|Bradford City 2|
|Daly 37, Cook 88 (pen)|
By Adam Raj
Walsall boss Matt Taylor must be scratching his head at how his side has lost this game. I’m still scratching my head as to how we won it.
When Derek Adams was appointed back in the summer, tonight’s performance was the very type of performance I expected to see more often than not. Think back to November 2017 when Adams brought his Plymouth Argyle side to Valley Parade, his side were dominated from start to finish but rode their luck and stole three points. City’s own performance at the Banks’ stadium was very much the same. Perhaps we should’ve known what was in store as soon as Niall Canavan won the toss and chose to change ends.
Things could have been very different, however, if former Bantam George Miller could sort his feet out when he’s six yards from goal. The Barnsley loanee looked nailed on to score, in the third minute, after he found himself in acres of space and the goal at his mercy. Instead, he took a swing and a miss, as the ball hit his standing leg and was cleared to safety. It was a major let off for City, who started the game ponderously, whilst the hosts seemed to be bang up for it in a bid to rectify their own poor run of form.
But minutes later, City could’ve been in front themselves. Jamie Walker rolled in Liam Ridehalgh who struck a fierce first time shot across goal. His effort was saved by Carl Rushworth and the keeper did well to save the rebound from Alex Gilliead.
But it was then City’s turn to be indebted to their man between the sticks. Debutant Alex Bass already looks like some catch. His fingertip save from Joss Labadie’s strike was spectacular in itself, but the Portsmouth loanee’s save on the stroke of half-time was out of this world.
Sandwiched in between those saves, another January acquisition made his mark. More good work from Ridehalgh saw his deflected cross fall to Matty Daly, whose side foot finish deflected off Jack Earing and loop in over Rushworth. The finish may have been fortunate, but Daly’s intelligence to jink in then out of the box saw him create the space he needed to get a shot away.
It was largely another difficult night for the Huddersfield loanee, who struggled to get involved in the game. But that can be said of all four attackers, in what was far from an attacking performance.
Back at the other end and Bass had his entry for save of the season. Haydn White’s diagonal was headed back across goal by debutant Donervon Daniels and into the path of Conor Wilkinson for what looked like an easy tap in. But Bass leapt like a salmon to miraculously block the Walsall number nine’s header from two yards out. Without doubt, City had their keeper to thank for going in ahead at half time.
But there was nothing that the debutant could do about the hosts’ equaliser. Twelve minutes into the second half and Walker’s rash challenge resulted in a free kick for the Saddlers. The initial cross was cleared as far as left back Zak Mills who volleyed towards goal, from the edge of the area. His strike was going harmlessly wide until it deflected off Miller and nestled into the far corner of the goal, leaving Bass wrong footed.
It was a blow to concede so early into the second period, but nothing less than Walsall had deserved on the balance of play.
But for all their possession, the hosts couldn’t use the momentum from their equaliser to create another clear cut chance, certainly not on the level of those in the first half. Walsall were camped inside the City half and the Bantams were chasing shadows at times but City managed to limit the Saddlers to long range efforts, aside from one Wilkinson header than trickled past the far post.
As City looked to be heading for a 13th league draw of the season, a moment of madness from Walsall defender Mills handed the Bantams the victory, three minutes from time. Callum Cooke’s free kick seemed to cause chaos in the penalty area as the referee blew his whistle. Nobody seemed to know what for, the City players didn’t appear too animated and the referee looked like he was pointing for a goal kick.
As the players from both sides took up position on the edge of the box, the whole ground realised City had been awarded a penalty and the delayed celebrations in the away end ensued. Looking at the replays, Mills must have forgotten that he was an outfield player, as he dived and saved (literally) the ball from reaching Canavan at the back post. It was a fantastic spot from the referee.
Andy Cook was first to grab the ball and slammed it down the middle, past the diving Rushworth. Absolute chaos erupted in the away end, with bodies flying everywhere. You really can’t beat a late winner away from home.
City managed to negotiate the final three minutes plus injury time without any major drama and secure a rather fortuitous win.
It was far from a vintage performance this evening and it was probably unnecessarily more negative and ugly than it needed to be. City didn’t look like they had come to the Midlands to play football tonight, rather they came to scrap and frustrate and credit where credit’s due, they did it very well.
It’s hard to argue that similar performances would yield the same result as tonight. After all, if it wasn’t for a horror miss, a wonder save and a moment of madness, Walsall would’ve come away with at least a point and City could not have complained.
No doubt, City must improve. Their ball retention was really poor and the lack of attacking intent was worrying at times. It wasn’t a performance that ranked particularly high on the entertainment spectrum either.
But it’s a win, a win on the road and we’ve not had too many of them to celebrate this season.
Categories: Match Reviews