The valley of the thrills

Sat 18 October – Bradford City 2 – 2 Gills

Arguably this was the best performance of the season so far showing many of the qualities needed to mount a promotion push that had been so evidently missing on too many occasions this season. Away to one of the title-favourites the Gills found themselves 2-0 down at the break but pulled back one, were reduced to ten men and yet deservedly equalised. The passion, commitment and bloody mindedness on display mixed with some sustained clever, creative and inventive play and some exquisite finishing by the young lad Jackson made for a thrilling ninety-odd minutes for the 237 Gills fans that made the long trip north despite the recent disasters away from home at Shrewsbury, Aldershot and Exeter.

We were in Bradford soon after twelve after an early start but smooth journey via Leeds. We planted ourselves in a fairly basic pub but it had live football (Chelsea strolling to an effortless 5-0 away win) and home made bacon butties so we weren’t grumbling. When we finally took our seats at Valley Parade they were along the side opposite the main stand. City fans had voted on opening the rather crappy double-decker away end up for home fans and their youngest and nosiest fans appear to have migrated there in an attempt to boost the atmosphere, we weren’t grumbling, our seats were in a steep modern covered stand that afforded a far superior view that before and had good acoustics.
We were soon putting them to the test because the game began brightly in damp conditions with both sides going for it. Mills and Nutter (twice) both went close early on, suggesting that the Gills were determined to set the pace, Royce was forced into action after ten minutes pushing a Daley shot round the post. Still is was against the run of play when City took the lead (21). King was very harshly adjudged to have fouled Boulding and whilst we were still chuntering grumpily about such a ludicrously soft decision City were taking full advantage, Furman nodding the subsequent set piece against the post and Thorne reacted the quickest to a helpful rebound and drilled home. This was a blow, but for once the away fans could sense the Gills were not going to just crumble and kept some enthusiastic vocal backing going, so credit to both the players and the fans. City were one of the better teams we’ve encountered thus far in League Tow but they did allow us to play which made for a game full of attacking play, chances and attractive football.

The Gills continued to boss large chunks of the game but without creating too many clear cut openings, Bradford’s efforts were more sporadic but another set-piece did cause havoc and Royce was called on to save excellently from Thorne. We were just about ready to go in at the break bemoaning the unjust scoreline of losing 1-0 when City scored again. It did involve some smart inter-play from the home side but some of the defending by Bentley and his chums left a lot to be desired, McLaren fed Colbeck into space and the smashed the ball across Royce and into the far corner from an acute angle. 2-0… Oh dear, 1-1 would have been about right. It looked like being the same old story but thankfully the Gills would show a bit more backbone this time, not to mention the striking talents of Jackson who would shove some of the more pathetic moans, groans and grumbles directed at him by some of the more ignorant Gills fans right back down their stupid throats.

The second half began like the first with the Gills creating chances, Weston fluffed the first but six minutes in Jackson scored a typical goal. The ball was played in, headed on twice into the box, Barcham challenged for it with a defender and the ball fell to the ever lurking Jackson to clip neatly into the left hand corner of the net. Game on! Seven minutes later though and it looked like it wasn’t going to be our day. Bentley receiving a straight red card for a rather reckless two footed challenge in midfield. Now he won the ball, the City player was not injured and to his credit did not make a big deal of it, given the slippery conditions a yellow card would have sufficed but it was rash and I can’t say I was surprised our appeal failed. A tad harsh but a risky thing to do.

At that point we were all a little deflated, and the team went a little flat, Royce did well to deny Thorne but otherwise City looked content to keep us out rather than going for a killer third which the 12,000 fans did not appear to appreciate. With twenty minute left the Gills appeared to get a second wind, and began to get on top again, City got nervous and the chances came along but were spurned, some great work by Barcham out on the wing came to nowt, a Jackson cross just eluded Mulligan, and Jackson fired just wide after some fine play by Southall. You could sense the change in momentum and you knew Jackson would get one chance, the question being would he be able to take it?

Gloriously the answer was a resounding yes, with six minutes left a long clearance by Bradford down field was headed back into their half, McCammon then nodded on again, and the ball was flicked into the path of Jackson, he zig-zagged his way past one sliding challenge, held off another before slamming the ball unerringly into the net like the natural goal scorer he most undoubtedly he is. The one sour note being the malicious late challenge by the City defender from behind as Jackson lashed the ball in. It should have brought a red card and an end to the afternoon for the City defender in question rather than the injured Jackson which would cause him to miss the Notts County game.

We danced around in the away seats, it is once thing to beat poor teams at Priestfield or mug Darlo in a poor match, but to come back from 2-0 down and equalise with ten men showed the sort of stuff required if the team want to target the play-offs. The final moments were not without alarm though, five minutes of injury time set alarm bells jangling and in the fifth and final one a slice by Weston and an airshot by Nutter allowed Colbeck time and space to smash the ball at goal but Royce did brilliantly to palm the ball round the post. From the corner Lee headed the ball resoundingly against the bar, it was still shuddering when Topp skied the rebound and that was that.
Well a point was the least we’d deserved from our performance, Jackson’s goals had caught the eye but King was a superb man of the match. We headed back to the train station in high spirits, not because of the result, it was only a point, but more for the way the whole team had performed. Nowhere near the finished article but definitely progress which after the year we’ve had is all we ask for. The trip home was a drunken noisy party with the odd surreal moment thrown in when I found myself sitting opposite Carole Thatcher in the bar at Leeds station whilst she downed about half a pint of white wine in two minutes before rushing off to catch our train back to London. Plenty of banter and a good old sing-song ensued, it was like the good old days which many of us miss on our travels. Perhaps our campaign is going to get going but we still need lady luck to smile on us which doesn’t include harsh red cards and injuries to our top scorer…

Champagne Moment:- Well when Jackson scored. We went mental in the away seats, and the players looked nearly as happy as us and they were sober.

The Entertained Binman.

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