A reality check for a Bradford City side who are still a long way off competing

Bristol Rovers 2
Finley 57, Taylor 75
Bradford City 1
Pereira 46

Written by Adam Raj (images by John Dewhirst)

Despite fifteen attempts at asking, Bradford City are still yet to rock up to the blue and white half of Bristol and leave with three points. The Bantams’ season may be well and truly dead, but Bristol Rovers are still well in the automatic promotion fight and that was painfully evident in this afternoon’s encounter.

They say games are never played on paper, but this played out like the home banker many would have expected.

In a division that continues to baffle in regards to the quality of side competing at the top end, Rovers were one of a handful that you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at finishing in the top three based on this performance.

Much like Port Vale, Rovers were full of energy and physicality, but impressively, they had plenty of talent on show too. And much like how City failed to cope with those very aspects of that Vale side, they struggled in that regard again today. With the absence of Charles Vernam from the side, there is a distinct lack of mobility and athleticism throughout the team, as well as that all important facet – pace.

The likes of Alex Gilliead, Callum Cooke, Dion Pereira and Jamie Walker may be good technical players but they struggle when it comes to winning a footrace, running in behind or winning a 50/50 physical battle. This squad has few attributes, but a glaring deficiency is the lack of pace and athleticism, which has to be one of the many areas of focus come the summer recruitment drive.

The home side set out their intent early, pressing City high and forcing turnovers and set pieces in dangerous areas. The visitors found it hard to have sniff in the opening 15 minutes with the home side camped inside the City half. Luca Hoole went close with a header from a free kick, whilst Harry Anderson blazed over from six yards out after misjudging Sam Nicholson’s cross. They were major alarm bells for City who couldn’t find a way to slow the game down, disrupt the home side’s flow and progress the ball up the pitch.

The diamond shape in midfield prevented the home side from getting any joy through the centre of the park, but allowed Rovers to target arguably City’s weakest area of their defensive line – the full backs.

Equally, Walker was a subdued character playing alongside Andy Cook and really struggled to have any influence on the game. But when an attacking midfielder is preferred to three other strikers to play up front, that is a damning indictment of the quality, or lack of it, available to Mark Hughes. When the City gaffer turned to Vernam at half time, it was not particularly surprising that the Scot made way.

The lifeline was that it was still 0-0, no matter how undeserved it may have been. Paudie O’Connor was nearly in big trouble as he dallied on the ball and allowed Sam Finley to rob it and race through on goal. He managed to get back (with the aid of a shirt pull) and make a sliding block challenge. The home side were furious that the referee failed to point to the spot and it was hard to disagree with them.

As the half drew to a close, City were counting their blessings that they weren’t a couple down at least. It was almost a carbon copy of the first half of the return fixture at Valley Parade. Arguably City’s best first half performance of the season, they created a bucket load of chances and made Rovers look extremely poor. A lack of a goalscorer holding both sides back over the two games.

But as harsh as 0-0 was on the home side at the break, the most unlikely, yet most predictable occurrence in the game came 20 seconds after the restart. Matty Foulds’ hook into the box was knocked down by Cook into the path of Dion Pereira. The on-loan Luton attacker showed great composure to jink inside Trevor Clarke and finish calmly past James Belshaw in the Rovers goal.

But rather than swing the momentum of the game into City’s favour for the first time, the opener only grew Rovers’ desire and intent.

Nicholson was twice thwarted by two good saves from Alex Bass before the hosts were level, twelve minutes after falling behind. A short corner found its way out to Finley who let fly from 30 yards. His sweet strike thumped into the back of the net to bring the tie level. It was a strong strike, but the fact that it hit the net in almost the centre of the goal, leaves you questioning Bass’ contribution.

From then on there was only ever going to be one winner, you couldn’t see City holding out for a point with Rovers’ unrelenting pressure and City’s inability to get out of their defensive third. Long balls to Cook weren’t sticking and the side lacks and variability to play a ball in the channel to turn the home defence. It all meant that Rovers could sustain attack after attack fairly comfortably.

Bass made another good save to deny Elliot Anderson, who was the best player on the park by some distance. The Newcastle loanee looked a class above and had the Josh Cullen-like influence on Rovers that the Irishman had during his time at Valley Parade. You have to hope that this is the kind of calibre of loanee who we can attract in the summer, given Hughes’ extensive contacts, as opposed to some of the pretty poor loan signings we have made recently.

Ultimately, the Bantams couldn’t hold out. Luke Hendrie gave away a needless foul following some really lazy defending as he tried to let the ball run out of play but was robbed by Harry Anderson. The resulting free kick saw some really weak defending from Hendrie and O’Connor which allowed centre back Connor Taylor to prod home.

Despite Rovers’ dominance, the manner of the goals conceded will be of immense disappointment and frustration to Hughes. Two set pieces and some really sloppy defending in the process. To get caught on a short corner, for example, is criminal.

Regardless of whether City could have managed to hold out for at least a point, Hughes will have learnt from this defeat. He will have noticed the deficiencies in the squad more so in this game than any other, even if those deficiencies are of no surprise to us supporters who have had the misfortune of noticing them all season.

But that is exactly what the remaining games are for this season – a learning exercise for Hughes and the club so that, come the summer, we’re not making the same mistakes in terms of recruitment that has plagued this club for years.

Categories: Match Reviews

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9 replies

  1. The current squad is not good enough. No further proof is needed. It is so unbalanced that the better players are made to look poor. I would actually be inclined to let go anybody who is out of contract and try to persuade a few in contract to move on. Yes, some of them can probably do a job but it’s best to let Hughes assemble his own squad. The single exception is Watt who should be offered a contract because, on account of his age, we can command a fee when he almost inevitably moves on.

  2. Another excellent game summary. Definitely a learning experience for Hughes that clearly highlighted City’s deficiencies. Summer recruitment is going to be a very demanding job. Interesting to note, today of the 11 players already returning next season only 3 ( Cook, Songo’o and Gilliead) got playing time.

  3. Its amazing that Adam’s thought he could get the goals we needed out of Robinson, Lavery, Delofouenso, and to a lesser extent Angol.
    It’s difficult to rate Angol.as due to injury he has not had a good enough run but has scored goals when he has played.
    If Adam’s did what most fans can do and examine a players record on the internet he would have seen that most of the above have not played many game recently and their goal return was poor.
    Why would they suddenly find their shooting boots in the Valley Parade dressing room?
    It has left Hughes struggling to partner Cook with an effective foil and made our one natural goalscorer ineffective.
    At the start of the season many fans questioned where the goals were going to come from.
    They have been proven right.

    • i said this exact thing on another thread and got more thumbs down than up :). But its true. Those in charge of recruitment seemed incapable of seeing this. Even in their prime some of them weren’t exactly banging in the goals. We need some pace all over the pitch. There is no point Watt for instance trying to play a decent trough ball cos we have no one with the pace to get on the end of it apart from Vernam perhaps. And again at the back the central two are often caught out due to the lack of pace and end up having to foul the opposition. More pace will change the way we play and offer options and variety in what we can do. Hughes i believe will know this already and hopefully takes command of recruitment so the recent failings in this area are ended.

  4. Imbalance of squad is a major issue. We have some decent players – when they have an opportunity to play in a ” team ” not a collection of individuals.! Summer requires a clear out – which may mean players I would like to keep going – but Hughes needs to be given a blank sheet to look at how he wants to play & who he thinks can play that way.

    • I think we will know by the quality of Hughes’s first couple of signings if he is being backed or not. He will be able to attract top players but they don’t come cheap.

  5. Hughes should not be allowed to feed on scraps. We should be looking at positions where we are struggling and go for the best available for the job. In the past, we have been overloaded with players with dubious injury records and those who are the back end of their career.
    Mark will have contacts higher up and I believe it will benefit us long term. Roll on next season.

    • I’m not sure its scraps. Somehow Harrogate have Diamond, Bristol Rovers have Andersen. I think with the name of Hughes and the coaching and style of football we will attarct a better loan signing.

      Who wanted a youngster playing random football for Adams

  6. I enjoyed the game – if not the result.

    Mark was exactly spot on when he said we just wasn’t quite on our game. That accuracy and precision let us down each time we tried to get hold of the game and invited pressure onto us. Pace is definitely an issue in the side.

    If I was to be critical it is with our growing tendency to play it out form the back. I’d much rather play our football in the opposition half rather than our own and rolling it out to Songo, for me, is the wrong option. Yann would be the first on my teamsheet if I wanted a defender to put his body on the line to stop a goal but not if I wanted a center half to play out from the back. If they do go short it has to either go forward or wide. Playing it back inside or to the keeper just invites pressure. That said I do realize I’m probably going against modern football here!

    I did rather like Rover’s tactic of shaping to go short at a goal kick, inviting the press, then go long to isolate Foulds – clever play that I thought.

    But it shows how far we have come in a short space of time when we are complaining about games like this. We can all see what MH is trying to do – he just hasn’t quite got the resources to do it yet.

    Also, fair play to the Bristol fans – they created a fair atmosphere on Saturday. I

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