Lessons learnt without punishment as City get past Marine in FA Youth Cup

Ten seconds into his first game at Valley Parade central midfielder Scott Brown has played a killer ball forward, ten seconds later Thomas Marshall had been fed with a flick and cut the ball in from the left, eyes sighted on goal. As far as statements of intent go – and as an illustration of the pattern of the game – it was unequivocal from the Bantams but Marshall’s shot edged wide and so was the evening set.

That the final whistle blew two hours later with City taking the best of five goals and with Marine having a man sent off understates a display of attacking football from the Young Bantams which took the breath away.

Youth football is a different beast to the senior game. It seems that attacking flair develops before defensive certitude and so games have a tenancy to favour forward players. Even with that in mind the home side came attacked with an expansive abandon that set one on the edge of one’s seat. Adam Baker – a player on the bring of the first team squad – dropped off to link the forward line with the midfield flicking the ball into the path of on running wingers Marshall and Forrayah Bass and on to centre forward Connor Bower.

The Bantams could easily have been four up after twenty minutes. Bass cut down one wing and crossed with Baker unlucky not to scoop the follow up in – Marine keeper Luke Piken making the first of a dozen great blocks – and minutes Marshall is playing into Baker who flicks to Bower who sees Piken save his shot. Bass makes the early breakthrough picking up the ball in the box and cutting back onto his left foot to put the ball in. At that state it all looked easy.

Brown – the biggest player on the field amidst some big lads from Marine – went into a tackle on the flank but makes his way to the middle picking off a pass and playing forward to Baker who turned to play the ball into the path of James Nanje-Ngoe who ran clear and beat Piken but hit he post.

City could have been out of sight with keeper Callum Tongue a spectator but were watching Brown taken off with an injury replaced by Alex Metcalfe and Marine flashed a first cross. City maintained a dominance of the middle of the midfield but the visitors threatened on the flanks. The Bantams wobbled and a half cleared corner fell to Matthew Monagahan lashed the ball in from the edge of the box. Bit by bit the Bantams free ranging attacks became rarer as the visitors powered into City.

Marine’s side averaged much bigger and more physical than the Bantams who for the last fifteen minutes of the first half and the same time at the start of the second half struggled in the battle. Their were forays forward with Bower accelerating past defenders but seeing his shot saved (again) and Bass and Baker combining with an understanding that showed confidence in each other but still Piken stood firm.

At the back Andrew Boote blocked manfully while his central defensive partner and captain Declan McGiven and right back Cole Harrop struggled for understanding with pressure from the visitors coming early and causing problems. McGiven cleans up after Boote and frees Marshall who piles down on goal and requires Piken to save again. Nanje-Ngoe went close again, then plays in Baker. If City had had six at half time it would not have been a surprise, but Marine deserved to be level.

A contradiction then. The Bantams would do nothing different having piled on the pressure but Marine were happy to have managed to soak up what they could and nick a goal on the break. In the second half every Marine long ball caused problems every time they came forward but bit by bit the Bantams started to play the ball through the midfield of Nanje-Ngoe and Metcalfe and when they did so looked able to create chances at will.

Baker, Marshall, Bass and Bower provided options whenever the ball came forward and twice more City hit the post while Piken saved a half dozen chances many of which had seen the interplay between forwards conclude with a striker behind the back line and running in with only the keeper to beat. Baker took the ball around Piken but saw his shot hooked off the line. Steve Thornber’s switched Bass to the forward line and pressed a 433 but the patten of City attacking, but being frustrated with the constant worry of a sucker punch hanging in the air.

Sure enough in the last minute Matthew Devine found room in the box and hooked the ball over Tongue, McGiven scooping off the line. Even after that Baker had a chance to get behind the defence again and split the ball wide. Marine deserved extra time for their hard work but had the game ended in seven or eight goals then they could have had few complaints.

There was an attacking flair to City’s play for sure – Adam Baker was superb – but it came with a steel that James Nanje-Ngoe and Alex Metcalfe brought having won the midfield battle in the second half. Metcalfe’s dropping into the back four when needed provided a solidity and Nanje-Ngoe’s link up play with Baker was opening up the visitors. An early chance falls to sub Connor Erangey who smartly tries to stay on his feet and commit Piken but the keeper is not for selling himself too soon and saves. It seems that he will frustrate the Bantams all night.

Until another move that cuts through Marine with Erangey swinging the ball into the path of Baker who cuts back to Marshall, the left winger finishing from just outside the six yard box. It is a goal cheered by the small crowd as warmly as a good number of first team goals.

Then City are in control. Nanje-Ngoe is a powerhouse on the edge of box boxes taking the ball it and firing wide. Baker takes a knock but carries on into the second period where Metcalfe frees him again following a great tackle on Devine. Baker slides the ball wide. It is superb football and has almost everything.

And then a brawl breaks out, and it has everything. Kevin Farrell is sent of for reacting badly after a decision is given against him following a tackle on Erangey. Farrell seems to be the wrong man, but in his absence Bass picks up the ball from a cleared corner an rides three tackles taking the ball into the box before giving City a conclusive goal. Boote drops a clanger in the last minute and Marine grab a goal, but the Bantams see the game out.

Which is two hours of football that promises far more than it could deliver. In the cold night air one can dream of that performance in League Two but the reality of league football is not forgiving. The likes of Adam Baker might be playing for City before the season is out – a tempting prospect – and players like Nanje-Ngoe, Metcalfe, Bower, Erangey, Marshall, Bass and Robert Hiza certainly impressed, but there is a lot of hard work between now and then.

Tonight City learnt a lesson about missing chances – a scan at the notes references sixteen clear cut chances for the Bantams – but the lesson was not needed today. Most impressive though is the team ethic which the players showed to come back from the mid-game battering and keep playing for each other. Any or all of the players might turn out to be great talents, but the highest tribute one could pay to them tonight as they go onto the next round and a trip to Boston United is that they were great team mates for each other.