|Bradford City 2|
|Cook 41, Young 45|
Written by Tim Penfold (images by John Dewhirst)
They say that the sign of a good side is winning when they aren’t playing well. If that is the case, then on the evidence of today, Bradford City are an excellent football team.
Walsall, unlike the majority of teams to have visited Valley Parade in the league this season, came to attack and were the better side for much of the game. For once, though, it was Bradford City – mostly down to the outstanding Harry Lewis – doing the sucker-punching.
Lewis was called into action very early, as Walsall won a penalty with their first attack. Romoney Critchlow, who struggled badly all afternoon, was caught out by the pace of Tom Fellows and dragged him back in the box. Lewis, however, threw himself to his right to parry a weak penalty, and City had got away with it.
Not that this sparked the home side into life. Lewis was called into action again a few minutes later, and the visitors caused problems. Mark Hughes had changed the midfield structure, fielding Richie Smallwood as a sole holder behind Levi Sutton and Harry Chapman, and it didn’t really work.
Smallwood lacked the awareness in possession to play as the sole holder, and gave it away cheaply too often. Chapman, meanwhile, ended up dragged too deep to have much of an impact going forwards.
There were sporadic threats from the Bantams, but no clear chances – the closest being when Liam Ridehalgh burst into the box on the overlap, but his pullback was taken off Andy Cook’s toes. At the other end, Walsall continued to create. City’s defence was wobbly, and they weren’t closing down crosses or tracking runners enough. This caused Walsall’s best chance – a striker left free in the box but denied again by a brilliant Lewis save.
Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, City struck. A well-rehearsed move set Brad Halliday free down the right, and he pulled it back to Cook. The City number nine’s shot had power, but was directed at the visiting keeper, who will have been disappointed to see the ball burst through his hands and hit the back of the net.
It was a completely undeserved lead, but it somehow got better shortly after. A long Lewis kick wasn’t properly cleared, allowing Jake Young to cut inside and send a screamer swerving into the net from the corner of the box. It was a brilliant goal from a player who has made a habit of scoring stunners, and City were two ahead at the break.
It still needed a better second half, however. Hughes made a tactical adjustment, dropping Sutton deeper to support Smallwood and reverting to his 4-2-3-1, and it did seem like City had more control in the early stages of the second half. Matty Platt could’ve made it three, looping a free header over the bar.
Unfortunately, City then went and shot themselves in the foot. A Walsall free kick was floated into the box from deep and fell between several City defenders, all of whom seemed to think the others were going to deal with it. Nobody took responsibility, and Donervon Daniels poked the ball into the bottom corner. The first league goal the Bantams have conceded at home this season.
Momentum began to swing Walsall’s way again, so Mark Hughes turned to his bench. Tyriek Wright made his debut, and Dion Pereira got a tremendous ovation for his return. It nearly worked instantly, with Wright bursting in behind his full back and fizzing a ball just behind Pereira, but despite the boost in the atmosphere Walsall continued to press.
City’s defence was lacking in composure, and Critchlow in particular was making a habit of giving the ball away cheaply, but they made up for it in bravery with several key blocks. Harry Lewis made one more outstanding save, getting his fingertips to a long ranger that looked to be heading in off the post. Walsall were still pushing, but City were hanging on.
Hughes used his bench again, switching to a very counter-attacking 4-4-2 and a classic big man-little man pairing of Vadaine Oliver and Kian Harratt. Harratt should really have scored having been put in by Smallwood’s clever quick free kick.
Meanwhile, Yann Songo’o replaced Sutton alongside Smallwood and the hosts immediately looked more solid. They managed the game better, and eventually just about held on through five minutes of stoppage time.
City will need to play better than this to get promotion – but if we do manage to climb out of League Two next May, it will be games like this that we look back on as ones where we ground out important results, fought hard, and got the points that provided the bedrock to success.
It was an ugly win, but it was still worth three points.
Categories: Match Reviews