Stalemate in Wales further reminder of Bradford City’s lack of squad depth

Newport County 0
Bradford City 0

By Tim Penfold

Bradford City will feel fortunate to be coming back from Newport with a point today, after a second half display which highlighted the lack of depth within this squad. Derek Adams made some tactical changes that didn’t pay off, but could point to a lack of options on his bench which forced his hand.

City lined up unchanged from the win over Rochdale, with Yann Songo’o again partnering Paudie O’Connor at the back and a midfield trio of Elliot Watt, Levi Sutton and Callum Cooke. The only real surprise was that there was no keeper on the bench, with Sam Hornby either dropped or injured.

It was a bright start from the visitors, and their best chance of the entire game was their first one – Alex Gilliead slipped the ball through to Andy Cook but his shot lacked the power to beat the keeper. Newport, however, instantly threatened on the counter, and won a corner that City struggled to clear, with the away defence making several important blocks.

Neither side could establish full control over the game early on – City had plenty of territory, but the final ball was lacking at times, with one low cross from Sutton flashing across the six yard box whilst Cook and Gilliead stood waiting for a pull-back instead. Newport, however, threatened on the counter and came into the game towards the end of the half – O’Connor and Songo’o both made vital challenges to prevent the home forwards from running in on goal.

It was a half that threatened to become a good game without ever quite managing it – both sides having half-openings but not turning them into clear chances, and the game swinging from end to end. In one of these half-chances, Newport midfielder Ed Upson headed over then collided with Oscar Threlkeld, with both players staying down and requiring treatment. Both looked to be able to continue but had to be replaced at half-time, and with hindsight this was the most significant moment of the half.

The obvious backup for Threlkeld is Finn Cousin-Dawson, but he was on international duty with Northern Ireland Under-21s, so the next best option in the squad was Levi Sutton. However, moving him to right back meant that there was suddenly a big hole in the midfield. 

The like-for-like replacement on the bench was Gareth Evans, but his form this season has been underwhelming, while Kian Scales might’ve been an option if Adams had any faith in our younger players. Another option would’ve been to move Songo’o up to the middle and bring on either Fiacre Kelleher or Reece Staunton at centre-back – however, that would further disrupt a defence that was already likely to lose some cohesion with Threlkeld going off.

What Adams decided to do instead was to bring on Theo Robinson, and switch the system to 4-4-2. Callum Cooke dropped in alongside Watt, while Robinson went up alongside Andy Cook. This did not work. Robinson headed narrowly wide with his first touch, but then vanished as City lost control in midfield. Taking Sutton out meant that there was a lack of energy and bite, and Newport took advantage. They targeted Elliot Watt, who now lacked support and ended up overrun, with Cooke not offering the same level of protection as Sutton.

We had two strikers on the pitch, but neither were getting a sniff of the ball.

Newport dominated, and really should’ve scored. Richard O’Donnell just about dealt with a dipping long-range effort from Matty Dolan, then got caught out by a looping Courtney Baker-Richardson header and was grateful to Songo’o for heading off the line. Home defender James Clarke then headed against the bar from a corner – it looked like a matter of when, not if, the hosts scored.

Adams had to make another change. Charles Vernam, who had a bright first half without ever having a major impact, was sacrificed for Evans as he looked to plug the gaping holes in midfield. The introduction of Evans just about did this, but Adams elected to keep the 4-4-2 system and moved Callum Cooke to the left flank rather than shifting Robinson to the left and Cooke back to number ten.

This completely neutralised City as an attacking force – Vernam and Cooke are the main creators in this team, and one was now ineffectually out of position whilst the other wasn’t on the pitch.

Newport continued to attack, and despite the presence of Evans helping stem the tide of attacks there was still a lot of work for the defence to do. O’Connor and Songo’o emerged from this game with a lot of credit, as it was their tackles, blocks and headers that kept the hosts at bay.

The lack of depth was painfully clear at this point – Gilliead was anonymous for most of the half on the right but there was no obvious replacement on the bench – Kian Scales is more of a central player, while Abo Eisa prefers the left in addition to being only partially fit. Andy Cook, meanwhile, worked hard but struggled to make an impact and again only seemed to stay on because of a lack of a like-for-like substitute.

As the game went into stoppage time City did have one decent chance – Songo’o lofted a ball forward, Cook flicked on and Gilliead forced a good save from the keeper. That would’ve been daylight robbery on City’s part though – they barely deserved the point, let alone all three.

In the end, this could be a useful, hard-fought point against a side that came very close to promotion last season. If, at the end of the campaign, we are successful, then we can point to days like these where we ground out results despite not being at our best.

However, the performance, as well as Adams’ lack of options on the bench, raises questions about whether we have the squad to challenge. The first eleven is mostly fine, but there are too many positions where one injury causes chaos.

It’s squads that win promotion as much as first-choice players – imagine the history makers without Alan Connell, Carl McHugh or Ricky Ravenhill – and it’s the squad depth that is our main problem at the moment.



Categories: Match Reviews

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15 replies

  1. First half was OK with shots / corners and posession all pretty even. The switch for Sutton to right back definately changed the game as we were second best all half.

    In the end a point away against Newport in context that we have struggled to even get a draw away this season is OK as long as we follow it upwith good home performances.

    I recall the last away game at Newport where we were well on top for 75 minutes at 1-0 up and then gave away a free kick and then a penalty to lose 2-1 thanks to Dolan’s set piece skills.

    This was a worse performance but it was one that at least took a point unlike that game.

    Not trying to say it was a great game, but sometimes context is useful…

  2. I will never understand ‘the long-ball’ as *the* tactic. Obviously it’s a boring watch, but practically the element of surprise that can make it such an effective option is gone, with the inevitable result that the ball comes straight back. We have some decent footballers in the squad – particularly Sutton, Cooke, and Vernam – but they don’t get much of a chance when their involvement takes the form of fighting for possession from our goal kicks. And City’s best chances today, and over the past few games, have come from attacking play when we have wrestled possession from an opponent in our own half. I can’t see us getting promoted playing one-dimensional football like this.

  3. Regardless of manager, or players, over the past four or five years watching Bradford City has been a chore.

    It’s got to the stage I have to drag myself out to make the relatively short trip to Valley Parade. How on earth fans can muster the enthusiasm to undertake the long trips to places like Newport is beyond me? Days like today are the norm, if we’re lucky.

    What do these players do in training? We have a manager who created hope in most fans minds when he was appointed. In reality, he’s turning out as underwhelming as his predecessors. The worrying thing with this manager is the manner he talks up less than average performances.

    What the hell is wrong with our club?

  4. Whilst not disagreeing with your comments I want to stress the bright side.
    100% effort from every player. I thought a tremendous defensive display from Songoo.
    I enjoyed the game and thought it a great advert for division 2.
    A good referee.
    We lost a game at Newport last season that we should have won. We drew today when maybe we should have lost.
    One point to note. I thought much of Newports threat came from misplaced City passes particularly in midfield.
    I say well done City and congrats to our travelling fans.

  5. Why don’t we shoot?…..particularly in the first half, there were several times when the likes of Gilliead, Sutton and Threlkeld got into great areas in and around the box with chance to have a clear shot on goal, only to try and pull it back, or chip it in. We seem obsessed with crossing it into the box or walking the ball into the net – just pull the trigger and test the goalkeeper. What’s the worst that can happen?

  6. Parity is likely to keep City in touch with seventh place come January. Assuming Rupp releases his hold on the purse strings, City should be in a position to make a run for a playoff spot in the second half of the season. Reality, no new money / no playoffs.

  7. Thanks for the report Tim.

    What we are seeing is enough for now…just. This is only ‘enough for now’ if we are intending on filling in the obvious shortfalls in January and beyond. The saying goes you’re only as strong as your weakest link..
    *We simply have to shoot more – if only to get a rebound – ricochet or a spill from the (lower league) keeper, or maybe even the ball will hit the net! Cook and other strikers will score more because of this as Gillead did last week.
    *Our first choice midfield pairing of Watt and Cooke is simply not strong enough (still) I’m pretty sure DA will realise this by now. Either Cooke and Watt don’t play well together or are both not good enough. If Watt put as much aggression into tracking back, running hard and tackling as he does into pretending he’s gonna start a fight when a decision hasn’t gone his way or when complaining at the ref then sure he would be a better option for us. Yes he can pass a ball, let’s be fair not world beaters. Cooke I’m not sure about. I need to see more as we know he’s better than what we’ve seen this last month. Shoot Callum ! He’s stated on many an interview that he wants to be scoring 10 a season etc well how an earth will that happen if you bottle it at the edge of the box every week! He is a confidence player and then by scoring his game lifts. We definitely need another back up to both Cook/es that’s for sure. This isn’t Derek’s team yet probs 60% what he’s happy with. He absolutely will get us promoted if he has the right signings to work with and doesn’t have to settle for stop gap strikers to see us through. Watt/Gillead and misfiring (or not firing at all) Cooke are decent bench players. We aren’t a million miles off just central areas up front and midfield need beefing up and a few pop shots. Honestly this league isn’t that good.

  8. Fair enough report.

    City started well, had enough possession in dangerous areas to score but the cohesion up front was not there. Crosses never came close to finding the man – if the ball was played near post, all the players went to the back post and vice versa. But we played some nice stuff and had the edge first half, certainly first half hour. And Cook should have scored but miskicked. Long ball – not sure what you were watching.

    2nd half, we lost our way in attack without Sutton’s energy and they played well and should have scored when the lad hit the bar but for all their possession, they created few chances.

    Defence is as much a part of the game as attack and we defended well against a decent side.

    Not sure why it’s a chore, suggest you stay at home if that’s how you feel.

    If we get Canavan, Angol and Eisa back, we are going to be decent. Just feel we lack a striker, a Robbie Fowler type, Jamie Cureton for L2, the sought who knows where the goal is and can just sniff a goal out in the box.

    • Completely agree Rob.

      I was one of the people who made the trip and really enjoyed the game.

      First half was really entertaining. Not sure whether it came over on ifollow because the camera angles are always quite tight but it was an interesting contest between a narrow City and Newport playing with a lot of width. I felt we controlled the middle but they enjoyed an awfull lot of space out wide in the first half.

      Sutton was super in the first half. Best City player by a distance. Before half time any result was possible. Playing him at full back ensured that a draw was the best we could hope for in the second half.

      There’s been a lot of talk about playing 2 up front but the second half performance shows it’s just not that simple. Taking Vernan off meant we weren’t going to win the game, bringing Evans on meant we wouldn’t lose it either

      We’re barely out of September and have players coming back from injury. This was a good point and a good advert for league 2 football.

  9. Despite not scoring or really threatening to yesterday, I saw something I’ve not seen for the last four seasons; a defence that dug in deep, cleared every threat and didn’t crumble under pressure. Considering we were cruising in the corresponding fixture last season – and still lost – I’ll take this result. Newport will likely be in or around the playoffs again. Songo’o and O’Connor (silly yellow card aside) were unflappable. There’s definitely concerns about our lack of attacking threat but….. a clean sheet, a point away from home against last season’s playoff finalists – in context not a bad result.

  10. The defeat at Newport was the beginning of the rot that continued to the end for City and Trueman and Sellars last term. Cruising at 1 0.up it would have only needed a second goal to kill the game.
    Instead we needlessly gave away a free kick from the edge of the box and then an explicable penalty.
    So to go there this season and get a point particularly when the famous manager ‘bounce’ could have come into play following their loss of Flynn is in essence, a good point.

  11. Like always we will only really know if it’s a good point gained or two dropped as things continue to play out over a slightly longer period. Honestly speaking a point away at Newport is absolutely fine. No problems. No panic.
    I’ve mentioned previously that our wins have come against teams in the bottom berths of the league table So I’m not getting carried away.
    Im taking a pragmatic view of a pragmatic team with a pragmatic manager. And truth be told that’s all ok. The margins are very fine. This league is very tight so far. If it stays this way we may be able to scrape our way to promotion. And if we do that then everything will be forgotten and forgiven because the essential outcome of being in a league above will have been achieved. How we get there does not matter one bit. Getting there is all that counts.
    If we can convert our home games into home wins and draw at places like Newport we’ll be ok. We seem to have had a bad run. Hopefully the home win and the away point is a positive turn of form for us. And as we all know getting four points from two games ain’t bad at all with injuries in key positions.
    Another week down. Another point on the board. Now On to the next
    CTID

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