|Bradford City 3|
|Young 36+75, Harratt 83|
|Sheffield Wednesday 1|
|Smith 38 (pen)|
By Jason McKeown
If only every team who visits Valley Parade this season shared Sheffield Wednesday’s ambition of actually wanting to play a game of football. Away from the bus-parking, game-spoiling, defensively-crammed League Two sides who are queuing up to 0-0 with Bradford City, the unpromising setting of the pizza cup group stage gave us opponents with attacking principles. And with it a football match actually broke out. One that allowed Mark Hughes’ men to remind us that they are, in fact, a decent football team.
This was really, really good stuff from Bradford City. Not for the first time this season they took on higher league opponents (weakened, it must be acknowledged, in team selection), and they impressed with their positivity, scoring some excellent goals and triumphing with style.
And just as the Hull City League Cup success of four weeks ago came as an important pick-me-up following the rude awakening of the Barrow defeat, this Football League Trophy victory felt timely. The Crewe bore-fest on Saturday had thrown up doubts about the quality and depth of this Bradford City squad. But just as the Hull success caused everyone to revaluate the worth of Andy Cook, this was a night where new answers were put forward to the head-scratching dilemma of how to turn possession-based solidity into attacking potency.
Step forward and take a bow, Jake Young. The 21-year-old scored two terrific goals, both of which will give Richie Smallwood’s Newport blockbuster a run for its money in August’s goal of the month vote. Young is a player who, up until now, has started only one league game and had a collective 146 minutes League Two action. Such limited game time is surely about to change, for the good of a stuttering Bantams forward line.
Young was terrific here, playing on the right hand side in a revised 4-1-4-1 set up. His first goal, 36 minutes in, came when a cross-field pass from Luke Hendrie was sent his direction out-wide. With his first touch he flicked the ball over the foot of Sheffield Wednesday’s Jack Hunt before nudging the ball forwards with his knee to allow him to charge centrally. Will Vaulks came across to close Young down, sticking out a leg, but the City forward produced another deft touch to spin the ball around the midfielder’s challenge. Now Young was at the edge of the box and had time to aim. He sent a low curling shot that flashed past Wednesday goalkeeper Cameron Dawson and into the bottom corner. A goal of beauty.
Let the debate commence over whether his second goal was even better. It came with 15 minutes to go and the score 1-1. Hendrie (chalking up his second assist) had passed the ball to Young in a wide position where everyone expected a low cross. He sold his marker, Ryan Galvin, a dummy with two brilliant touches and suddenly he was through on goal, albeit with a tight angle. Young executed a superb shot with the outside of his right foot that saw the ball nestle in the far corner.
Two sublime finishes, both preceded by two sublime pieces of skill. It was the kind of clinical force that could rip through even the most rigid of League Two defences. If Young isn’t starting on Saturday against Walsall, we riot.
Before, in-between and after those two memorable goals, Young was electric. Almost every decent City attack – and there were plenty – seemed to involve Young somewhere. With space to operate and in a formation that saw plenty of options to pick out, Young charged up and down the park with a level of confidence only emboldened by his emphatic pair of goals. On paper the summer signing of Young – a back up player in Forest Green’s title charge last year – wasn’t the most eye-catching piece of business. Now we know what he is capable of. Can he do it week in week out? We’ll surely soon find out.
Young’s exploits overshadowed Kian Harratt’s first goal in a Bantams shirt. Brought on with 18 minutes to play, Harratt would settle the tie a few minutes after Young’s second goal. A brilliant long pass by Yann Songo’o led to Harry Chapman making a surging run into the box. The ball was worked into Harratt’s path, who showed off some twinkle toes to keep the ball away from a couple of challenges, before he steadied his feet and directed a low shot into the net. This was another lovely goal.
It capped off a night of real promise from City. They were able to benefit greatly from an open game, and from facing a visiting side who were trying just as hard to win it. But the wide open spaces caused by Wednesday’s more uninhibited approach did not mean a walkover for the Bantams. For lengthy periods, especially in the first half, the League One side put City under heavy pressure. It was a tough evening, making the eventual outcome even more satisfying.
What Hughes will love most of all is it was a performance to give him genuine selection headaches. Young aside, the City manager observed a completely revised back four compete very well against higher league opponents, who all pushed their case for league action.
Timi Odusina – whose injury problems right after signing in the summer meant he has not made a single public appearance, even in friendlies – was outstanding. He is not the tallest but physically very strong. The 22-year-old reads the game extremely well and is adept at carrying the ball forward. He is another ball-playing centre back, who really suits the style of football Hughes favours. I’m not sure how Odusina gets in this team right now, but equally I’m not sure how he can be left out.
Songo’o was also solid alongside Odusina. He slightly blotted his copybook by giving away a penalty two minutes after Young had put City 1-0 up. Songo’o was adjudged to have tripped Callum Paterson in the box, but there wasn’t much contact. Still, the incident happened after Sonogo’o had failed to clear his lines properly, inviting pressure on himself and giving the referee a decision to make. That moment aside, Songo’o had a very good night.
The 4-1-4-1 formation’s debut too was promising. Richie Smallwood sat in front of the back four and though he was not perfect this was a return to better form. Levi Sutton – making his first start of the season – was rusty and gave the ball away a bit too often. But that drive and effort was welcome and gave balance alongside a more static, but thoughtful, Ryan East. The shift in formation allowed Chapman to play back on the wing and he clearly enjoyed himself. This was much better from the former Blade.
Alas, not everyone in a City shirt will have enjoyed their night. Up front Vadaine Oliver looks a player increasingly short of confidence. Viewed solely through the lens of what we’ve seen so far of Oliver this season, there’s a lot to be worried about. He did come close in the first 45 with a decent header from a Chapman cross. When early in the second half Smallwood floated over a cross, Oliver was left with just the keeper to beat if he could reach the ball. He made contact, but somehow his shot turned into a pass to no one in the box. He will surely get better. Erm, hopefully.
Oliver’s departure with the game at 1-1 saw Harratt come on and was soon followed by City goals two and three. And City had their first win in this competition since October 2017, when during Stuart McCall’s second spell as manager the Bantams beat Man City under 21s 2-1. It’s been too long.
Indeed, this was by some distance the best Football League Trophy game we’ve seen in these parts for years. The presence of a considerable 3,600+ Sheffield Wednesday fans meant this was anything but the usual low key affair you get at this stage of the competition. It was a crowd that demanded a proper game of football, and they got it. Even though the fact Sheffield Wednesday fans took up more than half the attendance means most of the evening’s spectators will have trooped home unhappy.
For City and Hughes, attention quickly turns to the final knockings of the transfer window, with the manager stating he expects to bring a couple more players in before the Thursday evening deadline. Given City’s mixed start to the season, further reinforcements can only be welcomed. WOAP has heard some promising noises over who might be lined up to come in. We’ll keep what we think we know quiet for now though, so we don’t jinx anything.
Whatever the result of the late window transfer moves, City go into the weekend’s game with Walsall with an extra spring in their step. On a night of seven changes, many of the back ups really displayed their credentials. And that can only help City overcome the bread and butter hurdle of facing League Two sides who don’t seem to like playing football.
Categories: Match Reviews