|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