|Bradford City 0|
|Manchester United Under 21s 3|
|Songo’o 47 (OG), Hugill 57, Hoogewerf 82|
By Jason McKeown
It was the margins that proved the most concerning. Manchester United’s talented teenagers put in an assured second half performance that spoke volumes for the future of a football club with a rich tradition of producing young players. But did it really have to look this easy?
For Bradford City, this was a night of precious few positives. More gloom, to add another coat of grey to the clouds settling over the club. No goals, again. A month now since the last victory. And the depth of the squad continues to look too shallow.
Especially with the post-match news that forwards Caolon Lavery and Theo Robinson are likely to miss the weekend’s League Two trip to a resurgent Crawley Town. Tonight was supposed to offer the pair a chance to stake a claim for a starting berth, but Robinson picked up an injury in training and Lavery didn’t survive the warm up.
It was hard to know which was the more troubling sight, watching Alex Gilliead deployed as lone striker, following a last-minute reshuffle, or the second half introduction of Andy Cook – now City’s only fit striker, and who shoulders even more responsibility for reviving the goal-shy Bantams. At least the risking of Cook here didn’t end with him joining Lee Angol, Abo Eisa, Lavery and Robinson on the treatment table.
Cook came on 64 minutes into a contest that by then looked beyond City, following a two-goal Manchester United Under 21s burst at the beginning of the second half. He replaced Jorge Sikora after an evening where the 19-year-old took his place in a youthful Bantams backline that did well on occasions but was ultimately found wanting in crucial moments.
It was heartening to see Sikora, Reece Staunton and midfielder Kian Scales given an opportunity at last, alongside Finn Cousin-Dawson, who made his first appearance since his losing his place when away on international duty. Each had their moments – Staunton’s distribution on the ball was eye-catching at times, and he looked more effective in possession than Facre Kheller – but, ultimately, none of the homegrown quartet did enough to suggest Derek Adams has been wrong to overlook them.
It is a difficult dilemma, and no one – least of all Adams – should write them off on this experience. Having enjoyed runs in the team last season, it can’t have been easy for Staunton and Scales especially to acclimatise to the backwards steps they’ve taken this season. Nevertheless, high standards are badly needed at this club. Ultimately, they need to show more. “We’ve given everyone an opportunity and no one can complain now,” was Adams’ less-than-cryptic assessment.
Perhaps a measure of Scales’ lack of conviction came in those final stages when Cook was leading the line. A rare Manchester United U21 mistake had allowed the City striker to run at goal, from a wide position. Scales broke into the box and had space. Cook should have passed to the teenager – but wrongly chose to go alone, which meant he was closed down and had to hit a shot from a tight angle that was never going to go in. Scales should have berated Cook for not passing, but kept his head down and didn’t say a word.
It doesn’t matter that Cook is his senior. If Scales wants a first team spot, he ultimately has to act like a first team player. And that meant giving Cook a deserved telling off.
It’s little things like that which will concern Adams. Over the 90 minutes Scales showed some good moments and came close to putting City in front in the first half. Can he show that greater confidence? Be aggressive and more demanding of the ball? That’s the bar he must strive to reach.
If Adams won’t be doing cartwheels about the performance of the younger players tonight, he will probably also be concerned that he didn’t get much better from others. Levi Sutton was busy at least, doing a reasonable job staking his name for a place in the starting XI ahead of a struggling Elliot Watt and Gareth Evans. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Yann Songo’o, who is yet to get going since his summer arrival. Perhaps, like Evans a year ago, a disrupted pre-season leaves him playing catch up, but he should be capable of better.
Songo’o inadvertently opened the scoring when, early in the second half, a corner was partially cleared by Sam Hornby but met with a shot from Charlie Savage – son of Robbie – that hit the City midfielder and nestled into the back of the net. 10 minutes later, a mistake by Matty Foulds ended with Joe Hugill bundling home a second goal. In between City had a couple of sights on goal but – predictability – lacked a clinical edge to trouble United stopper Matej Kovar.
Foulds, who was finally making his full City debut, had a difficult night too and almost gifted a third goal with a poor pass. And then late on Songo’o – who was moved to centre back when Sikora was taken off – slipped over and Dillon Hoogewerf ran through to make it 3-0. It was cue for an exodus of home supporters, whilst a 200+ Manchester United away following – who made terrific noise throughout – ramped up the chanting even more. Just like Saturday, the final whistle saw some home boos.
In and amongst Adams’ impressive achievements at Morecambe last season was a notable cup record – they reached the third round of both the League Cup and FA Cup, where they were beaten by Premier League opposition. They did bow out of the Football League trophy at the group stage, but they achieved one notable victory – they won 4-0 against Manchester United U21s.
These are early days into his Valley Parade tenure, but so far Adams has had no success in cup competitions – an important supplement to the league when extra revenue is at stake. It’s not completely over in this trophy for the Bantams this season, but they need quite the goal-swing turnaround in their final group game at Sunderland, in early November, to escape the group.
Concentrate on the league then, and the FA Cup.
Going to Crawley on Saturday, Adams would have at least liked to have emerged from tonight with some genuine selection headaches – but he won’t have much. Oli Crankshaw was bright and deserves more game time than he’s had so far this season, but it’s hard to make a strong case for him starting. Sutton offers food for thought and Staunton might have earned a place on the bench at least; but Adams will likely have to go with the starting XI that underwhelmed against Barrow.
It wasn’t hard to read between the lines of the manager’s post match comments. “The supporters of Bradford City were calling for us to give these players an opportunity. We’ve given them an opportunity and everyone has seen them tonight. We go to Crawley on Saturday and everyone knows we have will have a massively different team from tonight.”
Perhaps the biggest issue, in the short-term, is whether the 4-2-3-1 Adams prefers – where he enjoyed so much success deploying at Morecambe – can work with the personnel he does have available right now. Or if it’s time for the manager to show his pragmatic side, and switch to a system that makes better use of the limited range of tools currently at his disposal.
Six games without a win now. Just two goals in the last 540 minutes. And 11 conceded at the other end. It’s time to work on those margins.
Categories: Match Reviews