Shrewsbury 1, City 0
There were no Arab princes sitting with Mark Lawn in the New Meadow directors’ box.
George Gallaway, Bradford’s newest high-profile MP, has grandly promised to use his Middle Eastern contacts and attract big investment for City.
But if there were any money men having a gander in cold and soggy Shropshire, they were keeping a very low profile.
In truth, it was no footballing feast fit for a king.
The afternoon went with the form book as promotion-hunting Shrewsbury stretched League Two’s only unbeaten home record to a 29th game.
For the Bantams, it was a sixth away match in a row without reward.
With Good Friday’s precious three points under their belt, the pressure had been eased to an extent.
And other results again fell kindly, with bottom two Hereford and Macclesfield both beaten. The gap above the trapdoor remains at seven points – with only four games now left.
But City will still feel they could have got something. Unfortunately, like all the other 1-0s of late, there was plenty of huff and puff with no cutting edge.
Phil Parkinson had kept faith with the 11 that brushed aside Southend on Friday. It was the first time he had named an unchanged side for seven months.
Shrewsbury had not lost on home soil since March 1 last year but it was the visitors who had the opening effort on goal, Nahki Wells trying his luck on the skidding surface from Craig Fagan’s lay-off.
As City settled in, Wells showed some neat footwork to elude Shane Cansdell-Sherriff just outside Shrewsbury’s box, only to take a wrong option and run into a host of striped shirts instead of having a shot.
But City’s bright start was wiped out after 16 minutes as Shrewsbury struck from a corner. The Bantams failed to clear Matt Richards’ kick and, after two stabs at it, Jermaine Grandison made no mistake with his second attempt from close range.
Suddenly it became the Alamo in the City box. Mark Wright weaved his way past Lee Bullock’s sliding lunge to force a good save from Matt Duke before blazing over with the rebound.
Then winger Aaron Wildig cut inside the box but Rob Kozluk got across in the nick of time to take the full brunt of his drive, allowing Duke to scoop up the loose ball.
City’s back four were working overtime and Bullock had to whip the ball off James Collins. Then the elusive Wright turned inside Simon Ramsden and beat the far post with a curler.
But the real problems for the visitors were coming down their left flank, where Grandison enjoyed plenty of room to roam free at every opportunity.
City were under the cosh – but suddenly had two good chances to level.
Wells looked to be in on goal after Ian Sharps slipped before Cansdell-Sherriff nicked the ball away just as he prepared to pull the trigger. But that was nothing on the opening that fell to Fagan moments later.
Ramsden’s angled ball into the box was won by James Hanson, who steered it right onto Fagan’s boot barely five yards from goal. He looked certain to score but instead skewed his volley horribly wide with the net gaping.
Ramsden held his head in frustration while the City fans behind that goal simply looked on stunned.
Ritchie Jones was rightly booked for a crunching foul on Joe Jacobson level with the City penalty area. Bullock cleared the initial free-kick, only for Fagan to concede another in exactly the same spot for an equally late challenge on Wright and he was also yellow-carded.
The sting was taken out of the game as half-time approached. Not a bad thing from City’s point of view, allowing the defence to catch their breath after the non-stop shift they had been forced to put in.
But City almost fell further behind in freaky circumstances right on the break. Jacobson’s long free-kick was flicked on by Grandison, Guy Branston got his head to it – and then Duke and City watched anxiously as the ball looped over the keeper and dropped just the wrong side of the post.
It was no great surprise to see Parkinson change things for the second half. Kyel Reid replaced Michael Flynn, to give Grandison something to think about out wide, and Chris Dagnall took over from Wells up front.
Fagan showed an immediate positive intent as Hanson nodded on Kozluk’s free-kick from the halfway line, controlling on his chest before testing the keeper with a well-hit half-volley. And Jones, still with only one City goal under his belt, screwed a low drive wide from 25 yards.
Terry Gornell almost threaded Collins through. Branston was at full stretch to cut out the pass in the City D and then just managed to flick it away from beneath the striker’s feet.
Bullock became the third City name in referee David Coote’s book after nudging over Gornell as he appeared to get goalside in pursuit of Jacobson’s long pass.
City had the chance to break out as Shrewsbury’s free-kick went straight into the wall. Jones made a great run through the middle but Reid failed to pick him out with a poor ball.
Branston wrestled Gornell to the ground 30 yards out but Richards bent the free-kick harmlessly into the away end.
Reid had been quiet since coming on but suddenly got past Grandison to deliver a great cross which just eluded the leaping Bullock in the goalmouth.
The substitute looked to get away again but was halted in his tracks by a thumping tackle from Sharps. City were fuming as nothing was given against the defender.
City were back in desperation mode at their own end after Branston headed an incoming free-kick up in the air. Duke failed to reach it with a punch before Branston managed to clear from right in front of goal.
But the Bantams were still in the game and Hanson caused trouble from a Fagan set-piece. Shrews keeper Chris Neal was fortunate the loose ball dropped within range to grab it after their aerial tussle.
Hanson headed wide from a rare corner as the home fans tried to come to life again. A few nerves were on show from the promotion chasers.
City were cursing another dubious call as Ricky Ravenhill was punished for his challenge on Collins. Duke was equal to Richards’ free-kick and tipped over the bar Indecision from Duke dealing with a long ball caused a few more defensive flutters before Kozluk whacked it away from danger.
Branston caused a roar from the home fans when he seemed to gesture their way. The last thing City need is any more disciplinary hassle, particularly with their Football Association hearing taking place at Wembley today.
Wildig received Shrewsbury’s first booking for a foul on Kozluk, a decision which brought an ironic Hallelujah chorus from the City section.
Reid dashed 40 yards to whip in another ball which Cansdell-Sherriff dealt with at the near post. But once again City had drawn a blank on the road.