ANALYSIS - Hope springs eternal as Akpan strikes again to help Bradford City sink Morecambe

Hope Akpan was on target in Bradford City's 2-1 win at Morecambe. Picture: Getty Images
Hope Akpan was on target in Bradford City's 2-1 win at Morecambe. Picture: Getty Images
0
Have your say

"When he's charging forwards, he's difficult to play against."

Those were the words of Bradford City manager Gary Bowyer earlier this month when considering the impact of powerhouse midfielder Hope Akpan's goal-scoring return to action in a Football League Trophy defeat to Manchester City under-21s.

Given his indifferent form during his time as a Bantams player, not too many of the club's supporters will have bought into that.

It would be fair to say that the Bradford faithful haven't seen the best of Akpan since his arrival from Burton Albion in the summer of 2018, yet, two goals in as many games later, Bowyer's statement now has a prophetic feel about it.

Akpan did brilliantly to keep a difficult header under the cross-bar in a 2-1 success over Swindon Town last time out, then broke the deadlock early in the second half as the Bantams beat Morecambe by the same scoreline on Saturday afternoon.

He's not necessarily in the team to score goals, but his contributions inside the opposition box during the last two games have proved crucial in Bradford climbing up to third place in the League Two standings.

He adds presence in central midfield and, know-how - unsurprising given that he's a man who played in the Premier League for Reading and boasts a wealth of Championship experience.

And his improved form is testament to boss Bowyer's expertise when it comes to man-management.

Having identified Akpan as potentially being a key member of his side as they bid for promotion back to League One at the first attempt, he told him that he needs to start offering more.

Greater hunger and a better showing in training has resulted, and now City are reaping the rewards out on the pitch and in the crucial moments of two matches which have been decided by one-goal margins.

A strong squad rather than just a good first eleven will see Bradford realise their aim of an immediate return to the third tier and the former is exactly what Bowyer has assembled.

The impact of Akpan during the last coupe of weeks confirms this, while goals for Aramide Oteh and Shay McCartan off the substitutes' bench and two lively showings down the right flank by Zeli Ismail only serve to underline this notion.

Saturday's trip to bottom-of-the-table Morecambe could have been a potential banana skin, however the Bantams were pretty professional from start to finish.

The opening period was largely devoid of goalmouth action, though City did manage to create one glorious opportunity, from which they should have taken the lead.

Akpan found Ismail down the right and he delivered an inviting low centre that Clayton Donaldson somehow managed to stab wide at the far post.

The second half was however less than two minutes old when the 1,765-strong away contingent erupted in delight.

The visitors broke from the edge of their own box and Dylan Connolly's searing pace down the right took him away from the covering Alex Kenyon and into the Morecambe penalty area, where he looked to have been brought down by his opponent.

Despite finding himself on the deck, Connolly still managed to pull the ball back to Akpan, who side-footed an effort past the stranded Barry Roche and under a dreadful attempt at a goal-line clearance by a home defender.

Ismail and Harry Pritchard both went close to doubling the lead before substitute Oteh fluffed his lines just a couple of yards out when afforded a free-header at the back-post.

Brought to life by the introduction of veteran forward Kevin Ellison, the hosts eventually stirred and Anthony O'Connor had to head off his own line from a corner, Morecambe's 40-year-old hitman nodding the rebound against the cross-bar.

O'Connor then forced Roche into a good save at the other end before Oteh found his range to make it 2-0 after 78 minutes.

Daniel Devine found Pritchard on the left edge of the area and he fed the Queens Park Rangers loanee, who slid a shot across Roche and inside the far stick.

With time running out, Morecambe were again denied by the woodwork as John O'Sullivan struck a post, Cole Stockton then dragging the loose ball agonisingly wide of the opposite upright.

The Shrimps did eventually manage to find the back of the net through Tom Brewitt's 94th-minute close-range finish, though City had already done enough.