Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
Sunderland 0 City 1
24 April, 2000
With four games left to play in Bradford City’s debut Premier League campaign, it appeared to be all over. The Bantams were languishing second bottom, with a five-point gap to safety. They’d put up a decent fight, but a 10-game winless run had seemingly doomed them.
No one was expecting a change of fortune from an Easter Monday trip to Sunderland. The Black Cats were having a superb season, pushing hard for Europe. Kevin Phillips was one goal short of hitting 30 for the campaign. At the intimidating Stadium of Light, only Liverpool and Leeds had defeated Sunderland all season. For their part, City had not won away since September.
Yet this was to prove a remarkable, season-changing afternoon for the struggling Bantams. Paul Jewell turned up on Wearside with a gameplan to frustrate the in-form opponents. City had conceded 20 goals in their last six games, and something had to be done. Jewell tasked Stuart McCall and John Dreyer with protecting the back four by playing as defensive midfielders. Dean Windass was also pulled back into midfield.
When not in possession, wide players Peter Beagrie and Robbie Blake tucked in to provide shape. City played on the counter attack, with lone striker Dean Saunders afforded support when possible.
The cautious approach prevented Sunderland from making the flying start many pundits expected. The home side were direct in style, getting the ball up to Niall Quinn and Phillips quickly. But several shots on goal were heroically blocked.
Players threw their bodies on the line to keep the storm at bay. Matt Clarke was the busier goalkeeper, making one especially excellent save from Kevin Kilbane. Phillips did find the back of the net, but was quickly flagged offside.
As the second half wore on, Sunderland began to run out of ideas and City found pockets of joy. Saunders set up Blake, who smacked a shot against the crossbar. It was really encouraging stuff from City, they just needed a goal.
And then it happened. Beagrie picked up possession outwide, saw his cross headed straight back to him, and had the time and space to have another go. This time he picked out Dreyer at the back post, and the veteran planted a powerful low header into the bottom corner of the net.
Cue huge celebrations from the visiting supporters at the opposite end of the ground. “I can’t remember the last time I scored,” Dreyer smiled later.
Sunderland threw the kitchen sink at City, but they held on admirably for a priceless three points. “We weren’t good enough to break them down, their game plan was excellent,” admitted Sunderland manager Peter Reid.
“I cannot believe that result,” declared Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen. “The spirit is just unbelievable in this camp. And because of that spirit alone they deserve to stay up.”
City: Clarke, Halle, Wetherall, O’Brien, Jacobs, Blake (Westwood 86), Dreyer, McCall, Beagrie, Saunders (Rankin 83), Windass
Categories: Premier League Years