Bristol City vs Bradford City match preview
@Ashton Gate on Saturday 3 August, 2013
By Jason McKeown
As the new season begins tomorrow afternoon, the progress of Bradford City should be measured not just by lining up at Ashton Gate but by events taking place 46 miles North East of Bristol.
At the same time as the Bantams are locking horns with the relegated Championship side Bristol City, Burton Albion will be in action at Whaddon Road, Cheltenham, for the beginnings of a League Two campaign. Northampton Town may have been City’s play off final opponents, but it was Burton who were the closest to denying us promotion to League One. It could have been us, marching out at Cheltenham tomorrow, ready for yet another season in the basement division.
Instead, we play the other team nicknamed the Robins – a team who sat two leagues above the Bantams just four months ago. Having being regular sparring partners in League One between 2004 and 2007, Bristol City were promoted to the Championship in the same season that we were relegated to League Two, and we both subsequently spent six years in our new divisions.
Although not far off the toughest start to League One that the fixture computer could have provided, we have been something of a bogey side to tomorrow’s hosts – 46 previous meetings resulting in 20 Bantams wins to Bristol City’s 10. Those three recent seasons sharing League One saw a record of four claret and amber victories and two draws from the six contests – two of those wins coming at Aston Gate. We like playing Bristol City, and a good start tomorrow could set the tone for the campaign ahead.
The close season has come and gone in the blink of an eye. There has been very little in the way of transfer activity, with the most important developments widely considered to be the retention of Andrew Davies and Nathan Doyle. We sadly waved goodbye to Matt Duke, Zavon Hines, Will Atkinson, Scott Brown and Michael Nelson, whilst welcoming Jason Kennedy, Mark Yeates, Matt Taylor and Rafa de Vita. Pre-season has been largely incident free, with much of the talk centred upon the continued success of Nick Allamby’s fitness programme that did wonders last season. Though stories of Lenny the City Gent being banned and BBC Radio Leeds not having its contract renewed have caused a stir.
The close season has come and gone in the blink of an eye, which is a relief given we have so much to look forward to over the coming months. Six years of being desperate for a return to League One means we will enjoy what’s in store for a time at least. Our first, first match carrying the status of ‘newly promoted club’ since defeating Middlesbrough at the Riverside in 1999 is a relative step into the unknown, but the overriding emotion is one of excitement.
Tomorrow’s line up would have been relatively easy to predict, but the usage of the likes of Kyel Reid and Alan Connell in the midweek friendly against Harrogate Town means we can assume the starting XI for last Saturday’s encounter with Doncaster Rovers will be deployed again.
That means a start in goal for Jon McLaughlin, who enters the season first choice but with a section of supporters still to be convinced he merits that status. As I write this the signing of a goalkeeper is expected to be announced imminently and we can expect them to make their debut at Huddersfield in midweek. McLaughlin’s impressive end to last season makes it easy for Phil Parkinson to go with continuity for now.
At the back the names write themselves. James Meredith and Andrew Davies are nailed on starters when fit, Rory McArdle is pretty much in the same position, although could be switched to right back if another central defender pushed home their claims for a start, with Stephen Darby missing out. For now, this is a well-drilled back four who know each other’s games inside out. I can’t see any of them struggling to adapt to a higher level.
New arrival Matt Taylor may appear on the bench, depending on Carl McHugh’s fitness. A word on the departing Michael Nelson who is unlikely to be remembered for long but who did not perform as badly as some make out. Nelson’s main crime seemed to be that he wasn’t Andrew Davies, but the first leg against Burton Albion aside I don’t think he did much wrong when he played.
WOAP writer Alex Scott had drafted the following comments on Nelson which I think sum it up. “He joined in January, and when he looked at the surroundings he saw a big club with a half-decent chance to go up, a good manager and star centre half below his level and out of contract in the summer. If I were him, I’d have signed then with my eyes fully fixed on the number five shirt for this season, forgoing whatever happened at the end of last year.
“I wonder if he would agree with Scott Brown pondering over what might have been if Northampton showed up? I doubt it, but I’d be confident that he’d be starting right now if they did.”
In midfield Kyel Reid looks set to start the season out of the side, with Mark Yeates’ impressive pre-season performances nudging him ahead. There is undoubtedly keen competition for places in this area of the park, and Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones and Garry Thompson will need to continue in the vein they ended last season to retain their spots. Jason Kennedy should begin from the bench. The two friendlies I attended suggested to me that Kennedy will not be a headline grabber but looks a tidy player who will expect to be a regular.
With 66 goals in two seasons between the pair, James Hanson and Nahki Wells get the opportunity to prove themselves at a higher level and I’m pleased no other forward has been signed to take either player’s position. It’s worth recalling the 1998/99 promotion season and the role that Lee Mills and Robbie Blake played in getting City to the Premiership – only for the pair to receive few opportunities to continue that effective partnership in the top flight. Relatively speaking, Hanson and Wells are the most effective striking duo the club has had since.
Wells – who WOAP hears is still attracting transfer interest – can be confident of succeeding this season, but there’s no reason why Hanson won’t continue his own rise and rise. Another season like the last, and he will be on the radar of higher league clubs, of that I’m sure.
Bristol City, under the tutelage of Sean O’Driscoll, will surely have a strong season on their return to this level. A close season of high turnover has seen the likes of Jon Stead, Tom Heaton, Paul Anderson and Steve Davies depart for Championship clubs, but new arrivals Frank Fielding, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Aiden Flint (signed from Swindon for £308k) are good signings for this level. They also reportedly pipped Phil Parkinson to the signing of Scott Wagstaff from Charlton.
O’Driscoll, who made his name at Bournemouth and Doncaster, has a reputation for playing attractive passing football and so we can probably expect the Bantams to be starved of possession for periods tomorrow. But with the usual well-organised two banks of four and dogged determination of Jones and Doyle in the centre of the park, there is no reason why they can’t be contained.
It will be interesting to see what approach is taken on the road this season. In just under two years as manager, Parkinson has won only 10 away league matches (from a possible 44). The greater expectation levels that came with City operating in League Two tripped up Parkinson’s predecessors when they approached away matches – McCall once admitting he was too open on City’s travels and should have been more willing, on occasions, to accept an away point rather than going for all three – but a step up to this division may decree that 0-0s and 1-1s away from Valley Parade are considered more acceptable.
Last season, Parkinson was happy to play very attacking at home but would often be more containing for the first 70 minutes of away matches, relying on the energy of substitutes to step up the tempo in the final 20. I can see this away approach continuing and perhaps being considered more acceptable than it was in 2012/13. Going to bottom club Plymouth last March, for example, and being too cautious until the closing stages attracted plenty of discontent. A 0-0 tomorrow would probably be something to celebrate.
A long way to travel to watch a draw, perhaps, but it’s certainly more preferable to turning off the M6 a few junctions earlier and making our way to Whaddon Road for another season in League Two.