Bradford City 0
Swindon Town 0
Saturday 5 May, 2012
By Jason McKeown
Everyone enjoys a happy ending. So after Bradford City matched the division’s Champions this afternoon to conclude the season with a credible draw, we could at least take home from it a warm feeling which can sustain us for part of the long summer break.
And a fitting level of happiness to end it too, for a campaign which cannot be described as anything more positive than “disappointing”. As much as it would have been nice to have steamrollered Swindon Town this afternoon – and on the balance of second half play in particular, such an outcome may not have been unjust – it would have only triggered a degree of frustration over why such high standards weren’t realised more often.
City have spent the season looking forwards in the hope of happier moments than the grimness at the time allowed. Phil Parkinson rocked up at Valley Parade talking of being in the top half of the division by Christmas. Then, when the festive season came and went with the Bantams well below that target but showing signs of improvement, a strong second half to the season was anticipated. That too didn’t exactly occur; but with relegation worries eventually eased, the expectations have firmly raised again – this time for next season.
So a good ending like this means we can approach the summer still believing in that brighter future. And for City to have given the league leaders’ such a tough afternoon was certainly more heart-warming than the capitulation to mid-table Crewe on the final day of last season. The performance today also provided a final reminder that there are plenty of good players in the building when Parkinson comes to plot what is required for 2012/13. While the result means City have lost just one in 15 matches at home; an-all-too-rare occurrence.
You can argue that Swindon were not exactly playing in top gear this afternoon. The title sealed a week ago, the Robins came onto the pitch through a classy guard of honour from the home side and were joyfully greeted by the biggest away following at Valley Parade in four-and-a-half years. The visiting players performed well but without intensity, as though they couldn’t wait to get back to the party that was in full swing over in the Midland Road stand. And for the most part City dominated.
James Hanson and Nahki Wells both linked up superbly, to remind us that they belong in the positive section when assessing this season as a whole. It’s not that City haven’t had good strikers in recent years, but we’ve certainly not had good striking partnerships. Hanson and Wells are on the same wavelength and habitually seem to know where on the field the other will be. Wells was again on the receiving end of some physical treatment by the opposition players, and this is something that he will have to cope with more often next season as his fame grows. A League Two way of showing you that you are now respected and feared.
Everything good about City during the game seemed to stem from these two and Kyel Reid, and there was also a notable added edge to the home side’s attacking threat, provided by David Syers – making a first home start since New Year’s Eve. Under the spotlight following his contract dispute, the 24-year-old did not have the greatest of matches and failed to boss midfield in the manner he has shown he is capable of; but his runs in the final third were a threat all afternoon and he formed a useful triangle with Hanson and Wells.
Syers had the first two chances of the afternoon, and in the second half squandered the best opening of the entire match when he was impressively played through one-on-one by Will Atkinson, but shot tamely at Wes Fotheringham. Wells too was regularly firing efforts on goal and should have scored from one opening at the end of the first half. With 17 attempts on goal from City, it was fairly one-way traffic at times.
Indeed the back four – which featured Andrew Davies for the first time since the Crawley affair, though dropping Guy Branston was incredibly harsh on Parkinson’s part – were comfortable for much of the game. Davies’ return did at least remind us what a quality player he has been for us this season, while Luke Oliver was his usual confident self. Jon McLaughlin – also recalled for the first time since he used his hands for something very different to goalkeeping – was mainly a spectator, apart from pulling off a smart save late on from a free kick.
The Bantams largely controlled the game, and on another day the numerous chances created would have lead a goal or two. But today it didn’t really matter, because all that really did was ending on a high note.
It has been a season we had wanted to be over for weeks now, but there is equally little pleasure at the prospect of not watching City until the pre-season friendlies start in two months. The idea of a clean slate, a chance to start over from scratch with everyone equal all over again, has huge appeal now. But as the players completed their lap of appreciation and headed away from us towards the dressing room, and as we turned around and made our way out of the stadium and into the Bradford evening, an empty eeriness suddenly took over.
We’ve spent ten months largely feeling stressed, miserable and disillusioned by our football club. We had already set the bar fairly low this time around, but the level of achievement was still way below it. Yet as nice as it will be to not have weekends ruined by the many lows of supporting Bradford City for a few months, we will soon be pining for waking up on Saturdays hoping to experience the highs.
The problem with the break from football is that you start to miss it long before it’s due to return. A happy ending is therefore important; because we will soon be desperate for the next beginning.
City: McLaughlin, Ramsden, Davies, Oliver, Kozluk, Reid, Ravenhill, Syers, Atkinson, Hanson, Wells (Baker
Unused Subs: Annerson, Smalley, Bullock, Bass