The feast begins with Bradford City victorious in the pre-season Wool City derby

Bradford Park Avenue 0
Bradford City 2
Chapman 34, Harratt 64

Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)

Like that first bite into a poppadom from the pickle tray at the start of a curry, this is that exciting moment where you get a first taste of what lies ahead – and everything feels great.

The main event is to come. And, when we eventually look back and reflect on it all, it’s unlikely this preliminary stage will register anywhere near the highlights. But there’s something special about getting started, taking in that first bite, knowing what’s to come. And at the Horsfall Stadium this evening, there was plenty to whet the appetite.

We’ve made it to the end of the Bradford City famine that is the close season, and now it’s all about getting warmed up via friendlies. Starting to get to know the new players. Reconnecting with friends not seen since May. Getting back on board the rollercoaster.

And it looks like it could be some ride. The new broom made an impressive introduction here with a comfortable 2-0 victory. There is always a huge imbalance to this Bradford Derby fixture – Park Avenue finished a lowly 18th in the National League North last season – but it’s still about applying standards and setting the tone. And on that level City did well here.

Mark Hughes had his revamped charges lining up in a diamond formation that saw Harry Chapman at the tip, just behind strikers Lee Angol and Andy Cook, with Alex Gilliead and Kian Scales adopting wide positions and Richie Smallwood at the base. It looked pretty good, with Smallwood grabbing the mantle with a composed display where he was every inch the leader that Bradford City needs.

Don’t expect much forward play from Smallwood. Passing-wise he is not someone to ping an adventurous ball like Elliot Watt. But with decision making, there is no comparison. Smallwood never wasted a pass and seemed ultra composed. He looks every inch the holding midfielder the club has badly lacked in recent seasons. No player on the pitch seemed to have more time on the ball than Smallwood. A true mark of a good player.

With Smallwood sitting, Scales and Gilliead were encouraged to support Chapman and the three linked up nicely. Not every move came off, but there was invention and a number of moments where the trio engineered triangle passing situations that enabled them to cut through Park Avenue.

As we know only too well from the Phil Parkinson days, much of the success of the diamond lies in having good attack-minded full backs, who can make use of the space that a more narrow midfield opens up. In the first half, Matty Foulds and Oscar Threlkeld took on those roles. Foulds certainly had no qualms roaming into the huge gaps, but his decision making let him down a little too often.

As it did at first with Chapman. The early impressions certainly weren’t bad, but there were a few wild shots when a pass looked on, and the occasional through ball attempt over-cooked by the summer arrival from Blackburn.

But then, it suddenly clicked. Chapman found his range and has a really promising spell before half time where he caused the opposition several problems with incisive football. It was all capped off by a brilliantly struck shot from distance that flew past former Bantams’ youth stopper George Sykes-Kenworthy to put City in front. This is a player to have you on the edge of your seat.

The goal was a reward for City’s greater quality. At the back Matty Platt fitted in well and seemed to win every challenge. Alongside him Yann Songo’o was in fine form and revelled in bringing the ball forwards before picking a pass.

Harry Lewis had nothing to do in goal but did catch the eye for his ball control when at one point he rushed out to intercept an Avenue pass. Cook and Angol looked sharp and were characteristically difficult to knock off the ball.

As it typical of the first few friendlies, half time saw a complete swap of the XI, with the only thing remaining in tact the diamond approach. It’s fair to say the second half team wasn’t quite as fluid. The link up play less evident, with a bit more individualistic performances that saw players take on opponents but too often lose the ball.

Not that there weren’t still impressive performers, and second half man of the match for me was Reece Staunton. Taking on Foulds’ left back spot, Staunton was much more effective in attacking. He showed some brilliant dribbling skills and produced several excellent balls into the box.

One such Staunton cross resulted in City’s second goal, when his wicked low centre was attacked by Kian Harratt and the ball bundled into the net. From our angle, it looked as though it may have been an own goal, although Harratt’s presence certainly made the difference. In the closing stages, Staunton delivered an inch perfect through ball from which Abo Eisa skipped around Avenue’s substitute goalkeeper, only to see his shot cleared off the line by a scrambling defender.

Other second half players to catch the eye included Romoney Crichlow, who is very composed on the ball and physically strong. Jamie Walker was his usual bag of tricks. Eisa and Emmanuel Osadebe had some good moments. Ryan East produced some very eye-catching passes, albeit looked a little suspect defensively. Harratt and Jake Young were less effective than Cook and Angol, but they weren’t without flashes of promise.

City saw out victory comfortably, with second half goalkeeper Colin Doyle called into action late on when Fiacre Kelleher allowed an Avenue forward to run through on goal. It wasn’t quite the goal-fest of last pre-season where Derek Adams’ charges won this fixture 5-0, but that matters little. The first introduction of the new-look Bradford City to its public can go down as a success.

What stands out more than anything is the strength in depth. The 22 players on show here could all play competently at League Two level (yes, even Oscar if really, really needed), and there were four very accomplished first team players who had to sit this one out through injury. In central midfield, at centre back, left back, out wide and up front, there is genuine competition for places developing.

If you wanted to be greedy – and we should be – right back remains a concern. Luke Hendrie and Levi Sutton were two of the four sat in the stand watching on, and if the diamond is a serious consideration Hughes will need better than Threlkeld and second half right back Finn Cousin-Dawson. But if that’s our biggest weakness at this stage of pre-season, it’s not too shabby is it?

As the rain began to lash down in the second half, the City players must have been excitedly thinking about their week in the Spanish sun that they will embark on this weekend. Then it’s Derby County next Saturday, and for the new arrivals a first taste of playing at Valley Parade.

Another pickle tray, please waiter. We’re hungry for more of this.

Categories: Match Reviews

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5 replies

  1. Yes, I always enjoy the easy going dynamic if the early friendlies, with a chance to get closer to the squad; and to see first hand the new signings.
    It will be interesting to see how many of these players go in the coming weeks- I see Sparks is messaging more outs than ins likely in the rest of the window. Really hoping the strength in depth you refer to doesn’t get thinned too much, as we’ve seen in previous seasons!
    Despite his flaws, I’m fond of Matty Foulds, who clearly leaves it all out on the field. Great to see Reece Staunton also looking on form, it would be great to see him flourish in a City shirt this season. Also rooting for Charlie Wood at the start of his senior career!

  2. Those who were not in attendance will be grateful for the wealth of invaluable detail and insight unavailable elsewhere. It is interesting to learn that Hughes may be contemplating deploying the diamond, a system which uses only one holding player, but allows two central strikers. What seems like ages ago those who watch our juniors were purring over a great prospect at left fullback. I’ve always suspected that might be Staunton’s best position and I hope he has now emerged as a serious candidate there.

  3. “A Wool city derby” what a headline.You should have been around in the 50s and 60s when it was ” A wool city (war)derby.unfortunaly l cant get my head round diamond shapes.When l come down this season someone will have to explain it to me.

    • A diamond formation is a bit like a 4 4 2, but the midfield isn’t a straight line. There is one midfielder just behind the striker (the tip), the two wide players play more central and the other midfielder plays just in front of the back four (the base).

      The reasons for doing it is that the four midfield players operate much closer together on the pitch, enabling them to pass the ball better. It also makes them more compact off the ball, meaning it’s hard to play through. And the opposition also have more difficulty marking midfielders as they’re in less conventional positions on the pitch. Eg who marks the player at the tip of the diamond? Do you drop back a midfielder or do you get a centre back to push up?

      The weakness of the diamond is you have less of a presence in wide areas, as the wide midfielders are more central. You can make up for this by having full backs willing to come forward and join attacks, whilst being mobile enough to get back quickly when you need to defend. This is the sort of role someone like James Meredith absolutely flourished playing, but other full backs can really struggle. Either they’re not good enough going forward or not quick enough to get back.

      Hope this helps.

      • One of its strengths is that it creates forward passing angles for the midfield to progress the ball rather than shift it sideways. Videos of the lads training show them
        doing just this around the dummies.

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