Northampton Ton vs Bradford City preview
@Sixfields on Tuesday 23 October, 2012
By Jason McKeown
James Meredith’s goal against Cheltenham Town on Saturday was ruddy brilliant. A superb late surge into the box and powerful shot at goal told only half of a very uplifting story. The other half featured a commendably slow and steady passing movement by Bradford City in which a number of Meredith’s team mates made a telling contribution. It perfectly symbolised what sort of a day it had been for the Bantams, and why we should take renewed optimism for the battles ahead.
As City’s form has stuttered of late, there has been much talk – rightly so – of how a keenly the loss of injured pair Gary Jones and Kyel Reid is being felt. Any team in the world will be less effective absent of certain key players; but with Reid’s lay off re-forecast from six weeks to Christmas, it was time to get over it. Perhaps the biggest positive to take from the post-match Cheltenham talk was the lack of Gary and Reid mentions.
It’s all well and good others stepping up to the plate, but what we needed to witness more than anything was for the team ethic come to the fore. Because players will be injured from time to time, and at any moment we could easily lose another couple to the treatment room. When people talk of the successful mid to late-80s period for City, they often state that there were “no real stars” in that team. Good players of course, but a spirit and determination that ensured the collective sum of the individual parts went that bit further.
That’s what we need from City now. Gary Jones will return eventually – sooner than we might expect in fact, there are suggestions he will be on the bench tonight – but this isn’t the Gary Jones Show any more than it is the Kyel Reid, Nathan Doyle or Nahki Wells Show. We needed to see that the team is capable of overcoming setbacks – from the absence of two big players to undeservedly going a goal down.
So well done to one and all. People have said that City weren’t at their best on Saturday. Maybe that’s true, but I’d probably rank Cheltenham as the best visiting side to Valley Parade so far and they were hardly going to roll over like AFC Wimbledon. We got a performance where everyone was scoring 7s out of 10, with no real 8s but no 6s either. We probably all have our individual choice as man of the match – Doyle for me, but I don’t begrudge Wells supping the sponsor’s champagne – but in many ways it was probably the best team performance of the season so far.
In other words, we went into the game fearing that we are a two-man team, and left it praising the achievements of 13 completely different players.
City travel to Northampton tonight looking for more of the same. There is clearly a different type of pressure compared to last season’s relegation battle, but it’s a pressure nonetheless. Whereas a year ago there was a frustrating suspicion that the team would sit back and relax after it had got a result – we’d often see what looked to be a springboard to better form lead to a run of draws and defeats – this year we require one good result to be quickly followed up by another. 17th-placed Northampton (beaten 4-0 by Edgar Davids’ bottom-placed Barnet on Friday) offer an opportunity to push on from our excellent 5th positioning and back into automatic promotion contention. Two of those top three places already look pencilled in even at this early stage – Gillingham and Port Vale are running away with it. City need to be aiming for third, with a play off place a more than decent consolation if we fail.
Last season the Bantams all but sealed survival on their visit to Sixfields, with man-of-the-moment Wells the man of that April afternoon following a stunning hat trick. Perhaps, after his brace, it was the fact the Bermudian had the chance to repeat that feat on Saturday which meant, for once, Phil Parkinson did not withdraw him early. Wells and James Hanson lead the attack tonight with the latter looking increasingly as though he needs a goal to ease his anxiousness.
In midfield expect Parkinson to retain the more conservative central partnership of Doyle and Ricky Ravenhill. Although Ravenhill quietly performed well on Saturday, at times he seemed like a bystander as Doyle ran the match from his deep-lying position. I don’t fully agree with Parkinson’s thinking towards overlooking Ritchie Jones – the lack of fitness excuse is wearing a little thin now, given Ritchie has had a couple of games under his belt – but it seems unlikely he will bring in a more attack-minded player now with City playing three away games in a week.
On the flanks selection is less clear. Will Atkinson was brilliant on Saturday when he came off the bench, playing a key role in goals two and three. What can we say about the utter, utter morons on the Kop who booed him when he entered the field? Oh…that’s right…you are utter, utter morons.
Zavon Hines can consider himself unlucky not to have started on Saturday and also had a big impact. I thought Garry Thompson did okay, but his lack of pace is astounding for a player we can vividly remember destroying Stuart McCall’s City five years ago. His bad injuries at Scunthorpe have clearly had a lasting impact, but he still looks a good player. Craig Forsyth showed flashes of excellence on his debut, but we will be looking for more.
The defence was outstanding on Saturday, and will continue as they are. Andrew Davies may have been a little foolish with the penalty he conceded, but his determination to make up for it was evident. Rory McArdle, Luke Oliver and Meredith produced some stirring tough tackles and you can visibly see that the back four relished the challenge of preserving City’s 2-1 lead. We need to keep more clean sheets overall, but on Saturday they at least made sure Jon McLaughlin had little to do.
Three defeats, two draws and one win on the road is something City need to improve upon – strong home form clearly the key reason for the club’s lofty position. With a trip to 6th-placed Burton on Saturday, a reasonable target is to get four points from two away games, and this will be more likely achieved through three points tonight.
Northampton may not have Gary Jones or Kyel Reid to worry about, but when Aidy Boothroyd watched the video of Meredith’s ruddy brilliant goal he’ll have been left with little doubt of the quality and spirit within the team Parky has built.