Bradford City vs Rochdale preview
@ Valley Parade on Saturday 29 December, 2012
By Rob Craven
Phil Parkinson must have been a good lad again this year as Santa delivered another three Boxing Day points for City in a hard fought encounter against Accrington Stanley that has left us in 5th place in the league and only 3 points from the automatic spots, with one game to go this calendar year.
One year ago I was again sat beaming about a City victory that I had just witnessed at Valley Parade, as we were provided with plenty of Christmas cheer after romping home against eventual promotion winners Crewe Alexandra. It wasn’t so much the 3-0 result that day that left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside, but the great display of our defence and the early blossoming of Phil Parkinson’s plans for us all during his reign at Valley Parade.
12 months later and we all know how these plans have bloomed making us into a team that acts like a tireless machine, with small cogs running all over the park. The overall performances might not currently be the prettiest any of us have witnessed, but this set of City players are really digging in when it counts and are grinding out results. Previously, we would have let our heads drop and accept the inevitable loss of two or, even worse, three points.
This difference in attitude has ensured that we are not physically bullied in our own backyard, and that we don’t fall short to the frustrating tactics that are often deployed by teams who come to Valley Parade to pinch a point or late win. Teams like Accrington Stanley, for example.
Part of this difference in attitude is down to a higher calibre and more experienced central midfield pairing. Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones have brought a quality to City that we could have only dreamed of a few seasons ago. They are the type of footballers that make me want to wear the full replica kit and head down to my local park to play footy with my pals, and I am 30.
Now I’m not about to start a Gary Jones or Nathan Doyle love in, but if there is one set of supporters that will understand my strangely strong feelings for one of our midfield pair it will be our guests on Saturday. Gary Jones was a servant to Rochdale for years, playing over 450 games making him their equivalent of our Stuart McCall – which will certainly add some extra spice to the game and an extra ounce of emotion for him.
Both Gary Jones and assistant manager Steve Parkin will welcome their old club into their new backyard on Saturday; the first time City have played Rochdale in the league since Dale took a trip to the heady heights of League One two seasons ago. Since rejoining us in their all too familiar League Two surroundings this season, they have struggled to gain any consistent form and are currently sat in 13th in the table.
This is probably down to the fact that Rochdale have, like City last year, endured managerial issues and their current boss is struggling to get his team moving in the right direction. John Coleman brings his team to Valley Parade having only won one of their last six league games. This, however, is certainly no guarantee that it will be a walk in the park for the Bantams.
Rochdale have scored no fewer than 13 goals in the previous six games, despite only accumulating three points. Their problems seem to lie in their leaky defence which has shipped 17 goals over the same period. City will need to be at their best defensively and firing on all cylinders up front, with Gary Jones showing Rochdale what they are missing, to take the last available spoils from 2012.
The line up for City shouldn’t change too drastically from Wednesday’s outing. Despite one instance of lost concentration, the defence will stay as it was with Matt Duke keeping his place in goal, James Meredith and Stephen Darby the full backs and Rory McArdle and Tom Naylor/Carl McHugh at centre back, depending on McHugh’s calf strain.
Gary Jones and Doyle will make up the centre midfield, but the winger situation is becoming a tricky one to guess. Kyel Reid made his league comeback against Accrington and impressed during his short spell, providing the cross for Connell’s winning goal. Will Atkinson had worked hard before being brought off for Reid and Garry Thompson scored a great goal to put City 1-0 up. Zavon Hines had impressed up front before he was taken off with an eye injury, and had earlier been brought down by an overzealous tackle which lead to Thompson’s goal. A good headache for Phil and Steve over who to select, and I would have no issues with any combination of the above.
Up top James Hanson was great against Accrington, providing the flick for Thompson’s strike and will start again on Saturday. His partner? Connell certainly did his chances no harm and Hines was, as I mentioned, impressive. If Nahki Wells has fully recovered from his bug, then he may start from the bench again.
If this Christmas was said to be a guide post as to how we can expect City to finish, then we are in for a very exciting latter half of the season. That being said, I must not get too far ahead of myself and instead enjoy the Christmas success that Phil Parkinson and his team have provided so far. And hope that the perfect Christmas present provided on Boxing Day can be delivered again tomorrow – taking us flying high into 2013.