Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Bradford City 0-0 Preston North End


   “New boys can get Bantams smiling again,” the T&A headline had screamed prior to kick-off.
   It wasn’t wrong.
   It marked the fusion of the old and the new: City scaling the intoxicating heights of September with a dazzling passing performance from the familiar faces we know and love, but blended perfectly with the fresh impetus offered by new acquisitions. The mid-season resurgence that had begun with the courageous second-half fight back at Brammall Lane continued in equally impassioned vein, but with greater finesse and flow instigated by the hugely impressive Gary Jones, Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett.
   It was hard to believe it was the first time they’d played together.
   Though Huddersfield loanee Chris Atkinson wasn’t fielded for a game in which the Bantams recorded their first home clean sheet since September, his fellow Championship stars Reach and Bennett enthralled with captivating wing play, City working the flanks well and looking fresh, fluid and fast thanks to their young acquisitions.
   It was a wholesale shake-up from the side who had played Sheffield United. Long-term absentee Andrew Davies, making his first start since October, returned to centre-half as Bates was pushed over to left back, meaning Carl McHugh had to settle for a place on the bench. Thompson was sacrificed in favour of Doncaster striker Kyle Bennett, while Adam Reach lined up on the left wing and Nathan Doyle slotted back into centre midfield. The strike force remained the only untouched outfield area, McLean and Hanson both retaining their places.
   It was a very promising opening for Parkinson’s men. From the outset, they were captivating, to a man: Jones provided energetic, fluid dictation in the middle; Reach was a lively and calming presence on the left; Darby provided excellent attacking support for the lively Bennett, who oozed class in each and every manoeuvre: every pass was perfectly picked out and played, every cut inside menacing, every movement exciting, every attack even more promising than the last as City grew in stature and confidence. After the winger had effortlessly skipped down the wing, his inviting cross was teed marginally over by McLean, but the former Peterborough man fired wide before later struggling to muster the finish to Hanson’s superb flick-on. The Bantams looked organised and efficient, every inch an exciting League One outfit.
   But everything nearly crumbled just before the half hour mark. Bennett fouled Preston midfielder Neil Kilkenny and a minor tussle followed, with the Bradford winger dismissed after pushing his opponent. It was a controversial red card, arguably a harsh and heavy handed one, and the Lancashire side also found themselves reduced to ten men following Kilkenny’s comedic flop to the floor.
   City could have folded, but it’s credit to the perennial stoicism and unwavering resilience of Parkinson’s side that they carry on regardless of the problems they face. It was another example of the deep-rooted spirit the team possess, and Stephen Darby stepped up admirably to the plate to link-up well with McLean. Doyle lashed two ambitiously venomous efforts towards goal but both took late deflections, and McLean saw his textbook strike acrobatically denied by Declan Rudd.
   Preston grew into the game more as the second half opened. John Brownhill came close as the visitors capitalised on a Matthew Bates error and James Hanson flicked over the crossbar shortly after, as the game descended into an enthralling end-to-end clash. City threw everything forward, Bates, Davies and Reach all pummelling down the wing to deliver teasing cross after teasing cross, but the game remained at deadlock as the Bantams failed to capitalise. Preston hit the woodwork in a frantic 20 minute period in which either side could have scored: the Lancashire side were more clinical in the final third, but Bradford were tidy throughout and were always on the front foot.
   It was an excellent showing for City – possibly the best display since those heady early home highs against Sheffield United and Brentford – and high-flying Preston never looked a cut above the hosts. Most settling of all, the back line – bolstered by the return of lynchpin Andrew Davies - looked more stable and correlated, and, though there were admittedly occasions on which Preston looked like scoring, even Bates looked more assured, and McArdle came close to replicating the form shown in the reverse fixture last year. As McLean and Hanson get used to each other (McLean looks different to Nahki – perhaps a more creative entity who links with the wingers better) and Reach, Bennett and Atkinson are further integrated into proceedings, there is the potential for some excellent performances during the final half of the campaign.
   This display needs to be kept in context, of course, but a lot of questions have been answered and things suddenly seem so much brighter - yesterday was nothing but promising. The next challenge now lurks ominously and imposingly down the M6, ready to open the next draw of the Bantams’ League One account.

Bantams Blogger’s Top Three:

1st: Adam Reach: Dfyghsieinvosnchspaoegaujfksvpsv. Mind blown.

2nd: Andrew Davies / Stephen Darby: Superb return to action for the hugely influential centre half – a massive influence. Darby showed tenacity and determination getting forward, which is going to be critical while Meredith’s absent.

3rd: Gary Jones: Characteristically energetic in the centre of the park. Some great passes picked out and really brought the wide players into the game as City worked to make use of the flanks.



Friday, 10 January 2014

It's Not You; It's Me

The Nahki Wells story in break-up clichés

Nahki Wells has now left the club

   The saga is finally over. After weeks of speculation, weeks of new names being added to a string of possible suitors and weeks of trying to construe the signs to plot his next move, Nahki Wells married Huddersfield Town. It’s galling, him leaving for them, isn’t it? The £1.5 million plus clauses transfer fee is an arm’s length away from the multi-million pounds price tag we had already mentally spent. And it hurts. A bit, anyway.
   My overriding memory of the January Transfer Window comes from my brother, a Liverpool fan. A few years ago, when Torres’ Anfield future was in doubt, my brother camped out on the couch on deadline day, a Liverpool scarf draped around his shoulder as Sky Sports flashed between links from reporters and stills of the Spanish forward. With no real affinity to Liverpool, I was bundled upstairs at bedtime, but my brother was allowed to stay up late that night to watch the climax of the whole thing as the ominous deadline crept into view.
   I woke up in the morning to find the word ‘legend’ scrawled across his Torres poster. Two weeks later, it had been torn to the floor and the word “traitor” scribbled over it.
   Thanks to a few weeks of mental preparation, I’ve managed to avoid such dramatic… pain. I was ready for Wells’ departure. And, yes, it’s sad to know he’s leapt that side of the border, but it doesn’t erase two years of incredible memories.
   Which means it’s now time to delve into my hastily compiled list of boyband break-up clichés (it somehow feels… apt?). Here we go…

Break-up cliché number one: it was fun while it lasted

And it was, wasn’t it? Remember that surge of excitement when Nahki was first introduced? When he confirmed his arrival with that spectacular blast from the halfway line against Rochdale? What about that goal against Aston Villa? Burton away? Wembley? The best tribute to Nahki is himself and what he’s achieved: only by looking back on what he did, when he did it and how, can we truly get an idea of what a player and what an asset he was for us. He sniffed out chances others had deemed futile, and fired home from the most obtuse and acute angles going. He was one of our own, plucked from obscurity by our scouts, someone’s progress for us to chart and revel in and applaud and chant about. What sets this transfer window apart from any other is that Bradford had something, someone, a commodity, that seemingly everybody wanted – it was refreshing to be in that position. Everyone at school knew the name of a Bradford City player. Before Wells, that had never happened to me.

Break-up cliché number two: you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

Nahki Wells was the first ever protégée I saw at City. He was the first player that made my school friends sit up and take notice of the Bantams. Before last season, he was the first player I ever earmarked as capable of playing in a higher division. We’re all going to miss him. He was significant to the entire team, but we’ll never really know of his true significance until we see the team functioning properly without him.
   Will someone weave in and out of defences to latch onto Hanson’s knockdowns? Will we ditch the long-ball stuff? Or - perish the thought - will we look lost without Wells? Reassuringly, I strongly believe that, given the months of substantial forewarnings that have flashed about, Parkinson and co. will have had targets in mind, but there will undoubtedly be a period of carryover as the team adapt to incorporate this new player and a new strike partnership is forged. Whether it’s Connell, Gray, Clarkson, McBurnie or a loanee, we can’t expect them to hit such dizzying heights straight away. It’s going to take time.

Break-up cliché number three: did it have to end this way?

Why them? Leeds would have been bad enough, but you could have understood because they actually look like they’re going places every year. But Huddersfield? I think we’re a bigger club, actually. Our ground is far more imposing – the most enticing thing about the Galpharm is that it sports a lovely backdrop of green-veined foliage and tall fir trees that resemble something out of The Chronicles of Narnia. And the price was hardly the eye-watering figure we’d set our sights on. It’ll draw jeers from some corners because Huddersfield really have got themselves a bargain, but we have to move on now. What’s done is done.
   Our club calendar now holds a degree of notoriety among the Terriers faithful, a fact that hovers somewhere between humorous and humiliating. Still, it’s not as embarrassing as the time Bradford plastered a Hull player on the front.

Break-up cliché number four: there are plenty more fish in the sea

Sure, Nahki was a rare talent. I’d never seen anyone like him, and the sheer dichotomy between his gift and the direness of some other players was too far-fetched to contemplate. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other Nahkis, or youngsters in the Nahki mould. We’re great at unearthing talent and we’ll do it again. What’s worrying is that we seem to have an inability to function without Hanson and Wells, and our whole system appeared geared up towards the target man creating things for the Bermudan. Nonetheless, we should view this as an opportunity to rectify the long-ball element of our game. There are other young talents to integrate into our system. They’re rare, but it doesn’t mean they’re not out there.
   Nahki Wells is proof such gems do exist.