Fusion paying dividends

Image kindly provided by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image kindly provided by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Chesterfield 0

Bradford City 1

Clarke 57

Saturday 13 December, 2014

By Damien Wilkinson

Bradford City travelled to the Proact Stadium for only the third time since Chesterfield moved from Saltergate from the 2010/11 season, on the back of a five-match unbeaten run, having won four matches in three league and two cup matches. The only blip was the draw against Gillingham, when the Bantams somehow conjured a draw from the jaws of victory.

Coincidentally, both previous meetings at the Proact finished 2-2 with the last meeting in April 2013, when Chesterfield equalised at the death after it looked like Ricky Ravenhill’s goal had boosted City’s chances of sneaking into the automatic play off spots.

Chesterfield have adapted well to life in League One after storming to promotion last year, and approached the match a point behind City, and unbeaten since the start of November.

The game, from a personal perspective, had taken on a bit more significance, having worked and lived down in Chesterfield during the week for the last seven months; and I was keen for my return to the office on Monday morning to be a pleasant one!

City made the expected change in bringing keeper Jordan Pickford back into the starting line up, after his enforced absence in the FA Cup match last week, and Phil Parkinson made a further tweak, preferring Andy Halliday over Billy Knott in midfield.

The Sprireites kept the same line up from their FA Cup win at MK Dons, which meant a final game for on-loan Wolves defender Georg Margreitter, whose lack of written permission from Wolves to play in last week’s match could lead to Chesterfield’s expulsion from the competition.

City started the match brightly, with confidence high from recent matches and a relatively settled side and formation. The attacking players – particularly Filipe Morais, Mark Yeates and Jon Stead – showed their burgeoning understanding with some intelligent lay-offs and positional play and chances began to emerge. There also seemed to be more of a willingness to shoot on sight and Mark Yeates crafted a couple of good openings; although both efforts failed to trouble Tommy Lee in the Chesterfield net.

As the half progressed, Chesterfield got more into proceedings and began to create chances of their own. French striker Armand Gnanduillet in particular got behind the City defence from a couple of crosses and found himself free, but his headed efforts thankfully sailed well over the crossbar. Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle managed to keep the Spireites’ leading marksman Eoin Doyle relatively quiet.

Whilst the match remained fairly even, Chesterfield showed a little bit more incision going forward and the City midfield at times struggled to get a grip. But going in to the half time break at 0-0 seemed a fair reflection of the half overall.

The start of the second half saw early controversy with the red carding of Chesterfield’s skipper, Sam Morsy, for raising an arm against Halliday. Whilst the numerical advantage this gave City initially caused them to attack with greater intent, it then seemed to spur the Spireites on further and the attacking momentum was firmly with them.

You would have been hard pressed to know they were a man short, to be honest. Indeed City seemed to be more dangerous on the counter attack and in a spell approaching the hour mark began to carve out chances. This eventually culminated in a goal on 57 minutes, where, after a suspicion of handball in the build-up, Billy Clarke turned inside and unleashed a peach of shot which flew into the top corner of Lee’s net, giving the Keighley-born stopper no chance.

An absolutely magic piece of play from birthday boy Clarke, who appears to have rekindled his early season promise in the last few matches, and is also adding goals with more regularity.

So 1-0 and a man up should have signalled City finishing the game off, but this was far from the case. Despite a few good chances spurned, including a miss from Stead shortly after Clarke’s goal that he will probably have nightmares over – somehow turning a goal line tap in around the post – it was Chesterfield who continued to have the better of the game and the ball spent most of the time down the opposite end from the noisy away fans.

In City logic this increasingly looked like an equaliser waiting to happen, and the Bantams failed to keep hold of the ball for any decent periods of pressure and clearances became a bit last ditch, inviting Chesterfield to attack again – in some ways very similar to the Gillingham match. Also, given both of City’s previous visits to the Proact stadium had seen last minute equalisers for the home side, you wondered if history was about to repeat itself.

Changes were made – Billy Knott for Halliday and then James Hanson replaced Stead, with Hanson not really making too much of an impression and looking like he needs some further game time to rise to the challenge Phil Parkinson has set him of recapturing his best form.

The agony was further exacerbated by referee Eddie Ilderton, finding six minutes of injury time from somewhere, but thankfully City held out and managed to keep the ball up the right end.

After the early season formation and personnel changes, the current side, on the back of a run of impressive results, is now reflecting solidity and purpose from the fusion of hard graft and flair that Parkinson seems to have extracted from the squad. The Bantams have definitely got their mojo back after the recent dip, and the players also seem to be enjoying the fruits of their hard work.

Before the match Parkinson had preached for the need to keep a clean sheet – the Bantams having gone ten matches since the last shut out against Crewe – and the match couldn’t have illustrated the wisdom of this more, especially when there is seemingly a constant struggle for City to finish teams off when in the ascendency. Pickford underlined his recent good form with some critical saves and firm handling in the latter stages to keep the Spireites at bay.

City welcome Scunthorpe to Valley Parade next weekend with understandable confidence, and will be looking to build on the recent run. And whilst no one should get too carried away just yet, the play off places are now back within touching distance.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais, Halliday (Knott 62), Liddle, Yeates, Clarke (Zoko 90), Stead (Hanson 84)

Not used: Williams, Routis, Sheehan, Kennedy

Categories: Match Reviews

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