Swindon Town 1 Bradford City 0
It was only just over three weeks ago that City were looking down the barrel.
A run of tough away games were on the cards and the trapdoor was still very much open.
The fact that yesterday’s defeat had no real impact on their position in League One shows how much hard work has been done in that time.
But that won’t have done much for the 299 hardy souls who made the four-hour hike to watch them in the West Country.
For the princely sum of £28 admission, not to mention a tenner for the official car park, the away fans saw some very low-key entertainment.
After three successive clean sheets on the road, City conceded their first away goal since Shrewsbury on March 22. And there was little suggestion of an equaliser as the game drifted to its conclusion.
City’s Good Friday victory over Peterborough had thrown Swindon a play-off lifeline. After five wins from their previous six games, the Robins had moved within four points of catching Posh in sixth.
So at least there was something tangible riding on the outcome yesterday. City’s role, if nothing else, was of the spoiling variety – something they had proved to be good at of late.
Having shut out three of the four play-off teams in recent outings, the backline was not surprisingly unchanged. But there was a welcome sight on the bench where James Meredith made his first appearance in the squad since New Year’s Day.
The only change saw James Hanson spared duty, allowing the big striker to rest his back after playing the full comeback game three days earlier.
Kyle Bennett came back in as Parkinson resorted to the 4-3-3 set-up that had served City so well at the New York Stadium. Raffaele De Vita tucked in to the middle three at the club where he enjoyed two very successful seasons.
Stephen Darby was another Swindon old boy remembered affectionately – he scored the decisive penalty in a play-off shoot-out against Parkinson’s Charlton!
Swindon’s obsession with keep ball meant City needed to concentrate as the home side tried to pass, pass and pass some more.
But considering what was at stake for the home side, there was a flat feel to the opening stages. The early action seemed to be taking place at walking pace – not that the visitors minded.
Gary Jones tried to up the tempo with a free-kick to the side of the Swindon box. Shaping to cross, the skipper instead drilled it towards the near post, where keeper Wes Foderingham smuggled the ball behind.
Swindon were finally stirred from their slumbers midway through the half – but it was of City’s own making.
Rory McArdle’s poor touch from Darby’s pass was picked off by Alex Pritchard inside the box. But the on-loan Spurs midfielder, scorer of a stunner at Valley Parade in December, dragged his shot into the side-netting.
Swindon still enjoyed the bulk of the possession but their failure to open up the Bantams was frustrating the locals and there were audible groans after a couple of mid-pitch one-twos went nowhere.
Andrew Davies, who saw red on City’s last visit in 2011, was shown a yellow for sliding in the back of Pritchard as Swindon started to liven things up.
Darby headed away a dangerous cross from Miles Storey and Jones made an important block by the penalty spot from Michael Smith.
The Swindon striker, who bagged their winner in stoppage time on Good Friday, got a good connection on a half-volley from the edge of the box but Jon McLaughlin had everything behind it.
Doyle nicked the ball off Massimo Luongo bursting into the box, Nathan Thompson blazed over and Smith squeezed a weak shot straight at the City keeper.
Swindon seemed to have remembered why they were here and were pushing the Bantams back as the game reached half-time.
City had started on the front foot but the home side took over as the half progressed and were asking a few questions.
Doyle had been doing an important job in that screening role in front of the back four but he did not reappear after the break – which meant a return to arms for Meredith.
Adam Drury stayed at left back with the Aussie directly replacing Doyle in the midfield holding role.
Swindon tried to turn the screw again as Pritchard skied a 20-yarder and Darby was first to a dangerous pass into the box from Luongo with Smith hovering.
The defensive resolve that had thwarted some big-name scalps of late was being called upon once more.
That was certainly the case in the 56th minute when Storey’s cross was met with a decisive downward header by Smith. It looked a goal all the way but McLaughlin saved superbly and then Davies crucially won the scrum for Jay McEveley’s follow-up ball in the six-yard box.
A goal was coming – and it arrived ten minutes later. Pritchard’s drive was charged down but the ball rebounded into the path of Lee Cox, who wriggled into space and found the bottom corner with a precise curler.
Having got one, Swindon were hungry for another and McLaughlin produced a good save at the near post from Storey.
Parkinson responded by bringing on Aaron Mclean as an extra striker, De Vita leaving the field to a standing ovation from the home fans.
But City had done nothing going forward since the opening quarter of the game and Swindon continued to carry all the threat.
Luongo was again the provider for Pritchard to slide another shot the wrong side of the post with McLaughlin at full stretch.
Pritchard set his sights when McArdle gave away a foul 25 yards out. His low free-kick was whipped in with plenty of venom but the keeper was down in time to push it on to the post and away.
City showed a flicker of late resistance when Davies nodded down a long free-kick but Mclean ran the loose ball into the keeper.
Optimistic penalty appeals for a foul on Jon Stead were ignored as Swindon comfortably closed out for the three points they needed.