The striking issue as Bradford City welcome Sheffield United

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Bradford City vs Sheffield United preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 18 October, 2014

By Luke Lockwood

 

It has been a despondent week for Bradford City fans following an abject performance during Sky Sports Part 1 – here’s hoping that the sequel is much improved from the first.

However, the match this time around is likely to appear as just a sub plot to the main story being played out at Sheffield United, surrounding the future of Ched Evans. I am not interested in wading into the should-he, shouldn’t-he debate here – that is for another time – but if Lee Hughes, Marlon King and co were able to make a careers in football following their stints in jail, then rightly or wrongly Ched Evans will be scoring goals for Sheffield United again soon. I am thankful for more than just that reason that he will not be lining up against City.

On the field the Blades need to find someone to stop the goals going in rather than worrying about a man who will put them in – no side in the top 18 have conceded more goals than Sheffield United. They are especially vulnerable away from home where they are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league and shipped five against Swindon.

If ever there was an opportunity for the Sheffield United defence to put that right it would be against the toothless attack that represented City at the weekend.

All City fans will be crossing their fingers that James Hanson is fit to return; but although he has done his best to fill Nahki Wells prolific boots, we still require someone to contribute the consistent figures he has supported Wells with in recent years.

Unfortunately Aaron Mclean, Billy Clarke, and Oli McBurnie do not appear capable of getting that between them – never mind on their own. A lot of expectations were placed on the McAttack pair this year, with both boasting prolific records at different levels of football. However Mclean, for all his endeavour, is struggling to justify the amount of money invested in him. McBurnie has yet to get to grips with senior football, but is regularly called upon due to the lack of options elsewhere.

Clarke, on the other hand, has never been a goal scorer and it doesn’t look like he ever will. There were times last weekend when it looked like had he had more of a predator’s instinct he could have got on the score sheet. After a bright start to the season he is yet to feel the supporters’ wrath that his fellow strikers have endured, despite scoring just as few goals in more game time.

At the tip of the diamond in tight spaces, Clarke shows fantastic ability – but he is not someone to be relied on in your front line to work hard, unsettle defenders and score goals. Whether Hanson is fit or not, the decision should be to play Yeates or Clarke – not both.

The fact that both have continued to play just goes to show how much our tight resources are stretched. We are very invested in the diamond set up, and as many have pointed out don’t have the players to easily adapt to anything else. This is to be expected with such a reduced budget our squad – built on quality rather than quantity – is reliant on staying clear of injuries to compete. Unfortunately, it is our two most important players who have so far been missing for large periods.

The squad depth issue stretches further back too. With Matty Dolan struggling for fitness, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott and Jason Kennedy have been all but guaranteed starters in the diamond. With Liddle facing suspension this weekend, it would suggest a return to 4-4-2 is more than likely and a return to the starting XI for Filipe Morais on the right hand side.

Stephen Darby remains a guaranteed starter despite his form dipping. Although our new skipper is enduring a difficult start to the campaign, a return to 4-4-2 would see him receive more support in the formation that saw him justifiably win a clean sweep of all the awards last year.

With Liddle and Darby in mind, I see a potentially missed opportunity in the summer. Nathan Doyle currently plies his trade with League Two Luton – but as a jack of all trades and master of many, could we have offered him lower terms in a similar way to James Meredith? This would give us options at right back and in the anchor role, but also allow Parkinson to push Liddle forward where he sees fit and still maintain a capable replacement in the anchor. There is always room for a Nathan Doyle.

More of a question mark is to be had on the opposite side. Alan Sheehan has returned in place of Meredith, who was beginning to find the form that initially made him such a popular player amongst supporters. Sheehan, however – despite being brought in to much acclaim and impressing in the early stages – has not replicated that form consistently.

Perhaps the main reason Sheehan is favoured over Meredith is his ability to supply deadly delivery with his left foot, which is certainly justifiable – especially when playing in the diamond where the left back is expected to provide the width. However, against Barnsley his delivery was sub-standard. Should we return to 4-4-2 at Valley Parade, that would be less of a vital component. I expect to see Sheehan keep his place, but Parkinson should emphasise that he is not a guaranteed member of our first eleven.

Ironically at half time on Sunday I discussed that, with Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle, at the heart of defence we just don’t look like conceding.

That sentiment is still valid, Andrew Davies had a rare bad day at the office, but I will maintain that he is the finest defender in this league and brings out the best in his partner Rory McArdle.

In contrast to our editor’s thoughts in his report, I actually felt that McArdle had a good game against Barnsley and was probably our best player with the exception of Jordan Pickford. I think the fact that – despite conceding three – Pickford was our best player speaks volumes of the Barnsley game.

Davies and McArdle is a tried and tested formula and, despite the encouraging and positive performance from Christopher Routis over the past couple of weeks, Parkinson won’t look any further than his trusted men unless games like Sunday become more than a freak occurrence.

With Jordan Pickford becoming increasingly impressive week on week, we have the making of an outstanding defensive line-up. If our strikers can match them for ability, commitment and success then we have the making of play off contenders.

However, if we continue to be pretty but not deadly – mid-table waits once again.

Stop press: Bradford City have this morning announced the arrival of Jon Stead on loan until the end of the year. Stead played for the Bantams on loan at the end of last season and impressed, providing a precence up front when James Hanson was injured.

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