Bradford City 3
Hanson 45, Reid 80, Jones 87
Tuesday 18 September, 2012
By Jason McKeown
Can each and every one of us please take a moment out to pause and breathe in.
Ignore any doubts or frustrations that typically manifest themselves into criticism. Forget to apply thought or reason about how it’s still very early days. Cover up those deep-rooted scars of regular past disappointment.
Inhale deeply. Enjoy this moment. Right here, right now.
Bradford City have won, again. We are 5th in the fledgling League Two table. No other team in the top four divisions has scored more home goals than the 12 the Bantams have netted (Blackpool and Tranmere have also managed 12). This feels unusual. Almost disconcertingly so. Things don’t tend to go well for Bradford City on the field, not in recent years.
This deserved victory over Morecambe means City have acquired 13 points from the first seven games. To put that into perspective, it took 14 matches to reach this same points total last season, and 12 games the season before that. That feels good. As does our 100% home record four Valley Parade tussles in. The last time we bettered four straight home wins? Midway through the 1998/99 season, when Lee Mills and Robbie Blake were on fire and City were on route to promotion.
Far too early to mention the ‘p’ word this time around. Or even its more grounded younger sibling ‘play offs’. 39 league tussles to go yet, plenty of time for it all to go wrong. But after tonight, and after what the players and management have achieved to date, we should allow ourselves a moment to feel giddy with excitement. To feel good about our football club. To feel good about ourselves. Especially on the back of so many years of having to feel very different.
This was such a great night for City, and it was such a great game of football. I don’t care what Clive Tyldesley was bellowing into millions of people’s living rooms from the Bernabeu this evening, Bradford was busy hosting its own top quality night of football entertainment that left you purring. Two teams provided a full-blooded contest that was utterly compelling. It was a privilege to be part of the night; part of the crowd contributing a superb atmosphere.
Morecambe were no pushovers – or, to put it less politely, they were no Wimbledon or Barnet. The Lancashire outfit began with a strong purpose that saw a couple of early scares in City’s penalty area; but once the home side found their rhythm and began to set the tempo, they proved difficult to live with. Chances came but were not taken. Alan Connell saw a header saved by Morecambe keeper Barry Roche, Rory McArdle headed over from a corner. Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines whipped in some dangerous crosses that alluded team mates. A strong penalty appeal, when Hines was tripped in the box, was turned away by a dismal referee.
But a confidence was evident that the breakthrough would eventually arrive. Not just amongst the players, who continued to pass and probe with impressive urgency, but from supporters who stayed with the players as Morecambe fought to keep back the tide. It is early days, but already you can see signs that a settled Bantams team is well versed in what to do, both in terms of the range of passing and the running on and off the ball. It just all fits together.
The breakthrough did indeed arrive. City had knocked the ball around inside the final third looking for an opening, when James Meredith scampered forward down the flank and was fed possession. He had to stretch to put in a cross and, in truth, it looked like he’d fired a poor ball into the box; but there was James Hanson running on to fire a stunning rising effort into the corner. Four consecutive home goals for Hanson, who’s superb first half performance even drew praise from the man who sits behind me and who normally slates City’s top scorer non-stop.
City 1-0 up at the break, looking assured. Gary Jones was having another outstanding game in the centre, with Nathan Doyle alongside him back in top gear and prompting great appreciation for his range of passing. Doyle put in the type of display we had expected but rarely saw from Tommy Doherty two years ago. If Gary Jones does all the running, Doyle is an American Football-style quarter back, picked to pick out the right pass.
Connell too was catching the eye with his intelligent link up play and positioning all over the field. At half time on Saturday I stated Hanson and Connell did not look a great partnership, but very quickly this has been disproved. Connell might not run onto Hanson flick ons in the telepathic nature of Nahki Wells, but he starts and finishes attacks thanks to his awareness of others. The more his team mates play with Connell, the better a player he is going to look.
Morecambe improved after the break and had a good spell. Robbie Threlfall – back on his old stomping ground – was up and down the park in a way full backs are rarely seen under Phil Parkinson, and had a one-on-one opportunity with Jon McLaughlin that saw City’s keeper make a fine save. From the resultant corner the ball was scrambled off the line by Gary Jones. The threat of an equaliser hung in the air; but as much as it’s not nice to watch your team struggle, it allowed us to admire the assured defensive coolness of Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver. Boy do they seem to relish a battle.
City rode through the difficult period and began to reassert their control. Wells replaced Connell and delivered a much improved performance than the somewhat sulky cameo of Saturday. Will Atkinson came on for the tiring Zavon Hines and made a notable impact. He, Gary Jones and Doyle were controlling the game. We just needed them to kill the contest off.
And so came the finest of three superb home goals. City passed the ball around calmly for a while, before Doyle spotted the run of Reid outwide and delivered an inch perfect pass over the full back’s head for him to run onto. Reid cut inside, arrived into the penalty area and unleashed a bending shot that seemed destined to miss the goal by inches, until the very last minute when it swung slightly and nestled into the bottom corner. A superb first Valley Parade goal for Kyel, after a year at the club. Game over.
Or not, as Morecambe took advantage of City switching off and Andy Parrish fired a low shot past McLaughlin. Eight nervy minutes still to play, with the match becoming end to end stuff. It seemed as though history was going to repeat itself when Morecambe charged forward and Kevin Ellison – curiously otherwise subdued – had the chance to seal another 2-2 Valley Parade draw for his side. But McLaughlin made a brilliant save at his near post that resulted in an injury for the City stopper.
Seconds later Reid – confidence suddenly restored after his slow start to the season – ran and ran from half way, beating players for fun, only to be brought down on the edge of the box. A long wait, before Gary Jones superbly drilled home the resultant free kick for his first goal in City colours. I love Gary Jones. He is proving to be such an inspired signing, leading the team by example and notably encouraging others at all times. His celebration in front of the Kop was a hairs-stand-up-on-back-of-neck moment of its own. Look at what it means to Jones. Look at what it means to his team mates. And – as you take in the scene of four sides of Valley Parade going crazy – look at what it means to us fans.
Incredibly we could easily have scored another goal with two late chances, but 3-1 was a fair reflection of the game. The final few moments were played out in comfort, with a lovely bit coming when the struggling McLaughlin was taken off for Matt Duke, and both goalkeepers had their name chanted by supporters (if we can call ‘DUUUKKKKEEEE!’ a chant).
A Tuesday evening kick off, living 18 miles away in Skipton, brings a need to dash back to the car at full time and beat the traffic. But as we quickly scurried down the Kop staircases on the final whistle, I found myself feeling regret and sadness for the only time of the night. It wasn’t just the fact I wanted to stay and clap every player off until they had left the field. I didn’t want this moment or this evening to come to an end.
I’m travelling to Oxford on Saturday, ready for the next chapter in this story; but right now I don’t want to look ahead. Looking ahead allows the opportunity for doubts to creep in (“hmmm, still not 100% sure about McArdle at right back”), for reason to take over (“it’s far too early to believe this is our year”) and the pain of those scars to tingle once more (take your pick for which scar to prod from the last few years).
Right now I don’t feel too fussed about whether City can get promoted this season, such talk is for another day. I don’t want to hear someone tell me that just because Hanson can’t stop banging them in we still need a new targetman, go and spoil your own fun.
I just want to enjoy this moment, for what it is and for what it represents. After years of frustration, right now I feel proud to be a Bradford City supporter and proud of my club. I hope that this feeling lasts for more than a moment, but for now I’m just grateful to have experienced it.
City: McLaughlin (Duke 88), McArdle, Oliver, Davies, Meredith, Hines (Atkinson 72), Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Reid, Hanson, Connell (Wells 68)
Not used: Darby, McHugh, Ravenhill, Thompson