Phil Parkinson’s building blocks remain in place for his new-look team

19 Aug
Image by Ritchie Jervis

Image by Ritchie Jervis

Crawley Town vs Bradford City preview

@Broadfield Stadium on Tuesday 19 August, 2014

By James Storrie

Bradford City travel to hosts Crawley Town on Tuesday night and will be looking to improve on their poor record at the Broadfield Stadium.

After a summer of mass change and rebuilding, it has been a welcome relief to see the Bantams take positive strides forward, a week into the new campaign. This summer was quite an unusual one for both the club and the fans, one that we have not really seen since Phil Parkinson took over the reins from Peter Jackson/Colin Cooper. That ill-fated summer of 2011, where Jackson spent his time chasing unrealistic targets, shared small similarities with what Parkinson has gone through recently in terms of having a threadbare squad as the season kicked off. Yet the differences between the two summer proved vast from kick off, as the class of 2014 have put in three strong performances in a week.

Another impressive quality to go with Parkinson’s overall management of the club is just how little the fans learn of the incomings to the football club. The papers and message boards have scarcely contained a rumour concerning the football club all summer, and it is due to this quiet approach that the club have secured the likes of Billy Clarke, Gary Liddle and Alan Sheehan. The recruitment drive has not gone altogether swimmingly, however, and it is obvious that Parkinson hasn’t landed his first choice targets in certain areas and has had to settle for other names further down his list.

This is one of the frustrating scenarios that all managers face up and down the country and respective leagues, and it has been impressive how Parkinson has started building the foundations of a strong side even with the well-publicised budgetary constraints that shackled some of his recruitment plans.

There are certain qualities that come from the manager that he has installed in all three of his sides that he has created whilst at the club. These, without dismissing the other qualities that he has brought to the party, are a strong ethos in respect of hard work, discipline and organisation. This may sound like the obvious, but it’s the heartbeat and lifeblood of every good team. How many times do you see a Phil Parkinson side lose their cool? Run off their shape? Or become unprofessional when losing and concede heavily when chasing a game?

This stems from good coaching from Parkinson and his wider team, and it’s these qualities that have been evident in the opening three games. There are obvious weaknesses that are a concern, and there is clear room for improvement. However, there are a lot of positive aspects to take forward into the season also. A lot of the summer was spent highlighting the new diamond formation the club would start the season with, and it has enjoyed mixed results so far.

One of the early problems with the diamond has proven to be the lack of protection it offers to the full backs and, if the opposition quickly switches play, then it can lead to Stephen Darby and Sheehan/Meredith being exposed to a two on one from the opposition full back and winger. This was evidenced particularly for Coventry’s second equaliser last week. One of the various more positive aspects has been the emergence of Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates, who have both flourished so far with the greater flexibility and potential to roam that the system offers the midfielders.

The solidarity that Parkinson instialls in his team will be crucial in the upcoming months. It is clear that despite the nice football and interchanging of positions, City remain unlikely to be free-scoring this season. On the other hand, with two clean sheets and only one goal from open play conceded, it is hoped that the impressive defence we possess will help us to edge close encounters in what is set to be a very even and closely-contested division.

The need to stay strong on a cold Tuesday night is something Parkinson spoke about last week before Morecambe and, with Crawley unbeaten and yet to concede a goal, the Bantams resolve will be tested to the hilt.

Crawley have had a summer much like the Bantams with a sea of outgoings and incomings. They have made some notable signings. Two of which will be particularly of interest to City fans, one being experienced former trialist Brian Jensen and loanee Ryan Dickson. Izale McLeod is another to have joined and is a forward who always scores goals at this level.

It is likely that the Bantams will shuffle the proverbial pack for the game after three matches in a week coming so soon into the season. It is hard to foresee many changes in defence, bar the returning  Sheehan, however. In midfield the likes of Matty Dolan, Filipe Morais and Mo Shariff could all win starting spots in an area Steve Parkin described as ‘leggy’ after the weekends exhaustions in the draw with Walsall. It is likely that James Hanson will be partnered by eighteen year old Mason Bennett in attack again as the Derby youngster looks to get up to speed; with the returning Aaron McLean waiting in the wings to continue in his quest for match fitness.

Remarking on the unremarkable

17 Aug

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Walsall 0

Bradford City 0

Saturday 16th August, 2014

Written by David Lawrence (images by Ritchie Jervis)

Those of The Faithful that couldn’t make this match due to still being on holiday must have had a smile on their face as they heard about this ‘steady’ draw. Even those that couldn’t make it due to work commitments may have had a wry smile as they’d not missed out on one of the better ones. In fact, if the sun is shining where you are now or you have better things to do, perhaps consider catching up with this when life’s a bit quieter and you’ll not be missed.

Those that were missing on the pitch, that would have likely started for City, were Billy Clarke, out with a slight strain, and Alan Sheehan who is away on bereavement leave. Peace be with him and his family, and the family of Walsall’s former director Clive Welch, for whom there was held an impeccably kept minutes silence before the game, showing football fans’ ability to show compassion and respect.

Into the team came James Meredith at left back and the newly signed Derby loanee and ‘hot prospect’ Mason Bennett who played alongside James Hanson. A few other players came back into the side from the midweek Morecambe game to give the team a familiar ‘starting eleven’ look, with the young keeper Jordan Pickford behind Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies, and captain Stephen Darby at right back. The midfield diamond was made up of the impressive Gary Liddle sitting deep, the attacking minded Billy Knott on the left, and the most improved-from-last-year pair of Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates playing on the left and at point respectively.

Walsall’s team also included some surprises, with youngsters Liam Kinsella and Billy Clifford being handed their Saddlers league debuts. A recent capture from Chelsea, Clifford, 21, started in centre-midfield for the injured James O’Connor and Kinsella, 18, came in at right-back for James Baxendale, who was benched. That bench also included another new signing, that of winger Anthony Forde, who had signed from Wolves earlier in the week. All in all, these new signings gave Walsall a slightly younger looking team as they lined up beside City on the pitch.

The crowd was a bit spartan in the tidy but average sized third-tier ground, with perhaps some of the Saddlers’ fans also enjoying a summer vacation. City did their part to make up the numbers, with just under a thousand in the crowd of around four and a half thousand. There were plenty of empty seats even in the away end and, therefore, no chance of a repeat of the bickering about sitting in the correct seat as there had been on the previous visit to the Banks stadium.

In fact, there was little similarity to the pulsating game of last year that City won 0-2, Reid scoring a scorching free kick right in front of the jubilant away following. If that was a remarkable shot in a remarkable game this game, was more of an unremarkable affair that at times threatened to feel like a pre-season game. Not that both teams weren’t trying, but the late recruitment by both teams clearly had an impact on the level of understanding between the players and the subsequent football on offer, particularly in the final third.

The game started brightly enough with both teams quickly settling into their own styles of play. Walsall played the ball about in midfield very confidently, with the aforementioned Clifford, Ashley Grimes and Romaine Sawyers linking up well and often using the impressive Kinsella out wide to supply the threat. For their part, City employed a slightly more forceful style that involved periods of passing and periods of mixing it up with the familiar ball aimed at the once again reliable head of James Hanson. The big man put himself about well and made an early opening for himself that he could only manage to head wide.

Whilst Walsall had had a lot of the possession in the early exchanges, the best chance came to the bundle of energy that is Billy Knott around the 12 minute mark. Having picked the pocket of one of the opposition players in midfield, he raced forward, twisting and turning through three defenders only to tamely drive the ball wide of the target from 25 yards. Unfortunately, this ‘nearly’ feeling was to be the theme of much of the game as City sat back and frustrated Walsall into shooting from range, as Sawyers did on 19 minutes, and City looked to score with quick passing break-outs and a mix of clever and sometimes not-so-clever set pieces.

Jordan Pickford was showing his age and his talent in the nets on more than one occasion, collecting high balls confidently and then rushing impetuously to clear the ball and making a hash of it. He did however, show he’s something special on 33 minutes when he anticipated and collected a clever ball from Clifford played over the top of Davies, which Tom Bradshaw would have surely scored passed a lesser well positioned keeper.

Up at the other end the other new loanee, Bennett, was also showing promise. For a young lad, he was putting himself about by using his strong frame well and showing some guile. He did, however, look slightly off the pace and in need of more match fitness. This was particularly evident in a one v one footrace from the halfway line toward the Saddlers’ goal during the latter stages of the first half, which he lost. This incident showed him more of a ‘Craig Fagan’ than a ‘Peter Beagrie’ type winger/attacker. Don’t be fooled though, in this case the lad has class.

The game moved along at a steady pace, with a few tasty tackles and the odd corner keeping the ‘nearly’ exciting theme going, but nothing much else transpired and as the half-time whistle blew, everyone was thankful for the break. The skies were still overcast and some were likely musing where they could have been.

Eager to get on with it, likely under more directed instruction from Phil Parkinson, City came out early for the second half. It was a sign of intent. There’d been no substitutions on either side but City clearly had a mind to pick up the pace and Walsall had clearly been told to push up the field a little further – i.e. to ‘risk their arm’ a little bit more. This led to 10 minutes of entertainment where City came close to scoring several times through Bennett, with only a last minute tackle by Andy Taylor stopping the starlet from scoring. One has the feeling Bennett will very quickly move from a threat to a force at this level.

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By around 60 minutes though the early bluster of the restart had blown itself out and the status quo had resumed. The Faithful had sensed this and switched their earlier efforts of supporting the team to the familiar chants of “City ‘Til I Die”, dropping heavy hints to the management that it was time for a change. “He scores with his hand, Aaron McLean, he scores with his hands” and “Aaron McLean, goal machine.” Ask and it is given. On comes McLean to more praise, making an immediate impact by jostling two defenders, as-is-his-want, and scuffing a shot that narrowly misses the target, as-can-be-the-case.

And then we are ‘treated’ to ten minutes of NOTHING. Dolan came on for Knott on 66 minutes. Still NOTHING.

Thankfully, the wizard that is Yeates woke us up from the spell with some lovely dribbling and passing that at one stage took him from the centre of midfield to the by-line, where he played a delightful ball in that Hanson will have been ‘sick as a parrot’ not to have got on the end of. Now playing the pantomime baddy, Parkinson ‘hooked’ Yeates for Mo Shariff. It looked a bit desperate. Whilst there was clearly a plan to use the youngster’s pace to play him off of the shoulder of Hanson a la Wells, he’s a good two seasons away from being another Nahki. Let’s hope the windfall from the cup can find Parkinson the non-benchwarmer replacement he, the team and fans deserve.

The game was petering out fast. McLean had the best chance for City having once again wrestled free of Downing, but once again scuffed his chance with only the keeper to beat. By the ninetieth minute even the most optimistic were resigned to a scoreless draw. However, Walsall finally managed a shot on target in injury time that threatened to rob City of a point when Adam Chambers lashed a 20 yarder toward the top corner. Not to be outdone, young Pickford made a brilliant save to ensure City’s unbeaten run continues onto their next match at Crawley. It was a remarkable save in an unremarkable game.

CITY: Pickford, McArdle, Meredith, Darby, Davies, Yeates (Shariff 76), Liddle, Knott (Dolan 66), Kennedy, Bennett (McLean 64), Hanson

Not used: Williams, Routis, McBurnie, Morais

Maintaining momentum as City travel to Walsall

15 Aug

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Walsall vs Bradford City preview

@Bescot Stadium on Saturday 16th August, 2014

 

By Katie Whyatt

Wednesday night’s Capital One draw threw up some interesting ties, but the highlight was undoubtedly Bradford City’s home clash with Leeds United. The game will mark the first time the two sides have met at Valley Parade for 14 years: back in 2000, Stan Collymore and Mark Viduka offered the goals as the spoils were shared.

Undoubtedly, City have always sought to match Leeds, but the current quality within the Bantams’ ranks, coupled with the malaise and uncertainty that has categorised the Whites’ tumultuous past year, means the divisional gulf is just a mere irrelevance. This tie promises to be one of the most closely fought and hotly fuelled of the entire season. For the first time in a long time, Leeds will stand before a Bradford team that will truly, truly grasp what this rivalry means to us. You close your eyes now and the silhouettes form in your mind’s eye: Jason Kennedy and Billy Knott swerving through the centre of the park; Mark Yeates dancing at the tip of the diamond; Sheehan and Darby doggedly fortifying the back line; Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies valiantly standing as the final bastions.

But that’s one for the future. Width of A Post will offer bumper coverage of the game when the time comes, but the focus now, both among the fans and within the club, rightfully turns to more imminent challenges. With three games to go before United’s team bus rumbles down Midland Road, the onus is on the team to make sure they enter that mouth-watering tie with the league position bolstered further and a hat-trick of promising performances locked under their belts. On the back of the Coventry win, it would be too costly to not maintain that momentum. To echo the doomed words of Steven Gerrard, this must not slip now. We go to Walsall exactly the same.

That said, with Sky snatching the TV rights for the derby, a much needed cash windfall, thought to be £100,000, suddenly comes into the picture. It’s difficult to say at this stage whether that money will go straight into the playing pot or instead towards recuperating this year’s overspend, but the noises from Parkinson suggest he is still trying to bring in new faces.

The picture isn’t complete yet, and we are just about entering the phase of the season where the planned loan signings will become available. Knott and Yeates are capable of playing wide, as is new recruit Mason Bennett, but perhaps one more out-and-out winger is on the shopping list. In the Telegraph and Argus today, Parkinson spoke about possibly loaning out Heaton, Clarkson and McBurnie over the course of the season. The squad looks thinned again without those bodies, but not as desperately bare as it was months ago. Either way, transfer activity is not done and dusted. Parkinson knows the picture can change in an instant. In football, a week is a long time, and five acquisitions at the eleventh hour last week illustrate this. Things can still, and will, fall into place.

Two wins from two – those wins a convincing home performance and decent away showing – have all but assuaged worries about the quality of the starting eleven and, to an extent, have started to condemn woes about the depth of the squad as a whole. Man for man, we stand looking at the most technically gifted and tactically astute side we’ve had in a long time – and they’re even stronger together. Clearly, early season enthusiasm needs to be reined in, but the versatility within the squad heralds a variety that can only serve the Bantams well throughout the campaign. Questions need to be answered still, but there is time – just. The constant question marks hovering over McLean need to be banished, but he is desperate to succeed. What’s been achieved thus far remains pleasing.

Turning to tomorrow, Parkinson has promised to keep shuffling his pack, breeding fitness and competitiveness within the squad so that everyone is up to speed when the heat is turned up towards the end of the month. The general adaptability of the squad means predicting the line-up feels fruitless anyway, but Parkinson’s promise to shake things up makes the guessing game even harder.

The City supremo said yesterday Mason Bennett could potentially be handed a start. A bright – and young – winger also adept at playing as a centre forward, Bennett is held in high regard at parent club Derby County, and adds another dimension to City’s build up play. As with any young player, though, he needs to be bedded carefully, and an outing so shortly after his arrival may come too soon for him. Alan Sheehan is most likely to miss Saturday’s game having flown back to Ireland in the wake of a family bereavement, meaning James Meredith will play at left back. Competition for this slot is rife, so the Australian will have to snatch this opportunity to assert his claim for a place in the side. Davies should partner McArdle at centre half and Darby will retain his place on the right flank. Pickford will start again in goal.

The midfield and forward line will probably to see the biggest areas of change. Gary Liddle is back in contention and should be selected, as should Billy Knott after resting for the most part of Tuesday’s game. If Bennett starts, it’s likely to be at Jason Kennedy’s expense, but perhaps Kennedy’s movement, conservatism, versatility and tidiness will be favoured if Knott is deployed as the wideman. Either Mark Yeates or Billy Clarke could feature in the in the hole – perhaps even Knott – but it will most likely be Yeates, with Clarke partnering Hanson up to ā la Saturday. Sadly, a full 90 minutes would probably again come too soon for McLean – expect him to come on for the final half hour or longer.

City go into the Walsall game on prime footing. The start to the season couldn’t have been better, really. The task now is to maintain this momentum, to walk away from this weekend with the diamond nestled further and the team working well together. The prospect of playing in front of a packed out Valley Parade later this month offers a tantalising incentive. If Parkinson uses that wisely, the tempo will be ramped up now.

All right on a diamond night as McLean snatches late winner

13 Aug
Image by Alex Dodd

Image by Alex Dodd

Morecambe 0

Bradford City 1

McLean 83

Tuesday 12th August, 2014

By Gareth Walker

Aaron McLean’s controversial late goal was the difference between City and a decent Morecambe side at a wet and blustery Globe Arena.

“Bradford by the sea” is a tough place to win at the best of times and a miserable August night so early in the season made the task that little bit tougher.

City made four changes to the side that beat Coventry on the opening day. Ben Williams made his debut, replacing the cup tied Jason Pickford in goal. James Meredith came in at left back, with Alan Sheehan shifting to centre back to replace Andrew Davies, who was on the bench. Matty Dolan replaced Billy Knott on the left hand side of the diamond. Finally, Filipe Morais also made his City bow on the right of diamond in place of Gary Liddle, with Jason Kennedy shifting to the holding role.

The game started quite slowly with both sides attempting to keep the ball on the floor and pass their way into creating chances. Unfortunately, goalmouth action was at a premium and the highlight of the first half hour from a City perspective was the cajoling of Kevin Ellison, which seems pretty standard whenever we come up against him. This reached a crescendo when he was booked for an ugly looking late challenge on Matty Dolan.

From an attacking perspective the Bantams looked most creative down the right hand side, with Morais impressing with his ball control and crossing ability in the early exchanges. Morecambe, however, were playing their part too and they grew into the game as the half wore on, with Ellison and the impressive Jack Redshaw being at the forefront of most of their good work.

As mentioned, City looked most impressive down the right hand side, with Meredith looking a little rusty and uncharacteristically unwilling to get forward down the left. This meant Morecambe in turn were getting most of their joy down their right too. It was down this side that the first real chance of the game materialised, with Redshaw showing good skill and a quick turn of pace to outstrip Sheehan and break towards the city box. Fortunately, nobody had made the break with him and his cross-cum-shot was watched harmlessly wide by Williams.

In truth, that was as close as the former Manchester United youngster came to being tested in the whole game, as from that point onwards the City defence stood relatively firm and restricted the home side to mainly shots from distance.

That first chance of the game appeared to spur the Bantams into action and the remainder of the first period was played mainly in the Morecambe half, with Kennedy inparticular continuing where he left off on Saturday by putting in another tireless and industrious display.

The pressure built up and resulted in a good chance for James Hanson just before half time, when a quickly taken free kick allowed Morais to cross and find the target man at the back post. His header completely beat Barry Roche but was smuggled off the line at the last moment by a defender, just as the away fans were beginning to celebrate.

The half-time whistle brought with it a torrential downpour that continued into the beginning of the second half and made playing conditions extremely difficult.

City started the second half on the front foot, as is so often the case under Phil Parkinson. However, chances remained at a premium, with the lack of width that comes with the use of the diamond formation proving problematic as they tried to break down a well organised and often physical Morecambe defence. In truth. it is difficult to remember either goalkeeper having a save to make in what was a scrappy but entertaining contest.

As the half wore on there seemed to be an end-to-end feel to the game developing, albeit without any chances being created, and it looked as though that final pass or little bit of quality was lacking from both sides just when it was needed. Parkinson made the decision to change things around in an attempt to find an answer to the quality issue by replacing Mark Yeates, Billy Clarke and Morais with Mo Shariff, Billy Knott and McLean. Both Yeates and Clarke had put in lively performances without either of them really reaching the high standards that they set at the weekend, and indeed it was their replacements, Knott and McLean, who combined to win the game for City.

Knott was the one who provided the quality that had previously been lacking when he broke from midfield and chipped a delicious ball into the path of McLean. In truth, McLean’s first touch was poor and the ball bounced away from him into the path of Roche and a defender. A scramble ensued as all three players tried to get to the ball first. A couple of ricochets later and the ball trickled over the line clearly having finally come off McLean’s arm.

When I say clearly, it was clear to the players and the 1,000 city supporters behind the goal, but not clear to the referee or the linesmen, and despite the angry protests of the entire Morecambe back four the goal stood. On the away terrace we were hysterically ecstatic, and it wasn’t long before an extremely vocal chant of “he scores with his hands” was being sung at the embarrassed officials.

The late goal didn’t allow much time for an equaliser, which was harsh on the Shrimps, who had impressed me with their overall play and technical ability. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if they were challenging for promotion from League Two at the end of the season.

From our perspective, however, the bright spots were undoubtedly McLean getting on the scoresheet and the continued resurgence of Kennedy, who was even having his name sung towards the end of the game.

Now, with two wins from our opening two games and a new loan signing in the shape of Derby youngster Mason Bennett on board, we can look forward to the next few weeks of the season and, in particular, the draw for the second round of the cup tomorrow, which will hopefully bring with it a much needed financially lucrative tie.

CITY: Williams, Darby, Meredith, Kennedy, Sheehan, McArdle, Morais (Knott 69), Dolan, Hanson, Clarke (Shariff 78), Yeates (McLean 69)

Not used: Davies, McBurnie, Urwin, Pollard

Dawn of a new era as City travel to Morecambe

12 Aug

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Morecambe vs Bradford City preview

@Globe Arena on Tuesday 12th August, 2014 

By Mahesh Johal

The introduction to this match preview has been a difficult one to write. With Phil Parkinson taking his men to Morecambe for the First Round of the Capital One Cup, it is tough not to tread over old ground and reminisce about the ‘History Makers’ (last time I use the phrase – maybe). Let’s be honest, the start of this competition serves as an annual reminder of their achievements. Conversing over social media, some believe that fans have clung on to success of that campaign too much whilst others are more than happy to recall their memories. With this in mind, I have genuinely struggled to find the line between recalling, and boring you with events of the 2012-13 season.

In the end, I have decided to plug the Width of a Post marvellous coverage of the League Cup Miracle and give you the opportunity to hark back to those famous nights at your own leisure. With the majority of those ‘History Makers’ (last time – honest) leaving the club, this year’s First Round acts a nice point to end one successful chapter and hopefully start another one. Whilst the personnel bearing the claret and amber shirts are different from the ones we are familiar to watching, Saturday proved that under Parkinson stewardship, the club is entering a new and exciting dawn.

“New kids on the block”

If Saturday was the start of the new chapter, Billy Knott may well have been introduced himself as one of the new lead characters. A bundle of energy, Knott buzzed around the pitch all afternoon and was the player that caught my eye the most. With the ball at his feet, he looked comfortable, whilst his mobility and persistence was the instigator for the first goal. The first newbie to get their own chant, Knott certainly looks to have won the Valley Parade faithful over quickly.

A knock may force him miss tonight’s game but this could open the door for Matty Dolan to get his first start of the season alongside Gary Liddle. A rangy player who gives the side a presence in midfield, Liddle seemed to be in the right place at the right time throughout Saturday’s game. Whilst I am already a bit bored of the constant chatter about ‘the diamond’, it was clear to see the interchangeability within the Bradford engine room, and the positive affect it had in our play. Our midfield still has the vigour and attitude of its predecessors, but there was a mobility, slickness and intricacy that at times tore Coventry apart.

Jason Kennedy and the second coming

Tonight’s midfield should be completed with Mark Yeates and Jason Kennedy. It’s funny what a difference a week makes. Kennedy rightfully got the plaudits in the Monday press but it was only last week that he was rumoured for a move away to Hartlepool.  Seven days later, his wonderful dribble and delivery set up the winning goal for James Hanson. Coming into the club last season, there was a pressure on Kennedy. Many, me included, saw how influential he was during his Rochdale days and saw him as the heir apparent to Gary Jones. Compared to last season version, this Kennedy looked relaxed and added balance to the midfield. Maybe this style of play can help get the most of last season’s buys?

Admittedly it may sound that I am getting ahead of myself but I can assure I am not. It is imperative that these midfielders build on the promise shown on Saturday. However I don’t watch this club to moan. I was buoyed by their performance and look forward to their offerings in weeks to come. Whilst it hurt to see some players leave in the summer, the style in which City’s midfield played maybe justified Parkinson’s decision to release some of those familiar faces.

“The Usual Suspects”

With all of last season back four returning, there is a real steel about the side. Albeit two sloppy moments; I thought the defence looked solid on Saturday with Rory McArdle looking his assured best alongside Andrew Davis and Stephen Darby. Added to those is the nonchalance of Alan Sheehan, City have a fantastic defensive foundation for this season. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way to Sheehan either. I just got the feeling watching his cool penalty and general demeanour around the pitch that he is an extremely relaxed and calm individual.

With Christopher Routis yet to receive clearance to play, one would expect Saturday’s back four to start; unless Parkinson wants to give James Meredith or youngster Niall Heaton a run out. The goalkeeper they’ll be guarding is also an unknown. With Jordon Pickford’s loan arrangements making him unavailable, either Matt Urwin or Ben Williams will be make their debut in place of the Sunderland youngster in net.

Finally James Hanson will lead the line after his double heroics on Saturday. My praise cannot be higher for our number nine; both his work rate and his headers to win Saturday’s game were fantastic. Together with Billy Clarke, the forward partnership looked in tune and a threat. Unfortunately Clarke appears likely to miss the game through injury so Aaron McLean has an early chance to reclaim his position in the starting eleven. The response he got from the Kop demonstrates that fans are still behind McLean. But after Clarke’s impressive showing, the competition to partner Hanson is starting to hot up.

Whilst the Capital One Cup and Bradford City will always be synonymous together, I go back to my preview of this January’s Preston North End game. After the signing of three loan players and the exits of Ricky Ravenhill and Alan Connell, I discussed how it was the beginning of the end of the side we loved so much. A full two years on from the start of the competition that made their names, change is complete.

What it’s all about

9 Aug

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Bradford City 3

Hanson 27 + 90

Sheehan 49 (pen)

Coventry City 2

Johnson 41+ 89

Saturday 9th August, 2013

Written by Katie Whyatt

It’s why you’re a football fan, days like this. Days when everything just seems to fall into place, all at once, and everything looks to work. Days when you can forget about the budget cut, forget about the challenges ahead, forget about the finances, the numbers, the scars from last season – forget about everything else but the present, this game. This beautiful, beautiful game. Age-old escapism, that oldest form of catharsis – forgetting the world for 90 minutes. Aptly, my iPod clicked Clean Bandit onto shuffle as the car rolled towards Valley Parade. When I am with you, there’s no place I’d rather be.

That’s the wonderful thing about the opening day. That immortal notion, anything is possible, the sentiment that lures us back every season, rises from the stomach as soon as Saturday comes. Positivity, hope, fun, ambition – the cornerstones of being a football fan thrown down for all to see. And why not?

It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that football is supposed to be fun. We go through what we go through because we love Bradford City, and we love what it means to be a football supporter. It’s days like this, when you’re thrown through the whole gamut of emotions, that you discover that topsy-turvy feeling. It’s days like this, when you’re treated to such energy, such passion, such diligence, from your starting eleven, that everything seems right in the world. It’s days like this, when you scroll down a Twitter feed littered with impromptu marriage proposals to @billyclarke7, that you know being a football fan is something special. It’s days like this when you love supporting Bradford City.

City’s first opening day victory for six years had all the spice, speed and sparkle of a winning performance. The diamond worked impressively. Kennedy and Yeates, for whom last season was a year to forget as they stumbled through a crooked personal campaign, looked revitalised, catching the eye with some neat football and reading the game superbly. This latest Bantams incantation are enthrallingly intelligent, and knocked the ball around with all the vigour and swagger of a proficiently organised and experienced unit.

But what stood out most was their willingness to work for each other. To move for each other, to pound the pitch for each other, to win back possession for each other. There was an understanding, a cohesion, that looked new, looked renewed. And that sat hand in hand with an awareness of the fact that this crowd – this amazing, colourful crowd that supported the team so vocally today – will back to the hilt any player that performs with meaning.

Fears about team spirit were absolutely assuaged. Tackling with conviction, tackling for the team – every single one of them.

Parkinson deployed the diamond formation he had been honing over pre-season. Jason Kennedy and Billy Knott made up the wings as Gary Liddle anchored, with Mark Yeates deployed in the hole. Billy Clarke and James Hanson formed the front two at the head of the side.

Coventry were to provide a stern test. While they might have been generally weaker than they were this time last season, there was quality within their ranks. For all the fans’ downbeat caution – downtrodden after losing top scorers Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson in January and July respectively, and disillusioned following their well-documented off-field problems (the impassioned ‘we want to go home’ song on 35 minutes in protest at their upheaval from the Rioch, was a moving outcry) – Pressley has recruited wisely. As Jordan Clarke pinged a shot just over the crossbar on two minutes, you began to fear the worst.

But City brushed off the early scares and found their feet in incredible fashion. Even in these early days, with new faces to integrate and a new formation to embed, the hallmarks are totally promising. These players look to know each other inside out and backwards. At their high points today, Bradford paraded the pitch with a militant swagger and confidence under which almost every run and every delivery was bang on the money. For a comparison, think of when Swansea City are on it – think of how organised they look. How efficient everything is. How every movement looks tried and tested, practiced a thousand times over. Everyone is aware, like there’s some telepathic understanding –  and that’s what it was like. Balls played and runs made miles before Coventry knew what had hit them. This squad seems so clever and so creative, and these boys are working so, so well together.

Today was one for the purists. I keep closing my eyes to see Sheehan despatching Mark Yeates, Jason Kennedy laying off for Stephen Darby, Billy Clarke knocking balls to feet. Chances were being created, but in new and inventive ways. Crosses from the wings, the long ball from the back, the big kicks from Pickford, motions forward from midfield. All this variety, all this energy.

Billy Knott and Alan Sheehan looked beautifully compatible, with Sheehan finding Knott on the overlap and the winger sending a teasing cross to Clarke. Gary Liddle broke up the play well and has Doyle’s eye for a pass, but his increased mobility allowed him to roam the pitch to alleviate the pressure in all areas. In the second half, Liddle scrambled a ball off the line to deny the visitors, before moments later charging forwards to send through Hanson.

Meanwhile, Billy Clarke is clearly inventive enough to make things happen and anticipates everything superbly, linking up with Hanson in ways McLean unfortunately struggled to do last year. The opening goal came when Knott intelligently found Clarke, and the Irishman turned and teed up for Hanson to direct the cross home. There were understandably worries Hanson could be inadvertently phased out while the diamond comes to sparkle, but Clarke’s ability to find pockets of space and generate movements meant Hanson was as involved as ever.

Today, Clarke staked a massive claim for a place in the team. That he played somewhat out of position – he cites his favourites as either slightly off the frontman or just behind the front two, in the hole – is indicative of his desire to take one for the team. Clarke’s versatility suddenly entails a plethora of attacking options for Parkinson. Potentially, he could counter any defensive formation. Both Aaron McLean and Billy Clarke look like origins, players who want to make things happen and set attacks in motion. Whoever wins the starting jersey will help to characterise the success of City’s season, but, until then, the team are by no means treading water until McLean’s return. Hanson and Clarke is a totally viable partnership.

Most strikingly, Jason Kennedy looked a new man, hounding back possession with crunching challenges and insightfully feeding Billy Clarke and Stephen Darby using probing passes. The midfielder looks to be entering something of a second coming, and what a perfect antidote today will be to his hugely frustrating first year in claret and amber. Don’t give up on him yet.

Coventry equalised just before the break. City defended slackly from a dubious corner, overlooking Reda Johnson’s imposing presence and allowing the Sky Blues centre half to exploit the space. Pickford came to meet the cross when, arguably, he should have remained on his line, but it was too late. Johnson nodded home at the near post.

It was a crushing blow for City – Pickford in particular, whose kicking was beginning to win over the home support. At one point, he young goalkeeper’s superb kick from his box found a solitary Clarke, who held the ball up before crossing for Kennedy to backheel to Allsop. Pickford found a man every time, and quickly, always looking to fuel a counter-attack. The Sunderland loanee later came into his own with a string of excellent second-half saves: after handling a free kick strongly, he dived superbly to deny John Fleck from distance. Pickford is still learning, but he’s learning fast.

Following a hugely engaging run of play from the hosts as the second half got underway, Sheehan teasing corner was curling straight to the path of Hanson, but the striker was pushed. The referee immediately pointed to the spot and Sheehan tucked away the penalty – City’s first, incidentally, since this same fixture last November.

But it was all square just moments from time, as Reda Johnson knocked home from close range with a tidy effort. As Steve Pressley and his cohorts plunged into celebrations on the sidelines, it all felt over, City cruelly robbed of the three points they’d toiled so hard for. Everything tinged by that goal, all the merits about to be tainted.

We felt glum for less than a minute.

You can never switch off in football. It’s a cliché, a tired gimmick, but it’s so cruelly, ruthlessly, perfectly true. Kennedy surged up from the halfway line and delivered a textbook cross to Hanson, and the forward dutifully nodded in to send a packed Valley Parade into raptures.

Disbelief, mania, pandemonium. The tides had changed in an eyeblink. That spirit, that trademark, hallowed spirit that has defined the sides Parkinson has assembled over the past three years, is still there. Anyone else would have rolled over then – tied at 2-2 with a minute on the clock – but they didn’t. There was a comforting familiarity about it, seeing City recharge and go again so soon after utter heartbreak. But that’s this club. That spirit is their trump card.

Today dispelled a number of the anxieties that had staggered pre-season. The club are still light on the numbers, and it remains to be seen how Parkinson plans to approach next week’s cup tie in terms of preserving players, but the squad’s core is unyieldingly strong, and recent additions mean it no longer looks so painfully thin. City were composed and committed, playing with a new sense of guile and tenacity. The diamond flows well – it’s beautiful to watch and far less rigid than last season’s stricter 4-4-2. These players are technically astute enough to be handed a license to break free, and, though they worked in packs, interchanged and moved seamlessly.

For the moment, De Vita, too, is still in the picture: the Italian could be a solution to the depth problem, but the reality is that he isn’t much better than the alternatives, and doesn’t seem to offer anything not catered for. The jury also remains out on Jordan Pickford, though the 20 year old showed huge promise today.

It’s easy to get carried away by the opening day, but why not? Let’s not lose perspective or run away with ourselves, but let us relish this feeling. There will be trials this season, moments when things don’t fall our way or things don’t go well, and there will be times when we want to pack it in and end up questioning why we bother.

And the answer is today. Games like today, with the atmosphere and the weather and the diamond and new season enthusiasm and last minute winners and converted penalties and new signings and a totally unpredictable stream of events that leave you gasping for breath and begging for more. We all felt like children again today: ridden of cynicism and scepticism, and just taken away by the showing on a day devoid of anticlimax.

Today was special. The football was special, these players were special – the fans, us, our atmosphere, was special.

Because this is what it’s all about, days like this. Being giddy and optimistic, young and transfixed, taken aback and taken away.

This is what it’s all about.

City: Pickford, Davies, McArdle, Darby, Sheehan, Knott (Dolan 71), Yeates, Liddle, Kennedy, Clarke (McLean 86), Hanson

Not used: Meredith, Shariff, Morais, Urwin, Heaton

2014/15 previewed: Bradford City must be able to continue relying on their fans

9 Aug
Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

By Jason McKeown

When the chips were down and everyone needed to pull together, last season the Bradford public did not let its football club down. Time and time again, the response to adversity and pressure was positivity. Players and management in need of a pick-me-up were lifted by strong vocal support. It truly was the season of needing – and being able to rely upon – the 12th man.

Recall Tuesday 18 February and, after a dreadful run of just one win 21 games, Port Vale came to Valley Parade with the season hanging on a knife edge. For all the growing criticism of the players and management, mixed in with rising fears over relegation, a united front of defiance was presented over the 90 minutes. As the players battled gamely, there was unrelenting backing from supporters. The Kop leading the battle cry, but all three home stands playing their part.

Carl McHugh’s last-minute winner halted the dreadful run. A triumph for the players’ application and workrate, and kudos to Gary Jones for swinging over the corner that the Irish centre half headed into the net. But the assist deserved to go to the crowd. As the cliché goes, they sucked the ball into the net. A team effort in the truest possible sense.

Fast forward a couple of months and another evening game. It’s Good Friday, and with relegation worries still not put to bed, Peterborough are in town for a must-not-lose game. The players are up for the big occasion, taking a first half lead through Adam Reach’s stunning free kick. Yet they have to dig deep during the second half to hold out for a precious victory against promotion-chasing opponents. Once again, the volume is cranked up and the supporters back their team to the hilt. There is barely a pause for breath, and certainly no awkward silences. Eventually the final whistle sounds and cheering breaks out. Survival is all but guaranteed, and once again the supporters deserve a huge pat on the back.

They were just two of many highlights from last season. The greater moments on the pitch were played out to a soundtrack of thunderous support. In 2013/14, the atmosphere at Valley Parade was its best in years. Forget the minor fall-out over the club’s decision to hand away supporters the Bradford End, the back of the Kop became the heartbeat of the entire stadium. The source of so much good. Even during terrible days at the office, such as Walsall and Oldham during the run-in, the chanting was kept up. It wasn’t blind loyalty and there were still moments where boos rang out, but no one who played for Bradford City last season can have any complaints about the way supporters backed them.

If there a particularly glorious period it coincided with the best part of the season – early doors. August and September victories over Carlisle, Sheffield United, Brentford and Shrewsbury were as memorable for the atmosphere within the ground as the powerful football on display. Valley Parade was bouncing, with the range of songs easily accessible to everyone. If you were a young kid coming to watch Bradford City for the first time, you would have been instantly hooked. In my near 20 years following the club, I can only recall the atmosphere during the first Premier League season as comparably good, over a sustained period.

There were many contributing factors to this outbreak of positivity. The jubilation of promotion the season before was an obvious one, and indeed it was as though the celebrations had continued all summer with no one wanting to bring an end to the party. That after six years of frustration in League Two – where home games were so often played out in near-silence, or to grumbles and boos – there was a collective outlook of making the most of finally escaping. The 2012/13 History Makers had yet to look fallible, and opposition teams were being turned over with ease.

After the Carlisle home game, joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes told me, “I couldn’t believe how we’ve kept it going and how good the atmosphere was for the Carlisle game. I always felt that there were a number of things that, if we got back to League One, would be completely different to last time, because we are going back in the right direction. And for me, the atmosphere against Carlisle reaffirmed that. It was fantastic support.”

Yet as glorious as those late summer days felt, the novelty of being in League One was only ever going to last for a short period. This is not our ultimate destination; a division we are happy to call our home; our natural position in football’s pecking order. This is a stop-off point on the way to something bigger and better. Put our feet up, enjoy and take in the moment. But we don’t want to hang around here for too long, we’ve got somewhere else to be.

The novelty will soon wear off, if he hasn’t already. This year’s fixture list includes games with Sheffield United, Bristol City, Coventry City, Barnsley, Preston North End and Doncaster – games to whet the appetite, when memories of trips to Accrington, Dagenham and co still remain so vivid. But whilst you can argue the toss over a couple of those big names, in our mind all of these clubs are our equals. Clubs of similar size and stature, attracting comparable crowds. And if they are sat grumpily in League One, justifiably believing they belong in the division above, why shouldn’t we harbour similar ambitions?

The fact is that Bradford City should be a Championship club. Our wonderful stadium, our strong fanbase, our improving off-the-field structure. 12 years of falling down the leagues, with barely a penny to our name painfully told us that should is a meaningless word, but we continue to stand tall. Our dreams remain intact. Get into the Championship, and we will be back to where we were before our reckless Premier League overspending caught up with us, leading to our downfall. Back to where we were, only this time without the £36 million debt.

We are so close to it, and yet so far. Getting out of League Two proved to be such a vast and difficult step, that you still worry that the next leap will prove beyond us. We are not a big fish in a small pond anymore. There are many clubs ahead of us in that League One promotion queue that mean we would have to seriously punch above our weight to get ahead of them this season. But we have time on our side, and another year of progress in this division would only leave us stronger.

Whatever the challenges we face over the next 10 months, and however different things look on the field with our new-look team, one thing must remain completely unchanged – our role in making this work. We supporters need to raise the volume back to 11, set a tone of positivity that rings around the stadium, and be the inspiration for a new group of heroes.

This might not be the year we get into the Championship, but so what? We are Bradford City supporters, and we are brave and strong enough to cope with disappointment. What we need to see this season is progress that offers greater hope that the next promotion is within reach. That the highly commendable achievements of the last few years are going to be built upon rather than wasted away. It won’t be easy, it won’t be smooth. But as long as we supporters keep giving our all, there will be no excuse for anyone else connected with the club contributing anything less.

Let’s make some noise, and party like it’s 2013.

Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

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