Bradford City 2 Crawley Town 1
The goal salute appeared as wistful as it was joyous.
As Garry Thompson was engulfed in a City bear hug, he glanced up towards the delighted throng in the Kop.
It was a natural reaction from a player who may not get the chance to do that again.
Like so many others in the squad whose contracts are ticking, that could have been his last glimpse of Valley Parade – in a claret and amber shirt at least.
Thompson is desperately hoping that is not the case but for someone who has not started a game for nearly two months, it would be naive to think otherwise.
If that was his swansong, scoring the late winner was a great way to sign off.
It was a year ago this week that he had found the same net with a 25-yard blockbuster against Burton – a critical goal that gave City a foothold in their play-off semi-final. Where would they be now without that?
But it’s the same with every one of the players currently wondering whether the club will offer them a further deal.
They have all played their part in this band of brothers that resurrected City as a relevant football force again after too long in the doldrums.
The futures of Stephen Darby and James Meredith are believed to be top of the agenda in the coming weeks. You would also expect Rory McArdle, another big favourite with Phil Parkinson, to be high on his list.
For others, though, it is a waiting game for a few more days at least.
The non-stop rendition of “Take Me Home, Midland Road” at Saturday’s final whistle then merged into the skipper’s anthem as Gary Jones led the end-of-season lap of appreciation.
“He’s magic, you know” sang the fans and it’s difficult to argue otherwise. Even in such a low-key game, Jones had once again run around with the energy of somebody half his age.
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Nathan Doyle is another. His recent deployment in the deeper, sitting role has fitted him like a glove and he provided the pass for Aaron Mclean to finally bring a dour affair to some kind of life.
Kyel Reid has almost become a forgotten figure since his season was finished by a clumsy tackle at Bramall Lane. Such a key weapon in City’s successful break-out from the basement division but now stuck on the painfully long road to rehabilitation.
Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin has enjoyed his best-ever season as his patience was finally rewarded with number one status. But will that still be the case come August?
These are the decisions that Valley Parade is waiting on. The manager has a clean slate to work with – as was the case in 2012 when he built the team that would finally end the club’s seemingly terminal decline.
It is a big challenge but one that Parkinson cannot wait to get his teeth into.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “Bradford are not a League Two club; they’re not a League One club – they should be higher than that.
“We’ve got to push on and have a plan of attack ready to move the club forward. We’re going to assess what we’ve done this year and I’m pretty clear in my mind what we need to do to improve.
“We’ve got a great base. We had a promotion last year and have finished mid-table, with one more game left when we can hopefully go up another place.
“That’s great for us but we are envious of those teams who are celebrating at the end of this season. We want to be one of those and I’m determined to reward these fantastic supporters.
“Nobody can compare with the support we’ve had. Even when we’ve played poorly here, they’ve done everything they can to help us.”
Those fans ultimately got their reward on an afternoon that had begun in traditional fashion with the minute’s remembrance for the fire victims.
Crawley acknowledged the gravity of the occasion and laid a wreath behind the goal at the Kop. It was a gesture greatly appreciated by the home crowd – and, as one fan pointed out on Twitter, a contrast to their last visit under Steve Evans which degenerated into that free-for-all brawl.
In the team talk before the game, Parkinson reminded his players of their duty to “represent” the Bradford public on such an emotional day.
But for the first half at least, it looked like both teams had their thoughts on the beach. It was understandable to a degree.
Crawley were out on their feet as they played a 19th game in 63 days – a fixture logjam caused by the sort of flooding of their Broadfield home which would have Noah reaching for his waders.
For City, mid-table obscurity represented a good solid return from their first year back in the third tier and the pressure was off.
The muted tempo didn’t stop McArdle throwing himself about. After twisting an ankle before half-time, he then suffered a cut above the eye and was forced into an early exit.
It takes a lot to get him off the pitch but even a post-match hospital trip is unlikely to stop him from lining up against Tranmere for the finale.
For Mark Yeates, at least, the game had some significance. Starting for the first time since December, the Irishman did his best to restore a reputation damaged by a season of under-achievement.
Given the sort of free role he should relish, Yeates played a couple of intelligent through passes and was a whisker away from scoring with a free-kick.
That caused the only ripple of excitement before Mclean finally broke the tedious deadlock five minutes after the break. Reacting strongest to Doyle’s lofted pass, he finished with the coolness of a striker who should have more than three to his tally.
But Crawley were soon level when a loose ball from Yeates was picked off by Kyle McFadzean, the only survivor from the three Reds players red-carded two seasons ago.
Carl McHugh, on for McArdle, was slow to react to his long clearance and Jamie Proctor lobbed the advancing McLaughlin.
City fell flat for a while as John Gregory’s side threatened to complete their comeback. But substitute Thompson had other ideas, converting Jones’s corner with four minutes left to ensure a happy ending.