Bradford City 1
Doncaster Rovers 2
Cotterill 22, Bennett 85
Saturday 27 July, 2013
Words and images by Jason McKeown
Pre-season is proving to be wholly forgettable, and that suits me just fine.
Just a couple of new signings to familiarise yourself with; very few trialists to form snap judgements on; no underachieving players looking to show signs of rectifying the previous season’s wrongs; no need for the manager to experiment with a new playing style; and, thankfully, only one significant injury picked up.
Today, in what was Bradford City’s final first team friendly before the big kick off (assuming Tuesday’s game at Harrogate Town will feature reserves and youth players), 10 of the starting XI were the same as that which began the play off final two months ago. This will, in all probability, be the same line up that walks out at Ashton Gate next Saturday. And it is so reassuringly familiar to our eyes. Players we’ve come to love; this team is as they were.
Which means there is very little we can learn from afternoons such as this. Garry Thompson and Nahki Wells were hugely impressive, James Hanson continues to bully defenders, Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle win everything at the back. Elsewhere Stephen Darby and James Meredith get up and down the pitch with great effect, and Nathan Doyle’s vision and ability to pick a pass shows no sign of waning. You didn’t need to be present today to know this; you saw it every week last season.
Only Mark Yeates, from the starting XI, was new to us. An assured first touch, willingness to cut inside and delightful knack of playing the right pass. He is not a Kyel Reid-type of winger who will fly past opponents at speed, but his composure and awareness of what’s around him will fit in superbly. And he will only get better from more game time with the likes of Doyle and Gary Jones.
The only slight concern on the afternoon was a less dominant display from the club’s skipper. Pitting his wits against former Bantam Dean Furman, Jones was second best; although it’s doubtful he will come up against such an accomplished opponent very often over the coming months. Furman impressed greatly on his first ever return to Valley Parade, and it reminded you how sad it was that Stuart McCall was unable to persuade him to sign permanently in the summer of 2009, after a hugely successful loan spell from Rangers.
Furman was the standout performer of a solid if not exactly stylish Doncaster side. Rob Jones was brilliant at the back – the towering centre half’s battle with Wells a gripping subplot – although what Chris Brown was trying to achieve by obnoxiously elbowing and clattering into City players all afternoon is unclear. Come up against a referee who will actually take appropriate action, and Brown won’t be completing too many 90 minutes this coming season.
Doncaster took the lead midway through the first half when a cleverly worked corner left two Rovers players with one defender to pass around and David Cotterill finished confidently. That seemed harsh on City who started the match on the front-foot and created good openings for Wells and Hanson. But no matter, the Bantams were playing well and a healthy-sized home crowd – who gave the players and management a tremendous ovation before kick off – were content enough.
City kept pressing in the second; Thompson playing Wells through on goal only for the Bermudian to see his low effort saved by the keeper. The Bermudian continues to play in the manner of someone comfortable with where he is in life and confident of knowing how to continue his upwards progression as a footballer. There was no shying out of tackles or failing to make runs for the good of his team – tell-tale hints of a player ready to leave. Expect transfer speculation to re-emerge just as the August window closes, but right now Wells’ body language and level of commitment is that of someone happy to stay put.
The equaliser, when it eventually came, was utterly bizarre. An under-hit backpass was chased down by Thompson, leading to Doncaster keeper Johnny Maxted booting the ball into the City wideman’s mid-drift and it spinning backwards over his head. The ball bounced on the line before it was cleared, with the linesman signalling that it was a goal.
Confusion reigned as City’s players celebrated and Doncaster prepared to take a goal kick. When they eventually realised the goal was given, the visitors’ were muted in their complaints.
Unusually for a pre-season encounter, the game got more entertaining with each passing minute. Jason Kennedy’s introduction for Gary Jones saw the Bantams take greater control of the centre of the park. Kyel Reid also came on and was purposeful in his direct running. Doncaster had chances, with Meredith heroically clearing an effort off the line; but soon after Darby raced forward and crossed the ball low for Hanson, with the striker’s effort flying narrowly wide.
Doncaster won it with five minutes to go. A scramble in the box had seen an outstanding Doyle tackle seemingly bring an end to the danger, but the ball was worked back into the box and James Coppinger’s shot smacked into Kyle Bennett and rolled past the wrong-footed Jon McLaughlin. City sub Louis Swain should have equalised but wasted a glorious chance.
Yet no matter, because the performance of the players meant we all left Valley Parade with smiles and encouragement. City played some really good football today and cut Doncaster open on several occasions. Familiarity has continued to breed confidence, and with fitness built up there is a fluidity and purpose about the team. I’ve never seen a City side look so well prepared for a new season, at this stage, than this. We still need to make a couple of squad additions of course, but there is nothing missing to keep you awake at night worrying.
We are ready to go, and what’s abundantly clear is that ready to go means carrying on where we left off.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, Davies (Nelson 76), McArdle, Meredith (Ravenhill 79), Thompson, Doyle, Jones (Kennedy 62), Yeates (Reid 71), Hanson (Swain 86), Wells (Connell 79)
Not used: Bentley
Categories: Match Reviews