|Bradford City 4|
|Cook 1, 30 + 38, Canavan 88|
Written by Jason McKeown (images John Dewhirst)
The Stevenage right back, Luther James-Wilding, could have been forgiven if he spent the half time interval on his phone, looking up train times from Bradford Forster Square to Hertfordshire. In a torrid first half, the 23-year-old was absolutely destroyed by a sensational performance from Bradford City’s Charles Vernam, as the confident Bantams ran into an unassailable lead. And it must have taken some courage not to flee Valley Parade for the next train home, and instead come out for the second half to face further torment.
The one consolation for James-Wilding, perhaps, was that he was in good company amongst his shell-shocked Stevenage team-mates. The visitors simply could not live with an on-song Bradford City side who thrilled another healthy home crowd with a display of purpose, drive and no little skill. This was a real statement victory that showcased City’s considerable promotion credentials. They ripped apart and demoralised a promising Stevenage side through a display brimming with quality.
Stevenage could not cope with City’s greater physicality, nor find the answers to a Bantams gameplan that played on the weaknesses of the team in purple shirts. It must have been especially chastening for their manager, Alex Revell, who prior tonight had seen his charges concede just two goals in their last 11 away matches.
It was telling, in many ways, that the still-rookie Revell came unstuck against Adams after the Bantams’ manager had talked disparagingly, pre-match, about up and coming managers who like to play out from the back. “Do you have to pass your ball inside your own six-yard box to get a goal?” Adams stated. “The answer’s no, but this is sometimes the way the world goes and as a coach or manager you have to be seen to play out from the back to be seen as a super coach. We’re going to see coaches that have come through from youth level into first team management quickly find themselves out of a job.”
Revell got his chance managing Stevenage after leading their under 18s side, so could be forgiven if he felt the target of these comments. Although in the same press conference, Adams revealed he gets on well with Revell – meaning it was highly unlikely to be a personal attack. Still, given Revell is making a name for himself by getting Stevenage to play a short passing style of football, such comments might have looked foolish had City lost.
There was no danger of that after a powerful 45 minutes. The experienced City boss proved his point emphatically, through a tactical performance that showed up the shortcomings of Stevenage ideals of playing out from the back. City simply terrorised Stevenage with a high tempo first half display that left them desperate for the half time whistle. And they punished Stevenage with three brilliant goals from Andy Cook – the first City player to score a hat trick since Charlie Wyke nearly four years ago.
Cook had yet to get off the mark this season; but he made up for lost time in under a minute by flicking a long ball onto Lee Angol, who fed Vernam out-wide to pass to Liam Ridehalgh. The summer signing from Tranmere swung over a delicious hanging cross that Cook powerfully headed home.
Stevenage did show some composure not to cave in and they grew into the match. When Elliot List drilled home an equaliser in front of the Kop in the 17th minute, it was a fair reward for their adventurous passing style that saw them attempt to stretch City’s backline. They might even have gone in front, with Luke Norris causing problems and List’s pace a threat.
But, just like against Oldham on Saturday, this Derek Adams Bradford City side do not get concerned by spells chasing the ball. Like a wily old boxer, they wait patiently for the opportunity to strike a blow. And, when it comes, they seize their moment.
It was no surprise, knowing this, to see Vernam suddenly tripped in the box by the hapless James-Wildin and the Bantams awarded a penalty. Angol – who only just scored his stoppage time spot kick on Saturday – again assumed responsibility. This time his penalty was too slow and saved by the impressive Joseph Anang, on loan from West Ham. No matter. From the resulting corner, the ball was played short to Vernam, who’s cross was deflected to Cook, and the City number nine executed a well-placed low shot that nestled into the bottom corner of the net.
2-1 soon became 3-1, as Finn Cousin-Dawson – much improved tonight – cleared a Stevenage attack by launching the ball forwards. Cook latched onto defensive hesitancy to nip in and prod the ball forwards, before he ran on and chipped the ball over Anang to complete a perfect hat trick. What a talent Cook is. The perfect number 9 for this type of football. Over the 90 minutes, Cook won an astonishing 22 aerial challenges. The beleaguered Stevenage centre half, Terrance Vancooten, couldn’t get near him. He was completely browbeaten by a sensational Cook.
There were seven minutes to half time and City were absolutely electric. Stevenage’s play-from-the-back plan was in tatters. They could not live with City’s high press, and the speed at which the home side countered forward in large numbers. The straight 4-4-2 Adams deployed was not perfect – it doesn’t fully suit Callum Cooke’s strengths of charging forwards, and a lack of a ball winner in the middle allowed Stevenage to easily charge through on occasions. But it did set City up for a dominant approach that had Stevenage pinned back.
No one is more liberated by the formation than Vernam. Asked to play as a left winger and simply run at people, the 24-year-old was unplayable. If Cook’s hat trick left no room for doubt over who was the star performer, Vernam producing one of the best non-man of the match performances you will ever see. He looks such an intelligent player and there is a purpose behind everything he does. Poor James-Wilding, somehow having to stop him.
The second half began with the same high energy attacking display from City, who were in no mood to offer Stevenage any crumbs of encouragement that they could come back. The loss of composure and confidence in the visitors was stark – they were a shadow of the team they threatened to be in the first 30 minutes. Utterly deflated by the clinical exposure of their shortcomings.
With Alex Gilliead becoming more influential with his running and link up play, Cooke driving forward in excellent fashion, and Elliot Watt assured in possession, City looked ruthless. They win so many second balls, and no sooner had Stevenage cleared their lines the next City attack was shaping up. As soon as the ball is in the opposition half, the Bantams will pass it around to find openings – all at frantic pace.
With two minutes to go, the gloss was applied by Niall Canavan’s first ever goal for the club, after a corner was half cleared and substitute Oli Crankshaw produced some excellent trickery before laying on a cross for the City captain to head home. And with Mansfield Town conceding a stoppage time penalty equaliser at Colchester, the Bantams leapt above the Stags to go second in the fledgling league table, ahead of an exciting trip to Field Mill on Saturday.
This was a terrific night from City. Arguably their best performance since slumping back to League Two. And it was a big early marker to suggest they are capable of climbing back out of the fourth tier this season. That the pieces are there to construct a credible promotion push.
But more than anything it is an early demonstration of the ability of Adams to revive Bradford City. It is already becoming clear that he has implemented a coherent way of playing that the players seem to understand and are bought into. And it is an approach that can prove popular with a demanding Bradford City crowd.
This is not aesthetically wonderful football in the technical sense of outpassing opposition from back to front. We are direct. We are physical. We get the ball forwards as quickly as possible. We tackle hard and we rely heavily on set pieces. We have less of the ball than the opposition (47% tonight, which was at least higher than the 35% on Saturday).
But it’s anything but boring. This is not Peter Taylor’s cautious pragmatic style, or Gary Bowyer’s defensive approach. 77 shots on goal in the first four games. With a lot of thought and intelligence behind the efforts, rather than wild pot shots. Attack after attack. Flair players given clear instructions to take opposition players on and do things that get the crowd off their seats. Excellent link up play in the final third. As Adams explained before the game, “I look at how many final third entries do we get, how many penalty box entries did we get, how many chances did we create, how many shots on target. These are the stats that I need to get a goal, I don’t need 200 passes in my own half.”
It’s relatable football. The sort that, deep down, many of us at Valley Parade love. From the miserable old men who seem to prowl every Valley Parade block yelling “foooorrrrwwwwwaaaarrrrddddd!”, to younger fans who just want to feel excited, this is effective lower league football that you can enjoy because it is front-footed, confident and you can’t take your eyes off it. There’s a lot to be said for getting it in the mixer.
It’s like going to get a takeaway at the end of a night out, and splashing out on doner kebab, a huge pizza or a tray of cheesy chips. Sure, it’s not fine dining, but it’s going to taste absolutely amazing and hit the spot. Enhancing your mood and leaving you with a smile when you wake up the next morning, wishing you could eat it all over again. Revel in the grease!
Who knows if it can be successful over a full season, but right now it feels like a Bradford City moving closer to connecting with its public, after a troubled few years. It is a group of players you can fall in love with, feel excited to turn up and watch, and share in their triumph when they succeed. A squad that has the potential to become the next set of Bradford City heroes.
All of which is led by Adams, and his single minded obsession with winning. Listening to his pre-match criticisms of young managers (or “super coaches”) for their preference of style over results, and indeed his strange dig at Exeter City last week, who he accused of not wanting to get promoted, it’s evident that Adams has no time or tolerance for people who aren’t as committed to winning as he is. He looks down on others who value different qualities over three points on a Saturday, and it is clear that he is imprinting this winning mentality onto Bradford City – a club who has lost its way for some time.
It all sets City up for a hugely exciting season. The next game can’t come fast enough, and it’s been a while since we could feel this confident about our club.
Categories: Match Reviews