Another sloppy Bradford City away defeat hints of the need for a more simplified approach

Colchester United 1
Eastman 90+7
Bradford City 0

Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

Not like this. Not again. Bradford City’s second away game of the season ended in the same painful way as the first. A winning goal conceded deep in stoppage time. Easily preventable. Sloppily defended.

If the trip back from Barrow last week felt that much longer for losing so late on, the journey home from Colchester will have seemed like a lifetime. After Barrow had sealed their unlikely victory over Bradford City in the sixth minute of injury time, here, Colchester left it even later to break Bantams hearts.

With the clock showing 90+7 minutes, Thomas Eastman out-jumped Brad Halliday to head home and earn United their first league victory of the campaign. Their first win at home, in fact, since Easter Monday – when City last visited this part of the world. Colchester have won just four home games this calendar year – two of them against the Bantams. How very Bradford City.

It is another early season blow for Mark Hughes. After the worrying lapses at Barrow, the Bantams had recovered with back-to-back home wins that got the campaign up and running. But promising form at Valley Parade is not being replicated on the road. Two defeats from two. Both to opposition who in pre-season were widely tipped to struggle. Both confirmed in the most demoralising manner.

On the balance of the 90 minutes, it was hard to argue that City deserved anything more. They dominated possession, ending up above 60% for the fourth league game in a row. But they created little in the final third and Colchester narrowly bettered their shot count (16 to 15). City only managed three shots on target, taking their overall league total to 15 on target in 360+ minutes of action this League Two season. That’s the 10th lowest in the division.

So far, City just aren’t the attacking force they need to be if they’re going to mount a credible promotion push. The 4-2-3-1 formation Hughes has maintained leaves them largely solid at the back and comfortable in possession in the centre of the park, but too limited when they attack.

The Colchester manager, Wayne Brown, had obviously done his homework on Hughes’ charges. He lined United up 4-1-4-1 (after going 4-4-2 at Stockport on Saturday), which meant they had plenty of men behind the ball.

There was no pressure applied to Romoney Crichlow, Matty Platt, Richie Smallwood and Alex Gilliead as they confidently knocked the ball around, but with heavy congestion of blue and white shirts between them and Sam Hornby’s goal, actually making possession count proved a problem here – just as it had against Doncaster and Barrow. Marley Marshall-Miranda spent the game following Harry Chapman everywhere he went. Al-Amin Kazeem stood up well to the threat of Scott Banks.

City badly miss Jamie Walker. Chapman is a good player but it remains questionable he can be an effective number 10. Jake Young – brought in ahead of Lee Angol – had a half to forget on the left wing. Vadaine Oliver was also recalled, but looks completely unsuited to what City are trying to do. This is a targetman asked to lead the line in a side who play it on the floor. In the 79 minutes of action before he was finally put out of his misery, Oliver had just 23 touches of the ball. It’s very early days and he will surely improve, but so far he looks a poor signing.

On the right hand side of the City attack, Banks did at least have another good evening. He had City’s two best first half chances, and tracked back well to support Halliday, who struggled with Kazeem and Frank Nouble doubling up. But ultimately the front four players of Banks, Chapman, Young and Oliver were too isolated and just couldn’t work collaboratively to build up attacks. It just isn’t working against teams prepared to sit back and deny them space. The fact is that the bulk of City’s dominance on the ball comes from when they have it in their own half

Hughes won’t have liked that first half performance and did make a change during the break. Angol replaced Young, but it didn’t prove a game changing move, and the overall pattern remained largely the same. City had spells dominating possession and got the ball forwards. They won plenty of corners. At times you had that sense they might be close to a breakthrough, but at no point did Colchester look to be on the ropes.

Indeed, the home side had good chances in both halves. Nouble hit the bar with a header when Harry Lewis might have got a faint touch to help it onto the woodwork. The City stopper also produced an impressive save to deny Alex Newby. Colchester were low risk in approach, prioritising not getting beaten. But they carried a threat that meant their eventual breakthrough was far from a surprise.

Hughes will look back and question whether City should have had a penalty just before the 90th minute when Angol appeared to have been tripped in the box. And he will wonder how on earth the Bantams didn’t equalise when, moments after Eastman’s breakthrough, Andy Cook hit the post and sub Kian Harratt – who looked promising – saw his rebound effort blocked by a defender.

But all that will be overshadowed by his anger over the way his team conceded. A needlessly conceded free kick by Angol, and not the strongest of headed challenges from Halliday to prevent Eastman heading Noah Chilvers’ cross into the back of the net.

It just wasn’t good enough here, and that puts City under a bit of pressure going into the weekend’s game at struggling Hartlepool United. It’s early days and the revamped squad needs time to gel. But still, there must be a big temptation to change the system that – due to injuries – doesn’t quite have the right players available to make it happen. Right now, we’re seeing a wide player as a number 10 and strikers playing as wide midfielders.

At times it feels like we’re trying to be too clever, adopting an approach that is slightly beyond the wit and capability of some of these players. This is League Two and it surely needs simplifying. So that players who – on paper – should be excelling can start to really stamp their authority on this division.

Categories: Match Reviews

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19 replies

  1. Turning into yet another Jekyll and Hyde team…

  2. Its far too narrow and a defensive shape. Young and Banks both on the side of their ‘weakest’ foot thus cutting inside every time. Ok if the full backs over-lap, but that was rare. Thus Oliver is completely negated and he should not start if this is the system employed. Yep its early doors but thats when i would have liked to see us perhaps experiment a little. The lack of attempts suggest this imo, and why not try 2 up top for once? or at least have Young and Banks swap wings for 15 mins? Its all too safe and costing us. I would understand it more if it was against teams away that may be up there at the of the season but Colchester were missing lots of players and their set-up at home showed this. Its hard to see goals in this side apart from when Cook and Harrett are on the pitch. Despite everyone saying its early days, there are already gaps appearing and some sides showing form already. If Hughes really believes we have the players then lets see us take more risks in set-up going forward.

  3. That’s my first game of the season in the flesh and leaves me with very limited expectations for this term. There is absolutely no point playing Oliver if you are not going to get some players around him to pick up the pieces and to get some quality delivery into the box. Banks and Gilly were decent and we looked much more potent with Angol for Young but the title to the piece says it all…get the basic’s right first at this level. The gnawing doubt that we are going to be a soft touch under Hughes remains. The referee was piss poor but the defeat was self inflicted.

  4. Square pegs round holes comes to mind. With Walker injured Hughes needs to find a formation that suits the players available. Walker is a big miss we don’t have a like for like replacement

  5. Another average performance from an average side. We have again signed the usual crop of journey men along with a few basically untried kids. Oliver , with his three year contract tucked away in his pocket must feel like he’s won the lottery. Let’s hope eventually that Mark can get a tune out of em and give us the performances we deserve.

  6. I am mystified why you would want to drop/ rest/ rotate/ omit (call it what you will) Cook who has only played one full match. Why did he need ‘freshening up’? He’s a war horse and he’s never been fitter than he is now. Why demotivate him! And why wait until the 80th minute to recognise the mistake. I also think we lack height in the squad. We will come up against teams packed with 6’ 4” players. We are not blessed overmuch with pace either. Last but not least, three of our best players might well be recalled to their parent clubs in January. We will be lucky to keep them all. Food for though!

  7. My biggest worry with the squad that Mark as built is in a really tight game where the opposition sets up to frustrate us who are the players who can unlock that and create a chance out of nothing for us??

    I just hope we can learn to mix it up a bit because of not we are in danger of other managers quickly learning how to play against us and get the result.

    That said I still like the direction the club are going, I’m confident Mark will eventually get it right at Bradford city.

    • We are definitely missing two key players and that has impacted the game plans. Last night the issue was the failure to create / convert chances and it was by no means unique to that game. However I also thought that there was a lack of urgency and bite in the team.

      Playing in the hot conditions on Saturday could not have been easy for any of the players – it was challenging enough to sit in the direct sun, let alone play and I suspect that there was a degree of exhaustion in their legs. Mark Hughes had obviously been sensitive to the issue which is why he made the substitutions that he did at the weekend.

      Given that the club now has detailed fitness metrics for each player, the management team likely makes decisions about resting players on the basis of empirical evidence as opposed to on a whim. Last night I couldn’t fathom why Andy Cook didn’t start the game or for that matter why he didn’t come on as substitute much sooner but at the end of the day I don’t think that Mark Hughes is a fool and his decision must have been based on good reason. Hence I’m happy to give benefit of doubt on that point.

      You can’t disguise that last night’s performance wasn’t pretty or particularly impressive but we’ve played worse and won. Had we scored yesterday I suspect that we’d have won comfortably and was it not for bad luck we’d have equalised. I think we just have to move on and assume that lessons will be learned. I can’t believe MH is any less frustrated or hacked off than we are.

  8. It was an inexplicable decision to rest Cook, other than trying to keep Oliver happy. Derek Adams would have been slaughtered for that. A shirt has to be earned and, right now, Oliver hasn’t earned a starting spot.

    I cannot fathom the tactic of playing wingers on their “wrong” foot, causing them to keep cutting inside. If he wants to play Oliver, surely he needs wingers getting to the byline and crossing with their dominant foot?

    Before the season started I wrote that things felt “right”. However, currently, they don’t “look” right. Square pegs, slow build up and no creativity.

  9. Four years in, different managers, different players … Same old issues.

    • Maybe, just maybe, it’s a tough league to get out of. It may be a poor standard compared with the premiership and championship, but it’s still very competitive.
      It’s still very early in the season and Hughes knows he needs to get results quickly to ensure we make progress and hopefully get promoted. I’m just going to let the manager manage, as that is all I can do, and see what happens. But I know we will not p*ss this league. We never ever do.

  10. I agree with the comments above. Why oh why was Cook omitted from the starting 11. His form is street’s above Angol and Oliver. If Mark chooses to continue the tactics applied thus far, he will struggle to score goals. Possession does not get you points. Hartlepool on Saturday must be a test for this team. Set up like last night we will not win. He must change tatics and play players in their strongest position and not adopt a round hole with square peg approach. Not too worried atm but to lose 2 away matches on the trot to the last kick of the match is a massive disappointment and worry.

  11. Was with son Matthew at Colchester last night, 120-mile round trip from London. Turnout of City supporters at a game on a weekday evening 200+ miles from Bradford very impressive, great support for the team throughout the game. In the run-up to the match, when I heard the team would probably be ‘freshened up’ I thought ‘That means Cook will be dropped’ and so it proved. Not sure why Mark Hughes seems reluctant to select him. Cook must surely start on Saturday, possibly with Harratt who looks very lively. Young was disappointing in the first half last night but looks a good prospect, Oliver very disappointing indeed so far this season. We miss Walker badly, class player. Scott Banks now a very important player for us, as is Critchlow – the problem is both are loan players, of course… Gilliead and Platt had decent games. Have to trust in Mark Hughes’ judgement to get things right. Referee’s performance last night astonishingly bad, certainly favoured the home team…

  12. Maybe I’m cup half full or a little delusional but I agree wholeheartedly with Mark Hughes comments about the game.

    Colchester aimed to make it difficult and as such we aren’t going to fashion lots of chances but we did create enough to win the game.

    Banks should have done better with a couple of efforts, Hornby has kept one out with his face, made another good save from Harratt, arguably we could have had a penalty and, if he’s not been fouled, Angol needs kicking for not staying on his feet and getting a shot away. Somehow we haven’t scored at the end to equalise too.

    Agree entirely that Oliver has not started brilliantly and had Cook started I think we’d have left with 3 points last night. The negativity is a worry when we are only 4 games if it wasn’t Hughes the fans would probably already be calling for his head and forcing yet another manager out.

    Recruitment looks good and generally we did dominate the game, yes the tempo playing out needs to be quicker and we probably allowed Colchester to organise themselves when we did get into possession.

    It’s frustrating to conceded late (again) but if we’d have come away with a 0-0 last night it would have been ‘professional performance, unlucky not to get the 3 points’.

  13. It’s very easy to dominate the statistics for possession and completed passes when your back 5 just seem happy to pass it around themselves for the majority of the time. The midfield & forwards could have just sat down in the Centre Circle & sang Cumby Ya as they were totally ignored for huge portions of game time. Felt sorry for Oliver as he spent huge amounts of time (especially in the first half) calling for a quick ball over the top as he sat on the shoulder of the defender only to be ignored by the sideways passing crew totally lost in there own little world of tippy-tappy football. Andy Cook also signalled the same numerous times when he came on and he too was ignored. Lee Angol offered nothing in the second half. he would set off on a run go a couple of paces then just turn back and either give a misplaced pass or feel the slightest breath of wind on his back and go down quicker than Katie Prices knickers. I did think he had a reasonable shout for the penalty when he couldn’t even get his shot off but he had gone down so easily so many time before that that it was easy for the Turd in charge to ignore the shout. Was a big mistake from Hughes to drop Cook. The guys in form and mullers defenders, for most of the game Colchesters back 4 were untroubled and hardly broke sweat. Going by the games I have watched so far we will be lucky to finish in the top half of the table. yet another disappointing season awaits us.

  14. What has happen to Sutton? Anybody got a clue? Nout coming from the club!

  15. Simple outcome from the game for me was this ( and it’s not a dig at Angol), If he does not give the foul in the danger area we would have come away with a point.
    Was he frustrated at not getting the penalty and it caused him to give the needless foul?
    Either way he needs to keep his composure late in the game

  16. Much as I enjoy Hughes style of possession football it isn’t effective at this level, we need to learn to win ugly as Parkinson’s dour style proved. We have the players so if we aren’t winning at 60 minutes just stick a 5 man line across the back, have the full backs lump it to Cook/Oliver and let the other attacking players chase the second ball. It’s league 2 and the opposition will cough up chances to us or we regain possession and repeat.

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