Bradford City 1
Tuesday 3 November, 2015
By Jason McKeown
This was the moment when Bradford City pulled themselves up from underneath the radar and into the promotion race. Where a slow start to the campaign turned into a decent one. Just as the league table truly settles down and takes shape, it makes encouraging reading for Bantams supporters.
Through this hard-working victory – their game in hand – City moved to within three points of the play offs. A top nine team, in the hunt for a top six placing. From that awful opening of one point in three games, they have now lost only twice in 13.
Hard to beat, and victors here despite being short of their best. They were by some distance the better side, limited largely by their own ambition rather than Blackpool’s fight. 1-0 scorelines rarely seem comfortable, but this was one such instance. Blackpool rarely threaten to come back from James Hanson’s goal on the stroke of half time.
Indeed apart from the lively Jack Redshaw, there were no crumbs of comfort Blackpool here. They were a desperately poor side and unquestionably the weakest opposition that City have faced so far this campaign. Blackpool’s off the field woes of the last 18 months are well documented, and on this evidence they have resulted in a spirit-less team playing with little heart. They are heading along a long dark path and it is one that City know only too painfully themselves. You feel for their beleaguered and disillusioned supporters.
With an under-resourced team to choose from, the Blackpool manager, Neil McDonald, was reduced to following the path of Sam Allardyce, who McDonald ably assisted for many years. Men behind the ball, crude percentage-based long balls forward, and time-wasting tactics before the game was even half an hour old. They frustrated City for a time but never with enough conviction to suggest they would head back to the West coast with a clean sheet. It was a matter of when, not if, the home team would score.
Hanson almost did in the second minute when he got on the end of a devilish Kyel Reid cross and headed just wide. Hanson’s strike partner, Devante Cole, cleverly spun in the box and hit a fiercesome shot that forced Blackpool keeper Colin Doyle into a wonderful tip over. Then right on half time, the former Tangerines’ utility man, Tony McMahon, sent over a delightful corner, and Hanson barged through a crowd of people, powerfully heading the ball home for his 79th goal for the club. Blackpool’s containing operation had failed.
Hanson was outstanding all night. He led the line with power and authority, bullying defenders, who could not match his physicality. His torrid September is already a distant memory. Since that poor performance at Colchester that led to demotion, Hanson has responded with great character and played well, either when coming off the bench or – since Steve Davies’ injury – when back in the starting XI.
Hanson’s critics have had a field day this season, lining up to take pot shots when he went through his dip in form. But, yet again, such people are being made to look foolish. Those who take this strange, perverse glee in continually writing off the big striker are akin to Wile E Coyote setting up an Acme trap to defeat Roadrunner. Sooner or later it will blow up in their faces, as Hanson makes them eat their words. Why, really, is anyone surprised to see him prove the doubters wrong yet again?
In the second half City remained solid and uncompromising, if lacking in sparkle. That description is equally apt to their season so far. With the exception of the Kyel Reid show at Rochdale, the Bantams have yet to play with great attacking verve since August, and they have struggled to play much football that leaves you perched on the edge of your seat.
It has instead proven a time of getting back to basics. Grinding out the points. Taking draws over taking too many risks. Preserving leads rather than racking up goals. It is proving effective, and City played some good football at times here, but the champagne stuff is yet to come.
Partly it is due to an unwillingness to commit too many bodies forward. Even at 0-0 and with a need to get a goal, Billy Knott and Lee Evans held deep positions rather than bursting into the box. Reid was the only player to carry the ball forward. Alongside Hanson, Cole toiled hard and there were signs of a greater understanding of his partner’s flick ons, but he needed more home players around him to link up with. Cole is increasingly doing the right things without convincing onlookers that he is enjoying himself.
Perhaps if referee Andy Haines had been more prepared to make decisions, Cole would have enjoyed greater space to operate in. Early in the second half a ball was launched over for Hanson to run onto, and he was illegally held back by Clark Robertson, who was the last man. It looked a clear red card, but Haines elected to wave play on. That was the story of Haines’ night, as he let lots of decisions go. The result was a more entertaining, high tempo game, but on another day such inaction could seriously affect the outcome of a match.
With 11 men still on the field, Blackpool threatened sporadically and David Norris hit a powerful effort just past the post. Former City loanee Mark Cullen headed another chance just wide, but in general the Bantams back four enjoyed a comfortable night. They even handled the disruption of losing the excellent Reece Burke through injury, with Nathan Clarke slotting in well and continuing his redemption.
City’s defensive solidity also meant Ben Williams was rarely tested, save for a decent first half stop and some strong punches clear from crosses in the box. With Brad Jones’ three-game interlude coinciding with those September back-to-back defeats, Williams is undefeated in the league since August 19th. He is winning over his doubters but there are still those who continue to nit-pick and criticise him. Now the undisputed number one and deservedly so, it is surely time that his Valley Parade public truly got behind him. He has earned out trust.
Back-to-back clean sheets are certainly commendable, as is the way in which City are picking up positive results as a matter of routine. Phil Parkinson has spent much of this season talking about mentality, and every player has got the message. The impressive manner that the team is organised is clear testament to hours of hard work on the training pitch.
It has been a bumpy opening third to the season, but now it is all coming together. City are fighting for promotion, the slow recovery is complete. There is much still to do to stay up there, and some very strong competition for the top six places, but they have a chance now, when early doors many of us were saying there was none.
Of course, improvement will be needed to push on. The backbone is now in place, and it needs to be married with greater attacking flair and prowess. City don’t score enough goals and don’t create enough chances to score. They need to build on this, or otherwise there will be too many draws along the way, and that will likely keep City on the wrong side of the dotted line.
The return of Billy Clarke – he came on for the final 10 minutes and was lively – will help. For how well Tony McMahon is playing, it will be welcome to see Josh Morris back to fitness to fight him for the right winger spot. Parkinson’s rotation of Billy Knott and Gary Liddle for home and away games is sensible, but Knott especially needs to produce more going forward. Hanson and Cole have five goals each now, and Billy Clarke will chip in with plenty. But where else will the goals come from?
Such concerns are for another day, as for now City should enjoy their loftiest position of the season and can look forward to some tasty late November clashes with promotion rivals after the nice distraction of Aldershot in the FA Cup. These are potentially exciting times for Bradford City, and tonight was another big step in the right direction.
City: Williams, Darby. McArdle, Burke (N Clarke 69), Meredith, McMahon, Evans (Liddle 70), Knott, Reid, Hanson, Cole (B Clarke 79)
Not used: Cracknell, Leigh, Marshall, James
Categories: Match Reviews