Notts County 3
Campbell-Ryce 32, McGregor 88, Grealish 90
Bradford City 0
Wednesday 1 January, 2014
By Jason McKeown (picture by Kieran Wilkinson)
Everything is broken, and for Phil Parkinson this is a big, big test of his managerial ability.
It doesn’t really matter who you are and what league you play in, losing to the side bottom of the division never looks good and Bradford City’s dismal 3-0 thumping to basement side Notts County stands head and shoulders above all others as the worst result of the season. A new low in a run of form that has seen the Bantams continually slump to new depths. One that only serves to further blacken the mood at the beginning of such a pivotal month, both on and off the field.
Parkinson can only hope that this is a watershed moment for the right reasons. The 2014 version of the 2013, season-turning 4-1 Exeter slump, perhaps. His tried and trusted formula of lining up the team has delivered spectacular results over the previous 18 months, but it now looks tired, feeble and wholly predictable. Watching from the Meadow Lane stand, there were times today when you could easily have closed your eyes and known exactly what City would end up doing with the ball. It must have been relatively easy for opposing number Shaun Derry to prepare for too. Defend the space around James Hanson, so his flick ons come to nothing. And stop Kyel Reid.
County were hardly world beaters and three goals flattered their efforts; but in victory they have moved off the bottom to give themselves a fighting chance of staying in League One. City stand 11 places above them, but recent results mean we must now share the Magpies’ season objective. The play offs are something to forget about, avoiding relegation is all that matters. The gap between ourselves and the bottom four has narrowed to just seven points.
Everything is broken, and there are no quick fixes. What has happened to the never-say-die spirit that saw this group of players produce astonishing heroics last season? Where is the pace, tempo and thrust that was so hard for others to live with, even earlier this season? How do we get Garry Thompson going again? What has happened to James Meredith? To Gary Jones? And where are the alternative options?
Today brought to the fore all of these and other problems. Robbed of Nahki Wells through injury (the rumour mill is currently in overdrive and it looks increasingly unlikely that he will play for City again), Garry Thompson was cast up front alongside Hanson and, with it, the problems on the right side of midfield were heightened. Mark Yeates was overlooked in favour of sticking Jason Kennedy on the flank. It wasn’t the former Rochdale man’s game at all; but then again, an underwhelming first six months at the club leave me questioning just what, exactly, Kennedy’s game is. He doesn’t look like a Parkinson player, and the raised expectations the manager’s success at Valley Parade has triggered leave me heading to the conclusion that he is not a Bradford City player.
Kennedy failed to offer any kind of balance, leaving Jones and Ricky Ravenhill looking pedestrian in their attempts to control the game. Midway through a half of no incident, City’s midfield lost the ball, Jamal Campbell-Ryce charged down the flank behind a static Kennedy and dribbled the ball past Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle, before firing County into the lead.
You looked for a reaction from the players, but there was none. Many supporters are lining up to take pot shots at Jones – not something I agree with – but what concerns me more than suspicions his powers are fading is his sudden lack of leadership. Last season Jones was the closest we have come since Stuart McCall to having a player who visibly lifted the performances of those around him. An inspiration that caused others to give more. The magic has gone for the moment. It is heart-breaking to watch.
Everything is broken, and the lack of decent City pressure to find an equaliser offered nothing for the quietest City away following I have seen in years to get behind. Some will call this a depressing vision of life after Wells, but that ignores the reality that Parkinson will obviously bring a replacement in should he leave. Wells or whoever up front, no one will score many if City continue to create such few chances.
On the left wing Kyel Reid suffers from Meredith’s low confidence in the sense that no one is offering him overlapping support, but equally he needs to show more bravery in contesting 50-50 balls and not being afraid of receiving a clattering. Still, even below par, the two best City chances involved Reid. A promising burst forward by the winger was halted illegally on the edge of the box, and from the resultant free kick Jones forced a finger-tip save from the excellent Bartosz Bialkowski. Another Reid charge forwards saw him attempt a low shot that was palmed away by Bialkowski. That was as good as it got.
Oliver McBurnie – who came on for Kennedy, with Thompson pushed back to the right wing – almost tapped home the rebound from Reid’s effort. The young striker toiled hard and showed some nice touches, but overall found the going tough. He tried his best to read Hanson’s flick ons, but lacks the same telepathic awareness as Wells. Such understandings are not developed quickly.
Later on Mark Yeates made his standard introduction for Thompson, but offered his standard minimal contribution. Young striker Lewis Clarkson – rather than fellow sub Alan Connell – came on for Matthew Bates, as Parkinson attempted to throw the kitchen sink at an anxious Notts County. As much as Wells dominates transfer talk, the future of Connell, Luke Oliver, Matt Taylor and Andy Gray looks pre-determined. Parkinson is currently favouring young players over these experienced heads. The decks are seemingly about to be cleared.
As City pushed forward, County were able to rob Jones of possession and Jack Grealish laid the ball into Callum McGregor’s path to make it 2-0. Then in stoppage time, Grealish was rewarded with the goal that his outstanding display merited. Many City supporters headed for the exits.
Those who stayed until the end booed at full time – and continued booing when the players came over to applaud us. Most players quickly gave up and turned around, only Hanson continued to walk towards the away section. Parkinson – who always makes a point of thanking fans win, lose or draw – made no attempt to come over.
Everything is broken – and for the 10 days before the next match, against third-bottom Bristol City, the inquest will continue. The imminent departure of Wells is dividing supporters, with many questioning the consequences and even the wisdom of profiting on a player who originally cost the club peanuts.
Parkinson increasingly finds himself under pressure from supporters – and probably elements of the Board, who don’t exactly have a track record of showing patience (one director was apparently overheard criticising the manager during last season’s play offs). To me, any such suggestions about a change of manager are a non-starter. It isn’t a debate. It isn’t a discussion. Parkinson signed a three-year contract last summer after we supporters were desperate for him to stay on. You don’t rip that up six months later, you don’t even suggest it.
Anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to share a constructive plan that outlines how parting ways with Parkinson will improve the club. But it’s highly unlikely that I will agree with you, because the club’s history of changing managers is a painfully miserable one. We have gone through anyone and everyone trying to find a successful manager – and now we have one. Leave those dice alone.
This is a wretched time for the club, but all of Parkinson’s achievements afford him time to get it right. We’ve enjoyed so many good moments under the manager, but it’s too easy to back him when things were going well. Now is the time to really show our support. Crank up the positivity, not the pressure. Believe in his judgement of managing this football club; of getting us through this transitional period of player turnover in the January window; of turning around this poor run of form.
Everything is broken, but it can be fixed. The challenge is to reboot, move forwards and continue the new era of Bantams progression. Parkinson will do just that.
City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates (Clarkson 86), Meredith, Kennedy (McBurnie 56), Ravenhill, Jones, Reid, Thompson (Yeates 71), Hanson
Not used: Ripley, McHugh, Stockdill, Connell