Winning ugly, winning luckily – but Bradford City are winning their way back to the big time

Bradford City 1

B Clarke 20

Swindon Town 0

Saturday 9 April, 2016

By Jason McKeown

Six wins from seven games, the best season’s points total of this millennium now in the bag, and a highest league placing in almost 12 years. This is a truly wonderful moment for Bradford City. This is shaping up to be a mightily exciting end to the season.

In fact, so dizzying have the recent highs felt, you’re no longer sure whether to look upwards or down. For after this, a fifth consecutive home victory, the Bantams are just six points behind the automatic promotion spots. Second place Burton, in freefall, suddenly look catchable. Meanwhile, the cushion inside the play off positions is a healthy eight points. Barnsley’s surprise home defeat to Chesterfield makes it a tall order for them to catch City.

City are third in the table, and it would take an unprecedented collapse in form for them to miss out on the play off spots. The race for automatic promotion is muddied by Gillingham and Walsall having games in hand, but the Bantams have surely now elevated themselves from outsiders to contenders. Maybe, just maybe. Maintain this form, and anything could happen.

In truth this was a poor performance from City. They were sloppy, they make mistakes, they scored a dubious goal and they survived a very strong Swindon Town penalty appeal in the closing stages. But they won the game, and at this stage of the campaign that is all that matters. Wigan and Millwall were the only other winners in the top seven. At a point where everyone around them seems to be losing their heads, City are keeping theirs.

And to win in this way speaks volumes. Six weeks on from that utterly dreadful night at home to Colchester, where City blew up spectacularly and lost in the most pathetic way imaginable, they rekindled memories of that horror show.

Just like that evening, City threatened to steamroller Swindon in the opening 20 minutes, and a four or five-goal victory looked achievable. Just like that evening, they suddenly stopped playing and allowed the opposition hope when they seemingly had none. But unlike that evening, they at least kept Swindon at an arm’s length and saw out the job.

We know that City can churn out 1-0 victories – this would prove to be their fourth in a row – but even with the recent red hot form, the question mark over how this team could cope through adversity remained unanswered. The Colchester performance had been forgiven but not forgotten. They won the game here when struggling and not playing well. The crowd, which stuck by them throughout, were absolutely superb and got them over the line. All of this made it one of the most satisfying victories of the season.

During those opening stages, the ease at which City pushed Swindon back led to some high quality attacking football. As expected the visitors attempted to play it out from the back, which played into the hands of City’s quick tempo pressing style. Possession was easily won by claret and amber shirts, and they poured forward in numbers. Josh Cullen was in particular impressive form, never wasting a pass and instigating several promising moves.

If you were one of the 251 Swindon fans sat quietly in the Bradford End that City were attacking towards, you could have only felt anger at the woeful efforts of your players. On so many occasions early doors, Town players ducked out of 50-50 challenges and failed to track runners. With no obvious Swindon centre forward selected, there was simply no outlet. We made a special effort to notice when Ben Williams touched the ball for the first time, and reckon it was the 23rd minute. Swindon’s first shot towards goal didn’t occur until the 30th minute.

By which point City were already a goal to the good. A long throw in from recent assist-specialist Nathan Clarke caused havoc in the box, as Lee Evans went for the ball. It came through to Billy Clarke, whose header goalwards hit the woodwork, and then appeared to bounce on the line before being cleared away. TV replays suggest the ball did indeed go over the line, just. Yet the linesman – who flagged straightaway for a goal – was surely guessing.

For Clarke, it was the end of a goal drought that stretched to the middle of November. He looked to be lacking in confidence last week, but instantly looked more the player we know he can be following his goal. Against a Swindon side who played three at the back, the space he was able to find in-between the opposition midfield and defence meant he was a real menace.

Phil Parkinson spoke afterwards of how his gameplan included making sure City kept alternating their play. It meant surges down the left from Kyel Reid and the superb James Meredith, followed by Tony McMahon, Stephen Darby and Billy Clarke linking up well on the right. City were in complete command, with Robins keeper Tyrell Belford looking especially nervous from crosses. Swindon were in danger of being blown away.

Which is when, just like the Colchester game, City suddenly switched off. The passes became too casual. The pressing stopped. Clearances at the back became rushed. With Swindon’s Jermain Hylton starting to pose questions, the second part of the opening 45 minutes became about getting in at half time with the lead still in tact.

Parkinson would have tried to calm them down over the interval, but City never rediscovered their authority in the second half. It became a game where not much happened in either penalty area, but yet still the tension was racked up minute by minute. There was so much at stake.

Unsurprisingly, City were solid at the back. Nathan Clarke – selected again, despite Rory McArdle’s return to fitness – and Reece Burke made mistakes in the first half, but were much better after the break. Stephen Darby was caught out a couple of times, but there was always cover from someone else. Lee Evans did not hit the heights of his man of the match display last week, but put in a real shift alongside Cullen.

Up front, for the second week in a row it wasn’t Jamie Proctor’s game. He had a couple of decent opportunities but could only produce weak headers. He won the ball often in the air, but his flick ons found no one. Whilst I wouldn’t want to encourage any dislike towards the player, it is curious to observe how his mistakes are ignored by the crowd when in the exact same situations James Hanson would be attracting howls of derision. City looked a better side when Hanson came on for Proctor.

Filipe Morais, who replaced the injured Reid, and Steve Davies, brought on for Billy Clarke, were solid too. Just like against Scunthorpe United last week, the game management of the team in the closing stages was hugely impressive. Last season, City’s failure to make the play offs was largely blamed on their inability to see out games; as on numerous occasions they conceded late equalisers. It was a bite-your-nails type of second half here, but for all of Swindon’s possession, Ben Williams had nothing to do.

But there was one late scare, when James Brophy played a clever one-two and charged into the box, only to seemingly be tripped by Nathan Clarke. The referee waved away appeals. TV replays suggest it was a clear penalty and that City got very lucky. Teams who achieve promotions or who win Premier League titles invariably survive a few of these controversies. It is a good omen.

Next up are two away games that will go a long, long way to deciding the destiny of City’s season. If – and it’s still a big if – automatic promotion is to be achieved, there is very little margin for error. They will need to win four, if not all five, of their remaining games.

On Tuesday evening, seventh-placed Barnsley have their game in hand, at home to Oldham, whilst it’s fifth vs sixth at the Priestfield stadium, as Gillingham welcome Walsall. A draw in Kent would be a major boost to City’s top two hopes, whilst further dropped points from Barnsley would make it very difficult for them to overtake the Bantams.

It is gripping. Every game matters greatly. Every goal has big connotations. City are in their best form of the season, right at the squeaky bum phase. If they can maintain this winning habit, they will take some stopping. All of a sudden, the return of Championship football to Valley Parade looks very real.

We’ve not had it this good in so long, and the best might be yet to come.

City: Williams, Darby, N Clarke, Burke, Meredith, McMahon, Cullen, Evans, Reid (Morais 64), B Clarke (Davies 68), Proctor (Hanson 73)

Not used: Cracknell, McArdle, Morris, Knott

Reinventing Bradford City is now available to buy from Amazon and Bantams Banter – more details here, and the 12 featured games here.

Categories: Match Reviews

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32 replies

  1. Didn’t Millwall win as well as Wigan?

  2. Hi Jason,

    This is perhaps your most honest review of a game, and brave, as it’s difficult to be so matter of fact when the results go your way. You are entirely right in your assessment of the game, in that after we scored we were poor. We just stopped playing football, that after 20 minutes of lovely free flowing football.

    A couple of points that I’d take issue on though. Firstly, I thought the crowd were quiet, edgy and hardly encouraging. We all commented that promotion run ins used to be nothing short of mental. We were sat silent, for vast proportions of the game, not helped by City giving it a training match feel. This was nearly our undoing.

    Secondly, and this is a point singular to this game, not the usual argument on here, but I think we watched a different game re Proctor and Hanson. As ever Proctor was his usual self. When Hanson came on he did nothing other than commit mindless fouls everytime the ball came near him. If he was sent on to break up play then he certainly succeeded. But he contributed nothing other than that and on this occasion was shown up against his counterparts. Sorry if that sounds overly harsh but it’s very true.

    Meridith, Nathan, Darby and the maestro Cullen were exceptional.

    Let the handbrake off slightly Parky, you genius, as my heart can’t take these one nils.

    • There was a moment in the first half when Meredith sent over a great cross and Proctor headed tamely at the keeper.

      There was a moment in the second half when Proctor flicked the ball on and it went nowhere near anyone.

      In both these examples were it Hanson not Proctor he would have been hammered.

      As I say I’m not picking on Proctor who I like a lot, just pointing out the different standards people are judged by.

      I’ve seen Proctor play a lot better, although it was the same with a lot of players today.

    • Eh? Top tier of the kop had its voice. Not sure where you sit. As for Hanson, he come on fouled several players, made their defense lose their calm. Exactly what PP needed. I
      .e. get stuck in and rattled some cages.

      • You are right. Hanson was sent on to do a job which he did including ‘ taking one for the team’ when he was booked for tripping one of their players as Swindon broke. And I thought the crowd were great. Noisy throughout.

      • I’m sorry but that’s not the way I want my team to play. Hanson was sent on to foul. Genius.

        The crowd was quiet. For the record I sit on the half way line in the Midland Road. We can’t hear you in The Kop so you aren’t doing right well. As the away fans cannot probably hear you.

        Away from that, seriously, you are both good fans. Was that an atmosphere from 18,000 fans that suggested we were going to go third.


      • I am beyond gobsmacked. Hanson was good because he came on and fouled people.

        That’s not football in my eyes.

        As for the atmosphere. I sit half way line in the Midland Road. We can’t hear the kop. So the away fans probably can’t.

    • Jammin – If you expect the Kop to create the atmosphere every game then why not start singing yourself in the Midland Road Stand? The Kop was singing from start to finish yesterday. They were fantastic.

      • Comment on FB from a Swindon fan at the game.

        “To be fair I’m surprised we brought that many, Bradford support was amazing tho (sic) cheap season tickets or not! Nice city too! ”

        Seems they could hear our fans

  3. Not a fantastic game. The comparisons with the Colchester game are valid, the difference being that Swindon were an outright rank team. They simply didn’t have it in them to put City under pressure for any sustained period of time. Even if for the last 15 minutes of the first half City seemed to lose concentration.
    In the 2nd half City consistently made the wrong decision in attacking positions but having the lead meant that it was forgiven more easily.
    Swindon are the weirdest team I have ever seen. Their tactic was to give it their number 2 who then gave it it to….. someone, anyone…. . City’s best tactic was to leave them to it, it was better time wasting than having the ball down in the corner. They had no strikers.
    Lee Evans was bit lucky not to be sent off in the first half for the challenge I felt as well.

    I don’t want to be too critical tough, City won and are third and I am enjoying that immensely.

  4. Personally I thought it was a deserved and as far as one nils go, a very comfortable victory.

    For all their possession and pretty passing Swindon didn’t really fashion a chance; they had a left footed drive at the end of the 1st half, which was a pretty comfortable save for Williams, and while it looked a decent penalty shout, so did the one on Nathan Clarke which would’ve also been a red card.

  5. I see where you are coming from regarding Proctor, some of his hold up play is great and sometimes he isn’t unsupported enough i.e. Clarke. At times yesterday he was too far away from proctor. Strikers are a pair and need to work together. On a couple of occasions he had made great runs off the ball but the wrong decision was taken leaving him with his head in his hands.
    When Hanson does play the opposition know what’s coming but Proctor can mix it up. His ground play is far better than Hanson too. A good thing for the squad,and strange how results have changed after these forced changes had to be made ?
    Another result ground out and that’s a sign of a decent side if you win and don’t play to your potential. IPWT

    • I think the flick on to nobody that you are referring to was actually a header into space by Proctor for Clarke! The problem was, and this is what he does when playing with Big Jim, was that Clarke didn’t read it! Therefore it looks like a wasteful header! As for the weak header at goal, I don’t even think Hanson would have got on the end of it as it was two yards behind him when he headed it! I really don’t understand how you think we were a better team when Hanson came on as he did anything of note, it’s almost as if you have an agenda!

      Please please stop trying to beat the Hanson drum and accept that he may not be the greatest anymore and that City have probably out grown him!

      Proctor has shown us how limited Hanson actually is which is a shame to be honest but it happens!

      • Leave big Jim alone, he was the best yesterday. He’s played in a league cup final, I bet you haven’t.

      • Absolutely Mr Puffin
        I used to read WOAP daily but now I am getting sick of it, it feels like they are our teachers trying to tell us what is right and what we have to believe and they are the official voice of the club.
        I like Hanson, but I do think he is a decent impact sub at best and we have outgrown him. Most of the attack probably wouldn’t start if we do go up and want to make an impact.
        It is like you have been looking for the first opportunity to find to say Hanson is better than Proctor. those kind of headers are what Hanson does ten times a game, that’s what frustrates the crowd, although I also think it was a great header into space, just Clarke hadn’t read it. Someone like Nahki up front would have been in that space and away.
        People ‘seem’ to love or hate Hanson. I don’t think they actually hate it, it’s just when the lovers bang their drum, they force an overzealous reaction.

      • Don’t worry WOAP is going soon so you won’t have to worry about our lectures.

  6. In response to Jammin

    Sorry pal but you seem to have forgotten that Davies got booked almost on his 1st touch with their number 2 ( who bossed their defense ( and at rimes our attack). Given his red card the refs willingness to flash the yellow it was left to Hanson to challenge at the front as we couldn’t afford to lose a man (Davies) to the 2nd yellow. Hanson didn’t come on just to ‘foul’ he came on to give a different option and be a bit more physical . . . Not the same thing and Jason is correct, Hanson has had a lot of stick for making similar plays to Proctor yesterday.

    Also, sat nearly on the halfway line in the Sunwin, the Kop choir made lots of noise, I actually recorded it at one point to send to a friend in Essex who was listening on Bantams player and commented the Kop sounded good on the radio.

    But at the end of the day, we ground out the points and if we can grab 2nd, what I save on a Wembly trip will pay for taking the wife for a long B/H weekend in London (which happens to include a couple of hours in Southend for me) 😎

    • I see a few Hanson bashers out again, for what it’s worth he disrupted their back line well ruffled their main man, basically he did what parky told him to do??

  7. Sorry for typo, responding on my IPad and auto correct can be a pain ( & no edit button). What I meant ( above) was given an early yellow and the refs willingness to get cards out . . .

  8. It’s a funny old game. In real time I too thought that Swindon should have had a penalty when Brophy went down in the box. I too have looked at the TV replay and thought it showed that Brophy dived and should have been booked! All about opinions. The challenge at the kop end on Nathan Clarke was a clear foul though.
    It wasn’t a pretty game and certainly tense at times, but I thought Swindon didn’t help themselves with their weird formation, presumably influenced by lack of personnel through injury, suspension and off the field matters. It’s not often that League One teams will be faced with an opposition without any obvious striker and about 7 players in midfield.
    I concluded that I should be very happy as we won when not playing particularly well, the old cliche being that this is the sign of a good team. I was even happier when I discovered the results of other teams around us. Onwards and hopefully upwards.

  9. An excellent review of the game. Any true City supporter must be pleased with our progress, unfortunately a few seem determined to be obsessed with negative observations relating to various individuals – particularly depressing when appear on WOAP.

  10. Good review, Jason. Re Hanson, he does annoy me a bit with his fouling, but he still always gives 100%.
    It was a strange game. Swindon seemed from the outset to be about losing by as few as possible, and I thought City must have felt they were hitting a sponge.
    City did not continue to harass and press after about half an hour, especially as their goalkeeper was so poor in the air.
    I was a long way from the Swindon penalty appeal, but it seemed a Tom Daleyesque dive to me, and it appears that the referee agreed.
    I thought Swindon were boring, never making one pass when four would do, never passing forward if they could go back. I don’t think City were lucky, but they played poorly for an hour, yet deserved to win.
    The one highlight was the skill of Reid’s marker, forcing him onto his weak right foot.

  11. From the criticisms James Hanson gets you would think that City had achieved all they have over recent seasons, with so many brilliant experiences of beating Premier league teams and 2 Wembley trips, that City did it all without him. One thing is for sure, there are many opposition Managers that wont forget that big Jim played throughout those seasons.

    • Seriously this is the problem! I think there is one poster knocking Hanson above.. so all the haters are out?
      Or is complimenting proctor knocking Hanson?
      It’s people like you with your comment and Jason with his random interjection in an otherwise decent report that wind people up and make them comment. I think 90+% of fans appreciate what he’s done, that has no relevance to the fact that many now think he isn’t first choice.

      • I think this debate has lost track.

        I don’t think anyone can dispute that James Hanson doesn’t deserve to be in the team at the moment, and that Proctor merits his place. He has been excellent and is a very good player with some higher level pedigree.

        But, in my view, he didn’t have a great game on Saturday (he wasn’t alone). And I was merely making the point that when he did things that were less impressive (tame headers, flick ons that didn’t find anyone) he wasn’t criticised in the same that in the same situation Hanson would have received bucket loads of stick. This isn’t really a defence of Hanson, it’s more a case of acknowledging how popular Proctor is with the crowd at the moment.

        I do think there is a lot of double standards in how our strikers are criticised, and this was an example of it. When Proctor or Billy Clarke don’t play well they are criticised in a different way to how Hanson is when he doesn’t play well. When Billy Clarke missed a sitter at Wigan no one said it was proof he wasn’t good enough for City or to be a professional footballer – Hanson’s fiercest critics routinely say this sort of thing of Hanson when he misses chances.

        There is no doubt that Hanson has had a poor season by his standards. He has only played to his true potential on a handful of occasions, and although he suffered from a lack of service more was expected. Proctor has taken his chance and good on him.

        But, but… we still don’t score a lot of goals, and at some point over the next few weeks that might be a real issue again. Just as we debated whether Steve Davies should have started ahead of Billy Clarke, Hanson cannot be discounted and has a role to play. There are other parts of the team where competition is equally as fierce and that’s what we want. You can’t argue with Parkinson’s current selections, but that doesn’t mean they are fixed in stone forever. Just as Morais and Anderson are now trying to win places from McMahon and Reid, Knott from Cullen and Evans, and McArdle from Nathan Clarke, Hanson is trying to win his place back.

        Does Hanson deserve to start at Shrewsbury next week? Not in my opinion. But if Proctor’s form slips further and City are struggling to score, he has to come into contention. The issue is complicated by partnerships, as we know that B Clarke/Hanson does not work. So B Clarke’s place is just as much under threat.

        Anyway there is no need to turn this personal and some of the attacks from both sides of the debate have gone a bit far. WOAP is not a message board or Twitter, and with City on such a good run of form there is simply no need for us all to fall out.

        I am personally a fan of Hanson and proud of what he has achieved at the club. Some people will never agree with that view – they have been desperate for him to lose his place since long before the History Makers, and all his achievements of the last few years – and they certainly aren’t going to change that opinion now.

      • If I counted correctly there were 13 separate posts that commented on ‘Hanson’ before my posting. Seeing as Hanson had become a significant part of the comments and replies I thought I would add my ‘twopenn’orth’. If my comment was made AFTER those previous 13 references to Hanson were made how is it possible that I could have wound any of those previous posters up or made them comment? Think about it!

  12. Summed up well by WOAP – apologies the “thumbs down” was mine by mistake!

  13. Just on the striker debate – what about the forgotten Wes Thomas. I know the amount of loanees in the squad form part of the reason for the loss of his place but I’d liked to have seen him get a go alongside Procter. Obviously with the games remaining and the form we are in he is unlikely to get a look in before the end of the season and may never be seen in a City shirt again but we are still struggling to score and I think he was the most threatening option.

    • Thomas’ loan is up soon and the rules are it can’t be extended, so I think that’s the last we’ve seen of him at Valley Parade.

  14. I forget to mention earlier, and nothing to do with the debate about strikers. Swindon are clearly a bit strapped for players and had filled their bench with kids, who looked like kids. There were three of them warming up in the corner, barely a shred of bumfluff between them going through the motions of warming up, one of them looks up and trundling down the touchline come Hanson, Davies and McArdle. It was like a teachers v pupils rugby match.

    • The difference between Hanson and the other strikers is that he is effect even when off form. He is a nightmare for defenders and is useful when City are defending, especially from corners.

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