Re-introducing Mr Motivator

Michael Flynn’s full time routine of walking around all four stands applauding Bradford City supporters was until last month a constant feature of the campaign. And though the injury picked up against Notts County was bad timing with his contract soon to expire, the team’s subsequent patchy form will have kept the influential midfielder in manager Peter Taylor’s thoughts before this inspirational, goalscoring return.

With the game approaching the third of four minutes of stoppage time and a draw looking to be the result, Flynn broke Barnet hearts and lifted Bantams spirits by quickly hauling himself off the ground – after an initial scrambled attempt had been blocked by visiting keeper Jake Cole – and coolly firing the loose ball into the net, though may have been offside. Flynn had made a shock return to the bench from where he was brought on by Taylor after 59 minutes, with City a goal down and struggling for leadership. He was at the heart of the fightback, and should remain at the heart of City’s midfield for next season.

For in recent weeks Taylor has been able to see Bradford City with Flynn and Bradford City without; and, though others have made a reasonable fist of filling his boots, the extra qualities he brings beyond football ability have been notable by their absence. He may not be the captain, but Flynn is one of the team’s leaders and visibly offers constant instruction and support to team mates, who look to him for guidance. City surely need the playing ability of Flynn next season, and they will also need his courage.

In truth Flynn’s winner was unmerited by City. Barnet arrived at Valley Parade with lingering relegation worries and an impressive away backing, and set about demonstrating that oft-seen lesson of the difference effort really makes. Football is so often about motivation, and for long periods of the game the greater incentive for winning was a more telling factor than respective abilities. Barnet often seem to save their best form for games with the Bantams and looked an accomplished and skillful team for large periods. In contrast, City just didn’t look interested.

Long before Albert Adomah fired the Bees into a 28th minute lead, there were warning signs that purpose was lacking in home efforts. It could be seen in the little things such as limited off the ball running when City had possession, a reluctance to chase lost causes, hesitation when closing down away attacks and laziness of simply hoofing the ball towards the forward line of Gareth Evans, Leon Osborne and Gavin Grant.

Barnet in contrast had energy and greater commitment, attacking with intent and impressing in their on and off the ball movement. Adomah’s goal was stunning, coming after a Bantams set piece had broken down and a quick counter attack, which exposed the high number of claret shirts who’d committed themselves up the field. The ancient but still effective Paul Furlong flicked the ball into the path of Barnet’s always impressive winger – no offence to Bees fans, but how is Adomah still at your club? – who volleyed the ball home. Jon McLaughlin – otherwise in great form again – might have expected to do better.

And though James O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall both came agonisingly close with long range shots either side of the goal, the Bees were good value for their lead at the half time whistle – which surprisingly wasn’t as heavily booed as such occasions typically generate. Just like Tuesday, Valley Parade looked notably empty – way below the “official attendance” announced. Perhaps resignation has taken over outrage; but perhaps more worryingly for the season ticket sales, many have simply had enough and already left.

But slowly in the second half, City began to crawl their way back and the manner they did was the most encouraging. League Two is much about direct football, but City stuck with a passing approach that is more pleasing on the eye and more encouraging than the limited long-ball style endured in recent weeks. Osborne twice blew great opportunities to equalise and frustrated by his over eagerness to dribble into crowded areas instead of looking for a pass, but as Flynn came on the side was switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 and greater fluency resulted.

Barnet sat back on their lead; perhaps aware relegation rivals Grimsby had quickly fallen 3-0 down in the second half of their must-win game with resurgent Torquay, and that they just had to hold on to be mathematically safe. But though City’s efforts weren’t always effective and the game still had a sense it was drifting away, Flynn’s presence seemed to spark greater motivation.

Steve Williams was enjoying one of his best games of the season in terms of distribution and lead well from the back. Threlfall was largely successful in muting Adomah’s threat. Evans continued to demonstrate astonishing levels of commitment, always the spark behind the more threatening attacks. Lee Bullock, arguably City’s best player, rarely wasted possession and made some great tackles.

And the introduction of Luke O’Brien for the disappointing Grant tipped the momentum firmly in City’s favour. Taylor shifted Osborne into a free role behind the front two of Evans and Flynn and the tempo increased further. City weren’t just pressing hard, they were cutting through Barnet with some of the most impressive quick-fire passing moves of the season. One such attack sent Evans charging forwards in a wide position, although his cross was too far ahead of Flynn, the ball was picked up by Luke O’Brien, who lashed home his first ever Valley Parade goal in front of the Kop stand he once cheered the club from when growing up.

The final ten minutes were frantic, the passing continued to be quick and decisive. From one move Flynn could only direct a header straight at Cole, from another Adam Bolder sent a looping header which crashed back off the crossbar. Yet despite being pinned back, Barnet almost snatched a winner when a counter attack set up almost the exact same opportunity as their goal, with Furlong flicking the ball on and Adomah firing across a powerful volley. This time McLaughlin was able to pull off an incredible reaction stop which saw the ball deflect onto the bar. It was the save of the season, bringing memories of Donovan Ricketts in his City prime.

Soon after Flynn struck the winner and what may have been a deserved defeat instead became a highly fortunate win. It’s a win which leaves Barnet still needing to pick up a few more points to be safe – though on this evidence they will be fine – and it’s a win which leaves the Bantams in 14th, and maybe still capable of a top half finish.

More than that, it was a performance which eventually demonstrated the players do have the desire and talent to play for this club, and deserve to be considered when new contracts are decided. For long periods they played at a tempo akin to pre-season, by the end they played as though their lives depended on it.

It’s no surprise who was the catalyst behind the sudden motivation, and who at the end was back in his routine of applauding the fans. He and his fellow super sub should be first in line when new player contracts are handed out.

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