|Bradford City 1|
|Northampton Town 1|
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