Bradford City 0 Reading 0: Parkinson now has chance to prove the talisman

SO far, Bradford City’s run to the FA Cup quarter-finals has contained more fairytales than a shelf full of books by the Brothers Grimm.
James Hanson and Ben Williams applaud the fans at full-time. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)James Hanson and Ben Williams applaud the fans at full-time. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
James Hanson and Ben Williams applaud the fans at full-time. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

First, there was the truly incredible win at Chelsea on a January afternoon that saw both Filipe Morais and Billy Knott play starring roles against a club where they had failed to make the grade as apprentices.

Then, there was last month’s fifth-round tie against Sunderland when Jon Stead buried, once and for all, the ghost of a barren spell on Wearside that had once left the striker not only the butt of all jokes but also the subject of a T-shirt mocking his 30-game wait for a goal.

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What price, therefore, yet another feelgood story from a Bradford perspective still lying in wait a week tonight when the Bantams step out at the Madejski Stadium?

Jon Stead challenges Jordan Obita.
 (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)Jon Stead challenges Jordan Obita.
 (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Jon Stead challenges Jordan Obita. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Phil Parkinson, with 425 appearances to his name during an 11-year spell at Reading, is so revered in the Berkshire town that he was once voted into the club’s all-time best XI.

So, there can surely be no better place for the 47-year-old to seal a third trip to Wembley as City manager inside a little over two years.

“I wanted to win the game, of course I did,” admitted Parkinson after seeing his old club return south with a replay. “The perfect result would have been to go through first time and that was my focus.

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“But the next best option was to get the draw and go down there for a great night of Cup football. Believe me, that is what it will be at the Madejski.”

Filipe Morais.Filipe Morais.
Filipe Morais.

Whether Parkinson can next week bite the hand that once fed him, only time will tell.

But City will surely approach the replay firmly believing that reaching Wembley is still very much an attainable goal.

In a hard-fought contest that was heavy on bone-crunching tackles but light on saves for either goalkeeper to make, the Yorkshire club more than matched their visitors from the Championship.

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Reading may have hit the post in either half but, in terms of genuine chances created, it was the Bantams who asked the more searching questions across the 90 minutes.

James Hanson and Andrew Davies had second-half openings that, on another day, could have seen the net at the Kop end of Valley Parade billowing.

Instead, both efforts flew narrowly wide and with them went any hopes of City adding Reading to a list of scalps from a higher division that this season stretches to four names.

The big difference between Saturday’s visit of Parkinson’s old club and those wins over Chelsea, Millwall, Sunderland and Leeds was that Royals manager Steve Clarke got his tactics spot on.

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He had clearly studied the win over the Black Cats closely and arrived in West Yorkshire intent on closing the game down with three men in central midfield.

It was an approach that paid off, and in particular during a first half that for all the sense of occasion as Valley Parade hosted an FA Cup quarter-final for the first time in 39 years was a big letdown.

Both sides did hit the post, Pavel Pogrebnyak firing against the upright from 15 yards for Reading before Gary Liddle did the same for the hosts after his cross evaded a cluster of players and goalkeeper Adam Federici.

Those two near misses apart, however, there was very little to commend the opening 45 minutes other than the committed approach of both teams.

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Nathaniel Chalobah’s early challenge on Liddle proved that Reading were up for the task of stifling City in a way that had totally been absent from Sunderland in the previous round.

Bradford, too, were clearly intent on giving it everything, as two lusty tackles by Stephen Darby in quick succession vividly illustrated.

Apart from Liddle’s cross that struck a post on 37 minutes, the City captain crunching into Jordan Obita deep in Reading territory brought the biggest cheer of the first half from the home fans.

That is not to say the atmosphere was subdued. Far from it, with Valley Parade’s biggest crowd in 55 years providing wonderful backing for both teams.

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But it was not until the second half that the home fans were brought to their feet on a more regular basis by the deeds of Parkinson’s side on the field.

A more considered approach was the reason for City looking the most threatening after the interval.

Where before half-time too many aimless balls had been fired forward at Stead and James Hanson as Reading snapped and snarled at the heels of the hosts, the second half saw the Bantams get the ball down and try to use both flanks.

It meant Stead, such a talismanic figure against Chelsea and Sunderland, was finally able to get on the ball and start to bring team-mates into play.

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A neat one-two involving the Huddersfield Town loanee on the hour ended with Billy Clarke firing a shot goalwards that Reading did well to block.

Six minutes later, Stead was released by Clarke but, after cleverly beating Alex Pearce and Michael Hector, the striker was crowded out by Stephen Kelly.

As the game moved into the final quarter, Stead continued to carry a threat and it was his cross that Hanson should have done better than prod wide from four yards.

It was a big let-off for Reading, who had another lucky escape 14 minutes from time when Davies headed narrowly over from Morais’s free-kick.

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Had either chance gone in, Bradford would more than likely not now have to contend with the punishing schedule of two games in three days.

However, had Oliver Norwood’s free-kick not hit the post and bounced to safety near the end, City’s Cup dream would be over. Such are the fine margins between success and failure.