Date: 12th October 2009 at 6:18pm
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Saturday’s five goal thriller was exactly that. A game which had everything a League Two audience could hope for. Goals of quality, defensive aberrations; world class keeping, woodwork turning saviour; a returning hero turned villain pulling the strings in midfield; a home team full of attacking endeavour against an away team executing the counter attack to perfection and a referee against whom we could vent our frustrated spleen. Nevertheless, for the second home game of the season we found ourselves losing as the more dominant side.

Both sets of fans gave their teams a standing ovation at the final whistle. The Railwaymen for notching their first win in six and the Bantams for a display that somehow failed to extend that 10 game streak.

That we didn’t had much to do with Dario Gradi. The Gresty Road legend has said he wants his team to play attractive football and far from coming to Valley Parade to park a bus in front of the goal the visitors married attack to defence.

Key to that strategy was a giant Congolese striker. So often inconsistent, he wasn’t on Saturday as Calvin Zola showed his ability. Logistical problems meant that before I had taken my seat we were already behind as he put the visitors ahead with a shot that was part fluke, part genius depending on who I asked. He was to dominate the game for the visitors offering the strength to hold up the ball with the pace to do something with it.

The goal could have stumped the Bantams as they failed to open the scoring (in the league) for the first time since Lincoln’s smash and grab. Instead they showed the resilience evident in recent weeks attempting to force their way back into the game.

However, for all that intent a number of McCall’s men were struggling to make the right decision or execute moves attempted through the confidence bred by form. Neither Zesh Rehman or Steve Williams were on top of their game and before Zola produced a lovely finish following some dithering in the Bantams defence Joel Grant could have doubled the lead with a shot that bounced off the post having beaten Simon Eastwood.

23 minutes in and 0-2 was not how this was supposed to be. We had the form, not our guests. Fortunately there was to be no crumble. Perhaps drawing inspiration from Northampton Town’s overhaul of a two goal deficit in twenty minutes the hosts pressed on but chances continued to be at a premium.

Shots from distance didn’t trouble David Button whilst crosses and corners kept falling short or being miscued as the wrong decisions undid the good work of the hosts. Late in the first half it looked like we would pull one back. After a scramble in the box the ball fell to Michael Boulding who, expecting Crewe players to put body between player and line looked to loft it over them. He hit the underside of the bar and the ball bounced harmlessly clear (assumed harmlessly as no protests for its crossing the line).

Almost immediately he made sure we finished the half with the deficit cut in two. The out of sorts James O’Brien atoned for those lapses with a beautiful cross which Boulding rose to meet and produce the perfect header into the far corner for his third in three.

As the players left the pitch I expected the second half to continue as the first had ended – in Claret ascendancy and at least a point for Stuart McCall’s men to continue their unbeaten run. Twenty five seconds after the restart that looked horrendously misjudged as Steven Schumacher looked certain to nod the ball home from in front of the penalty spot but Simon Eastwood produced a wonderful save to keep us in it.

Galvanised the visitors increased their pressure as their hosts struggled to find any width with too many of the midfield misfiring. Just before the hour Stuart McCall tried to change that as he brought Scott Neilson on for Chris Brandon. And the sub almost made an immediate impact but his shot flashed wide.

Crewe were getting too much time and space on the ball and should have made it 3-1 as the Bantams claimed offside against Shaun Miller but Simon Eastwood, wary of dodgy referees stayed alert to make the save. Unfortunately Bradford City failed to heed the warning and again allowed the imperious and string pulling Schumacher the freedom of Valley Parade. His long range shot bounced wickedly and spooned over the Bantam’s keeper for a clanger far removed from his other magnificent saves and the score was 1-3.

McCall responded by replacing James O’Brien with Leon Osborne who possibly produced a lovely ball (whoever it was it was a peach) for Michael Boulding. He worked it wide and put it into the box where James Hanson stuck out a leg and scooped a perfect volley home to make it 2-3.

Twenty one minutes of normal time to go, one goal in it and the momentum well and truly with the hosts. Surely this wouldn’t be how it ends?

Almost instantly the scores could have been level. Ashley Westwood (not the former Bantam who played for Crewe but another, younger version) badly misjudged a long ball forward from Lee Bullock under pressure from Scott Neilson. It struck him on the arm, in the box (to my eyes) but instead of a penalty it was a free kick. Michael Flynn’s Ronaldoesque effort failed to clear the wall and the opening was gone.

As the shot count racked up the Bantams pushed for the equaliser only to find David Button equal to everything that was thrown at him. However, in amongst too many improbable goal line clearances and with Bradford City committing men forward there was a fear of the visitors producing another touch of counter attacking magic. Unfortunately for them the best chance fell to Leeds reject Anthony Elding who should have done much better when capitalising on a weak back pass. His chip wasn’t high enough to beat Eastwood as he came to his side’s rescue again.

For the home fans, the frustration at being thwarted had an easy scapegoat in the shape of Carl Boyeson. As he blew for full time (in the midst of an attacking move) there was to have been no equaliser, no recovering from a 2 goal deficit and no extension to the unbeaten streak.

In many ways it didn’t matter, the supporters had witnessed an exhilarating match with one manager outfoxing the other. Crewe came with Dario’s plan. They executed it to perfection with Steven Schumacher at its heart. Their football, when they had possession was easy on the eye. The Bantams too had entertained but Stuart and his men lacked the luck to make enough of the possession or goal scoring opportunities.

The stats don’t lie as the Railwaymen survived 26 goal attempts on their way to winning their first in six. But in the end they returned home with the spoils. We may have been mugged but at least it was entertaining to watch. Hopefully we can apply those lessons and exact some revenge at Dagenham next Saturday.