|Bristol Rovers 2|
|Finley 57, Taylor 75|
|Bradford City 1|
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