SPORTING a distinctive shiner just above his left eye, no-one could accuse Nathaniel Knight-Percival of not looking the part.
Looking more like a boxer than a League One footballer, the Bradford City defender – who sustained a black eye in Tuesday’s game at Oxford – was thrown into a bout with Rotherham United’s Kieffer Moore, a more towering and physically-honed specimen you would struggle to find, four days on.
On the day, Knight-Pervical possessed the fighter’s heart to win that particular battle on a derby afternoon when Bradford were simply not to be moved.
Even on the one occasion that Knight-Percival was not taking care of Moore, he could count on central defensive colleague Matt Kilgallon to watch his back.
It arrived by way of a quite brilliant hooked goalline clearance in the 26th minute to deny six-goal Moore from helping Jon Taylor’s effort into the net.
That moment underlined City’s iron-clad, unstinting defensive resolve on an afternoon when their reward was a first victory over the Millers in eight attempts and just a second clean sheet of the season.
For the Millers – undone by Romain Vincelot’s third goal in successive games – they could look back on a second-half when they penned Bradford in for significant spells.
But, ultimately, they lacked a touch of sophistication and with Moore being well-shackled, they struggled to find a Plan B. The sporadic defensive lapses in concentration which have pockmarked their otherwise sound start to the season also came to the fore once more.
On a day that horse racing’s final classic of the season was staged in Yorkshire, there were hopes of a thoroughbred White Rose afternoon at Valley Parade between two of League One’s form horses, who had been scoring goals aplenty of late.
As is often the case in these sort of contests, more especially in finely-poised derbies, defensive pragmatism is often more important than polish.
Knight-Percival said: “It was a tough game. There were a lot of long balls put up to us and it was to be expected.
“It was a derby game and they had a big lad up front (Moore). It is what you expect.
“It kept us busy. It is nice to be in a battle with someone. It is what we thrive on and good to come out on top.
“I have not marked too many like that. It is just about getting on top of your man on the day. Me and Killa kind of did that.
“Killa did amazing for us with the clearance. He is such an experienced player. You can sort of expect that from him.
“The lads won a lot of headers and first and second balls. Everyone defended from the front. It was superb team effort.
“Doyley (Colin Doyle) made some really good saves and came out for a lot of good crosses for us and it takes a lot of pressure off us as a back four.”
The decisive – and milestone – moment arrived on 21 minutes when Vincelot’s goal-scoring penchant showed itself again with a smartly-directed downward header following Tony McMahon’s cross from the right.
It represented City’s first goal against the Millers in seven games – encompassing just under nine-and-a-half hours of action.
As well-taken as the goal was, it was avoidable from a defensive perspective as Vincelot ghosted in unchecked into the centre of the Millers area.
Bradford proved far more alert not too long after when Kilgallon made his remarkable clearance to deny Moore after Taylor’s initial shot was blocked by Doyle.
City had the edge in the first half without hitting the heights of their previous home display against Bristol Rovers, with Dominic Poleon spurning a good chance to double their tally before the break, only for Marek Rodak to deny him.
A fixture that has possessed all the spice of a feisty Vindaloo over the years – more especially when manager Steve Evans was around in the Millers dug-out – this particular instalment was a touch tamer in comparison and did not register as high on the Scoville scale.
Ultimately, it was Bradford who kept their heads.
The Millers, seeking another episode of Happy Valley after winning their previous three matches at BD8, posed questions on the restart, but found City’s backline in indomitable mood.
When they did get through, they found a goalkeeper in commanding form with Doyle grasping Richie Towell’s deflected low drive before beating out a firm shot from the same player, with Knight-Percival blocking Lee Frecklington’s follow-up.
Nicky Law spurned a chance to make the game safe against his old club when he lost his footing in front of goal, but one goal was enough as City produced a supreme case example of how to see out a game.
The Millers’ frustrations were compounded late on when Joe Mattock received his second yellow card for a needless touchline challenge on Alex Gilliead.
Millers chief Paul Warne said: “Any defeat is frustrating. I thought we did enough for a point, I did not think there was much between the two teams.
“We just needed the ball to drop to us, things did not really drop for us. I am not saying we missed chances, but Tayls’s was a pretty defining point in the first half. Overall, I am disappointed not to take a point.
“I give kudos to Bradford, I thought they defended really well. We had wave upon wave of balls into the box and they defended really well, I thought their keeper was really good.”