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Diamond in the rough becomes glittering prospect as newest recruits shine

26 Jul

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Bradford City 0

Blackburn Rovers 0

Saturday 26 July, 2014

Written by Katie Wyhatt (images by Jason McKeown)

In what probably provides the most accurate barometer of the development of Phil Parkinson’s squad thus far, Bradford City convincingly held an efficient Blackburn Rovers side to one of the most closely fought and hotly contested pre-season clashes since, well, ever.

This was a friendly on paper, but one edged with all the competitiveness, desire and combativeness of the real thing. Once again, we are presented with a team greater than the sum of its parts: a unit of youth and longevity, but with well-placed experience in the likes of Gary Liddle, Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle.

These players, although many are new to the Bantams faithful, already look eager and determined to match the affection in which their predecessors were rightfully held. After losing possession, for example, Billy Clarke raced back to City’s 18-yard box to – successfully – hound the ball back; Liddle later sprinted a good four metres to deliver a ruthlessly crunching tackle. No one should ever read too much into pre-season, but these initial sightings will undoubtedly provide relief to those worrying about the heirs to Jones’ and Doyle’s midfield.

The Bantams initially fielded what one would perceive, bar the ongoing absence of Aaron Mclean, to be a full-strength side, with all of the new summer recruits making their Valley Parade debuts as Parkinson continued to polish his diamond formation. With Billy Knott at the helm in the hole, Rafa De Vita and Matty Dolan made up the flanks, Liddle anchoring while James Hanson and Clarke framed the forward line.

And the diamond worked well. Bradford were creatively playing between the lines, shifting as a unit, and it’s obvious Parkinson has the intelligent ball players required to make the system work. City were never outnumbered in midfield and valiantly held their own. Liddle probed and hounded and set up the play with a work ethic Gary Jones would be proud of, later moving into a more box-to-box role as he and Dolan seamlessly interchanged. Knott utilised the space well and played countless defence-splitting passes to Hanson and Clarke – it’s clear the former Sunderland prospect possesses not only the brain to play in the formation, but the pace and technical attributes to boot.

De Vita, though offering nothing too fancy, performed tidily before an injury forced him off, providing the link between Darby and Hanson to continue the attacks, even if, at first, he offered little defensively. The diamond’s lack of width meant there was often space out wide willing to be exploited, and there was a period where Darby was under prolonged siege before finding his feet, and Liddle and Dolan shifted to marshal the back four. Time will tell whether De Vita’s cumulative efforts are enough to warrant a new contract. He is undoubtedly composed enough to find a place, but the Italian lacked match sharpness and may struggle to break through amidst a plethora of alternatives.

This isn’t total revolution: directness, of course, is still evident, adding the unpredictability and balance City will need in the coming campaign, but it wasn’t Plan A, and having the energetic Knott to sweep up Hanson’s knockdowns brought a fluidity and ingenuity that just wasn’t there last season. Billy Clarke curled a free kick just over the crossbar from close range, while Hanson and Sheehan both directed shots just wide in efforts that had stemmed from hugely admirable build-up play.

At the other end of the pitch, Jordan Pickford looked secure and patrolled his area with a confidence that belies his tender years, catching the eye with a number of challenging and brave saves. Alan Sheehan’s tenacity and verve were also of note and the defender is a class, class act. In the second half especially, we were treated to a full showing of the Irishman’s enthralling attacking talents when he pressed forwards with a number of quick and considered passes, creating an overload on the left hand side to exploit the space.

As the second half loomed into view, Mark Yeates replaced De Vita and made an immediate impact, pinging a delightful ball to Hanson that Clarke ultimately saw saved. Knott later made way for Kennedy as Yeates slipped into the hole. Yeates, last season’s forgotten man, looked revitalised and relished the greater freedom the diamond affords. What, last season, was mistaken for a lack of positional discipline was very much the order of the day, with the wideman flourishing at the tip of the diamond as he timed his runs and deliveries perfectly. All the while, Sheehan was a bullet of blistering pace and trickery, and complemented his Athlone compatriot perfectly.

The positive tone was maintained for much of the second half, with Parkinson tinkering his charges periodically. Oli McBurnie and Lewis Clarkson replaced Clarke and Hanson in a double substitution, and both troubled the Blackburn goal with clever runs and tackles. James Meredith followed Liddle into the holding midfielder role and did well. Potential goalkeeper Matthew Urwin, an ex-Rovers prospect, had very little, if anything, to do, so was difficult to judge. Two other trialists – French defender Christopher Routis and midfielder Mo Shariff – filled in for Davies and Dolan respectively. Shariff looks a bright prospect, if raw, and delivered several cutting passes; Routis seems fierce and dependable.

The changes marked the end of an afternoon that had heralded many positives. What was clear from the outset today was that Parkinson has the players with the hunger and ability to make this diamond work well, and, whatever teething problems still need to be ironed out in the coming weeks as the new style is tweaked, there were hardly any glaringly obvious errors in his formation, other than the absence of Mclean. The stakes riding on the former Hull man are no secret, so it is frustrating to see the team gelling without him, especially as his return will disrupt the forward line so pivotal to the diamond’s success.

The De Vita conundrum also remains unresolved and the Italian will be hoping today has given Parkinson some positive food for thought – in any case, the noises suggest new arrivals are still impending – but the early signs are nonetheless so promising. The diamond is no longer a glint in someone’s eye, or even a diamond in the rough; it’s materialising here, right now, with these players, and convincingly enough to get you salivating for the opening day.

While the diamond may not yet be sparkling, it is most certainly shining.

City: Pickford (Urwin 46), Darby, McArdle, Davies (Routis 78), Sheehan (Heaton 88), Liddle (Meredith 73), Dolan (Shariff 84), Knott (Kennedy 59), De Vita (Yeates 44), Clarke (Clarkson 69), Hanson (McBurnie 69)

Not used: Campion, Lambe

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The brutalness of pre-season defeats

22 Jul

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Ossett Town 2

Boardman 65, Blackburn 81

Bradford City XI 0

Tuesday 23 July, 2014

Words and images by Jason McKeown

The sun-baked Ossett evening was the perfect setting for a few hundred Bradford City supporters to spend a relaxing, care-free couple of hours enjoying a football match. But this tranquil atmosphere undersold the heavy burden of pressure felt by the players tasked with representing the League One club. Upon such high stakes, the sport is at its most brutal.

A mixture of back-up first teamers, youth players and trialists were on a mission to impress Phil Parkinson. To demonstrate their value to the manager and, in many cases, secure a future at the club beyond the slow setting of the evening sun behind the main stand. Even for youth players who cannot realistically hope to get a first team call up any time soon, they may never get a chance as good as this. This was no meaningless friendly to the Bantams who participated in it: almost all had their future at stake.

It was a near-unrecognisable team, save for History Maker James Meredith – captain for the night – Jason Kennedy and Rafa De Vita. Even a 45-minute appearance from Matt Taylor felt like it should have been marked with the handing out of collector’s badges, given the majority of City supporters have still yet to see him in action. Jordan Pickford – who signed for the Bantams on a season-long loan the day before – was held back from making his debut. Instead, Parkinson ran the rule over two trialists in goal – Jay Lynch, a 21-year-old former Bolton keeper, and Matt Urwin, a 20-year-old ex-Blackburn Rovers stopper. In total, the starting XI featured five trialists, with two more introduced after the break.

Parkinson spent the entire 90 minutes stood behind one of the goals; ruling the roost over his team of lesser-knowns, whilst assistant Steve Parkin barked orders from the dugout. Of the trialists, Reginald Thompson-Lambe was arguably the most impressive performer; linking up reasonably well with Meredith on the left flank and showing some neat touches. A first team-ready player he certainly isn’t, but his nationality – Bermuda – will curry him plenty of favour at Valley Parade. The former Toronto man, who was once on Ipswich’s books, might be worth a development contract.SAM_2083

Other trialists included right back Stuart Bramley (ex-Dallas), French centre half Christophe Routis (ex-Servette), and – of course – Rafa De Vita.

What more can be said about the Italian? Had he rocked up on trial this summer without any previous connections, would he still be in the frame for a contract? In the two friendlies I have seen, De Vita has looked largely anonymous, and he continues to display a frustrating tendency to attempt ineffective fancy flick ons that only succeed in breaking down attacking moves. Playing just off a solo striker – youth product Joe Brennan – far more should be expected of De Vita. We know that he can be a decent player, yet he offers nothing that hasn’t already been recruited this summer. It’s time to put this one to bed.

Of the youth players on show, Sam Wright once again displayed glimpses of what he can do – this time in a central midfield role. He is a player of some promise but arguably needs toughening up. A month or two on loan at a local non-league club is a must if he is to progress to first team consideration. Niall Heaton was introduced in the second half and impressed with his confident runs forward. Another trialist – Richard Bryan (ex-Aston Villa) – was also given another opportunity after his outing at Guiseley. Between him and Nick Arnold, you would expect Parkinson to sign one to provide more right-sided defensive cover for the season ahead.

In truth it was difficult to come to any overly-positive conclusions about any of the players on show tonight. Ossett Town showed spirit and character throughout, never allowing their more illustrious opponents an easy ride. Throughout the rough and tumble, you want to see stand out City performers who can genuinely show they are on a different level. It might be harsh, but other than Meredith there was no one who looked above their semi-pro opponents. It might be harsh, but these opportunities cannot be passed up. Football is brutal, and it really was here.

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In a game of very few chances, Ossett Town eventually took the lead after Rob Boardman smashed a free kick past Urwin from some 30 yards out. It was a terrific strike, although not a moment Urwin could feel proud about. In the opposite corner of the ground, his trialist rival Lynch showed no emotion as he watched on keenly, whilst stood amongst regular supporters. Lynch might have kept a clean sheet during his first half outing, but hadn’t been tested and, therefore, had little opportunity to impress.

City attempted to respond to falling behind, and substitute Reece Webb-Forster – who last season scored the youth team’s winning goal in the Youth Alliance (Northern) cup final – was played through on goal. A delicate lob deceived the home keeper, but bounced agonisingly off the underside of the croosbar before being scrambled away. It was City’s best opening on the night by some distance. A minute later, Luke Blackburn tapped home a second Ossett goal after Urwin had done well to parry an initial shot from Joe O’Neil.

With almost all of the senior players and trialists replaced when the score was 0-0, it is perhaps understandable that a more youthful Bradford City struggled to cope with Ossett’s greater physicality and lost the game. But these are the standards they have to reach and reach very quickly. Football is brutal.

Defeat barely matters, not when the first XI for the opening fixture with Coventry City was never going to feature anyone on display this evening. But it nevertheless raises small levels of anxiety as the big kick off creeps closer and closer into view. Parkinson still has areas of his squad to fill, and tonight offered him very few answers – at least not in the short-term.

City: Lynch (Urwin), Bramley (Pollard), Meredith (Heaton), Taylor (Bryan), Routis (King), Kennedy (Divine), Wright, Lambe, De Vita (Jenkinson), Brennan (Webb-Forster), Chippendale

 

The 'ahem' first class press facilities.

The ‘ahem’ first class press facilities.

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The privileged

20 Jul

 

the warm up

Shelbourne 0 

Bradford City 4

Sheehan 21 (pen), Clarke 29 + 55, De Vita 78

Saturday 19 July, 2014

Images and words by David Lawrence

What a great privilege it is to be a Bradford City fan, particularly on trips like this. To be part of a band formed of all types of humanity sharing in a joint passion on foreign soil. What a treat.

Of course it didn’t seem that way as my friend and I wandered past some young kids having football instruction by an over zealous coach on some spare land outside a very old looking Tolka park. But it was early, and we were on our way to meet some Irish bantams for pre match drinks and the craic.

Inside Fagans, near the ground, we were greeted by the always reassuringly pleasant sight of smattering of City fans in various Bantams regalia. Outside on the patio there was an increasingly large crowd that included the Bingley Bantams and the Irish-based lads. The chat was of games gone by and how City might fair in the coming season. Views ranged from ‘nervously optimistic’ to ‘hope he knows what he’s doing’. Maybe folks were reading too much into the UCD game earlier in the week.bingle bantams

Today’s game would be a different affair, with City fielding a stronger team from the off and the opposition putting out a team of youngsters and trialists, due to having a game the day after.

Both these teams were out warming up as we arrived and we, like most of the following, headed for the ground’s tiny bar. Perhaps the team news had filtered through, or the beer had started to have an effect, as the there was a happy throng inside viewing the memorabilia on the walls (Real Madrid once played here; and the Shels also played a 3rd round qualifier for the Champions League here, narrowly missing out on going through), greeting fellow City fans and queuing to get a pint. The first chant of “City til I die”. It was a great atmosphere. Great to be a City fan.

Outside in the near sunlight it was quite a contrast. The game was about to begin and people were just about noticing.

City initially set up in a 4-4-2, with Billy Knott on the left and Mark Yeates on the right wings, and James Hanson and Billy Clarke in the middle. It very quickly became apparent, however, that this was not how they would play, as Clarke played a slightly wider right role and Yeates moved into the hole behind Hanson. The other two midfielders of a solid looking Matty Dolan and a rangy Gary Liddle stayed deeper, broke play up and set up football type play from the back trough the middle to the forwards. Yes that’s right ‘football’. The defence, with the excellent Alan Sheehan, were hardly troubled apart from an early effort from distance that Jon McLaughlin didn’t have to bother with. City didn’t really need a new,  reserve or indeed any keeper today.

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The opening period of the game had a very pre-season feel to it, with the tempo fairly steady, but it did feature a noticeable amount of clever passing play, particularly by Liddle, Knott and Dolan. The most noticeable moment being when an over excited Shels player went through on Knott causing one dry Bantam to state “he went down like a sack of sh*t” which brought some humour to the affair.

City were looking good, passing the ball crisply. The now wiry looking Yeates was at the centre of much of this, linking the play up effectively between midfield and attack. When he plays too far up the pitch or to deep in the middle, where he doesn’t get the time to play his game, he can often lose the ball,  much to his and the fans’ chagrin. However,  when he’s playing ‘in the hole’ and given the space and time he’s a very good footballer. Possibly the best in our division at this role.

It was through his clever link up play that City went close around the quarter of an hour mark.  Yeates played a lovely one-two with the lively Knott, then put in a great low cross that Clarke only just missed out on stretching for.

City were getting closer and the goal came soon after. Andrew Davies, showing he’s going to be okay with the new football style, played a fantastic long through ball to the on rushing Sheehan, who’s cross was handled by McDonagh. Sheehan stepped up to place a neat penalty to the left of the keeper. Polite applause and handshaking.the change over

Having broken their duck, City appeared to sense that there was only going to be one way traffic from here on and increasingly threatened the Shels goal.  Yeates again at the centre of things; first playing a neat one-two with Sheehan for him to put a long ball over for Clarke to try to head – he doesn’t look the strongest in the air – then putting in Stephen Darby, who had a good shot from the edge of the box that went wide left. Another goal came soon after, when Yeates played a good pass to Clarke who scored with a great drive low to the left of the keeper. 2-0 it was becoming so easy. Que chorus of “take me home Midland road”.

Lenny the City Gent took the opportunity of the slight pause in play to nip out; which was noticed by his fellow Bantams, who gave him a chant of “you’ve been replaced by a chicken, replaced by a chicken”. It was all good fun.

City’s centre backs and goalie were practically on deckchairs by this point. Strangely though, Hanson was not really in the game and only had one shot from long range.  It will be interesting to see how he adapts his game to suit the new style and what type of season he has.

Davies, clearly bored of having nothing to do, had a long sorte into the opposition’s half and down the wing but then fell over which brought a cheer and a chorus of “she fell over”.

The half drifted to a finish, with Sheehan and Liddle both going close, whilst the tempo dropped a bit. The whistle went and the teams traipsed off. McLean, who had been lounging with a couple of the younger players in the empty stand opposite, put another track on his ipod and was undisturbed. He could have been on a beach in Florida.

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The break offered time to wrestle in the small bar for a pint or chat and reflect on the game this far. On this viewing, the team would get torn apart by an organised outfit and it may be a tough August if we come up against such teams. However,  they look like they have the ability to develop into a effective unit who will be great to watch, and would likely beat our recent ‘invincibles’. The future is bright, but it’s more on the horizon than shining down on us right now. Parkinsonism.

Soon enough the second half started with the same players going at the same, if not slower, pace. The game was clearly having the required effect of working on the lads fitness. Nothing of note really transpired, apart from the sound of Parkinson encouraging the players after joining the dugout rather than sitting high in the odd half stand as he did in the first half. Oh and we scored again. Clarke latched onto another good pass from Yeates and wholloped a lovely shot in giving the keeper no chance. He’s got a good shot and the ability to do something different.

By the time everyone had just about got settled back from their half time excesses the mass substitution occurred. This crew looked as young as their opposition, barring the older heads of Jason Kennedy, Matt Taylor and Rafa De Vita.  Joining Rye (Vita) up front was a trialist that had just arrived on the scene to be told he was playing, called Ben Smith. He played quite well, but would likely come in the category of ‘one for the future’ and with Clarkson going so well it would be hard to see him having a role.

De Vita was trying his best to shoot at every opportunity, going close several times and at one point forcing a good save from the keeper. He kept trying and was rewarded with a goal from a good strike from the edge of the area. 4-0.

The assist was by the tidy looking Nick Arnold, who was playing down the right. Earlier, he’d put a good searching ball to the far post that Angelo Balanta had headed home, only to be correctly ruled offside. As for the South American, his name appears more exotic than his game.  He, like some others, may not be around for much longer - particularly if the supposed loans come to fruition.dolan

Having picked up considerably with the substitutions, once again the pace fell off. I think I heard the full time whistle go, but by then the crowd were contentedly chatting amongst themselves and even the players that had come off. Rory McArdle and Knott were particularly friendly and engaging, allowing people to take selfies with them.

What a great bunch of lads. What great fans. What a great trip. Thanks to all involved. We are privileged.

City: McLaughlin (Barker 63), Darby (Arnold 63), McArdle (Taylor 63), Davies (King 63), Sheehan (Heaton 63), Liddle (Kennedy 63), Dolan (Meredith 63), Yeates (Balanta 63), Knott (Wright 63), Hanson (Smith or Brown 63), Clarke (De Vita 63).  

Two Dolans talking

Welcome to Leeds-Bradford Airport. Picture by Bee Calam

Welcome to Leeds-Bradford Airport. Picture by Bee Calam

the teamsheet

Lessons to learn from the students

16 Jul

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UCD AFC 3

Creevy 21, Cannon 44, Mustapha 78

Bradford City 2

Clarkson 41+54

Tuesday 15 July, 2014

Words and images by Damien Wilkinson

Hot on the heels of the opening pre-season friendly 3-0 at Guiseley, Phil Parkinson’s men travelled out to Ireland for what is becoming an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” training camp and fixtures.

In keeping with previous visits, Bradford City are playing teams from each of the top two tiers of the League of Ireland and the Tuesday night match saw the Bantams face SSE Airtricity Premiership outfit, UCD, or the University College of Dublin.

UCD have played 19 of a 33-game league campaign which commenced in March, and currently sit third from bottom in the league of 12. Despite having only won four games so far, a much needed 1-0 victory in their last game against Sligo Rovers last Sunday, had lifted spirits in the students’ camp.

The glamorous sounding UCD Bowl in Belfield on the outskirts of Dublin, was the setting as was a compact ground with one main stand. The late Dermot Morgan, better known as Father Ted, was a sometime UCD fan, explaining his allegiance along the lines of hating crowds! Former players over the years included Kevin Moran, Pat Jennings Junior and a brief stint by Leeds legend Peter Lorimer.

In line with expectations, Phil Parkinson made a number of changes to the starting line up.

Aaron McLean and Oli McBurnie, despite having travelled with the squad, were again deemed not worthy of risking a start, and James Meredith was also rested having picked up a knock during the Guiseley friendly.

Additionally, Parkinson left a number of first teamers from the starting line up, including the likes of James Hanson, Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Billy Knott, Gary Liddle and Billy Clarke. As a result Rory McArdle captained the side, and was joined by Alan Sheehan, Jason Kennedy, Niall Heaton, Sam Wright, Nick Arnold, Raffa De Vita and Mark Yeates. Lewis Clarkson and Angelo Balanta retained their places in the first eleven and, with trial keeper Ben Alnwick not travelling with the squad, Jon McLauglin made a start between the sticks, despite the contractual uncertainties surrounding his future.

With a good number of City fans travelling out on the early morning Tuesday flight, having sampled the delights of Dublin during the day, they made up a significant proportion of the crowd that welcomed the teams out on what was a pleasant and sunny evening in the capital.

Formation-wise, City started the half looking to further develop and embed the diamond formation employed against Guiseley. Clarkson initially looked to be playing a lone striker role and in the early exchanges the Bantams moved the ball around relatively well without creating any clear cut chances. The first chance did arrive after 10 minutes with Clarkson failing to convert a De Vita cross.

However, UCD were not prepared to let City dominate and responded well. In the first half their match fitness and sharpness shone through; they worked the ball around well, and certainly had a greater rhythm to their play. Ed Sheeran-lookalike Conor Cannon gave the City defence a good test with his work rate and movement, and midfielder Hugh Douglas was a powerful presence for the students.

After a period of even play with neither team able to create any clear chances, the deadlock was finally broken after around twenty minutes. A cross in from the left was looped into the goal by the lively Robbie Creevy to give UCD a 1-0 lead.

In response, City upped their efforts and a through ball from Balanta was narrowly hooked over and a Wright shot was pulled wide. The Bantams sought to adapt their positioning and for a time Heaton was pushed into a more advanced left wing position with Sheehan covering at left back.

As the first half clock ran down, and Matt Taylor seemingly answered a call of nature on a grassy knoll above the team dugouts, City finally got back in the game – a Mark Yeates ball into the box was stabbed home by Lewis Clarkson, to continue the youngster’s recent scoring run.

UCD responded quickly forcing a smart save from McLaughlin, and the half looked set to end even until a bad mix up in the City defence allowed Conor Cannon the opportunity to restore UCD’s lead and send them into half time 2-1 to the good.

983750_10203208489071814_125683756283689446_nThe start of the second half saw a welcome return to action for Matt Taylor, whose Bantams career has not managed to get off the ground following injuries last season, and it is to be hoped he can play a key part in the squad this time around.

UCD started where they had left off in the first half and continued to cause the City backline some concerns. However, after 10 minutes some smart play by De Vita, culminating in a delightful chipped pass into the path of Clarkson, saw the young striker do well to run on and smash the ball under the UCD keeper, to again restore parity.

The match remained fairly even and with a significant number of substitutions made around the hour mark. Parkinson finally brought his big guns on and it looked for a time that City would go on and secure a win. Indeed a sharpness and higher energy seemed to punctuate their play and it appeared only a matter of time before this resulted in a goal. However, the hosts had other ideas and kept plugging away.

Their resilience was rewarded with around 10 minutes to go, following a further mix up within the City ranks and Toyeed Mustapha was presented with the opportunity to run onto the ball and dispatch it past the reaches of youth keeper, Elliot Barker, giving him no chance.

Despite a few more chances, mainly for City to grab a third equaliser, it was not to be and the match finally ended with a 3-2 victory for the students.

Overall Parkinson will no doubt be pleased with the work out that UCD have his team, but will certainly be less happy with the mix ups that self inflicted at least two of the goals conceded, and occurred in both of the line ups fielded, rather than the actual result itself.

Hopefully however, this can be addressed, and it will also be useful to have tested out a different starting formation. The goal scoring of Clarkson will be a good boost to his confidence heading into the season, Wright also gave a decent account of himself in midfield and Taylor got some game time.

The next fixture sees a return to Dublin to face Shelbourne of the SSE Airtricity League First Division; and whilst on paper this should represent an easier task against lower league opposition, it should allow a further shuffle of the pack and further assessments of both trial and fringe players – as the start of the season beckons.

City: McLaughlin (Barker 63), Arnold (Darby 63), McArdle (Taylor 45), Heaton (King 76), Sheehan (Davies 63), De Vita (Liddle 63), Wright, Kennedy (Dolan 63), Balanta (Knott 63), Yeates (Clarke 63), Clarkson (Hanson 63)

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The diamond lights up Bradford City’s opening friendly victory

12 Jul

celebration

Guiseley 0

Bradford City 3

Clarkson 12+43, Dolan 26

Saturday 12 July, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (images by Kieran Wilkinson)

This was a very early statement of intent from Phil Parkinson. In the midst of a growing clamour to change the playing style for next season, at Nethermoor the Bradford City manager trialled a diamond 4-4-2 formation that will please the purists. A slow but considered passing style was the result of the new approach; with the tempo deliberately quickened in the final third. This was an evolution to the way the Bantams ended last season – and a huge contrast to the high tempo strategy of a year ago.

Guiseley were game opponents but limited in their resistance, making it difficult to draw any conclusions beyond guarded encouragement about the effectiveness of this new approach. But it has quickly become apparent that Parkinson already possesses the types of players that will make this formation work – in fact, you could argue he has an embarrassment of riches in his available options.

Take the holding midfield role that is so pivotal to the diamond’s success. Matty Dolan and Gary Liddle were awarded 45 minutes each in this position and both excelled. The better days of Dolan’s loan spell at Valley Parade last season came when he was instructed to protect the back four, at Leyton Orient and Rotherham. And during the first half today, the young midfielder was hugely influential in either winning the ball or receiving it from the defence, and then setting up attacks. Liddle is more of a box-to-box midfielder than Dolan and might struggle to maintain the same positional discipline, but he is an excellent tackler and on first impressions looks an inspired signing.

The first half City team featured Jason Kennedy and youngster Sam Wright as the two widemen of the diamond, and both did well. Kennedy looked as though he had finally found his relevance in a Bradford City shirt and set up two of his side’s three first-half goals. Wright lacks stature but was comfortable on the ball, catching the eye with some probing passes.

Trialist Angelo Balenta – released by QPR during the summer – was asked to play the attacking midfield/deep lying striker role and impressed. Having made his name as a winger, it was surprising to see the Columbian playing in the hole; but much of what was good about City during the first 45 minutes involved him. Balenta was undoubtedly the most notable trialist of the six players who were awarded an opportunity.

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The first half diamond four helped the Bantams to quickly race into an unassailable lead. First Lewis Clarkson clinically half-volleyed a Kennedy cross home from close range, before Matty Dolan arrowed a free kick around the wall and into the bottom corner. Clarkson made it 3-0 following another Kennedy knock-down. Balenta’s crossfield ball into Kennedy’s path, during the build-up, was arguably the pass of the match.

It was a good afternoon for the young striker Clarkson, who was unable to make any first team impact last season due to a serious injury. Clarkson should have added a couple more goals, however, after spurning two excellent one-on-one opportunities either side of his opener. His movement and off-the-ball running was noteworthy, and he linked up well with the ever-fantastic James Hanson. It will be interesting to see if Clarkson can make an impact over the coming season.

After 11 changes were made at the interval, the revised diamond four was made up of Liddle in front of the back four, Billy Knott in the hole, and Mark Yeates and Rafa De Vita as wide players. It quickly became apparent why the signing of Knott is considered such a coup, as the former Sunderland man made a strong first impression.

Knott’s intelligence and confidence were the most striking, as he attempted all manner of tricks and clever passing that easily out-witted Guiseley. His best moment was a mesmerising dribble from deep and audacious chip attempt that the home keeper scrambled back to tip over the bar. In this formation, Knott should be a huge hit this season. That said, on this evidence there are question marks about how well he would fit in with a more conventional 4-4-2, similar to the questions that Yeates was unable to answer last season.

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The other two permanent signings making their debuts – Alan Sheehan and Billy Clarke – also performed well. Sheehan is expected to begin the season in the side ahead of James Meredith, and brings a similar attack-minded style of play. Clarke played up front alongside trialist Callum Ball, yet most of his best work came outside the box as he dropped deep or out wide. This is why Parkinson seemingly has an embarrassment of riches to make a diamond formation work – even if Balanta doesn’t sign, Clarke looks ideally suited to compete with Knott to play in the ‘hole’ position.

Although there were no further goals in the second half, there were numerous opportunities to have at least matched City previous two pre-season visits to Guiseley, where they rattled in four goals. Clarke was played clean through on goal by De Vita, but saw his low shot scrambled off the line by a defender. Sheehan cut inside and fired a low effort that flew just past the post. After excellent work out wide, Clarke delivered a superb cross to Ball; but the former Derby striker could only head the ball onto the crossbar when he should have scored.

Ball became a second half talking point, but not in a good way. He has a sizeable frame, but lacks any real presence. There was very little pace on display, and very few effective touches. When late on he chased a 50-50 ball but couldn’t keep up with the defender, Ball could only resort to lamely grabbing their shirt. Sadly for his career, its next chapter will not be written at Valley Parade.

Of the other trialists, goalkeer Ben Alnwick (ex-Sunderland and Tottenham) didn’t have enough to do to form a judgement, whilst defenders Richard Bryan (ex-Aston Villa) and Nick Arnold (ex-Reading) looked reasonable. De Vita was nowhere near matching the impact he made in this fixture a year ago; but the door will surely remain open for him for the moment, and he will be on the plane to Ireland. Certainly De Vita’s best hope is that Parkinson was satisfied enough with the diamond formation to continue its development over pre-season.

Although two wingers are said to still be on the shopping list (loanees from Premier League or Championship clubs), these players are unlikely to arrive until just before the start of the season. In the meantime, Parkinson is building a way of winning matches without a reliance on touchline-hogging wide players. It is certainly different to before, but the greater time that the ball spent on the floor today would suggest it is an approach that can satisfy his public’s expectations.

City – first half: Alnwick, Darby, Bryan, Davies, Meredith, Dolan, Kennedy, Wright, Clarkson, Hanson

City – second half: McLaughlin, Arnold, McArdle, Heaton, Sheehan, Liddle, De Vita, Yeates, Knott, Clarke, Ball

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Always look on the bright side of life

3 May

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Tranmere Rovers 1

Pennington 7

Bradford City 2

Stead 81, Mclean 87

Saturday 3 May, 2014

Words and images by Jason McKeown

As I stood there in the Cowshed Stand, watching my beloved football club relegate another, it struck me just what a complex relationship each of us has with the team we support, and the incredible amount of emotional investment we have committed over many, many years.

Nothing in life – beyond my wife and child – has provided me with as much pleasure as Bradford City; and yet I also can’t think of anything that has consistently provided me with so much pain. All those hours spent not only attending matches, but fretting about results and performances. All the sacrifices I – and those around me – have to make. Compare the person that I am today to the one who first set foot inside Valley Parade and, beyond family and friends, there is not one aspect of what was important to me then that remains. Nothing, that is, apart from going to watch Bradford City.

And as another season of joy, frustration, delight, anger and excitement comes to end, we found ourselves laughing very loudly at the misfortune of others. Schadenfreude, as the Germans say. It is ludicrously cruel to react as we supporters did to Tranmere’s relegation – right in front of their fans, who were enduring arguably their darkest hour in decades. How they must surely hate us forever after this, and who can blame them?

But, well…so what? Excuse my language, but f*** it. This was a hilarious experience, and being part of some 2,000 City fans revelling in a party that had gone sour for the hosts will keep me chuckling throughout the summer. I have no axe to grind against Tranmere, really I don’t, and that’s kind of the point: it could have been anyone. If there’s any consolation, Rovers fans, it really wasn’t personal. Honest.

If this all sounds wrong to anyone who wasn’t part of the bouncing away support, I can only shrug my shoulders and weakly defend myself and others with the cop-out ‘you had to be there’. Or actually, you didn’t. Because relegation is something that every football fan in England, outside of the top Premier League clubs, has endured at some point. And it’s not so much the pain of relegation that blights the life of any football fan – it occurs only occasionally to most of us – but the greater amount of time spent fearing relegation. It dangles over so many of us so often, like a dagger from above ready to strike.

Following Bradford City for nearly two decades, I have been lucky enough to witness promotions and wonderful players and unbelievable goals and last minute winners and beating Liverpool and cup runs and going to Wembley twice. But more than anything else in my time following the club, I have feared relegation. Even in years of mid-table finishes, there has often been a moment where we got flustered over the league position and fretted over some unlikely collapse. In the midst of more serious relegation battles, I have genuinely lied awake at night feeling frightened. And of course, we have gone all the way and actually experienced relegation, several times.

So I – and no doubt most people around me in the Cowshed Stand – took a strange and perverse joy in watching someone else’s torture and pain. It really was enjoyable, partly because we knew what it felt like to be them. It will probably come back to haunt us on day – most things tend to in football – but on a lovely sunny May afternoon in Birkenhead, any long-term consequences of our glee failed to register. Sometimes, supporting a football club allows us to regress in our maturity and go back to laughing when people fart.

You’re going down? Ha ha!

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The cruelness of Tranmere’s harrowing afternoon was amplified by the fact much of it must have been spent believing they were going to get out of trouble. In a game they realistically had to win, Rovers took the lead after seven minutes and held onto it until there were less than 10 on the clock. And then, they managed to lose the match.

Matthew Pennington scored Tranmere’s precious early goal, although a huge slice of credit went to Jon McLaughlin, after his weak hand to a wayward shot completely changed the ball’s direction so that it bounced into the net. Ahead of a week where McLaughlin finds out if he is to be offered terms to remain at Valley Parade, this was a horror moment for the Scot that he must hope won’t affect Phil Parkinson’s decision. That McLaughlin subsequently made two brilliant saves may redeem him.

Nevertheless, as the home side found success in keeping the game’s tempo slow and expertly defending mostly disjointed visitor attacks, for a long time it looked as though McLaughlin’s mistake would win the match and, potentially, keep Tranmere in League One. They still needed results elsewhere to go their way, and on that front Crewe’s lead against Preston and Notts County still drawing at Oldham meant fate remained out of their hands.

Junior Brown is red-carded.

Junior Brown is red-carded.

The heavy tension saw an increasing edge, and tackles grew fiercer and fiercer as referee Graham Scott seemed reluctant to clamp down on the rising anger. It reached boiling point when Junior Brown went in late on Nathan Doyle. The on-loan Fleetwood winger was somewhat harshly red-carded and Tranmere faced up to playing for over an hour with 10 men.

That it took so long for City to make the numerical advantage count is something the home defence in particular deserves great credit for. Ian Goodison might have a questionable character in view of his horrendous elbow on Kyel Reid, in the reverse fixture, and the criminal charges against him – but the veteran defender was outstanding at the back. City pressure came largely from set pieces rather than through open play, and on another day – with a lot more at stake – these failings would have triggered greater frustration from the away end.

For a few brief minutes – seven in fact – Tranmere climbed out of the bottom four. A huge cheer rang out from the opposite side of the ground, as news emerged that Notts County had fallen behind at Oldham. Crewe were now 2-0 up but it didn’t matter to Rovers, so long as Oldham held out. Alan Sheehan’s 75th minute penalty equaliser for Notts County at Boundary Park also triggered loud cheering – this time from those of us in the Cowshed Stand. We were losing this game, but boy were we having a good time.

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A red card for Notts County suggested Tranmere could realistically hope for an Oldham winner, but the only team with 10-men to fold was their own. Finally, with nine minutes to play, Jon Stead equalised with a low finish that was deflected into the goal by, of all people, Goodison. It was ironic that the on-loan Stead finally broke his duck during his least effective performance for City. We went wild celebrating – Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn, stood on the row behind me, included. “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, you’re going to Shrewsbury, que sera sera.”

Tranmere folded at that point, as City pressed for a winner. In what was in truth an average Bantams’ performance, only Gary Jones really stood out and those around him struggled to make any impact. This included Aaron Mclean, but then – after a poor goal kick from James Mooney – the City striker was presented with a shooting opportunity and clinically drove the ball past the keeper and into the bottom corner. Cue pandemonium. Mclean’s last two performances have not been great, but a goal in each bodes well for next season. “Aaron Mclean, goal machine!” boomed out. Indeed.

Mclean might have made it 3-1 when another shot was well blocked by Mooney, but even an improbable two-goal swing for Tranmere would not have saved them. Notts County had secured the point they needed, and Crewe had defeated Preston despite the scare of a late North End goal. Home fans streamed out of the stadium before the end, as we continued to rub it in.

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The final whistle brought strange scenes, as a Tranmere player appeared to have an almighty bust-up with a home supporter, where he had to be dragged away, and teenage Rovers fans invaded the pitch for reasons unknown. The stewards ensured they couldn’t cross the halfway line, which meant the City players could come over and thank their supporters. All but Mclean gave away their shirts.

There was some sadness at seeing them eventually head to the dressing rooms, as it sunk in that many were saying their goodbyes and will be plying their trade elsewhere next season. Nine of today’s 18-man squad were part of the ‘We Made History’ team, and eight of them are now out of contract. We have come a long way together, these players and us supporters. It truly feels like the end of an era.

And a very joyful era at that, one of the greatest in the club’s history. Perhaps that partly explained the overriding mood of happiness that emanated across the entire Cowshed Stand all afternoon. Relegations, administrations and other, even darker times: we’ve had more than our fair share of pain, misery and upset following Bradford City, and we shouldn’t pass up on opportunities, such as this, to smile.

Through the never-ending narrative of football, what can often be overlooked is that supporting your team is supposed to be fun. There was no danger of forgetting that here.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury (Meredith 59), Thompson (Bennett 59), Jones, Doyle (De Vita 74), Yeates, Stead, Mclean

Not used: Jameson, McHugh, Dolan, McBurnie

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The day the sun shined for departing City players

26 Apr

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Bradford City 2

Mclean 49, Thompson 86

Crawley Town 1

Proctor 65

Saturday 26 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

This was a leaving party with a strange feel – for it was unclear who, exactly, we were bidding farewell to. For the last Valley Parade match of the season, 11 of the 14 Bradford City players who featured are not contracted to play beyond next weekend’s final match at Tranmere. Change is coming; but who is to be shown the door remains unclear, perhaps even to Phil Parkinson himself.

On an afternoon where many players were surely aiming to press home their case for a new deal, the atmosphere in the stands was laced with sentimentality. Eight of those 11 were part of the 2012/13 vintage, and have built up a deep affection with supporters that will prompt great sadness if this is to prove the last time their Bradford public sees them. The end-of-season lap around the pitch was well-attended, and the Kop led the chanting of appreciation.

Some of the most celebrated players in Bradford City’s history might have just taken their final steps on the Valley Parade turf.

It was fitting, therefore, that the winning goal was scored by a member of the ‘We Made History’ team – especially as his future seems the most clear-cut. Garry Thompson has barely started a match since January and is surely going to be shown the door. With four minutes left on the clock, Thompson glanced home Gary Jones’ corner to ensure an unexpectedly joyful swansong to his memorable two-year spell at the club. Thompson also netted the final home goal of last season, and it is worth contemplating just where the Bantams might be without that vital, play off semi final contribution.

This time around, Thompson’s goal has ensured that City cannot finish any lower than 15th in League One – which constitutes a commendable rise for a club that only narrowly avoided relegation to non-league two years ago. But Parkinson can only toast that success for a fleeting moment, in order to ensure stagnation is kept at bay. He needs to raise the quality of the squad to deal with next season’s inevitable raise of expectations. He needs to get his retained list right.

Which meant that, today, the players had to rise above the drop of intensity that an end-of-season game between two mid-table sides naturally triggers, and offer a convincing case that they are still relevant to the club’s higher ambitions. For the most part that determination was evident, as City played some purposeful football that was pleasing on the eye. It was hardly edge-of-your-seat stuff and a world away from the high intensity of the early weeks of this season, but with the 4-3-1-2 formation once again deployed, it appears as though Parkinson plans to change more than just personnel for next season.

Compared to its success against an open Peterborough, the shape of the City team proved less effective against a reasonable Crawley side who largely defended deep and broke forward in cautious fashion. John Gregory employed a 4-5-1 set up that has caused City so many problems this season, but today it was cancelled out by Parkinson’s own narrow midfield three of Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle and Rafa De Vita. Over the final few weeks of the season, it has become evident that the City manager has increasingly focused on stopping the opposition from playing, and the significant overall improvement to the goals against column would suggest it is bearing fruit.

Yet the 4-3-1-2 relies so much on the man playing in the hole to dictate attacks, and Mark Yeates – who played in a similar role for City earlier in the season – struggled to make the same impact as the now-departed Adam Reach last Friday. Yeates had less space to operate, but was too often guilty of slowing down his team’s forward momentum by holding onto possession for too long and picking the wrong pass. Yeates was one of the three starters with the security of a City contract for next season, and yet his days at Valley Parade appear numbered. There were good moments in this, his first start since December, but he was still a long way short of demonstrating that he is man to build next season’s team around.

Something that Parkinson simply has to be considering with regards to another in-contract player, Aaron Mclean – who has so far struggled to fit City’s style of play. Back in the side after injury, Mclean was clearly lacking fitness and at times cut a sorry figure as nothing would come off for him, but then just after half time he raced onto Doyle’s throughball and smashed a low shot past Paul Jones – a welcome reminder of his striking prowess.

The former Hull striker wasn’t exactly handed a glut of one-on-one opportunities during his previous 18 games in claret and amber, but has previously wasted similar chances to this one. His third goal for City was less instinctive than the previous two, but somehow more impressive.

Mclean opens the scoring.

Mclean opens the scoring.

Mclean was only fit enough to lead the line for an hour, at which point he made way for Thompson and, four minutes later, Crawley were level in a move that summed up Yeates’ failings. City had been on the counter attack after a corner was cleared to Yeates. With few options in support, he misjudged a cross-field ball attempt from which Crawley were able to muster their own counter attack. Home players had been charging up the pitch to support Yeates and were now caught out, with a breakdown in communication between substitute Carl McHugh and keeper Jon McLaughlin allowing Jamie Proctor to lob home an equaliser.

At that point, Crawley looked the more likely winners and pressed, but City stood firm and eventually regained the attacking initiative. Jon Stead was the home side’s best player – he ran tirelessly, won so much and caused numerous problems – and represents an interesting consideration when strengthening the forward line this summer. The other loan players on show today – Adam Drury and Kyle Bennett – also caught the eye. It is easy to envisage them both being at Valley Parade next summer.

A late shot from Thompson was pushed away by Jones for a corner that led to the same City player’s winner. It sparked warm celebrations around Valley Parade, and the closing stages were played out in front of a wall of noise from three sides of the stadium. After things had looked bleak in mid-February, with that run of one win in 21 suggesting a slow slide towards relegation, six victories from the last 15 represents a steady improvement at a vital time. The players and management fully deserved the rapturous appreciation they received on their lap around the pitch.

Whether some of the players behind the late improvement will be rewarded with a new contract is now the main focus of attention. The likes of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones have really stepped up when their club needed them, and it would be hard on them if they were told to leave. But equally, sentiment can only be allowed to exist amongst us supporters. Parkinson will know that he is going to come under pressure if his close season activity doesn’t pay dividends, particularly in view of his recent under-performance in the transfer market. He needs to be ruthless over the next fortnight.

And if that ruthlessness leads to bad news for any of the 11 out-of-contact players who played today, at least they will be able to take away one final happy memory of playing at Valley Parade. A day when the sun will always shine.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle (McHugh 58), Davies, Drury, Jones, Doyle, De Vita (Bennett 69), Yeates, Mclean (Thompson 61), Stead

Not used: Jameson, Bates, Dolan, McBurnie

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Easter’s growing pains

22 Apr

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Swindon Town 1

Cox 64

Bradford City 0

Monday 21 April, 2014

Written by David Lawrence (images by Mike Holdsworth)

Gliding into the sunny Swindon station, the smell of the picturesque Wiltshire countryside wafted into the ex-holidaymaker packed train, reminding of spring, growth and hope. It was, after all, the end of Easter. Chocolate eggs and Spring Lambs had been consumed, and snooker was back on the BBC. For many less fortunates, including Bradford City, the Football League was just about ready to be put to bed for another year.

Outside the station two City fans, one in a pink away shirt and one in this year’s ‘out-of-stock’ and ‘now reduced’ home jersey, were catching their lift. Shame, as it was a lovely day for a walk. Particularly as over the road from the station was The Queen’s Taps, inside which the more fortunate Leyton Orient and Wolves were battling it out in the early kick off TV game.

The skilful but yet predictable TV coverage couldn’t hide the lack of quality in the third division, and the close ups of Nouha Dicko and Chris Dagnall only served to remind what might have been for the Bantams. Richard Steadman scored a scrambled goal from a knock-down that could have for all the world been from a James Hanson assist and would have had Stephen Pressley-types Twittering ‘Dark age football’. Bombadier finished it was time to roll.

Distance to the ground from the station is as minimal as the architecture. Think the hotchpotch that is Birmingham, but on a smaller scale – with a muddle of office buildings, hotels and ton after ton of concrete. Design-by-greed inhumanity. In no time the ground nears and now it’s a wander through terraced houses that appear to be largely occupied by immigrants. The wealthier locals have long since moved out of this town. It’s a place that boast more jobs than city-based residents – a ‘fact’ that Robins’ supporters blame on their low average attendances. Similar circumstances don’t stop ‘the Faithful’ travelling down the Aire Valley.

Cricket comes to the rescue and provides harbour for those drawn to more aesthetic views. Head to the pavilion from the back of the County Ground, and enjoy good cheep beer in pleasant surroundings with friendly local football fans. There, the Reds were rather hushed about their play off prospects, but at least they had something to play for. They seemed quite pleased and quietly confident as they read their team line up via their smartphones.

City also appeared to be keen to finish well with the strong team that they were putting out. They’d be no room for experimenting with youth today, as Phil Parkinson had only made one change from Friday’s welcome victory over Peterborough – Kyle Bennett replacing the ‘resting and recuperating’ James Hanson.

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Over the cricket pitch outfield and into the throng of the crowds outside the ground the mood was similarly subdued. Some City fans cheered the place up with happy away-day smiles and good-to-see-you-again handshakes. It’s always good to see fellow supporters and feel part of a community. This time a communion of one short of three hundred would be held in the Arkells main stand. This is a seventies type stand that looks like it has been constructed by builders more familiar with the construction of local farm buildings, for which they had used similar materials. However, they’ve installed chairs and not hay bales and whilst they were quite tight there was no pillars obstructing a good view.

Quite a few Swindon fans choose the newer stand opposite that looks similar in size to the Midland Road stand. Both ends behind the goals are poor and would suit a tank, or even a local tractor, driven over them.

Mentioning tanks. What’s happened to Nathan Doyle? Has Nick Allamby been released? Oh Nathan. Stand out player for the wrong reason during the warm-up. Some timber fella. It seems City will have a young man trying to play as an old man and an old man trying to play like a younger man, as Doyle sits in front of the back four and Gary Jones tries to invigorate a strange looking midfield four. This consists of Bennett and Adam Reach playing out wide left and right respectively and the anomaly of Raffaele De ‘Rye’ Vita in the middle with our captain. This left Stead playing up front in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

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‘Pleasing’ is how the opening exchanges between the teams can be described. Swindon like to pass and look to slide the ball along the floor to onrushing attackers –the benched Aaron ‘goal machine’ Mclean must have looked on wistfully at some of their attacks. However, City were showing why they’d collected several clean sheets recently by defending magnificently and creating the odd chance on the break. The back four were all playing well in front of a confident looking Jon McLaughlin in goal. Stephen Darby was having a game of it with Pritchard, and the earlier-maligned Doyle was tremendous on his holding/quarterback role.

Legless or ageless (delete as your want, forum fans) Jones so nearly put City in front from a free kick on 14 minutes after Bennett was fouled, nearly catching keeper Foderingham out with a near post thunderbolt. Then on 23 minutes Stead – now looking sturdy rather than stealthy in his latter years – nearly gave City the lead with a curling effort that said much about why he hasn’t a high career strike rate. He was leading the line well though, and holds the ball up impressive in contrast to Hanson’s nod-on style, which was more beneficial as it gave City’s mainly deep seated midfield time to join the attacks.

Evening things up, Swindon were very much in the game too; but their passing game wasn’t quite making the openings that it promised. Perhaps this was nerves, perhaps they’d heard their play off rivals Peterborough had scored early on, but more likely it was how City were set up. Well done Mr P.

Xerox this: City looked a great side capable of promotion in the first twenty minutes. But it had to end and unfortunately it was at their own hands. Signs of things to come were evident when Darby got caught with the ball near his dead ball line and played a not-so-clever inside pass to McArdle. This left him rather exposed and soon dispossessed by Pritchard, who blasted a shot that only just flew over the bar. He should have scored. This affected an increase in confidence with the Robins’ young team who thereafter played to their potential.

Andrew Davies sensed this and tried to intimidate them by sliding hard into the back of Pritchard, which earned him a booking on 30 minutes. The City fans also realised the tide was turning and began the first chants of the day from either fans – it was sunny after all. Things picked up briefly and Darby put in some fair but firm tackles that drew chants of “Off to Brazil, he’s off to Brazil, Darby’s off to Brazil”. Brilliant.

That was about it for the first half apart from a few near efforts from Smith and Thompson for Swindon that didn’t really trouble McLaughlin. Also of note was Jones’ hard work that at one point got City a free kick as he raced (yes raced) thirty yard (yes 30) from a quick throw out from our keeper that resulted in him being up-ended by McEveley who was subsequently booked. As the half’s whistle blew both managers, who had stood diligently like rocks on the edge of their technical areas, uncrossed their arms and walked in contented. It had been a good contest thus far.

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Unfortunately, something appeared to happen in the City camp over half time oranges. James Meredith, who was having a kick about with the other subs on the pitch, was hurriedly brought in just before the teams reappeared –minus Doyle. After his performance in the first half, it seems cruel to report what one wit in the crowd said but “had he gone on a late Easter egg hunt?” Mezza initially took up Doyle’s position in front of the back four. However, after a dodgy first touch and a blazed effort from an onrushing Pritchard, Parkinson moved him to the left midfield in a four and pushed Reach behind Stead in a similar formation to Friday night.

This appeared a strange move, given that it gave Pritchard even more room to play his attacking midfield role and left Jones and De Vita in the middle stretched and looking slow and inexperienced respectively.

Still, the City players were trying but the new tactics were very much playing into the home team’s hands. On 50 minutes Pritchard went close with a blast that went for a corner that resulted in two heroic blocks by Darby. Five minute later McLaughlin made possibly his best save of the season from Smith’s downward header. A friendly but nervous voice in the crowd said “their goal’s coming” and so it proved. After a shot by Pritchard was blocked, the by-now-pedestrian-looking De Vita failed to get to the rebound and Lee Cox neatly curled the ball low into the bottom left corner.

Sixty-three minutes had passed but in the time remaining City got worse rather than better. The goal signalled the removal of De Vita, who on this showing looks about as affective in this division as Connell did in the league below. On comes ‘Toothpaste’ McLean from the bench, taking up the behind-the-lone-striker role from Reach who moved to the left – his third different position of the day. It was all looking a bit like the desperate times when Luke Oliver was deployed up front. The changes were doing nothing to stem the flow of the game, as City were left chasing shadows – particularly Prichard’s, as he unleashed a volley around 80 minutes that should have seen the Robins ‘home and hosed’, but for another great save from McLaughlin who pushed it onto the post.

Other than that Swindon were restricted to half-chances while City played the role of no-hopers. Even the late but regular substitution of Garry Thompson for the very ineffective Bennett didn’t lead to much bar a couple of fruitless forays forward. From the loss of Doyle at half time until the final whistle, City had increasingly fallen apart like a cheap suit. Swindon were well worth their win, but had been somewhat handed it on a plate.

Walking from the ground in the early evening sunlight, the disgruntled City fans were soon caught in thoughts of summer recruitment. Solving the midfield problem surely has to be top of Phil Parkinson’s agenda after today’s near-debacle. Rumours already abound regarding signings being lined up, with Walsall’s classy centre-back Andy Butler being mentioned. Perhaps, however, after this showing he needs to deny his megalomania for centre-backs and recruit a more balanced squad, starting with a replacement for our brilliant but fading-like-the-Easter-sun captain. It pains to say it.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 77), De Vita (Mclean 68), Doyle (Meredith 45), Jones, Reach, Stead

Not used: Jameson, McHugh, Bates, Yeates

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Job (all but) done for Bradford City

19 Apr

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Bradford City 1

Reach 26

Peterborough United 0

Friday 18 April, 2014

By Mark Danylczuk

Well we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. Playing over 45 minutes against 10 men and failing to net the crucial second goal to kill the game, it was a nerve-racking end which finally saw Bradford City all but secure safety and League One football next season.

I had been fortunate in that my last two City games were fantastic away victories at Colchester and Leyton Orient respectively; and yet I had heard about the two, what some called ‘horror’ shows at home against Walsall and Oldham. With Peterborough fighting to ensure of that last play off spot and being the form team, taking 12 points from the last 15, I didn’t expect an easy game at Valley Parade for City. With other teams below us picking up points earlier in the day, anything but a defeat would have sufficed in my opinion.

City started with two changes from the team that drew with Rotherham a week ago. In came the fit-again James Hanson and, more surprisingly, the forgotten man Rafa De Vita, replacing Kyle Bennett and Matty Dolan respectively. I had to take a second look at that team sheet believing that De Vita could get the nod above both Bennett and Thompson, but with contracts to play for, De Vita had a point to prove in only his 17th league appearance this term.

Both teams opted for a 4-4-2 formation and the opening of the game started with direct styles using the long ball to the target man to hold up and bring others into play – Hanson for City and Britt Assombalonga for Peterborough. With 21 goals to his name as the league’s second top scorer, the City defence certainly had to keep him quiet. As the game settled down and the teams began to play it on the floor, Peterborough had the best opening chance. A nice passage of attacking play with a flicked ball inside from winger/striker Nick Ajose saw midfielder Tommy Rowe strike a shot just wide of Jon McLaughlin’s post.

City then started to come into the game, with the effective defensive pressing of Hanson and Jon Stead forcing the early ball and errors from the Peterborough defence. Adam Drury was providing good support to the attack on the left hand side and it was his long throw which resulted in City’s first real chance – the throw coming to Gary Jones, whose looping volley went just over the bar. De Vita followed this up with another chance a few moments later with a wonderful, fizzed low ball across the box which the sliding Hanson failed to connect with.

It was crucial that Drury was providing support on the left as Adam Reach was given a free role, switching across the midfield but mainly slotting in behind the front two. The Peterborough defence were struggling to pick him up and Reach was getting the space to run into the key attacking areas. It was one of these runs that resulted in City getting the game’s only goal, as Reach drew a foul from the Peterborough defence midway through the first half and picked himself up to wonderfully float a 30 yard free kick into the keeper’s top left corner.

This notably gave City a confidence boost and increased the volume level of the faithful inside Valley Parade. It also gave Peterborough the impetus to force an equaliser, and the right wing threat of Ajose and Mark Little were keeping the City defence busy.

It was then the turn of Peterborough to shoot themselves in the foot with the sending off of defender Sean Brisley for two virtually identical yellow card challenges inside the City half within two minutes. You couldn’t argue with the bookings, as first Stead and then Reach had turned the Posh defender and were away before contact was made. You can say they were stupid challenges, but arguably in the heat of the game situation, it seemed as though Brisley felt like he had to make the challenges to prevent the City attack. Going into half time, it felt as though City now had the momentum to dominate and kill the game against the 10 men.

The second half was quite a different story though as Peterborough came out all fired up with more attacking promise and it became a more entertaining contest, with both teams pressing for the next goal. It was United who had the best chance with Assombalonga receiving a slide through ball breaking free from Drury, but his cross into the box was well cut out by Stephen Darby and scrambled up by McLaughlin.

Peterborough continued to press and with the last 25 minutes to go, City made two like-for-like changes to freshen up the attack with Aaron Mclean, back against his old club, replacing Stead and Kyle Bennett on for De Vita. Bennett almost made an immediate impact a few moments later with a surging run down the right and a beautifully floated ball to Hanson who failed to connect strongly to put the header towards goal. It was then the turn of the other sub, Mclean, to slip in Reach on the left, who forced the keeper into a save with a low shot towards the near post.

As effective as Reach was in the first half, the left midfield still felt unbalanced in this period with Hanson often moving out of position and drifting wide to balance the play. With these second half substitutions and Reach returning back to the left wing, the team had more shape and Jones and Nathan Doyle were controlling the midfield area, as City began to edge the possession and offensive play. City should have wrapped up the points with arguably the half’s best chance. It was Reach who floated a ball through the centre and Bennett unfortunately headed straight at the keeper, when an inch or two either side would probably have resulted in the killer second goal.

It was Peterborough through who provided a nervy last 10 minutes or so, as City were keen to sit back and were not helped by some defensive uncertainty: notably one misplaced, suicidal ball across the back line from Rory McArdle, forcing the pressure on the Bantams. It was not a poor defensive performance by any means, but the odd loose pass and, at times, slow passing to move the ball into the midfield, were not helping matters. Peterborough pressed for a last gasp equaliser with a flurry of late desperate corners in which even the keeper came up, but it was not to be.

A gritty, solid if unspectacular, team performance had heralded a much needed three points to ensure breathing space between City and the lower placed teams. It’s not mathematically safe yet, but barring an extraordinary and a frankly ridiculous set of results it will thankfully be League One football for Bradford City next season.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, De Vita (Bennett 67), Doyle, Jones, Reach, Hanson, Stead (Mclean 67)

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Thompson, Yeates, Dolan

20140418_195726

Regaining self-respect as Bradford City hit 50

11 Apr

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Rotherham United 0

Bradford City 0

Friday 11 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

Redemption begins in Rotherham. All of that negativity from the Oldham shambles was firmly blasted away here with a highly commendable Bradford City performance. The precious point gained leaving them on the brink of survival.

They have now reached the magic 50 point mark, and could arguably lose all four of their remaining matches and still avoid the drop. That losing run won’t happen, not playing like this. This was not the performance of a team destined to finish amongst the four worst in the division. After a third straight clean sheet on the road, mid-table beckons for City.

That League One status was all but sealed at the home of Yorkshire rivals, who have lorded it over us of late, makes it all the more sweet. That the bad guy, who was seemingly about to deliver a fatal blow, got a comeuppance of sorts was gleefully celebrated at the final whistle. Steve Evans stormed down the tunnel without shaking Phil Parkinson’s hand. In the build-up to the match the Rotherham manager had declared that his side’s automatic promotion hopes were over, and that is now certainly the case. The play offs are a nice consolation though, and they deserve great credit for the more comfortable way in which they have negotiated the step-up to League One this season.

It could even have been better for City. In the second half, they carved out several chances to steal a shock win. Adam Reach volleyed wide of the post, Kyle Bennett saw a shot from the edge of the area deflect over the bar. Reach, who was more influential in the second half, later won possession out wide and charged into the box, before forcing a decent low save from home keeper Adam Collin.

The Bantams carried a genuine goal threat, after Parkinson used the half time interval to address failings in their first half attacking play. As expected, City lined up 4-5-1, but the more congested midfield initially failed to adequately support lone striker Jon Stead.

This was rectified in the second half, with Bennett and Reach delivering impressive performances, as they linked up effectively with the outstanding Stead. Nathan Doyle sat in front of the back four, enabling Gary Jones and Matty Dolan to push forward. How Doyle is suited to that defensive role, and he was excellent tonight after a rusty start. On this evidence, recent criticism directed towards his attitude looks wide of the mark.

City’s matching of Rotherham’s 4-5-1 nullified the home side’s attacking threat. They had plenty of possession, but could not find gaps in the claret and amber wall. The City back four recovered from last week’s collapse – Rory McArdle had his best game for a long time, and Andrew Davies returned to his previous high standards. The pair were like magnets to any ball flung into the City area, and Jon McLaughlin behind them looked much more assured. It was not a night for full backs charging forwards, but Stephen Darby and Adam Drury were nonetheless solid.

Rotherham enjoyed spells of strong pressure when they upped the tempo. Ben Pringle dropped deep in an attempt to dictate the play, forcing a good first half save from McLaughlin. He deserves to play in a higher level than League One. Kieran Agard’s dribbling skills also caused problems, and both he and Pringle provided good support to targetman Alex Revell. Rotherham created the majority of first half chances – City’s only effort of note during this period a Stead volley over the bar from a Davies knock-down – but never overwhelmed their opponents.

Once the Bantams emerged for the second half with the gameplan fine-tuned, they gave as good as they got and posed plenty of questions. City never attacked in numbers, but through Jones and Doyle in particular they began to play the ball on the deck. Stead held up the ball superbly. All that was lacking was the creation of that one big chance. Reach’s effort was the only save Collin was forced into all evening.

Rotherham pressed to the end, if lacking invention. Michael O’Connor hit the post a minute into the second half with a free kick that deceived everyone. Haris Vuckic spurned a great opening when presented with a one-on-one shooting opportunity, lifting the ball over McLaughlin but also over the bar. In the final minute of the 90, Karin Arnasan had a free header from a corner, but couldn’t hit the target.

A Rotherham winner then would have been incredibly harsh on City. The players worked so hard for this point, and were entitled to walk off the pitch at full time with smiles on their faces. It had been a long six days for them. Their commitment and ability has been questioned loudly, and this was the perfect response. Parkinson too deserves to feel proud. Time and time again, over the past three seasons, he has ensured his team recover strongly from what appear to be huge set backs.

Whilst no one deserved to emerge from the Oldham defeat with any credit, tonight they all merited a share of the acclaim. There remains a feeling that this has become a patched-up team whose shelf life is extremely limited and in need of an overhaul, but for now it is a team that is more than good enough to put to bed any lingering relegation anxieties.

As Parkinson argued midweek, inconsistency has blighted City’s results over the last few weeks. If they could play like this all the time, they would be grappling with Rotherham in the play offs. They are not good enough for that, but at the very least must eradicate feeble showings like last week. There can be no more repeats, and there certainly wasn’t here.

Instead, at the New York stadium, this group of players showed their worth. Now they must go out and do it again another four times, so that the newly-promoted Bantams can end the season on the high note that a mid-table finish surely merits.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 90), Doyle, Dolan (De Vita 77), Jones, Reach, Stead

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Bates, Yeates, McBurnie

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