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Bradford City respond well to ‘hairdryer’ treatment
Stevenage 1, City 1
The whistle had barely left the referee’s lips before Steve Parkin appeared on the edge of the pitch jabbing his thumb towards the dressing rooms.
For the City players, the implication of this gesture was crystal clear. “Oi, you lot! Get in here. Now.”
There was no need to second guess what was awaiting the team from their half-time “debriefing”.
Safe to say, the Stevenage ground staff probably need to pick up some new Dulux this week to replace the paint that had peeled from the walls of the visiting room.
It’s not often these days that City come off second best. So that opening 45 minutes came as a nasty shock to the system.
No wonder Parkin and Phil Parkinson could not get the team back inside quick enough. If the players thought it was hot pitchside – and the weather had a pre-season feel to it – that was nothing compared with the temperature awaiting them behind the closed door.
Parkinson has not had many occasions when he has needed to raise his voice of late. He usually keeps his observations calm and calculated.
On Saturday, harsh words needed to be said – and how they found the target. The City that emerged at 4pm were a complete contrast to the one that had kicked off an hour before.
The “passive” approach of the first half, as the manager called it, was replaced by the steely determination that we have grown to expect. Giving up is not in their dictionary.
Parkinson admitted: “Stevenage is a difficult place to come. They put you under a lot of pressure and make it a very physical game.
“You have to stand up and be counted and I don’t think we did that to the best of our ability in the first half. We were lacklustre.
“But what a terrific reaction. We showed a different side to us having to respond like that and we did.
“I’ve been here before and seen teams get rolled over three or four nil if they aren’t mentally and physically right. But in the second half we went on the front foot, closed down a lot better and were very competitive.”
Those battling qualities and refusal to be bullied should have been admired in the home dugout. Graham Westley, Stevenage’s ‘Marmite’ manager, has built his club to over-achieve on similar rules of engagement.
But the man whose programme notes had centred on the ground-breaking theory “score the goals, keep a clean sheet, three points” was more bothered about having a pop at the referee.
True, Gary Sutton’s performance was pretty awful. We had been spoiled by Chris Foy the previous weekend.
And had the Nathan Doyle incident – when the midfielder appeared to have handled as he blocked a shot on the line – occurred at the other end, I’m sure Parkinson would have had a similar beef – if not for quite as long.
But Westley’s insistence on blaming just about everything on the official – he also wanted Stephen Darby sent off for a mistimed tackle on the touchline – was tiresome and glossed over the away side’s tenacity at rescuing what appeared to be a lost cause.
Certainly Stevenage’s midweek exertions at taking Everton to extra time may have caught up with them in the late afternoon sunshine. But take nothing away from the City fightback.
And if this was a good point to take back north, it was a significant afternoon for their goal-scorer.
All eyes have been fixed on Nahki Wells and the list of scouts at the Lamex Stadium was a long one. Newcastle, Huddersfield and Brighton were among the names – no prizes for guessing the prime reason for their trip.
Wells, for once, struck out and missed the opportunity to take sole ownership of the club record for scoring in most games on the trot.
It was not for a lack of trying – particularly shots of the overhead variety – but he squandered the golden chance to make it nine in a row when he spooned over from Kyel Reid’s inviting cross in the first half.
Instead it was Reid who seized the spotlight and showed that he is not prepared to accept being the odd man out from Wembley.
Few, if any, promoted sides keep their teams intact to the same extent as City; two or three changes maybe – but just one from the 11 that dismantled Northampton in May?
Reid had been that solitary omission until the weekend. It was so surprising to see a new name on the team sheet, the first one this season in the league, that we had to check it had not been mistyped.
But Parkinson felt Reid had shown enough on the training pitch to justify his selection. He was in on merit.
The left winger can excite and infuriate in equal measure but this time he relished the stage. His stunning free-kick equaliser was true reward for an afternoon of positive intent and attacking menace.
Not that we saw too much of that from the blue shirts in a first half that Stevenage dominated.
With their strikers dropping off into holes, the home movement confused City at times and a defensive rearguard action was required.
There were other scares but the biggest came on the half-hour mark as Doyle smuggled the ball away from inside the right post. “Hands,” screamed Westley and his cohorts; nothing doing was Sutton’s response with a shake of the head.
Westley later argued that at 2-0 against ten men, it would have been game over. Maybe, on this occasion, City got a big break.
Wells missed at the other end and Reid drove over the bar but the half-time gee-up was much needed – and City were back level within three minutes of the restart.
Wells was shoved in the back – a soft foul but a clear one – and the 25-yard free-kick was set up for Reid’s left foot. Over the wall it went with enough power to elude Chris Day’s fingertips.
But the good work was almost undone late on when they dropped off from Oumare Tounkara. City inexplicably parted like the Red Sea to allow the substitute an inviting sight of goal from the edge of the penalty area.
Step forward McLaughlin to the rescue. The keeper may not have been publicly pronounced City’s number one but his current form is that of someone who will take a lot of shifting.
He dived low to his left with a strong enough hand to push the ball away – much to the disbelief of the Stevenage striker.
Parkinson said: “It was a magnificent save. Jon’s got to keep focused. which I know he will do. He is producing some big moments for us and that’s what you need from your goalkeeper.”
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