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Bradford City in Burslem action replay as Port Vale prevail
Rory McArdle and Chris Robertson engage in a spot of shirt-pulling but it is the Vale defender who comes off worst
Port Vale 2 Bradford City 1
With his ten-hole Doc Martens, braces and hair cropped to the bone, the Vale fan looked like a menacing throwback to a bygone era.
Trips to Burslem can often feel like stepping back in time – and Saturday was certainly a frustrating case of déjà vu for City.
For the fourth time in five years, they trailed away from this unappealing corner of Stoke on the wrong end of a single-goal league defeat.
Once more there was that familiar feeling of “so near but so far” – beaten by an out-of-character blunder from James Meredith and a deflection.
City hadn’t played particularly well but Phil Parkinson could still offer a case that they had the opportunities to have salvaged something.
So a damp and overcast Vale Park became the morning after the Carlisle night before. While nobody read too much into last week’s romp – Coventry’s efforts at Brunton Park this weekend underlined that – it still came as a slap in the face.
For Parkinson and his team, this is all part of the learning process as they adjust to life on the next tier. But you could still see the irritation etched on the manager’s face afterwards.
Vale away is never a glamorous stop on the journey but he shouldn’t have needed to remind the players that they were booking in for an afternoon at the university of hard knocks.
He knew what to expect – so did they. The point had been stressed in the build-up to expect a backlash from a Vale side wounded by a tongue-lashing from their own boss following a tepid display at Colchester.
Yet after a bright – and misleading – start, City soon found themselves hustled out of their game by opponents who were in their faces at every turn.
That pressing is a trademark of a Micky Adams side; hardly something that should have caught the Bantams on the hop.
But after an early seemingly goal-bound bullet from Nathan Doyle was deflected over, City spent most of the first half on the back foot.
The attacking edge was missing from City’s game, blunted by the hand injury to James Hanson which very noticeably played on his mind. He won less than half the aerial challenges with marker Chris Robertson – unheard of for the big man.
The midfield, with Doyle the exception, were second best and Vale’s wingers far more productive than their counterparts.
And whatever your opinion of Lee Hughes – and the baying away end left nobody in any doubt with their verdict – the former West Brom striker can still play.
His battle with McArdle was constant and reached a flashpoint midway through the first half when he accused the defender of going in late on the halfway line. Players pushed and shoved in the ensuing melee and so did the coaching staff as Parkinson pressed foreheads with Vale coach Rob Page.
Referee Carl Boyeson, normally never one backward at coming forward with cards, surprisingly chose to do nothing. He later annoyed the away end by being equally unmoved when Davies appeared to be wrestled to the floor at a corner.
For all the provocation, McArdle stuck to his task admirably. But Hughes still got his goal thanks to a catastrophic error from Meredith.
City appeared to have weathered any storm as half-time approached.
Tom Pope, still without a goal this season after leading the country last time, twice fluffed headers. The second was a free one he should have buried with his eyes shut and the striker was left pounding the ground with an angry fist.
Jon McLaughlin had thwarted Vale with a superb double save, diving to his left to block a Hughes volley and then clambering up in time to deny Kaid Mohamed’s follow-up.
But City’s resistance was broken in a self-inflicted manner three minutes from the interval.
Meredith turned to try a blind backpass, scuffed it badly and Hughes beat Pope to the interception, cutting wide of McLaughlin to have his revenge for the taunting fans behind the goal.
Parkinson called for a strong response when City attacked their own end and got it. By the hour, the visitors were back on level terms.
Inevitably it was Wells on the scoresheet to keep up his 100 per cent run for the season. It was a good way to mark his 50th league start for the club – and the first time he had netted against Vale in five attempts.
His own skill conjured the chance, cleverly flicking the ball over Adam Yeates to burst into the box. Keeper Chris Neal shovelled away his shot but Garry Thompson drilled it straight back and the Bermudian was lurking to apply the final touch.
The tide seemed to have turned and now it was City in search of the go-ahead goal as Wells met a Gary Jones cross but nodded over at the near post.
But no sooner were the visitors asking the questions than Vale were back in front.
It came from a corner after a cross had flicked off McArdle and landed on the roof of his own net. The set-piece dropped to Hughes, who laid it back for Doug Loft to let fly from 20 yards.
Although well struck, McLaughlin looked to have it covered until the shot took a fatal deflection off Jones and diverted into the top corner.
City were required to rescue a second deficit, just as they had done at Ashton Gate on the opening day.
Kyel Reid and Raffaele De Vita were thrown on and both subs could have been the hero. The Italian saw two efforts blocked by desperate penalty-area smothering while Reid, as enigmatic as ever, missed the far post by inches with a bobble from a defender.
More corners followed in the five minutes of added time but the disappointing delivery summed up the off-key display.
A traffic jam from hell clogging up the M6 on the way home won’t have improved the mood. It had been another unpleasant experience in the Vale of gloom.
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