Reconfigured Bradford City hint at an ability to win when the pressure is on – but they must build on this

Stevenage 0
Bradford City 1
Walker 55

By Jason McKeown

It was clever, it was composed and it was clinical. Jamie Walker’s 55th minute winning goal was superbly taken and successfully slowed Bradford City’s path towards another implosion. At least for now.

There was little finesse about how the Scot was set up to score. Alex Bass sent a long hopeful punt forward, Andy Cook flicked the ball into Walker’s path. With his back to goal and closely marked by Luke O’Neill, the on-loan Hearts forward took a touch, before spinning around and smashing the ball past Christy Pym. It was the sort of goal that City just don’t score often enough.

Up until that moment, the script felt wearily familiar. The Bantams were decent if hardly brilliant in the first half, carving out some promising opportunities but failing to take them. The second half had begun with Stevenage on the front foot, and we all know what usually happens next. You could almost fast forward to the after match scene of Derek Adams arguing with BBC Radio Leeds’ Jamie Raynor that Stevenage didn’t deserve to win, and how all that was wrong was his players failed to take their chances.

That’s why Walker’s goal intervention was both surprising and absolutely vital to his manager. They had a lead, a platform and a route towards a crucial three points. It was Stevenage’s turn for hard luck tales, as their efforts to come back were thwarted by another superb goalkeeping display from Bass.

The period just after half time has been dicey ground for the Bantams all season. Before tonight, they’d managed just four goals all campaign between the 45th and 60th minute (and only one of those had been in an away game). At the other end, they’d shipped in 10 over the same period of the match (six away from home).

This is the 15-minute spell that has so often being the start of a Bradford City collapse, but not tonight.

On the balance of the 90 minutes, they just about deserved it – but this was no magic wand to the club’s problems. Indeed, over the final 35 minutes, Stevenage had 67% of the ball and recorded seven shots on goal to City’s two. The visitors were not smart in their game management, and at times stumbled their way to the final whistle.

The carelessness was best summed up by sub Tom Elliott stupidly giving away a free kick on the edge of his own box, four minutes into injury time. Stevenage wasted the late opportunity, but better opposition would not let the Bantams off the hook so easily. They still don’t know how to manage leads. Lessons have not been learned. And they simply have to improve this area of their game.

Nevertheless, Adams – coming into this game under huge pressure – deserves credit for the victory. He changed the formation to a 4-3-3 that seemed to give the Bantams much better balance in terms of being compact off the ball but getting forward in decent numbers.

Walker and Nathan Delfouneso – who was making his full debut – were deployed as wide forwards either side of Cook, with City’s top scorer not looking as remote as he has in recent weeks. Both Walker and Deflouenso were prepared to go out wide with the ball, but would make runs inside when not in possession to support Cook in the box.

Walker’s goal was a great example of that. Cook had someone to aim his flick ons too – there were actually City players running into space beyond him. Almost unheard of for most of this season.

What further helped the formation work was the role of the City full backs. Luke Hendrie came in for a second debut after rejoining the club at the end of the window. He was excellent, revelling in the space that Stevenage’s narrow 4-3-3 afforded him to run forwards into. Over the 90 minutes, Hendrie supported attacks well and supplied three key passes (passes that directly lead to an attempt on goal). For comparison, Oscar Threkeld has supplied just six key passes all season.

On the other side Liam Ridehalgh and second half replacement Matty Foulds were also efffective at supporting attacks. And it all meant that, when City got into the final third, forward players had passing options available – rather than being as isolated as they have in recent weeks.

The 4-3-3 didn’t necessarily suit the midfield three, with Matty Daly and Elliot Watt relatively quiet. However they were important in making sure City weren’t outgunned and were able to win the ball back higher up the park. When they did regain possession, the visitors were direct at getting the ball up quickly to Cook, and it worked better because others were near to support him.

In the first half City created several promising openings. Levi Sutton – who made a welcome return to the side and did pretty well as the central midfielder of the middle three – saw a shot blocked by a defender. Delfouneso headed an opportunity just over, and Yann Sonogo’o and Walker were guilty of missing presentable opportunities. It was stop-start, but at times in the first half City really cranked up the pressure. There was plenty to be encouraged by, albeit the bar is very low of late.

Early in the second half, and with Stevenage on top, Bass made a big save when a corner was flicked on to Michael Bostwick, who struck a powerful shot at goal that the on-loan keeper did well to keep out. When Walker scored for City a few minutes later, the significance of Bass’ save felt even greater.

At 1-0 up, City’s momentum was slowed when Bostwick went in hard on Walker and the 28-year-old had to leave the field struggling with his fitness. Stevenage went more route one and asked plenty of questions of City. And though it was clumsy at times, the defensive efforts deserve appreciation too.

Amongst a sea of mediocre performances this campaign, Paudie O’Connor is having a very good season and he was superb in the final 20 minutes. Sonogo’o dug in well alongside him, and Hendrie and Foulds proved just as adept at defending as they had at bringing the ball forward.

When Bass made another brilliant save in the final 10 minutes, City were hanging on with little conviction. The final whistle eventually sounded and the mood around the club will be that little brighter compared to the beginning of this week.

Adams will be hugely relieved, but also encouraged by signs that his January transfer business is beginning to reap rewards. Walker is off the mark in City colours and his all-round game was excellent. As he gets more used to League Two football and his team mates get onto his wavelength, he could be a real asset over the remaining 16 games. Bass showed his worth with another match-winning display. And on this early evidence, Hendrie and Delfouneso appear to be useful additions who improve the overall squad.

Of course, against the backdrop of growing turbulence at Bradford City and with a mountain to climb to get back into the play off hunt, a scrappy Tuesday night win at Stevenage is of only limited value. But with the wolves very much at the door and the mood amongst the fanbase growing ever darker, this was a victory to give Adams, the players and those running the club a bit of breathing space.

Something to build on, even if the foundations remain decidedly shaky.

Now, they have to keep this going. Exeter City – sixth in the table and seven points above the Bantams – travel to Valley Parade on Saturday. If City can achieve their first back-to-back victories since August, they’ll start to close the gap. And with two winnable-looking fixtures after that, the opportunity is there to build some momentum.

Time will tell, but for a football club that has in recent years turned losing runs into an artform and has lacked the resilience to stand up and be counted in difficult moments, Adams has pulled a slightly unexpected victory out of the bag here (this was Stevenage’s first home defeat in two months). The scene was set for another nail to be hammered into the proverbial coffin. But Adams and City have dug in and are now spared another barrage of heavy criticism.

That ability to grind out wins when the chips are down is a trait City have lacked for too long. Tonight is a sign that maybe this could be changing at last. Although there’s still an awful lot of convincing to do.

Categories: Match Reviews

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12 replies

  1. Tonight will hopefully prove to be a pivotal turning point in the season for Derek Adams. He’s certainly has his detractors and the football and more importantly the results not what any of us wanted.
    Whilst I’ve been disappointed in what has been on display, I have always been of the opinion that DA should not be sacked, but given the time to rebuild our club.
    Given what has happened at VP over recent times it was always going to be a tough task to take us to the next level. The fact that DA has managed this twice at this level should not be underestimated as this experience will ultimately prove invaluable.
    He’s not the easiest person to like, but I’m delighted for him tonight and sincerely hope that it is a catalyst to some success for him, the team, the board and especially our long suffering fans 🙏🏼

    • Accidentally gave it a thumbs down as I thought you’d put “now we need a change of manager” when actually you said the opposite- so fully agree with this!

  2. Well said.
    The last thing we need is another change in manager.
    We must try to build on this win for once this season, get some belief and start taking the chances and who knows where it might lead.
    Well done Mr Adams and the rest of your team.
    Keep fighting on till the end.
    Up the City!

  3. Watched this on IFollow. I agree with your assessment that we just about edged the performance- they could have scored, but we could also have had more. A “glass half empty” view would be that an edgy 1-0 win verses the 4-1 thumping we gave them in August shows how far confidence & performance have drifted down in 6 months.

    Fingers crossed for Walker’s recovery- I note Adams sounded an optimistic note that he’d be back Saturday, as he’s key for us right now. The loan players seem to be making their mark. I had a warm fuzzy feeling about bringing Luke Hendrie in, and was delighted to see his shift for us last night.

    Saturday will as ever be interesting- after this win, I’ll watch with a bit more hope than dread!

  4. Was at the game last night. Walker looking a very, very good player. Tremendous saves by Bass. Very impressed by Hendrie, very assertive and communicative with new teammates already and looking very much ‘at home’ in a City shirt…

  5. I’m afraid I’m going to be the negative one in the replies here. Whilst the 3pts was most welcome I felt we only just shaded it. I can’t fault the players’ effort but, as Jason alludes to in the report, our game management was woeful. I was screaming at my TV during the last ten minute for players to run it into the corner, go down injured etc. – all the dark arts that always seem to happen against us and in which we never seem to partake (at least since Tony McMahon left!).

    The improvements came from getting support for Cook and the inclusion of Hendrie who showed, despite only putting in a decent, 7 out 10 performance, how much we’ve missed a proper right back.

    On the flip side I’m struggling to feel the love for Matty Daly who, despite at times showing how incredibly skilful he is, I often forget is even on the pitch. I think Calum Cooke could have played that role last night and been more effective.

    Ultimately I’m still not convinced by Adams. He doesn’t seem the sort of manager who builds clubs and a bond with the fans but rather delivers results (which he isn’t doing with us). He’s completely unlikeable and I suspect that even if by some miracle he did take us up this season I wouldn’t shed a single tear if he left in the summer a la Morecambe. I genuinely believe that a coach who motivates his players and provides some energy to the club could take this same group of players further. I’ve seen nothing from Adams which demonstrates any tactical genius and the players he’s signed have been as hit and miss as previous regimes.

    My final point is that if we go a goal down on Saturday then the crowd will turn on Adams rather than the players. That is very telling. I fundamentally believe that we have more chance of a promotion this season with Adams removed. The players and fans can then galvanise around his replacement and we can push on together.

    • It would be an act of monumental idiocy to sack yet another manager after a little over half a season (particularly a serial winner). Pretty sure RS will have the balls to trust his initial judgement, take a longer term view and ignore the hysteria whipped up online.

    • Referring to your final paragraph Dave, I think we thought the removal of Bowyer -when we held 8th place in the league- and bringing Stuart in to replace him would galvanise the players and fans and we would get promotion. It didn’t. And if it didn’t work with someone like Stuart galvanising the players and fans I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater to test your theory.

      It’s early days, but we have a experienced manager with a record of very successful achievements with different clubs. Like Sparks, he recognises where the Club and Team has weaknesses and they are both determined in their specific roles and responsibilities to remove those weakness. Whether we like the personalities of the individuals or not -a lot of people do and a lot of people don’t- should be irrelevant as long as they are not committing any wrong doing.

      We need characters at the Club who are strong willed, able to withstand the pressure and determined to achieve the goals they set themselves, the team and the Club agreed.

  6. There would be absolutely no sense in sacking the manager at this time , Adams used the only transfer window left this year, and, hopefully, we will start to see the players he brought in gelling into the side to help improve things. One area that definately needs addressing is the habit of giving away silly and unnesessary free kicks in dangerous areas, every game it seems that the team as a whole retreat further and further, that causes players getting into each others way and panicking . I agree that the win was a little fortunate ,but, that’s the game , let’s hope the fortune continues

  7. Jury still very much out on Adams. The intent to win games and lack of backbone is still woeful. I am prepared to give him the summer to repair the gaping holes of quality in the squad. If by November we aren’t top 7, then things won’t have improved and he should be given his P45. A very unlikeable manager and I think personally, fans are showing remarkable patience given the dross being served up most weeks. Not one of this team, other than Walker would have got near Parkys promotion squad, let alone the starting 11. Thats how bad we are! This win merely papers over some very large cracks and I expect normal service to be resumed quickly.

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