For the first time in the club’s 107 year history, Harrogate Town travelled to Valley Parade to face Bradford City in the EFL’s newest Yorkshire Derby.
Both Harrogate and Bradford had had the similar beginnings to the Sky Bet League Two season, having earned a steady five points each, but City have one game in hand over their Yorkshire neighbours and will be eager to capitalise on that to better their opponents.
Whilst the Bantams headed into this game off of a penalty shootout heartbreak to Wolves Under-21’s in the EFL Cup, the Town had had better luck after trumping Leicester City Under-21’s 3-1 despite a late Thanawat Suengchitthawon fight back (yes, that’s his name).
Bradford fans have been complaining in recent weeks at Stuart McCall’s inability to bring in a ferocious attacking prowess to replace the outgoing James Vaughan, as Kurtis Guthrie has looked less than suitable to the role, however fans rejoice on Saturday as the clubs social media account introduced the signing of Austin Samuels on a loan deal from Wolves. Samuels had scored during the week for the Wolves Under-21’s against the Bantams, and despite the fact he had a dangerous presence throughout the game, many wonder if he’s what City are lacking as he managed no goals in the National League North last season for Kidderminster Harriers.
Meanwhile, Harrogate recently welcomed former Celtic youngster Calvin Miller to the club to challenge for the full-back spot at the CNG Stadium. He comes into strengthen the Sulphurites defensive options such as Connor Hall and Dan Jones. Simon Weaver, who has been at the club for over ten years, will be using the extra incentive of a non non-league derby to drive his players forward, using Jon Stead as a lifeline to motivate his teammates against his former club with the use of his experience.
McCall’s men lined up in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, with club captain Richard O’Donnell in between the sticks, a back four of Tyler French in right-back, despite the competition of Bryce Hossannah, a back two of Anthony O’Connor who returns from a suspension and youth graduate Reece Staunton, and Connor Wood in left-back.
Elliot Watt started in the centre of midfield, with Levi Sutton and Billy Clarke on either side of him before Gareth Evans was positioned in the point of the diamond in his first competitive start for the club. The two frontmen for City were Lee Novak and Clayton Donaldson, who keeps his position after his smart finish against Wolves during the week.
Opposing the Bantams was Weaver’s warriors, who lined up in a 5-2-3 formation. In goal was the ever-present James Belshaw, on the wing-back spots were Ryan Fallowfield and Miller, who had brilliant games and looked threatening going forward and staying back, supporting the three centre-backs of Connor Hall, Will Smith and the tower that is Warren Burrell. Town’s midfield was thin but supported by the two wing-backs as well as the two wingers, but nevertheless they were everywhere.
Captain and club stalwart Josh Falkingham acted as the heart of the midfield alongside Lloyd Kerry, who has been at the club since 2014. The attackers on the pitch for Harrogate were George Thomson, who looked a constant threat and Jack Muldoon (who has been the club’s top scorer for the past two seasons), two players who could spread the play or narrow it to confuse the defenders with some mesmerising movement, but they were accompanied by the experience of Jon Stead, who will still be pondering his goal for Bradford against Chelsea all those years ago.
Oh, and whoever triumphs in this Yorkshire derby would move up to 8th place in the league- as they did.
As the game got underway, it was the Suplhurites who were on top, looking particularly dangerous down their right side with Muldoon teaming up with Fallowfield and a few crosses blocked or cleared out by a hesitant Bradford defence.
As Muldoon now linked up with the lively Thomson, as the number seven looped over an audacious effort towards the back post and his wayward effort was tipped over by O’Donnell, clearly not willing to take the risk of facing the embarrassment of conceding a poor cross.
Bradford had lacked in creativity so far, but sparked into life in the 8th minute as Novak threaded the ball centrally to Clarke, whose wand of a left foot unleashed a hopeful strike but it was well met by the safe hands of Belshaw between the sticks.
This supplied the inspiration for City, who hit Harrogate on the counter attack as Sutton fired the ball over the top to Donaldson, and as he spotted Novak in tons of space in the box, he sent a lovely chipped ball to his strike partner but the under pressure Novak was forced onto his weak foot. His close up half volley was parried by Belshaw and Harrogate scuffled the ball away.
However, Harrogate didn’t dwell on the Bradford attacks, sending some of their own as Kerry drove down the right and crossed a ball into the feet of Stead. Stead held off his man and spun, but found himself stretching as his dragged shot to the far post- but once again O’Donnell was on hand to prevent an opener. Kerry and Stead continued to attack as a unit, after a teasing Kerry strike was fumbled by O’Donnell but he threw himself at Stead’s follow up effort.
Bradford responded in a suitable manner, as Evans, who had struggled to get involved in the game in the opening half an hour, cut inside on the left wing and his low cross was met by the diving header of Sutton in the Harrogate box, but his effort was tame and held by Belshaw.
Heading closer to half time and the game was end-to-end, but Thomson on the wing cut inside calmly before unleashing a brawny strike straight at O’Donnell.
Town were on top as Muldoon outpaced Wood on the wing and lofted in a pinpoint ball to the head of Stead, who escaped the marking of O’Connor and nodded a low header which was thankfully tipped wide by the outstretched finger tips of O’Donnell- once again coming to the Bantams rescue.
As the first half neared its end, Harrogate had one more opportunity as right-back Fallowfield found himself with acres of space behind Wood but his strike blistered the side netting and the ref called the game to an abrupt end to signal half time.
McCall made the singular change at the break, as Evans, who’d been transparent, was replaced by Callum Cooke off of the bench.
Cooke was immediately involved, as French lobbed a ball to the feet of Donaldson, who used all his strength to hold up the ball before flicking it onto the oncoming Cooke, but as he pondered City’s biggest chance of the game his attempt towards the far post skimmed the woodwork and ended up on the wrong side of the netting.
Stead continued to loom around the goal as he outpowered French at the back but his shot was comfortably gather by O’Donnell.
As a dire second half began to sashay towards the 70th minute, McCall introduced his newest recruit Austin Samuels to the pitch, who scored on Tuesday for a different side, he had an early opportunity in claret and amber blocked and scrambled out by a desperate Burrell.
But as the clock struck the 73rd minute, Harrogate Town’s Muldoon did some fantastic footwork down the right side and shifted the ball past Wood, before sending in an astounding cross into the foot of Kerry who made no mistake in front of goal. Lousy Bradford defending left Kerry unmarked (Staunton and O’Connor were absent and failed to track a simple cross), but a smart finish from Kerry gave Weaver’s men the 1-0 lead heading into the closing stages of the game.
Unfortunately, City’s defence didn’t learn from their past mistake, as Miller sent in a lovely cross into substitute Brendon Kiernan who seek an intrepid diving header, once again unmarked with too much time on his hands, but O’Donnell reacted well to keep the Bantams in the game.
Bradford tried their best to find a gateway back into the game, but as Novak played Samuels in behind the youngster’s strike was completely wilful and ended up in the second tier of the Bradford Kop. It summed up the striking options currently available to McCall and why Bantams fans were understandably frustrated with the club right now.
As referee Darren Drysdale brought the game to a close, Harrogate Town rejoiced in celebration as their first EFL Yorkshire derby resulted in a triumphant 1-0 victory over a lacklustre Bradford City side.
If you’re a Harrogate Town fan, you should expect no less. Harrogate have now reached the point where they are no longer over-achieving, but just defying the expectations and facing any opponent head on, which is exactly what the fans need. It may be known for being a spa town and mainly a non-league club, but on Tuesday the 12th of October 2020, Weaver’s men sent out a message to the remained of League Two.
They currently sit just outside the play-offs, but despite the fact their side lacked any real reputable additions, it shows the amount of influence Simon Weaver has on his side. Most clubs come to Valley Parade and stick ten men behind the ball, just due to the size of Bradford as a former Premier League club and how they have been nicknamed a ‘fallen giant’, yet Harrogate did the opposite.
Weaver took the game to Bradford with Muldoon and Thomson looking dangerous and constantly imitating the City defence, especially Muldoon who tore Wood, a player linked with League One clubs right now, apart and made him look like a mediocre left-back at best. Stead possessed an aerial presence and constantly rang rings around O’Connor and Staunton, switching between the two so that the marking was poor with his movement whilst knowing he can win a header against them and hold the ball up, he was just unlucky O’Donnell was on form tonight.
Nevertheless, the Harrogate defence also can’t be criticised, coming to Valley Parade and leaving with three points and a clean sheet is quite the task, yet the way Weaver set up meant Bradford rarely penetrated their box and were restricted to audacious efforts which were comfortably met by Belshaw in goal. The main man for Harrogate was Falkingham, who controlled the tempo of the game and looked above this level, despite being a non-league player for so long.
Meanwhile with Bradford, questions have to be asked. Since Vaughan departed, fans have demanded a striker to replace the void which he left, and as Guthrie hasn’t shown the necessary quality or passion required, tensions have been heating up between fans and club alike. I think the main thing now is to keep hold of McCall, he’s a fantastic manager with an even better attitude and he can’t be blamed for the lack of effort and quality from the City players.
He’s been experimenting with formations but doesn’t have the right amount of quality to master them, something which was proven today as Evans and Clarke didn’t look bothered about the game unfortunately. A striker is needed, Samuels looks promising but lacks experience other than youth football and the National League North, but it depends whether the funds are available to McCall.
The defence appeared disorganised, Staunton has had a good start to professional football but I can’t think of anything he really did tonight defensively which was worthy of applause, himself and O’Connor seemed to lack communication, and they weren’t exactly helped by French who isn’t a right-back, and Wood who had an off-day. The defence were lucky O’Donnell was on form to keep the deficit lower.
The stat which sums up this game for me is the fact that Harrogate had 25 shots away at Valley Parade, whereas Bradford had just 9. Make what you want of each team’s reaction to the game.