Tranmere preview part three: City’s mettle tested

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Photo by Keith Wildman

Bradford City vs Tranmere Rovers preview

@Valley Parade on Sunday 13 October, 2013

By Damien Wilkinson

This Sunday sees Bradford City welcome Tranmere Rovers to Valley Parade for the first time in the league since 2006, with preparations rocked by Friday’s shock news that defender Andrew Davies will be on the sidelines for three to four months, as he recovers from a knee operation the day before.

The Bantams are aiming to capitalise on an impressive start to League One life with the plaudits still ringing from last Saturday’s away success at Walsall.

The victory, ably assisted by Kyel Reid’s magnificent goal, raised City’s head above the parapet somewhat, and for once the team even managed more than a subliminal appearance on the Football League show that night, accompanied by mention of the promotion aspirations.

Talk of promotion after 10 games is clearly premature, but it does demonstrate how well last year’s heroic team has acquitted itself so far, and the ongoing momentum still in place.

So on the back of this, the visit of Tranmere, with momentum of the wrong sort which has lasted much of 2013, currently sit at the bottom of the league table with one win and a return of five points from their opening 10 games, offers on paper at least, a perfect opportunity for City to capitalise upon, roared on by another sizeable crowd.

However, Tranmere and manager/old-time Bantam pantomime villain, Ronnie Moore, facing mounting pressure, will be fired up to spoil the party and Gary Jones talked earlier this week of the need to retain focus and a strong work ethic against a team who will be fighting for their lives.  Wise words indeed and history has shown the perils of City facing teams in such situations.

As something of a barometer of City’s long standing inconsistent form and, up until recently, decline, the match offers an opportunity for the Bantams to finally win a fourth league match on the bounce. This being a feat that has proved elusive since October 2004, when Colin Todd’s side managed to chalk up a five-match winning run.  For those looking for omens, the run included the epic 5-4 away victory at Tranmere, capped by David Wetherall’s dramatic late winner, almost nine years to the day.

With the match initially moved to Friday evening to accommodate Police concerns given Saturday’s EDL demonstration march in Bradford City Centre, then shifted to Sunday as the club responded to fans’ feedback, Phil Parkinson was pleased with the extra recovery time afforded to his squad, particularly for the likes of Gary Jones and Garry Thompson who had both carried minor niggles into the Walsall match.

However this apparent good fortune was blown out of the water by the Davies injury revelation, and the powerhouse central defender will be a big gap to fill, despite a similar occurrence in October last year.  Davies has stood out in most fixtures this season and has adapted well to life in League One as he finally seemed to be stringing a decent amount of appearances together.  It is to be hoped that the recent surgery is able to cure the persistent knee issues he has been suffering and that he makes a speedy recovery.

The loss is felt even more as a result of the International fixtures with Rory McArdle again called up by Northern Ireland for the fixtures against Azerbaijan and Israel, and whilst it is hoped he gets the chance to play this time around, his presence will be missed.  Luke Oliver is again expected to deputise with his third appearance of the season.  Carl McHugh’s selection for the Republic of Ireland U21 squad, means that the City bench is unlikely to contain a recognised central defender, unless Parkinson sees fit to draft Nialle Heaton into the reckoning.  Matt Taylor remains out Parkinson’s short term plans, as the terms of his loan to Colchester mean that he can only be recalled after 28 days, so it is expected he may well return after his loan spell ends, after next Saturday’s fixtures.

With all the central defence woe, unless an emergency loan signing is jettisoned in, it is expected that Nathan Doyle will step into the role, having performed there in the past, and highlighting the good versatility within Phil Parkinson’s tight squad.  This will probably mean a start for either Ricky Ravenhill or Jason Kennedy, with perhaps the latter getting the nod, given his substitute appearance in the closing stages of the Walsall match.

With Nahki Wells apparently making good progress as he looks to return from injury, Mark Yeates is anticipated to again slot into the forward line and build on the good form he has shown in the last couple of matches.

Tranmere faced a potential goalkeeping crisis with first choice stopper, Owain Fon Williams, called up by Wales, and a training ground injury to youth keeper, Sam Ramsbottom who has been deputising for back up keeper Jason Mooney, already out for a number of weeks.  However, Chris Coleman and the Welsh FA have allowed Fon Williams to return for the match, which may prove to be a further ironic twist on the match taking place on Sunday.

The Tranmere starting eleven is likely to include Jamaican Ian Goodison, who at 41 years old, and the oldest outfield player in the Football League, is set to make his 400th appearance for Rovers – all chalked up since making his debut in 2004.

After previous episodes involving the Bantams on and off the pitch, referee Darren Drysdale takes charge of the fixture and will no doubt be vying with Moore in the popularity stakes with the VP faithful.  Moore will also be hoping to avoid a repeat of the Tom Adeyemi ‘ball over the line’ last minute game winning goal incident of his last visit to Valley Parade whilst at Rotherham in 2011.

So Sunday will offer another test of City’s League One credentials and a further opportunity to assess the strength in depth of the squad.  Indeed, the Davies injury may well ensure that there is no complacency for this particular encounter and help the Bantams grind out a result, as the season continues to pick up the pace in October.

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