Bradford City 3
Hanson 47, Connell 55, Davies 57
Saturday 15 September, 2012
By Damien Wilkinson
Following the completion of the first five fixtures of what was deemed to represent a reasonably tough start to the season, and having played three of the sides heavily fancied for promotion, City faced a Barnet side sitting at the foot of the table with a solitary point from their opening fixtures.
Whilst historically this has suggested a nailed on away win – City approached the match knowing that this match, and the following home match on Tuesday night, represented a good opportunity to propel themselves into the League Two play-off places, albeit at this early stage of the season.
Much of the pre-match rhetoric concerned approaching the match in a focused manner, giving Barnet the appropriate respect, whilst avoiding looking towards the seemingly tougher home match on Tuesday against Morecambe. Having said that it was still difficult to avoid pre-match concerns of a looming “banana skin”, in what should essentially be a “bread and butter” fixture if City are to have a successful season.
Phil Parkinson returned to a more expansive 4-4-2 formation making a couple of changes to the team that ground out a point at Accrington Stanley in the previous week. Rory McArdle returned to replace Stephen Darby at right back and Alan Connell replaced Will Atkinson, partnering James Hanson up front. The bench saw a welcome return for City captain, Ricky Ravenhill, back after a six week lay-off, following an injury sustained in the pre-season friendly at Guiseley. Nahki Wells also made the bench, having received positive news during the week concerning a potential hip injury. The changes unfortunately meant no place for Ross Hannah in the squad.
Barnet, perennial last-chance saloon merchants of the last few seasons, have commenced this season on the back of considerable change. Mark Robson replaced Martin Allen as manager in close season, accompanied by significant changes in the backroom staff and many changes in the playing staff, including the departure of top goal scorer Izale McLeod. For the match against City, Barnet’s line up made changes from the 3-1 defeat in the previous match at Gillingham, with full debuts for John Oster and Jamal Lowe and the introduction of Krystian Pearce, signed mid-week from Notts County.
City, seemingly took heed of Phil Parkinson’s pre-match warnings, and started the match in a positive fashion, controlling the opening exchanges. The first chance of significance presented itself after 15 minutes, following a back-pass of suicidal proportions by John Oster, which found Connell completely unmarked on the edge of the penalty area. With just keeper Graham Stack to beat, Connell over-elaborated and ended up placing the ball directly at the keeper – and whilst the ball eventually squirmed out for a corner, a gilt edged chance was ignominiously spurned.
The miss seemed to haunt City somewhat for the rest of the first half. Whilst a period of pressure followed, a final ball of any quality or purpose continually seemed to elude City, and City’s play worsened as the half progressed. Despite having much possession both wingers, Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid, struggled to find any sort of killer touch, constantly selecting the wrong options and wasting the pressure. Connell also seemed to fall into this category and looked hesitant going forward. Indeed, as half time approached, Barnet seemed to sense the increasing anxiety within the City team and restless crowd, and began to show more purpose, creating pressure of their own, albeit without really carving out any clear cut chances.
A muted response from the crowd then at half time, and fears of another banana skin fixture began to surface.
Whatever Parkinson said to the team at half time reaped almost immediate dividends. Within a couple of minutes of the re-start, City found themselves a goal to the good – Hanson being presented with time and space to plant a header past the Barnet keeper following a cross from Reid and flick on into the penalty area. The goal prolongs Hanson’s recent rich vein of form at home, particularly at the Kop end of Valley Parade, and capped another good performance from the big frontman.
The goal certainly galvanised City whilst denting Barnet’s fragile confidence, particularly given their record of not having scored a goal in the second half of a league match so far this season. City continued to press forward and were rewarded fairly soon thereafter with a second goal. Good work by Reid down the left hand side, resulting in a clever cross into the keeper, enabled Connell to bundle the ball home on 55 minutes, and net his second City goal in the space of the week.
The second goal in reality killed the contest, and just to make sure two minutes later, the game became a complete formality. A training ground practiced free-kick from Gary Jones, found Andrew Davies at the left hand side of the goal, and his well-placed header was expertly guided into the goal from an acute angle. Game, set and match.
The remainder of the contest initially raised hopes of a repeat of the 5 goals-in-one-half Wimbledon salvo, but in reality saw City see the match out in a respectable, if not spectacular manner. A few further chances emerged but City rarely looked like adding to their tally, but conversely were hardly troubled at the other end. Wells, Garry Thompson and Atkinson replaced Connell, Hines and Doyle, and whilst Wells struggled to make a telling contribution, Atkinson again showed some nice touches and neat footwork. We were also treated to a Luke Oliver Beckenbauer-esque charge up the pitch during the closing stages.
To sum up, City had a good, if unspectacular “day at the office”. An expected 3 points resulted from what can hopefully be regarded as a “bread and butter” fixture this season. The midfield pairing of man-of-the-match Jones and Doyle performed well and City looked solid throughout the team. Barnet, at this stage of the season, clearly looked like relegation fodder, and although City didn’t pull up any trees in the performance, any 3-0 victory cannot be discounted, particularly given City’s historic tendency to capitulate against visiting teams with no away victories, no wins in the last [x] fixtures, no previous wins against sides with names starting with “B” etc etc.
Furthermore, City emerged with no major injury concerns, and coupled with news of Ritchie Jones’ imminent return, results in an unoccupied treatment room. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, especially given the impending two-matches-a-week rhythm over the next four weeks (and hopefully beyond, should success in the Capital One cup result).
Morecambe visit Valley Parade on Tuesday and, whilst representing a sterner test than Barnet and being somewhat of a bogey side to City in recent years, will encounter a City side buoyed by a 100% start in their first three home matches of the season, and sitting in 7th place in League 2.
Hopefully more bread and butter is forthcoming!
City: McLaughlin, McArdle, Oliver, Davies, Meredith, Hines, Gary Jones, Doyle (Atkinson 81), Reid (Thompson 81), Hanson, Connell (Wells 70)
Not used: Duke, Darby, McHugh, Ravenhill