Bradford City vs Preston North End preview
@Valley Parade on Tuesday 28 January, 2014
By Mahesh Johal
In the reverse fixture against Preston North End, last October, many of the 3,000 away contingent left Deepdale feeling extremely buoyed by the Bantams performance. A Nahki-less Bradford City outshone the play off contending opponents, with Kyel Reid producing the finest individual performance of the season.
On that night, nine of the starting eleven had played at Wembley in May, and Reid was the flag bearer; the individual that demonstrated that the ‘History Makers’ weren’t just too good for League Two, but were more than capable of competing in League One. Unlucky not to gain three points, we had dreams of Wembley again. Wells would score the winning goal, Reid would wear that hat again and no doubt Connell would be snapped drinking from the trophy.
Written at the start of January and in his fantastically articulated post, WOAP writer Gareth Walker asked the question: where are we as a club and what have we learned so far? In the last game of a busy month both on and off the pitch, many of the points and questions he raised can be expanded.
The performance against Preston in October showed that, with our best side, we could compete in this league. However, results following that night have demonstrated a lack of strength and depth amongst the squad. More recently the departure of Wells and injuries to key players means the Bradford City side that we loved so affectionately over the last year is now starting to change.
Tonight’s game could be the beginning of the end of the ‘History Makers’ and the current squad as we know it.
The most notable absence is of course Nahki Wells. Gareth rightly discussed the need for an adequate replacement and – whilst the conversation regarding his departure has been truly exhausted – only time will tell if we have brought in the right man in Aaron McLean. The thirty year old buzzed endlessly against Sheffield United and contributed to both goals. He showed willingness and determination; all attributes that epitomise Phil Parkinson’s side. However, time is needed to see if he can replicate his form of old.
One would expect McLean to make his home debut tonight by partnering James Hanson. Although Hanson’s immediate form in the Wells aftermath has been great, more will be needed from him during this transitional period. There were glimmers of promise in the new forward partnership last weekend, but patience will be needed to truly judge the pair.
With the much publicised and discussed overspend, the loan market has been the most logical means of bringing players into the club. Also with the crippling injury list, Phil Parkinson has been forced to add bodies quickly to the squad (such as the so-far unused Jordan Graham). The loss of Reid against the Blades in my opinion is catastrophic. Without going over old ground about Reid’s pro and cons, there is no doubt he has been one of our stand-out performers this season. His pace and directedness destroyed Preston last time round, and they will breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing that he won’t be playing.
With Mark Yeates struggling for form and fitness, Adam Reach could be in line for his debut. On a month’s loan from Middlesbrough, Reach is a tall and quick winger who was a constant thorn against City in September, whilst playing for Shrewsbury. Even with a man sent off, he carried the Shrews’ attack with his direct and energetic runs. Whilst there are thoughts he could play at left back, the media rhetoric suggest he will start on the left wing.
Like Reach, Kyle Bennett has been given the freedom to express himself. A long term loanee, Bennett offers City a pacey option that can play on either flank. Whether he starts on Tuesday is more of an unknown, although he will provide stiff competition for Garry Thompson.
I continue to be an advocate of Thompson, but he is one that has struggled to make a significant impact this season. Again, he is a Parkinson man: full of running, endeavour and possess that bit of quality. Unfortunately it hasn’t been seen enough and it’s no surprise to see the manager bring in an alternative option.
These two signings do indicate that Parkinson will look to continue his current formation and style of football, instead of radically changing his approach: that being the use of holding midfielders and attacking wingers. Parkinson will hope the new and ‘energetic’ signings will provide the spark to restart City’s campaign and the solution to get out of the current rut.
The rut could have been a hell of lot worse if not for Gary Jones’ second half performance against Sheffield United. Admittedly he was non-existent in the 45 (as was everyone else), but his sheer passion and drive dragged City back into the game. Deflected goal maybe, but he single handily pulled City through. As Alex Scott so poignantly summed up, the personality of Bradford City is as much Gary Jones as it is Phil Parkinson. Personnel may be changing but it will fit round the spirit and foundations which have been instilled by the captain and manager
Injury doubts Nathan Doyle or Ricky Ravenhill will both be late selection decisions, however the releasing of Jason Kennedy and Doyle’s involvement against the Blades suggesting he may be nearly ready to go. If not, Huddersfield’s Chris Atkinson will be in line to make his bow. Another on a half season-long loan, Chris may well provide the energy and mobility which sometimes we have lacked.
The goals conceded against the Blades were very reminiscent of those conceded against Preston. Soft and poorly defended. Whilst
there is hope Andrew Davies may be back to eradicate this, tonight may come too early for him to start.
With no imminent left back signing, one of Matthew Bates and Carl McHugh will play out of position again. Whilst I commend their endeavour, I will be extremely nervous to see Lee Holmes or Chris Humphreys attack them. Quite frankly, both defenders are far more comfortable playing centrally but, until someone is signed, one will have to fill in, with the other partnering Rory McArdle. Stephen Darby and Jon McLaughlin make up the rest of the back five.
This side is changing and, whilst it saddens me to say goodbye to those who made our dreams come true, it is now time for City to evolve. To maintain League One status and eventually challenge to get out of this league, change is necessary. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often’.
Last season was perfect. To reach those heights again, change must and will continue to happen.