Parkinson gets it right in a big, big way

2 Mar

2013-03-02 16.52.30

York City 0

Bradford City 2

Hanson 77, Thompson 86

Saturday 2 March, 2013

By Jason McKeown

I have a special fondness for this type of Bradford City away win, and I only wish that it would occur more regularly.

Where the game is tight, and could easily go either way. Where the football isn’t exactly free flowing, but the defensive qualities of your players are displayed to a level you rarely have to see during home games. Where a late goal or two settles the outcome, goals which are celebrated Über-enthusiastically. This type of grind-out away win somehow provides a greater sense of achievement than a routine victory, speaking volumes for the team’s character.

And I’m especially pleased for Phil Parkinson. His post-Wembley week involved getting slated on national radio for his tactical acumen and having his future questioned by a vocal minority of City supporters. He deserves better than that, for what he has done for this football club. I respect the fact some don’t share the same opinion as me that it is essential we keep Parkinson, but when today a very well-known City supporter – sat right behind me – rose to his feet and called him a w*nker for being so negative (this minutes after he brought on Zavon Hines, which looked a positive change to me) then you wonder whether some Bradford City fans really deserve to share in the accolades bestowed upon us all this week. One week after leading us out at a major cup final and the manager is called a w*nker by someone who should know better. That really, really upsets me.

And it is a typical example of many supporters who attend the match but do not seem to watch what is going on. Introducing Hines provided City with the extra momentum to win a game that York might feel they merited taking something from. But it was a gamble by Parkinson to go more open, and we’ve seen City punished for doing so earlier in the season (think of Rotherham). Had we lost, the criticism would have been intense. So Parkinson merits every plaudit going for his bold move paying off.

As he does for his back-to-basics approach that saw Ricky Ravenhill restored to the line up – eyebrows were raised and, again, many people watching today were guilty of not recognising how well Ravenhill performed (he was receiving some awful stick). I’m really happy that Parkinson made this change. The Gary Jones/Nathan Doyle central midfield partnership has performed heroics this season, but has proved less effective for several weeks now. The pair are almost too similar and struggle to cover as much of the pitch as you’d like. And as much as I rate Doyle, his form of late has not been good enough. He needed this rest.

So Ravenhill – a player whose ability and quality seems to have been forgotten over the last few months – sat in front of the back four and produced a man of the match display, which provided Jones with a greater licence to roam forward. The balance was much better, as Jones delivered his best game for some time (not that he has been playing badly). It looks to be a template to stick too, for the time being at least.

The game was even, for the most part. York’s 10-game winless run was evident by the nervousness of their attacking play; but at the back they looked solid and neutered the threat from the restored James Hanson and Nahki Wells. Kyel Reid and Will Atkinson had mixed success getting in behind, but were adept in supporting Ravenhill and Jones. Just before half time, York enjoyed a strong spell of pressure that served only to show off the virtues of Andrew Davies and his backline colleagues. In Jones and Davies, City now have two clear leaders on the pitch. Davies was sensational with his last ditch blocks, ably supported by the on-form Stephen Darby, Michael Nelson and Carl McHugh. Tough on Rory McArdle to be left out, but – a theme developing here – it provided greater balance.

With Jon McLaughlin also on top form – justifying  Parkinson’s decision to leave the returning Matt Duke on the bench – the foundations for an away win were in place. McLaughlin made a handful of superb saves, especially the one from Matt Blair’s drive midway through the second half. All we needed was a goal of our own.

Which you began to question the likelihood of. City got into good positions, but moves broke down due to an over-eager pass or the wrong option taken in which way to dribble. And with the game rightly billed as must-win, it felt like the season was on a knife edge and that it could be as good as decided here and now. Wells’ unfortunate early withdrawal through injury was a blow that threatened to reduce hopes further, but Parkinson made another smart decision by selecting Garry Thompson as his replacement. Zavon’s introduction 10 minutes after firmly tipped the scales in City’s favour.

The opening goal came from the head of Hanson, though York keeper Michael Ingham should have made a better fist of keeping his powerful attempt out. Darby set the goal up with a brilliant cross. Yet the true inspiration behind the breakthrough was Hines. He had picked up the ball in space, wriggled free from his nearest challenger and was able to get to the byeline. His marker was now back and able to block any attempted cross for a corner; but rather than look to win a set piece, Zavon turned around and played the ball back to Darby, in space, to cross. Great awareness from the in-form winger.

And from the moment Hanson’s header crept over the line, every player began to look 10 foot taller in terms of stature and belief. Confidence, which has been eroded over the last few weeks, was rediscovered. A second goal should have arrived when Thompson was blatantly fouled in the box, but appeals were ignored. No matter, City were digging in deep and defending brilliantly. A 1-0 lead never looks comfortable, but a rising shot from Alex Rodman aside, the Bantams were not for opening up.

The game was sealed by a horrendous York defence mix up, when two defenders allowed a long ball to bounce without getting to grips with clearing it. Thompson stole in to nip the ball, and then ran clean through with just Ingham to beat. He finished emphatically, and that was that. The Garry Thompson of recent months is a different player to the under-achiever pre-Bristol Rovers last November. Another example of Parkinson’s coaching and man-management skills, which should also offer hope regarding the so-far underwhelming performances from Andy Gray.

The league table doesn’t look much better for this win, truth be told. City are still 12th, and the gap to the last play spot has only been reduced to nine points. It still looks a tall order to gain promotion, and the players are going to have to produce something extraordinary just to extend the season. But don’t give up on them just yet.

Because the commitment on show today…well, to be frank, it hasn’t always been evident since we defeated Arsenal in the League Cup quarter finals last December, setting up those semi finals and a Wembley final. That the eye was taken off the ball prompts lots of emotions and frustrations from supporters, which are completely understandable. But I personally never thought we weren’t good enough. And were it not for the epic cup run (and, really, who would trade that?) we would be right up there now.

The doom and gloom that has been allowed to surface is typical of this football club over recent years; it is that losing mentality that Parkinson spoke of within a month of being installed as manager. The team and manager deserve greater support from fans (and the Board), but have it in their own hands to shape the outlook by, at the very least, maintaining a high level of commitment until the bitter end.

Today was a promising step in the right direction, now it’s on to Port Vale for more of the same.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, Davies, Nelson, McHugh, Atkinson (Hines 67), Ravenhill, Jones, Reid, Hanson, Wells (Thompson 55)

Not used: Duke, McArdle, Connell, Doyle, Gray

After the match York City confirmed they had sacked manager Gary Mills. Meanwhile Phil Parkinson revealed that Curtis Good and Blair Turgott’s loans have been ended and they have returned to their respective clubs.

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8 Responses to “Parkinson gets it right in a big, big way”

  1. JustArranArran March 2, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    Nice write up Jason. I agree with most of your points, but a couple of my thoughts anyway:

    1) The first half was crying out for width on the right. With Atko asked to tuck in to make a three man centre midfield it meant Darby was our only width on the right. Quite often play broke down due to having no width on that side. I realise you have to win the battle in centre midfield before you can start to play – but I did find it negative to think we have to pack the midfield against a team without a win in 2013 and badly struggling for form and confidence.

    2) Wells. I will probably be shot down for this, but I struggle to put my finger on what he brings to the team over the last month or so. I’m not bashing him, I just think we hype him too much. He obviously has pace, but we as a team don’t really play to it. He rarely reads Hansons flicks. He often gets bullied by opposing centre backs due to his slight frame. And as the moment he isn’t much of a goal threat. For me, he doesn’t warrant a starting lineup and I think we looked more dangerous up front when we swapped him for Tommo.

    3) I’ll be the first to admit I’m not Ravenhills biggest fan. I think we have too many defensively minded centre midfielders and RR doesn’t offer enough to to dislodge Doyle. However – I’ll admit today I was wrong and that RR got my MotM. He added some steel into the midfield, his positional sense was sound, he rarely gave the ball away and his work rate was unmatched. If he continues to perform like that – I’ll hold my hands up and say I was wrong and that Doyle’s position isn’t a given.

    4) Finally, Davies and Nelson. I think you will struggle to find a better centre back pairing in L2, and probably L1.

    Just my two pence. Onwards and upwards – we aren’t out of it yet!!!

  2. Russ Spence March 2, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    agree totally. One of the things I’ve found most profoundly depressing in the last week is the over the top negativity on display. I understand people being upset at Sunday’s result, but a lot of comments have gone way over the top, with people turning on the manager, the players, and in some cases other supporters not perceived as being “proper” fans. Hopefully this result will go some way to restoring some perspective and can move forward supporting our club together. The playoffs may look a long way off and it might be a big ask, but we’ve already beat the form book once this season.

  3. Polly March 2, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    I wasn’t sure about the starting line-up at Wembley, but Parkinson got us there and I think it would be absolutely shameful if we parted with him – this has (so far?) in many ways been a stunning season. Even in terms of the league, we are still, after all those extra cup matches and the extra pressure, looking at the possibility of making the play-offs, whereas in past years we’ve been fighting off the real possibility of relegation. We have had a few awful wilderness years, and now, under Parkinson, we’ve had a thrilling cup run and often far more exciting, interesting play (both in league and cup matches) than we’ve had in recent years. I am a big, big Parkinson fan and he does not deserve abuse – quite the opposite. (NB we were sat two rows behind you – it wasn’t us!!!)

    I enjoyed the second half of today immensely (less so the first). We looked confident again, quick and tight and exciting to watch. I agree that it was good to see McLaughlin back as I feel he’s been rather in Duke’s shadow this season.

    This all bodes well for the future, I hope… Thank you, City- it was worth the trip up from London :-)

  4. Keith Bruce March 2, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Thought Ravenhill was excellent today,really would like to see Connell get a chance from the start but seems totally out of favour. Davies and Nelson were a rock at the heart of defence and how good to see Hanson scoring again. Excellent solid away win and let’s hope we can go on a run and give PP the play off place he and our fans deserve.

  5. Damien Wilkinson March 3, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    If ever a game demonstrated how important getting the first goal was, this was it. Many of the themes of previous disappointments were starting to rear their head – lots of City pressure but no end product, opposition starting to carve out a few chances and gain in confidence, but the Hanson goal completely changed things. Reid in particular grew substantially in confidence, and suddenly looked much more positive, the flicks and turns etc started to come off and it just shows how slender the margins can be.
    Having said that, I thought York looked like a team well down on their uppers – the chances they had were woefully taken and this was a major difference from the recent matches where teams have seemed adept at converting their first shot on target.
    We need to be careful that this does not paper over any cracks – other teams won’t be as profligate as York, and the importance of an early’ish goal remains. Port Vale, despite their recent dip, will certainly be a different proposition, and this match increasingly looks like a critical one in the context of the rest of the season.
    Support, though, great as ever today, and just loved the Thompson/ Jones goal celebration that was performed directly in front of us. Nice walk back into York afterwards too!!

  6. Dave March 3, 2013 at 12:23 am #

    I find it amazing that there are City supporters who are so negative in the way you mention today, and there were several similar others sat near us. I just don’t get it – do they think they are being clever or something? Empty vessels. Anyway, a good match report, and good observations about the balance brought to the side by Ravenhill (motm clearly – and great to see that we still have some depth in that area) and Davies. What it doesn’t reflect, though, is just how poor we were in the first half. I can’t put my finger quite on why, but there was a huge amount of aimless hoofing and head tennis (from both sides) and little organised structure to our play. That changed significantly in the second half, when there were great improvements in most of our attacking players taking more responsibility, and especially Reid, who had been timid previously, but who began to create and innovate as we know he is able. If PP could bottle his half-time talks he would make a fortune, because it was a different side that took to the field, and as your report notes, his second half substitutions also were excellent (and well-timed). It’s good to see that there are players returning to fitness and contention now, as there appears to be a fair degree of fatigue (unsurprisingly) having an impact on some of the regulars, notably with Wells for a few weeks now, and I think Will Atkinson today.

  7. Andy March 3, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Are there seriously some supporters out there who question whether Parky should be retained??

    After taking us to Wembley by prevailing over 420 minutes of football against premiership opposition and by maintaining a league position which is highest since McCall left?

    Are there really people out there who are that daft? What’s their solution?

    Am I missing something?

    • rob hunt March 4, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      Yes – there are people that are that daft. Sometimes this Club gets everything it deserves…

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