Bradford City 0
Saturday 16th August, 2014
Written by David Lawrence (images by Ritchie Jervis)
Those of The Faithful that couldn’t make this match due to still being on holiday must have had a smile on their face as they heard about this ‘steady’ draw. Even those that couldn’t make it due to work commitments may have had a wry smile as they’d not missed out on one of the better ones. In fact, if the sun is shining where you are now or you have better things to do, perhaps consider catching up with this when life’s a bit quieter and you’ll not be missed.
Those that were missing on the pitch, that would have likely started for City, were Billy Clarke, out with a slight strain, and Alan Sheehan who is away on bereavement leave. Peace be with him and his family, and the family of Walsall’s former director Clive Welch, for whom there was held an impeccably kept minutes silence before the game, showing football fans’ ability to show compassion and respect.
Into the team came James Meredith at left back and the newly signed Derby loanee and ‘hot prospect’ Mason Bennett who played alongside James Hanson. A few other players came back into the side from the midweek Morecambe game to give the team a familiar ‘starting eleven’ look, with the young keeper Jordan Pickford behind Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies, and captain Stephen Darby at right back. The midfield diamond was made up of the impressive Gary Liddle sitting deep, the attacking minded Billy Knott on the left, and the most improved-from-last-year pair of Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates playing on the left and at point respectively.
Walsall’s team also included some surprises, with youngsters Liam Kinsella and Billy Clifford being handed their Saddlers league debuts. A recent capture from Chelsea, Clifford, 21, started in centre-midfield for the injured James O’Connor and Kinsella, 18, came in at right-back for James Baxendale, who was benched. That bench also included another new signing, that of winger Anthony Forde, who had signed from Wolves earlier in the week. All in all, these new signings gave Walsall a slightly younger looking team as they lined up beside City on the pitch.
The crowd was a bit spartan in the tidy but average sized third-tier ground, with perhaps some of the Saddlers’ fans also enjoying a summer vacation. City did their part to make up the numbers, with just under a thousand in the crowd of around four and a half thousand. There were plenty of empty seats even in the away end and, therefore, no chance of a repeat of the bickering about sitting in the correct seat as there had been on the previous visit to the Banks stadium.
In fact, there was little similarity to the pulsating game of last year that City won 0-2, Reid scoring a scorching free kick right in front of the jubilant away following. If that was a remarkable shot in a remarkable game this game, was more of an unremarkable affair that at times threatened to feel like a pre-season game. Not that both teams weren’t trying, but the late recruitment by both teams clearly had an impact on the level of understanding between the players and the subsequent football on offer, particularly in the final third.
The game started brightly enough with both teams quickly settling into their own styles of play. Walsall played the ball about in midfield very confidently, with the aforementioned Clifford, Ashley Grimes and Romaine Sawyers linking up well and often using the impressive Kinsella out wide to supply the threat. For their part, City employed a slightly more forceful style that involved periods of passing and periods of mixing it up with the familiar ball aimed at the once again reliable head of James Hanson. The big man put himself about well and made an early opening for himself that he could only manage to head wide.
Whilst Walsall had had a lot of the possession in the early exchanges, the best chance came to the bundle of energy that is Billy Knott around the 12 minute mark. Having picked the pocket of one of the opposition players in midfield, he raced forward, twisting and turning through three defenders only to tamely drive the ball wide of the target from 25 yards. Unfortunately, this ‘nearly’ feeling was to be the theme of much of the game as City sat back and frustrated Walsall into shooting from range, as Sawyers did on 19 minutes, and City looked to score with quick passing break-outs and a mix of clever and sometimes not-so-clever set pieces.
Jordan Pickford was showing his age and his talent in the nets on more than one occasion, collecting high balls confidently and then rushing impetuously to clear the ball and making a hash of it. He did however, show he’s something special on 33 minutes when he anticipated and collected a clever ball from Clifford played over the top of Davies, which Tom Bradshaw would have surely scored passed a lesser well positioned keeper.
Up at the other end the other new loanee, Bennett, was also showing promise. For a young lad, he was putting himself about by using his strong frame well and showing some guile. He did, however, look slightly off the pace and in need of more match fitness. This was particularly evident in a one v one footrace from the halfway line toward the Saddlers’ goal during the latter stages of the first half, which he lost. This incident showed him more of a ‘Craig Fagan’ than a ‘Peter Beagrie’ type winger/attacker. Don’t be fooled though, in this case the lad has class.
The game moved along at a steady pace, with a few tasty tackles and the odd corner keeping the ‘nearly’ exciting theme going, but nothing much else transpired and as the half-time whistle blew, everyone was thankful for the break. The skies were still overcast and some were likely musing where they could have been.
Eager to get on with it, likely under more directed instruction from Phil Parkinson, City came out early for the second half. It was a sign of intent. There’d been no substitutions on either side but City clearly had a mind to pick up the pace and Walsall had clearly been told to push up the field a little further – i.e. to ‘risk their arm’ a little bit more. This led to 10 minutes of entertainment where City came close to scoring several times through Bennett, with only a last minute tackle by Andy Taylor stopping the starlet from scoring. One has the feeling Bennett will very quickly move from a threat to a force at this level.
By around 60 minutes though the early bluster of the restart had blown itself out and the status quo had resumed. The Faithful had sensed this and switched their earlier efforts of supporting the team to the familiar chants of “City ‘Til I Die”, dropping heavy hints to the management that it was time for a change. “He scores with his hand, Aaron McLean, he scores with his hands” and “Aaron McLean, goal machine.” Ask and it is given. On comes McLean to more praise, making an immediate impact by jostling two defenders, as-is-his-want, and scuffing a shot that narrowly misses the target, as-can-be-the-case.
And then we are ‘treated’ to ten minutes of NOTHING. Dolan came on for Knott on 66 minutes. Still NOTHING.
Thankfully, the wizard that is Yeates woke us up from the spell with some lovely dribbling and passing that at one stage took him from the centre of midfield to the by-line, where he played a delightful ball in that Hanson will have been ‘sick as a parrot’ not to have got on the end of. Now playing the pantomime baddy, Parkinson ‘hooked’ Yeates for Mo Shariff. It looked a bit desperate. Whilst there was clearly a plan to use the youngster’s pace to play him off of the shoulder of Hanson a la Wells, he’s a good two seasons away from being another Nahki. Let’s hope the windfall from the cup can find Parkinson the non-benchwarmer replacement he, the team and fans deserve.
The game was petering out fast. McLean had the best chance for City having once again wrestled free of Downing, but once again scuffed his chance with only the keeper to beat. By the ninetieth minute even the most optimistic were resigned to a scoreless draw. However, Walsall finally managed a shot on target in injury time that threatened to rob City of a point when Adam Chambers lashed a 20 yarder toward the top corner. Not to be outdone, young Pickford made a brilliant save to ensure City’s unbeaten run continues onto their next match at Crawley. It was a remarkable save in an unremarkable game.
CITY: Pickford, McArdle, Meredith, Darby, Davies, Yeates (Shariff 76), Liddle, Knott (Dolan 66), Kennedy, Bennett (McLean 64), Hanson
Not used: Williams, Routis, McBurnie, Morais
Categories: Match Reviews