City 2 Grimsby 0
So Steve Jones hasn’t run over a black cat after all!
Neither has he smashed every mirror going nor spent his days walking under ladders.
Perhaps the seemingly unluckiest man in the world is about to enjoy a change of fortune. It’s certainly long overdue.
The winger’s nickname of Jonah has proved unfortunately fitting. Before Saturday, his ten appearances in Bantams colours had coincided with the mid-season slump that has been threatening to derail the promotion dream.
Not that Jones could be held solely responsible – though the way his luck was going in front of goal, he must have wondered about that.
The faith-restoring victory over Grimsby contained plenty of positives for the fans jaundiced by the midweek no-show at Gigg Lane.
But none came any brighter than in stoppage time when the green-booted Jones ran the ball past Phil Barnes to finally break his City duck. At about the millionth attempt...
The goal owed everything to his refusal to give up after seeing one early effort denied by the brilliant Grimsby keeper and another ping off the inside of the post.
And maybe, for the more superstitious, his gaffer’s red knees played their part ...
Stuart McCall, fed up with the run of Valley Parade hard-luck stories, made his own drastic contribution by ditching the tracky bottoms.
Despite the plummeting temperature, the City chief braved the chill in just the shorts he had worn throughout the more successful period of the campaign.
I trust he will still do the same if the snow starts falling tonight...
The sight of Jones scampering through to seal City’s first win of 2009 certainly helped warm the manager up.
“How many goals could Jonah be on by now?” McCall pondered afterwards. “But to be fair he kept at it all afternoon.
“The pitch was beginning to cut up and for players like Jones, Omar (Daley) and Nicky Law it’s difficult to run with the ball. But he kept going out wide and getting crosses in and I’m so pleased for him to get a goal.”
Jones, whose Burnley loan is due up next Monday, admitted it was sweet payback for City’s listless display against Bury, a night which had set the alarm bells ringing as they slipped briefly out of the play-off picture.
He said: “We wanted to put on a show for the fans. We got great support at Bury and let them all down as well as ourselves.
“But I did think the goals were never going to come. Grimsby were holding out and their keeper was fantastic but we dug deep and got there in the end.
“And I’m definitely so glad to score at last. I had two good chances in the first half and was very unlucky but I finally got my reward.”
There wasn’t much to fault about City’s performance. It was the display – and result – that had been demanded since Tuesday.
Of course, they should have scored more. A lot more against a team who played all but the first 20 minutes with a man down after defender Rob Atkinson was sent off for dragging down Michael Boulding.
City carved out more chances than they had created in the previous four or five home games but they found Barnes, a keeper McCall knows well from the days together at Sheffield United, in inspired form.
McCall had restored Jones to his usual role on the wing with Boulding and Peter Thorne back up front together. Dean Furman was also given a run alongside Law in central midfield after Paul McLaren nicked his calf in training.
Interestingly, McCall revealed afterwards that he had been considering the Law/Furman axis anyway to counter the younger, quicker legs of Grimsby’s middle two.
The injury to McLaren made his decision easier but perhaps it was also an answer to those fans who think certain players are “undroppable”.
The midfield duo could not have covered more ground if they’d tried. Every time a ball dropped or something was about to happen, one of them was immediately on hand.
They anticipated everything, ready to pounce on possession or harry an opponent into making an error. There was no let-up in their intensity from start to finish.
City’s all-round display was equally bright from the moment that Boulding flicked a second-minute header narrowly across the Grimsby goal. This was just the response that McCall had demanded from his midweek dressing-room rocket.
Zesh Rehman was drafted in at right back and added considerable presence to a back four that has been breached only once from open play in the last eight games. They certainly kept it tight when needed on Saturday, repelling Grimsby’s brief flurries of pressure with well-placed blocks.
Rehman’s height also proved an effective weapon from corners. Twice he went close to a goal on his home debut, with one header scrambled unconvincingly off the line by Jean-Paul Kalala.
That was followed by the first stunning save from Barnes after Graeme Lee’s free-kick deflected straight to Jones bang in front of goal. Barnes was diving the wrong way but somehow still managed to beat away the shot with his legs.
When Jones smacked the woodwork a few minutes later, his helpless shrug in the manager’s direction said it all. What more could City do?
Barnes pulled off another fine stop to foil Law after a sizzling move created by Boulding. And when Peter Thorne headed a corner straight at the keeper with the chance you’d bank on him burying, the nagging doubt that City would never get a break began to grow.
This was no day for near-misses. Anything less than a win would be viewed as another example that the wheels had come off; regardless of how well they might have played. Grimsby may have won two out of three going into the game, including beating Wycombe on their own patch, but having failed to beat any others in the bottom five at home, another City draw would cut no ice.
Importantly, heads remained high as the minutes ticked away. Chances kept coming and going as the volume increased from the stands.
Jones was trying to shoot from anywhere, Law was driving into the box at will. Boulding got between two defenders to nod over.
And with the game well into its final quarter, Grimsby’s hearts were finally broken.
Luke O’Brien’s long ball was won by Thorne, Boulding swept the ball towards Law, who wriggled to find enough space 20 yards out to drill past Barnes.
City being City still had one late scare when Matt Clarke carelessly conceded a throw-in level with their box. Ryan Bennett’s long throw-in dropped for Dean Sinclair who hooked the ball over Rhys Evans – and fortunately a foot or so over his bar as everyone looked on.
Sub Barry Conlon should have doubled City’s lead in added time before Jones did with the game’s final kick.
The first half of the home double header had been successfully negotiated. Now the onus is on City tonight to make it back-to-back home wins for the first time since September.