By Tim Penfold
The reaction to Bradford City signing Nicky Law this summer was, at best, mixed. It was expected, as he’s always been a Stuart McCall favourite, but, despite a good loan spell in 2008/09 and an impressive period in Scotland with Motherwell, fans were unsure about a player who’d seemed to stagnate at Rangers. For much of last season he was unable to get in a Scottish Championship side – and remember, this was a level where Mark Stewart was prolific.
In many ways the reaction to Law mirrored the reaction to Stuart McCall’s appointment as manager. We were only interested because he was a club legend/manager’s favourite. Yeah, he’d done well at Motherwell but that was a few years ago, and how good a level is Scottish football really? And that spell at Rangers was nothing to shout about. And yet, as McCall’s team cruised past Chesterfield to move into the automatic promotion slots in League One, it was once again Nicky Law who embodied many of the best qualities of this team.
Law does not stop running – a perpetual motion machine, always popping up in pockets of space, pressing opponents, charging down the left or through the middle past trailing defenders. And yet, he is not just running a lot and hoping that he ends up in the right bit of the pitch. His movement is intelligent and has thought behind it, and it means that whenever City have the ball in the opposition half he is available for a pass.
And you can see the rest of the team becoming more like him – today, Billy Clarke, Josh Cullen, Jordy Hiwula and Mark Marshall all ran hard for the team, but also ran smart, and pulled the Chesterfield defence all over the place. Law’s willingness to run anywhere also makes the team far more fluid going forward, with positions interchanged almost at will – summed up by a second half move where Hiwula dropped deep into midfield and played a wonderful ball to send James Meredith through for a shot.
Law, like most of this team, is also technically excellent – adept at the sort of one-touch passing and link up play that Cullen and Clarke thrive off, and capable of taking on and beating defenders as well. Today he dictated much of what was good about City’s play, always there to give a pass and move into a better position from the return ball, and a nightmare to pick up as Chesterfield defenders tried in vain to contain him. Law’s intelligence on the ball meant that when he did this, City invariably were in a better position than when they’d started.
It was Law’s intelligence, combined with Billy Clarke’s movement, that won City the game today – Clarke smart enough to spot that Chesterfield had switched off at a corner and make the run, Law smart enough to see him and pick him out with the pass.
It was not a goal that you could imagine City conceding at the moment. What started as a makeshift defence that would soon be broken up to bring in McArdle/Kilgallon and get Romain Vincelot back into midfield has turned into the strongest backline in the division. Vincelot and Nathaniel Knight-Percival, despite giving away a few inches in height to the hosts’ target man Conor Wilkinson, barely looked troubled, while Colin Doyle was called into action just once, producing a fine save to keep out a Kristian Dennis free kick.
Stephen Darby was his usual consistent self at right back, while James Meredith rampaged up and down the left hand side, and was unlucky not to score. This backline seems as strong as the one that broke every defensive record going last season, which is even more impressive when you consider that the centre backs and keeper have changed and the team is more attacking.
Going forward, City looked fluent and threatening. After a quiet first 20 minutes, Mark Marshall burst into life by beating three defenders and drawing a fine save from Ryan Fulton, and afterwards tormented the Chesterfield left back – his revival is possibly the best achievement of McCall’s management so far.
Jordy Hiwula ran and ran and ran, and was denied by Fulton on three occasions, the best save coming at the start of the second half. Billy Clarke got his goal, and despite some wasteful passes in the second half looks back to his best. Cullen and Timothee Dieng kept the team ticking over in midfield, cutting out Chesterfield’s attempts at counters and giving the ball to the creators.
But in the end, it was Law who ran the show and got the deserved acclaim. McCall’s favourite is becoming the defining player in a team that has the potential to go a long way.
Categories: Match Reviews