Bradford City 3 Coventry City 2
WELCOME to the new age of City, Mr Pressley – not the “dark” one you criticised so sourly on Coventry’s last visit.
As grand unveilings go, this was as exhilarating as you can get for the vast majority of a buzzing Valley Parade audience.
Okay, the performance wasn’t perfect – but you won’t have heard too many grumbles from the fans lapping up a first win on the opening day for six years.
To put that wait into context, Portsmouth had just won the FA Cup and George W Bush was still the US president when the Bantams last began with a maximum.
Peter Thorne’s double did for Notts County on that occasion in 2008; this time it was two trademark headers from James Hanson that sent the Sky Blues away empty handed.
It had been that long since the big man had scored that he couldn’t even remember himself. It was Colchester away, mid-March, James...
But having kept his powder dry through pre-season, Hanson exploded when it counted – and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better finish and cross than City’s winner.
The drought-breaking didn’t stop there. City were even awarded a penalty – their first since Coventry were the Valley Parade opponents last November.
The spot-kick that day was their only one all season; a huge bugbear for Phil Parkinson, who felt that City – and Hanson in particular – got a raw deal when it came to penalty-box grappling.
But Mike Dean had no doubts about Reda Johnson’s attempt to throw Hanson to the floor from a corner.
Ironically that previous penalty had been given by a Premier League referee as well, Kevin Friend. It does make you wonder whether the less experienced officials that proliferate League One arrive at Valley Parade with a sub-conscious thought of not being “swayed” by the size of the home crowd.
Dean’s experience also told deep in stoppage time when Coventry substitute John Fleck threw himself theatrically in the desperate hope of evening it up from the spot. His reward was a justified yellow card for diving.
“The big refs get the big calls right,” said a relieved City boss later. “That’s why they are at the top of the game.”
Parkinson’s players were certainly on top of their own game for large periods and the crowd appreciated the easy-on-the-eye football.
It has been a testing summer as he revamps the squad but, while the fringes have been an on-going concern, he has assembled a team who like to play.
The fans have taken to the new boys already. Billy Knott, or should that be Billy Whizz with his constant energy, is already being serenaded with his own song and Billy Clarke enjoyed a debut as good as any.
His link-up play with Hanson was a joy to watch and Aaron Mclean, who made a welcome cameo at the end, will have to be on his toes on this evidence.
City took a while to slip into their groove and Coventry wasted two good chances early on as the hosts lived on their nerves.
Alan Sheehan was caught ball-watching by Jordan Clarke but the defender got too much loft on his lob over Jordan Pickford.
Then Jim O’Brien burst through on Danny Pugh’s pass but failed to hit the target with a rushed shot.
With those scares survived, City settled into the game. Hanson and the point-proving Jason Kennedy should have scored before the target man did.
Hanson powered home Clarke’s cross after a great bit of closing down from Knott had wrestled the ball off O’Brien.
Parkinson had asked his players to put down a marker on the first day – that passage of play summed up precisely what he had talked about.
Mark Yeates, looking at home in the hole, nearly doubled City’s advantage before Coventry burst the bubble just before the break as Johnson beat Andrew Davies and Pickford to a Pugh corner.
The new keeper showed some uncertainty from corners but Parkinson absolved him of any blame because of the “Premier League quality” delivery of the ball.
But City soon regained their advantage from a corner of their own when Dean clocked Johnson dragging Hanson away from Sheehan’s cross. The left back, who had scored seven times last term for Notts County, opened his account by sending Ryan Allsop the wrong way.
The noise level hit maximum as Valley Parade rejoiced in a City side clearly enjoying themselves. But you still sensed they needed that security of a third goal.
Home hearts were in mouths 15 minutes from time when Pickford went to punch another Pugh corner but only fisted fresh air. Thankfully the calm presence of Gary Liddle protecting the goalline made sure the ensuing scramble came to nothing.
Coventry went more direct as the clock ticked away and threw the hulking Johnson into attack. Mr Pot meet Mr Kettle.
But Steven Pressley’s gamble looked to have paid off when the Benin international jabbed home his second goal of the game after Pickford had acrobatically blocked Marcus Tudgay’s close-range header.
Pressley said afterwards that he felt his side could go on and win the game from that point. Instead they were floored by the ultimate sucker punch.
There was less than half a minute between the afternoon’s fourth and fifth goals as the away end’s songs of celebration were strangled in their throats.
The Coventry players were still on a high as the born-again Kennedy set off on a determined right-wing dash.
He twisted inside then nutmegged through a defender’s legs before whipping over the sort of cross that Hanson dreams about. His cannonball connection did the rest.
“There’s a light at the end of every tunnel” tweeted Kennedy on Saturday night and his contribution was appreciated by Hanson rushed over to congratulate him.
Dean then made certain there was no chance of back-to-back 3-3s by spotting Fleck’s dramatic tumble and City’s season was up and running.
It had been a hectic week of recruitment for Parkinson and the signs suggest more will follow shortly via the loan market.
But he diverted post-match discussion back to the players already here. They had done a pretty convincing job for starters.