Big Match Verdict – Bradford City survival would mean more than titles to Eoin Doyle

EOIN DOYLE has two promotions to his name, pocketing title winners’ medals both times. He has also scored at Wembley and been named in the League One ‘Team of the Year’ by his peers.

Get in: Jacob Butterfield celebrates his goal. Picture: Simon Hulme

But, such have been the trials and tribulations endured by Bradford City this season, the Dublin-born striker insists avoiding relegation to the basement division come May will top the lot in his list of career achievements.

“When I first came in last summer, it felt like this might be a promotion season,” the 30-year-old told The Yorkshire Post after helping Gary Bowyer mark his first game as Bantams manager in style.

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“Especially with the squad we had on paper. But, as the season went on, things went terribly wrong. There were ups and downs and all sorts going on.

“Now, though, it feels to be turning around. As a club and as a team, it honestly feels to be the case.

“The new manager had worked hard all week to instil confidence in us and told us how good we are.

“This club is in a false position for its stature. But if we can turn this around then it will be the biggest achievement I have had in my career.”

There is still plenty to do if Bradford are to stay up. Safety is effectively five points away thanks to the vastly superior goal differences boasted by Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury Town, the two clubs sitting directly above the relegation zone.

But this was a hugely encouraging start to the rescue job that Bowyer had been brought in to pull off.

Against a Peterborough United side who started and ended the afternoon outside the play-offs only on goal difference, City were super.

Having worked tirelessly during the first half to keep in check an attack that had scored four times on their last visit to Valley Parade in the FA Cup a couple of weeks before Christmas, Bradford stepped up the tempo after the break to run out deserved winners.

Jacob Butterfield, finally deployed in the advanced midfield role that best suits his talents, was the catalyst.

The Bradford-born loanee displayed all the vision and drive that once persuaded Derby County to pay Huddersfield Town £4m for his services.

He struck the crossbar in the first half with a flighted free-kick, drew a fine save from Conor O’Malley with another set-piece soon after the restart and then broke the deadlock with what team-mate Doyle later joked had been “his worst shot of the day”.

Doyle’s tongue was stuck firmly in cheek when describing the left-foot strike that broke the deadlock in the 70th minute.

Sure, Butterfield’s effort did not match the power of those two free-kicks that had earlier gone so close.

But, in terms of pinpoint accuracy from 20 yards, his first goal in Bantams colours could not be faulted with O’Malley unable to lay a glove on the ball despite being beaten at his near post.

After the travails of recent weeks that reached a nadir with that awful 5-1 drubbing at Portsmouth a week earlier, the outpouring of relief among not only the City players but also the home fans in the 15,890 crowd was clear for all to see.

As was the determination that this was a lifeline in the fight for survival the Bantams were not going to give up lightly.

A second goal followed six minutes from time. Hope Akpan, handed the captaincy by Bowyer to become the third different player in a fortnight to sport the armband, created the opening with a sublime pass that sent David Ball scampering clear.

The Peterborough defence did their best to hold up the Rotherham United loanee only for his pass to find Doyle.

He stepped inside a couple of tackles and then drilled a low shot that left goalkeeper O’Malley horribly wrong-footed as the ball found the bottom corner of his net.

Two minutes later and City had a third. Doyle was again involved, this time with an assist as his exchange of passes with Lewis O’Brien was followed by the Huddersfield Town loanee’s shot taking a deflection off Daniel Lafferty to loop into the net.

Peterborough did grab a late consolation via a truly awful penalty award by referee Matthew Donohue, who somehow adjudged a perfectly-executed tackle by Paul Caddis on Marcus Maddison constituted a foul.

Maddison duly sent Richard O’Donnell the wrong way from the spot but there was no denying this was a day that belonged to Bradford and new manager Bowyer.

“The Saturdays when we have lost this season have been tough,” said Doyle, who helped Chesterfield and Portsmouth to the League Two title in 2014 and 2017, respectively.

“You go home hoping the kids have gone to bed already because you don’t want to take it out on them.

“This has been a tough old year. But, it does feel to be turning. I doubt we were on many betting slips (on Saturday) and I doubt we will be again against Luton (tomorrow night), either. But we will definitely go in looking to win.”

Bradford City: O’Donnell; Mellor (Caddis 41), O’Connor, Knight-Percival, Woods (Chicksen 44); Akpan, Butterfield, O’Brien, Anderson; Ball (Clarke 90), Doyle. Unused substitutes: Wilson, Chicksen, Payne, Miller, Maltby.

Peterborough United: O’Malley; Naismith (Toney 73), White, Tafazoli, Ward; Lafferty, Woodyard (Cooper 73), Cooke, Tomlin; Maddison, Godden. Unused substitutes: Chapman, Bennett, Stevens, Denton, Reed.

Referee: M Donohue (Lancashire).