Kendall 43, 54 (pen), Weston 88
Bradford City 1
Wells 62 (pen)
Saturday 18 August, 2012
By Gareth Walker
It’s a long way home from The Costa Del Gillingham. Someone commented that we should have got on to a plane in order to get down to City’s first league game yesterday, and it certainly felt that way as temperatures soared in Kent. Unfortunately, all that City could return with from the long haul was a sun tan.
The sad part about the day was that we deserved so much more, and the 3-1 scoreline certainly flattered the Gills . City were the much better side, particularly when the score was 0-0 and 2-1. The term “it’s a funny old game” is often over used, but it certainly felt like the case yesterday. As despite City’s dominance and playing of the better football, it would be hard to argue that Gillingham didn’t have the better chances and us Bantams had Matt Duke to thank for making two fine saves in the opening 15 minutes.
The match started as anyone would expect, with Gillingham having the better of the early exchanges as their fans got well behind their team. It didn’t take long for the game to settle down, however, and it quickly became a contest of two contrasting styles. City began to dominate possession as we tried to impose our passing game on the opposition, whilst Gillingham were a typical Martin Allen side – playing for set pieces, in particular corners where they utilised multiple corner takers over the course of the first period, and also throw ins where one of their squad demonstrated his monster like ability to launch the ball into the box.
This led at one point to City being totally dominant in the possession and territory statistics, Gary Jones being the stand out performer. Gillingham at times left just Deon Burton up front as Danny Kedwell dropped back into midfield to try to stem City’s flow. As the Bantams took control of proceedings, Gillingham looked particularly shaky at the back with a couple of scrambles in the six yard box where James Hanson and Alan Connell went close. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t quite drop for City to have any real clear cut chances.
Kyel Reid had the beating of his full back time and time again down the City left, and it was from one of his bursts that another goaline scramble ensued, resulting in Reid being clearly pushed in the back and to the ground. No penalty. It was one of those decisions that would usually go in the favour of any home team.
The only negative that I would take from the first half would be that all too often, just like last season, Reid was City’s only real threat as Garry Thompson struggled to exert himself on the right. My opinion would be that this was mainly due to City’s tactics as we played more of the football down the left, whilst attempting to utilise Thompson’s aerial threat down the right.
As the first half drew to a close, most City fans were commenting on how comfortable we were and that it was the most relaxed that we had felt for a long time whilst watching our team. You can imagine our shock therefore when Gills scored a goal out of nothing right on the interval.
From a Gills breakaway, Duke easily claimed the ball, and then launched it towards the halfway line. Most City fans turned away as we waited for the half time whistle to blow. I however, remained focused on the pitch just long enough to see Reid attempt to hook the ball on further from the half way line. Unfortunately, he got it all wrong and succeeded only in scuffing the ball straight to a Gills midfielder. The recipient chipped a ball down into City’s left channel for Kedwell to chase. The striker beat James Meridith to the ball, but still had his back to goal with the full back behind him and there seemed to be little danger. Then, without even turning to look, the striker looped an ambitious effort towards City’s goal. It went over Duke’s head, who had come out of his goal mouth in the hope of receiving the ball from Meredith. The ball seemed to take forever to drop but eventually did so and dribbled agonisingly in off Citys’ far post.
Genius or fortuitous? I’ll leave it for you to decide. Half time 1-0.
The second half was a much more even affair, as City seemed to stop passing the ball as much and began to seek out Hanson with the long ball. This played straight into Gillingham’s hands who were able to mop up quite easily and launch counter attacks. This new tactic from City may have had something to do with the searing heat; but what was specifically noticeable was that it took Connell out of the game, who had looked very impressive in the first half at holding the ball up and linking play from his position just behind Hanson.
Both penalties that Mr Russell awarded were particularly soft. The Gillingham one came from a spell of decent pressure from the home side. When Charlie Lee beat Meredith down the City left, he proceeded to continue his run along the City byline, only to fall over Will Atkinson’s outstretched leg. The fact that, from behind the goal, it was evident that he had lost control of a ball that had already gone out of play, seemed to bear no significance and it was infact the linesman who made the call. Kedwell stepped up and confidently made no mistake.
City made two swift substitutions, as Nahki Wells and new signing Zavon Hines were brought on to replace Connell and Thompson. It seemed to give City a bit of new impetus as the pace of the replacement pair looked a real threat, and Wells seemed more capable of getting on to Hanson’s flick ons and knock downs.
It was Wells who won the City penalty after one such link up when he seemed to be messily bundled over in the box by Andy Frampton. Wells himself dusted himself down to slot away the opportunity and City were back in the game. It did feel however, that Russell had given the spot kick to try to “even it out”.
With the scoreline at 2-1, City began to dominate again and both Hanson and Jones went close and Hines also hit the bar. As time began to run out, Phil Parkinson made his final change by bringing on Andrew Davies for Stephen Darby. City went with three at the back and really tried to push on. This left us open of course to the counter attack, and we were caught with the sucker punch.
Gills new signing Myles Weston, who many will remember for tormenting City during his Notts County days, looked particularly impressive when he came on and the “speed merchant” was rewarded with a fine breakaway goal that he took extremely well.
A similar breakaway moments later saw the home side rattle the post, but if 3-1 was harsh, then 4-1 would have been a travesty.
All in all, there were lots of positives to take from the game and City looked a much better outfit than last season. I was shocked to hear that both the Football League Show and Martin Allen describe the result as a “deserved victory” for Gillingham, and I wouldn’t bet against both of these teams being in the mix at the top end of the table at the end of the season.
Whether City playing well and losing is an all too familiar story, only time will tell. But the first game of the season is often a funny one to judge, and I think that we will know a lot more about our new look side after the two home games that are coming up over the next week.
City: Duke, Darby (Davies 83), Meredith, Oliver, McArdle, Reid, Thompson (Hines 58), Atkinson, Gary Jones, Hanson, Connell (Wells 57).
Not used: McLaughlin, McHugh, Doyle, Hannah