Rochdale 0 Bradford City 2
FALSE dawns have been a common theme when City make this particularly short trek across the Pennine border.
The Bantam hordes descend in great numbers on Spotland – often outnumbering the home support – and then skulk away with nothing more than sore throats and furrowed brows as reward.
The biggest bubble to be punctured came three quarters of the way through Stuart McCall’s “nearly” year when defeat at Dale sparked a spectacular collapse which saw City career from fourth to 11th and completely drop out of the promotion picture.
Even victories there can be deceiving. Remember the magnificent win in Peter Taylor’s first week – and how that eventually panned out.
So it’s understandable if Saturday’s three points, City’s first at the ground since that Taylor triumph four and a half years ago, were treated by some with a note of caution.
But that would be grossly unfair on a team who have already endeared themselves within that raucous support.
A first Valley Parade win over Leeds in 82 years tends to do that. Follow-up results like the weekend’s just confirm that the current bunch seem to be made of stern stuff.
Away wins used to be an Achilles heel when judging Phil Parkinson. Not, it seems, any more after an opening month which brought three victories and a draw on the road.
And what was so notable about Saturday’s was the short turn-around from that epic cup triumph in midweek.
City had given everything in grinding Leeds into the ground on Wednesday night. The effort to pick themselves up, as much emotionally as physically, to tackle a Dale side who had enjoyed a free week must have been considerable.
But how often have we raved about their recuperative powers under the expert eye of Nick Allamby. Surely there cannot be a single fan still sceptical about the effects of sports science.
That’s not to say that City were at their sharpest; far from it. The first-half display looked leggy as Rochdale used the advantage of the wind to pin them in with their speed on the counter-attack.
But there is a stickability about this team – a resilience and resolve as Colin Todd used to say. While not at their best, City still refused to be flustered.
And Billy Clarke’s introduction at the break for the ineffective Filipe Morais brought a cohesion going forward that had been lacking. Once Jason Kennedy made the vital breakthrough on the hour, there was only going to be one winner.
The diamond set-up is made for Clarke to operate at its tip. The role also suits Mark Yeates but the former Crawley man brings that little bit extra, taking up clever positions and manoeuvring the play between midfield and attack.
Around him, the ever-willing Billy Knott, Gary Liddle and Kennedy came to the fore as Rochdale wilted. It was a text-book away display, wear down the home side’s attacking ambitions in the first half and then pick them off in the second.
And how the travelling army lapped it up, cruelly taunting their hosts by singing the names of the sizeable Dale “ex-pats” in the City ranks and giving their own interpretation of why those players had moved on.
Even Gary Jones, who still has a wall in his honour at the pub nearest the ground, got a stirring mention.
This was further evidence of how City have evolved from the team he led so passionately for the previous two years.
It is the likes of the infectious Knott who have become firm favourites already – and what’s not to like about a player who just never stops going? There was no wonder goal this time, despite the cries of “shoot” every time he got possession within striking range, but his all-round game once again crackled with energy and invention.
Knott is the darling of the fans – it also helps that his name fits so snugly into the old Nahki Wells chant – but there is much to admire right across this side.
The back four once again rode the absence of Andrew Davies to provide the base for a second straight win since their defensive main man broke his arm. That’s already beaten the tally from 17 attempts last season.
Alan Sheehan has slipped effortlessly into the central role and showed that the move has not blunted his input at the other end by supplying the crosses for both goals.
James Hanson was also involved each time, cushioning the first down for Kennedy to lash home and then using his height advantage on marker Peter Vincenti to nod the second from a Sheehan corner.
That took his tally to an impressive five – equal top with Chesterfield’s Eoin Doyle among League One strikers.
Wells won the division’s player of the month for August last year and Hanson must be a short-priced favourite to follow suit.
The Tom Cleverley sell-on money should remove the need for any player departures to balance the books like Wells in January. But City fans will understandably breathe a sigh of relief come 11.01 tonight and Hanson is still in claret and amber as the transfer window is locked shut.
He should have had a goal in the first half but fluffed a header from Morais’ cross. Kennedy also connected with a decent volley but the general pattern was played out in City territory.
Not that Jordan Pickford was ever really stretched. Dale’s closest effort was their first one as Matty Done’s shot flicked off James Meredith and pinged the side-netting.
Other than a Vincenti curler that passed the far post, that was as scary as it got.
City bucked up after the break and made it count when Kennedy reinforced football’s “law of the ex” by drilling past Conrad Logan from ten yards.
The former Dale man kept the celebrations in check but it was another significant step on his personal road to redemption. What a change in fortunes it has been for him.
Rochdale reeled and it was no surprise when City quickly followed up to settle the contest, Hanson cashing in on the marking mismatch from another spot-on Sheehan set-piece.
Rochdale v City Picture Gallery