Cahill 21, Ramires 38
Bradford City 4
Stead 41, Morais 75, Halliday 82, Yeates 90
Saturday 24 January, 2015
By Alex Scott (all other images by Mike Holdsworth)
There was a moment at the beginning of injury time with Bradford City “holding” on to a 3-2 lead – though it’s not like the backline were under that much pressure, given the situation – and Jon Stead had corralled another ball forward in his vicinity, and released it at the perfect time to send Billy Clarke through in the right channel.
Instead of taking on a scrambling Cesar Azpilicueta, the City substitute chose to take the ball into the corner and play for time. Mark Yeates, charging in behind an overwhelmed Andreas Christensen on the opposite flank, threw his arms up in the air in disgust. Taking the ball into the corner in injury time is not just common practice but best practice in most close games, let alone in that situation.
But moments like that were not what got City to that position.
That was not the mindset of the rest of the squad. That was giving something up. That was an admission of fear. That was not how the team had played for the previous 91 minutes. They were fearless. Fearless. Mark Yeates found himself in a similar situation two minutes later in the opposite channel, and would not make the same mistake.
Before the game, we spent most of our time coming up with scenarios of how City could pull this off. Most of them revolved around Petr Cech being sent off in the opening moments, and Ben Williams concocting an elaborate forcefield of some description. Every single theory was discussed until someone said “true, but look at the teams, their players are just better than our players”. It was a brick wall that even the most ardently positive City fan couldn’t skirt round. The only way they could win is if seventeen separate things happened, and even then it had to be a smash-and-grab victory of some description, heavily reliant on the Williams Wall.
But make no mistake, this was no smash-and-grab victory. Under oath, every person who witnessed today will attest that in that second half, Phil Parkinson’s men were genuinely the better of the two teams. And this was against a Chelsea side that finished with Cech, England’s Gary Cahill – let’s hope he is successfully recovered from Jon Stead’s pocket in time for the next international game – Cesar Azpilicueta, Cesc freaking Fabregas, 2014 World Cup Semi-finalists Oscar, Ramires and Willian, Eden Hazard, and Didier Drogba on the pitch.
There will be a thousand incredible statistics emanating from this game, but none will be more remarkable than sixth place in League One Bradford City, over 50 minutes of football, beat that team 4-0. At Stamford Bridge. Insanity.
How Parkinson actually managed to pull this one off is a wonder. The gameplan was drawn up perfectly, and deployed to a tee. Everything he did worked. James Hanson spent most of his time on the left flank, dominating the unfortunate 18-year old Christensen aerially – the young Dane will not have been asked to defend like that before, and he may never again. The barrage of long diagonals toward the Chelsea right back seldom let up, and more often than not, Hanson was able to find a team-mate.
As the teams walked out onto the pitch, the only thing that could silence the City faithful was the Stamford Bridge tannoy system. Not every City fan who wanted to attend this game could, but those who did carried everyone with them today; that was as good a crowd performance as I have seen from City.
After begging and borrowing my way into the ground, for the first time in my life I can remember I was at a City game but not in the City end. This did provide a different slant on proceedings, not that I changed my behaviours as such – ending up Public Enemy #1 in the East Stand – but being able to actually watch the City fans as a unit. You always feel louder when you are in the away end; but today I can confirm the away end was 100 times louder than the home crowd. It was an astounding spectacle.
Given what happened in the second half, that the team were shooting toward the City fans is by no means a coincidence. They were the dominant aspect of the game throughout; players included. I cannot say enough about how good they were.
The game started in the manner one would have expected coming in, with Chelsea dominating possession and City on the back foot. But it wasn’t a Swansea-style avalanche of possession and territory; the away team were resolutely holding their own.
We do take it for granted with Phil Parkinson, but his team selection, whilst obvious in hindsight, was absolutely perfect. As he noted post-match, if City were to get anything out of this, they had to be fearless, and playing two forwards, well supported by Billy Knott illustrated as much. Not every manager would do that away at the best team in the country; I mean, look at the dross we get served up on Match of the Day every week. The nerve to stick with what got his team here deserves praise.
The first real chance didn’t stick to the script however, with Andrew Davies charging free from an early corner and powering a header into Cech’s top corner. I leapt for the air instantly – lacking all self-awareness of my situation, soon to become a running theme – and the ball just looked in. Everything about it screamed “goal”. The highlights will show what a remarkable save that was from the Czech keeper.
Not long after England’s Cahill flicked a near post corner into the roof of Ben Williams’ net after a defensive breakdown in the near post zone – this assignment was passed from Andy Halliday to Jon Stead not long after. And just like that, you begin to feel a little resignation. Those two moments illustrated everything you worried about coming in: their players are just better than our players. They can take advantage of their chances; and their Premier League All-Time ‘keeper saves ours.
The game settled into a theme, with Chelsea holding the ball for a few minutes, Bradfordians deafening cheers circulate, City win it back, Hanson beats Christensen in the air, Chelsea win it back, repeat. That said, City were never really in danger. The second goal came from a sucker punch counter attack, the likes I’ve not seen in person since Nathan bloody Dyer and all that.
Phil Morris was pickpocketed by Ramires on halfway, selling the rest of his midfield down the river in the process, and six seconds later after a precision counter attack, it was 2-0, and that looked, well, that.
To be 2-0 down away at the best side in the country after 40 minutes is as ominous as it gets in football really. Especially as the gameplan had worked! Two mental errors was all it had taken.
Then everything changed. Whilst the City fans never ceased singing, those next 90 seconds of noise felt a little more resigned – a “well, we’re here now and we’re still gonna have a good time” type of cheer.
Then everything changed.
Jon Stead was the brought in last season, and this season, primarily because he had that extra little bit of class. Jon Stead was the best player on the pitch today, including all of those names I listed earlier. This was pretty much the best performance of a City player I can remember. Two outstanding assists and a truly phenomenal goal. I’m not sure any player in the country performed better than he did today.
After buying a freekick half-way into the Chelsea half, City again loaded the box, and Morais’ whipped ball found Billy Knott free at the back post. Knott then composed himself and pulled the ball back to Stead on the edge of the box, who knocked the ball round a charging defender and crashed the ball into Cech’s top right hand corner. It was an incredible strike at an incredibly important time. I cannot say enough about how good Jon Stead was.
All of this so far has really been to set the stage for what – recency bias noted – was the best 45 minutes I’ve seen from a City side in, well, forever. For the first 20 minutes of that half, they were on top, and at times, banging on the door. Of the Champions. In their house.
Top to bottom there were no passengers. The midfield in particular were astounding in their defensive and offensive energy and support. Whilst before the game we were talking about bus-parking and lane-clogging, this isn’t what was happening in front of us. City went toe-to-toe with Chelsea and were gaining the upper hand. They were absolutely fearless. It was really a remarkable performance from each of the players out there. I cannot say enough about how good they were.
Mourinho, not seen on the touchline in the first half, sensing the shift in momentum, stood stock still at the edge of his technical area, watching his team beginning to rock, eventually calling in the cavalry in the form of Willian and Fabregas with 20 minutes to play.
Then all hell broke loose and life stopped making sense.
Forty seconds after Drogba fired a free header straight at Williams from the penalty spot, City were level. A long throw from the fantastic James Meredith found its way to Knott on the edge of the six yard box, who saw his powerful shot rebuffed by Cech straight into the path of Filipe Morais with the goal at his mercy. It was no less than City deserved, and for Morais a perfect moment, not only atoning for his earlier error but realising ten years’ worth of work in one moment, on top of the world, back where it all began.
At this point, we are through the looking glass. All bets are off. City are on for a replay, seventeen minutes to go, Jose Mourinho immediately smashes open his “In Case Of Emergency Break” box with Eden Hazard inside. It was clear Mourinho wanted no part of a replay, and that City had elicited Willian, Fabregas and now Hazard from his bench was a testament to how well they had played.
Five minutes later, after some expert hold-up play in the penalty area, the ball was laid off to a charging midfielder inside of the ‘D’ who bent the ball expertly past the outstretched, helpless goalkeeper and the net was bulging. But it was Andy Halliday who was on his knees with his head in his hands in front of a backdrop of 6,000 rapturous Yorkshiremen and women. I cannot say enough about that finish from Halliday. It was a Premier League finish, and it should not get lost in the wash of this game. Think he’s happy to have sorted out his contract the other day?
At this point, my memory is a slew of “scene missing” placards. The next ten minutes flew by as we approached injury time. And that is my main takeaway really, I didn’t feel like I did at Villa Park, where the last twenty minutes felt like a lifetime. Given how well City played second half, the fear wasn’t really there. As much as the players fed off the incredible crowd, we were beginning to feed off them. Fearless.
As Mark Yeates slipped the ball inside to Jon Stead, everything slowed down. Stead, the most composed player on the field, yet again held off England’s Gary Cahill, and released the wheeling Yeates perfectly, who sent City into dreamland. Fans are tumbling down rows in the away end; home fans are filing out around our ecstatic wails and the madness was complete. The Special One immediately walked over to the City bench and began shaking everyone’s hand; the game was up. The “worst defeat of [his] career”.
Two nil down after 40 minutes; four two up at 92. Away from home. At Stamford Bridge. With European Cup winners, World Cup winners, Premier League winners, the Special One looking on helpless, and beaten. Clearly beaten. Embarrassingly beaten.
In my near-twenty years following City, I’ve never felt like that. At only 26, I’m not the person to attempt to place this game amongst the Pantheon of All-Time Great City performances nor, at three hours past the full time whistle at the time of writing, is this the time to attempt it. But it has to be right up there. Right up there.
In the second half today, City beat the best side in the country 3-0 away from home. City’s manager out-manoeuvred the most acclaimed manager in Europe. Today City became only the second English side ever to beat a Jose Mourinho team at Stamford Bridge in 90 minutes.
Against Villa, Wigan and Arsenal two years ago there were excuses, other outside factors explaining how City were able to upset the odds. Today there was nothing. A fearless City team went toe-to-toe with the best side in the country in their house, and beat them 4-2. I cannot say enough to do this game, this manager, these players, this team, these fans justice. I cannot say enough.
The Fifth Round of the FA Cup beckons for the first time since 1997, and at this point, City have no thing, and no one, to fear. Bring them all on.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais (Clarke 89), Liddle, Knott (Yeates 80), Halliday (Routis 87, Stead, Hanson
Not used: Urwin, Sheehan, Kennedy, Zoko
Categories: Match Reviews