A special kind of appreciation as Bradford City exit FA Cup

Watford 4

Deeney 3, Sordell 40, Forsyth 56+59

Bradford City 2

Hanson 8, Wells 88

Saturday 7 January, 2012

Amongst the range of new chants aired by a bustling away following at Vicarage Road on Saturday, it was the one sung to the players upon their exit from the FA Cup which proved the most striking.

“We’re proud of you” were the words that echoed from the back of the stand and towards the group of players that Phil Parkinson was leading over to applaud the Bradford City supporters. Not the catchiest of songs perhaps, but a significant statement of appreciation for what had occurred over the 90 minutes – and over the last few weeks.

Proud indeed. This might have been a second defeat in five days, but the fearless manner in which City approached the challenge of bridging the gap between two divisions was hugely impressive. After Troy Deeney was left unmarked to head Championship side Watford 1-0 up inside three minutes,  a long afternoon appeared to lie in store. But City recovered strongly and pushed their higher league rivals hard.

All of which occurred in front of a loud and uplifting soundtrack of positive City support. Just over 1,200 of us had ventured to Watford – a superb effort considering the distance and relative lack of glamour this tie offered. Right from kick off the noise was outstanding and chants old, recent and brand new reverberated around a reasonably full stadium.

When, five minutes after Watford had scored, James Hanson was on hand to slam a loose ball into the roof of the net to equalise, the roars of approval and wild cheering amongst us fans directly behind the goal were emotive and memorable. Friends hugged friends, strangers jumped on top of strangers. The players followed Hanson in racing to the front of the stand to share in the moment. One team, both on and off the pitch.

For the majority of the rest of the first half, the prospects of going on to cause a cup shock or at least force a replay seemed reasonable. Sure, Watford enjoyed the greater territorial advantage and took control of midfield. City were forced to defend for long periods and at times struggled to clear their lines. Jon McLaughlin had a couple of shaky moments, but generally recovered well from a difficult game at Rotherham to make four decent first half saves.

Perhaps if the Bantams could have made it to half time still level, it would have been a different story. Instead the highly impressive Marvin Sordell received possession on the edge of the box and was allowed too much freedom to dribble through and fire low past McLaughlin. You could feel the confidence and morale begin to wane for the first time all afternoon.

It seems unfair to be too critical of a performance which was good enough to run a Championship club fairly close, but the reasons for defeat began and ended in midfield. Watford’s clear strategy of targeting the wings and running at full backs Marcel Seip and Robbie Threlfall demanded wide players Craig Fagan and Charlie Taylor track back and defend. Both were limited in how effective they were when City didn’t have possession, meaning too many home crosses were fired into the box.

Perhaps also – in view of the higher quality in Watford’s ranks – matching their 4-4-2 formation left City too exposed. Once Ricky Ravenhill picked up a yellow card for a late tackle after 35 minutes – thus restricting his game from that point on – the battle in the centre of the park became even more difficult to win. There is an argument to make that a 4-5-1 formation might have proven more effective in the circumstances, with an extra midfielder available to help reduce the home side’s dominance of possession.

But if there were complaints to mutter during the game, few City fans were making them. At 2-1 a small number of fans in earshot started berating Fagan in strong and abusive terms. They were quickly shouted down by supporters at the back of the stand. “They’re two divisions above, support your team” was the cry. These moaners were quickly silenced until they started up again in the second half, singling out Taylor. The response they received from fellow supporters was similarly strong and blunt.

Why can’t it be like this all the time? Don’t get me wrong, everyone has a right to moan and complain about performances; but too often at Valley Parade in particular the experience of watching your team is ruined by someone close by obnoxiously slating individual players non-stop, with the rest of us forced to silently grin and bear it. I like the idea of supporters feeling angry and protective enough of their team to tell a middle-aged man to “shut up” when he’s hurling abuse at the 18-year-old Taylor and labelling him “Leeds scum” (grow up, for god’s sake), and I hope it happens more often in future.

That’s perhaps the difference watching City away from home. Somehow you feel more a part of the efforts on the field and that you have a greater responsibility to spur the players on. 11 minutes into the second half the fashionable Depeche Mode “Just can’t get enough” chant made its debut as a City song, and the whole of the away end seemed to be joining in. There was a momentary pause from singing it after Craig Forsyth tapped Watford into a 3-1 lead following a scramble in the box despite a suspicion of offside, but as the home players rushed off to celebrate we were straight back in full voice. Straight back supporting our team.

City were forced to chase the game even more and were caught on the counter attack just three minutes later, with the ball slightly fortuitously ending up in Forsyth’s path to finish emphatically. 4-1 and still over half an hour ago. It was a long, long way back.

But the players didn’t give up. Admittedly helped by Watford taking their foot off the gas, they created some of the best chances of the afternoon. Nahki Wells – who had another impressive afternoon linking up with Hanson – fired a low shot which drifted narrowly wide. Hanson saw a header smothered by Hornets’ keeper Jonathan Bond. Lee Bullock, Luke Dean and Ross Hannah came off the bench to add momentum, but after a late scramble in the box went unrewarded slim hopes seemed over.

Then, with 88 minutes played, Wells turned home a terrific cross from Taylor for 4-2 to stir late interest. When a minute into the four minutes of stoppage time Hannah also headed the ball into the net, we were offered a glimpse of belief that the most astonishing of comebacks could be on. Sadly, the linesman’s flag ruled out Hannah’s goal, though it looked a close call and one which would be interesting to see again on TV. The game was up.

There was no disputing that Watford deserved to win, but there are plenty of positives for City to take into the two important home games which now follow. Most of all it is the way in which supporters and players are feeding off each other to generate such a positive spirit of togetherness.

The level of work rate on display, the street-smart approach to taking on the opposition and the steeliness to deliver results – the team which Parkinson is developing is one that we supporters are starting to fully embrace and responding passionately too. A far cry from the abuse players received after drawing with Plymouth just 28 days ago, and a world away from the infamous chant “Love the club, hate the team” angrily sung at Southend last April.

Proud of our team; but most of all proud to be Bradford City supporters.

City: McLaughlin, Seip, Oliver, Davies, Threlfall, Fagan, Jones (Bullock 64), Ravenhill (Dean 75), Taylor, Hanson (Hannah 84), Wells

Subs not used: Duke, O’Brien, Mitchell, Stewart

Categories: Match Reviews

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1 reply

  1. Firstly welcome back- there is always a niche for a cerebral website to following Bradford City.

    I am a City exile living up in the NE of Scotland and so don’t make much of an effort to physically follow City but my heart and soul will always be Claret and Amber! So it is good to have a balance to the knee jerk reactions of fans on other forums.

    My brother, another exile, in his case in Oxford went to the game yesterday and made a few telling points- agreeing with your opening remarks about the noise and chanting. Our following away from home has always been- on the whole large, loud and positive (considering our position).

    It’s the future that he was most positive about, we do seem to have turned a corner- losing to a team 2 divisions above us was statistically likely to happen but the organisation and instruction given to the players by Parkinson and evident in recent performances, should ensure a steady return of points and a nice mid table finish. Then for the first time in many a close season stability and a chance for a manager to add to a team rather than build one!

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