Bring on the Big Boys!

Watford 1

Anya 71

Bradford City 2

Reid 85, Thompson 90+4

Tuesday 28 August, 2012

By Tom Warden

I’ll admit it; I’m a bit of a sucker for pre-season optimism. I love the feeling of reading about new signings and the hope that ‘this could be the time when it all clicks together’ is always at the back of my mind. This season it seems that optimism has been spreading at City. Three good performances (though only two yielding points) have got many talking about how Phil Parkinson has got it right this time, but surely one of the best ways to fuel optimism is with a victory against higher league opposition in the cup.

Six changes were made from the destruction of Wimbledon, with Jon McLaughlin, Stephen Darby and Carl McHugh coming into the back line, Will Atkinson replacing Nathan Doyle in central midfield and Alan Connell and Garry Thompson leading the line in place of Nahki Wells and James Hanson. James Meredith was moved up to left midfield and Thompson, who was off the pace when I saw him at Gillingham, was given a chance as a centre forward. Watford made nine changes of their own from their 1-0 defeat against Ipswich, but lined up with three upfront in a clear indication of their attacking intent.

The first half was somewhat of a non-event, played with all the urgency of a pre-season friendly; a fact which was not lost on the crowd, who stayed fairly silent throughout. Zavon Hines brought about the most exciting moment when he chased down a clumsy clearance from Carl Dickinson and squared the ball to Connell, who could only put his shot against the post. Hines scampered back across and – just when it seemed he was about to tuck the loose ball home – Martin Taylor’s outstretched leg brought him down. There was an expectation of a whistle but none came which brought some anger from the away support, but soon enough the atmosphere was back to pre-season indifference.

The ever-impressive Gary Jones brought a stretching save from Watford keeper Jonathan Bond with a 20 yard strike, and The Hornets got some joy from exploiting the nervous looking McHugh but could do nothing more than put a few shots down the throat of McLaughlin.

Both managers must have had a word at half time though, because as soon as the second half started everything seemed to move up a gear. Watford started to get into a passing rhythm and were looking dangerous through Ross Jenkins in midfield and the pacy Ikechi Anya, who buzzed around with menace upfront. Parkinson made a double change, bringing Kyel Reid on for Hines, who had a frustrating night, and Doyle on for Jones, presumably with the trip to Rotherham in mind.

The loss of Jones seemed to lessen City’s hold on the centre of the park a little and, shortly afterwards, Watford’s pressure paid off. Anya, who had flashed a shot wide moments earlier, opened the scoring in the 71st minute when a Luke Oliver block fell to him 25 yards out and he hit a rocket into the top corner which, despite McLaughlin getting a hand to, the Bantam keeper had no chance of keeping out. City almost hit back immediately when Reid wriggled free, but his cutback could only find a Watford defender amongst three voltage cherry shirts.

Watford then seemed to sit off a little, perhaps considering the job done and were happy to stroke the ball around the back and let City knock long balls up to Thompson, who was being beaten in the air every time by Taylor. Or Connell, who has excellent control and link-up play when given the ball to feet, but sometimes struggled with the high ball.

James Hanson was brought on for Meredith, with Thompson moving out wide having unequivocally lost his aerial duel with the giant Taylor. This immediately had an impact, Hanson running the channels started to cause panic in the Watford defence, who didn’t seem sure which one of them should be picking him up. The equaliser came from an old-fashioned set piece ball into the mixer which Connell nodded out to Doyle who lobbed the ball back in towards Oliver. Oliver’s stab for goal was blocked and, when the rebound fell to Reid, he made no mistake in slamming the ball home with a fierce drive.

The last five minutes of normal time were then end to end, Hanson got free of his marker, who must have been wondering what hit him, but couldn’t get his pull back to Connell and Taylor flashed a header across goal for Watford in injury time. It was getting to the point when you start checking your watch and wondering if you should sacrifice extra time for the last train home, when City got one last free kick and everyone came up.

Reid’s ball in was too close to the keeper, and we began to think we were in for a late night. But when Jonathan Bond’s poor punch fell to Thompson he had time to control it and pick his spot for a shot drilled into the far corner which sent the away end crazy.

So the optimism continues and you know what fuels optimism? Cup victories against high level opposition. Lets have Manchester United and not Coventry next though please!

City: McLaughlin, McHugh, McArdle, Oliver, Darby, Hines (Reid 60), Atkinson, Gary Jones (Doyle 62), Meredith (Hanson 76), Connell, Thompson

Subs not used: Duke, Hannah, Baker, Bass   

Categories: Match Reviews

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