Bradford City 1
Mills (og) 65
Macclesfield Town 0
Saturday 21 April, 2012
By Luke Lockwood
So it is now official, Bradford City will be playing League Two football again next season. It has all been so simple in the end that you wonder why we were all so worried in the first place.
Really that is the only thing of note to take away from a game that had a distinct sense of a meaningless end of season encounter. Bradford can now start looking ahead to next season and with so little action to report from the game that’s probably what most fans in Valley Parade began to do. Of course for Macclesfield it was anything other than meaningless, as defeat leaves them staring at a likely place in the Blue Square Conference next season.
In truth – based on Saturday’s showing – that is where they belong. If the game was still going on at Valley Parade now, I don’t think the Silkmen would have managed to score. Matt Duke was merely a spectator like the rest of us for 90 minutes; every so often acting as ball boy to fetch a ball and kick it back to restart play. Once again praise has to go to Guy Branston and Luke Oliver in front of him who dealt with everything that was thrown their way. They will no doubt have much more difficult tests to come if they are to remain as City’s first choice pairing next season, but on the evidence so far they look like an assured partnership.
Phil Parkinson has an interesting decision to make next week as Andrew Davies becomes eligible for selection following his suspension. Will he keep faith with Branston, who has produced extremely professional displays when called upon despite having a difficult season, or will he return to fans favourite Davies? The choice would appear to be obvious: dropping Branston would be extremely harsh and, despite his exceptional performances this season, we are now safe and Davies’ services are no longer needed. However, it would be nice to give Davies a proper send off against Swindon rather than sneaking him out of the back door.
Branston’s displays have probably solved one potential headache for Parkinson as he looks to next season. He has shown he is a more than capable replacement for the outgoing Davies and the manager can concentrate addressing the issues in other areas of the side.
Perhaps due to the lack of quality of the opposition, Bradford never really got out of third gear despite the pressure being taken off their shoulders following last week’s victory. In only the 2nd minute of the game, last week’s hat-trick hero Nahki Wells spurned a great chance after being put clean through. It was always going to be a difficult afternoon for Wells after his goal scoring heroics last week and today he probably got a sneak preview of what he can expect from opposition defences next season.
Having developed himself a reputation, the Boy from Bermuda was man handled all afternoon by two big, tough centre backs – and at this level you don’t get much sympathy from the referees. At one point in the first half Nahki was almost assaulted on the half way line as he was hurled to the floor with two hands by the Macclesfield centre back, but the referee decided against giving a blatant free kick. Dean Windass has stated this week that he has been advising Wells on how to ‘play for fouls’ but that will be of no help if referees aren’t interested in giving him even the genuine free kicks.
Other than this opportunity neither side really threatened the opposing goal in the first half and the sense of an end of season affair was reflected by the atmosphere in the stands. Macclesfield came out of the dressing room early following the interval, as if to show they were really up for taking the game to Bradford in the second half and get the 3 points that would take them out of the bottom two. Quickly you realised this was not the case as the game continued where the first 45 left off and it seemed as though Macclesfield had come out early in the hope they could get home sooner.
They appear to be a side who have waved the white flag this season, having failed to win in 2012.
The deadlock was eventually broken midway through the second half. Craig Fagan’s free kick was sent to James Hanson at the back post who had been left unmarked. He guided it towards goal and what looked like a harmless header somehow found its way into the back of the net. The Macclesfield keeper looked ready to gather the ball but Ben Mills, on the line, tried to make a clearance and only managed to deflect it into the corner of the net. Hanson has been credited with the goal but there is no way it would have crossed the line without the intervention of the Macclesfield striker.
This should have been the turning point that kicked the game into life, forcing Macclesfield to open up and attack – but again it never really happened. In fact not until the five minutes before the end did the Silkmen even register a shot on target. Bradford were very comfortable and happy to sit on their 1 goal advantage that would confirm their safety.
If another goal was going to come it was only ever going to be for the Bantams. Wells continued his frustrating afternoon, twice unleashing long range shots but failing to get either on target. You could tell from Nahki’s work rate that he wanted to kick on and show the home fans what only a fortunate few had witnessed a week previously, but today wasn’t his day.
At one point he was seen put his head in his hands visibly disappointed with how his game had gone and Parkinson decided to replace him with Deane Smalley shortly after. Following his hat trick he seems to have gone from rough diamond to the finished product and the finest striker in the lower leagues. Although he has undoubted quality, next season will be another year of development for Wells and could be very difficult for him as defenders begin to target him. We have a tendency at Bradford to jump on the bandwagon following signs of potential and suddenly expect too much. Hopefully we will remain patient and allow Nahki to develop further next season even if he only gets a handful of goals.
Every so often Bradford would pick the tempo up and push for a second. Ricky Ravenhill almost got himself on the score sheet as he linked up superbly with Smalley but spurned the opportunity when one on one with Viega. Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones have been developing a good partnership in Bradford’s midfield. Jones looks to have won over Parkinson after a difficult period where he struggled to force his way into the team. However, between the two of them they have only mustered two goals in City colours, and – if Bradford are going to compete at the right end of the division next season – they will rely on their midfield to take some pressure of the front two and chip in with more goals.
Smalley looked lively in his cameo appearance and he is one of a number of players who will be very interested in Parkinson’s thoughts about who will be at Valley Parade next season, along with fellow substitute Michael Flynn. Flynn has been Mr.Reliable since joining the club and it is a shame to think that Swindon could be his last appearance for Bradford, but there is no room for sentimentality in our position.
Jones and Ravenhill both have contracts beyond this season and look to have secured their places in Bradford’s first XI for now. Of course there is also David Syers who has seen his season disrupted by injury and suspension, but even so it is unthinkable that he would not be offered new terms, while Lee Bullock offers versatility. Therefore, Flynn may be in the unfortunate situation of playing a position where Bradford have their most strength in depth.
Having now secured our safety in League Two, Parkinson is bound to be thinking about next season and looking at what we need to succeed. Today’s result is evidence of one thing – when we aren’t at our best we still need to do enough to get the job done. Too often these are the games Bradford have lost 1-0. But City did enough to get the job done against Macclesfield, and they did enough to get the job done and keep their place in the Football League.
Hopefully, next season, more often than not they will get the job done – and we will be competing for the top seven rather than avoiding the bottom two.
City: Duke, Ramsden, Branston, Oliver, Kozluk, Fagan, Ravenhill, Jones, Reid (Flynn 69), Hanson, Wells (Smalley 83)
Unused Subs: McLaughlin, Syers, Bullock