Bradford City keeper Duke left feeling cold by heat of Gills battle (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Matt Duke saves count for nothing as Bradford City are guilty of not turning possession into goals
Gillingham 3, City 1
Matt Duke should have been chuffed to bits with his two wonder saves.
The instinctive first-half blocks, flinging himself to his right to keep out Andy Frampton’s header and then using the same strong arm to somehow deny Danny Jackman from similarly close range, justified Phil Parkinson’s faith in sticking with him in goal.
But on the hottest afternoon of the year, Duke was left feeling pretty cold about it. Any pride with his own agility drifted away with the final scoreline.
Opening-day league defeats are nothing new to the Bantams, who have not picked up a point from their first game since 2008.
But at the start of a much-heralded new era, it was hard to swallow – especially when City had played so much of a part in an entertaining clash between two sides tipped to be in the mix.
No wonder Duke looked downhearted afterwards as he said: “You want to make saves in a game like that but it takes the satisfaction away when you come off conceding three.
“We can’t get too down about it. It’s the first game of a long season and there were a lot of positives. You can see we’re going to play some good football but it was a bit of a flattering result for them.”
Fingers cannot be pointed at Duke and his defence for any of the goals. The first was a freakish effort that scorer Danny Kedwell is unlikely to match again, then came a needless penalty before a late settler on the counter-attack as City threw caution to the wind.
In terms of possession, Phil Parkinson’s side bossed the stats. But they did come up short with what they did with it.
Home keeper Stuart Nelson was not busy enough as chances were scorned carelessly. Free-kicks, another key element of Parkinson’s game-plan, were also wasted too frequently.
With Fleetwood arriving at Valley Parade tomorrow, the fixture computer had not been kind on City. But there was little to choose between the teams at a baking Priestfield.
In conditions more akin to a Test match in the West Indies than League Two – referee Mick Russell even blew for an official drinks break at one point – the tempo and style of the visiting play was easy on the eye. The early signs are encouraging.
Gary Jones was his usual perpetual motion, while left back James Meredith was the pick of the outfield players and linked up smoothly with Kyel Reid.
One of their forward forays should have earned an early penalty but Russell surprisingly turned a blind eye to Charlie Allen’s shove from behind on the winger. The Gillingham manager’s son had a lucky escape – as an irate Parkinson was quick to tell the fourth official.
Duke’s heroics at the other end kept the hosts at bay until Kedwell’s moment of magic/good fortune (delete as appropriate) broke the deadlock two minutes before the break.
With Rory McArdle tight to his back and the angle to goal so narrow, the striker seemed to have nowhere to go. But he lofted the shot anyway on the turn – and managed to find the one corner of the net that Duke could not reach.
As he milked the home elation, Duke was not convinced it was what Kedwell had intended. He said: “I don’t think he meant it at all. If he did, then it’s an unbelievable finish to hook it over his shoulder.
“There are always spots in a goal when it’s possible they are going to score. But that could have gone anywhere.”
Chasing a game in temperatures topping 30 degrees centigrade was going to be a tall order. City’s task soon became a lot harder when Will Atkinson gave away the cheapest of spot-kicks.
With Ritchie Jones still sidelined after turning his ankle in training, Atkinson was given a central midfield brief once again in the same line-up that had dumped Notts County from the Capital One Cup.
He had done a fairly tidy job backing up Jones until the tired challenge which gifted the Gills their second.
Atkinson’s stock with the Bradford public is wobbly enough, without the lazy leg he stuck out on Charlie Lee right beneath the noses of the 400 away fans.
Trying to shepherd him out for a goal-kick, Atkinson tripped him right on the byline. Kedwell smashed home the penalty and City’s hopes were melting away fast.
Parkinson had a strong bench to play with and summoned reinforcements. On came new winger Zavon Hines, whose signing was only rubber-stamped that morning, and Nahki Wells.
Keen to make his point at being consigned to the bench, Wells needed only four minutes to throw City a lifeline, winning a penalty off Frampton and converting it off the inside of the post.
James Hanson , Hines and Jones all failed to make the most of opportunities in the charge for an equaliser.
The first glimpse of Hines suggests an unpredictable bag of tricks. He has that style which implies that he’s not 100 per cent sure what will happen next, let alone the defender marking him.
Parkinson admits there is “a lot to work on” there but the raw talent looks exciting. I’m not sure you will see him and Reid starting in the same line-up any time soon, though.
Hines almost made it the dream debut with a mazy run into the box through a bamboozled left back Joe Martin. But the ball took a bobble as he went to shoot and his shanked effort span away nearer the corner flag than Nelson’s goal.
With Bantam bodies hurled upfield, including Andrew Davies in the battering-ram role employed to chase lost causes, there were always going to be gaps at the back.
And Gills sub Myles Weston, captured the day before on loan from Charlton, showed City’s wasteful finishers how it should be done with a crisp cross-shot on the break.
Bradley Dack then hit the post in stoppage time to prevent the scoreline reaching ridiculous proportions.
Parkinson was happy with his side’s attempted fightback but admitted the second goal had killed them.
He said: “I really fancied us to get back in it but then we switched off. Being 2-0 down in that heat was always going to be tough but credit to the lads and for a while it looked like we might get something.
“We had the chances to test their keeper out. We could have hit the target a couple of times and our set-piece deliveries weren’t great.
“We’ve got to get better but losing 3-1 is hard to take after dominating possession, especially with some of the football we played. It’s such a shame because moments like conceding that penalty are so costly.”