Repeating a winning formula

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Athlone Town 1

Meredith OG 23

Bradford City 4

Wells 30, Yeates 38, McArdle 40, Connell 84

Tuesday 16 July, 2013

Words and images by Damien Wilkinson

After the success of last pre-season’s Ireland trip and fixtures at Wexford and Bray, City aimed to repeat the tried and trusted formula, utilising the same base camp as before, but this time kicking off with an opening fixture at Airtricity League of Ireland Division 1 outfit, Athlone Town.

Athlone, situated very much in the middle of Ireland between Dublin and Galway, and billed as the ‘Gateway to the West of Ireland’ on the banks of the River Shannon, is a charming and historic town, with a population of c20,000. Boasting a castle of much strategic importance in the past, marinas, a number of burgeoning arts venues, building on the heritage of the famed Athlone-born tenor Count John McCormack, and, perhaps rather appropriately and importantly – according to the Guinness book of records – Europe’s oldest bar, Sean’s Bar, dating back to 900AD. 

The football team, formed in 1887, and the League of Ireland’s oldest club, is based at a ground some 20 minutes walk out of the town, in Lissywollen.  The ground, with an overall 5,000 capacity, was built in 2007, but remains somewhat unfinished with just one stand; the original concept being a 10,000 capacity stadium.  The club is vying for promotion to the Airtricity Premier league, following a recent surge of good form, and currently sits in second place in the league.

Athlone manager Roddy Collins, in charge since November 2012, possibly needs no introduction, having managed Carlisle in 2001-2003, and as a player and manager of some pedigree in the Irish game with stints at Bohemians, Cork City, Shamrock Rovers, Dublin City and a significant number of other clubs, including Athlone.  51 year old Collins, whose son Roddy Jr also plays for Athlone, is also brother to ex-boxer Steve Collins.

Bantams’ old boy, James O’Brien, who turned out for City in 2009/10 prior to his decision to return to Ireland during the Peter Taylor era, is a somewhat familiar face in the squad at Athlone, and at 23-years-old is looking to re-energise a career which showed some promise.

Interestingly, City’s League One rivals, Port Vale, also again repeated a pre-season tour of the Emerald Isle, facing Athlone last Tuesday night, running out 6-0 winners, and setting a benchmark for the Bantams.  Athlone also had an eye on a league fixture on the following Friday night, with some early changes of key players anticipated.

Following the previous match on Saturday at Guiseley, notable absentees from the trip to Ireland included keeper/beast Brian Jensen, Jon-Paul McGovern, Vincent Acapandie and the luckless Andy Gray, who recovers from a broken arm.  Phil Parkinson started with a strong line up, trialist keeper, Gary Woods, formerly of Doncaster Rovers, making a first appearance, and a back four of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Michael Nelson and James Meredith. 

After a slight niggle prior to the Guiseley match, Gary Jones returned to action, partnering Nathan Doyle in midfield, with Mark Yeates and Raffaele De Vita on either wing.  Up front Nahki Wells and James Hanson completed the starting line up.

The weather, which no doubt played a sapping part on Saturday, was less intense, and the evening was relatively cool and overcast.  The crowd was of a reasonable size, maybe a few hundred, with a fair few making the trip from West Yorkshire.

City kicked off and the game got underway.  Athlone moved the ball well, playing some short, neat passing football, and there was no doubt a sharpness from it being the middle of their season. The Bantams, however, began to exert more of an influence, although there was an early scare when the Athlone striker muscled through but blazed a shot over the bar.  Chances began to come for City, De Vita having an effort, and shortly after a save by Woods at the City end, a great header from Hanson hit the underside of the bar with the ball bouncing out.  De Vita performed well during this spell, linking up well with Darby and Wells in particular, and was at the heart of some good play.

Despite City controlling the play, Athlone continued to cause danger when attacking and managed to take the lead on 23 minutes in slightly fortunate fashion. A cross in from the right hand side ended up being palmed into the net by Woods, after taking an awkward deflection off Meredith on the way over.

City responded well to the set back and a smart volley from Yeates forced a good save from Athlone stopper, Padraig Dunican, a free header from Nelson was put wide of the target and eventually Wells twisted and turned after a ball in from Doyle, and fired into the corner of the net to put the Bantams level just before the half hour mark.

After drawing level, a few more half chances were spurned by the Bantams, and it was not until the 37th minute, when Yeates finished deftly after a pass bounced back to him when it looked like he had lost the ball, that they made one count.  Yeates, after a slow start, worked his way into the game well and showed some good touches and composure and looks like he will be useful acquisition.

City were not finished in the first half and McArdle bundled the ball in at the far post after Wells’ cross had eluded everyone else. There was still time for a further chance for De Vita who turned well, but saw a fierce effort on goal thwarted.  So 3-1 to City at half time.

The second half struggled to splutter into life, and the inevitable changes – nine substitutions by City on the hour mark, with only Woods and De Vita remaining – also took some time to gel.  Kyel Reid looked dangerous and created some good opportunities and the back four of Louie Swain at left back, Niall Heaton and Carl McHugh in the centre, and Jack Stockdill at right back, had a few tricky moments – Athlone’s number 13 Mark Geoghegan, in particular, causing Swain some problems.

A moment of magic on 75 minutes almost resulted in a goal, a great turn, sprint and dipping volley, saw Garry Thompson’s effort come crashing off the bar, with the referee adjudging the keeper had got a hand to it, from the subsequent award of a corner.

City then threw some caution to the wind, withdrawing De Vita but not bringing a further sub on, leaving them to face the last 10 minutes with 10 men.  This almost backfired with Athlone messing up a great chance to pull one back when their striker blazed wide with the goal at his mercy.  They were then made to regret this further when Connell controlled a long ball well and slotted home on 83 minutes, to make the score 4-1.

A further effort from Athlone almost resulted in a City defender putting the ball into his own net but thankfully Woods was able to gather.  After a penetrative run and shot from Reid, which was comfortably saved, the match drew to a close.

Overall, the match was a good work out for City, and with apparently no injuries resulting, there are no further disruptions to Phil Parkinson’s plans.  Of the triallists, Da Vita followed up on the promise shown at Guiseley, and despite conceding a goal, Woods did little wrong thereafter.

City will now continue to step up their training and allow Phil Parkinson and coaching team further assessment of the squad over the coming days with the opportunity to gain further match practice with what should perhaps be a sterner test at Premier league team, Bohemians, on Saturday.

City: Woods, Darby (Stockdill 61), Nelson (Heaton 61), McArdle (McHugh 61), Meredith (Swain 61), Raffaele De Vita, Jones (Ravenhill 61), Doyle (Kennedy 61), Yeates (Reid 61), Hanson (Connell 61), Wells (Thompson 61)

Not used: McLaughlin

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Categories: Match Reviews

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