Bradford City slip up late again, this time on green grass

Port Vale 2

Campion 58, O’Connor 90

Bradford City 2

Hanson 41, Morais 65

Saturday 7 February, 2015

By Damien Wilkinson

At the end of a week dominated by talk about the threadbare state of the Valley Parade pitch, followed swiftly by the latest uproar surrounding the arrangements for dealing with ticket demand for the FA cup tie at home to Sunderland, it was a welcome relief to get back to business as usual with a League One trip to Port Vale, and the commencement of a hectic glut of matches for the Bantams.

The transfer window slammed shut during the week, with City – having tied up Filipe Morais and Jon Stead earlier in the month –surprisingly adding central defender Gary Mackenzie, on a last minute loan deal from Blackpool. The Scot travelled with the squad and was named on the bench. There were no changes at all in the starting line up. But as City face a hectic few weeks of fixtures, it will be interesting to see if Phil Parkinson sees fit to make more changes for Monday night’s televised clash at home to high-flying MK Dons.

Port Vale on the other hand had made a couple of deadline day signings, recruiting Cardiff midfielder Tommy O’Sullivan and Hull City striker, Greg Luer, both on a month’s loan, and the pair were named in the squad. Tom Pope, linked with a potential move to Barnsley in the latter stages of the transfer window, has only recently returned to the side. And having being on the receiving end of a number of goals from Vale’s talismanic striker in the past, City were hoping he had still not got back to full match sharpness.

The Valiants also hoped his presence would diminish the loss of front man Danny N’Guessan, who left the club by mutual consent during the week, in addition to the unavailability of joint top scorer Ben Williamson, who tore a hamstring in last Saturday’s defeat at Barnsley. Pre-season City trialist Achille Campion was also named on the bench, and despite having made a handful of appearances so far, was awarded an 18-month contract by manager Rob Page at the start of January this year.

The expansive Vale Park pitch was in stark contrast to the Valley Parade allotments last week, looking in fine fettle for the time of year. More mature WOAP readers may recall the ground gracing the Heavy Metal Holocaust festival in the 1980s, headlined by Motorhead and Ozzy Osborne. And with memories of the notion that if Motorhead moved next door your lawn would die – I couldn’t help wondering whether Burslem-born Lemmy and the boys had made a recent relocation to BD8!

The Bantams sat in eighth position in League One going into this one, seven places above Vale. Yet the tightness of the division was highlighted by the two-point margin separating both clubs.

A decent contingent of away fans, surprisingly announced as 895 in a crowd of 5,205, mustered plenty of enthusiasm, no doubt buoyed by the recent cup fever and an impressive run since early November which has seen the Bantams lose only twice in fifteen league and cup matches.

Perhaps illustrating the limitations of the diamond formation at home in the earlier part of the season, rather than any impact from the pitch itself, it is interesting to note that City have won six of their twelve away matches to date, whilst only managing four wins out of fourteen matches on home soil (no pun intended!) Perhaps even more significant as away wins were seemingly Phil Parkinson’s Achilles heel in previous seasons.

City began the match where they had left off in the second half against Colchester, and dominated early proceedings, with the Valiants struggling to get out of their own half. Jon Stead again was at the heart of the play and swept a ball across the goal on 19 minutes which just needed a touch in, but no one in claret and amber was near enough.

Shortly after, Vale’s first decent attack caused some fairly comical City defensive pinball; and to the relief of the away fans behind the goal, the final ‘ping’ saw the ball end up harmlessly in the arms of City keeper Jordan Pickford.

Filipe Morais was also getting heavily involved in proceedings, and was at the centre of things on 30 minutes, crumpling in a heap and holding his head when fouled by Michael Brown, with the Vale fans making their feelings clear thereafter, despite a number of their players indulging in similar antics.

A number of good spell of City pressure seemed to be counting for nothing, as Vale struggled to clear the ball. Each time it ending up back with a City player, but there seemed to be an inability to find that killer pass or shot.

As half time approached, this changed and a loose ball set Morais through on goal. His initial shot was blocked, but he was able to retrieve the ball on the right of the goal, hook a cross into the centre for the head of James Hanson, who gleefully nodded the ball into the net. No more than the Bantams deserved, and a great time to score with so little time left until half time, and the whistle blew minutes later.

Vale made a further change at half time bringing on Achille Campion. And as the home side began to crank up some pressure, this was to reap a fairly quick benefit, when he was able to react to a header back across goal from the unmarked Michael O’Conner to level the scores, and inflict the law of the ex-trialist upon the Bantams. It was slightly harsh on City, but questionable defending costing them dearly.

Despite the set back, City didn’t appear to feel sorry for themselves and began to exert themselves to a greater extent on the game. Hanson, confidence clearly boosted with his first half goal, began to dominate more in the air, and a number of chances came and went from some of his knock downs. This eventually resulted in a second goal for the Bantams on 65 minutes, when a Hanson header was palmed away by Vale keeper Chris Neal towards the oncoming Morais, who made no mistake, volleying in from a few yards out to record his third goal in as many matches.

As this stage, City grew in confidence and created further near misses. Billy Knott must have been millimetres away from converting another Hanson knock down, and Neal also pulled off a point blank save from the City number nine’s header, after a brilliant cross from Stead.

In the cruellest of fashion this would all come back to haunt City, and as the injury time board signalled an extra four minutes, Vale were rewarded for their persistence. Mark Yeates, brought on as a late sub, lost possession too easily on the half way line and from the resulting attack, Jordan Pickford ended up bringing down Chris Birchall, a bit too cheaply to be honest.

This resulted in a second red card this year for the young keeper, and despite getting a hand to it, replacement Ben Williams was unable to keep O’Connor’s well struck penalty out.

An absolute hammer blow for City, and leaving the ground it almost felt like a defeat, but ultimately the loss of points was self inflicted and extremely frustrating to say the least, especially given the catalogue of similar occurrences that seems to be emerging.

The Bantams face a swift return to action, hoping to build on/rectify the recent slippage with the visit of MK Dons on Monday night. The Dons having fought out a goalless draw in the top of the table showdown at home to Bristol City.

Although disappointment is still raw, it is important for the Bantams to not dwell on what was almost a very creditable three points with some good performances and continued consistency, and to keep their focus firmly on the play offs.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais, Liddle, Halliday, Knott (Yeates 80, Williams 90), Hanson, Stead

Not used: Sheehan, Routis, Mackenzie, Clarke, Zoko

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