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Bantams find themselves in no-win situation at Valley Parade
Bradford City 1 Swindon Town 1
A year of so many unbelievable highs for City ended with another home game that got away.
If the first half of 2013 felt like the party to beat all parties for the Bantams, the last couple of months have been more of the hung-over morning after.
At least this was a major improvement on the fare offered up three days before in the loss to Rotherham. But they still cannot win at Valley Parade – while it’s just one victory now in their last 14 matches.
Rory McArdle gave City the perfect launchpad with his customary near-post header from a corner. Swindon, though, were good value for their share of the points.
In a strange bit of symmetry, December 29 last year saw City beaten 4-2 by Rochdale to kick off a three-month run without a home win.
This time December 29 could have been the end of a similarly barren run, with the Bantams taking all three points on their own turf for the first time in seven attempts. But dogged Swindon had other ideas.
After his “bare bones” selection on Boxing Day, Phil Parkinson had the luxury of picking from a squad with a bit more substance.
There were three changes from Rotherham – most significantly the return up front of James Hanson after two games out with a calf injury.
It was the former skipper’s first involvement since mid-September and represented quite a change of fortunes after he had been loaned out to Northampton and seemingly lined up for a permanent move next month.
Parkinson also made a switch at the back, with McArdle returning from his one-game ban to partner Carl McHugh, reviving the central-defensive pairing of that glorious Capital One Cup run.
Swindon left Nile Ranger at home after the controversial striker failed to show up for training. But the Robins needed less than a minute to signal their attacking intent as Alex Pritchard whipped an effort just over.
City soon made another addition to the bulging file of “nearly” penalties when Hanson’s header bounced off Darren Ward’s arm. Parkinson pleaded arms outstretched like an Aussie pace bowler but referee Oliver Langford remained impassive.
As Swindon countered, some superb defending from Stephen Darby at the back post prevented Nathan Byrne tapping home Nicky Ajose’s cross.
But City forced their first corner after 15 minutes – and made it count. McArdle met the kick from Gary Jones with a thumping header that flew in off the underside of the bar for his third goal of the season.
It bucked the trend of conceding the opening goal as the Bantams had their noses in front for the first time in five home games.
But Swindon quickly reminded the hosts that the contest was a long way from being settled.
Byrne issued an immediate warning with a header into the side-netting and Jon McLaughlin had to be smartly out to smother at Ajose’s feet after the lunging McArdle could only take the pace off a through ball.
Nahki Wells was narrowly off target after cutting in from the right but City’s top scorer saw his day cut short before the half-hour mark as he was forced to limp off.
For omen hunters, Mark Yeates took over duties alongside Hanson – as he had done at a similar early stage of the last Valley Parade win over Shrewsbury.
Swindon continued their spirited response with Pritchard, rumoured to be on the January shopping list of several Championship clubs, pulling the strings. McLaughlin needed two grabs at one bobbling shot from the on-loan Spurs midfielder, who bent another free-kick past the near post.
Kyel Reid was looking more like his old self after an insipid display against the Millers and forced a fourth City corner in first-half stoppage time. The ball dropped at McHugh’s feet in the scrum but the young Irishman could not find a clean sight of goal.
It was a far better contest than three days earlier – and City’s efforts were much improved. But they had to be against the lively visitors.
Yeates began the second half with a booking for a foul on Louis Thompson. His namesake Nathan took exception and got involved with a shove but escaped with a stern word from the official.
With the Swindon right back getting the pantomime boos from the crowd, Reid drove past him towards the corner flag and delivered a powerful cross which Hanson headed straight into the grateful grasp of Wes Foderingham.
Pritchard was still proving elusive and wriggled his way free of Darby to drag a shot against an advertising hoarding as McLaughlin plunged to his right.
The crowd continued their sport of booing Nathan Thompson’s every touch – but the Swindon defender had his revenge with an assist in the equaliser after 63 minutes.
He was allowed to move unchecked to the halfway line before supplying Pritchard, whose trickery did the rest. Weaving his way through several challenges, the blond playmaker gave McLaughlin no chance with a well-placed finish from 18 yards.
It was no more than Pritchard deserved – he had looked the class act on the pitch – but for City it came as a body blow as the prospect of that elusive home victory was once more snatched away.
Parkinson reacted with a double substitution, replacing the busy Ravenhill and anonymous Garry Thompson.
On came Doyle and Oliver McBurnie and the teenage striker’s first touch was an impressive one, angling a low ball across the six-yard box and just beyond the desperate stretch of Hanson.
With the Kop turning up the noise once more, City pressed to restore their lead.
McBurnie had injected some urgency and he chased down Foderingham into a hurried clearance. Then fellow sub Doyle almost came up with a rare goal but his well-struck drive was turned away by the keeper.
Byrne went close at the other end but City were camped in Swindon territory and Yeates put too much on a free-kick after Doyle was flattened on the edge of the D.
McLaughlin clawed away a cross-shot from Miles Storey in stoppage time but there was nothing to separate the sides.
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