Valley Parade (sorry the Bradford and Bingley Stadium) is always a difficult place to visit but we have a very good record there. This was another hard match which was entertaining and kept you on the edge of your seat in a minor way right until the end. The heavy overnight rain had left the pitch very slippery although there was no problem with surface water and the ball ran true. The wind was blustery and the force had dropped considerably from that overnight but the strange configuration of the stands probably worsened the effect.
AFCB kicked off with one change from the side that started the previous Saturday against Chesterfield in the cup. Igoe, who had five stitches in a shin wound sustained in that match, was not fit to play and was replaced by Marvin Bartley who played in central midfield with Danny moving out wide left. This meant that Robinson stayed in central midfield which for me is vital for the best protection of the back four and he should never be moved away from this role.
For the first twenty minutes or so both sides were particularly wary of each other but both had the intention to attack. We had a couple of corners in quick succession which came to nothing and then Schwan had to make a good save after a fortunate bounce for City although a free kick had been awarded to us. Whilst City had more of the play we looked the more threatening. Connell had a good strike well saved for a corner after good set up play by Robinson who was getting forward more than usual as Bartley was happy to do the sitting role. City had their moments as well. Garry made an awful error but the shot was wastefully wide and Bartley was fortunate that a poor clearance was not punished.
In the 34th minute we went ahead. Robinson broke up a Bradford move and the ball fell to Connell who was alert to the fact that Anton had kept running and swivelled to make a superb pass to him. Robinson was bearing down on the keeper and unselfishly shuffled the ball sideways to Pitman, no doubt having received a shout, for our top scorer to slide it into an empty net from 10 yards.
We briefly gained the ascendancy and produced some good football. Connell and Cummings combined well with good movement. The match also became rather fractious and after a spat between Marvin and City's Flynn ref Mr Haines called the captains together with the two players for a 'chat' to calm things down and also sensibly kept his cards in his pocket. Then just as we were looking to hold on to the lead until half time we conceded. A through ball was placed between Bradbury and Garry for Evans to run from behind Garry and round Schwan, who went down far too early, and again slot into an empty net despite Bradbury's valiant efforts to get back and challenge. In truth we were caught square. 1 - 1 at half time was probably fair although from our prospective disappointing.
The second half maintained the first's pattern of City having most of the play but us looking the more dangerous when we broke. Much of City's ineffectiveness can be attributed to Schwan's superb handling from crosses and corners, not one spill, and also his brilliant dominance of his area. Time and time again he sprinted out to claim the ball on the edge of his area. He also made a few some reasonable saves. Pearce was booked for an accumulation of fouls none of which were unpleasant.
Robinson shot disappointingly well over after good build up play, Bradbury shot wide again after being set up well, Pitman was well wide with another effort and Danny slashed wide from a fairly narrow angle due to lack of composure when a ball back across the box was the better option. Fletch had replaced Connell after 56 mins, merely to give the Bradford defence a different problem to deal with, and Eddie was seen explaining at length to Alan why he had been taken off. Connell had been playing well and was justifiably upset to be taken off but there was no tantrum or the like. It has to be said that Fletch's introduction did allow us to get more of a hold of the match. Schwan sent some huge kicks downfield which were far too big and he needed to throttle back due to the wind's influence.
There were a couple of late scares for us when a move stretched us at the back but Cummings used his experience to time his block well to concede a corner and from that the ball was cleared off the line at the near post. We had noticeably settled for a draw with 5 minutes left and comfortably saw these out.
In general this was a good hard fought draw. City no doubt had the higher percentage of possession but their goal threat was not that high whilst on the break and during our brief moments of dominance we looked the more dangerous. One reason for this is that we now have pace in the side. Mr Haines, the ref, was very fussy with challenges from behind, as Pearce found out, but was more than happy to allow shoulder barges. This caused the home fans to get on his back a bit but he was very consistent in his decision making which is all that can be asked of the ref.
None of our players had poor matches. Garry is not playing as well as he did at the start of the season and perhaps we need Guyett fit as soon as possible to add that bit of competition for places. Marvin used his pace well on a number of occasions to track back and make challenges look far more easy than they actually were but his passing still leaves a lot to be desired. Feeney had a very quiet match as he was well marshalled by the City left back. For my man of the match both full backs were considered as both had solid games but my final choice goes to Shwan Jalal who is looking to be one of the best keepers in the division and I have described above his contribution to the match. Hopefully he won't become too over confident, as he did at times last season, and go walkabouts a la Jimmy Glass.
AFCB: Jalal, Bradbury, Pearce, Garry, Cummings, Hollands, Bartley, Robinson, Feeney, Pitman, Connell
Subs: Thomas, Partington, Goulding, Fletcher (on for Connell, 56 mins)
Phil Nesbitt, Acocks Green