Tag Archives: Ross Hannah

Good luck Ross Hannah

11 Jan

By Jason McKeown

It was an unusually baking hot September morning, and at Appleby Bridge a shot from distance was carelessly spilled by the goalkeeper, who was now on the floor helpless to preventing the rebound being smashed home. Ross Hannah did what all good strikers should do by anticipating his opportunity, but could only lift the ball over the crossbar.

“Now that really does surprise me” said a watching Phil Parkinson. “He never misses.”

It is September 2011 and I am stood next to the recently-installed City manager as part of a day shadowing then-Head of Football Development, Archie Christie. As Steve Parkin takes the first team through their paces on another pitch, we are granted 15 minutes in the company of Parkinson as a mixture of reserve, Development Squad and youth players keenly contest a training game. Those 15 minutes hearing Parkinson’s views were hugely illuminating, as he would talk openly and frankly about a number of players.

Back in the present day and, as Hannah departs Valley Parade this week, there are many claiming Parkinson never rated the striker. From personal experience I don’t believe this is the case. Instead, Parkinson talked that day about what an impressive finisher Hannah was. He very much saw Ross – who scored a dramatic stoppage time equaliser against Morecambe in Parkinson’s first game in charge – as a big part of his plans. Unfortunately, Hannah’s move to Valley Parade did not pan out how anyone expected.

Remember what a coup his signing was billed as by Peter Jackson? The number of clubs chasing Matlock hotshot Ross was reckoned to be approaching 19, but somehow City won the fight – Ross signing a few days after watching his new club lose 1-5 to Crewe from a Valley Parade executive box. For a club that had been enjoying some success recruiting non-league players, but for whom that season’s Number 10, Jake Speight, had failed to live up to expectations, Hannah’s goal record and Youtube clips of wonder strikes left us all feeling very excited.

But it never really happened for Ross. A couple of goals against Oxford and Morecambe in the early part of 2011/12 aside, the realisation that he was lacking certain aspects in his game was evident as early as the pre-season friendlies. And when Nahki Wells burst onto the scene to such clinical effect, it was always going to be a tall order for Hannah to get the run of games in the side that he clearly needed.

Perhaps if Hannah had not suffered an injury just before a vital home game with Plymouth in December 2011 things might have been different – up to then he was enjoying a run in the side and playing quite well, filling a hole Parkinson had expected to be taken by Paul Benson – but that injury kept him out over Christmas, and Nahki didn’t look back.

It might have been unfair to compare the two, but with so much of Parkinson’s gameplan hindering on the deployment of a targetman like James Hanson, Hannah was effectively competing with Wells for that starting berth. But while Wells would make darting runs all over the final third of the pitch, tirelessly running onto every Hanson flick, Hannah’s lack of involvement in the team’s build up play has, to me, always stood out as his major failing.

Because as Parkinson said, Hannah doesn’t miss. Give him a chance in the right area of the pitch, and he will more than likely take it. But the trouble is City’s set-up and style of play required much more than sniffing out chances in the box. Hannah could not appear to do what Wells seems to find so natural. Therefore, the door was always going to stay closed unless lots of injuries occurred.

At the same time, I don’t subscribe to the belief that Hannah is not good enough for League Two. I believe that he could do a job for a club in the lower half of this division and score a lot of goals for them. But only if his manager was willing to build the team around Ross – playing to his strengths.

The best comparison would be Michael Boulding at Mansfield in the 2007/08 season. That team was built around Michael, who like Hannah did not get majorly involved with matters outside the penalty area and needed the ball to be played to him in the right way. Boulding scored a hatful for Mansfield, but despite him being their best player it was a set-up that failed. Mansfield were relegated that season.

Boulding moved to Valley Parade in what seemed like a coup, but couldn’t produce the form and goal return when playing with better footballers. And the reason for that was because City did not base their approach around Boulding. He had to adapt, but at times was utterly anonymous in a claret and amber shirt. It’s not that he wasn’t good enough – Mansfield and a whole host of clubs he played for proved that he was – but he was the wrong player for City at that time. Hannah is the same for me, and hopefully he is taking a step back in moving permanently to the Blue Square Premier in order to one day move forward.

There have been plenty of mutterings that Hannah didn’t get a chance at Valley Parade – every winless game this season, it seemed, was greeted by texts and tweets to local radio questioning why Hannah was not playing – but I don’t think you can question Parkinson’s approach on him. Would you seriously rate Hannah above Wells? Or Alan Connell and Garry Thompson for that matter? On Boxing Day Zavon Hines had a superb game up front against Accrington. Even before Andy Gray’s arrival, Hannah was effectively sixth-choice striker.

Hannah is not the first to fail at City and he won’t be the last. There is no shame that it hasn’t worked out for him, and I hope there is no bitterness on his part. Hopefully he will continue at Grimsby where he left off before his successful loan period at Blundell Park came to an end. And hopefully he will ultimately forge a successful career in league football.

And should he do that, expect Parkinson to be amongst the least surprised.

An alternative to Russian roulette

23 Nov

By Damien Wilkinson

Wednesday the 21st November saw a fans forum question and answer session with manager, Phil Parkinson and Club Chief Executive, David Baldwin, hosted by the Bradford City Supporters Trust, who had just conducted their annual general meeting.

On a day somewhat dominated by the mad goings on at Chelsea/Planet Abramovich, it was good to enjoy some much needed football sanity.

A crowd of around 50 gathered in the 1911 Suite at Valley Parade for the Q&A session, and with an emphasis on the football related matters discussed during the evening, the following hopefully captures the main topics discussed.

As probably expected, opening questions focused on the situation regarding John Egan, injured in the previous night’s match against Plymouth Argyle, and the injury position generally.  Phil Parkinson confirmed earlier reports in the day, namely that Egan had suffered a break of his right fibula and tibia, and whilst obviously he would be out for the rest of the season, this was a serious issue and would involve a considerable degree of rehabilitation.  The player had impressed him both on and off the field, and looked a very good prospect and the club wished him a speedy recovery.

Concerning other injuries, both Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid, were making good recoveries with both believed to be around 3 weeks away from a return.  Both were showing great attitudes, and Reid in particular, was chomping at the bit to get back out there!  The extent of Hines’ injury was initially not thought to be as bad as it turned out, and Parkinson is currently trying to bring someone in to cover this area.

A number of questions were asked concerning funds from the Arsenal cup tie and potential use for any further signings.  It was noted that there was regular dialogue between the Board and Phil Parkinson, in particular given the exceptional nature of the recent injury situation, funds may be made available to at least for loan signings and/or permanent signings if the right players were available.

On the signings front, someone raised the potential re-signing of Rob Kozluk, which was greeted with a fairly firm rebuttal, Parkinson going on to explain  how difficult it typically was to make good signings.  In particular, he highlighted that the club usually had to fight hard to make good signings, and if a signing was straightforward/ easy, then more often than not, it was not one worth making!

Parkinson was quizzed on the subject of the cup runs and consequential impact upon the league form, and whether this was desirable.  He noted that whilst it had been very tough both mentally and physically, it had helped breed confidence and positivity and he certainly wouldn’t swap this position.  To a large extent the squad had got used to the regular Tuesday matches, and it had helped ensure there was a good amount of game time for the whole squad, which has been beneficial.

Whilst the priority was obviously the league, he then went on to say that it would be ‘good’ to beat Arsenal and go through to the next round of the cup!

Regarding the positive progress made this season, Parkinson was asked what he believed to be the secret to this success.  His belief was that a key element of this was the hard work started last summer.  When he joined the club during the previous season, he had been surprised by the poor mentality among the players, such that it was often difficult to get the desired response or reaction.  It had been necessary to treat the players with respect, look them in the eye, and bring in signings who wanted to achieve and wanted to come to the club for the right reasons.

A particular example of this was James Meredith, who in the face of more financially lucrative offers from League 1 clubs, was shown around the stadium and was bowled over by the club’s potential and opportunity to play in front of big crowds.  Parkinson compared this to the adverse position of attracting players to Colchester, given both its location and crowds of c2,500, when he managed there!

Given the positive start made so far during the season, Parkinson felt it was pleasing to see the fruits of the hard work begin to show at the opening Notts County fixture, but it was particularly brought home at the Fleetwood match, where he started to see some good signs and a decent side emerging.  The emergence of better training facilities, together with the improvements to the VP playing surface, were discussed with Parkinson observing that this was also assisting the positive progress.

As regards League 2 and other clubs, Parkinson touched on the fact he thought that Rotherham would have been currently more closely amongst the front runners, given their pre-season spending, but was unsurprised by the inclusion of Fleetwood and Gillingham.  The recent re-emergence of Rochdale, was also to be expected given their retention of much of their League 1 squad.  Fleetwood in particular, could be encouraged to throw more money into things, given the opportunity afforded by the current position.

Questions were asked about a number of players.  Parkinson noted that Ross Hannah’s loan spell ended in December, and he would have a good look at him when he returns.  He has done well at Grimsby, has been regularly watched by City’s chief scout, Nigel Brown, and Parkinson was also impressed with Hannah’s 8 goals in 11 games, noting he could well be an asset in the second half of the campaign.

Given the rumoured reports of interest from other clubs in Nahki Wells, questions were asked about the current situation.  Parkinson started by saying he doesn’t answer his phone when other managers ring (!), but went on to say that the only recent interest had been from a league 1 club, shortly after the Northampton match, which had not gone any further.  He stressed that Nahki has still work to do and improvements to make, and he was doing his best to keep Nahki’s ‘feet on the ground’, whilst this happened.  It was important to shield him as much as possible from the limelight/ Sun reporters!

Gary Jones was discussed with Parkinson conceding that his signing was certainly one that City had to fight for, to prise him from Rochdale, but the club kept plugging away.  Jones is very much a winner, and hates losing as much as Parkinson!

It was queried where Parkinson felt Garry Thompson’s best position was in the team.  He noted that he had given him opportunities in the centre forward position, but didn’t feel Thompson had so far done enough to justify this, and accordingly felt he offered more of a threat on the wing, putting angled balls into him utilising his ability in the air, and goal scoring pedigree.  Whilst the goals had not flowed to date, he felt they would, as there is a better player there.  Confidence is a key part of this happening, as has recently been illustrated by Will Atkinson.

On the subject of Will Atkinson’s progress this season, Parkinson had taken Atkinson to one side before the Notts County match, and they had discussed the need to get the crowd off his back through effort and hard work.  The second phase of this was then to take this to the next level and introduce a goal scoring threat to his game, which we were now starting to see.

Parkinson observed, when questioned about Adam Baker, that he had given him a taste of first team action and thinks he has improved in each match he has featured in. He went on to note that he felt he may well benefit from a loan move in the new year, playing ‘mens’ football, at say conference level.  It was often difficult to judge the readiness of young players as if they are not this can be very damaging, but evidence from training with the first team squad, as well as reserve matches helped inform this judgement.

As regards James Hanson, Parkinson noted frustration both on his and the player’s part.  Whilst Hanson’s physical presence up front and defending set plays was excellent, the current goal drought of 16 matches was obviously a concern.  It was mentioned that this had coincided to some extent with the loss of the supply line from Kyel Reid, following his injury, but Parkinson remained confident that the goals would return.

Indeed getting good strikers in remains difficult at best, and it is a debate as to whether we can get better in January without significant outlay.  Trading may freshen things up, but with Wells, Hanson, Connell and possibly the returning Hannah, this may still be better than the alternative options.

A comment was made as to whether any consideration of covering the absence of Reid and Hines by perhaps pushing Nahki Wells onto the wing given his pace and trickery.  Parkinson believed he had the ability to function there, but didn’t want to lose a key goal scoring threat by doing this – indeed he also felt opposing team’s managers would prefer to see him out there!

When asked about the Wigan match and whether the players were surprised by the level of support, Parkinson admitted it was a terrific night that would live long in the memories of both the players and the fans.  He had used this to remind the players “this is why we have come to the club”.  He also commented on Wigan ‘surprise’ during the evening, especially Roberto Martinez, who seemed shocked by the intensity of City’s play, in addition to the level of support from the City fans.

The Plymouth match of the previous night was returned to, with Parkinson agreeing with a comment that the return of Meredith and Darby had showed how much they were missed in the Exeter fixture.  Parkinson went on to contrast this season to last, highlighting that last season the side seemed to have to go a goal down, and be playing towards the kop end, for any fight to be shown. 

The performance of the Exeter officials, still fresh in the mind, was touched upon together with the role of the 4th official.  Parkinson believed the 4th official had ‘copped out’ in the Exeter match, by saying his vision was blocked regarding the penalty incident.  He also felt there was still insufficient communication between the officials, despite them being ‘miked up’.  More often than not, the linesmen at League 2 matches tended to be inexperienced, young rookies who let the referee dictate matters.

It was mentioned that the current day had seen much activity in attempts to bring loan players to the club before the deadline on the following day, but had been a very difficult day.  It had been expected that a League 1 defender had been secured on loan, and whilst the player remained keen, this had been blocked by their club, due to an injury to another of their players in the previous night’s match.

Generally it is a difficult time of year to bring players in, as clubs don’t want to lose cover, and furthermore many players are cup tied, and would therefore run the risk of missing a significant number of matches if they came to City.  Despite this, renewed attempts would be made to sort out signings on the final day, prior to the closure of the deadline.

As regards the forthcoming Arsenal cup tie, Parkinson admitted that so far they had managed to keep the lid on the players being distracted by this and the senior players, in particular were helping in this regard.  Parkinson had so far had limited contact from his ex-contacts at Arsenal, save for a few texts, but he spoke very favourably regarding his time as a scout for Arsenal, and how they had treated him.

The meeting finished off, after both Parkinson and Baldwin had been congratulated on their acting abilities, as demonstrated within the season ticket promotional video (www.bradfordcity.tv).  Dave Baldwin noted a desire to do things a bit differently this year, whilst not taking themselves too seriously!  All present were encouraged to spread the word, and it was hoped that targets of 6,000 season ticket sales prior to the end of the year could be achieved.

In overall terms, the Q&A session was an interesting night and insight into the latest goings on at City.  Both Dave Baldwin and Phil Parkinson come across very well and show a good unity and common vision of City’s strategy. Whilst they are keen to stress they don’t always get things right, there is a great degree of transparency shown and a willingness to listen to feedback from fans, which is refreshing.  It was also great of them to give up time from their hectic schedules to attend the evening and answer all the questions in an open, thoughtful and engaging manner.

Roman Abramovich please take note!

A pleasant headache

31 Aug

Rotherham United vs Bradford City match preview

@New York Stadium on Saturday 1 September, 2012

By Luke Lockwood

The ‘new’ Bradford City take their first trip to the brand new, New York Stadium on Saturday afternoon reportedly followed by a 2,200-strong claret and amber army. After selling out their initial allocation of 1,700 tickets, a further 500 were released and quickly snapped up as fans are eager to see if Phil Parkinson and his side can continue their promising start. It appears that the feel good factor may be back amongst the Bradford City faithful.

It’s no wonder that optimism is flowing through City fans after such a fantastic couple of weeks. Firstly, they won 1-0 and controlled the game against a Fleetwood side backed heavily by their chairman and tipped for promotion. This was swiftly followed by a resounding 5-1 victory over a fragile AFC Wimbledon and the cherry was added when Garry Thompson struck a stoppage time winner against Championship Watford!

Of course, there has been a slight concern as the plans for the school at the old club shop have fallen through and questions are being asked on whether City can now afford what appears to be a highly talented squad. However, I will leave the interesting article by Width of a Post Editor, Jason Mckeown to discuss that one negative because currently we should be concentrating on the many positives. After all it’s not often we City fans have had opportunity to do so!

Putting last season’s nightmare behind us has been discussed at length and Saturday will bring back memories of the lowest point of a rock bottom season. Then Crawley manager, Steve Evans, brought his side to Valley Parade for an evening kick off in March and a less than pretty football match ended in even uglier scenes. The result had Bradford hanging precariously above the relegation zone and the heart of their defence stripped away for the majority of the remaining fixtures.

Steve Evans took over at Rotherham just a few weeks later, but his actions that evening, along with a number of his players, installed him high up the list of our least favourite people and the desire to get one over on this recent foe will add extra spice to an already eagerly anticipated match between two promotion hopefuls – that’s right I said it!

Evans of coursed played down Rotherham’s title favourites tag to the BBC, in an attempt to take some pressure away from his squad, and instead referenced the spending power of ourselves and Fleetwood. Despite having faced Fleetwood already, Rotherham are playing at their new home for only the second time and will be desperate to impress. Therefore this represents the biggest challenge for Bradford yet.

One silver lining that came from the Crawley brawl was the resurrection of Matt Duke’s Bradford City career. After a difficult start last year, Duke first found himself dropped and then farmed out on loan to relegation rivals Northampton Town. In the aftermath of the Crawley match his replacement, Jon McLaughlin, was one of three players to find themselves facing a lengthy suspension and – having eased the relegation worries of Northampton – Duke found Parkinson begging him to do the same for City. Duke proved himself a consummate professional in the final few games producing a number of solid displays as Bradford scrambled to safety.

Since then Duke has not looked back and will rightfully be reinstated between the sticks following McLaughlin’s midweek appearance in the cup. McLaughlin himself will have to rely on his team mates to exact revenge on Evans.

Two of those team mates desperate to do just that will line up just in front of Duke, as Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver resume their partnership at centre half. Davies received his 3rd dismissal of the season for his part in the Crawley fight, Luke Oliver also received the same punishment for leaping to his team mates defence.

Much has been said by new recruits about the togetherness of this squad and Oliver, Davies and McLaughlin showed they were willing to literally fight for each other that night. If it was possible for this pair to play with more determination and commitment then it would surely occur against Evans’ side.

Their partnership was briefly disrupted midweek against Watford. Parkinson chose to rest Davies following his pre season niggle and Rory McArdle was given the opportunity to play in his more natural position at centre half. McArdle is likely to be pushed back out to right back and the unfortunate Stephen Darby will be sacrificed. By all accounts, Darby has not let anyone down in his performances so far this season – but Parkinson is likely to revert to those players that have delivered him 6 points in the previous 2 league games.

Completing the back four will be James Meredith, on the left, after a highly impressive start to the season. His versatility was on display against Watford where he was used further forward and although he may prove useful elsewhere over the course of the season, we can hope to see his confident performances at full back continue for the foreseeable future.

The midfielders are beginning to write their own names on the team sheet after a highly impressive last couple of games. From the left, Kyel Reid continues to build from where he left off last season: petrifying full backs with his pace but also offering more end product than the previous number 7.

The centre will hopefully see possibly the most dominant midfield pairing in the league stamp their authority on a third league match in a row. Much praise was given to various partnerships in the middle of City’s side last year, and the likes of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock, Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones deserved much of the admiration they received. However, for all the huff and puff they put into their midfield battles last year, the ease that Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle have gone about their business in recent games suggests they are players of calibre above League Two.

Over recent years we have seen players who are ‘too good’ for this level such as Paul McLaren and Tommy Doherty, but their ability hasn’t matched their commitment. Flynn and Bullock, with their drive and passion, have seen off many threats to their place and it was with a certain amount of regret that we had to see them depart during the summer, but recent evidence suggests they would not get close to the current side. Club captain Ravenhill and the talented Ritchie Jones have to do a lot more than just regain their fitness to earn their places.

The only member of the midfield who may have cause for concern is Zavon Hines. Not that Hines has done anything wrong in his previous two league games; in fact he has probably been the more exciting of the two wingers. Unfortunately it may be precisely that which will cost him his place in the side.

Away from home, facing the title favourites Parkinson may opt for a more cautious approach and install midweek goal hero, Garry Thompson. Should this be the case then Parkinson will expect a more disciplined approach to Thompson’s wing play than offered by Hines.

Finally, the front two will once again be the little and large pairing of Nahki Wells and James Hanson, with Alan Connell featuring at some point from the bench. Having already produced 5 goals between them this season, Hanson and Wells look as though they could be the highly profitable partnership they threatened to be last year. Wells doesn’t look to be operating in 5th gear quite yet, and was rested in the cup tie, but he showed a poacher’s instinct to latch on to the mistake by Wimbledon’s defence last Saturday and real composure to round the keeper and slot the ball home.

Hanson, on the other hand, has begun the season sharper than ever and is surely now winning over even his most ardent critic. Having already found the back of the net three times and dominating the aerial battles, what more arguments can be used against the spearhead of City’s attack? Last season Hanson dominated one of League Two’s most respected defenders Ian Sharps, now of Rotherham, and I’m sure that will be feature in the back of the centre half’s mind as the pair prepare to do battle once more tomorrow.

With only one change likely from the side that was victorious against Fleetwood and Wimbledon, the additional 5 cup heroes who helped overcome a side two divisions above us will have to settle for a place on the bench. Along with Ross Hannah – who again scored twice for the reserves – that completes a full complement of 7 substitutes and this competition for places is the biggest positive of all.

McLaughlin, Darby, Carl McHugh, Thompson/Hines, Will Atkinson, Hannah, Connell are likely to be watching from the dugout, Ravenhill and Jones are still to return and we are told youngsters Bass and Baker have a lot of promise. Those wearing the shirt know they cannot under-perform, as there are more than capable replacements waiting in the wings. Those players watching will all be frustrated for now but over the course of the season their chance will come and we can be confident that they are all up to the task.

Parkinson will have a pleasant headache as he prepares to stick with those players who have served him so well against Fleetwood and AFC Wimbledon. But he knows he will soon have even many eager and able replacements knocking on his door.

The toughest test so far, as City reluctantly travel to Watford

28 Aug

Watford vs Bradford City match preview (League Cup second round)

@Vicarage Road on Tuesday 28 August, 2012

By Gareth Walker

I think that it would be fair to say that when Bradford City drew Watford away in the Capital One Cup Second Round, it wasn’t the tie that we were hoping for and the groans of many could be heard from a great distance away.

After a hard fought extra time victory against Notts County in the last round, we could be forgiven for hoping that we would be rewarded with a more glamorous tie, as most of the Premiership sides entered the competition.

There was great scope for a good draw with a handful of relatively local teams going into the hat too: including Leeds, Huddersfield, Burnley, Blackburn and Bolton. Even if a draw against a top flight team or a local derby wasn’t possible, we would have at least settled for a home draw to give us a more favourable chance of progressing.

Furthermore, the fact that we played Watford in the FA Cup at Vicarage Road as recently as last January meant that this was arguably the least exciting draw possible for City. Nevertheless, a trip back down the motorway is what the football Gods decided for us, and it gives us a chance to avenge that 4-2 defeat.

Back in January, City acquitted themselves admirably and, but for a late disallowed Ross Hannah effort, would have only lost by the one goal. The fact that it was an FA Cup 3rd round tie and that it was on a Saturday meant that we took a decent following and most fans went home reasonably happy with the performance – although most were in agreement that The Hornets were a class above us and were able to step things up a gear when needed.

Both teams have undergone significant changes in the months since we last met.

Back at the turn of the year, City were just coming off their best run of form of the season and Phil Parkinson fielded a first choice XI as he attempted to keep the run going. Unfortunately, the defeat brought about a turnaround of form that saw us slip into another relegation battle.

We have, of course, since seen a big turnaround in personnel with 11 summer signings as Parkinson has built “his own team”. This has resulted in the much-talked about new wave of optimism that we are experiencing, as expectation has changed from avoiding relegation to the more optimistic hopes of promotion.

Watford too have experienced similar changes. Gianfranco Zola has replaced Sean Dyche as manager after a takeover by the Italian Pozzo family. Watford seem to have joined the clutch of clubs at that level where a change of ownership into foreign hands and an influx of cash is seen as the way forward. Of course this has brought about their own plethora of new signings, as Zola has transformed the squad that he inherited. With it comes a change in expectations as the owners and supporters will look to drastically improve on last year’s 11th place finish.

Although the season is only in its embryonic stages, the start has been promising for both sides. Having seen all three of City’s league games so far, I am quietly optimistic for the season ahead. Two wins out of three, with an unfortunate defeat away at pace setters Gillingham sees us with six points out of a possible nine.

Watford also have six points out of nine and sit in the play off places in the Championship. Their only defeat was a 1-0 home loss to an Ipswich side who scored the winner in the 90th minute.

With both teams’ priorities being the league, it could make team selection interesting tonight. Will the two managers attempt to keep the good form, fluidity and understanding of the players going, or will they chose to rotate their options so as to avoid injuries and rest key individuals?

When looking around the City XI, it is easy to see that nobody has let us down so far. Matt Duke looks a different keeper to last season having made some impressive saves, and we may finally be seeing what Parkinson saw in him, now that he has a full pre-season under his belt. However, Parkinson has spoken about how closely he thinks our two goalkeepers are matched and, if he does to decide to rest players, Jon McLaughlin is bound to come in.

In defence Steven Darby was impressive at right back down at Gillingham and in my mind has been unfortunate to be the one sacrificed in order to accommodate the returning Andrew Davies. City’s number five has put in two great performances against Fleetwood, where he marshalled Jon Parkin admirably, and also against Wimbledon, where the Dons’ front two were comfortably their two best players.

With Luke Oliver, James Meredith and Rory McArdle, our defence has looked solid, unflustered and experienced. Numerous observers have commented that all four of these defenders would be comfortable playing at a higher level. Now could be their chance to prove so, unless Darby and new signing Carl McHugh are given a chance tonight.

The midfield has been where City have been particularly impressive so far. Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle have been immense in these early stages of the season and have each been rewarded with the sponsor’s Man of the Match award in the last two matches. The fact that Doyle has been substituted mid-way through the second half in each of the last two games shows that he is still working his way back to fitness, and it remains to be seen whether he is ready to play two games in four days. Jones, on the other hand, at 35-years-old, looks to be in great shape – and I would be surprised if our stand-in captain is rested.

On the wings, Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines have provided a real threat to the opposition in our last two fixtures, but the fact that Hines and Garry Thompson are both still working towards full fitness may see Thompson get the nod at Vicarage Road. Will Atkinson too, who has been quietly impressive so far, stands by if Parkinson decides to make more than one change across the midfield.

With Ritchie Jones and Ricky Ravenhill absent for the medium term through injury, there is also talk doing the rounds that City may look at the loan market to bring some cover into the engine room. This is an issue that brings about a debate in itself, as many of us would prefer to see youngsters Scott Brown or Forrayah Bass given their opportunity for an odd game here and there.

Up front, James Hanson and Nahki Wells appear to have continued where they left off last season, and I have also been particularly impressed with Alan Connell’s work rate and ability at holding the ball up. We are yet to see Hannah or Adam Baker in  the league this season and, if changes are made to City’s strike force, Parkinson has plenty of options to chose from.

All in all, Watford are bound to be City’s toughest test of the season so far; although the team selection of both managers will tell us more about what we can take from the game. Indeed, our trip to League Two promotion hopefuls Rotherham on Saturday will no doubt give us the best indication yet of where we are – and what we should expect from the 2012/13 season.

Filling an RR-shaped hole

4 Aug

Bradford City 0

Bury 3

McLaughlin OG 5, John-Lewis 19, Elford-Alliyu 61

Saturday 4 August, 2012

By Jason McKeown

Unless you’re one of those trolls who pollutes the T&A message boards panicking about the slowness of signings, chances are you are like me and have been able to switch off from Bradford City matters over the summer. It’s always nice, not to feel stressed and miserable – but sooner or later the new season roars into view, and we have to get back on the wagon of leaving ourselves open to anxiety, depression and melancholy.

The last 24 hours have seen me reluctantly climb on board again for another season. A relaxing evening in Guiseley wetted the appetite, but news of Ricky Ravenhill’s bad injury and then watching City overrun by Bury has left me fretting and stewing in a way I had almost forgotten I normally spend so much of my time. It has taken hold of me once more, and it’s going to be 10 months before I can push it away. Sigh.

Ravenhill is one of those players – like Lee Bullock – where much of his good work goes unnoticed. Gary Jones stole the headlines midweek, but Ravenhill was just as effective alongside him. And this afternoon we were treated to a glimpse of a midfield of Gary Jones without his partner in crime, and it was a midfield which came up short. The blow of Ravenhill’s lay off might be slightly eased by Nathan Doyle’s arrival, but we could spend the coming weeks rueing that over-zealous Guiesley tackle.

Bury, one division above, were able to bulldoze a Ravenhill-less City with a worrying ease that underlines just how key a quiet treatment table could prove in determining how good of a season we enjoy. This was not as strong of a line up as midweek, and it showed with City second best in so many areas.

James Meredith was moved from left back to play central midfield alongside Gary Jones, with Ritchie Jones either not risked or also injured. The Australian was not terrible, but wasn’t particularly effective either – and it left Gary Jones with too much to do in attempting to stem the Bury tide. I would have serious reservations about deploying Meredith in the centre of the park when the season kicks off. He is tidy on the ball and capable of picking out a pass, but lacks the physical strength compared to the two Joneses and Ravenhill.

Not helping the central pair was an ineffective performance on the left flank by Will Atkinson. You can’t help but feel sorry for the 23-year-old, who has been judged on the back of a less than distinguished loan spell last season and who will face an uphill battle winning over the crowd this season. Yet this was not exactly the greatest of starts, as he failed to get close to his midfield colleagues and continually lost possession by trying to take people on, when a pass would be a more favourable option. As Bury came forward in numbers, Meredith and Jones badly needed support but it was lacking from Atkinson especially.

A bad afternoon got off to the worst possible start when Jon McLaughlin made a pig’s ear of a risky backpass, slicing the ball hopelessly into his own net for Bury’s opener, and City never recovered. It was not exactly a confident statement from the Bantams’ number one – who did make several fine saves over the 90 minutes – but if you’re going to make a huge mistake, this is undoubtedly the occasion to do it.

It was 2-0 on 20 minutes after Lenell John-Lewis was allowed the time and space to run at the back four and unleash a powerful shot into the corner of the net. The attack had occurred after Atkinson lost the ball in a bad area of the pitch, but it was troubling to see Rory McArdle stand off John-Lewis.

Bury bossed the first half, and McLaughlin made three good saves to keep the scoreline down. For City, there was a willingness to pass the around ball and not to simply lump it up to James Hanson, but a failure of anyone other than Jones – outside the back four – to keep hold of possession saw moves quickly break down.

Which brings us onto Ross Hannah, and here we sigh again. I like Ross, and I’m pleased that he’s had a good pre-season by all accounts. I’d love for him to succeed at Valley Parade…but the evidence of my own eyes suggests this probably isn’t going to happen. Hannah started today because Parkinson felt he’d earned the opportunity in previous games, but comparing him to pre-season last year I can’t help but feel disappointed with his lack of progress.

There’s no doubt Hannah is a superb finisher – probably the best at the club. But when you look at what else he offers the team, the conclusions are not great. Today he struggled to hold up the ball, time his runs or make the right pass to a team mate when he was involved in the build up. And as much as City’s lightweight midfield contributed to Bury’s dominance, the failure of Hannah to either keep possession or run the channels meant the ball kept coming back. It pains me to say it, but I’m not sure Hannah can have much of a role at Valley Parade beyond super sub. I hope I’m wrong.

The direct comparison – as it was there to be made last season – comes through Nahki Wells. At half time today Hannah was replaced by the Bermudian, and Nahki spent his 45 minutes doing all the right things for the team that Ross was unable to contribute. Wells is a good finisher, but he is also a better all round player. Alan Connell – who also came on as sub midway through the second half – also provided more. He looks set to start the season third choice striker, with Ross fourth.

Well’s introduction heralded a much improved second half display, with Meredith moved to left back – Forrayah Bass impressing in this role first half – and former Hull midfielder Gavin Hoolahan appearing as a trialist. But it was the forgotten man of Valley Parade who really caught the eye: Scott Brown replacing Gary Jones on the hour and producing a very promising display. Ravenhill’s injury pushes the 17-year-old up the pecking order, and he showed a strong tackling ability and excellent vision to trigger an increased number of home attacks.

By that stage City were 3-0 down, with Lateef Elford-Alliyu finishing superbly after some eye-catching Bury build up play. Heads did not drop and plenty of corners were won. German winger Marc Gallego also appeared as a trialist, but it would be a surprise if he or Hoolahan earned a contract from Parkinson. In contrast Jack Mills made a second promising trialist appearance – this time in the centre of defence – and looks a good bet to earn a back up place in the squad. Garry Thompson finally made an appearance in claret and amber, but by then the game had petered out.

A big week on the training ground then, as things kick off for real on Saturday at Notts County. New signing Nathan Doyle looked unfit as he warmed up on the pitch before kick off, leaving a midfield of the two Joneses the more likely starting pair at Meadow Lane. City’s first team squad still only has 20 players (including youngsters Bass and Adam Baker), and Parkinson needs to fill in some of the back up positions to ensure his squad is strong enough for the 10 months ahead.

That is what we now have to fret about, because the initial signs are that the loss of one key player (Ravenhill) is going to prove difficult to make up for. We have a very strong first eleven, but this afternoon suggested that those on the fringes may struggle to match the same levels if and when they are called upon.

City: McLaughin, Darby, Oliver (Mills76), McArdle, Bass (Hoolahan 46), Reid (Thompson 76), Gary Jones (Brown 62), Meredith, Atkinson (Gallego (62), Hanson (Connell 68), Hannah (Wells 46)

Not used: Duke, Baker

Nothing else to do right now but enjoy the forgettable

1 Aug

Guiseley AFC 0

Bradford City 4

Gary Jones 31, Ritchie Jones 34, Wells 62 + 78

Wednesday 1 August, 2012

By Jason McKeown

So much of pre-season becomes meaningless and easily forgotten when viewed retrospectively – and yet when you’re actually going though it, there is a strong desire to believe the opposite.

Tonight’s 4-0 romp over Guiseley was a case in point, where the excited buzz that emanated across all four sides of a packed out Nethermoor could only leave you confident about the serious battles ahead. A marker. A statement of intent. A sign of things to come. Please, please City – don’t let this prove to be another false dawn. No, we will not think such negative thoughts. Not on relaxing evenings such as this.

Partly it was the manner of the victory. Just over a year ago, I was here for 2011/12 City’s 3-2 friendly victory over the same opposition; but which had been a close-fought affair that previewed cracks in a defence which would not be repaired until deep into the season. Perhaps Guiseley have got worse since then, but surely no one who also saw both fixtures would disagree that we have a much better team this time around.

As City attacked with purpose and vigour from the kick off, controlling the tempo and keeping the ball with some clever one-touch football, you couldn’t help but look at every player and feel positive. There was no Andrew Davies, no Garry Thompson; and Jon McLaughlin, Will Atkinson, Alan Connell and Ross Hannah were on the bench. Yet if the starting XI tonight is the one which kicks off the season proper at Notts County in 11 days time, you’d feel confident. Phil Parkinson is probably three or four signings away from having a very strong squad, but for the first time in years we have quality over quantity.

Take Luke Oliver, who played alongside the impressive Rory McArdle at the back this evening. The reigning player of the season was typically outstanding, yet one of the few City success stories over the past two years is expected to be back up to McArdle and Davies this campaign. If City’s defence can play well enough to leave Oliver out, it’s going to be reaching a remarkably high standard.

In midfield, the summer departure of David Syers upset many, including myself, yet his replacement Gary Jones – although, at 35-years-old, clearly a short-term fix – looks full of energy and poise. He ran the midfield tonight alongside Ricky Ravenhill, and even at this early stage looks a more likely bet to become the team’s heartbeat in the manner Tommy Doherty and Paul McLaren could not. I am very excited at the thought of watching this guy week in, week out.

Then there’s James Hanson and Nahki Wells leading the line. The best striking partnership we’ve seen in years, who must surely be allowed to carry on where they left off when the season begins. Hanson bullied Guiseley’s backline all evening, winning anything and everything. Thank god we did not waste money signing Andy Gray to take Hanson’s place.

As for Nahki, he’s come back from the summer break with a swagger. An arrogance that initially tonight did not sit well, as he shrugged off worrying about a couple of weak passes and looked upset at team mates when they didn’t give him the ball where he wanted. There were mutterings of “getting too big for his boots” that made you fear a Nahki-backlash over the coming months. Yet the Bermudian’s evening would end with a warm ovation when he was taken off by Parkinson 12 minutes from time, having made two goals and scored two himself. We love the swagger.

Minor grumbles were directed towards City’s left side, where James Meredith looked a little tentative and Kyel Reid’s final ball lacked accuracy, but these were hardly major concerns and there is no area of the team that looks especially weak. A quiet season in the treatment room, and it should make for a very happy one on the field.

It took half an hour of City dominance before the deadlock was broken, after Wells’ superb work in the box and clever cut back was finished smoothly by the box-to-box Gary Jones. Standing just behind the goal, I had a great view of the look of joy on the midfielder’s face, which – in order to befit the occasion – he tried to suppress as he ran past. No such reserve from those of us cheering, as I and other were able to lean over and pat him on the back. I’m never washing my hand again.

Three minutes later, Wells showed good awareness to lay the ball off to the on-rushing Ritchie Jones, who fired a shot which deflected off a defender and looped into the net. Ritchie was playing on the right wing tonight – a role he attempted to limited effect last season – and looked comfortable. Like Oliver, Ritchie had a good 2011/12 campaign. But like Oliver, you fear for his starting place this season. Still, if players start losing their spot because others are playing better – rather than their own lack of form – the club is going to be in a very strong position.

The second half drifted into a mundane pace, as second halves of pre-season games so often do; but suddenly burst into life when Wells got on the scoresheet. Ravenhill sent over a cross, and the pint-sized striker mustered all his strength to head the ball towards goal. It flew powerfully into the top corner, much to everyone’s amazement. Nahki scored 12 goals for City last season, but I don’t believe any came from his head.

Wells’ second and City’s fourth was an opportunistic low shot from distance, which a more competent keeper than Guiseley’s Steve Drench would have saved. But by that stage the game had drifted from competitive to standard training ground fare. The usual flurry of subs came on, with Hannah and Connell looking sharp. For Guiseley, Mark Bower was introduced from the bench to a superb reception from City fans – and rightly so.

It would be foolish to get carried away by it all. But then Gusieley are only two divisions below the Bantams. And they defeated Championship Huddersfield Town a week and a half ago. And some of the strong tackles both sides put in underlined that this was a largely competitive outing. And did you see how well Gary Jones played?

A result like this counts for nothing, and will only further depreciate in value as the real stuff gets going. Yet right now, it and three other solid friendly victories are all we have. And because it’s all we have, their significance is heightened and enjoyed all the more.

And at this stage, I’d rather feel good about our prospects this season and be proved wrong, then feel worried and be proved right.

City: Duke, Darby (Mills 69), McArdle, Oliver, Meredith, Ritchie Jones (Atkinson 46), Ravenhill (Baker 68), Gary Jones, Reid (Bass 78), Hanson (Connell 78), Wells (Hannah 78)

Not used: McLaughlin

Tourism

29 Jul

Bray Wanderers 1

Dooney 85

Bradford City 2

Wells 22, Hannah 61

Saturday 28 July, 2012

By David Lawrence

What fortunes have become of the travelling City faithful whilst touring Ireland, I wondered. I was really looking forward to hearing about their adventures when we got down to Bray. My friend Rick had been keeping me informed, with snippets from Twitter, about drinking carnage in Wexford the day after the game; but most of the talk on the wires had been of the new away kit.

For myself I’d had a great week catching up with old friends who had migrated to Dublin, playing golf and going to the horseracing at Leopardstown. And drinking Guinness. I had been very fortunate to enjoy the hospitality of Rick’s lovely family with whom I was travelling on the train to the match today. It was a special day as it was young Ethan’s first City match; to be fair though he probably enjoyed the train ride down to the seaside resort more.

Bray has a bargain bucket seaside atmosphere to it. While this appears novel to some Dubliners out for the day, it’s not too appealing to people brought up in the north of England, which is itself replete with resorts from a bye-gone era. Think a small Morecombe with a rougher clientele. On the front there are the usual cafes arcades and pubs. We met several City fans in a large busy pub near a band stand. Some had flown in for the match last night and were playing catch-up with the beers while some had become real tourists and travelled all around Ireland enjoying the Giant’s Causeway and such and such.

Most had discovered Wexford to be a bit of a ‘one-horse’ town and moved up through the week to Dublin to enjoy the city’s bars. Some had been unlucky and had lost things along the way –don’t try to call Lenny ‘City Gent’ on his mobile this week – while some had struck lucky and had a great time; especially those that got good odds on a City win at Wexford. Generally, we were all the better for the tour and looking forward to the match.

Unlike Wexford, Bray’s Carlisle ground is situated near to the centre of Bray, adjacent to the railway station. It had seating along both touchlines one of which was covered. This came in handy as the showers came in from the sea and led to the whole crowd being situated in the one stand. Initially, the crowd had been quite dispersed creating a colourful vista of claret and amber, the odd green shirt and gold and black. Yes the new away shirt, which many had purchased. There has been the usual amount of negative and positive comments about it. However, I’d have to say it looks better ‘in the flesh’ than on the club’s website.

Indeed, the team looked fine in the kit and less conspicuous than the pink shirts of last year as they came out to a warm round of applause and the odd chant for certain players. Oliver being one of the favourites. City set up 4-4-2 with Darby making his debut in a slightly stronger looking team than the one that started Tuesday night. Initial impressions of the new right back are that he looks technically capable and a good communicator, helping to organise the players around him from the offset. This was helpful as Bray produced the most positive attacking play early on and it was easy to see why they had beaten a Wolves’ touring team earlier in the pre-season.

City dealt with these early efforts well, with Oliver and McArdle marshalling the opposition front two effectively whilst the midfield Joneses began to get a grip of the game. It was soon time for our forwards to show their effectiveness with Connell again looking bright and Nahki bagging another.

Once more using his pace he latched on to a pass into the channel to lash a shot into the bottom left of the goal, giving the keeper no chance to save it.

Unlike the previous games the goal did not herald a goal avalanche. To be fair the opposition were too good for that. Instead the rest of the half was played out with both teams finding the measure of each other and trying to tease an opening. Ritchie Jones had probably the best effort shooting from outside the box after some neat dribbling, but it sailed over the bar. The crowd were not dispirited though and ended the half by singing several chants in homage to Jamie Lawrence, who has increased his cult status amongst City fans during this tour by sitting in the stands with them during the games and drinking in the pubs with them before and afterwards. From what I have experienced he has always been very friendly and approachable and interested in what the fans have been doing whilst in Ireland.

Our Irish host for the day are in the middle of a busy period of friendlies captured under the banner of Festival of football, which included us, Wolves and Liverpool. Apparently, giving something a good name and being a ‘tourist destination’ means you can charge an exorbitant 15 Euros, which was ridiculous for watching a glorified training game. It also meant Bray had to be thoughtful of player fatigue, it being half-way through their season. So at the half they made wholesale changes. Only one change for City; Darby being replaced by Ravenhill that meant a switch for Ritchie Jones to right back, which he played effectively.

In fact the start of the second half was marked by an increase in tempo and some really nice passing and moving from city. One such move enabled Connell to show some clever footwork to make an opening to drill a shot narrowly over the bar. That was to be the last of a good afternoon’s work for his effective partnership with Nahki as they were both withdrawn from play, along with Baker for Reid and the Hanson-Hannah combination. It would be disingenuous to say that the changes unsettled the team, as they didn’t, but it was followed by a brief improvement in Bray’s play leaving the hardly tested McLaughlin to make a tidy save.

Soon enough though the three substitutes were doing what they do best. Hanson was imposing himself along their back four winning headers and causing them to rush their clearances, Reid was making running around their fullback so easy he came back a few times to try again and Hannah did what he does: score. It was a really good goal that showed him using his strength to control the ball, sharpness to turn well and natural ability to place it across the keeper into the far bottom corner from around 12 yards out. He’d have scored that goal in any league.

City were playing well now, enjoying long periods of passing setting up several chances. The best of which being a Hanson header from a neat head back across the goal from Atkinson which he powered over the bar. Gary Jones again looks the part, consistently offering for the ball, immediately driving forward when he has it and tackling well when he hasn’t. It was telling that the dominance of the game lessened somewhat when he and the also effective Meredith were withdrawn with about quarter of the game left to play. They were replaced by Bass, who again played well for his age and the trialists Donnelly who played a lot better than at Wexford often asking for the ball, but again looked a little shy of pace. He also made a howler of a pass near the close that may have put paid to his contract hopes. If he ends up at Valley Parade, it’ll be a surprise.

What was a surprise was that we didn’t get another goal in the half, but Bray did. Hannah had gone close hitting the bar and post in one goal-line scramble and a few crosses and half-chances had been wasted. The substitutions and the fact there was little time left in the game meant the tempo had dropped. This was not the case for a Bray player by the name of Ryan Dooney who scored a great goal around five minutes from the end, blasting in a shot from the right edge of the box.

Soon enough the ref blew up on the ninety. There was to be no nonsense minutes to be added on a board. Enough had been seen. A smattering of applause, the players came over to reciprocate and the crowd dispersed, blending in with the rest of the tourists heading back from their own places of interest. We’ll all make our ways home eventually, by different means and at different times, but we’ll all take with us fond memories of the lovely Irish people, new friendships, lovely scenery and Bradford City in Ireland.

City: McLaughlin, Darby (Ravenhill 46), Meredith (Bass 72), Gary Jones (Donnelly 72), McArdle, Oliver, Atkinson, Ritchie Jones, Connell (Hannah 57), Wells (Hanson 57), Baker (Reid 57)

Sub not used: Duke

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