Shrewsbury 2, City 1
“Nailed on home win” was a common theme among the pre-match predictions.
From the outside, it seemed some leap of faith in a team that had not triumphed in front of their own supporters for four months. But seasoned Bradford City watchers knew the signs.
Shrewsbury had not won in ten attempts at the Greenhous Meadow; they had not even scored the first goal in a game under new boss Michael Jackson. The last time that had happened was on New Year’s Day when Graham Turner was still in charge.
But many in West Yorkshire were not fooled. They have long since wised up to the football truism that if you’re on a shocking run and can’t buy a win for love nor money, then Bradford City are the opposition of choice.
It’s a common perception among fans of all clubs that their own particular favourites always slip up in those games that the formbooks suggest you should canter.
For City, though, there does seem to be this rogue element in their DNA whenever they play teams who have not won for X amount of games/weeks/months.
Look at this season. Saturday’s slip-up at Shrewsbury was the latest in a list that also includes Notts County and Carlisle away and Stevenage at Valley Parade.
On each occasion, the opponents were in the bottom two and – according to their recent results at least – supposedly there for the taking. Well that’s now played four, lost four in that sorry sequence since the turn of the year.
Another worrying trend that has crept in is the way City throw away leads.
For the second weekend running, they scored the opening goal and got pegged back. And while there was at least some consolation against Peter Taylor’s Gillingham from the level of performance, there was no such sugar-coating of Saturday’s setback.
Throw in Stevenage, when they led twice and lost – and that against a team that had been beaten in all previous 16 matches when they were behind at half-time – and it’s a careless trait that is costing them dear.
Those discarded points would have pretty much seen City over the line in the race for mid-table stability from their first season back in League One. Instead, they still need to keep a vigilant eye on what is happening beneath them.
The magic number, that gap between City and the fourth relegation spot, is seven points; not close enough for any need to panic, but not wide enough either for any complacency to creep in.
Walsall’s visit to Valley Parade tomorrow will not be easy and then City head for third-placed Leyton Orient. They are not clear of trouble yet by a long way.
No wonder Phil Parkinson looked furious at the final whistle. Talk of lacking “professionalism” and being too careless in the final minutes dominated his terse press conference.
It was not as if Shrewsbury were any good. The gallows humour was already creeping in. That was clear at half-time when one “lucky” supporter had the chance to win a season ticket for next year.
“Sorry about that,” consoled the man on the microphone when he failed his penalty task, before adding with a grin, “but then again, you might not be THAT disappointed...”
City had hardly played like world-beaters themselves. Parkinson had called for another positive away day in the same ilk as Colchester 11 days earlier. He named an unchanged team for the third straight game – but did not get a copycat performance in return.
Instead, it was an ugly game played in ugly conditions where the standard of football was as warming as the Arctic wind. And yet, three points should still have been well within City’s grasp.
When you go ahead 11 minutes from time against a team who have forgotten how to score – did I mention Shrewsbury are also the most goal-shy side in the division – let alone win, the result should be in the bag.
City certainly thought so as the scorer Andrew Davies was submerged in a blanket of claret and amber jerseys. So did the 656 away fans behind that goal who immediately launched into a taunt of “Going Down”.
Those mocking words were still hanging in the breeze as Shrewsbury instantly bounced to the other end, zig-zagging through opponents with minds on a win bonus to level within a minute. And that was not the end of it.
Shrewsbury have had that many loan signings this season that even the supposed experts have lost count. The press-box estimate was that Sheffield United’s Shaun Miller was number 19 – and the 14th to play up front!
Jackson had done the deal that close to kick-off, the new striker had not even had a training session. But don’t let that spoil the dramatic ending.
In fact, Shrewsbury’s three best players were their subs. So either Jackson got his starting line-up horribly wrong or his changes were inspired – I suspect he will claim the latter.
Ironically, City were about to enjoy their best spell when final sub Bahrudin Atajic, another borrowed player from Celtic, entered the fray after 76 minutes.
The visitors had defended stoically against the gusty wind in the first half and arguably scorned the better chances, a weak side-foot shot from the surprisingly out-of-sorts James Hanson being the golden one.
Then City upped the ante with four straight corners, the last leading to the breakthrough when it was returned to taker Matty Dolan. He swung a cross straight back into the mix where Davies nudged home from a yard out.
Given Shrewsbury’s brittle confidence on their own patch, that should have been game over.
But Adam Reach, who had a poor afternoon at the club where he played the first half of the season, failed to track Jermaine Grandison’s gallop up the right wing.
Atajic saw him, fed the overlapping defender and his cross made it simple for Jon Taylor to equalise.
Unexpected hope filled the Shropshire air. Shrewsbury came forward more and more, while City did not help their own cause by failing to hang on to possession and take the sting out of the finale.
So inevitably we came to the fourth of the four added minutes.
McLaughlin’s scuffed clearance was picked off too easily in midfield, allowing Paul Parry to launch one last cross from the left.
Davies tried to clear with a flick header in a crowd of five bodies but it hit Atajic and dropped for an unmarked Miller to bury with a convincing scissor-kick.