Battling defeat demonstrates the importance of Bradford City finding a harder edge to their game

Bradford City 1
Vernam 70
Port Vale 2
Garrity 50, Wilson 63

Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

If Mark Hughes didn’t yet fully realise the scale of the challenge reviving Bradford City, this would have been an afternoon of valuable lessons to test his ideals.

The Bantams manager has been able to observe green shoots quickly emerge from his attempts to play patient passing football, attack in numbers and press higher up the pitch. But it was neutered by a streetwise Port Vale side who played with a tough edge. The visitors deployed a physical approach that City struggled to stand up to. And any hopes of protection were dashed by a haphazard refereeing performance.

Welcome to League Two, Mark Hughes. And to the type of opposition tactics that routinely prosper at this level. The simple fact is that Port Vale were very good value for their victory and in doing so they showed up the limitations of this Bradford City side.

The scoreline made the game seem close, and the home side deserve credit for pushing hard to the end. But over the course of the 90 minutes, Port Vale were able to keep their opponents at arm’s length and pack a more potent punch. On this occasion, City’s approach was thwarted. “Teams will look at the way we play and try and affect that,” Hughes stated after the match.

Hughes is unlikely to rip up what he is building on the basis of this, but it was an afternoon that showed the importance of instilling grit and toughness. Of how vital it is to be good enough to stand up to the physical challenge, in order for your footballing abilities to make a telling impact.

The manager doesn’t quite have that right now. This is a nice bunch of players who lack that ruthless edge. More warriors are needed. Those who will be brave, relish the battle and not be bullied. Or to put it another way, Hughes needs the sort of fearless character that he himself embodied as a player.

That’s going to have to wait until the summer. In the meantime, rising hopes that this group of players might in fact be good enough to be part of a promotion push were dampened by this defeat, the fifth on the trot at home.

They didn’t play badly. They never let their heads drop. And when Charles Vernam pulled a goal back there was hope of a morale-boosting comeback to claim a point that – over the 90 minutes – they would have been fortunate to gain. It was ultimately in vain. But for their efforts, the players deserved the warm applause from home fans at full time.

That City couldn’t build on Tuesday’s excellent win over Hartlepool was partly due to the absence of Elliot Watt through injury. The young midfielder has been coming into his own under Hughes, and his absence caused a reshuffle back to a 4-2-3-1 that saw Callum Cooke and Gareth Evans drop slightly back and Nathan Delfuenso brought in to play as a number 10, in-between wide attackers Levi Sutton and Dion Pereira.

The upshot was City had plenty of the ball in the middle of the park, but a return to the Derek Adams problem of striker Andy Cook looking too isolated and a lack of options in the final third. Not a single member of City’s midfield five was better for the formation change.

The ball was given away too often. At Victoria Park on Tuesday, 12 of the 14 City players who featured had a pass success rate of over 80%. Against Port Vale, not one player reached 80%. Pereira had an outstanding pass success rate of 93.9% against Hartlepool. It was just 37.5% here. “We needed a little bit more personality on the pitch at times,” reflected Hughes.

Vale, playing a 3-4-1-2, performed better in both boxes and counter attacked in numbers when they won turnovers. Ben Garrity, playing in the hole, proved tricky to pick up and the front two of James Wilson and former City forward Jamie Proctor played very well. Wilson in particular produced a strong centre forward’s display. He rarely gave possession away and the ball stuck with him when he was found by a Vale player.

In a goalless first half, City toiled but failed to muster a shot on target – although Cook did hit the bar with a deflect shot in stoppage time. Sutton and Pereira were often crowded out by Vale shirts, with full backs Luke Hendrie and Matty Foulds struggling to provide the same level of support. There were good bits of link up play, but the wrong option routinely taken. Delfuenso is not naturally a central midfielder and on this evidence is not about to become the next Joelinton.

Vale looked more of a threat at the other end with Alex Bass undoubtedly the busier keeper. The visitors’ pace breaking forward was a real issue at times. It never looks good when your team pass the ball around without enough purpose, give it away, and have to scramble back to prevent an opposition goal. But that’s the risks that come with trying to play the right way.

This was the case early in the second half. David Worrall crossed the ball and Pereira had the chance to clear it up the pitch, but sliced his attempt across the box. The ball hit Foulds at pace and he was unable to control it, allowing Wilson to run through and fizz a low ball across the box. Hendrie could have done more to get the ball away, and Garrity nipped in to score.

It came through Port Vale’s strongest period of the match. “The way we came out in the second half, we got right on the front foot and took advantage of those moments,” purred Vale’s interim manager Andy Crosby. They nearly made it 2-0 when Yann Songo’o gave the ball away in a bad position and again the visitors piled forward. Just as Wilson was seemingly about to score, Songo’o recovered to produce a superb last ditch tackle. But the respite was short lived.

Wilson scored the second goal from an angle thanks to some slightly questionable goalkeeping from Bass. But the drama came in the build up when Proctor pulled Songo’o to the floor, yet referee Darren Drysdale waved play on and Wilson ran through. This was once again a terrible refereeing display from Drysdale. He let too much go and provided City with no security from Vale’s at-times over physical approach.

After all these years it is mystery how Drysdale is still deemed a competent referee. Is he ever assessed? Or is he normally better, and just happens to save his worst performances for visits to Valley Parade?

At 2-0 down, City looked well beaten but to their immense credit they kept going. Hughes was able to bring on Vernam after a two month injury lay off and he quickly made up for lost time by making it 2-1 with a deflected low shot. With Jamie Walker also brought onto the field, there was hope of an unlikely comeback. But for all the huff and puff, it still looked remote.

There just wasn’t enough pressure placed on Vale to suggest an equaliser was on the cards. During those final 20 minutes City had 75% of the ball, yet won only one corner and had just four shots at goal – none of which were on target.

What we saw was a lot of City passing in the middle of the park, but a struggle to get through the Vale lines. When players were on the ball they lacked good options, as a well organised Vale backline left few gaps. Hughes rued, “For too long we kept doing the same things and it played into Port Vale’s hands.”

You wanted Hughes to be a little more pragmatic. To urge long balls forward. Throw on Theo Robinson to give Cook more support, or push Songo’o or Paudie O’Connor up front. But they continued to stick with the passing approach. In the six minutes of injury time City produced 55 passes and were accurate with 42 of them. They remained tidy on the ball right to the end, but simply weren’t hurting Port Vale.

It is hard to be too critical of City and Hughes for sticking to their principles and there is no question the approach he wants to take is one that is finding favour with supporters. But today was an important lesson about the hard faced nature of League Two.

You will come up against teams who want to bully you. Referees who won’t protect you. And to be successful, you have to find ways to overcome these tactics. Good footballing sides can be promoted at this level, but not without having a hard edge too.

After this defeat, Hughes will surely appreciate that point more than ever.

Categories: Match Reviews

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18 replies

  1. Your question about Drysdale is a very pertinent one.
    How has he survived with the performance we have routinely seen from him over many seasons.
    Is he poor all the time therefore not assessed or just when he comes to VP?
    There is little doubt that he played a big part in the second goal for Vale.
    His actions in the past lead me to believe he dislikes us.
    There is no other reason for his consistently poor display when he officiates at Valley Parade.
    As soon as I saw him named as ref I knew that a major decision would go against us.
    I would go as far as to say the next time he comes to VP the trend will continue.
    City were not as good as recent performances but did try good football particularly in the first half.
    If Cooks shot had gone in instead of unluckily hitting the bar and Drysdales antics had been more effective we might have shared the points.
    As you say Jason we lack the street wise toughness that we need to find.

    • Well Mark, Drysdale does seem to have something against City without a doubt. Out of the last seven games that he has been ‘in charge’ our record is W 1 / D 1 / L 5 In those games he has sent off both NKP and Vincelot. Very strange, eh, the man loves controversy.

  2. Cook was poor today. Not suited to the lone striker role. Wilson up front for Vale looked a far better player, more mobile and more of a handful. Songo’o is not a centre half and he should not play there next season. Callum Cooke is a tidy player but simply doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of goals and assists required. Delfounso looks poor and Pereirra for all his pace and skill looks physically weak. Gareth Evans is still not good enough, he was back to his anonymous self today and needs binning. At of work to do in the summer. I’d keep Paudie, Sutton, Vernam and make it a priority to sign Walker. I’d quite happily see the rest go.

  3. Excellent report Jason! We can’t win every game although unrealistically we would love that.
    Personally I felt we never got into the game from start to finish and looked on edge throughout. The first goal was quite farcical. The second – well I wasn’t one who blamed the foul on Songo’o as being the culprit as we seemed to have enough players around to deal with it much better than we obviously did. If it had been the other way around, there wouldn’t be any mention so just tough luck. Some you win, some you lose.
    Overall PV deserved the win and we should’ve learned some good lessons for the future. I’m sure Mark will be taking plenty of notes through the last lot of games ready for the promotion push next season. However I’m still holding out for City to win the playoffs this year at 176/1! with 10 on it! ha ha ha

  4. I thought our fifth successive home defeat in front of a crowd that probably was close to the official attendance was disappointing, in 1905/06 we had six successive home defeats, not sure if we have come close to that in the intervening 117 years and frankly other than checking a few relegation seasons didn’t have the appetite to fully explore.
    Drysdale was abysmal (as always) but we conceded two appalling goals and whilst “today was an important lesson about the hard faced nature of League Two”, I really feel it’s a lesson we have already learnt many times and not a new one.
    I have confidence in MH to sort this, but feel the summer clear out will be extensive.

    • That 6 is the current record; we’ve now matched the 5 we also had in 1926/7. After that, seven 4s, spanning from early days (1908/9) to nowadays (2018/9) round out our top-10 for successive home defeats.

  5. Up until today I’ve really started enjoying city’s performances since mark Hughes took charge of the club. The last few games have just been a breath of fresh air.
    I don’t think that we played bad today but it just seemed a reminder that a lot of the players simply aren’t good enough to get us out of this league (although a lot have improved significantly since Hughes took the helm).
    I’m still really optimistic about the future of the club now. If Hughes is still at the club in 12 months time I still think that we will be in a much better position than we are now.
    I’m not expecting much between now and may, but I’m excited to see how mark rebuilds in the summer for next season.

  6. We did miss Watt and Gillead. However, Port Vale did their homework. They closed us down all over the pitch. Delfonso did not add a great deal. They singled out Pereria straight away. The lad is a breath of fresh air. He is quality on the ball. Wish we could keep him. First half was full of errors but at least City came off at half-time all square. Port Vale went 2 up but at least we kept playing and pulled one back. Can’t argue with the effort. We kept going to the end. I believe Hughes has seen our frailties and he will react. Still optimistic.

  7. What surprised me is that we did not change it at half time ,Delfonso has been poor since he arrived on loan from Bolton and looked out of position today ,our midfield looked to pass it back or sideways at every opportunity .One up front did not work i just hope M.H. was having a good look at his players and given then a chance to see what they can do .Otherwise he was late making making changes .

  8. I’m not sure that Port Vale were that much better than us today as some are suggesting. I do however agree that their physicality aided by some suspect defending, goalkeeping and refereeing won through.
    At the risk of sounding like Derek Adams we had enough chances to take something from the game. Walker missing the target at 2-1 and the header cleared off the line at the death being two of them.
    A lot of the players simply aren’t good enough for promotion but are at least putting a shift in now and the magins are fine in this league. Out of those players out of contract this summer I’d be keeping POC, Sutton, Cooke, Foulds Vernam and maybe Watt. The rest can go. The worry is that some of those players might get better offers from elsewhere as will Jamie Walker. Also we have a lot of poor players under contract for next year. Hopefully Hughes will be significantly backed to make the vast changes to the squad that are needed.
    PS: Wasn’t it Pereira rather than Evans who sliced his clearance across the box for Port Vales first goal?

  9. Port Vale were better than us, we tried hard but we lack a quality striker. Cook is a good lad but he’s not a Wilson (best player on the park) or even a Proctor (bullied us).
    I’m a cricketer and I have seen umpires who decide that the fairest way to hide their incompetence is to give nothing. If you give nothing both sides supposedly that’s fair. That’s rubbish and Drysdale’s obvious attitude that he wasn’t going to give any fouls was along the same lines. He’s good at posturing though!
    I also think Hughes will give all players a go over the remaining games. He has to make decisions on them and that could be the only reason why Delfouneso stayed on past half time.

    • I cannot think of any other reason why ND was given a chance in that role. The question is will MH be backed in the summer? History suggests not a chance, however the mere fact MH is our manager leave me to think anything os possible in football. A clear indication to me is that we finally have shelled out for a proper number 2 for the first time in years (I think) under ER reign. Both have so much experience and a clear trusted bond going back 30+years. Our GK ,full back and centre back options are so poor it’s no wonder we are leaking goals (last 2 games apart) It’s staggering how threadbare we are in terms of real quality and I give some credit to them that we aren’t in the bottom 6 dogfight given the options. Anyway, a busy summer awaits once again. Hope springs eternal so they say.!

  10. I see the first “makes substitutions too late” comments have arrived. Coming next: “no plan B”.

  11. The club report claimed it was a great atmosphere yesterday – but for me almost every team in the division currently generate a better home atmosphere than us. I would like to see us do something new…
    Make the bottom tier of the TL Dallas safe standing and I bet it would sell out and have a cracking atmosphere. I would be happy to pay for a few saesons up front to cover the investment cost
    Just a thought…

  12. Good summary of the game. I don’t think the formation helped us. It hasn’t worked effectively for us since the wheels fell off for Trueman & Sellars.
    Cook looked particularly lacklustre as the lone frontman. I’m beginning to tire of his play acting. Going to ground too often looking for something and not getting it. I think referees are too wise to his antics and when he does genuinely earn a foul it’s a case of ‘the boy who cried wolf’. He certainly wasn’t going to win anything off that buffoon Drysdale.
    Whether it was the formation but we looked like DA was back in charge again. Too many square balls when a forward pass was on. At one point the frustration got too much for MH when he raced out of his technical area to berate Songo’o for a square ball.
    They say you can learn more from a defeat than a victory and yesterday certainly provide lots of food for thought for MH

  13. Was Delfounso playing number 10?! I cannot recall any touches in the final third! Strange selection in midfield. It was a learning curve for MH and a lesson in the dark arts with several cynical fouls and Vale winning virtually every second ball and getting the basic’s right. Zero control in midfield without Watt who will be a big miss if he moves on in the summer

  14. Well done Mark; even the defeats feel better under you.What a fillip for the whole club. Well done everyone involved. A really great hire.
    Now, lets back him up in the Summer, but I think he will get a lot more out of previously unfancied players, so expect to see a mini revolution occur during the summer.
    Good luck everybody.

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