Bradford City 0
Preston North End 0
Tuesday 28 January, 2014
Written by Gareth Walker (images by Alex Dodd, see note below)
Bradford City and Preston played out one of the most entertaining goalless draws that you are likely to see on an evening that was more about the return of Andrew Davies, the return to form of Gary Jones and a dramatic decision from referee Stuart Atwell.
Davies made his first appearance in a City shirt since the beginning of October and his typical blood and thunder performance made it look like he’d never been away; particularly in the second half, where he appeared to be all over the pitch. At one stage making a couple of mazy surging runs down the left flank
The performances of Davies and the ever-reliable Stephen Darby would have been worthy of any man of the match award, if it wasn’t for the presence of City skipper Jones, who picked up where he left off in the Sheffield United game with a performance that defied his years and harked back to his heroics from last season.
It was encouraging to see two cornerstones of 2012/13’s success reunited, and the effort, tenacity and workmanlike ethos that they brought to City’s play was only overshadowed by the erractic referee Attwell, who took centre stage just before the half hour mark.
There had been a coming together of players arguing from each side in the centre circle, after what appeared to be the reward of a harsh free kick by Atwell. City debutant Kyle Bennett and Preston’s Neil Kilkenny both raised their hands in the direction of the other, and Kilkenny somewhat embarrassingly, and theatrically, threw himself to the floor. Bennett was immediately shown the red card, and when Killkenny eventually got to his feet, he soon followed for an early bath.
The incident, although unsavoury, was in truth nothing more than handbags and it could be argued that if Kilkenny hadn’t have taken the dive – or if there had been a more reasonable referee in charge – a yellow card may have sufficed for both players. After the match Phil Parkinson and Simon Grayson both expressed their surprise at the double red card decision.
Before that point there had been a lively opening to the game, with the confident visitors doing most of the early pressing as they looked every bit a side who have only lost twice on the road in the league all season. Joe Garner, who was leading the line in the absence of the suspended Kevin Davies, was a real handful and gave the struggling Rory McArdle a torrid evening.
North End were knocking the ball around well and had already caused a two of moments of panic in the City box, where Jon McLaughlin had failed to deal with a couple of deliveries and received one stern telling off from Davies as a result.
City for their part were taking time to settle down, with three home debutants on show, but were slowly growing into the game whilst looking to hit the visitors on the counter attack. Adam Reach and Bennett had been given the nod on the wings in place of Garry Thompson and the injured Kyel Reid, and both showed flashes of what they were capable of in the opening quarter of the game.
I have heard Reach described as having a touch of Chris Waddle about him, and you could kind of see why as the night progressed. He looks a very confident lad with a strong and powerful running style, who is capable of a good cross. Most of City’s good moments throughout the evening resulted either from the on-loan Middlesbrough man or through a surging run from Jones or Darby. The one critiscism I have of Reach, after last night, was that he always wanted to go down the outside – his one trick seemed to be to fake to go inside before cutting back and trying to go down the line. This was something that experienced full back Scott Wiseman realised very early on; but still, it was quite a promising debut.
Bennett was in some ways a polar opposite to Reach, in the brief glimpses we saw of him. He looks to have a game that is built around pace, speed and trickery. He will no doubt be another City winger who will excite and frustrate supporters in equal measure.
The main difference between him and Reach would appear to be that – whereas Reach always wants to go down the outside – Bennett always wants to come inside looking for the ball, and this infuriated at times in the first half hour last night when Darby was crying out for a bit more support on the right flank. What I will say about Bennett is that he appeared to be very eager to impress, which can only be a good thing; and it was refreshing to see a talismanic winger tracking back and getting stuck in.
Unfortunately, it was this over eagerness that was to prove to be the Doncaster man’s downfall with the red card.
The half resumed after the sending off, and it was City who seemed to adjust more quickly to having 10 men. Parkinson made little alteration to his formation, leaving James Hanson and our other home debutant, Aaron McLean, upfront as a pair, whereas Grayson shifted things around into a 4-4-1 system. As a result, the Bantams had the better of the remainder of the first half with Reach and Jones in particular seeing more of the ball and a McLean header forcing a decent stop from impressive Lilywhites keeper, Declan Rudd.
The second half started with the home side firmly in the ascendancy, as full backs Darby and Matthew Bates – who had one of his better games in a City shirt – pushed well up the pitch in support of the attacking players. It was one of those “all hands to the pump” type performances in the second period that have become typical of the Parkinson’s reign, and this was demonstrated no more so than by Davies who was appearing all over the pitch.
Despite the increased tempo to the game, City’s chances were few and far between with McLean spawning the best one after he used great strength to shrug off Bailey Wright and go clean through on goal. Unfortunately for him, Rudd was very quickly off his line to smother the goal-bound shot. Hanson too had an opportunity from a corner when the ball fell to him around the penalty spot, but he leaned back and scooped his effort over the bar.
It was only the second time that Hanson and McLean have played together, and it will take time for them to build up an understanding where Mclean can read the big man’s flick ons. It is this partnership that they need to work on, because they both showed that they are good individual players, and as a duo they could prove a real handful for League One defences.
Preston had their moments too, particularly on the counter attack where Josh Brownhill’s shot hit the post after a very good team move. In the dying embers of the game, Garner had the ball in the City net but he was rightly flagged offside.
On the whole, it was an evening where defences came out on top and, for City, that was largely down to the returning Davies. His first appearance in almost four months brought about our first clean sheet in almost three months. More importantly, though, it is the confidence and optimism that he and the resurgent Jones brought to the rest of the team – the real positive to take forwards going into February.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Bates, Bennett, Doyle (Ravenhill 81), Jones, Reach, Hanson, McLean (McBurnie 72)
Not used: Jameson, McHugh, Thompson, Atkinson, Gray
Editor note: a big thanks to Alex Dodd for kindly supplying the photos used in this match report. Please visit www.alexdoddphotography.com for more information.