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Bantams golden oldie Gary Jones still refusing to act his age
Bradford City 3 Crewe 3
Here’s an idea for a new line in the Valley Parade club shop. Start flogging the Gary Jones elixir of life and City will make a fortune.
Phil Parkinson regrets that Prozone don’t stoop as low as League One with their records of how far players run in each game.
But in the case of the Peter Pan skipper, you don’t need statistics as proof.
The evidence is there for all to see as the 36 years young midfield general continues to drag his team through this stickiest of mid-seasons.
Two second-half missiles, struck with either foot, hauled City back to parity twice. Just as he had done at Bramall Lane three weeks earlier, the oldest player on the pitch gave old Father Time a bloodied nose with an ageless individual effort.
If only you could bottle that eternal youthfulness...
It has become a running joke among fans that Jones gets the man of the match award from the Valley Parade sponsors no matter what.
The good-natured ribbing even extends to the captain’s car-share back to the Wirral with Stephen Darby, the player many feel should be City’s player of the season.
But nobody was disputing Saturday’s annou-ncement, although Jones was still game for a laugh afterwards.
He smiled: “Darbs and I have a bit of banter. I always say ‘this should be yours’ on the way home.
“He’s been amazing this season and deserves all the plaudits he gets. He never has a bad game and hopefully he’ll be here for a long time.”
Darby, like the rest of the back four, had a tough afternoon in foul conditions. But he is one player City will be desperate to nail down on a new contract.
But what about Jones? Age is just a number, as he has always said, and the way he is performing right now the skipper remains one of the team’s biggest figures.
Maybe playing week in, week out was catching up with him a bit before Christmas. But those two blank Saturdays in January seem to have done the trick with a new lease of life since.
It wasn’t just the goals. There was the constant running and harrying, like the track-back in the first half to bail out Andrew Davies by his own penalty area after the defender was done for pace.
“The captain deserves all the accolades,” said an admiring Phil Parkinson. “He was inspirational to play like that at 36 on a heavy pitch.
“But you reap what you sow. He trains like that all the time, he lives his life properly and he’s a great example to our young players.
“It’s called desire and he’s got it in abundance. Ever since he’s been here, he’s typified what we’ve wanted at the club.
“I wish we had the Prozone stats in terms of distance covered.
“We did get them when we played Aston Villa at Villa Park and he covered more ground than the top Premier League athletic midfield players and at high intensity as well.
“His ability to do that is extraordinary for his age and I don’t see any sign of that decreasing because of the way he trains.”
So the country’s draw specialists did it again with their eighth stalemate from the dozen games since that last victory against MK Dons in November.
But that was a distinct improvement on the likelihood of a hugely-damaging home defeat that would have brought the spectre of the bottom four into sharper focus.
As it stands, City remain in 13th, although their advantage on the drop zone has been shaved by a point to six. Carlisle away tomorrow night is one where they cannot afford to slip up.
City’s first-half display had been as grim as the weather. Playing into the foul conditions, they didn’t look like they wanted to be there.
There was no intensity or energy about the home play and it was no surprise that Crewe took advantage on the break.
That meant McHugh and Davies were paired together in the middle for the first time. A difficult day for them both got off to the worst possible start when the Irishman lost the flight of Anthony Grant’s lofted pass.
McHugh tried to head back to his keeper but only connected with thin air and Uche Ikpeazu took advantage with a measured lob.
But like a wallflower transformed into the life and soul of the party after a couple of glasses of punch, it was a completely different ball game after the break.
City rediscovered their mojo. James Hanson threw himself about and Aaron Mclean finally got some service.
The midfield got on the ball and the wingers had room to stretch their legs.
But then Crewe struck again on another counter-attack, Ikpeazu converting from a tight angle after Jon McLaughlin parried from Chuks Aneke.
City refused to buckle and the crowd stayed with them. They sensed the momentum had shifted despite the scoreline.
That faith was rewarded within four minutes with Hanson taking advantage of Mclean’s square pass for his ninth goal of the season – and third since his previous strike partner’s departure.
Ninety seconds later and Mclean created a screen to set up Jones for the right-foot version of his long-range one-two.
Valley Parade, so flat and depressed in the first half, became a cauldron of noise.
There should have been more goals – especially for Hanson, who saw two point-blank headers brilliantly kept out by young keeper Ben Garratt and spooned another close-range shot over the bar.
When Matthias Pogba drilled Crewe back in front at 3-2, Parkinson saw a few Bantams heads start to drop.
With all the effort involved in dragging themselves off the floor previously, surely it was too big an ask for City to do it once again?
But Mclean again fed a pass back into the path of his captain and this time the trusty left foot sent an equaliser arrowing into the bottom corner.
Jones ran to the Kop to celebrate alone. It was fitting that he did so.
Others had done their bit but Valley Parade knew the fightback was down to one individual.
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