SOME THINGS are just meant to be. On a night when Bradford City remembered club legend Bobby Campbell, manager Stuart McCall – and legions of Bradfordians too – got their wish on the pitch.
It arrived courtesy of a headed 56th-minute winner in classic centre-forward fashion from James Hanson – in the best traditions of the club’s record goalscorer Campbell, who sadly died last week.
McCall had spoken before the game that his ideal scenario was for Hanson – a player whose cause was regularly championed by Campbell – to provide the decisive moment by way of a trademark header. Someone must have been listening.
It meant that the Bradford manager was able to toast his one-time team-mate with a victory beer after the match. A fair few others of a claret-and-amber persuasion will have no doubt joined him.
After spurning two opportunities from Campbell range in the first half, Hanson finally had his moment when he leapt highest to head home a lob back into the danger area from the lively Mark Marshall – a strike of which City’s cult hero would have approved.
This said, it was not the only head-turning intervention from a big, rugged striker, with a bullet header from Alex Revell looking like putting the Cobblers undeservedly on terms with 20 minutes to go only for Colin Doyle to make a remarkable one-handed parry.
But Bradford were not to be denied and it was their night on a poignant occasion.
A video montage of many of Campbell’s most revered moments were shown on the big screen ahead of the game with a minute’s applause following in the ninth minute to coincide with his shirt number – and City did him proud.
Midfielder Josh Cullen had spoken about Bradford doing Campbell justice and they did just that with the narrow margin of victory belying the fact that this was a pretty emphatic 1-0.
The victory may not have been as sweet as the one on the previous occasion when these sides met, in the League Two play-off final at Wembley in May 2013.
But it was well received all the same, especially after a rare slip-up in Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Southend.
Hanson, a scorer at the home of football, was never far away from the action and he proved a leading figure in the first period although he did share centre stage with referee Chris Sarginson.
Controversy reigned just after the half-hour when Hanson went down in the box under pressure from Cobblers goalkeeper David Cornell after he spilled a low cross from Marshall, but Sarginson was unmoved.
The official then left home fans even more aghast just before the break, standing firm when Marc McNulty went down following Gabriel Zakuaini’s last-ditch tackle.
The referee indicated that the defender got a touch to the ball.
Bradford had ramped up the pressure in the lead-up to the interval, with Josh Cullen going close with a deflected low shot, while the early sparrings were all about Hanson.
The striker was presented with two chances from Campbell distance to break the deadlock, with it no doubt not lost upon McCall that Northampton were fielding a new central defensive partnership and a goalkeeper making his club league debut.
Hanson glanced a fifth-minute effort wide when well placed before heading straight at Cornell 10 minutes later, with the clear instruction being for City to pepper the goal with crosses.
Going forward, the visitors had just two moments in isolation, with Revell’s shot blocked by Doyle in the opening minute, while Sam Hoskins drilled wide in a rare counter-attack.
Bradford continued to boss proceedings on the restart with McNulty and Haris Vuckic having half-chances before Nicky Law’s rasping strike flew inches over.
The pressure eventually told with Hanson powering in a header from close range as Northampton finally cracked following Marshall’s assist.
Marshall went close to a second as CIty dominated, before the hitherto underemployed Doyle earned his keep with a splendid reaction save to deny Revell.
Substitute Marc Richards then headed wide before Marshall went close to a relieving second.
A limited Northampton side increasingly threw caution to the wind late on – with a Richards effort ruled out for offside – but the hosts stayed strong to keep pace with the top two.
Bradford City: Doyle; Darby, Vincelot, Knight-Percival, Meredith; Vuckic (Morais 66), Cullen (McArdle 87), Law, Marshall; Hanson, McNulty (Hiwula 80). Unused substitutes: Sattelmaier, N Clarke, Devine, Kilgallon.
Northampton Town: Cornell; Moloney, Zakuani, McDonald, Buchanan; Anderson (Potter 87), McCourt (Hanley 66), O’Toole, Taylor; Hoskins (Richards 66), Revell. Unused substitutes: Smith, Gorre, Beautyman, Phillips.
Referee: C Sarginson (Staffordshire).
Results and latest tables: Page 22.