A huge improvement from Bradford City – but a fifth straight loss further exposes the limitations of this squad

Bradford City 1
Evans 18
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

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15 replies

  1. A lot better today. Players seemed more aware of their roles, individually and collectively. Better use of the ball and more second balls won. However, both fullbacks looked vulnerable and not fully at ease. Positives were Watt and Evans. Small steps.

  2. This match felt like the weather. The green shoots of Spring giving us hope of better things to come…but still the cold icy blasts of winter to brace ourselves against.
    I thought we as a fanbase- myself included- were an interesting dynamic today, with the winds of change blowing. At the first whistle, the Swindon fans started noisily, and it felt like so many recent games where a quiet majority would be out-sung. But with the team showing a few flashes of aggressive play, we stirred, the drums and chants started. When we saw something to get behind, we responded. At times, it felt like good old times. And to lose it at the death…well, it was at least refreshing that rather than booing the players off, we stood & applauded the endeavour.
    I agree with you on the flaws in the team, the defence scares me to death when the other team go anywhere near our penalty area, I don’t have a confidence in a goal coming…but we so desperately want & need to get behind this team, to avoid the unthinkable, and get some wins to finish the season with.

  3. Thanks for the very quick production of the game report. Like most of the 15,000 supporters at Valley Parade today, I left feeling “gutted”. However, looking at the bigger picture, we certainly passed the football better today than we have done for most of this season.
    Hughes has to work with the squad that he has inherited and we will be better when Vernom returns to the starting 11 as he provides the team with more width and Cook with better service.
    Hopefully we will secure enough points this season to retain our league status, then Hughes can start to mould the squad how he wants to.
    There are tiny green shoots of recovery which is encouraging.
    Listening to Mark Hughes and Gareth Evans on BBC Radio Leeds after the game provided me with further optimism. Both spoke eloquently and gave me a positive feeling about the future.

  4. the positive intent and effort was there, and it just felt so much better, Gillead looks like a different player in the past couple of games. It all looked so much better and more positive imo. You can only ask the players to do their best and give their all and we saw that today. The system suited certain players better E.g. Evans. Agree with Penfold that Cook is out of form and his fitness for me is still an issue. Indeed prior to the season and proven again today strikers are our major issue. Mark Hughes and his staff is already showing a positive influence on the team and fans. We didnt get what we deserved today but it was a better watch and you can see signs that with the right recruitment we can put the negativity and demise behind us long may it continue.

  5. Very unlucky today. If Hughes didn’t know before today, he knows now that we need a completely new forward line next season. We should have had 2 or 3 more goals in the first half,our shooting is pathetic. Still, much better performance but that level of performance must be repeated, week in, week out.

  6. An entertaining game and we didn’t deserve to lose it. A draw would have been a fair reflection as both teams generally moved the ball around in the floor and looked to attack rather than play safe.
    Am looking forward to seeing Vernam and Walker become available for Hughes as they are two of our most exciting players with the ability to beat a man and get a shot off.
    Glad Hughes had managed to rekindle some energy and passion in both squad and fans, the atmosphere so much better than most games this season

  7. What a pleasure to see good football. We may have lost, but it’s not about this season; it’s next season. We are so lucky to have a manager of the calibre of Mark Hughes with the contact’s
    he has in the game, and I am sure he will have the funds to get the players he needs to complete next season, so well done to the club for the investment needed to get him and his team.

  8. Certainly an improvement today i thought we were the better side overall ,Lavery gives us lots of movement and i thought it was Evans best performance since his return. I agree we were a bit fragile defensively but no one could complain about the effort. Shame that Bass who made a magnificent save then had a rush of blood . The penalty was a sickener for players and fans alike ,who today really got behind Hughes and the team. A bit disappointed that many left immediately the penalty went in but those that remained gave them a deserved ovation.

  9. Vernam, Angol, Walker, Ridehalgh – that’s what we are missing. With those 4 in under the new direction we’d be a good side. Sadly our backup now is not good enough and that was shown by the fact that as soon as Lavery went off, we were virtually done.
    We need those players back ASAP.

  10. What a great game of football! I invited a friend along and spent most of the walk to the stadium managing his expectations about the quality of League 2 football – but what a surprise we both got. I thought we were excellent for the first 30 minutes, and should really have been 2 or 3 up. Evan’s is like a new player compared to last season, and was man of the match in my opinion. I thought Lavery did very well up front, and would like to see him and Robinson start together as both have bags of energy. Perhaps time to give Cook a rest, hes looked jaded for quite a while and very one-dimensional in his play. Hats off to Mark Hughes and the coaching staff – looking forward to seeing what else he can do with this team in time.
    @widthofapost – is there a statistic about the most points thrown away in the final 5 minutes of football games? – surely we’re on course to break a world record this season! 😦

    • It does seem like that, but we have actually been fairly good with late goals this season. For goals from the 75th minute (or close) onwards that affected the result:
      Oldham (H) 2-1 late equaliser for them, later winner for us …+2
      Mansfield (A) 3-2 late winner for us…+2
      Salford (A) 0-1 late winner for them…-1
      Bristol R. (H) 2-2 late equaliser for them…-2
      Port Vale (A) 1-1 late equaliser for us…+1
      Sutton (H) 2-2 late go-ahead for them, later equaliser for us…+1
      Salford (H) 2-1 late winner for us…+2
      Walsall (H) 2-1 late winner for us…+2
      Crawley (H) 1-2 late winner for them…-1
      L. Orient (H) 1-1 late equaliser for us…+1
      Swindon (H) 1-2 late winner for them…-1
      making us +6 on the season. It would be +4 for goals from the 85th minute onwards (Vale and Orient drop out); still not bad.

      • Thanks for sharing that. Just my perception then, but I always feel like a goal is coming against us in the dying moments of a game- especially when we are at home.

  11. Good performance. Totally different to what we have had to endure over the last few months. There are times when don’t get what you deserve! Today was a perfect example. A draw was a good outcome but City’s misfortune continued to plague us. Has minutes ticked by, I thought a draw was a good result. It would have stopped the sequence of losing.
    We have Forest Green next. We will be favoured with a positive outcome? I believe we will. Positivity seems to be coming back. Today we played good football. We could have been 2 up in the first 10 minutes. Evans surprised me with a good performance. He scored an excellent goal. Pity we could not have added to it. Things went wrong for us but I believe our misfortune will change. Optimistic, yes I am. We have a experienced manager the players can gain confidence with. Taking on board his experience and knowledge. It is early days in Hughes’ tenure. We have to give him time.

  12. Today was a big improvement on last week and very encouraging that Hughes and Hodges have managed to impart a little technical and tactical guidance to the players, but it still serves to illustrate that we will get nowhere doing things on the cheap signing non-scoring strikers and centre halves released by non-league clubs. Hughes could really be a spark (no pun intended) that triggers an upturn in fortunes, but only if we invest in all the other areas that matter. The fitness side of things, injury prevention, but most importantly well researched recruitment of quality players. That will cost Rupp in the short term, but if he genuinely wants to get us back to where he bought us, and if he really is, as often stated on here, an honourable man, he’ll fund it. One thing today seemed to show was you really can’t polish a turd, whoever you are.

  13. Don’t score enough and concede too many
    Not a good recipe. But fairly straight forward to fix. I know many think we need strikers but the priority for me should always be working on the defence. Our midfield today looked very good. Evans had an excellent game. Faded somewhat but that’s to be expected after games out.
    Like the vast majority I am also optimistic. I hope this lasts

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