Bradford City 2
Hanson 38, Fagan 54 (pen)
Southend United 0
Friday 6 April, 2012
Maintaining such a large squad is always going to result in some bruised egos. Yet there was something hugely uplifting about the fact a number of previously-shunned players shook off any grievances and contributed so positively in Bradford City’s hour of need, delivering a priceless victory.
Matt Duke, Guy Branston, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn and Nahki Wells had in different ways fallen out of Phil Parkinson’s long or short-term plans, but each conveyed a loud and timely message regarding the value they can offer the Bantams. On an afternoon of raising the standards back upwards again, it was these players in particular who set the tone while proving their own points. Welcome back to the first team fold.
It was a battle, at least initially. Southend United rocked up to Valley Parade with a bustling away following and confident swagger of promotion contenders; but promising early attacks quickly fizzled out as the Bantams chased and harried every loose ball, ensuring their opponents had no space or time to find their rhythm.
As unlikely a back four as you could have imagined, only a fortnight ago, stuck diligently together in a manner the sidelined first choices were curiously unable to achieve over a full 90 minutes; with Branston producing the sort of fearless and accomplished display he’d talked so loudly of contributing regularly when joining last summer.
Today Branston was simply fantastic to watch, winning everything in the air while successfully tackling and intercepting anything that came his way. You could see how much he was enjoying himself, and what a natural leader he is. Alongside him, Lee Bullock and Simon Ramsden were their usual reliable selves, while an out of position Rob Kozluk exceeded expectations with a composed and effective performance at left back.
In front of the back four Jones – a surprise starter, given Parkinson’s less-than-commendable treatment of the young midfielder over the past month – provided energy and drive. He regularly received possession from deep and pushed the team forward, while also showing a greater willingness to get into the opposition box than earlier in the season. Once Ricky Ravenhill improved on a very slow start, the pair bossed the midfield to ensure the Bantams could dominate the game.
Dominate they did not through gung ho attacking or tip-tap passing football – neither are probably ever going to Parkinson’s forte – but through a return to the high tempo, direct pressing style which was so evidently successful during the Christmas home wins over Crewe and Shrewsbury. The ball was worked up to James Hanson as quickly as possible – City’s top scorer reunited with Wells, with the pair looking far more on each other’s wavelength than the Hanson/Chris Dagnall combination – who would look for his partner or an on-song Craig Fagan for support.
With Flynn and Jones also getting forward often, numerous home attacks broke down only because of a last gasp clearances or delays in shooting. Southend had some chances too and Freddy Eastwood blazed over from a position where a player of his calibre should do better. But the more likely location of the opening goal was at the Bradford End of the ground that City were attacking.
Sure enough, seven minutes before the break the Bantams got the vital breakthrough. Kozluk was fouled just inside Southend’s half. Fagan’s resultant ball into the box was cleared to Flynn, who had space to send over a superb cross that Hanson couldn’t miss from – City’s top scorer heading home from a couple of yards out. Shortly after Bullock saw an effort cleared off the line, then right on half time a scramble in the box saw Flynn, Jones and Wells have shots blocked by desperate-looking defenders.
Over half time a fear grew that the failure to get a second goal might once again be punished by more clinical opposition, but the strong Southend response widely expected never materialised and the game was put to bed with reassuring ease. Eight minutes into a second half that City were again dominating, Flynn picked up a loose ball and set Wells clear on goal. Just as the Bermudian was about to pull the trigger, Sean Clohessy bundled him over in the area. A certain penalty and a (slightly harsh) red card to boot. Fagan smashed home the spot kick, and all City had to do for the remaining 35 minutes was hold onto what they had.
A word here firstly, however, about Flynn (and Hanson). Having already set up the opener, Flynn’s pass to set Wells away for the penalty moment was beautifully weighted and measured. Yet what should have been one of the better moments of a troubled campaign was for me personally spoiled by the bizarre soundtrack of fans around me jumping to their feet to scream abuse at the Welshman for taking the wrong option. Flynn played wide left today – not his position, as surely anyone with half a brain must make allowances for – yet for much of the afternoon he and Hanson were singled out for non-stop criticism and abuse from people who are supposed to support them.
I thought Flynn was brilliant today. Yes, he took the wrong option at times and on another day that could be ruefully be looked back upon. But what a plucky display from someone who never lets the club down. Same too Hanson – he was outstanding. Yet hundreds of miserable people sit their all afternoon ignoring everything good the striker does and then jump to their feet hurling abuse when – in their misguided view – he gets something wrong.
If you, highly valued reader, don’t rate Hanson – please, explain why. Maybe it’s me and I don’t get football when I thought I did. But all I see a hard-working, energetic and effective striker doing a fantastic job in the difficult targetman role; and yet I hear numerous people moaning that he is a poor player. I don’t get it.
Southend made two changes in a bid to get going, but soon after went down to 9 men after Elliott Benyon lashed out at Kozluk in an incident missed by the crowd and referee, but spotted by the linesman. And it left a rather surreal final 20 minutes during which City could take their foot off the gas and play at a pace usually witnessed during meaningless end of season campaigns, while the Southend players looked hugely demoralised and desperate for the final whistle.
The body language of most of the visitors’ was shockingly poor, and they make little effort to get the ball off City. If I was a Southend fan, I would feel badly let down by my team today.
Jones worryingly went off injured, while the exceptional Wells – Southend could not live with his movement and trickery – was withdrawn to a standing ovation. Substitutes Dagnall and Kyel Reid both came close to netting a third. A clean sheet – only the seventh all season – was achieved. Since Branston’s last Valley Parade appearance against Torquay six months ago, there has only been one visitor shutout before today. Food for thought.
Results elsewhere went very well, and suddenly the Bantams have a seven-point cushion over the bottom two again (effectively eight with the superior goal difference). One more victory in the final five games will basically be enough – although given Hereford, Macclesfield and Barnet’s wretched form, the 43 points we now have will probably ensure League Two survival anyway.
Quite where this leaves the five out-of-favour players who started today is another question. Wells apart, two weeks ago you could have reasonably predicted the summer exits of Duke, Branston, Flynn and even Jones. Parkinson is close to achieving the initial objective of keeping City up, which he was brought in to do – but has probably never been more unsure of his best XI than he must be right now.
City: Duke, Ramsden, Branston, Bullock, Kozluk, Fagan, Ravenhill (Reid 75), Jones (Syers 81), Flynn, Hanson, Wells (Dagnall 81)
Unused Subs: Annerson, Smalley
Categories: Match Reviews