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Full marks to Bantams as they win with a degree of comfort against Oxford
Oxford United 0 Bradford City 2
If Oxford University ran a course on how to win away games, this could have been the template.
The three-quarters built Kassam Stadium may be far removed from the dreaming spires of the city’s academia; shoved on an out-of-town industrial estate.
But this was a lesson that even the keenest student could learn from. A master and pupil afternoon which saw the visitors pass out with honours.
City’s first league win off Valley Parade soil could not have been more comprehensive. This was a 90-minute study in how to nullify your hosts, especially those with such shaky self-confidence, and then clinically pick them off.
The first half was a drab spectacle with hardly a chance of note. But that was half the job done for the Bantams as they removed what sting Oxford might have possessed on the back of a morale-sapping run of four straight defeats.
Then Phil Parkinson’s men stepped it up after the break and killed the contest with two mercy shots from corners, inevitably delivered by that man Gary Jones.
No wonder Parkinson looked as relaxed as a tourist taking a Saturday afternoon stroll through the city’s architecture.
“I always felt comfortable on the touchline and you don’t always get that away from home,” he said.
“We had control of the game. Gary and Doyley (Nathan Doyle) are so disciplined (in midfield) but they’re also good footballers, which gave us control of the ball.”
City had done their studies at Apperley Bridge 48 hours earlier as Parkinson and Steve Parkin chaired a team meeting to outline the formula for unlocking that opening win on the road.
Rather than telling the players what should be done, the management threw the floor open.
Parkinson added: “I said to the lads that there was a still a question mark about us because we hadn’t won away in the league.
“We had a general chat and I asked them ‘you tell me what we need’. They gave us the answers.
“They understand it’s about the discipline of the team and work ethic and accepting that things are going to go against you away.
“We did that on Saturday and dealt with it to a man. Everything they talked about, they delivered.”
Nahki Wells got the nod over an unlucky Alan Connell as Parkinson looked for extra pace to unhinge Oxford’s centre halves. Will Atkinson replaced Zavon Hines in a more conservative midfield against a side who used three in the middle.
You would have thought City had the extra man in that engine room as Doyle and Jones dictated the play, quickly nullified any Oxford threat and generally swaggered about the place.
But there was only one moment of note for 45 minutes when keeper Ryan Clarke had a rush of blood and came rushing out for James Meredith’s long clearance.
Instead Wells got in there first but the angle was tight and by the time he had adjusted for a proper shooting position, Clarke was able to recover and bat away.
Oxford looked like a side who had forgotten how to win. Too many loose passes revealed their nerves on the ball and the crowd were silent and twitchy.
Luke O’Brien had a steady debut against his former club and didn’t display any obvious rust in his first proper run-out since March. But too many of his Oxford team-mates simply lacked belief.
The near 400-strong away following knew this was as good a chance as any for City to open that win column.
The Bantams were winning battles across the pitch, none more so than on the left flank where the excellent Meredith dovetailed dangerously with Kyel Reid. Right back Damian Batt didn’t know what day it was at times.
Reid forced Clarke into a sprawling save through a crowd of legs but the resulting corner proved Oxford’s undoing. Jones picked out the far post where Andrew Davies came barrelling through to hammer his third goal of the season.
Unlike the previous two, there was no doubt about his intentions this time as the centre half elevated himself to City’s second top scorer. He had the war wounds to prove it.
Parkinson has worked long and hard to see his side capitalise on their height at set-plays. Davies has responded more than anyone.
His boss said: “Andrew’s a good finisher – you see that in training when we play small-sided games and he’s one of the best.
“You need bravery in the box because to score goals you don’t often get a clear header looping over everyone.
“You have to go in there with intent, which Andrew certainly did. He’s gone in where angels fear to tread.”
James Constable fired over while City were temporarily down to ten men after Luke Oliver went off for treatment. It was a mild warning but hardly a concerted response.
Oxford’s brittle resistance finally snapped from another corner. This time it was the near post where Rory McArdle, who had a rock-solid game at right back, appeared from nowhere to flick on goalwards.
The ball was probably going in anyway but Wells made sure on the line and the result was guaranteed.
Jon McLaughlin risked his sore hip, flinging himself to his right to double-fist away a free-kick from Peter Leven – Oxford’s only effort on target. But City’s dominance should have been rewarded with a third goal when Garry Thompson cleverly freed Atkinson to dance past some tired, half-hearted challenges.
Ploughing into the box, he picked the wrong option by shooting instead of finding the unmarked James Hanson for a tap-in. Clarke blocked and Jones blazed the rebound into the car park behind the goal.
It hardly mattered as Oxford trudged off to a crescendo of boos from those fans who had not made an early exit. The City section, fittingly bathed in the late afternoon sunshine, bounced with the players.
As Parkinson said later, nothing beats an away win. Stick to this crib sheet and there could be plenty more to enjoy.