Cheltenham 4 City 5
Referee Grant Hegley was probably the only man in Cheltenham who could have seen this one coming.
City’s whackiest result for five years since they won by the same score at Tranmere.
And the official in charge that day? The same Mr Hegley of Northamptonshire.
No wonder he kept his cards in his pocket all afternoon. He was enjoying the score-fest too much to risk spoiling the fun.
It was almost inevitable that City should end their four-game goal drought by suddenly blasting them in at will. It’s afternoons like Saturday’s that make football worth watching.
Amazingly, City went goal-crazy minus their two leading strikers. Peter Thorne joined Michael Boulding on the bench – along with Chris Brandon, their best player in the last two games.
Brandon had missed training ill but McCall hinted afterwards that he would probably not have played anyway.
Easier to say in hindsight, maybe, but a bold decision nonetheless.
McCall put his trust in youth – and a side that contained only three players who had scored for the club, Joe Colbeck, Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien.
At 28, Bullock and Michael Flynn were the grand old men in a team with an average age of five years younger.
A complete contrast from the days of Paul Jewell’s Dad’s Army. The cost of assembling those players was very different too.
McCall, quite pointedly, remarked that this was probably the cheapest City side in recent memory.
James Hanson was promoted to the frontline with keen support on both flanks from Gareth Evans and Colbeck.
Brandon’s absence in midfield created an opening for James O’Brien, the cocksure Irish youngster who had made quite an impression in pre-season.
He didn’t need long to make his mark on Saturday – less than two minutes.
Evans roasted right back Drissa Diallo, for the first of many occasions, and though his cross was knocked clear of the waiting Colbeck, it fell perfectly for O’Brien to lash home. His first touch of his first start and his first goal.
But that was a mere starter for the frolics that followed. Every time City scored, Cheltenham would quickly respond.
Elvis Hammond notched the first reply straight from the kick-off with the visitors still celebrating breaking that scoring duck.
But the lead was instantly restored as Evans left Diallo for dead from Luke O’Brien’s pass, cutting inside with menace before firing into the bottom corner.
This time the advantage held for three minutes before Michael Townsend outjumped Zesh Rehman to nod Cheltenham’s second. Ten minutes gone, four goals already.
It was like a human version of an X-box game; strikers using their LT/RT buttons to outwit stumbling markers. There were clearly more goals on the way.
Joe Colbeck’s dangerous cross was shuffled behind for the game’s opening corner. James O’Brien put it just where he’d been told on the training ground and Hanson’s head did the rest.
City threatened with every attack; Cheltenham with every set-piece. The long throw-ins, a trademark of a Martin Allen side, were proving a handful as well as David Hutton’s free-kicks.
The pressure brought a third equaliser three minutes before half-time, Justin Richards netting with a clever overhead after City were penned in by another throw.
A level scoreline at the break was harsh on City. Given previous results, it presented a real test of character.
“The lads were a little bit down as they would be,” said McCall. “But we stayed positive because we knew that if we kept going forward, we would create chances.”
So it proved. Within five minutes, Hanson peeled off the back to knock back Simon Ramsden’s free-kick and Steve Williams rammed home the header to become the fourth “new” City scorer.
Surely City couldn’t let it slip again?
Cheltenham had a shout for a fourth ruled out for a barge on Simon Eastwood before Ramsden nicked the fifth with a header that was diverted home via the unwitting Townsend.
Now it looked a question of just how many the visitors could rack up. James O’Brien was inches away from another following more awful defending and keeper Scott Brown needed a quick recovery to deny Colbeck after miscontrolling a back pass.
But it wouldn’t be City without a late scare or two and Richards kept it interesting when he forced home his second goal with time ticking away.
The three minutes added on provided a few further palpitations but City hung on for their memorable victory.
A drained McCall laughed: “It was the game I predicted all along – a tight 1-0!
“It’s no good for the heart – or our kitman – but this was a huge result.
“But that was the youngest, and certainly cheapest, team Bradford have put out for a long time and I’m really proud of them. There were a lot of young kids playing but they stuck together.
“You might get wrong decision-making with younger lads but you get that extra pace and energy.
“There was a determination in training on Thursday and Friday to get back on track and we’ve done that.
“There’s a lot of work still to do in certain areas but I’m absolutely delighted for the players.”
Cheap and very cheerful.