Problems mount for stagnating Bradford City

26 Dec

Rotherham home

Bradford City 0

Rotherham United 1

Vukic 20

Thursday 26 December, 2013

By Jason McKeown  (image by Claire Epton, see note below)

A cloud hovers stubbornly over Valley Parade, and with it the mood is creeping darker and darker. We Made History, well that’s now history. The here and now sees a growing list of problems and, troublingly, an ever-dwindling range of potential solutions.

Bradford City were painfully second best today. Rotherham United’s sixth straight victory over the Bantams was the closest in terms of scoreline, but the widest in terms of class. Steve Evans’ side were as horrible and crude as ever, yet they can suddenly play good football too. They have progressed since they were here last April, evolving into a highly effective League One side that now sits comfortably in its final play off position, eight points ahead of City.

And on this evidence, that seems about right. Of course there were mitigating circumstances for the home side’s lacklustre display which cannot, and should not, be ignored. With James Hanson joining long-term absentee Andrew Davies on the sidelines, it was bad timing all round that Andy Gray’s City career reboot was brought to another premature halt through a dead leg. Phil Parkinson overlooked Alan Connell as a replacement in favour of handing 17-year-old Oliver McBurnie a full debut. His strike pairing with 23-year-old Nahki Wells ranking as one of the youngest City have fielded in years.

It surely demanded a change in approach from the rest of the team, but inexplicably the same high tempo, direct tactics were deployed against a Rotherham side who has found them comfortable to defend against even when the physical presence of Hanson was available. And though McBurnie enjoyed a promising debut that saw him show good strength and quick feet, nothing was sticking up front and Rotherham were able to regain possession from the Bantams far too easily.

Perhaps it would have been different if an early half volley attempt from Wells hadn’t flashed past the wrong side of the post. City started the game well with McBurnie coming deep to get involved with attacks and Garry Thompson having one of his better days; but gradually Rotherham neutralised the threat of City’s strikeforce and the erratic Kyel Reid. The Millers stuck men behind the ball and then counter attacked in packs. As City attempted to get numbers to support McBurnie and Wells, the high defensive line played by the back four – which featured Carl McHugh for the first time in the league this season – was routinely breached.

City can’t say they weren’t warned, and eventually fell behind to a superb curling effort from Haris Vuckic, 20 minutes in. After the game Parkinson was asked twice about how unfortunate it was to concede such a quality goal and, to his credit, refused to accept it as an excuse. Because, in truth, it was a highly preventable strike, in view of the dismal defending in the build up to it. Possession was squandered in a poor area of the pitch, and Matthew Bates once again got caught out by an opposition player running at him with speed. Gary Jones had successfully halted Lee Frecklington’s charge forward, only for the loose ball to fall to Vukic with no defender anywhere near him. Take your time, pick your spot, 1-0 Rotherham. Wonderful, but easy too.

The response was woeful. Thompson forced a decent save from 15 minutes later, but it was City’s only shot on target as Rotherham continued to pour forward on the break with a greater sense of co-ordination and purpose. It was hugely concerning, not least the way that City’s central midfield duo were completely outgunned.

Jones’ influence on the match was minimal and at times he sadly looked as though his age has caught up with his body. Over 10 years his junior, Doyle had no such excuse. Yet he continued to lose possession and constantly seemed to make the wrong choice. Rotherham’s 4-4-2 matched City’s but their midfield four was much more compact, enabling them to run the game. In Ben Pringle they have arguably the division’s best wide player, and he gave Stephen Darby his toughest examination of the season. Alex Revell led the line superbly for the Millers, rubbing it in just how much City missed Hanson.

The game’s pattern was set in that first half, but most troubling of all today was City’s complete inability to alter it in the second. Parkinson did not cover himself in glory with the way he set up his team. And to continue to play in a manner requiring a targetman was baffling in the absence of such a player to get on the end of the numerous punts forward. Mark Yeates and Alan Connell were introduced during the second half, but the strategy was never altered. Rotherham looked more likely to score the next goal and had four terrific opportunities – two of which saw Jon McLaughlin make fantastic saves, the other two were wasted by Kieran Agard.

Only late on was the formation altered, with the Peter Taylor-esqe introduction of Luke Oliver up front. Even the lanky defender failed to win anything against a dominant United backline. The threat of an equaliser hung in the air as City continued to press up until the final whistle, but it never looked likely to materialise. Nor would it have been merited.

Evans punched the air at full time and raced over to the jubilant Rotherham United supporters. He may be widely despised in this corner of the world, but he sure feels at home at Valley Parade, clocking up a third straight managerial triumph. From the home sections some booing was heard, but quiet disapproval over recent events is yet to truly turn into public dissent. Nevertheless, that cloud ain’t shifting away. A storm is brewing.

Do you blame the manager? Undoubtedly Parkinson deserves a degree of criticism over today, but his ability to change a badly-set up team was hindered by the lack of attacking options on the bench.

Do you blame the players? For effort and determination I don’t believe so, but there is no doubt that too many are struggling to produce their best form. Today James Meredith had his worst game in claret and amber, Reid lacked the bravery needed to effect the outcome, Bates failed to provide the back four leadership City badly need in Davies’ absence, and Wells – who it was rumoured at the game is Leeds United-bound next month – looked completely lost without Hanson.

Do you blame the chairmen? If January comes and goes with Wells elsewhere and not much money spent on replacements, it seems likely that they will come into the firing line from supporters still confused as to how the League Cup windfall was spent so quickly.

City have stagnated over the last three months, and there is far too much of a reliance on a handful of players. When everyone was fit at the start of the season, the Bantams were flying; but since Davies’ bad injury we haven’t looked the same team, and spells without Wells or Hanson have worsened performances. Somehow, this has to change; because no team goes through a season without the challenge of dealing with injuries.

Parkinson ends his greatest year in management approaching a crossroads. No one can doubt that he has built a truly fantastic football team; but from limited resources, he now somehow needs to find a way of building a fantastic football squad.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, Bates, McHugh (Oliver 87), Meredith, Thompson (Yeates 60), Jones, Doyle, Reid, Wells, McBurnie (Connell 73)

Not used: Ripley, Taylor, Ravenhill, Kennedy

With ongoing gratitude and thanks to the wonderfully talented Claire Epton for providing the image included in this report. Have a look at capturedbyclaire.wordpress.com, it’s ace.

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11 Responses to “Problems mount for stagnating Bradford City”

  1. Jammin December 26, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Absolutely correct in every department. The Width of A Post maintains its position as the definitive post match read due to its new found honesty and no holds barred assessment.

    BFB was often too flowery. Recent articles pull no punches. This makes for a better read all together and after games like today are cathartic. It’s good to know others saw the same game as you.

    I really don’t think City fans realise how close we are to undoing all the good work of last season. It really worries me. If we continue with this run we will be in a relegation battle. This will be without Wells. Without goals.

    This leads me on to a point everyone seems to be missing. Hanson. He’s been immense over the last 12 months. Twitter is awash with “oh he we miss Hanson” comments. And they are totally justified. Because without him Wells doesn’t function and vice versa. But this misses two massive points;

    Firstly, it shows that we need him to play the hoof ball so often criticised by opposing managers and fans. That’s by no means Hansons fault I accept.

    Secondly, the direct approach has been roundly un criticisable as it works with Hanson and Wells. Big mans flick ons and tenacity and Wells pace and goals complimenting each other perfectly. But what happens when Wells goes? We’ve just awarded, again in my view rightly, Hanson with a lengthy high earners contract. But will he then go back to being the guy who wins it all, for it to fall to no one, who doesn’t score enough goals. How quickly will the fans then get on his back now he’s an established top first team earner?

    This may seem unthinkable at the moment but as I have seen Captain Marvel Jones roundly criticised today, I very much doubt it.

    And that’s why I say we need to be very careful. As we are then back at losing, moaning at good honest players and being miserable.

    And I for one, don’t want to go back to that.

  2. wayne December 26, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Very disappointed by our midfield today. Agree Jones is struggling for form but I hear his fitness levels are better than last year and has showed no signs of age catching up with him in all the fitness test’s so far?
    Doyle is struggling to have the same impact he had last year playing lge2 football?
    I think it’s a team very low on confidence, our big player’s struggling to find form?.
    1win in 13 game’s say’s as much? .
    I honestly think next summer Phil Parkinson will have the chance to rebuild the squad with the extra quality needed at this level. More Player’s will be out of contract for him to release. It’s going to be difficult as do we really know what sort of wage budget Phil Parkinson will have at his disposal?. £600, 000 over budget on wages this season were already at maximum on the 60% wage cap. Let’s face it! What club would want to take Andy Gray on loan or take over the contract he’s on at Valley Parade? Also Connell, Ravenhill will be on good money so I cant see them moving on unless there contracts are paid up in full?. I really wouldn’t like to think that the club sold Wells in January put the £600, 000 wage deficit taken out the fee and possibly leave us with a talented youngster in Oli Mcburnie playing more games, he needs time to develop into a man at 18 his body is still developing and obviously not ready to play a strong part in the rest of the season. This is possibly Phil Parkinsons first mini crisis since hes arrived at Bradford Cty? . If you look at his signings since promotion I can
    Argue the player’s brought in really haven’t made a serious impact on the player’s already
    At the club. Kennedy, Yeates, Gray, Bates, Forlan, Ripley haven’t done enough to give the
    Rest of the player’s competition for there shirt’s. Maybe Phil Parkinson has been way to Loyal to the team that brought us promotion and one major Cup Final ?. One thing I’m certain of is expect a summer of change. Until then my fellow Bantams frustrating times ahead.

  3. Mal December 26, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    What worries me is that what I see being exposed now are long-term weaknesses that have been covered by good form in other areas up to now. The team as a whole lacks attacking nous. Individual players can still influence games for us but the collectively they don’t seem to know how to systematically create chances. This problem has been compounded by some signings that haven’t really worked out for whatever reason.

    I’m not really interested in who is to blame, although I’m sure we all have an opinion about that. The responsibility for fixing it lies clearly with one man: Phil Parkinson. He is the man who has restored pride to our team after some awful years (although Luke Oliver up front took me back…). Changing managers would be awful solution because I think we would struggle to get a better one. That said, if the club give him any resources I think it would be appropriate if some were used to recruit staff to support him in coaching and player recruitment.

    Coaching, because do we honestly believe that this squad cannot be helped to produce more? We can all name players who don’t get in the team but we personally rate. More can be got out of these players. And the players that do play could combine better, and find better solutions to the situations they finds themselves in.

    Player recruitment, because there is value out there but it would be ridiculously time consuming for the manager to get around watching all of the talent and sounding out agents and clubs by himself.

    Finally, well done for providing a balanced and reasoned response to what happened today and over the last few weeks. I have always admired (if not shared) WOAP’s positivity but I fell that today’s display crossed some kind of line and concerns needed to be aired.

  4. Mark Neale December 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Yes we are, and Phil Parkinson are at a crossroads, that many of us saw coming weeks/months ago.
    Some of Phil Parkinsons decisions do confuse me, but so far they have be backed by success, and its difficult to argue with that.
    Why did we sign Taylor when Nelson went, as surely we had a surfeit in central defenders.
    Why did Folan arrive, and not feature.
    Why did we sign Gray on believed high money,
    I ask these questions mainly because the added benefit to the squad impacted on this 60% restriction.
    Surely its more important to cover areas of the squad where the most impact could be made.
    Earlier in the season Oliver made one appearance just as he was said to be going out on loan, whilst Kennedy, could not even make the bench. Then Oliver never features but does not go out on loan, Kennedy scores, but is quickly dropped.
    The Taylor goes out on loan which probably meant we didnt need him anyway.
    Even the substitution of Thompson around the 60th/70th minute of EVERY game is predictable.
    Connel has made things happen but the manager does not seem to think he can do it for 90 minutes.
    Then Ravenhill, Connel and Gray are told they can all go out on loan, but eventually only Ravenhill does go out, and you have to wonder with a small squad, if the rest of the squad think “Well at least I have a place on the bench”.
    Ravenhill is then recalled, but must be thinking, or know, he does not really feature in the managers thinking.
    Then today we pitch in a green young player, ahead of Connel must be really thinking that he does not have a chance of ever featuring from the off.
    So yes, there are several incidences of bad management here. and with a small squad exposed by injuries to key players, we really are at a crossroads.

    • wayne December 26, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

      Yes Mark you make serious valid pts here. It’s never a great sign when a player that’s recently left the club puts out statement saying Phil Parkinson never spoke to him for a month about him moving on and didn’t speak to him or give him handshake?

      • Jason December 26, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

        The aforementioned statement from Caleb Folan:

        http://calebfln.tumblr.com/post/71226101172/bantams

        Worth noting two sides to every story and Parkinson has yet to share his.

      • Omar December 26, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

        We don’t know what happens behind the scenes. Folan could have done something unprofessional that hasn’t come to light – him bringing that letter out to the fans seems unprofessional in itself. The club employed him for a “probation” period then released him. Standard. No need to try and rock the City boat. If PP was really as cold to him as Folan suggests there much have been a reason.

  5. Mark Neale December 26, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    Yes agreed that that there will be another side (PPs) to the Folan thing, which hopefully we will hear, but its more the series of strange decisions that worry me. Even today we suddenly developed this rather comedic pantomime at free kicks, with Reid twice? thrice? holding the ball above his head. Then the free kick, or set piece if you like, was poor. Last season and earlier this it was one of our strengths.
    Just feel we have lost our way a little in recent weeks, but ultimately I have enough faith in PP to sort it.

  6. Ron Beaumont December 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    A very honest and very accurate report.We have been on the fringe of such an abject performance for several recent games. Among the key points you include in this report is the phrase about Rotherham hunting in packs.Perhaps the biggest difference between the two sides yesterday was the contrast in movement.
    Our midfield – such as it was – was so easily bypassed when possession was given away
    and when we did attack there was a complete lack of support. One break we had left Reid out wide and a Rotherham penalty box with not a single City shirt in it.Just no options.
    Tranmere showed how easy it was to break our lines in numbers and Rotherham just underlined it, thankfully squandering chances to let us off the hook of an embarrassing scoreline.
    There were signs that we were able to vary our approach in the earlier part of the season but our weaknesses have been exposed and opponents are exploiting these with ease.
    Now no player seems keen to take responsibility and we see the ball played back because of a lack of movement usually ending in a big hoof – often under pressure – that relinquishes the ball. No doubt someone can find the statistic for the number of times the ball has been put back to Johnny Mac for ” distribution” when we have players who can make a telling pass. It is worrying!
    What is more worrying however is the complacency that we will sort it out in the coming transfer window or in the summer. Our recent form has taken us nearer to automatic relegation than promotion and we look more set for fighting to stay up rather than go up again.
    We are close to the end of what has been an incredible year where so much praise has been rightly earned by all involved with the club but we need to focus on now and the future and stop watching the DVD.
    The players we have WILL move in terms of transfers -that is inevitable – but whoever puts on the shirt we need to see movement on the pitch that gets us back to playing as a team. The arguments among players were there for all to see yesterday and I for one never expected to see this team do that.

    • wayne December 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      There’s quite a few rumours on twitter that Seabrook Crisps owner is looking to be involved in the boardroom? Others say chairman lawn standing down to spend more time with his family? I wouldn’t normally take any notice however the person who’s said she heard this is very trust worthy?

  7. Ian L December 27, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle
    47 appearances between them this season. Total goals between them 2.

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