Bradford City show their character to come from behind and stay in the play off hunt

Bradford City 2
Watson 57 (OG), O’Connor 85
Salford City 1
Thomas-Asante 35

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

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10 replies

  1. Good summary. Bit harsh on Watt first half I felt. As good as Sutton is he’s very busy, all over the pitch and often left Watt overrun. The nature of Watt’s game he will lose the ball because he doesn’t keep things simple but keeping things simple doesn’t open teams up.

    I thought even first half he performed well and broke up play where needed, made some neat and tidy passes but occasionally turned the ball over to the opposition too easily.

    Can’t take too much from beating 10 men but second half showed there is quality in a starting XI. Vernam, cook, Walker, Sutton, Watt and the improving Gilliead should be able to strike a tune together.

  2. I sense the tide has turned in our favour. Two wins out of three if maintained for the rest of the season would see us in the top seven.

  3. Massive away fixtures at Rochdale and Walsall now. I think we are more than capable of winning both. Carlisle was the low point and i feel we will be in 7th place when the next Yorkshire derby takes place at Harrogate on the 5th of February.

  4. Today felt like a season defining game in which only a victory would suffice, no matter how achieved. Thankfully a fully committed 2nd half display was rewarded with a victory against one of our bogey sides and becomes a catalyst for the remainder of the season.
    Jamie Walker had an impressive debut and he can clearly be an inspiration and a lift to others in the team.
    Long way to go, but today was a small step in the right direction and as Derek Adams is often quoted as saying “let’s see where we are after 46 games”!

  5. Thought Angol did well. Held up the ball well and he made Salfords defence work hard. Importantly, City kept searching for an equaliser and then a winner. Salford had been doing well of late and have been turning in some decent results. We know what City are like against 10 men so a feather in the cap for performance today. 6 points out of 9 start of the year is better that the 3 draws you would normally expect. Based on that stat – we Could expect another 14 wins and 7 defeats giving us 42 points added to the 32 we have at the moment. Good chance for the play offs. Fingers crossed eh!

  6. That has to go down as the worst pitch invasion in the history of the game.
    Expect to see in Soccer AM soon.

  7. I thought City played decently. Salford looked a well organised side and had the better chances first half. Something doesn’t work in City’s midfield. I’m told it’s because Watt sits too deep, but they seemed to easily pass their way through the midfield.

    The sending off changed the game obviously and it’s beyond me why Salford opted for all out defence but City exploited the extra man well and finally got their just rewards.

    Walker provided a spark and was a constant threat and all in all, we can look forward with more hope than last week!

    A new right back and a midfield enforcer option in the window please.

    • Pretty gung ho from DA first half with Sutton pushing on often leaving Watt alone to patrol the area in front of the back four for most of the first half. You would have expected them both to sit deeper and on another day we could have been punished. For all Watts quality defending is not his best suite and as others have pointed out a disciplined grafter who will break up play, cover and just play a simple pass to start moves going is a priority. Romain in his pomp who have been ideal

  8. Another quality striker, a midfield ba$@&*d and a right back – and we might just make the top 7. Only reflects how appallingly bad this division is.

  9. I think we are progressing – yes the sending off altered things but we took advantage. Contrast that with the Sutton game a month ago when Canavan got red, then we showed commendable spirit and effort to come back twice. The second half at Carlisle was awful, but to some extent that is the nature of L2, performances vary game to game. But I feel there are more positives than negatives, please let Adams build a squad and cut out the mindless halftime booing (albeit a minority).

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