Saturday, 8 February 2014

Bradford City 3-3 Crewe Alexandra

He's Magic, You Know! City Wizard Casts Almighty Charm That Spells A Draw For Resilient Bantams


   It was a clinical effort.
   He powered forward from the centre, the ball at his feet, the mud sloshing at his ankles, McLean waiting for the reception. He played it through. McLean flicked it into his path. The ball fell to his feet. He arched his back, swung his foot, and pulled the trigger.
   Textbook stuff.
   The ball flashed forwards, as powerful and unstoppable as its sender had been for the previous 59 minutes. It was ambitious from that distance. Ben Garratt dived low. Valley Parade paused and prayed. The keeper’s arms stretched out, but it was too late. The ball slipped under and the net bulged.
   That was all the confirmation we needed.
   I can’t tell you how happy I was to see him get that goal. I hadn’t celebrated that wildly in a long, long time. There was screaming, squealing, manic jumping, hoarse shouts, first pumping, a Gary Neville goalgasm, a temporary flit to Mariah Carey vocal range, shaking, hugging – the whole works. My vision may have blurred. I don’t know. In any case, I had to sit down for a minute afterwards and collect myself together, rediscover the composure that had disintegrated in an eyeblink following 15 minutes of pure rampancy from my heroes. A 0-2 deficit crushed after 15 minutes of unrelenting pressure, effort and hard work.
   You can say whatever you like about this team, but you can never, ever, ever criticise their spirit. Gary Jones - in all his impassioned, valiant, knee-sliding glory - is the one-man embodiment of everything Phil Parkinson ever set out to do and has done for this club. If I wanted to, I could run an entire series based solely upon the City supremo’s managerial credentials and the improvement to individual players since he’s been here (Episode one, the rise and rise of James Hanson, is coming soon), but you need look no further than the Bantams’ Captain Fantastic to find what this club is really all about.
   As Parkinson said after the game, the second half was a proper Bradford City performance. 
   Which compensated for a mixed first half. Some of Bradford’s passing play was accurate and impressive, and the game was fairly evenly paced, but the hosts struggled against the conditions and lacked the prowess to really take the game to Crewe. Debutant Matty Dolan failed to convert a James Hanson knockdown and Gary Jones came close with a ferocious strike from the edge of the box, but Crewe inched in twice in a difficult opening quarter.
   It was the visitors who opened the scoring on twelve minutes. Carl McHugh and Jon McLaughlin became entangled as Uche Ikpeazu raced forwards, and the striker cleanly lobbed over as Davies scrambled backwards to cover. It was sick, deflating and saddening – City, once again, had left themselves with it all to do.
   The back four struggled against Crewe’s imposing and hugely organised forward three, who, as well as bearing physical resemblance to three Akinfenwas, were all neat flick ons, clean runs-in behind and slick, insightful movements. The deluge of rain did little to lift our already dampened spirits, and, though there were some positives to take from the first half – most notably, no reversion to directness when the circumstances could easily have forced a leap into hoof-ball – it was largely 45 minutes to forget for the Bantams.
   But City really came out of the blocks in the second half. From the off, it was urgent, convincing and persuasive, the Bantams creating a flush of chances in the final third. Adam Reach’s cross was met by a Hanson header, but Garratt somehow flicked the danger away with an impressive fingertip save. The winger’s blistering retort moments later was blocked amidst the goalmouth melee and Dolan slid the rebound just wide, while Darby powered down the right flank to deliver a teasing cross that blinked just an inch in front of McLean. Hanson again saw a header denied and McLean’s smooth stab was blocked from close range. It was City, City, City, the Bantams on top and refusing to allow Alexandra to breathe. Something had to happen now.
   Crewe goal.
   The visitors broke quickly in a desperate relief from Bradford pressure, and Ikpeazu added a second to his tally after firing home McLaughlin’s parry. 0-2 – surely City couldn’t salvage anything from this game now.
   But less than four minutes later, City were back on the front foot. McLean squared the ball perfectly to Hanson and the forward fired low to put the Bantams back in the contest.
   It was a fightback that had been led by the Bantams’ captain, so how apt that Gary Jones found himself coming to a dramatic knee slide in front of the Kop, and toasting drawing the Bantams level. How had this happened? How had this really happened? It would seem that, importantly, and in the face of any number of insurmountable and disheartening challenges, the effort of this team never, ever falters – no matter how horrendous the football becomes, one can always take comfort in the passion coursing through the veins of every player donning the claret and amber right now.
   Yet, there were more twists and turns to come for a narrative that looked to have already climaxed. In what seemed like a final, crushing blow for the home side, Crewe found the net with just ten minutes remaining. It all looked over as Mathias Pogba fired past McLaughlin.
   But no one had told that to Gary Jones.
   The 36 year old gladly received McLean’s lay-off and slotted home in an exact carbon copy of his earlier goal. Come on, City.
   Naturally, questions were raised today. The passivity of the first half and the readiness of the defence to ship three goals in such a way, both present problems that need to be addressed sooner, rather than later. The ‘one win in however many games it is this week’ quota still remains, hovering over this team and staunchly refusing to be banished. It’s worrying, but it shouldn’t consume us.
   Because the second half suggests that win is not too far away. In fact, it looks to be in touching distance. What today showed, above all else – what it dispelled and exhibited, rather than unearthed – is that City have enough to claw their way convincingly out of this nadir. Gary Jones - the lifeblood, the heart and soul, the public face, the figurehead, the Dumbledore in a team of Hogwarts alumni – is back to his best. You can’t even begin to argue otherwise. Aaron McLean and Hanson look to be working well – McLean, particularly, was hugely impressive today. You can choose to get bogged down in that now infamous statistic, or you can choose to keep the figure in context and marvel at the pros of what was a marvellous second half showing. Don’t bury your head in the sand, but, for tonight, celebrate that point and pay homage to Gary Jones with the biggest fist-pump you can muster.
   He’s sure earned it.

 Bantams Blogger’s Top Three:
1st: Gary Jones: A typically lionhearted performance from the cult hero. When the backs were against the wall, the captain made sure the team salvaged something. An inspired display in every aspect.

2nd: Aaron McLean: Hand in all three goals in an engaging shift. Looks a more intelligent and assist-making player than his predecessor, and there should be more to come from him as he gels with Hanson.

3rd: Stephen Darby: Another quality showing from the defender – give him a 60 billion year contract right now, please.

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