Bradford City 4
Clarke 10, Stead 31, Morais 58, Yeates 59
Sunday 7 December, 2014
Written by Jason McKeown (image by Kieran Wilkinson)
If the sheer simplicity of victory makes it almost impossible to analyse the quality of performance, this was nevertheless an encouraging measurement of Bradford City’s character.
Taking their manager’s lead – Phil Parkinson diligently did his homework on Dartford and picked his strongest team – the attitude of the players was terrific. The professionals fully demonstrated their professionalism. And in doing so, they firmly slammed the door on their non-league guests’ own FA Cup third round aspirations. The result was never in doubt; it was merely a case of how many the home team wanted. In the end they settled for the four, but could easily have doubled it.
The gulf between the two teams was the widest I have ever witnessed at Valley Parade. Dartford were a poor side, in truth. Yet a quick glance elsewhere offers a useful perspective. Across the FA Cup weekend, several of Bradford City’s League One and Two peers slipped up or made hard work of defeating non-league opponents – some ranked lower in the pyramid than Dartford. And you don’t have to look too far back into the Bantams’ history to find cup slip-ups against teams from divisions below them.
Instead, this was an easy victory because City made sure it was an easy victory. The attitude and focus was right. The intensity and tempo of performance was suitably high straight from the kick off. The stylish passing style of football that has surfaced over recent weeks was once again on show. For the romantics hoping for a shock Dartford victory, an early chance hastily stabbed wide by Max Cornhill was as close as they came to grabbing the headlines. The outcome was obvious long before even the half time whistle.
And there’s a lot to be said for this; for at stake was more than just a ball in the bag for Monday night’s FA Cup third round draw. The momentum of the last few weeks could have been halted with a cup exit here. The growing feel-good factor and raised spirits of optimism would have been deflated. The team’s show of character ensured this became a relaxing afternoon; one where you could reflect and enjoy just how far it has come over recent weeks.
Because this is now four wins and a draw from five games. October’s woes are now a distant memory. September’s difficulties firmly addressed. November saw the unlocking of a winning formula, and it was once again deployed here to good effect.
The goals, when they inevitably came, were communally shared out. Four different City players got their name on the score-sheet; which is an interesting contrast to a year ago when the Bantams were so reliant upon their front two of James Hanson and Nahki Wells. The current strike partners – Billy Clarke and Jon Stead – are unlikely to ever prove as prolific, but are beginning to find the net on a more regular basis of late, supported by others.
Clarke opened the scoring just 10 minutes in, after his initial effort squirmed off both goalposts and back into his path, leaving him with a tap in. By the half-hour mark Stead had doubled the advantage and put the tie beyond Dartford, after he steered Mark Yeates’ low cross past the rather hapless Jason Brown. The former Blackburn and Gillingham goalkeeper was not helped by the nervous defence in front of him, who made mistakes a plenty. At times it was uncomfortable to watch their discomfort. A grand day out for their impressively loud away following no doubt, but few on the Dartford playing staff can have enjoyed this experience.
In total, City had 61% of the ball and 25 shots on goal compared to the visitors’ five. Parkinson would later reveal that he had instructed his players to move the ball around quickly, and time and time again they cut their opponents apart through incisive passing. Billy Knott built on his impressive showing last week, whilst Filipe Morais and Yeates were clearly enjoying themselves on the flanks. Behind the two widemen, Stephen Darby and James Meredith got forward to good effect.
They didn’t let up in the opening stages of the second half, and within 14 minutes of the restart were four goals to the good. A corner was half cleared by Dartford, before Morais struck a powerful low shot that deflect past Brown. Less than 60 seconds later, Yeates cut inside and unleashed a trademark curling effort into the far corner. If this was a boxing match, the referee would have ended the contest there and then. City’s biggest victory since defeating Darlington 7-2 in September 2000 looked to be in sight.
But at this point, they dropped off and Dartford were given some encouragement. Lee Noble received the ball inside the box and, with his back to goal, attempted a cheeky back-heel that amazingly rolled slowly into the net – not a good moment for the caught-out Ben Williams. City’s cup goalkeeper did at least redeem himself with a superb palm away from another Noble effort, soon after. But this moment aside, City saw out time without over-reaching themselves in pursuit of more goals.
There was a slight sense of anti-climax over this retreat of ambition. So one-sided was the contest, many in the decent-size home crowd evidently wanted to see a more dominant scoreline. Just as expectations reached peak levels, the team lowered the bar and let Dartford off the hook. Gary Liddle, who had another solid game, should have made it five and substitute François Zoko threatened last on; but Brown – hobbling for the final 20 minutes after being fouled by Stead – survived without inflicting further damage.
It barely mattered, and now all eyes are firmly on Monday night’s FA Cup third round draw. If fortune favours the Bantams, those potential January financial headaches could be solved by a glamour tie and, with it, there may even be capital left over to strengthen the team for the second half of the season. With eight non-league teams left in the hat, even landing a home tie with a club lower down the pyramid wouldn’t be a terrible outcome, given City’s taste for cup runs over recent years. Why cash in your chips now and accept an exit from the competition in the next round?
Whatever the draw throws up, the FA Cup has been very kind to the Bantams this season. The first round clash at Halifax felt like such a pressure game at the time – City having lost four and drawn one of their previous five matches. The hard-fought victory that day has led to a complete change in fortunes, and the mood going into the Christmas period is buoyant. Prior to that Sunday lunchtime at the Shay, the season was following a much gloomier narrative.
The new-look Bradford City team might not have that diamond sparkle, but they are starting to win matches on a regular basis in the greater comfort of the 4-4-1-1. The team has a good sense of balance that includes room for technical footballers who excite. The team plays attractive football that is enjoyable to watch. And, as they proved here, the team has the right character, attitude and commitment.
This was the simplest victory of the season, but it was one that bodes extremely well for the more difficult battles ahead.
City: Williams, Darby (Routis 60), McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais, Liddle, Knott, Yeates, Clarke (Zoko 80), Stead (Hanson 84)
Not used: Urwin, Sheehan, Kennedy, Halliday
Categories: Match Reviews