Bradford City 1
Sunday 3 May, 2015
By Damien Wilkinson (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)
“In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle.”
― Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain
The life of a Bradford City supporter is never dull, but over the last few weeks it has been somewhat difficult to even hang onto the wheel, never mind maintain a focus on looking down the track.
For many the Bantamobile has been skidding all over the road as the play off hopes evaporated after a season extended by 12 cup matches. Opinions have become polarised, with many looking in their rear view mirror to replay the FA Cup run triumphs; whilst others blame this for either papering over the cracks or actually contributing to the league shortcomings, particularly given a lack of depth of quality in a small squad.
To compound matters the potential takeover has led other harbingers of doom to get ready to slam on the brakes in response to Gianni Paladini and co’s QPR track record, whilst others hover a foot out, ready to hit the accelerator, citing the glass ceiling reached with the club’s current financial muscle, and the necessary need for investment.
Even the recent kit launch/ chess board/ chequered flag/ explosion in a Battenberg factory at Tuesday night’s Player of the Year Awards has managed to divide opinion, though one suspects this may quickly be overshadowed as other more fundamental matters develop.
So, a very strange end to the season culminating in Sunday’s 12.15pm fixture at Crewe.
“Rejoice in the things that are present, all else is beyond thee”
– Michel de Montaigne
Having stemmed the downward spiral which exploded into the Bristol City defeat, the Bantams have gone on a mini-unbeaten run of three matches and made the trip to Gresty Road for the final match of the 2014/15 season aiming to finish positively, a win potentially propelling the Bantams into a seventh place finish in the League.
Phil Parkinson’s rhetoric at Tuesday’s Player of the Year Awards rightly highlighted an overall season of improvement, finishing with the core of a quality side in the squad. Whilst both Parkinson and assistant Steve Parkin expressed their disappointment with the late March/early April slump, they also emphasised the importance of a good finish, to provide some momentum to take into next season, and also improve on last season’s league placing of eleventh.
Crewe conversely, had an eye very firmly on the relegation trapdoor, knowing that defeat could have potentially damaging consequences if other results went against them. Almost a parallel of sorts with City’s final match of last season at Tranmere Rovers, which at least provided some additional element of schadenfreude for City fans that way inclined.
As expected Player of the Year, Rory McArdle returned to the side after his recent red card enforced absence but Phil Parkinson sprang a surprise with Gary Liddle dropping to the bench and Matt Dolan making a rare start. With Billy Knott ruled out after suffering a dead leg in training on Friday, Tony McMahon made up the midfield with Chris Routis.
Crewe boss Steve Davis was able to keep a settled side and was boosted by the return of on-loan Stoke City player Jamie Ness, who made the bench after recovering from a calf problem.
Stressing the importance of the fixture the Railwaymen had aimed to bolster the home attendance with reduced admission prices of £10 for home fans and were rewarded with their highest league crowd of the season of 7,608.
A decent away following of 1,215 was given a vibrant splash of colour by a significant number of fans wearing Hawaiian shirts in memory of well-known White Abbey Bantams fan Dave Price, who died suddenly a week last Saturday, and a number of impromptu congas across the front of the away stand added to a good atmosphere.
As expected the pressure seemed to weigh on the Railwaymen and the match took a while to settle down and get going – indeed the first pitch side conga by about 30 of the travelling Hawaiian fans was certainly the highlight after 10 minutes.
Things sprang into life on 20 minutes though with Crewe starting to exert some pressure on City, forcing two corners in quick succession. This seemed to stir a response from the Bantams and an Andrew Davies flick on saw Jon Stead loop the ball over the goal, which was then followed by a James Hanson effort after Billy Clarke had played an exquisite reverse pass to him.
After a Chris Routis piledriver which cleared the Alex bar, City then went ahead. Tony McMahon swung a free kick into the box and after the ball eventually fell to Clarke, he made no mistake sweeping a low shot confidently across Crewe keeper, Paul Rachubka, into the far corner for his fourteenth goal of the campaign.
City continued to press forward but had Rory McArdle to thank on 27 minutes for preventing what looked like a certain Crewe equaliser. A through ball had initially seen McArdle outpaced and Crewe’s Lauri Dalla Valle was through and ready to place the ball past Ben Williams, but McArdle somehow recovered and managed to hook the ball away from him magnificently.
McMahon and Matty Dolan did well as City created further chances, Dolan remained lively and mobile and got involved throughout, whilst McMahon swept some good passes across the pitch.
As half time approached, with Crewe looking like they had run out of steam, City almost doubled the lead after some clever play from Stead. When play continued after Clarke seemed to be fouled, Stead carved out a great chance for Hanson, but he could only sweep the ball over the bar.
The initial stages of the second half saw an expected response from Crewe, former Alex keeper Williams did well to block a shot and they had a penalty shout on 53 minutes when Rory McArdle stood firm and a Crewe player went over his leg in the box, but it looked more hopeful than anything else and the referee waved away Crewe appeals.
56 minutes saw another vocal tribute from both sets of fans, but was marred by a flare/smoke bomb erupting in one section of the City fans. Disappointing to say the least.
James Hanson went close with a looping shot shortly after, and nerves seemed to jangle further within the home side, with the crowd also going flat, particularly after news of adverse results elsewhere at that stage pushing them into a relegation spot.
Davis tried to pick his Alex side up with the introduction of Jamie Ness on the hour mark, but further news of further goals for rivals cranked up the tension.
After chances for both sides, the home crowd were then stirred back into life, again following more from news outside the ground rather than on the pitch, but it surely helped lift the Crewe players and City had more defending to deal with, although Stead had a great rasping drive well saved by Rachubka.
The closing stages of the match saw Gary Liddle come on for Dolan, Alan Sheehan replacing Billy Clarke, who had just been booked and Andy Halliday joined the action replacing Routis. Despite further Crewe pressure, some last ditch defending, a near own goal by Crewe after Halliday’s cross caused mayhem and four minutes of injury time, the Bantams managed to hold out for a deserved 9th away win of the campaign.
Cue the inevitable pitch invasion from the home fans, with news coming through that despite the defeat they had managed to stay out of the relegation places. Whilst seemingly good natured it was again disappointing to see a further number of flares being thrown around during the celebrations.
The City players then made their farewells and threw their shirts (and additionally shorts in the case of Routis) to the travelling fans whilst the home fans continued their survival party.
“There are two types of visions. Those that will happen no matter what, and those that can be stopped. Now more than ever, I wish I could tell them apart.”
― Emlyn Chand, Farsighted
Whilst the result today, the seventh place finish and the last four matches have thankfully restored some order to an enjoyable season, there may be some lingering ‘what if’ thoughts given that the Bantams ended up just four points shy of the play-off spots. However in the cold light of day it probably feels about right that City finished where they did, in that the steady improvement on last season more appropriately represents evolution rather than revolution.
Having mentioned revolution though it is difficult to avoid thoughts going back to the future, Mark Lawn’s thinly disguised farewell at Tuesday night’s award ceremony, and a strong feeling that this may well be the end of an era of sorts.
What the new era might bring remains frustratingly impossible to predict, other than you feel that the “never a dull moment” tag might prove difficult to shake off!
With reports of an extension of two weeks to Paladini’s exclusivity period it will be another case of waiting for news, though it would appear that details of season tickets may be forthcoming next week, so hopefully some preparations can begin.
So as the curtain comes down on another season:
“Well, we must wait for the future to show.”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
Amen to that!
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Dolan (Liddle 76), Routis (Halliday 90), McMahon, Clarke (Sheehan 83), Hanson, Stead
Not used: Urwin, Webb-Foster, Mottley-Henry, Brennan
Categories: Match Reviews