By Tim Penfold
You don’t win the league in pre-season. Results in warm-up games are nice to have but don’t often mean much in the grand scheme of things – it’s about getting fit and ready for the league games ahead.
It’s in this context that we can place Bradford City’s fairly comfortable 2-0 win over Guiseley. It was a decent performance, with plenty to be positive about, but it’s only at the end of the season that we’ll be able to look back and see if this was a false dawn or a promise of good things to come.
City named two different XIs for each half, both lining up in a 4-3-3 formation. It’s notable that this system was basically impossible for the City squad to play last season – the plethora of number 10s and lack of either wide forwards or physical strikers meant that any time this system was tried we ended up with square pegs in round holes – witness George Miller and Jack Payne playing as the wide men at home to Coventry for example. But this time City have recruited early and to a plan, and this showed.
The first half was notable for the performance of trialist midfielder Regan Booty. Sitting at the bottom of the midfield 3, he picked the ball up off the defence and distributed it well, while also unfussily mopping up after attacks broke down, heading off potential Guiseley counters at source.
This sort of player – a deep playmaker who can dictate the game – was also lacking last season, with the only player at the club fitting that description spending the entire season injured. You suspect that Matty Palmer – absent today after only signing yesterday afternoon – will slip straight into this role.
City looked to gain in sharpness throughout the half, and took a deserved lead when Sean Scannell twisted the full back inside out before crossing for Clayton Donaldson to head home at the far post.
The best chance other than that fell to Joe Riley, reappearing at left back after vanishing for the second half of last season, who got put through by Scannell but clipped his shot over. At the other end, Guiseley nearly took advantage of some slack City defending but found Richard O’Donnell the equal of their attempts on goal.
The completely changed 2nd half team started brightly, with Jordan Gibson showing flashes of potential in an unfamiliar central role, and got a 2nd goal when a quickly-taken free kick found its way to Omari Patrick on the left. His drilled cross was laid back by one trialist (Clay Tilt), for the other (Mason Fawns) to fire home. Gibson then went close with a dipping shot from distance which was palmed away, while James Vaughan managed three attempts without troubling the keeper. Guiseley showed less threat, particularly after one player limped off injured following a Reece Staunton foul, but what openings they did create were snuffed out by the impressive Ben Richards-Everton.
All things considered it was a positive performance for the Bantams. A few fringe players, particularly Gibson but also first half full backs Adam Henley and Joe Riley, staked their claims for a regular place, while Sean Scannell looked bright.
The team seemed to have a better structure than last season as well, compared to this game last season where I stood with Jason McKeown wondering what City were meant to be doing tactically. And this is the most important positive from today – as last season showed, while you can’t win the league in pre-season you can definitely lose it. Being better than last summer’s shambles is a low bar for Gary Bowyer’s team to clear, but it’s one they seem able to do comfortably.