Emotional Bradford City victory offers injection of confidence for the run-in, after a second half of big performances

Bradford City 3
Gilliead 6, Walker 62, Cook 81
Grimsby Town 2
Holohan 23 (pen) Smith 44

By Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

There was despair. There was anger. There was fear – real fear – of what damage this might do. But ultimately, the rollercoaster of emotions we went through here at Valley Parade meant that victory tasted even sweeter.

As Jamie Walker charged down the middle of the pitch, angling the pass out wide to the onrushing Matty Derbyshire, who crossed for Andy Cook to swing the ball into back of the net and win the game, the scenes of euphoria were turbocharged by the lifting of the dark mood that had been swirling around the stadium. From despair to delirium. All earning City a win that we may eventually look back upon as absolutely vital.

There’s a reason why so many films follow a set narrative that begins with an inherently decent person doing good things, only for them to experience some sort of set-back – often self-inflicted. Eventually, they discover reserves of character from within to come back and ultimately triumph. The audience is left feeling good about the way the hero has overcome the odds to succeed. It’s a formulaic approach to movie making, but it sells.

Bradford City followed their own Hollywood script here. Coming back to succeed when all hope seemed lost. Growing as characters. Giving us all a moment that will live longer in the memory than any routine home win. From Barnsley ’98, Wolves ’99, Millwall ’03, Accrington ’08, Stockport ’11, Leeds ’14, Chelsea ’15 to Swindon ’17 – come from behind wins are always that bit more special.

It leaves you with a buzz that you just wish could be bottled up. These are the days you just want to savour. The sensations felt so much sharper because of the volatile way our moods went back and forth during the 90 minutes. Devastation. Frustration. Relief. Joy. Elation. It makes you feel so alive.

This was the sort of victory that elevates a promising promotion bid into one of greater substance. The type of afternoon to ellicit the phrase ‘it feels like our year’. Should City go onto claim a place in League One next season, we’ll look back and say what an important moment this was. Because it wasn’t just about earning three points, it was the nature of the comeback. The way the players found resilience and strength. The never say die attitude on display.

And that’s why it leaves you feeling this might be our year. It makes dreams feel like they could actually become reality. Especially because, with this victory, we got to see certain qualities from City that have proven elusive at Valley Parade in recent seasons.

There was pressure. Big pressure. You don’t get into a play off spot with nine games to go without being a good team. But with more than 19,000 people present, and opponents playing without any fear, the mess that City had got themselves into could have easily seen them buckle. Instead, they climbed back off the canvas to recover and flourish. And the powerful emotions it generated around this famous old ground can only offer everyone a huge confidence boost for this run-in.

Unlike a Hollywood film where everything is neatly packaged into a happy ending, we can’t completely forget about the more unwatchable moments of the afternoon. The ones where it was all going horribly wrong. There were reasons to be concerned if you’re Mark Hughes. A sloppiness evident in City’s play that they’d do very well to stamp out. At half time they were in a mess, and it’s not a situation you’d want them to get into again in the near future.

You can’t always come back.

Everything was set up for City. They went in front in under six minutes through that rarest of sightings – an Alex Gilliead goal. Brad Halliday had crossed the ball into the box, with Cook laying the ball into the path of Harry Chapman, who’s shot was blocked by Max Crocombe. Cook was alive to the loose ball and played it back to Gilliead, who’s low effort should really have been saved by Grimsby’s New Zealand stopper.

This was Gilliead’s first goal since October 2021 and only the 21st of a career that spans eight years and 332 games. It’s unlikely this will lead to a goal glut from a player who, for all his industry, needs more of an end product, but it did set the stage for Gilliead to produce a really good individual performance.

For a time, Gilliead was in good company with his team-mates. Grimsby had started with purpose but soon look demoralised, and the platform was there for City to register a comfortable victory. They looked assured, they looked authoritative. Alas, this is not a position they’ve made a habit of maximising. How many times this season have City looked in full control but then dropped off?

A familiar sense of drift and complacency emerged here. One that looked like it might be their undoing.

First, a dreadful defensive mix-up saw Matty Platt allow a harmless ball to bounce into the box and seemingly go through to Harry Lewis. Platt didn’t realise Harry Clifton was running in behind him, and as the Grimsby midfielder pounced on the loose ball he was tripped by Harry Lewis. There was no question it was a penalty, which the experienced Gavan Holohan tucked away. And from there, the salmon pink-shirted visitors regained their early game swagger.

With Adam Clayton injured, Hughes had moved City back to the early season 4-2-3-1 with a fit-again Walker restored to number 10, flanked by Chapman and Scott Banks. It meant a return of Gilliead and Richie Smallwood as holding midfielders and – for much of the first half – a familiar issue of the pair being overrun by opposition employing a three-man midfield.

The mistakes began to rack up over a 20 minute-period. The contagion of anxiety spreading amongst home players. Lewis was clearly rattled by the penalty incident and lacked his usual composure, passing the ball out of play more than once. Platt was hugely below par with Stubbs having some tough moments. Smallwood and Gilliead gave the ball away too much. Liam Ridehalgh and Halliday were wasteful in possession. Walker continued to be an enigma. Whilst around him Chapman, Banks and Cook just couldn’t get in the game. “Most of the issues we had were self-inflicted,” groaned Hughes.

Grimsby smelt blood and struck again. From a Mariners corner, a truly horrendous mess in the box saw Platt fail to clear when he had the chance and Andy Smith stole in to plant a header at goal that Lewis could not keep out. It was all going very wrong, leading to predictable half time boos.

And that’s when the heroes emerged. Hughes said of his half time team talk, “We needed to clear our heads, get back to playing how I know we can play and wait for our moments.” His calm words of wisdom worked. City came back out with greater determination. Helped, it has to be said, by Grimsby no longer employing the press. And instead favouring the dark arts of slowing down the contest and time-wasting their way towards the full time whistle.

By this point, Smallwood had had to change into a spare shirt, which was blank on the back. Maybe his own surname weighs heavily on the City captain, because he suddenly looked free from the shackles and reached a level of performance we’ve not seen from him in months. You could visibly see Smallwood driving the team on and he took on greater responsibility for providing the thrust. He played like a leader. And it’s not too often we’ve been able to say that about Smallwood.

Banks too became more influential after half time, routinely charging past his somewhat limited marker Anthony Driscoll-Glennon, cutting inside and linking up with others. Walker also came alive, and began to positively affect the play. What a player Walker is at this level when it all clicks like it did for him in the second half. As much as Grimsby tried to keep stalling the flow of the game, the City threat was growing.

But it was still missing something, and that’s where a change made a huge difference. Chapman was withdrawn on the hour – a poor personal performance that perhaps will restrict his starting opportunities from here – and on came Derbyshire. Before today, Valley Parade had only seen 26 minutes of action from the veteran forward. Back from injury, this was the day Derbyshire truly made his BD8 mark.

Within a minute of his arrival, City equalised when Walker got a heavy touch when trying to bring down Gilliead’s long pass, only for the ball to ping forward and force Croscombe into a save. The rebound fell straight to the feet of the Scot to finish smartly from an angle.

Suspicions that Croscombe is not a particularly great goalkeeper were raised again with this goal, and added to even further soon after when his unconventional kick save from Cook’s header saw the ball go loose towards Derbyshire, creating a scramble where the ball appeared to narrowly cross the line. The referee, Charles Breakspear, faced an impossible decision and sided with Grimsby. No goal, but City had all the momentum.

Derbyshire made such a difference. He runs the channels really well, and linked up expertly with Cook and Walker. He oozes intelligence. A wise old head in the heat of a frantic battle. City pressed and kept the tempo high. It eventually led to Walker, Derbyshire, Cook and goal. Amazing celebrations ensued, as Cook raced to the front of the Kop.

This was another very good finish from Cook, who had a real battle all afternoon. I just love the way he always keeps his head up. Always waits for his chance. Smith appeared to win the battle for most of the game, but then there’s that one moment Cook gets away from his man and he makes it count. He reminds me a lot of Dean Windass in that he is viewed as a little daft and doesn’t get the full credit for just what a clever footballer he actually is. Like Windass, Cook can smell the goals and when his chance will come. That’s now 10 goals in Cook’s last 12 games. Outstanding.

There were nine minutes of regular action and five minutes stoppage time (largely the result of Grimsby’s earlier time-wasting) to see out. Despite the defensive jitters of earlier, City held out well with Romoney Crichlow making a now-customary late appearance from the bench to help out. And by 5pm, when the rest of League Two had completed their games, the dust settles with City up a place to sixth. The Bantams and leaders Leyton Orient were the only weekend winners in the top seven. It means they’re now only four points from the automatics.

With Mansfield beating City’s next opponents, struggling Crawley, the gap above the play off line remains three points for the Bantams. And had City failed to overturn their half time Grimsby deficit, they’d now be out of the play off spots. It’s a reminder, if needed, that the margins are tight. There’s plenty of work still to do over the final eight games – only three of which are at home.

But they go to Crawley on Good Friday with a real morale boost from this game. A shot of adrenaline to boost belief and sharpen minds. The players and coaching staff put us supporters through the wringer, but left the field with deserved applause ringing in their ears. “It shows the character of the group and how far we’ve grown,” beamed Hughes. “We’ve been able to turn around a situation that maybe earlier in the season we wouldn’t have been able to.”

There was a real feeling here that everything is coming together. Valley Parade feels more united than it has for several years. The mood inside the stadium the most joyous since the 2016/17 play off season. The relationship between supporter and club, which was so badly fractured post 2017, is truly healing.

Whatever happens over these last eight games, you do not want to take your eyes off this story.   

Categories: Match Reviews

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26 replies

  1. Time to get critchlow back in the team

    • Agree, main reason being he is much more than a defender, he can step out of defence in possession and put City on the offensive.

  2. A topsy-turvy game, but thankfully we gained three more important points.
    We know that there will be twists and turns before the end of the season.
    Could it be a blessing in disguise that five of our remaining eight games are away from home?
    Let’s hope that Leyton Orient have won the title before we play them in the last game of the standard season.

  3. Couldn’t have put it better myself JM

    Knew it was our day when the Pope made an appearance in the Main Stand and the crowd was 19 (0)11 🙏🏼

    How Critchlow isn’t starting is becoming stranger by the week. But onwards and upwards.

    • Looks like our wretched luck has turned. There will be twists and turns between now and the end of the season. Let’s hope we meet more goalkeepers like Grimsby’s generous one. We could hardly have had better results elsewhere in the division. The stars are aligning.

  4. One forgets that Grimsby had just been involved in an excellent FA cup run. Beating premiership teams along the way. They couldn’t have achieved that with a poor squad. What does this remind us of? Under Parkinson, we achieved a similar if not better run, getting to the final of the league Cup. We came back and from a mid table position we got into the play offs and won the final. Grimsby came back from their magnificent run and put together decent performances. It’s a discredit to suggest Grimsby we’re there for the taking! I thought they performed well. Yes I agree the goals they scored were self inflicted by poor defending, but City performed well especially second half. Overall City were the better team. Attempts on goal were significantly more than Grimsby’s. What is important is that City won and those other than Orient did not win. This win is significant. We have a game in hand and have a decent run of winnable matches ahead of us. So I can say I am more hopeful for a positive outcome come the end of the season.

  5. I think you got the tone right there Jason, I actually had a spring in my step as I left, unlike the despondency I had felt either side of half time.

    On a couple of individual points, I fail to understand the negativity towards Smallwood, he’s everywhere, driving the team on.

    Chapman too I really like but he typifies the problem with this team up until the last half hour today: a super player but largely without end product.

    On to the game and today I thought Grimsby offered very little and like you say so eloquently put, somehow found themselves ahead at half time. But they preferred to waste time in the second half rather than play football. I’d be angry if I was a Grimsby fan they had nothing to lose and yet they showed zero ambition and got what they deserved.

    City too got what they deserved. The energy given to them by the crowd, which was largely down to Grimsby’s behaviour, brought out an energetic and passionate performance. Personally I’d pick out Smallwood, Gilliead and Ridehalgh. A superb display and the fact Lewis was a total bystander says a lot.

    All season I’ve expected us to click and go on a proper winning run. This would be the ideal time!

    • Absolutely RE Smallwood I find it very strange the criticism he gets.

      A real leader and driving force for this team in my opinion.

      • Since his on field tantrum against Hartlepool (I think), he’s been excellent. He’s definitely been below par for most of the season, but if this is how he ends it then I’ll forgive him that.

  6. City totally dominated the second half and were full value for the win. Having said that, City took full advantage of a team running out of gas due to 8 consecutive weeks of 2 games per week.

    Hopefully this win is the start of a decent run of victories.

  7. The performance of Matt Derbyshire this afternoon is a reminder of how much we have missed him whilst he has been injured. With him in the team I suspect that we’d have created far more chances at VP in the last month and have more points in the bag. Who would have guessed, it’s beginning to look as though Mark Hughes actually knows what he is doing and he made some good signings in January.

  8. Another home game with a dramatic finish, the pendulum is definitely swinging at the business end of the season, with a almost fully fit squad now is the time to make all the top 3 something to think about, we are here yes it’s different to seasons gone by where we have just faded away, but this squad could put some teams out of sight early in games with the way they play at times, so let’s bang them drums and sing our hearts out and have the best Easter period we have ever had and take this league by the scruff of the neck to party come the 8th of May.

    MH has made Andy Cook unplayable, what a talisman and what great scenes today when he congratulated him after the game.

    8 cup finals left, Come On City 👏🤞

  9. A very important win and a reminder to the players that they are certainly going to have to earn every point
    I now have city on for 80 points. One more than I was forecasting a few weeks ago.
    2 losses 1 draw 5 wins on the run in. And let’s be honest 5 wins at this stage is a very difficult achievement
    I remain positive and am enjoying the games. This was a great win to experience. Makes it feel more important than it was. Typically Crawley have been in excellent form of late. Hopefully they’ve now run out of steam and we can sneak a win. The faster we get 5 wins the better.
    Nice that the goals were spread about and Derbyshire looks like he could be a very welcome addition in the last month of a difficult season

  10. An important come back, and good for the players to know they can do it if needed, but let’s try not to rely on it to much, I don’t want us to push our luck.

    A slight aside. Does anyone know why City have been an early KO a couple of times and neither seem to have been for live TV reasons?

    As an ST holder its frustrating as I can’t take up my seat on these days due to junior football commitments; without an obvious reason its a bit galling.

    • I can only think the police insist on early kick offs for big away followings such as Hartlepool and Grimsby. But why Huddersfield, Sheffield and Leeds don’t have to put up with it I don’t know.
      On a separate point I look at Grimsby fans website where their manager was getting a bit of grief….poor use of substitutes, wrong tactics, no plan B, favours players who “contribute nothing”. Sounds familiar???

      • Was t there some poll a few months back
        Asking fans if they’d be ok with a few earlier kick offs to save electricity on floodlights? Did I dream this up!?!

    • I think the police have seen that matches involving Hartlepool and Grimsby against City have involved incidents of violent behaviour. They take this too mean alcohol is probably the mean course of this so bring the kick off forward to prevent this. However I believe there was incidents in Bradford city centre after the Hartlepool match the other week.

  11. Brilliant article Jason, thank you!
    My hopes for City this season, are finally turning into belief that we can at least give ourselves a great chance of finally getting out of the bottom division.
    I was watching the EFL highlights show last night, & it struck me what a big step up League 1 is. The likes of Ipswich Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton Wanderers, Barnsley, amongst other ‘big’ Clubs up there. But there’s still not too many ‘bigger’ than Bradford City imo, & there’s no reason now why we can’t use this huge win to kick on, & join them next season.
    Fabulous second half performance, brilliant win!
    Up the Bantams.

  12. I can only think the police insist on early kick offs for big away followings such as Hartlepool and Grimsby. But why Huddersfield, Sheffield and Leeds don’t have to put up with it I don’t know.
    On a separate point I look at Grimsby fans website where their manager was getting a bit of grief….poor use of substitutes, wrong tactics, no plan B, favours players who “contribute nothing”. Sounds familiar???

  13. Felt like a very important win today Big Easter weekend coming up Hold onto your hats!
    Could I ask what people think about the booing. Completely get the frustration (even anger) af HT but I really don’t like hearing City being booed. I think this team might lack a bit of quality at times, but genuinely think they are trying their best. My experience bringing up kids and at work is if people are trying their best and make a mistake then better to support and encourage than shout at them. So would have much preferred to hear a huge roar of encouragement than booing.
    PS I make mistakes every day and am glad I don’t have a 19,000 audience when I do
    Come on City!!

  14. Great match report – as ever!
    We went a little bit direct today than earlier in the season, especially in the second half. It made a huge difference as Banks, Derbyshire, and of course Cook have the pace and power to do something with it. Hughes certainly has the ability to change games with his small changes – hopefully we can keep going.

    • When we stopped faffing about in our own box with 2 out of the 3 not with sufficient quality to do it then we looked fine. Of course by then we were 2-1 down! Platt and Lewis surely can’t enjoy this nonsense tactic anymore than we do! It’s cost us at least 3 defeats this season at home. The negativity it brings feeds onto the atmosphere let alone the fact we gift possession away for absolutely no good reason. Please MH end this madness and get us up the park!! Don’t mind the tactic if players are good enough to do it but they aren’t!

  15. I thought we showed great character to turn things around, after being in complete control first half until we conceded two very soft goals, and hopefully it augers well for the rest of the season, particularly in terms of our home form.

  16. I think the ball forward for Walker’s goal was from Stubbs. A lot of players made a real point of congratulating him for it afterwards.

  17. For me the stand out moment of the game was Gillead’s tackle in front of the dugouts just after we went ahead, and particularly the crowd response, which was almost like a goal, 100% commitment from the player and 100% positive response from the crowd.

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