Bradford City 1
Wycombe Wanderers 0
Tuesday 19 March, 2013
By Jason McKeown
Truth be told we all needed an evening like this. Not so much because of the win – although a first home victory since Boxing Day was certainly welcome – but because of the quiet, satisfied reflection that Garry Thompson’s seventh minute strike fostered around a bitterly cold Valley Parade.
It has been an emotional period, the Wembley aftermath. The adjustment back to the harsh reality of City falling behind the promotion pack has seemingly placed supporters on the brink of civil war. A low key victory will do little to change anyone’s mind on the big issues, but at least winning so comfortably enabled us to place such heated debates on hold for a couple of hours. Who knows, maybe even for a few days.
City were better by Wycombe by yards if not miles. Always looking more likely to stretch their early advantage than relinquish it. Scoring so early took some of the edge off the contest, but at least ensured there would be no need for frustration to grow or for boos to ring out. I cannot remember the last time a home league game attracted such few grumblings from supporters within my earshot. Equally, it’s been a while since a victory was cheered so reservedly.
It was just a quiet evening, really. Thompson’s early goal was the result of a Kyel Reid free kick that was flicked on at the back post by James Hanson, affording the former Morecambe man the space to fire a low shot that squirmed into the net via a deflection. The celebrations were curious, with Reid stood at the touchline arms outstretched and everyone racing up to hug him. A popular provider of a goal it seemed.
From there the contest was set up as one where City might have grabbed a second – Reid, Thompson and Hanson all going close in the first half, Thompson, Hanson, Gary Jones and Rory McArdle in the second – but left themselves open to the threat of an equaliser. Wycombe spurned two excellent second half chances, with headers that flew over the bar. But it would be hard to make a case for them deserving any more than the narrow defeat they ultimately fell to. Not the worst side to visit Valley Parade this season, but far from the best.
The balance of City looked its strongest in weeks, and it was evident the root cause of this. James Meredith’s return to action following three months’ illness saw him display no signs of rustiness or any lack of fitness. It was like Meredith had never been away, and his presence helped the erratic Reid produce his best display for weeks. Not perfect by any stretch, and the final ball is still not what it can be, but at least the left side of City was as effective as its right.
Ricky Ravenhill also made a big difference. Recalled to the starting line up after his own rest on Saturday, his disciplined role of sitting in front of the back four continues to enable Jones to play with added attacking freedom. Ravenhill is a strong passer who sets the tempo for City’s overall play, and it’s to be hoped the injury that caused him to leave the field with 20 minutes to go – following a fearless tackle – is not too serious.
The stars of the show came up front, however. Thompson continued his strong run of form and now looks every inch the effective striker he made early season claims to be. I enjoy his movement and running with and without the ball. His background as a wide player influences some of the positions he takes up in the final third, and provides space for Jones to run into. Thompson and Hanson – who bounced back from stinging criticism from his manager to lead the line superbly – are blossoming into a strong partnership.
With Andrew Davies and McArdle as excellent as ever at the back, and Stephen Darby and Zavon Hines maintaining recent high standards, only a failure to get the second goal left the victory in doubt going into the final stages. But although Wycombe toiled hard, their mid-season resurgence from the bottom of the league to mid-table has seemingly taken the edge off their desire. Losing 1-0 didn’t seem too heart-breaking to them.
All of which meant the evening’s biggest talking point was not the manager’s team selection or the underperformance of players, but us supporters. Just short of one month ago since around 33,000 of us waved claret and amber flags at Wembley, tonight’s official attendance of 8,047 was not just the lowest of the season, but the lowest league attendance since May 2007. The players and management deserve better than that, even if promotion hopes remain slim at best. One month on from being talk of the country and the hottest ticket in town, a sense of eeriness swirled around the stadium.
City have somehow become tomorrow’s fish and chip paper surprisingly fast.
If us fans have seemingly given up on the season, it seems unfair to expect the club to feel any different. Tonight’s win has narrowed the gap on the top seven, but with eight games to go it still seems highly unlikely we can make the final cut. I’ve personally felt it was over since walking out of Home Park a week ago, and in truth the sense of disappointment has quickly gone. I can accept another season in this division, as a trade off for all the wonderful memories this campaign has provided me. And I’m excited by the position of strength that we are in, going into the summer.
And that was the biggest positive watching tonight. The anxiety of win or bust gone, it was nice just to spend an evening in the company of a group of players who have given me so much. I must admit I’ve grown rather fond of them, learned to appreciate their qualities and accept their flaws. Unlike teams of recent seasons, I know that this squad will remain fresh in my mind for years to come.
Some will go this summer inevitably, some will see their place taken by new arrivals more effective than them. But for now, as this amazing season goes into the final stretch with promotion hopes all but over, I’m just grateful to experience an evening where all the recent frustrations and anger could be put to one side, and we could enjoy learning to love ourselves all over again.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Hines (Atkinson 73), Ravenhill (Doyle 73), Jones, Reid, Hanson, Thompson (Wells 87)
Not used: Duke, Nelson, Connell, McHugh