Tag Archives: Port Vale

Keeping the Monkey off our backs

21 Feb

Mike (6)

Bradford City Vs MK Dons preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 22 February, 2014

By Gareth Walker

When Bradford City were victorious at Stadium MK back on the 23 November, it ended a run of seven games without a win. It provided hope that we had come through our sticky period, and that we could get back on track for a push up the table. Unfortunately it was a false dawn as the Bantams followed up that 3-2 victory with a further 13 winless games. The overall stat, before last Tuesday night, was one victory in 21 games.

Yet the last-gasp win against Port Vale in midweek threw the monkey off our backs once more. The collective sigh of relief that we all felt when Carl McHugh’s header hit the back of the net was like a weight being lifted off the shoulders of the entire club. As the Kop bellowed out its new chant proclaiming that “all we care about is BCFC”, it was like we were finally coming out from a dark place and could see the light once again.

Nobody wants to go back.

The three months that we spent under that dark cloud were making everybody miserable, and it was starting to create divisions in our supporter base. It harked back to our days of struggle at the wrong end of League Two. Certain players were coming in for a lot of criticism, arguments could be heard between supporters in the stands, and there were an increasing number of fans who were starting to turn against the manager.

Hopefully, this time we have left that behind for good. Hopefully, the defeat at Carlisle last week will prove to be like our Exeter moment of last season.

Nobody is saying that we can bounce back and achieve promotion in the same way that we did last year, but let’s try to use the quick recovery from the Carlisle low point as an opportunity to finish the season strongly.

The defeat at Brunton Park was when things really came to a head. It was sad to see every City player other than Adam Reach booed at the end of that game. Despite our dominance of possession, we looked a side who were desperately short of ideas and the Cumbrains’ goalkeeper only really had one save to make all evening. Fans were getting angry in the away stand and for the first time it seemed that those who were turning against Phil Parkinson had a really loud voice.

Personally I didn’t join them. Despite being someone who has never been as pro-Parkinson as others, I would not condone sacking him at this point in the season. The three-year contract that he and his coaching team signed last year make any debate about his faults one that is pointless having, in my opinion. And that is before you even take into count our desperately poor track record of hiring and firing managers in such situations.

It was comforting therefore for me, as I’m sure it was for many others, that the Port Vale game was the absolute opposite of the Carlisle one – it was like a breath of fresh air in comparison.

This was more like a Phil Parkinson performance from a Phil Parkinson team. The high tempo and the pressing were back in our game, and the big players in our side came to the fore once more. Reach continued his impressive form, and Gary Jones has looked re-born since the second half of the Sheffield United game. Andrew Davies is back and Nathan Doyle had his best game in ages. The late 1-0 victory was the least that we deserved.

It is these positives that lead me to be confident that this long overdue victory will prove to have a more long-term effect on our fortunes than our last one.

Much has changed since that last meeting with MK Dons. None of City’s scorers from that day will play in Saturday’s game for a start. Kyel Reid has that long-term injury, Nahki Wells – who also gave a penalty away that day – has been sold, and Jason Kennedy has gone out on loan to Rochdale to be replaced by the impressive looking Matty Dolan and Chris Atkinson. Bantams fans will be hoping that Wells’ replacement, Aaron Mclean, finally gets a decent opportunity to open his account for the club, in what looks like being quite an open game.

MK Dons have undergone changes too, having lost loan striker Patrick Bamford to Derby and recruited former Leeds and Southend winger Ryan Hall, amongst others. They are currently unbeaten in their last three games, having previously been on a poor run of only having won one in eight.

There are still things for City supporters to be concerned about and everything isn’t quite rosy in the Bantams garden just yet. Personally I have concerns about our goalkeeping and left back positions, where at the very least we lack some proper competition and cover. These issues in particular are difficult to understand, considering how over-stocked we are in the centre back and wing positions.

However, I have hope that Parkinson can be successful in solving our outstanding problems; especially if we can succeed where we failed last November in backing up Tuesday’s victory with another decent result.

After City’s last game against the Dons it looked like we had ended the hoodoo. This time, the return fixture has to be seen as an opportunity to well and truly lift the curse.

Playing through brick walls

20 Feb

Image by Alex Dodd

By Jason McKeown

It was nine months ago that I was in the McCall Suite of Valley Parade for the 2012/13 player of the year awards, thrilled to be sat next to Phil Parkinson. As he patiently put up with me quizzing him about anything and everything, the Bradford City manager’s views on Carl McHugh left a big impression on me. “He will do anything you ask of him for the good of the team,” Parkinson offered, before pointing over to a nearby wall. “If you ask him to run through that, for the good of the team, he will do it.”

There was something fitting about the Irishman proving to be Tuesday night’s match winner which saw the Bantams halt a difficult slide of poor results. McHugh was brought into the team late in place of the injured Matthew Bates, and was asked to play a left back role that – after a torrid first half at Bramall Lane in that position – he must still have nightmares about. McHugh has endured the “difficult second season” syndrome and barely featured before Christmas. Even in his more regular centre back position, his performances of late had been mixed.

Yet McHugh overcame any personal hesitation and damaged confidence to perform impressively at left back. Early jitters, when he and Andrew Davies contested the same ball, were brushed away, and he let no one down in what is evidently not his best position. There was a determination and assurance about his play that was mirrored by all the players in claret and amber – on the evidence of Tuesday’s performance, you would not have known this team was under pressure and winless in 13 matches.

That is to the players’ huge credit, and it also reflects fantastically on their manager Parkinson (who, for all the arguments of the last seven days and supporter calls to be sacked, received a fantastic ovation before kick off from a sizeable chunk of the crowd). There was a steeliness and a resolve about the side to not let this season sink any further. To turn around the poor results. Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones were magnificent in the centre; Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett both enjoyed their best games in a City shirt on the flanks; Rory McArdle recovered from his own disappointing form to once again be a rock at the back; James Hanson and Aaron Mclean proved industrious up front.

But eyes were still drawn to McHugh, even before his stoppage time contribution. Midway through the second half, Bennett was replaced by Garry Thompson and Reach was instructed to play narrower. The onus was on McHugh to overlap the on-loan Middlesbrough player and provide a wide threat. You could see Carl’s initial hesitancy to join the attacks, but from the dugout Parkinson kept urging him to get forward. A message that spoke volumes.

For McHugh, like everyone else in the team, had performed well on the night – but still, Parkinson wanted and demanded more. This was not going to be an evening of City reflecting on a good team performance but more dropped points. McHugh hardly looked comfortable as he ran up the pitch with the ball or made himself an option for others in possession, but he contributed positively nonetheless. He was out of his comfort zone but doing everything he could for the good of the team. How richly deserved that his effort and endeavour was to be rewarded in such memorable fashion. As fellow Width of a Post writer Mark Scully commented after the game, the young defender’s header and resultant wild stadium celebrations was a true I-was-there moment.

There is a contrast to be pondered between McHugh’s bravery and the man he replaced in the team. On the morning of the match, the Telegraph & Argus featured an interview with Matthew Bates that led on the angle he was unhappy filling in at left back. “It’s not a position I’ve played or particularly enjoy, if I’m being honest,” he admitted. The tone of the piece arguably not helped by the journalistic licence applied by Simon Parker (“Matthew Bates is no fan of his position”).

Whilst not doubting Bates has a right to feel disappointed at being shunted from his favourite position, his frustrations simply should not be relayed so publically and it sends out the wrong message. As a player who has yet to win over all supporters, to relay dissatisfaction at having to play out of position does little to aid his reputation. And besides, when everyone is fit, it is highly unlikely that Bates would be in the first XI. What is to be, Matthew: left back or left back on the bench?

Carl McHugh probably isn’t overly-thrilled to be playing at left back either, but the commitment and dedication he showed to fill an unfamiliar role was hugely admirable. He truly ran through that proverbial brick wall on behalf of his team, and his short and long-term prospects at Valley Parade have been considerably boosted as a result.

The place to be

19 Feb

Bradford City 1

McHugh 90

Port Vale 0

Tuesday 18 February, 2014

By Mahesh Johal

Walking to Manchester Victoria Station en route to Bradford, throngs of Barcelona fans covered the wet streets of Deansgate. Draped in their famous blue and red, excited supporters buzzed around in anticipation of the biggest game of the season. An epic battle between two of Europe’s finest sides; the game highlighted why the Champions League is the premier football tournament on this planet.

I’m not going to lie, I wanted to watch the game. I’m sure some of you wanted to watch that game. But let’s be honest, there is nowhere in the world that we’d rather watch a game of football than at Valley Parade. Further more, there’s no where we’d rather be than at Valley Parade watching a 92nd minute winner that finally slay the stats…one in how many was it?!

It was everything we deserved. Bradford City dominated from start to finish. They huffed and puffed – but that final ball, that clinical pass, that one opportunity deserted them. That was until the 92nd minute. With their eighth corner of the evening, Gary Jones’ cross was headed into the roof of the net by Carl McHugh. The header was as emphatic as the one he scored against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi final 13 months ago. It was full of desire, as McHugh threw himself towards the ball to convert the home side’s dominance into a winning goal.

We’ll harp on for years of the importance of his third against Villa, but tonight’s goal was of equal value to this season. One win in twenty one was the stat. Pressure was growing on Phil Parkinson’s shoulders. Another draw was on the cards. One win in twenty two it would read.

After the defeat to Carlisle changes were made. Some were enforced, with the Donegal youngster returning to the starting line up to replace the injured Matthew Bates at left back. Nathan Doyle partnered Jones in midfield; whilst Kyle Bennett was given another opportunity to turn around his floundering start at the club

City bossed proceedings, with the ever impressive Adam Reach dictating the game from the left flank. The on-loan Middlesbrough winger caused havoc and contributed to all things positive for Bradford. He was the ‘go to’ man and the architect of all sorts of problems for the visitors. With his loan spell expiring this week, Phil Parkinson and all those in attendance tonight will hope that an extension can be secured.

It was Reach’s lofted pass which set up James Hanson for the game’s first attempt. With the ball sitting up nicely, Hanson flashed the half volley attempt wide. The pair worked tirelessly throughout the first half and were both involved with a goal line scramble that nearly saw City take the lead. After a Hanson effort was cleared near the line, the resulting live ball fell to Reach; who’s audacious lob nearly caught visiting keeper Chris Neal off guard.

To think of the form book and coming off the humbling defeat to Carlisle, it was an extremely positive start by the Bantams. However, the good work was nearly undone by a poor Jon McLaughlin clearance. Running out of his area to clear his lines, McLaughlin’s kick found Chris Lines who shot on target towards the unguarded net. Thankfully Rory McArdle, who enjoyed his best game in some time, was on hand to head off the line. McLaughlin atoned for the error though and made a number of good saves throughout the match.

City continued their dominance in the second half with Aaron Mclean nearly scoring straight from the kick off. I’ve seen enough of the former Hull man to make the judgement that I like him. His endeavour and work rate are second to none, and he fits this team’s ethic. With the ball at his feet, there are signs of quality (Crewe being the example) but his value in front of goal is as yet unknown. In his six games in claret and amber, I can think of only one genuine scoring opportunity. That being his one on one against Preston. Quite frankly, the ball hasn’t bounced for him yet and this again was the case with this opportunity. His constant harrying created the chance; however, he acrobatically lashed away the chance.

Vale played the majority of the game on the back foot, but with a striker like Tom Pope there was always a chance. Their efforts were aided by referee Mark Brown, who progressively became a hate figure for his leniency towards the ever fouling Anthony Griffith and the allowance of Vale’s time wasting tactics. Saying that, they did have chances with McLaughlin needed to deny Jordan Hugill and Doug Loft. In all honesty, the visitors’ opportunities were few and far between, but they were clearer chances that challenged the City keeper. As the nerves grew, there was a feeling of ‘smash and grab’ in the visitors’ play.

Andrew Davies headed over from a corner, whilst in a role reversal of the first goal against Crewe, Hanson’s low fizzing cross missed an onrushing Mclean. Reach had chances but when his late effort rocked the post, Valley Parade sensed it was going to be one of those nights. One win in twenty tw…

Yet into the second of five injury time minutes, and with the Kop still loudly backing their side, McHugh was on hand to head home and end City’s baron run. In similar fashion to those orchestrated by Hanson in September, Valley Parade erupted as City finally got the win they so desperately needed and deserved.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, McHugh, Bennett (Thompson 71), Doyle, Jones, Reach, Hanson, Mclean (Gray 90)

Not used: Jameson, Dolan, Yeates, Atkinson, McBurnie

Making new history as Port Vale visit Valley Parade

17 Feb

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Bradford City vs Port Vale preview

@Valley Parade on Tuesday 18 February, 2014

By Katie Whyatt

“How do I define history? It’s just one f*****g thing after another.” Alan Bennett, The History Boys

Don’t mention last season. Whatever you do, don’t mention last season. Don’t mention Wembley, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Wigan, etc. It’s done. Forget about it. Defeating Villa over two legs isn’t serving us well now. You can’t live off shadows all the time.

Football is judged largely on the immediate. With City hovering perilously close to the drop, the onus is on Phil Parkinson to turn form around now. Worm yourself out the clouds, haul your head out the sand, wake up and smell the coffee. It’s time for the gaffer to prove that he’s the right man for the job.

And moving on is fine. Even I’m growing weary of hearing the words “Wembley” and “twice”. I don’t advocate living in the past at all. If you’ve only just pulled yourself from dreamland, the current run must be a bit of a rude awakening.

But to ignore last season does a massive disservice to Parkinson and his men. Job security is never dictated by the achievements of yesteryear and results all about the here and now, but stability so often is subject to the past – you have to keep that bigger picture in mind, the events of the past two, three, four, five, ten years, to move forward and progress in a manner sustainable for the future.

By discounting everything this team has achieved so far, and everything Parkinson has accomplished at this club – including, significantly, the relegation battle of 2011/12, when, lest we forget, Davies, McLaughlin and Oliver were all suspended – we lose track of Parkinson’s ability not just a football tactician, but as a man manager and person who can get the best out of a squad of players when the chips are down.

Why ignore this history when its contemporary relevance is there for all to see?

Equally, to constantly reference last season is an injustice – the bright start to life in League One, though since dulled by draws and peril and draws and misery and draws and hoofball and draws, shows this squad can, when fully fit, confident and on good terms with Lady Luck, ply their trade at this level. 4-0 victories against Carlisle and Brentford, a 2-0 win over Sheffield United, narrow games with Preston and Wolves, and a comfortable humbling of Walsall, brought with them surging form and fluid play, City as in control and dominant any side in League One had ever appeared. Every display was convincing, every pass pinpointed, the positivity palpable as it seemed the Bantams had hit the ground running and made the most seamless transition palpable. Mid-table? Easy. Let’s aim for the top six.

We weren’t to know the Brentford game would prove City’s apex.

Like last season, Bradford have fallen victims to their own success, the nadir exacerbated by the contrast of such a promising initiation to third tier life. The priority now is, as it’s always been, consolidation, not a play off place. Parkinson is the man to steer the ship through this stormy voyage, and I genuinely don’t understand any suggestion to the contrary. The cup run and the sale of Nahki Wells afforded City the chance to stabilise the finances and secure firm foundations for the future. Phil Parkinson is a huge, huge, huge part of that.

How you can even question his position is beyond me. The money aspect of football and the sheer turnarounds at clubs like Manchester City have created a demand for instant tangible success, when, in reality, the only way to attain such development is through steady and consistent progress. Slowly building a team of strong characters, implementing a style and ethos, and working hard on and off the pitch is the way forward. Changing managers at the drop of a hat, as we learnt from life in League Two, is rarely ever the answer.

In football, time is such a rare commodity. That’s why we need to stick with Phil.

*

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the wheels fell off.

Some say the writing was on the wall as far back as Tranmere and Shrewsbury, which I personally wouldn’t agree with, but you can see why they picked those games when focusing on the ‘one win in x’ statistic. Some say it was when Andrew Davies got injured, and, while only one win has followed in his absence, the performances didn’t immediately become alarming, and Matthew Bates and Rory McArdle coped well with the tricky Wolves and Preston forward lines.

Like many, I’m inclined to say Coventry. Pressley’s comedic “football from the Dark Ages” rant was laughed off at the time, the bemusing mutterings of an irate and envious manager whose team had, like many Valley Parade foes this season, been two-nil up and, well, messed it up. But, no matter what your personal conviction in a playing style, that kind of comment has got to have some sort of effect on a squad’s mentality, right? The thought of an identity crisis, self-implosion and one win in 21 may seem too stark to have stemmed from such a spur-of-the-moment comment, but it can mainly be traced back to the visit of the Sky Blues – even with Davies missing, the team had been flying up until that day. Couple the subsequent soar of interest in Nahki Wells and the disruption this caused to proceedings, and it’s easy to highlight that fixture.

So much has happened since, and City have been transformed, in an agonising eyeblink, from promotion contenders to relegation rivals. The point haul has dropped like a stone, positive feeling and league standing eventually going with. Holes have emerged to turn a strong defence into a leaky one. December was a month of doom, January the month of Nahki Wells, February currently the month of serious, serious panic as the form just can’t seem to right itself.

Every month since November has brought with it a flush of false starts, false dawns and false scorelines, even though the bright spots have flashed amidst the darkness. Stephen Darby, for example, has continued to rise and rise, and I genuinely don’t know by what miracle we managed to acquire him last season; the reassertion of Gary Jones at the heart of City’s midfield has brought similar satisfaction, but both were elements open to little criticism from the outset. Oli McBurnie continues to excite and Aaron Mclean looks set to keep moving forward alongside James Hanson, but that’s about it.

What’s the solution, then? A win, quite simply, would bolster confidence and strengthen the mood in the camp, but City can’t seem to buy those at the moment. Why? Why aren’t they winning games? Why are they always starting on the back foot? Why are they failing to convert chances in the final third? They’re playing well for long periods, but the first half almost always sees them either revert to directness, lose possession or concede cheaply. It’s the same pattern every week: City impressing early on but lacking clinicality, and goals against the run of play leaving them with it all to do. At home, they’re rarely the second-best team and they’re almost always the one that looks most likely to break the deadlock – so why can’t they ever do it? Why do they always need a Gary Jones-inspired comeback to salvage anything?

The dichotomy is disconcerting. I don’t know how I feel about them. I love them all, but I can’t stand to see them made mortal every week. I admire their unwavering resilience and stoicism, but despair at how they thrive off making it difficult for themselves. If they could just start on the front foot once, convert just one of those chances, sort their defensive positioning out…

“It’s subjunctive history… The mood you use when something might or might not have happened, when it’s imagined.”

Yet, I’m not panicking. I don’t think this side will go down at all. Maybe I’m being naïve – I’ve gone into almost every game since the Coventry clashed utterly convinced their fortunes would change and only now am I starting to worry about where the next win will come from (weather forecast: Tuesday looks good) – but I hope I’m not. I’ve steeled myself against the drop with those timeless, immortal words:

Too good to go down.

Because when I’ve seen teams get relegated over the years, they’ve looked not to care. It’s as though they’ve long accepted their fate. The energy, the fight, the spirit, the hunger, sapped away months before the final day. They’re not playing for survival. They’re not playing at all. They’re just… There.

You can never say that about this team.

But effort alone isn’t going to carry them to safety.

Back in the here and now, the Bantams welcome 9th placed Port Vale with the drop lurking frighteningly close behind. For Vale, also newly promoted, it’s a different story, and a must-win for all the right reasons: they’re six points adrift from the final play off spot, and have a game in hand on their two nearest contenders – it’s a great chance for them to make up some ground.

As for City, the back four, in spite of calls for Carl McHugh to be given a starting berth, is likely to remain untouched from Carlisle, comprising Darby, McArdle, Davies and Bates. The front two also writes itself – at this stage of the season, and with Mclean yet to reach his peak despite proving so critical and creative against Crewe, I can’t see a major shake-up.

The midfield is a tough one to call. With Nathan Doyle and Matty Dolan splitting the service last week, either could find themselves in the starting eleven, though Jones will undoubtedly partner them in the centre. Expect loanee Adam Reach to retain his place on the left flank, but the right side is another tough one: will Parkinson favour the blistering pace of Kyle Bennett, or did Garry Thompson do enough on Tuesday night to warrant another start? I’d personally lean slightly towards Bennett because the promise is there, but could City’s number eleven be a viable option? There’s got to be something lurking up Thompson’s sleeve, else why would he start every week?

History, then: one f*****g thing after another, indeed, but also a blessing, a curse, a sign of the future, potent inspiration and the most compelling reason for getting behind these boys.

But City’s current run needs righting sooner, rather than later. Because those who don’t learn from history are guaranteed to find themselves repeating it.

Bradford City stumble to first league defeat

18 Aug

Port Vale 2

Hughes 42, Loft 67

Bradford City 1

Wells 58

Saturday 17 August, 2013

By Joe Cockburn

It was a frustrating afternoon for Bradford City and their fans as Phil Parkinson’s men fell to their first defeat of the season.

It felt almost like a return to League Two. The style of play – dictated by Port Vale – was very unattractive. The ball spending a lot of time in the air. The game very stop-start, with the usual striker-defender grapples a more than regular occurrence.

City started off relatively okay, using the width of the pitch to good effect and stretching the defence with clever passes, but that quickly changed as the home side grew into the game. Tom Pope and the ever-antagonising Lee Hughes were getting very physical, which stopped City from playing and killed any flow the game had.

Pope wasted two glorious chances in the first half, heading wide and over with the goal gaping. Jon McLaughlin was also called into action, producing a fine double save to prevent Pope from scoring at close range.

The Bantams had completely lost their way at this point; mishitting passes, underhitting passes, and playing so many long balls it was like Peter Taylor had morphed his way back into the dugout. Because the game was so aerial, Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle couldn’t gain their usual level of control over the game and were so often spectators as play passed them by.

But it was when they were trying to play out and get the game back into their control that City conceded. Play got a bit tippy tappy between the midfielders and the defenders with no-one wanting to clear the ball, and James Meredith horribly mishitting a backpass to allow Hughes in to slot under McLaughlin. It had been coming, but it was still a massive kick in the teeth occurring so close to half time, and in such poor fashion.

Half time came and the players trudged off understandably disappointed with their first half showing. The most notable problem was the wide pitch: it wasn’t suiting Mark Yeates and Garry Thompson, neither are exactly touchline huggers. So there was a lot of space left unexploited. And in the second half, Port Vale only got stronger.

The ball was spending a lot of time in and around the Bantams’ penalty area, City only being able to clear their lines and it regularly just coming straight back at them. The equaliser arguably came against the run of play.

A good ball from Yeates put Nahki Wells into the box on the left. He tricked his way through but saw his shot saved by Chris Neal in the home goal. The ball fell nicely for Thompson but he saw his well struck volley also saved. However, there was Wells to prod home his 12th goal in his last 12 games. Let’s keep that quiet please, City fans!

But the surge of confidence didn’t last long, and Vale quickly regained their stronghold and their advantage. From a corner, the ball came out to home skipper Doug Loft, who’s effort was heading for Jon McLaughlin’s arms, before the slightest of touches sent it perfectly into the top corner. Unlucky for City, but deserved for Vale.

The Bantams did begin to grow into the game; Wells having a few snapshots and Thompson just failing to connect with a volley from range. Kyel Reid and Rafael De Vita came on to replace the two wingers. Reid’s pace was something that we needed in the game; but as usual, he failed to impress, particularly angering away fans by spoiling a good attack with an awful shot from outside the box.

It was De Vita who had the best chance of equalising for the visitors, doing well to get through defenders in the box, but keeper Neal spread himself well to block the Italian’s powerful close range effort. Alan Connell came on for the ever impressive Stephen Darby, but it came too late for him to have any impact on the game.

It was a poor performance, but I think we are only disappointed because we have grown to expect so much more, and that is good for the club. If Peter Taylor was in charge, we would have considered that game a good performance, so it shows how far this club has come since those dark days.

It is also worth noting that the game against Port Vale was the third in the league, and the third that Parkinson has named the same starting XI. This consistency is something we need and is a good thing. However, I wouldn’t mind a few new players as I think there isn’t much competition for places, and the bench is a bit lacking in attacking threat.

It was a defeat, and it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable one, but it can only get better from here. And I am confident Phil Parkinson and his men will turn it round next week, when we face the small task of Sheffield United.

City: McLaughlin, Darby (Connell 88), McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Thompson (De Vita 71), Doyle, Jones, Yeates (Reid 71), Hanson, Wells

Not used: Ripley, Ravenhill, Taylor, McHugh

The evolution will not be televised

16 Aug

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Port Vale vs Bradford City preview

@Vale Park on Saturday 17 August, 2013

By Jason McKeown

Bradford City return to the cup that rebuilt the club’ ran a Daily Telegraph headline prior to the club’s first round clash with Huddersfield Town last week. As gratitude goes, the Bantams’ making seven changes to the first choice XI was the kind of move that would see bigger clubs accused of devaluing the cup.

Yet three days on from bowing out of the League Cup at the first stage, with some quiet mutterings from some supporters over Phil Parkinson’s team selection, the resting of players was emphatically justified through a resounding first victory of the season over Carlisle United. Parkinson’s pragmatism had once more paid off, and it led to something rather beautiful.

For sure, a dash of salt has to be applied to the significance of the result. Carlisle were bloody awful and only a heroic goalkeeping performance and wastefulness from City prevented the scoreline reaching double figures. But that was also the point. Parkinson observed that Carlisle were playing a day later than City in the cup and – as it happened – Greg Abbott’s injury-ravaged side went through 120 minutes and penalties to defeat Blackburn. They always looked ripe for rocking up at Valley Parade with weary legs and tired minds, especially compared to the City players who largely put their feet up midweek. There is no doubt Parkinson will have urged his side to have been quick out the blocks and show no let up.

They were weak, and the Bantams could smell the blood.

Carlisle’s fatigue was something Parkinson will have appreciated, because of the League Cup run that rebuilt the club. Last season, City’s league record immediately after any midweek cup game was exceptionally poor. Just one victory, over Torquay United in December, immediately followed a cup tie. The heroics on a Tuesday night in the cup invariably took it out of City come the following Saturday. The number of points we lost as a result could easily have proven costly. It may even have prevented us from achieving automatic promotion.

The flip side is that the cup was vital in developing confidence and resilience in the players that was so vital during the League Two promotion run-in. Games like Wigan, Arsenal and Villa made men out of the likes of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh. It was worth those dropped league points last season, not least because the league had a happy ending, but this time the priority has shifted. Bowing out of the League Cup so quickly was disappointing. Bowing out of the League Cup to local rivals Huddersfield Town was galling. But getting three points against Carlisle and playing so magnificently more than made up for it. And the confidence gained from last Saturday could prove vital for the battles ahead.

So City go to Port Vale tomorrow still unbeaten in the league and with the chance to build on a hugely encouraging start prior to a mouth-watering derby against Sheffield United next week. Although I can’t make the game myself, I think there is something fitting about the fact we are returning to the infamous Wembley of the North at this moment. Just short of two years ago, Parkinson suffered his first defeat as City on a Tuesday night at Vale Park. In certain respects, he’s just getting back to the level his team were threatening to reach that night.

For there was a two-game period right at the start of Parkinson’s reign where the quality of the football played by City was Arsenal-esqe. The man who had took over the club after a period scouting on behalf of the Gunners initially looked set to implement an attractive, quick-fire passing style of play at Valley Parade that was brilliant to watch. His first home game in charge, a 2-2 draw with Bristol Rovers, was an outstanding display that was quickly lost in the wash of Mark Lawn’s infamous “worst squad in the division” rant. Were it not for a suspect defence and a lack of a finisher, City would have passed their way to a superb win over Rovers. Jamie Devitt, making his full debut on loan from Hull, was a revelation in a free role.

Three days later City went to Port Vale and it was more of the same. Excellent football, promising attacking play, but dreadful defending undermining it all. We lost 3-2, but should have won easily. Outside the ground, some Port Vale fans came up and declared how impressed they were at how we had played. The results were not coming, but this new era looked so promising.

Alas, this style of play was short-lived. League Two’s physicality (observed in the next game, a 3-1 defeat to Crawley) and the dawning reality that some of the players were not good enough to make the passing game worked dictated a new strategy from Parkinson. As the realisation grew that it would be a season fighting relegation, defensive counter attacking became the style with a heavy reliance upon Kyel Reid. City would line up with three defensive-positioned midfielders (Craig Fagan, amongst them, a curious underachiever) and ask Reid to run at defenders and get the ball to James Hanson and Nahki Wells. It wasn’t always pretty, but it worked to a point.

Last season the football was undoubtedly much better. Bringing in better players will enable that, of course, and at times during home games the opposition would be overwhelmed by our wide range of attacking options. But this was still League Two, and brawn was needed as much as brain. We were not going to start playing Tika-Taka just yet. First and foremost, we had to show we could not be bullied.

But this time around, in a higher division, the early signs suggest Parkinson is moving back to his original, short-lived approach. The wonderful passing football at Bristol City on the opening day was a pleasant surprise, given the manager has long struggled to get results and performances on the road. Against Carlisle it was more of the same. We passed the ball around in hugely impressive fashion. Our full backs charged up and down, our wide players cut inside to link up with the central midfielders, our strikers are now good enough with the ball to feet. At times it felt like we have a man advantage over Carlisle, so well did the players link up.

Mark Yeates is the early poster boy of this evolution. Seemingly comfortable with both feet and not someone who simply sticks to his area of the pitch, the link up play between Yeates and those in front, alongside and behind him is already highly impressive. Although not quite hitting top form at Bristol City on the opening day, Yeates still produced some top-draw passes that hinted at the potential he could become a big player for us. His wonder goal that opened the scoring last Saturday has firmly set him up.

It is no coincidence that Yeates has taken Reid’s place, because it underlines the greater refinement that City are looking for in their play. Reid has done excellent things for this club and still has a role to play this season, but his ratio of effectiveness is more limited compared to what Yeates offers. Reid can run past people at pace all day and will get the ball in the box, but often he lacks quality in his delivery or there aren’t enough players in the area to get on the end of his crosses. More considered build up through short passing enables the quality, and number of bodies that get forward, to improve. This is what Yeates can give to the side through his greater link up play.

So the evolutionary approach gets another airing at Vale Park tomorrow, with an entirely different XI from two years ago expected to continue where they left off against Carlisle United last week. That means Jon McLaughlin in goal, despite concerns lingering about his mistake against Huddersfield. We have already seen the good and bad from Jon, and this will undoubtedly continue over the coming months. He will win us points at times, but probably lose us a few too. His future will be dictated by the extent to which the latter cancels out the former.

The back four of Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Rory McArdle and James Meredith pick themselves for now, but competition is growing from the likes of Matt Taylor and Luke Oliver, who impressed in the Development Squad friendly win over Bradford Park Avenue on Monday. Width of a Post’s own David Lawrence was at that game and reported that, “Oliver and Taylor could easily start for the firsts. Luke played 65 minutes and looked good, Taylor looks the part and will threaten Rory for his place.”

Yeates lines up next to Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones and Garry Thompson. Up front, James Hanson and Nahki Wells will be looking to maintaining their outstanding starts to the season.

Vale, promoted with the Bantams last season, have found the elevation harder to adapt to. A 1-1 draw with last season’s beaten play off finalists, Brentford, was respectable, but a League Cup defeat to Walsall and 1-0 League One loss to a Colchester side expected to struggle doesn’t bode well. Vale striker Gavin Tomlin has even admitted his surprise at the quality of opposition players  “The opponents have been better than what I expected, they pass the ball fairly well.”

Tom Pope, so prolific last season, has yet to score. Having got the winner against us in three of the last five league meetings between Vale and the Bantams, we should probably be nervous of the fact he is due a goal. But after last Saturday’s rip-roaringly successful afternoon, confidence should be taken from knowing how nervous Vale are likely to be of us.

We would have taken a point, but could have had all three

6 Mar

Port Vale 0

Bradford City 0 

Tuesday 5 March, 2013

 

By Gareth Walker

On the face of things, getting a point away from home against the side who are second in the league would be considered a job well done. However, after City’s second half performance tonight, anyone who was at Vale Park would find it difficult to argue that we didn’t deserve so much more.

City went into the game on the back of a good win on Saturday in the local derby against York and were hoping to gain back-to-back league wins for the first time since mid October. Port Vale were in poor form having only won once in their previous five games.

Phil Parkinson again shuffled the pack as he made three changes to the team from Saturday, with Rory McArdle, Zavon Hines and Garry Thompson replacing Andrew Davies, Kyel Reid and Nahki Wells. Vale meanwhile gave a start to returning loan signing Anthony Griffth and left Lee Hughes on the bench.

The first half was a relatively even affair with both sides enjoying decent spells of territorial possession and looking to get forward where possible, although relatively few chances were created. From a City point of view, this mainly seemed to be because of slight over elaboration on the edge of the Port Vale box. Will Atkinson in particular guilty of this, having got himself into decent positions on a couple of occasions.

The Valiants were trying to use the pace of Jennison Myrie-Williams down their right flank, but he was well shepherded by the impressive Carl McHugh, who also bravely headed away a cross from in his own six yard box despite losing a boot in the process.

The best chance of the first period fell to the division’s top scorer Tom Pope. A free kick was hung up to the back post from the City right. McHugh seemed to mistime his jump and this allowed a Port Vale player to head the ball back across goal. It was met first time by a thunderous Pope header, which had Jon McLaughlin completely wrong footed. Somehow, however, the City shotstopper managed to fling himself back to his left to produce a stunning one handed save, one which Width of a Post editor Jason McKeown described as “The Save of the Season”.

In truth, it was one of those saves that would be replayed over and over again if the game had been shown live on television, and it was definitely the highlight of what had been a relatively entertaining first half.

The second 45 was a different contest to the first in that City really dominated and had their high flying opponents on the rack for large periods. Hines and Thompson in particular were tormenting the Vale defence every time they got the ball, and James Hanson was winning more than his fair share in the air against the experienced Darren Purse. The home side started to look edgy as City increased the tempo. And there were a couple of cynical fouls which resulted in yellow cards, as they attempted to stem the flow that City were putting into their play.

It was from two of the resultant free kicks that Hanson had the two best chances of the game. Gary Jones, whose delivery looked back to its early season best, put in two tremendous crosses. Both were from the City right and both were met firmly by the head of our number nine. The first was well saved by Vale Keeper Chris Neal, although the effort lacked direction as Hanson was put under pressure from the challenge of Purse. The second, however, was a free header that was met firmly yet was disappointingly directed a good three yards wide of the post.

At the other end of the pitch, Pope was looking starved of service although he did have one headed chance from a breakaway that he directed straight into the arms of a grateful McLaughlin.

City had really upped the tempo and it was only an injury picked up by Thompson and his subsequent enforced withdrawal that signalled the end of a spell of complete Bantam dominance. It was a shame to see Thompson go off injured because he has been one of the stand out performers over the last two or three games. It is to be hoped that the injury isn’t a serious one that would prevent him from being involved in what remains of our hectic March schedule.

Wells came on and was immediately involved in the action as he turned left back Daniel Jones and set off towards the penalty area, only to be let down by some poor control. He also had a run down the City right shortly afterwards which involved him beating a couple of defenders and then going down in the box amidst some half hearted penalty appeals from the City faithful.

The home side did eventually have a spell of pressure on the City goal after Reid had been brought on to replace the tiring but extremely impressive Hines. McLaughlin, however, was rarely trouble as most efforts were somewhat wayward shots from the edge of the box. Even the introduction of Hughes, the man who most away fans love to hate, did little to spur the home side on; apart from one flick on that was well intercepted by Michael Nelson, before the onrushing Louis Dodds was able to capitalise.

It was, in fact, City who finished the game stronger with a couple of Reid crosses causing panic in the penalty area and being scrambled away when the ball just wouldn’t drop for a Bradford shirt, even when it squirmed under the body of Neal and was begging to be put away. The last incident of note in the game was the dismissal of Doug Loft in injury time for a clumsy challenge in the centre circle which left impressive referee James Adcock with little choice but to show the red card.

The point, although a welcome one for City, is one which does little to enhance our push for the play offs. And it is to be hoped that we look back on this game at the end of the season as one point gained rather than two dropped. In order to do that, it is surely now imperative that we take at least four points from our next two games against two of the division’s strugglers Aldershot and Plymouth.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Nelson, McHugh, Hines (Reid 76), Ravenhill, Jones (Doyle 90), Atkinson, Thompson (Wells 65), Hanson

Not used: Duke, Davies, Gray, Connell

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