|Bradford City 2|
|Angol 13, Walker 69|
|Carlisle United 0|
Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)
The season is over and yet this feels like the beginnings of a really exciting Bradford City story. They go into the summer in buoyant mood after this 2-0 success made it three straight victories. Something is stirring and there is substance behind the hype.
City have finished well short of their original goals, but end the season with a purpose and a clear direction forward. Evidence of Mark Hughes’ transformative powers continues to emerge. And he has his Bradford public right behind him.
Here, for a game with nothing riding on it, Bradford City set a new club record attendance for a fourth tier match. With the aid of a strong Carlisle United away following – who were sadly let down by a minority of Cumbrians failing to respect the minute’s silence to mark the anniversary of the Fire disaster – more than 18,000 were present. All to watch a League Two contest to decide who finishes 14th. You don’t get lower league crowds like this in any other country in the world.
The bulging attendance contributed to a tremendous atmosphere that inspired the Bantams to success. It wasn’t the greatest game to watch, but the warmness that greeted every good piece of City attacking play, every successful tackle and two well taken goals was testament to the enthusiasm levels that Hughes has reinstalled in supporters.
Indeed, at times it’s hard to believe Hughes is managing the same group of players that Derek Adams set up so dourly. Under Hughes, City pass the ball with a crispness that incorporates everyone, even goalkeeper Alex Bass. When they go forward they do so in numbers, producing one touch passing moves that are full of invention. It is genuinely wonderful to watch. And this is not yet a Mark Hughes team.
City had the edge here. They began with a quiet confidence and turned up the tempo as they crossed the half way line, taking an early lead when Charles Vernam’s cross-shot was flicked on by Lee Angol and past Carlisle keeper Mark Howard.
That goal set City up for a performance where they always looked more likely than Carlisle to strike the next blow. Walker forced a good save from Coleman and then missed an absolute sitter when he steered a wicked Luke Hendrie cross over the bar. Dion Pereira couldn’t apply the finishing touch to a smart corner routine.
Carlisle – who had been warned pre-match by manager Paul Simpson not to allow their standards to drop – were not short of effort. Kirstian Dennis missed an even bigger sitter than Walker. The game became more heated as the visitors’ frustration grew. On half time Hughes even had an altercation with the Carlisle coaching staff. A moment that only further cements his popularity with Bradford City supporters.
At the other end of the popularity scale were two former Bantams who lined up for Carlisle, Jordan Gibson and Omari Patrick. Back in January both players had scored against the Bantams and chose to goad City’s travelling support. It wasn’t forgotten, and both endured a barrage of abuse. Some of it seemed good natured, but it sadly crossed the line into personal abuse. They are two young lads who tried everything for City and sadly it didn’t work out. Their January celebrations were misguided, but do they – and for that matter one of the pair’s dad – really deserve the C word?
Patrick helped to create one of the biggest cheers of the day when his attempt to run at goal was halted by a terrific Paudie O’Connor sliding challenge that prompted roars of approval. It was stirring stuff, but what shouldn’t be forgotten was the great piece of Patrick skill that saw him beat two City players before O’Connor intervened. With 9 goals in 22 starts since rejoining Carlisle in January, Patrick has provided the sort of goal return City’s own January transfer window arrivals could only dream of. Without the history, you’d argue Patrick is the sort of player City should have been looking to sign.
In the second half, the pattern continued with City always having the edge and Carlisle struggling to have much impact – only Scunthorpe have netted fewer goals than United’s season total of 39, and they had just three shots on target. In the centre of midfield, Elliot Watt and Alex Gilliead were terrific. Yann Songo’o and O’Connor gave nothing away at the back. Vernam and Pereira were quieter than they can be, but Walker and Angol proved handfuls to Carlisle.
The second goal duly arrived when Walker ran through on goal and finished clinically. Only moments before it, Carlisle argued they should have had a penalty. Their protests to the referee continued as Walker soaked up the applause of the Kop.
With the game settled, Abo Eisa made a long-awaited appearance from the bench after his lengthy injury absence and caught the eye.
Callum Cooke also came on for what looked every inch – at least from his body language – to be a final City appearance. The fact his emergence on the field was overshadowed by fans chanting the name of the player he replaced, Walker, said it all. As Cooke – who’s star has fallen so badly this season – prepares to depart, Walker has become the new number 10 darling of Valley Parade. “Jamie Walker, we want you to stay” was the chant. Hopefully, the on-loan Scot was listening.
The final whistle saw the return of the lap of appreciation which thousands stayed back for. Players brought their families around with them – Hughes was joined by young family members decked out in Bradford City kits – and the emotion from some was palpable. Richard O’Donnell got a great reception as he surely brings to an end four years at the club. Others clapped and posed for pictures on the pitch knowing they will now go onto new pastures. Some may go higher up the leagues, but they will do well to find bigger stages than this.
For those players who do stay at City this summer, exciting times appear to lie ahead. Hughes has quickly stamped his personality on the team. Now, with the help of new head of recruitment, Stephen Gent, he has the chance to bring in players who can truly take the club forward.
In some ways, the last day of the season is one filled with illusions, at least last day occasions like today when there is nothing to play for. There is typically an extra warmth from the crowd in recognition that this is the last time we’ll be together for a while. The players’ failure to have achieved more over the season is partially forgiven if not forgotten. With no pressure, players can excel and produce performances they struggled to muster months earlier, when it really counted. And it’s easy to walk away from the ground with a misguided sense of optimism for the following season.
But there is more to it here. I think you’d have go to back five years for the last time home games were played out to such a positive backing. Not just today, but in all of the matches since Hughes took charge. For so long it seems, there’s been a real disconnect between the club and its fans. That has not gone away. But on Valley Parade match days at least, there is a togetherness at last. And that’s the foundations that could lead to better times.
So the story of 2021/22 closes with a lack of a cliff hanger but with positive vibes. And it all suggests the next chapter is set up to be a thriller.
Categories: Match Reviews