Big Cook and Little Cooke combine for Mark Hughes’ first win

Forest Green Rovers 0
Bradford City 2
Cooke 64, Cook 90+5

Written by Adam Raj (images by John Dewhirst)

Well, how good does that feel? I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to win.

After a wretched five game long losing spree, Mark Hughes grabbed his first three points as Bradford City manager in arguably his hardest fixture to date. Robbed of at least a point in last week’s late defeat, City came out this afternoon in determined fashion to pick up a result that matched the much improved performances so far under the Welshman.

It would’ve been easy for City to approach the game at The New Lawn conservatively, given the respective league positions of the two sides. One would suspect that if Derek Adams had still been in charge, that’s exactly what would have happened. Refreshingly, City attempted to take the game to their hosts. Some neat passing play, a good, disciplined structure and plenty of energy off the ball saw City pose a much sterner test than Forest Green maybe expected.

Despite the diamond formation working so well last week, Hughes opted for a 4-3-3 shape this afternoon, with Dion Pereira handed his first start and first minutes in a Bradford City shirt.

Caolan Lavery can feel unlucky to have been dropped after his promising performance last week, but a return to a shape with width to provide support for full backs Luke Hendrie and Matty Foulds was understandable given the creativity provided by Rovers’ wing-backs Kane Wilson and Nicky Cadden.

It was a difficult afternoon for Pereira. The winger had some promising moments and demonstrated glimpses of his ability, but he did struggle with the pace of the game and looked well short of full fitness and sharpness. Managing to get 60 minutes under his belt will hopefully see him be able to play more of a role in the coming weeks.

It wasn’t a dominant performance by the Bantams by any means. The hosts had their fair share of opportunities, but City demonstrated a desire and commitment to keep the ball out of the back of the net that has been missing for too long.

The first half saw Hendrie clear off the line twice from corners that were met first by a Rovers’ head whilst Cadden and Dan Sweeney wasted good opportunities by firing wide of Alex Bass’ goal.

City didn’t create an awful lot in response, with Gareth Evans and Andy Cook seeing shots blocked from just inside the area after some neat build up play being the closest to troubling the home goal.

As half time arrived, you wondered if it was going to be another hard luck story – promising play with little cutting edge and quality where it mattered.

But City stuck at it. They continued to compete well, continued to have their fair share of possession against a decent footballing side and started to create more opportunities, in turn working Luke McGee in the Rovers’ goal.

And City’s persistence finally paid off. A sweeping move that featured Hendrie, Cook, Evans, Foulds and substitute Levi Sutton saw City’s left back whip in a tricky cross that was half cleared by Sweeney only as far as Callum Cooke on the edge of the box. The City midfielder took one touch before volleying past McGee with the aid of a slight deflection.

The test now for City was to ride out the inevitable barrage that Rovers would throw their way, especially after conceding so quickly after scoring last week against Swindon. But their task was made easier 12 minutes later as Udoka Godwin-Malife received his second yellow in the space of ten minutes for a high boot on Jamie Walker.

A man disadvantage didn’t seem to deter the hosts’ gung-ho approach as they continued to push men forward in search of the equaliser.

But City stood firm. Bass produced a great save from a stinging Cadden effort whilst Yann Songo’o produced similarly important last ditch blocks. The sight of Paudie O’Connor dragging Songo’o back to his feet after the Frenchman’s latest block left him struggling, epitomised the dedication and commitment on show from the men in white. They deserved their clean sheet.

And the game itself was wrapped up in stoppage time. McGee had gone forward for the game’s last corner, but Walker cleared up field for Cook to burst clear of the chasing Wilson, take a touch and roll into an open net. The relief on Cook’s face was patently evident as he leapt into the sea of City supporters on the terrace. The strikers first goal in ten games clearly meant the world to a player who has the weight of his side’s goal scoring responsibility firmly resting on his shoulders.

City were certainly good value for the three points in Gloucestershire. Their general performance was much more positive and complete than I expected and their desire and commitment to fight for the result was refreshing. Mark Hughes has undoubtedly got the City fan base believing again, during times where many were staying away.

But what is most noticeable is that the players are clearly buying into what he’s trying to implement. They seem to believe in what they’re being asked to do and it’s evident in their performances for the first time since August.

Long may it continue.

Categories: Match Reviews

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17 replies

  1. Great performance City. Well done Mark and team. Yes we didn’t create in the first half but the passing under pressure was very good. I thought Pereira did OK. He was quick and good on the ball. Came very close before being substituted. Gave and lost the ball now and again (as did the others). Once match fit, he will provide good options.
    There were good performances throughout the team. Well happy today. Long may it continue. Its been a long time. Its a great feeling to get up on a Sunday morning being positive about City outlook.

  2. Good summary of what was a strong, disciplined and constructive performance by a team that seems to have discovered a new-found verve. A great day out in Nailsworth!

  3. Decent review of the game Adam. I’m sure this win will do the power of good for the players confidence going into the last leg of the season. MH seems to have been a real source of calm, measured authority for the squad, and they do seem to be much happier and are responding to his methods and tactics, and have a growing sense of belief in what they are being asked to do. Another couple of wins and any fears of being sucked into a real relegation fight can be put to bed. Under Adams we would not have gained 3 points today, we would have been lucky to pick 3 points between now and the end of the season, the contrast in 3 weeks of Mark Hughes’s methods and approach is startling. The blueprint for rest of the season has to be that we finish as high as possible, play a better style of football and use the rest of the season to have MH to assess what he needs to build a much better quality squad to have a bloody good go at it next season. That may include the few decent players we currently have, and getting shut of a lot of the dross too. Isn’t it nice to beat a team that try and stretch the rules of the game with so called gamesmanship, we owed the buggers that!

  4. The thing that struck me the most was the sheer elation of Cook when he got the 2nd, and the subsequent celebration with fans on the touch line. Three or four other City players rushed over to be half-mobbed. There was passion shown in just that one instant that had been largely missing for quite a part of the season.
    We should bottle it and pass it around the team in subsequent matches. So do hope with Hughes we’re now turning the corner😀😀

  5. The striking memory of the game for me was the sheer joy (and maybe relief?) when Cook grabbed the second and rushed over to the fans. He and then three or four other players joined in and were half-mobbed by the fans. The elation on those players’ faces were clear to see.
    We should bottle this elixir, and get the players to sip some of it at the start of all the remaining matches.
    Just maybe now Hughes is beginning to turn this round ..😀😀

  6. Didn’t go to the game today, so thanks for the great report.

  7. Ten more wins to be in with a chance…😉

  8. I only saw the highlights, but reading Hughes’ post match comments this week and last, his attitude is a breath of fresh air. Last week he stubbornly refused to criticise any of his players, especially Bass, despite being at fault for conceding the penalty.
    This week, he revelled in picking out by name many of them, for their determined performances. He clearly has a calm maturity and astuteness in how he develops & trains his team, but you also sense his positive, “look to their strengths, not their weaknesses” tone is breathing some confidence, can-do spirit, into this team and the club at large.
    It’s like a regional, dischordant orchestra has brought in a world class conductor, and suddenly you start to hear some proper tunes emerging as individuals start to bring their best efforts, and they start to perform together.
    And watching on Simon Parker’s Twitter feed the clip of Big Cook throwing himself into the crowd after his entertaining goal (for which the Club will no doubt be fined), wasn’t that a brilliant image of the sheer relief & new sense of togetherness of fan base & team.

    • “It’s like a regional, dischordant orchestra has brought in a world class conductor, and suddenly you start to hear some proper tunes emerging as individuals start to bring their best efforts, and they start to perform together.”
      Love that analogy Andy, great stuff!

  9. The difference between the team under Adams and under Mark was illustrated perfectly in one instant in the second half.
    City, 1 – 0 up, away against the league leaders are under pressure but win a free kick in the opposition half. Whilst FGR argued with the referee the City lads took it quickly and started an attacking move.
    I thought that illustrated the changed mentality perfectly. No way would they have done that under DA. No way would they have won that game. They might have gone 1-0 up but would have retreated, given up the initiative and ultimately lost.
    Also – subs come on with 30mins to go! Wow – who’d have thought that was even possible a month or so ago!
    Let’s not get carried away. FGR would have felt unfortunate not to have gone in at half time ahead. But you can see the difference in mentality in the City team and that’s key when so much of the game is played between the ears.

  10. It was great to rekindle that winning feeling as I’d not experienced it since last August when we beat Oldham Athletic with Angol’s last minute penalty. Admittedly, I’ve been to about a third of our games this season, including the recent defeats against Exeter City, Oldham Athletic, Mansfield Town and Swindon Town. However, the lure of watching Bradford City at a new ground was the main reason for me buying a ticket to go to The New Lawn.
    I’ve not been the biggest fan of Songo’o this season, however yesterday his performance was very good. One of the differences for me yesterday was that all of our players scored at least a 6.5 out of 10. The jubilation on Cooke’s face as he slid in front of the City supporters was a joyful moment. Also, you could see the elation on the faces of his team mates who mobbed him too.
    We as City supporters, know that we don’t possess world class footballers in our team. But when they display desire, effort and commitment, we can start to build a connection with them.
    P.S. the only disappointment yesterday was being told that Forest Green Rovers don’t produce paper copies of programmes.

  11. I think that this was a significant result in terms of demonstrating the impact that MH has had on the team.
    From a tactical perspective where things started to do wrong under DA was the sheer predictability and lack of flexibility in our play. For example it was almost guaranteed that if a team came to VP and closed us down they were guaranteed a point and invariably the City team was incapable of a Plan B in response. The FGR tactics are essentially based around the physicality of their players, not giving the opposition time on the ball with ‘niggling’ blocks thrown in. Under DA we would have been thrashed yesterday but what we saw was the ability of the team to soak the pressure and to some extent be creative and show some imagination, for example running off the ball into a different zone.
    Admittedly the first half wasn’t nice to watch but I don’t think it was ever going to be when playing FGR. Instead in the second half after BCAFC took the lead it was the FGR players who had little idea of an alternative approach to their game. On the basis of the last three fixtures MH is giving the players a degree of self-confidence and responsibility for their game that DA had drummed out of them. Not to mention MH has the motivational and man management skills that DA lacked.
    There is no doubting that this squad will need to be strengthened but I suspect that MH will get more out of them in the last two months of the season than we could have ever hoped under DA. For a start it is self-evident that the players seem to be enjoying themselves. Onwards and upwards.

  12. Mark Hughes ethos has just brought the club back together in just 2 weeks for all to see in the winning goal at Forest Green, what else is to come under this Magician, I am still asking myself is this for real Mark Hughes is Bradford City manager.
    God help any team coming to Valley Parade now, it will be an electric atmosphere and rocking every game, the connection between Fans, Manager, CEO & Club is huge at the moment and long may it continue, I am absolutely loving this and looking forward to the future, I just hope Mr Hughes wants to stay and create more magical moments to add to the history books……….

  13. So impressed by Mark Hughes. City players clearly have huge respect for him and want to be part of his plans.

  14. I agree with Ant. we shouldn’t get carried away but the positive impact in such a short space of time is re-mark-able.
    In all seriousness if this partnership can stay together we should be setting our sights higher and higher each season. Fingers crossed we can ride a very long wave of positivity and progression. What a difference it makes

  15. Football’s a “funny old game ” as Greavsey would say ,no more so than now . Before Hughes ,doom and gloom ,fear for the future ,no prospects , now it’s like a cloud has been lifted ,the footballs improving ,the players are enjoying it and the fans are now fully behind them. The difference between Adams and Hughes is stark ,Adams ,blunt , cold and miserable , Hughes measured , calm and smiley .
    I also still can’t get my head around having Mark Hughes as our manager and if the club can back him how far can we go ?
    I know , I know calm down but what the hell . Even the posts on here are uplifting for a change ,long may it continue.
    Funny old game

  16. A new manager. A game plan. Carried out to near instruction. A win.
    Pretty much everything lacking under the last regime.
    Time to use the rest of this season to plan ahead. Looking forward to Hughes being given the backing to bring in the calibre of player he requires to get us out of league 2.

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