The play offs are very nearly in the bag. The autos? It’s still possible

Northampton Town 1
Dyche 64
Bradford City 2
Cook 30, Crichlow 90+4

Words and image by Adam Raj

Well what a difference a week makes. From despair in injury time last week, to utter euphoria in time added on this week. Romoney Critchlow’s first goal for the Bantams all but secures a play off spot and keeps alive City’s faint, but entirely possible, hopes of automatic promotion.

To rubber-stamp a top seven finish, City need just one point from their final two games, starting on Wednesday – away at Crewe and then on Bank Holiday Monday, at home to Champions Leyton Orient.

If, and it’s a big if, City are to achieve the dizzy heights of automatic promotion, there are going to need to be some favours from elsewhere. Tranmere and Hartlepool will need to take points off Northampton and Stockport respectively – and that is providing City win their two remaining games of course.

But this victory sets the scene nicely now. Beat Crewe, and things start to get really, really interesting. Although as Mark Hughes keeps reminding the Bantams faithful, it’s one game at a time.

Pre match, all the talk was about the hosts and rightly so. A win for Northampton would’ve seen them promoted to League One, which unsurprisingly drew a sell out crowd at Sixfields. Northampton were preparing for a party – the Cobblers had the flags waving and the paper clappers handed out to every supporter in an attempt to drum up the atmosphere and get their side over the line. Even the sun was out and temperatures reaching t-shirt and shorts weather.

But City weren’t here to make up the numbers. As Hughes stated post-match “we weren’t going to be a part of that.” And for the most part, they didn’t.

The Bantams managed the flow of the game fairly well and weren’t overwhelmed by the occasion. They relied on moments of quality at either end of the pitch from the best striker and best goalkeeper in the league (yes, I’m biased) – but the best players turn up when it matters.

Andy Cook, shunned for League Two Player of the Year in midweek in favour of Northampton’s Sam Hoskins, provided a goal and an assist in City’s biggest game of the season to date. He turned up when his side needed him.

If we’re being really critical of our number nine, he should have had a brace this afternoon. City’s bright start at Sixfields saw Liam Ridehalgh’s deep cross reach Cook at he back post who scuffed his shot into the side netting. A big chance, that the man with 30 goals to his name would ordinarily take.

But Cook seems to play best when he’s angry. Having missed out on personal silverware to the Cobblers’ skipper, there was no way he wasn’t going to score today. And he didn’t have to wait too long for it to happen. Half an hour in and Scott Banks’ terrific corner was nodded into the bottom corner by Cook who wheeled off shushing the home crowd. A celebration endorsed by everyone of claret and amber persuasion, I’m sure.

City were the better side in the first half. There wasn’t a lot in it, but they frustrated their hosts and limited them to no clear cut chances in the first period. It was a textbook performance in the circumstances.

The question was, how long would City be able to hold out? Northampton were bound to come out fighting, given what was on the line, and that’s exactly what they did. They put their visitors under sustained pressure for much of the second period but City’s back four stood up well, with Brad Halliday particularly excellent. Harry Lewis made one excellent save to deny Kieron Bowie and a few others that I think can be filed under “ones for the camera.”

City struggled to mount much of an attacking threat themselves, with Scott Banks being kept fairly quiet and Thierry Nevers anonymous. The left wing debate is certainly an interesting one given Harry Chapman’s season-ending injury. It is of no doubt that Chapman is a massive loss with his ability to drive City up the pitch, even if his end product is questionable. But who takes his place is still not a question that Hughes has found the answer to.

Nevers has put in a couple of very poor displays and generally looks a yard behind the pace of the game. Dara Costelloe came on this afternoon and was…well…Dara Costelloe. A lot of running, but a liability with the ball at his feet. It’s another dilemma for Hughes to solve, especially if City are to find themselves in the play offs.

The hosts, who displayed excellent and consistent crossing ability throughout did manage to exploit arguably City’s biggest weakness. Ryan Haynes’ free kick was absolutely perfect for the unmarked Sam Sherring at the back post who headed back across goal for his centre half partner Max Dyche to nod home. Given City’s zonal marking system, the back post zone from free kicks and corners continues to look vulnerable. Last week it was a goal conceded from a corner at the back post and this week it was a free kick in the same zone.

Every Northampton corner and free kick targeted the same area and the home side often made first contact with the initial delivery, with City mopping up the second balls after. But it is a weakness in the Bantams’ defending that more than one of their opponents have highlighted and exploited – and so it needs to be fixed.

Funnily enough though, that’s exactly how City scored their winner. 94 minutes on the clock and Richie Smallwood’s delivery to the back post found Cook whose header back across goal found an unmarked Critchlow to force home the easiest goal he’ll ever score. Cue pandemonium in the away end and a swift exit for the home support.

Northampton may still go up and they’ll definitely finish in the play offs at least. But in a division where every side treats playing City as their cup final, it’s thoroughly satisfying to be the party poopers for a change.

Categories: Match Reviews

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19 replies

  1. Both Nevers and Costello have failed to deliver when given the opportunity, so why not give Pereira a chance for the last two games? We all know what he’s capable of, and when he’s on form he’s as good as any player in League Two.

    I can only think that something has gone on behind the scenes with him and Hughes

    • Pereira won’t play again this season, has has not started or come on as a substitute for a long time now. He is not up to match speed so would be too much of a risk at this stage of the season.

  2. Why is Osadebe getting such limited game time? I see he was an unused sub today. I know he cam off the bench in the last 2 games, but why not bring him on earlier.

  3. Critchlow’s goal was a header surely?

  4. City were definitely party poopers today. A refreshing change in good fortune. This was City’s seventh game this season involving stoppage time goals. City have scored in two of them for a win and a draw. Net result, City have lost FIVE points.

    • Please try to smile Life is so much better when you are positive Negativity causes illness and depression Phil W

    • I make it much less of an impact than this so our maths differs (I think in the treatment of Barrow and maybe you’ve forgotten Colchester) but over the course of a season personally I don’t conclude that City has a particularly soft stoppage time underbelly.

      Barrow (a) 2-1 at 90 mins, finished 3-2 so I count that as 0 (net 0)
      Colchester (a) 0-0 at 90, finished 1-0 so -1 (net -1)
      Wimbledon (h) 1-2 at 90, finished 2-2 so +1 (net 0)
      Swindon (h) 1-0 at 90, finished 1-1 so -2 (net -2)
      Mansfield (h) 1-0 at 90, finished 1-1 so -2 (net -4)
      Colchester (h) 0-0 at 90, finished 2-0 so +2 (net -2)
      Gillingham (h) 2-1 at 90, finished 2-2 so -2 (net -4)
      Northampton (a) 1-1 at 90, finished 1-2 so +2 (net -2)

    • Just support someone else and leave City alone. Yes not convincing performance. City set the pattern by fluent football in the first half and scored. Northampton would be expected to upbthey game second half. City defended solidly second half because they had a lead to protect. To win in the 4th minute of injury time was not luck. It shows that City had determination. All but a miracle from Mansfield, City will get at least into the play offs. I say job done. Bog off to negotrons like you.

  5. Nice to be on the last gasp goal for a change, bring it on if we win on Wednesday it’s squeaky time all round, and this is the beautiful game we all love, afterwards I was in Tesco with my shirt on and a guy with a Leeds shirt on said what a result you got today and said I hope you go up 🤪 I just said so do I.

    After today’s performance I fancy us for the playoffs now, but I did not before, we have a big enough squad and rise to the big games.

    Harry Lewis, Andy Cook, take a bow and going to the fans after the whistle, was just class 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

  6. Very fortunate to get three points. Second half we barely laid a glove on them. But goals win games and we got more.
    Really nice to win it late so we couldn’t sit back and concede again.
    Great to still be in with a shout right up to the last. All games now are “must win”. Obviously.
    Even if we end inside the play offs. Going in with winning momentum is essential and of course if we win each of the play off games…

  7. Andy Cook joins the elite list of players who’ve scored thirty league goals in a season for City. McCole, Stokes, Layne, Green and Bobby Campbell. I am lucky enough to have watched them all. In my opinion, the best of the lot was “Bronco” Layne, who was surely destined to play for England, but for the betting scandal.

    The man of the moment, Andy Cook has been immense this season and the signing of Stubbs in January has provided us with a formidable spine to the side of Lewis-Stubbs-Cook.

    • I agree. Bronco was the best.
      They had to get jobs in the summer in those days and Bronnco came onto a building site where my Dad was working. ‘I hope he’s a better footballer than he is a bricklayer’ said Dad!🤣

    • Great performance from Cook and Lewis in particular just when needed. The sight of Stubbs heading straight over to the bench for instructions the moment everyone else was celebrating Critchlow’s goal said everything about this fella. A proper leader and CB. Quick word for Smallwood this last month gone from 6/7 out of 10 reliable to 8-9 out of 10 Captain performances and deliveries also with Banks has made such a difference. Onto Crewe now…🙏🏼

    • Don’t think it’s 30 league goals. It’s 30 in all competitions. Not not picking just think that’s the way it is
      An immense achievement.
      In my lifetime of watching the highest scorers I’ve seen (rare and far between near that level)
      Cook really is in great company with this tally…

  8. Great win today. Let’s hope we get a result at Crewe and go into the last game with an outside chance of autos. Would be great to have that last day of the season excitement and nerves and checking the other scores every 2 minutes. Anything can happen on the final day of the season. Btw great scenes at the end today with Harry hugging his Mum. I love that she’s wearing a City top and singing away. Come on City!!!

  9. Whether we go up or not we have had some fantastic away days this season
    Unfortunately it’s been mostly pretty miserable at home
    We have to put that right next season

  10. Could Jake Young come back into contention for the play-offs in the problem left wing role? Just a thought!

  11. The keeper was definitely City’s best player with the ref a close 2nd

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