It all begins with the broadest of smiles

The Team

Jon Brain | Andrew Burns, Adam Robinson, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Leon Osborne, Scott Brown, Michael Flynn, Jamie Green | Nialle Rodney, Nhaki Wells | Danny Kerr, Luke Dean, Mole Kes, Darren Stephenson, Patrick Lacey, Dominic Rowe.

This felt weird. As someone who has lived within the Craven area for the majority of his 29 years on this planet, this evening’s short journey to Silsden’s Asda Foundation Stadium to watch Bradford City play Silsden AFC  seemed like two very different aspects of life crossing over, surprisingly smoothly.

Bradford City and Valley Parade is hardly a million miles away from Craven, but the escapism it provides on a Saturday afternoon is far removed from the familiar, everyday life the likes of Silsden are associated with in my mind. On the PA system tonight apparently boomed the voice of my old Geography teacher; among the sizeable crowd were non-City supporter friends I often share a pint with, plus other characters you see out and about and who provide the backdrop to evenings out.

They’re stood next to City supporters I know by sight if not to speak to following years of attending games far more meaningful than this. Where I live it still feels a surprise, if not a novelty, to see people wearing Bradford City clothing; yet tonight Silsden is full of claret and amber. The crowd inside the compact stadium feels like it could be bigger – though the attendance is over 1,100 – and, as the game takes place in front of the picturesque Aire Valley landscape I’ve called home for so many years, it all seemed to come together rather beautifully.

And coming together for the first time publically was the much-vaunted Development Squad, plus a handful of trialists and senior pros in Michael Flynn, Robbie Threlfall and Luke Oliver. Perhaps James Hanson and Guy Branston had been in manager Peter Jackson’s plans too – but if not kudos to the pair for turning up to watch. The three prominent players in the team aside, it was an evening of struggling to recognise unfamiliar faces for whom this friendly was about much more than building fitness.

Straight from kick off there was a focused rhythm to the approach of the City team. The ball was worked back and forth from defence, with midfielders Flynn and Scott Brown taking it in turns to drop deep and receive possession in order to bring it forwards. On the flanks trialist Jamie Green and Leon Osborne looked to provide movement, while recently signed forward Nialle Rodney immediately found favour for his willingness to track back.

The goals quickly began to pour in. First Rodney was played through and confidently rounded the keeper, before slotting home from a tight angle. Next Flynn ran and ran before unleashing a low drive into the corner. From another Flynn shot, Bermudist trialist Nahki Wells was able to tap home a rebound effort. Green headed a fourth and there was still seven minutes until half time.

But games like this aren’t really about the goals, and the attention was all on who was impressing and who wasn’t quite measuring up. The 16-year-old Brown – and it is hard to believe he really is that young – was first in line for accolades. His running, on and off the ball, caught the eye as he made good use of space; while his passing demonstrated remarkable skill and composure. His best moment during his 45-minute run out was probably an inch-perfect pass from deep that set Green away down the flank.

Rodney and Wells linked up well as a front two, while at the back emerging youth team prospect Adam Robinson measured up well in the centre, especially considering he has been playing as a right back for the reserves. As changes were made at half time that had no effect on momentum, another trialist Danny Kerr showed promise on the wing. It was also good to see Luke Dean in action; a year ago his season was effectively ruined after suffering a dreadful injury in the opening pre-season friendly.

The goals continued with Darren Stephenson racing through and nutmegging the beleaguered Silsden keeper, before Wells grabbed a second with a lob and Kerr latched onto a cross to slide the ball home for 7-0. At this stage Silsden hadn’t managed a single meaningful attack, but did improve towards the end and grabbed a consolation through Jim Bradley.

There’s only so much you can read into games like this, and on the day City confirmed the capture of Oldham midfielder Ritchie Jones and look set to blow the Leeds United cup windfall on one player, what opportunities will be available to those contracted or on trial and who played tonight is unclear. But while Jackson and his coaching staff were offered plenty of food for thought, for us supporters we headed home with a satisfied grin.

I love the intimacy of occasions such as these. It’s not that we’re especially any nearer to the players compared to a normal league game, but the more hushed tones and fact players and management mix more freely with fans makes it seem more personal. Stood behind the goal City defended in the first half, I was suddenly conscious that my conversation with this site’s esteemed editor regarding Jon Brain’s past humiliations against City was within earshot of the trialist keeper, and so had to ssh myself from saying David Brown.

Of course there was no edge to the evening; and each goal was cheered without a semblance of the passion and the elation we exuberate when the real stuff kicks off. But then there was also no nerves and risk of misery that so often overrides everything about following City. I’m not ready to get back on the emotional rollercoaster just yet, so the tranquillity of it all seemed perfect on a warm July evening.

Tonight was simply about enjoying a football match, and about remembering how much we love Bradford City. It’s sad how quickly both of these facts can become lost when the important stuff begins.

Filling the holes to make Bradford City’s promotion bid wholesome

Stuart McCall’s managerial career has so far been characterised by openness and honesty, and the Bradford City boss’ frustration was typically exposed by his body language after watching his team dominate for 90 minutes against Macclesfield Town only come away with a 2-2 draw.

Having walked over to applaud travelling  City supporters following the final whistle, Stuart turned away and began shaking his head in a manner which revealed a lack of satisfaction despite the Bantams recovery from 2-0 behind. The half time advantage enjoyed by the Silkmen had been clawed back within the second half’s first 15 minutes, but despite continuing to press hard for a deserved winner, the ball just wouldn’t cross the line for a third time. City had almost double the shot count and forced double the amount of corners, yet as Stuart shook his head and headed back to the dressing room he must know his team lacked more than just a bit more luck.

Defensive shortcomings continue to undermine City’s cause. Having begun the season conceding eight goals in two matches, the leaks have been somewhat filled but the Bantams remain far from watertight. Four minutes into the afternoon at Moss Rose, a seemingly overhit clearance by home keeper Jon Brain was allowed to run between central defenders Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman and Colin Daniel headed the ball over the onrushing Simon Eastwood and into the net.

All three City players appeared culpable with Williams missing the chance to head clear, Rehman’s indecisiveness causing him to move too late towards cutting out the ball – in the process allowing Daniel to run through – and Eastwood seemingly too quick to rush out his goal when staying on his line might have offered him a greater chance of saving the effort. The sun was probably in Eastwood’s eye – someone forgot to bring along a goalkeeper cap – and he had been warned, conceding a similar goal when warming up with Jon McLaughlan. The goal was messy, the goal was feeble and such goals have been conceded too often during the campaign’s first three months.

Macclesfield had only three purposeful attacks during the first half; the second of which required Luke O’Brien to clear off his own line after poor marking from a corner and the third saw another goal conceded after Emile Sinclair crossed low for Hamza Bencherif to bundle home. That was four minutes before the end of a half City had otherwise dominated and if the Bantams are to make the step up from mid-table to promotion contenders the team’s backbone is going to have to become stronger.

Simon Eastwood has played 18 times for Bradford City and Simon Eastwood has conceded 30 goals. The young keeper’s form may not be the sole reason for City’s defensive shortcomings, but his numerous slips ups – punished or otherwise – breed uncertainty across his defensive colleagues. At times he has made superb saves which have earned City points, but in almost every game he seemingly presents an unnecessary opportunity to the opposition and continues to fail in commanding his area. Last week Stuart spoke of retaining the on-loan Huddersfield youngster beyond January but, while it’s clear he is potentially brilliant goalkeeper, the concern is the rate of improvement he’s shown since the start of the season hasn’t been quick enough to suggest he should be trusted to continue it through a whole season. If Stuart has the budget for a replacement now – and that could be a big if – he may consider his options ahead of next Friday’s trip to Meadow Lane.

Meanwhile Rehman endured another difficult 45 minutes and, despite pushing Lee Bullock close for man of the match against Hereford last week, his recent form is erratic. Up against the imposing Ben Wright, who was the focal point to Macclesfield’s route one game plan, Rehman at times allowed himself to be bullied and on other occasions got too tight in trying to prevent Wright from laying off the ball. During one home attack Sinclair was offered the chance to run at Rehman. With little cover behind City’s captain, Rehman dived in to make a challenge which might have seen him win the ball or risked him giving away a free kick, on this occasion he was left on the floor with Sinclair sprinting away. Merely standing his ground and holding up Sinclair seemed the more sensible option. Rehman and Williams are building a promising partnership, but the redemption of Matt Clarke to first team duty may not be the unthinkable option many fans considered it to be at the start of the season.

Defensive failings aside, City carried the game to Macclesfield and spurned numerous first half chances. Scott Neilson shot just wide, James Hanson headed over, Gareth Evans was denied by a good defensive block and the best move of the half saw Michael Flynn superbly play Neilson through one-on-one only to be denied by Brain’s strong reaction save. Macclesfield were reduced to playing like an away side, on the counter attack, with the impressive Sinclair – once a Bantam – enjoying a fascinating battle against Luke O’Brien which the young defender emerged from with plenty of credit.  The boos from some City fans at half time were born out of frustration, but were still inexcusable.

But though the 4-3-3 formation had proved reasonably effective again, Stuart switched to 4-4-2 in the second half introducing Michael Boulding for the flagging – and again unimpressive – Chris Brandon to partner James Hanson and pushing Neilson and Evans into wide positions. If the goal City were now attacking had inadequately been protected by the visiting defence in the first half, the hosts fared little better playing in front of it during the second.

Brain has previous with City after laughably allowing David Brown to score the only goal in the league meeting two seasons ago, and displayed hesitancy in everything he did. His first three involvements in the second half saw him misjudge a long punt forwards which bounced over his head and just wide of the goal, palm a weak Hanson effort back into a dangerous part of his penalty area when he should have scooped the ball up and slice a back pass clearance out for a corner. Each mistake encouraged City further, each mistake added to Macclesfield nerves. It seemed implausible Brain would end the game with a clean sheet.

Sure enough City got back into it after Hanson headed home James O’Brien’s corner and eight minutes later Flynn’s low long range effort was parried by Brain straight into Williams’ path to tap home and spark wild celebrations. The momentum growing, City continued to pile on the pressure and a more dominant City 45 minutes of attacking football has not been seen since City recovered from 2-0 and 3-2 down at Luton last January. James O’Brien saw a free kick sail just wide, the lively Neilson brilliantly cut inside but shot too straight towards Brain, Flynn typically attempted another long range effort which went narrowly past the post, Boulding spun his marker but the resultant strike lacked pace and Rehman saw a scrambled effort cleared off the goal line. In the second half only Luke O’Brien and Jon Bateson failed to muster a shot on goal.

As City pushed on, gaps emerged at the back and Macclesfield enjoyed a five minute spell of pressure which saw Wright head against the post and Ross Draper shoot wide, but the one way traffic soon recommenced and Evans almost managed a headline-stealing winner against his former club when his great run and deflected long range shot bounced off the crossbar. The half time booing was replaced by a standing ovation for the players at the final whistle and it was difficult to recall a more impressive half of football from City all season.

So many positives to take; but although League Two results elsewhere show the leading pack isn’t sprinting away, that the impressiveness of City this season hasn’t placed the Bantams among them can no longer solely be attributed to that slow start. Stuart needs to find a way of shoring up the defensive holes or risks them ultimately sinking the club’s promotion chances.

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