Monday, 24 October 2011

Bradford City 2 Northampton Town 1

With Boston United back at York Street, my attentions turned back to local football and I was racking my brains in the week to remember which prominent Yorkshire grounds I hadn't visited. The list is dwindling, with Leeds United, Bradford City and Hull City the only three League ones I hadn't ticked off. When you factor in all the tinpot non-league ones in recent years, it's been a nice little tour of God's own country.

Bradford and Hull were at home but since payday seemed an age away and I'd just had to buy some shiny, expensive new work shoes in one of those “don't-want-to-but-at-the-end-of-the-day-very-necessary” purchases, I stepped out into the beautiful sunshine and headed to the cheaper option at Valley Parade.

In what is becoming a seemingly weekly occurrence round these parts, the trains were delayed because of some unspecified malfunction. Gangs of scallies roam the railways at night, digging up copper wire, tampering with signals and putting their feet on the carriage upholstery because they have nothing better to do and it forced me to travel to Bradford Interchange rather than the nearer Forster Square. Ho hum.

It did, however, give me chance to stroll through Bradford, which is actually a very nice place – well, at least when the sun is shining on it. For a Saturday, it was eerily quiet though. Valley Parade is a handsome venue too, with the neat Kop and Main stand towering over the rest of the ground, which is a bit shabby in places but still one of the finest in League Two.

I took my chances at the ticket office and asked the nice girl for the best seat she could do, shoving twenty notes in her direction and taking my chances. She did me proud, as I was in the main stand on the half-way line about ten rows back, with a superb view and out of the glare of the low-flying autumn sun.

It was that awkward moment when you find yourself sat amongst life-long City season ticket holders who made no effort to hide their astonishment when looking round to see someone new, different and potentially dangerous seated in their secure enclave. I'm sure they're all very nice, but I did spend the afternoon staring at my shoes and scrolling awkwardly through United Live.

When Bradford games appear on the Football League Show, the ground looks reasonably full. It isn't. The upper tier behind the goal was sparsely populated and I didn't really understand why the one above me was open at all. I counted about ten people sat up there. Of course, City's spectacular plummet from the heady heights of the Premier League and Intertoto Cup ties with Zenit St Petersburg to the cusp of the non-league is well documented and after such a sustained period of misery, you have to credit the fans for turning up at all.

The Bantams had made their customary shaky start to the season and were third from bottom (90 out of 92) at the start of play. Their opponents, Northampton, weren't a great deal better and with a depressing sense of inevitability, the first-half was just dreadful. The standard of League Two evidently hasn't altered much from Boston's five years there and both teams seemed bereft of confidence, creativity and an ability to string more than four passes together. Just as I remember it really.

The home fans, many of whom will remember the times when the country's finest were put to the sword here, seemed to respond enthusiastically to even the most elementary piece of skill, which I found a little sad. Don't applaud the defender for hacking the ball out of play 25 yards from his own goal, it's his job whether he plays in the Champions League or the Sunday League.

It did sum up the slim pickings of the opening 45 minutes though, during which the only opening came when Bradford's Michael Bryan, with a thunderbolt from the blue, rattled the crossbar. The bloke behind me, who was generally annoying, eased his boredom by bellowing at Northampton manager Gary Johnson for straying out of his technical area. I have never understood this – it's not as though stepping over the white line cleverly overcomes some sort of invisible sound shield and means all your players can suddenly hear your instructions. Who cares if he's two feet closer?

The game came to life when Michael Jacobs put Northampton in front with a screamer, which I'd wager home goalkeeper Matt Duke didn't even spot. It was the first time all afternoon I noticed the pocket of away fans crammed into one end of the Midland Road Stand opposite.

But, unlike nearly every home game those around me could recall, Bradford mounted a comeback. Andy Holt handled Bryan's cross and stand-in captain Craig Fagan slotted into the roof of the net after what seemed an age of time-wasting shenanigans from the Cobblers defenders.

Given a fresh lease of life, Bradford surged forward and won it when Kyel Reid swung in an immaculate far-post cross and James Hanson stooped to head in. The ground drew a collective sigh of relief – after all, the three points had taken them to the heady heights of 20th. Happy Days.

Next Match: Boston United are again at home this Saturday, so I shall seek action up here. The fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup is firmly on the agenda. The following week, United travel to Solihull Moors.

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