Bradford City 0
McLaughlin OG 5, John-Lewis 19, Elford-Alliyu 61
Saturday 4 August, 2012
By Jason McKeown
Unless you’re one of those trolls who pollutes the T&A message boards panicking about the slowness of signings, chances are you are like me and have been able to switch off from Bradford City matters over the summer. It’s always nice, not to feel stressed and miserable – but sooner or later the new season roars into view, and we have to get back on the wagon of leaving ourselves open to anxiety, depression and melancholy.
The last 24 hours have seen me reluctantly climb on board again for another season. A relaxing evening in Guiseley wetted the appetite, but news of Ricky Ravenhill’s bad injury and then watching City overrun by Bury has left me fretting and stewing in a way I had almost forgotten I normally spend so much of my time. It has taken hold of me once more, and it’s going to be 10 months before I can push it away. Sigh.
Ravenhill is one of those players – like Lee Bullock – where much of his good work goes unnoticed. Gary Jones stole the headlines midweek, but Ravenhill was just as effective alongside him. And this afternoon we were treated to a glimpse of a midfield of Gary Jones without his partner in crime, and it was a midfield which came up short. The blow of Ravenhill’s lay off might be slightly eased by Nathan Doyle’s arrival, but we could spend the coming weeks rueing that over-zealous Guiesley tackle.
Bury, one division above, were able to bulldoze a Ravenhill-less City with a worrying ease that underlines just how key a quiet treatment table could prove in determining how good of a season we enjoy. This was not as strong of a line up as midweek, and it showed with City second best in so many areas.
James Meredith was moved from left back to play central midfield alongside Gary Jones, with Ritchie Jones either not risked or also injured. The Australian was not terrible, but wasn’t particularly effective either – and it left Gary Jones with too much to do in attempting to stem the Bury tide. I would have serious reservations about deploying Meredith in the centre of the park when the season kicks off. He is tidy on the ball and capable of picking out a pass, but lacks the physical strength compared to the two Joneses and Ravenhill.
Not helping the central pair was an ineffective performance on the left flank by Will Atkinson. You can’t help but feel sorry for the 23-year-old, who has been judged on the back of a less than distinguished loan spell last season and who will face an uphill battle winning over the crowd this season. Yet this was not exactly the greatest of starts, as he failed to get close to his midfield colleagues and continually lost possession by trying to take people on, when a pass would be a more favourable option. As Bury came forward in numbers, Meredith and Jones badly needed support but it was lacking from Atkinson especially.
A bad afternoon got off to the worst possible start when Jon McLaughlin made a pig’s ear of a risky backpass, slicing the ball hopelessly into his own net for Bury’s opener, and City never recovered. It was not exactly a confident statement from the Bantams’ number one – who did make several fine saves over the 90 minutes – but if you’re going to make a huge mistake, this is undoubtedly the occasion to do it.
It was 2-0 on 20 minutes after Lenell John-Lewis was allowed the time and space to run at the back four and unleash a powerful shot into the corner of the net. The attack had occurred after Atkinson lost the ball in a bad area of the pitch, but it was troubling to see Rory McArdle stand off John-Lewis.
Bury bossed the first half, and McLaughlin made three good saves to keep the scoreline down. For City, there was a willingness to pass the around ball and not to simply lump it up to James Hanson, but a failure of anyone other than Jones – outside the back four – to keep hold of possession saw moves quickly break down.
Which brings us onto Ross Hannah, and here we sigh again. I like Ross, and I’m pleased that he’s had a good pre-season by all accounts. I’d love for him to succeed at Valley Parade…but the evidence of my own eyes suggests this probably isn’t going to happen. Hannah started today because Parkinson felt he’d earned the opportunity in previous games, but comparing him to pre-season last year I can’t help but feel disappointed with his lack of progress.
There’s no doubt Hannah is a superb finisher – probably the best at the club. But when you look at what else he offers the team, the conclusions are not great. Today he struggled to hold up the ball, time his runs or make the right pass to a team mate when he was involved in the build up. And as much as City’s lightweight midfield contributed to Bury’s dominance, the failure of Hannah to either keep possession or run the channels meant the ball kept coming back. It pains me to say it, but I’m not sure Hannah can have much of a role at Valley Parade beyond super sub. I hope I’m wrong.
The direct comparison – as it was there to be made last season – comes through Nahki Wells. At half time today Hannah was replaced by the Bermudian, and Nahki spent his 45 minutes doing all the right things for the team that Ross was unable to contribute. Wells is a good finisher, but he is also a better all round player. Alan Connell – who also came on as sub midway through the second half – also provided more. He looks set to start the season third choice striker, with Ross fourth.
Well’s introduction heralded a much improved second half display, with Meredith moved to left back – Forrayah Bass impressing in this role first half – and former Hull midfielder Gavin Hoolahan appearing as a trialist. But it was the forgotten man of Valley Parade who really caught the eye: Scott Brown replacing Gary Jones on the hour and producing a very promising display. Ravenhill’s injury pushes the 17-year-old up the pecking order, and he showed a strong tackling ability and excellent vision to trigger an increased number of home attacks.
By that stage City were 3-0 down, with Lateef Elford-Alliyu finishing superbly after some eye-catching Bury build up play. Heads did not drop and plenty of corners were won. German winger Marc Gallego also appeared as a trialist, but it would be a surprise if he or Hoolahan earned a contract from Parkinson. In contrast Jack Mills made a second promising trialist appearance – this time in the centre of defence – and looks a good bet to earn a back up place in the squad. Garry Thompson finally made an appearance in claret and amber, but by then the game had petered out.
A big week on the training ground then, as things kick off for real on Saturday at Notts County. New signing Nathan Doyle looked unfit as he warmed up on the pitch before kick off, leaving a midfield of the two Joneses the more likely starting pair at Meadow Lane. City’s first team squad still only has 20 players (including youngsters Bass and Adam Baker), and Parkinson needs to fill in some of the back up positions to ensure his squad is strong enough for the 10 months ahead.
That is what we now have to fret about, because the initial signs are that the loss of one key player (Ravenhill) is going to prove difficult to make up for. We have a very strong first eleven, but this afternoon suggested that those on the fringes may struggle to match the same levels if and when they are called upon.
City: McLaughin, Darby, Oliver (Mills76), McArdle, Bass (Hoolahan 46), Reid (Thompson 76), Gary Jones (Brown 62), Meredith, Atkinson (Gallego (62), Hanson (Connell 68), Hannah (Wells 46)
Not used: Duke, Baker