Bradford City 4
Hanson 41+69, Wells 60, Thompson 63
Saturday 7 September, 2013
By Jason McKeown
What a start to the season this is turning out to be. Bradford City are so far proving to be invincible at home, with no goals conceded from three League One games that have yielded 10 Bantams goals and nine points. City stand fifth in the fledgling league table and are performing above expectations.
Today was the most triumphant victory yet. A loud – and proud – message to the rest of the division concerning the mettle and potency possessed by the newly-promoted West Yorkshire club. Last season, Brentford twice went as close to promotion as you could possibly reach, short of actually crossing the line, and were unbeaten this season thus far. True, the sending off of their goalkeeper David Button after only 25 minutes tipped the scales firmly in the Bantams favour, but there was so much to admire about the manner in which the home side wore down and demoralised arguably the best side they have faced to date.
On an afternoon where everything went right for City, the enduring immortality of the 2012/13 team proved to be one of the talking points. Like at Stevenage a week earlier, today’s entire starting XI has been at the club for over 12 months. Only one player – the warmly welcomed Luke Oliver, returning for his first appearance in 11 months after recovering from a ruptured achilles – did not start the play off final victory over Northampton last May. The success of Phil Parkinson’s summer recruitment could come under closer scrutiny over the coming months if slow individual starts aren’t improved upon, but for now the new signings can wait. For now, the City manager can fully trust in his heroic players from last season, who continue to deliver.
And that’s pretty remarkable, especially given the evident rise in quality of League One sides, compared to the basement division. In the early stages this afternoon, Brentford threatened to cut City open with worrying ease as clever passing movement saw the creation of a handful of decent chances. The dogged spirit and resilience built up from the battles of last season continues to prevail, and it is enjoyable to observe just how much our defensive players relish standing up to the challenge of keeping the opposition at bay.
Andrew Davies – arguably man of the match today – threw himself in front of an early shot that seemed destined to fly into the bottom corner after five minutes, which set the tone. James Meredith and Stephen Darby were getting stuck in too. Although the excellent Clayton Donaldson caused a few early issues for a initially rusty Oliver, the organisation of the back four meant the door remained firmly shut.
What has particularly impressed me this season is the off-the-ball work of City. When we do not have the possession we are superbly organised in retaining a defensive shape that appears to involve a mixture of both man and zonal marking. And when the ball is won back, the pace within the team sees us break forward at a speed that is hard for others to live with. Such an approach is largely successful because of the strike force of James Hanson and Nahki Wells. Hanson’s hold up play enables the ball to stick in the final third whilst others get forward, and Wells is able to chase any cause no matter how futile.
It was from such a counter attack that City earned themselves a man advantage. A long ball forward, Nahki was away with just Button to beat, and the Bees keeper clattered into the striker on the edge of the box. Undoubtedly a foul – TV replays clearly show Wells got a touch on the loose ball before he was sent crashing to the floor – though the fact Brentford had two players rushing back to cover the goal offered an argument of sorts that Button was not the last man. The impressive referee, Andy Haines, gave himself time to consult his assistant before making a decision: Button was red-carded, despite his long protests.
The perceived sense of injustice was perhaps the visitors’ undoing. They never seemed to recover and rally in the manner that teams down to 10-men so often do, and it was no surprise when increasingly frequent City pressure was rewarded with a Hanson goal four minutes before half time. Kyel Reid and Meredith linked up well on the left with the Australian charging into the box before crossing low towards City’s number nine, who benefited from two Brentford players tackling each other rather than the ball in order to apply a toe-poke finish.
And City had their opposition in the perfect position: the Bees needed to chase the game, but were a man shy, which meant the commitment of men forward came at the risk of leaving gaps. Martin Fillo began the second half seemingly more keen to get involved in a tussle with Kyel Reid than drive his team on, which seemed to sum up Brentford’s limited fight. At one stage Fillo had to be pulled away by a team-mate as he tried to square up to Reid, later on he threw a child-like tantrum in jumping up and down in frustration when a decision didn’t go his way. The grievances grew but, with it, Brentford’s hopes of coming back receded.
Indeed the game was up after an hour. A long clearance by McLaughlin went straight down the middle and Tony Craig – mindful of Wells chasing him – attempted to head the ball back to Jack Bonham without realising the substitute keeper was rushing out to clear it. The ball bounced over the helpless stopper and towards an unguarded net, with Wells making sure by tapping home. The list of this type of goal from Wells – chasing a lost cause and pouncing on a mistake – is growing longer and longer.
Three minutes later, Meredith claimed his second assist of the afternoon after a wonderful deep cross was met superbly by Garry Thompson; his powerful header affording Bonham no chance. When Hanson got clear of Craig to glance a Reid corner into the net, the afternoon’s scoring was completed. This was yet another outstanding performance from Hanson. Width of a Post understands that former Hull and Wigan striker Caleb Folan is currently training with City and could provide much-needed back up; but opening contract talks with Hanson – whose four-year deal runs out next summer – must surely be creeping up the list of priorities.
Substitute Alan Connell might have made it five with a decent run and shot that was palmed away by Bonham, but with the game won City took their foot off the gas and looked more likely to surrender their Valley Parade clean sheet record than strengthen their goal difference further. But although that was slightly frustrating, the manner in which City had performed meant it was the smallest of complaints. Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones were – yet again – irrepressible in the central midfield. Oliver looked as though he had never been away and, as such, Rory McArdle may find that he swaps the Northern Ireland bench for the City one.
It is still too early to judge whether excellent early season form can be translated into a credible promotion push – as much as the Hartlepool debacle can now be forgotten, the questions it threw up regarding the strength of the squad are still to be answered. Yet at this moment in time City are playing superbly on their own patch, and the second of back-to-back home games against Colchester United, next weekend, offers the perfect opportunity to make it four from four.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, Oliver (Taylor 90), Davies, Meredith, Thompson, Jones, Doyle, Reid (Yeates 75), Hanson, Wells (Connell 70)
Not used: Ripley, McHugh, Ravenhill, De Vita