THE television cameras may have been present, but only true optimists among Bradford City’s following will have genuinely been expecting to witness a filming of happy Valley last night.
An unseasonably dank and cold April evening in front of a crowd noticeable for swathes of empty claret and amber seats painted a bleak pre- kick-off picture with many fed-up Bradford season-ticket holders clearly deciding to give the game a miss.
The sight of former City manager Stuart McCall making his first return to Valley Parade following his January sacking at least illuminated the scene for many, albeit after chairman Edin Rahic strenuously denied that he tried to stop Sky from utilising his services as a summariser.
It made for a big talking point ahead of the game with a chant of ‘Stuart, Stuart’ aired from the Kop early on.
Yet for the home hierarchy, the discussion at the interval and at the final whistle – on an evening when the atmosphere had the potential to turn mutinous if City followed up their shameful performance at Blackpool with another listless showing – was thankfully about a vastly-improved and uplifting home display.
After seeing their efforts labelled as pathetic and embarrassing by infuriated manager Simon Grayson at the weekend, the onus was very much on those in City jerseys to display the character, passion and heart that were so demonstrably deficient at the weekend.
Last night’s evidence showcased pumped-up hosts who were clearly intent on providing the first installment of payback to those supporters who were so badly short-changed at Bloomfield Road.
It was all about actions and not words and they arrived in abundance in a strong and rousing performance where the only thing lacking was a home winner, which obstinately failed to arrive despite the visitors playing the final half-hour with ten men after Omar Beckles was dismissed for two cautionable offences.
Much had been made of City’s gutless showing at Blackpool and, in terms of endeavour,this was also poles apart from the offensively anemic performance in their televised fixture at Blackburn exactly a fortnight earlier.
Against another side chasing automatic promotion in Shrewsbury, City were far more convincing after also producing their best display on home soil in 2018 by some distance.
The warm interval applause and ovation at the end from the City faithful told its own story.
Operating in a conventional 4-4-2 formation, the tenacious hosts went back to basics and played with a stirring tempo from the off and displayed bite in midfield, with their spirit embodied by the unquenchable commitment of full debutant Kai Bruenker.
Buffeted by Shrewsbury’s defences, with Beckles lucky to escape a second booking after two clumsy challenges on him, the big German commendably kept coming back for more and set the tone.
It was a first half in which classy Shrewsbury goalkeeper Dean Henderson – on loan from Manchester United – displayed his poise to make fine early reaction saves first to deny Alex Gilliead and then Stephen Warnock, with Tyrell Robinson also testing his reactions later on.
At the other, Colin Doyle was called into serious action just once before the break, albeit making an important point-blank save to keep out a volley from the unmarked Jon Nolan.
It provided a warning, with the promotion-chasing visitors – needing victory to keep alive their top-two hopes as they looked to close on Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers – moving through the gears early in the second half.
A searing run from Alex Rodman ended with his scorching drive flying inches wide before Doyle made his second key save to thwart Nolan again after a sweet move orchestrated by Gareth Whalley.
City hit back with Aristote Nsiala blocking Gilliead’s low drive close to his own line before a needless challenge from Beckles on ex-Shrews man Nathaniel Knight-Percival saw his evening curtailed.
It made for a long final half-hour for the visitors, with the hosts’ best chance being spurned by Charlie Wyke when he headed agonisingly over following Gilliead’s centre.
Bradford City: Doyle; McMahon, Knight-Percival, Warnock (Chicksen 73); Gilliead, Guy, Dieng, Robinson; Bruenker (Patrick 76), Wyke. Substitutes unused: Raeder, Poleon, McCartan, Devine, Lund.
Shrewsbury Town: Henderson; Bolton, Nsiala, Sadler, Beckles; Godfrey (Morris 63), Nolan; Whalley, Morris, Rodman; Payne (John-Lewis 81). Substitutes unused: MacGillivray, Lowe, Thomas, Hendrie, Jones.
Referee: David Webb (Co.Durham).