The need to avoid implosion

Bradford City 1

Hines 59

York City 1

Chambers 44

Saturday 13 October, 2012

By Jason McKeown

A manager with the ability to make effective substitutions is a useful man to have around. But as Bradford City trooped off the Valley Parade pitch having failed to win for the fourth consecutive league match, a debate was beginning in earnest over whether Phil Parkinson’s overall tactics had seen his team lose two points or gain an important one.

The case against Parkinson circles on an unproductive team selection that saw the Bantams struggle to seize the initiative against an impressive but defensively vulnerable York City side. The 4-3-1-2 that had proven successful for 45 minutes at Dagenham and for 90 minutes at Hartlepool was partly rendered impotent by the visitors sticking five in midfield. They took a first half lead through a superb volley from Ashley Chambers, before Parkinson’s substitutions had an instant impact in getting City back into the game.

Nevertheless a home draw against a newly promoted side falls someway below the raised bar of expectation, and the City manager has been the subject of plenty of post-match grumbling.

Although I was disappointed with Parkinson’s choice of XI today, I feel the need to jump to the defence of the City boss. I think it’s grossly unfair to retrospectively criticise tactics that no one was complaining about prior to the match – namely the continuation of the 4-3-1-2 formation that meant we had Alan Connell, James Hanson and Nahki Wells on the pitch. By full time Parkinson was being criticised for playing Connell, and for the lack of width.

Fine, we can all look smarter when we apply hindsight. But how many of these supporters were also, if they are being completely honest, slating Zavon Hines a week before? Parkinson has only one available direct out-and-out winger, who people agree is under-performing, so tries a new formation that doesn’t require one. A week later Parkinson is criticised by people who are seemingly ignoring or refusing to acknowledge his original line of thinking.

In my opinion, it went wrong in the first half today because of Parkinson choosing to play Ricky Ravenhill and Nathan Doyle. Let me be straight: I like Ravenhill and I think he is a good player. But I only ever want to see him on the pitch when Doyle is not available. Sorry, but they are too similar to play together, and the rest of the team suffers.

4-3-1-2 basically means a diamond four with Connell the attacking midfielder. So Ravenhill took the defensive role and performed okay, but it meant Doyle was pushed into a more attacking position (wide left) which is clearly not his game. Playing them both, at least in this formation, saw City lose about 50% of what Doyle offers and even 20% of Ravenhill, because he also lacked enough outlets to dictate the play.

The solution was surely to play either Ritchie Jones – who can play a wide role reasonably effectively – or, if Ritchie was not fit enough to start two games in a week, Garry Thompson. Get the personnel right, and maybe the system would have worked okay, despite York’s smothering formation. Instead Ravenhill and Doyle were stood too close together, and Connell had to play too deep in order to offer an option. The knock on effect was that Hanson and Wells were too deep as well.

So yes, let’s criticise the manager for getting it wrong in the first half today. But I find it frustrating that he is done so for maintaining a formation that had been working well – one that we all knew he would deploy before the match, and were not complaining about.

Beyond that, City were collectively poor in the first half and any system wouldn’t have changed that. Both full backs were limited in their success in getting forward – a key requirement to the formation – with former York left back James Meredith seemingly effected by the stunningly angry abuse he was receiving from visiting supporters. Although Meredith clearly left Bootham Crescent to some bitterness during the summer, to see people on their feet screaming obscenities at the Aussie was unpleasant and seemed completely over the top; especially for a player who served them so well.

Connell had a couple of decent efforts for City in the first half, but too often an unwillingness to shoot saw promising home build up play fizzle out. At the other end Scott Kerr had an effort blocked by Andrew Davies and Jamie Reed fired wide from in front of goal after running on to a low cross. Chambers’ stunning effort from the edge of the box that gave York the lead was not in keeping with a subdued first half. City’s players endured their first Valley Parade half time booing of the season. The lack of drive and energy left us in no doubt who is badly missing. Let us hope rumours of Gary Jones falling out with Parkinson are untrue.

The stop-start pattern continued into the second half, until Parkinson shook things up by going to 4-3-3 and replacing Connell and Ravenhill with Hines and Thompson. Barely a minute later, Hines had raced into the box – beating players for fun – and fired a low shot past Michael Ingham for the equaliser. A quality, quality goal.

Hines and Thompson would continue to impress – demonstrating the difficulty Parkinson and managers in general face over the consistency of players. Zavon was poor against Port Vale, Rochdale and Dagenham – a half time removal at Victoria Road entirely justified. Similarly Thompson offered little at Hartlepool on Tuesday to suggest he deserved a first XI place today. Yet they came on and performed to a level that made you wish they’d both started the match. The kicks up the backside had been responded to in the right way.

Thompson almost made Parkinson’s changes look even more inspired with a powerful drive from distance, but his shot crashed back off the post. Later on Wells was played through one-on-one against Ingham, with plenty of time and space to pick his spot. A dinked chip over the keeper bounced agonisingly wide of the post. As Parkinson observed after the game, Wells should be doing better from that position.

Another late effort from Wells – a clever back heel – fell similarly wide of the post, and City had to settle for a draw against opposition who posed an attacking threat themselves right to the end. It was an absorbing contest if not the most exciting – a dreadfully erratic refereeing performance from Mark Heywood continually disrupting the flow of the match.

A draw leaves City as they were: eighth place after 12 matches. That would have seemed very acceptable at this stage before a ball was kicked in August, but considering the Bantams were joint second after eight there is small cause for concern. Indeed, Bob Marley’s words “don’t worry about a thing” blasted out over the PA system as we trooped out the ground, as if we supporters really might be.

The truth is that, today, City looked every bit a side who had played nine games in 28 days. Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday…and now finally a seven day gap. For such a small squad, the gruelling schedule has taken its toll and the opportunity to recharge batteries will be welcomed by all. Hanson needs a rest, Will Atkinson needs a rest, Wells, Luke Oliver and Davies need a rest. We could go on.

There is no reason to panic, there is no cause to be despondent, and there is no need to turn on the management and/or players. For a club who only avoided relegation last season with three games to spare, we have come a fairly long way in a short space of time. That upwards momentum may have slowed in pace, but I don’t believe it has yet been reversed.

The season is proving to be an exciting ride, let’s stick with the path rather than reverting to type and imploding.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, Oliver, Davies, Meredith, Ravenhill (Hines 57), Atkinson, Doyle, Connell (Thompson 57), Hanson, Wells

Not used: Duke, McHugh, Brown, Baker, Ritchie Jones

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12 replies

  1. A well balanced report jason. at home this formation does not work. 4-4-2 is the way thompson on the right ,hines in the left. The first half formation just wasnt working, we were playing to compact and had no width. The york full backs acres of space so did there widemen ,are midfield had to much ground to make up chasing out wide to cover. Wells and hanson were to occupied with theee full backs. Away from home its different as the home team will attack more and leave space etc. today york just sat bk and,hit us on the break to good effect. we had to many simalar midfield players out theee today

    • Ritchie jones would have made a,difference no question as hes more attack minded. Only when thompson and hines come out wide fid we see the real bradford cty . So im afraid I have to put this draw and a,waste of 45 mins down to the formation and personel asked to do the job. Yes theres question marks on how fit some players were to play, hines hasnt played well recently etc. I dont see training etc, but to me if there fit enough for the bench , surely there fit enough to play?

  2. Excellent report Jason. In a comment i wrote the other day i suggested that If i was manager i’d go with Connell just behind a front two of Hanson and Wells, good job i’m a manager eh. It just didn’t work, i think in hindsight it’s a formation much better put into practise on away days. I give Parkinson credit for giving the players the chance to make it work and then giving the players who came on plenty of time to create the goal scoring chances to win the game against a hard working but ordinary York City side. I completely agree with your take on the referee, an incredible performace taylored it seemed to keep the tempo at almost walking pace…..a truly one eyed take on free kicks also. Having said all that both Thompson and Wells had golden goal scoring chances, regarding Wells, he did everything brilliantly including the dink over the keeper, everything but the direction. Absolutely no panic from me, glad we’ve got a week off, i’d tell the players to come in next Thursday, they need to recharge the batteries. Hopefully both Oliver and Davies are both fully fit for the Cheltenham game. On a lighter note, great to hear Claret and Amber belting out after it was barely audable against Port Vale and also great to hear Bob Marley again at the end of the match.

  3. Although I didn’t attend, I completely agree with both your comments and Neil’s above. No one was complaining about the formation after it so nearly got us something from nothing against D&R and also a cup victory against Hartlepool. I think there may have been an issue that it’s the first time it was seen by a home crowd, who are very used to 442 and in good old Yorkshire spirit ‘change is not good’.
    You have to give the manager credit for realising the formation was holding us back and making substitutions with plenty of time to change the game. I’ve mentioned on many occassions that Doyle and Ravenhill are too similar. In my opinion we need a Jones (Ritchie or Gary) alongside Doyle.
    Again from all reports it seems like we had the better chances in the game but failed to make them count I think there is definite validity in the argument that we need to be more ruthless.

  4. You’re right Jason we all knew he was going to play 4-3-1-2 and nobody was complaining before the game. I think Parky deserves credit for changing it at the right time and making the right changes, in the end we were unlucky not to win (again) despite the poor first half showing.

    It also has to be said that the formation wasn’t helped by many players seemingly forgetting how to control and pass the ball, the first 45 minutes we played as poorly as I can remember since the dark days of what shall be known as the Taylor/Jackson era.

    I’m not worried at all, we’re 8th, well within touching distance and we’re currently going through a tough patch. I’d rater get these spells of form out the way earlier in the season and still have the play off places in sight. I would happily take a 7th place finish with us in good form and momentum behind us going into the playoffs.

  5. The anti-Parky trolls are out again. Those who travelled to Rochdale can vouch for how badly Hines played there, poor again at Dagenham so Simon Parker in the T&A was stating how “Connell must play”. It seemed everyone agreed.
    Alas York had done their homework. However, apart from their wonder volley which found the net, I can’t remember them having any other chances in the first half. My impression was that we had the upper hand in possession and territory but were creating very little (an unwillingness to shoot from inside the box seems to be a consistent theme over the years for me). After 5 mins of the second half with no improvement, the manager changes it. That is called good management: stick with a team/pattern that has worked, if it’s no longer working, change it.
    Finally, after Hines scored one of the best goals seen at Valley Parade for a while, he seemed to disappear off the radar again.

    • Hi Ian. Think it’s a little unfair to accuse an anti-Parky commenter as a troll. The T&A website aside, we are all entitled to an opinion and surely that’s the entire ethos of this site and the availability to leave a comment. That being said I’m not coming on to throw my anti Parky tuppenth in the ring. I wasnt a fan last year. However, his signings served to turn me and the early season home form and style of play began to utterly convince me. I also feel its worthy of comment that in the round, the fans have offered immensely positive support for the team and manager so far ths season. I have decided not to pass judgment until christmas at the least. But, as football fans do, I wish to offer a few thoughts. I defy anyone to explain the contrast in the difference between home and away form. PP has never arranged a proper away team capable of back to back results. In short his away record throughout his tenure is dire. I am not going to criticise hs tactics yesterday. I feel they have been properly defended very well in this article, but, do not agree at all his change of formation was tactical genius. Jose once said, the job of a Manager is to see the problems before the fans do and change it. If “The Special One” is right then Parky was 40 mins late yesterday. Let us not forget that we have bust the budget yet again. Despite this we lose two ( albeit brilliant) players and we look so bloody average again. Is that acceptable? Sorry to be negative but he’s not immune to question, and frankly nor should he be.

  6. A good report of the game, and I don’t disagree with any of the comments really, although to be fair to Hines I think that he was marked out of the game after scoring, following a York substitution and a doubling-up on him, rather than he ‘disappeared off the radar’.

  7. Just like to point out how hard it must be to be a manager. Take Connell for instance, he had made a big difference when he came on against Dagenham but at home against York nothing much happened for him using him in the same system that worked so well in the second half in East London. Hines did nothing by all accounts last week, this week he scores a worldy. I guess it’s getting the right personnel in the right system home and away, but even then there is no guarantee of success. I fancy we’ve seen the last of Connell playing just behind the front two at VP at the start of games, but that system could be far more successful away from home. I believe we as a club are getting there, and Parkinson will prevail this season by getting our club promoted.

    We shout with pride, we’ll never hide…Claret and Amber.

    • Im not negative on pp, tbh thats the worst performance ive seen at vp since last season. However I just feel we would have won the game with 4-4-2formation. If it isnt broke dont fix it , at home weve dominated teams playing 4-4-2 ,thompson was available as was zavon hines. Ritchie jones and doyle in the middle . Hindsight is wonderfull thing ,a luxury pp does not have

      • Ah, the joys of football and opinions! Firstly, another excellent article on this website. Secondly, lots of relevant points above.

        I was at the Rochdale game but not the Dagenham game. Hines didn’t perform well at Spotland and apparently Connel was excellent for us at Dagenham so I can understand why Parkinson choose to start the York game with a 4-3-1-2 formation. I said to my friend at half time that he needed to take Ravenhill off and revert to a 4-4-2 system and credit must go to Parkinson for changing the system so early on in the second half. I was leaping for joy when Hines scored; firstly because it was a great goal but secondly because Parkinson’s change in tactics earnt us a point.

        If Thompson’s shot had hit the back of the onion bag or Wells had scored when one on one, there would have been less negativity following the game. It’s been said before that it’s a fine line between success and failure. Yes, we’ve only picked up 2 points from our last 4 league games. But after a quarter of the season we are just outside the play offs. People forget how poor the last 2 seasons have been and so far this season we are playing better, more effective football. In Parky, we must trust!

      • Of course we’ve no idea how Hines would have played if he had started the game, it’s all in the lap of the gods…. he could have scored the winner instead of the equalliser or Connell could have scored the winner coming off the bench or the equalliser. I think it’s pretty obvious that the experimentation of systems at VP is over, i fancy it’ll be 442 til the end of April, i don’t believe Jones Junior would play if both Thompson and Hines start, it’ll be Doyle and Ravenhill until Jones senior is fit. Personally i’d give Jones junior a go with the two wide men mentioned, just don’t see Parkinson trying it, teams tend to pack midfield at VP so unless you have a top class midfielder like Jones senior, it can lead to being undermanned in central midfield and not getting enough ball. Like i said i’d give it ago with Jones junior, let’s see if he’s good enough to cover for his Dad lol.

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