Something special is Cook-ing at Bradford City

Bradford City 4
Cook 1, 30 + 38, Canavan 88
Stevenage 1
List 17

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

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16 replies

  1. Excellent report and summed it all up perfectly. I can’t believe how much I enjoyed that match. I didn’t want half time to come and I really cannot remember the last time I thought that. Cook deserved MOM for the hat trick but on another day you could easily pick nearly all of the side for MOM as the whole team were fantastic. Some great crosses from Ridehalgh, Vernam just brilliant, Cooke superb and so on throughout the team – well done lads! Only negative all night for me was Angol taking the pen. I did not feel confident when he grabbed the ball on Saturday but it squeezed in and I didn’t want him to take it tonight either. He doesn’t fill me with confidence from the spot but that’s just my opinion. A big well done to Adams too as he has certainly set his stall out nice and early at Bradford City! Onwards and upwards from here! CTID

  2. A team that creates plenty of chances and tonight took a good number of them. This was an excellent result. Well done City.
    Tonight I learned that this team can score plenty of goals in one game. I previously felt we may struggle for goals a little. Certainly not on this showing.
    Hopefully the positive momentum is building.
    On to the next

  3. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a match at VP as much as that. The 1st half in particular was breathtaking. No weak links, every man knew his job and they simply blew Stevenage away.

    The only thing I would take issue with in your report Jason is that “this is not aesthetically wonderful football”. Maybe I have seen too much dross over recent seasons but to me it IS aestheticaly wonderful football!

  4. Delighted with the confident look of this team. In two home games it’s noticeable that there are few long back passes to the centre backs any more.

    Instead players are dropping in to space better to allow more forward passes to be made and allowing us to attack quickly making the opposition scramble more. So whilst we have less possession we are capable of still being the dominant team by having a greater threat.

    In 4 games this season we have never had less shots than the opposition. We matched Exeter and we ran up far more shots v Championship Forest and both Oldham and Stevenage. Early days but very promising and fun to watch!

    I thought Ridehalgh looks an impressive player. Solid and last night he got forward well looking to get crosses in to the box.

    Vernam was my MOTM too, taking nothing away from the huge display from Cook.

    • Man of the match is very subjective and there was much surprise near us when it was announced on Saturday.

      Having said that I think there would have been even more surprise if the player scoring a 1st half ‘perfect’ hat trick hadn’t got it. Vernam was superb in his best ever game for the club but Cook was a very worthy winner.

    • Interesting with Ridehalgh. He was criticised by Tranmere fans for certain aspects of his game. However he seems to suit Adams style of play a lot more. That’s what is key. Not just signing good players but signing players who suit how you want to play.

  5. An excellent article and a joy to read. Last night’s performance reminds me of Leicester City’s Premiership winning season and clinical counter attacking style of play. A direct style of football played at pace by City is a joy to watch. I thought the 4-4-2 formation with some pace (Angol) beside Cook was quite effective. I also thought Vernam playing wide and Gilliead’s linkup play were very productive.

    77 Shots on goal in City’s first four games is impressive. However, I still have reservations regarding goal scoring. In addition, at this level of play a lot of attacking deficiencies can be masked over. Hopefully, this will be a breakout season for Angol and Vernam. I am absolutely frilled with what I’ve seen so far on the pitch with all the credit going to Adams!!

  6. The only thing I’d take issue with in your report Jason is your statement that “this is not aesthetically wonderful in a technical sense. I’d argue last night was a technical masterclass. Every player’s first touch and passing was excellent. See Angol and Cook’s hold up play, FCD taking down that lovely pass from Watt (I think) on the right wing in the second half. Directness doesn’t necessarily equal lack of precision. The long balls last night were nothing like the McArdle to Hanson diagonals we used to see, or the aimless punts to Vaughan or Doyle. They were deliberate, accurate and the receiving player was immediately supported by teammates.
    I personally think one big reason for this is fitness. Andy Cook looks to have lost a good few pounds, and all the players looked like they could run all night.
    Not being knackered makes a big difference to a players technical ability and concentration, and their ability to follow a well conceived game plan.

    • To be clear I’m not criticising the style of play in any shape or form. When I say ‘aesthetically’ I mean it’s not the sort of passing fancy football you might associate with Pep Guardiola, false number 9s etc. It was a 4 4 2, done as you say incredibly well and long may that continue.

      We play some terrific stuff in the final third but when it comes to our own half it is direct long balls, executed very well. A lot of our goals so far are the result of the ball quickly passed long from our own half.

      There is absolutely no criticism of the style and I don’t want aesthetically pleasing football. It couldn’t be going better so far and long may it continue.

  7. I totally agree with Jason. Adams’ style of football is not for the purists. It’s direct and counterattacking with lots of long balls. Last night, City’s ball possession in the first half was below 40%. City did however dominate the second half and finished with 47% possession. Adams and Parkinson manage a similar game and both ironically have been quite successful in the lower levels of League Football.

  8. The best performance I’ve seen since Rochdale away under Hopkin when city won 4-0.

    I Enjoyed the game and it was an open exciting spectacle with a whole host of chances created by City. A 6 or 7 scoreline would not have flattered city against a club that finished the season strongly and won their opening 3 games. A credit to league 2 and it appears the players are responding to having fans back at Valley Parade and are feeding of the energy.
    An excellent atmosphere last night that drove the team on.

    On attending an Q&A session 2 days before the start of the season and quoting Adams he stated “I will leave the passing around at the back to teams like Manchester City”.

    The man is not phased by possession stats or not having the ball but when we do he likes his teams to get the ball forward quickly, turn teams around and play a high press.

    There was no shortage of skill on show either. Vernam was absolutley outstanding and it was great to see another wide player Crankshaw come off the bench and make the 4th goal from out wide.

    It will be 15 games in to see what Adams is really all about with how this team plays and adapts but it appears he is not afraid to mix and match formations and play a long ball style that has brought sucess throughout his managerial career.

    It’s early days but a very promising start from city that hopefully will deliver a long over due promotion for the club and get us moving in the right direction.

    • I agree with you. 10 to 15 games before we know what we have in players and manager.
      The signs are good so far.
      Against Oldham.maybe we were a tad lucky but in football it is often said you make your own luck.
      Certainly the timewasting tactic of the Oldham keeper feigning injury totally backfired.on them. If I was an Oldham player i would not be happy. They squandered a point with all that. He should have been subbed well.before and didnt seem happy.
      77 chances in the games so far. Did we create that many.all.season last time.out.

  9. Absolutely wonderful. Even now i can feel the pain of the last 4 years falling away. This squad and management will take some beating. I think Derek Adams wants a title and he knows that he could achieve that at City. Already we look like title winners, but prospective champions would turn up and repeat that level of performance most weeks, especially this Saturday having just hit that level already. Win on Saturday and we are likely to be top of League 2 !!

  10. What a great game from start to finish ,after 20 mins or so we dominated the game ,Cook was unplayable what an ovation when he went off. Callum Cooke was every where , and that’s the best I’ve seen Vernam play . All around us were shaking there heads in disbelieve at how quickly this squad is gelling. Defensively we coped ,a bit square at times but soon settled. Gilliad is a better player now ,and some of the football was a joy to watch. I’m with Derek Adams ,get the ball forward get in the box score goals excite the crowd. I for one get bored with passing the ball around and backwards for no apparent reason.
    Onward and upwards ,can’t wait for the next game ,long time since I felt like that.

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