More revs on the road

Not for the first time since its redevelopment, it would appear the better moments of a City season are taking place away from Valley Parade.

While the two recent last gasp defeats to Bury and Rochdale empathically demonstrated that the traditional home woes are far from resolved, away from home it’s been a different story during the last five months. Although suffering a poor start to the season on the road, since the cruel last gasp defeat at Morecambe during the middle of October only one home team’s supporters, Peterborough, have been able to celebrate maximum points when Bradford City are in town.

There are no obvious reasons why City are finding the consistency on their travels that is lacking at home. The team for Saturday, while altered with TJ Moncur making his debut in place of the injured Matt Clarke and Joe Colbeck in for Kyle Nix, wasn’t any different to what Stuart McCall would have picked for a home match. City play in a similar manner of knocking the ball on the ground and, frustratingly, long that little bit too often. Performances aren’t particularly better and first half’s have been largely non-events, with chances and flowing football at a premium.

City created the three best chances during the first period at Meadow Lane with Willy Topp (twice) and Eddie Johnson going close, but County forced a lot of pressure through aerial bombardment and good wing play which tested the defence. City’s passing was often ineffective and, while Topp had a disappointing game suggesting he may not yet be suited to away games, you can only despair for him as long balls are sent in his direction which just isn’t his game to make something of.

During home games we often only back the team when they’re performing well, away from home the backing was there despite the average performance.

As the whistle was blown on an incident-less half one of the reasons for why City may be performing better away from home became clear. Any one of the other 940 visiting supporters will no doubt agree; this sort of first half showing would have been met with a chorus of boos had it occurred at Valley Parade. There probably isn’t a club in the country who wouldn’t say their supporters get behind the team better in away games, but the more positive mentality of fans at Meadow Lane compared to those around me last Saturday was a refreshing change.

Two minutes into the game a chorus of ‘Stuart, Stuart’ was sung. It isn’t that we don’t sing Stuart’s name during home games, but it’s usually only after City have taken the lead in a match and this is the difference. During home games we often only back the team when they’re performing well, away from home the backing was there despite the average performance.

That support made a notable difference in the second half at Meadow Lane. County came out with their tails up and Scott Loach made a superb save to keep the scores level. The pressure was building but, rather than complain, the level of chanting in our end increased. You could see the impact it had on the players, who began to plan better and attack with purpose. It therefore was a surprise when Ryan Jarvis suddenly put County in front following a mistake by the other impressive Moncur.

Did the booing start? The positive support continued while, on the touchline, Stuart made an inspired tactical switch by bringing on Alex Rhodes for Topp and moving Omar Daley up front with Peter Thorne. Rhodes suffered a bad injury before Christmas and has since found his path to the first team blocked by in-form players, so the winger was keen to make up for lost time and began to stretch County and charge at the fullback. The tide was turning.

Within four minutes of going behind City were level, once again through Throne. Ironically it was Moncur, with a long pass, who set up the chance. Thorne beautifully controlled the ball before unleashing a fierce drive into the bottom corner of the goal. That’s eight goals in ten games for Thorne. Like his predecessor of the number 10 shirt, Thorne’s goals have been occurring more at home than away; but give him a decent chance and the odds are the in-form striker will take it. At this level Thorne, now free from those niggling injuries, is a class act. His deal expires in the summer and hopefully talks will soon be held regarding a new one, before somebody else snaps him up.

Soon after Thorne’s effort, City were celebrating again as Colbeck latched onto a loose ball rolling across the penalty area and expertly fired it home, though this was only half the story of his contribution. A few seconds earlier a City corner had sailed over everyone and was heading to the far corner where the County full back had time to clear, but Colbeck’s quick thinking in closing him down forced a weak clearance to fall straight to Daley. The Jamaican sprayed a great ball over to Rhodes, who charged to the byline before been tackled, forcing the ball into Colbeck’s path.

This was Colbeck’s fourth career goal for City and it’s notable they have all come away from Valley Parade. During home games Colbeck is often a victim of crowd abuse which notably gets to him, but some of his away performances have been brilliant and he was probably City’s man of the match at Meadow Lane.

With City now in front, it was the home player’s whose heads were dropping. There were no chants from the County fans willing their team onto a fight back, showing our problems at Valley Parade are far from unique, and a third quickly followed after Daley played Rhodes through to notch his first City goal with a low finish.

There could have been more; Daley’s superb curling shot from distance was tipped wide by Russell Hoult and Colbeck superbly won possession and laid on a chance for Thorne, only for Hoult to just reach the ball first. Loach was also forced into another spectacular late double save and it was nice, after the previous two games, for there to be no late drama going against City. By the end City were well in control and special mentions must be made for Eddie Johnson and Lee Bullock, who both did really well in winning the midfield battle and setting up chances, and David Wetherall who was back on form.

Just like Nicky Law and Colin Todd before him, it appears as though Stuart is getting an improvement from City on their travels before getting the home form right. With two games at Valley Parade this coming week, the hope is this win will be the perfect platform which City can build on. Neither Rotherham or Dagenham are going to be pushovers, but the aim has to be for City to be sitting in the top half of the table by 5pm Saturday.

There are no guarantees the backing from fans will be positive if things start off badly, so the players need to demonstrate they have the mental ability to handle the pressure of playing for the best supported club in the division and carry on where they left off at Meadow Lane.

City seem able to through the gears and rev it up on the road, let’s hope the engine’s still purring when it’s back at home.