|Exeter City 0|
|Bradford City 0|
By Adam Raj
518 long, long days have passed since we last saw Bradford City play in the flesh. It’s been a dour experience following on iFollow, but it’s finally over. The fixture computer wasn’t kind to us whatsoever though sadly. Just the near 600 mile round trip to start arguably the most eagerly anticipated season in the last decade. But that didn’t deter the Bantams faithful. By all means possible – planes, trains and automobiles, the near 700 City fans found their way to Devon. The travelling Bantams were back!
After yesterday’s announcement that Niall Canavan will skipper the side this season, Derek Adams had to answer the other hotly discussed pre season question – Richard O’Donnell or Sam Hornby? The former was the one to get the nod between the sticks as Adams favoured the better shot stopper and more experienced voice. You would assume Hornby would get a chance to stake his claim in midweek’s cup tie at the City Ground.
The remaining spots in the first XI of the season were fairly straight forward picks. Lee Angol was rewarded for his promising pre season form ahead of fellow new signing Abo Eisa in the only real other selection dilemma that was hard to call.
And Angol’s performance backed up his manager’s decision. Playing alongside Andy Cook in a front two ahead of what looked to be a diamond midfield shape, the striker was a handful for the Exeter defence throughout. Many City fans questioned his signing when he first joined the club, myself included. Angol’s goal scoring record since his Peterborough days isn’t something to get the juices flowing. Even the player himself admits he has a real point to prove here.
The striker has bags of talent, that much is obvious. But it’s not hard to see why he has struggled for goals in recent seasons. That composure and confidence in front of goal isn’t really there, and that is the challenge for Adams. Get that back and he will be some player at this level.
City’s first half performance was especially promising. Elliot Watt played a delicious ball in behind for Angol who put too much on the cross across the face of goal for his strike partner Cook. It was an early sight of goal that signalled the Bantams’ intent.
Callum Cooke’s free kick was headed back across goal by Cook only to see it cleared off the line before Angol could tap home. Then Cooke saw a deflected effort well saved by debutant Cameron Dawson in the Exeter goal after some neat interplay by Cook and Alex Gilliead. Angol forced an even better save from Dawson on the rebound when it looked easier to score, but the offside flag saved his blushes.
The home side meanwhile, offered very little. They liked to cross the ball but often without a target in the box to aim at and their play was often in front of the City defence who looked comfortable throughout. O’Donnell wasn’t called into action until stoppage time when he saved well from Jack Sparkes.
The second half was much of the same. Exeter having plenty of the ball but City looking the more dangerous going forwards. They did, at least, make O’Donnell work a bit harder in the second period. Ex City man Timothee Dieng forced a comfortable save early on and then the midfielder hit a rasping shot from outside the area that the City number one did well to deal with.
At the other end, there was plenty of action in front of the travelling army, albeit frustrating. Charles Vernam was a half time substitute for the injured Oscar Threlkeld and made an immediate impact. The winger picked up some really intelligent positions and saw an early left footed effort deflected wide. He then broke with pace down the left flank before teeing up Angol who frustratingly miscontrolled. The striker did well to rescue the situation, beating his man before he sent his shot into the side netting.
Threlkeld’s departure meant a move to right back for Levi Sutton, who had a solid game in both defence and the centre of the park. His superb run into the box saw a strike across goal just go wide past the panicking Dawson.
Sutton’s performance at right back certainly offers encouragement should Threlkeld’s injury be a serious one. He was energetic both in attack and defence and sound in the tackle. You’d probably say he was ahead of Finn Cousin-Dawson in the pecking order in that right back slot now. The young defender failed to even make the bench this afternoon.
City huffed an puffed as the game wore on and started to force the issue at times. They still managed to force some good crossing situations but that finishing touch just wasn’t there this afternoon. Alex Gilliead the guiltiest of that in the closing stages as the ball fell to him on the edge of the six yard box but he failed to connect properly and the hosts managed to scramble away.
City were nearly made to pay as Sparkes’ corner found its way to Nigel Atangana at the back post who somehow missed the ball from two yards out with the goal gaping. It would’ve been extremely harsh if City had lost this one.
Overall, to be disappointed in going away to one of the promotion favourites and only managing a draw on the opening day can only be a good thing. City need to be better, of course, but there were plenty of positives to take from this afternoon’s encounter. Adams’ tactical decision to overload an experienced but leggy Exeter midfield with the diamond shows his tactical nous. Both Dieng and Atangana were booked as they couldn’t live with City’s energetic combinations.
City’s build up play and composure on the ball was good as was their game management. These are all promising signs.
A trip to Nottingham Forest proves to bring a different and much more difficult sort of test on Wednesday, but you can be confident of this City side competing from start to finish. One thing is for sure, it’s great to have football back again and it’s like we’ve never been away!
This match report is the 2,000th article we’ve published on WOAP since our launch in December 2011 – thank you for your ongoing readership and support.
Categories: Match Reviews