Bradford City 4
Hanson 8, Stead 17, Halliday 39, Knott 57
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
Categories: Match Reviews