Searching for talent in the lower Leagues can be a dispiriting chore, but occasionally it has its compensations. As late Christmas presents for a discerning football manager go, Nakhi Wells would be an acceptable alternative to a cashmere sweater from the sales.
The Bradford City striker, fresh from making Thomas Vermaelen wish he had never visited the self-proclaimed curry capital of the UK, looked to have played a pivotal role in inflicting Southend's first defeat in 12 games.
His substitution, to protect a knee problem, coincided with the late loss of a two-goal lead, which manager Phil Parkinson placed into the context of a breathless week. Wells's first-half goal, his 15th of the season, added to his burgeoning reputation, and justified the presence of a posse of scouts.
The Bermudan, who found an unlikely outlet at Carlisle before joining Bradford, thinks more quickly than the Neanderthal defenders of League Two and, at 21, has significant resale value. His natural game intelligence, fluidity of movement, and ability to finish with either foot will make him an inevitable target in January.
Parkinson, however, has the luxury of being able to resist overtures. "Nakhi is a good, good player who is better than this level," he admitted. "But no one is going anywhere. I can now go the other way, and bring people in."
Bradford eased seamlessly back into business, their role in the martyrdom of Arsène Wenger an afterthought. The PR stunts, involving Diana Ross and Dynamo, a tiresome graduate of the Uri Geller school of self-promotion, were placed into perspective.
This was a dose of reality, beyond the comprehension of pampered Premier League players and the plutocrats who use the game for personal advancement. There are few airs and graces at places like Roots Hall. Southend's Paul Sturrock, presented with his League Two manager-of-the-month trophy before kick-off, uses his last such award as a doorstop. He has managed to coax an unbeaten run out of players who are becoming accustomed to not being paid on time.
Worries about the mortgage in the run-up to Christmas were eased for the majority of Sturrock's squad when overdue payments were settled from receipts from the midweek FA Cup replay win over Bury, and an unexpected bonus payment from the transfer of Gary Hooper from Scunthorpe to Celtic.
However, the chairman, Ron Martin, is not one to offer false hope: "I know people say I should plan things better but that isn't always possible. I can't promise it won't happen again."
The wage bill is £100,000 a month. Coincidentally, this is the amount Martin turned down when West Ham wanted to buy Bilel Mohsni in July. When the chairman's bluff was called – he demanded £250,000 – he was forced to allow the French- Tunisian defender to leave on loan to Ipswich, who have yet to give him a start.
Mohsni is the classic lower-League maverick. He has picked up 19 bookings and three red cards since arriving in England in July 2010 and twice walked out during games, taking the train home. Sturrock will not have him back at the club.
Contracts at this level are short- term, minuscule, and dependent on fate. Bradford's win over Arsenal will bankroll the club for at least a season. It was worth up to £1 million in TV income, prize money, sponsorship revenue and gate receipts.
A limited amount will be reinvested in a team which took a mere £7,500 to assemble, but Parkinson is parsimonious by nature. He cancelled the players' Christmas party because of fixture congestion, without a murmur of discontent, and will ignore the opportunity presented by Bradford's FA Cup reprieve by playing a below-strength team in Tuesday's second-round replay against Brentford.
"I want to rest as many players as possible, rather than chasing more money in another cup competition," he said. "I can only push these players so far. They put themselves on the line for the club today, and the chairman is happy for me to play the kids. The whole ethos and culture of this club has turned round."
Just as he has to deal with the increasing interest in Wells, Parkinson must be aware of a sudden chance to indulge his own ambitions. He has six months left on his contract, and bigger clubs can use a manager with his ability to build functional sides on a restricted budget.
Bradford went two up on the hour, when Luke Prosser sliced a James Meredith cross into his own net, but ran out of legs in the final 10 minutes, when a clubbing header by centre-back Ryan Cresswell and Gavin Tomlin's ninth goal in as many games rescued the point.
By that time the scouts had departed. They will be back.
Southend (4-1-3-2): Smith; Clohessy, Cresswell, Prosser, Barker (Eastwood, 87); Mkandawire (Corr, 69); Hurst, Laird, Timlin; Tomlin, Assombalonga.
Bradford (4-4-2): Duke; Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Meredith; Thompson (Forsyth, 60), Doyle (Ravenhill, 80), Jones, Atkinson; Wells (Hines, 71), Hanson.
Referee Stephen Martin.Reuse content