|Bradford City 2|
|Banks 4, Oliver 90+5|
|AFC Wimbeldon 2|
|Pell 58, Chiselett 76|
Words and images by Jason McKeown
For all the thoughtful strategic thinking, for all the financial edge over everyone you’re competing against, sometimes you just need to use a get out of jail free card. That was certainly what Vadaine Oliver’s 95th minute equaliser felt like, as the roar of Bradford City supporter delight was heavily interlaced with feelings of relief.
The Bantams had got themselves in a mess and looked set for a first home defeat of the season. The inevitable inquest would have quickly established it was a completely self-inflicted loss. There was seemingly no way back, some fans were already leaving the ground. Jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Wait a minute, what’s that card you have? Matty Foulds delivered a beauty of a cross for Oliver, and the narrative was changed.
City really got away with one here, but they will absolutely take it. A lucky point for sure, but one that can help to harness a never say die spirit which is the cornerstone of any side with serious promotion aspirations. It doesn’t take away from the sense of disappointment over such a lacklustre performance, but the late goal should be celebrated and savoured. Another memorable moment, in a season that’s already served up quite a few.
And the point helps City to go against the grain of a weakness that seems entrenched into the club’s DNA – losing to teams near the bottom, on a dreadful run. The form book told quite the story of the vulnerability of Wimbledon, who had only won once in League Two since the opening day of the season, and had travelled to BD8 on a run of four straight league defeats. Only four League Two teams had scored fewer goals than Wimbledon’s nine. Only two had conceded more than their 13.
Bolt on last season’s results, and the famine is even more stark. Wimbledon had won just two of their last 36 league games before today. They’ve only been victorious on the road twice in the previous 12 months. After relegation last season they continue to be a club on a downwards trajectory. If you could choose your own fixture right now, ‘Wimbledon at home’ would appear high on most League Two clubs’ wish lists.
In other words, this was an afternoon full of banana skins. And it’s fair to say City slipped over several of them. For long spells, they really didn’t look clever. It was heading towards another afternoon of infamy, until that dramatic ending. And though there’s no denying they’ve ultimately failed to win a game that on paper they should be, it wasn’t quite the calamity that so often befalls City. See Hartlepool at home, last season.
In fact, this was the first time the Bantams have fallen behind in the league, and come back to claim at least a point, since 1 February 2022 (a 1-1 draw at home to Leyton Orient, towards the end of Derek Adams’ tenure). So that’s got to count for something.
It all began brilliantly. From their first attack, Dion Periera was tripped on the edge of the box. Richie Smallwood lined the ball up in a manner that suggested he was the only person who could possibly take it. And when, after referee Darren Drysdale blew his whistle, Scott Banks ran up, you assumed he was simply going to run over the ball before Smallwood struck. Instead, Banks produced a superb powerful shot that flew into the back of the net. There were less than four minutes on the clock.
Indeed Wimbledon’s difficult start continued and they lost Alex Pearce to injury by the seventh minute. Periera missed a big chance to make it 2-0. In those opening 30 minutes, City had five shots on goal and won six corners. Wimbledon looked panicky at the back, and struggled to live with their hosts.
But the dominance didn’t last. There is a school of thought in football that you can score too early, giving the team a misguided sense of superiority that sees them relax too much, rather than attack with the same intensity. You could argue City were guilty of that here. They never quite pressed home their advantage, and their authority whittled away minute by minute.
Wimbledon, on the ropes early doors, smelt blood. They pressed high, making it difficult for City players to enjoy much time on the ball. Johnnie Jackson’s 3-5-2 formation ultimately gave them the edge in the centre of midfield. Periera – who was brought in to play number 10, with Harry Chapman pushed out wide to his more natural position – barely had a kick. Pereira had only 25 touches of the ball and produced just 17 passes over the 59 minutes he was involved. He is yet to get going since his return on loan, although it is of course early days.
Smallwood and Alex Gilliead battled hard all afternoon – Smallwood was one of City’s better players here – but it was tough going. Banks missed the overlapping support of Brad Halliday (not that Luke Hendrie, playing his first league game of the season, let anyone down). Andy Cook was well marshalled once Wimbledon’s backline calmed down from their shaky start.
Wimbledon’s forward players began to get into the game. Ayoub Assal is not the tallest striker, and the excellent Matty Platt won the battle with him, but the English-Moroccan was full of trickery. A pest who wouldn’t go away. Assal had one headed chance saved by Harry Lewis. Soon after, Ethan Chislett saw a powerful effort from distance smack the crossbar. He tried another long ranger that flew just over moments later. The half time whistle was a relief to City.
But the break didn’t lead to home improvement. Josh Davidson hit the post for Wimbledon, and eventually Harry Pell equalised after Assal’s shot was palmed away by Lewis. It’s only the second goal City have conceded at home this season and the least Wimbledon’s efforts deserved.
With Hughes instantly replacing Pereira and Banks with Levi Sutton and Lee Angol, there was some improvement from City. Chapman played well throughout – he looks so much happier in a wide role – and Smallwood hit the bar with another free kick effort. It wasn’t all one way, with Assal breaking clean through and denied by a brilliant Timi Odusina challenge – but a home goal did feel more likely.
But then Wimbledon scored again. On an afternoon of excellent free kicks, Chislett smashed home. That’s the third goal conceded at home. The form book had been turned upside down. The grumbles began.
And there were grumbles. Towards Drysdale, for another typical Drysdale display. Towards Wimbledon, for some truly appalling time wasting. But grumbles towards Mark Hughes too. The manager’s decision to take off Cook saw audible boos. There was frustration that Hughes didn’t throw on Jake Young and/or Kian Harratt when he could still make two more subs. And though Angol did eventually move up front to partner sub Vadaine Oliver, who had replaced Cook, it seemed Hughes was holding back from throwing the kitchen sink at an increasingly desperate situation.
Hughes will feel vindicated by the ending. Delighted that Oliver is finally off the mark in a City shirt. And encouraged by the way the summer signing from Gillingham made an impact in those closing stages. As City went route one, Oliver won several high balls in the final third that helped City attack. Wimbledon struggled to live with him. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked – and it was nice for Oliver to get his moment.
After the final whistle Valley Parade chanted Hughes’ name. The brief moment of dissent had passed. It has happened to the best City managers, and Hughes will get worse at some point down the line. Feelings were running high, as City stared into the face of a morale-damaging defeat. But with calmness resorted at the end, there remains much to be positive about.
Indeed, City are now unbeaten in six games and still within the play off places, despite falling two positions. The quality in this squad cannot be disguised. Even during some very uncomfortable moments here, you always felt City were more than capable of suddenly going forward and scoring.
This is a squad yet to find its highest gears. Yet to produce a complete 90 minute performance. But their potential is really high. The ceiling of what they are capable of still to be reached. But situations like this stoppage time rescue act say a lot about the mental strength of this team.
Categories: Match Reviews