Bradford City 0 Portsmouth 1 – Neil Allen’s match report

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According to Valley Parade legend, Gareth Evans represents an obnoxious presence. 

The summer of 2011 signalled the conclusion of a difficult two-year Bantams spell for a player primarily utilised as a centre-forward.

Gareth Evans celebrates with team-mates after grabbing the decisive goal against his former club. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com

Gareth Evans celebrates with team-mates after grabbing the decisive goal against his former club. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com

Little more than a year later, Evans incensed the travelling Bradford City faithful during an overblown Rotherham goal celebration, consisting of leaping into the air in front of the away section before gesticulating.

Phil Parkinson’s side lost 4-0 at the New York Stadium on that September 2012 occasion, with the controversial Evans grabbing two – and earning the life-long wrath of the visiting followers in the process.

‘They hate me here,’ smiled Pompey’s skipper while sat in the Valley Parade press box after Saturday’s clash.

His return had, admittedly, been low key in terms of supporter reaction, a period of six years seemingly diminishing anger and demolishing the spirit of animosity.

Evans these days serves as Blues skipper and basks in the number 10 role, having previously operated with distinction upon the right wing and at right full-back during a Fratton Park career nearing 150 matches.

Time had considerably soothed the ill feeling. Merely another player in another visiting team during another match David Hopkin’s relegation-endangered side could ill-afford to succumb to defeat.

Then, after 12 minutes had lapsed, Evans stoked up the rancour with what proved to be Pompey’s match winner – and a seventh-successive loss for his former employers.

The encounter’s decisive move was initiated by Jamal Lowe, driving infield from the right and spreading to the ball out to the left flank to Ronan Curtis.

The Irishman headed for the byline before pulling the ball back, with Evans arriving to crash a first-time right-footed shot from seven yards into the roof of the net.

On this occasion, the 30-year-old’s jubilant intentions steered him towards those away fans gathered in the corner of the Midland Road stand, before accompanied by a spring skywards and explosion of delight.

Nonetheless, the wounds had been re-opened, the past re-investigated with dripping disgust following such a painful reminder delivered by their one-time July 2009 capture from Macclesfield.

In truth, this was not Evans’ afternoon in the spotlight, that was reserved for the formidable figure of Matt Clarke, once more an outstanding presence during some testing moments.

Admittedly the captain had settled the match in the league leaders’ favour at the club he had served 85 times and netted 14 goals.

It took his tally for the season to five, now narrowly behind joint-leading scorers Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis who currently top the charts with six as we enter November.

Yet it should be Clarke largely attracting the curses spat out by frustrated home followers after another dominant defensive display in Pompey colours.

No side in the top four divisions have lost as many games as the Bantams in 2018, while they have won just twice on a Saturday since December 2017.

This season they have have also failed to claim a point after falling behind in a match – a particular statistic which should have been eradicated at the weekend if justice had opted to intervene.

Mind you, in a campaign when hope is desperately required to inspire the increasingly-wilting League One’s bottom club, it was Hope Akpan whose improbable stoppage-time miss spurned such an opportunity.

Bradford were striving to avoid a seventh-straight loss and for long spells they dominated possession and heaped pressure on the visitors’ penalty area.

Pompey’s inability to add to their early advantage provided heart to Hopkin’s troops, who were unrecognisable from the team painted by their miserable record and can be rightly enthused by their showing.

Even the 83rd minute dismissal of left-back Adam Chicksen for a second bookable offence on Lowe would not deter their spirited push for a leveller, finishing the fixture menacingly.

However, there is an exceptional reason why Jackett’s side have amassed eight away wins in all competitions this season, a driving force delivered by the ability to grind out favourable results. 

Clarke and Jack Whatmough were magnificent at the heart of the defence, Tom Naylor doggedly snapped and snarled positioned in front, while Craig MacGillivray was called upon to pull off several first-half saves.

Any notion of the League One leaders breezing to success at the home of the strugglers was wildly misplaced, with a bright Bradford instead posing many of the attacking questions.

Then, during four minutes of stoppage time, with Evans off the pitch having been replaced by Ben Close, the golden chance for a well-deserved equaliser fell to Akpan.

The leggy midfielder found himself inside the left-hand side of the penalty area and, with MacGillivray charging off his line, lifted a shot over the bar with the goal gaping.

No fewer than five of his team-mates sunk to the floor in disbelief, while the Valley Parade faithful were incredulous at what they had just witnessed.

A massive escape for the Blues, who managed to increase their lead at the top of the table as a consequence of that 1-0 triumph.

Their first win in three would also justify Jackett’s decision to make three alterations, including Whatmough reunited with Clarke in the centre of defence having been rested from the previous weekend’s trip to Accrington.

The Blues boss issued an instant recall, Christian Burgess making way for the youngster from the side which drew 1-1 at the Crowd Ground.

It represented the second change to one of the most miserly defences in League One, with Nathan Thompson’s suspension warranting the return of Anton Walkes at right-back.

Finally, with Naylor available following a one-match ban, the midfielder was restored to the starting XI in place of Ben Close, who joined Burgess on the bench.

The outcome was a third clean sheet in six matches for Pompey, although it was a tough battle for lengthy spells to test the defensive mettle.

Still, the Blues’ encouraging campaign continues to chug along – while Evans has delivered a little reminder to Bradford fans of his goal-scoring prowess and celebratory style.