|Nottingham Forest 2|
|Bradford City 1|
By Adam Raj
€15m is what Nottingham Forest paid for match winner Joao Carvalho. €15m worth of composure in front of goal was the only difference between the two sides. The Portugal forward’s two calm and precise finishes meant a superb Bradford City showing went unrewarded.
Forest did have a lot of youngsters on show. Their back four was made up entirely of academy players in front of USA international Ethan Horvath. But whilst they may be youngsters, they’ve come through one of the best academy set ups in the country.
City meanwhile made just the single change from the season opener at Exeter with Finn Cousin-Dawson replacing the injured Oscar Threlkeld. Unlike Saturday however, City abandoned the diamond and went back to the trusted 4-2-3-1, with Lee Angol switched to the left wing.
Derek Adams had stuck to his word and took this game very seriously with his team selection.
City, buoyed by the 1,100 strong travelling support, made a flying start to the game. Alex Gilliead twice went close in the opening stages but his best effort could only force a comfortable save from Horvath. Andy Cook then met Callum Cooke’s cross but could only direct his header wide of the target.
The Bantams were getting a lot of joy in the Forest half, with Elliot Watt and Levi Sutton winning most second balls allowing City to sustain their attacks. Forest couldn’t get a kick. Cousin-Dawson received an early yellow card for his overzealous challenge, perhaps showing his inexperience – but it was the only blot on a very impressive early City performance.
That and a head injury forcing Levi Sutton off the field. Abo Eisa replaced the midfielder, as City tried to change to a 4-1-4-1. Gilliead and Cooke formed a central midfield partnership ahead of Watt, with Eisa starting on the right flank. That change allowed the home side to grow into the contest slowly. They had some short and safe passages of play between their back line and midfield, but failed to create anything of note. It was all very comfortable for City.
After that spell of possession for the hosts, City began to pile on the pressure once more. Lee Angol’s thumping effort from distance was well dealt with by Horvath before Cooke’s corner was headed wide by Niall Canavan. But for all that pressure and intensity, City failed to take their chances. And as night follows day, the home side took the lead.
Right back Finn Back’s ball in behind the City defence exposed Liam Ridehalgh’s lack of pace as Philip Zinckernagel ran beyond the left back. The winger’s cut back found Carvalho who confidently opened his foot and guided the ball past Richard O’Donnell into the far corner.
With only seven minutes until the break, City really needed to keep their composure and get to half time. But with a goal against the run of play, Forest grew in confidence and doubled their lead two minutes later. And it was that combination again – Zinkcernagel’s cross field pass to Carvalho found the Forest number 10 in behind the City defence and the former Portuguese U21 international calmly slotted under the on-rushing O’Donnell. Carvalho looked offside at the time but Adams will be disappointed with Eisa’s failure to match the run regardless.
City were shell-shocked as Forest controlled the game until the break. But as the referee blew for half time, it was hard to argue against the scoreline being harsh on the Bantams. For 38 minutes of that first half, City were comfortably the better side.
It would have been easy for Adams to shut up shop at half time and go for the damage limitation approach, many other managers would have done. But City came out all guns blazing in the second half just as they did in the first. City switched to a 4-4-2 with Eisa swapped out to the left flank and Angol pushed up alongside Cook.
It was a tactical change that allowed City to press higher and with more purpose. City essentially went man for man off the ball and forced the home side into playing longer forward balls.
And it was that approach that allowed City to spend the majority of the second half inside the Forest half. Watt won the ball back midway inside their half and fed Cooke who in turn played a superb through ball to set Angol through on goal. His finish was poor however, striking straight at Horvath. It was a chance that summed up City’s evening. Fantastic build up play, but erratic in the finish.
Then, good work from Gilliead in his usual twisting motion drew a free kick 25 yards from goal. Up stepped Cooke who bent the ball around the wall and into the bottom corner. City had their first goal of the season and on the balance of play was the least their efforts deserved . There was lift off in the away end, which was magnificent throughout. Everyone seemed to go up a gear.
There was only one team in it. Cook couldn’t keep his header down from Cooke’s corner before City had a big claim for a penalty. Watt’s ball over the top of the home defence set Angol through in a foot race with Baba Fernandes who dived in to try and win the ball off the City frontman. He got nowhere near the ball and took Angol out. It was a stone wall penalty but the referee wasn’t interested.
It wasn’t the only penalty shout either, as Gilliead’s shot was seemingly blocked by Ryan Yates’ arm, although the referee got that one correct. The defender was too close to the City winger to have known anything about it.
It seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Bantams somewhat. That and the home players dropping like flies certainly didn’t help City keep up the momentum. The nine minutes of added time tells you just how busy the Forest physios were kept in that second half. Eisa and Cook went close with long range efforts, but City didn’t really test Horvath in the closing stages.
Just like with the draw on Saturday, City can feel disappointed not to come away with victory. The Bantams were bang up for it and put in a performance that deserved more. But ultimately if you don’t take your chances, you leave yourself open to defeat.
And a special mention to the City support. The away end was one of, if not the best in years. There wasn’t a single fan who stopped singing all night and it was clear the players fed off that noise and passion.
Even in defeat, you can only feel proud having watched a performance like that.
Categories: Match Reviews