More questions than answers

Barrow 3
Whitfield 63, Kay 85, Gordon 90+6
Bradford City 2
Young 65, Cook 95+5

By Adam Raj

We may be only two games in, but Mark Hughes must already be scratching his head. A draw and a defeat in the opening fixtures leaves the City boss with a number of questions that he’ll need to find an answer for.

Saturday’s fixture in Cumbria was unlikely to be the 90 minutes of anti football we saw last weekend, with new Barrow manager Pete Wild having a reputation for playing the game the right way. But that in itself would raise different questions of a City defence that had no defending to do on the opening day. Worryingly, the answer was pretty unimpressive.

Hughes had made two changes to the side that drew a blank last week at Valley Parade, both being injury enforced. Emmanuel Osadebe and Jamie Walker dropped out for Harry Chapman and Alex Gilliead, the latter of whom playing his first minutes since the opening pre season friendly at Bradford Park Avenue.

City started fairly bright, the switch to a 4-3-3 from last week’s diamond proving to be slightly more effective at stretching the opposition with Chapman and Lee Angol occupying the wide positions. But for all the possession and neat passages of play, there was a distinct lack of creativity and incision.

And that is slightly representative of the hosts’ first half display too. Barrow struggled to get a foothold in the game, chasing shadows for the most part and looked even less likely to score than their visitors. It made for a rather tedious game to watch.

Hughes was clearly unimpressed, sending out his side for the restart a good few minutes before their hosts. But whatever was said during the interval didn’t have the effect that the 600 strong travelling faithful hoped for.

City’s composure in possession started to wane as Barrow started to press higher and more aggressively. They started to lose more duels all over the park and in possession, continued to lack a creative edge.

Just after the hour mark, the hosts took the lead. Bingley born Ben Whitfield drove inside from the left flank, rode the challenge of Richie Smallwood and fired low into the bottom left corner. Barrow continuing their superb finishing from long range efforts that served them so well during last week’s victory at Stockport.

For City, it was a wake up call. Minutes before the opening goal, Hughes had made a double change, with Andy Cook and Jake Young replacing Angol and a very quiet Vadaine Oliver.

Within moments of entering the field, Young offered a dynamic that has been missing from both of this season’s opening fixtures. A willingness to drive at and attack a fullback with pace to get in behind and put a defence on the back foot.

He was already City’s brightest spark despite having played only a matter of minutes. It was therefore no surprise that he was the man to drag his side level. Neat link up play between Chapman and Cook saw the ball fall to Ryan East on the edge of the box. He rolled in Young who curled a fantastic strike into the far top corner, in off the underside of the crossbar.

There was a brief moment of confusion as to whether the ball had actually crossed the line, with the linesman eventually the one who confirmed the goal, sparking great celebrations for his and City’s first goal of the season.

That goal didn’t have the momentum swing that those in Claret and Amber would’ve hoped for. Instead, a return to the bland and cautious style that had inhibited City’s play to that point.

Still, a point wouldn’t have been the worst result. Cue the City defensive collapse.

Five minutes from time, City conceded a desperately poor second goal. Failure to clear a corner not once but twice, saw substitute Josh Key prod into the top corner from eight yards out. Since Hughes has arrived at Valley Parade, City have looked rock solid from set pieces so this was a particularly uncharacteristic goal to concede.

But seven minutes of stoppage time gave City a lifeline. Matty Platt’s excellent cross field pass to Young saw the forward pluck the ball out of the sky effortlessly, cut inside fullback Tyrell Warren and strike at goal. Home keeper Paul Farman spilt the shot and there was Cook to bundle home the rebound.

At that moment, it felt like City had gained an important point. Playing well below their best, creating very little and coming from behind twice. We would’ve taken it.

Unfortunately, there was still two minutes of stoppage time to play. Liam Ridehalgh, who struggled all afternoon, gave away a very poor free kick mid way inside the City half. The cross was only half cleared and fell to Whitfield on the right edge of the box. He drilled a low cross across the face of goal where Josh Gordon managed to tap in to seal back to back 3-2 victories for Barrow.

From a City perspective, to throw a point away like that is bordering on unforgivable. The game management, especially from senior players, has got to be better.

As much as we deride the way Doncaster approached the game last week, their game management saw them come away with something. City needed to turn ugly for what remained of stoppage time. You’d hope that this is a very harsh lesson in how not to see a game out.

The news that Jamie Walker will miss a number of weeks if not months with a knee injury is particularly concerning. Without him, City’s midfield lacks any creativity whatsoever. East and Gilliead have their attributes but creative players they are not. And that piles pressure onto creativity needing to come from wide areas.

The problem with that? The squad still lacks width. Most of what was good under Hughes at the end of last season in forward areas came through Charles Vernam and Dion Pereira. The attributes that those two players carry don’t look to have been replaced as of yet, albeit Young’s cameo was encouraging.

In terms of what’s in the building, Osadebe will miss at least half the season, Angol looks out of sorts, Chapman appears to be a different type of player than those mentioned and Abo Eisa is constantly injured. Ultimately, it means everything is in front of an opposition defence and quite easy to defend against.

The sight of Pereira failing to make Luton’s 18 man squad this afternoon is hopefully an indication that he is available for loan. Either way, City need to add more pace, flair and unpredictability in their wide areas before the transfer window shuts.

I’m sure Hughes will be glad that these injuries and tactical deficiencies have occurred as early as they have, with there still being an opportunity to address them. But aside from further recruits, Hughes will have been given plenty of food for thought with regards to formation, style and personnel.

It’s easy to forget that there has been 14 new arrivals at Valley Parade this summer. The chances are that is wasn’t going to click instantly and that’s exactly what we’re seeing, with some disjointed team and individual performances.

Let’s hope the sticky start we’ve seen is just a case of needing time to gel and find their feet.

Categories: Match Reviews


12 replies

  1. Excellently disected analysis of yesterday’s game.

  2. Your final point hits the mark. It is a completely new team. Clearly some are not on the same wave length. They do need width, that’s for sure. The situation needs to be resolved and quickly. I would start with Cook and Angol. Give Young a full game. 2 weeks on the trot City have played this slow ineffective build up game. Surely Mark can see it isn’t working and he needs to tweek it. Every team must be looking forward to play Bradford. All possession no substance. Mark will get it right I’m sure and hush doubters who are already making their feelings known.

  3. Always concerning when leaking goals. Hopefully more of a one off than the start of a trend.
    Why can’t we get streetwise just for two more mins of injury time?
    Very disappointing way to lose

  4. Yes, your final 2 paras HOPEFULLY reflect the reality of where we are right now. In my “glass half empty” mode I recollect the first matches of the 18/19 seasons, when a collection of in theory good players turned out to be an unbalanced squad, and they played from the off like a disjointed bunch of strangers playing together for the first time.

    In my “glass half full” mode, I recollect Sheffield United in the season they went up from L1- I recollect they had a poor start, from memory for bottom at the end of August, but then steadily built up through the season, to finish top.

    Fingers crossed, as you say, that the existing squad gel…but that we also pull in 1 or 2 recruits who give us the missing ingredients.

  5. In my opinion, anyone suggesting that City’s poor start is due to 14 new signings are likely mislead. It’s at least 6 weeks since the start of preseason and most of City’s new players had already been signed early. Lots of time to become acclimated and bond. Walsall are currently leading the league with 2 wins and 5 goals scored and none against. They have 16 new signings!!

    I would suggest that City appear to have questionable recruiting due mainly to a lack of experience from everyone involved and that includes senior management. In addition, at League Two level to be successful in recruitment requires a healthy dose of good fortune.

  6. My biggest worry is that MH and the.mansgement team don’t know the lower leagues.
    Doncaster were awful.but got a point against the odds at.VP last Saturday. We could have got a point yesterday and although we had not played well, a good team having drawn level in the final seconds would have done so.
    A team going for promotion would have game managed the time after Cooks equaliser and taken a valuable point.
    Now we have a situation where the pressure is ramped up for the Newport game and 3 points is important.
    Newport are likely to use this as a tactic.
    Frustrate, turn the crowd, and try to nick a win.
    We need to be more streetwise and much more ruthless.

  7. I can confirm that I watched the same match as you Adam. Excellent summation, though a bitterly disappointing outcome. Hopefully an early blip. I’m sure that Mark Hughes will respond on the pitch.
    Can I just take this opportunity to thank the person in C block, Main Stand, who kindly passed Covid on to me last Saturday. After over 2+ years of avoiding it, I certainly now know what I have been missing.

  8. Once we’ve had a few more games, it’ll be easier to make a fairer judgement of this squad. I think it’s one of the most balanced and impressive ones that we’ve had at this level, but it’s going to take a bit of time for the players to find their feet. Here’s a few initial thoughts…

    We would really benefit from having two out-and-out strikers starting next to each other, and a new winger to supply them in before the end of the window. Oliver / Angol / Cook between them have the ability to score at least 10-15 goals each with good service and I think we look too isolated with one up front on his own.

    Songo’o needs to start and would work well alongside Smallwood. I like East (and think he brings something very different to our team that we’ve not had since Reeves) but Songo’o is the type of player we need battling for every ball. He did so well for us last year, and now we’ve got two talented centre-backs (excluding the mistakes yesterday) he’ll offer extra protection for them.

    There’s plenty to be optimistic about. We’ve got a good cup tie against Hull on Tuesday; Stockport who are tipped to do well and have a great squad haven’t started well either; we’ll have another cracking crowd and atmosphere against Newport; and Hughes doesn’t seem to be the sort of manager resistant to making changes like we’ve seen in the past.

    I’m trying to be positive because I think this season represents the best chance we’ve had for some time – arguable even better than the year PP took us up from this league. Hopefully things will pick up!

  9. Good right up and I agree with every word.
    The forward play has been bland with nobody looking to go wide or to go past anyone until Young came on yesterday. Why wasn’t that rectified by the management mid-game Vs Doncaster’s ten men? Or at the very least in the build up to yesterdays game? We have signed 14 new players yet not one of the attacking players looks capable of doing that. We have Vadaine Oliver up front who isn’t being given the service that he would thrive off and Angol is a striker not a winger – He looks wasted and lost out wide. I agree 100% with the writers comments about us so far seemingly not replacing Vernam and Pereira adequately.

    The defence too has been exposed on the two times that it has been properly tested – yesterday and against Chesterfield. All three goals yesterday were defensively shambolic and to concede that third goal after seemingly rescuing a point was damn right unforgivable from all involved.

    The arguments about the 14 new signings needing time to gel are weak excuses given that we made most of our signings early and both Barrow and Walsall also made a hatful of signings and are siting at the top of the league with six points from two games.

    It’s been a hugely disappointing start to the season there’s no getting away from that.

    • Angol looks to me like he’s playing well within himself so as not to aggravate his hamstring problems. Obviously, he’d be no good to us if he’s unavailable due to another injury setback but, equally, a half pace Angol is no good to us either. Sooner, or later he’s really going to have to test them because, on current performances, he’ll won’t be featuring in the side for much longer.
      I’m not too concerned at the disappointing start to the season. The injury situation hasn’t helped and I’m sure Hughes will be looking to bring in a loan replacement to cover for Osadebe’s absence. Only when he gets good service from out wide, will we be able to assess how effective Oliver is. What heartens me is that, early doors, Harratt and Young have given us a taster of their abilities.

  10. Liverpool looked awful yesterday, Norwich have taken 1 point from 2 games, Stockport 0 points yet.

    We will have multiple instances where we are poor for a couple of games it doesn’t define whether we are a good team or not. First two games Hughes has seen his team in competitive matches. Time to gel or not teams can look rusty early in the season.

    It may take time, and yes it would be nice we to hit the ground running with 6 points

    We haven’t, no big deal, 44 games to come.

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