Bradford City are becoming tough to beat – but playing it safe risks them falling adrift in the promotion race

Bradford City 1
Vernam 67
Northampton Town 1
Pinnock 60

Written by Jason McKeown (image by John Dewhirst)

Bradford City just cannot shake off their sluggish form. Their ponderous run continued here with a hard-earned point that will be quickly forgotten, such was the lack of excitement. Two teams with poor attacks traded minor jabs, scored a goal each thanks to poor opposition defending, and allowed the game to drift into a stalemate swimming in greyness.

We knew to expect afternoons like this. Derek Adams has done many great things over his managerial career, but he has a reputation for dour football for good reason. This was a really tough watch, that on the one hand demonstrated the greater resilience Adams has instilled in his players – but more than anything displayed his low risk appetite. Not losing games is a skill, but struggling to win matches leaves City firmly stuck in the slow lane.

Adams will argue that City are unbeaten in four league games now. And the current league table shows that this mini-run has come against four of the sides occupying the top five. Indeed, when asked about this run Adams said, “I think we’ve been excellent, I don’t think any Bradford City fan will tell you otherwise.”

The manager can also point to crucial injuries – and a ridiculous suspension to Lee Angol – that limit what this team can do right now. And with kinder fixtures to come, Adams has his charges positioned three points away from the play offs and well positioned to strike. “We’re in a situation where we’re not scoring the goals that our play deserves,” was his verdict.

But it all seems a bit flat. At least right now. The level of entertainment we’re getting has faded week on week, after such a promising start in August. After what we all went through with the pandemic, you want to turn up at Valley Parade clinging to the edge of your seat. Going home with a buzz at the exciting events you’ve just witnessed. But days like this just aren’t enjoyable. The home crowd continually feels on the brink of turning on the team. In the second half of this one, the Kop even directed their frustration to supporters in the North West corner.

Adams landed on the radar of Bradford City for the miracles he performed at Morecambe last season. The question is – are we entitled to expect him to produce further miracles here, or is this the best that any manager could reasonably achieve from a steady but hardly world-beating group of players?

Watching the team Adams selected for this physical battle, the limitations the manager is dealing with felt evident. No one is lacking in effort, and they cover the hard yards, but the quality is questionable. It was obvious from the starting XI that City weren’t going to score a hatful of goals, and the defence continues to struggle not to gift the opposition an easy chance over the course of the full 90 minutes.

Adams chose to go back to 4-2-3-1, after he used it to good effect in the second half of last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Port Vale. But without an Andy Cook or Angol to lead the line, City struggled to build up any attacking intensity. Theo Robinson – who played as the lone striker – has plenty of attributes, but he does not appear to be capable of pressing opponents or holding up the ball. It all meant City struggled to win possession high up the pitch, or make it stick in the final third when the ball was launched forwards.

With Northampton lining up in a 4-4-1-1 that squeezed the space on Callum Cooke, a war of attrition became inevitable. The Bantams had raced out the starting blocks and Cooke saw a decent long range shot tipped wide of the post by Northampton keeper Liam Roberts. But it all fizzled away into a first half of nothingness.

In games like this, when the tackles were robust from both teams, you ideally need a referee willing to let things go rather than stopping the action in response to any act of physicality. In Carl Boyeson, we were treated to a frustratingly fussy performance that only further slowed the flow of the contest. After the week City have had, it becomes boring talking about more poor officiating, but it’s hard to overstate the negative influence Boyeson had on this game. Someone needed to hide his whistle.

With the second half initially beginning with much of the same, Adams understandably replaced Robinson with Caolan Lavery, who whilst not physically strong does have a greater mobility to press. He played well. Yet before the change could have any impact, Northampton took the lead.

It was, yet again, a goal where the origins can be traced to a Bradford City attack breaking down. Just like Forest Green at home, Port Vale away and the first goal at Exeter in the cup replay, the opposition countered quickly following the turnover. Finn Cousin-Dawson slipped at a crucial moment, allowing Mitchell Pinnock to charge forwards. No City player closed down the well-travelled midfielder quickly enough, and he finished calmly past Richard O’Donnell.

At 1-0 down the mood was starting to turn ugly, but City responded relatively quickly with an equaliser seven minutes after falling behind. This time a Northampton defender made an error, and Lavery charged onto a loose ball before laying it off for Charles Vernam to finish. That’s now four goals for the season, on top of two assists. The City wide player was short of his very best today but remains a player who can be relied on to deliver telling contributions.

With half of the second 45 to play, the hope had to be that the joy of equalising would encourage City to kick on and win it. But the game frustratingly fizzled out again. There were some promising attacking moments and set piece opportunities that got the crowd going, but the draw had an inevitable feel long before six minutes of stoppage time were signalled. “We had more opportunities on goal, we haven’t taken them,” said Adams. For a change.

Adams did bring on Abo Eisa for a long awaited league debut, but with the 4-2-3-1 stuck to rigidly, there was no real move to force a late winner. The manager played it safe. In his defence, he wasn’t awash with attacking options on the bench who could change the course of the game.

The move from 5-3-2 to 4-2-3-1 was not unexpected, but given Robinson’s evident strengths and weaknesses it was a curious call that might not be repeated unless Angol is fit to start matches. Pushing Yann Songo’o up into central midfield better suited the player, but he was guilty at times of needlessly slowing down play when City tried to attack. That said, Adams seems to be selecting him in the middle two for his defensive abilities, “He plays in a position where he helps the centre halves. He heads a lot of balls and wins a lot of second balls. And that’s important.”

Levi Sutton – benched and not fully fit – was missed. Without his energy, City were too pedestrian and unable to put their opponents under heavy pressure. There was no giving up or settling for a draw, but Northampton’s defence was far from overworked.

With the games coming thick and fast, on Tuesday City travel to a Tranmere side who have not won in the league for five matches. Then it’s off to a Scunthorpe side now bottom of the league, with five losses from their last six games.

There’s no doubt City need to win at least one of these games, if not both, if they’re to build on the achievements of this tough run of fixtures and make a meaningful push for the top seven. Draws against teams near the top can be tolerated even with the lack of entertainment value – but with City’s listless run of form now reading two wins in 18 (or two wins in 17 if we don’t count the-now struck off Exeter game), this is surely the moment where they have to kick on.

Get two good results on the road this week, and the point picked up here against Northampton will look a much better result. Either way, it’s time to start turning draws into wins – or risk another season of being left behind.

Categories: Match Reviews

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16 replies

  1. A frustrating game today, ruined by a picky referee. Despite his slip, I thought that Cousin-Dawson put in a decent performance. Songo’o produced too many misplaced passes in the second half.
    Like you say, good results against Tranmere Rovers and Scunthorpe United will mean that the draw against Forest Green Rovers, Port Vale and Northampton Town will be viewed more positively. No win in the next two games and the moaners will be growing louder.

  2. Another great point against a team at the top of the table. If either team deserved to win it was us and Northampton score from their only shot on target. Yes we need to turn these into wins but that’s 4 of the top 5 played in recent weeks (all 5 including the 2 draws against Exeter) and unbeaten with a win.
    We can all work with the facts to suit a narrative and the 2 wins from argument is a stick to beat Adams with when really we would all be happy throwing the checkatrade games. Its also 17 league games played and 3 points outside the play offs, only 4 defeats and a attractive run of fixtures to come.
    This is the most encouraged I’ve been about Bradford City since we reached the L1 play off final and I am looking forward to us kicking on into the playoffs. We may not go up but what an improvement we are making. Long may it continue!

  3. Thank you for an excellent report. I was terribly frustrated and, indeed , angry because the referee ruined my afternoon’s entertainment.
    I thought Northampton came to attack and play good football. So did City, and after 10 minutes I expected a good game.
    I am sure both managers agree. Boyeson was not biased, just disgracefully incompetent. Examples are numerous but the worst was giving a throw-in when the ball was not out of play and the touch judge did not give it. Closely followed by the total farce of the uncontested dropped ball placed about 60 yards from where it should have been.
    He ruined the game, but will face no sanction.

  4. If you set your team up not to lose them you also set your team up to be negative and invariably you end up drawing to many games . I just hope our manager his waiting for January to bring on much needed recruits so he can have a real go at in the second half of the season with a much more attacking style of football or is this wishful thinking. we are in a decent position in the league to have a real go ,I just hope our manager has a plan B ,we can all get behind.

  5. Bradford City are becoming tough to beat – but playing it safe risks them falling adrift in the promotion race.
    Succinct, accurate, concise.
    We slowly sink, having apparently put in an excellent performance (think that is what l heard Mr Adams saying).
    Even Radio Leeds were critical.
    Put bluntly, not good enough.
    Being difficult to beat is a defensive approach.

  6. For health reasons, this is my first live game my dads watched since Covid started and what a huge disappointment it was. A draw against the team in 4th is perhaps a decent result, but the match was beyond boring. There was simply very little entertainment and we couldn’t wait for it to end. During the first half I was thinking is it really worth the 3 hours or so to go watch this. By the end of the match my mind hadn’t been changed. Sadly, even after nearly 2 years of missing live football, my dad thought exactly the same.

    We’ll see how the next 3 away matches go – if there’s any signs that we look at least a little bit entertaining – but we’re getting too long in the tooth now to be bothered to go to watch the boring dross we saw today. The impact of Covid has taught us that time is precious and we’re beginning to think there’s better use of it rather than going to City. A sad state of affairs.

    • The match was dire. Full marks to Jason for trying to write a report on that dirge of a game.

      As bad as we are, with only five league wins to our name, we are still within touching distance of the play offs. That, in itself, tells the story of just how poor quality this league is.

      Adams is in a world of his own and I stopped listening to his interviews some time ago as his comments bear no relation to reality.

      • It does increasingly appear that there is little point in Adams interviews. He just seems to play games. I’d like to see him interviewed connected to a lie detector 🙂

  7. I thought City were dreadful. Extremely negative tactics from Adams….why wait so long to put Eisa on? Put him on in the 82nd minute, not enough time to get in to the game. Until we show some ambition in trying to win games this dire run will continue. A proven goal getter in January is a must, or 11th is probably where we will finish (at best). FCD, the slip apart, was a vast improvement on Threlkeld who is so poor. What we were doing for their goal beggars belief. Ran half of the field unopposed. ROD is also getting worse. Punching when he could have caught….and his distribution is atrocious. I would certainly be looking to give Hornby a run in the side, or alternatively look at getting another keeper, he’s a liability.

  8. I don’t know about negative tactics, but there are certainly some negative comments. Our two best front players were out and Eisa has had a long term injury – who else could have played ? I feel that if we can stay in touch until the turn of the year we will have a shout at promotion. Covid is a different matter, if you are not happy don’t attend, because there will be worse games than that – but you will miss the better.

    • Yup two evenly matched pragmatic League Two teams and the end result/scrappy game fairly predictable. Absolutely no appreciation in some quarters as to the distance we have to travel to be truly competitive or any credit given for the progress made thus far in a short period. Thought CVs post match de-breif was very fair on Radio Scumbags. Thankfully DA is well equipped to ignore the noise outside the club.

      • Wednesday will be Sparky’s one year anniversary on the job. Lots of promises made but still very much a work in progress. Only about three months away from Sparky making another batch of promises when he kick starts City’s season ticket campaign for next season. He certainly can “talk the talk.” Sad to say he reminds me of Rahic in that aspect.

  9. Poor game. Not quite good enough from city
    Feels like we are keeping something back. I appreciate it’s a long season and being within striking distance at this stage is good. Going too gung ho losing more games than we draw means we are marooned. So I get it. However the time to actually “strike” is now. We have to start making progress in terms of league position now.
    Tranmere is another challenging game but one we should relish going in to and showing the quality to win.
    Let’s see

  10. thanks Jason another great report. I totally agree with you in that you get the feeling that the fans could turn at any moment. Moments in the game get the fans frustrated, one being when O’donnell appeared to be under no pressure, but chose to punch the ball out, only for it to come back at us. I can just imagine what the reaction would have been if they had scored from it. We continually played the ball, in the air, up to Robbo, who didnt win a header all game. Thats not his game. After the first 15 unsuccessful attempts, you would think the penny would drop. This might be the game plan, but all plans can be changed.

    • For me, Malcolm, it was mainly the endless balls forward from defence into space nowhere near our attacker(s). I vividly remember one from POC in the 1st half. There were many times when we could have put our foot on the ball and looked for a pass, but instead it was whacked forward and just give possession away. It’s no wonder we struggle in the possession stat when we do that so often, even when there’s no need to.

  11. The comment about Robinson’s pressing is interesting. During the game I noticed several times that when playing out from the back the Northampton centre backs played really wide almost like full backs so that when they passed to and fro they were making it a hopeless task for a lone striker to close both down as he would be running more than half the width of the pitch for each pass with nothing to gain.

    I think they had three benefits:
    1) Lone striker can tire himself out or
    2) Draw a midfielder forwards to help the early press and create space in midfield as a result or
    3) Play out from the back unmolested by any high press

    It wasn’t a bad idea against a team playing one up front

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