City 0, Blackburn 0
IT'S not often you come out of a pre-season friendly raving about the left back.
But the general buzz around Valley Parade after Saturday's entertaining but goalless encounter focused on the performance of Alan Sheehan.
The new boys all seemed to enjoy their first chance to press the home turf – and Gary Liddle already looks a midfield guv'nor in the making – but the real eye-catching effort came from his former Notts County pal.
James Meredith knew he had a battle on his hands to regain the starting shirt when he finally re-signed for the coming season.
If Saturday was anything to go by, the size of that struggle is considerable.
When he wasn't on defensive duty, Sheehan would be spotted popping up in the Blackburn box – a regular option for a pass and just as willing to test the Rovers goal himself.
He was that keen that, in the first half, he took one header off James Hanson as both rose for the same cross.
After the break, when City's attacking efforts were upped by the arrival of Mark Yeates, Sheehan directed another header wide when he should have scored from Stephen Darby's cross.
He had another blast batted away at the near post by one-time England keeper Paul Robinson and supplied a cross which Oliver McBurnie should have converted.
The Irishman enjoyed a good day – and earned the plaudits of his manager, with Phil Parkinson saying: "We're pleased with his performance. Obviously he's got a quality left foot.
"Alan has come in to the club and he's been right at the front with all the running in training."
But some individual performances were better than others and the afternoon did not prove anywhere near as fruitful for Raffaele De Vita.
The Italian's injury late in the first half cut short his latest opportunity to press his contract claims. Time is running out.
His forlorn expression as he trudged back towards the dressing room will have owed as much to his personal frustration as the worry that the slight thigh strain may have been connected to the problem that dogged his first year at the club.
With a batch of trialists still 'in the building', the day of reckoning is fast approaching for those hoping to jump aboard the Bantam bandwagon.
Chosen to start ahead of Yeates, Saturday was seen as a serious audition for the Italian against the club where he came through the academy under current Rovers boss Gary Bowyer.
De Vita was employed on the right of the midfield diamond, with Billy Knott pushed further forward into the 'hole role'.
But De Vita spent as much time tracking back towards his goal as getting upfield, with his hands full countering the overlapping threat of Tommy Spurr. He did not convince.
The oppressive heat and lack of a discernible breeze made playing conditions tough and referee Andy Haines whistled for a drinks break after 20 minutes.
But despite the cloying temperature, there was a spark about City's approach. Once again they stuck to the pass and move principles that have been instilled since the influx of 'ball players'.
Knott was instrumental in several neat interchanges, flicking the one-twos with De Vita one minute, then doing the same with Liddle the next.
The only aspect missing was a cutting edge to reward the build-up – a familiar concern, especially with Aaron Mclean once again watching beneath a baseball cap from one of the hospitality boxes.
Not that Blackburn created much more. The Championship side were missing three of their main strikers, most notably Jordan Rhodes, but still posed twice the threat that City had encountered in the pre-season programme up to then.
It was the jump in quality that Parkinson had wanted and it gave City's back four the work-out that they were ready for after strolling around against part-time opponents.
He said: "We've gone from the Shelbourne game, where we had loads of the ball, to coming up against a team who were going to have just as much possession.
"In the main, I thought we did well and restricted them to very little in the second half.
"It was a big game for the back four to get through but I was pleased with them. We defended well and blocked things when we had to."
As a squad, City remain a work in motion. The starting line-up pretty much picks itself but, with one more friendly to go, the concerns still centre on numbers – and the lack of.
The current player tally, not including wannabes, stands at 17 including the young ones. Mclean is still waiting to return to full training.
Jordan Pickford played his first 45 minutes in City colours. He came for and missed one cross but his kicking looked solid.
But the fact he reported a slight issue with his groin after going off highlights the risk of having such little leeway in the dressing room. No wonder Parkinson will once again press the powers-that-be for a confirmed back-up.
The wings obviously need to be sorted too but a lot of that could depend on the whims of the clubs where he has targeted potential loans.
With 12 days to go until Coventry arrive for the commencement of the real action, question marks continue to hover. But left back, at least, could not be stronger.
City: Pickford (Urwin 46), Darby, McArdle, Davies (Routis 78), Sheehan (Heaton 87), Liddle (Meredith 73), Knott (Kennedy 58), Dolan (Shariff 84), De Vita (Yeates 44), Clarke(Clarkson 69), Hanson (McBurnie 69). Subs (not used): Campion, Lamb.