Sunday, 11 December 2016

Bradford City 0 v 0 Charlton Athletic

Saturday 10th December 2016
Football League One
Valley Parade, Bradford
Admission: £20.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 17,968 (618 away fans)
Match Rating: 3

Today I decided to make my second visit to northern England in consecutive weekends, this time I was attracted by the opportunity of visiting a new ground following my team Charlton. Following Charlton has not been an enjoyable experience during the past couple of seasons, with a toxic atmosphere off the pitch fuelled by constant PR disasters by the current Belgian owners, and mismanagement on the pitch. Indeed, watching them away at Bury on the opening day of this season was a particularly depressing experience. But a visit to Valley Parade had been on my wish list for some time and so I booked a seat on the club coach, albeit with some fear of travelling a long way to watch my team lose.

Valley Parade is situated just to the north of the city of Bradford and is tucked in amongst residential housing on one side of a valley. It is a rather strange ground in that half of it is mightily impressive and would be fit to host Premiership football, whilst the other half is more suited to hosting lower league football. Very tall, two tiered stand stretch along about two thirds of one length, around the corner and behind one of the goals, although the two stands have slightly different layouts. With a steep banking of rows and no obstructing pillars, presumably the views are excellent from those areas. Along the other length is a shorter, modern all-seater single tiered stand, whilst behind the other goal, there is a double-decker stand, which is allocated to away fans and is rather cramped inside and has quite large obstructing pillars along the front of the upper tier which can obstruct one’s view, which is otherwise good. Before entering the stadium, it is worth pausing at the Valley Parade Fire Memorial, listing the names of those who lost their lives during the tragic events of May 1985.

This promised to be a tough game for Charlton, with Bradford unbeaten at home, winning five and drawing five of their ten home games, and came into this game in fourth place in the division, with 35 points from 20 games. After being unbeaten in their opening 15 games in all competitions, they won two and lost two of their last four league games, as well as losing two cup games. Following relegation from the Championship, Charlton were struggling in the bottom half of the table under Russell Slade before he was shown the door, caretaker manager then steadied the ship with two wins and a draw from the three league games under his stewardship, before former MK Dons manager Karl Robinson was appointed a couple of weeks ago, this being his second game in charge after a 0-0 draw at home to MK Dons in the FA Cup last Saturday. They came into this game in 10th place in the division, with 27 points from 19 games, although they are only two points adrift of a play-off berth. They have only lost one of their last eight league games. Perhaps surprisingly, today would be the first fixture between the two teams at Valley Parade since 2001 when they met in the Premiership and current manager Stuart McCall lined up in Bradford’s midfield.

I travelled to this game in fear of witnessing a dire defeat for my team, particularly as injuries and illness would deprive the team of some first teamers, but in reality, I came away pleased with a point and delighted with a performance that perhaps merited all three. Bradford started the game the stronger, and Charlton were not helped when their centre back Jason Pearce went off injured after just two minutes, but Charlton soon came into the game and on 13 minutes, came agonisingly close to opening the scoring. Josh Magennis, who was perhaps man of the match who showed some great touches, excellent close control and was penetrating in attack, received the ball at the edge of the area, took a couple of touches to evade a defender to send a low left footed shot across the keeper and the ball smacked off the inside of the post and ran along the goal line. They hit the woodwork again within a couple of minutes, Jordan Botaka showed some good footwork heading into the right side the penalty area before firing a powerful shot over the keeper, but the ball came back off the top of the crossbar. Magennis then saw a looping header land on the roof of the net, whilst on the half hour, he received the ball from a pull back 12 yards out, and although he had time to pick his spot, his goalbound shot was hacked away by defender Stephen Darby. Bradford did have their chances too, with young keeper Dillon Phillips saving a low cross-shot well. But as the scoreline remained goalless at the break, I feared that Charlton would be punished for not taking at least one of their chances to take the lead, as Bradford would surely up their game after the break.

Indeed, Bradford were better after the break, although there were fewer goalscoring chances for the most part. Botaka saw a powerful strike from 25 yards well saved low to the keeper's left, Bradford's Hiwula unleashed a shot from a similar distance went just wide of the post, and Bradford forced Phillips into a couple of very good saves. Either team could have won it, but as the game entered four minutes of stoppage time, Charlton's Patrick Bauer was sent off for a second yellow card when he got his body in the way as a Bradford attacker looked to run through on goal. But Charlton saw the game out to claim a valuable and unexpected point away from home from one of the better teams in the division. Normally I would come away disappointed from a goalless draw, but quite the opposite, this was a most entertaining game of football, with plenty of effort from both sides, some good goalscoring chances, and with the outcome in the balance right to the end. I certainly left feeling more optimistic about Charlton's future under the leadership of Karl Robinson, who speaks well, seems to be infectious with his optimism, and it was pleasing to see the team approach a difficult looking away match with a positive frame of mind, not looking to defend for long periods and hope for best on the occasional break.

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