Five issues facing Phil Parkinson

SAM_0499

By Jason McKeown

1) The defence is conceding too many goals

Having kept four clean sheets in the first 10 League One matches of this season, the last 21 games have seen just two shutouts. Bradford City have only conceded more than two goals on three occasions during this poor run, but too often the team’s overall efforts have been undermined by conceding at crucial times.

The long-term lay off of Andrew Davies was widely blamed for the defence’s sudden struggles, even though a similar period of City being without the influential centre back, last season, saw those memorable victories over Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa. Davies’ recent return from injury has not yet resulted in the expected improvement.

There is no doubting how vital Davies is to City’s cause, but the problem runs deeper. His long-time partner-in-crime, Rory McArdle, has struggled compared to last season. The left back slot – even before James Meredith’s untimely injury – has been a concern. In-between the sticks, Jon McLaughlin has enjoyed a mixed season at best.

Over a short-term period, McLaughlin is capable of outstanding form. But his six years at the club have so far seen him struggle to sustain performances over a lengthy period. Just like in 2009/10 when McLaughlin played second fiddle to on-loan Huddersfield keeper Simon Eastwood, the club has devoted a relatively small part of the overall budget to goalkeepers – and this has meant a lack of competition for the Scot.

Regardless of whether McLaughlin is retained or moved on during the summer, the goalkeeping budget needs to be reviewed.

2) There’s a lack of balance in midfield

Ever since his first game in charge as manager back in September 2011, Phil Parkinson has favoured a 4-4-2 formation that he has rarely deviated away from. This includes two deep-lying central midfielders and a wideman who can tuck in, with much of the attacking emphasis on one out-and-out winger to provide the attacking spark.

Last season this balance worked well, with Parkinson either favouring the directness of Kyel Reid on the left and solidity of Garry Thompson on the right, or Will Atkinson (doing the Thompson role) on the left and Zavon Hines (Reid) on the right. Whilst Mark Yeates is an almost like-for-like alterative to Atkinson, Hines was not adequately replaced (Parkinson should have kept Zav, in my view). The result has been a lack of wide options to suit Parkinson’s style of play.

Now robbed of Reid, Parkinson needs to get the best out of the number seven’s loanee replacement, Kyle Bennett. Early impressions are that he is not the same type of player and looks reluctant to run at people from outwide, preferring to cut inside. This is causing City to become too narrow. Adam Reach impresses, but lacks the pace to be the side’s out-and-out winger. It’s the same story with Mark Yeates and Rafa De Vita.

Parkinson either needs Bennett to become Reid, find a different loanee replacement, or change the midfield set-up.

3) Goalscoring opportunities are drying up

It’s easy to look back on early season performances as some sort of false dawn, but the way in which City played back then was hugely effective rather than lucky – and Parkinson needs to get his players back to that. One of the major worries in recent weeks has been the lack of decent goalscoring opportunities created, which has heightened the importance of every wasted sitter or close miss.

Take the Carlisle home game in August. A 4-0 victory, but it should have been 10-0. The way in which City played back then saw opposition teams overwhelmed by the level of pressure they faced and the variety to the attacking play. Direct balls to Hanson for sure, but also a genuine threat from the flanks and creativity from Nathan Doyle. The opposition might stop one City route to goal, but still have others to worry about.

It’s a sign of low confidence that the ball is hoofed from the back rather than anyone taking greater responsibility to begin attacking moves. Hanson is at times being made to look poor by the predictability of where the ball is going to end up and, even when he wins it, failure of others to get up the pitch and provide him options. And the more the ball is cheaply given away, the more the pressure is placed onto City’s backline.

Clean sheets are not happening first and foremost because of the ineffectiveness of how we attack.

Image by Alex Dodd

4) Aaron Mclean is not (yet) Nahki Wells

On the surface, Aaron Mclean looked set to be a like-for-like replacement for Nahki Wells – arguably one of the main reasons why Parkinson signed him. Yet it has become increasingly clear that Aaron prefers to be more involved in the build-up play compared to the Bermudian, with his greater work coming outside the box.

It’s not that this is a bad thing, but it means that City no longer have a striker playing on the shoulder of the last man, sniffing out chances. Suddenly, Hanson has become the forward-most player and is having to play with his back to goal. Previously the big man would be flicking the ball on into the path of his strike partner; now he is having to direct it sideways or backwards towards Mclean. The result is that City are spending less time in the opposition penalty area.

For Parkinson the dilemma is to either change this aspect of Mclean’s game, or ensure there are other players running forward to present a further option for the strikers to link up with. I believe the manager is looking at the latter option, hence Matty Dolan sitting against Crewe and Gary Jones having the licence to get forward. Both of Jones’ goals that day were the result of Mclean flick-ons, but Hanson had also been involved in the build-up.

The team is able to get more out of Mclean in general play but looks set to lose out on the number of goals that his predecessor Wells provided. It’s about adapting the game plan to ensure the team makes up for Nahki’s goal tally, even if that means spreading around the goalscorers.

5) There’s not enough competition for places

In November and December, Mark Yeates was desperately unlucky to continue to be overlooked. Almost every time he came off the bench during a game, he made an impact. Yet the week after he would still be amongst the substitutes, rather than being rewarded with a start.

Flash forward to now and Parkinson is struggling for impact players who can come off the bench and affect the game. That translates into a lack of competition, meaning those in the team can deliver below-par performances and yet retain their places. It’s not as simple as to say that people in the first XI are relaxing and not trying hard enough; but dented confidence has been allowed to drain further by the player remaining in the side and struggling even more.

There is not much that can be done recruitment-wise to rectify this until the summer, but until then Parkinson badly needs those players in reserve to press their claims for a starting position.

Although the club has stated for a year now (privately and publically) the benefits of not fielding a reserve team this year, and relying on behind-closed-door friendlies, I remain unconvinced this approach has helped. There should be greater competition for places than appears to be the case of late.

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13 replies

  1. I can’t disagree with any of this article Jason.
    What’s baffled (it doesn’t take much lol)
    Is the lack of support between attack & midfield?. What should happen is One midfielder goes forward & one sits so when James Hanson is knocking the ball down we have player’s running off him giving him options! Even the wide player’s should be trying to read a few of James Hanson’s knock downs & hold up play. I know Phil Parkinson is all about the team keeping shape so we don’t get caught out on the break.
    When we attack team’s with no fear & throw caution to the wind we’re very difficult to contain.

  2. Three things I’d have done differently in January.

    1/ Tried to have signed Oscar Jansson.

    2/ Tried to have signed Dean Furman.

    3/ Told Nahki Wells that under no circumstances could he transfer away from Bradford City Football Club until the summer..

    Did anyone at Bradford City Football Club work out how much it would cost the club if we were to be relegated this season then put that into the equation of how much less Wells would be worth in the summer if indeed we would have got less looking at what fee we are supposed to have received, which by all accounts was hardly a King’s ransom.

    • Wells wanted to go Sean. Consider his form over November & December I honestly think the club couldn’t keep him.
      PP said it was having an effect on the squad.
      Moving forwards no guarantee Wells would have give 100% for rest of season .

      • Think the whole club needed to be stronger, playing hardball may have got us a better outcome, I’m just repeating what I said at the time, you don’t sell your best players in January, we’ve been down this road before, hopefully not with the same outcome. I think we’ll be fine regarding staying in this league, but I also believe a mentally tougher stance may have reaped more for the club in January in regards to the Wells transfer which had weakness written all over it. Regarding Wells not giving 100%, sure you take a chance with the scenario I’ve proposed but I believe once Wells had known he was not going in January we’d have got him up and running, he may be a cold fish but I can’t believe he’d have watched the team get into relegation trouble from the sidelines or through lack of effort.

        I personally believe that after so many excellent decision at our club over the last few years, those running the club have made a series of poor decisions this season that would have been masked had the on field results been good, the fact that we are in such a poor run of form does magnify how poor a lot of the off field decisions have been this season.

  3. Surely Reach is a replacement for Reid, not Bennett, given that he’s left footed.

    Parky should try and change formation. What has he got to lose? I think Darby and Reach could play wing backs, play 3 centre backs and 3 centre midfielders with Hanson & McLean up front. Why not at least try it ?

    • PP has changed formation & got criticism 3-5-2 was used majority of supporter’s we’re then saying 4-4-2 that’s our best formation etc.
      Tactics are not the issue here in my opinion.
      Confidence is low, so when player’s have the ball at there feet they want to just get shut of it the big boot upto Hanson seems to be on!
      Certain player’s have to look at themselves & ask have they given PP everything? I don’t think some have. Concentration is key the amount of mistakes been made recently in term’s of defending as been very poor!
      Shot’s on goal very poor, need a little more composure in final 3rd.

  4. Although the loss of Davies, Meredith & Reid has been a massive blow to the team this season it goes to show what important player wells was to city netting 15 goals in 18 games. He scored lots of goals out of defensive errors and his pace and presence brought the team goals from nothing. Given the sale of wells many of the drawn games since wells departure would have resulted in a victory for the bantams with a fully fit & focused wells. Not that we were a one man team but wells was the difference and his enforced sale has cost us in my opinion a top 10 finish this season. 4 wins will see us safe but we have to stop playing hoof ball and get the ball wide to reach to feed Hanson & McClean and give them wthe opportunity to score the goals to keep us up. With Davies and mcardle as the 2 main centre halves there is still enough quality and steel to get the points we need to build for next season.

  5. I agree with all of this.

    To put it simply though, we are not posing enough of a threat going forward and with confidence so low, this is putting major pressure on the defence. As such the long standing goalkeeper and left back issues are becoming more of a problem.

    On a side note, to say that PP is a highly regarded scout in the game, his recruitment since January 2013 has been very poor. Reach looks to be a good signing but him aside attacking signings have never proved to be Parkinson’s strong point. Mclean looks a good player and in himself is a real handful but as Jason indicates here, he looks a very different type of player to Nahki Wells and as such we are being forced to change tactics to some extent. This takes time to gel and I do worry that previously only Wells out of all of Hanson’s strike partners at the club has managed to forge a successful partnership with him.

  6. I believe PP has been a victim of his own stubborness to make changes. The midfield has been the most problematic area all season with the only sign of creativity being a flick on from Hanson to Wells. McLean won’t get the service he needs so he won’t get the goals. PP won’t move from the rigid 4-4-2 formation that is used as a one size fits all when clearly it doesn’t. An extra man in midfield is needed at times (mainly when we are being over-run) and a 4-5-1 formation doesn’t have to be negative if you have a striker holding the ball up.

    What we have tried isn’t working yet we do the same thing game after game after game. Players are letting PP down but he still picks them week in week out and doesn’t have faith in players he has brought in. It is madness to keep repeating what is leading to failure but he seems bewildered at how to change things. He is at times a reactive manager rather than a proactive one, he makes changes when we are 1-0 down rather than seeing something isn’t working and countering it with a tactical change, change of formation or change of personnel.

    I want PP to turn this around but he can’t just stick with it and hope for the best or we’ll be back in league 2 by May.

  7. I agree that all five issues are a problem, but I would like to add a sixth…namely some very poor signings. Put simply many of the signings we have made are no better and in some cases are worse than the players we already had, this despite playing in a higher division with higher standards?
    Let’s start at the back, since Duke was off loaded to Northampton, McLaughlin has had no real competition for his position and this indeed may be a contributing factor to his own inconsistent form. Without any real threat of being dropped it is hardly surprising that he may have become apathetic in his role.
    Regards the defence, injuries to both Davies & Meredith have undoubtedly had a deleterious effect upon the team, and at a club of City’s stature we simply do not have the resources to replace such key players. However I do not believe that those players we have brought in since have offered anything additional with respect to their defensive capabilities. Are Messrs’ Bates & Taylor really any better than Luke Oliver? (Player of the season just 2 years ago)
    In midfield, since the injury to Kyel Reid, we have lost our most potent attacking option and our width. Personally, I also would have kept Zavon Hines…7 goals for Dagenham this season, more than Reach, Bennett, De Vita & Yeates have managed when combined. Again I would like to pose the question do the midfield players that have joined the club since our promotion (to primarily assist Jones & Doyle) offer us any greater attributes than what Ravenhill, Atkinson or Hines could have?
    Up front, clearly we will always be a poorer side without our top striker and perhaps it is still too early to judge Mclean, but do you really expect him to emulate Nahki’s goalscoring?
    Incidentally, according to BCFC’s official website we still have Ravenhill, Oliver & Connell on our books…perhaps we should see if they are available for the Coventry game!!!

  8. I think the problem we have is that we have sold the only genuine goal threat we had and we did not, in my opinion, recoup enough money to replace the 25 to 30 goals we have wilfully let go. This is not Parkinson’s fault obviously and for that reason I would give him time to change the system to fit the personnel he currently has at his disposal. I say change the system because I don’t think that McLean will get anywhere near as many goals as Nahki playing the way we do. However I also fear that if we change the system to suit McLean more that he still won’t bag the goals we need as I don’t think he looks that type of striker to me. I know his stats look decent at this level but I really do think it needs to be taken into account that these came in a Peterborough team going like a train and a much different beast than where city are at at the minute. I said at the time of Nahki’s departure that we have now sold our only chance of securing promotion any time soon as 25-30 goal strikers are very rare indeed!

  9. First I agree with Sean we should have sat Wells down and told him he was going nowhere. If he had stayed and continued to score would we have got less than £1.25m for him in summer, I think not and we wouldn’t be in a relegation scrap.
    Second I wonder if the fact that all but three of the squad are out of contract at the end of the season is having an effect? They may be looking at what happened to Reid and thinking if that happens to them as well they could be out of work in a few weeks time.
    Agree that PP is reactive rather than proactive, look at Sheff U a few weeks ago, everything coming down the left and McHugh getting over run as left back and it takes till half time for PP to change it when we could all see it in the first 10 mins.
    Not advocating a change of manager but PP does need to get it sorted ASAP. But if we did ‘let him go’ it might be worth Parkin stepping up then we get continuity etc. Not the same as when Todd went and Wetherall took charge as Parkin has managed before. Hopefully it won’t come to that and we get the points we need to secure our 1st division status very soon.
    We waited far too long to get out of the shit league we can’t afford to slip straight back.

    • I am surprised “first half” itis – is not yet another problem for PP? It would be very interesting to look at the stats about City’s first half performances or really non performances. We end up chasing the game and many times we achieve a point. Whilst we all admired Nick Allamby for the superb fitness levels shown last season – surely getting us racing out of the blocks is critical to getting us points. Does Steve Parkin also have a part in their preparation? Whilst everybody knows I think PP’s 4-4-2 is just ineffective in today’s game – if we at least started every game as we usually finish surely we would at least give us a fighting chance.
      Can anyone remember when we were 2-0 up at half time and coasting? Wouldn’t it be nice instead of being forever 1-0 (however unluckily) in first twenty minutes.
      Surely this is the simplest thing to sort out in training? If you’re not changing tactics at least change our preparation to starting games! It’s not rocket science and hey whilst we might lose 3-2 or 2-1 we at least have given it a go?

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