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Gary Jones dominates midfield as James Hanson provides finishing touch for Bradford City
Notts County 0, Bradford City 1 (aet)
Managers are fond of saying the season is a marathon and not a sprint but, whatever the length of the race, it helps to get off to a good start.
Dumping a League One side out of the Capital One Cup on their own turf, keeping a clean sheet and six players making impressive debuts was not a bad way for City to open their campaign.
In the closing stages of Saturday’s victory, over 800 jubilant Bantams supporters, having outsung the home fans all afternoon, stood up and waved their arms in unison.
“Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio,” they chanted as the home stands began emptying.
It said everything.
That Phil Parkinson’s men deserved their victory was undeniable.
They stuck to the game-plan and were finally rewarded in the fifth minute of extra-time when James Hanson scored a brilliant winning goal.
Kyel Reid, who was a constant thorn in Notts County’s side, supplied substitute Nahki Wells in space inside the left channel and he showed intelligence to find Hanson.
The big frontman hit a delightful first-time left-foot shot which flew past Bartosz Bialkowski and into the top left corner.
Make no mistake about it, a serious promotion push is the driving force behind Parkinson and his men this season.
Where City lie in the league table in the coming weeks and months is the basis on which Parkinson will be judged.
But it was hard not to feel that this victory will pour confidence into City as they prepare for their League Two opener at Gillingham on Saturday.
Significantly, the new recruits all looked capable of playing pivotal roles this season – and none more so than Gary Jones.
The 35-year-old, who wore the skipper’s armband, would no doubt have awoken yesterday with a few aching limbs.
He ran himself into the ground, playing the entire 120 minutes and covering pretty much every blade of grass.
When Gavin Mahon was withdrawn in the 70th minute, it said much for Jones’ success.
Parkinson also handed debuts to Stephen Darby, James Meredith, Rory McArdle, Alan Connell and Garry Thompson.
Each played their part and, crucially, City’s squad now has depth and key players are still to return.
“It was an honest, hard-working performance but there was quality too,” reflected Parkinson.
“In football you get your rewards when you work as hard as we did and show such discipline. The work ethic was great and I thought fitness-wise we were very good.
“After pre-season, you’re never quite sure what to expect when the season starts but I was delighted. There was certainly plenty to build on.”
Listening to Parkinson speak at Apperley Bridge last week, it felt as if the City boss was almost apathetic towards the League Cup. “Everyone in Bradford knows that the league is the priority this season,” he had said on Thursday lunchtime.
Watching his body language during the game told a different story.
The City manager’s energy burst through his body for the entire 120 minutes, seeping through his pores whenever there was a decision to contest.
At one point during the second half, referee Darren Deadman gave Parkinson a stern lecture after he overstepped the mark, quite literally, once too often from his technical area.
Parkinson will have some dilemmas for Saturday’s trip to Gillingham as not one of his men put a foot wrong.
Matt Duke, picked ahead of Jon McLaughlin , cut a composed figure between the posts.
Darby and Meredith looked similarly assured either side of McArdle and Luke Oliver , who formed a rock-solid central defensive pairing.
Jones partnered Will Atkinson in the middle of the park, Reid and Thompson lined up on the flanks and Connell linked play impressively just behind Hanson.
Keith Curle’s men are rated among the front-runners to win promotion from League One this season. On this evidence they are going nowhere, certainly not up.
The historic old club, who celebrate their 150-year anniversary this season, lacked the kind of cohesion and purpose that characterised City.
Meredith showed a willingness to break forward and support Reid on the left flank during a bright start.
In the sixth minute, Reid crossed dangerously and found Connell, whose strike was deflected out for a corner.
Connell’s nimble footwork and intelligence in possession afforded City a key attacking outlet, with Hanson’s hard-working display keeping the hosts on the back foot.
In the 11th minute, the Bantams went close when Tom Williams clumsily lost possession and Reid took advantage, driving at the heart of the Magpies’ defence before drilling a low shot straight at Bialkowski.
Two minutes later, Thompson forced another corner after some fine footwork allowed him to get in a shot that deflected out.
The hosts gradually steadied themselves and began to enjoy a decent spell of possession but City should have led in the 19th minute.
Right back Carl Regan, who endured a tortuous afternoon at the hands of Reid, played a simple backpass to Emmanuele Smith. Smith allowed the ball to slip under his feet, inviting Hanson to race clear before he drove a weak left-footed shot straight at the keeper.
Three minutes later, the home side came back strongly but Jones did superbly well to block a shot from Mahon.
Moments later, Alan Judge hit a shot from 25 yards which Duke tipped over the bar.
In the 28th minute, City cut the Magpies apart down the left flank when Jones’ superb header allowed Reid to break forward and drill in a cross which was deflected for a corner.
Reid was at the heart of City’s best attacking moves and in the 31st minute he hit a vicious left-foot shot from 25 yards which flew just inches over the crossbar.
Then 11 minutes before the break, Jones made a rare lapse, giving the ball away to Mahon and he set Lee Hughes clear before the danger was cleared.
A teasing cross from Reid then evaded everyone before the hosts lost Smith to injury and he was carried off on a stretcher.
Shortly before the break, Duke made a great save from Alan Sheehan’s powerful strike and the same player then fired up the rebound against a post.
City grew in confidence as the game wore on as County looked increasingly there for the taking.
Hanson picked up a knock but was fine to continue and on the hour mark Regan was booked for bringing down Reid.
Wells replaced Connell, who won rich applause from the City fans, as genuine chances grew scarce. Yet the Bantams could have been condemned to defeat in the closing stages of normal time.
Hughes engineered the space to hit a low shot which Duke well to parry, the rebound falling to Yoann Arquin from inside the six-yard box.
Inexplicably, he hit ball against the bar from point-blank range and that ensured another 30 minutes, with Hanson soon claiming his moment of glory to confirm his worth to Parkinson in the face of growing competition.
Reid then blazed over and Wells almost made the game safe in the second period of extra-time when he saw his shot parried by Bialkowski.
Hughes then fired over when well placed in the closing stages as City held on for a famous victory.