Cheltenham Town 0
Bradford City 0
Saturday 27 April, 2013
By David Lawrence
The atmosphere in the Parklands social club near the ground was terrific. Well it had to be. It was full of ‘the Faithful’ who were relaxed in the knowledge that nothing much today could bother them. Not even some of the strange fancy dress.
Of course plenty had expected this game to be more serious and count for something when they raced to snap up the ticket allocation during City’s excellent end of season form. However, that run combined with Exeter’s fall from grace since The Bantams made them look good at St James Park meant the game was significant only in whom we would take on in the play offs, and who Phil Parkinson would select or rest for this dead rubber.
To his credit Parkinson erred away from selecting youngsters such as Scott Brown and went with many players that could be considered starters for next week’s adventures. That said, he did make eight changes from the last match, giving Kyel Reid the day off while resting to the bench the likes of James Meredith, Nahki Wells, James Hanson and Gary Jones. A very strong bench, but still the team on the field had a strong look to it, demonstrating the progress that City have made under the manager’s tutelage.
If being in the play offs is not enough to convince some, possibly including Mark Lawn, that Parkinson has more than ‘done alright’, comparing the team put out in the final game last year to this should convince: Jon McLaughlin, Simon Ramsden, Luke Oliver, James Hanson, Ricky Ravenhill, Nahki Wells, David Syers, Rob Kozluk, Will Atkinson, Kyel Reid, Andrew Davies. More to the point consider the bench that day against Swindon: Deane Smalley, Jamie Annerson, Adam Baker, Lee Bullock, Forrayah Bass. ‘Soft’. Back then we were just about relaxing from the mumbled worries of relegation. Now we are ready to cheer our team on and on in this history making season.
The merriment was none more so than in the young band of fancy-dressed fans accompanied by an excellent drummer. It has to be said that they were superb throughout the game, setting a great tone in the City end. They were an exemplar of good support; vocal, good natured and nigh on constant. No wonder they were dressed as super heroes.
The other heroes who were in the now familiar gold kit lined up 4-4-2 with a strong back line led by Andrew Davies, a midfield engine room of Nathan Doyle and the recently excellent Ricky Ravenhill, and an ‘interesting’ front two of Alan Connell and Andy Gray. The pace was supplied by Zavon Hines with Will Atkinson sitting deeper on his flank to support Carl McHugh in his efforts to thwart the usual threat of Jermaine McGlashan. Other Cheltenham threats came from the free kicks of Marlon Pack and the youngster Byron Harrison, who looks to have a good future in the game. Benching today, presumable not quite fit, was City target Paul Benson.
And they could have done with him, because whilst you may not have guessed it from the way they started, Cheltenham had something to play for; an outside chance of automatic promotion. Perhaps it was nerves or more likely the fact they could not cope with the now familiar pressing game that City employ.
The first exchanges, particularly in midfield went to City. However, Cheltenham nearly scored when Hines gave away a free kick after tangling with the lively Sido Jombati on the edge of the box. From the resultant cross Davies was guilty of underestimating the flight of the ball and the long serving ‘Robin’ Steve Elliot headed just wide of the post.
Cheltenham began to get their act together. Even their fans sang one, or was it two?, songs. Jombati went close after cutting inside, and Pack forced a functional save out of Duke. Apart from Hines giving away free kicks in his desire to help out, the City defence did well. McHugh was nullifying the quieter than usual McGlashan; dependable Darby was, and Davies and Nelson dealt with the aerial threat well. Unfortunately, the latter’s distribution of the ball out of defence let him down, but all in all City were reasonable comfortable in defence.
The Bantams’ attacking play was less so, if not even a bit awkward. Connell tried his usual clever flicks to some or other effect and Gray ran around. To be fair both of these players were in effect ‘taking one for the team’ with neither playing the role or being supported the way they would prefer. If Gray or Connell had scored a hat-trick today it is questionable whether they would be in the starting eleven come Thursday.
The statement that Doyle was our most attacking player in the first half with a blocked free kick and one that flew over sums things up. Unfortunately, of note, Davies got booked for a strong tackle when he looked like he’d got the ball first. The linesman, who was some twenty-five yards away, didn’t think so was and was supported by ref Andy D’Urso who was only yards away. Yellow card. But the drummer was still beating away and the City fans were in good voice. The half time whistle almost went un-noticed.
Only the weather changed at half-time as the cold front arrived and heavy rain clouds threatened. City started the second half brightly, with Hines causing problems for Robin’s star keeper Scott Brown. After around 10 minutes Michael Hector went down after a strong but fair tackle. Again D’Urso gave a soft free kick – well he would wouldn’t he? City fans were enraged but reacted positively with a chorus of ‘Take me home, Midland road’ which lasted some fifteen minutes. Brilliant support.
The game was less than brilliant, especially the second half. City though were coasting. It seemed the news that Rotherham were winning the automatic promotion place had spread through the home support, killing any emotion from the Cheltenham fans and it was affecting their team. City being City, they gave them hope by having Davies sent off for a second bookable offence for bringing down McGlashan far from the goal. He didn’t need to do it and is now out for the first leg. The incident may add to the debate – eloquently argued by Alex Scott – about his value to Bradford City.
He wasn’t missed today, as Doyle moved into his position and the unlucky Connell trudged off. Cheltenham livened up through McGlashan, and brought on Benson, Sam Deering and Shaun Harrod for the last 20. Pack headed against the post, but City saw out the game and then came over to applaud the 1,495 City fans that had sung their hearts out and been magnificent.
10 times that many on Thursday against Burton Albion will make a heck of a noise. Enjoy.
City: Duke, Darby, Davies, Nelson, McHugh, Hines, Ravenhill, Doyle, Atkinson, Connell (McArdle 62), Gray (Thompson 78)
Not used: McLaughlin, Meredith, Jones. Hanson, Wells