Late equaliser brings frustration but can’t diminish the high ceiling potential of this Bradford City side

Bradford City 1
Wright 31
Swindon Town 1
Jephcott 90+2

Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

The cast members have changed, but this was a wearily familiar plotline for seasoned Bradford City watchers. The home team trying to manage the fine margins, only to fall to late heartache. Frustration at what can only be viewed as points dropped, when a winning position wasn’t maximised.

As Swindon snatched a draw in stoppage time, Mark Hughes walked a mile in the shoes of Derek Adams, Stuart McCall, Gary Bowyer – even Phil Parkinson. So many times in the last decade, Valley Parade has bitten its nails in the hope of seeing out a narrow lead. And so many times in the last decade, it ended like this.

But that’s where the comparisons end, especially with Hughes’ predecessor, Derek Adams. The Scot rather ingloriously oversaw 12 dropped points from winning positions last season, thanks to a dour tendency to sit back and grimly hold onto a slender lead. Here, it was in truth difficult to find fault with Hughes’ tactics – or question the bravery of his players. They looked to be seeing the game out with some degree of comfort. Swindon never gave up, but their threat was sporadic and had largely faded. At least until the final few minutes.

But of course, a 1-0 lead is never comfortable. City would ultimately be punished for failing to get a second goal when some presentable chances had fallen their way. In the first minute of injury time, a scramble in the box saw the ball hit the arm of Brad Halliday and a penalty awarded. Hughes fumed after, “It’s not a handball. The referee can’t see it either, he’s about 20 yards away with three or four people between him and Brad.”

Harry Lewis did well to save Luke Jephcott’s spot kick effort, but the loose ball fell back into the Swindon substitute’s path, and he tapped the ball home to earn his side a point. Swindon, of course, beat City at Valley Parade last season with a stoppage time penalty. Another game where the Bantams had lead and failed to see it out.

(If you want to go even further back, Swindon scored a 90th minute equaliser at Valley Parade in the Colin Todd season 2005/06, and a 98th minute equaliser here against Paul Jewell’s City side of 1997/98. Heck, if I’m a Swindon fan coming to Valley Parade with this sort of history, I ain’t leaving early!)

On the balance of play, it was hard to make a convincing argument that Swindon didn’t deserve it. They showed they were a good side, and contributed to a watchable contest. Over the last year, we’ve seen the Pep Guardiola influence firmly reach League Two. City are not the only team playing a more technical style of playing it out from the back, deploying zonal marking and pressing for the ball. This was a game between two footballing sides, and there was some excellent quality on show at times. The biggest giveaway that this was, in fact, a fourth division game came in the decision making.

And the harsh truth for City tonight is that it was their decision making which ultimately cost them victory. They got into some great attacking positions in the second half especially, but players would be guilty of keeping hold of possession for a couple of seconds too long. Or of playing the wrong option. Or of trying one too many passes.

At times, they just needed to be that bit more aware of what was going on around them. Be that little bit crisper with their actions. But again, it came down to fine margins. The team collectively seemed to spend a long time on the cusp of scoring a second goal, but couldn’t quite take that next step of making it count.

They need more moments as beautiful as the first half passing move that ended with Tyreik Wright putting City in front. What a goal this was. Harry Chapman had the ball in the centre and sent a nice pass outwide to Matty Foulds, who charged forwards. Foulds weighed up his options and tried a tricky central pass to Dion Periera that was played to perfection. Wright came alive and made a great forward run. Pereira showed his class to pick Wright out, and the on loan Villa man’s angled finish arrowed into the bottom corner. From the centre circle to back of the net in eight seconds.


This year’s goal of the season competition already looks tasty, with some special long range blockbusters from Richie Smallwood, Jake Young and Scott Banks. But I’d wager Hughes enjoyed this goal even more. It was a superb validation of his coaching ideals. Of the work he’s put in getting City to produce intricate passing and playing through the opposition. Pep himself would have been proud of this goal.

Wright’s strike, coming around the half hour mark, put City in a strong position in a game where they started slower than Swindon but gradually began to dictate the tempo. At times tonight, Chapman and Andy Cook were too quiet, too squeezed out. (Just three of Cook’s 10 league goals this season have come at Valley Parade, which is something to think about.) But when City found their rhythm they were difficult to live with. Swindon looked suspect defensively all night, and struggled with the press. Wright was a constant menace and linked up well with the on-form Foulds. When Chapman was fed in dangerous areas, he showed his quality.

Pereira too was notably improved, at least in the aftermath of his assist for Wright. Before then he’d made several mistakes, but his confidence seemed to return after his first goal involvement since re-signing on loan. There was some great Pereira tricky in the second half especially. A reminder – and one that was needed – of what he is capable of.

City were initially very strong defensively, with Matty Platt outstanding in the first half. But after picking up an injury just before the break, the City centre half wasn’t quite his usual self and went onto make several mistakes. That gave Swindon some hope, and they found more joy from targeting Halliday physically. It meant the right hand side of City’s back four had an awkward second half.

Ultimately this would be City’s undoing. But it wasn’t a case of Swindon banging loudly on the door. They began the second period well and had a strong spell midway through the half. But at other times, City were firmly on top and camped out in Swindon’s half. It seemed more likely City would score a second than Swindon would find an equaliser, even though the visitors had plenty of shots from distance and racked up several corners.

Once again, the subs made a positive difference. Now he’s looking more settled, Vadaine Oliver is proving quite the asset. He held the ball up well when he came on, taking the pressure off City’s backline. Lee Angol’s decision making did let him down – at one stage he simply had to pull the ball back to set up a certain goal, but he paused at the crucial moment and was crowded out. Still, his first touch and ability to run at people was valuable in those closing stages.

If you’re going to nit pick, maybe you could say Yann Songo’o might have come on to protect the back four instead of Ryan East. But when East did come on for Periera (and, by the way, nice management by Hughes to take Pereira off and give him the chance to earn a positive ovation from fans that won’t hurt his confidence), City went 4-3-3 with Alex Gilliead pushed out wide. It was a clever counter attacking ploy that ensured the Bantams continued to press and keep the ball largely in the opposition half.

In between minute 74 and minute 88, Swindon had just one attempt on goal. Not what you’d expect from a decent opposition side, chasing the game.

Sometimes – well, a lot of times in the Adams’ era – you can go too defensive in trying to manage a slender lead, and invite pressure that leads to an equaliser. Bringing on Songo’o might have inadvertently caused that. Instead, Hughes prioritised keeping control of the centre of the park. Taking some risk still that meant Swindon had to worry about defending themselves, rather than merely running down the clock. And as the fourth official put up the board to signal stoppage time, it was an approach that was working.

It looked, well, comfortable for City.

But it wasn’t.

In those final few moments, Swindon were able to get up the pitch. They were able to create problems. Ellis Landolo got above Halliday at the backpost and headed over when he was should have hit the target. And then came the penalty drama in stoppage time. A moment made slightly surreal by a City fan bizarrely invading the pitch to have a chat with Swindon keeper Solomon Brynn. The attempts by stewards to stop the fan were utterly feeble. Once that distraction was over, Jephcott eventually scored and City dropped to seventh when they were about to go fourth.

Hughes reflected, “It’s really disappointing because the manner of our performance was really good. But if it’s only 1-0 and you miss chances to put the game to bed, then you’re always at risk.”

It’s annoying of course, but the criticisms directed at City are minor rather than sizeable. They played well. Not the best they’ve played this season, and no one probably deserved more than a seven out of ten. Smallwood and Gilliead were strong in midfield, Romoney Crichlow is back on form. Lewis continues to look like such an excellent find. This is a team going in the right direction, absolutely no question.

The problem tonight was that Swindon also played well. They’re a decent side. This is a division that seems to have improved in general. As can be evidenced by the blistering form of the top three sides. It’s a competitive league but – guess what? – we look as good as anyone. And that’s still with those higher gears arguably yet to be found.

City clearly have to manage the margins a little better, but they really aren’t far away. And that’s why no one should be feeling too despondent by this draw. Or seriously worrying that the new cast are in danger of routinely repeating their predecessors’ mistakes.

Categories: Match Reviews

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12 replies

  1. We have to earn victories. Bradford City are a good team this season but so are Swindon. We have to go for 90 + minutes. Can’t comment on the penalty but decisions once made cannot be changed at this level. VAR may have saved city. I think there should be a health warning before a City game “those with a nervous disposition should avert there eyes for the last 5 minutes of the game”. Its not the first time this has happened to City but in shows a slight flaw in our make up. I believe, given time, Mark will sort this out. We scored a great goal that would have been applauded had it been in the premiership but we are Bradford City not Manchester City. To suggest we play like Peps’ team is a big ask. I am proud at the way City are playing. We will win more than lose this season and I’m confident that we will finish in the top 3.

  2. In a word, we are not scoring enough goals to suggest we are a team destined for automatic promotion.

  3. There are plenty reasons to be confident about our prospects this season with genuine progress being made and I suspect that in the new year we’ll be among the pace setters. We have the benefit of a decent squad and players soon to return. My biggest fear is injury to such as Andy Cook.

    However sometimes I think that the Valley Parade pitch conspires against us. Whilst we now have the benefit of grass, the field of play remains narrow which makes it easier for opposition sides to close us down and get men behind the ball. I’d argue it is a good ground for a well-organised away side to play at. I am convinced that on a wider pitch we’d be seeing the full benefit of the coaching that is being instilled. Maybe we’ll have to wait for a trip to Wembley to see the team in full glory.

  4. Good game between 2 good sides. Cook didn’t get much change out of their defenders but he occupied the defence and that created space for Chapman, Pereira and Wright. We should have killed it off first half, particularly the Chapman shot and the one where Chapman got to the byline and slipped it across goal.

    I think Chapman and Pereira just need a goal and then we’ll be flying. So much good play.

    This is a far cry from what we saw last season!

    • Eventually the result was a fair one. Both goals were due to officiating errors. If City are to become serious contenders for automatic promotion then consistency and goal scoring must improve.

      • Thought City edged it myself. Never really thought Swindon looked like scoring despite playing well. Draw fair but having defended well until 90th minute, it was harsh. The City goal was onside so not an error (I believe there is a freeze frame of it).

      • Rob, I froze the replay and you could be right.

  5. An excellent game, which was well refereed until that late penalty decision. Hopefully there will be some censure of the official, for examination of the incident shows that he did not have a clear view and also Halliday’s body position made it impossible to determine the point of contact between ball and body. As mentioned by others he did not give the decision at first – he gave in to the appeals and guessed. He will be aware of this and should be ashamed and I sincerely hope that these lost points do not become critical.

  6. Felt a lot like the McCall 2015 year last night. Really good football, lack of a killer instinct in the right moments. I think we drew more games than anyone that season? We also very rarely won by more than a goal.

    I actually think it was our most complete performance this season. Swindon never looked a threat despite being looking a good side, Harry Lewis wasn’t required to make his game changing saves that are as good as goals and we got into some really good positions.

    If it had finished 1-0 everyone would be talking about how well we managed the game and unlucky not to have won by more. The whole narrative changed on one decision (and I thought the ref was one of the best we have had otherwise).

    Fine margins, that’s what makes football the most popular, emotional sport in the world.

    • Obviously meant McCall 2017. Day dreaming about Stamford Bridge instead!

    • Exactly….

      Forget the referee and the result. Look at the bigger picture. We’re light and day better than we were last year.

      Better team, better squad, better football, better club. Trust in Hughes, his methods and his tactics and we will prevail.

  7. It was a good game to watch and was a fair result albeit achieved the wrong way.

    At about 55-60 minutes after watching Swindon dominate us for 10-15 minutes with about 8 shots to our 1 we were talking about how maybe withdrawing one of Chapman or Pereira and putting on a third central midfielder would help. Swindon seemed to be exploiting the space either side of our central midfielders regularly. Having an extra midfielder like East in there would have allowed the defensive screen to stretch wider and make it harder for Swindon to get at us and chanted the tempo and direction of travel that the game was heading in.

    That said I couldn’t fault any individual player for City as everyone was a solid 7 with no real stand out performers dominating the game.

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