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It’s Andy Gray’s day but Bradford City can’t end Posh hoodoo
Peterborough 2, City 1
Strange things do indeed happen at this time of the year.
In the same week that Westfield confirm they will finally start work on Bradford’s hole in the ground, Andy Gray pops up with the first goal of his second coming for City.
But the Bantams winning at Peterborough proved once again to be a Christmas wish too far.
The club’s 14th trip to London Road proved as miserable as all the rest. Away fans who had shelled out an extortionate £28 for the privilege saw Posh maintain a record of never having lost at home to their West Yorkshire visitors.
If they did not witness history, there was at least a sight that few could have anticipated when they set off down the A1.
And who would have possibly guessed that their afternoon repertoire of songs would include a chant of “Andy Gray, he scores when he wants...”
When Phil Parkinson spoke the other day about players from the fringes getting their opportunity, I did not imagine he had someone in mind who had not kicked a ball in anger this season.
The 36-year-old forward had not netted since September 2012, when he bagged the solitary effort of his unsuccessful short stay at Leeds.
It was Gray’s first City goal for nine years 11 months – the last being a penalty in an FA Cup defeat to Luton on the eve of the second administration.
He had barely made the squad at all since playing in the “dead rubber” at Cheltenham in April and was only included this time because strikers had been falling like flies during the week.
The veteran had recovered from a chest infection to swell the numbers. Parkinson was glad he did.
The half-time arrival of Gray and Kyel Reid breathed some life into a side that had not been at the races up to that point.
Parkinson had pulled a rabbit out of the hat with his team selection, opting for a new system with three centre halves and wing backs.
He had watched DVDs on previous Posh matches and noted that it was an effective way of shutting down the fluid midfield play of the hosts.
Reid was the surprise fall guy as Parkinson bolstered the ranks with Matt Taylor’s first start in claret and amber.
The defender had not started a game since October 19 – the final weekend of his loan spell with Colchester.
Ironically, that was also the day when Mark Yeates last began a City game – and he too was back in with the instructions to try and make something happen behind a front two missing calf victim James Hanson.
And how City missed him. Unfortunately all the intricate planning and tactical shape – they had worked on it in training all week – came up short because of the absence of the big man.
Anyone who still doubts the impact that Hanson’s presence has on everything City do should have been here for the first 45 minutes.
Whether the system also let City down in the first half is debatable. The ball just kept coming back with Posh propelled by the strong, swirling wind.
In Lee Tomlin, they have one of the best players in League One. By all accounts, he was one of the more impressive in the Championship.
Nathan Doyle’s job was to man mark him out of the action but it proved a futile exercise. Tomlin’s speed of thought and movement opened up pockets of space to supply those around him.
Not that City could have done anything to prevent the goal that blew open this contest.
Tomlin’s corner was cleared out, first by Gary Jones and then Doyle, before landing at the feet of left back Kgosi Ntlhe 35 yards out.
The South African let rip with a shot that seemed to grow wings as it soared beyond a stunned Jon McLaughlin, picking up pace with the gusts behind it.
All the pre-match build-up centred on the showdown between Wells and Britt Assombalonga; the striker Peterborough wanted in the summer and the one they then bought.
Nobody imagined such an unlikely source for the first goal – or how it would arrive.
Posh, who had won only once in eight games, were flying now and Assombalonga soon boosted his own tally to 17.
Shaun Jeffers was the provider as he slipped a neat ball into the feet of his striker on the edge of the City box.
Assombalonga still had Taylor and Matthew Bates for company but some lovely tight control on the turn shook them both off as he drilled a low shot beyond the unsighted keeper.
He should have had another when Tomlin slipped him through and the Posh play-maker almost had one himself with a shot against the post.
But in between City wasted a potential lifeline when Jones fired straight at Bobby Olejnik after good work from Wells. A yard either side of the keeper and it would have been 2-1.
The skipper had a similar opportunity soon after the break but dallied on it, which allowed Ntlhe to make a sliding block.
By that point, Parkinson had thrown caution to the powerful wind with the half-time changes.
Reid’s presence on the wing right in front of the City supporters instantly galvanised those on and off the pitch. The away section came to life as they sensed their team having a real go at last.
The ball also started to stick up front as Gray made his mark – and the substitutes combined to deadly effect with 15 minutes left, Gray cleverly diverting Reid’s low cross in at the near post.
The rejuvenated Bantams went hunting an equaliser. From the next attack, Gray had another effort bundled behind; Jones, then Doyle, had unsuccessful pops from 20 yards.
But that was as close as it got. The best chance at the end fell to Assombalonga, who scuffed a left-footer wide of an open goal after McLaughlin blocked his first jab.
So a familiar result in these parts but there was at least one City player who could look back on Saturday and smile.
The goal may not change Gray’s long-term prospects – City have made it clear they are open to any interest in him – but for now, it’s a timely shot in the arm.
With Hanson still struggling for the Rotherham game, Gray could have a key role in City’s Christmas tale.
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