Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
City 3 Leicester City 1
23 October, 1999
When Bradford City earned promotion to the Premier League over the 1998/99 season, they earned admirers for their swashbuckling attacking approach. The prolific strike partnership of Lee Mills and Robbie Blake scored 42 goals between them, as the Bantams bagged 82 goals.
The early months of the Premier League adventure saw Paul Jewell take a more cautious, pragmatic approach. It meant City were tougher to beat, and they didn’t embarrass themselves. But they also struggled to score, with just six goals in the first 10 games telling its own story.
As City welcomed Leicester City at the end of October, they’d yet to achieve victory at Valley Parade. Jewell knew they had to start posing more of a goal threat, so elected to take the shackles off. He switched City to a 4-3-3 formation, with attacking intent throughout the team. For example, winger Lee Sharpe was moved to left back. The midfield three saw Stuart McCall as the ball winner, with Dean Windass (really a striker) and Neil Redfearn encouraged to push forward. In attack, Lee Mills was in the middle with Dean Saunders and Robbie Blake doing lots of running in the wide striker positions.
For the first time all season, Mills and Blake started up front together. The goalscoring heroes of the promotion season had endured a stop-start campaign so far. Mills had missed pre-season through injury and was struggling to catch up. Blake went through a contract dispute that at one stage saw him transfer listed, before peace talks brought him back into the fold. So far, he’d been mainly deployed as a winger.
After only 12 minutes, City went in front through Blake’s first-ever Premier League goal. He was played through by Saunders and unleashed a thunderous strike that flew into the net. Leicester – who had won five games in a row to rise to fifth in the league – equalised through Andy Impey. But right on half time Mills rose highest to head home Gunnar Halle’s cross. It was the first time City had scored more than one goal in a home match.
Faced with the second half dilemma of whether to defend or keep pushing, Jewell chose to maintain his bold approach. City peppered the Leicester goal, with Foxes goalkeeper Tim Flowers producing a series of fine saves. On 66 minutes, Blake went on a familiar jinxing run that saw him dribble the ball past three defenders, before he cut it back for Redfearn to stab home the third goal.
The Bantams held on for a 3-1 victory, taking them to a season-high 16th place in the Premier League.
For the first time all season, City had shown what they were really about. It was a display full of quality, purpose and skill. Confidence was running through the veins of everyone connected with the club.
City: Walsh, Halle, Wetherall, O’Brien, Sharpe, McCall, Redfearn, Windass, Saunders (Lawrence 84), Mills, Blake
Categories: Premier League Years