Bradford City 1
York City 1
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