Date: 16th August 2009 at 12:00pm
Written by:

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

Player Ratings

Simon Eastwood – 6
Mostly solid from the youngster as he was quick off his line when he needed to be and was rarely troubled on crosses. Occasionally his handling did cause worry and his distribution (especially his use of Simon Ramsden) could improve. But a good confidence boosting afternoon after shipping those 8 goals

Simon Ramsden – 7
Spent the first half annoyed at not being used by Eastwood but I think that’s just his face and he can’t help how he looks. Was very good in defence and got forward well to support the attack. The interchange on the right wing was encouraging and Ramsden was at its heart.

Luke O’Brien – 6
Luke’s struggling to live up to expectations this year and has been given a torrid season so far with the right wingers he has been up against. Vale didn’t pose him an attacking problem allowing him time and space on the ball. Defensively secure he got forward but found his end product not quite on the money. 9 new players on the pitch but still we use him as our most regular outlet to put balls into the box. This needs to be the next issue addressed by Stu.

Steve Williams – 7
Very good game from the Barber from Bamber Bridge. Dealt with everything he needed to effectively and efficiently. At no point was my heart in my mouth when he had the ball at his feet. Hopefully he can build from here.

Zesh Rehman – 6
Generally solid and formed a good partnership with Williams but on occasion tried to take the more sophisticated touch, or header and was caught out (it was easy to see how he missed that header last week). Occasionally guilty of lapses in concentration but produced a tremendous last ditch challenge in the box (where he definitely won the ball)

Michael Flynn – 6.5
I was quietly impressed with the shift Flynn put in. Hard working and committed he and O’Leary combined well and it looks like there’s more to come from those two.

Steve O’Leary – 6.5
See above

Chris Brandon – 7.5
See Star Player

James Hanson – 7
The most impressive of the new signings for his sheer effort. He’s not a natural left winger but he was willing to run up and down that flank, providing options and unselfishly sharing the ball around. He coupled that with some nice balls into the box too and, should have done better with a couple of goal scoring opportunities with his head. Showed Stuart wasn’t afraid to try something a bit more fluid than 4-4-2.

Peter Thorne – 5
Very quiet afternoon from Thorney as a deep Vale backline meant that there wasn’t much space or opportunity for him to get the ball at his feet and do something with it.

Michael Boulding – 5
See above

Gareth Evans
Only had half an hour but it was 30 minutes that makes me hopeful about his potential. If he’s given the opportunity he could build a good partnership with one of our strikers. But he needs to be given that opportunity

Joe Colbeck
Not long enough to make an impact
Difficult to appraise a player on 5 minutes but coupled to what I saw at York I’m still not able to come to a conclusion. He played well at Forest apparently.

Manager Rating
In a week where Stuart has faced pressure and murmurs he showed that he isn’t afraid to change formation and tactics during the match and that a backroom of defensively minded people can tighten things up at the back.

Today set hearts and minds at ease, or it should have done. We were solid. The key now if for that to continue into the coming week and our next fixtures. Goals will come, stopping them going in is most important until they do.

Opponent Rating
To be honest I’m not sure how Micky Adams’ side beat Sheffield United. They were solid, unadventurous and had seemingly settled on a point before they left Staffordshire. Adams is an accomplished manager and if I were a Valiant I’d be encouraged by what I’ve seen

@VitalBradford
The first in-game tweeting went quite well with contributions from @AidanFlood and @justinbrett1975. You can see the whole match feed here to see how it worked and how you might contribute on Tuesday night.

Here’s one of them summarising the game in 140 characters:

@AidanFloodMatch Summary: Hopeful, but work to be done. Brandon could be that spark of creativity we were sorely missing last season. #bcafc #bcvpv.

It will be interesting to see how this might develop over the rest of the season.

Don’t forget, if you want to contribute a Match Preview for Tuesday night you can email me on bradford@vitalfootball.co.uk or, if you’d prefer, send you 140 character contributions to @VitalBradford