Bradford City 0
Preston North End 3
Gallagher 47 (pen), Johnson 53, Humphries 80
Monday 6 April, 2015
Written by Mark Danylczuk (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)
Not again. And again at home. Valley Parade – the fortress? Not really. If City’s home form was anywhere near as good as the away form, the Bantams would be sitting happily in the play offs. But there is something about playing at Valley Parade where it just does not happen.
A glorious opportunity was missed yet again here. After the superb victory at Doncaster on Friday it was the reverse today, with City losing 3-0 at home to Preston. The scoreline did flatter the away side somewhat, but the damage was done after three key incidents: a Chris Routis sending off after 15 minutes, a Jon Stead miss after being put through on goal, and finally, barely seconds into the second half, a Preston penalty which started the goal feast.
City came into the game with two changes; Routis in defence in place of the injured Gary MacKenzie and Jon Stead recalled with Billy Clarke pushed back into midfield at Mark Yeates’ expense. It was a crunch tie for both sides; Preston to consolidate their automatic promotion spot and for City to get back into the elusive sixth place position.
Preston were not going to be easy opposition for City sitting second in the table on the back of a 12 game unbeaten run. Simon Grayson has a knack of managing promotion sides from Leeds to Huddersfield to Blackpool and he seems on a similar course with this current Preston team.
The game started on a glorious Monday afternoon in Bradford with both sets of supporters in high spirits. The conditions were still not perfect, but some good dry weather helped the pitch seem far better than it has done. The pitch was not used as such in the early stages with passages of long balls and head tennis, as both teams tried to settle. James Hanson was proving a handful all afternoon for the Preston defence and linked up with James Meredith on the left side particularly well.
The whole complexion of the game changed, however, as early as the fourteenth minute when a long headed clearance from the Preston defence downfield caused Routis to get the wrong side of Preston forward Joe Garner and commit the foul. He was the last man which resulted in a straight red card for the City defender. No complaints but a hard pill to swallow. 75 minutes with 10 men against the second best side in the league.
A hard task made even harder.
The sending off caused a tactical change, with Gary Liddle moving to centre back and Hanson dropping deeper into midfield, to fill the void hole and balance the team. It was only in the last five minutes of the half when suddenly the action picked up. Preston had the first chance with the excellent Daniel Johnson racing through after Billy Knott lost the ball in midfield. After changes in possession it was left to Joe Garner in the box to curl the ball just wide of Williams’ left post.
Moments later, it was Stead put through one on one and he disappointingly shot straight at the Preston keeper. That should have been the game changer.
All square at the break and City, although lacking in attacking ambition, were seemingly comfortable in defence. You couldn’t tell too much it was 11 vs 10. Preston seemed to lack any conviction in making the extra man count.
You can imagine the opening Parkinson’s half time team talk: ‘Right boys, second half. Keep it tight for the opening 10-15 minutes…’ If only. Unfortunately that went out the window barely 30 seconds into the second period. Stephen Darby rashly fouled Jermaine Beckford in the area and Paul Gallagher converted the spot kick at the second attempt with Williams parrying the first effort.
Back to the drawing board.
And then it was two. 10 minutes later, right midfielder Chris Humphrey cut the ball back and Johnson slotted the ball home beautifully into the keeper’s top right of the goal. It could have been three moments later but Williams saved superbly from a Beckford header.
City freshened things up in the last quarter with Mark Yeates, Matty Dolan and Dylan Mottley-Henry coming on for Jon Stead, Gary Liddle and Filipe Morais respectively. At 2-0 there was still a chance and City had a wonderful effort on 80 minutes, with an audacious 30-plus yard lobbed attempt by Billy Clarke which was well tipped over by the goalkeeper.
Again, it was the sucker punch moments later when midfielder Humphrey’s deflected shot looped over Ben Williams to send the strong Preston contingent into raptures once again. Hanson was to have a header cleared off the line minutes before the end, but it was not City’s day.
I don’t think City played too badly to be honest, and the scoreline was generous to Preston to say the least. They didn’t offer much and, with 11 v 11, it would have been interesting to see how the game panned out. City played some nice football on the deck at times and the central midfield pairing of Liddle and Billy Knott were complementing each other effectively to gain a presence in the middle of the park.
Liddle was one of the star players for me, excelling in the makeshift defensive role. On the whole he did a job he was not expected to do and, on the whole, performed it not badly at all. The City fans were also appreciative of the team’s efforts and chanted superbly throughout the match.
So here were are with six games left. Unfortunately, it just feels like the gas has run out of the tank. Too many games and that cup run – do we really have the energy and quality to consistently win almost all our remaining games to get to the play offs? It is two wins to get into sixth and then more wins to stay there.
I would love to be proved wrong and you can never write this team off. There have been so many twists and turns this season, and we all hope for one more. But it just feels as though there are too many steps backwards and not enough forwards to bring the season to an exciting climatic end with something to play for.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Routis, Meredith, Liddle (Dolan 78), Morais (Mottley-Henry 79), Knott, Clarke, Hanson, Stead (Yeates 65)
Not used: Urwin, McMahon, Webb-Foster, Zoko
Categories: Match Reviews