The Bantams made sure of a strong finish to the 2014-15 campaign with a hard-fought win away at relegation threatened Crewe Alexandra. Knowing they could face the drop without a result today, the hosts were always going to provide tough opposition, but City claimed the three points through Billy Clarke’s first half strike - his 14th of the season. Crewe had their chances but they had lady luck on their side in the end as, despite defeat, they remained a League One club for another season.
City, who were backed as impressively as ever by over 1,200 supporters, had the first chance of the game and it belonged to leading marksman Clarke. Tony McMahon’s ball forward was knocked into his path by the head of James Hanson, but he could only see a half volley from 20 yards go over the crossbar.
Jon Stead went close twice in quick succession as he looked to follow up his match winning goal last weekend with another this weekend. His first effort went over the bar, but his second went a bit closer, looping up and landing onto the roof of the net after he had latched onto Andrew Davies’ header back into the mix, following McMahon’s delivery into the area.
It was a lacklustre start by the hosts in all honesty, and after Christopher Routis had gone reasonably close with a speculative half volley from easily 25 yards, the Bantams took the lead.
McMahon’s delivery was causing the problems again, and after his free kick was glanced towards goal by Clarke, the ball came back to the Irishman after bouncing off Anthony Grant, and he slammed the ball past Paul Rachubka and into the bottom corner.
Looking at the table before the game, you wouldn’t have backed Crewe to be relegated but after going behind, you could sense the nervousness set in and almost see the tension in front of your eyes. We know what a relegation battle feels like, and it’s not a nice situation to be in.
Lauri Dalla Valle came inches away from scoring an equaliser for the hosts; after latching onto an unspoken for ball in the 18 yard box, he dropped the shoulder to find half a yard in behind Rory McArdle before slamming a shot wide of the target from a tight angle.
The next chance of the game involved the same duo of Dalla Valle and McArdle, and after the City Player of the Year coughed up possession with a loose touch, the Finnish frontman ran through towards Ben Williams but McArdle recovered superbly to make what surely was a goal saving tackle to keep the clean sheet in tact.
Crewe were stepping up the tempo in search of an equaliser, but the next chance belonged to City and it was a glorious one at that; Stead held the ball up brilliantly before crossing low into the area for Hanson to scoop the ball over the bar from close range, with Clarke an option alongside him.
James Jones saw a well struck free kick from 25 yards, after Routis had fouled Colclough, held alertly by Ben Williams before the half was out. Although, it was an apparent feeling of concern in the home end, there were still to be twists and turns in that relegation battle before the afternoon was out.
The hosts had a great chance of finding an equaliser early in the second half through Jon Guthrie, who was up from the back; Harry Davis’ free kick was headed on by Marcus Haber and Williams made a brave stop low at Guthrie’s feet to keep him at bay and his clean sheet unscathed.
Ryan Colclough went close for the home side, whilst Hanson spurned another opportunity at the other end, this time hitting a shot a yard over with his weaker right foot from just inside the 18 yard box; a decent chance after James Meredith had done well down the left hand side and dug out a dangerous cross.
The realisation of possible relegation probably began to really set in when news circulated of Notts County going ahead at Gillingham, which meant Crewe dropped into the bottom four. Shortly after the news, Nicky Ajose was brought off the bench to bolster the attacking options and surely give Steve Davis’ men a better chance of finding an all important equaliser.
Stead must have been in disbelief after seeing his superb effort kept out incredibly by Rachubka. Clarke’s low cutback was mis-controlled in his own area by Anthony Grant and Stead gathered the loose ball before seeing a goalbound thump from 15 yards tipped over the bar by the former Oldham Athletic stopper.
Coventry’s equaliser at Crawley Town meant that Crewe were temporarily out of the drop zone, but they stumbled back into it when Colchester took the lead late on at home to Preston, in the 85th minute to be precise.
The hosts looked to be heading for League Two on a whimper, but Gillingham scored a flurry of goals late on against Notts County, to send the Magpies to the basement division in their place, along with Crawley, who ultimately crashed to defeat at home to Coventry.
There were big appeals for a penalty late on as Ryan Colclough went down in the area under a challenge from Rory McArdle; there looked to be a fair claim but the referee Tony Harrington waved it away, uninterested. Andy Halliday came on in injury time, and after dancing around a couple of red shirts down by the byline, he saw a low cross turned round the post hurriedly by George Ray with Rachubka committed to winning the same ball.
So, the final whistle blew on the season and it hasn’t been a bad one has it? Three points took the Bantams up to 7th in League One, marking progress on last season’s finish. This went along with the highest league finish in over 10 years, an FA Cup Quarter-Final appearance, a win at Stamford Bridge and a win against Leeds United - these memories will certainly be cherished and we go again next season...who knows what’s in store in 2015-16.