Three points for the Bantams in Essex this Saturday ensured that they will now play in this season's Play Offs and contest for a return to the Championship after a twelve year wait. Lee Evans’ superbly taken goal in the twelfth minute of the game proved ultimately to be the winning goal. Southend threatened in the second period and Tyrone Barnett was denied by the bar before Paul Anderson, making his awaited return from injury, grazed the bar late on with a dipping volley from the edge of the box.
Backed by over 1,500 travelling supporters, City took the lead with the first real chance of the game. Making his debut for the home side, Piotr Malarczyk saw a pass towards Glen Kamara intercepted brilliantly by James Meredith, allowing Evans to pick up the loose ball just outside the box. The Wolves loanee moved into space before curling a shot into the bottom corner superbly from the edge of the area. A fine start to the game for Phil Parkinson’s men.
With their first chance of note, the home side forced Ben Williams into action. Ben Coker played a free-kick short to Ryan Leonard, teeing him up for a drive from 25 yards out which certainly had to be dealt with by the City stopper.
Josh Cullen then came close with a headed opportunity. Kyel Reid’s cross found Tony McMahon at the far post and he found Filipe Morais who looped the ball into the mix; Cullen then managed to loop a header in the direction of goal but the ball went over the bar to let United stopper Ted Smith off the hook.
City then threatened from a set-piece situation for the first time in the game; McMahon’s delivery was knocked down by Rory McArdle and the ball dropped to Evans, this time though the Welshman didn’t connect cleanly with a shot which was kept out rather routinely by Smith.
Barnett was a real threat in the air all afternoon long, and after he’d knocked down Leonard’s cross, Stephen McLaughlin tried an acrobatic attempt with his back to goal, but it lacked the required direction and went a yard or so over the crossbar.
Early on in the second half, City had a chance on the counter attack; Morais came forward down the middle of the pitch and fed the ball wide to McMahon who saw a first time, angled drive, diverted behind for a corner kick by the experienced United skipper, Adam Barrett.
The 36 year old defender was up from the back with Southend’s next attack and he connected with McLaughlin’s cross from the left hand side, before seeing an acrobatic attempt held onto with relative ease by Williams, who went on to register his 26th clean sheet of the season - an amazing achievement for himself and the rest of the team.
City had a penalty appeal turned down shortly afterwards when Morais’ cross from the right seemed to hit the top of Coker's arm. Fortunately for the home side, referee James Adcock awarded only a corner kick.
Not known for his goal-scoring prowess, Stephen Darby was inches away from converting from McMahon’s dangerous low centre from the right but he couldn’t quite get enough on the ball to fire in from close range.
Southend were pressing for an equalising goal and were unfortunate not to get one when Barnett was denied by the underside of the bar after hooking a shot towards goal when he’d latched onto Malarczyk’s knock down in the penalty area.
Seconds later, United went close again. Leonard catapulted a long thrown into the box and Williams made an alert stop from close range to deny Barnett before making sure he wasn’t beaten by a follow-up in and amongst a melee of players inside the six yard box.
Leonard himself came close with a daisy-cutter from 25 yards that went inches wide of the target after he’s got the better of James Hanson in a 50-50 challenge. Smith then made a superb save to deny Jamie Proctor at the other end when Anderson had fed the ball to him neatly.
Anderson was making his return to action following a leg-break back in September and he almost found the net in tremendous style. Latching onto Hanson’s flick on injury time, he saw a dipping volley from the edge of the area graze the top of the crossbar. What a return that would’ve been!
The one goal proved enough to earn City a deserved place in the play-off places. The result also guarantees the Bantams a top-five finish in the league table, meaning Parkinson's amazing record of improving the club's league position each season continues.