Valley Parade had certainly been a lucky ground for us during one period of time. For between 1990 and 2003, we chalked up six consecutive league victories, by 1-0 (twice), 4-1, and 4-0 on three other occasions, at that particular venue. Quite a record! And one of the aforementioned 4-0 successes actually came, rather aptly, in our Premiership “comeback” season of 1999-00, when we visited Bradford, who’d accompanied us up as First Division runners-up at the end of 1998-99, early on in the campaign.
It was quite an afternoon then for our travelling contingent, who’d already witnessed wins at Derby (5-0) and of course by 2-1 in the Sid James “monsoon”, in our two previous away Premiership fixtures. While there’d also been another 5-0 away success, at First Division Walsall, in The Worthington Cup, just for good measure!
The first five minutes or so were pretty even, and in our first attack of the game, Niall Quinn, who’d performed so heroically in the previous season’s corresponding meeting, when he’d scored the winner, and then kept a clean sheet when deputizing for the injured Thomas Sorensen, got in a header which was comfortably saved by home keeper Gary Walsh.
Then Bradford, playing towards the end where our contingent of fans were gathered, started to get on top. Indeed, in the opening quarter-hour, City could have been at least three goals ahead. First of all Andy Myers missed a great chance, Thomas Sorensen then needed two attempts to save a powerful effort from former Sunderland loanee Peter Beagrie, before an effort from Dean Windass was narrowly off-target. Though having weathered this early Bradford pressure, we then took the lead. A cross from Michael Gray caught home keeper Gary Walsh in no-man’s land, and Niall Quinn then dispossessed Gunnar Halle to find his striking partner Kevin Phillips. And our marksman-in-chief, although coming under immediate pressure from the Bradford defence, still managed to lay the ball off to Alex Rae, who beat Gary Walsh with a superb, first-time, right-footed effort.
This goal seemed to inspire us, and we began to take the game to Bradford. For Michael Gray, Gavin McCann, Kevin Phillips, Niall Quinn and Nicky Summerbee all came close to adding to our lead. But Bradford were far from finished, as they created one or two chances of their own, and a dangerous free-kick from Peter Beagrie caused our defence an anxious moment or two, while Thomas Sorensen had to take a rather tantalising cross from Dean Windass at full stretch. But half-time arrived with us still a goal to the good, and perhaps good value for our lead. And things were to get much better in the second period.
A half-time downpour left the pitch rather sticky and soggy, but we still managed to put together a rather slick passing move just after the break, which culminated in Kevin Phillips shooting narrowly wide. But Bradford still appeared to possess a fair bit of fight within them, though while they put together one or two promising moves, these tended to lack any real incision. Thus it was left to us to show the way, and after Alex Rae had had a header tipped round the post by Gary Walsh, we settled our nerves a little with a second goal on sixty-eight minutes. A wonderful flowing move seemed to have broken down, before Michael Gray gained possession, advanced a few yards, before delivering a perfect cross for Niall Quinn to head home our second goal of the game.
Game over it seemed, though Bradford to their credit still refused to lie down and die, but both Lee Mills & Dean Saunders passed up good chances to drag their side back into the game, though Thomas Sorensen was then forced to make vital saves from Mills and Robbie Blake. And the value of these saves was perhaps shown when we put the result beyond doubt with a third goal two minutes from time, when following some fine work from Nicky Summerbee on the wing, Kevin Phillips forced the ball home.
Then, right on time, we put “the cherry on the cake” with a fourth goal. Kevin Phillips, after having chased a long ball forward, was fouled inside the area by Gary Walsh, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Phillips then gleefully smashed the ball high into the net for his tenth goal of the season, and to cap a fine afternoon’s work.
So after a bit of a rocky start to season 1999-00, we were now unbeaten in eight league and cup games, which now included three straight away wins in The Premiership, in which we’d scored ten goals and conceded just the one. This fine win also moved us up to second in the table, just a point behind leaders/reigning Champions Manchester United, and also no doubt put us in fine fettle for our next Premiership assignment, rather a more challenging one. A home game, live on SKY, versus sixth-placed Aston Villa, just over two weeks hence. Things were looking good so far in 1999-00….