Coventry City made the trip to Valley Parade on Saturday to face a Bradford City side now managed by Stuart McCall. The Bantams have made a strong start to their 2016/17 campaign, winning two of their opening three SkyBet League One games, conceding just a solitary goal away to MK Dons. Meanwhile, the Sky Blues arrived in Yorkshire without a league goal to their name. However, with the addition of Daniel Agyei, the away supporters were hoping that their team could open their account in front of goal.
Former Bantams winger Kyel Reid has also joined the Coventry ranks, but Romain Vincelot moved the other way during the summer months. Both players would be hoping to make an impact against their former employers, but history certainly favoured Bradford as they went into this tie unbeaten in their previous nine home meetings versus the Sky Blues. History often has a habit of repeating itself and it did once more as a couple of penalties from Tony McMahon and a goal from Mark Marshall cancelled out Daniel Agyei’s opener for Coventry.
With the rain pouring down, the game got underway on a slick surface and both sides looked determined to gain a foothold early on. Possession was shared in the opening 5 minutes, but the Sky Blues soon began to look the more threatening going forward and they opened up two chances in quick succession in the 7th minute. Scintillating speed and strength allowed Daniel Agyei to burst into the area initially but he couldn’t test Colin Doyle. The Bradford keeper was called into action just seconds later, however, as he made a sprawling save with his feet to deny Kyel Reid.
As Coventry continued to put pressure on the home defence, Vladimir Gadzhev had an optimistic penalty shout turned down before the deadlock was broken on 12 minutes. Ben Stevenson claimed the assist as he stole the ball on the edge of the opposition area before slipping a pass into Agyei’s feet. The powerhouse then displayed sheer power to roll a defender before slotting a chipped finish past Doyle to give the away side the lead. Following the opener, the Sky Blues looked determined to stretch the margin further, but the Bantams defence stood firm.
On 17 minutes, the hosts carved out their first chance on goal but former Coventry man Mark Marshall failed to test Reice Charles-Cook. With that wasted opportunity spurring the home crowd into life, McCall’s men responded by keeping hold of the ball more efficiently. They did fail to stretch the visiting back line, however, and it was Gadzhev who had the next sighting of goal on 28 minutes but he couldn’t direct his free kick on target. As Bradford attempted to play their way forward, they were met by a Coventry midfield who were determined with their pressing game.
A few scrappy exchanges began to take place in the centre of the park, but with around 10 minutes remaining in the half, Bradford began to stamp their mark on the game. Nicky Law floated a quickly taken corner into Marshall’s feet on 40 minutes and the winger got a shot away from close range. With the strike destined for the net, Chris McCann sprinted across to deny him with a flying block. Billy Clarke then released Law just before the break but a combination of Jordan Willis and the Coventry goalkeeper shovelled the ball behind to preserve the Sky Blues’ lead going into the interval.
Almost immediately after the restart, it was clear to see that Bradford wanted to overturn the deficit and they motored forward to create a chance. Incisive build-up eventually found Clarke but the striker could only send a powerful strike high and wide from 25 yards. With 50 minutes played, the Sky Blues almost silenced the hosts as Agyei proved a handful once more. The Burnley loanee threaded a pass into Reid’s feet and he controlled impeccably before Tony McMahon put his body on the line to divert the goal bound effort away from danger.
As the game approached the hour mark, the Bantams were back on the front foot and Romain Vincelot almost brought them level as he directed a looping header onto the bar. McMahon then swung in a delightful cross during their next move but Willis showed great awareness to get in front of Jordy Hiwula and clear. On 64 minutes, Marshall was gifted another chance as a Law cross skidded across the Coventry box, but he was unable to capitalise as Charles-Cook sprung across to produce a save at the near post.
With the intensity of the tie increasing, Bradford were rewarded with a chance from the penalty spot on 66 minutes. A perfectly executed Vincelot pass was weighted into the area and Clarke was pulled back by Jordan Turnbull who received a red card for his troubles. Captain McMahon then stepped up to dispatch the spot kick and equalise. To Coventry’s despair, the game was turned on its head just 3 minutes later as Marshall wandered inside to unleash a thunderous strike that found the far corner to send Valley Parade into raptures.
After taking the lead, the hosts looked to make their one-man advantage count and they put together a barrage of attacks. The pick of the chances saw a sweetly struck half-volley from Daniel Devine drop narrowly wide of the post, but it didn’t matter as Bradford made it 3-1 on 74 minutes. Gadzhev brought down Josh Cullen in the area and this allowed McMahon to fire in his second goal of the afternoon. With the game now wrapped up, the home fans were creating a party atmosphere and their side controlled the latter stages to secure a victory.
I was optimistic that we’d find the net with the arrival of Daniel Agyei, but our record at Valley Parade speaks for itself. The blistering start we made did fill me with a bit of confidence, but the characteristic self-explosion at Bradford occurred during the second period to make it ten games without a win there. It’s just one of those days really, with the complexion of the game changing completely after Jordan Turnbull’s dismissal. The most concerning thing was the way in which collapsed after the equaliser, especially considering we looked relatively comfortable before that incident.
There’s no doubting that the first half an hour was the best we’ve played so far this season. Agyei looked a real handful up top and he provided us with an outlet to aim for. In the midfield area we looked excellent also, pressing relentlessly to disrupt Bradford when they were on the ball. You can see that Chris McCann is a top player at this level and he worked well with Vladimir Gadzhev. The star man for me, however, was Ben Stevenson as the 19-year old acquitted himself brilliantly against a solid Bradford outfit.
One player who did have a torrid time was Lewis Page and the wing-back struggled to cope with Mark Marshall’s directness in the second period. With Turnbull now suspended, I’m sure Cian Harries will look to impress once more as I can imagine he was frustrated today after being dropped to the bench despite a man of the match performance versus Bury. He put in a few good challenges after coming on today, but he was left helpless as the Bantams rallied towards victory.
It’s just another incredibly infuriating day following Coventry, but there were positives if you dig deep enough. In the first period we were undeniably the better side and we looked much more of a threat with that imposing central striker. Reice Charles-Cook was only really called into meaningful action on one occasion and I was delighted at the break with our showing. We now go into a difficult EFL Cup tie at Norwich City, but we should still remain positive. Of course, we only have a couple of points on the board in League One, but that can quickly be altered. We need to start winning fairly sharpish, however.
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Jordan Turnbull – 6
Sam Ricketts – 7
Jordan Willis – 7
Lewis Page – 4
Chris McCann – 7
Vladimir Gadzhev – 7
Ben Stevenson – 8
Dion Kelly-Evans – 5
Kyel Reid – 7
Daniel Agyei – 8
Marcus Tudgay – 5
Cian Harries – 6
George Thomas – N/A
Bradford City: Doyle, Meredith, Law, Vincelot, Marshall, Clarke (Webb-Foster 90+1), Hiwula, Cullen, Knight-Percival, Devine (Dieng 81), McMahon (C) (Morais 89).
Unused Substitutes: Sattelmaier, Anderson, Rabiega.
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Turnbull, Ricketts (C) (G.Thomas 73), Willis, Page, McCann, Gadzhev, Stevenson, Di. Kelly-Evans, Reid (Harries 67), Agyei (Tudgay 60).
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Finch, Haynes, Lameiras.
Attendance: 17,595 (570 away supporters)