The Sunderland Verdict: Desire shines through against backdrop of one of Valley Parade’s best atmospheres

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Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Bradford City were utterly dominate throughout their stunning 2-0 victory over Sunderland, leaving Width of a Post pundits Andrew Baxter, Damien Wilkinson, Mahesh Johal and Phil Abbott purring with satisfaction.

What was the key reason for such a comprehensive performance?

Phil: We wanted that victory so much more than the Sunderland players. Once again, as so often in these big games, the City players left absolutely nothing out on the field. In the heavy conditions, once we had gained complete control, there was never any likelihood of a Sunderland comeback.

We bossed the game in just about every department, and played the conditions incredibly well. Sunderland had come with the mindset that they weren’t going to be able to play football on the Valley Parade surface and set up this way.

They paid the ultimate penalty, as they left all of their pace on the bench or not even in the squad.

Andrew: I think City’s energy, passion and commitment were the key reasons behind such a comprehensive performance. From first minute to last, City looked the more energetic, the more committed, and they looked like they wanted to win the game more.

City’s early goal put Sunderland on the back foot, and set the tone for what was one of the best 90 minute performances I have seen at Valley Parade. In addition, I think Parkinson’s decision to move James Hanson to the left wing was a piece of genius. With Hanson out on the left wing, Billy Knott was given the freedom to drift infield, supporting Gary Liddle, and it resulted in City being able to dominate the centre of midfield.

This variation on 4-2-3-1 worked wonders, and the Liddle-Knott-Clarke triangle was outstanding, and was the platform upon which City dominated.

Damien: Before the match I felt that an early goal for us could be crucial, particularly given Sunderland’s fragile confidence, and this certainly knocked them before they had time to settle. However for the next 10 or 15 minutes I felt Sunderland tried to outmuscle and rattle us and I felt we managed to give them as good as we got, put a foot in where it was required and didn’t show them any respect (Swansea match anyone?).

Getting to half time with a clean sheet was also a key moment, and gave us the platform to weather some pressure in the second half, but more importantly kill the game off with the second goal.

Despite a bit of huff and puff, the Black Cats looked a beaten team in the closing stages and surprisingly we eased to a well-deserved victory with an absence of the usual heart-stopping moments we have become accustomed to.

We have now become victims of the Chelsea match, in that we have just beaten a Premier League team to reach the last eight of the FA Cup and yet there was definitely much less of a shock feel to it!

Mahesh: I agree whole heartedly with Phil; we wanted this so much more. The desire which Phil Parkinson sides show really is something else. We out worked them and out thought them in all departments.

Damien’s correct in highlighting the importance of the first goal. It settled the team and hyped the crowd up even more.

Who was your Man of the Match?

Andrew: Can I choose all of them? The entire team, from Ben Williams through to Jon Stead, were outstanding. If I was forced to pick just one player, though, I would probably go for Billy Clarke.

Clarke managed to find acres of room to roam around and dictate play, and was a constant thorn in the side of an experienced Sunderland defence. Clarke’s technical ability, vision, and dribbling ability means he is perfect for the number 10 role. Billy Knott and James Hanson were also very impressive, and Rory McArdle was outstanding, with the last-ditch tackle in the first half an example of his bravery and determination, playing with his Terry Butcher-esque bandage.

Phil: Man of the match for me was Rory McArdle. He was just sensational. He mopped up everything that came his way, instilled calmness on the odd occasions that Sunderland threatened and made some crucial tackles at pivotal moments.

I’d give honourable mentions to James Meredith, Knott and Clarke who were outstanding also, and save particular praise for Ben Williams who was a commanding presence between the posts.

Damien: I would also agree that Rory McArdle was man of the match, although this was very much a complete team effort, with everyone putting in some great performances.

In the second half especially, against some powerful strikers, Rory won virtually every header he challenged for, with the ball almost magnetically finding his head bandage. James Hanson yet again showed his value to the side and sitting on the left caused no end of problems to John O’Shea and co, and it is also an increasing joy to see the holy trio of Stead, Clarke and Hanson in full flow.

Mahesh: It’s a toss between Rory and James Meredith for me. They were both absolutely superb. The guys have already talked about McArdle’s performance so I’d like to touch upon Meredith’s afternoon.

His willingness (not just today, but all season) to go forward and be the overlapping runner adds such an extra dimension to our attack. James Hanson’s performance will rightly receive praise, but I think an aspect of it is down to the support Meredith gave him both going forward and back.

In defence, Meredith was strong in the tackle and did not stop harrying his opposite man. His contribution for the second goal does not just epitomise his performance in this game, but his whole season so far!

Were you surprised by Sunderland’s performance?

Phil: I was surprised that Sunderland had so little to offer. On the only occasions they looked remotely threatening it was because they had found space and time on the ball. In order for this to happen more often, they needed to match the energy and tenacity in the challenge by the Bantams, and in truth, never came anywhere close to doing that.

Is Poyet walking the plank? His team certainly don’t appear to be playing for him.

Mahesh: I was surprised at how bad they were. They offered very little and missed heroes and battlers today in Cattermole and Defoe. Adam Johnson was the go to man and he was largely ineffective on either wing. He was also forced deep to find the ball for most of the second half.

For all the millions spent on their three strikers they were so below par compared to our three attacking players.

Damien: I was also surprised by Sunderland’s performance. I think Poyet’s pre-game comments on the pitch came back to haunt him and clearly he had set up the team to play differently to try and counter this.

Whilst it appears Defoe was not selected due to an injury, the presence of Fletcher, Graham and latterly Wickham saw the Black Cats often resort to lumping the ball forward. After the second goal this became increasingly desperate and you feel with different personnel and less directness they may have had more chance of retrieving something from the match. Billy Clarke up the other end gave a masterclass on how to play the pitch.

Andrew: Sunderland are clearly a team lacking in confidence. A midweek defeat to QPR will have done them no favours at all, but I was surprised to see how easily they were brushed aside by City. The likes of Adam Johnson and Seb Larsson, both quality Premier League players, had very little influence, and I didn’t even notice that Larsson was on the pitch until about half an hour in, such was his minimal impact on the game!

This is a troublesome period for the Mackems, and unlike their fans (who were very good, including clapping City at the end of the game), Sunderland showed no commitment and no desire.

City’s biggest crowd since 1960 – how did Sunday rank amongst the best days you have experienced at Valley Parade?

Damien: It was definitely a very special day at Valley Parade and well up with what is starting to become a crowded list of ‘special’ matches. I think any concept of a Top 5 of City matches is now an impossible one!

The atmosphere was amazing, with Valley Parade rocking throughout and this clearly played a part in the performance, kept the lads going. I sit in the more typically ‘restrained’ main stand, yet I can’t ever remember so many fans joining in the chanting and clapping throughout a match.

Mahesh: For me, the pre match and first half was the best atmosphere I’ve experienced at Valley Parade. It was so loud! The mosaic in the Kop also helped add to the occasion in my opinion. A great move by the marketing department!

It’s funny that Damien mentions the “Top 5”. Me and my cousin had the same conversation after the game. Does it get in there? Probably. If there’s one thing for sure, there’s is no better sight for a Bradford City fan than looking west to north and seeing the three stands packed to the rafters with claret and amber.

Andrew: Sunday was one of the best days I have ever had at Valley Parade. I was too young to remember the Premiership days, so for me, the benchmark is the magnificent 2012/13 season.

The atmosphere was incredible, I was sat near the top of the Kop and the noise was relentless. In terms of City’s performance, it was right up there with the Aston Villa home game. City’s performance oozed confidence and creativity, and we have been spoilt rotten as City fans recently, with a number of outstanding displays in the last couple of seasons, under the leadership of Phil Parkinson.

Phil: The atmosphere on Sunday was, in my experience, the best for many, many years. The victory? It just seems to be becoming the norm. Well played my beautiful Bradford City.

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Categories: The Verdict

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1 reply

  1. If Rory McArdle doesn’t play another game this season he would still be my player of the year and his performance against Sunderland was his best yet. Absolutely immense.

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