Job done, as Bradford City make hard work of reaching the FA Cup 2nd round

halifax 3

Halifax Town 1

Maynard 3

Bradford City 2

Stead 50, Morais 53

Sunday 9 November, 2014

Written by Kieran Wilkinson (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)

Despite strong ticket sales and plenty of local media interest, it would be a stretch to say that as fans we approached this game with any great confidence. Warrington and Dover had already shown the way for non-league clubs in the FA Cup this weekend and – given the downbeat mood amongst fans at present – it was clear that this match had “yellow covering of a popular fruit” written all over it.

I’m not sure whether or not it is a peculiarly Bradfordian trait to expect the worst; but let’s just say that if you were writing the script of a season going off the rails, you’d probably throw in a cup exit against a non-league side.

FA Cup fixtures against non-league opposition have been scarce in the last few decades for City, the last occasion being a close shave against Burton Albion in 1995. In fact, you have to back 50 years to find the last time we were knocked out in the first round by non-league opposition (away at Scarborough in 1964).

And so onto Halifax, birthplace of the inventor of Cat’s Eyes, Big Daddy and John Kettley, amongst other famous Haligonians (thanks Wikipedia, for my new word for today). City’s last visit to The Shay in a competitive match was in 1998, having just started to turn the corner from their poor start to that season.

Back then, a League Cup victory over Halifax Town (over two legs) led onto a cup tie against that team east of Pudsey (narrowly lost) and the season ended of course with promotion to the Premier League. It’s strange to think of the journey that both teams have been on since then – it isn’t inconceivable that it could have been City going out of business and reforming. It is a testament to the strength of will of the FC Halifax Town fans, board and players that they are where they are today.

City went into the game with James Hanson [injured/being rested to avoid being cup tied*] (*delete according to opinion on the board’s motivations going into the January transfer window) and Gary Liddle also missing out through injury. City’s cup keeper, Ben Williams started with Stephen Darby and James Meredith at full back, Andrew Davies and Alan Sheehan at centre back, Mark Yeates, Jason Kennedy, Billy Knott, Filipe Morais and Andy Halliday across the middle and Jon Stead up front (albeit with Knott effectively lining up behind Stead).

halifax 4

The second half started brightly and… what’s that? The first half? Do I really need to report on that? Hmmm, okay then. City started terribly – conceding three corners in the first two minutes (one from a very careless Alan Sheehan back-pass). The third corner led to a goal for the Shaymen, with Lois Maynard stabbing the ball home. Not surprisingly this silenced the previously noisy City following.

So the upset was on. Whilst there was a hope that the early goal might jolt City into an immediate fightback, it just wasn’t happening. It would be wrong to say that Halifax dominated, but the Bantams certainly made hard work of the superior possession they enjoyed. Any chances that we did have fell to nothing, and there seemed to be a fear of having a go with many of the attacking players always looking for one more pass. On the positive side, Yeates and Morais did look bright at times; but worryingly City didn’t look like they had it in them to mount a concerted fight back.

Ben Williams looked shaky when fumbling a Halifax cross and putting it out for a corner, but within a minute redeemed himself by making a smart save from a Steve Williams header. Halifax had a further chance near half time when more sloppy work from Sheehan saw Boden blast over the bar. Halifax were full value for their lead at half time, City’s display being reminiscent of the first half no-show at Boundary Park a few weeks ago.

The ineptitude of the first half display made the second forty-five minutes all the more important. Another half like the first half would have increased the pressure on Phil Parkinson and would have left morale in tatters.

Now, where was I a few paragraphs ago? Ah yes, the second half started brightly and the introduction of Billy Clarke for Halliday paid rich dividends, City switching to a 4-4-2 formation. Clarke immediately forced a corner after a jinking run; and a few minutes later he played in Stead, who neatly sidestepped Matt Glennon in the Halifax goal to score for the second consecutive weekend.

halifax 2

City didn’t rest on their laurels and only a couple of minutes later Clarke was the provider again, feeding Morais for him to thump home his first goal for City, the Portuguese winger picking up a booking for his celebration.

The quick two goals seemed to knock the stuffing out of Halifax and, to be honest, City looked comfortable for a fair period after the goals. Halifax did have a few spells of pressure, but also were resorting to some more “industrial” challenges – with bookings for Smith and Jackson for fouls on Knott and Clarke respectively.

Halifax almost snatched a last minute equaliser with a goalmouth melee resulting in a Maynard shot and a Morais goaline clearance.

So the overall verdict? Job done. No more, no less. On paper, we were expected to win and win we did. The negatives? The first half non-display with some woeful defending (Sheehan won’t be winning any awards for his showing and was probably lucky not to be hauled off for McArdle at half-time). The positives? Another good performance from Mark Yeates (who has started to consistently give the performances that we had hoped for when we first signed him); the second-half impact of Billy Clarke and another goal from Jon Stead.

It wasn’t a classic and I can’t imagine I’ll be watching the whole thing back on TV. But we did what we needed to, and into the second round we go.

City: Williams, Darby, Davies, Sheehan, Meredith, Halliday (Clarke 45), Kennedy, Knott (Dolan 92), Yeates (McArdle 87), Morais, Stead

Not used: Urwin, Routis, Webb-Foster, McBurnie

With special thanks to Thomas Gadd for allowing us to use his superb photos. Please visit Thomas Gadd’s website for more details.

Categories: Match Reviews

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