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Head master Rory McArdle points the way for Bantams
Preston North End 2 Bradford City 2
It’s nights like this that remind you how much City needed to get out of League Two.
What a great game in front of a great atmosphere thanks to the hordes of travelling fans.
Deepdale, as Phil Parkinson had said pre-match, is a traditional football venue and even better under the lights. And his team responded to the occasion with a gutsy, full-blooded effort to put paid to that little losing blip.
It was a fitting performance to mark Parkinson’s 100th league game at the City helm and at the ground where his parents Jim and Marjorie used to bring him as a youngster when they were Preston season-ticket holders.
City had not been back to Preston in nine years since Bryan Robson’s side were beaten during the final throes of their Championship relegation. This was nothing like that meek surrender.
The supporters had travelled in mighty numbers, with 2,910 crossing the border into Lancashire – causing some to miss the kick-off because of the traffic congestion getting in.
Raffaele De Vita finally got his first league start for the visitors. The Italian had appeared ten times from the bench previously, seeing only two-and-a-half hours of action.
Parkinson was unhappy that his attack-minded players had not tracked back on Saturday and Mark Yeates was the one to pay the price. Garry Thompson was pushed up top alongside Hanson with De Vita slipping into right midfield.
And the winger made an instant impression with the assist as City grabbed an early lead.
They threatened seconds before when Preston failed to deal with Jon McLaughlin’s booming clearance and it dropped at Hanson’s feet. But one-time City loanee Tom Clarke slid across to block his well-struck shot.
It did not matter as City came again straight away. De Vita hung a deep cross towards the far post and Hanson nodded downwards and past Declan Rudd in the Preston goal.
Stuart Beavon looked for a response with a shot on the spin that just cleared the angle of the woodwork but it could not quieten the partying away hordes.
Preston used every opportunity to feed Chris Humphrey, the speedy right winger that Stuart McCall used to rave about at Motherwell. He was finding too much space for City’s liking and cut inside for a shot that thankfully skewed well wide.
City’s own flying flanker Kyel Reid switched to the right side to hit back – and was a whisker away from a second goal. His drive was on target but should have been gobbled up by Rudd. Instead, the keeper only half-saved and allowed the ball to squirm under his body and bobble against the post.
Little had been seen of Kevin Davies, the former Premier League battering ram who once went to Blackburn for £7.5million. When he did eventually hold off McArdle to win a header, it was straight at McLaughlin.
The immaculate playing surface was great for the wingers and Reid was chopped down twice within a five-minute spell, earning yellow cards for Preston skipper John Welsh and Bailey Wright.
But Wright made amends in the 32nd minute with a lofted free-kick to the far post where Clarke ran in to flick a header past McLaughlin.
It was a sloppy goal to concede because the ball had travelled a long way without any kind of City challenge on the end of it. Their defensive work up to that point had been impressive – making it all the more frustrating to be undone like that.
The equaliser brought the previously-muted home support to life but the visitors could have silenced them again by regaining the lead as half-time approached.
After forcing back-to-back corners, Reid held off three white shirts in his face to pick out Hanson in the middle. His firm header looked goal-bound but Paul Huntington made a crucial block right in front of his keeper.
Reid had become the pantomime villain with the Preston fans, who felt he was making the most of the challenges. The jeers became ironic cheers when he shanked a cross into the crowd.
But Preston were clearly fearful every time Reid got possession – which was often.
You sensed it was a match made for Nahki Wells. In his absence, Thompson had a quiet first half but looked to make his mark early in the second, reacting to Hanson’s flick with a positive run and shot straight at Rudd.
A delightful backheel from Reid then released James Meredith to set up a better chance and his cutback was drilled across goal by De Vita.
As the game opened up, Humphrey picked out Davies under the close attentions of McArdle. The striker’s touch flicked off the City centre half and flew past the near post.
Preston were building a head of steam and it needed a stunning save from McLaughlin to keep things level.
Beavon whipped a dangerous ball along the six-yard box which just evaded Davies. But it ran through to Humphrey, who must have thought he had put North End 2-1 up with a thumping shot back from the angle. But McLaughlin managed to twist and get a hand to it and turn the ball over the bar. It was a superb block.
Reid was off again as Stephen Darby sent him away and Preston’s chief tormentor cut in on to his favourite left foot before unleashing just beyond the far post.
Then City’s marking went AWOL once again as Preston broke the stalemate. Nobody picked up Bailey Wright from Scott Laird’s corner and the defender’s free header beat Jones on the line to go in off the post.
Now City had it all to do – they didn’t need long. Winning a corner four minutes later, Jones put it into the mix where McArdle got the goal he thought he’d had in the dying seconds at Crawley.
The game was up for grabs as Parkinson threw on Jason Kennedy and Caleb Folan.
Hanson thought he had another when he converted a Jones free-kick but he’d jumped early and the assistant’s flag curtailed the celebrations behind the goal.
Jones, who had an outstanding second half, saw a late effort turned away by Rudd before City held off a stoppage-time flurry to get back on track.
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