Bradford City 2
Reid 45, Hanson 47
Saturday 5 October, 2013
By Jason McKeown (images by Mike Holdsworth)
Kyel Reid’s 30-yard thunderbolt has changed everything. James Hanson’s cool low finish has torn up the script. League One, you’d better sit up and take notice. Bradford City stand in fourth place after a seriously impressive away victory at one of the division’s strongest home outfits. They are five points clear of seventh-placed MK Dons – meaning a play off place is occupied with something of a cushion.
This is not merely a great start to the season, it is a statement of intent. This is not a side here to make up the numbers, they are here to challenge for a second successive promotion. To date such lofty aspirations have been played down to the point it seems no one connected to the club dares suggest it could be possible. But great result is following great result. Superb performance is following superb performance. And we are running out of reasons to argue that it cannot last.
Not had any truly tough fixtures? Too much of a one-man team? Cross those two question marks out after today, as the Bantams defeated an excellent Walsall team without the services of hotshot Nahki Wells. The 4-4-1-1 of Mark Yeates in the hole was once again deployed. Although far from a perfect solution – the lack of support for James Hanson in the first half was a concern – the mixture of solidity and unpredictability that the formation offers makes for an effective weapon. Two weeks of Plan B, two goals each for Reid and Hanson.
Mark Yeates’ intelligent positioning and ability to weight a pass so accurately makes it absurd that he can’t usually get into the team. But his usual bench spot is testament to the high standards that City are maintaining, and the well-oiled machine built last season has not yet required the upgrade of his attributes, when everyone is fit. Nevertheless, it was great to see both Yeates and Reid on the field together and they linked up superbly, interchanging positions and making clever runs that each other could benefit from. Sure, get Wells back into the team as soon as possible and revert to 4-4-2, but long-term Yeates must have an increasingly influential role at this club.
Walsall’s 4-5-1 almost matched City’s system and did cause some issues early on, with Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle caught in-between acting as the catalyst to get their side on the front foot and protecting the back four. A gap between City’s defence and midfield was routinely found, as the home side knocked the ball around in commendable style, but gradually Jones and Doyle plugged that hole and Jon McLaughlin only had one save to make during the first 45.
In an end-to-end contest, the Bantams gave as good as they got. Reid and James Meredith were linking up in characteristically telepathic fashion, with Stephen Darby and Garry Thompson similarly causing problems on the opposite flank. Hanson led the line on his own in incredible fashion. He won everything in the air and kept hold of everything fed up to him. His close control and strength have improved so much over the previous 12 months, and on this form there cannot be many better targetmen in this division.
Reid fired a shot into the side netting, Andrew Davies almost headed home a deep cross, Thompson hit an effort wide of the post when he might have done better, and great determination by Hanson to keep the ball alive deserved more alertness from Yeates when the ball was crossed towards him. The football from both sides was excellent; all that City needed was to get the final pass right.
Or for someone to pick the ball up on the half way line, use their overlapping full back team-mate as a decoy whilst beating players for fun down the middle, and then lash the ball into top corner from outside the area. That is exactly what Reid achieved on the stroke of half time. A truly incredible goal that is unlikely to bettered this season. Meredith’s overlapping run – as Reid ran and ran – had us supporters screaming in unison for Reid to pass him the ball. But what do we know? Reid raced up to the away end to take the richly deserved acclaim.
Two minutes into the second half, Walsall were left with a mountain to climb as Hanson made it 2-0. Rory McArdle – preferred to Luke Oliver – directed a long ball towards Yeates, who flicked on for City’s number nine to run onto and finish confidently. Five goals for the season now for today’s man of the match. Where are all those people who have spent the last few years slating Hanson and dubbing him a non-league footballer? Hopefully writing their letters of apology.
To the Saddlers’ credit, they didn’t give up. A triple substitution on the hour gave them fresh impetus and – for a 15-minute spell – they dominated the match and knocked on the door repeatedly. Some wayward finishing from Paul Downing and Ashley Hemmings helped City’s cause, but at times we were hanging on and the lack of ball retention didn’t help. Make no mistake, Walsall played well today. They are a very good side for this level.
Which makes the calm, assured manner in which City eventually reassumed control of the match all the more commendable. Hanson might have been man of the match, but Jones ran him close with an authoritative and accomplished display full of determination and energy. Earlier in the season, I had my doubts about whether Jones was starting to look his age. I’m delighted to admit I was wrong. As one of my lot said prior to the match, Jones will still be playing for us at 50. He is built from something different to us mere mortals.
Caleb Folan and – finally, after sitting it out for so long – Jason Kennedy made their league debuts from the bench to help see City over the line. A packed out away end lapped it all up and never lulled from making a racket. The Walsall fans rank as the some of the quietest I have seen for years. Many slumped home long before the final whistle sounded, but City supporters stayed back for several minutes at the end applauding the players and coaching team off the field.
Which isn’t a unique occurrence, it’s become the norm. Yet it’s still worth noting and celebrating each and every time the team leave the pitch with rapturous applause ringing through their ears. We have waited years for an atmosphere around the club as good as this. We have waited years to climb this high on the football ladder and to still be looking upwards. Whatever protective glass ceiling we have attempted to place over our ambitions going into this season, it has just been smashed to pieces by Reid’s thunderbolt.
We can now surely allow ourselves to believe that a promotion push is on. This is happening, right in front of our disbelieving eyes.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Thompson, Doyle, Jones, Reid (De Vita 88), Yeates (Kennedy 77), Hanson (Folan 82)
Not used: Ripley, Oliver, McHugh, Connell