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Back to the drawing board for never-say-die Bantams
Bradford City 1 Leyton Orient 1
Some Leyton Orient players were taking photos as they took a pre-match stroll on the Valley Parade pitch.
It seems that even the leaders are not averse to a spot of sightseeing.
Russell Slade’s well-drilled unit remain the focus of League One. This draw, however ultimately frustrating in their eyes, still gave them a point’s breathing space on second-placed Wolves, who surprisingly slipped up on home turf.
But the question remains whether City can stay in the play-off picture over the coming games. This was another snap-shot of their recent form.
Jon McLaughlin had warned beforehand about too many draws proving costly. A six-match unbeaten run sounds impressive; one featuring five stalemates much less so.
But the players could still disappear for the Newcastle nightlife on their Saturday night Christmas party relatively content with a third successive point from Valley Parade.
While the winless run on home soil stretches back to the end of September, the suspicion will linger that City have – in Mark Lawn’s words – been “sussed” by the opposition.
Leyton Orient’s central defenders certainly shut down James Hanson as well as anyone this season.
But the spirit and determination within the team remains undimmed. That old cliché about never knowing when you’re beaten was emphasised by another equaliser well into added time.
For the third home game running, City came from behind to grab something. That refusal to quit will keep them in the frame if nothing else.
Saturday should have been a good time to play the O’s. With top scorer David Mooney suspended and his partner-in-crime Kevin Lisbie being nursed back from injury, they were shy of an attack already worth 28 goals.
But Orient’s success has not just been built on such a potent pair up front. They are pretty mean at the other end, where only Wolves have conceded less.
The sight of free-flowing overlapping full backs is not for them. Like Colin Todd used to do with City, Slade tells his defenders to stick to their day job – they rarely cross over halfway.
It has provided the solid platform for the likes of Mooney and Lisbie or, in Saturday’s case, midfielder Lloyd James to pick off the goals that maintain their astonishing form.
“They are probably the worst team in the league to play against when they’ve got a lead,” said Parkinson later. “The full backs don’t venture forward and they keep it very tight.”
And for much of Saturday it seemed his side’s ambitions would founder against the red and white wall.
City had the chances to have established a lead before Leyton Orient struck out of the blue.
And Kyel Reid, a real thorn in Orient’s side during the opening 45 minutes, smacked a tremendous drive goalwards – but straight at a relieved Jamie Jones, who tipped over the bar.
There was the customary shout for a home penalty – if only League One introduced cricket’s referral system – but referee Mark Heywood was not swayed by Romain Vincelot’s push on Nahki Wells.
Then almost inevitably the deadlock was broken at the other end.
Leyton Orient had won their fare share of corners but City had coped comfortably. But as the game moved into stoppage time, they fatally held off James in the corner of the penalty area.
He had space to manoeuvre a perfectly-placed shot which carried on the wind beyond McLaughlin. It was a great way to break his league duck for the O’s; for City, it felt like a sucker blow to the solar plexus.
One shot on target, 1-0 up – “That’s why we’re top of the league” chimed the 374 travelling fans behind the other goal.
Parkinson’s half-time team talk had suddenly changed. Within a couple of minutes, he was presented with a row of glum faces in the dressing room.
Another major test of character beckoned.
The gusty conditions did not help, with the swirly wind making passing awkward at the best of times. Both sides were tempted to take the long route.
Parkinson made a point of praising McLaughlin’s distribution, which can be a weak point in his game. The keeper’s kicking in this instance was faultless – and highlighted by the struggles Jones had when he was trying to do the same into the wind in the second half.
But Jones and his back four continued to hold out as City threw more balls into the box. For all the possession after the break, there were precious few genuine sights of goal.
It was just the same for the visitors. City’s defence looked equally disciplined and – barring one half chance for Shaun Batt – never let their guard down.
Leyton Orient’s failure to record another shot directly at goal made it all the more galling as the clocked ticked down and City could still find no way through.
Nathan Doyle had an attempted chip batted down by the alert Jones and there was the odd scramble but no inkling of an equaliser.
The arrival of the subs changed the dynamic as City went to three at the back and Alan Connell picked up his customary role behind the front two. Mark Yeates, still pushing those claims for a recall, warmed Jones’s hands from a set-piece.
The fourth official’s board showed five minutes – it was time for a Coventry-style finale. And true to form Wells once again delivered.
Mathieu Baudry, an impassable object in the heart of the Orient back four up to that point, was caught the wrong side by the Bermudian’s nifty shuffle. He knocked him to the ground and City had a free-kick within the D.
Six men filled the wall; the target looked even smaller. But anyone who has watched City train will have seen Wells do these for fun at the end of sessions.
Up and over it soared and into the top right-hand corner of the net beyond a flailing Jones. The draw specialists and the goal specialist had struck again.
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