THIRTEEN, unlucky for some? Not if you’re Bradford City after James Hanson’s 13th goal of the season set Phil Parkinson’s men on their way to a vital three points.
The beanpole striker has been something of a talisman this year with City having lost only two and won six of the games in which he has found the net.
Considering Bradford have lost 18 of 41 league outings, that represents an impressive return and underlines Hanson’s worth to the team.
More importantly, in maintaining that proud record against nine-man Southend United with an opening goal that was followed by a second-half penalty by Craig Fagan, Hanson may well have helped City take a giant step towards Football League safety.
Certainly, with Bradford now holding a seven point advantage over the bottom two it will take an almighty slump in the final five games for Bradford to be dragged back into trouble.
Manager Parkinson, who headed to Macclesfield straight after the final whistle to watch Monday’s opponents Shrewsbury Town, said: “I thought we were excellent from the first minute to the last. I hope the talking point is our performance and not Southend being down to nine men as we were winning before the red cards.
“James Hanson won every header in the second half. He got his goal and was a real handful.”
On the fight to stay in the League, Parkinson added: “People may say this win takes the heat off but not for myself and the players.
“We are very conscious that one result can change the entire picture and we have to keep our eye on the ball.”
Hanson was by no means the only hero for City on an afternoon when, even before Southend’s second-half indiscipline saw Sean Clohessy and Elliot Benyon sent off, they were by far the better team.
With man of the match Guy Branston a towering presence at the back on his first home outing since October and Ricky Ravenhill controlling the midfield, Bradford made a mockery of a run that had brought just one point from the previous six games.
Even in an untidy first half when genuine clear-cut chances had been as scarce as periods of play when the ball remained on the floor, City looked the most likely to break the deadlock.
The breakthrough came seven minutes before the break via a delightful floated cross from Michael Flynn that Hanson couldn’t miss at the far post.
Until then, City’s best opening had come on the half-hour when Nahki Wells turned his marker superbly before thundering a shot that Cameron Belford was fortunate to block as it swerved wickedly through the air.
Bradford were then unfortunate not to add a second just before the break when, first, Wells and then Ritchie Jones saw shots kept out by brave defensive blocks during an almighty goalmouth scramble.
Southend’s decent moments in the first half were few and far between, the passing move that saw Michael Timlin release Lee Hills down the left a couple of minutes after Wells had gone close being comfortably the pick of what Paul Sturrock’s side could muster.
Even then, however, neat approach play was let down by a woeful finish from Freddy Eastwood, who despite being found by Hills in several yards of space and once costing £1.5m could only shoot wildly over the top.
That just about summed up Southend’s efforts during a hugely forgettable afternoon for Sturrock and matters got a lot worse for the Essex side after the break with City doubling their lead within eight minutes of the restart.
Again, an incisive pass from Flynn created the opening – this time for Wells, who in nipping ahead of Sean Clohessy left the Southend defender with no option but to tug his shirt. Referee Eddie Ilderton quickly pointed to the spot before compounding the visitors’ misery by brandishing a red card at Clohessy, who the last defender.
After the inevitable wait as Southend protested in vain, Fagan fired the spot-kick to the goalkeeper’s right and into the net.
Such have been City’s struggles this term that a two-goal lead has been a rare luxury.
The fear, therefore, was that the game was still far from over against a team who had arrived in Yorkshire boasting the best away record in League Two with 12 wins.
Any chances, however, of a late fightback were all but ended on 68 minutes when Southend were reduced to nine men.
Substitute Benyon was the man to go this time after aiming a kick at Rob Kozluk off the ball, an offence that was drawn to the attention of referee Ilderton by his eagle-eyed linesman.
With Southend now a spent force, Bradford twice went close to adding a third as Chris Dagnall shot wide and Kyel Reid fired over before the final whistle blew to seal a win that had home supporters chanting ‘we are staying up’ en route to the exits.
Bradford City: Duke; Ramsden, Bullock, Branston, Kozluk; Fagan, Ravenhill (Reid 76), Jones (Syers 81), Flynn; Wells (Dagnall 81), Hanson. Unused substitutes: Annerson, Smalley.
Southend United: Belford; Clohessy, Barker, Prosser, Hills (Phillips 46); Hall, Grant, Ferdinand (Harris 60), Timlin; Mohsni, Eastwood (Benyon 60). Unused substitutes: Gilbert, Martin.
Referee: E Ilderton (Tyne & Wear).