|Bradford City 2|
|Gilliead 37, Cook 75 (pen)|
Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)
The rain never stopped but the storm never came. After a week of fierce criticism and heavy soul-searching, this felt like a pivotal, pressure cooker of an afternoon for Bradford City. But against grim weather they survived the risk of slip ups to earn a huge three points. And with it the pressure eases.
The look on Andy Cook’s face, as he raced towards the Kop to celebrate scoring a 75th minute penalty that sealed victory, betrayed the true feelings of the players. It was a look of angry defiance, mixed with relief. A world away from the care-free days of August, where Cook and team mates were full of cheeky confidence.
This goal mattered to Cook, and this win clearly meant much to all his team mates. Questions have been asked and the gauntlet laid down to this squad. Derek Adams’ decision to publicly lambast the players after last week’s defeat to Crawley was always going to make this an interesting public viewing of their response.
Are they playing for this manager? Are they committed to this club? They showed real steel here in answering these questions. And it’s not often, over the past four years, we’ve been able to say that about Bradford City players.
In truth, it was not a wholly convincing recovery. Rochdale – managed by Robbie Stockdale, three years after he turned down Edin Rahic’s overtures to become head coach of the Bantams – brought plenty to a watchable contest. Dale’s 3-4-3 formation presented plenty of challenges to City defensively, and the margins between victory and defeat were tight. Not for the first time this season for the Bantams, this was partly a story of missed chances.
35 minutes into the contest, and with Dale having enjoyed a decent five minute spell on top, a good visiting move left them with an overload in the box and Abraham Odoh with an easy chance. He somehow scooped the ball over the bar when it seemed easier to hit the target.
Moments later, City scored.
Charles Vernam – who was excellent on his return from injury – got away from his marker and cut inside. He fed the ball to Levi Sutton, who sent a powerful low effort at goal. The Dale goalkeeper, Joel Coleman, could only palm the ball away, and Alex Gilliead was on hand to smash home his first Bradford City goal since rejoining the club.
In the second half Rochdale missed even more presentable opportunities. Twice Danny Cashman was left with a clear sight of goal. Twice he blew it by shooting wide of the goal. Jake Beesley also headed over a good first half chance. Rochdale would record 15 shot on goal, but only one on target.
It’s a story Adams will be able to relate to.
City missed good chances too, but crucially added a second late in the second half when Sutton broke into the box and was illegally hauled to the floor. Cook netted the penalty for his first goal in over a month, and suddenly Valley Parade is a happier place to be again.
Adams will take a lot of positives from this. He got a reaction from his players, who showed their desire and bravery to succeed. He instigated a slight tactical shift that saw Vernam given greater licence to get higher up the park to support Cook, and it succeeded largely because Callum Cooke was instructed to provide cover on the left to make up for Vernam vacating that space.
He also got two honest performances from players who have struggled for opportunities. Yann Songo’o replaced Fiacre Kelleher at centre back and did well. He was not brilliant in the air, but offered what Kelleher has been lacking in terms of good distribution on the ball and an excellent reading of the game in judging when to make a tackle. He also supported attacks by pushing into midfield at times. It was a strong performance that helped City achieve their first clean sheet since the opening day of the season.
In front of him, Sutton was excellent with a whole hearted display full of box to box running. Sutton’s passing can let him down at times, but his energy drove City on. His performance made a mockery of Adams’ previous persistence in picking Gareth Evans in front of him.
These players slotted in well alongside regulars who improved their game on recent weeks. Elliot Watt’s man of the match award from the sponsors was curious, but he protected the back four well – he just needs to learn when to play it calm rather than seemingly always looking to attempt a Hollywood ball. Paudie O’Connor was also much better, going some way to ease concerns he becomes half the player when he’s not lining up alongside a more senior central defensive partner.
Cook and Cooke again didn’t hit the heights of last season, but both will get better. Cook is lacking service and seems to be coming deeper for the ball compared to how Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars tactically lined him up last season. You want to see him in the penalty box more often. Hopefully that will come.
The two full backs – Oscar Threlkeld and Liam Ridehalgh – had it tough. Rochdale’s 3-4-3 saw them repeatedly doubled up on, as the blue shirts found lots of space behind Vernam and Gilliead. At times it didn’t look clever for both full backs, but they stuck at it and got through the game undamaged.
As did the whole team. They will probably play better and lose this season, but with confidence low and pressure high they found a way to win and for that they deserve huge credit.
They couldn’t afford more slip ups and to concede further ground on the early season pace setters. And so the storm clouds pass, at least for now. Whether this victory is a turning point remains to be seen. But it is certainly a big improvement on recent weeks, and that at least is a start.
Categories: Match Reviews