Wouldn’t be surprised to see Novak offered another contract.

      • A risky one though if we don’t make the contract based on actual game time. He has missed big chunks for both of the last 2 managers. We have missed him though as i think that he is the only one who can successfully operate as a loan striker, the others ideally all need a partner.

      • I’ve a lot of time for the ability of Lee Novak, but 400 league games have taken their toll and, at 32 years old, recovery from injury and, recurrence, is the result. It would be too much of a risk.

        As I posted a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think we’ve even got the nucleus of a side that could survive in League One even if we did mange to get promoted. A lot of us got excited with the wholesale changes in the January window. No argument that the outgoings were good business, but the signings haven’t really fulfiiled expectations – Canavan and Cook apart.

        It’s all gone a bit flat again!

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