Bradford City 2
Knott 84, Hanson 86
Leeds United 1
Wednesday 27 August, 2014
By Jason McKeown
What a night to be a Bradford City supporter. A long overdue victory over our biggest rivals; achieved in the most incredible, hedonistic fashion. It will be talked about for years and years to come. A night that no one of a claret and amber persuasion will ever forget.
This might be a Leeds United team in disarray. They might be a shadow of the club they once were. And, of course, the visitors were a man short for over an hour. But it is still a major scalp for City and a hugely commendable achievement – one that the players deserve all the praise in the world for accomplishing. Their names will now go down in history for being the first Bradford City side in 28 years to defeat their nearest neighbours.
And what a way to win the match. When Leeds United’s impressive Matt Smith headed his team into a late, late lead it looked set to be another Bradford City hard luck story in this irregular derby fixture. But then Billy Knott – the game’s man of the match – struck a stunning half volley into the top corner. And then, just four minutes after Leeds had gone in front, James Hanson’s diving header from Gary Liddle’s cross completed the turnaround and sparked unbridled delirium. Scenes of home celebration that will go down in folklore.
The uncomfortably nasty side of some Leeds fans then came to the fore, as chairs were ripped up and scuffles took place in Midland Road’s B block. The sight of a disabled supporter in a wheelchair having to rush onto the pitch for protection should shame every Leeds United supporter who was involved. They were disgraceful scenes, which held up the match by more than five minutes. There would have been no justice had their team equalised in the nine minutes of stoppage time that a small section of Leeds fans had added to.
Leeds fans often parade their indifference over this local rivalry like a badge of honour; they are above loathing us back and all that. But their own scenes of wild celebration, when they took the lead, betrayed any lack of interest. For many reasons beyond the fact it was those noisy Bradford neighbours who inflicted their exit from the competition, this defeat clearly hurt them and it remains to be seen what it will do to manager David Hockaday’s increasingly loose grip on his job.
And Leeds’ brief spell in front was a plot twist that only added to the ecstasy of City’s two late goals. Make no mistake, the Bantams had to earn this victory. A man down, Leeds dug in admirably and there can be no doubting the commitment of the players towards their beleaguered manager. Increasingly as the match wore on, the home side dominated proceedings but by no means did Leeds fold. An early miss by Stephen Warnock following a strong Leeds start aside, City were clearly the better side, but their opponents carried a threat throughout.
It might have been different had Luke Murphy not inexplicably lost his head in the derby atmosphere, deservedly earning his marching orders after collecting two bookings. The former Crewe man probably should have been red-carded on five minutes after a shocking challenge on Liddle. But after escaping with only a booking, it defied belief to see him haul down James Meredith with barely half an hour on the clock.
With the man advantage, City belatedly found their passing rhythm and upped the tempo. Knott revelled in the extra freedom and ran the show, popping up all over the park – he was behind all that was good from the Bantams. What an astute signing he looks to be, and although playing in a different position there is more than a touch of Robbie Blake about his play. It will be very interesting to see how his City career takes shape. He is jewel in Phil Parkinson’s midfield diamond. A player to build your team around.
Billy Clarke too was outstanding, especially in the second half, whilst Liddle and Jason Kennedy both put in heroic shifts. Kennedy had City’s best chance of the first half with a volley from an impossible angle that flew just short of the near post. Just after half time, he missed a gilt-edged chance when a side foot stab at goal from just inside the six-yard box bounced wide. Clarke too was heavily involved in the chances City created, forcing a stunning save from an otherwise hesitant Leeds keeper, Stuart Taylor. His close control and vision are valuable assets for his side, and he can really flourish at Valley Parade playing in the hole behind the strikers.
City had plenty of possession but at times struggled to create much. Meredith’s confidence continues to look low when judged against his performances of a year ago, but he and fellow full back Stephen Darby offered useful attacking support throughout. Aaron Mclean, looking half-fit, toiled hard. He was later replaced with Oli McBurnie, and the teenage striker impressed greatly leading the line and causing havoc.
In the closing stages City were building up a head of steam. Lots of corners and crosses that came to nothing; yet a growing feeling that, through persistence, a big chance was coming. But an injury to Kennedy stopped the game for too long and halted his team’s momentum. Then Liddle switched off, David Norris came forward with the ball and crossed for Smith to seemingly win it.
But as Parkinson observed after the final whistle, his team doesn’t know when it is beaten. The never-say-die culture of the club that the manager so impressively instilled two years ago remains, despite the departures of Gary Jones and co. The crowd kept roaring them on, and within two minutes Knott had equalised in memorable fashion. The former Sunderland man adding to his stunning first goal for the club, against Crawley, eight days earlier. Boring tap-ins are not his thing it seems.
Extra time beckoned, but then Hanson wrote another chapter in his own extraordinary tale with the late winner. Add this stunning personal moment to James’ goals against Aston Villa, Burton Albion and Northampton in 2012/13. He is one goal away from breaking into the club’s top 10 all time goalscorers.
And what more can you say about Hanson? What an incredible piece of business by Stuart McCall, bringing him in from Guiseley, five years ago. What a meteoric rise. What an inspiration. I know that we have had more naturally talented strikers over the years, but none that I have seen have meant more to me than Hanson does. For so many reasons he has become my favourite striker of all time. I feel privileged to have watched his City career.
Where are all those people who doubted him two or three years ago? Who barracked him endlessly? Where are your now with your apologises? How stupid do you feel? I’m proud to have been one of many City supporters who stood by the big man during difficult times. I’m proud to watch him enjoy moments like this.
The cup draw has handed City an unglamorous tie at MK Dons in round three, but who cares? Who can ask for more than nights like this? To be part of such a positive, vocal crowd that backed the players to the hilt. To jump up and down on top of people I am proud to call friends in celebration of Hanson’s winner. To witness a sea of happy faces around a stadium that – too often – has been filled with doom and gloom. To enjoy the players rushing over to the Kop at full time so they can take in the warm glow of pride that they had just instilled into 15,000, forever grateful home fans.
For all the disappointments we endure watching City over the years, it is nights like this that truly make it all worthwhile.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith, Liddle, Kennedy, Knott (Dolan 90), Kennedy, Clarke, Mclean (McBurnie 70), Hanson
Not used: Urwin, Routis, Morais, Yeates, Shariff