Issue Good early habits

As told by Jason Mckeown

It’s typically the earlier rather than latter stages of pre-season friendlies where the stronger conclusions can be made, and so it was at the Kit Kat Crescent where Bradford City’s encouraging 45 minutes of dominance was followed by a half played at the sort of pedestrian pace commonly displayed by the thousands of tourists York’s city centre is witness to.

City were comfortably in control throughout. We’re told the outcome of friendlies means nothing, but it’s worth noting Leeds United only managed a 3-3 with York the previous week and, for the first half at least, there was a competitive spirit to the match that offers heart for the season ahead given the outcome. Purpose and determination were behind a performance that could have seen more goals than the early strikes by Steve Williams and Michael Boulding. If, as we saw with the end of season collapse last year, losing quickly becomes habit; the level of professionalism displayed in clocking up three wins from three friendlies is a worthwhile addiction to develop ahead of the big kick off.

As with the previous two wins, for manager Stuart McCall one of the main tasks was judging whether a clutch of trialists could cut it in the competitive environment of League Two football and it was fitting that Williams, the first deemed good enough for a contract, fired City in front after heading home still-trialist Andy Holdsworth’s corner. There have been numerous central midfielders in particular auditioning for the number 4 shirt this pre-season and the former Town midfielder, who looked intelligent and industrious for the 63 minutes he played, would get my vote for a deal. Shortly afterwards Luke O’Brien again set up Boulding to slot home his third goal in three. Tucking away chances so regularly can only aid Boulding’s confidence and his success this season may be judged by how reliant City are on the ageing but still classy Peter Thorne.

Boulding linked up well with summer signing Gareth Evans, who looked sharp and might have opened his City account but for two good saves by York keeper Josh Mimms and a wasteful effort wide of goal following a promising counter attack. Evans is quietly impressing and looks able to take on the target man role Barry Conlon was inconsistently effective at. He probably won’t score the number of goals Thorne and Boulding will, but both are likely to prefer playing alongside a player who can do much of the uglier stuff for them.

City could have had more with the back four accomplished – Williams slotted in well alongside Zesh Rehman and Simon Ramsden looks impressive at right back – and the midfield comfortably in command. Joe Colbeck continued to receive abuse from a minority of fans, but by pre-season standards his performance was electric.

Alongside Holdsworth was Estonian trialist Jevegeni Novikov, who built on a slow start by showing some useful touches and passing the ball around confidently, he was also not afraid to go in for a tackle. As promising as he looked, a longer examination is surely needed as the pace of competitive football means he would have less time on the ball than he appeared to need at times. Something about his display reminded me of Robert Wolleston and a run out against Barnsley next week will offer more conclusive evidence of whether a contract should be offered.

For those trialists given time in the second half – Jack Pelter, James O’Brien, Joe Keehan and James Hanson – the opportunity for Stuart to make a solid judgement was less. The game became slow and low key with only a flurry of York corners headed well over to count as noteworthy action. Alan Mannus was kept in City’s goal for the full 90 minutes and Stuart must have been keen for him to be truly tested in order to assess him better. He was finally called into action when York substitute Simon Russell’s long range curler required a tip over and generally commanded his penalty area reasonably well. Whether he is good enough to be City’s number 1 remains a question to be answered.

But after a summer of much uncertainty, questions about City’s chances this season can be answered more positively on the evidence of pre-season. Of course winning at York means nothing compared to winning at Notts County, but there’s been a quiet level of professionalism about City so far that suggests the focus for the battles ahead is already building up nicely. Compare to last year’s pre-season that was littered with defeats, which preceded a campaign where good work was too often undermined by how casually City would allow themselves to be beaten. Or contrast it to three years ago, where a number of heavy losses to teams in a division below led to a campaign that would end with City joining them.

Whether the route back can be made this season will be better answered in the opening weeks of the season proper, but as we filed out of the Bootham Crescent into streets filled with tourists taking pictures while Stuart talked to his players about the game in the centre circle it increasingly feels as though City are not taking this period of the year lightly and are making the most of what pre-season can provide.

Some roles in the team are still to be decided, but those that take them will need to exhibit the same good habits the rest of the team is starting to regularly show.