When there is nothing else to give

18 Jan
20140118_165618

Photo by Mark Danylczuk

Sheffield United 2

Murphy 7, Maguire 40

Bradford City 2

Jones 56, Hanson 63

Saturday 18 January, 2018

By Jason McKeown

Stripped bare of confidence, enthusiasm and even dignity – there was at least one admirable quality that a forlorn-looking Bradford City side refused to surrender at half time: their spirit.

That spirit, one which led the Bantams to Wembley, twice, remained under the bonnet when it seemed there was nothing else left. That spirit, one which has taken the club from peering over the trapdoor of non-league football to League One, continues to perform miracles. That spirit, one which we feared had been lost of late, enabled the players to recover from a truly pathetic first half performance – clawing back a 2-0 deficit to take a useful point from Bramall Lane.

At the interval it felt like we should be calling time on a number of players’ City careers. To plead with Phil Parkinson to remove some of the struggling 2012/13 promotion winners from the firing line, before they destroy their hero legacies. But this comeback – whilst lacking in quality and failing to fully answer a growing list of questions – was a statement of defiance. A clear message from the players that they are not yet giving up on themselves; and neither should we give up on them.

Fittingly, Gary Jones was at the forefront of the redemption. City’s skipper has been heavily criticised in recent weeks and, like so many others, under-performed badly in the first half. But the bite was back in his play. He refused to let City surrender – screaming and urging on everyone around him. You could clearly see how hurt he was by his team’s feeble first half showing.

Jones improved significantly after the break and so did his team mates – the 36-year-old rewarded for his courage by a deflected low drive rolling into the bottom corner to put City back into the game. It could ultimately be looked back upon as one of the most important moments of the season.

Seven minutes later, the visitors had taken advantage of Sheffield United’s nervousness to level the game. Jones’ free kick from out-wide, James Hanson’s tap in at the far post. Pandemonium in the away end, as 3,000 of us City fans wildly celebrated the most unlikely of fightbacks. Jones raced to the front of the lower tier and clenched his fist in triumph. The whole team deserve credit for the turnaround – not least debut striker Aaron McLean, who had a hand in both goals – but the veteran was the true inspiration behind it.

He still has so much to offer the club.

When McLean burst through moments after Hanson’s goal, the dream of come-from-behind victory was on. But in reality Sheffield United would regroup, push forwards and dominate the remaining half hour. They will wonder how they didn’t win a game which they bossed for all but those seven costly minutes. But City’s strong team spirit has thwarted bigger and better teams than the Blades in the recent past, and it was enough to get the players through to the final whistle.

Yet as welcome as a point on the road always is, there were serious concerns about this performance that cannot be ignored. The first half showing was bad – very, very bad – and there are a number of problem areas within the team that the growing injury list is not helping.

Sheffield United raced out of the blocks to open the scoring after only seven minutes, when the outstanding Tony McMahon squeezed past Carl McHugh to whip in a clinical low cross that was swept home by Jamie Murphy. City might have responded straight away – a header from James Hanson smacking the crossbar and the rebound attempt from McHugh blocked on the line. The players argued loudly that the blocking came from a Sheffield United arm, but referee Roger East – who had a truly appalling game – sided against the Bantams. A more home-biased referee you will struggle to find.

Trailing in a game – no matter how early on – always prompts supporter anxiety that translates onto the players; and today there was heavy air of frustration as passing moves and attacks easily broke down. Kyel Reid slowly began to get into the game and cause problems. Sheffield United’s McMahon was obviously concerned by Reid’s threat and put in a strong challenge which left the City winger in a heap on the ground and – after a long delay – stretchered off the pitch. Again East took no action against McMahon, and the impact that Reid’s removal had in weakening the City XI was quickly exposed.

Five minutes before half time it was 2-0. Harry Maguire headed a corner – unmarked – goalwards and Jason Kennedy, stood on the line, somehow failed to keep the ball out. One of the feeblest goals that City have conceded all season. As Sheffield United continued to pour forward with menace, you began to fear the worst for a hiding.

The team was malfunctioning. Kennedy and Jones might have done great things together at Rochdale, but they just don’t seem to complement each other as a pairing. Kennedy enjoyed his best game in a Bantams shirt against Bristol City last week, but today he was once again reduced to peripheral contributor. I just don’t see what his strengths are and what he offers that is different or better to Jones, Nathan Doyle and Ricky Ravenhill.

He was not the only summer signing who has disappointed so far. An earlier-than-expected introduction for Mark Yeates – replacing the injured Reid – should have presented the former Blade with a big opportunity to stake a claim for a starting place. Within minutes he ducked out of a 50-50 challenge, and in general failed to offer anything positive in the final third of the pitch.

I still believe that Yeates is the most talented player at the club, but for effort and application he would currently be ranked amongst the lowest. Yeates was not giving 100% and I find that difficult to stomach. There is simply no excuse for some of the things he did – and did not do – today.

The chief victim of Yeates’ lack of defensive support was McHugh. The centre back – covering the injured James Meredith at left back – was taken to the cleaners by Ryan Flynn during the first half. It was heart-breaking to see a young player embarrassed so badly; but McHugh is not playing in his natural position, and has every right to demand the support of others in making a go of it. Yeates failed to offer him that support – not even close. Parkinson switched McHugh and centre back Matthew Bates over at half time; and both fared much better in their new positions. Yeates, to his credit, supported his left back much more effectively after the interval.

The second half saw that Jones-led improvement, and in no time at all City were level. It was then a matter of defending deep and hitting Sheffield United on the break, as the home side knocked loudly on the door. Jose Baxter gave Stephen Darby one of his most difficult afternoons of the season, and it was a relief when the former Everton man hobbled off injured.

With little coming from the centre of City’s midfield or the flanks – at one stage Garry Thompson under-hit a cross, got another chance and then over-hit his second attempt – Hanson and McLean fed on scraps. There was promise to their link-up approach that already looks set to mirror the Hanson-Wells partnership. McLean showed good strength and intelligent running – he should have had a penalty when he was clotheslined in the box. A reasonable debut overall.

A point was merited for the spirit that was evident, but Parkinson has much to ponder over the 10-day break before high-flying Preston come to Valley Parade. He must address the sudden drying up of chances created for his front two; he must re-boot Nathan Doyle so he gets back to his early season form; he must hope that Andrew Davies’ imminent return – he warmed up on the pitch before the match – shores up a leaky defence.

There is no doubt that major squad restructuring is going to be required to take City forwards next season; but in the short-term, the limitations of this group of players shouldn’t be significant enough to prompt the level of concern that Sheffield United fans continue to feel regarding their League One status.

City clearly need to start winning some games, but they are not losing many either. A January nip and tuck – rather than major surgery – will see us through to the end of this season. And whatever Phil Parkinson’s summer thinking on who goes and stays for next season, he must ensure that this squad’s commendable spirit appears at the very top of his retained list.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates, McHugh, Thompson, Jones, Kennedy (Doyle 72), Reid (Yeates 31), McLean (Gray 90), Hanson

Not used: Jameson, Oliver, Taylor, Graham

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17 Responses to “When there is nothing else to give”

  1. BantamJo January 18, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

    Good report Jason.
    Glad PP had McHugh moved to partner McArdle, much stronger as a result. You’re right on Yeates, needs to show more committment to the cause and play for his team mates.

    Great crowd today who weren’t too deterred by over zealous stewards and a naff ref.

    Davies and a new midfielder would see a mid table finish to be proud of.

  2. Sean Carroll January 18, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

    Great report Jason, can’t agree about Yeates though, It pains me to this but his attitude isn’t great nor is his playing ability from what I’ve seen. Thankfully McHugh was put along side McArdle to great effect in the second half, love this all Irish central defensive pairing who never let the club down. By all accounts Bates did a more than adequate job at filling in at left back in the second half. All in all a great show of character from the team and a very useful point at a difficult venue. A big well done to the BCFC fans, a fantastic 3,130 turn out and equally from what I could hear fantastic backing for the BCFC players.

    • wayne January 19, 2014 at 2:03 am #

      Good point! As we know spirit, determination never in doubt. Yeates to me looks like he’s given up?

  3. Herts Bantam January 19, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Thought Jonny Mac played well too and the diving blocks in the second half summed up the revitalised attitude.

    Why are the so called stewards allowed to get away with such aggressive and rude behaviour. My mate who at 50 odd doesn’t fit the stereo type for a thug was to told to F off and then force ably removed for asking steward number 5 that he couldn’t sit in his seat as someone else was in it. They way they ran like demented hooligans themselves to dive on some unsuspecting fan who had spilled onto the concourse when we scored was shocking to watch.

    Oh and don’t mention the red that will get me started.

  4. Jo | B (@upflung) January 19, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Hard to know just how to judge these games at the moment isn’t? In the context of a slghtly better run we’d comfortably chalk that up as beeing a decent enough, if scrappy, point away from home. So yes – there are still more questions than answers, hovering over the team and some individual players, but, as Jason notes above, there is still the grit and determination in this team for us not to be too impatient or worried right now. Wait and see, keep the faith!

    A side note on the ref – those of us who could see the big screen in the corner of BL were treated to a replay of the 1st half “highlights” and they actuall showed the hand ball penalty shout we had. Really, really blatant hand ball to deny a goal! Add to that Hanson conceding a free kick when they do a netball move to stop him heading it and the biziarre booking of Garry Thompson. Maybe the club should get Mr Windass to coach the team on how to play the ref. a little better – omitting, of course, the bit where you swear at them in car parks and get lengthy bans.

    • Ken Pickles January 19, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

      I too thought that the Thompson booking was strange to say the least. Right in front of the totally unpredictable linesman on the left, who, quite rightly, flagged for a throw in, the referee then cam running over from a more central position to show Thomo a yellow card. For what, I have no idea. If there was a foul, then surely the linesman should have flagged it.

  5. Paul Jackson January 19, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Its time for us all to do what the team did at half time yesterday. Roll our sleeves up, put our faith in the manager and give it 100%. This is a sticky patch no doubt but as Jason picked out, the spirit is still there and that should give us all hope.Good report Jason.

  6. Plastic Bantam January 20, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    Think blaming Kennedy for the 2nd goal is very unfair… If McLoughlin had actually come off his line like he should have and punched it away it would never got to the head of their player. However he once again stayed where he was, then got one of those famous chocolate wrists he seems to have and make a very poor attempt to get it away.. We really need a better number 1. Just don’t think he is anywhere near good enough

    • Sean Carroll January 20, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

      I’ve played in the past and even at the level I played at I’d have been gutted to have let in the shot that Bristol had to score the equalizer and not to have dealt with the cross at Sheffield that lead to the second goal. Thought JM was fantastic when he came back at the end of last season, the save he made at Burton will live long in the memory but he needs pushing with another experienced keeper (Oscar Jansson looked very capable) giving him competition, something that worked exceptionally well last season with him and Duke competing for the gloves. The club needs to get back that goalkeeping dynamic.

      • Jason January 20, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

        Having watched the goal back on TV since publishing my report, I would say McLaughlin is far from blameless but Kennedy barely had to move to stop the ball creeping in. Frankly what is the point of having a man on the post if they are going to let that sneak in? There just seems to be a lack of reaction from a number of City players which is bemusing.

        As for McLaughlin’s form, personally I think he is having a good season and has made a number of important saves that are too often ignored or forgotten (he made two excellent saves on Saturday, for example). For sure he has made the occasional mistake, such as against Bristol City the week before, but overall his game is coming on in leaps and bounds. There are calls to sign a more experienced keeper, but after six years at the club when do we start considering McLaughlin to be an experienced keeper? For all the ups and downs player and club have had over those six years, I certainly wouldn’t say he was a rookie. Whilst McLaughlin is far from the best keeper in the division he is equally not the worst – which is probably a fitting summary of this squad as a whole.

      • Sean Carroll January 20, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

        Hello Jason, looking at the replay on Saturday, It looks to me like Kennedy was expecting McLaughlin to deal with it, If as suggested in the T&A he got a hand to the ball then any deflection at that close range either hits the defender on the line or he can’t react to the change of flight of the ball. it looked to me like It was the keepers ball all day long, the cross in relative terms looked an easy punch. Don’t want to be super critical, but the keeper is there to make match saving saves and good decisions, that’s his job. He certainly didn’t do his job well in regards to the second goal on Saturday or in regards to the Bristol goal. An experienced keeper to give JM competition, he seems like someone who you get the best of by having someone in the wings competing for his place, I believe that is a good option to have, It certainly worked well last season. Of course there is also the option to start afresh in the summer.

      • Jason January 20, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

        Hi Sean

        We have an article coming up tomorrow evening that covers this goal more articulately than I can, and I don’t want to steal the writer’s thunder in the point he makes. I do feel that more of the blame belongs to Kennedy. Whatever McLaughlin should or should not have done, Kennedy could surely do more than stand there and let it go past him.

        McLaughlin probably does need competition, and it’s a shame Duke wasn’t persuaded to stay on (can understand why he left). But after six years of time and investment in Jonny Mac I personally am very happy with him as number one and think we should stick with him. He has got better and better, and he will continue to do so.

      • Sean Carroll January 20, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

        Hello Jason, surely the keeper has to be responsibility for the goal, I’m surmising the ball was deflected by McLaughlin as was indicated by the T&A this would make it impossible to defend on the line as McLaughlin was very close to Kennedy, making him blameless, if it wasn’t deflected then Kennedy is also culpable. The header was weak and should have been saved and even before that the cross should have been dealt with by the keeper, for me, two glaring and crucial mistakes. I’d certainly like another experienced keeper in the club as at the moment I don’t think JM is consistent enough to play a whole season and is actually costing BCFC points. Whether he ever get’s that consistency is debatable.

        Sounds like there will be more on this in the forthcoming article.

      • Dave January 20, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

        I wasn’t at this game. So first of all, thank you for the match report Jason, it’s much appreciated, as ever.

        Competition for a place in the starting 11 is a given as being necessary, but what I find fascinating about this discussion of McLaughlin regarding this one particular goal is the debate it has provoked regarding his inadequacies. I am not suggesting he is faultless, he’s clearly not. However, for the sake of balance maybe we should have a similar level of discussion regarding some of the astounding saves he has made over the second quarter of this season – and there have been a few – which have kept us in games and contributed to the run of draws (thereby avoiding losses) when we have been throwing people forward chasing games. At such times he has done his job amazingly well.

      • Jason January 21, 2014 at 8:43 am #

        Well said

      • Sean Carroll January 21, 2014 at 11:24 am #

        Hello Dave, the JM save that really stood out for me was the reaction save at Burton in the playoffs, a crucial and brilliant piece of goalkeeping and the rest is history. This isn’t a witch hunt, far from it, I want all BCFC players to be as good as they can be, hence the idea of competition for JM, it certainly brought the best out of him at the end of last season. We need to get that dynamic back.

  7. Bantam Sheffield January 20, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    Excellent report of the match and the individual players themselves. I would hope that Parky leaves Bates at Full Back with McHugh at Centre Half if no specialist is signed.
    Yeates was a major disappointment and I am sorry to say that Kennedy is just not good enough to play in this team. I did not and do not expect Promotion this season but I do now hope that Parky uses the remainder of the season to sort things and players out; players that he has signed.

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