Feeling good about feeling good

Bradford City 2

Fagan 56 (pen), Hanson 67

Oxford United 1

Hall 72

Saturday 10 March, 2012

Every once in a while, your loyalty and commitment to Bradford City needs that reward of experiencing an afternoon as good as this.

A brilliant game between two teams full on honest endeavour; a terrific Bantams’ performance showcasing the quality of the players you indirectly pay the wages of; a great result to remain ecstatic about for the rest of the weekend and well into next week.

This is compensation for fruitless away trips hundreds of miles away, and frustrating home draws where players’ poor decisions shatter your mood. This is a bit of payback, for another season watching City fail to win more often than they are victorious.

We were magnificent today. Yes, the realities of life in League Two temper the level of superlatives we can ever bestow on our players. But it’s all relative, and today City deserved every piece of praise and more for how they performed. It was an afternoon of great commitment from every player in a Bantams shirt. They displayed a steely determination to blow away much-hyped opposition, and to finally pick up three points when so often in recent weeks their undoubted efforts have not been adequately rewarded.

And the quality of the football too. This was City’s first home victory since those back-to-back Christmas wins over Crewe and Shrewsbury. Nothing should be taken away from how good both performances were, but those successes were achieved through a more direct and ugly style which wasn’t always pleasing on the eye. For the second 45 minutes against Accrington midweek and for 90 minutes today, City attractively knocked the ball around with a level of quality and assurance we’ve not seen since Phil Parkinson’s first few games.

This was no ugly win.

Right from kick off the home side set the tempo. Ritchie Jones returned to partner Lee Bullock, and the pair’s defensive security in the middle enabled Kyel Reid and Will Atkinson – who both kept switching flanks under the instructions of Parkinson – to stretch an Oxford backline and prompt numerous attacks. Time and time again, City worked the ball into the penalty area and created chances. Early on strikers Craig Fagan and Nahki Wells were denied during goalmouth scrambles. A nervous U’s keeper Ryan Clarke flapped at crosses, but did make a series of good saves.

Fagan – who produced his best home performance in weeks, if not since joining the club last September – had the ball in the net midway through the half, only for the offside flag to go up. Reid continued to beat players for fun and sent over a number of testing crosses. All that was missing was a James Hanson – back on the bench after just short of a month on the sidelines – to get on the end of them. Though the Wells/Fagan strike partnership offered great promise.

Oxford showed glimpses of why they are in the play off spots, but found Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies in typically outstanding form at the back. Marcel Seip and Rob Kozluk were also looking good at full backs, and confidence began to grow that this City side was too strong for their fancied opponents.

A matter only added to by Oxford going down to 10 men. Right back Damian Batt had earlier gone into referee Colin Webster’s notebook for a dreadful lunge on Reid after five minutes. Just before half time, he attempted to stop the same player counter attacking from an Oxford corner by kicking him in the head. A second yellow card saw Batt head to the dressing room with ears ringing from heavy boos, as Reid lay stagnant on the pitch. Fortunately he was able to carry on.

A half time standing ovation set the tone for the second half, with a much larger Valley Parade crowd, compared to the last two Tuesday night games, staying with their dominant team. The chances continued: Wells heading Kozluk’s cross just wide, Bullock glancing Fagan’s corner narrowly past the post, and then Wells again saw a low shot deflect onto the post.

Oxford were pinned back, a roar of encouragement greeted the awarding of another corner. Watching on you feel deeply nervous inside that it’s once again not going to be our day. But although the corner was scrambled away, Seip picked it up on the edge of the box and was challenged recklessly by Andrew Whing. Penalty to City! At last we should make it count.

Fagan dispatched the spot kick after a long delay, with a superb blast into the top corner. The Spring sunshine remains strong, and we’re cheering a goal that was no more than City deserved.

The cavalry – James Hanson and David Syers – were about to arrive from the bench. In the end just Hanson came on for now, and the impact he had on the game was immediate. There were fears that been out for so long and the team so obviously missing him would create a burden of pressure that Hanson would struggle to live up to. But the first header he won and clever lay off to Reid was an indication that Oxford’s problems were growing not receding. Hanson was back and bullying the experienced Michael Duberry, while Fagan continued to perform strongly in his new role on the right wing.

A second goal seemed inevitable, but came with some controversy. Jon McLaughlin made a pigs’ ear of clearing a back pass, presenting the ball to Lee Holmes. The former City winger took a touch and looked set to roll the ball into the net, before McLaughlin dived into a do or die tackle that would either see him win the ball perfectly or be joining Batt in leaving the field early. It was the former, and the ball was cleared up to Reid, who teased the defender before charging to the byeline and sending over a terrific cross for Hanson to head into the net. Holmes was still lying on the ground, convinced he had been fouled.

I love goals like this. Your worldly shots from distance are all well and good, but there’s nothing quite like the sight of a winger tearing his full back to shreds and sending over a perfect ball to be headed home to get me bouncing up and down in delight. Valley Parade was a wonderful sight as all but the Oxford fans cheered wildly and the players celebrated directly in front of us. Victory is surely ours now.

Alas, City have spent all season making life more difficult for themselves than it needs to be. Once again the defence switched off for one second – and how often have opposition throw ins being out downfall? – and once again the ball was in the net. Asa Hall’s shot from distance was decent, but McLaughlin should have saved it rather than it bounce off his body and over the line. There are 18 minutes to play, and those bitter memories of Accrington, Burton and Morecambe come flooding back. Surely not again?

Credit to Parkinson here. The man who gets unfairly labelled by some as the second coming of Peter Taylor, who was slated heavily two weeks ago for playing one up front at home (ignoring the fact it was an attacking formation). Today he continued to play two up front, which meant 10-men Oxford could not risk committing men forward in search of an equaliser for fear of a counter attack. The last 18 minutes and a ridiculous five minutes of stoppage time were played on a knife edge, but it was City who continued to dominate everything.

The level of Reid’s individual performance has probably not been matched by a City winger since the halcyon early days of Jermaine Johnson in 2006. Give him the ball this afternoon, and he would not only keep possession but have raced from his own area to the corner flag, wearing out opposition players who tried in vain to keep up. After winning a late corner, Reid walked slowly over to take it and was treated to a standing ovation from City fans. The sponsor’s man of the match award was never in doubt.

Not that Reid was the only player on top of his game today. Bullock was terrific all afternoon, controlling the tempo alongside the energetic Jones. Hanson was superb when he came on and Fagan, Oliver and Davies could easily have won man of the match on another day. Sub David Syers almost added a third but just failed to connect with a Reid cross, and late on Hanson volleyed a cross from – you’ve guessed it – Reid just over.

Eventually the final whistle sounded and relief turned to jubilation. 2-1 flattered only Oxford and – while they had 10 men for over half the match – the tempo and rhythm was set by City long before the red card. On this evidence you can feel confident not just of City comfortably avoiding relegation (the gap is now a more healthy seven points) but of genuinely challenging for promotion next season.

We headed home into the still warm Spring evening with happy chants continuing down the Kop stairs; while on Midland Road a group of Oxford fans complained bitterly about their team’s failings during the game. We know too well how they felt from so many occasions of City letting us down over the past few years, so it was nice for it to be someone else’s turn to be upset.

Today was our day, and while our day doesn’t happen often enough for any of our liking – we should bloody enjoy it all the same.

City: McLaughlin, Kozluk, Davies, Oliver, Seip, Reid, Bullock, Jones, Atkinson (Hanson 57), Fagan (Syers 70), Wells (Hannah 81)

Subs not used: Annerson, Fry

Categories: Match Reviews

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