Back in business

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Farsley Celtic 0

Bradford City 3

Hanson 19+27, Watt 36

Saturday 11 July, 2015

By Jason McKeown (images by Damien Wilkinson)

On this, the first public appearance since the Sheffield United saga, Phil Parkinson was a subdued figure as he watched his old, new and trial players make light work of Farsley Celtic. The Bradford City manager remained inside the dug out throughout, leaving assistant Steve Parkin to bark out the orders from the touchline.

Parkinson looked deeply occupied in his own thoughts, and it would have been fascinating to have offered up a penny for them.

This has been a strange close season in the sense it has threatened fireworks in different ways, and yet largely proven to be low key. The Gianni Paladini takeover that didn’t happen and Sheffield United’s courting of Parkinson which came to nothing. The three most important people who run Bradford City – Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes and Parkinson – all contemplated an alternative future.

And yet here they are, once again doing what they have done so well since 2012: preparing for a new season, financing and building a squad to continue the upwards progression. You just hope that big promises from an Italian, or the lure of Bramall Lane, didn’t cause any serious disruption to the focus.

At Throstle Nest, Parkinson stared on intently as he assessed several trial players, whilst embedding three of the four new recruits. Everyone knows that he needs a replacement for Andrew Davies; a goalkeeper who can challenge Ben Williams for the number one spot; probably another wideman; and squad players who can be relied upon over the course of the season. Parkinson would have been looking for some of the answers on the pitch today, but will clearly have stronger options in the pipeline too.

The jigsaw will be clear in his own head; and as supporters we should trust in him rather than the sense of doom and panic that continues to emanate from some.

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Of the arrivals so far, this was Josh Morris’ opportunity to be make a strong first impression and he didn’t disappoint. Thanks to injuries to other midfielders and a minor knock for Rory McArdle causing Gary Liddle to fill in at centre back, Morris was handed the number four shirt and tried in the centre of the park. If this is an unfamiliar position to him – the 23-year-old has been billed as a wideman/full back – it didn’t show. Morris showed terrific levels of energy and bite that drove his new team forward. He can beat a man for fun, but what really stood out was his intelligent use of the ball. You can instantly see why Parkinson rates him so highly.

Morris took a place alongside youth prospect Sam Wright, who seems to have built upon promising pre-season displays a year ago and developed his game further. Wright was also strong in the tackle and the Farlsey midfield were no match for City’s central midfield pairing.

In front of them was the most well-known of the six trialists involved over the 90 minutes – Sanchez Watt. From Arsenal to Leeds to Sheffield Wednesday to Crawley to Colchester to being released by a club who only avoided relegation from League One on the final day of last season. On paper Watt was a curious player to interest Parkinson, but then again the very same could be said a year ago of Crawley’s Billy Clarke and Stevenage’s Filipe Morais, and that worked out.

Watt looked the part for 45 minutes, playing the number 10 role of a 4-4-1-1 formation and linking up the midfield and attack. Watt was surprisingly good in the air, flicking on a Ben Williams clearance early doors that enabled James Hanson to fire a rasping volley that was well tipped over the bar. There was encouragement over the way Hanson and Watt linked up, with each displaying a good understanding of where the other would be.

To me Watt could be an understudy for Clarke, but Parkinson has seemingly ruled that he is no better than what he already has in the building. The manager has confirmed that Watt won’t be going to Scotland with the team this week.11745809_10205711977777467_1294554133857985594_n

Also unlikely to earn a contract was fellow trialist Harrison Gilkes. The left winger, who emerged through the ranks at Bournemouth but struggled to break into the Cherries first team, signed for Southern League Premier Division side Poole Town last December. Gilkes fared well playing week in week out, and this trial at Valley Parade offers him another shot at making it as a professional. Sadly for Gilkes, he made little impact on this game. He can beat a full back for sure, but his final ball let him down.

The other two trialists were in defence. 32-year-old Yorkshireman Jamie McCombe has a wealth of experience after lengthy spells in the lower leagues with Scunthorpe United, Lincoln City, Bristol City, Huddersfield and – for the past three years – Doncaster Rovers.

At 6 foot 5 inches, McCombe bears a striking resemblance to Luke Oliver and at Throstle Next performed in a similarly no-nonsense style. He needs greater tests than this for minds to made up, but could be brought in as a back up option depending on Alan Sheehan’s future. At right back was Luke Hendrie – son of City legend John – and formerly of Man United’s academy books.

Alongside Morris, Wright and the four trialists were the familiar sights of Gary Liddle, James Meredith, Morais and Hanson. The latter captained the team and netted two goals within the opening half hour. The first resulted from a short corner from Morris that was played to Morais, who crossed perfectly for Hanson to head home. The second came after Watt picked up the ball near the touchline in the final third, charged past his defender before hitting a delightful left footed cross that Hanson was able to steer into the net.

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City were too good for their hosts. Before Hanson’s first a brilliant Morris run and lob over the keeper bounced back off the crossbar. At 1-0, a surging run from Wright saw the ginger-haired youngster play Watt in one-one-one, only for the keeper to make a good save. Yet a goalkeeping howler in the thirty-sixth minute – a Hendrie cross was spilt – enabled Watt to get on the scoresheet with a tap in. Two subsequent decent efforts by Hanson almost resulted in a first ever Bradford City hat trick for the club’s longest-serving player.

It was all too easy. Farsley battled hard throughout and did mount attacks, but McCombe and Liddle mopped everything up.

The team was completely changed over at the interval, with Joe Cracknell – a goalkeeper released by Hull City during the summer – and Greg Leigh – a 20-year-old left back let go by Man City, who played 38 times on loan at Crewe last season – the two trialists involved. Several youngsters, including the excellent Dylan Mottley-Henry and the equally promising Joe Brannan, figured in the second half team.

As is often the case in these friendlies, the pace of the game dropped off and there were fewer goalscoring opportunities at either end. It was less a team performance, more a session during which individuals attempted to impress.

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Of the new arrivals Tony McMahon – a player known already after his excellent loan spell last season – looked steady in the right back slot. His return to Valley Parade has been criticised by some supporters, but I think he’s a very clever capture who will probably end up playing 30 or more games in different positions. Luke James – whose arrival on a season’s loan from Peterborough has been widely derided – played up front with Billy Clarke.

Clearly James had a tough year at London Road last season and the first impressions are that he is a player lacking in confidence. Many of the things he tried didn’t come off, and you could see his obvious despair. If Parkinson can get him back to the player he was at Hartlepool, James could be a useful capture. It’s a big if, though.

Whilst both James and to a lesser extent Clarke struggled to make an impact, Chris Routis was the standout performer of the second half. The Frenchman has come a long way since his own trial game at Ossett Town last summer, and he had an even greater level of assurance and confidence here.

Playing deep in midfield, Routis won back the ball countless times and rarely wasted possession. It was notable how team mates looked to him to make things happen. This is a big season for Routis, and he began it in exactly the right manner here.

As did the team and the players as a whole. There were no second half goals but the ease of victory was encouraging and the prospects for the season ahead look brighter for this first run out.

Parkinson will have been left with plenty to ponder regarding the trialists and even the role that some of his younger players may have over the coming months. But replacing Andrew Davies will require greater thought and resource than anyone who could be lured for a trial this summer.

Parkinson already knew that he went into this pre-season with a very good first XI, and that a tweak here and there could be all that’s needed for City to go at least one league place better than last season’s seventh. We didn’t see the new Andrew Davies today, nor did we see the next Jordan Pickford. But other pieces are coming together; and with four weeks to go before the big kick off there are more reasons to be optimistic than there are to feel pessimistic.

City (first half): Williams, Hendrie, Liddle, McCombe, Meredith, Morais, Morris, Wright, Gilkes, Watt, Hanson

City (second half): Cracknell, Omolukun, Sheehan, McMahon, Leigh, Brennan, Devine, Routis, Mottley-Henry, Clarke, James

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Categories: Match Reviews

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5 replies

  1. It shows how opinions differ, I thought Gilkes did well. Quick always wanted the ball and linked well with Meredith.

  2. My thoughts are that perhaps Parkinson thinks he has his replacement for Davro at CB already at the club. Gary Liddle playing there yesterday (which side did he play?) perhaps Parky thinks it may be easier to replace him in the middle of the park and also I think Liddle said in the T&A last year he was more comfortable there.

    Perhaps Mcmahon/Routis are vying to take his role in the middle of midfield…

  3. It would be a terrible waste having liddle at centre half.

    • I don’t agree. I thought he looked class when he played there last season. Very composed, good in the air and on the deck, reads the game and distributes the ball well. I think he and Rory would be a high class CB pairing.
      But I would only want this to happen if we could get another very good central midfielder in. At the moment none of the existing alternatives to Liddle in CM is good enough so he would be badly missed there.

  4. T&A report suggests Liddle played there because McArdle has a minor knock and we don’t have other options currently in the squad. Liddle at the base of midfield is a key strength of last season’s success, so I don’t see this as being in Parky’s thoughts.

    Aside from a new CB, I think the squad is looking pretty good already – well, apart from the new kit! Maybe black shorts would help it a little cos, well, crikey…

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