A huge set back for Bradford City as they lose to Swindon Town – but the race for promotion is still very much on

Swindon Town 1
Williams 82
Bradford City 0

By Jason McKeown

That hurt. Just as Bradford City have got into such a promising position in the promotion race, here was a sharp bump back down to earth. As Emmanuel Osadebe failed to track his runner, and Alex Gilliead didn’t quite read the flight of Remeao Hutto’s cross, Jonny Williams was left unmarked to head home a late Swindon winner. A goal that is body blow to the Bantams’ promotion hopes.

There’s no getting away from the fact this was a bad night for City. They began it two points off the top three, but wins for Northampton and Stevenage means the gap is now five points. It’s a massive evening for the Cobblers and Boro, who thanks also to Carlisle and Stockport’s 2-2 draw are now in a very strong position.

City always came late into this top three fight, and so had little margin for error. And in this, one of their most winnable of remaining fixtures, they had really needed to keep up the pressure. But they couldn’t make it three wins in a row, and now they are really up against it if they’re to make the automatics.

Ultimately, City can’t have too many complaints about losing at the County Ground. They came up against a Swindon side who played really well. Their manager, Jody Morris, has been under huge pressure and there is talk he was on the brink of the sack. His players fought for him, showing a display of great commitment. They had nothing to play for other than their manager’s future, and that was enough incentive to deliver a whole-hearted display.

Of course, it is that old classic of City losing to a team horribly out of form. The old curse strikes again. Before tonight, Swindon had not won since 25 February – the same day that City began their 11-game unbeaten run, which has now come to an end. Carlisle, Stockport and Mansfield have all been to Swindon recently and won. Few would have expected City not to follow them.

Yet the form book was completely turned on his head. And it hurts.

City for their part did not play terribly. In what was only their third loss in 21 games, they showed plenty of attacking endevour. A considerable 17 shots on goal over the 90 minutes. In the first half Richie Smallwood blazed over from a presentable opportunity. Jamie Walker forced a decent save out of Swindon keeper Solomon Brynne and saw a curling effort flash narrowly wide. Andy Cook volleyed off target when he didn’t quite catch it right. Romoney Crichlow had a header saved by Brynne.

They were decent, but not brilliant chances. A slightly scruffy performance in the final third. Overall the team showed flashes of its fluidity, but just couldn’t quite click. Across the full match, City’s pass success rate was 68%, slightly down on their excellent season average of 72% (the fourth best in League Two). That summed them up. Decent, but not quite at the level they are capable of reaching. And on a night – not to mention a promotion race – of fine margins, operating at ‘not quite’ levels proved significant.

It felt like the stars were aligning against City. Before kick off there was the surprise news that Brad Halliday was unavailable due to illness, meaning Luke Hendrie had to come in at right back. Hendrie had not been seen in a City shirt since the Football League Trophy hammering at Burton in October, and not even made the bench in the league since the November victory at Sutton.

Over the evening, three more City players would suffer injuries. First Harry Chapman went off before half time, after colliding with an advertising board when chasing a loose ball. Mark Hughes later revealed Chapman had done his hamstring, and will likely miss the rest of the season. How crucial could that prove?

Hendrie himself got injured in the second half and had to be replaced. You really to feel for the defender. He’s become something of the forgotten man at Valley Parade and had to bide his time. Here, he finally gets to play – and acquitted himself well – only to get injured himself. Like Chapman, Hughes said Hendrie’s season is probably over. If Halliday doesn’t recover for Saturday, Oscar Threlkeld will be their only recognised right back

Completing the misery, Liam Ridehalgh got hurt deep in stoppage time and couldn’t continue. At least City had cover with Tolaj Bola coming on – something that can carry on Saturday if needed (cough cough Matty Foulds). But, still it’s another headache Hughes doesn’t need.

The disruption in City’s ranks clearly helped Swindon. Thierry Nevers replaced Chapman, and just like on Saturday showed glimpses of his quality going forward, though defensively he looked a bit suspect. Hendrie’s early departure saw Hughes bring on Osadebe and Matty Derbyshire (for Scott Banks), with a move to a diamond and Gilliead pushed to right back. It didn’t really work, as although it gave City more possession they struggled to produce anything of note.

The hoped for late spell of pressure never materialised.

By that point, Swindon had already had the best chances of the game, with Harry Lewis producing two brilliant saves either side of the break. First he athletically clawed away a Saidou Khan header. Then in the second half he wonderfully palmed away Luke Jephcott’s powerful shot from distance.

Lewis has taken a tiny bit of criticism of late after the two penalties he gave away in recent home games – there are still hints here, and on Saturday, that City are not quite managing the gap between keeper and his backline correctly – but here was a reminder of his quality. All season long, Lewis has been making outstanding saves to win City vital points. Up until Williams’ late header, it looked like he was on track to do it again.

But alas, the goal that Lewis did concede proved too much for the Bantams to recover from. In the closing stages City continued to huff and puff – they could not be faulted for their commitment or bravery – but they couldn’t find enough quality. In truth, there was only a late penalty shout, when Osadebe looked to have been tripped in the box, that prompted any Swindon anxiety. The Robins saw it out expertly. The less said about the performance of Darren Drysdale the better.

For City there can be no time for feeling sorry for themselves. They still have four games to play, and they’ve simply got to bounce back and re-instil the pressure they were placing on others.

Promotion run-ins are meant to have twists and turns. In 2012/13, there was the late equaliser to Chesterfield and home loss to Rotherham that left us all biting our nails. And famously in 1998/99, City lost at home to a mid-table Huddersfield with four games to go, seemingly blowing it. A week later, they won at QPR whilst automatic promotion rivals Ipswich were amazingly beaten at home to bottom club Crewe.

These things are never easy, and always have a habit of toying with your emotions. In the long run, the set backs are what make the triumphs taste even sweeter. Hopefully we’ll look back on this night and say the same. That the hurt felt right now was worth it.

It’s not over. And though City leave Wiltshire with no points and a few more walking wounded, they’ve got an absolutely massive weekend home game against Gillingham in front of a bumper Valley Parade crowd. Win that, and they can go to Sixfields the week after smelling blood.

Because the one crumb of comfort that remains is that if City win all their remaining matches – including away at Northampton a week on Saturday, and their game in hand at Crewe – they would probably pip the Cobblers on goal difference. It’s in their hands, sort of. And as unlikely as that all seems, there is still a lot to play for. Stevenage look rejuvenated but they go to Mansfield on Saturday. There will be twists to come.

Even if the autos prove beyond them, City have got a bit more work now to make sure they at least finish in the play offs. Adding to the theme of a night of many things going wrong, the gap above the play off dotted line is narrowing thanks to victories for Mansfield and Salford. City’s five-point cushion is down to two. That should focus minds. Because they don’t want to throw their consolation prize away.

We have to move on. Get back on the bike. We’ve come so far to give up now. So let’s lick our wounds. Shake off the hurt. And get ready to give it everything we’ve got.

Categories: Match Reviews

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21 replies

  1. i completely disagree here and from someone one elsewhere that is “in our hands”. How? Its clearly in their hands now to lose. Even beaten Northampton both their and Stevenage fixtures (minus the latters next one) are easier than ours. Then there is Stockport. If we fail we didnt lose it tonight, we lost it against those bad losses to barrow and rochdale but also that sections of recent draws (wallsall, Newport, and Harlepool on the trot, where ‘some’ were still saying it was a good point), where pragmatism and lack of chances meant draws where others have won. Yep we still have a chance but its “not in our hands” at all. However lets first get in the play-off’s which tonights results have closed the chances, then get the best position for the advantage of the home game should that be the method. Come on city.

    • If we win all 4 games (and better Northampton’s goal difference) we go up. That isn’t blind hope, it’s fact. Neither I or Jason are suggesting that will happen, but that’s the situation.

    • If we win all our games (including Northampton) we will be in top three assuming better goal difference. So it is in our hands still. It is also in Northampton’s hands in the same way.

  2. Far from confident in regards to winning another game . It’s a tough run in for City , no easy passage , especially with the injury toll .

  3. Play offs perhaps but not the automatic places. I’d suggest that’s L2 for us again next year as we aren’t set up to win in the play offs as we aren’t dynamic enough. Love to be proven wrong. Is this a failure on MH part? The points lost over the season through dogmatic approach are definitely haunting us. Hugely disappointing.

  4. I hope Im wrong, but i just dont think we have it in us to make top 3. Weve had many chances to do this and keep the pressure on and not done it. Have we ever been in the top 3 at any point this season???
    Playoffs at best, then its a lottery!

  5. That loss has taken the wind out of a lot of sails just reading above. A disappointing result. I never felt confident we would win this one. A draw would have been a decent point. We’ve probably run out of road ahead now for automatics. But I still think we’ll win three more games. The question is what will the others do. I agree Stevenage look to have found the reset button at the perfect time. So I think they will secure second. So a tight battle for third. Will Carlisle and Stockport falter? Can we beat Northampton at their place and will they only pick up three more points from three games?
    It’s quite unlikely now isn’t it.
    We have to just take the games as they come and beat what’s in front of us on the pitch. Not trying to play the occasion
    Long trips away midweek don’t seem to suit is that well….

  6. I do tend to be glass half empty having followed city for 50+ years now but I commented on here ( with plenty of thumbs down ) that I thought a smaller squad with a touch more quality was needed to me and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind , it’s a massive game on Saturday simply because it’s probably our last winnable one in my opinion, anything else would be a bonus maybe a point at Crewe so I for one won’t be taking anything for granted and let’s hope we make the playoffs at least , I simply do not fancy another season in this league

  7. I dare say the injury-hit Northampton may be unnerved by how they fell apart last year. Orient may well be on the proverbial beach, in party mood, but nevertheless distracted, as promoted players are, by their bonuses and over-inflated contract expectations etc. The chance of us achieving automatic promotion is slim but should by no means be ruled out. One of the eight in the pack will inevitably drop out. Hughes’s dilemma will be whether it’s best to tighten up and secure the autos or go all out for the third place. He will be conscious that another defeat might close us out of the running, depending on other results. Who knows what might happen to the others, seven of whom have their own worries. Only Orient can afford to lose – which may be to our distinct advantage come the last day.

  8. A close match overall. At the time I wondered if we might regret Smallwood’s lack of composure and poor shot quite early in first half. He has scored well from such positions earlier in season (eg Mansfield away). I can’t see us now making the top three.

  9. Left our scoring boots at Rochdale. Wasn’t the best of games as far as City was concerned. Cook had a quite game and we have no other scorers we can rely on. I was concerned about loosing Halliday and his replacement Hendre not featuring for a few months. Just shows how vulnerable we are. All talk is about injuries at Northampton but they are still getting results. Saturday is vital to City. Lose we can forget about the playoffs. We should just worry about ourselves and forget about those around us. Realistically, we focus on winning the remaining matches. If that still means the playoffs then we go into them with confidence.

    • Lose on Saturday and forget about play offs??
      There are still points to play for and equally for others to lose.
      If we reach the play offs we are hard to beat and have a proven goal scorer. Anything can happen.

  10. Its not the time to be negative .Swinton as gone move on to the next game,every team involved will have twists and turns .Its all about Saturday just get behind the team.

  11. I read your article this week on the up coming promotion battles and when I read swindons recent form I just knew what was going to happen last night. I’ve just Seen it happen way too often over the years so my confidence evaporated.

    I’ve found this season a bit strange tbh, up until the last couple of games I’ve often often wondered how we’ve been up there. We’ve very rarely beaten a team convincingly, the and the lack of goals when you take cooks goals away is scary.

    Personally I’m not confident of the play offs with this city team so feel we needed to scrape into that top 3.

    On a more positive note I do think we’ve got some decent players, if we can retain most of them whilst adding a bit more quality in certain areas then even if we miss out on promotion this year I think we could do brilliant next season. I think the experience this year will make us wiser and stronger. In my opinion Mark Hughes is also learning a bit, early on in the season we seemed to be a bit obsessed with keeping possession in the wrong areas of the pitch which made it hard to watch and easy to play against. In recent weeks feel that’s changed a lot.

  12. Hugely disappointing performance. First half we played some decent football and were showing Swindon up with good pressing and winning back of the ball but we never converted our chances. Chapman a huge loss he is far more a threat than Nevers whose first touch is woeful and more often backwards.
    Second half we lost the plot. Why did we switch to Harry trying to go long? Can not remember him getting the ball past the half way line once as the wind kept catching the ball and holding it up to drop into a congested crowd of players. Hughes should have seen this and stopped it and gone back to playing it out on the ground.
    With Nevers hardly an attacking threat on the left and Scot Banks getting not much of the ball on the right, we were toothless. A real kick in the teeth that the Williams the bald headed dwarf managed to get his head on the ball to score, he spent most of the game on his arse complaining of being tackled. A real shocker of defending, suppose we can extend Gilly a bit of leeway as he was pressed into the defenders role with Hendrie going off injured.
    We can forget automatics so hopefully it’s the lottery playoffs for me. It’s an 800 mile round trip for me but like an idiot I will be there in my seat on Sat. Just hope I’ll be in a better mood going home.

  13. How just 1 game can change the landscape so much.
    At 745 we were just 2 points off automatic promotion, & by 945 we were just 2 point away from dropping out of the playoff places.
    Looking at the table this morning, I would estimate we need 77 points for a top 7 playoff spot. If so, we need 2 wins & maybe a draw minimum, from our remaining 4 tough looking games. Much talk of automatic, but looking at it like this, even a top 7 certainly isn’t a given. In past seasons, 74, 73 or even 72 points have been enough for a playoff spot, but with this season’s teams running so close, that threshold this year is possibly 5 points higher.
    Still ALL to play for, & will very likely go down to the very last game. Squeaky bum time indeed.
    Up the Bantams!

  14. We started the game as a team full of confidence, playing very fluidly and everything we did had intent.

    Our stand out player of the season who we pray is on the end of chances got two good ones, unfortunately and surprisingly he didn’t take them. That’s football.

    Unfortunately changes both forced and unforced combined with nerves meant we lost our rhythm.

    Osadebe looked a handful and could be the Chapman replacement. Penalty was a 50/50, clumsy legs from the defender gives the referee a decision to make. Drysdale isn’t going to rule in our favour. That’s football.

    We weren’t going to win all 5, like all season, we didn’t get the points where we expected to and have to find them from somewhere else.

    Football, we love it because it’s not played on paper and the unexpected happens. I’ve not given up all hope of autos but as before the game my expectation is play offs and hope on the final day it’s a horrible nervous experience checking scores from Northampton, Carlisle and Stockport. Because that’s football. (I think Stevenage are up now)

    Why is it the most loved game in the world? It plays with our emotions in a way no other sport can.

    If it isn’t us I hope Stockport join them and then we have as good a chance as anyone in the playoffs. We’re difficult to beat, Northampton injury plagued, carlisle running out of steam, Salford/Mansfield inconsistent.

    It won’t be enjoyable but if we’re the team that succeed it will all be worth it for the lifetime of memories. If not I’ll still look back and remember a nearly season fondly like the years under McCall and PP in League 1.

    I won’t look back and think Hughes or any of this squad let us down. They’ve been top professionals and hopefully have enough to get us over the line.

  15. Every team in League 2 likes (and wants) to take a run at City. Even more so now with our high profile manager.

    Clubs highlight the City fixtures on their calendars in the dressing rooms at the start of the season and are so primed to give 110% on that match day … because, well, it’s City we’re playing! As the season winds down, the “nothing to lose let’s run at City attitude” amps up to 150% intensity.

    If we are not ready — mentally and physically — for that kind of football, we will find it extremely difficult to get promoted — with or without MH in the dugout.

    Come on City! Come on League One!

  16. Was at the game. Photos show clear foul on Osadebe, subsequently booked for protesting that no penalty was given. Not sure ‘referee’ Darren Drysdale should be officiating in games involving Bradford City (or anyone else for that matter), his ‘interaction’ with City fans last night was completely inappropriate.

  17. Ok just a thought but if we make the playoffs, then don’t we all agree we’re hard to beat? If that’s the case – what are we like at pens? Only a thought!!

  18. Leyton Orient (C)
    Bradford City. 81
    Northampton. 81
    Stevenage 80
    Stockport 78
    Mansfield 76
    Carlisle 75


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