Bradford City 2 Southend 0: Bantams cut gap on play-offs as McMahon proves catalyst

City's Tony McMahon.
City's Tony McMahon.
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BRADFORD CITY’S ‘Upgrade the Parade’ crowd-funding campaign may now be under way – but it is another significant step-up to which Phil Parkinson is attending.

Parkinson is attempting to orchestrate a second promotion of his reign through the play-offs and while stadium improvement and providing a better match-day experience are one thing, providing it amid a Championship setting is quite another.

That on-pitch quest may still remain some way off fruition, but City’s hopes of ending their near 12-year absence from the second tier remain a genuine and credible proposition, with last night’s developments representing another purposeful stride in the right direction.

The arrival of Phil Brown’s Southend was the first of an agreeable run of five home matches out of seven at Valley Parade, with the 4-0 weekend routing of Peterborough – the Bantams’ best league win since September 2013 – setting up things perfectly.

Those of a more cynical claret-and-amber persuasion might have been awaiting an After the Lord Mayor’s Show type fall – something that City have been prone to over the years – but thankfully that was not the case.

Granted, the hosts did not dissect Southend with anything like the ease that they made light work of Posh, but they still produced an accomplished and professional performance.

A business-like evening it may have been in the main, but there was time for one sunshine moment to warm up spectators on a raw winter’s night.

It arrived from an unlikely source in Tony McMahon, whose exquisite 17th-minute free-kick opener was fit to grace any venue.

It proved a good night for the defender-turned-midfielder as he added to his burgeoning assists tally by setting up a more familiar goals outlet in James Hanson for the second 16 minutes from time.

Fresh from two goals on his landmark 300th appearance for the club, the big striker reached double figures for the campaign with his close-range header from McMahon’s corner hitting the underside of the bar before appearing to go into the net off visiting goalkeeper Daniel Bentley.

City saw the game out easily with their sense of well-being added to by events elsewhere with a surprise defeat for sixth-placed Millwall seeing City move within three points of the Lions with a game in hand, with Sheffield United’s loss at Bury 
representing another bonus for them.

They reside in eighth spot this morning with the play-offs very much in their sights and Parkinson able to reflect on a job well done as his side recorded back-to-back league wins for the first time since November.

Just one moment of first-half alarm transpired, with a rising shot from ex-Leeds United forward Noel Hunt – ploughing a lone furrow up front – tipped over expertly by Ben Williams.

Play soon switched to the Bradford End, with McMahon conjuring the opener after Cian Bolger brought down Kyel Reid.

After an assist in the rout at Peterborough, McMahon saw his name firmly in lights with a picture-book right-footed curler.

It had the effect of settling down the hosts, who dominated the rest of the half and managed to piece together some nice interplay on a bobbly surface, displaying confidence into the bargain.

A driving run from home debutant Josh Cullen set up Wes Thomas, whose curler flew narrowly over and Hanson was also within inches of adding a second before the break with his snapshot just clearing the crossbar.

At the other end, aside from the Hunt scare, Nathan Clarke – in for Rory McArdle, whose wife is expecting a baby – and Reece Burke helped keep a tight rein on the visitors, whose first-half efforts were somewhat token.

Southend showed more adventure on the restart with Stephen McLaughlin firing just over after a break.

But Bradford still posted the most threat, with Bentley having to be alert to parry away Lee Evans’s swinging free-kick, which almost crept into the net.

Williams was rarely troubled, coming out of his goal to deny Hunt. It was somewhat in isolation with McMahon going close to a killer second after latching onto an inviting left-wing cross from the impressive Reid – with his powerful volley blocked by Bentley.

The hosts did not have to wait long for their game-clinching moment courtesy of Hanson, the prelude to City seeing out the rest of the game with ease.

Substitute Steve Davies went close to a third, only to be denied by Bentley, who blocked his angled shot.

Bradford City: Williams; Darby, N Clarke, Burke, Meredith; McMahon (Knott 90), Evans, Cullen, Reid; Thomas (Davies 64), Hanson. Unused substitutes: Cracknell, Marshall, B Clarke, Leigh, Routis.

Southend United: Bentley, O’Neill, Bolger, Barrett, Coker; Deegan (Loza 67); Atkinson (Worrall 73), Timlin, Wordsworth, McLaughlin (McQueen 60); Hunt. Unused substitutes: Thompson, Mooney, Payne, Smith.

Referee: R Joyce (Cleveland).