|Bradford City 1|
|Swindon Town 2|
|McKirdy 21, Payne 90+6|
Written by Tim Penfold (images by John Dewhirst)
What is there to say about that game? For 70 minutes, it was excellent. Mark Hughes’ revamped Bantams played very well and were the better side. But there was an all-too-familiar problem despite the good performance – City missed too many chances, ran out of steam and finally threw away a point with a brainless error.
Hughes set up his side the way they had finished the Mansfield game. Gone was the back three, replaced with a back four and a diamond midfield. Gareth Evans came in for Levi Sutton on the right, Callum Cooke replaced Matty Daly at the top of the midfield and Caolan Lavery started up front in place of Theo Robinson.
The home side got off to a flying start – within two minutes Callum Cooke had a low drive turned away and Caolan Lavery had curled a shot wide, while Andy Cook had another shot well blocked by the visiting keeper.
Swindon weren’t completely overwhelmed, and Yann Songo’o had to clear an effort off the line, but City kept attacking and got their reward. Matty Foulds swung another cross in from the left and it seemed like Gareth Evans and Andy Cook had got in each others way, only for Evans to bring the ball down and bury it in the bottom corner.
Unfortunately, Mark Hughes has not yet managed to prevent this team from conceding equalisers, and this one came almost instantly – Jonny Williams got free down the left and his cross was well turned in by Harry McKirdy. These two were a threat all afternoon, and meant City’s defence never got a moment’s peace.
The rest of the half was end-to-end. Alex Gilliead had a shot saved after getting through, while at the other end Swindon wasted a good chance as a cross sailed over everyone to the far post only to be headed just wide.
City were getting the ball down effectively, finding space and moving well. The diamond midfield can be a narrow system, but Lavery ran the channels well, stretching the defence, while Elliot Watt had his best game in a while, helped by actual movement from the players in front of him giving him passing options.
The second half was much the same as the first – Swindon threatened, but City were better and got on top. Foulds and Songo’o both hit the bar within the space of a minute from Callum Cooke crosses, and Swindon were being pinned further and further back.
They weathered the storm though, helped by a referee who seemed to get all the small decisions wrong. The giving of throw-ins would’ve been more accurate if they’d flipped a coin on each one, while one Swindon attack came directly from the official blocking Gareth Evans from getting to the ball.
The home support grew more frustrated, but louder than they’d been in a while.
However, as the game went on the Bantams started to tire. Lavery and Evans had not started a game in a long time, and it showed. Sutton and Robinson came on, but the intensity had dropped and each sub made us weaker.
With less running and cover from midfield, the full backs became more and more exposed.
This is a common weakness in the diamond system – even Stephen Darby struggled with it at times in 2014-15 – but full-back is a weak point in this squad anyway, and Swindon exploited it. Former City midfielder Jack Payne came off the bench and was causing problems, and City got deeper and deeper.
Swindon nearly nicked it in stoppage time, only for Alex Bass to make a fine save to keep the scores level. And then Bass ruined his good work. City couldn’t get it clear, and the ball broke in the box again. Bass recklessly rushed out, got nowhere near the ball and took down a Swindon player. Payne put the penalty straight down the middle and in, and City ended up with nothing from such a promising display.
There are still some flaws in this team. Full-back is a problem position, particularly in a system that asks them to do so much. The recruitment of Derek Adams left us with a squad of full-backs who are defenders first, attackers second, and not brilliant defenders either.
At centre-back Yann Songo’o combined some fine blocks with some erratic positioning, and still looks very uncomfortable when asked to play out from defence. Up front Andy Cook is out of form, and while Lavery looked promising he is not prolific, so taking chances remains a major issue.
But this looked so much better. There was passing, there was movement, we played football well and created a good amount of chances against a very useful opponent. We’ve come out with no points this time, but if we keep playing this well we’ll win more often than not.
Categories: Match Reviews