TONY McMAHON may love to joke that team-mate Charlie Wyke is “too thick” to be fazed by the pressure of being Bradford City’s goal-scoring talisman.
But the striker, like McMahon a product of Middlesbrough’s youth Academy, proved there is nothing wrong with either his intuition or footballing intelligence when netting a first hat-trick in Bantams’ colours.
Wyke underlined why Stuart McCall was so keen to spend £250,000, the club’s biggest transfer fee since their brief stint in the Premier League around the turn of the Millennium, on bringing the 24-year-old south from Carlisle United last January.
A keen sense of anticipation brought the opening goal on 14 minutes, while his second-half double owed much to not only brawn but also brains as Wyke once again ensured he was in the right place at the right time to convert two wonderful deliveries from out wide.
For a striker who spent five weeks on the sidelines after tearing a calf during pre-season, a third career hat-trick was the perfect way to reintroduce himself to an appreciative Valley Parade crowd and justify Wyke’s pre-match belief that it was going to be his day.
“I actually had a feeling when I woke up that I would score a few goals,” said Wyke, clutching the match-ball for a third time in as many seasons after previous hat-tricks for Carlisle United against Welling and Mansfield Town.
“I just felt good. I have been staying in a different hotel for a few weeks but everything just felt right. Mind, when I was on two goals the (fourth official’s) board came up with number ‘9’ on it and I actually thought I was coming off.
“Omari (Patrick) was stood on the touchline but it was their lad being subbed. The gaffer was screaming at me, saying: ‘Get back on the pitch’. It was a relief and, thankfully, I got the hat-trick, in the end.”
Wyke’s importance to City was vividly illustrated in the four months that followed his arrival from Cumbria.
After netting on his home debut against Gillingham, the Middlesbrough-born striker went on to find the net seven times in his first 13 starts. During that run, the Bantams lost just twice and claimed 23 points.
I actually had a feeling when I woke up that I would score a few goalsBradford City’s Charlie Wyke
Wyke’s end to the campaign, however, was less impressive with his final six appearances failing to yield a goal. With a goalscorer who had been likened to Bradford legend Bobby Campbell thanks to those early displays suddenly out-of-sorts, McCall’s men also struggled.
Just five goals were scored during a run that included a trio of play-off games, and three of those had come in a comfortable victory over a poor AFC Wimbledon.
One man in no doubt as to the integral role Wyke has at Valley Parade is McMahon, now City’s longest-serving player after a summer that saw a host of departures in the wake of the disappointing 1-0 loss to Millwall at Wembley.
“Charlie is massive for us, especially in terms of how the gaffer wants to play and the way we set up,” said the 31-year-old. “At the start of the season, we missed him massively. That is no disrespect to Dominic Poleon or Omari (Patrick) but when we get wide and whip balls in, it isn’t their game to get on the end of headers. For Charlie, though, that is his game.
“He makes us tick, by holding the ball up and linking the play. He is huge for us.”
Asked if being the club’s goalscoring talisman had weighed heavily on Wyke during the final weeks of last season that culminated in missing out on promotion, McMahon said: “Nothing fazes him – he is just too thick to let it affect him.
“No, seriously, he just gets on with it. He works his socks off in training, constantly working on his finishing and heading. And everything clicked against Bristol Rovers, not just in terms of how he held the ball up but his running down the channels. He was a constant nuisance for their defenders.”
That final comment neatly sums up Wyke’s afternoon before being forced to withdraw with cramp 12 minutes from time. Rovers’ defence, without Tom Lockyer and Ryan Sweeney due to international duty, had an afternoon to forget in West Yorkshire as their vulnerability in the air was exposed time and time again.
Wyke’s first goal came via a sweet left-foot volley after the striker had ghosted into the six-yard box to meet Romain Vincelot’s flick-on from McMahon’s corner but it was far from the only time that the Pirates’ backline looked all at sea.
Either side of the opener, Vincelot and Nicky Law both wasted golden opportunities to score when found unmarked by McMahon’s pinpoint delivery from corners.
Law then fluffed another effort after the break before Wyke’s towering leap above the flat-footed visitors from another corner from McMahon doubled City’s advantage just after the hour. “I am on an assist bonus and he is on a massive goal bonus, so we are all happy,” joked the full-back afterwards.
Wyke’s hat-trick duly arrived 17 minutes from time, the striker this time heading in at the back post from a wonderful cross by Jake Reeves.
Billy Bodin did reply late on with a close-range finish after Tom Nicholls had hit a post but there was no way Bradford were going to be denied a deserved three points that delighted manager McCall.
“That was without doubt our most complete performance of the season so far,” he said. “From back to front, we were excellent.”