Another sloppy Bradford City away defeat hints of the need for a more simplified approach
Colchester United 1Eastman 90+7Bradford City 0 Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst) Not like this. Not again. Bradford City’s second away game of the season ended in the same painful way as the first. A winning goal conceded deep in stoppage time. Easily preventable. Sloppily defended. If the trip back from Barrow last week felt that much longer for losing so late on, the journey home from Colchester will have seemed like a lifetime. After Barrow had sealed their unlikely victory over Bradford City in the sixth minute of injury time, here, Colchester left it even later to break Bantams hearts. With the clock showing 90+7 minutes, Thomas Eastman out-jumped Brad Halliday to head home and earn United their first league victory of the campaign. Their first win at home, in fact, since Easter Monday – when City last visited this part of the world. Colchester have won just four home games this calendar year – two of them against the Bantams. How very Bradford City. It is another early season blow for Mark Hughes. After the worrying lapses at Barrow, the Bantams had recovered with back-to-back home wins that got the campaign up and running. But promising form at Valley Parade is not being replicated on the road. Two defeats from two. Both to opposition who in pre-season were widely tipped to struggle. Both confirmed in the most demoralising manner. On the balance of the 90 minutes, it was hard to argue that City deserved anything more. They dominated possession, ending up above 60% for the fourth league game in a row. But they created little in the final third and Colchester narrowly bettered their shot count (16 to 15). City only managed three shots on target, taking their overall league total to 15 on target in 360+ minutes of action this League Two season. That’s the 10th lowest in the division. So far, City just aren’t the attacking force they need to be if they’re going to mount a credible promotion push. The 4-2-3-1 formation Hughes has maintained leaves them largely solid at the back and comfortable in possession in the centre of the park, but too limited when they attack. The Colchester manager, Wayne Brown, had obviously done his homework on Hughes’ charges. He lined United up 4-1-4-1 (after going 4-4-2 at Stockport on Saturday), which meant they had plenty of men behind the ball. There was no pressure applied to Romoney Crichlow, Matty Platt, Richie Smallwood and Alex Gilliead as they confidently knocked the ball around, but with heavy congestion of blue and white shirts between them and Sam Hornby’s goal, actually making possession count proved a problem here – just as it had against Doncaster and Barrow. Marley Marshall-Miranda spent the game following Harry Chapman everywhere he went. Al-Amin Kazeem stood up well to the threat of Scott Banks. City badly miss Jamie Walker. Chapman is a good player but it remains questionable he can be an effective number 10. Jake Young – brought in ahead of Lee Angol – had a half to forget on the left wing. Vadaine Oliver was also recalled, but looks completely unsuited to what City are trying to do. This is a targetman asked to lead the line in a side who play it on the floor. In the 79 minutes of action before he was finally put out of his misery, Oliver had just 23 touches of the ball. It’s very early days and he will surely improve, but so far he looks a poor signing. On the right hand side of the City attack, Banks did at least have another good evening. He had City’s two best first half chances, and tracked back well to support Halliday, who struggled with Kazeem and Frank Nouble doubling up. But ultimately the front four players of Banks, Chapman, Young and Oliver were too isolated and just couldn’t work collaboratively to build up attacks. It just isn’t working against teams prepared to sit back and deny them space. The fact is that the bulk of City’s dominance on the ball comes from when they have it in their own half Hughes won’t have liked that first half performance and did make a change during the break. Angol replaced Young, but it didn’t prove a game changing move, and the overall pattern remained largely the same. City had spells dominating possession and got the ball forwards. They won plenty of corners. At times you had that sense they might be close to a breakthrough, but at no point did Colchester look to be on the ropes. Indeed, the home side had good chances in both halves. Nouble hit the bar with a header when Harry Lewis might have got a faint touch to help it onto the woodwork. The City stopper also produced an impressive save to deny Alex Newby. Colchester were low risk in approach, prioritising not getting beaten. But they carried a threat that meant their eventual breakthrough was far from a surprise. Hughes will look back and question whether City should have had a penalty just before the 90th minute when Angol appeared to have been tripped in the box. And he will wonder how on earth the Bantams didn’t equalise when, moments after Eastman’s breakthrough, Andy Cook hit the post and sub Kian Harratt – who looked promising – saw his rebound effort blocked by a defender. But all that will be overshadowed by his anger over the way his team conceded. A needlessly conceded free kick by Angol, and not the strongest of headed challenges from Halliday to prevent Eastman heading Noah Chilvers’ cross into the back of the net. It just wasn’t good enough here, and that puts City under a bit of pressure going into the weekend’s game at struggling Hartlepool United. It’s early days and the revamped squad needs time to gel. But still, there must be a big temptation to change the system that – due to injuries – doesn’t quite have the right players available to make it happen. Right now, we’re seeing a wide player as a number 10 and strikers playing as wide midfielders. At times it feels like we’re trying to be too clever, adopting an approach that is slightly beyond the wit and capability of some of these players. This is League Two and it surely needs simplifying. So that players who – on paper – should be excelling can start to really stamp their authority on this division.