Exeter City v Bradford City - Things are finally looking better for Lee Angol and Bantams’ forward line

The first time Lee Angol injured his hamstring it reduced him to tears. When his Bradford City career came to a three-month halt before it got going, he was much better able to deal with it.

Big relief: Bradford City's Lee Angol celebrates his equalising goal against Port Vale. Picture: Simon Hulme

Injuries to forwards have been a theme of part one of the Bantams’ season – Angol and Abo Eisa in August, Theo Robinson only making his first start in the FA Cup first round tie at home to Exeter City which is replayed tonight, Caolan Lavery limited to two since arriving in the summer.

Hopefully a new chapter is beginning. Having carried the burden almost single-handedly, Andy Cook is now sidelined with a hamstring injury and Lavery was put through a fitness test before the bus left for Exeter yesterday but Eisa was on the bench at Port Vale on Saturday, where Angol scored his first Bantams goal, and Robinson has three in five appearances.

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Manager Derek Adams says he would happily have rushed all three back, but the players understand the importance of patience, which is why Angol’s tears dried up.

Good friends: Angol has struck up a friendship with City's former Scunthorpe forward Abo Eisa who is also on his way back from injury. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

“When it first happened I was building momentum and I started crying, thinking ‘Oh my God!’” recalls the 27-year-old with an unwanted specialist subject. “You just feel like your whole energy’s been zapped.

“I didn’t know what to do. How long will I be out for? You start panicking. You see all the other players in the league scoring and you’re getting left behind. I feel like I went through that one more emotionally.

“With this one I just got on with it because I’d done it three times before. It’s not normal, but I knew what it felt like, how it would play out. I just went along with it, I didn’t think too far ahead. I couldn’t change anything and be un-injured. I’ve developed a mental strength, especially for injuries.

“The first time, when they said three months, I thought, ‘I’ll be back in two.’ That’s the character of an athlete. This time the first few games I just wanted to get out there so it was a bit annoying but after that it became a thing.

No rush: Bradford City manager Derek Adams wants to ensure his injured players are fit before pressing them back into action. Picture: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire.

“You become more like a fan. I’m not like a little busy-body, a little mascot, but when they’re walking around me I’ll be saying, ‘Come on, let’s get the win today,’ trying to give what I can to the team but staying out of their way because the last thing you want is an annoying person around.

“You can’t go on the pitch but it’s another way of training your leg power so I do feel like I’ve come back in better shape. I’ve got to listen to my body more and I’m giving it a lot more care.”

Given Adams’s uncontroversial view that “our Achilles heel at this stage of the season is we haven’t put the clear-cut chances we’ve had in the back of the net,” a weaker manager could easily have pushed Angol and co out prematurely.

Exeter are unbeaten in 18 matches and Bradford have only lost one of their last nine. The Bantams’ last four games have been 1-1 draws against the division’s top three and League One Sunderland, yet having won just two of the nine they are 11th in League Two. Still, Adams held his nerve and waited until his players were ready.

“I would have rushed them back, to be fair – any manager would – but trying to be patient with them is going to give us the benefit not just in the short-term but the long-term,” he smiles.

“I want to get Abo on the pitch as soon as possible. He can open up defences, he can create goals and he can score goals. He showed that in a team at Scunthorpe last season that didn’t do particularly well so playing in a team that creates the number of opportunities we do can only be beneficial.”

Angol is particularly excited about Eisa, whose eye-catching 56 minutes at Nottingham Forest in the League Cup remains his entire Bantams career.

“I knew Abo before we both came here,” he says. “When he got injured, I got injured about four days later so we were in the physio room for the next three months. I said to him if I had been going through the injury myself it would have been a lot harder.

“They call us Leesa because we’re always together. It’s just a natural bond. It’s one of those relationships that just happens.

“You’ll see a lot of energy from him, a lot of getting fans off their seat, he’s direct. He wears No 7 and every No 7... look at (Kylian) Mbappe. I don’t want to big him up but he can be scoring hat-tricks, he can do anything and bring energy to the stadium.”

To listen to Angol, Eisa is more than worth the wait. Payback for Bradford’s patience is hopefully just starting.

Tonight’s winners are at Northampton Town or Cambridge United. The League Two home game against Colchester United will now be on December 8 to give the Us extra recovery time following their second-round tie the previous Sunday.

Last six games: Exeter City WWDWWW; Bradford City DDDDWL

Referee: D Rock (Hertfordshire)

Last time: Exeter City 0 Bradford City 0, August 7, 2021, League Two.