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Nahki Wells double allows Bradford City to pass unfamiliar test
City 2, Colchester 2
Don’t say you hadn’t been warned. At the fourth attempt, Colchester became the first visiting side to leave Valley Parade with more than their tails between their legs.
The U’s gave City a real run for their money – just as Phil Parkinson had predicted they would.
The pre-match bookies may have been firmly in the home side’s corner. But for someone who had cut his managerial teeth upsetting those odds with the “little old Colchester” approach, the City boss wasn’t being sucked in.
Parkinson had studied every game of his old club’s season and was not fooled by what he had witnessed at first hand against Coventry the week before.
The side beaten at a near-deserted Northampton were a shadow of the one that turned up at Valley Parade on Saturday.
Joe Dunne, Parkinson’s former youth-team coach, had key players back from suspension and injury. He’d also brought in two loans – including the outstanding Jeffrey Monakana from Preston, whose quick feet and acceleration posed constant problems.
When Colchester last came to City, Parkinson was in the opposite dugout – and a dour 1-1 draw ended with a final-whistle spat with Colin Todd, the then-Bantams boss calling his sterile tactics the “death of football”.
There was no such policy of containment on view from Dunne’s youthful side. The holding midfielder may have sat so deep he was effectively a third centre half, but with the full backs bombing on, there was plenty of attacking movement on the counter to keep the hosts on full alert.
“You can see that the standard is a notch up from last year,” said Parkinson afterwards. “Colchester have got some dangerous players and I told the lads they won’t get it all their own way.
“But it was a good game of football with two teams contributing. You’d take a point after being 2-1 down at half-time – it was a good test for us.”
City had started as they finished against Brentford and swept into the lead when Nahki Wells seized on a miscue from David Wright.
Wells pivoted and drove into the bottom corner – it was the 100th goal in total for him and James Hanson.
All bar four of the Bermudian’s goals for City have come when Hanson has been on the field and the big man’s presence had pressured the Colchester midfielder into his panicky slice.
At that stage we were all guilty of thinking it was the cue for another boot-filling exercise. After all, the opposition never score at Valley Parade these days...
But the alarm bells started ringing within a minute of the Wells strike. Jabo Ibehre should have hit the target but blazed over from ten yards.
The clock was just about to reach its fifth hour without an away goal when Colchester came up with a spectacular equaliser. Monakana teased Stephen Darby and then rifled an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
It was the first time Jon McLaughlin had been beaten at home since Burton’s Robbie Weir had scored in the same net beneath the Kop four months ago to seemingly bury the play-off dream.
City had famously bounced back from that but the immediate reaction to Monakana’s rocket was one of being rocked on their heels.
The first goal against may have taken 298 minutes – the second arrived four minutes later.
Craig Eastmond, the excellent ‘quarterback’ in the Colchester midfield, threaded through a low pass. Rory McArdle, back from Northern Ireland duty, gambled and lost and Ibehre was left in the clear to apply a confident finish.
So for the first time since promotion, the Bantams found themselves in the strange position of having to chase the game at Valley Parade.
It was an uncomfortable feeling for a while. Certainly the bounce went out of the home crowd, who became very muted as half-time approached.
The odd cat call became more audible and it was the 189 travelling Colchester fans making the noise. “Parky, give us a wave,” came their cheeky chirp from the TL Dallas Stand.
The City boss has delivered a few pick-me-up addresses at the interval recently – all on their travels. But the home dressing room knew exactly what was required.
Parkinson said: “The lads did all my talking. They couldn’t wait to get back out there.
“We had times here last season, like when we were 2-0 down against Southend after 12 minutes, when we had to respond.
“It’s part of football. The top teams in Europe have games when they go behind and you’ve got to find something in you to come back. You couldn’t fault the lads for the response.”
City required only seven minutes to restore the equilibrium. James Meredith, having another fine game cruising up and down the left flank, delivered the cross and Wells looped a header over his shoulder.
It was almost slow motion as the game stopped and watched the ball loop high over keeper Sam Walker before dropping under his crossbar.
So Wells stretched his prolific start to nine goals – already almost a third of the way towards the ambitious 30 target he set during City’s pre-season training camp outside Dublin.
Take in his run down the home straight last term and it is now 17 goals in 16 games – a frightening strike rate.
With so much time left to play with, Valley Parade sensed a fourth City win. The fans were noisily behind them again as more and more amber shirts were thrown forward.
But it was not completely one-way traffic as Gavin Massey’s curler struck the City woodwork on the break.
Mark Yeates was denied a goal against his old club thanks to a fine save by Walker. But the Irishman was on the wrong end of a hideous challenge in stoppage time as Chelsea loanee Daniel Pappoe launched into him by the touchline.
Colchester felt that Yeates over-reacted as he rolled on the floor; City were furious that Pappoe had gone in so late after the whistle had blown.
It was an ugly and sour note to end an enthralling afternoon. Maybe no home win this time but once again plenty to enjoy.
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