“IT could have been 10,” claimed recalled striker Eoin Doyle as Bradford City gave their fans an early Christmas present by moving out of the bottom four.
The win and the points were gift-wrapped, however, stated Bantams legend Stuart McCall, exasperated by defensive blunders which have seen his injury-ravaged Scunthorpe United side slide into the drop zone through six successive losses.
Jack Payne – the best player in the division at present, according to McCall – and Doyle were the major recipients before Cameron Burgess received a couple of unwanted festive cards, resulting in his departure just 20 minutes after coming on as an interval substitute for the Iron.
The only way is up for City, believes McCall, “humbled and embarrassed” by the ovation he got as he walked up to the dugout before kick-off on his first return to Valley Parade since his controversial sacking 10 months ago.
Of his own side, which led him to substitute former City favourite Rory McArdle and fellow defender Manchester United loanee Cameron Borthwick-Jackson at the break, McCall bemoaned: “Same old movie, same old record. There is absolutely no excuse for the way we are defending.”
Of his former charges, who have discovered a new verve under head coach David Hopkin, McCall continued: “Bradford playing at the top of their game are a good side. Do they need a leg up? No. Christmas presents came early for them.
“They have quality and Payne for me is probably the best player in League One at the present time. Bradford have got players who shouldn’t be anywhere near where they are in the league, there is no doubt about that.
“If you can’t play in front of a crowd like that then you are never going to be able to play. When you get support like that there is only one way the club can go now.”
It may be fanciful to suggest that Bradford can mount a surge akin to Scunthorpe and Barnsley from a similar position in League One in the last few seasons, but they are certainly rejuvenated.
Even an enforced tweak in formation caused by injuries to Anthony O’Connor (stitches in a foot) and Kelvin Mellor (knee) could not deflate the swagger surging through the City ranks following on from the previous week’s 4-0 home win over Walsall.
The only criticism could be that they failed to put the game to bed despite having 23 shots, the fruition of a high-pressing game constantly catching the visitors in possession.
Nerves could have struck had not Richard O’Donnell followed up his first-minute diving save from Funso Ojo by denying the same player in the second period with his outstretched right boot and had not Kyle Wootton’s looping header drifted narrowly wide.
But, as it was, Payne was the first to capitalise on dozy defending, Charlie Goode over-running possession near halfway, allowing Doyle to pinch the ball and feed the No 10 for a shot in off a post in the 10th minute.
The Huddersfield Town loanee should have been awarded his second and ninth of the season only for referee Carl Boyeson to award a penalty instead.
“He’s behind you,” should have been the call to McArdle in this pantomime season as he attemped to shield the ball back to Jak Alnwick only to see George Miller rob him before being sent sprawling by the goalkeeper as the ball broke for Payne to net from close range.
“We were all appealing for the ‘goal’ to stand, but I wasn’t disappointed when he gave the penalty because it allowed me to get on the scoresheet,” said Doyle after his fifth of the campaign from the spot in the 27th minute. “He blew before the ball hit the net, but he whispered to me saying, ‘do us a favour here’ so I was happy it went in.”
Delighted Hopkin commented: “I asked the players a few weeks ago if could we get off the bottom of the league for Christmas and the players deserve great credit for the effort they have put in.
“This is a fantastic result and not many people would have given us a chance of being out of the bottom four by now.”
Bradford City: O’Donnell, Caddis, McGowan, Knight-Percival, Chicksen; Akpan; Ball, L O’Brien; Payne (J O’Brien 82); Miller (Bruenker 78), Doyle (Goldthorp 90). Unused substitutes: Wilson, Wood, Devine, Isherwood.
Scunthorpe United: Alnwick, Clarke, Goode, McArdle (Burgess 46), Borthwick-Jackson (Ugbo 46); Thomas (Lewis 79), Sutton, Perch, Ojo; Novak, Wootton. Unused substitutes: Flatt, Horsfield, Dales, El-Mhanni.
Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorks).