Bradford City 4
Wells 6, 22 (pen), Davies 45, Thompson 57
Bristol Rovers 1
Tuesday 9 April, 2013
By Jason McKeown
Judged against a list featuring some highly impressive accomplishments, how does this stack up?
Bradford City’s season was supposed to over. Barely a month ago, we’d seemingly blown our promotion hopes. A heavy price paid for distracted minds over the League Cup miracle. Regroup and prepare for next season. See out this one with a whimper. It was, depressingly, so typically Bradford City.
And yet instead here we stand, in the top seven of League Two. In the play off positions. What’s more, automatic promotion cannot be ruled out. An incredible turnaround of fortunes, a testament to the virtues of never giving up. Only most of us had long since returned a verdict of no chance on promotion. For me personally, I walked out of Home Park, Plymouth four weeks ago fully convinced it was over.
But not the players. And not the management.
It all clicked back into gear, somewhere between the half time whistle on Good Friday – City 2-0 behind to Southend – and the second 45 minutes that saw the Bantams come back to draw 2-2. Three straight wins later, and the impossible has become the probable.
And tonight there was a strong case to make that the players delivered their finest 45-minute performance of the entire campaign – which is some compliment, given the cup highs of this season. Against an in-form Bristol Rovers who still managed to impress, City were in devastatingly rampant mood. Exhilarating to watch. Precise in almost everything attempted. Clinical. Rovers could not live with us. Few, if any, League Two sides could have done.
Nahki Wells rattled the bar in under 30 seconds, laying down a marker of intent. The Bermudian had only to wait until the sixth minute to get on the scoresheet. Garry Thompson got clear of his marker down the right flank, crossed the ball accurately towards Wells’ forehead and there was no danger of him missing. 20 goals for the season – the first Bantams player to achieve this feat since Dean Windass in 2006.
His second soon followed, after the excellent Ricky Ravenhill was fouled in the box and Wells struck a superb low spot kick into the right-hand side of the goal, despite Stephen Midenhall getting a strong hand on it. Valley Parade – buzzing from the start – could relax.
That the Bantams were quickly in such a strong position owed much to a pair of superb saves from Jon McLaughlin either side of Wells’ penalty. First, at 1-0, Oliver Clarke – who replaced the seriously injured Danny Woodards – charged down a Rory McArdle clearance but could not beat City’s stopper one-on-one. Then at 2-0, Tom Hitchcock saw a header blocked by McLaughlin from point blank range.
There has been much debate about the abilities of both City’s goalkeepers this season, but both have played very well at different stages. I just hope that McLaughlin’s contribution tonight and on Saturday is remembered the next time he makes a mistake.
For as well as City performed in the first half, a Bristol Rovers goal at either of these points could easily have changed the pattern of the contest. Instead, McLaughlin’s heroics enabled his outfield team mates to continue dictating the tempo and playing with a relaxed freedom. Kyel Reid, like Wells, is back to his best form and patrolled the left flank with an authority missing when City were struggling last month. He tracked back almost as effectively as he charged forward.
With Gary Jones bossing the centre, Andrew Davies winning everything, Stephen Darby and James Meredith coming forward with purpose and James Hanson popping up all over the final third, the quality of City’s football was hugely commendable. The game all but wrapped up when in stoppage time Midenhall misjudged the flight of Jones’ free kick and Davies headed home.
To their credit, Bristol Rovers did not give up; Hitchcock running clear on goal and beating McLaughlin five minutes into the second half. It came from another McArdle mistake, and the only worry from tonight was the continued slight dip in form of one of the strongest contenders for player of the season. Do we simply put it down to fatigue – given how much football McArdle has played since August? Mr Consistency is starting to look anything but. Nothing to be alarmed about yet, but a breather might be required.
Any hopes Bristol Rovers harboured of an improbable comeback ended with Thompson racing onto Wells’ pass and firing low under Midenhall for 4-1. Only then was the contest truly settled, and the last 30 minutes became an unexpected breeze for the Bantams. Phil Parkinson could even afford the luxury of taking off Jones, Thompson and a clearly disappointed Wells in order to give them a breather for Saturday. Wells had played like a man desperate for a hat trick, ignoring passing options around him when in possession inside the area. Midenhall blocking his best attempt following a mazy dribble.
City could have had more goals; but at this stage of the season, to win 4-1 is a huge morale boost. And just like on Saturday, the loud chanting emanating from the Kop during the closing stages was a hair-raised-on-back-of-neck confirmation of what a special period this is for the club.
Because it was all over, this season, and yet now the possibilities seem endless. The credit for that belongs to the management and players. They were largely written off by all, including a good proportion of us supporters. Yet just like the League Cup heroics, they have defied the odds.
The warm sense of approval swirling around the stadium was notable only for how much it has become the norm this season. There was no player being singled out for abuse, no groans of frustration after a move broke down. When the subs warm up along the touchline, they were warmly applauded simply because we love them. Parkinson was being openly questioned a few weeks back, but now there surely can’t be anyone who disagrees he is the right man for the job.
Tonight, as on Saturday, a chant of “Stand up if you love City” echoed around. I think this is fantastic, not because I particularly needed to stand up to prove I love City, but because of what it means to sing about ourselves. How many times over the last decade or so would we chant “Stand up if you hate the Leeds”? Now weeks and months go by without a single anti-Leeds song being aired. Now games come and go without groans of anger or boos. Negativity, to ourselves and to others, out of vogue.
It’s easy to be this way when you’re winning, but not so easy to win games in the first place. The wonderful atmosphere around the club right now is therefore a huge testament to the players and manager. They built this. They have turned around a season that had slipped away. They have returned us our hope.
This remarkable, incredible season still has a chapter or two in store when it seemed to have been closed. I genuinely don’t know how this is going to pan out, but right now that can wait. Just for a few moments, I want to revel in the here and now of City being on the brink of promotion with four games to go. I want to revel in debating which is the greater achievement – reaching a major cup final or coming back from play off hopes over to sitting proudly in the top seven? And, most of all, I want to revel in how wonderfully proud I feel to be a Bradford City supporter.
A season of some of the biggest highs I have ever experienced following the club, and yet the best may still be to come.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, Davies, McArdle, Meredith, Thompson (Atkinson 76), Ravenhill, Jones (Doyle 72), Reid, Hanson, Wells (Connell 82)
Not used: Duke, McHugh, Nelson, Hines
Categories: Match Reviews