Year Zero

Bradford City 1

Hanson 1

Bristol City 1

Wagstaff 11

Saturday 11 January, 2014

By Jason McKeown

For someone who is only 5 foot 7 inches tall, Nahki Wells casts a large shadow. Less than 24 hours after his dramatic departure to Huddersfield Town, the Bermudian’s absence hung heavy over a downcast Valley Parade that is still reeling over his shock choice of new home. Like some jilted lover, the question is how to get over this blow and rebuild. But until a replacement is captured, it feels as though time is standing still.

A draw a fitting outcome then, as City stand at a crossroads between self-imploding through civil war or closing ranks and moving on. It is a draw that does little to appease the pressure that has been built up from the poor run of form – now one win in 16 – but is at least a draw that looks better than a glance at the League One table suggests. Visitors Bristol City remain second bottom, but that is a ludicrous anomaly that will be corrected come May. They are packed full of talent and in Jay Emmanuel-Thomas have the best striker in the division (especially now). The Bantams did well to better them, performance-wise.

Yet still, how the dwindling morale around Valley Parade needs a boost. When just 55 seconds into life after Nahki, City took the lead, there was every reason to believe that a trying week for everyone would have a happy ending. The home side began on the front foot and forced an early corner. As the ball pinged around in the box, James Hanson duly snapped up a half-chance to rifle it into the bottom corner.

A small irony, perhaps, that it was Hanson who got the first post-Nahki goal – he had been rejected by Huddersfield as a teenager. It was a timely goal too, given it was his first in almost three months. A measure of his growth in popularity amongst supporters is that no one has made a big deal of the forward’s drought. Hanson’s importance to the club has heightened further following Wells’ departure, and the extension of his contract last November represents the club’s best piece of business over the past 12 months.

The advantage to claret and amber, an air of much-needed confidence spread around the pitch and the stadium. Ricky Ravenhill was setting the standard in the middle of the park, Carl McHugh – in at left back for the injured James Meredith and mightily impressive today – glanced a header from another corner just wide. In the Kop, a derogatory Nahki chant was aired that raised a smile from most people. Perhaps a corner has been turned.

Alas, Kyel Reid fell asleep as City defended a Bristol City attack, and Scott Wagstaff – who turned down a summer move to Valley Parade – strode through unmarked to finish low past Jon McLaughlin. The City keeper should have kept out what was a fairly tame effort, but got a limp hand on the shot that only succeeded in slowing its speed rather than halting its direction. Here we go again.

Indeed that confidence evaporated from the ground as quickly as it had been restored. The players looked hesitant once more. Ravenhill went off injured – Jason Kennedy his replacement – and the game’s pace slowed. Bristol City – with Emmanuel-Thomas looking a menace – poured forward in search of a second goal. Reid handled the ball in the box for a stonewall penalty, but it was somehow missed by the officials. There were some good defensive blocks from Matthew Bates and Rory McArdle that kept the Robins at bay, but City kept giving the ball back to them.

It was a poor period where you looked at certain players and realised just how drained they have become of self-belief. In possession they would take the easiest option possible, and when team-mates had the ball they would hide away from demanding a pass. Eventually, Gary Jones’ leadership could be seen in lifting these players again. Kennedy – who has underwhelmed greatly since joining the club in the summer – was much improved and had his best game to date. We still expect a lot more from him, though.

The second half was a big, big improvement from City. They survived a scare of Emmanuel-Thomas’ thumping drive from distance smacking McLauglin’s post, and pressed the visitors back. Garry Thompson was much more effective; Reid a mixture of terrific and terrible, but always carrying a threat; Hanson a menace.

Most eyes were drawn to his strike partner, 17-year-old Oli McBurnie. In the first half he’d linked up well in the build up play and come hunting for the ball, but you felt he was playing a little too deep. Phil Parkinson must have had words at half time, as in the second half McBurnie began leading the line. He almost scored an opportunistic first senior goal, after a clever backheel shot was palmed away by Bristol City goalkeeper Elliot Parish. Later on McBurnie received the ball in the box and impressively worked it past a defender, only for another to block his effort at goal. Then, just before he made way for Alan Connell with 13 minutes to go, a thrilling burst past a defender and race into the area saw McBurnie force another save from Parish.

McBurnie is looking like a real prospect for City. Over the years several youth strikers have been given a senior opportunity but failed to have any great impact beyond scoring the odd goal or two. It is too early to say that Oli will succeed where they failed, but already he is affecting matches and making a tangible difference to his team’s play. He looks like he belongs here.

Parkinson revealed after the match that he is closing in on a new striker, and it is absolutely right that McBurnie is not placed under any burden of being Wells’ replacement; but the manager needs to keep gradually involving the young striker over the coming months. Let’s give him the chance to fulfil his undoubted potential.

Substitutes Mark Yeates and Connell – who is surely heading out of the door this January – made little impact on the game, as City pushed for a winner. The best moment beyond McBurnie’s efforts had been a piledriver shot from Jones that bounced back off the inside of the post with Parish beaten. The skipper needed that to go in, as his critics in the stands continue to grow; but today was an improvement from Jones after a poor Christmas. His value to the team – if not as a week in, week out starter for much longer – remains high.

Warm applause at full time, as supporters appreciated the efforts and application of the players. But as we headed out into the West Yorkshire evening, there was some rather cruel news waiting for us. A late, late winner, 11.9 miles away at Huddersfield Town – scored by you-know-who.

The conversation, and the focus, was instantly back on Nahki Wells. His shadow had been disguised by the winter darkness that crept over Valley Parade during the second half, but it had still been present after all.

Time had not, in fact, stood still. The world was going on without us.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates, McHugh, Thompson, Ravenhill (Kennedy 22), Jones, Reid (Yeates 72), Hanson, McBurnie (Connell 77)

Not used: Jameson, Oliver, Taylor, Graham

Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. tought we played well today but lacked a spark got to say thomo impressed me a lot and mcburnie i feel needs one goal and he’ll be away but loads of time for him yet mchugh and jones were super

    • What can be said when confidence is high those chances from Jones , , Thompson, Mcburnie we get the 3pts.
      We’re unlucky and I’m 100% certain our form will pick-up once we get that win!
      Excellent performance from @oli_mcburnie he’s definitely getting better & better.
      I listened into the @PulseSportTeam interview with Chairman Lawn before kickoff I couldnt believe what I was hearing. Wells stated he wanted to leave & Huddersfield was the only club he wanted to goto! Which left the club in one terrible position regarding negotiations on fee etc in my opinion. Wells also stated he wasn’t fit to play through injury but yet he was on the bench for Huddersfield and scored there winner !!. I feel the club had been held to ransom ? It’s left a very sour taste in my mouth. Moving forward Chairman Lawn also admitted on @PulseSportTeam that the club was talking to 3 striker’s with Aaron McLean been one of the targets & talks with all 3 were going well. I think McLean’s goal scoring record at lge1 level is just what we need .

  2. I have supported City longer probably than anyone. We have had bad times, worse times, terrible times, disastrous times and the odd good time. When I was young our chief rivals were Bradford, Halifax and York. Look at them now. We do not have the financial resources of Huddersfield, and they are a bigger club because they are in the Championship and we are not. Even so, our crowd was better than them yesterday.
    We supporters can only trust in Rhodes and Lawn. We have no option, because there is nobody else .We should thank them for supporting us financially when no one else in Bradford will do. Look at Bulls.
    I bet they would have kept Wells if it had been financially practicable, but it clearly was not. So, please, everybody, keep the faith.
    As to yesterday, I thought a draw was a fair result. I did not see the City handball, but could not believe Jones ‘shot did not go in.
    I love going to Valley Parade. I love the ground, and the professional way in which the match day is organised. The seats are good, the toilets clean, exit is easy , as is parking. The fans are good-natured and there are many kids with mothers and dads My wife went with me yesterday, and said how pleasant it was.We also seem to treat visiting supporters decently in contrast to some clubs.
    I think there is too much burden on McBurnie, and we need a bit more pace, and a striker, and Davies back.
    But they tried 100% yesterday, and with a bit more class will surely get going again. Remember, we only went up last year because of Exeter’s demise, and look at Northampton now. We are trying to survive in Division 1 with essentially a Division 2 squad.
    Please forget Wells, wish him well, thank him for what he did for us, and remember he is a professional who sells himself to the best bidder. He thinks that is Huddersfield, and it matters not a jot to us.

  3. Another thoughtful article Jason.

    I came away from the game thinking it was a good point but could, with a bit of luck, been 3 points.

    The one thing I was disappointed with was Yeates application when he came on. Their no 11, Wagstaff, was on a yellow and he never attacked him at all, never attempted to draw a foul from him. Throughout the whole of the second half in front of us, Wagstaff dropped off the player with the ball. Why did Parkinson’s not throw on the new lad, Jordan Graham? Surely someone with pace to attack Wagstaff could have changed the outlook of the game.

    I continue to be confused about Matthew Bates. He come with a high pedigree but he continually makes errors. Yesterday was no exception. Especially when clearing the ball from in front of McLaughlin. He spent the next 5 minutes arguing with all and sundry on his team.

    I was immensely impressed with McHugh. His passing was exceptional, always looking for the ball passing to team mates feet. And some of those blocks in the second half were top class. But what impressed me more was his attacking ability. While not as quick as Meredith, his all round play and measured calmness on the ball shone. It was shame one of those headers from the early corners didn’t hit the back of the net.

    All in all it shows the need for a goal scorer, someone who is going to put those half chances away. I look forward to the week ahead to see who is brought in.

    Bristol were there for the taking today

  4. I thought the effort was there yesterday but as you say, confidence seems low at the moment with no-one wanting to take responsibility for directing play. It was unfortunate Ravenhill went off injured as I thought he was setting the tone in midfield by battling for every ball superbly. The only other players we have who puts in those sort of challenges is the sorely missed Davies and McHugh, who was excellent at left back. Jones looked to have benefitted from a week’s rest and his leadership in the second half looked like the Magic Gary Jones from earlier this season! One concern for me is goalkeeper (I expect some criticism here) but Jon Mclaughlin worries me and has done for a while. Whilst he pulls off some wonderful saves, I never feel confident he will make the ball his own at set pieces. His tendancy to stay on his line has cost us goals and his lack of communication is evident in every match. I sit close enough to the action in the Kop to know he rarely puts his name on the ball which causes confusion for the defenders and both Bates and McArdle told him so yesterday. And he really shouldn’t have let their goal in yesterday as he got a hand to the ball, and it was hardly a thunderous shot! Maybe not a priority this season but I think recruiting an experienced stopper for 2014/15 should be high on the list as I feel this would benefit the team and Mclaughlin. Signing Duke seemed to bring a strong reaction from Jon to improve his game and win his shirt back. I’m interested to see who we get in the transfer window but I have every faith PP knows what we need to improve. For a newly promoted team we should be delighted with our league position and, as long as we remain in League One we should all count this season as a success!

    • From where I was sitting, Hugh (Midland Road, block C, row v), it looked as if the ball hit a divot, lifting it over the outstretched hand of Jonny Mac for their goal – it certainly bounced higher than might be expected on a flat pitch.

      • Hi John. I’ve just watched the highlights on Youtube and, bounce or not, I really feel Jon could and should have stopped that shot! I hope he irons out the issues I raised earlier as he is young for a keeper and on his day is very good and I would love to see City progress with him at the club. I just feel this season the mistakes and a lack of confidence have crept back into his game and perhaps signing another experienced keeper would help him progress again, because his reaction to being dropped for Duke was commendable.

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