|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