Preston 2 Bradford 2: Parkinson marks milestone thanks to McArdle’s strike

Phil ParkinsonPhil Parkinson
Phil Parkinson
REACHING the landmark of 100 league games is not something too many Bradford City managers have achieved in recent years.

Of the 10 that have followed Paul Jewell into the Valley Parade boss’s job since 2000, only three have made it to a century of games – a statistic that says everything about the state of flux that the Bantams have often found themselves in since the turn of the Millennium.

Last night, Phil Parkinson joined Stuart McCall and Colin Todd in reaching three figures at the helm of City.

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The Bradford chief did so in a satisfying fashion, courtesy of his side claiming a point from a thrilling contest with play-off rivals Preston North End.

Tempering that sense of satisfaction, however, was the knowledge that, but for some woeful marking at set-pieces, Bradford would have returned to Yorkshire with all three points.

Certainly, Preston’s two goals owed as much to quality delivery on the part of dead-ball specialist Scott Laird as they did poor defending on the part of the visitors as both Tom Clarke and Bailey Wright were afforded sufficient space in the six-yard box to pick their spot.

North End’s two headed strikes were sandwiched by an early goal for James Hanson and a deft second-half header by Rory McArdle to at least ensure that such uncharacteristic lapses at the back did not prove too costly.

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Failing to end the night on the winning side was harsh on several City players with Gary Jones putting in one of his best shifts of the season.

Kyel Reid, too, had a superb game with Simon Grayson’s side often reduced to using foul means to keep the winger in check.

He also struck a post in the first half following a typically mazy run, a shot that Declan Rudd, by far the busier of the two goalkeepers, was grateful to see stay out.

Parkinson’s big night had got off to a dream start with the visitors taking just five minutes to go ahead.

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Hanson made the breakthrough, City’s towering striker powering an unstoppable header beyond Rudd after being picked out by Raffaele De Vita’s incisive delivery from the right flank.

Considering Hanson had seen a fierce shot blocked by former Huddersfield Town defender Clarke just moments earlier, the striker’s sixth goal of the season was a reward for both his perseverance and a textbook far-post header.

Rudd’s blushes were then spared midway through the first half when he managed to bundle Reid’s shot against a post after the City winger had again left the home defence trailing with his speed and trickery.

Had that gone in, chances are a Preston side looking distinctly out-of-sorts could have had trouble getting back into the contest.

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Instead, and firmly against the run of play, the hosts drew level in the 32nd minute when Clarke, once a loanee at Valley Parade, capitalised on slack marking to nod past Jon McLaughlin from close range.

Being pegged back was harsh on the Bantams, who came close to restoring their lead just before the break when Reid picked out Hanson and his header was bravely turned behind by Paul Huntington.

There was a similar let-off for Preston soon after the restart when Reid’s back-heel released James Meredith down the left flank. He then picked out De Vita, who could only fire wide with the goal at his mercy.

As play raged from one end to the other in what became a hugely entertaining second half, it was Bradford’s turn to breathe a huge sigh of relief after McLaughlin’s stunning one-handed save denied Chris Humphreys just moments after a drilled cross by Stuart Beavon had flashed across the visitors’ six-yard box.

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Reid was the next to threaten for Bradford with a shot that sped just inches wide, but it was the home side who went ahead on 68 minutes when Wright was afforded the freedom of the six-yard box to power Scott Laird’s corner past McLaughlin.

City’s response took just five minutes and it came via Jones’s corner that McArdle flicked beyond Rudd to send the 2,910 visiting fans into raptures.

Those same supporters were on their feet again eight minutes from time when Hanson nodded Jones’s free-kick in only for a linesman’s flag to cut the celebrations short and ensure that honours ended even as Parkinson reached the landmark of 100 league games at the helm.

Preston North End: Rudd; Clarke, Huntington, Wright; Humphrey (Buchanan 90), Keane, Welsh, Brownhill (Holmes 76), Laird; Davies, Beavon (Hume 84). Unused substitutes: Stuckmann, Byrom, Garner, Mousinho.

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Bradford City: McLaughlin; Darby, McArdle, Bates, Meredith; De Vita (Kennedy 77), Jones, Doyle, Reid; Thompson (Folan 79), Hanson. Unused substitutes: Ripley, McHugh, Connell, Yeates, Taylor.

Referee: D Coote (Nottinghamshire).

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