A lucky point for Bradford City who show spirit but must play a lot better

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

Tags: , , ,

18 replies

  1. The problems today seemed stylistic to me. We wont face that often, if again at VP this season. The Wimbledon press was very high, aggressive and effective. Their League position perhaps reflective, not of a lack of quality (they looked a good side to me), but of the fact that there are 15 hoofball teams in the division who would negate the press with one punt. Against a expansive side like us Wimbledon proved very tricky opposition.

    MH will have to look at a horses for courses XI should we come up against that again. Angol, Sutton & Oliver all having a good impact. Songo and Harratt may also have been useful starters to provide that couter-agression, counter-press.

    A lesson learned, a point rescued. No harm done.

    • my issue with this is Hughes himself said we hope teams attack us and i think that they did. we cannot have excuses both ways when a team sits in the low block and teams who ‘have a go’ are a problem. Sorry but that doesn’t make a justification for any performance that doesn’t work in our favour. if your point is that we need to adapt, then thats fair enough, but there is defo an issue in our approach. Every single team now know how we will set up 4231. They also know we will pass around at the back. So you can in training counter attack this. You need to be able to change things imo. We went more direct at the end and it suited Oliver. But we need to be faster in everything we do and be adpatable imo.

  2. Spot on Jason 👍🏻
    The team is growing game by game and the best starting eleven is starting to emerge.
    We would most have taken 18 points from the first 10 games especially given it’s a new squad not helped by injuries to key players.
    Room for improvement, but there’s much to look forward to in the months ahead

  3. I often think that the order of goals sets the mood. If we’d led 2-1 and then conceded (again) a late equaliser, there would have been angst and grinding of teeth. Instead, it’s relief as we claw a point.

    I agree with your analysis. They looked disjointed in many ways. We all shared the relief & joy that our headline striker signing has finally get his first goal, and hope it will open the floodgates…

    We’ve rightly praised Hughes for canny & timely substitutions. But I keep pondering if, with our wealth of talent and the challenge of keeping them all motivated, PLUS the greater number of allowed subs, we wouldn’t be better to shuffle the team more aggressively, during the match. Some of those players looked knackered in the later stages. And if I was managing, I’d be taking our leading goal scorer off at half time and wrapping him in cotton wool. In form he may be, but he’s not getting to last 46 league matches plus competitions, so why play him 90% of the the time, until he falls over?

  4. Hat tip to Matty Platt 💪 and mentions in dispatches for Foulds and Chappy. Otherwise lacking the intensity/fight they had against Stevenage and overall more than a bit complacent after a bright start. They will have to bring their A game week in week out if they are to succeed.

  5. Quite frankly the hysterics I wouldn’t expect of WOAP. Not good, not great but ok and this is more akin to the Twitter wonderful/woeful exaggerations.

    This was no different to any home game this season. Had another of our opportunities gone in while 1-0 up another story would have played out.

    Lee Angol and vadaine Oliver came on to once again show our strength in depth and probably alongside Chapman our better players today.

  6. I found it a strange watch. City have somehow filled me with belief that they are a good team and will keep doing the right things to get their rewards.
    It did start to worry me the playing out from the keepers dead balls as the game went on but I’m not manager or tactician so I’ll have to get used to it. I am not suggesting pumping it aimlessly forward but to pass four times in a square for the keeper to pump it forward anyway?….
    Very pleased for Oliver.
    Let’s be honest both teams could have had more goals.
    A draw is a fair result. Wimbledon had some good strong players in show Namely pell. Davison. Chislet
    Anyhow a long season. We’re drawn games we could have lost and also ones we should have won. Remaining unbeaten. Let’s move on.

  7. Wimbledon’s formation did indeed own our midfield in large portions of the match — and they had some skilled players there to sustain the pressure. Other teams — especially those with more depth than Wimbledon (who were, to be fair, better than expected) will be looking to replicate that.

    More lessons to be learned … a long season in front of us.

  8. Promising start to the season as the team takes shape and the strengths of the individual players are recognised and used to the best advantage. Having said that weaknesses will emerge and imo it is becoming clear as the season gets into its stride that the team requires strong, linspirational and vocal leadership in midfield who also has ball carrying ability to attack stubborn defences. A big ask but the successful teams in our history all had one.

  9. Teams are now starting to figure out how they can nullify us. They pack the midfield and take Smallwood and Gillead out of the game by giving them no time on the ball. Whilst we shouldn’t abandon our tactics I think over the next few games we will have to come up with something slightly different.m as this has been evident over the last 2/3 games. Even though we’ve managed to get positive results from these games we’ve given up a lot of possession and faced a lot more attacks. Will be interesting to see how the coaching staff adapt to this over the coming games

    • Agree with this a lot.
      Hopefully getting more out of Wright, perreira, banks, angol etc is where we can start to provide teams with a lot of problems. Even in the modern game pace is still the one thing that is impossible to defend against
      That’s where we can mix it up over the winter

  10. I’ve reread the article and I can’t see any hysteria. Pretty much as I saw it.

    City totally dominant from the start and you got the feeling that a second goal would have led to an extremely comfortable afternoon BUT for whatever reason the balance shifted. Whether it was City giving the ball away from goal kicks or complacency from City or a tactical switch from Wimbledon, they basically outplayed us until Angol came on. Then once they’d gone ahead they decided that rather than play the way that had worked for so long, they’d resort to cheating and they got their reward in City’s equaliser.

    The time wasting, the kicking the ball away, the constantly having two players down on the floor, it was diabolical but they knew the ref had no control at all. And I feel that this is one of the reasons why the balance did shift earlier, Wimbledon realised that fouls were not going to be punished and they exploited the ref’s ineptitude more than us.

    Pereira disappointed, Cook was fouled out of the game (but he does look for it too much) but there were plenty of positives.

    Still hopeful of a successful season.

    • When they went ahead I looked over to their bench from the Midland Road stand and saw one of the coaches gesture to the defenders and goalkeeper to go down at every opportunity, he also indicated to the goalkeeper to hold onto the ball on the floor.
      It’s blatant cheating, we need the FA to start stamping it out

  11. I feel able to voice the misgivings I had about Pereira signing that would have been howled down a month ago. He’s a fairly tricky winger but as a no 10, yesterday showed he is ineffective. Knocked off the ball easily and unable to get in the game he is an impact player for the last 15 minutes as Hughes realised yesterday. Wright is far more of a threat in my opinion. I’m pleased he’s at City but for me he was hardly the coming of the saviour. Far greater key signings for me we’re Smallwood, Walker, Odusina and (with the benefit of hindsight) Platt. Wouldn’t have Paudie back at any price!

  12. Mixed feelings from yesterday’s game/result. At full time I felt relieved to have taken a point, but if someone had told me at half-time it would be a draw I would have definitely thought two points lost.

    I think we are doing okay this season but I do see much more potential in this team, this squad and this manager. But the season is a marathon not a sprint and I’m sure we will continue to improve and develop as the season progresses.

    It was nice to see us battling until the last minute and salvaging a point, a lot of successful teams do get late goals as they battle to the end and never give up. I’ve seen city lose late goals plenty of times in recent years and when it happens it’s demoralising.

  13. The summary is exactly as I saw the game. I would add that it was Angol’s pass to Foulds in the build up for the second goal. A number of players playing below par. Banks (apart from the tremendous free kick ) and Periera did not contribute enough in my view. Still the ‘get out of jail’ analogy is a good one and certainly matched the feeling after the game.

  14. Personally, I wish we had a 6’4”centreback to partner Platt and some more muscle in midfield. I’d be quite happy for the rest to play the technical football.

  15. First 20 minutes we looked to be given Wimbledon a good hiding but they then started to control the match. City kept giving them the ball. This put the defence under constant pressure. It was no surprise when Wimbledon equalised and then scored a second. Credit to City, they changed tactics and Foulds provided the perfect cross which Oliver buried. I do believe we under estimated Wimbledon. Yes the first 20 minutes Wimbledon were allover the place. But they got their game together and caused city all sorts of problems.
    Credit City for their endeavour to push forward looking for an equaliser. It was a never say die situation. Last season we would have lost a game like this but give credit to City, they never gave up. Let’s hope that when we play Harrowgate on Saturday we will show determination and resolve and come away with 3 points.

%d bloggers like this: