Thursday, 27 December 2012

Having a Ball

December’s Events Have Got Everybody Excited

The festive period has been busy for the Bantams
  What a frenzied fortnight of football.
   Seasons with City are never straightforward, and, so far, this season has been a roller coaster ride of excitement, drama and passion. The past two weeks have been no exception.
   Proceedings began with a bang on Tuesday 11th December, when the Bantams beat a full strength Arsenal side to progress to the next round of the Capital One Cup. The euphoria, emotion and incredible atmosphere will live long in the memories of the people of Bradford and were unlike anything that we’ve seen at City in a long time.
   As the week progressed, things continued to fall in City’s favour (depending on your opinion of the cup runs, of course). After being removed from the F.A. Cup for fielding Curtis Good, the club won their appeal and were reinstated in the competition. The possibility of extra fixtures wasn’t exactly welcome, but, nevertheless, it was still good to be back in the cup. Things just kept getting better.
   The Bantams’ run of success seemed to be continuing, after they acquired a two-goal lead at Southend. Unfortunately, though, it was a cushion that could not be retained: two late goals from the hosts meant that the prize was just one point. It wasn’t ideal, by any means, and many were worried that our promotion hopes may be beginning to take a battering, but, at the end of the day, it was better than walking away with nothing.
   Tuesday saw Bradford take on Brentford in the F.A. Cup replay. Kyel Reid made his much-anticipated return and found the back of the net, as did Alan Connell, but 3 Brentford goals in extra time secured victory for the League One side. Few City fans will have qualms about the manner in which their side left the cup, though-the night was a great experience for City’s younger players, and the loss promised to ease the congestion of midweek ties.
   The following day’s Capital Cup draw handed Bradford two games with Aston Villa, much to the delight of many City fans. With the worst goal difference in the Premier League, Aston Villa are certainly beatable. The interest from Sky Sports will generate further income and it’s set to be another sell-out at Valley Parade.
   Finally, the Accrington game added another 3 points to the mix. Admittedly, it wasn’t City’s finest performance (In parts, the defence seemed quite shaky.), but Reid really upped the tempo and we were treated to two great finishes, from Thompson and Connell.
   The best bit? Now, we’re just 6 points off of the top spot!
   From beating you-know-who and enjoying a ninth successive penalty shootout victory, to snatching the three points after Connell’s late winner against Accrington, it’s all happening for the Bantams. At the moment, City boast such a strong squad with a very commendable “Never say die” attitude, and it’s really leading them onto some great victories. Let’s hope for another 3 points against Rochdale.
   Long may this thrilling run continue.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


Wild Celebrations Ensue, As Lionhearted City Shoot Down Premier League Giants

The City stars celebrate their victory

   What an incredible, incredible night.
   The biggest crowd in over half a century gathered to watch Bradford City take on Arsenal F.C., and, boy, was it entertained.
   From the outset, it was clear that Wenger was taking the match seriously. Wilshere, Gervinho, Vermaelen, Podolski and Ramsey all started, whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky were on the bench. Three divisions of football separated the sides, but, given City’s performance, you wouldn’t have noticed.
   Both teams were evenly matched. Arsenal threatened, but Bradford looked the stronger side, with both James Hanson and Nahki Wells working Szczesny.
   Then, just 15 minutes in, it happened.
   Wells brought down a long ball from Duke and paced down the wing, although he was blocked off by an Arsenal defender. Bradford had won a free kick, and, as luck would have it, the chance to fire themselves ahead.
   An unmarked Gary Thompson reacted superbly to Will Atkinson’s header. One touch, and boom-the Bantams were ahead.
   On the half-hour mark, Arsenal were beginning to gain some composure. Excellent defending from City denied them of a goal from a corner, though the Gunners did proceed to rattle the post. Gervinho missed a great chance to put Arsenal level, and the Bantams subsequently ended the half as the game’s leaders.
   As play resumed, the Bradford team continued to show their ability, as great passing play gave Hanson the opportunity to extend the lead. At 54 minutes, Arsenal were yet to have a shot on target. Wenger, feeling the pressure, threw on Rosicky, Chamakh and Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the change in tempo was noticeable: the visitors upped the ante.
   With just three minutes of normal time left, Arsenal took the game into extra time. City’s clearance found Santi Carzola, who whipped the ball in and found Vermaelen at the back post.
   Refusing to be beaten, the City fans rallied the troops. The dream was back on, and, for the eighth cup game this season, the game had gone to extra time.
   A panic-stricken Arsenal attacked in numbers, throwing everyone forward. Chamakh, Wilshere, Gibbs and Sanga all saw their efforts denied. Oxlade-Chamberlain tore up the wing. Carzola rattled the crossbar. Still, City resisted. Arsenal constantly threatened, but the back four were on their toes and dealt with everything. McHugh and McArdle defended superbly, Meredith won every challenge and Darby was so composed on the ball: he didn’t panic, slowed the game down and ensured that he had as much time as he wanted. 
   Extra time was over. Penalties called.
   There may have been a 65-place gap between the teams, but, when it comes to penalties, Bradford are in a league of their own.
   Calmly delivered spot-kicks from Doyle, Jones and Connell, as well as a fine save from Duke, showed that City really are the penalty kings. A dysfunctional Arsenal, meanwhile, crumbled under the pressure and twice hit the woodwork.
   Wenger has never won at Valley Parade.
   That run shows little sign of ending.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Swings and Roundabouts

Back To Winning Ways? If Only It Were That Simple.

It was a night of mixed emotions, as City fought for three points
   Everyone knew that the Plymouth game was going to be a big one. At this point in the season, promotion dreams are often made or shattered, and you begin to get a bit of an idea about who may be grabbing the golden tickets to the above division. With City falling to seventh after the Exeter tie, the need to get three points was extra prominent.
   James Meredith and Stephen Derby made their much-anticipated returns, and both provided solid performances for the duration of the game. Derby put in some superb challenges and seemed composed on the ball, whilst Meredith created a number of chances in the box and threatened regularly, with his crosses.
   Wells seemed to be bearing the brunt of the hectic match schedule, lacking the speed and desire that he usually shows. If I was Parkinson, I’d be tempted to give him a rest for the Bristol Rovers game, and start Connell up front.
   The biggest blow of the night was undoubtedly John Egan’s injury. The defender-on loan from Sunderland-clattered to the floor after 13 minutes, and let out screams of agony as the medical team rushed to see to his twisted leg.
   At first, it was suspected that he’d sustained damage to his fibula and tibia, but, as the night went on, there was talk of a broken leg. Either way, it’s a huge blow, and is another addition to the already lengthy casualty list.
   The sad irony about Egan’s injury is that, when you go up for a header, your biggest worry is hurting your head and face, rather than your leg. Unfortunately for Egan, it was the latter that would prove the most problematic.
   In terms of the league table, it was job done. Other results fell in City’s favour, meaning that we’re just one point outside of the automatic promotion places. However, the cost was high: another member of the defence bit the dust, and there’s now an even greater urgency to bring in as many loan players as possible.
   Are we back on the rails? Who knows? Only time will tell. What is for certain, though, is this: if we want our promotion chances to improve, we need to buck the injury trend that’s suddenly developing at Bradford City.

Monday, 19 November 2012

At Sixes And Sevens


Six Injuries See Bantams Slip Down To Seventh

James Meredith is one of the latest casualties of the hectic midweek schedule
   After a roller coaster week, things are starting to go a little bit pear-shaped.
   Following the convincing win at Aldershot and the nail-biting triumph over Northampton, many of us were beginning to believe that the Bantams were back on the promotion chase. Indeed, City’s performance in the cup replay showed heart, spirit and determination, sealed our status as penalty kings and proved to the doubters that the Bradford boys never say die.
   Whilst the cup games are livening up proceedings somewhat, it’s difficult to ignore their effect on our promotion hopes. You can’t doubt the fact that the congestion of midweek games is crippling the team: six are already sidelined for several months, and many more are playing on injuries. Has the treatment room ever been so busy?
  And the damage is noticeable. Against Exeter, City looked like a fatigue-ridden team: the balls weren’t coming into the box as frequently, Wells was constantly rubbing his leg and the team just didn’t drive forward as much as they usually do. To make matters worse, the referee ignored Wells’ justified shout for a penalty, and refused to give the Bantams anything.
   It’s prompted a mad rush to draft in as many loan players as we can, and as quickly as we can. It’s a sad twist of fate, as the back four were beginning to look unbeatable and last season had many fans wishing that we weren’t as reliant on loan players. In the past, some talented footballers have never had a chance to make their mark on the league because their time at City has been plagued by injury: Simon Ramsden and Chris Brandon are two of the most recent examples.
   At this stage in the season, we can’t afford to be losing points and slipping down the table; we need to keep leading the back and remain hot on the heels of those above us. The Exeter defeat saw us tumble down to seventh, which is quite worrying, as it means that we’re only just in with the play off contenders.
  I’m the first to admit that it’s hard not to get caught up with the excitement surrounding City-you only have to look at my previous article to get an idea of how happy that the Arsenal draw has left me. Although the Capital One tie, the penalty record and the ecstasy of the Northampton win are all brilliant, we can’t lose focus on the League. Things do seem to be against us at the moment (This barrage of midweek fixtures is far from ideal, and, of late, the referees haven’t exactly been overly generous.), but, we’ve still got the chance to turn it around and keep in the promotion hunt.
   Let’s hope that City can get back to their winning ways soon, and that Davies, Oliver, Hines, Meredith, Reid and Ritchie Jones enjoy speedy recoveries.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

It's Gunner Be Brilliant!

City have been enjoying a run of success
   The excitement surrounding the impending tie with Arsenal is rapidly increasing-you can feel the rumble of anticipation whenever you set foot in the ground.
   Big ties bring big things with them: the dreams of defeating one of the country’s most prolific teams; the huge cheque after the TV rights have been sold to Sky; the thrill of seeing players from a humble club play on the same pitch as the big guns. What is arguably City’s biggest money-spinner in recent years has definitely not failed to get people talking.
   Now that the debate about the tickets has subsided and the ground configuration has been confirmed (The Arsenal supporters will occupy the Midland Road stand.), just one question remains: will Bradford City ultimately emerge victorious?
   In my opinion, they will.
   Of late, Arsenal have been undeniably sloppy and inconsistent. Their midweek game against Shalke saw them surrender a two-goal cushion following some poor, error-ridden defending, as well as miss the chance to snatch victory when Walcott was through on goal. As a result, Arsenal’s Champions League hopes hang precariously in the balance.
   History repeated itself less than a week later, when they threw away a 2-0 lead over Fulham just moments after acquiring it. To add insult to injury, Mikel Arteta was denied an added-time winner after his poorly taken penalty (Rejoice, City fans!) was saved by Mark Schwarzer.
   The clash with Reading entailed a similar story, with Arsenal’s dysfunctional, uninspiring defending resulting in the former firing in three-and after just 20 minutes. By half time, the score was 4-1, and many Arsenal fans had even started leaving the ground.
   Although the visitors did come back to win the game, any football fan will admit that the Gunners should never have found themselves in such a position to begin with. For a team who are supposed to be competing with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, it’s all a bit much. Many are beginning to dismiss Arsenal’s chances of winning the title-they’re already 11 points behind United-and Wenger is finding his methods scrutinised extensively.
   City, on the other hand, have lost only one of their last 9 games. Contrast this to Arsenal’s one win in four League games, and the odds are beginning to fall in the Bantams’ favour.
   I’m not denying that Arsenal’s squad is threatening. Jack Wiltshire is undoubtedly going to cause problems all over the park and Walcott’s crosses will keep our defence on their toes. However, our back four are solid, and we’ve got plenty of attacking force of our own: Wells’ pace will cause a whole host of problems for the already shaky Arsenal defence, whilst the speed and skills of Reid and Hines should help to strengthen Bradford’s offensive play.
  And, if the game goes to penalties, Arsenal will be quaking in their Premier League boots.
 Over the weekend, we saw Arteta crumble under the pressure, as he tried to convert his spot-kick, and we’re all aware of City’s incredible penalty record.
  At the same time, though, we’ve got to be wary of Arsenal’s newly secured status as comeback kings and make sure that we don’t give them any chances to fire themselves ahead.
  My dream outcome? Simple: City to win 3-0 on penalties.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

'Tis The Season To Be Jolly

   It’s certainly not a bad time to be a City fan.
   There’s a new aura of positivism and excitement amongst the City fans, and, so there should be.
   At the time of writing, the Bantams have secured 25 points from 16 games. They’re flying close to the summit of the table, have been involved in a cup run that’s seen them go further than Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham and are looking forward to locking horns with one of the big guns of the Premier League: Arsenal F.C. Whilst Bradford will be going into the game as second favourites, the atmosphere will be second to none, the fact that the game is being shown on Sky ensures that Parkinson will receive a much deserved bit of money with which he can buy loan players and, on paper, Arsenal should be putting a good team out, as the Capital One Cup is their best chance of winning any silverware this year. Premiership opposition will stand the lads in good stead for the future, and, as us City fans know from experience, the cups often leave room for surprises.
   Given how bleak and dismal that seasons prior have been, this taste of success will be something that fans will be relishing. Bradford City are dominating games and producing consistently good results, with a strong bench supporting a stellar, starting eleven. Indeed, Bradford’s recent run of stunning form has silenced the cynics and given us all something to shout about, whether it be the number of points, the positive goal difference, the penalty success, the superb squad, or the string of results in the Capital One Cup.
   It wasn’t always that way, though.
   Roll back a few months, and a struggling City were faced with the prospect of relegation. Floating around the bottom of the table and with McLaughlin, Davies and Oliver facing match bans for violent misconduct, times weren’t great. Add to the mix the possibility of a point deduction, and a place in the Conference seemed plausible.
   Go back a year, and the situation was equally bad. Bradford had secured their lowest League finish in 35 years, finishing 18th, and had just been thumped-at home-by Crew Alexandra. To rub salt into the wounds, the crippling rent fees meant that there was no guarantee that City would be returning to Valley Parade, and many of us left the last game feeling perplexed and disheartened.
   With such misfortune occurring just over a year ago, it’s hard to believe that everyone’s talking about promotion. It’s almost as though everything has just come together and clicked.
   McCardle and Meredith are solid at the back. There’s no doubt that City are going to miss the aerial domination of Oliver and Davies, but, from what I’ve seen, young McHugh should be able to fill the boots of the experienced centre half, whilst Parkinson’s been keen to sing the praises of Sunderland’s John Egan.
   In midfield, Doyle passes the ball well, Jones drives the team forward and delivers set pieces with pinpoint accuracy, and both Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid are full of pace and trickery. Meanwhile, the trio of Wells, Connell and Hanson allow for plenty of attacking options up front, and recent goals from Davies and the stunning free-kick from Jones have proved that the goals are coming from all over the park.
   The bench, meanwhile, is full of impact players who can come on and change the flow of the game, as well as provide more than adequate replacements-should they be needed-for the starting eleven. There’s friendly competition between Duke and McLaughlin for the starting goalkeeper spot, which is definitely having some kind of effect: both keepers have been putting in faultless performances of late.
   It’s certainly a contrast to the injury-plagued seasons that many of us have had to endure. We’ve put up with bad referees, dodgy decisions and disallowed goals for too long, so, if anything, the fans more than deserve to savour this run of success.
   It’s still early days, but, we’ve already seen City bridge a 59-place gap between Premier League opposition, watched them enjoy their best start to a season in 59 years and cheered them on to get to their first quarter-final since 1989.
   Is this the season?
   I really hope so.