The swords live to kill those who live by them


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Reading 3

Robson-Kanu 6, McCleary 9, Mackie 68

Bradford City 0

Monday 16 March, 2015

By Alex Scott (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)

Things were not going our way, to say the least. As that ball floated, looped, as if in slow motion, the inevitability of it, of everything, was inescapable. It isn’t fair, really. Not that fair has much to do with it. But it was certainly cruel.

It’s not that I was expecting a League One team to beat a Championship team – away from home – with a Wembley trip at stake. But, if I’m being honest, I was expecting Us to better Them.  As Garath McLeary cut inside, I was already in the midst of a haze. Numb. And then….

I’m not a soul who allows himself into optimism easily. I’m a pragmatist, or a Bradfordian, whichever sounds the least pretentious.

As the teams walked out at Valley Parade, over the pockmarked pitch, I couldn’t really help being optimistic. After Sunderland’s travails a few weeks previous, it was hard to think Reading weren’t about to be brought down to our level with a bang.

About two minutes after kick off, Nathaniel Chalobah careered through Gary Liddle in a – totally legal – aerial challenge, leaving the City midfielder horizontal, and that was the end of that. As a lower league team, you always want to get your more heralded opposition to play down to your level. Within one hundred and twenty seconds of kick off in that first tie, everything was flipped on its head. The following 88 minutes only reinforced this. Reading were not taking any of our nonsense. In fact, they were better at being us than we were.

After that first headed challenge, City never truly looked like threatening in that tie. Reading were a better team, playing about as well, if not better than we were. Maybe if we get them off that pitch, though? At home they couldn’t play that defensively? At home they must open up?

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Before the game, Andrew Davies failed a fitness test as a result of the arm injury he suffered last week, giving way to Alan Sheehan. This was a bad omen. Not because of Sheehan, but given his talismanic nature, not having Davies there in game that was sure to be physical couldn’t possibly be a good thing.

As Gary MacKenzie had started in Davies’ stead two days earlier, it was clear that Parkinson was continuing to dance with the girls what brung him, as he did two years before, with MacKenzie reprising the Michael Nelson role to Sheehan’s Carl McHugh.

Other than that, the team was as expected, with Billy Knott forging away at the top of the diamond and City following the Chelsea model. As the game began, it was clear that Reading had indeed opened up, with two out and out forwards, and two wingers to boot. We had the extra man in the middle this time.

To say things didn’t go to plan probably undersell the next ten minutes. Firstly, after a dangerous break on City’s right, a corner was whipped in to the near post area to find Hal Robson-Kanu free to guide the ball into the back of Ben Williams’ net. The echoes of Gary Cahill’s goal were startling. Five minutes were barely on the clock.

The hammer blow was soon to follow, as Garath McLeary was show inside by James Meredith onto his left foot, and the charging Andy Halliday. Nine minutes on the clock, and City were on the ropes and all but out for the count. That tortuously looping ball will not soon escape my mind’s eye.

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My assumption before the game had been that if Reading opened up as they would be forced to by playing at home and on national television, gaps would be opened for City to win the second balls they failed to win in the first game, and open space for Billy Knott to roam free at the tip of the diamond.

Steve Clarke, however, had different ideas. Not many people game plan better than Phil Parkinson does, and his teams have made a specialty of playing above themselves. Even tonight, as he was outmatched on paper, and he didn’t get any luck whatsoever, you don’t come away from it thinking he could have done anything else. But Steve Clarke worked us out.

In these two games, Reading have made us look like a slightly above average third tier team, as we are. We barely won a second ball in two full games. I can’t remember anything more than a half chance. Reading are about the first team to do that to us since Swansea.

City don’t lose big games, nor do they really underperform when the pressure is on. They have a real knack of masking their failings in one off games, instead exploiting those of their unsuspecting opponents. Tonight, and at times in the first leg, they were made to look all of the division below Reading that they are.

The rest of the first half followed the same pattern as the first game. City couldn’t get in behind their defence, nor could they hold the ball up, nor could they keep the ball at the base of the midfield, nor could they threaten at set pieces. Nothing they tried worked. And this is true of one hundred and eighty minutes against Reading, they never once threatened the Royals’ goal.

In truth, they were lucky to get in at nil-two. Pavel Pogrebnyak and Jamie Mackie were a handful, though Sheehan and McArdle battled manfully. The Reading widemen threatened again and again, though like their central defensive counterparts, Meredith and Stephen Darby battled hard. But the front six was where the game was up.

Despite City having that extra man, England Under-21 star Chalobah and American international Danny Williams dominated the middle of the field for the Reading, and the away team couldn’t get a foot in. Further beyond, Michael Hector and Alex Pearce were just as impressive as they were in the first leg, totally nullifying the threat of Jon Stead and James Hanson.

Though City weren’t playing well, it wasn’t like they were exceptionally poor either. The home team were just streets ahead of them; they throttled them. City were at an arm’s length.

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Reading began the second half as they finished the first, on top and in charge, but the game was never really put to bed until the Filipe Morais’ red card after the hour mark.

Initially, my reaction was that it looked harsh, but seeing it again, the foot was probably high and out of control. There still wasn’t intent, but the card was there to be given. Even the manager quasi-admitted to the red card in his post-match interview after seeing it on TV. There’s a relief in that you don’t have to obsess about that in the future looking back.

It finished as it was for most of the game. Reading were dominant and totally deserved their place in the FA Cup Semi Finals. They outplayed us over the two ties, and took away everything we did well. It was so comprehensive that there was nothing even to look back on in regret. As Parkinson said after the game, “we looked like we didn’t have a response in us”.

They looked tired. They looked beaten. I never saw it coming. Not for a second. That after all that, it would end like this.

With Parkinson as hot a property he has ever been, and a number of key role players out of contract in the summer, a part of you wonders whether we are at the middle, the end, or the beginning of something at City. Obviously, the latter is preferable, but it is a daunting thought.

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Jason Thornton in his post-match described this game as “a wonderful distraction” on more than one occasion, and whilst I get what his motive was for that question, I have to take exception with his reasoning.

This was one of the best trips I – or any of us – have been on. It was worth it in its own right. From the comeback at Halifax to the dominance over Dartford to the smashing of Millwall to the absurdity of Chelsea to the absurd mundanity of Sunderland to the battle of Reading, to describe this as a distraction is to totally miss the point of the journey. The lesson of these last two years has to be that concentrating on the league is a lie. Teams wait decades for cup runs like we’ve had these few years.

But the swords live to kill those who live by them.

As the Reading fans leapt for joy and sprinted onto the field, the final light went out on City’s cup run for another year. Since Swansea, I’d not really felt like I did at that moment. It was numbing.

But there was a light in the darkness over the pitch. Fighting through the waves of grey and charcoal coats of the delirious home fans were a group of claret and amber beacons, separated, but fighting toward us as one, battling through the darkness. Led by Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle, the City players fought through the ever-increasing number of home fans on the field; they refused to be denied in reaching the away end. This is still a special team.

After the game, Phil Parkinson was quoted saying, “the longer you stay in, the more it hurts.” Given how raw this still feels as I type this morning, that is certainly true. But given the choice, I’d rather support a team with him in charge, and with Darby and McArdle leading the way through the dark, than any other team in the country. Regardless of where the path ends, or however much it hurts on the way. This is still a special team.

Three points off the play offs with a game in hand. This is still a special team.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith, Liddle, Morais, Halliday (Yeates 59), Knott (Dolan 74), Hanson, Stead (Clarke 59)

Not used: Urwin, Routis, MacKenzie, Zoko

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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Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , ,

14 replies

  1. I love reading articles by Alex – he says exactly what I think but a bucket-load more eloquently (I can’t imagine him every having to resort ot the phrase “bucket-load” for exmample…)

    Reading were simply better at being Bradford City than Bradford City are. It felt like one of those school ground cartoon fights where the bigger kid just holds the little kid at arm’s length – and for all the furious swinging of arms and feet the little kid just can’t get close enough to land a punch.

    I agree that the Cup is not a “distraction” – it is part of why we love football – and to those who say they’d swap 3 points for a Cup win I despair. You get another chance to win 3 points next week – it may be another 40 years until we get to do this again. Suck it up and enjoy it whilst you can.

    Still – every team bar one loses in the FA Cup eventually and for those of who remember the years and years in which we barely seemed to win a single cup tie the last two years have been beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Football is about the glory – and we’ve sure had our share.

    Kudos to Steve Clarke and his team for a brilliantly organised win – no kudos to the Reading fans who thought the best way to celebrate getting to a Cup Semi Final was to taunt the league one opposition. You should celebrate guys – everyone loses eventually…

  2. Reading – vicious but fair! They did to us what we wanted to do to them. Hard to take now.
    Liddle will be looking over his shoulder for Mackie for the next week or two.
    Did anyone mention their pitch? After all that was said about ours………
    As you say, tho’, this run is one of the reasons fans stick by clubs. This run will be to hug to ourselves in the bad days that will surely come. Fantastic.

  3. Coming so soon after last night’s result it is difficult to conceal raw feelings of disappointment. You cannot avoid the observation that we were never in the contest – Alex sums it up. The players looked mentally and physically jaded, Andrew Davies was a big totemic loss but ultimately that miserable Scottish manager had his tactics spot on. A big part of me was grateful that we didn’t sink to 0-5 which at one stage looked on the cards. In truth this was a salutary reminder that we have been over-achieving and we remain a third division team.

    If only we’d scored at Valley Parade… but let’s not get too downbeat or forget the outstanding achievements of the cup run. I never thought I’d see BCAFC in the quarter finals of the FA Cup again and I certainly never thought that we’d ever win at Stamford Bridge.

    A part of me is disappointed to lose to a club such as Reading as opposed to a so-called ‘big-club’. I still look upon Reading as a small town side that spent much of the 70’s and 80’s as our lower division rivals and in 1983 there was even talk about Thames Valley Royals to amalgamate two struggling clubs. The ascendancy of the likes of Reading, Bournemouth and even Milton Keynes reflects the wealth of the south east economy – the contrast from Elm Park 30 years ago to the Mad Stad of today speaks volumes. For all our passion, finance represents a potential glass ceiling and may also determine whether we can keep our manager. I can’t help but feel that we’d be a bigger and better supported club than the likes of Reading if we had the backing but we just don’t. In more ways than one it was a long sobering journey home.

    The next couple of weeks will be crucial to get the show back on the road. As was demonstrated last night we don’t have the depth of squad and ultimately fatigue will set in. It is vital that the crowd get behind the team on Saturday – this is where the real cup run begins.

    • There’s nothing wrong with being a league 1 club John. Especially a vibrant, community based one like ours. Lets revisit Bournemouth, MK and Reading in 10 years time and see if they have maintained their current success. We need backing, sure, but we need the right backing, proper planning and the right vision to continue to take the club forward.

      From his comments on the way home I think Parky is planning for next season already. Clearly, he is hot property at the moment but football is fickle. The most successful periods of his career have come about after a long period of rebuilding (he didn’t pull up any trees in his first season) and to get the best out of him chairmen need to be patient – something they are not known for. I hope Phil sees BCAFC as a real opportunity to progress and not just as a stepping stone. If he gets the support from the chairmen (not just money) I’m hoping he will be with us for years to come and if he does jump ship I’m hoping that we appoint on continuity in the same way Swansea have done.

      • I don’t aspire to the Premier League but surely our ambition should extend beyond the third division? There is a good chance that many of the current Championship or Premier League clubs will implode financially – Cardiff City are reported to have debts of £174 for example – and perhaps in ten years it will be a different outlook altogether. Perhaps we will sit at a higher table by default.

        However you only need to look at changes in the League to see that the power base is shifting towards the south, mirroring what we see in the economy as a whole. And in the decade since we left the Championship the gap between the second and third divisions has become greater. Whether we like it or not the odds are gradually moving against us establishing ourselves as a Championship club anyway.

        My comment is not a call for the club to be sold for the first bag of gold. Of course we need the right backing and we need a sustainable plan for the future. Ultimately if we don’t have ambition there is little chance of retaining PP or key squad members and it then becomes self-fulfilling that we remain in the lower divisions.

    • Interesting John. I am not sure there is a correlation between the affluence of the South East and any sort of footballing hegemony. Bmouth are financed by a Russian who lives in Switzerland! Maybe I am out of touch but I would prefer to succeed on merit rather than on the basis of the amount of money we are prepared to throw at it. In terms of ownership we remain based on the old model of local businessmen of relatively modest means with some feeling for the history and traditions of the club. Is it really worth losing that? Longer term the likes of Bmouth and Reading are likely to sink to their natural level. You get the impression that Reading are still to an extent living off Madjeskis legacy.

      • I share your opinion about wanting to succeed on merit but I’m not convinced that it is still entirely possible to do so without strong financial backing. However I’m not suggesting that the club should be sold for a bag of dirty gold to someone with little interest in the club. The fundamental challenge is finding Bradford businessmen prepared to invest.

        I can’t help but feel that among the clubs we would consider to be our peers it has been the southern clubs who are stealing the march. My feeling is that BCAFC should be targeting a place in the Championship and I take the attitude that we should be at least the equals of the three clubs I mention in addition to the likes of Brighton and Bristol City.

        I spend quite a bit of time working in the south and what really hits home is the extent to which the northern economy is slipping behind and Bradford in particular. Reading, Bournemouth and Milton Keynes are incredibly affluent areas which brings more money into those clubs from commercial off-field revenues, sponsorship as well as basic disposable incomes. Ditto Brighton / Bristol City. Each of them sits in growing/thriving urban conurbations – I had always looked down my nose at AFC Bournemouth and never realised that it has a population just short of 200,000.

        It is all of this which makes the facilities at the Mad Stad viable and why it was appealing to a Russian and then Thai investors. Thereagain those clubs are disadvantaged by having people in those areas supporting the big London clubs so it’s not altogether straightforward for them. Similarly I wouldn’t want to swap VP for the Mad Stad which I thought was a soulless place – the equivalent of an events arena – but we can’t escape the fact that it gives Reading a massive financial advantage over us and it means that if we do rely upon a local businessman he needs to commit more of his own money without the benefit of the sort of income streams that Reading enjoy.

        Ultimately we’ll probably find that a lot of these clubs with foreign owners will go bust when they lose interest but given the economic fundamentals they’ll probably still be attractive for a new investor. However even if they then reverted to the traditional model of a wealthy local businessman I bet you’d find more millionaires within 10 miles of any of those clubs than you would within the same radius of Bradford.

        BCAFC has been run on a shoestring for a long time – for all the right reasons – but the reality is that we are slipping behind and to consolidate in the Championship may be more difficult than meets the eye.

  4. As disappointed as I was at the result the sight of Darby and McArdle gently easing their way through the crowd towards the fans is a memory I won’t soon forget.

  5. Absolutely Kevin. I thought that was utter class.

    The Bradford support last night was brilliant bar the idiot who racially abused their winger. I hope he never gets to see City again. Shame that this incident was reported on the BBC website and not the behavior of the Reading supporters who preferred to spend the game taunting and jeering us, throwing flares at us and invading the pitch at full time.

    Its a great time to be a City fan. We may not be world beaters but we have a team and a club to be truly proud of.

  6. I see that the FA are investigating the pitch invasions – they might want to look at the BBC footage in the 2-3 minutes after the final whistle which appears to show a steward opening a gate to allow Reading fans access to the pitch. Did this go on around the ground or was it just one random steward I wonder?
    Whatever, I thought the lack of effort to protect City players still on the pitch among lots of opposition fans was pretty disrespectful.

  7. Alex personally I think you are the best writer on WOAP and boy do WOAP have some fine writers! Over two games your are spot on Reading were the better team and deserved the semi final spot. Congrats to the Royals, I’m big enough to say you earnt it.

    However, one small point I disagree with is your comment “And this is true of one hundred and eighty minutes against Reading, they never once threatened the Royals’ goal.” At the game at VP, in the 2nd halve Morais had a fine chance to open the scoring but was somewhat surprised to find himself 6 yards out and mis-kicked the ball. Hanson was unlucky to see his shot slide the wrong side of the post from Steads cross and finally Davies’s header from the corner which flew inches over the woodwork. So on another day that could of been 3-nil to us [wishful thinking maybe….]. It just wasn’t meant to be.

    Finally, all that a side, what really bursts me with pride is seeing young children at VP during the FA run, some who you could tell were attending for the first time. Hopefully, that generation will build upon the passion which we City fans have for the club and ultimately aid the club back up the football league. #IPWT #BigUpBradford

  8. Great summary of last night, but perhaps the analysis harsh in respect of the Valley Parade encounter. Indeed the biggest contrast was the way our midfield got hold of the game at VP, but last night we were outplayed in that area. But all credit to PP and the players – we know as supporters that we only have one club, and I’m proud it is City. As has been said previously the site of Rory and Stephen taking the lead to come over at the end of the game was an abiding memory, albeit tarnished by ineffective stewarding of the Reading kids.

  9. Yes, as everyone says, Reading were the better side and fully deserved to go through. But one little thought keeps reccuring…what if we’d swapped our whole team on Saturday as Reading did? The team never got going last night but maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised after their efforts against Notts County.

    Did PP get it wrong by not throwing everything into the cup match and leaving a scratch side to face Notts.?One point is one point and may prove to be crucial in the final analysis and Reading would probably have won anyway but what if…?

  10. There is no denying that Reading were the better team last night but hey the City squad had played 4 games in 8 days ,2 games in 3 whereas the Reading 11 last night hadn’t played for a week. Last night City did look knackered out on their feet.

    Also if you are so much better than a League 1 outfit why do you fall over as if you have been shot by a sniper s bullet when you are tackled. Parkinson has said we are to honest a team and we are whereas Reading in both encounters were the better players but dishonest.

    Last night in that stadium I was proud of my team and meant every word when we sang City till I die

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