Bradford City 2
Wells 71, Hanson 82
Montrose 25, Ramsden (OG) 56
Saturday 24 March, 2012
Simon Ramsden’s misjudged backpass rolled achingly slowly past the wrong-footed Jon McLaughlin and eventually into the unprotected net. And at 2-0 down, it seemed as though a blindfolded Bradford City had positioned itself onto a troublingly small ledge, hanging over a deep and extremely dark-looking relegation pit of despair and melancholy – that, if fallen into, would be near-impossible to ever climb back out of.
Yet somehow – and rather wonderfully – everyone with a stake in claret and amber pulled together to ensure the club stepped away from the ledge. Not quite sure-footed enough to relax and believe this relegation ordeal is over just yet, but this afternoon we had firmly stared into the abyss and collectively fought against the tide.
We can only hope that this afternoon will be looked back upon as the closest to relegation from the Football League we ever hovered. Trailing 1-0 at half time to a Lewis Montrose header from Gillingham’s only meaningful attack, a gloomy atmosphere seemed to descend over supporters in the Kop. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who spent the interval contemplating whether the club could survive a drop into non-league. The team had done nothing especially wrong during the first half, but also little right.
You expected a big reaction from the players, and sure enough they came out fighting after the interval to pin Gillingham back for 10 minutes. But just as we began to smell the inevitable equaliser, Ramsden and McLaughlin got tangled up and worst fears appear to be realised. At no point this season has relegation looked so possible.
Cue the fight. Not just to retrieve a match which had somehow fallen out of the players’ grasp, not even just to avoid slipping closer to the bottom two – but for the very future of Bradford City Football Club. So many times over recent years we have seen the team slip down this relegation path that we know only too well the signs of heading to a bad ending (like playing well but losing 2-0).
Not this time. Not again.
Before we go on, let us first pause for a moment to criticise. Not criticise City today – a struggling Matt Fry and dismal Ricky Ravenhill aside, you would struggle to find serious fault with anyone – but the opposition. I have seen Gillingham manager Andy Hessenthaler bring teams to Valley Parade numerous times during his two spells managing the Kent club, but no matter the level or circumstances they always play the exact same way. Time wasting from the off (the truly reprehensible Paulo Gazzaninga was delaying his goal kicks from as early as the seventh minute) and endless niggly little fouls on City players, which go unnoticed.
Gillingham and Hessenthaler are anti-football, and watching them get away with such wearisome antics – rather than attempt to engage in a game of football – is a hugely frustrating experience. They were hell bent on making sure City could not build any momentum, by resorting to what should be considered illegal measures. And when the Bantams tried to fight fire with fire by also being over-physical, they lacked the same subtly and so were caught out.
Fortunately, today Gillingham didn’t get away with it. Inspiration for City to come back was found from the bench. David Syers had already been introduced at half time after – wrongly in my opinion – Phil Parkinson again opted to pair up Lee Bullock and Ricky Ravenhill in the centre of midfield. Just like at Crewe on Tuesday, it meant the team was set up too deep, with wingers Craig Fagan and Kyel Reid badly isolated. Gillingham’s five man midfield disrupted City’s first half flow. Syers, though, was another proposition and produced the type of all action display which earned him everyone’s player of the year title last season.
Nahki Wells too came on as substitute to give the home side added thrust. Chris Dagnall and James Hanson had individually performed well in the first half, but failed to click as a partnership. If at 1-0 down Parkinson had brought Syers on to make the game more open, at 2-0 the swapping of Ramsden with Wells – placing Dagnall in the hole behind the Bermudian and Hanson – saw City start throwing everything at reversing the perilous situation.
Wells was involved in the game’s turning point, although at the time it seemed like the moment it had fallen further out of City’s grasp. His first touch was a beautiful half volley into the net following a Hanson flick on, but celebrations were cut short by the linesman on the Midland Road stand side flagging for offside. City had already had a Hanson equaliser disallowed in the first half – correctly, it seemed – but this looked a bad call from what was clearly an inexperienced official.
Players’ frustration at the decision was reflected in the stands, and the sense of injustice – best personified by well-known City fan Charlie attempting to get on the pitch to attack the linesman – ensured the crowd stayed behind the home side rather than start to turn on them. That made a difference, and every attack was met by roars of encouragement and every bad referee call with howls of derision. Booing was saved for the officials and Gillingham’s time wasting. The visitors were penned back.
Dagnall saw a long range volley brilliantly saved by Gazzaninga (the fact that same linesman ludicrously put his flag up when an obviously onside Wells picked up the rebound sparking more outrage). Then Wells missed a good chance, but a minute later headed home Reid’s excellent free kick for 2-1. The roar got louder, the clock still showed plenty of time.
Hanson might have earned a penalty after he was nudged inside the box, then Wells saw a long range effort fall wide of the post. Fagan and Reid especially were outstanding on the flanks, causing no end of problems. Syers and Dagnall were proving difficult for the opposition to pick up. Behind them Bullock set the tempo with a quality display that made you again question why Parkinson asked Ravenhill to double up by performing the same role. Andrew Davies was a true leader, getting forward more and more.
It seemed the equaliser had arrived when Hanson found space in the box to drive home a low finish, but for a third time celebrations were cut short by the linesman. He wrongly believed an offside Wells had touched the ball on its way in, but luckily Scott Mathieson went over to hold a lengthy discussion with his colleague, which was frequently interrupted by player complaints. As I watched on nervously, believing inside he was not going to give the goal, I took heart from how much Fagan and others cared in their level of protest.
The chat over, Mathieson walked a couple of strides – before blowing his whistle to signal a goal. Cue huge celebrations around the four stands of Valley Parade. As Gillingham players complained long and hard, there was something extra sweet about the fact they were now the ones believing they had been robbed.
There were eight minutes left to play, and suddenly the Gills showed ambition as they created their first opportunities since the opening goal. But despite now lining up 3-4-3, City’s backline were superb with Luke Oliver in particular stopping every attack. At the other end, Reid tore through Gillingham yet again to lay on a great chance for Syers, but his powerful low shot was superbly blocked by Gazzaninga.
Then in the final minute of stoppage time, another Reid cross sparked panic and Gazzaninga could only flap at a cross, enabling Fagan to smash a half volley into the far corner. But there was a whistle just before he did, and Mathieson disallowed Fagan’s effort – the third City goal chalked out – for a push on the keeper. Yet again, it looked a poor decision.
A slight disappointment at full time that the game wasn’t won – and the fact the cushion above the bottom two is still four points means there is still much work to do. Yet the manner in which City had come back was hugely commendable, and offers so much heart to take into Tuesday’s game with Crawley.
The shackles taken off by Parkinson, this side proved how capable they are and how much damage they can cause the opposition by playing attacking football. No chance that Parkinson will start 3-4-3 on Tuesday, but surely we should be aiming to start how we finished on Saturday in forcing the tempo.
After nervous anticipation at the start of the match, and the utter despair midway through – the players, management and supporters have proven that, by working together, we can make sure this relegation fight ends with us with on the right side of that dreaded dotted line.
City: McLaughlin, Ramsden (Wells 61), Oliver, Davies, Fry, Fagan, Bullock, Ravenhill (Syers 45), Reid, Hanson, Dagnall
Unused Subs: Annerson, Kozluk, Smalley
Categories: Match Reviews