Trotta 45 (pen) + 102, Donaldson 103, Forrester 106
Bradford City 2
Reid 34, Connell 94 (pen)
(After extra time)
Tuesday 18 December, 2012
By Alex Scott
From the outset it was clear that Phil Parkinson less worried on outcome as he was the process. The Second Round FA Cup tie became a quasi-friendly, with the primary focus being on players and play, rather than the winning or losing of the game.
Not that this was a surprise with the manager’s words in the build up. The game was used as a vehicle for Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines to begin their comebacks, for exhausted starters to take a breather, for young players to gain experience, for fringe players to stake a claim. The lack of desire was emphasised by the substitutes bench, filled out by youth apprentices Connor Erangey, Callum Hepworth and Nathan Curtis. These youngsters were joined by counterparts Forrayah Bass and Scott Brown in the starting eleven, and recent graduate Adam Baker alongside them on the bench.
Brentford rested starters as well, but kept their key men in reserve in case of emergency, and crudely, that was the difference in the game. Brentford were the better side, and should have won emphatically were it not for the first half heroics of Jon McLaughlin and the generous finishing of Marcelo Trotta and Paul Hayes. But as their outmanned opponents held out, they were able to bring on Harry Forrester and Clayton Donaldson to tip the scales in extra time, eventually running away 4-2 winners against the aceless Bantams. City’s breathless stagnation pervaded their entire performance, looking like the kid being held at arm’s length, punching at air.
In football, it’s easy to let characters blind us to the plot. But in this case it’s difficult. The game didn’t seem to follow any plot whatsoever. A game of sporadic chances which materialised more often than they were earned. City didn’t care how it finished, Brentford seemed reluctant to exert the energy required to finish it off. It was more of an exercise, a test. It felt like a trial game.
City actually took the lead, with Kyel Reid firing home after good work by Hines and former Brentford man Alan Connell to forge the breakaway, but that was all it was, a breakaway. With Connell and Hines up top, supported by Reid and Blair Turgott on the flanks, City’s long ball antics were as curious as they were ineffective.
Whether the reticence to attempt to keep the ball stemmed from the inexperience at the back, or from something they had seen in preparation is unclear, but it didn’t really make any sense with the personnel on show. Balls were pumped up in the direction of Connell’s neck again and again, and also into the vacant channels where Nahki Wells is normally tearing away. The inability shown by this team (in whichever form) to play without Wells (or James Hanson for that matter) may not be setting off alarms just yet, but start checking if the floor is hot. It’s a worry.
The game plan wasn’t tailored to Connell’s, or anyone’s perceived strengths, which makes it difficult to take conclusions from it. But as the outcome was and is a bit irrelevant here, we may as well roll through the list.
Forrayah Bass played just as you’d expect a player of his age would do in his first start. Visibly nervous, and targeted early and often by the League One opposition, he struggled early. He gradually settled down as the game wore on, and showed nothing to dispute the potential attributed to him. But he’s not ready to play extensively at this stage.
Scott Brown was bypassed in midfield in the Ritchie Jones manner from late last year. He’ll have a sore neck tomorrow after watching all those aimless punts fly over his head. Adam Baker and Curtis made it on the field as the game wore on, the former struggling to get involved on the flanks, whilst the latter, quietly, had a couple of chances at 2-4. The jury is still out on all the youth players, and this game will go no closer to bringing them back in. Potential, but that’s it.
The fringe players struggled for the most part. Ritchie Jones has got a few years on Bass, but I don’t imagine many of those have been spent at full back, and he similarly looked how you’d expect him to. He struggled manfully for the first hour or so, then Forrester entered the fray on the left flank for Brentford, and his struggle became a lot more painful. Ricky Ravenhill harried, hustled, and did Ravenhill things, but little of any consequence.
Garry Thompson was peripheral when introduced in the Hanson role. The success rate of the long balls did rise from 0.8% to something closer to 5%, but he’s not a target man, and if this was a trial to see if he was a central striker full stop, the jury are knocking on the door, and they don’t look pleased. Connell was poor, but again, how much of that is his fault is debatable. He ran around the pitch in an anonymous fury. Visibly riled by the jeering home fans, he tried his level best, but nothing materialised beyond his convincing penalty early in extra time.
Reid and Hines were fine, rusty, but fine. They both logged substantial time coming back from injury, and unless there were any breakdowns (there didn’t appear to be), they will both be the better for it. Turgott had an off day, but wingers have off days, and there’s a lot of mitigation in his defence. And it was his surge which drew the (soft) extra time penalty.
Carl McHugh made an ill-advised dive in the box on Trotta to gift the home side a chance at an equaliser late in the first half, a reminder of his tender age that he has done his best to get us to forget over recent weeks. Parkinson vocally and visibly chastised the referee leaving the pitch at half time, although the level of which he was being genuine is at question. It looked like a penalty. Even if there was no contact, it was a dumb challenge anyway. Whether he touched him or not isn’t really the point. The process let him down.
The other goal concessions came from sloppy defending from a team which looked mentally exhausted, if not physically. Whilst the fatigue argument will be thrown out, it never appeared that way in the moment, more a retrofitted revisionist history from some to explain what happened. They just didn’t look very good. It wasn’t a good performance. And in the end, their…complacency (?) at the back cost them. Two quickfire set pieces from which the lines weren’t cleared reversed their extra time advantage, the second seeing Jon McLaughlin beaten at his near post as he fatally dove out for the expected cross. A moment which will likely see him return to the bench for the foreseeable future. (He could do nothing about the other goals.)
The game was approached as a minor inconvenience, and it resulted in one. A 1-1 draw away at a version of the second best team in the division above is a worthy (if highly fortunate) result. It isn’t the end of the world, and is a testament to how far the club have come that they can essentially throw away an eminently winnable FA Cup tie. As everyone picks up and moves on to the League push for a few weeks, we can debate whether the club are better off losing until we are blue in the face. But the outcome doesn’t matter. All that matters is that benefits gleaned from the trials (rest, game time, experience) are used properly. Otherwise it was all a bit of waste.
The outcomes of all these little tests seemed to be the focus for Parkinson rather than the win. They didn’t play well. I don’t even know if they were supposed to. The FA Cup dream dies for another year, and Parkinson can move on happier with a sparser plate.
The quadruple is dead, long live the treble.
City: McLaughlin, Ritchie Jones, McArdle, McHugh, Bass (Curtis 106), Reid (Thompson 56), Ravenhill, Brown, Turgott (Baker 67), Connell
Not used: Duke, Darby, Erangey, Hepworth