A state of flux

shrewsbury away march 2014

Shrewsbury Town 2

Taylor 80, Miller 90

Bradford City 1

Davies 79

Saturday 22 March, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (image by Kieran Wilkinson)

The real sadness about this season is that you already wish it was over. This woeful defeat to second-bottom Shrewsbury Town prolongs the relegation anxiety, but it still appears to be a matter of when, not if, survival is assured. More pressing is how afternoons such as these are clouding the future, deflating goodwill and damaging morale.

A shadow has been cast over Bradford City, who are stumbling through the final stages of the campaign with a confusing lack of purpose. Not close enough to the bottom four places to be causing sleepless nights, but those lingering concerns should have been put to bed by now. We want to start planning for next season, but the expected rebuilding job looks even more considerable after this result. If only we could get on with the big shake-up, rather than enduring this period of uncertainty and tredding water.

Whilst losing to a side who had not previously won at home since November is never going to look clever, it was the nature of this non-performance from the Bantams that prompts the real frustration. Only Carlisle, at Valley Parade in August, have put in a more tentative and feeble showing than the one which Shrewsbury produced. The home side were awful – but City completely failed to take the initiative and play to their capabilities. The home side were awful – yet they would walk off the pitch as victors.

Only Stephen Darby and Gary Jones – the latter was thrust into action from the bench just before half time, due to a Nathan Doyle injury – can emerge from this game with any credit. Kyle Bennett also showed glimpses of what he can do, but from the rest this was a completely unacceptable showing. No urgency, no drive and a troubling lack of commitment. This from a group of players who last season made their supporters so proud because they would never give up.

That seems to have been lost over the last few months, and it is manager Phil Parkinson’s biggest challenge to restore. He has long since preached the value of constructing teams that are full of character, and this ethos was something that captured the imagination of his public. He understands that meeting the high expectations surrounding this football club requires full commitment and effort from every player he selects. No one will be hurting more than Parkinson from feeble performances like this. It is far, far removed from what he preaches.

For the most part of the game, absolutely nothing happened. It was devoid of incident, save for a decent Aaron Mclean first half effort for City and Shrewsbury’s Tom Eaves impressing visiting supporters if not his own (he would later be subbed to cheers from the home stands, which was curious given he looked their best player). Both sides were too direct in their approach play, with possession tossed back and forth like a game of tennis. When the ball was played on the ground, some of the mistakes made by both sides were incredibly woeful.

James Hanson missed a glorious chance just after half time, when he got on the end of an excellent Bennett cross but could only steer his half-volley straight at Shrewsbury keeper Joe Anyon. Asa Hall’s shot from distance was easily saved by Jon McLaughlin, and that was about it really. Shrewsbury looked scared of their own shadow; City looked ready for the beach.

But when the drama finally came it would prove plentiful. First Andrew Davies struck, after City finally managed to put Shrewsbury under sustained pressure. The last of four successive corners had been cleared back to the taker, Matty Dolan, who launched the ball into the box once more and Davies stabbed it past Anyon. An underserved, but welcome, away victory was on the cards.

Yet less than 60 seconds later, Shrewsbury were level. The powerful Jermaine Grandison crossed low and Jon Taylor was to fire home past McLaughlin. With a flicker of renewed hope, the strugglers pressed on in the final stages and, in 94th minute, punished City’s lifelessness. Substitute Shaun Miller – so often a thorn in the Bantams’ side during his Crewe days – struck a low acrobatic volley into the corner of the net to mark his debut in memorable style. The home supporters wildly celebrated whilst Bantams’ shoulders slumped.

Shrewsbury hardly merited their victory, yet City deserved to be defeated. They were disjointed throughout, with Davies and Rory McArdle sloppy in possession at the back, and Adam Reach failing to show his quality in good positions. Hanson and Mclean were starved of service but also unable to hold up the ball when it was played up to them.

Dolan perhaps best exemplified the claret and amber implosion in Shropshire. He failed to build upon his hugely promising performances against Colchester and Gillingham, as he constantly lost possession and struggled to break up Shrewsbury attacks. On this evidence, he is not ready to replace the ageing Jones – whose composure and drive when he came on was highly commendable, even though it left you feeling anxious that our reliance on his waning battery life remains too high.

Despite this set back, the Bantams remain in mid-table and it would take an almighty collapse over the final nine games to be kicking off next season in League Two. Yet at the same time, any sense of achievement at finally exceeding the 50-point mark is likely to feel hollow and subdued. Avoiding relegation was always the number one objective – but after running out of the starting blocks this season, City are crawling over the line. That doesn’t inspire optimism for the future, and it is difficult to conclude what should be done.

Whilst Shrewsbury go into their final eight games with much to fret about, their highly likely relegation offers a timely warning to Bradford City. Last season, the Shrews were in a similar position to where we are now – establishing themselves in League One, following promotion the year after – but staying up didn’t automatically lead to a continued curve of improvement. They went backwards instead.

There is major, major work to be done at Valley Parade this summer to ensure City don’t follow the same path. Staying in League One is one thing, but much, much more is expected in the long-term. The suspicions that the club has regressed over the last few months need to be extinguished. The stagnation of the playing squad must be addressed. The mistakes made this season can be tolerated and forgiven, provided they are not repeated.

Once these nine games are done and dusted, Parkinson will go into his third close season as manager of Bradford City, where his playing squad can be refreshed. His first close season (2012) proved a spectacular success, his second (2013) was anything but. How he performs during number three will go a long way towards determining his longevity in the Valley Parade hotseat.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett, Dolan, Doyle (Jones 43), Reach, Hanson, Mclean (Thompson 90)

Not used: Jameson, McHugh, Bates, De Vita, Gray

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9 replies

  1. Why is everyone surprised we make losing to the cellar dwellers an art form.?? Haven’t won at home, not scored in ten games, play bradford city Guaranteed 3 points

  2. Having worked in Shrewsbury on 2 occasions in the past I spent a lovely couple of hours prior to kick off visiting old haunts – then I went to the match!! As someone said at half time it was like watching a couple of pub teams.

    I agree with most of what you say Jason but I do worry about our remaining fixtures we only have 4 at home and if we play anything like yesterday I can see Walsall thrashing us on Tuesday.

    Lets just hope that I am wrong.

  3. A good balanced report Jason and as you say Shrewsbury are a lesson for us, mid table last season and probably going down this season. The concern for me is although we will almost certainly stay up in our 1st season ,the loss of Wells Reid Davies and Meridith for long spells has found out Parkys replacements for these key players big time. 21 points from the 1st 10 matches with all the above playing well, but once we lost them for various reasons the points tally now reads P 27 pts 24 which is relegation form over a long period.
    It will be a key summer for Parky but I would imagine the signings will be the loan players we are already watching, Dolan, Bennett,Atkinson, Drury. Will these signings added to the existing squad that survives the cull be good enough for us to stay up next year never mind progress, I would have my doubts . Hopefully he will have some keynote signings lined up, a quality striker being essential if we are not to struggle next season. Maybe the lad at Halifax ,Gregory who has scored 26 goals already this season and even though he would cost a significant fee he could help us progress next season.

  4. Regarding signings in the summer, I believe we should try to sign Dean Furman from Doncaster Rovers. Oscar Jansson would be another I’d be looking at in the summer.

    The most disappointing thing about yesterdays game was that having taken the lead with around 10 minutes left we failed to pick up even a point against a team bereft of confidence and ideas. Not good enough as we clearly didn’t want it enough. The job this season isn’t done and we’ll need a concerted effort from management, players and supporters on Tuesday night to get a positive result. Everyone involved with Bradford City Football Club needs to dust themselves down and go again against Walsall, we worked too hard last season to let complacency take hold!!!!!!

    • Just thought I’d add to my post above by saying that BCFC losing to teams near the bottom is something that has been happening for years, basically since I’ve been supporting the club. Personally I believe it’s a mentality thing both for the team and also funnily enough the supporters also, both seem to go into these games with a different mentality than if we were playing teams further up the league.

  5. It’s taken me 24 hours to recover my composure enough to talk about Saturday’s performance at Shrewsbury.

    Essentially, what has been proven over and over again this season is that when City are on form most teams in this division have been unable to live with us. And when I say ‘on form’ I mean all eleven players , putting in maximum effort for a full shift.

    They are adults performing their chosen occupation and it is disappointing that they need to be cajoled into doing what should be the minimum expectation.
    It is becoming extremely tiresome to see defenders refusing to make a tackle when one is needed, goal poachers who are not prepared to get themselves into position to receive a pass, players all over the place unwilling to make a move into space, and the assumption that scoring a goal means it is time to relax and take your ‘eye off the ball’.

    There are just a few notable exceptions and we all know who they are. Why Gary Jones was not a starter I do not know -it is wise to make the most of your assets – it lacks logic to restrict them for fear of becoming over dependent on them.That is why any employer hires an employee- to depend upon him to do his job properly. It’s why Rooney, Suarez, Lampard, Toure and the like are regular first teamers.Their managers’ use their assets to
    the optimum.

    What we find when the ‘team’ is not firing on all four cylinders is draws and narrow defeats – like Saturday’s, which was the latest in a long list of points dropped.Look through the results for this season and count the draws which should have been victories
    and the losses which should have been draws.

    I have been to all the home games and Bristol,Vale,Walsall,Rotherham,Stevenage,Sheffield,Preston,Shrewsbury, Notts County and Oldham away. By my reckoning, if the whole team had put in the same commitment as Jones, Darby and Hanson in every game we would have been in a very respectable
    Play Off position by now.

    What I am trying to say is that the squad which we have can do the necessary when they are all on board. Unhappily, the time to climb aboard cannot be put back and put back. Anyone who doesn’t want to board the train should have the common decency to make room for someone who does.Put in a transfer request if you don’t wish to be here or you need to be persuaded to do your job. Go on, just do it!

    As always, we will do the best we can on Tuesday night, but doesn’t it become difficult to try to rally the team when you see nothing to encourage you? Haven’t we all noticed how the singing abates earlier with each game?

    Come on guys, PLEASE, all we want to do is idolise you

    • The three worst away performances I have seen this year were Crewe ,Notts county and Shrewsbury. All of which were cold wet windy and miserable days. If this is a factor we best issue goose grease all round !

  6. A fair assessment Jason and well done / thank you for writing this report – would have been the last thing I’d wanted to do when I got in! We’ll pick ourselves up to go again on Tuesday, when we need to pick up the three points – unlike Tranmere, Stevenage and Shrewsbury, Walsall aren’t at the foot of the table so we might be okay!

  7. The issue for me is how we approach these type of games, away from home, against sides in the lower reaches of the table.

    I think we go into these games with the mentality of not getting beat, rather than trying to take the game to the opposition, and exploit their fragile confidence.

    To me, this is shown in the fact that we have played 5 out of the current bottom 6 away from home, and have only scored two goals.

    I am behind Parky, but surely if we have learned anything about his tenure, he has had his success when he has been positive; our home record in his 1st season, the cup run, the way we ended last season, and how we started this.

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