The little things

It is the smallest of particulars which offer the strongest arguments for Bradford City’s early season promise growing into more.

As visitors Burton Albion attacked, the work rate exhibited by the Bantams in winning the ball back ran through all10 outfield players. Following a period of heavy pressure, witness Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock – two of a young squad’s elder statesmen – speaking to each of their team mates to offer encouragement and pointers on organisation. When an attacking move was seemingly ended by an over-hit cross, notice Scott Neilsen charging across to try and keep in a ball that would, in the recent past, have been allowed to roll out. Watch not just who has the ball, or who is nearest to winning back the ball. Watch around the pitch at all the little things going on, they’re adding up.

Whatever this team might be lacking, endeavour isn’t in short supply. City were not at their best against a very impressive Burton side, with the draw that Brewers full back Paul Boertien’s 74th minute effort confirmed the fairest outcome. The guile and smoothness of the previous four-game winning run was absent at times, but for determination and effort it was hard to fault any player. For the moment at least, the spirit and the heart is there and the early indications are it can lift this team a long way.

But it is also the smaller elements of the home side’s actions which undermine objectives. Despite taking a first half lead when Gareth Evans capitalised on a defensive mix up to slot the ball into an empty net, City struggled to grasp control of the game. Burton too were full of endeavour and neglected to allow City any more time on the ball than they were consented.

With Burton growing particularly strong towards the end of the first half, uncertainty in a defence which has now been breached 16 times was clear. Individually each member of the back four seems to be performing reasonably competently, but unlike other areas of the team isn’t as cohesively together. The ball was often cleared in panicky fashion, with a lack of direction occasionally resulting in it coming straight back after bouncing off players close by. Brewers’ midfielder John McGrath almost took advantage after ghosting unchecked into the penalty area, only to force a brilliant save from Simon Eastwood. Minutes later Eastwood made another smart stop and Bullock was on hand to make a superb last ditch tackle to prevent the rebound being tapped home, crashing into a post for his troubles.

Burton’s improvement continued into the second half, with another of those little things manager Stuart McCall will be coaching his players to improve upon keeping them in the game. City had chances to go 2-0 up, but bad decision making prevented them from being taken. Evans had the best opportunity when a break away left numerical advantage in the final third, but elected to shoot from an ambitious way out with Neilsen, free from a marker and to make a clear run on goal, over to his right. Flynn might also have scored from distance when a chipped effort flew just over, after the far-from-convincing Burton keeper Artur Krysiak had struggled to throw the ball to a team mate. Another Krysiak spill almost allowed Evans in again, but the Polish keeper recovered enough to deflect the ball behind for a corner.

On other occasions City attacked well and knocked the ball around in a variety of ways, only for the wrong option to be taken at a critical moment. Stronger fluency will surely be obtained in time, though it was a surprise the more direct route of knocking balls to the hard working Evans and James Hanson wasn’t more regularly attempted after the interval.

For possession began to be too cheaply surrendered and the pressure from Burton grew. Just as it seemed a storm had been weathered, Boertien was to strike. The goal owed much to substitute Richard Walker, who held off Zesh Rehman in the penalty area and fashioned space for Boertien to run onto. There was a hint of a deflection in his shot as it flew past Eastwood’s outstretched arm. The fact Neilsen had failed to spot Boertien’s late run into the box will not have gone unnoticed by Stuart, either.

Manager Stuart McCall reacted by throwing on Michael Boulding and switching to a more gung ho 4-3-3 formation. Leon Osborne had already come on for Chris Brandon and the 19-year-old, who’s 17 minutes of action was one minute more than his total first team football on the Valley Parade pitch to date, was encouraged to carry the ball forward from out wide. Despite plenty of pressure, Krysiak was barely tested.

In an end-to-end final quarter, Burton came closest to scoring with the more open approach from City resulting in gaps at the back; which might have been punished but for one chance being wastefully fired over and a teasing low cross proving inches too far in front of a queue of yellow shirts. This particular chance had been engineered despite visiting defender Guy Branston lying injured in his own penalty area, but when City won back the ball and began to charge forward on the break, the referee farcically stopped the game so he could receive treatment.

City’s players complained to the referee in the manner they had largely presented themselves in all afternoon – as a team. It’s more than just an obvious spirit to put bodies on the line for the cause, when City have to defend everybody, from Hanson and Evans charging back to exhibit pressure, takes responsibility for gaining the ball back. When on the attack Neilsen and Brandon are adopting less traditional winger roles, tucking inside more and getting involved in the centre of the park. This is helping City to keep the ball in numbers, with short, quick and incisive passing. It also affords Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien the freedom to get forward down the flanks and, though both full backs’ final ball wasn’t good enough on the day, such a style of team attacking will continue to cause uncertainty for opposition defences typically set up to mark certain players.

These small weapons in City’s armoury weren’t clinical enough to earn the three points on the day, but if small improvements can be implemented into the way this team performs, the prospects for big celebrations next May will continue to grow.