To be in love

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Bradford City 2

Clarke 56, Hanson 70

MK Dons 1

Alli 54

Monday 9 February, 2015

By Jason McKeown

I love nights like this. The freezing temperatures challenge your motivation to get out of the house, especially when the game is viewable from your sofa. But the cold is nothing that six layers of clothes won’t fix, and singing loudly and proudly for 90 minutes warms the heart. It stirs the soul.

I love games like this. Winning is everything of course, but watching two talented sides go at each other with skill, honesty and determination is why we love lower league football. And if you were able to pick a way for your team to win a match, I’d choose the come-from-behind-victory every time. It feels harder earned and therefore more satisfying. Oh and if we are allowed to be picky, the City goals have to be scored in front of the Kop.

And I love Bradford City teams like this. It’s been a slow burner in some respects. Seeing the History Makers side be broken up last summer was a hard one to take, and I feared that it might be a long wait until we had another City team that meant so much to me. But this new bunch embodies so much of what made the 2012/13 promotion-winning team so special. They share their spirit and their character. They play better football, too.

Watching with glee tonight, as City came roaring back from the injustice of MK Dons taking the lead, it suddenly struck me just how much I have grown attached to this team. Their qualities, and even their flaws. They have embraced the Phil Parkinson culture and are taking the club to new heights. They are giving it their all and delivering success. Their honesty is what I love the most.

And the majority of this team is going to be with us at least another season. They are either contracted to stay here, or are inevitably going to earn a contract to play for Bradford City in 2015/16. There is a longevity to their endeavours. Their names will not be quickly forgotten. This is not their glass ceiling. This summer will not be about rebuilding, but strengthening something that is developing into something special. Let’s enjoy where it takes us.

You see it in players like Jon Stead and Filipe Morais. For both, their lists of former clubs are long in length. They are journeymen lower league players, whose careers are supposed to be on the slide. Yet here they are, looking completely at home in BD8. Performing to their maximum and delivering the goods week in week out. You’ll easily find frustrated former managers of these two players who gladly washed their hands of them, but in Parkinson the pair have found a manager who believes and brings out the best in them.

It’s a similar story in other areas of the park. Rory McArdle’s career was up and down, but he is settled at Valley Parade and is currently having the season of his life. No one ever thought McArdle would outshine Andrew Davies, but that is what he is doing this campaign.

James Meredith was playing non-league football only recently and has had his ups and downs at Valley Parade. Yet he is enjoying his best run of form since signing in 2012. A year ago Meredith was struggling and everyone said he needed competition. So Parkinson signed Alan Sheehan and Meredith has thrived on that challenge. We might have seen a similar debate this season about Stephen Darby, but the 2013/14 player of the year is back with aplomb. No one talks about whether he can’t handle the pressure of the captain’s armband anymore.

I could go on, and why not? Gary Liddle is so unassuming, but a class act. The calmness he brings is increasingly valued in the oft-frantic middle of the park. Liddle is both the tempo setter and the maintainer of high standards.

Billy Knott struggled in a more withdrawn role tonight, but in the end his quality came to the fore. Billy Clarke was brought back in and also improved as the night wore on. The fact that he and Mark Yeates have not been able to get into the team has made a complete mockery of early season fears this squad would prove too thinbare. There is genuine strength in depth. It has crept up on us.

It took a while to get going, this game. City went with an unusual 4-2-3-1 that seemed to be about matching the shape of their higher-placed opponents. But the shunting of James Hanson to left midfield was a curious one. He won plenty of diagonal balls, but was too isolated for team mates to make much of them. Stead is certainly good enough to play on his own up front, but having runners around him is what truly gets the most from his strength and close control.

Stead missed the half’s best chance when he was played through on goal but shot tamely. A well-worked counter attack effort from Clarke (picked out superbly by Knott) almost capped off 15 minutes of growing City first half pressure, but the game only found life after the break.

After being pushed back for the opening stages of the second half, it was a shock when MK Dons struck first. An Andrew Davies back pass caught Jordan Pickford by surprise and he miskicked his clearance straight to Jordan Clarke-Harris, who squared it to £5 million man Dele Alli to slot home.

Pickford’s confidence looked as though it had taken a dip after Saturday, and later on he would get away with an unconvincing palm away from a free kick that MK Dons should have capitalised on. But with five minutes to go the on-loan shot stopper make a superb one-on-one block that was as good as a goal. He is only borrowed until the summer but has settled in so well at City. I really rate him.

By the time of his late save, City had turned it around. They were only behind for two minutes, before Liddle headed down to Clarke, who beat the offside trap to finish impressively. The crowd noise had never dropped despite the Bantams falling behind, and it made a big difference tonight. It makes a big difference in so many games. The team thrives off the crowd who thrive off the team. It’s all so beautifully in synch. There aren’t too many grounds in the country that spark an atmosphere to match ours.

City kept pushing and were finally rewarded with a James Hanson winner. By now he was restored up top with Stead, and he latched onto a terrific through ball from his strike partner (who it must be said used his hand in the build up) before finishing low and hard with his weaker right foot. MK Dons keeper David Martin rushed out too quickly and was caught out. The ball rolled past him and into the net, and the crowd went crazy. Amazing scenes.

Hanson is back in the goals. Back doing what he does so well. One of the club’s top 10 all time scorers just keeps going and going. Yep, I love this guy.

If anyone was going to score again it was City. Davies should have done when a Hanson knock down from a corner fell into his path, but the defender could only stab the ball over. Lee Hodson headed a Hanson header off the line and other promising attacks were defended well. No matter, as there was to be no late sting in the tale this time. City saw the game out and ended the night back in the top six.

All of which sets us up for a relaxing week feeling excited about the Sunderland game. The pressure of attaining a first league win of 2015 off the team’s back, they can enjoy this mammoth FA Cup tie knowing there is nothing to lose.

And if they can play like this, they have every chance of upsetting the odds again. Parkinson has an incredible ability to lift his team for big cup games like this. Ensuring they bring onto the field a high intensity and focus, and giving them the confidence to feel ten foot tall against world-renowned players.

And Parkinson has an amazing ability to build good football teams. Teams that strike the right chord with its public. Teams that play with the passion and commitment that satisfies a demanding crowd. Teams that don’t accept their limitations. Teams that collectively punch above their weight, in a manner few Bradford City sides of the past can claim to have consistently managed.

And we, the public, love them for it. I absolutely love Bradford City. And it is times like this, and games like this, which reaffirm that passion and make you feel validated for sticking with the club through the dark times.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Liddle, Knott (Halliday 88), Morais, Clarke (Yeates 79), Hanson, Stead

Not used: Williams, Routis, MacKenzie, Sheehan, Zoko

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Categories: Match Reviews

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4 replies

  1. Spot on Jason, for me, Gary Liddle is the signing of the lot. He goes about his job almost unnoticed but highly effective and makes the whole team tick. He never shirks a tackle, seems to cover the ground effortlessly and is a quiet leader on the pitch. On the whole though, as you say, we have another team to be proud of. I love night matches at VP, the atmosphere appears even more intense & exciting under the lights.

    • I completely agree about the night games being so good. Atmosphere is always fabulous and performances seem to feed off that so often.

      Was a great game….Parkinson played Clarke as well as Morais, Stead and Hanson which was a VERY attacking line up against a dangerous team; however he once again proved spot on. The players seemed fired up and I commented to a friend during the game that Meredith looked like he was loaded up on Hogh Energy drinks, he was like a ferocious terrior at times!

  2. You sum it up so well, Jason. I watched on the excellent Sky TV, which is far more nerve-wracking than being there. I thought the pitch was poor, yet much better than 9 days ago. City were the better of 2 good teams, and I felt they seemed just a bit quicker to and on the ball, and stronger in the challenges. Davies and co handled the very dangerous attack well, and Hanson was outstanding. On reflection, Pickford probably had time to control it before kicking. It hit Stead’s hand, but the referee was perfectly positioned, and obviously thought it was not handball. It was noticeable that the MK players hardly protested. I felt the referee was excellent and contributed well to a memorable night, a great advert. for Division One. How far we have come in 2 and a half years!

    • Ref did right by letting the play go. Handballs should only be called in my opinion if the player uses his hands in an obvious fashion. Sometimes the ball just bounces around and hits a hand like this, if should not be called. I guess it depends on the situation. Case per case, really.

      Mk Dons protested the first Goal more than the ‘handball’, but not by much.

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