Following the decision to rearrange Monday night’s bumper fixture at the Horsfall Stadium, Mark Bower’s Bradford Park Avenue will look to contain a rampant Boston United, who remain undefeated so far in the Vanarama National League North.
The home side were fortunate to remain in England’s sixth tier, after the coronavirus pandemic caused football below the National League level to be null and voided, so the Yorkshire side were spared despite a dreadful 2019/20 campaign.
Mark Bower has shown intent to get his side back up and fighting this season however, with the likes of former Leeds United goalkeeper Dan Atkinson, defensive unit Mark Ross and loanee Harry Boyes all joining the club with the hopes of strengthening a depleted Avenue team and to increase the chances of Bower’s survival this year.
Bradford have had a good start to the season, seen as many predicted them to be rock bottom, but have so far snatched a victory, a singular draw and two defeats, leaving them in a decent 13th position after 4 games.
The Avenue had a rocky start to the season, losing 2-1 to Gateshead an 3-1 to Kettering United, but found their feet away at Hereford FC, after a double from Oli Johnson, including a cheeky back-hell, resulted in an emphatic 2-0 victory that got Bower’s boys up and running for the season. The game was admittedly overshadowed by Hereford manager Josh Gowling’s controversial comments towards Bradford and how they shouldn’t be in the division, but nevertheless it was the boost that was needed for the Avenue to kick on.
Next up was recently relegated Chorley, who haven’t had a good start to life in the National League North, but some Atkinson heroics meant that Park Avenue were able to grasp onto a point at the Horsfall Stadium, as the young goalkeeper provided a mesmerising double save from a penalty that Manuel Neuer would be proud of.
The man to watch for the home side is former Norwich City forward Johnson, who is in scintillating form right now for Bradford. Having made over 100 appearances for the club, Johnson declared that he is targeting double figures this season and has began his journey after his brace against Hereford last week. The experienced forward is confident and in good form right now, having more faith in the squad and could be crucial in the outcome of the match on Wednesday night.
Another man to watch right now is Isaac Marriott, who impressed against Chorley and nearly scored a cracker of a goal after a dazzling run resulted in his strike trickling wide. The midfielder made his loan move permanent in the summer from Huddersfield Town, and is displaying excellent leadership and battle qualities that Bower needs, especially for such a young man.
He will break up the play alongside Adam Nowakowski in the middle and look to spread the ball about, which could be hard for Boston to track.
Boston on the other hand will be eager to play this game on their terms, which they have mastered at times this season. Gaffer Craig Elliott welcomed the likes of Matt Tootle, Terry Hawkridge and Paul Green to their squad as examples of experience and knowledge of the game, but also brought in players such as Fraser Preston, Tyrell Warren and Connor Dimaio who are youngsters plying their trade at this level.
The mixture of youth, experience and pure quality that Elliott has managed to bring into Boston is fantastic, and the reason the club are doing so well right now.
The Pilgrims are currently in the heat of a title charge, sitting in third position behind Gloucester City and AFC Fylde, but remain unbeaten in the National League North after victories against Leamington, AFC Telford and Southport, whilst also drawing away at Guiseley following late drama at Nethermoor, after Nathan Newell equalised for the Lions in the 96th minute to the despair of Elliott.
The Suffolk side have one of the most dangerous attacks in the league, having the joint second most goals so far, with Jordan Thewils, Jordan Burrow, Jordan Archer and Jay Rollins all available as frightful forwards that could cause Avenue trouble.
Even the likes of Hawkridge, Green and defender Scott Garner have found themselves on the scoresheet this season, showing that goals come from all over the pitch.
The man to watch for Boston has to be goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons, who has claimed two out of four clean sheets so far this season and has been an ever-present mountain between the sticks, commanding his box and grasping onto any incoming cross. He’s also quite the cat, stopping Marcus Carver from penetrating his goal on several occasions on Saturday.
A combination of Luke Shiels and Garner is also unbreakable at times, with both already having a goal each this season (Garner two!) using their towering height to bully attackers and provide cover for Fitzsimons if he ever needs it.
Garner has even publicly come out and praised the recruitment and strength of the Pilgrims squad, saying that ‘Boston United feel like favourites every match.’– if that’s not backing, I don’t know what is!
Ahead of the game, I spoke to Boston United chief scout Richard Boryszczuk, who also featured on my weekly podcast: “We have had a really good start to the season. A good win against AFC Mansfield following on with a 4-0 away at Leamington, then a 2 week break with the covid situation, it was great to go straight back in and beat AFC Telford 3-2. We was outstanding against Guiseley and dominated the game but just didn’t add the goals and ended up conceding in injury time. Southport away is never an easy game but we have a good record there recently and it was a different kind of performance as the lads dug in and battled to a 1-0 win.
“I have watched Bradford twice already as the original fixture was called off, and as you would expect under the management of Mark Bower they are a good side. And I was especially impressed with their performance against Gateshead, which despite losing they played some excellent football on the night. They have recruited well, it will certainly be another tough game for us, but I am always confident of us winning.
“They have many good players. Mark Ross is a player I have always liked, I actually tried to sign him when I was at Southport. Luca Havern, Nicky Clee and Oli Johnson have all been very good at this level for a number of seasons. Lewis Knight is a talent that will no doubt go higher, and Isaac Marriott is someone who has taken his game to the next level.”
I will be at the game this coming Wednesday, so for live updates and my thoughts before, during and after the game follow my twitter, @GabrielRRamsey.