A win badly needed as City start 2014 at County

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Notts County vs Bradford City preview                                                                                                            

@ Meadow Lane on Wednesday 1 January, 2014

By Mark Danylczuk

2013.  A year that will live long in the memory of Bradford City fans.  Two trips to Wembley, a League Cup final and a promotion back to League One. The ‘We Made History’ DVD is a nice memento, but the memories are priceless. It’s a shame that the year ended on somewhat of a sour note, with the Bantams on a miserable run of form and low on confidence. But it’s only half time of this season. Let’s hope that 2014 and the next 23 games provide a renewed sense of optimism.

The last time City played at Meadow Lane, an extra time Hanson winner created the start of that very special League Cup journey, way back in August last year. The Bantams return to County searching for a first win since MK Dons away a month ago. Yes, it is only one win in the last 14 games; but as other WOAP writers have noted, City have produced some commendable performances during this period, gaining tough points against higher placed sides and having only lost six of the 23 games played. Those 10 draws are making the difference – if only half of them were turned into victories, the Bantams would be sitting nicely in the play offs.

City play a fourth game in 12 days with only Nahki Wells and Ricky Ravenhill as injury doubts. Wells came off just before the half hour mark on Sunday with a tight hamstring, and Ravenhill departed in the later part of the match carrying a knock. Other than that, City can expect to line up with the same team against Swindon. Carl McHugh should be looking to keep his place alongside Rory McArdle at the back as one of the better performers in the last game. The centre back pairing merry-go round continues with McArdle, Matt Taylor, Matthew Bates, McHugh and Luke Oliver vying for the places. Andrew Davies is not expected back perhaps until February, so the rotation continues until the preferred pair is found.

Nathan Doyle could be back in central midfield with Gary Jones, if Ravenhill doesn’t recover. After viewing the likes of attacking creativity in Tomlin at Peterborough and Pritchard against Swindon, a central attacking midfield threat could be an alternative for Parkinson in the January transfer window to boost our attacking options. Mark Yeates was brought in for this role, but it doesn’t seem to be materialising yet. With more game time, this may happen. Width of a Post understands that City are closing in on a double loan swoop from Liverpool.

On the right of midfield, Yeates could challenge Garry Thompson for a starting position after another lacklustre display against the Robins on Sunday. As hard as Thompson works tracking back and covering defensively, he does not seem to provide the attacking outlet we need often enough; and this is surely another area for Parkinson to address, as Rafa De Vita also seems out of favour and not yet able to cut it at this level.

If Wells doesn’t play up front, Parkinson can choose to either deploy Oli McBurnie or Alan Connell, assuming Andy Gray still isn’t fit. McBurnie would arguably suit the substitute role for the moment, gradually building up experience and game time. With Connell looking likely to make a loan or permanent move in January, after not even making the subs bench against Swindon, City look somewhat short of options up top.

In terms of the opposition, City are playing a County side routed to the foot of the table after a December which started well with two wins but ended with a draw and two defeats. County should not be underestimated as the bottom side though, as they respectfully ground out a 1-1 draw at Valley Parade just over a month ago.

Manager Shaun Derry begins only his third month in charge of his first managerial position He ended his 18-year playing career earlier this year, after spells with County, Sheffield United, Leeds and Crystal Palace, and will be keen to continue to prove his credentials in his new role. There should also be a welcome reunion with former City player Greg Abbott, who joined County as assistant manager alongside Derry, from a previous five-year spell as Carlisle manager. Abbott played over 300 games for the Bantams and was part of the 1984-85 Division Three championship winning team. He was sent to the stands in that reverse fixture against City.

With regards to goals, County are looking towards their young loan star from Celtic, Callum McGregor, who has hit 11 goals in league and cup competitions so far this season. Other names to watch are the again on-loan Republic of Ireland U-21 international Jack Grealish, and the ever-present Polish goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski. He looked hugely impressive at Valley Parade in November, and had an outstanding game in ensuring that County endured only had a minimal loss at Crawley in their last game.

After New Year’s Day, City have a 10-day break to grab a breather with the postponement of the Carlisle game on Saturday. Hopefully, we will kick off the New Year in style with a performance and subsequent result, in order to provide encouragement for the year ahead. Another winless match could make for a very long 10 days.

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