Bradford City 1
Swindon Town 1
Sunday 29 December, 2013
By Mahesh Johal (picture by Simone Pirastu)
In the 88th minute of what was potentially his last game in claret and amber, Bradford City were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area. Not too dissimilar in terms of position to the recent one against Leyton Orient, Nahki Wells would surely have bended the ball into the top corner and celebrated another match winning goal in front of his adoring Kop. And with goodbye looking inevitable as the transfer window opens on Wednesday, through this moment would leave Valley Parade solidifying his legendary status.
The script was written, but unfortunately this was no fairytale ending for Nahki Wells. Instead, a hamstring injury forced the talisman off in 28th minute and the Bermudian left the pitch not to the adoration of those in the ground, but instead to muted appreciation as we wondered whether this was goodbye. There was a sad feeling in the air that this could prove to be the last time we’ll see him wear our beloved colours.
The severity of the injury and the implications it may have on any possible transfer is yet unknown, however the latest rumours to reach Width of a Post’s ear are that QPR or Reading could be destinations for the Bermudian. If/when he does depart; he will leave a lasting legacy and has been a part of all things positive at the club in the last 18 months. It was no different today, as his deflected effort resulted in the corner that saw City score the game’s opening goal. In a replica of his effort against Preston, Rory McArdle rose highest to thump home Gary Jones’ excellent in swinging corner.
The lead was probably a deserved one, with Ricky Ravenhill epitomising a dogged Bantams performance. Replacing Nathan Doyle, he added impetus and grittiness to the side. Admittedly Ravenhill has his shortfalls; however his constant harrying and in-your-face-approach was much needed against decent opposition.
Quiet against Rotherham, City;s left flank was brilliant in attack at times today; with James Meredith and Kyel Reid winning the battle against their opposite numbers. The pair interlinked very well, but a final and definitive ball was missing from their work. City searched for a second goal, with Wells looking far more comfortable with James Hanson back in the side. Recovered from injury, Hanson battled valiantly against a tall and physical Swindon back four. In the opening minutes it was Hanson’s shot that appeared to hit Darren Ward’s hand in the area. Unfortunately for the frontman, referee Oliver Langford waved away his appeal.
Swindon had chances of their own, with Alex Pritchard looking extremely impressive. He hit several long distant efforts on target; but it was his composure and skill which really caught the eye. Pritchard buzzed around the pitch and was central to all things positive to Swindon. Nicky Ajose was also a handful, and at 0-0 his cross was nearly converted by Nathan Byrne. Thankfully for City, Stephen Darby – who else? – brilliantly intercepted a sure fire goal.
Ajose was then nearly on hand to take advantage of a McArdle mistake. Returning to the side to partner Carl McHugh at centre half, McArdle’s mistimed slide saw Ajose through on goal. Fortunately for the Northern Ireland international, the onrushing Jon McLaughlin was able to smother any opportunity. It was nice to see the return of the duo’s partnership and, whilst there were a couple of hairy moments, I for one felt safer with McHugh in place of Matthew Bates.
With the half in the balance, City were rocked by the injury to Wells. The striker attempted to run off his hamstring issue, but in the end was replaced by Mark Yeates. The Irishman was full of running, but lacked the little bit of quality to unlock the Swindon defence. If Wells is to go, Yeates may be the one in line for an extended run in the side and the opportunity to really show his worth.
Swindon pushed for the equaliser in the second half, with Pritchard starting to dictate proceedings more. The Spurs loanee was everywhere, with his dribbling skills and range of passing starting to make constant inroads in the City defence. It was only a matter of time before the resistance would break, and it was Pritchard who scored a fantastic solo effort to equalise. Picking the ball near the half way line, Pritchard took on three defenders before mazing his way into the box to score. City may be guilty of backing off too much, but the visitors deserved to be level.
Unfortunately our own number 11 struggled to have the same impact. Garry Thompson was replaced just after the hour by Ollie McBurnie. After a tough introduction to professional football against Rotherham, McBurnie started his cameo very well with a delightful cross that just missed the on rushing Hanson. After seeing McBurine in his other previous appearances, today was his most promising.
It is hard to judge a player with less than a 100 league minutes under his belt; however he looks a neat player who seems technically accomplished. It may be the hair, but his technique reminds me a bit of Alan Connell (who incidentally was not even in the squad today). Time will tell how good a player he McBurnie is, but today was a positive performance from the youngster.
Both teams looked for the winner, with replacement Nathan Doyle having a 20-yard volley tipped round the post. It was Doyle who then won that late free kick which screamed for Wells. Yeates had the responsibility, but his attempt sailed wide. A subdued Valley Parade tried to rally the troops; however their attention was focused more on the frustrating and inconsistent performance of referee Langford.
In the end, Swindon had near chances to snatch the three points, but McLaughlin was able to repel all attempts. The game finished in a positive draw for the Bantams, and now we prepare for a huge month both on and off the pitch.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Meredith, Thompson (McBurnie 71), Jones, Ravenhill (Doyle 71), Reid, Wells (Yeates 28), Hanson
Not used: Ripley, Kennedy, Bates, Clarkson