Another tale of frustration as Bradford City denied by late equaliser

Bradford City 1
Robinson 28
Exeter City 1
Nombe 86

By Tim Penfold

It is a story we’ve all heard before – Bradford City have, yet again, found a way to not win a game that they have dominated. Yet again, City took the lead. Yet again, they didn’t find a second goal – denied by wasteful finishing, good goalkeeping and the width of a post. And yet again, they conceded a soft equaliser having been mostly solid defensively for the vast majority of the game.

The home side made two changes from the last league game, both up front. Neither Andy Cook nor Caolan Lavery made the lineup, with both out injured, so they were replaced with the only forwards available in Theo Robinson and Charles Vernam. There was also a tactical tweak in central midfield, with Levi Sutton deployed a bit deeper alongside Elliot Watt rather than breaking forwards alongside Alex Gilliead. 

The first half started cagily, with Exeter’s attacking efforts hitting a brick wall in the form of City’s defence while the Bantams had plenty of early set pieces but very few chances. The sides were mostly cancelling each other out – Exeter played a very similar system to City, but the decision to deploy Sutton deeper meant that their star player, Matt Jay, was denied any space when he got on the ball, and ended up ineffectively drifting wide to get any time on the ball.

Then, seemingly out of nothing, the home side burst into life. A loose ball was headed back into the box by Matty Foulds, and Theo Robinson, quiet up to that point, lashed the ball against the crossbar. A few minutes later, they took the lead. Charles Vernam wriggled into some space midway through his own half and played a perfectly-weighted through ball to Robinson, taking out the entire visiting defence. Robinson raced through and slotted it under the keeper.

City nearly gave up the lead almost instantly – Yann Songo’o slipped, almost letting Exeter through, but Paudie O’Connor raced back to cover at the expense of a corner. However, that was Exeter’s only glimpse of goal for the rest of the half, and it was City who nearly doubled their lead –  Vernam had a drive pushed wide, and a Levi Sutton break won a corner which bounced around the six yard box but never quite fell for a shot.

The worry, naturally, for the second half, was that the Bantams would sit back. It’s a bad habit that has cost them points in too many games this season, and it did look at times like they were forcing themselves to overcome the instinct to drop deep. However, there was space available on the counter which they used effectively, preventing Exeter from penning them in and creating a stream of chances.

They did everything but score the second goal. Theo Robinson blazed over after being forced to cut back rather than run through on goal, and then fizzed a ball across the face of the goal that just needed a touch from Alex Gilliead, who seemed reluctant to throw himself at the ball.

Exeter reacted with a triple substitution, and Derek Adams responded to that by switching to a 4-3-3 with Songo’o, Watt and Sutton centrally. It didn’t change the flow of the game that much though – Exeter barely threatened despite having plenty of the ball, and City countered well, but just couldn’t find the game-sealing goal.

A corner bounced off Songo’o six yards out in front of goal. Another corner was cleared as far as Sutton, who drilled it back straight on to the post with the keeper beaten. Vernam cut inside and nestled a shot in the side netting, briefly fooling part of the Kop. Elliot Watt had a shot well held.

Lee Angol was summoned from the bench, as was Callum Cooke, with Vernam and Robinson making way, and Angol had an immediate impact, getting in behind down the left and fizzing the ball across the six yard box. It came to Oscar Threlkeld who smashed it towards goal – but somehow, visiting keeper Cameron Dawson got across to save. From the resulting corner, Songo’o hooked a shot narrowly wide.

At the other end, Exeter finally got through the home defence but found Richard O’Donnell in their way, making one fine save from close range, but the ball was straight up the other end of the pitch. Elliot Watt’s shot was parried away, but Threlkeld got to the rebound only to somehow hit the side netting with the goal gaping.

Finally, having had enough chances to win three games, the inevitable happened. A slip down the City left side, caused by the soaked pitch. A ball across the box and a close range finish from Sam Nombe. We’ve seen it so many times before, but it doesn’t get any less frustrating. Yet another game that we’ve found a way to not win.

You get the feeling that City aren’t far away from clicking – today was as much bad luck as it was bad finishing – but there are still worries. Lee Angol’s return is welcome, but Andy Cook has joined the worryingly long list of soft tissue injuries that we seem to be picking up in training, while Paudie O’Connor finished the game limping after a heavy challenge.

There’s a lack of depth in forward areas still, with nobody trusted from the bench once the equaliser had gone in despite the three primarily defensive midfielders on the pitch at that point. And this team cannot see out a one goal lead – despite looking much more solid since the return of Niall Canavan.

All of this needs sorting if we’re to make a genuine challenge this season.

Categories: Match Reviews

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7 replies

  1. Frustrating today as the season up to press .Stats tell you pre season the squad would struggle for goals and given that we can’t keep a clean sheet ,given that we are we are but with investment in January. I believe we need a couple of quality players ,a striker and a attacking midfielder with pace ,get them and I believe we will be right up there at the business end of the season .

  2. As one of the 3,236 actually at the game, l can confirm that this summary of the game, the analysis and the potential remedies are identical to my view. I couldn’t have penned it more eloquently. Excellent match review.

    • An interesting attendance figure of 3,236. That equates to about the number of ‘walk up’ fans that Sparky ‘boasts’ attend every league game. Makes me wonder how accurate those attendance figures truly are??

      • Hi Phil,

        Not sure why the attendance is of significance.

        There’s lots of reasons why, or why not people pitch up to watch a football match.

        The weather, the significance of the game and the opposition being just three of many.

        I’m sure if you contacted Ryan he’d provide some figures relating to ‘walk ups’ – maybe an average for a league game.

        Not sure what that gains you though.

  3. An excellent summary of the game, in that it is exactly how I saw it. As Matt Taylor acknowledged, we were a much better team on the day. One interesting note is the tactical change: Songo moving forward into midfield during the second half to leave us with a back four. The manager was seen as having no plan B in the early weeks of the season. The change to a back three/five is a plan B, the mid game adjustment is a plan C. It may be that a squad needs a clear, drilled structure in the early weeks; once roles are clarified variation is possible. An alternative is that injuries have made us desperate, but I prefer to think that this is a baby stepin the direction of our ultimate destiny: European domination/League One.

  4. I’ve seen no focus in post match interviews or analysis, on what part the lack of substitutes played. At the point Exeter equalised, they had 5 pairs of fresh legs on the pitch, we had 2, introduced late. It seemed to me that we were tiring towards the end, and I think that was a tactical misjudgement by Adams.

    • I agree, it was a tired clearance that gave the ball away which allowed them to break and score the equaliser. The last 15mins should be about managing the game to a conclusion. Late substitutions seem to be costly for us.

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