Colchester United 0 Bradford City 2
Phil Parkinson is lauded in these parts for taking the unheralded Essex club into the Championship.
He returned last night to mastermind a victory that goes a long way to making sure the Bantams stay put in League One.
Parkinson had never won in three previous visits to Colchester since leaving the U’s on the back of that promotion eight years ago.
But there never seemed any doubts last night that City would put the record straight with a strong, all-round display.
James Hanson, back in tandem with Aaron Mclean, headed his sixth goal in his last nine outings. Then Kyle Bennett sealed the deal with a quality strike early in the second half.
Once in command, City saw off a late flurry from the home side to clinch the win that has put them back in the top half.
The only missing ingredient was a goal from Mclean and he missed one great chance. But he was lively throughout, proving a constant thorn in the Colchester ranks and surely it cannot be far away.
After back-to-back defeats, City were beefed up from Saturday with the return of Hanson and Andrew Davies from injury.
Hanson, in particular, had been seriously missed at Brentford. Given that it’s over two years since the Bantams last won a game without him on the pitch, his presence was a welcome lift.
But Gary Jones missed his first league game of the season with a virus, so Matty Dolan got the nod as Nathan Doyle’s partner in the midfield engine room. Stephen Darby took the captain’s armband.
And City had a genuine left back in the team at last – Adam Drury was handed his first start after coming off the bench against the Bees.
Colchester’s preparations were hit by serious traffic problems which delayed five of their players. They eventually arrived half an hour before the start, allowing Joe Dunne to name an unchanged team after their first win in seven games.
City threatened to catch the hosts cold from the kick-off as Aaron Mclean latched on to a long ball forward to force an immediate save from Sam Walker.
Despite the difficult surface, Colchester tried to get the ball down and former Bantam loanee Ryan Dickson began and tried to finish a neat move, heading Sanchez Watt’s cross wide.
Freddie Sears twice fired over as the hosts tried to build up a head of steam – but it was City who drew first blood after 15 minutes.
Doyle’s 20-yard drive was well saved by Walker but Magnus Okuonghae conceded a panicky corner as City kept the ball alive. And Colchester’s defending from Dolan’s set-piece was equally slack, allowing Hanson to power home a far-post header for his 12th goal of the season.
The difference in both sides straight after the goal was clear. Colchester lost their early zip and it was City playing with belief.
Bennett typified the growing confidence with a drifting run and curler wide. Then Mclean continued his mission for that elusive first goal with a thumping strike that was picked out of the air by Walker.
Not content with one half chance, he immediately had two more – firing over from a Hanson flick-on and then stretching Walker into a save by the foot of the post.
There was an edge to Mclean’s play and his movement and he was linking up well with the supporting midfield.
His hard work should have been rewarded with an appearance on the scoresheet but he blew a massive chance to double City’s advantage two minutes before the break.
Bennett was the instigator when he ripped the ball away from Dickson just inside the Colchester half. Suddenly the winger was away, with Mclean screaming for the pass.
Bennett duly delivered and the ground waited for the net to ripple with only Walker to beat. But Mclean screwed his shot wide to City’s consternation – and huge home relief.
The ball appeared to bobble on the poor surface but it was still a gilt-edged opportunity to stamp his team’s dominance on proceedings. It would not have flattered them.
City nearly had their second within a minute of the restart after Bennett was fouled midway inside home territory.
Rory McArdle clipped the free-kick towards the penalty area, where Davies rose to guide a header agonisingly past the post. McArdle jumped up and down in frustration at the near-miss as Colchester were once again let off the hook.
But the goal was coming – and City’s continued positive approach got its reward ten minutes in.
Dickson and Walker messed up between them to cough a cheap throw-in which Darby quickly relayed to Bennett. And the winger burst through before firing past Walker from a tight angle.
Like Mclean, Bennett was proving a handful and showing his undoubted promise and threat.
With the game now firmly slipping away, the home side finally sparked into life and City found themselves under a bit of pressure.
Colchester had the ball in the net from a lofted free-kick but the decisive touch was an illegal one from Marcus Bean’s hand.
The pony-tailed midfielder then threw himself at Jon McLaughlin as another free-kick hovered dangerously around the City goal-mouth but the keeper did well.
Adam Reach tested Walker at the other end as Colchester looked in vain for a way back into the contest.
They threw three men up front for the final 15 minutes but City’s defence had a resolute air.
It was easy to see why Colchester have found goals hard to come by – their first, and only, shot on target did not come until the 84th minute.