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The good times continue

30 Aug

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Rochdale 0

Bradford City 2

Kennedy 60, Hanson 65

Saturday 30 August, 2014

By Jason McKeown

The dark mood of pessimism that hung over Bradford City’s pre-season suddenly feels like a long time ago. After this, a third league victory from five matches, fears of a desperate relegation battle can be eased further. Giddy excitement about the future is allowed to reign for the moment. At full time the players remained on the pitch to take in the acclaim of a packed out away stand, and how richly they deserved it. It has been some week, and it could prove to be some season.

10 points from a possible 15, plus a spot in the third round of the League Cup, is beyond expectations. It is a start, only a start, but the early standards have been set and the bar has been raised. Whether it is sustainable – and how far this revamped team can take the club – cannot yet be answered. But the early signs look good.

This wasn’t an exhilarating performance, but it didn’t need to be. City were professional in their approach throughout, remaining composed – and patient – in their evident self-belief that opportunities would ultimately be created and taken. The visitors scored twice in the space of five minutes and then completely shut up shop on Rochdale. All afternoon they were a step ahead of their newly-promoted hosts. Every Bantams player involved put in a shift. And increasingly, this feels less noteworthy and more a case of a return to normality. What else, really, would we expect from a Phil Parkinson side?

Away from home, City are quietly building an impressive record following an encouraging end to the last campaign. Since a truly appalling 2-1 loss to Shrewsbury Town in the middle of March, the Bantams have only lost once in nine matches. They are unbeaten on the road in four games this season, three of which have been won and with only one goal conceded. Prior to the beginnings of this impressive nine-game away run, Parkinson had achieved just 13 away league victories in two-and-a-half seasons.

There was little danger here that Rochdale would puncture the mood of jubilation derived from the midweek Leeds United victory. Their lightweight attack barely troubled an authoritative Rory McArdle and Alan Sheehan, whilst Gary Liddle, Billy Knott and Jason Kennedy in particular wrestled control of the middle of the park. What home threat there was occurred from the wide positions, as vacant space in front of Stephen Darby and James Meredith lead to some probing crosses that – at one stage – resulted in Matt Done heading the ball past Jordan Pickford from an offside position. Some suspect kicking aside, Pickford was barely noticed all afternoon as Rochdale failed to muster any clear cut chances.

And it meant that City were able to play at their own tempo. They pushed players forward in a measured fashion and worked the ball around the final third with impressive patience, as they sought out openings. At times, it is eyebrow-raising just how many City players are operating in the opposition’s half, and on a couple of occasions a loss of possession enabled Rochdale to counter attack, two-on-two, with ease. Yet in these rare instances, the work-rate of City players in racing to get back behind the ball was highly commendable. What we have is a team who stick very closely together; moving up and down the pitch as a cohesive unit, rather than individually.

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Filipe Morais and Mason Bennett – who were both recalled after missing out midweek – struggled at times to find room to operate and to link up effectively with James Hanson; and, in time, more will be expected of the pair if they are to be prove more than short-term solutions. The half time introduction of Billy Clarke in place of Morais made an obvious difference, and Parkinson will be hoping that his number 10’s recent injury is not repeated anytime soon.

City made the breakthrough on the hour, as Sheehan was allowed to bring the ball forward and produce a delightful cross that Hanson headed down for Kennedy to slam home – it was as though Rochdale’s players were unaware that Sheehan is usually a left back and has a wicked delivery. Kennedy chose not to celebrate scoring against his former club, but inside he must have been beaming with pride about how this afternoon, and the first month of his season, was panning out.

Just three weeks ago Kennedy was a misfit; seemingly out of the first team picture, as he was sentenced to play in reserve team friendlies and sitting on the bench in first-team warm up matches. On the eve of the season, he was heavily rumoured to be joining Hartlepool United and it was even suggested that Parkinson only blocked this move due to lack of squad depth. But Kennedy has put behind a desperately poor 2013/14 campaign – largely spent on Bradford City and Rochdale substitute benches – to become a key player for the Bantams. Supporters who a few weeks ago had no time for the midfielder are now singing his name. What a turnaround.

Five minutes after Kennedy’s goal, Hanson headed home his fifth of the season – and moved into the top 10 all-time Bradford City goalscorers list – from Sheehan’s terrific corner. Back in those worrying weeks of pre-season, where the diamond midfield was first trialled, Hanson was robbed of any kind of service and the signs pointed to a difficult personal season. Not a bit of it so far, and his confidence must be sky high. Parkinson must be praying that the transfer window closes on Monday evening without any offers for his pivotal frontman. Instead, the manager will be looking to add to his troops. Width of a Post understands that he is hoping to sign 21-year-old Blackpool forward Tom Barkhuizen on a long-term loan deal.

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With the game won, it was all about seeing the final 20 minutes out. Rochdale huffed and puffed, but on this evidence lack sufficient quality to avoid a battle with relegation. City looked comfortable in everything they tried. They sit fourth in the fledgling league table and have made an even better start to this campaign than they did the last. Back-to-back home matches in the league now follow, and hopes are high that City will remain amongst the early season pacesetters.

Whilst last season’s autumn collapse in form suggests it is dangerous to make any firm predictions over City’s long-term prospects, what is becoming abundantly clear is just how enthralling this season looks set to prove. For countless years and from several managers, City supporters have been fed a routine diet of straight 4-4-2 football – exoticness at Valley Parade was going 4-3-3. What is so wonderful about this season’s approach is just how unfamiliar it remains. I don’t yet fully understand what players are trying to do positionally at times – other than how deliberate their on and off the ball movement evidently is – and I’m enjoying trying to figure it out. Early season games have offered a football education, bringing with it a refreshing sense that things are different from anything we have ever seen before.

And with eight of today’s 14 involved players only recruited during the summer, there is the very real prospect that we are only at the beginnings of yet another major Parkinson achievement. To build one outstanding team, the 2012/13 History Makers, it one thing – but has he constructed his second wonderful Bradford City side? A long, long way to go yet before we know, but it looks set to be a thrilling journey finding out.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith, Liddle, Kennedy, Morais (Clarke 45), Knott (Dolan 82), Bennett (Mclean 75), Hanson

Not used: Williams, Routis, Yeates, McBurnie

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Tied up in Knotts

27 Aug

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Bradford City 2

Knott 84, Hanson 86

Leeds United 1

Smith 82

Wednesday 27 August, 2014

By Jason McKeown

What a night to be a Bradford City supporter. A long overdue victory over our biggest rivals; achieved in the most incredible, hedonistic fashion. It will be talked about for years and years to come. A night that no one of a claret and amber persuasion will ever forget.

This might be a Leeds United team in disarray. They might be a shadow of the club they once were. And, of course, the visitors were a man short for over an hour. But it is still a major scalp for City and a hugely commendable achievement – one that the players deserve all the praise in the world for accomplishing. Their names will now go down in history for being the first Bradford City side in 28 years to defeat their nearest neighbours.

And what a way to win the match. When Leeds United’s impressive Matt Smith headed his team into a late, late lead it looked set to be another Bradford City hard luck story in this irregular derby fixture. But then Billy Knott – the game’s man of the match – struck a stunning half volley into the top corner. And then, just four minutes after Leeds had gone in front, James Hanson’s diving header from Gary Liddle’s cross completed the turnaround and sparked unbridled delirium. Scenes of home celebration that will go down in folklore.

The uncomfortably nasty side of some Leeds fans then came to the fore, as chairs were ripped up and scuffles took place in Midland Road’s B block. The sight of a disabled supporter in a wheelchair having to rush onto the pitch for protection should shame every Leeds United supporter who was involved. They were disgraceful scenes, which held up the match by more than five minutes. There would have been no justice had their team equalised in the nine minutes of stoppage time that a small section of Leeds fans had added to.

Leeds fans often parade their indifference over this local rivalry like a badge of honour; they are above loathing us back and all that. But their own scenes of wild celebration, when they took the lead, betrayed any lack of interest. For many reasons beyond the fact it was those noisy Bradford neighbours who inflicted their exit from the competition, this defeat clearly hurt them and it remains to be seen what it will do to manager David Hockaday’s increasingly loose grip on his job.

And Leeds’ brief spell in front was a plot twist that only added to the ecstasy of City’s two late goals. Make no mistake, the Bantams had to earn this victory. A man down, Leeds dug in admirably and there can be no doubting the commitment of the players towards their beleaguered manager. Increasingly as the match wore on, the home side dominated proceedings but by no means did Leeds fold. An early miss by Stephen Warnock following a strong Leeds start aside, City were clearly the better side, but their opponents carried a threat throughout.

It might have been different had Luke Murphy not inexplicably lost his head in the derby atmosphere, deservedly earning his marching orders after collecting two bookings. The former Crewe man probably should have been red-carded on five minutes after a shocking challenge on Liddle. But after escaping with only a booking, it defied belief to see him haul down James Meredith with barely half an hour on the clock.

With the man advantage, City belatedly found their passing rhythm and upped the tempo. Knott revelled in the extra freedom and ran the show, popping up all over the park – he was behind all that was good from the Bantams. What an astute signing he looks to be, and although playing in a different position there is more than a touch of Robbie Blake about his play. It will be very interesting to see how his City career takes shape. He is jewel in Phil Parkinson’s midfield diamond. A player to build your team around.

Billy Clarke too was outstanding, especially in the second half, whilst Liddle and Jason Kennedy both put in heroic shifts. Kennedy had City’s best chance of the first half with a volley from an impossible angle that flew just short of the near post. Just after half time, he missed a gilt-edged chance when a side foot stab at goal from just inside the six-yard box bounced wide. Clarke too was heavily involved in the chances City created, forcing a stunning save from an otherwise hesitant Leeds keeper, Stuart Taylor. His close control and vision are valuable assets for his side, and he can really flourish at Valley Parade playing in the hole behind the strikers.

City had plenty of possession but at times struggled to create much. Meredith’s confidence continues to look low when judged against his performances of a year ago, but he and fellow full back Stephen Darby offered useful attacking support throughout. Aaron Mclean, looking half-fit, toiled hard. He was later replaced with Oli McBurnie, and the teenage striker impressed greatly leading the line and causing havoc.

In the closing stages City were building up a head of steam. Lots of corners and crosses that came to nothing; yet a growing feeling that, through persistence, a big chance was coming. But an injury to Kennedy stopped the game for too long and halted his team’s momentum. Then Liddle switched off, David Norris came forward with the ball and crossed for Smith to seemingly win it.

But as Parkinson observed after the final whistle, his team doesn’t know when it is beaten. The never-say-die culture of the club that the manager so impressively instilled two years ago remains, despite the departures of Gary Jones and co. The crowd kept roaring them on, and within two minutes Knott had equalised in memorable fashion. The former Sunderland man adding to his stunning first goal for the club, against Crawley, eight days earlier. Boring tap-ins are not his thing it seems.

Extra time beckoned, but then Hanson wrote another chapter in his own extraordinary tale with the late winner. Add this stunning personal moment to James’ goals against Aston Villa, Burton Albion and Northampton in 2012/13. He is one goal away from breaking into the club’s top 10 all time goalscorers.

And what more can you say about Hanson? What an incredible piece of business by Stuart McCall, bringing him in from Guiseley, five years ago. What a meteoric rise. What an inspiration. I know that we have had more naturally talented strikers over the years, but none that I have seen have meant more to me than Hanson does. For so many reasons he has become my favourite striker of all time. I feel privileged to have watched his City career.

Where are all those people who doubted him two or three years ago? Who barracked him endlessly? Where are your now with your apologises? How stupid do you feel? I’m proud to have been one of many City supporters who stood by the big man during difficult times. I’m proud to watch him enjoy moments like this.

The cup draw has handed City an unglamorous tie at MK Dons in round three, but who cares? Who can ask for more than nights like this? To be part of such a positive, vocal crowd that backed the players to the hilt. To jump up and down on top of people I am proud to call friends in celebration of Hanson’s winner. To witness a sea of happy faces around a stadium that – too often – has been filled with doom and gloom. To enjoy the players rushing over to the Kop at full time so they can take in the warm glow of pride that they had just instilled into 15,000, forever grateful home fans.

For all the disappointments we endure watching City over the years, it is nights like this that truly make it all worthwhile.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith, Liddle, Kennedy, Knott (Dolan 90), Kennedy, Clarke, Mclean (McBurnie 70), Hanson

Not used: Urwin, Routis, Morais, Yeates, Shariff

Another Davies injury casts a shadow over Bradford City’s early season promise

23 Aug

Bradford City 0

Peterborough United 1

Vassell 57

Saturday 23 August, 2014

By Mahesh Johal

As the droves of supporters dispersed out the Kop this evening, there was a collective realisation that not only had Bradford City lost their first game of the season; but it also looks like we have lost defender Andrew Davies for the foreseeable future.

Davies fell heavily after a collision with teammate Jordon Pickford and Peterborough striker Kyle Vassell. Writhing around the penalty box in obvious pain and discomfort, Davies appeared to injure his arm or shoulder. He went straight to Bradford Royal Infirmary. His absence in the heart of the defence was immediately felt as Vassell then scored the game’s winning goal, calmly firing into the roof of the net.

The game started in energetic fashion, with the Posh winning multiple corners in the first minute. City also started confidently, with home debutant Filipe Morais having a couple of half chances, including a flash volley that went just wide. Morais, the former Stevenage man, played at the tip of the diamond and looked comfortable on the ball. Whilst hard to make a judgement based on 68 minutes, he initially reminded me of a more attacking version of Will Atkinson. With plenty of vigour and neat with the ball at feet, it will be interesting see if the Portuguese player will be offered an extension to his short-term contract.

It was the Posh who had the first real chance of the match, with the busy Conor Washington skiing over from inside the penalty area. Even though missing several first teamers due to injury and the obvious hole left by Britt Assombalonga, Peterborough looked a threat and maybe should have scored from a classic counter attack. After City has wasted a free kick deep in their opponent’s half, Peterborough swarmed out with Washington through on goal. Thankfully for the Bantams, Pickford stayed tall and parried the striker’s well-hit effort. The danger was not over for City, as the resulting save opened up an opportunity for Kane Ferdinand. Fortunately, Jason Kennedy was hand to block that attempt.

With the half drawing to close, the game went up a notch as a header from Ricardo Santos crashed off the post. From the resulting live ball, Christian Burgess then had an effort cleared off the line. One thought the Posh had scored as a roar burst out of the four hundred or so in the TL Dallas stand, but it was City faithful who were cheering after the subsequent clearance. Then in injury time City had their own efforts, with Billy Knott having his shot from 20 yards saved by ex-City trialist Ben Alnwick. First to react to the save was Mason Bennett – who was rewarded with the start after his midweek goal – and the on-loan Derby man attempted to send in a cross which was blocked/handled by a Posh defender in the penalty area.

From Bennett and Knott’s reaction they seemed adamant that the ball was handled, but I am unsure. A block was certainly made by the defender but due the speed of the event, I can’t confidently confirm if it his hand or not. Either way, referee Graham Salisbury was unmoved and the Kop were left outraged.

City looked comfortable going into the second half; however the bubble was well and truly popped as Davies got injured. I don’t know about you, but I always feel there is a collective gasp when Davies goes down. Today was different, however, as the gasp became a groan and then a silence. With people’s minds suddenly turning to Wednesday and the thought of Davies not playing, there was a genuine feel of deflation in the air.

Deflation then turned into dejection as Vassell scored. Matt Smith, who was becoming more influential throughout the second half, rode a tackle from Stephen Darby and the crossed to the striker who finished composedly.

Aaron Mclean and Mark Yeates were both brought on in attempt to change proceedings, but they were both ineffective. I’m sure Mclean would have loved to have scored against the team where he made his name, but a tame header on target was the closest he got. Peterborough, on the other hand, had clear chances to double their lead, but Pickford was again on hand to save. After a mis-placed pass from Knott, Joe Newell’s strike was acrobatically saved by the Sunderland loanee.

Valley Parade attempted to rally their troops, but quite frankly today was not going to be our day. To add to the already tough assignment was City’s battle with Salisbury. Maybe I am wearing claret and amber tinted glasses, but quite honestly I thought his management of the game was poor. Peterborough had a plan to put two men on James Hanson today. It worked well to counter our number nine, but at times it felt as if they were man-handling him. At no point did Hanson win a free kick and he was often the one penalised.

I could go on for several paragraphs, but it is unfair to divulge about him and take way from what was a very entertaining affair. Hanson’s stinging drive forced a good save from Alnwick, but all in all City did not have the firepower to break their resolute guest. Nine minutes added time was not enough to find an equaliser, with Yeates stabbing the best chance over the bar in the last minute.

Attentions will now turn to the arrival of our friends from LS11 on Wednesday. The loss of Davies will be big, but problems are brewing at Elland Road after today’s 4-1 defeat to Watford and what now looks to be the impending departure of manager David Hockaday. The atmosphere inside Valley Parade will be white hot. I just hope we have a referee who is strong enough for the event!

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies (Meredith 55), Sheehan, Liddle, Kennedy, Morais (Yeates 68), Knott, Bennett (Mclean 68), Hanson

Not used: Williams, Dolan, Routis, McBurnie

Away day joy as the transformation continues

20 Aug

City v Crawley 1

Crawley Town 1

Walsh 55

Bradford City 3

Hanson 50, Knott 62, Bennett 77

Tuesday 19 August, 2014

Written by Mark Danylczuk (images kindly provided by Thomas Gadd, see note below)

“We’re Bradford City – we’re passing the ball”. A sarcastic chant from the City faithful last night but oh so true and a pleasure to watch. It’s not quite Barcelona or Arsenal, but to see City transforming into a composed, solid passing unit with new-found confidence is a pleasure to watch. We are changing – it’s not League Two players in League One, it’s League One and, dare I say, Championship-level players, playing in League One.

On a cool summer evening in Crawley, the Bantams sparkled with a superb second half performance giving a deserved away win and continuing the unbeaten start to the season. Both teams came into the game without loss – City with a win and draw and Crawley with a 100% record. City made a number of changes, with Alan Sheehan, Filipe Morais and Aaron Mclean in for James Meredith, Mark Yeates and Mason Bennett respectively. The team continued with the 4-4-2 formation and diamond midfield – Gary Liddle at the back, Billy Knott on the left, Jason Kennedy to the right and Morais in the hole behind the two strikers.

The early exchanges were even, with both teams trying to settle into the game. City’s opening chance came from a ball slipped through to Mclean who capitalised on a spill from Crawley keeper Brian Jenson but was penalised for a foul on the shot stopper in trying to retrieve the ball. As the half continued, both teams settled with City getting a grasp in midfield with some neat passing and Sheehan and Stephen Darby providing useful support on the wings. At the back, Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle had their hands full with Crawley strikers Gavin Tomlin and Izale McLeod, but coped with a number of crosses into the box.

The best chance of the half came to Crawley in the 26th minute when a long clearance from Jensen was flicked on by McLeod and Tomlin got between the City defence to fire a shot high over the bar. As comfortable as City were looking in possession, Crawley still looked to cause trouble on the counter being particularly effective on the right-hand side. The superb midfielder, Gwion Edwards, was a handful all evening using his explosive pace and skill to provide output to the forward line. It was right on half time when Edwards used his pace to run through on goal before the onrushing Jordan Pickford made an excellent tackle to clear the ball into touch. Half time came with neither side forcing the keeper into a save.

City v Crawley 2

The second half began with a City substitution with the in-effective Mclean being replaced by youngster Mason Bennett. Again, Mclean’s effort could not be faulted and his reading of James Hanson’s headers to run onto was good, but the sharpness is still not there and, to be fair, he didn’t get the run of the ball. A somewhat unexpected change so early on but the injection of pace and vibrancy in changing the game proved a masterstroke by Phil Parkinson, as Bennett was to have quite an impact.

Ready for this? I could barely keep up myself scribbling ferociously with the action of a second half performance that will do well to be rivalled this season.

It all started just three minutes into the second half when Morais released Stephen Darby down the right, and his intercepted cross towards Bennett came loose to Hanson, who smashed the ball into the top of net. Cue jubilation from the 284 strong City support of the 2,285 crowd. However, the jubilation was short lived as only minutes later, some sloppy defending allowed Crawley’s Joe Walsh to glance in a near post header from Ryan Dickson’s corner.

As the action calmed down, Crawley surprising substituted the excellent Edwards for Conor Henderson, which limited their attacking threat and gave the impetus to City, who in the 62nd minute, regained the lead. It was a superb left-foot half volley from Billy Knott outside the box which went in off the left post with the keeper rooted to the spot. What a goal. Most of us thought it had gone wide including the keeper but no way – it was a thing of magic.

City continued to dominate, coming close again in the 71st minute when a Sheehan shot was diverted by Jason Kennedy onto the crossbar and Crawley scrambled clear. Shortly after Mark Yeates was introduced for Morais, who had an excellent game. Full of running and invention, he will provide stiff competition for a place in the line-up on Saturday to Peterborough.

The game was ultimately sealed moments later with City’s third goal in which Bennett coolly chipped home over the onrushing keeper and it was job done. City’s final sub saw Matty Dolan come on for new crowd favourite Billy Knott, whose tireless display and rapport with the fans was reflected with a round of applause from the City fans. Crawley huffed and puffed to chase a comeback but it was not to be.

An outstanding performance. Pickford was little troubled, Davies and McArdle marshalled the back superbly, the midfield diamond excelled, Hanson again was superb in his support play and Bennett will provide competition for Aaron McLean with an assured display and well taken goal. As high as the confidence is with this positive start, I am sure Parkinson will keep a lid on things as we all remember last season’s positive start which faltered and led to the unwanted winless streak which dominated the middle part of last season.

Let’s finish on an optimistic note, however, and praise this evolving footballing side, our Bradford City. Onwards and upwards to Peterborough on Saturday.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Sheehan, Liddle, Kennedy, Knott (Dolan 80), Morais (Yeates 73), Mclean (Bennett 46), Hanson

Not used: Williams, Meredith, McBurnie, Routis

With special thanks to Thomas Gadd for allowing us to use his superb photos. Please visit Thomas Gadd’s website for more details)

City v Crawley 3

Remarking on the unremarkable

17 Aug

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Walsall 0

Bradford City 0

Saturday 16th August, 2014

Written by David Lawrence (images by Ritchie Jervis)

Those of The Faithful that couldn’t make this match due to still being on holiday must have had a smile on their face as they heard about this ‘steady’ draw. Even those that couldn’t make it due to work commitments may have had a wry smile as they’d not missed out on one of the better ones. In fact, if the sun is shining where you are now or you have better things to do, perhaps consider catching up with this when life’s a bit quieter and you’ll not be missed.

Those that were missing on the pitch, that would have likely started for City, were Billy Clarke, out with a slight strain, and Alan Sheehan who is away on bereavement leave. Peace be with him and his family, and the family of Walsall’s former director Clive Welch, for whom there was held an impeccably kept minutes silence before the game, showing football fans’ ability to show compassion and respect.

Into the team came James Meredith at left back and the newly signed Derby loanee and ‘hot prospect’ Mason Bennett who played alongside James Hanson. A few other players came back into the side from the midweek Morecambe game to give the team a familiar ‘starting eleven’ look, with the young keeper Jordan Pickford behind Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies, and captain Stephen Darby at right back. The midfield diamond was made up of the impressive Gary Liddle sitting deep, the attacking minded Billy Knott on the left, and the most improved-from-last-year pair of Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates playing on the left and at point respectively.

Walsall’s team also included some surprises, with youngsters Liam Kinsella and Billy Clifford being handed their Saddlers league debuts. A recent capture from Chelsea, Clifford, 21, started in centre-midfield for the injured James O’Connor and Kinsella, 18, came in at right-back for James Baxendale, who was benched. That bench also included another new signing, that of winger Anthony Forde, who had signed from Wolves earlier in the week. All in all, these new signings gave Walsall a slightly younger looking team as they lined up beside City on the pitch.

The crowd was a bit spartan in the tidy but average sized third-tier ground, with perhaps some of the Saddlers’ fans also enjoying a summer vacation. City did their part to make up the numbers, with just under a thousand in the crowd of around four and a half thousand. There were plenty of empty seats even in the away end and, therefore, no chance of a repeat of the bickering about sitting in the correct seat as there had been on the previous visit to the Banks stadium.

In fact, there was little similarity to the pulsating game of last year that City won 0-2, Reid scoring a scorching free kick right in front of the jubilant away following. If that was a remarkable shot in a remarkable game this game, was more of an unremarkable affair that at times threatened to feel like a pre-season game. Not that both teams weren’t trying, but the late recruitment by both teams clearly had an impact on the level of understanding between the players and the subsequent football on offer, particularly in the final third.

The game started brightly enough with both teams quickly settling into their own styles of play. Walsall played the ball about in midfield very confidently, with the aforementioned Clifford, Ashley Grimes and Romaine Sawyers linking up well and often using the impressive Kinsella out wide to supply the threat. For their part, City employed a slightly more forceful style that involved periods of passing and periods of mixing it up with the familiar ball aimed at the once again reliable head of James Hanson. The big man put himself about well and made an early opening for himself that he could only manage to head wide.

Whilst Walsall had had a lot of the possession in the early exchanges, the best chance came to the bundle of energy that is Billy Knott around the 12 minute mark. Having picked the pocket of one of the opposition players in midfield, he raced forward, twisting and turning through three defenders only to tamely drive the ball wide of the target from 25 yards. Unfortunately, this ‘nearly’ feeling was to be the theme of much of the game as City sat back and frustrated Walsall into shooting from range, as Sawyers did on 19 minutes, and City looked to score with quick passing break-outs and a mix of clever and sometimes not-so-clever set pieces.

Jordan Pickford was showing his age and his talent in the nets on more than one occasion, collecting high balls confidently and then rushing impetuously to clear the ball and making a hash of it. He did however, show he’s something special on 33 minutes when he anticipated and collected a clever ball from Clifford played over the top of Davies, which Tom Bradshaw would have surely scored passed a lesser well positioned keeper.

Up at the other end the other new loanee, Bennett, was also showing promise. For a young lad, he was putting himself about by using his strong frame well and showing some guile. He did, however, look slightly off the pace and in need of more match fitness. This was particularly evident in a one v one footrace from the halfway line toward the Saddlers’ goal during the latter stages of the first half, which he lost. This incident showed him more of a ‘Craig Fagan’ than a ‘Peter Beagrie’ type winger/attacker. Don’t be fooled though, in this case the lad has class.

The game moved along at a steady pace, with a few tasty tackles and the odd corner keeping the ‘nearly’ exciting theme going, but nothing much else transpired and as the half-time whistle blew, everyone was thankful for the break. The skies were still overcast and some were likely musing where they could have been.

Eager to get on with it, likely under more directed instruction from Phil Parkinson, City came out early for the second half. It was a sign of intent. There’d been no substitutions on either side but City clearly had a mind to pick up the pace and Walsall had clearly been told to push up the field a little further – i.e. to ‘risk their arm’ a little bit more. This led to 10 minutes of entertainment where City came close to scoring several times through Bennett, with only a last minute tackle by Andy Taylor stopping the starlet from scoring. One has the feeling Bennett will very quickly move from a threat to a force at this level.

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By around 60 minutes though the early bluster of the restart had blown itself out and the status quo had resumed. The Faithful had sensed this and switched their earlier efforts of supporting the team to the familiar chants of “City ‘Til I Die”, dropping heavy hints to the management that it was time for a change. “He scores with his hand, Aaron McLean, he scores with his hands” and “Aaron McLean, goal machine.” Ask and it is given. On comes McLean to more praise, making an immediate impact by jostling two defenders, as-is-his-want, and scuffing a shot that narrowly misses the target, as-can-be-the-case.

And then we are ‘treated’ to ten minutes of NOTHING. Dolan came on for Knott on 66 minutes. Still NOTHING.

Thankfully, the wizard that is Yeates woke us up from the spell with some lovely dribbling and passing that at one stage took him from the centre of midfield to the by-line, where he played a delightful ball in that Hanson will have been ‘sick as a parrot’ not to have got on the end of. Now playing the pantomime baddy, Parkinson ‘hooked’ Yeates for Mo Shariff. It looked a bit desperate. Whilst there was clearly a plan to use the youngster’s pace to play him off of the shoulder of Hanson a la Wells, he’s a good two seasons away from being another Nahki. Let’s hope the windfall from the cup can find Parkinson the non-benchwarmer replacement he, the team and fans deserve.

The game was petering out fast. McLean had the best chance for City having once again wrestled free of Downing, but once again scuffed his chance with only the keeper to beat. By the ninetieth minute even the most optimistic were resigned to a scoreless draw. However, Walsall finally managed a shot on target in injury time that threatened to rob City of a point when Adam Chambers lashed a 20 yarder toward the top corner. Not to be outdone, young Pickford made a brilliant save to ensure City’s unbeaten run continues onto their next match at Crawley. It was a remarkable save in an unremarkable game.

CITY: Pickford, McArdle, Meredith, Darby, Davies, Yeates (Shariff 76), Liddle, Knott (Dolan 66), Kennedy, Bennett (McLean 64), Hanson

Not used: Williams, Routis, McBurnie, Morais

All right on a diamond night as McLean snatches late winner

13 Aug
Image by Alex Dodd

Image by Alex Dodd

Morecambe 0

Bradford City 1

McLean 83

Tuesday 12th August, 2014

By Gareth Walker

Aaron McLean’s controversial late goal was the difference between City and a decent Morecambe side at a wet and blustery Globe Arena.

“Bradford by the sea” is a tough place to win at the best of times and a miserable August night so early in the season made the task that little bit tougher.

City made four changes to the side that beat Coventry on the opening day. Ben Williams made his debut, replacing the cup tied Jason Pickford in goal. James Meredith came in at left back, with Alan Sheehan shifting to centre back to replace Andrew Davies, who was on the bench. Matty Dolan replaced Billy Knott on the left hand side of the diamond. Finally, Filipe Morais also made his City bow on the right of diamond in place of Gary Liddle, with Jason Kennedy shifting to the holding role.

The game started quite slowly with both sides attempting to keep the ball on the floor and pass their way into creating chances. Unfortunately, goalmouth action was at a premium and the highlight of the first half hour from a City perspective was the cajoling of Kevin Ellison, which seems pretty standard whenever we come up against him. This reached a crescendo when he was booked for an ugly looking late challenge on Matty Dolan.

From an attacking perspective the Bantams looked most creative down the right hand side, with Morais impressing with his ball control and crossing ability in the early exchanges. Morecambe, however, were playing their part too and they grew into the game as the half wore on, with Ellison and the impressive Jack Redshaw being at the forefront of most of their good work.

As mentioned, City looked most impressive down the right hand side, with Meredith looking a little rusty and uncharacteristically unwilling to get forward down the left. This meant Morecambe in turn were getting most of their joy down their right too. It was down this side that the first real chance of the game materialised, with Redshaw showing good skill and a quick turn of pace to outstrip Sheehan and break towards the city box. Fortunately, nobody had made the break with him and his cross-cum-shot was watched harmlessly wide by Williams.

In truth, that was as close as the former Manchester United youngster came to being tested in the whole game, as from that point onwards the City defence stood relatively firm and restricted the home side to mainly shots from distance.

That first chance of the game appeared to spur the Bantams into action and the remainder of the first period was played mainly in the Morecambe half, with Kennedy inparticular continuing where he left off on Saturday by putting in another tireless and industrious display.

The pressure built up and resulted in a good chance for James Hanson just before half time, when a quickly taken free kick allowed Morais to cross and find the target man at the back post. His header completely beat Barry Roche but was smuggled off the line at the last moment by a defender, just as the away fans were beginning to celebrate.

The half-time whistle brought with it a torrential downpour that continued into the beginning of the second half and made playing conditions extremely difficult.

City started the second half on the front foot, as is so often the case under Phil Parkinson. However, chances remained at a premium, with the lack of width that comes with the use of the diamond formation proving problematic as they tried to break down a well organised and often physical Morecambe defence. In truth. it is difficult to remember either goalkeeper having a save to make in what was a scrappy but entertaining contest.

As the half wore on there seemed to be an end-to-end feel to the game developing, albeit without any chances being created, and it looked as though that final pass or little bit of quality was lacking from both sides just when it was needed. Parkinson made the decision to change things around in an attempt to find an answer to the quality issue by replacing Mark Yeates, Billy Clarke and Morais with Mo Shariff, Billy Knott and McLean. Both Yeates and Clarke had put in lively performances without either of them really reaching the high standards that they set at the weekend, and indeed it was their replacements, Knott and McLean, who combined to win the game for City.

Knott was the one who provided the quality that had previously been lacking when he broke from midfield and chipped a delicious ball into the path of McLean. In truth, McLean’s first touch was poor and the ball bounced away from him into the path of Roche and a defender. A scramble ensued as all three players tried to get to the ball first. A couple of ricochets later and the ball trickled over the line clearly having finally come off McLean’s arm.

When I say clearly, it was clear to the players and the 1,000 city supporters behind the goal, but not clear to the referee or the linesmen, and despite the angry protests of the entire Morecambe back four the goal stood. On the away terrace we were hysterically ecstatic, and it wasn’t long before an extremely vocal chant of “he scores with his hands” was being sung at the embarrassed officials.

The late goal didn’t allow much time for an equaliser, which was harsh on the Shrimps, who had impressed me with their overall play and technical ability. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if they were challenging for promotion from League Two at the end of the season.

From our perspective, however, the bright spots were undoubtedly McLean getting on the scoresheet and the continued resurgence of Kennedy, who was even having his name sung towards the end of the game.

Now, with two wins from our opening two games and a new loan signing in the shape of Derby youngster Mason Bennett on board, we can look forward to the next few weeks of the season and, in particular, the draw for the second round of the cup tomorrow, which will hopefully bring with it a much needed financially lucrative tie.

CITY: Williams, Darby, Meredith, Kennedy, Sheehan, McArdle, Morais (Knott 69), Dolan, Hanson, Clarke (Shariff 78), Yeates (McLean 69)

Not used: Davies, McBurnie, Urwin, Pollard

What it’s all about

9 Aug

SAM_2173

Bradford City 3

Hanson 27 + 90

Sheehan 49 (pen)

Coventry City 2

Johnson 41+ 89

Saturday 9th August, 2013

Written by Katie Whyatt

It’s why you’re a football fan, days like this. Days when everything just seems to fall into place, all at once, and everything looks to work. Days when you can forget about the budget cut, forget about the challenges ahead, forget about the finances, the numbers, the scars from last season – forget about everything else but the present, this game. This beautiful, beautiful game. Age-old escapism, that oldest form of catharsis – forgetting the world for 90 minutes. Aptly, my iPod clicked Clean Bandit onto shuffle as the car rolled towards Valley Parade. When I am with you, there’s no place I’d rather be.

That’s the wonderful thing about the opening day. That immortal notion, anything is possible, the sentiment that lures us back every season, rises from the stomach as soon as Saturday comes. Positivity, hope, fun, ambition – the cornerstones of being a football fan thrown down for all to see. And why not?

It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that football is supposed to be fun. We go through what we go through because we love Bradford City, and we love what it means to be a football supporter. It’s days like this, when you’re thrown through the whole gamut of emotions, that you discover that topsy-turvy feeling. It’s days like this, when you’re treated to such energy, such passion, such diligence, from your starting eleven, that everything seems right in the world. It’s days like this, when you scroll down a Twitter feed littered with impromptu marriage proposals to @billyclarke7, that you know being a football fan is something special. It’s days like this when you love supporting Bradford City.

City’s first opening day victory for six years had all the spice, speed and sparkle of a winning performance. The diamond worked impressively. Kennedy and Yeates, for whom last season was a year to forget as they stumbled through a crooked personal campaign, looked revitalised, catching the eye with some neat football and reading the game superbly. This latest Bantams incantation are enthrallingly intelligent, and knocked the ball around with all the vigour and swagger of a proficiently organised and experienced unit.

But what stood out most was their willingness to work for each other. To move for each other, to pound the pitch for each other, to win back possession for each other. There was an understanding, a cohesion, that looked new, looked renewed. And that sat hand in hand with an awareness of the fact that this crowd – this amazing, colourful crowd that supported the team so vocally today – will back to the hilt any player that performs with meaning.

Fears about team spirit were absolutely assuaged. Tackling with conviction, tackling for the team – every single one of them.

Parkinson deployed the diamond formation he had been honing over pre-season. Jason Kennedy and Billy Knott made up the wings as Gary Liddle anchored, with Mark Yeates deployed in the hole. Billy Clarke and James Hanson formed the front two at the head of the side.

Coventry were to provide a stern test. While they might have been generally weaker than they were this time last season, there was quality within their ranks. For all the fans’ downbeat caution – downtrodden after losing top scorers Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson in January and July respectively, and disillusioned following their well-documented off-field problems (the impassioned ‘we want to go home’ song on 35 minutes in protest at their upheaval from the Rioch, was a moving outcry) – Pressley has recruited wisely. As Jordan Clarke pinged a shot just over the crossbar on two minutes, you began to fear the worst.

But City brushed off the early scares and found their feet in incredible fashion. Even in these early days, with new faces to integrate and a new formation to embed, the hallmarks are totally promising. These players look to know each other inside out and backwards. At their high points today, Bradford paraded the pitch with a militant swagger and confidence under which almost every run and every delivery was bang on the money. For a comparison, think of when Swansea City are on it – think of how organised they look. How efficient everything is. How every movement looks tried and tested, practiced a thousand times over. Everyone is aware, like there’s some telepathic understanding –  and that’s what it was like. Balls played and runs made miles before Coventry knew what had hit them. This squad seems so clever and so creative, and these boys are working so, so well together.

Today was one for the purists. I keep closing my eyes to see Sheehan despatching Mark Yeates, Jason Kennedy laying off for Stephen Darby, Billy Clarke knocking balls to feet. Chances were being created, but in new and inventive ways. Crosses from the wings, the long ball from the back, the big kicks from Pickford, motions forward from midfield. All this variety, all this energy.

Billy Knott and Alan Sheehan looked beautifully compatible, with Sheehan finding Knott on the overlap and the winger sending a teasing cross to Clarke. Gary Liddle broke up the play well and has Doyle’s eye for a pass, but his increased mobility allowed him to roam the pitch to alleviate the pressure in all areas. In the second half, Liddle scrambled a ball off the line to deny the visitors, before moments later charging forwards to send through Hanson.

Meanwhile, Billy Clarke is clearly inventive enough to make things happen and anticipates everything superbly, linking up with Hanson in ways McLean unfortunately struggled to do last year. The opening goal came when Knott intelligently found Clarke, and the Irishman turned and teed up for Hanson to direct the cross home. There were understandably worries Hanson could be inadvertently phased out while the diamond comes to sparkle, but Clarke’s ability to find pockets of space and generate movements meant Hanson was as involved as ever.

Today, Clarke staked a massive claim for a place in the team. That he played somewhat out of position – he cites his favourites as either slightly off the frontman or just behind the front two, in the hole – is indicative of his desire to take one for the team. Clarke’s versatility suddenly entails a plethora of attacking options for Parkinson. Potentially, he could counter any defensive formation. Both Aaron McLean and Billy Clarke look like origins, players who want to make things happen and set attacks in motion. Whoever wins the starting jersey will help to characterise the success of City’s season, but, until then, the team are by no means treading water until McLean’s return. Hanson and Clarke is a totally viable partnership.

Most strikingly, Jason Kennedy looked a new man, hounding back possession with crunching challenges and insightfully feeding Billy Clarke and Stephen Darby using probing passes. The midfielder looks to be entering something of a second coming, and what a perfect antidote today will be to his hugely frustrating first year in claret and amber. Don’t give up on him yet.

Coventry equalised just before the break. City defended slackly from a dubious corner, overlooking Reda Johnson’s imposing presence and allowing the Sky Blues centre half to exploit the space. Pickford came to meet the cross when, arguably, he should have remained on his line, but it was too late. Johnson nodded home at the near post.

It was a crushing blow for City – Pickford in particular, whose kicking was beginning to win over the home support. At one point, he young goalkeeper’s superb kick from his box found a solitary Clarke, who held the ball up before crossing for Kennedy to backheel to Allsop. Pickford found a man every time, and quickly, always looking to fuel a counter-attack. The Sunderland loanee later came into his own with a string of excellent second-half saves: after handling a free kick strongly, he dived superbly to deny John Fleck from distance. Pickford is still learning, but he’s learning fast.

Following a hugely engaging run of play from the hosts as the second half got underway, Sheehan teasing corner was curling straight to the path of Hanson, but the striker was pushed. The referee immediately pointed to the spot and Sheehan tucked away the penalty – City’s first, incidentally, since this same fixture last November.

But it was all square just moments from time, as Reda Johnson knocked home from close range with a tidy effort. As Steve Pressley and his cohorts plunged into celebrations on the sidelines, it all felt over, City cruelly robbed of the three points they’d toiled so hard for. Everything tinged by that goal, all the merits about to be tainted.

We felt glum for less than a minute.

You can never switch off in football. It’s a cliché, a tired gimmick, but it’s so cruelly, ruthlessly, perfectly true. Kennedy surged up from the halfway line and delivered a textbook cross to Hanson, and the forward dutifully nodded in to send a packed Valley Parade into raptures.

Disbelief, mania, pandemonium. The tides had changed in an eyeblink. That spirit, that trademark, hallowed spirit that has defined the sides Parkinson has assembled over the past three years, is still there. Anyone else would have rolled over then – tied at 2-2 with a minute on the clock – but they didn’t. There was a comforting familiarity about it, seeing City recharge and go again so soon after utter heartbreak. But that’s this club. That spirit is their trump card.

Today dispelled a number of the anxieties that had staggered pre-season. The club are still light on the numbers, and it remains to be seen how Parkinson plans to approach next week’s cup tie in terms of preserving players, but the squad’s core is unyieldingly strong, and recent additions mean it no longer looks so painfully thin. City were composed and committed, playing with a new sense of guile and tenacity. The diamond flows well – it’s beautiful to watch and far less rigid than last season’s stricter 4-4-2. These players are technically astute enough to be handed a license to break free, and, though they worked in packs, interchanged and moved seamlessly.

For the moment, De Vita, too, is still in the picture: the Italian could be a solution to the depth problem, but the reality is that he isn’t much better than the alternatives, and doesn’t seem to offer anything not catered for. The jury also remains out on Jordan Pickford, though the 20 year old showed huge promise today.

It’s easy to get carried away by the opening day, but why not? Let’s not lose perspective or run away with ourselves, but let us relish this feeling. There will be trials this season, moments when things don’t fall our way or things don’t go well, and there will be times when we want to pack it in and end up questioning why we bother.

And the answer is today. Games like today, with the atmosphere and the weather and the diamond and new season enthusiasm and last minute winners and converted penalties and new signings and a totally unpredictable stream of events that leave you gasping for breath and begging for more. We all felt like children again today: ridden of cynicism and scepticism, and just taken away by the showing on a day devoid of anticlimax.

Today was special. The football was special, these players were special – the fans, us, our atmosphere, was special.

Because this is what it’s all about, days like this. Being giddy and optimistic, young and transfixed, taken aback and taken away.

This is what it’s all about.

City: Pickford, Davies, McArdle, Darby, Sheehan, Knott (Dolan 71), Yeates, Liddle, Kennedy, Clarke (McLean 86), Hanson

Not used: Meredith, Shariff, Morais, Urwin, Heaton

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