Bradford City 3
Wells 2, Hanson 64 + 84
Crewe Alexandra 0
26 December, 2011
If it still remains largely impossible to gauge what Bradford City are capable of this season, at the very least the bar should now be raised beyond merely avoiding relegation.
Back-to-back wins for the first time this campaign have helped the Bantams overtake other strugglers and establish a five-point cushion over the bottom two, but the manner of the victories has been the greatest contributor to the lifting of the general mood. Beating the early season pace setters, Southend, on their own patch was one thing, but the ease at which Crewe were swept aside at Valley Parade on Monday afternoon suggests City should soon start looking upwards instead of over their shoulders.
Retaining the club’s Football League status will remain the number one priority during the second half of the season, but on this evidence that battle should be more easily won than as to leave us supporters biting our nails when May approaches.
Luck played its part in beating Crewe for sure. Less than 90 seconds into the game, Crewe defender David Artell’s attempt to clear inside his own penalty area saw the ball hit an unknowing Nahki Wells, loop over visiting keeper Steve Phillips and dip under the crossbar for 1-0. 10 minutes into the second half, Crewe wasted the opportunity to equalise when Lee Bell’s penalty attempt crashed against the bar. Yet there was no disputing which side deserved the three points, or that the cause of that first bit of luck was also the chief reason for this one-sided match.
All afternoon long, City’s players chased and harried their opponents at a level not witnessed at Valley Parade for sometime. They forced and then controlled the tempo, making sure that every time Crewe had the ball there was a claret and amber shirt closing in to limit their time and space. You soon lost count of the number of times a Crewe player hastily sent the ball out of play or lost possession to a home player, such was the level of pressure they were placed under all afternoon.
Wells’ goal might have been a fluke, but the way the Bermudan international had closed down Artell to trigger it was an early reward for his side’s incredible work rate.
Crewe – going well under new manager Steve Davis – were unrecognisable from the side who destroyed the Bantams home and away last season. From the impressive pass and move football that arguably made them the division’s best team 12 months ago, long ball kick and rush tactics were more prevalent and proved meat and drink to City’s towering backline. Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies were again immense in the centre. Jon McLaughlin recovered from an early misjudgement to comfortably deal with Crewe’s sporadic attacks. Most of the action came at the other end.
Wells could have enjoyed a hat trick before half time, but saw several goal attempts go narrowly wide or be saved by Phillips. Kyel Reid perhaps should have scored when breaking clear on the counter attack, but with defenders rushing back to limit his space he at least helped to find James Hanson, who fired a low shot that hit the post. Ritchie Jones – back in the starting line up, with Michael Flynn spending Christmas in hospital due to illness – couldn’t quite stretch far enough to tap home Hanson’s low cross. The half time standing ovation was well deserved.
For a short period in the second half it looked as though it was going to go wrong for the home side. First the on-song Reid pulled his hamstring during some particularly attractive team build up play and departed on a stretcher, then three minutes later Alex winger Nick Powell went on a superb solo run down the flank which only came to an end after he theatrically fell over inside the area to win a penalty. City’s protests that Powell dived seemed valid and carried on for a good few minutes, after which Bell found only the cross bar from six yards and Davies cleared the loose ball.
An equaliser would have been unjust, and soon after the win was virtually sealed by a superb Hanson half volley from an angle following a scramble in the box. Hanson got his second and eighth of the season six minutes from time, with a well-placed low shot from Oliver’s knock down. A further couple of home goals would not have flattered City.
Hanson’s revitalisation arguably reflects his team. Go back to October and early November, and the former Guiseley striker looked as though he was starting to believe the over-the-top criticisms he was receiving from the stands. He has responded to the club’s attempts to sign Paul Benson a month ago with a series of outstanding performances, which have earned repeated praise from his manager. Reflecting on the victory after the final whistle, Phil Parkinson revealed on Christmas Eve he had asked Hanson why he thought he was playing better recently. “Because he was working hard” was apparently Hanson’s response. “He also said that he wasn’t worried to make mistakes as well.”
Those views sum up the way the whole side approached this game. This was not a perfect display and individual errors – chiefly misdirecting passes – were numerous. Yet no one allowed themselves to let it affect their next attempt, and we City fans responded to collective endeavour by not getting on players’ backs when moves broke down. Overrunning their opponents in how hard they worked, the individual quality of every player was thus allowed to shine through.
First and foremost, however, this was a victory achieved through a team ethic and from partnerships working effectively. Aside from the towering Oliver and Davies, Ricky Ravenhill was much improved in the deep central midfield role – which perfectly complimented the all action style of Jones alongside him. Full backs Simon Ramsden and Marcel Seip linked up well with their respective widemen, Craig Fagan and Reid. Jack Compton carried on where Reid left off with a solid display.
Up front saw perhaps the most notably improved partnership though. Hanson and Wells are developing a strong understanding and the duo were simply outstanding in causing Crewe’s defence problems. Hanson won everything, while Wells read his flick ons and made clever runs into space. A classic little and large partnership that – if they can maintain such high standards for the next couple of games – could yet persuade Parkinson that he doesn’t need to blow a six-figure sum buying another striker. Three goals between them today; and on this form they will score plenty more.
Fourth-placed Shrewsbury will offer a much stronger test on Saturday, but after this season-best league display there is suddenly a lot less to fear. The late introduction of David Syers from the bench – injured and badly missed since August – capped off a superb day for City. And his availability for the rest of the campaign only adds to a growing feeling that the club’s difficulties during the first half of the season might have been successfully resolved by Parkinson and that – finally – something more special is beginning to come together.
City: McLaughlin, Ramsden, Oliver, Davies, Seip, Fagan, Ravenhill, Jones (Syers 90), Reid (Compton 53), Hanson, Wells (Stewart 75).
Subs not used: Duke, Threlfall
Categories: Match Reviews