Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
City 1 Southampton 2
8 April, 2000
As Bradford City’s first ever Premier League season headed towards the final straight, survival hopes were right on a knife-edge. Four straight defeats had dented the mood, but hope was offered by a relatively kind fixture run-in. That’s because City faced successive home games against relegation rivals Southampton, Derby County and Wimbledon. Huge six pointers, that meant it remained in their hands.
Southampton were up first in early April, albeit their own relegation concerns were easing. Form had improved after sacking Dave Jones mid-season. The Saints had turned to Glenn Hoddle – his first role since being sacked as England manager 12 months earlier, after making controversial comments about disabled people. Nevertheless, they arrived at Valley Parade still looking over their shoulders.
It was a hugely tense affair. This was a game neither team could afford to lose, which partly explained a timid first half. Paul Jewell tried to ensure City were attack-minded, pitting Jorge Cadete up front with Robbie Blake, and dropping Dean Windass back into midfield. The Bantams took the game to the Saints, but found a defence marshalled by former defender Dean Richards in strong form.
In the second half the Bantams began to ramp up the pressure, forcing corner after corner – they would win 17 over the full 90 minutes, compared to Southampton’s five. But after 56 minutes, City suffered a huge blow.
A visiting attack was partially cleared, with a loose ball falling to Chris Marsden, some way out from goal. Marsden – a former Huddersfield midfielder, for added City pain – struck a harmless-looking low shot that bounced off Windass, sending the ball in a different path. The ball trickled into the corner of City’s net – Matt Clarke had been fooled by the deflection, and was lying helpless on the ground. 1-0 Southampton.
The tension went up another notch, as City were trailing in a must-win game. Jewell threw on Isaiah Rankin for the again-disappointing Cadete, but the most telling impact came from a Southampton substitution. With 15 minutes left, Hoddle replaced Matt le Tissier with Marian Pahars – and the Latvian scored within seconds. Andy O’Brien uncharacteristically missed a clearance, allowing Pahars to run at goal and finish impressively.
To City’s credit they came roaring back. Straight from kick off, Blake reduced the arrears. It set up a frantic finale – but for all the huff and puff, Southampton held on for three points that all but sealed their survival.
“Bradford City will look back on the game and feel they were unlucky,” summarised Barry Davies, who was commentating on the game for Match of the Day. There was some comfort to take, too, from the news Derby and Wimbledon had failed to win their games. Yet still, a fifth defeat on the bounce chipped away belief even further.
It was starting to look bleak for Bradford City.
City: Clarke, Halle, Wetherall, O’Brien, Jacobs, Sharpe, McCall, Windass, Beagrie, Blake, Cadete (Rankin 63)
Categories: Premier League Years