The Popcorn Match

1907470_871787022867934_4815493053486445741_nNotts County 1

Edwards 75

Bradford City 1

Stead 45

Saturday 14 March, 2015

By Kieran Wilkinson (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)

There is a term used by professional wrestling promoters – “the Popcorn Match” – to describe a match which isn’t the main event, doesn’t feature the main event wrestlers and is scheduled at such a point on the card that the audience are usually off getting popcorn, drinks and readying themselves for the main event to follow.

In effect, most people’s minds are on something else.

Rarely has the build up for a City game been less about the game itself and more about the game to follow. Whilst the build up to the home game against Notts County in December had revolved around the return of Gary and Garry, you would have been hard pushed to find much mention of Notts County in the press in the past few days. Minds on something else…

A League Cup victory aside, Meadow Lane hasn’t proved to be a welcoming ground for City in recent seasons. The 3-0 loss on New Year’s Day last year was a particularly insipid performance and the less said about the Sven-inspired 5-0 loss on the opening day of the 2009 season, the better. In fact, you would have to go back over seven years for our last victory at Meadow Lane – a 3-1 win with goals from Peter Thorne, Joe Colbeck and Alex Rhodes (remember him?)

Still, given County’s nosedive in form since the last time we played them, this seemed to be a very winnable match. To keep in play off contention, four points from this week’s league games is a must.

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With more than one eye on Monday, Phil Parkinson made six changes to the team that started against Coventry mid-week. In came a debuting Jak Alnwick, along with Gary MacKenzie, Matty Dolan, Christopher Routis, Mark Yeates and Jon Stead. The one surprise omission from the Notts County side was Jamal Campbell-Ryce, a player who had caused trouble for City in the past.

Notts County otherwise did their best to confuse any match reporter with a Gary and a Garry, a Haydn and a Hayden and two Thompsons (the Thompson Twins?) in their starting team. Jones and Thompson got the expected reaction from the 1,000 plus City fans pre-match.

The first chance went to Notts County, with an early corner taken by you-know-who. Alnwick didn’t panic and got in a confident punch to see the danger away. City then started to pressurise after the first ten minutes. Roy Carroll in the County goal failed to hold a finger-stinging free kick from Mark Yeates, but unfortunately did deal with the follow up from Jon Stead. Zoko and Dolan both tried to create chances as City looked to dominate.

There was a scare when Lita looked to have the edge in the City box but the ever-hardy Stephen Darby managed to block the shot.

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As the half wore on, it became clear that the man in the middle, Mark Brown, was going to be another one of those referees. This was made obvious when Jon Stead was inexplicably hauled back after beating his man. Later on when Zoko and Carroll engaged in a 50/50, after the Ivorian chased down an iffy backpass, it was a yellow card for the City man (possibly helped by an over the top reaction from the keeper).

Injury time started off with a lengthy stoppage after County’s Adams needed treatment after a nothing challenge from Liddle. Despite some bright play from City, it looked like both teams would go into half-time even. Probably time to go get a half time drink (or some popcorn). But wait! Zoko sped down the wing, beating Hayden Mullins for pace, crossed the ball in to a waiting Jon Stead who finished neatly. One nil. The sort of injury time goal that causes half-time team talks to be torn up.

In the second half, City continued the good work of the first half. Good chances fell to Zoko, Yeates and the impressive Dolan but none could be put away.

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On the hour (or thereabouts), Jon Stead made way for James Hanson (minds on something else…) There was a brief moment when it looked as if Christopher Routis had scored from a Yeates free-kick but unfortunately this was a trick of the angle from which the City fans viewed it and it was side netting only.

The big, BIG chance to finish off the game came around halfway through the half, with chaos in the County box resulting in goal line clearances from Zoko and Hanson. My phone tells me that immediately after these chances, I sent a text to my brother saying that we could rue these missed chances. Hmm…

However, City had yet more chances with Zoko feeding Hanson but hesitation on the big man’s part saw another chance go begging.

And then the inevitable happened. The City defence parted to allow Jones a chance which Darby was lively to and blocked for a corner. Gary Jones walked over towards the City fans to take a corner.

Now let’s pause for a minute here. If you were one of the people loudly singing “He’s magic, you know…” at that point in time, what on earth were you thinking? Seriously, why give encouragement to an opposition player, whoever they are? We certainly didn’t do this with Stuart when he came back with Everton and Sheffield United so why do this? Before the match – yes. After the match – perfect. But during the match? Absolute stupidity.

Anyway, the no doubt buoyed Jones crossed and Jak Alnwick was beaten by a header at his back post (or should that be bak post?) by a Mike Edwards header. It is worth pointing out that otherwise, Alnwick had a reasonably solid debut, though in fairness he wasn’t overly tested by the Notts County attackers.

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So, 1-1 in a match that we should have been out of sight in. City continued to apply the pressure, with Hanson going very close with a header (shades of last Tuesday at Coventry albeit a very different type of header). However, it was to be a day of “what ifs” and City had to be disappointed with throwing two points away. The sort of result that, if we fall short of the play offs at the end of the season, is one that will be looked back upon with regret.

Wherever the rest of the season takes us, let’s hope we can start to kill games off when we have the opportunity. It’s nearly time for that Monday night main event…

City: Alnwick, Darby, McArdle, MacKenzie, Meredith, Liddle, Routis (Morais 68), Dolan, Yeates, Zoko (Clarke 73), Stead (Hanson 60)

Not used: Williams, Sheehan, Halliday, Knott

With special thanks to the brilliant Thomas Gadd for allowing us to use his brilliant photos. Please visit Thomas Gadd’s website for more details or here to view more photos of this game.

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