Oxford United 0
Bradford City 2
Davies 52, Wells 68
Saturday 22 September, 2012
By David Lawrence
City and Oxford have had a contrasting start to the season and a quick check of unofficial message boards confirmed this prior to the match. City fans were cautiously optimistic generally predicting a win but happy to take a draw. By contrast Oxford Yellows were more pessimistic after losing their last four league matches generally hoping for a win but fearing the worst. One in particularly downbeat ‘Kassamatemyhamster’ stating, “Bradford are scoring for fun at the moment and conceding very few. I’ll go for Oxford 0 Bradford 5, crowd of 5,500 (with 950 away fans)”.
However, these Yellows may have been down but they were not downhearted and seemed to be managing to keep their sense of humour, with ‘Thameox’ suggesting “this was the only way they were going to win.”
This theme of cordiality was extended to the pre-match pint in the excellently placed Priory pub, which is just at the back of the ground. It would be incorrect to say it was a lively atmosphere as the locals appeared somewhat ‘resigned’ in their discussions of the impending match. The real ale tent and warm sunshine could not raise the ambiance nor hide their nervousness. The City fans were enjoying both.
They did not, however, enjoy the entrance price to Oxford’s ground. £21.50 to watch fourth division football is beyond the pale. Maybe the powers that be don’t realise if you build a stadium well outside of the city, leave one end un-built thus exposing the ground to the elements, and charge exorbitant admission prices then you’ll get an half empty ground. Today was just the case with nearly four hundred city fans in a crowd of 6,032. The empty seats in the stadium combined with baking autumn sunshine threatened to give the game a pre-season friendly feeling.
Lenny the City Gent tried to enliven things by attacking The Faithful with a water rifle, but it was the team selections that got the City fans’ real interest. Two changes for the Bantams, both tactical, with Zavon Hines and Alan Connell giving way to Will Atkinson and Nahki Wells. Changes that Parkinson apparently said afterwards were designed to exploit the way the Yellow’s line up and the expansive pitch. A pitch that was in great condition and showing no signs of the vandalism donated by local rivals Swindon Town before last year’s game.
Nahki’s re-inclusion showed how much progress he has made in a just over a calendar year as he was not even on the bench in the same fixture in August last year. In fact only two players starting today, James Hanson and Luke Oliver, were in the XI last year, showing how much progress Phil Parkinson and the board have made in re-building the team.
In fact, it was a much more confident City side that began the game today, stroking the ball about, offering for the ball and playing neat little passes. The back line were particularly strong with Rory McArdle making a good challenge to snub out an early break and Jon McLaughlin coming off his line well to claim crosses. Andrew Davies and James Meredith were both on their game too, but it was Oliver who drew the first significant chant from The Faithful with two consecutive great tackles; a towering colossal.
At the other end, and for a change recently, Hanson was not quite having it all his own way. Indeed, his early tussles saw him lose out, which in turn meant there was little for the lively Wells to latch onto. Home keeper Ryan Clark tried to help out by misjudging Nahki’s pace and trying to get to a long ball from Meredith. Unfortunately, as with Connell’s ‘gift horse’ early-on against Barnet last Saturday, the Bermudan fluffed his lines. Sometimes you can have too much time. It encouraged the usual chant though.
“Nahki Wells, Nahki Wells, Nahki, Nahki Wells…”
Meanwhile, on the wings Atkinson was having an in and out game and Kyel Reid was being doubled up on by an Oxford team clearly set up in an endeavour to avoid another defeat. The City wingers swapped sides with not too much impact and, as the half hour mark passed, the heat began to take effect on the players. The game and crowd quietened down. So it stayed for much of the remainder of the half. It was beginning to look a bit ‘fourth division’ except for a great run by Reid who skinned his man and shot wide, when he should have scored. It was a touch of class in a game fading fast.
“Reid, Reid will tear you apart again. Reid, Reid will…”
Hanson was booked for catching Michael Raynes with an elbow, with the referee doing well not to give into the pleas from the Oxford players and fans for a red card. The result could have been all so different. He’d seen enough and blew up for half time to a smattering of applause from both sets of fans.
Strangely, the interval chatter amongst City fans included the previous night’s result at Blundell Park, where Ross Hannah had been loaned out to during the week. It had been a good night for him on his debut doing what he does, score. However, it was the other ex-player in yellow that was crossing the pitch at the start of the second half that caught every City fan’s attention; Luke O’Brien. City through and through, he rightly got the credit he deserves from The Faithful.
As with Tuesday night, City upped the tempo immediately from the beginning of the second half, the fulcrum of which being the central midfielders Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle. Not long had passed before City had forced a corner after a good effort from Reid had been pushed around the post by Clark. With such a capable set of headers in City’s team this year, any team looks vulnerable from set-pieces and so it proved. Jones swung the ball in and the magnificent Davies powered a header home. >400 shiny happy people.
“There’s only one Andrew Davies, one Andrew Davies…”
Yes, but now there was only one team on the pitch with the only midfield that counted. Each of them appeared to grow a couple of inches after the goal. Jones, well Jones is just immense; a Warrior. Alongside him Doyle is the sort of footballer we all dream to be; exquisite. Meanwhile, Atkinson was bounding around like a new-born foal that had just discovered abilities he never knew he had, and on the other wing Reid was assassinating defenders. Oxford’s midfield could do little to help, finding their counterparts as overwhelming and insurmountable as a pubescent schoolboy would find Katie Price’s breasts. Awesome.
“E-I-E-I-E-I-O, up the Football League we go…”
And it got better. Another corner, another goal. Jones The Great, again the supplier. This time McArdle nods the ball on and Nahki does what he does; score. Happy days in the sun, dismal days for some.
“Can you hear the Oxford sing? No, no.”
Even Jonny Mac was solid making a fantastic save from a Peter Leven free-kick special. Subs Hines and Garry Thompson came on to replace Nahki and Reid, to further probe the Oxford defence and extend the Yellows’ agony. We have a great view of home fans trundling back to their cars very early.
“Bye, bye, bye bye. Bye, bye, bye bye”.
Soon enough the match was over and, as the players came over to acknowledge the away fans, it was hard to single out a man of the match. City has a team of successful pairings who at present are playing as well as each other.
Sure Davies scored, but Oliver was as equally magnificent in his role. Meredith and McArdle were only a little behind them on performance and both had equally good moments. Surely then Jones, but what of the wonderful Doyle? Equally good. Hanson and Wells played well but have had better games. Atkinson is still finding his way, but continues to improve. Then it has to be Reid, for answering his critics by consistently skinning his markers, crossing well and not hitting the cars behind the goal when shooting!
No, it’s got to be Phil Parkinson for building a footballing team that can win away from home without over-committing.
“Parkinson’s Bradford army”.
City: McLaughlin, McArdle, Oliver, Davies, Meredith, Atkinson, Gary Jones, Doyle, Reid (Hines 82), Hanson, Wells (Thompson 70)
Not used: Duke, Darby, McHugh, Ravenhill, Connell