Bradford City vs Barnet match preview
@Valley Parade on Saturday 15 September, 2012
By Jason McKeown
If there was a minuscule sense of disappointment that five first-half Bradford City goals were not added to in the second 45 the last time we filed out of Valley Parade, the last three weeks have seen the sharp rollercoaster of emotions we supporters annually go through return to the fore.
An excellent way win at Watford, a desperately disappointing thrashing to Rotherham and a reasonable-but-could-have-been-better point at Accrington have attracted a wild flurry of opinions. Add in the uncertainty over the finances after the postponement of the Valley Parade free school – a development that we would be unwise to forget until the club bother to update us properly over what it means – and you could argue there are as many reasons to feel anxious about the start to the season as there are to be encouraged.
Two home games in four days offer the chance for half empty glasses to be topped back up. Barnet arrive at Valley Parade tomorrow propping up the division, after three consecutive seasons of close escapes; and then Morecambe are due on Tuesday evening, currently tied on seven points with the Bantams and generally considered beatable.
It’s way too early to start embarking on Sky TV-esque hyperbole about must-win matches. But if City are to live up to the promotion contenders’ tag we have placed on ourselves, there cannot be any allowing of the campaign to drift. Four of our five completed League Two seasons have featured slow starts that proved impossible to make up for – the only year we started well, 2008/09, was the only time we came close to finishing in the top seven – and the need to stay in touch with the early pace setters is evident.
Two quick-fire home games can often bring their own issues. The Accrington post-match talk in the boozer was that six points against Barnet and Morecambe will have us right up there, but having one eye on Tuesday could prove costly: 100% focus should be on collecting the first haul of three points tomorrow. Sure, a team with aspirations of promotion has to look at a Saturday and Tuesday home sequence as a chance to get six points on the board. But how often over the last decade have City emerged from a Saturday and Tuesday home sequence with six points? Beware of banana skins tomorrow.
At least the home comforts will in theory make Phil Parkinson’s team selection easier. After 4-3-3/4-5-1 at the Crown Ground, the more traditional, attack-minded 4-4-2 that has served City well in the previous two home games will surely be restored. Who fills the positions attracts that usual flurry of debates, and a sign that the Bantams have not achieved the results we expected recently can be found in the usual supporter calls for barely used players to now get their chance.
Central to a debate is who plays up front. James Hanson has made a good start to the season, yet you don’t have to go far to hear familiar mutterings from some that he is “not good enough” and that playing to his strengths is somehow making us weaker. Alex Scott’s outstanding piece on Will Atkinson and the way we supporters view him can also apply to Hanson. Calls that Garry Thompson and/or Alan Connell start ahead of Hanson seem partly influenced by the fact they both have greater Football League pedigree, which some continue to refuse to bestow on Hanson (131 appearances for the Bantams now, with 39 goals making him a 1 in 3 striker).
I feel like I’m always defending Hanson to others, and I don’t understand why I need to so much. He has developed impressively over the past 10 months and is performing a highly effective role for the team. I’m glad that it is he and not Andy Gray leading our line tomorrow. Three years of time and effort developing Hanson is paying off for the club. Let’s get behind him instead of the ill-judged and nonsensical barracking he so often endures, such as from some in the away end last Saturday.
Connell has surely earned the right to start alongside Hanson tomorrow, with Nahki Wells sidelined and finding that he has a growing army of City supporter critics too. Ross Hannah is one of those players people are calling to be given a chance, but for me it’s super sub or nothing more at this moment of time (a role he is yet to earn from Parkinson anyway).
In midfield Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid will be pushed back to wingers, with questions over who will play in-between them. Nathan Doyle has looked less effective over the past two games – whether that’s all his fault is questionable – and his struggle to build up his fitness is a concern. Over the next month City will be playing twice a week and so you would expect Doyle to be used more sparingly. Fit again Ricky Ravenhill may be brought in to partner Gary Jones, while Ritchie Jones is also close to a return from injury. Atkinson will probably step down, with a measure of his progress found in the fact leaving him out would be a tough decision for Parkinson.
In defence, it will be interesting to see if Parkinson recalls Rory McArdle at right back in place of Stephen Darby, or gives the former Liverpool full back another opportunity to nail down his natural position. Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies were much better at Accrington compared to the week before, but James Meredith’s stock has fallen slightly after consecutive under-performances.
Jon McLaughlin will presumably continue in goal – it was very harsh, in my view, to drop Matt Duke; but Parkinson needs to retain faith in one of the pair rather than go down a path of continually swapping over if one of them has a poor game. Had McLaughlin had a difficult afternoon at the Crown Ground, Parkinson would have been roundly criticised for leaving out Duke. But having made the change now he needs to stick with McLaughlin over the coming weeks, and hope he delivers a level of performance that justifies this early season change of number 1.
For Barnet, the league table has a depressing familiarity already. The division’s third-worst supported club have defied the odds to remain a League Two side, but their failure to appoint serial relegation-saver Martin Allen when he wanted the job in the summer may yet come back to haunt them. Last season City collected six points from the Bees while scoring four goals on both occasions.
A win is not only expected, but demanded. Anything less will see the minuscule levels of disgruntlement about Parkinson that were heard at the Crown Ground develop into something louder. It may still be early season, and it may indeed be a marathon not a sprint, but these back-to-back home games are the perfect time and opportunity to put to bed some early season doubts.
(ps, a quick mention of the referee tomorrow, who last time we had him produced one of the worst performances I have ever seen.)