Finding out what you are good at

Rather unexpectedly, Bradford City become involved in a cup run.

The 2-2 draw with Port Vale saw the Bantams win on penalties and ended up as one of eight in a competition since 1989’s League Cup all of which seemed unlikely after a first half in which the Bantams seemed to have forgotten any or all of the elements which have made the club enjoyable to watch this season.

After an initial ten minutes against a Vale side who predictably defended deep in which the Bantams showed some fluidity but soon the attempted midfield of Zesh Rehman sitting behind Michael Flynn and Luke Sharry. If the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is for anything it is for blooding young players and it is admirable that Sharry was given a chance but the midfielder did not take the chance with two hands and and with Rehman sitting naturally atop Steve Williams and the recalled Matthew Clarke the midfield triangle became more of a string.

As a result the ball was punted long – punted as opposed to passed – with the ball often going to an out muscled Michael Boulding or Scott Neilson rather than the powerful James Hanson. It was from this that John McCombe gave the visitors the lead with a corner being cleared to Boulding who’s attempt to hold the ball up was lacklustre and so as the Bantams came out the ball pinged back in to the flank and then the centre with McCombe converting.

Micky Adams has Port Vale playing at what they are good at. They sit deep and attack with pace and as City had failed at their endeavours in the first half and Vale had not they deserved the lead. Moreover though Stuart McCall took his team into the dressing room knowing that there was a problem which he set about addressing.

Sharry may not get another 45 minutes to press his case for a contract so it is a shame that he did not grasp this game but his replacement – James O’Brien – floated a corner into the middle which good running by Rehman and a ducked header by Flynn which levelled the game.

Flynn had moved to the forward line to replace Michael Boulding – brought off for Chris Brandon – to give the attack more sticking power against a Vale side who looked to up their muscle with West Yorkshireman Anthony Griffith coming on.

Griffith seems to be a player born without any footballing talent. He can – however – tackle and battle which he does to various degrees giving away a free kick for a foul on James Hanson. Luke O’Brien middled the free kick for Hanson who rose to head in.

Football is sometimes very complex but most other times it is utterly simple. Good delivery to players who are good at heading it. Two goals and that seemed to be that until Robert Taylor his a choice shot across Simon Eastwood and into the the far post to set up another round of penalties after ninety minutes.

Penalties – taken at the Kop end to the eternal credit of someone – started with Marc Richards and Michael Flynn scoring Simon Eastwood saved Louis Dodds, Vale keeper Chris Martin saved from James O’Brien. Eastwood’s on line bouncing gave him the edge over Kris Taylor but Chris Brandon became the only player of sixteen to miss the target.

Lewis Haldane, James Hanson, Tommy Fraser, Luke O’Brien, Robert Taylor and Zesh Rehman scored. Eastwood saved from Adam Yates and Steve Williams won the game.

The credit, the songs, the mobbing of his team mates went to Simon Eastwood who had saved three of eight stop kicks and once again had put the Bantams a step closer to Wembley. Eastwood is the new Barry Conlon. Some get on his back but on nights like tonight – just as Barry would get match winners – he was the difference.

At least we have found something he is good at: saving penalties.

A good day for Bradford

Who cares about cups? Yes, a cup run can be good for morale and can be financially rewarding for a League 2 side, but when City exited the JPT I can’t say that I was particularly disappointed. Let’s face it, there is always a bitter taste any City fan’s mouth when we lose to a team like Leeds, but the fewer distractions from our main objective the better. However, in the wake of two straight defeats, City needed to come back with a convincing victory, and this 2-0 win against a fairly strong Port Vale side is good enough for me.

The game got off to a cagey start, but after about ten minutes Bradford became dominant. Omar Daley was impressive on the left wing, and was a constant threat. His movement led to almost every shot on goal, and complaints that he has a lack of end product were duly answered when he slotted a ball to Lee Bullock in acres of space just outside the penalty area. Bullock then fired home a well-placed shot that reinforced his credentials as a player who has more to offer going forward than was seen last season.

Port Vale’s only real goal threat in the early stages was striker Luke Rogers, who was too small to be an aerial challenge. He had a bit of pace, but his speciality seemed to be mistiming runs, and he was given offside so many times that it became monotonous.

However, after around half an hour, Bradford sat up and the youthful Vale side began to play some decent football. They had some good possession and passed fluently, with Anthony Griffith beginning to take control of the midfield. Around this point, the Bradford fans were beginning to get a bit distracted, and I think there may be a correlation between the distracted fans and the team’s loss of momentum, although City sometimes do have a tendency to switch off even when they’ve got the crowd behind them.

In the second half, Griffith was moved to right back, which worked in the sense that he dealt more effectively with Daley than original full back Sam Stockley, but thankfully it meant that City were able to regain the tactical initiative.

Things looked to have settled down, when Peter Thorne scored an unexpected goal that any striker would be proud of. On the break (where City look very impressive this season) but with two defenders on him, Thorne created enough space to shoot on the edge of the penalty area and hit an inch-perfect finish into the bottom left hand corner, giving the keeper no chance. Until that point he’d been quite quiet, but being the consummate professional that he is, when he received the ball he was ready. You could argue that it was a defensive error, but I’d rather say that it was sheer class from someone who has every chance of finishing the top scorer in league two – as long as he stays fit.

After Thorne’s goal a lot of impetus went out of the game and Stuart made his typical defensive-minded tactical changes, by adding the spritely Furman to strengthen the midfield in the place of Boulding and pushing the midfield further back. Port Vale then had six corners one after the other, but never really looked like scoring from them, and although substitute Robert Taylor did make a direct impact to their attacking after he came on, City never looked like a team that were here to do anything other than walk away with three points.

Bradford City continue their form in League 2, and are still unbeaten in the league in Claret and Amber. Today was definitely a good day for Bradford. Especially considering that all the other results went our way (apart from Wycombe), meaning that we now climb to the dizzy heights of second place. And with two very winnable home matches coming up next, we have every chance of gaining more on our rivals in the coming weeks.

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