Bristol City 2
Wagstaff 11, Emmanuel-Thomas 58
Bradford City 2
Wells 33, McArdle 79
Saturday 3 August, 2013
Words and images by Jason McKeown
For a time today, it seemed as though every worst fear held about Bradford City’s ability to compete in League One was coming to fruition. Bristol City were 1-0 up, the Bantams were being torn to shreds and the players that were promoted from League Two last season looked worryingly out of their depth. But it all changed in an instant, when Frank Fielding had a rush of blood to the head and James Hanson and Nahki Wells displayed superb composure to equalise. A gift of a goal that inspired those previously slumped shoulders to stand tall. A gift of a goal which led to a performance so impressive that those worst fears were washed away during a second half Bristol downpour.
Bradford City have shown that they can hold their own in this higher division.
That they belong here.
It was remarkable to see the players grow in stature and confidence so visibly over just 90 minutes. A promising start, which saw the post rattled twice in the space of minute, was followed by falling behind just 11 minutes into the new season, when a loose ball could have been cleared but wasn’t and Scott Wagstaff – a target for Phil Parkinson during the summer – drove home impressively. With the outstanding Jay Emmanuel-Thomas causing all manner of problems, not least because of his free role leaving Andrew Davies with a difficult conundrum over how to defend against him, Bristol City were rampant.
And the apparent brutal exposure of Bradford City’s ordinariness was a harsh reality. Rory McArdle was given a tough afternoon by the clever running of Sam Baldock, whilst Gary Jones once again looked worryingly pedestrian compared to his incredibly high standards of last season. When the Bantams had possession it was knocked long in panic rather than passed short calmly. Although Mark Yeates showed some good touches and clever passing, he was far too isolated.
That Wells goal, completely against the run of play, already feels like it will be remembered as one of the most important of the season. Fielding’s rush of blood was to come charging out in a failed attempt to intercept a through ball aimed at Hanson when the Bantams striker had two defenders for company and was not even in the Bristol box. Hanson got to the ball first and took it out wide with Fielding chasing him, before showing superb composure to chip a perfect pass for Wells in the centre. After what seemed an age and with a defender on the line to beat, Wells put the ball in the net and Bradford City never looked back.
The belief that the goal provided ran through the veins of everyone wearing those curiously blue-fade-to-white shirts. Stephen Darby and James Meredith began to get forward with menace; Hanson and Wells sparked terror in the eyes of the home defenders; Nathan Doyle was pulling the strings sitting deep and playing like an American Football Quarter Back in the way he pinged passes in different directions.
During the interval we purred with satisfaction, although anticipating a second half onslaught from the home side. It didn’t materialise, but what did was a remarkable 15-minute spell during which Bradford City had them stumbling on the canvas; the Robins trying to avoid a knockout blow. Without creating any clear cut chances, the ball was passed around with a zip and freshness that had red shirts chasing shadows. There was a real quality about the visitors’ play which offers so much hope for the battles ahead. If we can keep playing like this, we will be a real threat at this level.
Alas, Bristol City re-took the lead when a Bantams move broke down and Baldock was able to break with pace. He played the ball to Emmanuel-Thomas, who steadied himself before finishing with ease. A travesty of justice that might have once more prompted self-doubt and a retreat into our shells, but this time there was a greater resilience and belief.
Although the game became more even than it had been, Bradford City continued to press and Wells went close twice. His pace caused no end of problems and the deep level of understanding he and Hanson share continues to be a devastating weapon. Hanson is such a key aspect to Wells’ rise and rise and the way that the big number nine instantly adapted to a higher level today suggests he too could end up in the shop window. When a flick on towards Wells went in the wrong direction, Hanson raced after the defender before sliding in and winning a corner for his team. Such work rate is nothing new but it was heart-warming to see it go rewarded by roars of approval from a packed away end.
Parkinson injected fresh legs on either wing with the introduction of Kyel Reid for Yeates and Rafael De Vita for Garry Thompson. The Italian in particular shone with his trickery, although Reid also whipped in a couple of decent crosses that were defended well by the towering Aiden Flint.
Just as the spectre of an opening day defeat began to grow, Bradford City got a deserved equaliser. A corner won by Reid was swung across by De Vita, and there was McArdle making a trademark near post run to score a goal that will have its own place in Bantams’ history, albeit not as prominently as the ones against Aston Villa and Northampton last season. It was a fitting goalscorer too, given McArdle’s struggles in the first half and vast improvement in the second mirrored his team’s fortunes. In the end, he and Davies were superb.
The celebrations for McArdle’s equaliser were immense both on and off the field. If Wells’ first half goal was the moment that Bradford City announced themselves as a capable League One side, McArdle’s header may have underlined our potential to become a League One force.
Both sides had chances to win it in the closing stages. Wells shooting over and De Vita scuffing a presentable half volley opportunity wide at one end, Jon McLaughlin making a fine block from Greg Cunningham at the other. A draw was a fair result and the visiting players and management received a great reception from us supporters as they walked over at full time.
I honestly can’t remember the last time a draw felt so satisfying. A point earned and so many points made. After getting over that dodgy 25-minute spell in the first half, the quality of some of the football from Bradford City today was hugely uplifting. We competed with a club that was last season two divisions above us – and we competed well. No one should get carried away by one afternoon. But we are at the beginnings of a season where we truthfully don’t really know what to expect, and have ended the first match with the high standards of last season reassuringly still very much in place.
It looks good, it feels good; and I’m very confident that the players and management can build upon this fantastic start and quickly find their feet at this level.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Thompson (De Vita 66), Doyle, Jones, Yeates (Reid 66), Hanson, Wells
Not used: Ripley, Kennedy, Taylor, McHugh, Connell