Bradford City vs Port Vale preview
@Valley Parade on Saturday 29 September, 2012
By Luke Lockwood
What a time to be City fan, a thrilling cup comeback has seen us through to the last 16 for the first time in almost a quarter of a century –despite getting the draw none of us wanted but most of us half-expected. However, our perennial bad luck in cup draws is the only negative from the opening stages of the season. And besides, we must now concentrate on what this season is all about – the league.
As good as the result on Tuesday night was, I’d give it all up if it guaranteed a continuation of our glorious home form in the league this year. As WOAP editor Jason McKeown reflected in his match report; one of the most important things about Tuesday night was how the players’ heads did not drop even after going two goals down – proving that there is a definite belief building among the squad. Previous City sides would have crumbled at the two goal deficit, but the new City rise to the added challenge
That belief seems to be quickly spreading throughout the stands, as even the most ardent pessimist has to admit that this squad appears capable of competing at the right end of this division. This was again evident on Tuesday evening; 4,000 home fans sang, cheered, and roared their side on as they patiently waited for a memorable comeback. Admittedly, the impressive performance helped maintain high spirits in the stands. All the same, the positive backing will no doubt have contributed to the impressive performance – boo boys take note!
This could be vital tomorrow as Valley Parade hosts League Two’s top scorers Port Vale, who have already netted 11 away from home. The division’s top scorer Tom Pope in particular has been in red hot form, with eight goals already in only eight games this season – and is a familiar face to City fans having scored twice against the Bantams. City should need no added incentive to keep it tight though, as a win against Vale would see us leap frog them into the automatic spots.
Parkinson utilised his squad against Burton making six changes and – had it not been for the late reprieve – would have probably been heavily criticised by those not in attendance for fielding a weakened side. However, those that were there to witness a dominant display by City from start to finish would only have left the ground feeling a sense of injustice by the result had it not gone our way.
City’s manager still has not escaped completely from the perpetual half-empty mug fans who would rather have seen a strong team finish the game off in 90 minutes so the players weren’t fatigued for the weekend. There are no guarantees that James Hanson, Kyel Reid, Nathan Doyle, Luke Oliver and Jon McLaughlin would have won the game in normal time against a strong Burton side. It will be interesting to see how those that had to complete 120 minutes will cope on Saturday, but we can’t start to criticise Parkinson for a decision that Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho would have made.
The interesting decision for Parkinson now will be, after an impressive display by many of the fringe players, have any of them done enough to warrant a place in the starting 11 come Saturday?
There is little doubt that McLaughlin will come back in to replace Matt Duke. The latter has done very little wrong between the sticks this season and made an outstanding save to keep us in the game late on against Burton, but currently young Jon has been more assured than his coach. The intriguing battle between the two stoppers looks as though it will continue throughout the season, and I’m sure there will be plenty more chances for Duke to come.
The left hand side of defence look equally sure of their positions for the time being as Andrew Davies and James Meredith have excelled in the opening games. As good as Pope has been for Vale this year, it is unlikely he has come up against a defender as good as Davies and Saturday’s contest is likely to test the merits of both players. There is a dilemma for Parkinson when choosing the right hand side of his back four as Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and Luke Oliver are vying for two positions. All have impressed so far, and Darby is probably the most unfortunate player in the City squad currently. Tuesday’s goal scoring hero will probably face disappointment again as Parkinson looks to thwart the threat of Vale’s attack with his most solid and disciplined defence.
Disciplined, conservative, organised, are all words that have found regular use in discussions about Bradford this year. A lot has been said about how organised the new City seem to be, many have discussed whether Parkinson should go with a more disciplined winger away from home and Jason McKeown was at it again in Tuesday’s match report “as Nathan Doyle’s conservatively central positioning was notably missed”.
His value to the team was emphasised only by his absence on Tuesday. Quite rightly, our inspirational (vice) captain Gary Jones has claimed all the plaudits this season as he leads this new City by example, and demands the same level from his peers because he is a winner. His consistently sparkling performances continue to catch the eye, but his brilliance is allowed to shine due to the attributes of the exquisite Doyle.
Doyle’s ‘discipline’ in the middle of the park allows Jones defy his years and charge around the pitch, and the partnership these two have built is what makes Bradford City tick this season. Doyle looked as though he was initially brought in as a utility player, playing the majority of games but filling in where needed. But instead he has become an immoveable object in midfield – and not just due to his size! In the absence of club captain Ricky Ravenhill and the fit again Ritchie Jones, Will Atkinson has been staking his claim as first choice understudy. Atkinson has continued to impress when called upon and looks more comfortable in the middle.
He operated from his natural wide berth on Tuesday evening and produced a decent display, however he was outshone by Zavon Hines, and his second half replacement Reid as the ex-West Ham pair gave the Vale full backs a night they won’t forget in a hurry. The new-look City approach games focussed on their own threats rather than fearing what the opposition may be capable of.
City actually utilised four different wingers during the course of the 90 minutes – Garry Thompson also featured on the right hand. However, it was Reid and Hines who showed why they will again be favoured on Saturday and I can only presume Hines was withdrawn with the Port Vale game in mind.
Thompson has been chased and courted by Bradford City for some time now and, like some kind of Lothario, after putting the deal to bed they have cast him aside and moved onto the new, younger, more exciting Hines. From Tuesday’s night’s performance Thompson has a lot to offer this season, both in his preferred position as a front man and also in the fans preferred perception of him as a wide player. He featured for an hour in both positions and performed admirably in each.
From my point of view his better contributions came as a front man. Time and time again he would link play between midfield and attack, his previous experience as a winger was evident as he consistently put the ball into the areas Hines/Atkinson wanted to receive. Unfortunately for Thompson we seemed to keep forgetting he wasn’t 6’3 Hanson and, try as he might, he failed to dominate the Burton defenders in the same way City’s top scorer can. When the ball came into feet, Thompson produced some neat touches, extravagant flicks and first time passes into space – but a target man he is not.
This was possibly the most important factor missing from the side on Tuesday night, the James Hanson factor. City produced some fantastically smart build up play and superb sequences of passes, but too many times they failed to hold onto the ball in the final third. This resulted in the ball coming back too quickly and Burton exploiting the space vacated by the advanced City players on the break (refer to Burton’s opener). City also missed Hanson’s presence in an area where he is vastly undervalued – defensive set pieces (refer to Burton’s second).
These goals may not have been stopped had Hanson been on the pitch, and the problem may have been escalated by the absence of the ‘disciplined’ Doyle (Burton’s first) and Oliver (Burton’s second). But these were the only two areas City seemed to struggle to cope, and Hanson’s presence would have helped to combat both threats. Tomorrow he will be welcomed back from the start by fans and team mates, to once again give opposition defenders a rotten afternoon.
Alongside him provides much debate, Thompson showed he could be a potential partner for Hanson rather than a replacement. He is very much of the Alan Connell mould: who has impressed the majority of the City crowd with his tireless work rate and knack for being in the right place. But he doesn’t look the most natural finisher after missing a third one on one when clean through on Tuesday.
Nahki Wells provides a different option and – despite not fulfilling the heavy expectations of a hopeful crowd in the early stages – appears to have hit top gear now, matching Hanson with five goals this season. After bringing City back from the dead with an outstanding strike and poachers finish on Tuesday, he will be understandably aggrieved if he does not get the nod to partner his joint top scorer this weekend.
To summarise, despite an impressive display from his fringe players, Parkinson is likely to revert back to the side that provided his first away win against Oxford, but will continue to emphasise the importance of his first XI maintaining high standards as he has a team full of hungry squad players ready to take their chance.
Hopefully a disciplined victory against high scoring Port Vale will propel City into an automatic spot where they will remain for the rest of the season. Past experiences of City would suggest this is unlikely, but this is a new Bradford City – Believe!