Bradford City far from disgraced in defeat to big-spending Wolves (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Bradford City far from disgraced in defeat to big-spending Wolves
City 1, Wolves 2
Wolves will always hold a special place in the history of Bradford City.
It was at Molineux on a never-to-be-forgotten Sunday afternoon 14 years ago that Paul Jewell’s side clinched promotion to the Premier League.
Those warriors were the last upwardly-mobile Bantams – until the present bunch under Phil Parkinson. So it was appropriate that Wolves should be the benchmark of the season so far to judge that progress.
There were three divisions between the sides two years ago, as Parkinson pointed out pre-match. But to say the playing field is now level ignores the huge financial chasm that separates Wolves from the rest of League One courtesy of their £16million parachute payment.
Parkinson had made a big play that City were taking on the team, not the budget, but the names on the opposition team sheet – the likes of Kevin Doyle, Bakary Sako and Leigh Griffiths – were not the standard combatants for this level.
Throw in Jamie O’Hara, brought in from the cold to fill a space on the bench, and the opposing wage bill will have been eye-watering. The least you can expect as a Wolves punter is to win every week.
Only Walsall have beaten them so far – and nobody has managed to do it away from Molineux. Now add the Bantams to that list as Kenny Jackett’s merry travellers notched up a fifth road win on the bounce.
But once the disappointment of defeat subsides, Valley Parade’s largest crowd so far – beating the Sheffield United figure by three – should take consolation from the tightness of the contest.
There was nothing to choose between two teams who, certainly according to Jackett, will still be up there at the business end of matters. If Preston proved that City could live with the bigger boys, Saturday confirmed it.
Parkinson said: “Wolves had millions of pounds-worth of talent out there. They had a £6million striker coming off the bench and you’ve also got a £4million wide player against you.
“I thought we did everything we could. For 75 per cent of the game, we were excellent.”
Unfortunately that other quarter included another goal that will make them wince in the customary post-match DVD inquest.
The two that City conceded at Deepdale were preventable; the one that got Wolves back in this game was laughable.
Jon McLaughlin has been an unsung hero while others have stolen the headlines during the bright start to life at the next level.
Never the flashy type of keeper, he has got the job done in an unfussy manner interspersed with the odd blinding save. So the gaffe which gifted James Henry the equaliser came totally out the blue.
City were one up and good value for their lead as Valley Parade bounced gleefully.
Raffaele De Vita, retained on the right in an unchanged side, had rewarded a breezy opening with an emphatic first goal for the club after Danny Batth had kicked his first shot off the line.
The Italian’s taunting celebration in front of the Wolves end had spiced up matters but City were entitled to milk the moment.
It was picked up by Henry but City’s fears seemed to have eased as he could only get off a weak shot straight towards the keeper – who dived over the ball.
Home composure suddenly drained away and within four minutes Wolves had their noses in front. Henry’s corner was nodded back to him by James Hanson and nobody closed down the winger as he sized up a second cross for Richard Stearman to finish.
For a short spell, only Wolves voices could be heard. The Kop, like the team, seemed momentarily stunned by the sudden change of events.
Credit also the tactical switch made by Jackett, who had quickly realised his error of playing the extra man in midfield and leaving Griffiths to forage up front alone.
After going behind, he sacrificed Lee Evans after just 25 minutes for Doyle – that £6.5million man on the bench – to give City’s rearguard more to worry about.
Now they had two internationals to contend with, as the one from the Republic of Ireland joined his Scottish counterpart, and Wolves added more punch to their play.
City regrouped at the break and Parkinson made his change that the crowd had been waiting for. Nahki Wells was thrown into the fray for De Vita, whose sore hamstring was causing concern.
There were no mind games about the Bermudian’s return from a month’s lay-off. It was only the day before that Parkinson made the call after deciding that his star striker was training with confidence on his troublesome left ankle.
His first run was greeted with euphoria in the Kop; an early shot from a tight angle beaten away by Carl Ikeme drew even louder cheers. Wells the talisman was back in business.
Unfortunately for Parkinson, so was the goalkeeper he once had on loan with Charlton. The City boss felt that Ikeme’s progress was being held back by his nomadic existence – the Valley was one of eight temporary stops in his career.
Parkinson reckoned that if Ikeme could nail down some roots somewhere, he would blossom. Proof that he has done that in the West Midlands was evident in a second half when the Wolves stopper blocked everything.
The pick of the bunch was a double save from Wells, showing great reaction speed to readjust his body and prevent the striker from taking his season’s tally into double figures.
Ikeme was also at the centre of the afternoon’s most contentious decision when he slid into Reid after the winger’s give-and-go with Wells had sent him clear in the penalty area.
Referee Graham Salisbury was straight over with a yellow card – which he brandished at Reid for simulation.
Valley Parade was in uproar, while Parkinson looked fit to burst. City’s search for a first spot-kick of the season goes on.
The manager has already voiced his fears that officials are going out of their way not to give his team a penalty. Afterwards, he was even more adamant.
There were divided opinions among the fans as some felt that Reid had made a meal of it. Yet Parkinson was in no doubt.
But the noisy audience had no reservations about City’s efforts against a team guaranteed to fill one of the promotion slots. They had given as good as they got.
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