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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 27/10/01
Bradford City
Half of an impressive arena
By Andy Stocks

I can't quite put my finger on why, but Bradford is a trip I always like to make. I've never seen us get a point up there - in fact, I seem to remember reading that it's a place where we've never won (Matt, where are you when I need you!). So if the outlook wasn't too good, at least the weather was. It's not good enough that we always lose, but we usually get cold, wet or a combination of the two.

The past few years has witnessed quite a transformation of Valley Parade. Just three years ago the two side stands were small single-tiered affairs, the home end was temporary and open to the elements and the away end was, well, exactly the same as it is now. Some things don't change, the away fans are usually the ones to get stuck in the pokey stands. Half of the ground has been transformed into an imposing and impressive arena. A two tiered stand, arching round to incorporate the corner, this stand really is a modern creation. Yet the rest of the stadium reminds us that Bradford isn't quite the finished product. Their two seasons in the Premiership has left them with half an impressive stadium and a wage bill to match. Their squad may now be lacking a few star names, but still has several experienced players on the wrong side of thirty. They may be languishing in the bottom half of the Division One table, but then so are we. On our day we are good enough to beat anyone in this division, so Bradford are not a team to be underestimated, even if we did beat them 4-1 three weeks prior to this encounter.

There I was chatting to some familiar faces in the crowd, looking around to see which other familiar faces I could see, when I remembered that I perhaps better look at the players warming up and see who was playing. "This is odd," I thought, "There's a few faces I don't recognise". Then I looked around to see if I could work out who wasn't playing. No Gayle (not too surprising), no Noble (slightly surprising), no Gifton (surprising), no Hyde (absolutely flabbergasting). I had heard nothing of injuries to Hyde, Gifton and Noble. Conspiracy theories ran riot. Had Noble gone back to Arsenal? What on earth was happening?

Then, just to confuse the travelling support even more, when the teams came out to start, Watford were in RED! RED - we were in our reserve away kit, full red. As if that wasn't enough to confuse us, we were wearing the now old-fashioned, traditional one-to-eleven shirt numbers. Squad numbering had vanished, so for one heart stopping moment I thought that we had sold Micah Hyde and given his squad number to Gary Fisken. Sanity returned and I realised what was going on. Phew.

So, forgetting about those that were missing, we lined up with a now familiar 3-5-2 formation but with players in unfamiliar positions. Galli, Issa and Cox make up the back three. Robbo, Glass, Fisken, Hughes and Blondeau across the middle with Smith and Helguson up front. Robbo and Blondeau appeared to assume the wing back positions, but it was a little confusing, especially down our left side. Glass and Robbo appeared to exchange positions frequently.

Almost immediately it was clear that we were lacking the assurance of Micah in midfield. You don't quite appreciate what you've got until it's gone. Micah has the ability to make space and time where there appears to be none. Without him we looked rushed and harassed in our passing. Despite that, we won an early free kick just outside Bradford's box. Glass curled it, but Walsh saved low with ease.

Then, six minutes into the game, Robbo failed to clear deep in our own left corner, Halle collected the ball and crossed an excellent curling ball to the far post. Etherington, on loan from Tottenham, arrived completely unmarked to open the scoring with a firm header. Schoolboy stuff really, the wing-back should have tracked his run.

We did have our own chances, mainly coming from Tommy Smith. In the nineteenth minute, he went on another of his trademark mazy runs, cut inside from the right and curled a left footed shoot narrowly wide of the far post. In the twenty-fifth minute, Etherington, again in space, received another cross from their right, this time Baardsen parried the ball away. In fact, my notes tell me that Etherington was given space on a number of occasions in the first half. He was impressive.

Our passing was not as slick as it has been. It's frightening how quickly we've come to rely on Noble and Hyde for our creativity from midfield. Bradford were well drilled, tenacious and effective. We were given no time on the ball. We looked flustered and pressured. Despite that, there weren't many clear-cut chances for either side. However, Bradford did increase their lead on the thirty-eighth minute. Halle got down the right, then squared to ball across the box, which eventually arrived to Jess who side footed home from fifteen yards out.

Half-time was a welcome reprieve - surely Vialli would make changes, if not in personnel, then surely in formation. Something needed to be done, we looked ineffective and incapable of creating many chances. A notable exception was Tommy Smith. Anything exciting and creative appeared to stem from him. Together with Helguson, he worked tirelessly and attempted to make the most of the few chances they received.

The second half started and Bradford increased their lead within two minutes, Eoin Jess getting his second of the game. I had that sinking feeling. We were looked beaten. Drastic measures were called for. A triple substitution was made - off came Galli, Fisken and Glass; on came Vega, Wooter and Jason Norville. The latter was making his debut.

Almost immediately it added urgency to our play. Norville, despite being slight in build, possessed considerable pace and was clearly out to impress. He created a chance for Smith, but it came to nothing. Then, in the sixty-third minute, Norville raced down the right and appeared to mis-kick a cross that went straight to Helguson, who smashed the ball home. But Eoin Jess completed his hat-trick soon after. Yet another defensive mix-up allowed Jess to receive the ball at the back post and he headed home.

That may have been the end of it, but Watford looked mad now. We started to really charge at the opposition and it scared them. Heidar Helguson, who had a good game, received the ball just inside the Bradford half, turned tightly, which created space for himself to thread the ball through to Tommy Smith, who ran on and beat Walsh at the near post with a powerfully hit shot.

A few minutes later, Norville raced through into the box. He was clearly pulled back by Wetherall and and the ref gives a penalty. It's the sort of decision that is so often not given, but there was clearly holding going on, so the decision was justified. Tommy Smith sends the keeper the wrong way and suddenly it's 4-3 and we're in with a chance.

We're now ploughing forwards at every opportunity. Cox has two free kicks - one is saved, the other goes a whisker wide. Wooter has a right-footed curling shot comfortably saved, then the comedy begins. A very young, possibly pre-pubescent streaker (he kept his boxers on - sorry, ladies) ran onto the pitch. Someone that skinny and pale really should not be showing himself off in public. Shortly afterwards, Issa was clearly pushed in the box when he was up for a corner, but the referee didn't see it.

Blondeau then behaved in a petulant and foolish manner. His frustration lead him to chop down Etherington as he passed him. This following a first yellow for throwing the ball away earlier on in the game, and the referee was left with no option. Certainly, there were no complaints from the travelling fans. He was foolish.

We have a couple of other attacks, but with no end product. Final result 4-3 to Bradford. I can't really complain with that, they just about deserved it. They showed more urgency than we did, yet I can't help but think that the three points were there for the taking. We showed enough in the last half hour to show that we could out play them - in fact, I imagine we had more shots than they did, but I'd have to consult the match stats to be sure. Why did we wait until we were 4-1 down? Why can't we play like that from the start? Well, I only wish I had the answer to that. Over to you, Mr Vialli.