This was largely a turgid affair until Paul Merson came off the bench to replace Alan Thompson nine minutes into the second half. Almost immediately he put a spark of life into the game that had been conspicuously missing before, raising the question of why he had not been there from the start.
Merson's movement and vision put Bradford under the sort of pressure they had successfully avoided earlier in the match, his angled drive forcing the first serious save of the afternoon from Gary Walsh after Steve Watson's original shot had been blocked. But it was Villa's other substitute, the bustling young forward Darius Vassell, who was primarily responsible for setting up the crucial goal. His surge took him to the by-line for the pull back and Lee Hendrie might have scored but saw his shot parried by Walsh. Dublin, largely ineffective up to this point, was lurking in the six-yard box and followed up to score from unmissable range.
Having taken a lead, Villa were never in danger of losing it and Dublin had a couple of other opportunities before the end. Hendrie also saw a strong shot pushed away by Walsh, but any more would have flattered Villa beyond all credibility.
In the first half they had been just as shapeless as their visitors and not much better than they had been in narrowly avoiding a severe embarrassment in the Worthington Cup at Chester in midweek. Only the constructive use of the ball by Gareth Barry, playing in an unaccustomed role at left-back, promised anything better, but there was little in the way of end product from him or anyone else.
Bradford could be reasonably satisfied with their containing operation. After a couple of early dashes, Julian Joachim was kept quiet by the use of Andy O'Brien, usually a speedy attacker himself, in a man-to-man marking job. City's problem lies not in their defensive application but in their total inability to create chances. The nearest they came yesterday was an effort wildly off target by Lee Mills, who departed at half-time with a thigh strain to be replaced by their new French signing, Bruno Rodriguez. He made little impact and Villa still had their aces to play.
"It's not bad when you can bring someone like him off the bench," the Bradford manager, Paul Jewell, said of Merson. "He's a player who can open up defences."
Villa's John Gregory declared himself well satisfied with both the result and the performance. "That's the beauty of having quality people on your bench," he said. "They can come on and change the game."Reuse content