Nikhil Vekaria debuts for WOAP by reviewing Bradford City’s opening month of the season
For a pre-season which seemed to be filled with uncertainty and frustration, optimism was high on the eve of the new campaign and a trip to Swindon Town. Phil Parkinson was still in charge despite the club apparently turning down an approach for him from League One rivals Sheffield United and City seemed to have strengthened well, with the additions of Josh Morris and Paul Anderson getting the fans particularly excited.
There were still some concerns over the centre back position, especially since the departure of Andrew Davies, but supporters and bookies alike seemed confident about City’s chances in the forthcoming season.
The very first game at Swindon could hardly have got off to a better start after new signing Josh Morris scored with a great finish from the edge of the box after just four minutes. Then, on around the 20 minute mark, it could’ve got even better for City. A penalty was won by Morris and Billy Clarke, last season’s top scorer, stepped up hunting his first of the new season. However, his penalty was at a good height for a goalkeeper and Lawrence Vigoroux saved on his debut for The Robins.
City were then made to rue the missed penalty in the second half as Swindon ran riot, scoring four without any reply from City, the highlight being a superb hat-trick from Nathan Byrne.
Next up was York away, in the first round of the League Cup. City went into half time with a goal advantage, thanks to a very good finish from utility man Christopher Routis. However, a goal from a penalty and a free kick in the second half appeared to have ended City’s hopes of progressing, until James Hanson scored his first goal of the season deep into injury time to send City’s 2000 travelling supporters into raptures.
Hanson’s goal sent the game into extra time and with neither side finding a winner, City had the opportunity to extend their world record for consecutive penalty wins. It wasn’t to be, however, and a 4-2 penalty defeat meant that City were still awaiting a victory after their first two games of the season.
After the disappointing first two results, the day of City’s first home game finally arrived. After offering season tickets at just £149 and running a hugely successful Twitter campaign alongside it, an incredible 18000 fans were expected at Valley Parade. The opponents were newly promoted Shrewsbury Town, who included Connor Goldson in their line-up, a young centre back who had been linked with City for a number of weeks.
After a poor first half, City grabbed a goal right before the break through Billy Clarke after Shrewsbury gave it away poorly in midfield. However, the Shrews struck back straight after the interval, a long hopeful ball up field ending up at the feet of Tyrone Barnett, who converted from the angle despite the best efforts of Rory McArdle and Ben Williams.
The rest of the game was nothing to write home about, although City did lose Billy Clarke to an injury and would later find out he could miss up to three months. None of City’s new signings stood out particularly in an average game, with Shrewsbury’s Ryan Woods looking head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. Meanwhile Goldson would sign for championship side Brighton later in the week.
Before City’s next home game with Gillingham, they strengthened the goalkeeping position with the addition of ex Liverpool keeper Brad Jones on a free transfer. The experienced 33 year old joined on a one year deal and offers competition to Williams, who has been heavily criticised at times by sections of City’s support.
Despite the signing of Jones, Williams retained his place in goal for the Gillingham game. Hanson scored his first league goal since his double at Orient in February to give City an early lead, but it was downhill from there as, second half goals from Luke Norris and a goal from Hanson at the wrong end condemned City to a 2-1 defeat. The final whistle was met by boos from large sections of the Valley Parade crowd and Parkinson admitted after the game that he was very unhappy with the performance.
So then, City had just one point from their first three games to go with a League Cup defeat at York, and pressure was slowly but surely building on Phil Parkinson and his new signings.
Next up: Barnsley. At Oakwell. A team who themselves have been backed for the play-offs and with a strong side, this was bound to be a challenge for a City team who seemed to be low on confidence. However, two loanees, signed in the week before the game would give strong showings for City as they ground out a 0-0 draw.
Reece Burke, a young centre back borrowed from West Ham, impressed greatly with an elegant and solid display which belied his 18 years. Lee Evans, signed from Wolves also impressed but City could have managed to get an even better result as Luke James and Hanson spurned good chances, whilst Steven Davies somehow missed a superb one on one opportunity.
A 0-0 draw was probably a fair reflection of a game in which City spurned good chances but were dominated for lengthy periods in terms of possession by a Barnsley side who played an attractive style of football. City were magnificently backed by a very vocal away following who made their appreciation known as the lads headed down the tunnel at full time.
After the strong performance and 0-0 draw at Oakwell, optimism was high that City’s next game, at home to Port Vale, would lead to the Bantams securing their first win of the season. City were strengthened on the eve of the game by the arrival of young striker Devante Cole on a two-year-deal from Manchester City. The England youth international, son of former Manchester United and Newcastle forward Andrew Cole has a good pedigree at League One level, having scored goals in loan spells at both Barnsley and MK Dons, despite being just 20.
City started the game very nervously against a Port Vale side who looked to break quickly and they could’ve had a few goals in the first 10 minutes, with Ben Williams making a good save and only some last ditch defending protecting City’s goal. The Bantams lacked attacking spark in the first half and failed to create any clear cut chances against a well organised Vale team.
However, in the second half City were a lot stronger and Devante Cole, brought on as a second half substitute, had a dream start to his City career with a ninety-fourth minute winner that made Valley Parade rock.
So, a mostly disappointing start to the season, but City finally do have their first victory through Devante Cole. There are reasons to be optimistic however, as the diamond seems to have been ditched with Phil Parkinson favouring a 4-4-2 formation in the last two games, utilising the pace of Mark Marshall on one side. Also, some of City’s new signings appear to be growing into the club with Marshall showing glimpses of talent on either wing and solid performances from Reece Burke and Lee Evans.
Paul Anderson also appears to be gaining match fitness and becoming more involved in games, whilst Luke James has had some good cameo appearances from the bench. Cole is a striker with a point to prove and after bagging a late debut winner, City fans will be hoping he can build on that and attempt to make some sort of job of filling the gap left by a certain Mr Wells.
However, City also have tough games coming up, with two away games in the North West at Oldham and Fleetwood being followed by hosting title favourites Sheffield United. Steven Davies is still to register his first goal for the club, whereas Josh Morris who showed so much early promise is failing to even get into the current starting line-up. Phil Parkinson will be keen to see improvements in these areas and players such as Greg Leigh and veteran keeper Brad Jones will be keen for opportunities to impress.
It also can’t be forgotten that Billy Clarke is a big loss for City, and the club will want him back sooner rather than later. Although Cole’s late winner has led to optimism throughout fans and the club, it is important to remember that City could easily have had just three points from a potential 15, and still only have five, a paltry return for a team tipped to be title contenders.
A vast improvement will be needed if City are to truly challenge for promotion this term and although signs were there at Oakwell and in the second half against Vale that City are getting better, there are still some serious issues that need to be sorted to make City look like contenders, including a stable centre back partner for Rory McArdle and a striking partner who can help get the best out of James Hanson. Burke and Cole are beginning to ease those concerns.
Categories: The Verdict