Another crucial win for Bradford City – but cautiousness continues to curb ambition

Bradford City 1
Anthony O’Connor 42
Grimsby Town 0

By Jason McKeown

This was a result to encourage greater belief in Bradford City’s promotion chances. Yet it was also a performance that cast doubts over their ability to rise out of League Two.

They earned three points, which at the business end of the season is all that ultimately matters. But they will have to play so much better than this laboured, undeserved victory over the worst club in the Football League. The full time whistle was met with relief rather than joy.

For a time this afternoon, City had done well out of the old maxim of never interrupting your opponent when they’re making a mistake. Grimsby Town, surely now destined to fall back into the National League, hit the self-destruct button. Undermining their own promising start to the match by gifting the home side a simple goal and then fighting amongst themselves, leading to one of the strangest red cards you’ll ever see.

It all meant the Bantams began the second half with a goal and one-man advantage, against the weakest opponents possible. It looked like a gift horse for City. The expectation of supporters was for City to quickly finish off browbeaten opponents, rattle in a few goals and enhance their still weak goal difference. For the team to let loose and make a statement about their play off credentials.

Instead we saw a timid, stumbling display that left City hanging on. Their cautiousness curbing their ambition. It was a good job that Grimsby were largely toothless. Unable to make City pay for their tepidness. They will return to Humberside full of regret over blowing a big opportunity to give themselves hope of avoiding the inevitable.

For City, it was a performance that highlighted their struggles to play on the front foot, be attack-minded and create plenty of chances. It again showed a happiness to settle for slim leads, and to rely on a defence which continues to excel.

How far can such an approach take you? For sure City are on a trajectory to climb into the top seven by the end of the season. And given where they were just a few months ago, that would be a remarkable achievement. But what if, at some point during the run-in – or even in the play offs – they’re chasing a game and needing to heap sustained pressure on the opposition to force a result? There’s been some evidence in recent weeks that they are capable of going full throttle, but this afternoon was not one of those occasions.

There are obvious parallels to make with Phil Parkinson’s final year at Valley Parade, 2015/16, where City staged a late push for the play offs and succeeded through an end-of-season season run of 1-0 victories. A commendable feat. Yet after a dismal first 45 minutes against Millwall in the semi finals, they were left with three-quarters of the two-legged tie to chase and overturn a two-goal deficit. City couldn’t make a dent, bowing out at the New Den.

The pragmatic, defensive style of football that took City such a long way – that season – ultimately proved limited for the demands of the play off occasion.

Perhaps, City can go all the way to League One this season without needing to play a more adventurous style of football. But it would be nice to know it was within their armoury – just in case it might be needed.

That’s for another day of course. Right now, winning games is everything. And on that front, Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars will take plenty of satisfaction from this game. “It was a tough day, and the most important thing was getting three points,” Trueman stated at full time.

Trueman also rightly highlighted Grimsby’s recent run of form. Cut adrift at the bottom they might be, but Town were unbeaten in eight games. A run of results that has seen them take points off City’s promotion contenders Grimsby, Tranmere, Salford and Cheltenham. With Newport dropping two points on Friday night, the managerial pair knew that victory would cut the gap on the play offs back down to three. And that was the most important priority.

Nor do Trueman and Sellars deserve to be labelled negative managers. The pair warrant credit for the way they adjusted the usual 4-2-3-1 formation, midway through the first half, to address a positive start from Grimsby. With the tweaks successfully making City a stronger force, as they took control of the game for a crucial 15-minute period before half time.

Paul Hurst – the man who was seemingly lined up to take over at Valley Parade, before Trueman and Sellars made such a huge impact – had surprisingly set the Mariners up in a diamond. And with centre half Elliot Hewitt pushing forward whenever Grimsby had the ball, in the early stages the visitors threatened to overrun City’s midfield.

“We changed shape, they didn’t know what to do with it,” explained Hurst after the match, whilst revealing he had changed Grimsby’s usual formation to counter how he knew City would line up. “They [City] tried pretending they were going to play three at the back to start with, but they didn’t. I don’t know if they think you were born yesterday with putting things out in the press and going with a back three.

“They were struggling to cope with our system, tried changing it, they really struggled, they couldn’t get the message onto the pitch.”

In response to the early problems, Trueman and Sellars opted to move Anthony O’Connor back and set up a three man defence, with full backs Finn Cousin-Dawson and Connor Wood moved to wing backs and flanking Elliot Watt, while Gareth Evans and Billy Clarke provided good support off the ball. Gradually, City got better at winning and keeping possession. The 3-3-3-1 set up allowed them to defend better and come forward with more purpose.

After waiting 35 minutes to finally register an attempt on James McKeown’s goal, City began to threaten more, with Evans and Cousin-Dawson coming close. They had been comfortably second best on possession stats but began to claw it back. After Wood’s delightful cross was seemingly about to be headed home by Andy Cook – only for the on-loan striker to be denied by another Mansfield loanee, Rollin Menayesse, just beating him to the ball – City won their first corner and duly scored.

It was a goal that summed up why Grimsby are bottom of the league. An initial ball into the box had been cleared and the danger seemingly over. But Watt picked out Wood, who was given too much space to swing over another cross. Jay Matete made a half-hearted attempt at heading away the ball, but only flicked it towards an unmarked Anthony O’Connor, who volleyed home. It reminded you of the dismal goals that City were conceding prior to Trueman and Sellars’ tenure.

On the success of the formation change, Trueman reflected, “We had to adapt. We knew we had to find a way and we did that.”

Grimsby were not done self-imploding. In first half stoppage time, former City winger Filipe Morais sent a through ball for Stefan Payne – who City were said to have rejected the chance to sign last summer, when James Vaughan moved to Prenton Park – to chase. Payne failed to make the run and made clear his disgust at the accuracy of the pass. And as the referee James Bell blew for half time, Morais couldn’t hide his anger at Payne. The pair exchanged furious words. Payne then proceeded to headbutt Morais.

Despite fleeing the scene of the crime, Payne quickly discovered that Bell was stood outside the changing rooms, demanding the striker come out to receive a red card. There are reports the 29-year-old was in tears as the punishment was handed out. For his part in the incredible scenes, Morais didn’t return for the second half either – as Hurst opted to substitute him. The Portuguese sat alone on the steps by the away dressing room during the second half, probably fearing for his future. A really sad moment for a player who enjoyed many memorable days at Valley Parade.

“I’m angry,” Hurst stated. “Stef might be the one that’s done it, but the pair of them have let the club down, and everyone connected to us. Quite frankly it’s embarrassing.”

“Unforgiveable” was the verdict of the Grimsby Town’s Twitter account – strong words from an official club channel. Only hours earlier, the same Twitter account had promoted this fixture with the unfortunate line “We fight together until the very end.” Words taken too literally by their own players.

And that’s how City began the second half with such a good hand. Opponents tripping up over their own shoelaces, staring firmly down the barrel of relegation. City had a man advantage and just needed to keep their opponents trapped in the hole they’d dug for themselves. Get a second goal, and then run riot.

It didn’t happen.

For how bleak things were for Grimsby, their players and Hurst deserve credit for the way they dug in during the second half. The triple substitution that saw Morais vacate meant the visitors went to 4-3-2, with substitute Lennell John-Lewis partnering James Hanson. The blue shirts refused to roll over. Grimsby fans won’t take much consolation from what they saw today, but that resolve should count for something. Two years on from watching City get relegated from League One, we know only too well what a team looks like when they down tools and meekly accept their fate.

For all Grimsby’s mistakes, they at least didn’t throw in the towel.

Nevertheless, City failed to put them under any significant pressure. They had a chance to up the tempo and put Grimsby on the backfoot, but instead kept it slow and plodding. They did create a couple of chances – Cook seeing a header saved by McKeown, plus Wood hitting the bar after latching onto a good ball from substitute Charles Vernam. But they never got out of first gear. Passing moves routinely broke down. Several cheap free kicks were given away.

“The performance wasn’t what we were after,” admitted Trueman. “A team going down to 10-men – we’re learning about this group of players and we’d not come up against that.

“We needed more control and more aggression higher up the pitch. But if you’re asking me, did I want a complete performance and lose the game, or win but not play our best football? I’d always take the three points.”

Asked if he could have been more adventurous to improve the goal difference, Trueman responded “And risk losing the game? I don’t think so. We always knew we had to protect Rich[ard O’Donnell] with the aerial threat they’ve got, so we decided to keep the back three.”

The slender scoreline kept Grimsby more than interested. John-Lewis flashed an effort over the bar from the edge of the box. Harry Clifton ran past Paudie O’Connor and forced a good save from O’Donnell. Hewitt was left unmarked from a set piece but headed over. Late sub Luke Spokes hit an awful shot that missed the target after a rampaging run by Luke Hendrie had caused panic in the box.

The league table doesn’t lie, and Grimsby’s imminent demise is the result of a glaring lack of quality that was on full show here. But they did keep City sweating right to the end. And the suspicion remains that – in similar circumstances, but against stronger opposition – the Bantams would not be so fortunate to win.

When Trueman and Sellars took charge in mid-December, Bradford City were three points below Grimsby, and 23 points behind a Newport County side they are now within striking distance of overtaking. The pair have and continue to receive so many plaudits for what they have achieved this season. It’s a turnaround unprecedented in the modern history of Bradford City. They deserve huge respect for the stunning progress they’ve delivered.

But when you dig a little deeper – which is something we have always done on WOAP – it’s inescapable that some elements are not quite as impressive. Performances have been functional but rarely showing flair. They habitually win by fine margins rather than at a canter. They rely on being defensively sound, and clinical at scoring from the limited number of opportunities they create.

And that’s all we can ask for at this time. It really is. Thank goodness we are not Grimsby Town right now. Because for a few dark moments in early winter, that was us. If City don’t make the play offs this season, who can really have any complaints in Trueman and Sellars – given they began with such a poor hand? Whatever happens over the last seven games, they’ve performed miracles.

In the longer-term though, there’s no getting away from the fact Bradford City can and should have bigger ambitions than their current league position. Being in League Two is an underachievement. A consequence of bad mistakes. And if City don’t go up this season, they will be expected to come flying out the blocks in 2021/22. To win games convincingly. Push for the top three. Especially if crowds return, bringing with it all the usual loud emotions.

At some stage, more is going to expected of City than their performances over the whole of this season. And days like this suggest there is still work to do, before the Bantams are capable of reaching that next level.

Categories: Match Reviews

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26 replies

  1. Great article Jason, at this stage of the season results are everything but I agree the football is boring to watch, and there is no way they would get away playing that way next season when the crowd is back in ,are our managers a one trick pony or can they mix it up, we will soon find out ,today was a good result but a poor performance and so negative with the subs ,I don’t think we will get away with playing in a such a negative and predictable way when we play against the better teams or if we get into the playoffs ,so let’s see a better balanced team with some pace and in the playoffs two forwards on together .

  2. Bang on assessment.
    Even though we have got the results overs the last few months, performances have been poor.
    Parkinsons football was a hard watch but we got results.
    This is even harder to watch, but the results keep us living in hope.
    If we do manage to make the playoffs then great, if we manage to win them even better.
    Points win prizes as an old entertainer once said.

    Entertainment can come later……if we go up!

  3. Great article and sounds like Hurst was having a dig at Sparks over the none job offer with those comments. Win is all that matters but next year the team needs to entertain if they are to build season ticket sales. Lets hope the next transfer window is a good one for City 🙂

  4. 23 games 45 points
    Half a league winning season for T & S
    Definitely a banana skin avoided today against a team unbeaten in 8 and “fighting “ for their lives
    The next two games look easier
    Happy days

  5. Another excellent resume, Jason. You saw the game exactly as I did. It’s really difficult to know whether to be thankful for 3 points against a team on a goodish run of form, or appalled at the lack of a second or third gear to move against demoralised opponents in the second half. What was missing was speed and pressing high. To play Clarke and Evans with Donaldson and Cook might be pushing the experience button, but all together in the same team without even a younger Crankshaw, Vernam, Scales or even a Stevens to run beyond their back line seems to me to be very poor planning. Why isn’t Connor Wood being pushed up more? He has goals in his locker and is still one of the best crossers of the ball. Since the January window he has big centre forwards to aim at. Clearly we are missing Callum Cooke and Levi Sutton, but with our increasingly good bench that should not be an excuse any more. And we still haven’t learnt how to fit Danny Rowe in.

  6. A massive City win and my vote goes to Good Fortune for Man of the Match and honourable mention to Matete and Payne. Lol

  7. Yes, it may have “only” been a 1-0 win and not the best performance, however although Grimsby are bottom they’ve had a decent unbeaten run recently (albeit lots of draws) and during that run a third of the division have dropped at least 2 points against them, whereas we managed to get all 3.

    We will need perform better in other matches, but I’m sure the managers and players know that. Fingers crossed it’ll come.

  8. Good fortune, undeserved – sorry I don’t agree. My opinion is that we were extremely average today and we played without pace but once again we ignore the fact that for the majority of the game we were winning – we didn’t need to go out and score. Yes we all wanted us to score more but we basically kept it tight – they offered virtually nothing, yes they tried and had a few hoofs into the box but never for a moment looked like scoring. Personally I’ll take that and I’ll take it again on Tuesday.

  9. Stopped reading when you said undeserved victory. Sure, we weren’t great but neither were Grimsby. They were 8 unbeaten and have taken points off 3 teams above us in the last few weeks. ODonnell only had to make one save of make. Seriously think you are pandering to the negative city fan base now when a bit more positivity might be a bit more helpful. And for the record the boring XG diatribe was also put to the sword again. Get behind T&S please, bet their glad no ‘fans’ are in the ground at the moment.

    • Hi Martin,

      In fairness the ‘undeserved victory” comment appeared in the second paragraph of a 39 paragraph article. If you didn’t read beyond that then you missed a lot of nuanced discussion and many positive points in support of both team and managers.

      The problem with City supporters and indeed football fans in general is that we can be a little bi-polar. One win and we’re world beaters, a defeat and we’re going to hell in a handcart.

      This is s very myopic view, you lose sight of the bigger picture and at city this tends to lead to the Moaners / Happy Clappers argument which is divisive, defeatist and depressing.

      I think what the chaps at WOAP are trying to say is that these are fine margins. To progress, either this year or next, we need to improve in some areas. The use of the expected goals calculation is one way of illustrating where we need to improve.

      Writing a match report is a lot more difficult than you might imagine. There’s not many writers out there, even in the nationals, that evidences their point of view to the extent that WOAP does. Feel free to disagree but read the full article before doing so!

      • I’ve subsequently read the full article and haven’t changed my mind. How can it be an undeserved victory when we were never behind, they never scored and the keeper only had one save to make. How did Grimsby possibly deserve anything from the game. Doing just enough to win is often what success is built on and this is often what this team is managing.
        There’s been an undercurrent in recent articles on this site of T&S being lucky and using XG as evidence to support the case. As soon as we hit a sticky patch it seemed it was almost a relief for some to say ‘I told you so’, but now ignore the fact we’ve bounced back with some aplomb results wise. When was the last time we had almost 60% win ratio over 23 games. Still thats not enough it seems.
        I don’t subscribe to the bipolar comment – I do take a longer term view, which is exactly why I didn’t chuck the toys out of the pram when we lost a couple, like many did.
        The aim was survival and the fact these 2 have achieved that at a canter, with realistic talk of play offs is an outstanding achievement whatever happens to the end of the season.
        If we do make the play offs will anyone actually care how we won against Grimsby – NO. And that’s my point.

      • Hi Martin

        Thanks for your comments. I think to use your own comment from earlier that perhaps it’s for the best for yourself that you “won’t be troubling you’re [sic] readership going forwards.” I don’t particularly want to tell you to stop reading the site, but clearly it’s getting you very angry judging by comments over recent weeks. I don’t want to make you angry or upset when there is enough horrible stuff going on in the world at the moment. So maybe for your own wellbeing steer clear of our site?

        On WOAP we try to do a few things and stick to them – ie dig deeper into Bradford City matters (hence our strapline ‘in-depth coverage of Bradford City’) and give balanced opinions, backed up by reasoning and/or evidence. I think digging deeper into Saturday’s performance, as we did, means it’s going to be unavoidable to say it wasn’t great. I’m confused why this is a problem to say this, and since Saturday the following people have all said similar things – Andy Kiwomya, Simon Parker, Mark Trueman, Conor Sellars and Anthony O’Connor. If they all agree it wasn’t a great performance, why can’t we say that too?

        I think over the last few months this site has written lots and lots of positive things about Trueman and Sellars. We have praised them to the high heavens for what they have achieved. But equally, we like to dig deeper and when you analyse performances some of them have not been great. I appreciate you’re not a fan of xG, but others are. In fact we have received emails and messages from readers asking us to do even more xG pieces. The xG stats tell a different story to results and that is interesting in my and others opinion.

        We are not trying to be everyone’s cup of tea. We are not club employees, paid to writing gushing things about the club. We are just writing passionately about the club we love. For my part, writing that match report took over 3 hours of my Saturday night. I do it because I love writing about the club.

        If you don’t want to read the sort of stuff we do, that’s absolutely fine. But I’m not going to apologise for having my own opinions on things. Nor am I going to start writing things I don’t believe.

        There are plenty of other ways to enjoy supporting Bradford City and following the club without reading WOAP. We are doing what we do but we’re not here to dominate the conversation, or try to make everyone see things our way. We are just quietly doing what we love doing. Some people like it, some people don’t. And that’s fine. It’s life.

        So let’s shake hands and agree to disagree.


  10. It shows how far we’ve come under Trueman and Sellars that fans now expect us to batter teams and not just win anymore (and even a draw before that).

    We were distinctly average today and on the whole uninspiring and underwhelming. However, I never really thought Grimsby would score, O’Donnell only needing to make one decent save. I might lose a few more hairs each week but I’d take a 1-0 on Tuesday and on Saturday and every week after that.

    I’ve never been Wood’s biggest fan ever since he joined back in 2018 and he’s been very average over the past few months. He always gets skinned down his side and if we do go up this season (fingers crossed) we definitely need a new pair of full backs.

    Onwards and Upwards and hopefully 3 more points on Tuesday

  11. P.S. After 45 points in 23 games or 90 points over a season (guaranteed promotion) I’m starting to become seriously bored with the negativity of your articles. Good help us if we’d been on an average run over this period. Like a lot of the fan base you feel entitled to endless victories at a canter. Good luck with you’re site but I won’t be troubling you’re readership going forwards unless there’s more realism about the grind of league 2 football.

    • Negativity on WOAP? Give over, it’s usually the outpost of positivity. I don’t always agree with the correspondence on here but this match report was bang on.

    • Football is about entertainment. The article compliments the result not the performance. It was poor. City had pace on the bench and not on the pitch. We had an extra man on the pitch. Pace would have added an extra dimension to the team. That did not happen until late. If the duo continues not to take risks then we will lose more than win. To get to the play offs we need to take risks.
      May I suggest you support Crown Green Bowling if you prefer bore fests!

  12. Agreed.
    On the basis of a wins a win.and three points is three points I will take that.
    In the last 8 games nobody has found a way to beat Grimsby and we did. Just, and probably undersevedly but we did.
    It wasnt pretty and it would have been great to.have scored more goals but we won and some of those above faltered.
    Grimsby pressed the self destruct button which helped.
    As I keep saying “anything can happen.and usually does”.
    That is borne out of over 55 seasons of watching this game
    There is a place in the play offs going spare as the Shrimpers, Veggies and Newport.lose the plot.
    It’s a time for plenty.of bottle and the strongest squads.
    Could go to the last day.

  13. Well that was a tough watch. Once again against my expectations , we managed to secure all 3 points when it looked more like Grimsby would nick a point !
    The lack of anyone competing for the ball until the Grimsby defenders entered our half in the first period was criminal . With a play off spot in touching distance it’s difficult to criticise the style when it produces the results ,throwing caution to the wind and attacking teams would be a risk . We can imagine the moans of discontent at the final whistle had we been present at VP ,lockdown has at least saved the players from that concern. Is it pretty , certainly not . Should we hold our expectations in check for the final push ,definitely in my opinion.
    As I said a tough watch but the prize is more important at the moment .

  14. I think you sum up the game very well, Jason.I thought City were pedestrian yesterday, and felt for Cook, and Rowe after him, never getting a pass.
    Paudie handled Hanson very well, and Hanson is still a handful. Their duel reminded me, in reverse, of some of Bobby Cambell’s battles. Knock each other about , then show mutual respect.
    Clayton seemed to be looking to pass to someone moving forward but no one ever seemed to do.
    In attack City seemed lethargic.
    But they still won against a poor but determined team.
    I have watched football for over 70 years, and they say there is nothing new under the sun. That was proved by the unique incident of the sending-off. I have never seen that before, and will remember the game for it. Thank you Morais and Payne for providing the best entertainment of the game.

  15. Picking on one small issue, and that was T&S decision to change formation and tactics in the first half. This made sense, but apparently they had difficulty in getting the message out to the team. I wonder if having a Captain as a goalkeeper adds to this? With O’Donnell, in reality restricted to the penalty box, there wasn’t the opportunity to pull the captain over, perhaps when a throw in occurred, explain the options and get them to implement them on the pitch.

  16. I’m a big fan of Clarke, Donaldson and Evans but surely we can’t start them all. I wonder if there was some higher thinking involved in this selection – maybe squad rotation in view of the games to come?

    If so it was a risky gamble but one which I guess ultimately came off – just!

    I love the way all three look after the ball but it comes at the expense of pace, energy and tempo. Evans in particular frustrates when he drops deep to collect the ball off the back four only to bounce it backwards to a full back. Why can’t he turn and look to go forward if unmarked?

    Still, we’re in the mix and perhaps this performance serves to temper expectations a little whilst remaining in the hunt – no bad thing in my opinion.

    Onwards and upwards…

  17. T+S started solving the basics from day 1. Hard to beat, defend like men again, have a system that we stick to and all buy into and….be hard to beat at home. 10 games unbeaten under T+S at home makes good reading for 2 lads who are younger than 3-4 players in the team and never managed ever at this level. Let’s face is we were a basket case of a club 4 months ago! They will work out all the other issues as they go because they are bright intelligent people who care about the players and the club. In my humble opinion going and smashing teams 3 and 4 every week with pace and power is usually reserved for 1 or 2 teams who walk the league at this lowly level especially. We don’t have the players for that just now . Maybe if Novak, Cooke , Pritchard , Ismael, Hosannah and Sutton were all fit and added to the squad then yes.
    We are 1 transfer window in under T+S, Ryan and Lee T. It will take another 1 or 2 before T+S can play the way they want. They are using what we have got at disposal right now and I’m happy with that. None of us know what Crankshaw, Vernham Stevens fitness and attitude is like in training etc and to be fair when they have started our win record is v poor. I really couldn’t give a monkeys how we get out of this league I just want us out and progressing. The way out of the bottom division has always been ugly in general. Nothing new for me. In my time as a City fan 35 years I can only remember us playing attacking winning successful football maybe 2 seasons . The rest has been like this! It’s not like we have the mantra like some clubs do ie West Ham as (our way) Just to add to the argument that we don’t smash teams when we should..Didn’t we beat FG 4-1 last week at home? Onwards and upwards . Rich

    • interestingly though on Saturday only TWO of their signings started the game. This comes after some citing the January window had “one of the best ever”. And 2 out of the 7 aren’t even really making the bench in front of what were youth players a year ago. Yep more transfer windows are required but we need a better hit rate of success from the signings perhaps? Stuart only had one window, whilst in strange times and circumstances, yet there were more of his signings in the starting line up than the current managers. I agree that all managers need more time. T And S are in the great position next window that there re still quite a few who will be out of contract do they not ‘fancy them’. We will be in a position to recruit and replace strikers in particular and that for me is priority even if they continue with the one player up top approach

      • keep up the pantomime thumbs…Ps just to add that those saying we are missing Cooke ns Sutton also forget who signed them. Fact is that the best performing players under the current management duo were not actually signed by them. This does not discredit what they have done and indeed the counter argument is that they got these players playing whereas maybe they were not before. In reality there were not available or rushed back into a bare thread squad. This is not to undermine anything that the current management duo have done and their record results wise is great, however context needs to added. Has at least one poster i wrongly debating to above there is 2 sides to every story, and certainly the last manager in some quarters doesn’t get the same reasoning as the current duo when it comes to the need for excuses, not hat their results really need any.

  18. Another game very similar to the many others seen over the years I have been supporting. What is important is coming out on top because so often we haven’t. We have basically our midfield out injured and are missed and this is an area that will be strengthened in T&S only second transfer window.
    Getting into the play offs is going to be difficult because there are some tough games ahead. But even being in with a chance is a credit to the two lads

  19. It is nice to have the luxury of complaining about performance rather than result. Not a great watch but getting the job done at the business end of the season is the priority.

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