|Hartlepool United 1|
|Bradford City 3|
|Banks 5, Cook, 65 90+2|
By Adam Raj
As the clock ticked over into four minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half, and with the score still in the balance at 1-2, you can forgive a few moments of panic for those not fortunate enough to be present at the Suits Direct Stadium as the Sky Sports ticker flashed ‘goal’.
Fortunately, today’s injury time strike was from the men of Bradford City, and one man in particular, Andy Cook. The big number nine netted his second of the afternoon and fifth of the season, when only this time last month, many were questioning if he would even be donning the Claret and Amber come the end of the transfer window. Such discussions now seem ludicrous for a player who has rejuvenated his City career despite the club heavily investing in fellow striker Vadaine Oliver during the summer.
The confidence of Cook, chopping inside of centre half Alex Lacey and firing into the top corner of Ben Killip’s goal with his supposed weaker left foot was reminiscent of his goal at Valley Parade against Forest Green in 2020/21. Just like today, he bagged a brace on that afternoon, in what was arguably his best run of form since joining the club. He would go on to be City’s top scorer despite only joining in January of that year.
But it’s also important to remember that Cook started last season on top form too. A perfect hattrick against Stevenage at Valley Parade and a late winner at former club Mansfield days later, eventually proved to be a false dawn, and whilst Cook once again was City’s top scorer, his form tailed off heavily, arguably because his competition was nil.
But this season seems different. Cook has made a concerted effort to get visibly in shape over the summer break and with the arrival of Oliver and Kian Harratt, as well as Lee Angol remaining at the club, Cook knows, for the first time since he arrived at Valley Parade, that his place is not guaranteed.
His performance this afternoon was superb in every respect. Cook won his duels, ran the channels, defended from the front and of course, scored twice.
The part that Harratt had to play in that performance shouldn’t go unnoticed either. As a 64th minute substitute, the Huddersfield Town loanee set up Cook with what was his first involvement since entering the field of play. Richie Smallwood’s clip over United’s backline set Harratt away and two touches later Cook was burying his low cross into the bottom corner.
The very style of that goal was particularly encouraging. City had been their usual, possession based self in the first half, with everything being played in front of the Hartlepool defence. But the Bantams mixed their style up, made the Hartlepool back line turn and played the ball into space. Mark Hughes had bemoaned his side’s inability to adapt to in game situations and mix their style on occasions. Today was the first real indication of the players displaying that initiative that Hughes has been craving.
Not that City had played particularly badly in the first half. They actually started in fantastic fashion with Scott Banks opening his account for the club. Harry Chapman’s pass found the Crystal Palace loanee on the edge of the box, he drove infield on his favoured left foot, before curling a low shot beyond Killip in the far corner to give the Bantams a five minute lead.
But that goal seemed to wake up the hosts, who started to win more lose balls in the centre of the park and exploit Smallwood’s tendency to drift out to the left flank as Angol veered more centrally. It made for a very end to end game at times, with Hartlepool’s final ball letting them down on several occasions.
They did however, draw level in the 17th minute through left back David Ferguson. Jake Hastie had been afforded too much time by Liam Ridehalgh (who struggled again this afternoon) to swing a deep cross to the back post where the United number three headed home from six yards out. Banks, for as well as he did for his goal, was culpable for not tracking his man here.
But in terms of genuine chances, it was all City. A Banks corner failed to be cleared and Cook hit the half volley straight at Killip, whilst Alex Gilliead somehow managed to do the same from the rebound, despite being only five yards out.
Knowing that Hartlepool had the longest winless streak in the entire EFL (13 games, including last season) any City fan who had read this script before could take a good guess at how this one was likely to end. Thankfully, it was City’s turn to rip up the script and produce a real professional victory.
There’s still lots to work on, of course, not least so City’s decision making on when to release the ball (every outfield player was guilty of this at one point), but the positive signs most certainly are there, from Cook’s form, hunger and determination, to how this City side is starting to gel and mature both tactically and as a team.
Categories: Match Reviews