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
Categories: Match Reviews