The 2,913-mile journey to save Bradford City’s season

Image by Claire Epton (copyright Claire Epton)

By Jason McKeown 

At 5am on Saturday morning, Colin Doyle was on the Dublin airport tarmac, having just completed an 8-hour flight from Antalya, Turkey, where he had just played his first appearance for the Republic of Ireland national team in over a decade. Doyle must have rightly felt proud of his achievement. And the fact he had played well in Ireland’s friendly defeat. But he refused to rest on his laurels.

His sporting weekend wasn’t done.

Nine hours, another flight and a short nap later, Doyle was lining up in goal for Bradford City. No one expected him to rush back and play another game so quickly. But he volunteered to do it anyway.  In total, his journey from Antalya to Bradford stretched 2,913 miles. By the 90th minute Doyle was dead on his feet and struggled to find the energy to leave his six yard box to claim several high balls. His reward for such endurance was to earn Bradford City’s first clean sheet in four months. One which earned a first Bradford City victory in more than 80 days.

With such dedication from their goalkeeper, there would have been no excuse for any of Doyle’s team mates to have given anything less. And so, at last, the Bradford City players produced a display full of commitment in front of a crowd that had started to fear they were no longer playing for the club. There was courage. There was fight. There was character. And now there are signs of belief. It remains a mammoth task for City to reach the play offs. But it no longer looks preposterous.

It wasn’t a classic performance. And, speaking in the press box minutes after the final whistle, both Simon Grayson and Gillingham boss Steve Lovell acknowledged the visitors had deserved to win, but the fact City have stopped the rot is all that matters. After the horror second half show at Doncaster on Monday, and after all the abject performances before that, the players needed to prove themselves. Show that they do care about the club. And that, no matter the goings on behind the scenes, they are prepared to fight to salvage this season.

After a timid first half, City came strongly out the blocks after the interval and took the lead through Dominic Poleon’s terrific low strike. Poleon, overlooked for the last two games in favour of inexperienced strikers, had a point to prove to his manager and made it strongly. Whilst he continued to rashly miss chances before and after his match-winning strike, Poleon ran himself into the ground harrying defenders and chasing every last cause.

Poleon reminds me of Barry Conlon. A player who when on top, top form could really put in a shift for City, but who lacked the ability to maintain high levels of intensity. If Poleon could play like this every week, he would rarely be sat on the bench. This is the marker he needs to live up to, week in week out.

City, who played a 3-5-2 again, but this time with subtle changes, looked more fluent. Playing this more direct style favoured by Grayson means City are no longer dominating possession as they did under Stuart McCall. But with Tony McMahon moved to holding midfielder, and the excellent pair of Alex Gilliead and Stephen Warnock as wing backs, the shape worked better.

Grayson has made City better without the ball, at the sacrifice of no longer being as stylish with it. Gillingham had plenty of possession in the first half, but found Matt Kilgallon in particular difficult to get past.

McMahon, who has shown clear signs of decline this season, suited the holding role. He doesn’t have to run as much, and can have greater influence on attacking moves. When he received the ball, he focused on looking for options and spraying the right pass. This also allowed Callum Guy to get forward more, and his excellent all-action display left him head and shoulders above everybody else as the best player on the park.

But it was in other areas that the foundations of recovery really lay. Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Romain Vincelot struggled again, but they were better than in recent weeks. Shay McCartan isn’t suited to playing up front and found it tough, yet he kept going. Nicky Law can do better, but the effort was there. Even Kai Brunker did okay when he came off the bench.

Every player played better than they have been doing. In some cases, it wasn’t by much. And they all still need to improve considerably. But it was a step in the right direction. Little about City’s performance was wonderful. However, they got the job done. They did the ugly things to get over the line. Each and every one stood up to be counted.

With results elsewhere playing into City’s hands, a push for the play offs can’t be ruled out. A trip to Ewood Park on Thursday is as tough as it gets, but it can now be approached with greater heart. The players have remembered how to win. Charlie Wyke is back. And with the outstanding backing of City fans – the noise returning to Valley Parade in the closing stages here – anything is still possible.

The mood isn’t transformed, but it is brighter. An afternoon of marginal gains, but one which could sow the seeds of something bigger and better from Bradford City over the final few weeks.

The season isn’t over. And that, at least, is progress compared to 5am this morning.

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Categories: Match Reviews

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15 replies

  1. I don’t go to VP they win. See you next season 😂

    • Me too. I’m taking a break. Just at the moment I can’t raise any enthusiasm to visit VP on match days ( a bit like Edin, I guess!). I can’t believe that, after eleven/twelve weeks without a win, we’re still in the race for a play off place. If only……..

  2. A really strong performance, with only McCartan having a poor game. Guy, Gilliead and Kilgallon all excellent. People might be critical of Vincelot but he ran and harried all afternoon.
    Poleon’s goal was great, even though his performance otherwise was pretty average.
    Roll on Thursday and let’s make it three more points for the mighty Bantams.

  3. We won ugley PP style. Players new there jobs within the system deployed bg SG. A welcomed 3 pts. Well done.

  4. I might be in the minority but as much as I admire his dedication and commitment to the cause surely his admission that he was dead on his feet and didn’t have the energy to leave his 6 yard box actually jeopardised the team and left us open to conceding a late goal? 🤔⚽️

  5. Another great summary young Jason.As my friend always told me after a run as City have had a win anywhere,even playing the A team is what the doctor ordered.Ugly 1 nils win promotions.Avoiding defeats too.Until mathematically an impossibility the battle cry will be sounded.Not many other chances.But a result which is all that matters after a very trying period.Great sub bringing Kai on.Kept it in their half worrying until the last 5 minutes or so.Thankfully their half and good chances missed.When it had 1 1 all over it again.Doyle is huge.Best £1 spent.

  6. I think you sum up the game, the crowd, the attitude very well. It seemed to me that City were very timid and unconfident until Guy won a ball after about half an hour that he should not have won, and then put in two crunching tackles. That seemed to lift the team.
    McMahon seemed comfortable and appeared to be acting as a Gary Jones-type captain in his encouraging and cajoling of his team-mates.
    Poleon and Law ran themselves into the ground. Doyle looked a class player.
    I liked the way we always had 2 men back even when we had a corner. The gung-ho 10 men forward approach cost us dear in matches in December and January.
    Promotion play-offs are, sadly, a preposterous idea, but it was better. We were a bit lucky, but sometimes you are.
    The pitch was the real winner.
    Just one word for a referee who was more interested in letting the game flow than being noticed himself.
    Maybe, but only maybe, we have turned the corner.
    Finally, I fail to see why Simon Parker needed to highlight Rahic’s absence.

    • Interesting you mentioned McMahon. Following his throw in against Wigan, January absence and his attitude in general since then I was interested in both his reception from the crowd and his application throughout the game.

      Before the match he was the only one signing autographs for the kids – and not just that – inviting them onto the pitch and he chatting to each one before sending them back to the stands.

      His move to central midfield really did bring out a Jones – esque performance. Plenty of cajoling, and fist pumping. He really cared. You could tell how much it meant to all the team when that final whistle went but I felt he in particular really enjoyed that win.

      Following Wigan and his January absence it was great to see Tony in this sort of mood. I wonder if anything’s been said to him to apparently get him back on board. I do hope so because a motivated McMahon would be a real asset both on and off the pitch.

  7. Yes completely agree with that article but actually i felt we did deserve our win at long last..for sheer guts, determination and effort throughout the whole 90 mins against a side sitting only just behind them in the table. Now for Blackburn and Walsall. Four points from those 2 and i will really believe we can make it..just as Millwall did one year ago.

  8. We could be the Millwall of 2018!

  9. It was 2,523 miles not 2,913 miles easy mistake to make i guess….well Done Doyle deserve’s new contact 100% and has my full respect. ⚽️

    • I calculated it not on the distance from Turkey to Bradford, but via Ireland as Doyle flew there too. Dublin is 200 mies away from Bradford, hence the extra 400 miles he in fact made. So Turkey-Ireland-Bradford

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