A dramatic Bradford City finale offers real encouragement for their promotion prospects

Bradford City 2
Cook 90+3, Banks 90+6
Colchester United 0

By Jason McKeown

As the corner was swung over by Harry Chapman, and as the ball was headed home by Andy Cook, and as a record Valley Parade fourth tier crowd celebrated wildly, it felt as if everything had been building to this seismic moment in Bradford City’s season. That they’d found lift off.

It was beautiful bedlam everywhere you looked. Fans jumped on top of fans. The players ran to each other and group hugged. Mark Hughes leapt up in the air and into the arms of the coaching staff, whose celebrations spilled onto the field. Amazingly, we would get to do it all over again minutes later, as Scott Banks sealed a vital Bantams victory that sends the club soaring to fifth. His well taken goal was the cue for more ecstatic celebrations, and the most joyful of endings to an afternoon largely filled with frustration.

It looked destined to end very differently. As the clocked ticked to zero, Valley Parade was seemingly preparing to boo a drab 0-0. A weekend of supporter criticism lay ahead, as familiar home failings were set to dominate the conversation once again. Then Chapman to Cook. Goal. Cook to Banks. Goal. The narrative changed. And so instead, at full time the players, management and coaching team embarked on a lap around Valley Parade to huge acclaim.

This feels like a really significant victory. It wasn’t fully convincing. It was hard earned. At times the players looked to have run out of ideas, but they never ran out of heart. They kept going to the end, re-energised along the way by some intelligent substitutions by their manager. They found a way to break the deadlock. And the manner of the success can only give them more confidence.

How many times at Valley Parade this season has the team lost its way? Thwarted by wily opposition parking the bus. They’ve often crawled to the end of matches, struggling to turn one point into three, or to save the club from defeat. They’d only scored two home goals all season post-75th minute.

Until now.

For here they were rewarded for their spirit and endeavour. For keeping their heads up. They had some uncomfortable moments during the game, but got through them. And then just as all hope seemed lost, they struck in the nick of time. This can only give the players greater belief, and so much more faith in the leadership of Hughes.

If there’s a winner then there’s a loser. And the defeated Colchester must be absolutely devastated by the way the game ended. There can be little dispute that the U’s were the better side for the first hour of the game. The 3-4-3 set up allowed them to squeeze the space on Jamie Walker, Dara Costelloe and Andy Cook, and enabled them to attack with purpose. The former City defender Fiacre Kelleher had a tremendous battle with Cook that he looked to have bested. Another ex-Bantam, Connor Wood, had an equally thrilling contest with Brad Halliday. It was a very intriguing game.

Not for the first time this season, City were indebted to their superb goalkeeper, Harry Lewis. The 25-year-old produced two excellent first half saves, the second of which dug his captain Richie Smallwood out of a hole after the midfielder produced a woeful cross-field pass that allowed Colchester to break. What a signing Lewis is proving to be. He is someone destined to play at a much higher level, but hopefully isn’t in a rush to look for it given he’s waited so long for the platform of first team football that City are providing him.

Lewis kept City in it. United held the physical edge in both boxes in the first half especially. It was a game that demanded big performances from Sam Stubbs and Matty Platt, who duly delivered. Defensively City did well – not just off the ball but in getting possession up the pitch quicker as they sought to beat the Colchester press.

Over the 90 minutes City completed 485 passes – 72 of which were long. During the Barrow game of two weeks ago, where the passing tally got to a silly amount of 735, City only tried 52 long balls. In other words, City were more direct overall here. No one was groaning about sideways passes at the back.

Still, at the other end, the threat was too irregular. City started quite well and shaded the first 20 minutes. But with Colchester’s backline so deep, there wasn’t the same amount of space for Costelloe to run into, compared to the way he lead the line so effectively at Gillingham on Tuesday. And that hindered City’s ability to have as much possession in the final third. They just couldn’t set up a base camp to attack like they did at the Preistfield.

In games like this, the inclusion of Smallwood as left midfielder of the diamond doesn’t work. Liam Ridehalgh had plenty of the ball on the left side, but needed to be paired up with someone who had the ability to run with the ball past opposition players. Smallwood has qualities, but his strength of looking around and spraying a pass was not what was really needed in this part of the diamond, especially with Adam Clayton behind him doing that job with typical aplomb. Alex Gilliead similarly struggled.

It all left the feeling that Colchester were more likely to get the breakthrough. And but for some better decision making early in the second half, they would probably have found a goal. “It was always a little bit of a worry for us”, admitted Hughes after, adding that in his view Colchester are in a false position. But as well as the visitors played, they arguably lacked the level of ambition needed to push on and turn a useful point on the road into three. Their time wasting antics right from kick off were tiresome, and they would ultimately lack the answers to City’s second half tactical changes.

And it was in this area that Hughes really earned his wages this week. At times this season, he has been rightly criticised for being too conservative in his substitutions, and of being too reluctant to utilise the strong squad resources he has to change set-up when his initial approach doesn’t seem to be working.

Here, Hughes emphatically demonstrated his acumen to read a game and exploit opposition weaknesses. And to be bolder in his risk approach. First, he brought on Emmanuel Osadebe and Ryan East for the disappointing Smallwood and Gilliead, and then six minutes later he introduced Scott Banks for Costelloe, moving City to a 4-2-3-1. Osadebe operated alongside Clayton, with East, Walker and Banks lining up behind Cook.

It’s easy to understate Osadebe’s role in this victory, but he was crucial. He was adept at coming deep to receive the ball from the back four, before running at opposition players and picking a pass. Not a single player on the pitch came close to matching Osadebe’s 93% pass success rate in the final 26 minutes. Smallwood’s pass success was a feeble 62% prior to then. As Osadebe regains fitness, on this evidence Hughes will need to find a starting place for his summer signing.

The changes worked well in enabling City to operate in between Colchester lines, and in pushing the United wing backs into their own half. Banks did a great job, brilliantly linking up with the man of the match Halliday to cause Wood all sorts of problems. Prior to the change, Wood had a pass success rate of 74%. After that City swap, and with Banks now pressurising him on the ball, Wood’s pass success rate dropped to 50%.

City began to press more, with seven attempts on goal (to zero from Colchester) over the final 20 minutes, three corners (to opposition’s zero) and 62% possession. The stats tell one story though, the emotion of being there was different. Chances were still too sporadic, and belief the team would find a way slowly drained from the stands. There were plenty of home fans who departed before stoppage time, and boy must they be full of regret. They did at least get to see Platt unluckily have a powerful header bounce back off the post. That was the cue for Hughes to go even braver, with Harry Chapman introduced for Clayton. City were certainly going gung ho. “What I liked is we kept going,” added Hughes.

The rewards came late on when, with City piling bodies forward, another corner was won. There’s been a lot of deserved criticism for City’s poor corner deliveries this season, but that’s often because they are aimed at the near post, which is harder to get right but typically has higher rewards if you do. This time, they switched it up. Chapman – with only two assists all season – aimed the set piece to the far post, and Cook (who usually operates at the near post) popped up on the other side to head home. A third goal of the week for Cook, a sixth in the last seven games, and a 22nd goal of an unbelievable personal campaign.

Games like this really show the value of Cook. He was quiet for long spells. He appeared to be losing his personal duel. But he rarely lets it affect him. His body language stays bold and strong. And when a chance eventually comes his way, he’s ready to take it. Cook has played in this way for City right from the moment of joining on loan two years ago, where he operated in Mark Trueman’s safety-first system. He is the perfect player to feed on scraps and make it count.

As Colchester suddenly had to muster some urgency to try and get an equaliser, City broke again with Cook producing some great play to get away from his man. He found Banks running clear, and the on loan Crystal Palace winger finished expertly. It sealed a huge victory. One which puts the Bantams just three points off the automatic promotion places, with a faltering Stevenage very much in their sights.

The amazing stoppage time drama elevates this game to the best at Valley Parade all season. It’s felt like a long time since we’ve celebrated goals at home in such a gleeful manner. Because after back to back away wins, with a 20,000 crowd present, and with next year’s season ticket campaign launched the evening before in impressive style, this felt like a really important afternoon in City’s season. It was a game they really needed to win, and in the nick of time they did just that.

On the volume of the celebrations Hughes admitted, “We haven’t given our home fans enough to really generate that [level of noise]. But when the roof goes off at this place, it’s fantastic. Even I got excited, jumping up and down like an idiot! It was a great finish to a difficult game.”

In truth, the day was worryingly flat for long periods. Not the best City performance, producing a mute atmosphere that did not reflect such a fantastic turnout. Valley Parade was bouncing at kick off, and it would end the day in similarly excitable style, but over most of the 90 minutes, this was far removed from the wall of noise we all aspired it to be. There’s still a real issue of having separate singing areas, and even when the North West Corner and Kop sang the same songs they were painfully out of time with each other. It’s too disjointed, a bit like the team can be at times.

For this game was a further demonstration of the difficulties Hughes’ City are finding in unlocking the highest gears and producing convincing performances. But still, there is no question they are a side capable of producing big moments, something they’ve done regularly all campaign. This was the biggest moment of the season so far. One that we’ll look back on with fondness for some time.

It’s also an afternoon to give everyone a huge shot of belief that this team is capable of going onto produce even bigger moments during the run in. And in giving Bradford City every chance of ensuring that – just like this afternoon – the season ultimately ends in the happiest of ways.



Categories: Match Reviews

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37 replies

  1. I personally thought East in midfield had more influence than Osadebe but it was good to have legs in there with both of them. East’s urgency, hustle and hounding was exactly what was lacking in the 1st half. He really should get more game time and praise when he plays. Salford away, Mansfield at home (first half ) and today have shown he should be given a chance.

  2. Win our two games in hand, pick up a few points here and there and… we’re playing Leyton for the title at home on the final day of the season!

    • Mega – it’s written in the stars – it’ll be us and Stevenage in the playoffs. We all know that, we just have to pkay a few matches first.

      It’ll be Millwall all over again , only we’ll have that fat turnip doing a jig in front of us….

      I hope we get 3rd. I can’t deal with the stress anymore!!

    • Like the thinking but that top spot is probably too far out of our reach……

      …..2nd on the otherhand is defo up for grabs though!👍

  3. Today was one of the special days that roll around far too rarely.
    A poor game coming to life after 91 minutes, and payback for an undeserved last minute defeat in the reverse fixture and for a team content to waste as much time as possible.
    I was hoarse at the end and cannot remember that since our league Cup glory run.

  4. At half time I thought, here we go again. Big talk and little to show. Colchester had 6 attempts with 4 on target, whereas, City had just 4 with 0 on target. Smallwood and Gilliard just wasn’t performing and Costelloe was getting little change up front. I just thought our bogey team would do it again. The changes Mark made were bold and unexpected. Taking his midfield duo off together was totally unexpected but welcome. We started to give them something to think about. Colchester had no shots on target but City had 3 and a total of 12 attempts in the second half. The first goal scored in extra time would normally be the oppositions. Not today! It was our turn! What joy. The crowd became alive and they almost shouted the roof off. The response for the second goal Wow!!!!. The team, the backroom staff went totally wild as did the crowd. What a day. I shall not forget today.

  5. Thanks for the report Jason and you picked up the point with stats that was going through my mind – more mixing up of the long balls whilst still playing out from the back with good measure of each as opposed to just a few weeks ago. That was pleasing to see.
    But my main takeaway from that game was that’s the type of win we weren’t getting when we were outside the playoff places looking at those above us. That’s the type of win that promotions are made of and we got it in dramatic style! My confidence is through the roof now and looking at our run-in fixture list – surely now we must be a serious contender for one of those 3 autos! Personally I agree with Mega’s comment above – last day title decider coming up! CTID

  6. Colchester were a good team on this showing. Especially good on the ball and energetic closing down off the ball.
    Proof that it really is a squad game. All played their part and the win would not have come without the contributions of all subs (especially on the back of three games with an unchanged xi)
    I celebrated the cook goal (at home) like it was so, so significant. Felt like a cup game win.
    It’s still so tight in that league. I think a draw would have meant we are in 8th instead still pushing in 5th.
    This win will hopefully galvanise the players and bring a real spring to their step. Coming into form at the right stage of the season it seems. Hopefully this isn’t a false dawn and by the end of March we are at home playing Carlisle in a classic six pointer for the chance to move second!….
    (Great what a win can do for the imagination isn’t it)
    Some wins are bigger than others…
    CTID

  7. You didn’t mention the one incident that really kick started that final turning point in the finish to the game – when their player tried a deliberate time wasting act by dropping on the ball at the throw in with Ridehalgh which led to that melle a minute or 2 before the first goal.

    That’s the incident that kick started that finish!!

    • Yep, I think that one backfired on them in a big way. Glorious irony a few minutes later when John Akinde started tapping his wrist when Ridehalgh went down to tie his laces 😆

  8. ‘Beautiful Bedlam’! We have our wordsmith to sum up the resolution of the match in an unforgettable oxymoron, a gift to football speak. That’s what it was when the goals went in. What a player Andy Cook is and what a week for him. A superb header at Donny and a deft chip with his left foot at Gillingham was followed yesterday by a thunderbolt that saw him leaping and hanging like Tony Leighton, all timing and neck muscle power. I sense we are witnessing history in the making.

  9. Thought we were poor for the first 60 mins. Lewis pulled off two good saves in the 1st half and our goal lived a charmed life early in the 2nd half. I can see why Colchester feel aggrieved. Also it didn’t help us having another poor ref, how could there only be 1 min of injury time in the first half, Colchester were time wasting from the off.

    However, credit to Mark for changing the game by taking off the ineffective Gilly and Smallwood. When teams come to VP and are happy to defend deep, those two players are not going to break them down. Yes, its different away from home. So the pendulum swung into our favour once Manny, East and Bank were brought on.

    The final few minutes will be remembered for a long time. Great scenes in the ground. CTID

  10. If City appeared to play a poor game it was due to Colchester being surprisingly strong opposition. I actually thought City’s standard of play was on par with most of their better games in recent times. Colchester were arguably the strongest team City have faced since Mansfield. Again, Cook and Lewis played major roles in City’s victory and an entertaining game.

  11. It appears Jason that you watch a football game to criticise. I watch a game to enjoy.If our opponents are better than us at times then so be it.To be honest l couldnt tell you if a team plays a diamond, or any other plan,l just enjoy watching football.Then you tell us the boo boys were ready to boo the team of,why?l personally thought it was a decent game Colchester should have been 2 up before half time,they were the better team for the first hour.Why would anyone boo, a draw against a better team? People are complaining about the ref l didnt think we was as bad as some weve had this season.One thing you and your followers should keep in mind is that this is 4th division football with 4th division referee standards.Other wise your write ups are ok.

    • I’ve written a really positive match report, after a really positive match report midweek, and apparently “I only watch a football game to criticise.” Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

      • You bother, Jason, because you care.. We read woap because we care and because you and your colleagues write so well.
        Woap means a lot to many people, including many like me who can’t get to games any more.
        This comment was totally unfounded and unnecessary and it is very much to your credit that you did not block it
        I hope you ignore such nonsense
        Well done ,as always.

      • Please, please DO bother Jason.
        After reading the vanilla version of a match on the City web site, I always turn to WOAP for an informative, balanced view.
        I for one did not consider your report overly critical.

      • BTW Jason, please bother. Your journalism is extremely valued.

      • I’m sorry you were offended by my opinion on your write up v Colchester Ive read nearly every one from Width of a post in the pat and enjoy them.l look forward to reading them, I just thought in my opinion you didnt appreciate how well Colcheser played,and didnt give them enough credit they are one of the few teams to come to Valley Parade and pushed us back, I’d hate for you to ban people with different views to yours.

      • I’m not offended at all don’t worry. I just thought the comment “It appears Jason that you watch a football game to criticise” was unfair and presumptuous. I’m just a fan like the rest of us. Your original comment seemed to show you were upset by the idea the team would have been booed at full time had they not scored. I wasn’t saying they’d have deserved to be booed, and I wouldn’t have joined in, but we’ve all been going to watch City long enough to know there would have been some booing had it finished 0-0. As for not giving Colchester enough credit, I wrote that there was little dispute they were the better side for the first hour and that they played very well. So I feel I did, but fair dos. Not sure where talk of banning people who disagree is coming from. I’ve never suggested anything of the sort. The person who said that has an unfortunate habit of shouting down everyone he disagrees with and has remained very sore to the fact I pointed this out to him a few weeks ago. There was talk of banning Phil due to the number of reader complaints I’ve been getting. But we’ve agreed to let him carry on and closely monitor the situation.

      • Thanks for your reply,I will try to put my comments in a more fashionable way.sorry for any confusion.As I’ve said,l enjoy width of the post.

    • Clearly a wind-up.

      • Why?

        Also ‘John Wade’ please explain this comment

        “it is very much to your credit that you did not block it”

        Why should comments be blocked, when they are non-offensive but simply have a different view point?

      • I may be wrong but it stood out to me instantly that it was Col(chester) I (a)m.

    • I’m finding it worrying that people who dare to disagree with the editorship, seem to be almost condemned in an almost ‘bullying’ manner.

      I fail to see what is how this comment could be seen as “totally unfounded and unnecessary” – it is after all an opinion.

      It’s not one I agree with, but I do think that this season too many Bantams micro-analyse the performances and nearly always negatively.

      The poster has a point. Colchester at least played football and tried to make a game of it, so we had a fascinating battle of wills. Credit to them as opposed to the cynical defensive approaches of Doncaster, Crewe, Wimbledon and Tranmere.

    • A very condescending post by Coli M.
      Jason does not watch a game to criticise.
      He reports on what he sees, warts and all, but accurately.
      If City had not got the late goals there is no doubt that some fans would have booed them off.
      Why?
      Because of the home form and the fact that having won two difficult away games City would have failed to have lived up to the expectations once again.

  12. Imagine how our season would be going without the Cookie Monsters goals & Harry’s saves. What a nightmare.

    • Yeah. But we have got them haven’t we

      • Spot on Karl, I find it weird when supporters say “yeah but if it wasn’t for x and y we would be nowhere”. Cook and Lewis are part of our squad, and the same squad that win games. Not sure what some people are expecting otherwise??

    • @cadmunkey

      Yep! I’m always perplexed when fans want to single out one or two players and imagine if they weren’t there, i.e. virtually 20% of the team. LOL!

      With Cook, we were the ones to take a risk in January 2021, when Nigel Clough didn’t want him and that’s something lots of Mansfield fans criticise him for.

      Likewise, due to his lack of gametime, lots were saying that Lewis was a risk.

      Quite rightly the club gets criticised when signings are poor (i.e. virtually everyone signed in the summer of 2018. LOL!!) the club deserve the credit and these two players extraordinary performances.

      It’s also clear to see that if Walker and Osadebe (who surely must have had the best 60 minutes of any player – unfortunately spread over 6 months!!)

      • Don’t know what happened there!!

        Anyway my last sentence, should have read

        “It’s also clear to see that if Walker and Osadebe (who surely must have had the best 60 minutes of any player – unfortunately spread over 6 months!!) had been around all season – we could have been where Leyton Orient are”

        So it shows how these things balance out

  13. Same old, same old getting done again from another parked bus, but I would take that every home game until the end of the season if we were guaranteed that ending, very very special scenes, can you smell it, MH is putting all the demons & omens to bed.

    We are now within striking distance, so it’s time to turn up the volume and pace and make the rest of the season squeaky for all at the top, no team want to play a team in form full of momentum, VP has to be a fortress now…….

  14. That is on a par with the Swindon match in 2017 when Charlie Wyke won it with a late brace ! We came very close to the Championship six years ago. We are extremely close to League One again right now. I agree with Mega. Believe we can not only get automatic promotion. Instead believe we CAN win the title. Bristol Rovers did their version on that on the last day last season. We CAN win this league if we win ten on the bounce like 1983-84. Here we go !

  15. Good match and fair play to Colchester.

    It was great to see, for the first time this season, that we got better as the game went on. That’s a hallmark of successful teams in any division.

    I don’t see anything else but the automatics. Our mean defence, which has been more or less like this all season (i.e. take away the Northampton and Orient matches) is what’s going to make the difference.

  16. At home I think we should start with two genuine wide players instead of Smallwood and Gilliead. Then bring them on to shore things up if necessary. And keep them in the away formation as that’s obviously working well. We have to be far more positive from the off at VP.

    • Just one offensive wide player would be nice! Obviously PP played different formations but nailed down one side with McMahon and had Reid flying down tother. Really hope we start the next home game with at least one of Banks/Chapman/East/Osabede in one of the midfield berths

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