Bradford City 1
Fleetwood Town 0
Tuesday 21 August, 2012
By Luke Lockwood
Here we go again – new hopes, new expectations and a new season begins at Valley Parade.
The chairmen have been busy men over the summer bringing in a number of new faces, selling the club shop, and most interestingly linked to being Bradford Bulls’ saviours. However, as the two sides lined up, it appeared as though a couple of rugby league sides had already come to destroy the lush looking turf.
Fleetwood had an elderly hooker (the rugby kind!), Steve McNulty at centre half, and Jon ‘the beast’ Parkin who looked more like a prop than centre forward.
Not to be outdone Parkinson brought into his side a centre half and centre midfielder who wouldn’t look out of place playing at centre in the Super League. Andrew Davies and Nathan Doyle were two of the four changes Parkinson made to the side beaten by Gillingham. Zavon Hines and Nahki wells also came in with Stephen Darby, Will Atkinson, Garry Thompson and Alan Connell missing out.
The reshuffle meant Rory McArdle was accommodated at right back, possibly to deal with the added physical presence of Fleetwood. But the natural centre half never looked comfortable on the right of a flat back four. On the other hand, it was also difficult to point to anything McArdle did wrong during the game.
Both sides began the first half with a style more suited to Odsal. The up and under seemed to be tactic of the day as the ball was repeatedly hoofed into the air. Even the goalkeepers often booted the ball all the way through to one another.
It appeared only a set piece would see the deadlock broken and City almost converted from their first corner, but Hanson’s header was cleared off the line.
Then the best chance of the half came. Luke Oliver was caught out on half way after not dealing with the high ball, and Parkin snuck in behind. As Davies attempted to cover the ball was rolled square into the supporting Fleetwood striker who had all the time to pick his spot past Duke. Fortunately for City his well struck effort crashed against the bar and the score remained 0-0.
Bradford looked like a side still trying to gather an understanding of each other’s style of play, instead preferring to boot the ball long, which proved all too easy for the rugby hooker, McNulty.
In fact the only player looking to get the ball down and play football was Nathan Doyle. He may have looked like he’d been sharing Lesley Vainokolo’s diet and training programme, but when he got the ball he seemed to have been inspired by Iniesta, Pirlo and Xavi this summer always offering an option, making a quick pass and wanting the ball again.
Unfortunately, his team mates did not appear quite as confident in possession and the first half petered out with the ball in the air. Perhaps,having been used to life in a higher division, no one had told him we prefer head tennis in the basement division!
Bradford began the second half with a lot more purpose and a style that now began to resemble football. Doyle and his midfield partner, Gary Jones, took control of the game and Hines caused the Fleetwood defence all kinds of problems. First his deflected strike hit the bar before a run in behind the full back allowed him to cut the ball back to Wells, but his tame shot was easily saved. Fleetwood once again turned to rugby tactics to cope with Hines, grabbing hold of his shirt to pull him to the ground at any opportunity but unfortunately he received no sympathy from the referee.
There seemed to be a real drive from all players wearing claret and amber in the second half with many notable performances. Davies physically dominated ‘The Beast’ Parkin, James Hanson won every header against ‘The Hooker’ McNulty and Wells chased everything into the ground. However, the two key players were Jones and Doyle.
In the second half they completely dominated the midfield; Jones was like a man possessed, seemingly everywhere on the football pitch in a way a 35 year old shouldn’t be capable of. Alongside him Doyle won every tackle and consistently picked the right pass, perfectly weighted.
When two players perform so capably in the middle of the park it makes the game so much easier for the rest of the team. The other nine players could be quite comfortable in the knowledge that, should they lose the ball, City wouldn’t spend long without it as Doyle and Jones were like men possessed in winning it back.
City eventually took a deserved lead when Jones delivered a dangerous corner to the back post, where Hanson had been lost all to easily and powered home his header. Valley Parade erupted as Hanson celebrated in front of the Kop, and the ground kept on rocking, urging City to see the game through.
In typical Bradford fashion there were a couple of nervy moments and Fleetwood hit the woodwork again; but really it appeared to be quite comfortable and Matt Duke seemed very assured between the sticks.
Doyle was replaced by Atkinson in the latter stages and received a well deserved standing ovation from the City faithful. If he is to produce another 44 performances of this standard, the Player of the Season trophy will once again be his – and this particular reporter can stop complaining about us losing David Syers in the summer!
Having not gone to Gillingham at the weekend and not seen a single pre season game, this was my first opportunity to see the side Parkinson has put together. I have tried to avoid all message boards to ensure I approached the game with an open mind and, following my first 90 minutes, this City team fills me with excitement about the season ahead.
A real strong core has been formed Duke confident and commanding in goal, Davies a rock at the back, the already mentioned Jones, Doyle and Hanson dominating the aerial battle up front. Tonight we beat the one of the mostly hotly tipped sides in the division and the three stars from last season – Wells, Reid and Oliver – underperformed by their previous high standards! In addition, Thompson and Darby appeared off the bench, Alan Connell was an unused sub and Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones are still to return to action. On first viewing Parkinson has assembled a very capable squad.
We have all been City fans too long to be naive enough to make assessment of our chances from one good performance, but at least we know now the potential is there. City showed they can play superb football in the second half – and hopefully now they will leave rugby at Valley Parade to the Bulls, should a deal ever be completed.
City: Duke, McArdle, Oliver, Davies, Meredith, Reid, Gary Jones, Doyle (Atkinson 77), Hines (Thompson 65), Hanson, Wells (Darby 87)
Subs not used: McLaughlin, McHugh, Hannah, Connell