(My match reports from our Premiership days – 1999-2000)
Match 01 – Premier League – August 7th 1999
Bradford City 1 (Saunders 89)
If Bradford City’s previous season was like a fairytale for their fans and management, then their first ever Premiership fixture – and first game in the top flight for 77 years – was a fairytale in which all the players got to cop off with Cinderella and Snow White.
Paul Jewell has made some smart investments over the summer, but none paid off more handsomely than the deal, only completed at 1.30pm on the Friday before the big kick-off, that saw Dean Saunders move to Valley Parade from Benfica. All this on a free transfer.
Talk about getting your money’s worth – the Welsh international came off the bench to drill home the winner after 89 minutes off backs-to-the-wall, clearances-off-the-line, edge-of-the-seat pressure against a Middlesbrough side that might have to start believing in fairies.
Bryan Robson mysteriously left out Paul Ince from the side, there was not even any room for him on the bench, and he preferred youngster Andy Campbell to last season’s top scorer Hamilton Ricard.
The selection looked like it would pay off – after honours were even in the first ten minutes, the home side flexed their muscles and won eight corners in a concerted spell of pressure. City were indebted to David Wetherall when he hooked a Brian Deane effort off the line.
Christian Ziege was Boro’s most impressive player, foraging up the left flank and putting in dangerous balls to the front men. But Paul Gascoigne looked out of sorts and was given a stern talking-to on ten minutes after fouling Neil Redfearn.
City were on the back foot for much of the first half as they struggled to come to terms with the change of pace in the higher division. Campbell had two great chances and Deane also went close in the opening period.
But Paul Jewell’s men showed real character and came back well in the second half. Their defending was valiant but they rarely tested former City keeper Mark Schwarzer – only a long shot by Gareth Whalley busied his afternoon.
Until the last minute denouement, that is – when Schwarzer could do nothing to prevent Saunders capping his debut with a goal after Lee Mills’ powerful run down the left resulted in a cross that the new boy gleefully smacked home.
Manager Paul Jewell was as delighted with the clean sheet as the three points. He said: “In the first half we were under the cosh but we defended superbly. When you keep a clean sheet, there’s always a chance you can sneak one at the other end. And in the second half I thought we were the better side. It took us a while to get used to it and we got our reward.”
If Bradford City continue to shock like this throughout the season, the bookies’ second-favourites for the drop may be staying up after all. Even if the fairytale doesn’t come true again, the Bantams are proving they have a right to attend the ball.
- Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Gordon, Vickers (Townsend 78), Festa, Mustoe, Gascoigne, Deane, O’Neill, Stamp, Ziege, Campbell (Ricard 70).
- Subs Not Used: Maddison, Roberts, Stockdale.
- Bradford City: Walsh, Wetherall, Mills, Whalley, Beagrie, O’Brien, Windass (Saunders 78), Halle, Dreyer, Jacobs, Redfearn.
- Subs Not Used: Blake, Todd, Clarke, Moore
- Booked: Beagrie 33, Redfearn 36, Halle 43
- Attendance: 33,762
- Referee: N. Barry (Scunthorpe).