Date:Monday August 9 2010
The Greenhous Meadow
Attendance: 6,993 (1,449 visitors)
Report from Andy Garrard at the Greenhous Meadow.
The waiting was finally over when, at 3pm infront of a sizable travelling army of 1449 fans, City emerged to kick-off the season at the Greenhous Meadow.
The Bantams lined-up in a 4-3-3 formation with James Hanson, who was not expected to start the game, spearheading the attack with Gareth Evans and Luke Neilson in support. The midfield three compromised a central trio of Simon Ramsden, Lee Bullock and debutant Tom Adeyemi. The positioning of Ramsden in midfield allowed a surprise first start for Lewis Hunt at right back with Threlfall taking the opposite full-back slot. Despite the obvious selection headache for the two centre back positions, Taylor settled upon the pairing of Steve Williams and Luke Oliver. Jon McLaughlin started in goal after the Scot`s impressive form at the end of the 2009/2010 season.
City started the game with a sizable and somewhat encouraging amount of possession which explicitly illustrated Taylor`s battle-plan for the encounter. There is an old adage in football (Rugby football included) that possession is golden; one only needs to view the outstanding exhibition of possession football implemented by Spain during the 2010 World Cup to understand that benefits of such a strategy.
The patient build-up play attempted by City in the opening exchanges included some tidy play by Lee Bullock, who made himself available for passes from the defence and the midfield ahead of him. Despite the early encouraging signs, however, this approach gradually disappeared from the play, with an increasing amount of passes aimed at the head of Hanson or optimistically behind the defence.
Although there were some signs of the home side coming into the game - most dangerous Lionel Ainsworth enjoying space and time on the left wing to run at Hunt with much success - it was City who took the lead on 24 minutes with a debut goal for Tom Adeyemi. An excellent knock-down from Hanson between two defenders found the onrushing midfielder, gambling with a run from deep, who coolly lifted the ball over the home goalkeeper. City came within a whisker of doubling the advantage soon after with Evans hitting the post following a goalmouth scramble.
The confident purple patch could not be maintained and City settled back into bad habits, becoming predominately second to the ball in midfield and finding it difficult to nullify the threat from the wings.
Two interlinked issues arose throughout this period which suggested that City would find it difficult to add to their advantage and keep Shrewsbury from the ascendency.
Firstly, although it is obviously Taylor`s long-term aim to play the imposing trio of Flynn, Doherty and Bullock in the midfield three, the players picked on Saturday lacked the tactical nous to execute the 4-3-3 formation to perfection. For example, with Bullock sitting ever more deep throughout the half, it was the role of the other two midfielder players to stitch together play between the middle and final third of the pitch. However, there was a distinct lack of creativity moving into the opposition half owing to an apparent nervousness / reluctance to move into space, use overlaps and ultimately exploit our pace on the wings. The absence of the engine room that is Michael Flynn was telling.
Further, the merits of a 4-3-3 formation are that the two wide players can drop back into midfield for defensive duty to form a 4-5-1 set-up, while at the same time offering a greater threat going forward. If, as shown by Gareth Evans, your wingers are fast and hard-working enough to track back to cover the full-back, this does not present too much of a problem.
However, much to Shrewsbury`s credit their tactics were to expose the weaknesses of City`s formation to the fullest. The home side sat deep all afternoon, inviting City to commit men forward. Due to the lack of creativity to exploit the flanks, Bradford continued to utilise the compact midfield resulting in the players finding a cul-de-sac rather than an opening behind the home defence. Once play was broken up, Shrewsbury then played balls into the channels and to the wings, knowing their wingers would be one-on-one with the full-backs due to the Bradford wingers still being higher up the pitch from the previous attack.
As a result, City`s two full-backs suffered a nightmare afternoon dealing with the Shrewsbury wingers. The selection of a somewhat portly, evidently unfit Hunt did not help matters and offered a focal point to this authors concern. His worrying lack of positional sense was reminiscent of the excusably inexperienced Jon Bateson, although his lack of pace was a far cry from our previous second choice in this position. On the opposite flank, the inexperience of Threlfall to play as an exposed left-back led to some shaky moments, especially in the second half; although his pace is a major asset and goes someway to compensating for this.
Ultimately it was these two issues, seasoned with a sprinkling of refereeing incompetency, that were to prove to be City`s downfall. Within ten minutes of City taking the lead, Shrewsbury had equalised through a mixture of both. Again finding room to provide a cross from the right wing, the delivery appeared to go out of play to the right of McLaughlin`s goal (Steve Williams and the Shrewsbury player were both stood off the pitch when challenging for the ball, unaware of their position). From the resulting corner, the ball was cleared and delivered back into the box to find the hands of McLaughlin. With the ball under control, the City No. 1 received a firm barge into the small of his back from Matt Harrold, releasing the ball as a result. Despite a goal-line clearance, the follow-up as tapped in by Jake Robinson who celebrated the first of his three goals.
If the Shrewsbury equaliser was obtained through foul play / unsporting behaviour which cannot be stopped should the officials not give the correct decisions, City only have themselves to blame for the following two goals which confirmed the defeat.
The Shrewsbury second five minutes after the restart was the inevitable result of City`s inability to reduce the threat of Lionel Ainsworth who had swapped to the right wing for the second half. Finding himself one-on-one with the diminutive winger, Threlfall pushed him wide but could not stop the cross, which was headed in by the onrushing Robinson for his second. Questions were asked about the positioning of the City centre backs who had allowed the Shrewsbury player to score unopposed.
If this moment presented some doubts as to the selection of Williams and Oliver as the starting central duo, the third goal must pose serious questions for Taylor ahead of City`s next game. An aerial ball forward by Shrewsbury found their deep lying striker standing unopposed with Oliver located 3-4 yards behind the player. His flick-on found Robinson behind the defence, and, with Williams out of position, he lifted the ball over McLaughlin into the empty net. Why Oliver was not tighter to the striker, using his height to win the ball or even apply some pressure in his back to put him off is unknown but he will need to work on his positioning if he is to remain first choice centre back.
The numerical advantage provided by the dismissal of McIntyre for a thuggish, two-footed lash out at Louis Moult on 70mins after contesting a 50-50 ball was probably too late to claw back a point or three, especially as City`s build-up play lacked the fluidity to be dangerous. As the City faithful almost resigned themselves to defeat, it came as no surprise that City`s lack of penalties over the past 12 months was to continue; two handballs and a trip in the area were seen by the referee and lineman, who both had a good view but no action was taken. A trip on Evans when through on goal saw Sharps pick up a yellow card rather than red, summing up a curious display by the referee who at one stage asked for the ball to be moved 1cm to the right at a goal kick, much to everybody`s bemusement.
Although a disappointing result, I think Taylor has learned much already over the course of 90mins which can now be corrected over 45 games. Most strikingly, it is clear that 4-4-3 is ineffective when players are played out of position and are not suited to the demands of this formation. With hindsight, it is clear that a 4-4-2 formation would have been desirable at half-time given the Shrewsbury tactics, and I wouldn`t be surprised to see this formation employed at the next away game. It is worth noting that we lacked the key players such as Flynn, Daley and fully fit Doherty, so there is no need to hit the panic button after this result. As Taylor is keen to point out, the season is a marathon not a sprint, with each defeat to be forgotten as to provide positive preparation for the next game.
Date:Monday August 9 2010
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