Looking to solve the away dilemma as City travel to Kent

Picture by Mike Holdsworth

Picture by Mike Holdsworth

Gillingham vs Bradford City preview

@The Priestfield Stadium on Saturday 21 September, 2013

By James Storrie

Despite running away with the League Two title last year, Gillingham are yet to create much of an impression on their new surroundings. For a team that was so strong at home last year and would regularly blow away teams due to the firepower they possessed upfront and in the wide areas – particularly in the form of the excellent Myles Weston – it comes as a surprise to note that the Gills have scored just eight league goals so far.

To put it into perspective, that is equal to Nahki Wells’ league tally. It’s hard to imagine that a manager such as ‘Mad dog’ Martin Allen will not get a response from his players sooner rather than later. Allen’s recent comments after his sides’ loss to in-form Coventry do not suggest a man overly worried about his stuttering side.

“We were much more focused and concentrated. If they keep playing like that they will be fine,” he told BBC Radio Kent. “These performances will turn into wins. There is no doubt about that”

Belief and confidence plays a huge part in winning football matches. Look no further than the Bantams recent trip to Hartlepool where, after scoring their first home goal of the season, Hartlepool were rejuvenated and played in a manner that paid no credit to their form prior to the game. Likewise, an early goal from Bradford City on Saturday could have much the opposing effect and make Gillingham edgy and their fans restless.  An early goal for the home side could make the afternoon a long and fruitless one for the Bantams.

Whilst maybe short of confidence the Gills are not short of options. They have genuine quality in the likes of Cody McDonald and Weston, whilst Danny Kedwell will give Andrew Davies a physical battle that he will relish. If that is not enough then Allen can always deploy his ‘Plan B’ in the wrecking ball that is ‘Bayo’ Akinfenwa.

Which leads me onto one of my main concerns about the City team and that is just how we will fare away from home this season. We were never outstanding away from home in the bottom tier and not much looks like changing this season.

There is a growing dilemma for Phil Parkinson in how to set up the team so it is solid and resolute but effective on the counter attack at the same time. The main strength that the team possess is the front two of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, who are a match made in heaven in every regard. They are a perfect blend of power, pace, aerial strength and determination.

What is becoming more evident in a higher division is that the opposing teams have the quality to sit in holes and expose City’s midfield two of Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle. This was highlighted in the Colchester game but also the Brentford and Sheffield United matches where all three sides played an extra man in the middle who could turn and run at the back four.

Away from home last season, I felt our more controlled performances came with the solidarity of Will Atkinson in the side, who would happily fill gaps in the midfield and even the numbers up if City were outnumbered in the middle. Atkinson’s departure leaves City with only Mark Yeates who could fulfil this more disciplined role. Although he is yet to truly sparkle in claret and amber, other solutions could include the league debut of Jason Kennedy to add solidity to the middle of the park alongside Doyle and Jones. That said, the inclusion of another midfielder would lead to the benching of one of our strikers and, at the current time, that just seems completely preposterous.

At home the flat 4-4-2 formation City employ is strong and effective. It enables us to get the front foot and play off Hanson with runners around him. Away from home there is a far greater chance of us being picked off, and this must be a worry for Parkinson. However, whilst it is early on in the season, I see no problem with City carrying on like they are with the attitude of “we’ve conceded two but we can score three”. With a striker like Wells who genuinely believes that he will score 30+ goals this season, this more cavalier attitude is admirable.

Speaking of Nahki, he gave a great interview on Sky’s FL72 preview show before the Colchester game and spoke with great maturity about his and the teams goals for the season. I found it interesting how he writes down his targets for this and upcoming seasons and how, if he reaches them, he will hopefully have achieved his dream of playing in the top flight.

Parkinson also has a decision to make in defence after Rory McArdle’s less than convincing return to the side last week, where he was culpable for the second goal and also guilty of being wasteful in possession. Whilst I don’t advocate centre backs impersonating Chelsea’s David Luiz, it would be nice to see Rory take a little bit more care in possession at times. The diagonal to Hanson, whilst on the whole effective, can prove far too predictable at times and as we are starting to find out. In the higher divisions if you continue to give the ball away then it can be quite a while before you see it again.

With Luke Oliver not fully match fit, Matt Taylor quickly going down the Jason Kennedy route and Carl McHugh seemingly out of favour, it is likely McArdle will get the chance to rectify last week’s performance. The rest of the side picks itself – one would expect the Bantams to line up with the same side that battled from behind to earn a well-deserved point at Valley Parade last week.

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