Bradford City get the job done – and now they can look forward to the play offs

Bradford City 1
Halliday 43
Leyton Orient 1
Brown 41

Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

They’re in. It was tight, it was tense, but Bradford City ultimately overcame the fine margins and have booked a play off place. The Bantams will now play Carlisle United over two legs, facing off for the considerable prize of a trip to Wembley. The season could have ended here, but City have extended their campaign and are now three games away from League One. They’re in.

The feeling of joy that came when referee Geoff Eltringham blew the full time whistle will live longer in the memory than this game itself. Valley Parade erupted in triumph, and the home players and management marched over to the Kop to bask in the deserved glory of getting over the line. At the opposite end of the stadium, a superb 1,900 Leyton Orient away following kept their promotion party going by serenading their championship-winning players. Wherever you looked, happiness abounded.

It was, in every way really, a convenient result. And though both City and Leyton Orient traded a few punches, the game was played out at a patchy tempo. On-off. On-off. Flashes of excitement, interjected by spells of tedium. By the closing stages, the pace had dropped to that of a testimonial.

If you’re Nigel Clough, or indeed anyone connected with Mansfield, for your own mental wellbeing you’re strongly advised not to watch a re-run of the closing stages of this one. Whilst Mansfield were giving it everything they had and getting into a late 2-0 lead at Colchester, City and the Os were doing a passable impression of West Germany-Austria 1982.

“The performance was respectful of the fact we had 2,000 fans here,” stated Richie Wellens. “We kept Bradford honest. The last 10-15 minutes were a bit of a non-event.” He’s not kidding. In the final 10 minutes of this game, Leyton Orient had 75% possession and just one shot on goal (well off target) to City’s zero. Over this period, City attempted one tackle. Yep, this was a not a game that ended with two teams pushing hard to win it.

“We’re delighted,” beamed Mark Hughes after. “We’re still in the mix to get out of this league and that was always the goal. Ideally, we would have liked to have gone up automatically, but that wasn’t the case. We still had a job to do today, and we did it.”

Ultimately Hughes set City up not to lose this game. And given they only needed a point to book their play off spot, that seems fair enough. Lessons learned from Crewe midweek, perhaps. Adam Clayton came in to provide the composure and leadership that was so badly lacking at Gresty Road, and City initially reverted to a 4-3-3 formation aimed at making them more compact and difficult to play through. Hughes reflected on Orient, “They showed their quality, they’re a good team. But we were able to build up a performance and get the job done.”

There can’t be many, if any, visiting sides to Valley Parade that have had as much possession as Leyton Orient did here – they completed 552 passes (season average: 434) to City’s 317 (season average: 419). But they lacked ambition and purpose to make more of their passing dominance. On several occasions, Orient got the ball up to City’s box and blue shirted players piled forward to support, only for them to pause, pass it around slowly and edge backwards. If this game had been played a month or two earlier, there would have been a very different level of urgency in Orient’s approach.

That’s not to say they didn’t try. Fresh from a bit of a thumping at home to Stockport last week, Orient showed their quality and in the first half especially carried some ambition to end their fantastic campaign with a win. “It was just about matching what they did,” revealed Hughes. “At times we just had to allow them to have the ball because they’re very comfortable in possession. If you try and dive in to win it back, they just pop it around you. We just had to pick the right moments to press. The right moments to intercept. And then break from the transitional moments of the game.”

City did carve out some chances, with Andy Cook and Jamie Walker having presentable opportunities. The 4-3-3 was ditched early in the first half in favour of the diamond, where they looked more balanced. “Initially we wanted to play in a slightly different way,” Hughes admitted. “I went with two 10s. In all honesty it didn’t work. So I changed it after 10 minutes.”  

Nevertheless, Leyton Orient did succeed in ramping up the tension by taking the lead four minutes before half time. A corner was cleverly worked to the backpost and City just about dealt with the initial danger, but they couldn’t clear their lines and Tom James played in Jordan Brown. The 21-year-old midfielder, signed 18 months ago from Derby, had never scored a senior goal before, but picked his spot well to put the Champions in front.

It was a terrific reaction from City, led by supporters. If there has been deserved criticism of a minority of our fans in the last few days after the self-sabotaging antics at Crewe, here today was evidence of what a great fanbase we really are. For instead of anger and despair greeting Brown’s goal, there was a roar of defiance. Fans got to their feet and urged their players to get going again. This was not a time to turn on the team.

The reward came only two minutes after Orient struck, with Brad Halliday hitting a volley from the edge of the box that deflected into the net. Loud celebrations, laced with relief. And given news would soon filter through that Mansfield had taken the lead at Colchester, panic stations were avoided.

It was great that, on such a big day for the club, Halliday got to be the goalscoring hero. The 27-year-old goes under the radar most weeks, but has had a quietly solid season. After years of enduring so many poor right backs at Valley Parade, City have finally found someone who performs reliably week in week out – who you don’t worry about as being the weak link. Halliday has proven to be an astute signing, and further solidified his status as hero of the hour by heading an Orient effort off the line midway through the second half.

Halliday’s first goal for the Bantams also firmly ends any lingering talk of City’s defenders not contributing enough going forward. In recent weeks, Sam Stubbs and Romoney Crichlow have netted important goals, and now Halliday has followed suit. The final member of the current back four, Liam Ridehalgh, almost joined the goalscorers club with a second half strike that was well saved by Lawrence Vigouroux. Perhaps he’s saving his own big moment for the play offs.

Ridehalgh’s effort was one of only two second half shots that City mustered, the last of which came in minute 67. Consolidation was the name of the game. And though Harry Lewis had to make a couple of important saves, when Wellens began to make substitutions to give more of his squad a final day outing, it was clear that winning this game was no one’s priority. “It’s been difficult the last two weeks keeping the players motivated,” admitted Wellens. “We trained on Friday having let the players have four days off, and it wasn’t great.”

Hughes too made changes, with Matty Derbyshire, Ryan East and Emmanuel Osadebe summoned from the bench to help City see it out (though poor East touched the ball just once). With Mansfield still winning, the margin for error was too slim for anyone in the home stands to relax. But the pedestrian nature of the action ensured there wasn’t any genuine late scares on the field. “We tried to pass through them, but their block was good,” conceded Wellens.  

In fact, the main drama was happening elsewhere, with Carlisle spending most of the day trailing at Sutton and Salford falling a goal behind at home to Gillingham. When Mansfield struck a second deep into stoppage time, with the City and Salford results confirmed, the Stags needed to score just one more goal to overtake Salford on goals scored (it would have been 73 to 72). But time ran out, and they miss out on the play offs on goal difference (they finished on +17 to Salford’s +18). Utter agony.

As for City, this point gained moved them up to a final placing of sixth and a play off semi final meeting with Carlisle – who thanks to a late own goal equaliser at Sutton stay fifth, and so have the advantage of the second leg at home. Carlisle travel to Valley Parade on Sunday evening, with City going to Brunton Park the Saturday after. With just two wins from their last 11 games, Paul Simpson’s charges have crawled their way to the end of the season. But they’re resilient. And have kept 20 clean sheets from 46 games – a record only Orient can better.

Expect two very cagey, low scoring games.

According to the European Football Statistics website, this was the biggest crowd Bradford City have attracted for a home league fixture since the 1952/53 season, when they played Oldham in front of 23,580 people – a considerable 70 years ago. That particular attendance was significantly boosted by the fact Oldham needed a draw to win the league and earn promotion, and so thousands of Athletic fans made the journey to West Yorkshire. So it was in some ways an anomaly of a turnout. City also attracted a home gate of 2,265 that season – their overall average attendance was 10,892. A long way short of City’s 17,767 average this season.

Indeed, City’s aggregate attendance for 2022/23 – 408,644 – is their highest since 2017/18. It’s only the fifth time in the last 100 years they’ve broken the 400,000 barrier, and only the 12th time they’d done it in their overall 120-year history.

“It’s crazy numbers, unprecedented at this level,” smiled Hughes. “I thought the crowd was fantastic today. The energy we got from everyone in the stadium was really important to us. We had a set-back but everyone was still with us. They got us over the line.

“Everyone wants the same thing and that was evident today. I’m really pleased with that connection we have with the crowd.”

And it is a genuine connection. Because whilst this is not a time for pats on the back and thinking the job is done, today was a milestone moment for a club that has endured so much struggle over the last few years. They’ve lived up to the hype and expectation by reaching the play offs, and the interest and affection levels they’re earning from their Bradford public just keep on rising.

We can absolutely be greedy and expect more than just to be scraping into the play offs – and we can certainly ask questions if the Bantams fail from this point – but to end the season with a sell out Valley Parade, for a League Two fixture, is compelling evidence that Bradford City are moving in the right direction.  

Categories: Match Reviews

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11 replies

  1. Yes, we got the job done. Congratulations to all concerned. Let’s celebrate for ten minutes and then get ready for the greater test of out mettle and skill. It can now be done so let’s just do it. Congratulations too to this priceless – nay, incomparable – asset, Width of a post, for consistently fine reporting and analysis, throughout the season. Strange isn’t it how after 46 games everything about the season suddenly fines down to three supreme tests, which are the objective correlative, the thing itself, the difference between relative success and, sadly in absolute terms, failure.

  2. I was sad when we lost to Crewe last week. I did feel we had made it difficult for ourselves. Mansfield was the only winners vying for a play off place. Stockport, Carlisle and Bradford drew and Salford lost. Finishing 6th was better than I expected. I think I would rather be playing Carlisle home and away rather than Stockport. Although we should not underestimate Carlisle, I feel we have a good opportunity to get a Wembley place. It is a time for Mark to get his squad and tactics right. Totally agree with today’s team selection. He needed to make sure we did not lose. Sunday, we need a performance better than the league games against Carlisle. I believe we will get that performance. Well done to all those concerned today.

  3. Congratulations to everyone at BCAFC. Now, let’s finish the job, onward and upward. Whatever happens we are on the right track. Been a few mishaps along the way, but we have achieved what we set out to do, a chance of promotion. It is a long way from Illinois to Bradford but it doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this great club of ours. CTID!

  4. Thanks for the article Jason, good read as always.
    Just a comment on the black and white images – any reason they are posted this way and could they not be posted in colour going forward?
    There is nothing wrong with the content of the images but our claret and amber colours are such an integral part of our club and my view is they should be visible in images of our games to show it in all its glory. It just doesn’t have the same impact in b&w in my view.

  5. Just wonderful.
    Now let’s finally get out of this league!
    Up the brilliant Bantams 🙂

  6. We made it- somehow.
    It’s not been a vintage season and to me never felt like a successful one, even if the only real measure of success will be a Wembley victory.
    But in an equally strange way it always felt like, somehow, we would reach the play-offs.
    Hard to beat with a decent keeper and a proven goalscorer gets you a long way.
    Ultimately promotion will decide whether the season has been a success or not as the case may be.
    In my opinion our place in League One was needlessly lost after a lot of hard work by a lot of people to get there.
    Let’s hope that if we do manage to get there, we realise how important it is to stay there and put in place building blocks to advance further.

  7. Jason, another excellent game report. In particular, I had to chuckle about your reference to the West Germany vs Austria farce of WC 1982. Setting up not to lose is likely to become the norm with the return of Clayton.

  8. I’m glad we played orient on the last day. They clearly had more gears to move into and thankfully they were not here frantically looking for a win.
    One can never predict who’s the “better” team to have to play. But from the other playoff contenders I think being drawn against Carlisle May suit us best. We’re the two teams who’ve faltered and got into the playoffs without a great run of form lately. Stockport look like the toughest of the teams so the fact they play a pumped up and media darling Salford probably works out as best we could have hoped for in the circumstances.
    It goes without saying but fingers crossed we can grind out a result over these two legs and book a trip to Wembley where anything can happen. One game. Extra time. Penalties. It’s all about making sure we’re still in with a chance right to the very last minute. Here’s to a (very) interesting month!!

  9. The regular season has finished and for the first time in years the conversation isn’t about getting rid of a load of dead weight contracts and needing to bring 8-10 new players in.

    For that alone, a great season.

    • People may not be talking about it but I would say City are looking at adding 10 to 12 new players for next season and likely to include 6 loanees.

      • No firm decisions are likely to be made until we know what division City are in.
        Unfortunately by then some teams will be ahead of us in negotiations.
        However player contracts usually do not end until the end of May or even June.
        If we go up then there will be some additions of player styles that are more suited to playing at the higher level. These will inevitably command higher wages..

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