Starting to feel at home

Liam Thornton

Picture by Liam Thornton

Bradford City 4

Hanson 41+69, Wells 60, Thompson 63

Brentford 0

Saturday 7 September, 2013

By Jason McKeown

What a start to the season this is turning out to be. Bradford City are so far proving to be invincible at home, with no goals conceded from three League One games that have yielded 10 Bantams goals and nine points. City stand fifth in the fledgling league table and are performing above expectations.

Today was the most triumphant victory yet. A loud – and proud – message to the rest of the division concerning the mettle and potency possessed by the newly-promoted West Yorkshire club. Last season, Brentford twice went as close to promotion as you could possibly reach, short of actually crossing the line, and were unbeaten this season thus far. True, the sending off of their goalkeeper David Button after only 25 minutes tipped the scales firmly in the Bantams favour, but there was so much to admire about the manner in which the home side wore down and demoralised arguably the best side they have faced to date.

On an afternoon where everything went right for City, the enduring immortality of the 2012/13 team proved to be one of the talking points. Like at Stevenage a week earlier, today’s entire starting XI has been at the club for over 12 months. Only one player – the warmly welcomed Luke Oliver, returning for his first appearance in 11 months after recovering from a ruptured achilles – did not start the play off final victory over Northampton last May. The success of Phil Parkinson’s summer recruitment could come under closer scrutiny over the coming months if slow individual starts aren’t improved upon, but for now the new signings can wait. For now, the City manager can fully trust in his heroic players from last season, who continue to deliver.

And that’s pretty remarkable, especially given the evident rise in quality of League One sides, compared to the basement division. In the early stages this afternoon, Brentford threatened to cut City open with worrying ease as clever passing movement saw the creation of a handful of decent chances. The dogged spirit and resilience built up from the battles of last season continues to prevail, and it is enjoyable to observe just how much our defensive players relish standing up to the challenge of keeping the opposition at bay.

Andrew Davies – arguably man of the match today – threw himself in front of an early shot that seemed destined to fly into the bottom corner after five minutes, which set the tone. James Meredith and Stephen Darby were getting stuck in too. Although the excellent Clayton Donaldson caused a few early issues for a initially rusty Oliver, the organisation of the back four meant the door remained firmly shut.

What has particularly impressed me this season is the off-the-ball work of City. When we do not have the possession we are superbly organised in retaining a defensive shape that appears to involve a mixture of both man and zonal marking. And when the ball is won back, the pace within the team sees us break forward at a speed that is hard for others to live with. Such an approach is largely successful because of the strike force of James Hanson and Nahki Wells. Hanson’s hold up play enables the ball to stick in the final third whilst others get forward, and Wells is able to chase any cause no matter how futile.

It was from such a counter attack that City earned themselves a man advantage. A long ball forward, Nahki was away with just Button to beat, and the Bees keeper clattered into the striker on the edge of the box. Undoubtedly a foul – TV replays clearly show Wells got a touch on the loose ball before he was sent crashing to the floor – though the fact Brentford had two players rushing back to cover the goal offered an argument of sorts that Button was not the last man. The impressive referee, Andy Haines, gave himself time to consult his assistant before making a decision: Button was red-carded, despite his long protests.

The perceived sense of injustice was perhaps the visitors’ undoing. They never seemed to recover and rally in the manner that teams down to 10-men so often do, and it was no surprise when increasingly frequent City pressure was rewarded with a Hanson goal four minutes before half time. Kyel Reid and Meredith linked up well on the left with the Australian charging into the box before crossing low towards City’s number nine, who benefited from two Brentford players tackling each other rather than the ball in order to apply a toe-poke finish.

And City had their opposition in the perfect position: the Bees needed to chase the game, but were a man shy, which meant the commitment of men forward came at the risk of leaving gaps. Martin Fillo began the second half seemingly more keen to get involved in a tussle with Kyel Reid than drive his team on, which seemed to sum up Brentford’s limited fight. At one stage Fillo had to be pulled away by a team-mate as he tried to square up to Reid, later on he threw a child-like tantrum in jumping up and down in frustration when a decision didn’t go his way. The grievances grew but, with it, Brentford’s hopes of coming back receded.

Indeed the game was up after an hour. A long clearance by McLaughlin went straight down the middle and Tony Craig – mindful of Wells chasing him – attempted to head the ball back to Jack Bonham without realising the substitute keeper was rushing out to clear it. The ball bounced over the helpless stopper and towards an unguarded net, with Wells making sure by tapping home. The list of this type of goal from Wells – chasing a lost cause and pouncing on a mistake – is growing longer and longer.

Three minutes later, Meredith claimed his second assist of the afternoon after a wonderful deep cross was met superbly by Garry Thompson; his powerful header affording Bonham no chance. When Hanson got clear of Craig to glance a Reid corner into the net, the afternoon’s scoring was completed. This was yet another outstanding performance from Hanson. Width of a Post understands that former Hull and Wigan striker Caleb Folan is currently training with City and could provide much-needed back up; but opening contract talks with Hanson – whose four-year deal runs out next summer – must surely be creeping up the list of priorities.

Substitute Alan Connell might have made it five with a decent run and shot that was palmed away by Bonham, but with the game won City took their foot off the gas and looked more likely to surrender their Valley Parade clean sheet record than strengthen their goal difference further. But although that was slightly frustrating, the manner in which City had performed meant it was the smallest of complaints. Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones were – yet again – irrepressible in the central midfield. Oliver looked as though he had never been away and, as such, Rory McArdle may find that he swaps the Northern Ireland bench for the City one.

It is still too early to judge whether excellent early season form can be translated into a credible promotion push – as much as the Hartlepool debacle can now be forgotten, the questions it threw up regarding the strength of the squad are still to be answered. Yet at this moment in time City are playing superbly on their own patch, and the second of back-to-back home games against Colchester United, next weekend, offers the perfect opportunity to make it four from four.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, Oliver (Taylor 90), Davies, Meredith, Thompson, Jones, Doyle, Reid (Yeates 75), Hanson, Wells (Connell 70)

Not used: Ripley, McHugh, Ravenhill, De Vita

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Categories: Match Reviews

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11 replies

  1. Good article Jason, enjoyed it; I was at Stevenage and became alarmed at the first half performance, but the second half saw us back to business as usual.It was carried on today:I think Hartlepool Utd was just a blip. Now we are looking serious and the bond between fans and the Players/Manager is growing each game; just as Shankly used to say! The great triumvirate;Players, Manager and Fans ( and he used to say the Directors/Chairman were there just to sign the cheques!!)

  2. Another sound article, however I have to take issue with two points. 1. Donaldson to me looked poor today, lacklustre and disinterested. Far from excellent. 2. The referee, I think left to his own devices he would have bottled the sending off and it was the linesman who persuaded him.

    Not seen the replay yet but I think there is a good case for that having been a penalty, from the kop the contact looked to have been made inside the box and the keepers momentum carried it outside.

    • Having seen the replay slow motion many times there is no doubt that the foul was outside the box. Very close to the line, but no penalty.

      I think the sending off is actually contentious having looked at it a few times. Button is technically not the last man as two Brentford defenders were racing back to the line to cover, but you could argue that the challenge from Button (two-footed) was bad enough to warrant a red. At the time I too was bewildered why it took the referee so long to decide whether to give a red card, but on reflection I think he was right to take his time.

      And I did think Donaldson was pretty good 😉

      • The keeper wasn’t the last man but “serious foul play” appears to be the key term.
        I think James Meredith is perhaps the unsung hero of this resurgent Bradford City. He offers so much going forward from full back and defends consistently well ( Port Vale being the only recent exception). I genuinely believe the team would miss him greatly if he moved on, so perhaps opening new contract talks with “Meza” should also be a priority

      • He was sent off for a dangerous tackle it was two footed and reckless. It is immaterial whether he was the last player or not. He knew he had to stop Naki or otherwise he would have been round him.

    • I was in the Kop too. The foul looked outside the box to me and I think the referee got it spot on (not often I say that!). He spoke to the linesman at length on two occasions – firstly about whether it was a red card and then about where the foul took place. He got both of these correct IMO at the time and this has been confirmed having seen the replays since. The foul was outside the box but the key word to describe it was “dangerous” and in the laws of the game, this warrants a red card regardless of the fact that it was also high and looked like a reckless assassination attempt. How anyone (Brentford supporters and manager included) can say that it wasn’t a red card offence is absurd. If they do appeal then it surely falls into the frivolous category and his ban could be doubled.

      Oh, and I agree with Jason. Donaldson looked a class act. Numerous supporters were saying the same around us during and after the game. He had a great first touch and his hold up play was top notch. A real threat.

  3. I agree with everything apart from your appraisal of Donaldson (unless your tongue is firmly in your cheek, then fair enough!)…and that the sending off was a sending off on so many levels. Second to the ball, 2 footed, off the ground. Whether or not he was the last man was the least of it. And for once I think the referee deserves praise. The liner flagged for the decision, so the ref did right to take his time, send both sets of players away and consult x

  4. Excellent showing all round, was glad they took Trotta off to bring the sub keeper on as he looked a menace. Standard goal from Nahki, he earns them as his pace and presence unnerves defenders, no coincidence that it keeps happening. The third goal summed up our play today, as the ball came over Thompson was well behind their defender (what was that beard all about?) but he showed great determination and speed to meet the cross perfectly and power his header in, he just wanted it more. All over the park we wanted it more and won our individual battles. I love this team, I love their commitment, I love that they represent me and wear our shirt with pride.

  5. Good article. These early performances are making my 405 mile-round trips from Finsbury Park well worth it!
    I was sat with some Brentford fans on the train home who were full of praise for Bradford as a city and a club.
    They were amazed by the size of Valley Parade and the passion of our supporters (it was their first visit) and thought “Bradford was going to be a shithole, but it’s quite nice actually”!
    Interestingly, the Brentford fans thought Hanson was our main asset, rather than Wells, citing his hold up play and aerial strength as something any team would be envious of. They also reserved praise for Reid, Davies, Doyle and Jones.
    We did have to agree to disagree on the sending off. They were adamant Nahki dived but I believe their red and white-tinted glasses, and Uwe Rosler’s post-match rant probably distorted their view of the incident. It was blatantly a foul!
    They said they had expected to come to VP and win comfortably but went so far as to say we would have probably beaten them even with a full compliment of players.
    Finally, to cap off an already great day, Luke Oliver was on the same train as me and was quite happy to take time out to chat. He’s a thoroughly nice bloke! I hope I echoed every supporter’s sentiments by telling him how great it was to see him back in first team action after nearly a year out injured.
    A top day all round. Supporting City is no longer the chore it used to be. I look forward to every match. Long may this continue.
    Roll on next Saturday, bring on the U’s!

  6. I’m really pleased with the start made. To me, the difference in style of play from league 2 to league 1 is noticeable, and we have benefitted as such. The acknowledged wisdom of how to get out of league 2 is generally a more robust and direct manner of play (ugly as hell), It is clear that the squad we’ve assembled is far more capable than that, so the transition to league 1 is made more easily as our players can play(and are allowed to play, by the style adopted by the opposition in league 1) their natural game, rather than the more combative tactics we dealt with last year (although our boys showed they could deal with that as well). It is worth noting that our only defeat has come to another tem in league 2 last year. (although I didn’t travel to Port Vale, so don’t know if their playing style was more league 2 than league 1.

    • Philip I agree the style if play in league 1 is generally suiting our boys much better. I did go to Port Vale and the game had a very league 2 feel to it. Vale are an awkward team to play against and the match was certainly more “arm wrestle” than “chess”, with a ref who was happy to let all sorts of pulling and grappling go unpunished all afternoon.

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