Having just been demolished by Oxford City and battling relegation in the National League South, Tonbridge Angels against former Premier League Bradford City was one for the cameras.
League Two side Bradford would travel to the Longmead Stadium, which would’ve held 3000 fans, for a midday kick-off against Tonbridge who have defied the odds to reach this stage of the competition.
These two sides have never had the liberty of facing each other in their past, Tonbridge had never before reached the first round of the FA Cup and had never played at a higher level than the sixth tier, whereas the Bantams had the glory of lifting the trophy- admittedly back in 1911- but have famously come out on top against the likes of Chelsea and Sunderland in recent years.
Steve McKimm’s Tonbridge lined up in a simple 4-4-2 formation, with former Reading youth goalkeeper Jonathan Henly between the sticks, a flat back four of Jack Parter, Sonny Miles, Arthur Lee and Kristian Campbell, ahead of them on the right wing was supporters player of the year for the 2019/20 season Joe Turner, on the opposite wing, former Inter Milan, yep, that Italian powerhouse, winger Ben Greenhalgh, who played for the European giants after appearing on Sky One TV show Football’s Next Star, a central midfield partnership of D’sean Theobalds and Tom Parkinson, before a strike partnership of Tommy Wood and Alex Akrofi.
Stuart McCall’s named an unchanged eleven to face Tonbridge, with club captain Richard O’Donnell in goal, a back three of Anthony and Paudie O’Connor (not brothers) alongside the homegrown talent Reece Staunton who has flourished so far this season, the two wing backs were the highly rated Connor Wood and Leeds United loanee Bryce Hosannah, a midfield triangle of Callum Cooke and Elliot Watt, who were both on the scoresheet on the Bantams 3-0 victory over a lowly Southend United side on Tuesday, and Harry Pritchard in the number 10 role, something the fans have been hoping for. The starting strikers to combat Miles and Lee were the experienced duo of Billy Clarke and Clayton Donaldson, who will have been hungry to take advantage of a lower league opposition.
The Bantams got the game underway and were immediately on the attack, as they showed their intent early on as Watt found himself with time on the ball and with a majestic outside of the foot swing at the ball, he dinked a silky ball over the top but the outstretched Pritchard couldn’t quite meet it- an early warning for the Angels.
But as Tonbridge struggled to get out of their half, Bradford continued to threaten the non-league side as the away side won a corner. It was taken quickly by Clarke into the feet of Wood, who with a quick first time attempt, delivered a peach of a ball into the six yard box where an unmarked Anthony O’Connor fired City ahead with a knocked down header past Henly.
Tonbridge aimed to get straight back into the game as a cross trickled to Campbell on the edge of the box but his strike was scuffed wide to a unhinged O’Donnell.
Watt and Pritchard once again showed their threat, as the former Wolves midfielder lofted a ball over the top to Pritchard but his floating header skimmed the bar and left Henly thanking his luck as he avoided the embarrassment of a lob.
14 minutes in and City continued to tease Tonbridge, as Parkinson lost control of the ball on the edge of his box and pressure from Clarke forced a foul by the experienced midfielder in a dangerous position. Watt and Clarke stepped up, despite Staunton being the usual go-to for a free-kick in this position, and as Watt jumped over the ball to dismantle the Tonbridge wall, Clarke unleashed a gorgeous left-footed strike over the wall and into his near corner- one he’ll be flexing for a while.
2-0 down and optimism was slowly declining for the home side, after all this year replays have been scrapped and so if Tonbridge were to push for an equaliser, it would require a miracle.
Homegrown talent Staunton pushed for his first City goal, as he fake shotted past Parkinson and Miles to break into the box but lost control of the bobbling ball and poked it straight at Henly who would surely have been left angered by his defence.
The West Yorkshire side hunted for their third, as Staunton continued to push forward and whipped the ball in towards veteran Donaldson, but his glancing header is straight at Henly once again who comfortably held the attempt.
Bradford broke once winning possession back again, as Clarke played a through ball to right-back Hossanah who was very clearly alien to being through on goal as he stopped and tried to cut past an on-rushing Lee but he managed to tackle the Leeds loanee and fire clear for safety.
Tonbridge had a few chances to test Bradford’s defence, as right-back Parter picked up the ball on the wing and drove forward, cutting inside on Cooke but the ball bobbled up as he ploughed it towards goal, causing the ball to clatter into the stand behind O’Donnell’s goal.
The biggest chance for the Angels so far came in the 42nd minute, as Turner won the ball and played a trickling through ball to striker Akrofi, who squared up Staunton and forced the ball onto his right foot and his ferocious shot across goal left O’Donnell wincing as the sixth tier side nearly penetrated the net.
However, as the Bantams looked to find more structure with their lead, as Wood and Staunton linked up along the left flank, finding themselves with more than enough time as Wood drove down the wing and placed an inch-perfect cross to the head of Irishman Clarke, who took advantage of some atrocious defending and the unmarked strike headed simply past Henly to grasp his second and Bradford’s third.
As the referee brought the game to the end of the first half, manager McKimm had a moan at ref James Oldham as he stomped down the portable tunnel.
Bradford came out and had clearly been told to watch out for complacency, as Hossanah pushed forward and took on Campbell before finding Pritchard on the penalty spot, but his shot on the weak foot was parried by Henly and smashed clear.
Akrofi and Greenhalgh linked up nicely for Tonbridge who drove forward and played the ball through to former AFC Wimbledon prospect Wood, but as he cut inside on Anthony O’Connor onto his preffered right foot, his curling attempt was forced away by captain O’Donnell as Bradford once against withstand the pressure and held onto a much needed clean sheet.
But to add insult to injury, some impressive footwork from Cooke as he barged his way into the box, and a lovely one, two, three, four with the in-form Hossanah lead to Cooke pushing towards the six yard box and his cross shot was met by the poach of 36 year old Donaldson, who celebrated rather hilariously in front of the TV cameras.
Cooke, who is a shout for man of the match, pounced onto some nice link up play between Tyler French, who replaced Hosannah, and Austin Samuels, who came on for Donaldson, as the two substitutes poked the ball into the path of Cooke who broke between two Tonbridge players and placed a shot against the far post, but his attempt smashed back into the face of Henly and deflected wide to spare his blushes.
From the resulting corner, Watt and Clarke linked up once again with a short corner and Clarke rifled a powerful cross straight at Paudie but the defenders accidental shot struck the bar as the Bantams hit the woodwork twice in the space of two minutes.
Samuels was yet to address his first goal in senior football, having had a stint at National League North Kidderminster Harriers last season, but took advantage of a perfect Watt ball which split the Tonbridge defence, and Samuels utilised his pace to run across the defender, careful to not foul his man, before the youngster powered his shot past Henly to grasp City’s fifth.
The Bradford onslaught didn’t stop there, as Samuels was once again heavily involved after his low cross was met by French, but the former Sudbury defender, who had been playing at two levels lower than Tonbridge before City snapped him up, had his shot blocked by Henly before the ball fell back into Samuels and the Wolves loanee rolled it back into the path of Pritchard who calmly got his goal for the day.
The Angels did have a small chance however, as a wayward Watt pass was intercepted by Turner, who could hold his head high after this game, and he cut inside of Anthony O’Connor but his shot was just over the bar- a consolation yes, but nevertheless a slight warning to Bradford to not be complacent.
As the game reached its closing stages, Tonbrigde substitute Javaun Splatt was fouled by Paudie and former AFC Wimbledon midfielder Tom Beere, who once scored in the League Two play-off final for the Dons, took the responsibility of a free-kick on the edge of the box into his own hands. Beere attempted to replicate Clarke’s worldie in the first half, but his attempt rocketed into Paudie’s face in the wall before his second attempt on the half volley ended up nearer to the corner flag than the goal- it really did sum up the afternoon for Tonbridge Angels.
Referee Oldham added three minutes on into the death of the game, which Bradford took full advantage of as Samuels was played a low cross which was left by Dylan Mottley-Henry, who was brought on for Clarke, and it fell to the feet of French, who cut the ball back and after a little niggle from Mottley-Henry, left-back Connor Wood put Tonbridge out of their misery and blasted the ball into the roof of the net against a lethargic Henly who looked to have given up hope with his outclassed defence.
A game which shows the difference between the two clubs, Bradford City demonstrated the difference between full-time and part-time clubs. Their performance of the season, which was unfortunate for Tonbridge, as the Bantams played with fluidity and confidence, something they’ve lacked at times this campaign. There looked to be real homage from City, as the players looked like they believed in each others abilities and showed trust and credence in one another which is massive as players. They really did play as team rather than individuals.
A combination of Watt and Cooke in midfield looked exciting once both had signed, but in recent games that partnership has really began to prosper, as it was seen in the 3-0 victory over Southend on Tuesday night, with Watt and Cooke both on the score sheet, but with these two linking up they have real potential to be one of the most complete and talented midfield dynamics in the league.
One thing that gaffer McCall will be delighted with is that there were six different goal scorers in a 7-0 victory, with Clarke getting two, as defenders, midfielders and of course attackers were on the score sheet. Having goals come all over the pitch is a key part of the game, knowing that whoever in front of goal is capable of finishing (unless you’re Bryce Hossanah!) is such a good quality to have as it implies how important movement and a high tempo is, something McCall will look to implement.
Meanwhile if you’re a Tonbridge Angels fan, yes, you might be disappointed, but also be proud. Tonbridge performed above expectations and were everything brilliant about the FA Cup in their run to reach their highest ever finish in this cup. To come up against a higher league position has gained media recognition, television recognition and was a platform for the players to catch the attention of higher league clubs with the prospect of gaining a professional contract and fulfil their dream jobs.
The scoreline feels a bit harsh on Tonbridge who didn’t look terrible. Their defence just lacked organisation and structure, which captain Miles should have altered, but just need to work on their marking and communication. The marking for Anthony O’Connor’s goal and Billy Clarke’s second were abysmal, two players who free around about the six yard box and have all the time in the world cannot be allowed, not even at Sunday League level. You have to feel bad for the likes of Akrofi, Wood and Turner who looked like a threat on the attack, with all coming close to demolishing the clean sheet, they were just let down by some poor defending that needs to be looked at.
But nevertheless, for me personally, the man of the match has to be given to Bradford stalwart Billy Clarke, who of course nipped his two goals, one of them an absolute beauty, but also looked available constantly and wanted the ball, acting as a false nine to a target man like Donaldson and coming into the midfield alongside Pritchard or moving out wide to support and give an option to Wood, he was excellent. When the addition of Gareth Evans came into Bradford, Clarke’s position was in jeopardy, but Evans’ injury has given a massive opportunity to Clarke and he’s grasped it gratefully.