Another glory night for Bradford City as Millwall trouncing sets up date at Chelsea

Bradford City 4

Hanson 8, Stead 17, Halliday 39, Knott 57

Millwall 0

Wednesday 14 January, 2015

By Katie Whyatt (images by Alex Dodd, see note below)

Wow. Just wow. That. That. THAT. City delivered their best home performance of the year in the most brutal fashion, demolishing a struggling Millwall side by bagging three goals before the break. Since that 2-1 defeat to Doncaster, Bradford City have won eight, drawn three and lost just once, reached the fourth round of the FA Cup, and moved up to fifth in the League One table. Those stats speak for themselves. The good times have returned.

Let’s be honest: the visitors were poor. Millwall offered little resistance and even less of a strategy – bar a jerking charge forwards in the opening stages to force a save from Ben Williams, a decent ten minute spell just after the break, and a last-ditch counter with three minutes left on the clock. Downbeat, demoralised, defunct. At times, it felt too easy.

But to buy that narrative undermines the truly remarkable showing that was Bradford City’s performance. What could you complain about, realistically? What could you find error in? They were untouchable, ruthless, faultless, every single one of them. That was a showing full of sevens, eights, nines and tens out of ten. Could you pick a man of the match? I plumped for Jon Stead, but any of them could have deservedly picked up the gong. To play out that performance in front of a crowd of that dwarfed the 4,000 that turned up to the last home FA Cup tie with Dartford, made it all the more special a night.

And that’s without even mentioning the C-word. Chelsea. In truth, I don’t think that part’s fully registered. I don’t know if it ever will. It’s over two years ago now and December 11, 2012 still hasn’t. We could be here a while yet.

Kudos must go to the marketing team for their hard work in making the well-executed #BeTheDifference campaign a success, which has bombarded the club’s social media outlets for the past week and undoubtedly played its part in packing Valley Parade to the rafters, igniting the atmosphere and luring 11,800 people to a third round FA Cup replay.

In the event, it wasn’t even close to the 2-2 suggested in the promotional flyer, and there weren’t any Lions attempts threatening enough to demand a late clearance off the line, but that disparity intensifies the joy we’re all experiencing tonight. This surpassed all of our expectations – and this season could well continue to do so.

Mirroring last Saturday’s defeat to Rochdale, the early sending off in the opening stages probably partially governed the outcome of the game, last man Mark Beavers dismissed instantly for hauling down James Hanson on six minutes, but City were all over this from the first whistle. Harrying Millwall with a high pressing game, swift movements, effective link-up play and ruthlessness in the final third, they took every single chance and delivered more than we ever could have dreamed of.

Stead and Filipe Morais were key from beginning to end, and you can’t undersell the importance of either. Stead’s vision is exemplary, and his movements – the runs he makes and the balls he delivers – has been key in raising the ceiling and intelligence of this team. Both Stead and Morais visibly raise the game of those around them: the arrival of Portuguese wideman, plus the shift to a flat midfield four, has brought the best out of Stephen Darby, too, and the full back seems a much more accomplished and assured player in the final third for having both Morais and Stead there.

There is a cohesion between the captain and Morais that makes for a more effective attacking outlet, and Stead’s mobility and willingness has unveiled a new dynamism in James Meredith’s play, too. The full back was on top, top form tonight, regularly bypassing Dunne and Shittu with jinxing surges from midfield and scathing passes after cutting inside.

The shift to a more attractive style of football has worked, unquestionably. The recurring criticism of “not taking chances” and “failing to finish well” can hopefully be put to bed. Because what made this win sweeter was that City never stopped. They never relented, never pulled back, never parked the bus or stopped pressing or stopped bombing forwards.

Every move was offensive, productive, seeking to create something. They were having the time of their lives out there – the games of their life, most of them. They may have been facing ten men, and a side loitering in the Championship drop zone, but it doesn’t remove the fundamentals or diminish the prowess of the performance.

Phil Parkinson has been astute in the loan market and there is a real strength in depth – Mark Yeates and François Zoko (whose fifteen minute spell spawned a pacey run that resulted in a shot clipping the post from a tight angle) are impressive options to bring from the bench, and Andy Halliday produced his best performance of his loan to re-assert his hold over the starting jersey.

Less than two minutes after Beavers’ dismissal, City were in front.

I know what is going to happen as Halliday lines up for the corner. We’ve seen it a hundred times before, but it never gets any less glorious. I can see Hanson making his jerking run just seconds before he does: the swift shoulder drop, the halt, the sudden race into position. And then he acts. Always instinctive, always familiar; second nature, a sixth sense. But I’m not looking at Hanson anymore, or even Andy Halliday. I’m looking at Rory McArdle.

Hanson is the certainty in the corner of my eye, the conversion guaranteed if the delivery is right. I watch Halliday swerve and swing, then my stomach lurches as McArdle hops off and meets the ball. It’s almost as if time slows down. The world fades out, and I am submerged in this one moment, this one cross, the prelude to the climactic film sequence, everything else blurred and muffled and pixelated.

I’m leaping out of my seat. I’m grabbing my brother and thrashing my palms together, eyes scattergunning from him to the scoreboard to Hanson to my mum to Millwall fans to Phil Parkinson to the Kop and back to the pitch again, trying to absorb every image, drink in every sight and smell and sound. Darby sprints ten yards and leaps into the air with a rallying fist-pump, Hanson and co. skidding to a halt immediately in front of us. Our screaming charges the air and everything around us sparkles with a new clarity, the stadium prickling with electricity and life.

Manic hedonism. We are separate now, part of a different body. This is something bigger than me, bigger than all of us. Right now, nothing else matters. For a second, this feeling, this moment, is all I am aware of.

Stead. It’s two. So simple, so easy. Andrew Davies wins the header, Stead races through to tap in from close range. The Millwall players silent, dumbfounded, desire surmounting the divisional gulf.

The atmosphere was at fever pitch, and tensions would soon devastatingly tip over into boiling point. Millwall’s James Dunne delivered a malicious, cynical header to send Hanson tumbling into the stands, sparking a brawl that drew Parkinson from the technical area and in which Millwall goalkeeper David Forde appeared to fire punches at Billy Knott and Jon Stead. Both Forde, Knott and Dunne escaped with bookings – but a retrospective ban is anticipated in the case of the former – and Parkinson and Steve Parkin were each sent to the stands following the melee.

Unflattering images that reflect poorly on the visitors, and such scenes were upsetting to see and marred what was otherwise the best game of the campaign.

The game was won long before then, though. Billy Knott despatched Morais on the right flank, and the winger’s cross found Halliday, who scored from close range. It’s four, then, in the second half, Knott firing home the second ball from Meredith’s initial shot. The build-up play was superb: high-pressing, paced, precise – perfect.

If there was anything that added perspective to this, it was the desolation clouding the final two blocks of the Midland Road stand. Laden with embarrassment and sadness, the 600-strong Millwall contingent at least made more of a go of it than their effectively absent starting eleven, booming “You’re nothing special – we lose every week!” into the Valley Parade night.

Holloway didn’t emerge from the dressing room until near 11:00, ultimately deeming his side “dysfunctional” after an obviously gruelling post-mortem. He has the dubious honour of presiding over a team with the third worst away attack in the Championship. The malaise clearly transcends a 4-0 drubbing to a League One side.

Now, I don’t know enough about Millwall to enter into some insightful analysis of Holloway’s role in all this, other than that a 23% win percentage clearly ain’t right cracking, but the side have registered just two wins in 21 games. To contextualise that, they’ve been well-beaten in seven of their last eight games, the high point of that run the 3-3 draw in tonight’s reverse fixture. If Holloway’s handed his P45 this week, it will only serve to reinforce Phil Parkinson’s standing among City supporters.

Because what a true managerial genius he is.

Cast your mind back to the eve of the new season – or even mid-September, after the joy of thumping three past Coventry and despatching our Yorkshire neighbours had subsided – could you have expected anything like this? Ever? When the window slammed shut and City were without a permanent goalkeeper and wingers; when City were harbouring a top-earning striker who was struggling to fit with the wider team’s style; when the diamond looked impressive but was devoid of pace and mortalised Darby and Alan Sheehan – we never would have expected this. And how could we?

What a manager Phil Parkinson is, in every single way. Regardless of whether the team step out at Wembley for the season finale, the club have already hugely overachieved and shattered every single expectation set before them this year. The turnaround he has delivered over the four seasons at this club simply cannot be understated, ever. It is no secret he was considered for the City job twice, beaten by Peter Jackson at his first attempt after the club sought stability – but how lucky we are that he came back.

Aside from the race up the league ladder, aside from the cup ties he has delivered and won, aside from the promotion and the trips to Wembley and the We Made History season, he has changed the club where it matters: at its heart, its core, its soul. There is an identity, an ethos, a vision, a marker that is at the epicentre of everything he sets out to achieve: character.

Tasked with tearing apart his beloved History Makers side at the close of the last campaign, Parkinson has delivered in absolutely awe-inspiring style, and has given us, once again, a team we can truly fall in love with and understand and believe in. He knows this club and its supporters inside out, marrying his passion with a more intimate knowledge of the style he seeks to implement and the players he yields at his disposal. But beyond that, he knows himself.

Bradford City is Phil Parkinson. In his four years here, he has attained success incomparable to not only any City manager from the past decade, but effectively every Football League manager of the past ten years. He is currently the eighth longest-serving manager in the country, beaten only by the likes of Arsene Wenger and Sam Allardyce – and who would bet against his position rising? Regardless of what happens at Stamford Bridge in the next round, the club are on the brink of wiping out the deficit. He deserves all the effusive plaudits he receives.

Think of the ghosts of the past few years. Relegation confirmed with that limp display at Chesterfield; the club loitering on the brink of extinction, twice; Taylor and Odsal and plummeting to the foot of the basement division. And now? They have been replaced by the shine of a brighter future. By the lamps carried by Billy Knott, by Gary Liddle, by Jon Stead, James Hanson, Filipe Morais, James Meredith. Because tonight, we feel invincible. This is an ethereal reality, not yet stolen by time or sullied by the afterward; not yet glorified by nostalgia and yearning.

This moment yields a law unto itself, responsible to no one.

This moment is us.

We are united. We are stronger. We are infinite.

We are Bradford City.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais, Liddle, Knott (Yeates 73), Halliday, Hanson (Routis 80), Stead (Zoko 69)

Not used: Urwin, Sheehan, Kennedy, Webb-Foster

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Categories: Match Reviews

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21 replies

  1. Katie, your report is as good as last night’s match. Absolutely inspired writing – real class. Just like City at the moment.

  2. What a fantastic piece of writing that captures not just the result but the atmosphere in the ground and the spirit that inhabits the club now.

  3. What a great night and brilliantly written up capturing everything a City fan loves about our club.

  4. Excellent report as usual by Katie but please amend those references to Hartlepool!

  5. Sadly, getting too old to travel to Bradford for night matches, so had to sit through the third-rate BBC coverage of Ipswich, with brief mentions of Spurs, and the briefest mention of Bradford (not City). But my real reason for adding this comment is to thank Katie for this report. It is stunningly brilliant, and should be sent to BBC to show them how proper professionals report on football.
    Thank you.

  6. Top report to go with a fantastic result yesterday. Regarding the atmosphere it didn’t come close to the dizzy heights we reached against Villa, Arsenal or Leeds. Nevertheless, we make a racket at VP which puts most league grounds to shame. It was great to see short of 12k in the crowd, again I tip my cap off to the marketing team #bethedifference

    Millwall self-imploding, losing a man after 5 mins made this an none event, it was game over for me after that. Our players were up for it from the off and had the Lions (more like kittens) on the ropes before the sending off. Bring on the Chelsea!

  7. A really nicely written piece thank you.
    To me the only dissapointing part of the evening was that Milwall were so poor it takes away from what was a fantastic City performance. Parkinson has an amazing ability to make City the team that always want the game more, everywhere on the pitch.

  8. This report is worthy of (the sadly now infamous) Stuart Hall – Poetic. You’ll have a glittering career as a writer.

  9. A great night and I dont think even the most positive supporter could have beleived in what happened. Bring on Chelsea and wouldnt it be amazing if we could get a draw and bring them back to Valley Parade

  10. I am surprised at my own feelings last night – trying not to get carried away at first, amused as the millwall fans that stayed took it out on their team, then sort of disappointed in the contest, or lack of it.
    I enjoyed the match against Rochdale more – apart from the final minutes and result and numb feeling after. That was a contest, us against Rochdale, and a proper villain, the ref, with an atmosphere rarely experienced at matches – we are enjoying remarkable times, ones to hug to ourselves in the future, in the difficult times we are sure to endure sometime.

  11. Brilliant Katie, I love reading the passion in your work and I’m in absolute agreement with your assessment of Phil Parkinson. He has given us all our club back, and in a manner that reflects what it is truly best about Bradford City. In many ways, I think he is our reward for the ‘lost decade’.

    Thanks for capturing this sentiment in such exquisite prose!

  12. A brilliant match report, loved your style when describing the goals! When fiction becomes football…

  13. Wow. Excellent article, a great inspiring read.

  14. Brilliant report and spot on ! I think this squad of players and management is the best since 1999 the premiership days,I can’t remember being so happy

  15. If anyone thinks BBC TV was bad – Radio Leeds are getting a formal complaint from me. I tuned into the 10 o’clock Radio Leeds bulletin hoping to hear a Parky interview but expecting a report. Their “football news” was that Barnsley were taking a Sheffield Wednesday keeper on loan and……nothing.
    No result, never mind a match report.
    I want a refund on my licence fee.

    • Not sure you can blame Radio Leeds entirely for this. Over the years we have been well served by them but since the club awarded Pulse sole rights in return for an increased fee, thereby denying Leeds broadcasting rights, Leeds do not have the same City coverage as they used to do.

  16. Another tremendous article by Katie which articulates how we all feel. I have to keep pinching myself to make sure that I’m not dreaming. 5th in the league and a 4th round tie at Chelsea!

    p.s. We lost against Rochdale and did not draw as Katie says in her article.

  17. Great report Katie. Whilst almost every player seems to be at the top of their game at the moment special mention from me for three of them. Stephen Darby is back to his best and how, the sight of him overlapping going forward and defending with confidence again is heartening, James Meredith is also excelling and for me is in his best spell since joining the club. Gary Liddle isn’t making any headlines but for me is doing everything asked of him and more, he reads the game, breaks up play and uses the ball well, quietly effective and for me a key man. Onwards and upwards, let’s continue to #bethedifference

  18. Sorry! Wrote this straight after the game so didn’t get the chance to do a proper proofread! #SchoolboyError

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