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A Striker's Tale
By: Andrew Doherty
THERE'S a Town striker who's on form. The trouble is that it's Andy Cook and I'm talking about a former Town striker who now plays for today's opponents Bradford. Not all but some Town strikers go to other league clubs and thrive in their new surroundings - Jamille Matt and Mallik Wilks are two of the current crop.
Even James Tilley has scored three times for Crawley. But if we can take one positive from our situation, and there aren't many, it's that Hewitt and Meyanese in our central defence have become a sharp and resilient force. Waterfall added further strength against Cheltenham. As we've been saying for weeks, however, draws are not enough. To win we need more quality from our midfield and strikers. We've reached the point where not only do we have to win, but the permutations of other teams' results have to work in our favour too.
Town's team today at the Utilita Energy Stadium was: McKeown - Hendrie, Hewitt, Menayese, Habergham - Matete, Coke, Morais - Williams - Hanson, Payne. Town wore blue while Bradford were in their customary red and yellow.
After good early work by Coke and Matete, Town's first shot came on 6 minutes when Williams found space but got no power on the shot. A header back from Hewitt at the other end was fumbled by McKeown with Cook on hand. Great defensive work by Matete then led to a through pass to Williams who won a corner. Habergham's low cross was completely missed by Williams. There was quality in Town's passing as the team tried to adjust to their unfamiliar shape with Morais on the left and Williams in a free role. Bradford won a free-kick after Hewitt fell on Cook. Town's defence looked strong. On 17 minutes following a Town move Hendrie crossed onto the top of the net. More precision needed, please. On 20 minutes Payne was pushed near the centre circle. Habergham's cross led to a game of headball before Menayese volleyed a shot which was blocked. Town looked to have options. Payne won a throw. Hendrie crossed, Williams burst through and won a corner. Habergham's corner met Coke's head but the header was miles over. A decent passing move around the pitch then ended on 25 minutes when Hendrie committed a foul. Habergham was then fouled as Town dominated possession. Williams crossed but although close by neither Hanson nor Payne could get near to it. Town weren't playing badly but weren't presenting any dangers. On 32 minutes Menayese burst into Bradford's half with a good run and found Hendrie on the right. The cross was good but Payne missed it and the ball bounced off Williams in the 6 yard box. Another opportunity gone. From the return, McKeown was forced into a good low save from Evans. Dawson then had a shot into Town's packed defence. Payne booted the ball clear. All in all it had been a quiet game so far. Habergham got booked on 37 minutes after a tussle with Dawson. On 39 minutes, a lovely back flick by Williams found Morais who floated a cross from the left to Hanson - corner to Town. Habergham's corner went straight to the keeper. After earlier Town pressure, Bradford had a spell of attacks and following a great cross by Wood, Cook had a great chance to score with a diving header but Habergham did well to get in the space and distract the former Mariner. From the corner, a cross came in off the left. Matete mistimed his header. The ball skimmed off Matete's head behind him over the defence into the path of O'Connor who blasted home from close range. Bradford. 1, Town 0. Town could consider themselves unlucky, having had most of the play. Williams was booked for a foul on O'Connor after a scrap for the ball in midfield. As half time approached, Morais tried to put Payne through with a pass but the pass was poor and Payne didn't move. Morais voiced his displeasure to Payne. The half-time whistle went. Payne, presumably irked at being invited to make a little more effort if he didn't mind and it wasn't too much trouble, responded by head butting Morais. Payne walked off to the dressing room. As Town's players argued with each other and Menayese appealed for leniency, the referee chased Payne to the dressing room, calling him out and issued a red card. One wonders what Morais said.
The net result of the mayhem was that Payne was sent off and Morais was replaced at half time. Habergham and Williams were substituted too, as Mr Hurst looked to settle things down and build a new shape for the second half. Waterfall, Clifton and John-Lewis came on. Town tried to pass the ball around but Bradford were patient, realising they had the advantage in numbers and the state of the game. McKeown saved a header from a corner on 55 minutes, and Town launched a quick attack but no danger was presented as the attack fizzled out. Town won a throw in the Bradford half on 63 minutes after a long McKeown clearance. Hewitt's throw was flicked on by Waterfall. Corner to Town. Hendrie's cross was cleared but Clifton played a lofted cross over the defence to the left side where Waterfall had a good chance to volley home. But this wasn't Waterfall natural territory and the shot was mishit. Clifton then laid off to John-Lewis whose shot was way over. Former Mariner striker Vernam came on for Bradford to replace Cook. On 69 minutes, Hanson was fouled in the Bradford half but the ever erratic Hendrie's free-kick was too high and too long. I did read a while back that Town were looking to appoint a Performance Analyst. One thing they might want to look at is the number of wasted and misplaced free-kicks and passes. It was hard enough being a player down. Bradford should have doubled their lead on 71 minutes when Vernam flicked on an O'Connor cross to Wood who, fortunately for Town, seemed to panic and struck his shot onto the top of the bar. Town did have a chance soon after when a nice passing move found Clifton who found space on the left and forced a good low save by O'Donnell in the Bradford goal. On 75 minutes Clifton got a cross in but Hewitt's header found a vacant space where the Ghost of Payne probably wouldn't have been - maybe Mr Morais has a view on this. But Town were improving after being slowed down earlier on. Bradford were poor. Menayese did concede a corner on 77 minutes after a dangerous cross from Vernam. The threat was cleared after a struggle. Town battled hard in midfield, now populated by Coke, Clifton and Matete. Soon after Spokes came on for Coke. Town had two free-kicks with 7 minutes remaining after fouls on John-Lewis and Matete, but Spokes's delivery was poor. Town's passing was fine but overall it was a struggle. Bradford weren't great either but it was looking increasingly like we'd shot ourselves in the foot today. On 88 minutes Matete put over a low cross, finding Hendrie who looked for space and chose to supply Spokes in the middle. Spokes's long-range shot was wild and woeful as it flew way over the bar. Lamy replaced Matete and immediately made a contribution by handing the ball in play, erroneously thinking it had gone out. Bradford attempted to retain possession to play down the clock but were unsuccessful. Spokes picked up the ball in midfield and played his pass to a great big wide space off the pitch for a Bradford throw instead of achieving the desired objective of finding a Town player. 3 minutes were added but it was easy for Bradford as Hanson backed into a defender and stopped play. Town hadn't been incisive enough and after the first half fiasco, the loss was inevitable. So it ended: Bradford 1, Town 0.
I cannot escape the idea that we blew our survival changes long before today with dropped points against Southend, and more recently Colchester and Walsall. Our run-in is a tough one. But here's the thing about today. Strikers are supposed to score goals, not go round head-butting their team mates. We'll never know if we'd have recovered if Payne hadn't been dismissed, but it certainly was irresponsible and upset the rhythm that we had. Town played ok in the second half against a surprisingly vulnerable-looking Bradford side, but whereas they have Cook and Vernam to light up the Ultilita Energy Stadium, none of our strikers ever looked like scoring. But it does help that our players stay on the pitch and find out. On the off chance. Today was just another nail in our coffin.
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