Date:Sunday August 16 2009
Attendance: 11,333 (464 visitors)
Bradford City's league 2 campaign got under way in earnest at a fairly quiet Valley Parade. Whilst comfortably the highest attendance in football's basement, it was almost 3,000 people fewer than the first home game of last season.
Clearly, no matter how good value a season ticket might be a third season at this level is proving too much for some quarters of the Bradford public. And after the week that wasn't it is no surprise that a trip to see Bradford City play Port Vale was not hugely appealing.
Unfortunately those who did arrive at Valley Parade were not treated to one of those compelling adverts for football that swell gate receipts and attendance figures. Instead what played out was a gritty performance from both sides that restored confidence and built belief for the large swathes of the Bantams' support who had yet to see a ball kicked in anger by Stuart's new charges.
And the side that Stuart sent out demonstrated a significant break from the past, both recent and ancient, with 8 of the 14 (9 if you include Zesh) Bradford City players making competitive debuts at Valley Parade. It was a bold move from Stuart McCall that built from the back.
In defence the injured Matt Clarke made way for Steve Williams, midfield saw Joe Colbeck and Lee Bullock benched with Steve O'Leary preferred in the centre and James Hanson taking to the left wing.
That lineup did not lead to the most creative of Bradford City teams and chances were at a premium, although the same should be said of Micky Adams' Port Vale. However, it was the visitors who started the game brightest and they quickly forced a corner.
But as the half progressed the Bantams grew into their new found shape and began to link play from defence to attack. James Hanson won every header that was directed to him on the left wing whilst Chris Brandon, the main creative force, kept bringing the ball inside from his flank and it was his comfortably saved shot early on that proved to be the clearest opening of the game.
The first half was fairly even with the game flowing from both ends but still neither keeper really had a save to make. At one point the Bantams strung together a beautiful passing move that, had it culminated in a goal, would have been drooled over come Soccer AM and the FL show. Unfortunately the end result was a miscued shot that sailed harmlessly past Chris Martin's goal.
Port Vale pressed but they were well marshalled by Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams who both pulled off excellent saving challenges in the box during the first half. Also worthy of special mention should be Michael Boulding who almost single handedly ensured that every Vale corner was dealt with before it went past the front post.
This was a defensively assured performance from a Bradford City side who knew their roles and trusted one another to get on with it. The fledgling partnerships of Williams and Rehman, Flynn and O'Leary looked in control when they had the ball and didn't just resort to hitting and hoping. The first half drew to a close with Chris Brandon getting booked by a referee who didn't have a dreadful game but certainly had a Staffordshire bias. Brandon was set to counter attack with one man beaten and only one between him and the keeper before being tugged back. It was a blatant, and cynical foul, which went ignored. Brandon retaliated and didn't win possession and got booked.
Valley Parade was subdued for large parts of the game with neither the Kop or the Bradford End providing a concerted wall of sound in contrast to the vocal visiting fans. But, Brandon's injustice helped ensure that the half time whistle was met with a warm reception. Although we hadn't scored we'd not looked in danger of conceding and, Michael Flynn's long throw aside, had not committed any foolish blunders or made any irritating mistakes.
And clearly that meant Stuart McCall was able to instil some more belief into his players because for 30 minutes of the second half it was all one-way. Chris Brandon pulled the strings in midfield and James Hanson made a nuisance of himself. We lacked the pace to take advantage of some of the possession we had and still failed to ever really put the Vale goal under any pressure.
Too often Luke O'Brien was guilty of diagonal balls that dropped short or went too close to the keeper and Boulding and Thorne were left to feed off scraps. James Hanson was an attacking handful and his fluid position showed that Stuart McCall wasn't afraid to try his hand at a variety of formations (I counted three different tactical strategies on display). His later substitution of Gareth Evans again saw a tactical change made as the Bantams went looking for that all-elusive goal.
As the game wore on tempers flared a little with Anthony Griffith producing a nasty challenge on Luke O'Brien and things became a bit more scrappy and frustrated for both sides. As both managers sought to make things happen Micky Adams introduced Claus Bech Jorgensen, who was roundly applauded onto the pitch, and Geoff Horsfield, who wasn't.
Their introduction didn't change Vale fortunes and Luke O'Brien, with Griffith substituted, got forward on the left whilst Simon Ramsden got forward on the right but with little joy. OB did force Martin into a sharp save after his shot took a deflection that, on another day, might have secured three points but it wasn't to be.
Stuart's last throw of the dice was the introduction of Joe Colbeck and James O'Brien late in the game but too late to make an impact. In fact, their arrival coincided with 5 minutes of Vale pressure. The match had mostly been played out in glorious sunshine but clouds gathered overhead, blotting out the sun and leading to calls for the floodlights. As the wind built it seemed almost inevitable that a crack of lightning and rumble of thunder would accompany some soul destroying, heart breaking late winner for the visitors. In the event it was almost us who broke the deadlock with James Hanson producing a shot that forced a solid save from the Vale keeper.
The game finished 0-0 and the hunt for the first goal of the campaign continues. Nevertheless it appears the rumours of our demise have been exaggerated by scorelines and a minority. In front of the bulk of the fans this was an encouraging display. Wycombe's early season form was built on solidity at the back and 1-0 victories. Whilst Vale didn't come with huge attacking intent the selections Stuart made this week spoke of a desire to see mobility, composure and height in defence and midfield. The challenge now is for Stuart to get his attack to click and work out where Messrs Boulding, Thorne, Evans, Hanson, Brandon, Colbeck and Daley fit into his attacking designs. If he solves that conundrum and his defence grows into its selection we'll be more than fine this season.
Next up, Lincoln City. Bring on Tuesday night #bcvlc
Date:Sunday August 16 2009
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