Bradford City 4
Sheehan 21 (pen), Clarke 29 + 55, De Vita 78
Saturday 19 July, 2014
Images and words by David Lawrence
What a great privilege it is to be a Bradford City fan, particularly on trips like this. To be part of a band formed of all types of humanity sharing in a joint passion on foreign soil. What a treat.
Of course it didn’t seem that way as my friend and I wandered past some young kids having football instruction by an over zealous coach on some spare land outside a very old looking Tolka park. But it was early, and we were on our way to meet some Irish bantams for pre match drinks and the craic.
Inside Fagans, near the ground, we were greeted by the always reassuringly pleasant sight of smattering of City fans in various Bantams regalia. Outside on the patio there was an increasingly large crowd that included the Bingley Bantams and the Irish-based lads. The chat was of games gone by and how City might fair in the coming season. Views ranged from ‘nervously optimistic’ to ‘hope he knows what he’s doing’. Maybe folks were reading too much into the UCD game earlier in the week.
Today’s game would be a different affair, with City fielding a stronger team from the off and the opposition putting out a team of youngsters and trialists, due to having a game the day after.
Both these teams were out warming up as we arrived and we, like most of the following, headed for the ground’s tiny bar. Perhaps the team news had filtered through, or the beer had started to have an effect, as the there was a happy throng inside viewing the memorabilia on the walls (Real Madrid once played here; and the Shels also played a 3rd round qualifier for the Champions League here, narrowly missing out on going through), greeting fellow City fans and queuing to get a pint. The first chant of “City til I die”. It was a great atmosphere. Great to be a City fan.
Outside in the near sunlight it was quite a contrast. The game was about to begin and people were just about noticing.
City initially set up in a 4-4-2, with Billy Knott on the left and Mark Yeates on the right wings, and James Hanson and Billy Clarke in the middle. It very quickly became apparent, however, that this was not how they would play, as Clarke played a slightly wider right role and Yeates moved into the hole behind Hanson. The other two midfielders of a solid looking Matty Dolan and a rangy Gary Liddle stayed deeper, broke play up and set up football type play from the back trough the middle to the forwards. Yes that’s right ‘football’. The defence, with the excellent Alan Sheehan, were hardly troubled apart from an early effort from distance that Jon McLaughlin didn’t have to bother with. City didn’t really need a new, reserve or indeed any keeper today.
The opening period of the game had a very pre-season feel to it, with the tempo fairly steady, but it did feature a noticeable amount of clever passing play, particularly by Liddle, Knott and Dolan. The most noticeable moment being when an over excited Shels player went through on Knott causing one dry Bantam to state “he went down like a sack of sh*t” which brought some humour to the affair.
City were looking good, passing the ball crisply. The now wiry looking Yeates was at the centre of much of this, linking the play up effectively between midfield and attack. When he plays too far up the pitch or to deep in the middle, where he doesn’t get the time to play his game, he can often lose the ball, much to his and the fans’ chagrin. However, when he’s playing ‘in the hole’ and given the space and time he’s a very good footballer. Possibly the best in our division at this role.
It was through his clever link up play that City went close around the quarter of an hour mark. Yeates played a lovely one-two with the lively Knott, then put in a great low cross that Clarke only just missed out on stretching for.
City were getting closer and the goal came soon after. Andrew Davies, showing he’s going to be okay with the new football style, played a fantastic long through ball to the on rushing Sheehan, who’s cross was handled by McDonagh. Sheehan stepped up to place a neat penalty to the left of the keeper. Polite applause and handshaking.
Having broken their duck, City appeared to sense that there was only going to be one way traffic from here on and increasingly threatened the Shels goal. Yeates again at the centre of things; first playing a neat one-two with Sheehan for him to put a long ball over for Clarke to try to head – he doesn’t look the strongest in the air – then putting in Stephen Darby, who had a good shot from the edge of the box that went wide left. Another goal came soon after, when Yeates played a good pass to Clarke who scored with a great drive low to the left of the keeper. 2-0 it was becoming so easy. Que chorus of “take me home Midland road”.
Lenny the City Gent took the opportunity of the slight pause in play to nip out; which was noticed by his fellow Bantams, who gave him a chant of “you’ve been replaced by a chicken, replaced by a chicken”. It was all good fun.
City’s centre backs and goalie were practically on deckchairs by this point. Strangely though, Hanson was not really in the game and only had one shot from long range. It will be interesting to see how he adapts his game to suit the new style and what type of season he has.
Davies, clearly bored of having nothing to do, had a long sorte into the opposition’s half and down the wing but then fell over which brought a cheer and a chorus of “she fell over”.
The half drifted to a finish, with Sheehan and Liddle both going close, whilst the tempo dropped a bit. The whistle went and the teams traipsed off. McLean, who had been lounging with a couple of the younger players in the empty stand opposite, put another track on his ipod and was undisturbed. He could have been on a beach in Florida.
The break offered time to wrestle in the small bar for a pint or chat and reflect on the game this far. On this viewing, the team would get torn apart by an organised outfit and it may be a tough August if we come up against such teams. However, they look like they have the ability to develop into a effective unit who will be great to watch, and would likely beat our recent ‘invincibles’. The future is bright, but it’s more on the horizon than shining down on us right now. Parkinsonism.
Soon enough the second half started with the same players going at the same, if not slower, pace. The game was clearly having the required effect of working on the lads fitness. Nothing of note really transpired, apart from the sound of Parkinson encouraging the players after joining the dugout rather than sitting high in the odd half stand as he did in the first half. Oh and we scored again. Clarke latched onto another good pass from Yeates and wholloped a lovely shot in giving the keeper no chance. He’s got a good shot and the ability to do something different.
By the time everyone had just about got settled back from their half time excesses the mass substitution occurred. This crew looked as young as their opposition, barring the older heads of Jason Kennedy, Matt Taylor and Rafa De Vita. Joining Rye (Vita) up front was a trialist that had just arrived on the scene to be told he was playing, called Ben Smith. He played quite well, but would likely come in the category of ‘one for the future’ and with Clarkson going so well it would be hard to see him having a role.
De Vita was trying his best to shoot at every opportunity, going close several times and at one point forcing a good save from the keeper. He kept trying and was rewarded with a goal from a good strike from the edge of the area. 4-0.
The assist was by the tidy looking Nick Arnold, who was playing down the right. Earlier, he’d put a good searching ball to the far post that Angelo Balanta had headed home, only to be correctly ruled offside. As for the South American, his name appears more exotic than his game. He, like some others, may not be around for much longer - particularly if the supposed loans come to fruition.
Having picked up considerably with the substitutions, once again the pace fell off. I think I heard the full time whistle go, but by then the crowd were contentedly chatting amongst themselves and even the players that had come off. Rory McArdle and Knott were particularly friendly and engaging, allowing people to take selfies with them.
What a great bunch of lads. What great fans. What a great trip. Thanks to all involved. We are privileged.
City: McLaughlin (Barker 63), Darby (Arnold 63), McArdle (Taylor 63), Davies (King 63), Sheehan (Heaton 63), Liddle (Kennedy 63), Dolan (Meredith 63), Yeates (Balanta 63), Knott (Wright 63), Hanson (Smith or Brown 63), Clarke (De Vita 63).