Bradford City 1
Dagenham & Redbridge 1
Tuesday 27 February, 2013
By Damien Wilkinson
For what now seems an age following the euphoric victory at Villa Park in January, which secured the historic Wembley final, the subsequent fixture at home to Dagenham & Redbridge, always had a potentially strange feel to it. Despite being moved from the usual Tuesday night slot to the following evening to allow Wembley-weary legs extra time to recover, there were the usual doubts that traditionally accompany a City ‘after the Lord Mayor’s parade’ scenario, at least before Sunday’s match.
Had we won the cup then a subsequent home defeat in front of a massive crowd would no doubt have been a foregone conclusion; but in the cold light of day following a resounding defeat, and priorities now re-focused on the league, would City be able to quickly re-adjust to the rigours of League Two, and rapidly re-energise a fading promotion surge?
The answer was a resounding no and, yet again, City have followed up a cup match with the absence of a victory and a far from convincing performance.
Phil Parkinson, as expected, made a number of changes from his Wembley line up. Matt Duke, serving his one match ban following his Wembley red card, was replaced by Jon McLaughlin, and there were a number of further unenforced changes. It was all change at the back with Andrew Davies and Michael Nelson slotting into the centre, and Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby playing musical chairs with the right back and left back positions.
Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid replaced Garry Thompson and Will Atkinson on the wings, with Thompson moving to centre forward to partner Andy Gray; changes which left Nahki Wells and James Hanson on the bench. Despite the restructuring the formation still looked like an attacking line up, particularly with the pace available down the flanks.
Dagenham, arrived on the back of a mixed recent run of three wins, one draw and six losses in their matches this year, which has left them sitting in 16th position in the table and three points below City (albeit having played 3 matches more). The Daggers, however, had been rocked by the departure on the previous day of the league’s longest serving manager and City nemesis, John Still, who, having been with the club in his second spell since 2004, had left to take up the reins at non-league Luton.
The Valley Parade crowd was buoyed by a sense of post-Wembley pride and Parkinson’s rhetoric that, with almost a third of the season left, City now had 15 cup finals to seize promotion. Following the club’s request to try and re-create the Wembley party atmosphere, many fans in the crowd of 10,006, brought their Wembley flags, banners and scarves to proudly wave. The attendance was somewhat lower than might have been hoped for, although the visitors only brought 58 fans of their own.
As the City players made their entrance on to the pitch, the visitors admirably formed a guard of honour in recognition of City’s cup exploits and there was a noticeable increase in the levels of noise and atmosphere, which impressively kept going for a substantial portion of the match, and furthermore at key times when the team needed lifting.
Given this, surely the Daggers were simply cannon fodder for a resurgent Bantams side, who, now backed with the goodwill of the footballing world, would sweep them aside, exorcise the demons of Sunday, and get the promotion charge well and truly back in the groove.
Of course not. As we have seen countless times over the years, such logic never prevails with City, and the atmosphere and opportunity to impress their new boss seemed to galvanise the visitors to a greater degree.
The match began with City attacking the Kop end, and the opening exchanges were fairly well matched. Dagenham showed no shortage of desire, commitment, and looked well organised and solid. Both sides knocked the ball around without carving out any significant opportunities, a half chance for McArdle being an early effort, which went over the bar.
The rest of the half saw a decent chance for Dagenham, a shot from Medy Elito, which McLaughlin was able to tip away, and City seemed to improve slightly as the game approached half time with Garry Thompson, and to a lesser extent, Andy Gray, beginning to see more of the ball and make better use of their possession. This also coincided with Zavon Hines exerting himself more on the game and he made several positive runs and crosses, and looked the most likely player to make something happen.
On the other flank, Kyel Reid struggled and had a largely forgettable half, which continued into the second half. He unfortunately seemed well off the pace, reluctant/hesitant to go past his man and nothing seemed to come off for him, with a constant shifting back to his favoured foot to make crosses, which slowed things down.
After the Wembley masterclass, whilst it was quite sobering to return to the sliced clearances, misplaced passes, hoof ball and agricultural challenges of League Two opposition. City were not able to raise their own game to capitalise on this, and perform to previous levels witnessed.
Going in 0-0 at half time was certainly a fair reflection of the half, but it was hoped City could up things and go on a secure a much needed victory. However, the Daggers had other ideas, and three minutes into the second half, hesitation between Darby and Reid resulted in Reid making a clumsy challenge in the box which sent Luke Wilkinson tumbling. Referee Chris Sarginson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, leaving McLaughlin facing his second penalty kick in the space of a few days. Thankfully the outcome was different and Sam Williams woefully screwed his effort wide of the target.
This was clearly a let off for City, and it did provoke a reaction and a subsequent spell of pressure. However there was no real conviction in the final third, or cutting edge, although a string of corners on 65 minutes did result in the ball being knocked onto the crossbar, just as expected substitutions, James Hanson and Nahki Wells, were about to be introduced. Thompson and Gray, who again didn’t seem to make the most of a starting place, soon made way for them on 67 minutes.
Dagenham had continued to threaten in spurts however, and went ahead two minutes later, when, after being able to thwart a number of attempted City clearances out of defence, largely through their desire to be first to the ball, the ball fell kindly to Luke Howell, who made no mistake firing home.
City responded with more domination of play but, despite a number of chances, were unable to convert these into goals. Hines continued to be City’s main attacking outlet and Gary Jones also helped drive the team forward with a number of bursts from midfield.
A further substitution was made on 78 minutes, Alan Connell joining the action and replacing Darby, and furthermore City’s attack was bolstered by Andrew Davies pushing forward, as Nathan Doyle dropped back to hold the centre of defence. Again a few chances came and went and it was increasingly beginning to look like another tale of woe.
As the clock wound down, City didn’t give up though, and finally a cross from Hines was helped on by Wells into the path of Hanson, who was presented with an easy tap in at the far post on 86 minutes to level the scores. Despite some further City attacks, including an Abu Ogogo goal line clearance from Wells, Dagenham saw out the bulk of the four minutes of injury time in the City half.
This left the team to face a smattering of boos at the final whistle largely from yet another frustrating game, which prolongs City’s failure to win a home league match this year. Dagenham also remain unbeaten at Valley Parade.
The result leaves City in 12th, and Saturday’s local derby fixture at York now offers the latest opportunity of redemption to kick start the faltering promotion push. York themselves are on the back of patchy form and it will be a match that City will definitely need to target a return of three points from.
Clearly, the next few matches will be pivotal to the remainder of the season. And City need to somehow discover the league form consistency that has eluded them over the past few months. With no cup distractions from interviews, suit fittings, cup final songs and so on, some further re-runs of Phil Parkinson’s Churchillian speech may be required if the suits are to be used again in May.
Keep the flags flying…
City: McLaughlin, McArdle, Nelson, Davies, Darby (Connell 78), Reid, Jones, Doyle, Hines, Gray (Hanson 66), Thompson (Wells 66)
Not used: Bentley, McHugh, Ravenhill, Atkinson