Bradford City 3
Knott 42, Clarke 79, Stead 81
Leyton Orient 1
Saturday 29 November, 2014
Written by Jason McKeown (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)
The imperfection in the performance only added to the perfection of Bradford City’s day. This was a big victory for the home team, achieved not simply by playing the better football but through facing up to, and overcoming, adversity. The lessons from the last two home games were taken on board – and the team’s prospects for the second half of the season are brighter for rectifying those past failings.
Leading at half time through a brilliantly worked team goal finished by Billy Knott, apprehension and fear emanated from the stands early in the second half, transmitting onto the players, who struggled grimly to assert their authority and see the game out. The worst fears were realised when Leyton Orient equalised. But there was to be no repeat of the Doncaster or Gillingham outcomes. This time, City re-established their advantage.
Orient’s second biggest mistake was scoring too early, thereby giving City the opportunity to rediscover their attacking verve that was not possible with only a minute left following Gillingham’s equaliser, a week ago. Their biggest mistake was made by Chris Dagnall, who just two minutes after his team levelled the match produced a heavy lunge on Knott that prompted a red card. It wasn’t the most criminal of tackles, but was wholly unnecessary. The former Bantams loanee had not had time to run his early bath before City had clinically scored two goals. It must have proven a long journey back to East London for the striker.
In essence it meant the Bantams won the game twice over the course of the 90 minutes – and the character shown in doing so was a reminder of the best qualities that Phil Parkinson has instilled at the club over the past three years. This new-look team is not the History Makers, and so far are failing to pull up many trees; but there is a growing promise about the way in which they are going about their business, albeit at times they are still lacking in steel.
It was a brutally honest performance – the mental weaknesses on show in the Doncaster and Gillingham games could not be disguised here either – but the team’s determination and commitment has become more evident in recent weeks. Three wins from four offers encouragement that this stop-start season is back on track.
And the first 45 minutes was arguably the best attacking display of the season. Once the players eased their way into the game, they began to dominate and kept Leyton Orient pushed back for long periods. The visitors’ deliberate attempts to play the ball out from the back were seized upon by City, who hungrily hunted possession and forced their opponents into several errors. In particular, Os left back Andrea Dossena had a torrid first half against Andy Halliday.
The chances quickly stacked up. Mark Yeates’ free kick headed narrowly wide, the same two players then conspiring to waste an even better chance from a corner. Yeates had a striking long range effort fly just past the target; Billy Clarke struck a deflected effort that bounced the wrong side of the post; Clarke also latched onto a loose defensive pass but was denied by the excellent Adam Legzdins; Jon Stead was played through but saw his effort saved by Legzdins.
Eventually the goal arrived after excellent passing interchanging by Halliday and Stead presented Knott with the chance to place the ball into the net from the edge of the six-yard box. The birthday boy was excellent here, playing with a greater confidence and a deeper understanding of just how to apply his obvious talents. Knott’s team-mates weren’t far behind him, contributing to an attractive attacking display that demonstrates a realisation of the manager and board’s ambitions to play football that is easier on the eye.
Stead continues to receive the plaudits and set the perfect example to everyone. His ability to spot team-mates in good positions is rarely seen at this level, and his work-rate blows away preconceptions that loan players are not as committed to the cause. No one worked harder here than Stead, as he once again linked up brilliantly with the impressive Clarke. Many people tell me they are unsure about City’s number 10, but for me Parkinson has recruited a player in Clarke who creates so many good opportunities for himself and others through his intelligent movement.
Alas for City, there was the momentum-bursting half time interval that they struggled to get going from. Orient’s players pushed 10 yards higher up the field as they went more direct in getting the ball into the final third, and began to cause problems. There wasn’t exactly an abundance of chances, but Andrew Davies and McArdle had to be at their best on several occasions to thwart promising visitor attacks. Dean Cox especially caught the eye as he drifted in between the midfield and his forward line. The clock was ticking down very slowly.
City should have been much better during this 30-minute period. The mistakes of last week, in failing to retain the ball, were criminally repeated. Attempts to ease the anxiety by getting on the front-foot failed as numerous opportunities to cross the ball into Orient’s box were taken too early, when there was no City player in the area. A time for calm heads, but too many were losing theirs.
The ghosts of Gillingham hovered over the stadium, and eventually recent history repeated itself. City had been on the attack with Clarke one-on-one with a defender. His attempts to get into the box were ended when he seemed to fall over, although he claimed he was tripped. Orient cleared the ball, Davies seemed to be pushed before Dave Mooney charged through on goal to equalise after Jordan Pickford remained too rooted to his line. Not again, surely.
Cue the red card, and cue the second wind from Bradford City. James Meredith – who had another good game – charged down the flank before sending over a low cross, and the ball eventually found its way to Clarke at the back post, who gleefully slammed it into the roof of the net for his first Valley Parade goal. And then Legzdins’ loose clearance enabled Stead to rush through and put a gloss on proceedings with a killer third. Victory was back in the home team’s grasp, and this time they weren’t about to let it go.
So all is suddenly rosy again at Valley Parade. The dreadful run of form in October has been put to bed, and City are once more closer to the play off positions than they are the relegation zone. It remains highly doubtful that they can mount a strong enough promotion push to replicate Orient’s play off finish of last season, although this reality owes a great deal to the quality and financial strength of many of their rivals.
But what they have is something that is beginning to work and work well. The players never quite looked happy in the diamond formation of early season, but here in 4-4-1-1 there is a greater balance and an obvious sense of looking comfortable in their own skin. No one exemplifies this better than captain Stephen Darby, who is back to last season’s best and yet is also contributing in his own way to the attacking cause, when in the diamond that seemed too much of an ask.
Dartford in the FA Cup next weekend is an interesting distraction, before winnable league matches against Chesterfield and Scunthorpe United take us up to Christmas. There’s a growing sense of belief and optimism running through the camp that they can push on, especially after coming through the other side of this tricky Leyton Orient experience.
This probably wasn’t the most important moment of the season, but it could yet prove the one that defines it.
City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Halliday (Zoko 80), Liddle, Knott, Yeates, Clarke, Stead (Hanson 90)
Not used: Williams, Routis, Sheehan, Kennedy, Motley-Henry
With special thanks to Thomas Gadd for allowing us to use his superb photos, which we really appreciate. Please visit Thomas Gadd’s website for more details.
Categories: Match Reviews