From bad to worse

Bradford City 0

Walsall 2

Westcarr 68+78

Tuesday 25 March, 2014

By Gareth Walker

From a Bradford City perspective, the game against Walsall was an opportunity to show that the ‘performance’ against Shrewsbury Town on Saturday was a one off. Unfortunately, they didn’t take it, and instead continued where they left off in Shropshire.

Listless, abject, uninspiring, insipid and abysmal are all terms that I have seen used to describe the fare served up last night and, in truth, it is difficult to argue with the use of any of them.

The problems filtered right down from the management team, who got the ball rolling with a strange decision to play Matthew Bates in central midfield alongside the returning Gary Jones. Did the changes send out the wrong message to the team? Who knows, but many of the players seemed to play like their minds were already on the beach for their summer holidays.

The fact that Nathan Doyle injured his groin at the weekend and Matty Dolan had a shocker of a game at New Meadow meant that Magic Man was certain to start this game, but the decision to play Bates alongside him, whilst leaving a specialist central midfielder Chris Atkinson on the bench, was somewhat of a puzzler.

Bates has been much maligned by City fans whilst playing at centre back since he joined the club, and unfortunately the former Middlesbrough captain didn’t do much to change that opinion whilst plying his trade in a new position. Bates appears to me to be someone who doesn’t do much himself, yet is quite good at shouting and laying blame at teammates’ door.

The other change from the weekend was the restoration of Andy Gray to the starting line up in place of the injured James Hanson, who was only fit enough for a place on the bench. Phil Parkinson revealed afterwards that Hanson was only 60% fit and, oh, how we missed him!

Since Nahki Wells left the club in January, Hanson has really stepped up to the mark as City’s main goalscoring threat; with Aaron Mclean struggling to hit the ground running. But last night showed more clearly than ever how reliant we were on the departed Bermudan’s pace, in particular.

It is difficult to knock Mclean because the lad is clearly a trier – and his failure to make an impact so far is definitely not through lack of effort. However, the former Peterborough and Hull player just looks completely lost. He runs around like a headless chicken because he simply doesn’t seem to fit in with our style of play. However, strikers will always be judged on goals and his and Gray’s failure to test the Walsall keeper even once last night was a damning indictment of their time at City so far.

It wasn’t all the front two’s fault however, as the midfield and, in particular, Adam Reach completely failed to create anything for them. Parkinson was right in his post match assessment when he said that we created nothing in the final third. It was strange, therefore, when the manager took off the only two players who were looking remotely interested in trying to create something. Kyle Bennett was having a much better game than Reach, and Jones was giving 100% as ever, but it was these two players that Parkinson sacrificed in the second half in order to introduce Garry Thompson and Dolan to the action.

I am told that Jones in particular didn’t appear to be happy at being withdrawn from proceedings, as he completely failed to acknowledge Dolan when he came off and he threw a water bottle out of the dug out. He also apparently didn’t do his usual lap to applaud the crowd at the end. As City supporters, we can only hope that this was out of frustration rather than being a sign of deeper-rooted issues at the club.

Reach and Bennett’s careers at City have contrasted each other to date. Reach started like train when he first came to the club and many supporters were asking how he wasn’t getting a regular game at Middlesbrough. His more recent performances, however, have seen his contribution to the team diminish considerably and it makes one wonder if it is this inconsistency that has prevented him from establishing himself at a higher level, so far in his fledgling career.

Bennett on the other hand had a slow start to life at Valley Parade having hardly played any recent football for parent club Doncaster Rovers, and he then got sent off on debut. His performances in recent weeks have improved considerably, however, and it was him who provided any slight glimmer of a threat to Walsall last night. The fact that he is out of contract at Doncaster this summer means that he has a point to prove, and he is showing the desire that you would expect from someone in his position.

Walsall for their part are known to be a very decent footballing team and they will consider themselves to have put in an almost textbook away performance. They dominated possession from start to finish, as they implemented their neat passing game. Although in reality they didn’t really have too many goalscoring chances.

I texted a friend during the first half to say what a dull game it was and how, in the stands, most people were already discussing how it felt like a 0-0, simply because there really hadn’t been that many shots on goal. The nearest that the first half came to breaking the deadlock was an awful mix up between Jon McLaughlin and Rory McArdle that almost gifted The Saddlers the lead.

Unfortunately, it was the away team’s greater cohesion in possession when contrasted with our long ball tactics that made them look a class above us. When we did get the ball off them, we were too quick to squander it either through sloppy play, through not holding it up well enough or through the midfield simply not getting involved enough.

Romiane Sawyers, Craig Westcarr and Fabien Brandy had looked to be a threat to us throughout, and it was these three players who combined to open the scoring in the 68th minute. From a City point of view, it was an incredibly soft goal to concede as what looked like a totally innocuous low ball to the near post was turned home by Westcarr who somehow got in front of McArdle and McLaughlin, neither of whom covered themselves in glory.

McLaughlin did make amends for his error less than five minutes later, however, when he made a fantastic full length save to deny Brandy adding a quickfire second. But it was the compete lack of a reaction from the rest of City side that was the most worrying aspect to see from the stands, and many supporters started to vent their frustration.

When the second goal did eventually arrive, it had a certain air of inevitability about it. It came just ten minutes after the first and from the best move of the match which Westcarr finished with a fine curling effort from the edge of the area. The City players looked like strangers, whilst the crowd booed and started to head for the exits in their droves.

Many supporters who I normally consider to be positive about the team were worried by the complete lack of effort, desire and fighting spirit on show last night. These are issues that we don’t normally identify with a Parkinson team; we thought that we had left them behind in the dark days of Peter Taylor’s tenure. However, the number of players who simply appeared to be going through the motions has led many to again question this manager’s tactics and his record in the transfer market. Even on his best days, Parkinson has appeared overly reliant on Plan A and the same old faces in the team.

The boos that echoed around Valley Parade at half time and at full time were noticeable because it has been so rare to hear them during Parkinson’s tenure. Most of the dissent probably came from people who were shocked at how bad we were. The only people who weren’t shocked will have been those who, along with me, were unfortunate enough to travel to Shrewsbury at the weekend.

After the game, Parkinson didn’t come out of the dressing room in time to speak to the radio before Pulse Sport went off air, and Sticks speculated that there would be a few players getting a dressing down. When he did eventually emerge, the manager was extremely subdued and said that he didn’t blame the crowd one bit for voicing their discontent.

It’s sad to say, but the complete lack of a goal threat makes this game as bad as any I have seen under this manager. It is true that this group of players and management have dug us out of holes in the past, but they need to show the fight that made them famous in order to do it again.

The gap to the relegation places is currently six points, but it will be down to five if Stevenage win their game in hand. City’s next two games are both tough looking away fixtures to Leyton Orient and Coventry, and we will have to perform a damn sight better than we have in the last two games if we want to pick up any points from them.

Somebody needs to get us going again, because a return of zero points would leave even the most ardent optimist amongst us having to admit that we are in a relegation battle.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 56), Bates, Jones (Dolan 81), Reach, Mclean, Gray (Hanson 60)

Not used: Bentley, McHugh, Atkinson, Yeates

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22 replies

  1. Gareth, you sum up this game perfectly – nothing more to add really. However I was one of those who left at the 2nd goal. The first time I have left a game early in nearly 30 years of watching City. I felt that we would never have a shot – and as it turns out we didn’t!! I don’t think either of our midfielders managed to put a pass in to one of our players during the whole game. Bates was completely anonymous and Jones just couldn’t find a player in yellow.
    City were terrible, just terrible and it was a sad night. Very disappointed.

  2. For all his demonstrative exit, Jones was just as bad as anyone else with his wayward passing and running up blind alleys. Several times he turned back into traffic when the easy out ball to the wing was on. This is not a pick on Jones comment, just the fact that because he storms off looking angry doesn’t make him any less culpable than anyone else. In fact, Dolan did more in the short time he was on than Jones & Bates did all match. Personally i wonder what Chris Atkinson must be thinking.

  3. Living down in Woking I did not see last nights game but if it was worse than Shrewsbury then it must have been pretty appalling. Something has not been quite right for some time now and whilst we have occasionally been able to raise our game we have largely had ‘relegation’ type form and results since last October.

    It is obvious that last night even our stalwarts had poor games but it is Parky’s ‘form’ that really troubles me. Can anyone honestly name a player he has brought in, either last summer or during the January transfer window, who has actually improved the team? I know there is always an element of hit and miss involved but to miss with the lot is very worrying. Also for him to comment this morning that is was difficult for Andy Gray ‘at his age’ to come into the team and run around leaves me totally baffled and bloody annoyed. He is another of your signings Parky! PP’s style of play dictates that we need a committed and energetic type of player and last night it sounds like this was completely lacking. I am also worried that the bulk of our players are either out of contract at the end of this season or on short term loans with the prospect of possibly earning a contract for next season – surely this should lead to a pretty hungry bunch. But for some reason the exact opposite seems to be happening.

    I like and support Parky for his honesty and energy but we are currently going backwards at a rate of knots and this slide needs stopping urgently or we will be back where we came from last season, and what impact that would have on the club I shudder to think.

  4. First of all the moaners get off Phil Parkinson’s Back…
    injuries have played a massive part of these issues we face!
    We all can’t have our cake & eat it.
    Success last year Phil Parkinson was the best thing since sliced bread!
    He’s honest man who said right from the start he didn’t know how well we will run due to most player’s not having played at this level.
    For me success was always keeping our place in lge1 for next season & were on course to do just that.
    This Group of player’s have given us everything in terms of effort, commitment etc.
    We are in a far better position since Phil Parkinson came on board.
    Phil Parkinson deserves this summer to get together a squad capable at this level.
    When Aaron Mclean was signed no one said he wasn’t a very good signing?
    Aaron has scored goals at this level & came with a great pedigree.
    Unfortunately the goals haven’t come and yes he’s struggled to adapt to our system of play.
    I agree our currant form & performances have been poor .
    My thoughts are there’s some tired legs out there some I know are playing with niggles but cant have the rest needed simply because we have a very small squad!
    Phil Parkinson has brought players in on loan young lads that have not played much 1st team football and its showed.
    This season will have given the management clear indication on where we need to be in terms of squad strength etc.
    I know given the support of Directors & Supporters under Phil Parkinson more success will follow just maybe not as quick as these new season ticket holders want.
    Be proud of the clubs progress.

    • To be fair, six points off relegation is reasonable and probably represents about where our squad belongs in this league. Even if we go closer we’ll probably regress to the mean and pull clear to about the same distance.

      I wanted to pick up on the point about Aaron McClean. Basically, you either need to give strikers the kind of chances they can convert, or recruit strikers who fit with your style of play. McClean’s struggles indicate a failure of recruitment or a failure of coaching. I’m inclined to see it as a failure of coaching, firstly because McClean has the attributes of a good player, and secondly because City have looked underprepared in attacking play for PP’s entire tenure. Overall, his time at the club has done a huge amount for us, but to take us forward he needs to make the team at least composed and effective going forward, if not prolific.

      By the way, I consider myself a Phil Parkinson supporter and certainly do not want to see him leave the club.

  5. Just an idea, why don’t the club put the away fans back in the Midland Road for the last three games and do a quid a kid deal for the Bradford End and the rest of the ground, lets get Valley Parade rocking again. We need leadership from the club not as seems at present, no ideas and rudderless. We need to get a few more points and our home games are the best chance of doing that. Lets get some free travel to away games, it’s no good waiting for something to crop up, lets try and make something happen. We don’t need to be thinking if only, we as a club need to be digging deep and making sure we’ve done everything possible to give our team the best possible chance of getting more points and keeping our league one status. Let’s be pro-active!!!!

  6. Wayne – I am proud of the clubs progress, I support the team and I want PP to be a success. But you need to open your eyes to what is going on at present – if we slip back into League 2 in our first season it could have a massive impact on the club, and most of it would undoubtedly be negative.

    I am genuinely worried about what is happening right now, look at one of the opening lines in Gareth’s report – last night was “Listless, abject, uninspiring, insipid and abysmal are all terms that I have seen used to describe the fare served up last night and, in truth, it is difficult to argue with the use of any of them”. There are real concerns at present and not just moans. In recent weeks WOTP had an article where it was generally agreed its writers and contributors are more reasonable and open minded in their comments than on some other sites – Jason himself argued that criticism is applied where it is perceived as justified. So being concerned is no bigger crime than wearing rose tinted glasses when it comes to commenting on our club.

    Last year was one we will never forget and Parky deserves the right to keep us in this division and build for next season. And there is no doubt he is a decent man but as such even he seems somewhat baffled as to what is going wrong at present.

    • I think when you lose the searing pace of Reid and the pace of Wells along with the goals he brought to the team it’s no mystery why BCFC are struggling. We still have enough quality in the squad to get the few points needed for safety and a little help from the football club in regards to the last three home games wouldn’t go a miss. The very last thing any fan needs to do is start to panic, as that can have a serious effect on the players.

      • Here Here Sean! we wont get Relegated 100% certain.

      • I pray you are right on the ‘points’ and think your idea to put our fans back in the Bradford End makes total sense – unless security issues prevail. I hope we might hear from Mark or Julian this week to rouse all aspects of the club for the final few weeks.

      • Hi Simon, regarding security issues, we had the most successful season for many many years last season, the dynamic of the ground was a factor in that. To change that dynamic this season was lunacy, I simply do not buy the security issue, there were no problems inside the ground last season or the many seasons before that and the idea that it’s safer to police a large following when split between two different stands as was the case this season rather than last season when such a followings were housed in one stand is plainly nonsense. The club needs to get this ground dynamic back to how it was last season and it needs to be done immediately, we worked too hard to get promoted last season not to try everything in our power to preserve that hard earned promotion. Looking at the home fixtures left, no BCFC ST holding fans would need to be moved as three Midland Road sections are more than enough to house the followings from Oldham, Peterborough and Crawley.

  7. Hi Sean, I am in total agreement with you – only game I was not sure about security wise is the Oldham game. Have you raised this suggestion with the club, I guess Dave Baldwin would be the guy.

    I suppose the decision was taken at the beginning of the season as we would be hosting the likes of Sheff Utd, Wolves, Preston and our dear friends Rotherham for eg but I don’t know logistically how easy it would have make special arrangements for this handful of matches i.e. put their fans in the Bradford End, and then have this part of the ground still for City fans in all other games?

    • I’ll email David Baldwin, see what he says. I’ll also get in touch with Mark Lawn, as it was he who got BCFC fans back into the Bradford End.

      • Got a reply from the club in regards to the moving of away fans into the Midland Road for the three remaining games against Oldham, Peterborough and Crawley, although my idea is deemed good by the club spokesperson, it’s not possible to put into practise for any of the remaining games at Valley Parade this season. There was no comment on the idea of a quid a kid deal.

        You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

  8. Back to last night…ugh, horrible. I agree we must stick together, support club, players and management to try and hobble over line etc. My support for Parky is still there but I am desperate to hear his response to some tough questions. The principal question is this: why the reluctance to try something different when plan A isn’t working? This might be tactics, players, formation, energy, whatever. It was patently obvious at half time that the midfield wasn’t working….Bates was a fish out of water…so why not change things sooner than later ? What was there to lose ? Agree with Ian above that Dolan did more in 10 minutes than Bates did all game. So why the inflexibility ? Football is about adapting to circumstances. Perhaps some of Parky’s most ardent supporters could have a go at an answer on his behalf.

  9. I don’t think anyone can be surprised about our recent performances. Even if you closely examine our early season we were fortunate to play Carlisle and Sheffield United when both were in disarray. We beat Brentford after an early dismissal and just squeezed past a very poor Shrewsbury. Our best performance was at Walsall but a last minute winner against Port Vale and a somewhat fortuitous win over MK at home really shows the depths to which we have plummeted.

    I am confused as to what has happened – maybe our champagne season’s team really was just very lucky – certainly you can look at last season’s winter league form and see many similar performances – Wimbledon, Barnet and Exeter come to mind.

    Certainly I think the signing of McLean is McGinlayesque in its incompetence. Anybody looking at his record over the last few years could see he was past his sell-by date and to present him as a Premiership Championship player was clearly ludicrous. To talk about him taking time to gel is a nonsense – Shaun Miller took ER minutes to get his goal on Saturday.

    The loss of Meredith (although he had struggled some of the season) and Reid have been a big problem but Parkinson’s inability to make even one good signing in 2013/14 has cost us dear.

    I predicted that we would probably go down in January and that we were the same as Weatherall’s season – even Simon Parker jokingly predicted it after his Walsall away report in September.

    The sad fact is we can’t get rid of Parky (probably cost £500k with his back room staff going as well). We lost £200,000 on Mark Stuart and goodness knows how much on McLean and Gray. So both the Nahki inheritance and the Capital One Legacy have gone. I just think it is interesting that if P Jackson had signed Gary Jones and Clayton Donaldson and he had the same budget as PP was given then it could have been very different.

    It is depressing as only players you would keep are half season Davies and Darby as well as JH but as he’s the focal point of PP’s flawed strategy (no criticism of James who has developed brilliantly but needs support). League 2 next season could soon become ……
    How many of you Parkinson supporters would then say we are in better shape than 2011? High wage McLean, Higher Wage half a season Davies, Yeates, Taylor.

    We desperately need two wins maybe we might just get lucky as we did last season and hope those under us do an Exeter, Southend and Fleetwood – you never know lightning might strike twice.

    • I’m a fan of Phil Parkinson but I believe he does play it safe when choosing players to sign for BCFC, you need rough diamonds in a team like for example Jamie Lawrence, Peter Beagrie, Darren Moore, Dean Windass etc.

      Can you imagine Steve Evans trying his touchline tactics with Chris Kamara or Paul Jewell, I fancy Steve would reign in his antics when confronted by either, Evans bullies Phil which is a shame but Parkinson got us promoted and to a first major cup final since 1911, he has many many good qualities as a manager and I believe he’ll keep BCFC in this league come the end of the season. When it comes to the real pressure games Phil has come up with the goods on most occasions, that is a great attribute to have as a coach and manager.

      • I’m not saying Phil Parkinson hasn’t made mistakes & it’s obvious that the transfer policy hasn’t worked in terms of player’s in since promotion.
        the time to moan & whinge is the summer! .
        Right now we all need to stick together & get those 7 pts to safety!
        As I’ve said before certain player’s need to stand up & be counted.

  10. Not a great deal more can be said about last night’s “performance” but I have to ask about the loan players we have had and currently have. Is the idea that they are on a sort of extended trial with a view to signing in the summer much like Will Atkinson did? If I read reports recently correctly then a deal for Dolan is pretty much done already, why though bring in Jordan Graham and not give him a chance? Similarly Chris Atkinson, the last few games have been the perfect opportunity to give him a game with Jones then Doyle out, what is PP learning about him while he kicks his heals on the bench? I hope we have enough to stay up but we have to make sure the summer recruitment is spot on as a poor start next season will see the pressure really mount on PP.

  11. Jason (and Michael on BfB) has made a pretty strong case plenty of times for the need for stability and I completely agree. This, along with the cost of change as Andrew (above) points out means that sacking PP has to be a very last resort.

    But, I think fans have every right to question some of his decisions. The use of loan players and peripheral players boggles my mind. I think Andy Gray is past it but could appreciate him being given the opportunity to play for his shirt for a few games towards the end of a pretty much finished season (though this is clearly not why he played last night). De Vita, Yates, McBurnie, Atkinson, surely this is the right time to have a look at them? If not, why are they still here? What on earth can PP have learned by putting on Thompson last night? He has played without pace, invention, and seemingly desire all season. He was woeful when he came on, neither tracking a man or committing the full-back.

    Parky has to be given the time to address these issues; the season was always about acclimatisation. But now surely he knows: at least one wing has to have pace, Gary Jones cannot carry the midfield for another season, Hanson needs a genuine partner, the long ball should be a surprise (Hanson has grown, he has so much more to his game) not plans A, B and C, and some of last year’s heroes ar eprobably out of their depth at this level (McArdle).

    He’s had a season to learn all this and should be given a chance to address it. But if he doesn’t it shouldn’t be seen as treason to call for his head.

  12. calm down calm down. Lets get safe and rebuild. Sacking PP is not the answer. The loss of Wells has hit us hard. Time to pull together and go again. Up the Bantams.

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