Match review: Bradford City 4 (B. Clarke, Dieng, Hanson, Marshall) Rochdale 0
By Jason McKeown
At the heart of footballing supporting are the players we fall in love with. Their brilliance inspires and makes a deep, lasting impression. Their endeavours become timeless, as their triumphs are retold again and again. The emotions they stirred in you are never forgotten. They are the reason you love football.
At the top of British football you find Gascoigne, Best, Dalglish, Cantona, Bergkamp, Henry, Gerrard and Giggs – icons to millions. My own personal favourite has always been someone revered in this part of the world more than anyone else. Stuart McCall was my footballing hero, and the feats and achievements he engineered make him my best of the best. His astonishing work-rate, his courageous leadership, his wonderful passing ability and the fact he was so clearly a good guy. He was, and still is, Mr Bradford City.
And so to have McCall back at Valley Parade, managing the club again, means the world to me. Watching him stood proudly in the dug out today, engineering a terrific victory over a decent Rochdale side, fills me with pride. Everything feels so right around Valley Parade right now.
I admit I was selfish in wanting him to return. He was the only name in the frame to take over from Phil Parkinson who excited me. Many fans were against it and I completely understood their reasoning, but the unity he offered was so much more appealing than the divisive threat of a Steve Evans era. He had unfinished business.
It was around this time a year ago that I met Stuart McCall in a Baildon hotel, to interview him about his three spells at Bradford City for my book. It was genuinely emotional to hear my all-time hero recalls moments in history that were such key moments in my own time supporting the club. But I also went away feeling a little sad for him. McCall had met me ahead of going on the BBC to do the FA Cup first round draw. He was still Scotland’s number two, but the Tartan Army had recently failed to qualify for Euro 2016, and were left playing friendlies for a year until the World Cup qualifiers started.
McCall’s workload seemed too low. He surely still had so much more to offer football than this.
There was a danger that, by coming back to Valley Parade, we’d go through all the horrible emotions of the first time McCall was manager – and it may still end badly again. But these fears were outweighed by the appeal of wiping away the bitter after-taste of his painful exit in 2010. A more grown-up, he’s-not-the-messiah-just-a-bloody-good-bloke approach, this time around.
A chance, again, for McCall to achieve afternoons as good as this.
Because whilst it would be an exaggeration to claim this resounding victory was the best performance of McCall’s fourth coming, it was undoubtedly the high point of the season so far. Rochdale were, as McCall himself was the first to admit, understrength. But they are no mugs, shading the first 20 minutes and demonstrating their quality. Make no mistake, this wasn’t an easy victory for City. They had to work hard to achieve such an impressive result.
It was a win that oozed quality. For lengthy spells in the game the home side played wonderful football that Rochdale couldn’t live with. The short-fire passing that represents the biggest change from Parkinson to McCall was on full show, and it was an enthralling watch. No longer can this be talked about as a good start, City are nearly halfway through the season and continue to demonstrate they are side packed with talent.
The players brought in by McCall and Greg Abbott have clearly made a big difference – more so than perhaps was expected. In the summer, a club insider told me that Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Timothee Dieng would be no more than squad players. Their pedigree of playing for teams at the bottom of League One meant their summer arrivals had hardly set pulses racing amongst us supporters.
Yet both Knight-Percival and Dieng are proving to be exceptional signings. The prominent, influential roles they are playing is something McCall and Abbott deserve great credit for.
Romain Vincelot was a more obvious signing and a real coup – what were Coventry and Tony Mowbary thinking letting him go? – and the Frenchman’s performances at the back are remarkable. Nicky Law, whose return to Valley Parade was greeted underwhelmingly, has been a revelation.
All four were outstanding here, with Knight-Percival and Vincelot standing firm in the early stages, and terrific all day bringing the ball out from the back. Dieng netted City’s second goal just before half time with a bullet header, and Law picked up the sponsor’s man of the match.
The former Rangers man and Josh Cullen in particular ran the show. Cullen’s performances had slightly dipped of late, but this was arguably his best display of the season. A loanee he might be, but his commitment to the cause was exemplified by the fact he arranged with the Republic of Ireland FA to miss one of his country’s Under 21 games, so he could be here today. Cullen has such a big future, one that will take him to greater heights than League One.
With Mark Marshall recalled to the starting line up after sitting out the last two league games – McCall reverted to 4-4-2 here, after recently favouring the diamond – the work-rate of the midfield could rival McCall in his pomp as player. There is so much determination in this City team. The grit and spirit Parkinson installed around the place remains intact.
The defensive solidity – which Stephen Darby and James Meredith played a big part in – coupled with the midfield drive were the foundations of this victory. City started slow but became dominant, and when Law crossed for James Hanson to flick on, Billy Clarke slammed the ball home for 1-0. Minutes later Clarke crossed for Dieng to head in the second, and in-between the goals the striker had tested Dale keeper Josh Lillis with a powerful drive.
Clarke was on top form, linking up well with James Hanson despite the popular belief – one aired on WOAP as much as anywhere – that the two can’t play together. Well, they couldn’t up until recently, but there’s now a much greater understanding. Evidence of the coaching-led approach of McCall on the training ground. We saw during his first spell as manager that he can improve players.
Shortly after half time Dale’s John Canavan was given a second yellow card for tripping up the rampaging Cullen – a sending off that enraged the defender’s manager, Keith Hill – and the visitors’ gamble of trying to get back into the game by staying attack-minded cost them two more goals.
Firstly the excellent Hanson stabbed home a rebound after his header from a free kick was palmed out. Marshall smashed home the fourth goal with a free kick that fooled Lillis. A beaming McCall would later explain how all four goals were the result of what he and his coaching staff had got the players to focus on during the week. It was that type of day, where everything seemed to come off.
Hill did at least shut up shop at that point to prevent further damage being done; but the near-empty away end at full time told its own story, as most Dale fans headed home long before the final whistle. They are a good side who had a very bad day at the office. Their injury and suspension issues should temper the scale of this City achievement, but it’s no bad thing that we don’t get carried away by the result.
There’s no doubt though that Bradford City are in fine fettle. Nine changes made from the midweek cup defeat, the first choice XI are vastly exceeding our expectations. It’s still just one defeat in the league all season, and you have to go back to March for the last home league defeat. City are now eight points clear of seventh, and can continue to dream big.
McCall, a legend around Valley Parade to so many of us for everything he did as a player, is building a team of modern day heroes for the next generation of City supporters to cherish. And if things continue in this vein, this could go down as a very special season.
Categories: Match Reviews