Bradford City 1
Saturday 21 September, 2013
Words and pictures by Damien Wilkinson
The Bantams approached the match facing a Gillingham side without a win so far in the league, and with manager Martin Allen under some pressure to show his side could successfully make the transition to League One football, after walking away with the League Two title the previous season. Not normally the best of omens for a City side, who over the years seem to have, more often than not, wilted when facing a team on a winless streak.
Much talk so far this season has focused on the improved playing standard in League One and in particular how this suits the City team more, especially at Valley Parade, where teams play rather than come to ‘shut up shop’ and look to get something on the break. Furthermore, City’s only league defeat to date, away at Port Vale, led to some murmours that the home team had somewhat dragged the Bantams into a more League Two-esque encounter. Accordingly the trip to the Priestfield stadium potentially bore similarities, and it was hoped that Phil Parkinson’s men could adapt more positively this time, particularly as they sought a first away win of the campaign.
City, however, cast aside any such fears triumphing by a solitary goal, to pick up only their third triumph in 22 visits to the Priestfield stadium, and also gain that vital first League One away victory. The score line possibly flattered the Gills as City were unlucky not to convert a myriad of chances throughout the game, despite the odd scare as the game stayed at 1-0.
Parkinson kept faith with the side that drew 2-2 with Colchester in the previous match and the bench also was same. That meant no inclusion for either Carl McHugh, suffering from a groin problem, or Matt Taylor, somewhat surprisingly loaned out to League One rivals Colchester on Friday evening.
For the Gills, Martin Allen brought Adebayo Akinfenwa back into the starting line up. The 31-year-old being well known to City after the various encounters of Northampton with the Bantams last season, and there was a strong belief amongst the travelling contingent that Andrew Davies would be able to contain the strong muscular threat posed. Charlie Lee also returned after suspension, replacing Martin Allen’s son Charlie in midfield.
A decent away following had made the long trip to Kent and again created a good atmosphere, albeit hindered by the open air nature of the away stand.
Steve Parkin had demanded that City made a strong start to the match, putting Gillingham on the back foot from the off, and the players seemed to take heed of this, enjoying the better of the early exchanges. Nahki Wells went close with a shot saved by Stuart Nelson, and minutes later slipped when through on goal, after good pressure from Kyel Reid. James Hanson also shot over the bar in the opening stages.
City’s pressure was rewarded on eight minutes, when an inswinging corner from Gary Jones seemed to elude everyone in the box and found its way into the far corner, although there was some contention that Garry Thompson had applied the finishing touch. One for the replays to decide, but the main thing was City were up and running and in possession of an early goal.
With Gillingham’s fragile confidence clearly dented by the goal, City continued to dominate for the next ten minutes and created further chances; in particular a free kick, after James Meredith had been brought down, was inches away from being converted, followed by a Nathan Doyle curler that just went wide.
However, despite City looking solid, the Gills began to get more into the game, and a near miss from Lee on 18 minutes saw a spell of pressure on the Bradford defence. This resulted in a great save by Jon McLaughlin on 25 minutes, after a ball into the City box had been less than convincingly cleared – the keeper flinging himself to his right to push the ball away.
Wells was then harshly booked for running across a Gillingham player in what looked like a 50:50 challenge, and the home side fired over from the resulting free kick.
The Bantams refused to lie down though, and began to re-impose themselves on the match. This saw good work by Reid and Meredith, who began to create openings. After excellent interplay between Reid and Wells, a peach of a cross into Hanson saw the big man head well wide when he should have really hit the target.
Further chances were made for both sides, Myles Weston’s shot on 34 minutes saved by McLaughlin after Meredith had stumbled, and a further opportunitie for Wells, shooting wide after a great crossfield ball from Jones on 41 minutes. The half drew to a close following a Cody McDonald effort skied over the City goal, and visitors were deservedly cheered off the pitch.
More of the same was required in the second half, and again City came out of the traps well. Indeed within the first couple of minutes, Reid had what appeared a good penalty shout turned down, when he was brought down after wriggling through the defence. Rory McArdle also went close with a headed effort.
The officials continued to seemingly let fouls go unpunished with Thompson scythed down on 48 minutes, followed by a carbon copy challenge on a Gillingham player, both apparently deemed to be fair challenges. Akinfenwa’s afternoon was over on 55 minutes being replaced by Danny Kedwell and reflected the excellent job Davies had again done in rendering him ineffective.
As the Gills began to try and force their way back into the game, making further changes, City looked to put the game well out of sight by getting a second and both sides enjoyed spells of pressure. Wells’ pace saw him put through by Hanson on 67 minutes, but his effort was well blocked by the home defender. Davies then seemed to put a somewhat rash challenge in with his head to clear danger two minutes later, just after Hanson had been booked for again what looked like an innocuous challenge.
Further pressure from the home team saw Meredith penalised for putting his arms around an attacking player, but the subsequent free kick was wasted, sailing well wide. A delayed clearance from McLaughlin then managed to hit McDonald but thankfully bounced wide for a dead ball.
Again the pace and trickery of Wells looked the most likely route to a goal and, in the space of a couple of minutes, saw him twice through on goal, the second effort on 77 minutes cannoning off the top of Nelson’s woodwork. Mark Yeates replaced Reid soon after and was quickly in the thick of things, firing an effort goalwards after an initial free kick from Wells, after Thompson was felled outside the box.
As full time approached Gillingham pushed forward but, whilst they won several corners, they were unable to make them count, and the City defence held firm.
After a smart turn and shot from Yeates late on, Alan Connell replaced Wells in injury time, following the Bermudian being clambered all over by the opposition defender, again with no action taken by the referee.
The final whistle finally sounded and City had gained a valuable three-point haul from what could have been a tricky fixture. There were good performances and a great solidity throughout the team, with Reid and Davies perhaps catching the eye most. Another clean sheet also bodes well, and City will look forward to next week’s visit of Shrewsbury Town with much confidence.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Thompson, Jones, Doyle, Reid (Yeates 79), Hanson, Wells (Connell 90)
Not used: Ripley, Ravenhill, Oliver, De Vita, Gray
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Categories: Match Reviews