Tried and tested

The first few friendlies of a pre-season campaign can be somewhat disconcerting experiences.

It’s great to witness the familiar sight of 11 players wearing Claret and Amber again and enjoy the stress-free experience of a meaningless win – City triumphing 3-1 at the Horsfall yesterday – in the sunshine, while it lasts. Yet the mixture of first teamers, trialists and youngsters mean elements of the team are strangers to many of us supporters who pride ourselves on a thorough knowledge of our team.

Understandable given the opposition’s level of ability and need to take the most from an afternoon playing on a bumpy pitch inside a running track; manager Stuart McCall could easily have picked his strongest eleven and seen them romp to a big win, but apart from improving fitness he would have learned nothing. Little for us supporters to have learned too and, at least, we were able to play the manager game of judging whether a 17-year-old youngster or trialist would be ‘up to’ the demands of taking the club forward next season – even if the unsatisfying announcement of the team over the creaky PA system meant we didn’t know some of the players beyond the number of their shirt.

One such trailist to catch the eye was number two (Milton Turner), a 21-year-old right back who was at Garforth Town last season. Having enjoyed a brief spell at Bury earlier in his career before moving around non-league circles, he may not appear an obvious choice to join a squad with the aim of promotion to League One. As a graduate of the much-publicised Brazilian Soccer School and after serving a scholarship in America, he has some potential. This was demonstrated during an impressive 90 minutes where his passing and bursts forward caught the eye. A sterner test on the tour of Scotland this week will help Stuart determine if he is good enough to play back-up to Paul Arnison.

The other less familiar faces included youngsters number nine (Luke Dean) and number 11 (Louis Horne). Both showed some nice touches and a willingness to work hard for the team, if looking tentative on occasions. Not something which Luke O’Brien (the number three now recognisable to most City fans after some promising first team appearances last season) can be accused of. O’Brien received some criticism for his display at Farsley on Wednesday but yesterday he looked more capable of being a squad member who could be called into the first team this season without too much trepidation.

But as well as the fringe players did, it was no surprise that the senior players on show heavily influenced this comfortable win. Peter Thorne led the line impressively and it must have been a great experience for Dean to play alongside him. Last season’s top scorer opened the scoring in the 20th minute after running onto a ball played over the top and expertly lobbing the ball over the stranded former City keeper Jon Worsnop into the net.

After the game Stuart could be forgiven for wrapping up Thorne in bubble wrap to prevent any injury problems, which wrote off the first few months of his City career. It’s to be hoped this time he won’t be waiting until November to open his account for the campaign and, whichever striker is brought in before the season starts, Thorne will be a key player in the coming months.

Other chances were created and wasted in the first half, with Omar Daley so often the provider. Everything good about his game – ability to beat people, lightning pace and decent if not outstanding crossing – was on show in the first half. He set up Kyle Nix who should have scored with a simple chance, had a decent low shot from distance saved and enjoyed his best moment after going on a mazy dribble and superbly crossing the ball for Dean, who had time to do better than his tame effort at goal. Daley was taken off at half time and, while fans around me at least continue to find fault with everything he does, should be reasonably happy with his efforts.

As too should new signing Paul McLaren, who added the second goal just after half time with a superb curling shot from distance. This week’s release of the squad numbers revealed McLaren has been handed the number four shirt. Playing alongside Nix, he was a strong influence showing some good touches, vision and passing. If Stuart can get him the right midfield partner this season, he could prove as inspirational as his manager was when wearing the number four shirt 10 years ago.

A scramble involving some poor keeping and Dean’s persistence resulted in a third goal five minutes later, credited by the PA announcer to Kyle Nix who appeared to poke home the ball on the line, and at that stage City threatened to run up a big scoreline. Avenue, who had their moments in the game, then pulled a goal back after Jon McLaughlin spilled a low shot into the path of Stuart Rudd who fired home.

This season’s back-up keeper was widely blamed, but Stuart will no doubt have noted the Avenue attack had been instigated from Mark Bower’s inexplicably woeful crossfield pass which went straight to an Avenue player. There is keen competition between Bower and Matt Clarke for the regular place at the back alongside new signing Graeme Lee, still not fit, and City’s longest serving player won’t have enhanced his chances after going onto make a few mistakes shortly after – including almost scoring an own goal. A contrast to the composed and strong presence of Clarke.

Avenue’s goal was quickly followed by a round of substitutions for City which left Bower the only senior player on the pitch. Now we really were in unfamiliar territory as a clutch of City’s brightest youth talent saw out the final 25 minutes. Included among them was trialist Kory Nix – brother of Kyle – who displayed his sibling’s workrate and willingness to get involved with everything, if not the level of skill. Another trialist from the Brazilian Soccer School, Jonjo O’Hara, looked useful, but whatever intensity the game had was dying.

As if to sum it up a bunch of bored watching kids started their own kickabout on a patch of grass behind the goal, bringing the bizarre sight of players having to take a momentary break from trying to impress their manager to kick the kids’ ball back to them after it kept ending up on the pitch.

A good workout for City, but as Stuart ruthlessly takes the club forward there will inevitably come a time when some of the youngsters who featured yesterday are shown the door. Some, like Worsnop, maybe end up building a career at somewhere like the Horsfall Stadium. They may have been unfamiliar to most people watching but, possibly for one set of supporters at least, they may become better known in years to come.

What we learn from pre-season

It was once said of a group of young footballers who went on to big things that “you won’t win anything with kids” and perhaps as Stuart McCall prepares his team for the start of what is expected to be a promotion season this motto has been taken to heart with the City boss arriving at Farsley Celtic with a collection of major signings who were all aged around thirty. McCall is not going to stand accused of trying to make youngsters do men’s jobs.

However if they warn that inexperience will not beget results then lifelessness is an even bigger ailment and it was that which was Bradford City’s undoing tonight.

We should remember that one should not read too much into pre-season – City ended with game with David Wetherall, Wayne Jacobs and Physio Adam Cook on the field – but the approach to a game at Farsley Celtic could be a telling factor. Paul McLaren arrived at Valley Parade to gasps and delight but he and Lee Bullock at the heart of the Bantams first half midfield put in little application. Throstle’s Nest is not a million miles from Christie Park or many other League Two grounds and every game in claret and amber is important.

That the Bantams trailed 3-0 at half time was an indication as to how little McLaren and Bullock had got stuck in and the turnaround in the second half was entirely down to the hustle brought to the game by Kyle Nix and the impressive Luke Sharry. If one was to read anything into pre-season games then it would be that Craig Bentham and Tom Penford might be at Celtic because of the abilities of Sharry who is very much one to watch.

Certainly if City are to get anywhere they are going to need more application in winning the ball than McLaren or Bullock showed and one worries that that pairing could be another Steven Schmacher and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson.

Also a problem – in the first half at least – was defensive struggling by young pair Adrian Bellamy and Luke O’Brien who were at fault for a goal each as they dallied on the ball rather that putting the David Wetherall boot through it.

The other goal came from one of those offside decisions which drive you nuts. Paul Arnison had half a good debut having to do much to cover Bellamy next to him and Kory Nix – brother of Kyle – in front both missing. Kory Nix started well tucking in and taking the ball but after a half hour went missing up front although this came after a distressingly high kick to his chest from a defender that shook the new Australian.

Up front Peter Thorne hit the post with a header and Willy Topp looked lively until he was moved to the right wing second half although it was from the right that the cross that saw Barry Conlon fouled to win and score a penalty that got City’s goal came.

Conlon was partnered by Michael Boulding’s brother Rory who played the second half. Shoudl he sign then Michael Boulding, as with Graeme Lee and Chris Brandon, had to slot into this team and one can be sure that at no point did the eleven on the field resemble those who will start the season.

However regardless of the players on the field should anyone in claret and amber turn up without putting effort in then we will not win. It is pre-season and not much can be read into it but that much I know and can guarantee.

“You won’t win anything without effort.”

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