|Bradford City 2|
|Watson 57 (OG), O’Connor 85|
|Salford City 1|
Written by Tim Penfold (images by John Dewhirst)
It took a long time, but Bradford City finally hit something approaching form to beat Gary Bowyer’s Salford City. They still aren’t at their best, but against the 10-man visitors they fought hard and kept going until the end, and came away with a deserved win.
Derek Adams made five changes to the side that lost so feebly at Carlisle. Some were enforced – Oscar Threlkeld missed out through injury, and Andy Cook was only fit enough for the bench – while Jamie Walker made his debut, replacing Callum Cooke in the role behind the striker. Salford, meanwhile, matched the 4-2-3-1 of the hosts and fielded former Bantams Josh Morris and Matthew Lund.
City started brightly, but only for about five minutes. Elliot Watt found space on the edge of the box for an early shot, but then the game went scrappy and devoid of clear chances.
Salford had some joy down the Bantams’ right, with Ash Hunter finding space in behind Finn Cousin-Dawson and cutting the ball back only for Ryan Watson to blaze his shot into the Kop. Meanwhile, City’s attack flickered occasionally, with debutant Walker and Charles Vernam providing a sporadic threat, but there wasn’t consistent pressure or chance creation. Watt was struggling, particularly with his set piece delivery, and too often the final ball was poor from the entire side.
Salford, meanwhile, were still causing issues and the home defence was not looking solid. Niall Canavan slipped, allowing striker Brandon Thomas-Asante to get away, and though it seemed for a second like he’d lost the opportunity, he found the bottom corner with a low drive from the edge of the box.
At this point, we could all see the script. Salford hang on until half time, and the crowd get more and more frustrated – the team gets booed off at the break, Adams’ changes get loudly criticised, a sliced pass from Watt or a poor cross from Ridehalgh causing more anger as the clock ticks down and City look impotent. It’s an easy enough gameplan to carry out, and Salford looked perfectly happy to play their part.
Then Thomas-Asante did something very, very stupid.
It was a simple goal kick, the sort of aerial challenge between centre forward and centre back that you see thirty times a game in League Two. But Thomas-Asante decided to swing an arm straight into Paudie O’Connor’s face, knocking out a tooth while doing so. It was as clear a red card as you’ll see, despite the arguments of the visiting striker who refused to leave the field for a couple of minutes, and it changed the game.
It was late enough in the half that Salford were able to get into the break unscathed, but the visitors set up for the second half in a way that will be incredibly familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Gary Bowyer team. They sat deep, and surrendered any initiative to the hosts.
Watt, who had spent the first half struggling under pressure, suddenly had oceans of time and space to dictate the game and set the tempo. Vernam was popping up on the left flank and causing havoc, one cross somehow missing everyone as it fizzed through the six yard box. The Bantams were well on top and looked to keep it that way, substituting Cousin-Dawson for Andy Cook and shifting Levi Sutton to right back – they didn’t need the extra defensive cover.
Ironically, just after that sub, Salford nearly grabbed a second, as a corner broke down and Ash Hunter raced through to shoot just wide, but it didn’t take long for City to find an equaliser. Jamie Walker, who was growing into the game and causing trouble with his movement, kept the ball alive on the right flank and found Alex Gilliead. His excellent cross reached Cook, and the ball somehow found its way across the line via Ryan Watson’s heel. It will probably go down as an own goal, but Cook can take a lot of credit for it.
From there, City continued to press but it did sometimes feel like the tempo was dropping. The visitors brought on target man Tom Elliott who seemed to be under instructions to cut out the supply from the centre-backs to Watt and limit the playmaker’s influence. When they did get through, a foul on the visiting keeper ruled out a Lee Angol goal.
Another change was needed, and it came with Callum Cooke replacing the impressive but tiring Vernam on the left. Almost immediately City created a string of opportunities, the best of them falling to Alex Gilliead, but Salford threw bodies in front of every half chance and looked like they might steal a draw.
They couldn’t get it away though, and with each heave it looked like the Bantams might break through. Another corner was won, then another, and it wasn’t being cleared. A Cooke cross was headed back into the mix, then half-cleared, then flicked back to Cooke who dribbled it back into the area. He clipped in a precise cross, and O’Connor guided a header goalwards. It looped past the keeper, and seemed to hang in the air for just a second longer than you thought was possible – then landed in the net and provoked scenes of bedlam that we have not seen at Valley Parade for far too long.
It wasn’t over – Salford had five minutes of normal time and another five of stoppage time that they had mostly caused through their own time-wasting. Despite the arrival of Yann Songo’o to stiffen up the midfield, they did almost break through, but a combination of the superb O’Connor and Sam Hornby snuffed out the chance, and that was that.
A huge win, dragging City back into the top half and putting them six points off sixth place with a game in hand.
There’s still more needed for City to challenge for the play offs. Jamie Walker looked very promising in his first start, but another striker is needed to provide some cover for Cook, and right-back remains a problem position.
However, if they can play with the level of heart and fight that they showed in the second half, they have a chance of making it.
Categories: Match Reviews