Calm, composed Bradford City send a message to the rest of League Two with handsome win

Bradford City 3
Cook 6+56, Wright 62
Stevenage 0

Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

And that is what we call making a statement. This was probably Bradford City’s most complete performance of the season so far, as they calmly and methodically deconstructed a buoyant Stevenage side that had turned up to Valley Parade sitting second in the fledgling League Two table.

Stevenage would end the afternoon looking utterly demoralised. They had swung a few punches and demonstrated their calibre. But ultimately they could not live with a Bradford City team who have momentum running through their veins. Confidence is soaring within those wearing claret and amber. They’re really starting to hit their stride.

It was a performance first and foremost dripping in the character of the manager Mark Hughes. Ever since he took charge last February – with City on a downwards spiral, and supporter discontent growing towards everyone involved with the club – he’s just calmed everything down. Introduced greater professionalism. Raised the standards in a way that has invited others to follow. He’s transformed Bradford City, whilst encouraging everyone to look into the mirror and remember just what a special football club this is.

Hughes exuberates a quiet, measured assurance. And it was personified in the way his team achieved this handsome win. There is positive, attacking endeavour. But it sits within a framework of clear organisation and direction. The team is working really hard on and off the ball. Getting the foundations right. Ensuring, first and foremost, they are tough to beat. And only then is the flair allowed to flourish.

What it means is we’re not seeing 90 minutes of non stop attacks. Derek Adams’ City were registering more shots on goal. Stuart McCall was encouraging more bodies to get forward. But Hughes seems to be instilling a level intelligence in his team that encourages them to recognise the in-game moments of when to turn up the tempo. How to go from slow, seemingly harmless build up play at the back into fast, cutting edge attacks. “At some point our football will always come through and will effect the opposition,” Hughes summarised.

Here, like against Tranmere on Tuesday, they struck early. From their first attack, Scott Banks had forced a terrific point blank save from Taye Ashby-Hammond. But no one is stopping City for long right now, especially with their red-hot number nine. From the resultant Richie Smallwood corner, Andy Cook got free of Dan Sweeney – who had a shocker of an afternoon – and headed home. Lift off.

Stevenage did not buckle and showed the quality that has helped them start the season so strongly. They were very organised – you’d expect a Steve Evans team to be – and they adopted a high press to counter City’s usual tactic of playing out from the back. That did ask some questions of Timi Odusina – finally making his Bantams league debut in place of the injured Romoney Crichlow – and Matty Platt. But the centre back pairing were terrific. What a signing Platt is proving to be. A heir to the Rory McArdle throne of no nonsense defender who can produce a useful diagonal long pass.

The visitors created chances, with the brilliant Harry Lewis making two important first half saves. They were direct – very direct – with the long throw into the box a dangerous weapon. But those strong foundations held firm. Hughes rightly gets a lot of praise for the more attractive style of play he’s implemented, but he’s also made City notably stronger at the back. This would ultimately prove to be a fourth league clean sheet in five on home soil. It’s almost six months to the day since a visiting side scored more than one goal at Valley Parade. That was also the last time they were beaten at home in the league.

That defensive solidity enabled Hughes and City to edge the tactical battle. Evans and Stevenage lined up in a 3-4-1-2, but with the again-excellent Alex Gilliead paired with the back-on-form Smallwood, City’s middle two edged the Stevenage midfield that included a returning Jake Reeves.

And this allowed City’s forward players to find huge gaps in front of Stevenage’s back five. Harry Chapman – who hasn’t looked fully suited to the number 10 role – revelled in the space and had his best game for weeks. Tyreik Wright made a full debut in place of the injured Dion Pereira. The decision to loan him from Villa is looking inspired. Wright has the ability to drag defenders here and there, as he glides past them through cunning and trickery. He makes good decisions, which is not something you can always say about a winger. Banks was brought back in and also played well.

Nevertheless, early in the second half the game remained on a knife edge. Stevenage, now attacking the Kop end, pressed. There were a few mistakes, such as a needless Cook handball on the edge of his box that gave Stevenage a free kick in a really dangerous position. City are not perfect yet, and seem to have spells in every game where they dip. This time, at least, it went unpunished.

And for that, Stevenage – and Evans especially – must take a share of the blame. They had a long throw in chance in a dangerous position, and everyone prepared for another missile into the City box. Yet the taker, Saxon Earley, produced a foul throw. The referee, Lee Swabey, awarded a throw in to City, and the red mist descended on the Stevenage bench.

A few moments later, Swabey stopped play to address the angry behaviour of Evans and his assistant Paul Raynor, who gestured about the throw in. They wouldn’t stop, eventually causing Swabey to issue them a yellow card. But more crucially the pair’s behaviour had successfully re-awoken a quiet Valley Parade crowd. The atmosphere was stoked up, and the home players responded. Within a matter of minutes, City would go 2-0 up.

The build up to the goal began when Odusina showed great intent to get in first for a 50-50 ball and played a pass to Smallwood, who sent Wright away with a delightful through-ball out wide. Wright really had to show his pace to keep the ball in, and he sent over a top quality low cross that Cook was able to tap home. 11 appearances this season for Cook now, 11 goals. He’s the only striker in the country almost keeping pace with the incredible Erling Haaland at Manchester City. It’s now four goals in a week for Cook, who is in the form of his life.

And the game was fully sealed just after the hour when Banks picked out Wright, who cut inside and hit a fierce low drive that deflected into the back of the net. Stevenage were beaten. Their composure, at 1-0 down, had suggested they could earn something from the long trip north. But Evans more than anyone should know just what a lighting rod he is inside this stadium. He and Raynor’s over the top behaviour aided City greatly.

At 3-0 up, the chance was there to run riot and score more goals. But this is not what Hughes is about. Sure, he’d have liked more goals. But the priority was to see out the commanding lead. Control the tempo. Play on the counter attack. Create chances, but not at the risk of giving the opposition hope of coming back. Those final 28 minutes were an excellent demonstration of thoughtful game management and seeing a match out. Stevenage never looked like coming back. And City, with sub Vadaine Oliver belatedly impressing, had a couple of chances to make it four.

The only blotch was the late dismissal of Brad Halliday. Already on a booking, the City right back produced a crude and needless challenge near the corner flag at the end of the pitch the Bantams were attacking. A second yellow ensued. A real shame for Halliday, who will serve a one-game ban, just as he’s settling down and showing some decent form. Still, this very strong squad will more than cope – they were without six injured players here and you wouldn’t have known it. Luke Hendrie will step up and deserves more game time.

So City are up to fifth, three points off the automatics. Win next week at home to Wimbledon, and they’ll achieve a perfect calendar month of winning every single match. “We’re really looking forward to every game at the moment,” declared Hughes. “The lads are stepping up when they have the opportunity. They’re asking questions of me, which I want. The strength that we have in depth is going to be crucial.”

There’s a long, long, long way to go. But ever since City’s demotion to League Two, they’ve habitually failed to live up to the hype. The biggest club in the division they may be, but their performances have struck fear into no one. A 9th place finish followed by a 15th and last season’s 14th. Pre-season promotion favourite tags routinely made to look foolish.

But is the tide turning? As Hughes himself declared, “I think people will look at that result today and think, goodness me, that’s a good result for Bradford.”

Absolutely. Others will definitely sit up and take notice of this win. One that firmly suggests there is real substance this time around. And that, finally, Bradford City is getting its act together. Indeed, everything seems to be in place for success at Valley Parade this season. And that’s thanks to the inspirational management of someone who you can still scarcely believe is coaching at this level.

Categories: Match Reviews

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25 replies

  1. Great report Jason, great performance, great result.
    Agree with everything you say. The team has obviously benefitted greatly from Mark Hughes and no one more than Andy Cook. He’s even starting to strut about like Hughes did at his pomp!! Mustn’t forget Lewis either. How good it is we seem to have a goalkeeper that we, and his fellow defenders, can trust.

  2. An interesting report Jason, for me and most of the people I spoke with afterwords, I thought we were quite fortunate today.
    We played well in patches but seemed to invite ball after ball into our box
    The tactic of bringing everyone back for corners or free kicks seems to just invite more pressure.
    As for our tactic of playing out from the back, whilst is a praiseworthy effort our execution of it is painful to watch.
    Happy for the 3 points but we need to do so much better.

    • totally agree about bringing everyone back for corners. It just allowed them to recycle and punt the ball back in time and again. Leave Wright out there with his pace and thus force them to leave defenders out to defend.

    • Wow, 57 thumbs down, is this a record?
      I thought I was being very balanced, never mind, it’s all about opinions.

  3. What a great result. Last year we would dream of a run like this. I know we should not be blarzay about our current situation. We will lose matches but we will win more than we lose. Every player is turning in a good performance. With so many missing through injury we are coping so well. Confidence breeds confidence. We should not fear anyone in this league. We are scoring goals and yes Cook has scored 11 goals but there are goals coming from all parts of the team.
    I thought we would struggle today. How pleasing it was to walk away with three goals against a form team. I note Tranmere won away today. Its a measure of City’s performances over over the last few weeks. We are winning matches. Its early days but the signs are good. Let us build on this momentum and race ahead with wins and creating an insurmountable tally of points. Well done Mark and your back room staff and of course the quality team you and Gent have built. Great days ahead.

  4. This was a big test for sure and Stevenage did not disappoint in terms of physicality, determination and savvy. My concern early season has always been that we did not have balls to match up to this kind of challenge. One of the top three spots will include a team who will shit ‘ouse their way out of the division. The fact that we combated this approach bodes well for the season. At least they came to win a football match. Fair play.

  5. I partly agree with John’s comments above. I think that we have played better at home this season and only drawn games. I also agree with Cyprus Bantam in that I expected a tougher game against a team managed by Steve Evans.
    There were numerous occasions in the first half where better finishing would have resulted in a goal for Stevenage. I can also think of at least three occasions in the second half when we tried to play out from the back and Halliday conceded possession. From the games that I’ve attended this season, I thought that this was Smallwood’s weakest performance for us. He still played quite well, however just not as well as in previous games.
    That said, to score three goals against the team in second place at the start of play and to keep a clean sheet, we should be happy. Lewis made some great saves in the first half and Cook is clearly enjoying his football at the moment.
    Those of us who’ve supported Bradford City for many decades know that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. There will be ups and downs along the way, but let’s hope that we can achieve promotion at the end of a long season.

  6. First and foremost a great result. Hughes has really used all his management nouse to get Cook on top of his game. Lewis looks a top keeper. Let’s not forget that this was wrights first start at home but he looked very intelligent when he had the ball and I am sure he will develop. The only part of our game that needs work is to try and stop crosses coming in, I did feel we invited too many crosses and resultant pressure. The flip side to this is that the defence coped well and we kept a clean sheet.

  7. It was a ‘good win’ but I wasn’t impressed with our response after our early goal. I felt we made it easier than we should have for Stevenage – note that at half time both sides had 7 shots and we were thankful for Lewis in net making another great save. This wasn’t great because I didn’t think Stevenage were good enough to be getting 7 shots against us in that half.

    In particular I felt the two midfielders were not particularly good at bringing the ball out from the back and it felt like there were too many simple passes straight back to the defender who had just given them the ball.

    Playing it safe is ok sometimes but it smacked to me of a lack of comfort in the role. A few times it seemed like Smallwood could only see Platt and Halliday on the right side of the pitch and regularly failed to see Foulds in loads of space on the left – Particularly galling as Foulds had the tricky Wright further down the channel as a release.

    Occasionally I felt Wright was guilty of not getting forward fast enough when other team mates had the ball…and in one instance he realised too late and accelerated but just missed the ball before it crossed the sidelines earning some words from Hughes probably about his lack of effort.

    Only players that were 7+/10 for me in that half were Cook and Lewis.

    In the second half I thought things improved all round but on another day we wouldn’t have reached half time with our lead because we lost our momentum.

    I was really glad for Wright (huge improvement in second half) and Cook getting his second.

    In the absence if Critchlow I thought Odusina looked really up for it today but also looked slightly rusty…a few times he seemed to read the opposition move early and make the right run to handle it but didn’t quite execute it quite right. Not as comfortable on the ball as Critchlow but I think he will be a good defender for us when we lose Critchlow back to Town at some point.

    Definitely happy overall and despite my reservations on a couple of things I am optimistic we can keep this good run going for a while longer as players develop their relationships on the pitch.

    • We’ve been on a downward trend for 20 years, this is the first time in so long we have a squad, we have energy, we have a bench. Today we beat a physically strong team at the top the table, we beat them 3-0, two goals from the leagues top goal scorer. But you’re not that happy with the performance.

      Perhaps Man City would be a better team for you to watch

      • Watched them since Kammy’days and never wanted to watch anyone else.

        My point is merely if we had played a better side than Stevenage today we might not have had the win. People rate Stevenage based on their league position but all their wins are against teams below 10th. They played two big boys (us and Salford) and lost both. I saw a very average side on them and yet in the first half we gave them way too many chances to equalise and had to be grateful to Lewis’ continued excellence. I thought both Newport and Walsall were much better than Stevenage

        At no point did I say I was unhappy I merely said I “wasn’t impressed” with our first half response to our early goal.

        Very happy with the squad, and behind the scenes efforts to improve both our staff, squad and our turnover. We are in a very good place right now.

        Furthermore I take it you didn’t rate our squad under Parkinson then as that was within the last 20 years.

      • Worth adding that, before yesterday, all our wins had been against teams below 10th as well. Personally I think Stevenage are a better side than they’re getting credit for. They were never going to collapse at 1-0 down and visiting pressure was to be expected. I thought we generally handled it well.

  8. You can see with this squad that if we lose a player we’ve got someone to step up which is great now. Cook is in the form of his life and long may it continue. I really like how we are managing games when like yesterday 3 up, bringing Songo on to keep it tight at the back, great man management by MH, and thinking we’ve a few players to come back into this squad is really great for MH going forward. Keep this up City, really good on the eye.

  9. Great article Jason, as always. In addition to all comments above and the constantly enhancing ‘feel good ‘ factor at VP, I love the way MH has the team set up when Lewis is taking a goal kick. Players are spread wide , stretching the pitch , and clearly showing our attacking intent and how we want to play the game. Very refreshing , after for so long seeing all outfield players huddled together in the centre of the park at dead ball situations. Long may it continue. Come on City !

  10. Platt was MOM for me. He dealt with their direct approach very well. Its true they had chances despite the score-line but we fidning ways to win and be tight at the back. Lewis is a huge upgrade on recent keepers and it really shows. Just hope we can hang to him in January somehow. I still feel that despite a decent game that Chapman would be better out wide. Indeed Stevenage targeted Halliday all game he got through it but struggled at time and Banks rarely got space. Will be good to see how Hendrie fares now. Overall game management is defo much better and we do look organised. I dont like the every player back for corners tactic as it merely invites teams (especially direct ones the chance to just stick it back in there) and indeed Lewis great save came due to this tactic imo. I would still like the wide players to swap sides for a bit in games (crewe) where we cannot break them down. (Banks for instance just continually cuts back inside into traffic yeserday). But these points aside we are looking good for a chllenge. Cook needs to stay fit but we also have the likes of Walker to return to improve us even further. Happy days

  11. A great result and a demonstration not only of the strength in the squad but the team spirit within it. Improvements can be made but notably, improvements are continuing to be made. The biggest improvement of the lot is converting chances and scoring goals which in the final event wins games and in that regard the most improved player is undeniably Andy Cook.

    The players display the sort of self-belief, confidence and conviction that has been sadly missing for a long time at Valley Parade and given the age of the squad this bodes well for the future. The momentum is definitely building and there is plenty of reason to be positive. Apart from anything else it’s enjoyable to watch. Bring on next Saturday.

  12. You can only play what’s in front of you and you can only get three points for a win.
    City are building, improving and are gaining positive momentum
    No complaints from me

  13. A lot of people complaining about us playing out from the back and then just going backwards again. I had a guy sat behind me shouting at them to get it forwards at every opportunity, but i really don’t see what is wrong with this possesion based football. If you can’t find an option then just keep the ball and play it to another player until you can. It frustrates the opposition and we now have the players who can play this type of football. There’s no point in launching it forward and losing possesion. I think our fanbase are not used to seeing this type of football, and expect to see an attack at every oppotunity.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Especially when you are leading games it takes the sting out of the opposition’s urgency and ultimately in the final moments is more effective than heading for the corner flag.

      The key is to understand when to counter at pace and with Harry Lewis’s distribution this will also bring lots of opportunities with the pace of Wright, Banks, Young, Perreira et al.

  14. This is Dream Land, what we have wanted for years and years, many have tried and failed with good credentials, I would just like to take this opportunity to say a Big Thank You to uncle Derek for failing massively as we would not have got Mark Hughes through the door to get this place rocking again, we have got our club back from all the negative shenanigans that brought us back down with a bang from nearly rising up to the Championship, but I do believe if we had gone up then, it could have turned even worse with expectations under someone who did not have a clue how to run a football club.

    We are in the best hands this club has ever had with a young CEO who has this Clubs interest at Heart, who seems to see things from a Fans perspective and who has brought, ok early doors but probably in time if He stays the Best Manager we have ever had and a owner who has backed everything put in front of Him from recruitment to development since MH walked through the City doors and why wouldn’t you, this is starting to show now on the pitch.

    Bradford City is now in transition, and you can feel the buzz around the place and long may it continue with opposition coming here knowing it’s going to be different and a difficult place to get a result than years gone by even if you win the toss of the coin to switch the kick off side, now we have put that jinx to bed along with losing to Steve Evans.

    A Statement Of Intent From MH.

    Come On City.

  15. A note for Chapman yesterday who alongside all the other performances went under the radar. I actually think he was our best player in the first half before everyone else kicked on a gear in the 2nd. He has had some criticism about his work rate but was phenomenal yesterday chasing every seemingly lost cause and putting the Stevenage defence under pressure.

  16. Great write up again from Width of a post – Please accept my gratitude for what has become my go-to blog for the most concise, unbiased and thoughtful analysis of Bradford City anywhere else on t’web.
    I’d just like to share my feelings on the current situation at City, and what feels like a growing collective sense of optimism and excitement the good folk of Bradford have been starved of for far too long now.
    After a couple of ales on North Parade I was pleasantly surprised at the positive emotions beginning to tingle in my stomach as I made my way to Valley Parade yesterday afternoon, the sunshine was seeping through the clouds and the smiles were aplenty amongst the claret and amber tribe.
    I struggle to recall the last time I felt as such before a City game, and I’m sure many will attest to the fact that following City in preceding seasons has become far more of a chore than what should be a satisfying day out at the footy.
    My Love for the club will never die, but like a monotonous marriage where the spark disappeared years ago there have been times over the last few seasons that I have began to question my commitment – particularly when exposed to such unimaginative football being carried out by players of desperately limited skill putting in half hearted shifts. Unforgivable at times, yet for better or worse, there I was come rain or shine, clock watching in a zombie state waiting for the release of the referees final whistle.
    What we have done to deserve Mark Hughes I do not know. The man just oozes class and his honest and intelligent appraisals post match are all the more refreshing in the light of our previous managers habit of shifting the blame at every opportunity. It is becoming clearer with each passing game that the standard of footballer Hughes and Gent have brought in are of a level I seriously doubt would not have thought twice about joining under previous regimes. The Villa lad Wright was excellent at times, and you can tell he is a proper player by his first touch and his calmness in possession. I imagine Stevie Gerrard would have prioritised the influence of Sparky above all else when deciding which club to loan him out to.
    We seem to be building a lovely group of players with all the right attributes both technically and mentally. Timi Odusina made an impressive league debut and despite the odd occasion I felt he let his enthusiasm get the better of him, on the whole looked every bit the strong game-reading defender Hartlepool look to be desperately missing.
    Who would have thought we had 6 players out with injuries? We have back ups to the back ups, and with such an embarrassment of riches I think it’s only fair to finally tip a hat to Stefan Rupp for injecting some much needed investment into the club.
    I know that it’s still early days and there’s a lot of football to be played, I’m also acutely aware that this is Bradford City I’m talking about. But one must grab ones pleasures with both hands in life. So rather than getting carried away with the 3-0 result (which I do think flattered us a little) and making all kind of sky-high predictions, I’m content for now to just live in the moment as I wind down my enjoyable weekend, savouring the ‘ee-aye-addio!’ gently reverberating in my thoughts.

  17. At last confidence.
    In a safer keeper , a deeper together squad with options and cover in all positions, a role different for the skillfull but often lost Gillead,a calmness ,a feeling importantly not of despair but that things are right.
    Taken 6 years but the move is finally upwards.

  18. Agree with so much that has been said. We’re not the finished article but getting better all the time. A team that is prepared to fight for each other, depth in the squad, ability to quickly switch to the attack and players responding to new responsibilities; a great mix. Tactically I think we should leave the fastest player upfield when defending set pieces. Gillead is another player who deserves mention; he’s a different player in central midfield, and buys Smallwood time. Hughes is getting us there; I’ve supported the club for 50 years and feel huge optimism for the future.

  19. Totally agree with almost all comments regarding the club at this time. Just returned from holiday ,having missed Tranmere and Stevenage games ,Grrr ,all eyes are on Saturday ,can’t wait .
    People that don’t follow football have no idea of the emotions that swirl over you watching your home town club. From the near despair of recent past seasons ,this feels like it could be a special one .
    Whoa hold up ,let’s not get carried away ! Difficult isn’t it . The club is back in good hands i feel , it’s time to dream.

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