City lack the steam to go the distance against Darlington

If there was a time for Bradford City to win the evening’s clash of promotion chasers at home to Darlington then it was in the opening twenty minutes when the visitors – who has not played since the end of January – looked in danger of being swamped by a bright Bantams side looking to carry on with the three game winning run.

At ninety minutes most City fans were happy with a point.

City’s early flourishes seemed to push through a rusty Quakers side with Peter Thorne looking mobile and enjoying some dominance over Steve Foster and Michael Boulding probing dangerously but the Bantams bluster never found a way through and was met with some aggressive challenges by the visits with Neil Austin and Jason Kennedy both pushing the boundaries of a lenient Referee in Staffordshire’s Tony Bates.

Bates allowed rustic lunges to go in checked and Darlington – either to their credit if you have come down from Durham or not if you like your football matches to contains as much, well, football as possible – played those rules the fullest.

The tackle that ended Omar Daley’s night – and with medial ligament damage perhaps season – was Austin going in my opinion past what should be considered fair but not in Bates’s. Certainly Daley’s being carried off on a stretcher seemed to signify a drop in the Bantams game and the shaking off of the rust of the visitors. A couple of minutes later when Rhys Evans reached to stop a ball going out for a corner and limped back to goal matters were worse.

Evans struggled for the remainder of the game and Luke O’Brien – putting in an uncharacteristicly sloppy if still solid performance – started taking his goal kicks. City went close to scoring when Peter Thorne saw a shot loop off a defender and bounce back off the bar and Michael Boulding seemed shot shy when trying to squeeze between the two big defenders of Durham in the Bantams other chance of note but dominance that had started the game had gone into a game shared.

Nicky Law Jnr and Dean Furman struggled to keep control in the midfield in the second half as the visitors got up to speed and then began to show the reserves of energy they had and while Furman performed manfully once more Law was out battled and shoved out to the left wing for Lee Bullock’s return in the middle.

Darlington’s shift up through the gears showed their freshness over a Bantams team playing another in the march of matches that is League Two but resulted only in a single chance of note – Pawel Abbott forcing a great save out of the hobbling Evans – and some approach play that was snaffled out by a masterful three of Zesh Rehman, Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke.

One can only imagine what Dave Penney – Darlington manager – made of his teams attitude to Evans’s injury which seemed to provoke a series of long range and rather weak shots. Either he told them to play that way or he will have been tearing his hair out at the wastefulness that saw them have 11 shots at goal but only one that could seriously be considered a chance. “Evans has a bad leg”, one could have summed it up, “But he has arms!”

Clarke has an odd time at City. He chunks the ball long to groans but would argue that he is no one’s David Beckham or Glenn Hoddle and that what he does do – superb chance saving tackles and providing strength at the back – he does very well. He was my man of the match tonight for sure and is part of a back four that has gone four games without conceding.

All of which looked unlikely at half time when Lee Bullock was practising saving shots from Barry Conlon and a shirt was being prepared for the number eight to make him number one. Back then very few City fans would not have settled for a point come nine thirty.

A point is what we got.

Darlington face City on a night where promotion breeds excitement

Two weeks and three games ago people were talking about Stuart McCall and City as if this season was a goner after the defeat to Bury. Three games, five goals, nine points and no concessions later and everything in the garden is a bit more rosy.

On Saturday City beat Wycombe to show how serious our promotion credentials are although I’m not really sure why anyone would thing they were not. Come to think of it I wonder how Peter Taylor and the Wycombe fans are handling the 1-0 defeat on Saturday. I wonder if they are going through the same teeth-gnashing and self-abuse that some City fans did after the Bury defeat. I wonder if the people in whatever county Wycombe is in (Buckinghamshire) are so ready to give up on promotion as those City fans were? I wonder if people down there are saying it is time for Peter Taylor to go?

Whatever people around City seem to think about the way things are going the team itself ticks along nicely with a nice blend of aggressive and attractive pay seeing of the absurdly named Chair heads, or boys, or people on Saturday. The inside midfield pair of Nicky Law and Dean Furman looked the business and Steve Jones finally started to do something to suggest that he might not need to be recorded as a third team in any game.

For a month or two Jones looked as integrated into the City team as a pair of tusks next to the trunk on a VW Beetle and if Saturday had been reported as Bradford City 0 Wycombe Wanderers 0 Steve Jones 1 then it would not have been far off the mark but the Irishman seems to know that he can play with the other guys in the striped shirts and is all the better for it. Funny how Jones, Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley all get accused of being greedy or arrogant or not making the right decisions but all three of them are ten times more worth having on the pitch than Bobby Petta ever was.

I keep hearing about Omar’s decision making but he gets involved unlike Petta who made the decisive decision to decide to not get his boots dirty. Two of Jones, Colbeck and Daley will play and while my money would be on it being the latter two I cannot say that I would mind seeing any of them. This says a lot for how a goal and a good performance can turn you around on someone.

Options at the back are more perm four from five but City look strong there too. Paul Arnison looks like being the man to miss out with Graeme Lee coming back in the middle and Zesh Rehman going to right back with Matt Clarke, Matt Clarke’s head that has had to be registered as a new player since its seperation from his body on Saturday and Luke O’Brien at left back. Rhys Evans in goal is an unsung hero.

I worry constantly about the strikers who used to score a hat-trick each, every week and had scored a million goals each at Christmas or at least that are what my memory tells me but it could just be playing tricks on me. I worry because Peter Thorne has not scored in ages but he set up one on Saturday and as long as we are not conceding then we can win games with the odd goal.

Darlington would like the odd game let alone goal. They used to play football matches but these days just turn up to see Referees call games off and as a result will be champions of the Premier League should they win all their games in hand. They last played on Saturday, 31 January and beat Dag & Red but who knows what they will be like after three call offs in a row. They could be a team lacking match fitness maybe? They were in good form before and the break is all very unfair on them to be honest. This is a league about points on the board and they have to come to City and go to Lincoln as well as play Wycombe so 27 games played with 47 points could easily become 30 with 47, or 56, probably not though.

A win for them shoves them back into the play-off picture. A win for us could put us second. All this gunning for promotion, exciting, innt?

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