City 2, Crewe Alexandra 3
It’s not very often that Steve Schumacher is stuck for words.
The chirpy Scouser usually offers an opinion on most things but he was gobsmacked by the reaction of the Valley Parade crowd at the final whistle.
Schumacher experienced his fair share of home lows during three years in a City shirt and he knows the fans can be pretty unforgiving when games haven’t gone their way.
But the present-day Bantams were cheered off with a standing ovation on Saturday – despite surrendering their ten-game unbeaten run.
“That’s a first,” admitted Schumacher, whose goal on his return ultimately proved the difference between the two sides. “I’ve never seen that before in my time here.
“But Bradford are a completely different side. They work very hard as a team and play some lovely football.”
Stuart McCall would rather have collected the points than the compliments but he appreciated the reaction from the stands.
He said: “It’s nice for the players to be clapped off. Everyone’s disappointed to get beaten but they’ve seen the side give everything, create chances and pour forward.
“We did everything we could. Dario (Gradi) will be pleased with the way Crewe defended but there were lots of times when we got round them and through them. There were some terrific performances.”
Schumacher was clearly pumped up to be back at his former club. Having finished second-top scorer for a couple of seasons in his City days, it was not a huge surprise that he should net again.
In the current dilemma of whether ex-players should milk the moment against their old team, Schumacher kept his reaction muted in front of the Kop.
He said: “I’d been thinking about it during the week. Everyone loves to get one over their old team but I didn’t think it was appropriate to rub the fans’ noses in it.
“It’s great to score a goal and I did half-celebrate but this is football and it won’t be long before someone who used to play for Crewe will be scoring against us.”
The foundations for Crewe’s improbable victory were laid by targetman Calvin Zola, whose first-half double took him up to ten goals for the season.
Zola cost £200,000 from Tranmere – a big sum for this division. By the end of the game, Gradi was plotting how to spend the £1million he would soon get for flogging the big African.
By all accounts, he is a hot or cold player. City unfortunately got Zola on a scorching day.
His first goal was reminiscent of Luke Medley’s screamer against Wrexham two years ago.
Nothing seemed on when John Brayford’s throw-in picked him out down the right touchline but Zola let rip with a ferocious first-time half-volley that whistled past Simon Eastwood before he could blink.
The hyper-critical would suggest the young keeper should have reacted in some way but the ball flew like a missile into the far corner.
After tricky winger Joel Grant had rattled the post, Zola cashed in on a defensive lapse to quickly bag his second goal.
Steve Williams should have cleared his lines but coughed up possession and the striker neatly made himself space to fire home from the edge of the box. City could have been forgiven for thinking they were up against Gianfranco Zola ...
The stunned home side needed a response before half-time and when James O’Brien’s volley fell at the feet of Michael Boulding ten yards out, he crashed the ball against the underside of the bar.
But a minute before the break Boulding got it spot on to head in O’Brien’s cross for his third goal in as many games.
With the contest wide open, McCall’s team talk at the interval was centred on winning rather than just salvaging a point.
The stats don’t lie. City had enough chances to have won the next six games: 29 shots on goal, 12 of them on target, and 16 corners. The figures said it all.
Yet Crewe, exploiting the huge gaps left as City poured upfield, could have had more on the break.
Eastwood denied Schumacher’s point-blank header within seconds of the restart. He also saved well from James Bailey and substitute Anthony Elding.
The one he couldn’t keep out after 65 minutes looked to have settled the contest as Schumacher’s drive bounced wickedly in front of the diving keeper and over his hands.
But City, to their credit, did not lie down and responded within four minutes.
Lee Bullock, having his best game by a mile, swept a great pass out to Boulding, whose cross was hooked in Peter Crouch-style by James Hanson.
Scott Neilson had been dropped to the bench after a couple of jaded performances but his arrival on the right wing signalled a non-stop cavalry charge at the Crewe goal.
The chances came thick and fast. Leon Osborne twice, Boulding, Hanson twice – including a header kicked off the line by left back Ashley Westwood – Simon Ramsden, Bullock, Neilson ... forgive me if I missed anyone out but it was impossible to keep up.
And referee Carl Boyeson did City no favours when he ruled that Westwood had handled inches outside, rather than in, the Crewe penalty area as he tussled for a high ball with Neilson.
Neilson said: “His arm was inside but he was standing on the line. It was a shame because the ball was coming straight on my chest and it would have been a good goal-scoring opportunity.”
McCall was furious at the time but simmered down when he viewed the incident again on video.
He said: “You get one glance at it and the linesman was in line. If he’s not sure, then he can’t give it, although you’d think at home that you’ll get those decisions.
“There are a lot of disappointed players in the dressing room because the run has been broken now but we can take a lot from it.
“I usually have a sheet of paper with all the chances written down. I had three sheets just with the attempts in the second half.”
The response from the fans showed just what they thought of it.