Sheffield United 2 Bradford City 2
Two down in south Yorkshire in front of a huge army of away fans – it was an eerily familiar feeling for Gary Jones.
“I was getting a few flashbacks at the time,” admitted the City skipper as he contemplated another Rotherham-size letdown at Bramall Lane.
The fact it didn’t happen – and the enormous 3,130-strong following left the steel city buoyed by a second-half fightback – will make the approaching blank week far easier to handle.
For both players and fans, the eight-day wait until Preston visit Valley Parade would have seemed an eternity if City had failed to drag themselves off the floor.
So a sixth draw in nine winless games ultimately felt more than that, especially as few would have seen it coming.
Two poorly-defended goals had given Sheffield United all the encouragement they needed to be in control at half-time. On the balance of play, 2-0 was harsh but City had paid a heavy price for basic errors and switching off – how often have we said that?
Once again, it seemed, a travelling army of supporters would be left high and dry – a point rammed home by Phil Parkinson in the dressing room.
The half-time team talk spelled it out clearly – give those people something to show for their money.
Jones said: “You look at the number of fans who’ve come here – it’s absolutely superb.
“The gaffer made the point that it was a local derby and to go out with a whimper would be awful. I did think of Rotherham and we were desperate for that not to happen again.”
What’s that saying about fortune favouring the brave?
City might have felt, with some justification, that the footballing Gods had been concentrating their gaze elsewhere in the first 45 minutes.
When James Hanson’s header rocked the bar and Carl McHugh’s follow-up was blocked on the line by Stephen McGinn’s upper left arm, they were wondering when a break might finally come their way.
Referee Roger East certainly did them few, if any, favours with a generally inept display which ridiculed his billing as a Premier League official.
One decision for handball against Hanson, when photographic evidence clearly showed the arm making contact belonged to home defender Harry Maguire, was beyond laughable.
But City’s fortunes – and the game itself – changed on one critical intervention in the 56th minute.
Rory McArdle’s long ball was flicked on by Hanson. New boy Aaron Mclean, given little to work with on a hard-working debut, held the ball up for Jones to have a pop from 20 yards.
He struck the shot well enough but George Long would have fancied his chances of making a regulation save. That was until it struck Matt Hill, which completely diverted its direction and left the keeper helplessly grounded the wrong way.
“I think it was going in anyway,” smiled Jones. “But it took a nice deflection and went in the other corner.
“I don’t get many chances nowadays, so I’ll definitely be claiming that.”
Like a dominant boxer who carelessly leaves his chin open for a sucker punch, the Blades were suddenly dazed.
And within seven minutes it was all square. Jones this time provided the assist with a free-kick nudged in through a corridor of players by Hanson’s left shin – via Long’s right boot. There’s that slice of luck again.
Home boss Nigel Clough admitted the deflected goal was the turning point. Even then, his side spent the final 25 minutes almost camped in City territory hunting a third.
But a back four that had been sliced open seemingly at will up to that point managed to stand firm through the siege. A combination of good blocks, last-ditch clearances and snatchy finishing ensured the comeback went rewarded.
Jones felt they were good value for the point on the second-half display. Assistant boss Steve Parkin, on post-match media duties, thought City had done enough all round.
The spirited fightback and subsequent rearguard action certainly warranted something. But that also masked a jittery defensive display and passengers in the midfield.
There was also the significant blow of Kyel Reid’s departure, the latest in the endless line of injuries. Like James Meredith, his oppo in City’s left-sided union, he will leave a big hole.
In the immediate term it should mean a chance for Aston Villa starlet Jordan Graham, who is yet to see any action. In a role so crucial to the team’s attacking intentions, let’s hope the teen can hit the ground running.
Mclean’s attempts to do so on his debut were foiled by a lack of decent service. Once Reid went off, Mark Yeates could not provide the same level of pace or supply.
But there were hints of a partnership being forged by the front pair – something that can only develop during the extended build-up to the next game.
Mclean felt he should have had penalty near the end as he went to ground when Maguire wrestled him for a through ball. All he received from an extended stay on the floor were the jeers of the home crowd and a non-committal response from East.
A call in City’s favour then and the come-from-behind scenario could have been complete. But nobody should quibble at one point given what went on earlier.
The opening Sheffield United goal exposed the problems at left back without Meredith. Tony McMahon danced around McHugh, among others, before sliding a ball across goal, where Jamie Murphy beat Stephen Darby to convert.
The second just before the break was no better from a City point of view. Maguire out-jumped both centre halves from a corner and McLaughlin and Jason Kennedy got in each other’s way as the ball dropped in almost apologetically inside the far post.
At that point, images of another venue just down the road hovered into view. But that was another day and another performance.
Jones and a rare appearance from Lady Luck made sure this script at least would not copy the ending.