A gutting injury-time equaliser made the sounding of the full-time whistle on our trip to Valley Parade feel like a defeat, when I was as happy about the second-half performance as I have been for an age. It was about as undeserved an equaliser as I can remember, certainly going off the second-half display, as we probed, passed and pressed the Bantams into submission.
There were plenty of good displays from the men in White but one stood out above others to me. Ricardo Santos, apart from the distraction of his silly spat with Anthony O’Connor, was imperious, striding out of defence with purpose and precision all game but had very little to deal with in a defensive sense, in the second-half anyway.
Ditto with Alex Baptiste, who’s marauding forward runs, in the first half especially, were a sight to behold. To see a centre-back pairing playing with such assurance and confidence in their own abilities, not just to deal with what the opposition throws at them but also when on the ball, is fantastic to see.
Declan John’s thrust from left-back, often cutting inside and driving towards the penalty box, particularly in our most dominant spell, scared the life out of the Bradford defenders and it’s such a breath of fresh air to have someone with that kind of pace and self-assurance to use it regularly.
MJ Williams and Kieran Lee were again superb in shielding the back four, winning the ball back quickly without fuss and using it well.
For me, though, there was one man who epitomised the current form we are in and the reasons Evatt’s side are finally clicking.
West Ham loanee Dapo Afolayan so desperately deserves a goal for all his hard work and endeavour since signing on deadline day and the save from Sam Hornby to deny his curling snap shot from the edge of the area was outstanding in denying him his first strike in a white shirt.
His agility, strength and nimble footwork took him away from what looked like a blind alley he’d turned into on halfway. This commitment of various defenders opened up space for us and allowed the quick thinking of Lloyd Isgrove to swiftly release Eoin Doyle, breaking the offside trap down the flank, resulting in Nathan Delfouneso’s goal.
What really stands out for me though is his willingness to bust a gut to win the ball back and not only that, his body shape and clever body positioning when attempting to do so. He rarely gives away a foul as he presses so intelligently. So many times players put the hard yards in but press like headless chickens.
Players often either run so fast at their intended target that they’re unable to stop their momentum, making it easy for any player with an ounce of ability on the ball to simply sidestep the advancement. Or they give the referee a chance to give the free-kick when the slightest amount of contact is applied, often onto a players back, as the player who knows he is boxed in will happily crumple to the ground, however minimal the contact is.
These instances of mindless pressing can instantly relieve the pressure building on the opponent, gives them a chance to draw breath and reorganise. It basically stems any momentum we may have built up. Avoiding that trap is so pivotal in maintaining the teams intensity and increases our ability to spring a counter attack in transition, as soon as the ball is won back.
I can feel a goal coming for Dapo imminently. He has been so unfortunate in recent outings, with a stunning save and a shot against the post in his past two games. Fine margins indeed. While it is undeniable that he faded again towards the end of the game, it is perhaps less a slight on his overall fitness or stamina and more the fact the shift he puts in for the team during his time on the pitch leaves him sapped of energy.
Huge game tonight, as they all are now from here on in. Bring it on Cambridge, the Whites are coming for you!! COYWM!!