Plymouth Argyle 1
Bradford City 0
Saturday 31 March, 2012
By David Lawrence
Few Bradford City fans must have cheered last season when Plymouth Argyle were relegated to division two. It’s a heck of a long way away from West Yorkshire. However, for me it was a mere 135 miles and, as such, a chance to head west to see City at a ground I’d not visited before, Bradford not having last been here in 1994 when Jagger Jewell and Carl Shutt destroyed the Pilgrims.
I was really looking forward to the game. Until Tuesday. Combine that crazy night with the sad news about the once great Bradford Northern (AKA Bulls) and the by-election result and it’s easy to see why most people that care about Bradford would be dismayed.
Between the rhetoric of the ‘popular’ press about Bradford the city and the vituperative rants from the forums about Bradford the football club I was thoroughly sick of hearing about it all; akin to criticism aimed at family members, it’s okay when they come from within, but not from imprudent strangers.
So on the way to the match I hear the media machine making much-a-do about Balotelli and his trustworthiness in Mancini’s eyes, and I’m glad our bad news is today’s fish and chip papers. The talk now was of ‘trusting’. For the premiership manager it meant trusting a player to mature, while conversely for City’s manager it meant trusting a player arguably over-mature. Step forward Guy Branston; Swiftly offered an olive branch midweek and charged with filling the huge gap left by the pugilistic three.
It also meant trusting a keeper hastily recalled from loan, playing a right back that may not have been match fit and playing a another right back at left back. What could go wrong?!
After four minutes the City following of just over three hundred knew the answer. One-nil down and fighting for our lives not to concede again. The goal had come not from footballing genius or guile but a mix-up in the defensive marking. It was hard not feel frustrated at the fact that the players could not see Juvhel Tsoumou in acres of space nor hear the many City fans’ shouts to cover him as the cross from Watton came over in front of us. He made easy work of heading the easiest of chances past the despairing dive of Matt Duke.
City were on the ropes, caught cold and likely to catch a bigger one. Simon Ramsden was being unusually hesitant against the lively winger Ashley Hemmings and Lee Bullock and Branston were being given a tough time by the intelligent movement of the muscular Tsoumou. After ten minutes it was nearly over. Robbie Williams took a low free kick that Duke struggled to get to. Indeed, the ball had hit the post by the time the keeper had dived across. Fortunately for him and City, the ball struck his back and for a change trickled away the right side of the post for a corner.
A change in fortune, followed by a change in the ascendency. Phil Parkinson had selected a team of experience and it was this that began to show as Michael Flynn, Ricky Ravenhill, Ritchie Jones and David Syers began to take control of midfield. City improved enough to have several attempts on goal, notably a long range effort from Flynn and two headers by Syers from corners, where Branston too was proving a menace. However, playing so many similar midfielders and with striking partners Criag Fagan and Chris Dagnall often too far apart, City’s passing game looked nice but not wholly convincing.
At the other end City nearly fell for the sucker-punch near the closing stages of the first half. Alex McDonald capitalised on the persistent weakness of any City left back selected (today Rob Kozluk) recently to clear aerial balls played over the centre-halves. Fortunately, his knock-back was met by a weak effort from Chadwick when he should have done better. Generally though, on a more positive note, Duke and the rest of the defence was looking more confident and as the half closed there seemed a quiet optimism that things could be turned around.
Half time came and went. Most notable was an appearance by Don Hutchins who played for Plymouth 1969-72 and Bradford from 1974-81. Making 286 appearances for us and scoring 52 goals. We needed one of those today. I can recall how well regarded Don was as a flying winger in City’s promotion team of 77. That year especially, he terrorised defences and made the division four PFA team of the year.
Unfortunately, the sound from his pitch mike appeared to be broadcasted from the remaining undeveloped part of the ground, so it was hard to pick up what he said. Shame really as he’d probably have some wise words for the man about to come on. Kyel Reid.
Ravenhill had made way, probably due to a knock, and City took time to re-adjust in the early minutes of the second half. Particularly struggling was Ramsden who was having a tough time of it. He clearly wasn’t fit for this match and was soon subbed for James Hanson.
Just prior, Reid had put in the sort of cross begging for a big man to nod home, thus underlining a deficiency in the workmanlike Fagan and sparky Dagnall as a strike force. Fagan went out to his more effective wide position while Hanson ran the line well, putting a new urgency and focus to City’s attacks and linking up well with Dagnall. Both went close to scoring.
Meanwhile Plymouth were beginning to look very ordinary and resorted to trying to unsettle Hanson with some strong challenges that led to a yellow card for Wotton. Tellingly, City didn’t over-react to one of their team being left writhing on the floor but seemed more resolved to hurt the opposition fairly with a goal.
Nahki Wells came on for Kozluk with twelve minutes to go as Flynn joined the now impressive Branston and Bolluck partnership in a three at the back. City were going for it and surely would score with the pressure they were putting Plymouth under. However, it was the Pilgrims that nearly did. Thankfully the ever-improving Duke made a magnificent save from a Wotton drive from twenty yards out.
Then it was City’s turn again to press enough for the ball to end up in the net. However, much to the annoyance of the City following, the linesman had seen that Wells had clearly been offside when he collected a deflected shot from Jones to tap home.
The scrambles continued in the Plymouth goalmouth for the remainder of the ninety plus three with Hanson, Bullock and Branston all going close, but it finished in another defeat. The City fans stood to applaud the team’s effort while the home fans sung ‘we are staying up’.
Oh yes, it was a dogfight and we had lost. However, in the midst of all this we have found some new players to trust, particularly Branston and Duke. Through adversity, there is now an opportunity for player, team and manager and us as fans to trust their ability.
As Harold MacMillan famously said ‘a man who trusts nobody is apt to be a man nobody trusts’. This is where loyalty begins.
Having witnessed City’s efforts in vain to get an equaliser I decided the best course of action was to have a look at the marina and grab some sustenance before the drive home. I was fortunate to bump into an exiled father and son originally from Odsal, Gaz and Ben respectively, who introduced me to their friends ‘Bomber’ and ‘Dan’, both Plymouth fans. Over a drink we discussed the game and all agreed it should have been at least a draw.
Bomber, a home and away fan, was most impressed with Branston. He was least impressed by our following as he thought that – as City and Plymouth were the biggest teams in the league and they had earlier in the season brought nine hundred to Valley Parade – City should have brought more. I pointed out they’d not been in this division as long as us.
The banter went on. It was good to finish the week talking football with genuine football fans. Apparently Balotelli had got two. Who cares…?
City: Duke, Ramsden (Hanson 57), Branston, Bullock, Kozluk (Wells 78), Flynn, Ravenhill (Reid 45), Jones, Syers, Fagan, Dagnall
Unused Subs: Annerson, Smalley