The wrong performance, the right character

Bradford City 1

Yeates 69

Notts County 1

Liddle 42

Tuesday 26 November, 2013

By Jason McKeown

For how high Bradford City have soared over the past 18 months, it is the low hurdles that continue to cause them to stumble. Six weeks since then-bottom Tranmere Rovers recorded a surprise victory at Valley Parade, the current basement club, Notts County, ended a run of five consecutive defeats by doubling their season’s away points tally at a ground where struggling visitors do not fear to tread.

The Bantams began the season looking invincible at home, but now 13 points from the first 15 has been followed by two from 12. Those four winless fixtures did include the might of Wolves and Coventry, but like Tranmere before those games, tonight felt like a missed opportunity. City got what they deserved, although there was encouragement to take from a strong second half response to a dismal opening 45 minutes.

It is a mystery why the start was so slow. There were few surprises when County delved into the strugglers’ handbook to formulate a well-worn plan of keeping men behind the ball, slowing the game down and relying on the counter attack. But for whatever reason, City couldn’t imprint their high tempo style that has defeated many higher placed opponents. The initiative looked there to be claimed with ease, but it took far, far too long to get going.

The illness spreading around the camp in the build up undoubtedly didn’t help matters. For all the pre-match talk of players not being able to play, it was no surprise that Phil Parkinson opted to risk everyone – as he is rarely cautious over such matters. Nevertheless, there was a lack of energy and urgency to City’s first half play that suggested more than a few needed a duvet day. In such circumstances, the fact the workrate did not drop was hugely admirable and wonderfully typical of this group of players.

The goal conceded to Notts County just before half time summed up the off-the-pace nature of City’s first half display. A loose ball was picked up by James Meredith just inside his own half, and the Aussie’s driving run forward presented him with the opportunity to double up with Kyel Reid and work the ball past the isolated full back for a cross or run at goal. Reid – who had by far his least effective game of the season tonight – failed to make the required run and an unsighted Meredith squared the ball to where he expected his team mate to be, losing possession.

County broke forward, Matthew Bates stood off Jack Grealish, and Marcus Haber was able to cross for Gary Liddle to tap home. A hugely preventable goal that simply wouldn’t have occurred with everyone on top of their game.

City – booed off at half time – had offered little other than wasted opportunities from Nahki Wells and Reid, but improved considerably after the break. That it was aided by Parkinson replacing Nathan Doyle with the once-more-underachieving Jason Kennedy felt as significant as the summer signing’s winner at MK Dons on Saturday suggested it could be in determining his Bantams career. Kennedy was utterly anonymous tonight, and really you have to question where he goes from here? He has much convincing to do to an increasingly sceptical Bradford public.

Indeed as Doyle and City belatedly applied stronger pressure – visiting keeper Bartosz Białkowski made outstanding saves from James Hanson and Wells – in my mind I was left wondering what the future held for all of Parkinson’s close season signings. Aside from Bates (deputising for the sorely missed Andrew Davies), this was the 2012/13 vintage being wholly relied upon once again.

Yet in some parts of the team, the need for change is growing as the powers of the established players begin to fade or require a serious re-boot. If anyone needs a goal, it is Garry Thompson, and as he ran clean through just past the hour mark it looked like he’d get his moment. Białkowski won the one-on-one battle rather too easily, as Thompson produced a weak shot that summed up his performance. 10 minutes later, he was subbed to his obvious frustration. Four minutes later, his replacement Mark Yeates had scored.

And what a fantastic finish it was. Hanson knocked the ball down in the area before Wells laid it into the former Watford man’s path, and the strike from the edge of the area flew into the bottom corner. A shot in the arm for Parkinson’s gradual squad evolution approach, to go with Kennedy’s winner on Saturday. Yeates impressed once more from the bench and he looks a sure-fire starter for Sunday’s trip to Oldham.

City pressed on for a late winner, with the third substitute – Alan Connell – also making a difference in place of the groggy Wells. But for all the pressure, clear cut chances were low and it was hard to make a case that the Bantams merited the three points. County were not the worst side we will play this season, but their lack of finesse and guile suggests they will struggle to escape the bottom four.

Nonsense in the final stages came from Notts County being reduced to 10 men when Haber was sent off a crude elbow on Gary Jones. Haber should have been joined for an early bath by Liddle who applied a boot to Doyle’s face, but received only a yellow. As both benches clashed over the incident, referee Trevor Kettle sent County’s assistant manager Gregg Abbott – whose antics on the touchline were an embarrassment all night – to the stands. The former City favourite making a meal of leaving the dugout.

A strange night then, where it was difficult to feel either down-hearted or up-beat. There are no easy games in football, and as a newly-promoted club City certainly have no right to believe they should beat anybody at this level. Yet we have been spoiled by so many excellent performances this season against tougher opposition, which makes it frustrating when points are dropped in these circumstances.

No one, beyond the substitutes, played to their true capabilities. And, undoubtedly, the club won’t be earning a second successive promotion playing like this. But when the chips are down and that character and commitment still shines through, like it did tonight, it offers huge encouragement in the potential for City’s 18-month progress being continued for some time yet.

And that, more than a sluggish performance, is what this evening should be remembered for.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates, Meredith, Thompson (Yeates 65), Kennedy (Doyle 45), Jones, Reid, Hanson, Wells (Connell 70)

Not used: Ripley, Oliver, Folan, De Vita

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9 replies

  1. Don’t agree that Reid was as ineffective as you write, he’s had worse nights. Our problems last night came from Thompson being missing – he could of been forgiven if he’d put away that absolute sitter, but he didn’t, and MUST be dropped. For too long now he has not performed, at least with Reid you get an outstanding game now and then, and creates 1/2 chances a game – what has Thompson created lately? Nothing in any game I’ve seen in this current poor run, and apart from crawley and mk dons, I’ve been to every game since September.

    • I certainly agree that Reid was better on the night than Thompson, who barely touched the ball in the first half. Yet by Reid’s standards I felt he was below par. He’s someone I usually defend to the hilt and I’m not knocking him now, I just don’t think he played as well as he can (neither did anyone).

    • what has thommo created lately apart from setting up the game changing first at mkd itsnot so much the attack that needs scrutinising but the back 3 of bates, mcardle and the defencive frailty that is meredith

  2. Considering half the team was off colour they did alright. If I felt like chucking up I wouldn’t be up for a game of footy, but however sick they were they gave everything last night.
    I am disappointed how easily people want to turn on players, the effort they put in last night to try to get the winner against a team that showed they would time waste from minute 1 was great, if all they get is booing (I felt a lot of booing at half time was for Notts county’s approach and the weak referee than for City) perhaps that effort may ebb.
    Just over a year ago we were looking up at Notts County, that would be ludicrous now.
    Yes we need to figure out a solid style to play, but this time last year we were more or less about the same place in the league points and position wise and that turned out alright. We are in a higher league and we’re doing well in it. Look at the league table.

  3. I want to be positive, but I was furious at the final whistle last night. It’s one thing jumping on the bandwagon when Bradford snatch a point against one of the bigger sides in the division, but to be trailing the bottom team was disgusting. It’s amazing how much our team plays keep-ball when they don’t want to be playing at all really.
    I only hope that Oldham garners three points, now. That would certainly brighten my outlook for the season.

    • I am quite speechless that you could call trailing to the bottom team ‘disgusting’. What right do we have to assume we should beat anyone?

      Imagine if we were in Notts County’s position and had a tough away game at a side in the top six. Would we expect our team to lie down and lose, or battle hard for at least a point? Notts County were fighting for their lives and showed great determination last night. In my eyes they deserved their point.

    • On reflection do you think the use of the word ‘disgusting’ a little harsh. Disappointing yes, but not disgusting….

  4. I don’t think Thompson missed an absolute sitter. Yes he had a lot of space but he was on an angle and he got away a fairly strong shot on target which tested a decent keeper. When McLaughlin makes similar saves as he has often had to, he gets the credit. Wells missed an equally ‘easy’ chance in he first half. As for being disgusted with going a goal down to a team which finished 12th in League One last season, try being positive at the comeback and see it as a point gained. Not surprisingly we have come up against much better players this season and at times we have struggled at the back. Campbell Ryce I thought was outstanding for 20 minutes but we got to grips with him. We can all have opinions on the shortage of game time for Yeats, Taylor, McHugh but Parkinson keeps getting it right. He and the squad have been heroic in staying in the top 6 and not moaning about injuries, bugs, referees (much). They are helped by generally superb support and it needs to stay that way. I don’t think the ref was weak. He dealt with Jason’s pet hate of time wasting, he dealt with Abbott and Elbow Man, he booked 4 oppo and no City. I thought he gave three very soft free kicks against us in and around their area late on to give himself an easy life as refs sometimes do, but he wasn’t so bad. Unfortunately he did better than most of our players on the night, but keep the faith!

  5. The referee was poor in many ways and looked unfit. He also must have told the Assistants that he would make the decisions and that they could simply flag their agreement, for thats what happened.
    However remember back to the Tranmere game and the keeper who wasted time from very early in the game. The referee eventually told him that he would book him if he did it again around the 76th minute. Of course he did it again because he knew he could and was booked probably around 84th miinute.
    Against Notts County the keeper tried to waste time and the ref immediately booked him. Result he did not do it again.

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