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

James Hanson is on the road to legend status as City welcome Peterborough

22 Aug
Picture by Thomas Gadd

Picture by Thomas Gadd

Bradford City vs Peterborough United preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 23 August, 2014

By Andrew Baxter

James Hanson’s goal on Tuesday night at Crawley was a fine example of how far he has developed as a footballer in the last couple of years. A neat piece of footwork, some very good close control and a powerful, yet precise, finish, would have been a great goal for any winger, never mind City’s 6ft 4in targetman.

Would Hanson have showed that level of composure and technique three years ago? I doubt it. It just highlights the work Hanson has done to improve his technique, and quash those accusations that he is a “one-dimensional” player. Hanson’s technique opens up a number of attacking options for City. They can feed it to his feet, knowing he’ll hold it up, and give the ball to one of City’s creative players, such as Mark Yeates or Billy Knott. Hanson can control balls fired in towards his chest, bringing them down, and holding the play up once more. The McArdle to Hanson long diagonal ball is predictable, but Hanson’s aerial ability means that he can win the header, nodding it back to a City midfielder or flicking it on for someone like Mason Bennett to run onto.

It may be a cliché, but the phrase “good feet for a big man” rings true for Hanson. He has adapted to both life in League One, and the new formation, with ease, and scoring three goals in his first three league games is an example of how the team have utilised Hanson as an integral part of the new system.

The chant “He used to work at the Co-Op” is an indication of the change Hanson has made since arriving at the club back in 2009, and this could be the season he goes from being a club icon, to a club legend. Hanson has scored 66 goals in his City career so far, just two behind Joe Cooke, and is now 20 behind Dean Windass. Hanson averages just over one goal every three games, and with a contract that has nearly three years to run, there is every reason to suggest that Hanson will surpass Windass’ mark of 86 City goals, should he stay fit. Even by the end of the season, he could be fourth on City’s all-time leading scorers list, something which would mark him as a legend in my books.

The rest of the team, like Hanson, have enjoyed a consistent, and solid start to the season, with two clean sheets in four games a sign of this consistency, and City are yet to concede a goal from open play.

Barring any last-minute injuries, Jordan Pickford will start in net, with a back four of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and Alan Sheehan in front of him. Gary Liddle will continue his holding role in midfield, with Jason Kennedy and the impressive Billy Knott just in front of him. Mark Yeates should play just behind the two strikers, with Mason Bennett the most likely to partner Hanson. Saturday will probably come too soon for Billy Clarke, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.

As for City’s opponents, and mixed start to the season has seen two league wins coupled with a League Cup defeat at Portsmouth, and a defeat at home to Sheffield United last Tuesday.

Their transfer activity during the summer was much more high-profile than the Bantams, with last season’s top scorer Britt Assombalonga moving to Nottingham Forest, for a tidy £5.5 million. Defeat in the play offs last year was regarded as a failure by some, but manager Darren Ferguson has the backing of chairman Darragh MacAnthony, and Ferguson has recently signed a new three-year deal.

Peterborough will be without regular centre-backs Gabriel Zakuani and Jack Baldwin, who are both injured, but the signing of Christian Burgess will provide some cover.

Peterborough will line up in a 4-4-2 formation, with former City trialist Ben Alnwick in net. In front of him will be the back four of Michael Smith, Shaun Brisley, Christian Burgess and Kgosi Ntlhe (Ntlhe scored a fantastic goal when the two sides met at London Road last December). In midfield, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing will start on the right hand side, with captain Jack Payne and Jermaine Anderson in the middle. Jon Taylor will start on the left, and Darren Ferguson has a dilemma upfront. Kyle Vassell will start, with three goals so far, but the out-of-form Conor Washington and Tyrone Barnett will compete for the other starting berth.

City have had a great start to the season, but this week will be a test of how good this side is, starting with the visit of Peterborough to Valley Parade.

The legacy of Bantams Banter

21 Aug

Tom and Dom

By Katie Whyatt

It started out as the most unlikely formula for success. A podcast following the doomed exploits of a football club toiling away at the foot of England’s basement division – a club still stinging from the financial tumult and relegation fears that had characterised its previous decade. At the team’s helm, a manager the fans had grown disillusioned with. The story: lifeless football that left the team loitering a little too closely above the trapdoor to non-league. It was into these troubling circumstances that the Bradford City podcast Bantams Banter was born.

Fast-forward to the end of the season, however, and the podcast about that doomed football club was burgeoning. With the team clumsily stumbling through the campaign with a season of below-par performances, the uniquely comic – and always honest – musings of Tom Fletcher and Dominic Newton-Collinge became a warmly welcomed and refreshing antidote to City’s gloomy on-field affairs. By the start of the Peter Jackson era, the effortlessly entertaining quips of Tom and Dom were absolutely essential listening. At a time when positivity was at a premium, the liveliness of Bantams Banter reminded us that, beyond anything else, football is supposed to be fun.

Fast-forward to 2013, then, and squeal with delight. With Bradford City finally moving forward at last, Bantams Banter boomed, with the duo fronting everything from BBC News clips to music videos as their signature give-it-a-go gusto and manic audio celebrations personified the true magnitude and meaning of the Bantams’ cup adventures. It was a season capped off in perfect style, and later built upon, as the show scooped two awards: BBC 5Live’s Fans of The Year and, later, the Football Blogging Awards’ Best Podcast prize. The following year, Dom and Tom ventured beyond Valley Parade and starred in Alan Davies’ Brazilian Banter with the QI star, helping to cover the World Cup for ITV. They hit the number one spot on the iTunes chart for the second time – a final affirmation of exactly how far they’ve come.

But Bantams Banter is just about ending. For the first time since the desperate days of Peter Taylor’s tenure, there will be no dedicated podcast to accompany the entirety of City’s campaign. Hosts Dom and Tom have decided to call time on the show, drawing the curtains on four seasons of exceptional work.

“It was a really tough decision,” says Dom. “Tom and I have put the hard graft in over the last 5 or so years to make the podcast a success, and the decision to retire the show took some real mulling over. The figures last season were the second highest we’ve had. It’s just the cost and time it takes to stay on top of things that led to us scaling back the podcast. We both have young families so now just seems like the right time, while the show is still popular.”

“As above, really – and I hate Dom,” Tom adds. “We had a big fall out and he threw a plate of spaghetti bolognaise at me…”

Dom casually nods, “He ate it.”

The 2013/14 season saw the pair explore a series of different avenues as the season progressed. Bantams Banter TV [BBTV] was essentially Bantams Banter in video form, and pilot episodes ran to mixed success. Later, the boys tried Bantams Banter’s Round Table, an interactive, panel-style live broadcast during which City fans were invited to join Tom and Dom for Bradford City based-Q and A debates.

How have they found branching out?

“BBTV was a tough one,” Tom says. “YouTube is really hard to crack – unless you’re talking down the lens about Kim Kardashian’s arse or playing Minecraft and crying over finding some rare iron stone, then it’s pretty much impossible to get viewers and subscribers. It was just an idea, though, and shows that some things work and others don’t – it’s just sticking at it that’s important.”

“We know that, although Bantams Banter as a podcast has done well, that success won’t last forever so we were just experimenting, seeing where we might be able to take the show to the next level,” explains Dom. “BBTV didn’t have the success we had hoped for. Round Table, however, has done really well, so the plan is to keep turning out monthly recordings and live shows.”

Both were the precursors to greater things. In May, ITV announced its coverage team for the 2014 World Cup. An impressive list of all-star names: among them, Gus Poyet, Gordon Stratchan, Ian Wright, Patrick Vieira, Fabio Cannavaro, Andros Townsend – and Tom and Dom. After the success of their joint podcast with Arsenal’s The Tuesday Club in 2012, Bantams Banter approached QI’s Alan Davies with the idea of making a podcast dedicated solely to the World Cup. The comedian was keen to work with the boys again, and Davies’ agent recruited a sports media guru, Andrew Thompson, to help develop the project further.

“He contacted ITV and hey presto, they’d heard of us, they’d heard the podcast we’d already done with Alan, and the rest is history!” explains Dom. “Working with Alan is always great. He’s a really down to earth bloke who has become a great friend and mentor. Brazilian Banter was different because for the first time, we weren’t making the rules. But it was great and became our second number one podcast.”

Tom adds, “It was a very different feel and production to Bantams Banter, as it wasn’t in front of a live football match. It was literally Alan’s dining room with 3 microphones around the table. The pressure then to be clever, funny and insightful was magnified, as if we have nothing to say we usually just laugh at Steve Evans.”

It wasn’t their first foray into uncharted waters. City’s trips to Wembley last season spawned a double header of music videos, and a Christmas tune, titled ‘Merry Christmas, City Fans’ and featuring Parkinson’s squad on dulcet backing vocals, was released last year. Ahead of the Capital One Cup final, the pair – joined by a professional film crew – met with Steve Parkin and City players Rory McArdle, Carl McHugh and Nahki Wells to film ‘Parkin the Coach’, a promotional video for the Wembley showpiece. The challenge? Park a typical team coach. No gimmicks, no catches, no hidden surprises – just park the vehicle, that’s it. Sound simple enough? Think again.

“[It was] a right laugh,” enthuses Dom.It was our first bit of work to camera so we were a bit nervous at first, but the production crew just gave us free reign and we just had fun with it. The players were really up for a laugh so it was a lot of fun.”

The funniest thing was,” begins Tom, “that we both assumed it was some poxy amateur production and pretty much turned up in our scruffs. Then we saw the production team of roughly 25 and cried.”

“Oh, yeah,” Dom recalls distantly. “There was a camera on a crane…”

“I enjoyed the Crimbo video,” says Tom. “There is so much footage that didn’t make it, too. Like the scene where I’m taking an emotional, solitary walk through the woodsin a big brown sheepskin coat, like a Westlife video, and Dom jumps out from behind a tree and genuinely scares me.”

“We have fun in everything we do – it’s why we do it!” enthuses Dom. “[The Christmas video was] ace. We got to do skiing! It’s a lot of work but we love it, and getting the players and club involved was the cherry on the cake. By then, the players knew what to expect when we rocked up at the training ground so they really got into the spirit of things!”

“We’ve always got ideas for stuff,” Tom smiles. “We’re both creative guys and we have a laugh, so we’ll always produce stuff.”

The Future

With that chapter done and dusted, the focus now turns to the future. Both are impressed with the way City have started this season – an “impressed” Tom says passing through the midfield is a lot quicker, “and the link up play already with Hanson and Clarke is very promising. Defensively, we will be hard to beat, too – all in all, it’s exciting.” Dom deems it “encouraging”, saying, “I was concerned about the size of the squad but we’re filling out nicely now, and Parkinson has done really well to attract some really good quality players who have shown us already what they are capable of. As you said, it’s early, and injuries could well knock us off track, but early signs are very positive indeed.”

On a more personal level, BBC Radio Leeds have already offered Bantams Banter a monthly Bradford City special slot for their West Yorkshire Sport Daily programme, and Tom was could be heard turning on the trash talk on last Thursday’s edition as he taught a Leeds fan Italian and boasted about how “we play the might of Arsenal and Wigan – who are bigger than Leeds!” Dom today explains how they’ve been offered regular slots at a number of radio stations and are “mulling over our options but are pretty certain which way we’re heading.” Round Table will continue, running once a month, but, before that, there’s just the small matter of episode #92 to contend with – Bradford City VS Leeds United.

“WE CANNOT WAIT!” cheers Dom. “Over the past few seasons, we have been spoilt for Yorkshire derbies, but by ‘eck, you can’t beat a game against them lot from the dark side. It’s too tempting to miss for us, hence the special podcast we’re planning! Send in the clowns!”

“It’s not very often you get Leeds at Valley Parade so when you do, it’s going to be a big deal!” Tom says. “They will claim they don’t care about us but every one of them will have a little niggle inside about getting one over on the neighbours. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Leeds United fans say their biggest rivals are Manchester United – a team in Lancashire!”

That podcast has the potential to provide more riveting audio to add to the growing plethora of memorable Bantams Banter soundbites, which ranges from the acutely observant (“Oh, look – Rory McArdle’s beard’s gone.”), hilariously outlandish (“No! I’ve just put the last cow in the mincer!”) to raw, unrestrained outpourings of unadulterated adulation and relief (see: “F**k the cosh!” and any goal celebration from the last four years). But what have been Tom and Dom’s favourite moments?

Dom says, “In terms of the podcast audio, I know people will expect me to say ‘podcasting at Wembley twice’, which was amazing, but for me it has to be Aston Villa away – I never listen to our stuff after editing, but that podcast I could listen to over and over. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I actually get a bit teary.”

“I will never forget Crewe Alexandra away on a freezing Tuesday night,” says Tom. “It was the first time we’d podcasted from an away ground and we were sat right amongst the home support. We just went for it when we scored – to the disgruntlement of the Crewe fans. The reason I’ll never forget – Dom started a fight with a few of the fans and used me as a human shield!”

“It was hardly a fight,” clarifies Dom. “We just mouthed a few words and made a few gestures. Bloody toerags. Personally, it has to be working alongside a mate, watching the team we love, doing something we enjoy and are really passionate about, and turning it into a success.

“It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Visit the Bantams Banter website by clicking here

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

Phil Parkinson’s building blocks remain in place for his new-look team

19 Aug
Image by Ritchie Jervis

Image by Ritchie Jervis

Crawley Town vs Bradford City preview

@Broadfield Stadium on Tuesday 19 August, 2014

By James Storrie

Bradford City travel to hosts Crawley Town on Tuesday night and will be looking to improve on their poor record at the Broadfield Stadium.

After a summer of mass change and rebuilding, it has been a welcome relief to see the Bantams take positive strides forward, a week into the new campaign. This summer was quite an unusual one for both the club and the fans, one that we have not really seen since Phil Parkinson took over the reins from Peter Jackson/Colin Cooper. That ill-fated summer of 2011, where Jackson spent his time chasing unrealistic targets, shared small similarities with what Parkinson has gone through recently in terms of having a threadbare squad as the season kicked off. Yet the differences between the two summer proved vast from kick off, as the class of 2014 have put in three strong performances in a week.

Another impressive quality to go with Parkinson’s overall management of the club is just how little the fans learn of the incomings to the football club. The papers and message boards have scarcely contained a rumour concerning the football club all summer, and it is due to this quiet approach that the club have secured the likes of Billy Clarke, Gary Liddle and Alan Sheehan. The recruitment drive has not gone altogether swimmingly, however, and it is obvious that Parkinson hasn’t landed his first choice targets in certain areas and has had to settle for other names further down his list.

This is one of the frustrating scenarios that all managers face up and down the country and respective leagues, and it has been impressive how Parkinson has started building the foundations of a strong side even with the well-publicised budgetary constraints that shackled some of his recruitment plans.

There are certain qualities that come from the manager that he has installed in all three of his sides that he has created whilst at the club. These, without dismissing the other qualities that he has brought to the party, are a strong ethos in respect of hard work, discipline and organisation. This may sound like the obvious, but it’s the heartbeat and lifeblood of every good team. How many times do you see a Phil Parkinson side lose their cool? Run off their shape? Or become unprofessional when losing and concede heavily when chasing a game?

This stems from good coaching from Parkinson and his wider team, and it’s these qualities that have been evident in the opening three games. There are obvious weaknesses that are a concern, and there is clear room for improvement. However, there are a lot of positive aspects to take forward into the season also. A lot of the summer was spent highlighting the new diamond formation the club would start the season with, and it has enjoyed mixed results so far.

One of the early problems with the diamond has proven to be the lack of protection it offers to the full backs and, if the opposition quickly switches play, then it can lead to Stephen Darby and Sheehan/Meredith being exposed to a two on one from the opposition full back and winger. This was evidenced particularly for Coventry’s second equaliser last week. One of the various more positive aspects has been the emergence of Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates, who have both flourished so far with the greater flexibility and potential to roam that the system offers the midfielders.

The solidarity that Parkinson instialls in his team will be crucial in the upcoming months. It is clear that despite the nice football and interchanging of positions, City remain unlikely to be free-scoring this season. On the other hand, with two clean sheets and only one goal from open play conceded, it is hoped that the impressive defence we possess will help us to edge close encounters in what is set to be a very even and closely-contested division.

The need to stay strong on a cold Tuesday night is something Parkinson spoke about last week before Morecambe and, with Crawley unbeaten and yet to concede a goal, the Bantams resolve will be tested to the hilt.

Crawley have had a summer much like the Bantams with a sea of outgoings and incomings. They have made some notable signings. Two of which will be particularly of interest to City fans, one being experienced former trialist Brian Jensen and loanee Ryan Dickson. Izale McLeod is another to have joined and is a forward who always scores goals at this level.

It is likely that the Bantams will shuffle the proverbial pack for the game after three matches in a week coming so soon into the season. It is hard to foresee many changes in defence, bar the returning  Sheehan, however. In midfield the likes of Matty Dolan, Filipe Morais and Mo Shariff could all win starting spots in an area Steve Parkin described as ‘leggy’ after the weekends exhaustions in the draw with Walsall. It is likely that James Hanson will be partnered by eighteen year old Mason Bennett in attack again as the Derby youngster looks to get up to speed; with the returning Aaron McLean waiting in the wings to continue in his quest for match fitness.

Remarking on the unremarkable

17 Aug

 IMG_8252

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

Maintaining momentum as City travel to Walsall

15 Aug

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Walsall vs Bradford City preview

@Bescot Stadium on Saturday 16th August, 2014

 

By Katie Whyatt

Wednesday night’s Capital One draw threw up some interesting ties, but the highlight was undoubtedly Bradford City’s home clash with Leeds United. The game will mark the first time the two sides have met at Valley Parade for 14 years: back in 2000, Stan Collymore and Mark Viduka offered the goals as the spoils were shared.

Undoubtedly, City have always sought to match Leeds, but the current quality within the Bantams’ ranks, coupled with the malaise and uncertainty that has categorised the Whites’ tumultuous past year, means the divisional gulf is just a mere irrelevance. This tie promises to be one of the most closely fought and hotly fuelled of the entire season. For the first time in a long time, Leeds will stand before a Bradford team that will truly, truly grasp what this rivalry means to us. You close your eyes now and the silhouettes form in your mind’s eye: Jason Kennedy and Billy Knott swerving through the centre of the park; Mark Yeates dancing at the tip of the diamond; Sheehan and Darby doggedly fortifying the back line; Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies valiantly standing as the final bastions.

But that’s one for the future. Width of A Post will offer bumper coverage of the game when the time comes, but the focus now, both among the fans and within the club, rightfully turns to more imminent challenges. With three games to go before United’s team bus rumbles down Midland Road, the onus is on the team to make sure they enter that mouth-watering tie with the league position bolstered further and a hat-trick of promising performances locked under their belts. On the back of the Coventry win, it would be too costly to not maintain that momentum. To echo the doomed words of Steven Gerrard, this must not slip now. We go to Walsall exactly the same.

That said, with Sky snatching the TV rights for the derby, a much needed cash windfall, thought to be £100,000, suddenly comes into the picture. It’s difficult to say at this stage whether that money will go straight into the playing pot or instead towards recuperating this year’s overspend, but the noises from Parkinson suggest he is still trying to bring in new faces.

The picture isn’t complete yet, and we are just about entering the phase of the season where the planned loan signings will become available. Knott and Yeates are capable of playing wide, as is new recruit Mason Bennett, but perhaps one more out-and-out winger is on the shopping list. In the Telegraph and Argus today, Parkinson spoke about possibly loaning out Heaton, Clarkson and McBurnie over the course of the season. The squad looks thinned again without those bodies, but not as desperately bare as it was months ago. Either way, transfer activity is not done and dusted. Parkinson knows the picture can change in an instant. In football, a week is a long time, and five acquisitions at the eleventh hour last week illustrate this. Things can still, and will, fall into place.

Two wins from two – those wins a convincing home performance and decent away showing – have all but assuaged worries about the quality of the starting eleven and, to an extent, have started to condemn woes about the depth of the squad as a whole. Man for man, we stand looking at the most technically gifted and tactically astute side we’ve had in a long time – and they’re even stronger together. Clearly, early season enthusiasm needs to be reined in, but the versatility within the squad heralds a variety that can only serve the Bantams well throughout the campaign. Questions need to be answered still, but there is time – just. The constant question marks hovering over McLean need to be banished, but he is desperate to succeed. What’s been achieved thus far remains pleasing.

Turning to tomorrow, Parkinson has promised to keep shuffling his pack, breeding fitness and competitiveness within the squad so that everyone is up to speed when the heat is turned up towards the end of the month. The general adaptability of the squad means predicting the line-up feels fruitless anyway, but Parkinson’s promise to shake things up makes the guessing game even harder.

The City supremo said yesterday Mason Bennett could potentially be handed a start. A bright – and young – winger also adept at playing as a centre forward, Bennett is held in high regard at parent club Derby County, and adds another dimension to City’s build up play. As with any young player, though, he needs to be bedded carefully, and an outing so shortly after his arrival may come too soon for him. Alan Sheehan is most likely to miss Saturday’s game having flown back to Ireland in the wake of a family bereavement, meaning James Meredith will play at left back. Competition for this slot is rife, so the Australian will have to snatch this opportunity to assert his claim for a place in the side. Davies should partner McArdle at centre half and Darby will retain his place on the right flank. Pickford will start again in goal.

The midfield and forward line will probably to see the biggest areas of change. Gary Liddle is back in contention and should be selected, as should Billy Knott after resting for the most part of Tuesday’s game. If Bennett starts, it’s likely to be at Jason Kennedy’s expense, but perhaps Kennedy’s movement, conservatism, versatility and tidiness will be favoured if Knott is deployed as the wideman. Either Mark Yeates or Billy Clarke could feature in the in the hole – perhaps even Knott – but it will most likely be Yeates, with Clarke partnering Hanson up to ā la Saturday. Sadly, a full 90 minutes would probably again come too soon for McLean – expect him to come on for the final half hour or longer.

City go into the Walsall game on prime footing. The start to the season couldn’t have been better, really. The task now is to maintain this momentum, to walk away from this weekend with the diamond nestled further and the team working well together. The prospect of playing in front of a packed out Valley Parade later this month offers a tantalising incentive. If Parkinson uses that wisely, the tempo will be ramped up now.

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