Bradford City: Sensation-al late Connell strike breaks Torquay's resistance (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Bradford City: Sensation-al late Connell strike breaks Torquay's resistance
Bradford City 1 Torquay 0
It emanated from the Kop and gradually reverberated around the stadium.
“Bring on the Arsenal,” was the chant from the City faithful, almost immediately after Phil Parkinson’s men had eventually forged ahead.
Eighty-five minutes of frustration had been wiped away thanks to a delightful strike from substitute Alan Connell.
Nahki Wells engineered the space to find Connell 20 yards out and he unleashed a right-footed half-volley which flew into the net.
It was the least City deserved for their stunning superiority.
The last five minutes felt like a pre-Arsenal party.
The feel-good factor at the final whistle was palpable.
Three points in the bag, the Bantams up to fourth, and tomorrow’s date with Arsene Wenger’s aristocrats in clear focus.
It was entirely apt that the mood of a football club ahead of its biggest game for over a decade should be decided by a man with such strong Arsenal connections.
Goal-hero Connell remains a Gunners fanatic, albeit one who spent his younger days on the books at hated London rivals Tottenham.
“I had six years at Tottenham as a kid,” he said. “I used to wear my Arsenal kit, which didn’t go down well at times.
“I remember once at Tottenham, in the Under-11s or 12s, we lost 5-1 to Arsenal… but I got the one!”
Victory was the perfect way to warm up for tomorrow’s much-anticipated encounter, although City did it the hard way.
Credit to Torquay, of course.
They could easily have buckled after losing skipper Brian Saah to a red card ten minutes before the break.
The centre back apparently elbowed James Meredith off the ball and was promptly dismissed by referee Darren Bond.
Asked about the incident afterwards, City boss Parkinson, a la Wenger, said: “I didn’t see it at all.”
Even before that, though, the Bantams were generally superior.
The big guns were back after being rested for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win at Port Vale and their class gradually told.
Skipper Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle bossed proceedings in the middle of the park and Will Atkinson and Garry Thompson offered creativity and width on the flanks.
City came desperately close in the second minute when Meredith found Wells and he flighted in a delightful cross from the left to pick out James Hanson.
The forward greeted his strike partner’s delivery with a firm header but Michael Poke tipped the ball over superbly for a corner.
It was the first of several fine saves from the Torquay stopper.
The visitors began to establish a foothold on proceedings during the first half and looked capable of causing City problems at times.
But, with Jones and Doyle emerging as the game’s most influential figures, the momentum remained largely with the Bantams.
Referee Bond changed his jersey colour from black to green and then ordered Parkinson to stay calm after he contested a free-kick which went against City.
Jones then a hit shot from 25 yards which was deflected for a corner.
Moments later Thompson headed down a deep cross into the path of Hanson, who fired straight at Poke under pressure from a Torquay defender.
A Jones free-kick was then headed back by Hanson amid home appeals for handball.
The ball fell to Thompson, who hooked it over the bar as City struggled to convert their control into goals.
Moments later Wells ran at the visiting defence before blazing over from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Torquay almost scored out of nowhere when defender Aaron Downes headed over the bar from inside the six-yard box from Nathan Craig’s right-wing inswinging corner.
Atkinson then had a shot deflected for a corner, which Jones delivered and Rory McArdle headed over.
Then came the moment of first-half controversy when Torquay skipper Saah was sent off for an off-the-ball challenge on Meredith ten minutes before the break.
Meredith was fit to play on after brief treatment.
The momentum was now clearly with City but could they make it pay?
Well, certainly not until Connell’s timely intervention.
And moments after losing Saah, City almost fell behind.
Torquay substitute Niall Thompson cracked a low shot against the post from 25 yards before Atkinson crossed for Thompson to flash a header wide.
A low cross from Stephen Darby then found Hanson but he could only scuff a low shot straight into Poke’s midriff.
As the interval approached, Wells picked out Hanson at the far post with a superb left-wing cross which the big striker headed against the crossbar.
It was the closest City came to breaking the deadlock during the opening period, although they were denied a penalty in first-half added time.
Hanson appeared to be hauled down by Downes as the two men contested the ball but the referee saw no wrongdoing.
Hanson and Downes debated the incident as they walked off at the break.
But there was no disguising the feeling that Torquay’s ten men were there for the taking.
City upped the tempo after the break and almost led in the 50th minute when Wells crossed dangerously from the left again and Thompson’s volleyed effort was deflected for a corner.
Wells’ influence grew as the second half wore on and he looked in a different class at times with his clever footwork and pace.
Torquay, thanks to a combination of obstinate defending, fine goalkeeping and good fortune, managed to keep City at bay.
Shortly after the hour mark, Parkinson replaced Thompson and Wells then showed brilliant skill to outfox a Torquay defender and send in a low cross which was cleared.
Midway through the second half, Atkinson slipped in Wells but the striker’s shot was repelled by Poke’s legs. Three minutes later the ball again fell to Wells and his low shot was tipped onto a post by Poke.
Substitute Blair Turgott then curled a fine shot wide from distance before Connell was introduced at the expense of Carl McHugh with ten minutes remaining.
Within five minutes he had won City the game.
Wells, typically, created the space inside the left channel and laid the ball into the path of Connell, who showed outstanding technique to fire home a rising, right-footed half-volley from 20 yards.
“It was a nice strike and a great feeling to see it go in,” said Connell.
“The gaffer said beforehand that this was a much bigger game than the Arsenal game.
“Will I play on Tuesday? Of course I want to play. But if I don’t start then hopefully I can come on and do well.
“We’ve obviously played more games than any other team and the gaffer keeps emphasising that it is a squad game.
“I’ve been in promotion-winning squads before and this squad has that same sort of feeling to it.”
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