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Job (all but) done for Bradford City

19 Apr

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Bradford City 1

Reach 26

Peterborough United 0

Friday 18 April, 2014

By Mark Danylczuk

Well we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. Playing over 45 minutes against 10 men and failing to net the crucial second goal to kill the game, it was a nerve-racking end which finally saw Bradford City all but secure safety and League One football next season.

I had been fortunate in that my last two City games were fantastic away victories at Colchester and Leyton Orient respectively; and yet I had heard about the two, what some called ‘horror’ shows at home against Walsall and Oldham. With Peterborough fighting to ensure of that last play off spot and being the form team, taking 12 points from the last 15, I didn’t expect an easy game at Valley Parade for City. With other teams below us picking up points earlier in the day, anything but a defeat would have sufficed in my opinion.

City started with two changes from the team that drew with Rotherham a week ago. In came the fit-again James Hanson and, more surprisingly, the forgotten man Rafa De Vita, replacing Kyle Bennett and Matty Dolan respectively. I had to take a second look at that team sheet believing that De Vita could get the nod above both Bennett and Thompson, but with contracts to play for, De Vita had a point to prove in only his 17th league appearance this term.

Both teams opted for a 4-4-2 formation and the opening of the game started with direct styles using the long ball to the target man to hold up and bring others into play – Hanson for City and Britt Assombalonga for Peterborough. With 21 goals to his name as the league’s second top scorer, the City defence certainly had to keep him quiet. As the game settled down and the teams began to play it on the floor, Peterborough had the best opening chance. A nice passage of attacking play with a flicked ball inside from winger/striker Nick Ajose saw midfielder Tommy Rowe strike a shot just wide of Jon McLaughlin’s post.

City then started to come into the game, with the effective defensive pressing of Hanson and Jon Stead forcing the early ball and errors from the Peterborough defence. Adam Drury was providing good support to the attack on the left hand side and it was his long throw which resulted in City’s first real chance – the throw coming to Gary Jones, whose looping volley went just over the bar. De Vita followed this up with another chance a few moments later with a wonderful, fizzed low ball across the box which the sliding Hanson failed to connect with.

It was crucial that Drury was providing support on the left as Adam Reach was given a free role, switching across the midfield but mainly slotting in behind the front two. The Peterborough defence were struggling to pick him up and Reach was getting the space to run into the key attacking areas. It was one of these runs that resulted in City getting the game’s only goal, as Reach drew a foul from the Peterborough defence midway through the first half and picked himself up to wonderfully float a 30 yard free kick into the keeper’s top left corner.

This notably gave City a confidence boost and increased the volume level of the faithful inside Valley Parade. It also gave Peterborough the impetus to force an equaliser, and the right wing threat of Ajose and Mark Little were keeping the City defence busy.

It was then the turn of Peterborough to shoot themselves in the foot with the sending off of defender Sean Brisley for two virtually identical yellow card challenges inside the City half within two minutes. You couldn’t argue with the bookings, as first Stead and then Reach had turned the Posh defender and were away before contact was made. You can say they were stupid challenges, but arguably in the heat of the game situation, it seemed as though Brisley felt like he had to make the challenges to prevent the City attack. Going into half time, it felt as though City now had the momentum to dominate and kill the game against the 10 men.

The second half was quite a different story though as Peterborough came out all fired up with more attacking promise and it became a more entertaining contest, with both teams pressing for the next goal. It was United who had the best chance with Assombalonga receiving a slide through ball breaking free from Drury, but his cross into the box was well cut out by Stephen Darby and scrambled up by McLaughlin.

Peterborough continued to press and with the last 25 minutes to go, City made two like-for-like changes to freshen up the attack with Aaron Mclean, back against his old club, replacing Stead and Kyle Bennett on for De Vita. Bennett almost made an immediate impact a few moments later with a surging run down the right and a beautifully floated ball to Hanson who failed to connect strongly to put the header towards goal. It was then the turn of the other sub, Mclean, to slip in Reach on the left, who forced the keeper into a save with a low shot towards the near post.

As effective as Reach was in the first half, the left midfield still felt unbalanced in this period with Hanson often moving out of position and drifting wide to balance the play. With these second half substitutions and Reach returning back to the left wing, the team had more shape and Jones and Nathan Doyle were controlling the midfield area, as City began to edge the possession and offensive play. City should have wrapped up the points with arguably the half’s best chance. It was Reach who floated a ball through the centre and Bennett unfortunately headed straight at the keeper, when an inch or two either side would probably have resulted in the killer second goal.

It was Peterborough through who provided a nervy last 10 minutes or so, as City were keen to sit back and were not helped by some defensive uncertainty: notably one misplaced, suicidal ball across the back line from Rory McArdle, forcing the pressure on the Bantams. It was not a poor defensive performance by any means, but the odd loose pass and, at times, slow passing to move the ball into the midfield, were not helping matters. Peterborough pressed for a last gasp equaliser with a flurry of late desperate corners in which even the keeper came up, but it was not to be.

A gritty, solid if unspectacular, team performance had heralded a much needed three points to ensure breathing space between City and the lower placed teams. It’s not mathematically safe yet, but barring an extraordinary and a frankly ridiculous set of results it will thankfully be League One football for Bradford City next season.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, De Vita (Bennett 67), Doyle, Jones, Reach, Hanson, Stead (Mclean 67)

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Thompson, Yeates, Dolan

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Regaining self-respect as Bradford City hit 50

11 Apr

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Rotherham United 0

Bradford City 0

Friday 11 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

Redemption begins in Rotherham. All of that negativity from the Oldham shambles was firmly blasted away here with a highly commendable Bradford City performance. The precious point gained leaving them on the brink of survival.

They have now reached the magic 50 point mark, and could arguably lose all four of their remaining matches and still avoid the drop. That losing run won’t happen, not playing like this. This was not the performance of a team destined to finish amongst the four worst in the division. After a third straight clean sheet on the road, mid-table beckons for City.

That League One status was all but sealed at the home of Yorkshire rivals, who have lorded it over us of late, makes it all the more sweet. That the bad guy, who was seemingly about to deliver a fatal blow, got a comeuppance of sorts was gleefully celebrated at the final whistle. Steve Evans stormed down the tunnel without shaking Phil Parkinson’s hand. In the build-up to the match the Rotherham manager had declared that his side’s automatic promotion hopes were over, and that is now certainly the case. The play offs are a nice consolation though, and they deserve great credit for the more comfortable way in which they have negotiated the step-up to League One this season.

It could even have been better for City. In the second half, they carved out several chances to steal a shock win. Adam Reach volleyed wide of the post, Kyle Bennett saw a shot from the edge of the area deflect over the bar. Reach, who was more influential in the second half, later won possession out wide and charged into the box, before forcing a decent low save from home keeper Adam Collin.

The Bantams carried a genuine goal threat, after Parkinson used the half time interval to address failings in their first half attacking play. As expected, City lined up 4-5-1, but the more congested midfield initially failed to adequately support lone striker Jon Stead.

This was rectified in the second half, with Bennett and Reach delivering impressive performances, as they linked up effectively with the outstanding Stead. Nathan Doyle sat in front of the back four, enabling Gary Jones and Matty Dolan to push forward. How Doyle is suited to that defensive role, and he was excellent tonight after a rusty start. On this evidence, recent criticism directed towards his attitude looks wide of the mark.

City’s matching of Rotherham’s 4-5-1 nullified the home side’s attacking threat. They had plenty of possession, but could not find gaps in the claret and amber wall. The City back four recovered from last week’s collapse – Rory McArdle had his best game for a long time, and Andrew Davies returned to his previous high standards. The pair were like magnets to any ball flung into the City area, and Jon McLaughlin behind them looked much more assured. It was not a night for full backs charging forwards, but Stephen Darby and Adam Drury were nonetheless solid.

Rotherham enjoyed spells of strong pressure when they upped the tempo. Ben Pringle dropped deep in an attempt to dictate the play, forcing a good first half save from McLaughlin. He deserves to play in a higher level than League One. Kieran Agard’s dribbling skills also caused problems, and both he and Pringle provided good support to targetman Alex Revell. Rotherham created the majority of first half chances – City’s only effort of note during this period a Stead volley over the bar from a Davies knock-down – but never overwhelmed their opponents.

Once the Bantams emerged for the second half with the gameplan fine-tuned, they gave as good as they got and posed plenty of questions. City never attacked in numbers, but through Jones and Doyle in particular they began to play the ball on the deck. Stead held up the ball superbly. All that was lacking was the creation of that one big chance. Reach’s effort was the only save Collin was forced into all evening.

Rotherham pressed to the end, if lacking invention. Michael O’Connor hit the post a minute into the second half with a free kick that deceived everyone. Haris Vuckic spurned a great opening when presented with a one-on-one shooting opportunity, lifting the ball over McLaughlin but also over the bar. In the final minute of the 90, Karin Arnasan had a free header from a corner, but couldn’t hit the target.

A Rotherham winner then would have been incredibly harsh on City. The players worked so hard for this point, and were entitled to walk off the pitch at full time with smiles on their faces. It had been a long six days for them. Their commitment and ability has been questioned loudly, and this was the perfect response. Parkinson too deserves to feel proud. Time and time again, over the past three seasons, he has ensured his team recover strongly from what appear to be huge set backs.

Whilst no one deserved to emerge from the Oldham defeat with any credit, tonight they all merited a share of the acclaim. There remains a feeling that this has become a patched-up team whose shelf life is extremely limited and in need of an overhaul, but for now it is a team that is more than good enough to put to bed any lingering relegation anxieties.

As Parkinson argued midweek, inconsistency has blighted City’s results over the last few weeks. If they could play like this all the time, they would be grappling with Rotherham in the play offs. They are not good enough for that, but at the very least must eradicate feeble showings like last week. There can be no more repeats, and there certainly wasn’t here.

Instead, at the New York stadium, this group of players showed their worth. Now they must go out and do it again another four times, so that the newly-promoted Bantams can end the season on the high note that a mid-table finish surely merits.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 90), Doyle, Dolan (De Vita 77), Jones, Reach, Stead

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Bates, Yeates, McBurnie

Unacceptable Bradford City performance underlines need for major change

5 Apr

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Bradford City 2

Reach 35, Jones 90

Oldham Athletic 3

Wesolowski 22, Clarke-Harris 45+58

Saturday 5 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

The relegation issue just won’t be put to bed, and the real concern for Bradford City is that they are running out of opportunities. How they could be left to rue this costly home defeat; one that narrows the margin for error considerably with just five games left to play. That the next three are against teams with promotion aspirations means no-one should be sitting comfortably on that six-point cushion.

Survival is within touching distances and yet – after another wretched performance from the players – any sense of achievement looks increasingly likely to carry a hollow feel. No one was planning to order an open top bus to celebrate successfully avoiding relegation, but this feeble crawl over the line lacks dignity and deserves to have serious repercussions. Because as City allowed themselves to be easily beaten by an Oldham side who sit below them, there’s a growing stench that is becoming difficult to avoid.

This team is past its sell-by-date. It needs a radical, radical shake-up.

That Phil Parkinson will be the man tasked with that considerable close season challenge is entirely right, but he did much to harm his standing with City supporters today. After speaking in the build-up about knowing exactly what to expect from Oldham, there can be no excuse for the disorganised and ill-thought out approach that his team took. Opposing teams that play a three-man midfield has long been the manager’s Achilles Heel and it beggars belief that he still cannot find a solution. Oldham hunted in packs for the ball and then worked in groups to keep hold of it. City were chasing shadows.

Yet equally, Parkinson has every right to feel let down by his players. From front to back they were awful today and it’s time that they came under the firing line rather than aiming all criticism at the manager. Parkinson needed his senior players to step up and perform, and he needed those who want to be at Valley Parade next season to demonstrate their desire to earn a contract. It didn’t happen. Today’s City XI contained just two players – Andrew Davies and Aaron Mclean – who don’t go into the summer facing an uncertain future. After this showing, Parkinson’s released list may have grown in length.

Oldham looked more confident, more determined and more comfortable in their game plan. In James Wesolowski they possessed the best player on the park (it was the same story in the reverse fixture). The Oldham number four was up and down the pitch with boundless energy. When no one picked up his late run onto Jonson Clare-Harris’ knock down, the 26-year-old was able to smash his team into a deserved lead midway through the first half.

Jon Stead, making his home debut up front, had glanced an early header wide of the post, but that had been it for City. The initiative was passed up in a way that has been depressingly familiar of late. Parkinson sought to combat Oldham’s dominance of possession by switching to a 4-5-1 formation that had Mclean on the right wing and Kyle Bennet tucked inside, but the results were decidedly mixed.

For the game was retrieved – but then ultimately lost – during the 10 minute run-up to half time. Firstly, City equalised after some excellent work from an otherwise disappointing Matty Dolan. He won the ball high up the park, before spinning and producing a defence-splitting pass that enabled Adam Reach to race past a defender and slot the ball home. But then just as the board was to go up for injury time, Gary Harkins played an offside-looking Clarke-Harris through on goal. Rory McArdle, Jon McLaughlin hesitated and the ball was in the back of the net. As the cliché goes, you play to the whistle and City did not.

Yet the passage of play at 1-1 was equally crucial on the game. Having been pegged back, Oldham retreated and City began to dominate the ball. Their 4-5-1 meant plenty of players available for a short pass but no one to support Stead. A wall of blue shirts stood firm, and the home crowd grew frustrated. It was in some ways proof that – for all the complaints from some about City’s style of football – deep down most people cannot tolerate a passing game and want to see direct football. Parkinson decided to abandon the approach almost as quickly as he’d switched to it. Such indecision is out of character. He was streets behind Lee Johnson in the tactical battle.

And it meant a second half depressingly familiar. Oldham bossing the middle of the park, as City went 4-4-2 and Dolan and Gary Jones were found wanting. Mclean and Stead were starved of possession yet completely failed to make anything that did reach them stick in the final third. Reach stood out more than most as lacking commitment for the cause – he was a loanee playing for himself, which is unacceptable – whilst Bennett regressed back to old ways, following promising displays of late.

The Doncaster loanee stood ball-watching as a pass was played up to Clarke-Harris, who ran clear of the back four and slotted home impressively despite Davies’ late attempt to block him. A really bad goal from a City perspective. Whatever the huge failings in midfield and up front today, everything was undermined by some incredibly woeful defending. I have never seen Davies have such a poor game for City, and he and McArdle made numerous mistakes.

With 32 minutes left on the clock, you hoped to see a determined fightback from the home side. Worryingly they looked defeated and – substitute Oli McBurnie aside – fearful of receiving the ball. McBurnie’s introduction for an underwhelming Stead saw boos directed at the manager that were repeated when he later brought off Mclean for Yeates. Whilst the frustration was easy to understand, as Parkinson simply didn’t have adequate options on the bench to take off his two senior strikers, performance-wise both players merited their withdrawals.

I’ve tried to retain judgement on Mclean and it is still too early to make a call on him, but to date he has been a long way short of expectations and – if rumours of his wage packet are to believed – we are entitled to demand a lot more from him. James Hanson was hugely missed and City need to get to the root of his fitness problems as a matter of urgency. In the circumstances Stead is a good signing, but City need their Plan A back, fit and firing.

As Valley Parade emptied long before the end, a late flicker of hope was ignited by a second City goal, deep in stoppage time. Yeates raced clear of the back four and struck a shot from an angle that smacked back off the post. The rebound fell to Jones, who picked his spot to beat the defenders rushing back. It was too little, too late. Within seconds, Oldham’s terrific away support were able to celebrate the final whistle and a deserved three points.

For the Bantams, the last four home games have yielded just one point and it is their away form – one loss in four – which is keeping them above water. But while this terrible performance probably doesn’t change the fact that one more victory should be enough to seal survival, this defeat should be viewed as a watershed moment.

Because this team simply isn’t good enough for where we are and where we want to be. It needs wholesale changes, if a more credible promotion push is to be realised – heck, just to make sure that relegation is avoided next season also. Parkinson has to make some tough decisions over the next few weeks over who to keep and who to let go, and he needs to be ruthless about it.

Sentiment clearly clouded too much of the planning for this season, and for that Parkinson has been rightly criticised. We will never forget the contributions of those 2012/13 History Makers and they will always have a place in our hearts, but the time has come to move on.

The bar has been lowered of late. Every single person in that Valley Parade dressing room shares some responsibility for allowing that drop in standards to happen. In the short-term, what matters is to get those final few points needed to confirm a place in the 2014/15 League One. But the inquest into what has gone wrong has already started and, whatever division City are in next season, sweeping changes need to be made.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 64), Dolan, Jones, Reach, Stead (McBurnie 64), Mclean (Yeates 83)

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Bates, Stockdill

This Ground is Coming Like a Ghost Ground

2 Apr

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Coventry City 0

Bradford City 0

Tuesday 1 April, 2014

Written by Kieran Wilkinson (images by Mike Holdsworth)

Since the last meeting between Bradford City and Coventry, both teams’ seasons have followed similar paths. Each has lost their star striker in the January transfer window. Both teams have only gained 20 odd points since that November meeting in front of the Sky cameras, thus putting paid to both teams’ ambitions of a play off spot (though were it not for their 10 point deduction, Coventry would be very much still in the mix). Equally, both teams look reasonably safe after Saturday: City after the magnificent win in E10 and Coventry after a late winner against Crewe.

 

Adam Drury and Nathan Doyle were ruled out for City by injury (the former being a particular blow, given his recent form and the much-discussed lack of cover in the position) with James Hanson also failing to make the squad, as the club look to resolve his back problems. The only change to City’s starting eleven from the weekend was Carl McHugh slotting in at left back.

 

Callum Wilson (scorer of one of Coventry’s three goals at Valley Parade earlier in the season) and Dan Seaborne – both of whom had played in Coventry’s weekend win – missed out through injury and there were also two other changes for the Sky Blues.

Unsurprisingly, given the boycott of home games by a large number of Coventry fans, the atmosphere was non-existent (though the openness of Sixfields doesn’t help in the first place). The club’s attempts to rouse the home support by playing ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky fell not so much on deaf ears as absent ones. Perhaps Coventry’s finest band’s “Ghost Town” would have been a more appropriate song for the occasion. The attendance was 1,673, with 327 City fans. It must be soul destroying for Coventry’s supporters and it is hard to see how they can achieve any real momentum whilst playing away from Coventry.

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So, given the similar fortunes of both teams, was a goalless draw almost a foregone conclusion? Whilst on paper, the result would seem to have gone to form, Phil Parkinson will certainly be the more disappointed of the two managers given that, on their performance, City really should have taken all three points. 

All of the early creativity in the match seemed to come from City, with the midfield pairing of Gary Jones and Matty Dolan both having a couple of chances in the opening 20 minutes.

 

It wasn’t only the midfield two who were threatening – Jon Stead and Aaron Mclean continued their good work from Saturday, with Mclean forcing a smart save from the Coventry keeper Joe Murphy after a cross from McHugh (Parkinson describing the save as one of the best that he has seen this season). Stead also forced Murphy into action after some good work by Kyle Bennett.

 

City continued this good play up until the half-time whistle, with chances for Mclean, Stead, Adam Reach and Rory McArdle. However, Coventry could have snatched an injury goal but thankfully Jon McLaughlin was alert to an effort from the exotically named Cyrus Christie, this actually being their first real attempt on goal in the entire match (and, as it would transpire, their only attempt on target on the night).

A pleasing first half performance but, as always when such good play is not reflected in the scoreline, a lingering worry that City would pay for the failure to make the most of their chances.  

In the second half, with City shooting towards us, proceedings to a certain extent started where they left off, with the visitors doing the early pressing. The big chance of the half came in the 52nd minute when Bennett put in a dangerous cross which Reach was only able to head onto the crossbar.

 

Truth be told, the game fizzled out a little after that. Both teams had a few half chances with Coventry’s Marshall putting an inviting cross into City’s box that, thankfully, Coventry could not capitalise on. At the other end, Stead’s attempted piledriver from a Mclean flick on only troubled the City fans behind the goal. 

 

Both teams tried to inject some urgency with attacking substitutions – Coventry introducing midfielder Conor Thomas and Villa loan striker Nathan Delfouneso, City sacrificing Dolan and the impressive Bennett for the lesser-spotted Chris Atkinson and Garry Thompson – but none of the substitutions were able to tip the balance in either team’s favour.

 

Mclean had a chance in the last ten minutes after a McHugh header-on, but this was not a clear cut opportunity and Joe Murphy managed to deal with it fairly comfortably.

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The fact that I haven’t had cause to mention the referee is due to him having a decent game. Whilst the BBC website will tell you that the ref was Lee Probert, it was in fact fellow Premier League official Chris Foy who took charge. He officiated fairly, wasn’t over-fussy and kept his cards in his pocket all night. A refreshing change!

So, a goalless draw and, therefore, some mixed emotions at the final whistle. We really should have killed the game off in the first half and, to an extent, this is reflection of our season as a whole. Having drawn 16 matches this season, it is easy to see that we have at times lacked a killer instinct. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that we will be left rueing those draws at the end of the season, but it would have only taken converting, say, five of those draws into wins to have seen us on the edge of the play offs.

There were plenty of positives to take from the game. A clean sheet and a solid defensive performance, especially considering the absence of Drury. There were bright performances again from Stead, Bennett and McLean. In respect of the first two, the remainder of the season should really be seen as an audition for next season. I have been impressed with Stead in his two matches so far, and he could potentially have the pedigree to offer us that “something different” that we have been lacking up front. Bennett also appears to be improving match-by-match to offer a genuine threat.

So, the status quo between both teams was maintained and it would take a calamitous set of events for them not to be facing each other again in League One next season. Plenty to build on, and to think about, for both teams.         

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, McHugh, Bennett (Thompson 85), Dolan (Atkinson 80), Jones, Reach, Stead, Mclean

Not used: Bentley, Pollard, Bates, Yeates, McBurnie

 

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Time and Again

30 Mar

Leyton Orient

Leyton Orient 0

Bradford City 1

Mclean 27

Saturday 29 March, 2014

Written by Alex Scott (image by Gareth Walker)

It was the surprise that was weird. The ease of it all. City have had to work so hard to score over the last few months, but as Aaron Mclean slotted home unmarked at the back post, it appeared almost simple. A deep corner over the crowd, a wheeling centre forward who has lost his man, and a carefree finish. City were in front, and it was all so simple.

Watching from afar in the depths of south London, there’s a frequent powerlessness about being a City fan. Things “happen” and everything changes. The last couple of weeks has been one of those times. I last saw City play at Colchester three weeks ago. An impressive, gutsy win which felt at the time to quell any rifts in the City camp, and reinforce again that whilst this team may lack for many things, determination wasn’t one of them. They would be fine.

The intervening weeks between leaving that service station on the A12 and jumping on the Central Line to Leyton appear to have changed everything. The grace period from last season is definitively over. The reaction to the past week’s defeats appeared to have mutated into something. We’re going down; we won’t get another point. This was either the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. After this troubled winter, the City fan in all of us had come back. It did feel like the end of something.

This hasn’t been helped by James Hanson’s back and a horror show at home to Walsall on Tuesday. Simon Parker noted the other day how we haven’t won in two years without Hanson and that really isn’t difficult to believe given his reliability, and after watching them struggle through so many times. In Jon Stead they may for the first time have an at least competent replacement. He looked rusty at Brisbane Road – and I imagine our, um, agricultural approach was a bit of a culture shock from what they play down the six-four-one – but he did fine. He didn’t particularly threaten, but away against 3rd in the league I suppose that’s an unfair metric through which to judge him. He facilitated City playing “their” way in the absence of Hanson, which I can’t remember happening since he first broke into the team under Stuart McCall.

Given the prevailing narrative, there wasn’t much optimism headed in. When there is talk of ambitions which are limited at just “getting a shot on target”, you know things aren’t going well. I’d wager, like myself, a large proportion of the 700 City fans who attended on Saturday were at the Brentford game a few weeks ago also, and as such were probably entitled to a little resignation headed in. All the talk of Orient’s wobbles were an irrelevance really, “I’m just after a shot on target”.

The game began with City immediately giving away a corner, but after that wobble, they were oddly comfortable for much of the first half. Not like they were threatening or anything, but they weren’t being threatened either. Leyton Orient did not look like a team chasing promotion, and given this performance, I’d be stunned if they made it out of the division come the end of the season. Frankly, they looked like us. They looked like us, playing against us, which was baffling, given we had Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle comfortably absorbing each long ball with an apparent nonchalance like winning the header was just a frustrating distraction from their engrossing conversation about True Detective or something. It was simple for the entire first half.

The Samaritan in me wanted to scream “Pass it round us! We can’t do teams what pass and stuff!”, but I kept my voice down as Davies battered another header into the stands. For a side as supposedly good as Leyton Orient, it was a truly baffling strategy to beat us.

Whilst the City goal did come out of the blue, that wasn’t a result of overwhelming pressure on the other end. The game was quietly meandering its way to a 0-0 half time score when Aaron Mclean notched a volley at the back post. Against the club where it all started for the striker, Mclean had by far the best performance I’ve seen him play. The manager mentioned after the game how Mclean was singled out on Tuesday for his performance, but he has to be credited for his reaction today. Whilst some of the usual pitfalls were there, he showed glimpses of the player he could be for us. I’d wager little of that is to do with being paired with Stead (who really is a Hanson facsimile, poorer in the air but with a better touch), but that is a situation worth monitoring.

Ever since the ball went in the net, I’ve been wondering if it was planned. City had a couple corners early and they did “look” a bit different. The first dangerous one saw Jon Stead attempt to wheel around to the back post and get manhandled to the floor to no avail. Then for the goal Mclean pulled a similar move, losing his man just as the Orient keeper ran into a wall of players and was stood completely free at the back post to volley home into the unguarded net.

I’m used to the McArdle wheel to the front post. The long throw to Hanson on the by-line. The long free kick from the halfway line to Andrew Davies one-on-one away from the main action in the box. We may have a new move to add to the repertoire.

In a related note, the referee, David Phillips was incredibly – if consistently – lenient on aerial challenges which undeniably played in our favour. (Although it was hard not to wonder how impactful James Hanson could have been under similar oversight.) This absolutely was a factor in the goal. Many other days that could have been pulled back.

The key decision in the match came on the stroke of half time as a suspiciously apparent handball from Davies in the box was ignored by the referee who had just blown for half time before being surrounded by Orient players.

Whilst not as stark as the Jonathan De Guzman opportunity at the Emirates midweek, it looked like Orient had a right to be frustrated, and it was this catalyst which led to the “altercation” in the tunnel. (Like weather being “inclement”, I’m not sure I’ve ever used the word “altercation” in a context outside of “a fight between two or more grown men in a tunnel”.) Stories diverge on what actually happened at half time, but Parkinson never made it out for the second half.

That ridiculous encounter does illustrate how up for this game City were; this was not another Brentford-style sacrifice of three points with key men rested in the stands. There was a “steely” determination about the players which they tried to clearly illustrate before the match, Gary Jones running over the fans screaming maniacally before the warm-ups. There was also a team wide bear hug operation before kick off with every player forcefully embracing every other player in an intriguing showing of team unity. As it’s not a huddle – boo!!! – I’m fine with it, and it was quite endearing to see as a fan. It was reflected at the final whistle, surrounded by Orient players on their backs.

Orient came closest to an equaliser in the first period after a breakdown from a corner with the ball falling to Scott Cuthbert eight yards out. He fired a goal bound shot and the apparently stranded McLaughlin appeared from nowhere to save the day. Jonny Mac put in a very Jonny Mac performance, struggling with aerial balls from time to time, but let us not forgot how remarkable a shot stopper he is. The defence limited chances magnificently, but they still needed him once and he was there to save the day.

The only downside of the first half was to see Adam Drury hobble off. He has provided a sense of stability over recent weeks and started the game well, but he was replaced not long after falling awkwardly defending a dangerous corner. James Meredith absolutely has more upside than Drury, but the Leeds man looks just the candidate for a squad role that should have been recruited last summer.

He was replaced by Carl McHugh who put in maybe the McHughiest performance of his career. He spends so much time in the last ditch that he is paying council tax there, but there is no way to watch him and not love him. Every ill-timed dive makes me like him a little more, and after he poleaxed the dangerous Moses Odubajo midway through the second half the Irishman’s customary yellow card was on its way. As the game wore on McHugh’s introduction appeared more and more a blessing as the Londoner’s continued their direct approach, targeting him often in the air. The fools.

McHugh’s inclusion meant that Davies stayed back on the halfway line for corners in the second half. Something not planned as it was clear Davies told McHugh to go up in his stead. I’ve been watching Davies for a couple of years, and the only times I’ve ever seen him stay back in those situations have been when he’s been injured. There was no available defender on the bench at this point, and with City obviously placing a lot of importance on this game, he wasn’t going off even if he was hurt. There has been no mention of any knock, but it is worth monitoring with two games in four days on deck.

Another thread of the past few weeks has been about Matty Dolan as the heir apparent to Gary Jones. Saturday proved yet again that Gary Jones is this team. Dolan was competent and combative again, but there is no City without Gary Jones. As Parkinson was fighting in a tunnel – or getting fighted at, dependent on who you listen to – Jones was there throughout, on the front lines, forcing everyone to push. I try to think of myself as quite objective and avoid buying in to the intangibles, but Gary Jones’ effect on this team is there for anyone to see. It was tangible, if invisible. Reports of Jones’ demise have been greatly exaggerated.

With promotion hopes subsiding rapidly, Shaun Batt was unleashed by Russell Slade as the home side went in search of an equaliser. Replacing an anonymous Mooney, he was an immediate upgrade. There are definitive correlations with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas in his play, and the City defence spent the rest of the game on alert. He came closest in the second half for Orient, firing over the bar from 20 yards late on. That that was as close as they came tells the story.

As time trickled away and the crowd was getting more desperate on each end, Ol’ Reliable Garry Thompson was brought on up front and was an immediate upgrade, forcing two impressive saves from Jamie Jones. It’s looking more and more likely that he will be moved on in the summer as his contract expires, but this brief appearance showed again his value.

City wound down the clock with consummate ease and grabbed a well-earned victory away at a side third in the division. It was, weirdly simple. The vocal away support was delighted, but that didn’t have anything on the players. The spirit and the relief was there for everyone to see, a noticeable weight lifted. I haven’t seen them this happy all season. They wanted this so badly, and they earned it.

I was at Walsall, I was at Milton Keynes and I was at Colchester. Whilst not as polished a performance as the one at the Bescot Stadium in early October, or as all-action as the one in Milton Keynes, this win epitomised everything that we all love about this team. They have this ability in them. An ability to will themselves through tough times. The next time things get tough, when you want to turn and shout, think of this game. Think of them. Not to steal an aphorism from the manager, but this is what Bradford City are about. Performances like this. Again and again they have proven they will always come through.

Today did feel like the ending of something. This was a good performance and a deserved win away at a promotion contender. The clocks have moved forward; the weather has turned. City are back, and are in the top half again, a successful game in hand from seven points off the play offs. Seeing Kyel Reid beaming in the away end reminded everyone there of what has been forgotten. In the reflected shine of three points, with Joy Division ringing around the away end, it all came back.

That supporting City can be fun. It still is fun. If people take just a second to breathe and look around at where we are, they will see that the sun is shining.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury (McHugh 21), Bennett, Jones, Dolan, Reach, Stead (Thompson 75), Mclean (Bates 88)

Not used: Bentley, Yeates, Stockdill, De Vita

From bad to worse

26 Mar

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

A state of flux

22 Mar

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

The true measure of progress

15 Mar

Bradford City 1

McLean 10

Gillingham 1

McDonald 56

Saturday 15 March, 2014

By Katie Whyatt

My mum has a well-worn saying that the best thing about going away is coming home at the end, and I agree – there’s nothing quite like the warm familiarity of your bedroom.

It must have been an odd ‘homecoming’, though, for Peter Taylor, given he was returning to a stadium in which he’d enjoyed very little success and had practically been hounded out off, when it looked like relegation from the Football League was a genuine possibility. Reading interviews with the former City gaffer prior to kick-off brought all the memories flooding back: the false dawns, the broken promises, the total dependency on loan players to plug the gaps, the reliance on O’Brien, Flynn and Syers to paper over the cracks.

Those were dark times. Times I’m not too keen to return to. The only thing I can really say is thank goodness we’ve got Phil Parkinson.

You’d often put the two at odds with each other: the juxtaposition of Taylor with his gawky, ugly, it’s-not-fancy-but-trust-me-on-this pragmatism, and Parkinson with his reliance on creative flair players in the form of two out-and-out wingers, presents a dichotomy seemingly destined to swing only in one team’s favour from the outset. Some find it easy to take umbrage with Parkinson’s alleged lack of a plan D or plan E, but what about Taylor’s lack of an unregimented plan A? What about the implacable lack of creativity and structure within his teams? What about the fragmented movements and misguided directness, exhibited so clearly in blue and white today?

While the second half devastatingly saw City slip down to the visitors’ level and relent the steely grip they’d exerted over proceedings in the first half, the gulf between the two teams was there for all too see. It wasn’t so much a new sighting as a flashback to the days of old: Gillingham used all the cards pervasive during Taylor’s tenure.

Which is undoubtedly why Parkinson’s initial game plan was so ruthlessly effective. Gillingham sat deep and allowed City time on the ball, and the use of the hugely influential Kyle Bennett and Adam Reach helped to exacerbate jitteriness within the visitors’ back four. To a man, the Bantams were faultless: Adam Drury excelled on the left and provided the seamless service to Reach that Carl McHugh can understandably struggle with, and Matty Dolan and Nathan Doyle once again dominated the centre of the park with dogged displays.

Everything was clinical and organised, Bradford’s hugely impressive tap-and-touch movements baffling a Gillingham side that seemed incapable of keeping it on the deck. Doyle, significantly, looks to have recaptured the form of yesteryear and his cutting vision and tidy distribution complimented Dolan’s runs and tenacity perfectly, and an unstoppable City midfield ran the show. Poor Craig Fagan looked as though he couldn’t wait to get to the break.

It was a Drury and Reach movement that opened the scoring. Following a period of hugely engaging build-up play from the Bantams’ left side, James Hanson typically won Rory McArdle’s long ball through from the back, and Reach laid off for Drury. The full back’s teasing cross fell perfectly into the path of the goal-shy Aaron Mclean, who keenly fired home from close range to open his Valley Parade account.

The goal was nothing less than the City performance had merited, and the lead could have been extended just minutes later. Reach sliced Fagan and Adam Barrett right out of the equation, but skewed his shot a metre wide. Mclean also converted Reach’s ball through a minute later, but the offside flag had been up long before the winger had collected the ball. Gillingham tried, but their frenetic stuttering was no competition for a rigidly composed City unit, and Bennett mirrored his left-sided counterpart with similar effectiveness and fluidity.

It was easily the best Bantams performance in months – I’d even plump for the whole season – and, though Gills’ reluctance to engage probably afforded City more space and thinking time than a clash against the likes of Wolves or Brentford would gift, take nothing away from the hosts, who enjoyed a hugely disciplined 45 minutes in which they had staunchly refused to surrender their principles. Add a tongue-in-cheek wave from Peter Taylor to the mix, and what you’re left with is a satisfying and positive first-half showing.

So where did it all go wrong?

Until the second half, City’s play had been nothing but laudable. I’m genuinely struggling to remember the last time I’d seen them so rampant and in control, looking, all over, to so plainly be head and shoulders above their opponents – the play off final is the game that immediately springs to mind. The home side’s dominance had seemingly eviscerated all hope of a Gillingham equaliser.

So, where did it all go wrong?

The introduction of the notorious Adebayo Akinfenwa, finally released from Andrew Davies’ back pocket after a lengthy and tortuous stint inside, will be an obvious talking point, and the striker’s pinpoint passing played through Cody McDonald for the visitors’ leveller. A moment of hesitation and indecision on the part of Jon McLaughlin cost City dearly, and Taylor’s side found themselves celebrating a goal they’d had absolutely no business in earning.

It was a mistake the hosts couldn’t bounce back from. City imploded and were frantic, scared. McArdle, who probably enjoyed his best game of the campaign, looked the most comfortable of the back four and fiercely repressed the hulking Akinfenwa, but it was generally staggered from the Bantams, with Bradford struggling to get the bodies in the final third to capitalise on Bennett’s runs forward. Only Gary Jones, introduced with 17 minutes remaining for the captivating Dolan, formed any real tonic, and City’s broken play reflected their opponents.

Gillingham looked to have finally found their feet and there was more conviction about their play, with Akinfenwa testing McLaughlin from 30 yards. Ultimately, the hosts paid the price for not finding that crucial second – proceedings finished 1-1.

It was a display representative of City’s entire season: calmness and resolve reaping lavish rewards initially, but the game plan eventually disintegrating and leaving the home side with more to do than they should have. Factor out that second half and you’ve got the performance of the day; factor out the first half and you’ve got something you’d want to forget.

As this season races towards its conclusion and the clamour to reach 50 points naturally grows louder, the best thing we can do now is continue to remain behind the team and maintain the positive feeling today sparked – the opening quarter seems to have silenced the ‘Parky Out’ brigade, and relegation fears, though mathematically holding weight, have been temporarily assuaged.

We’ve come a, um, way since the unbridled hedonism of the cup run, and not all of it’s been something you’d be hankering to write home about, but we’ve moved. There’s been stagnancy at times, but we’ve moved up the ladder and we’ve moved convincingly in most games. For a newly promoted club, there’s nothing alarmingly anomalous about any of this season. What it’s easy to forget following that unnaturally bright start is that the Bantams are still moving through a natural period of calibration and consolidation, and Parkinson is learning this division along with us.

The rudimentary Hanson-Mclean partnership is still in its infancy, which is what makes general performances – with the addition of the latter’s cool finish today – bode hearteningly well for the future. Equally, the left-side combination of Reach and Drury is still inchoate, yet it’s proving hugely effective and left the Gills defence with nowhere to hide.

Parkinson’s recruitment wasn’t perfect at the start of the campaign (De Vita and Taylor’s Bantams careers haven’t been helped by injuries, though, so I genuinely believe we still haven’t seen the best of these two), but he’s more than made up for that with five excellent acquisitions in the form of Reach, Bennett, Atkinson, Dolan and Drury, which, for me, means things are only looking up.

But if you need any further affirmation of the progress City have made under Parkinson, it was sat just a metre away in the dugout today.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett, Dolan (Jones 73), Doyle, Reach, Hanson, Mclean (Thompson 80)

Not used: Bentley, McHugh, Bates, Atkinson, Gray

Back to form with a deserved three points

12 Mar

20140311_201626

Colchester United 0

Bradford City 2

Hanson 16, Bennett 56

Tuesday 11 March, 2014

Words and images by Mark Danylczuk

‘Colchester on a Tuesday night?’ asked my work colleagues.  To be honest, even as a Southern-based Bantam getting a new ground in, I was sceptical about making the journey out to Essex on a week night. The cold, a host of empty seats and a pre-season friendly type-atmosphere didn’t encourage me further before kick-off.

But was it worth it? YES.  Bradford City deservedly recorded their first away win since November with a mixture of composed passing, positive running, intelligent link-up play and dogged defending.  It was a far-cry from Brentford on Saturday and numerous other matches where the Plan A direct, long-ball style has dominated our game.  In came a refreshing passing style and certain individual performances, notably Nathan Doyle, Andrew Davies, James Hanson and Kyle Bennett, contributed to arguably one of the best City displays (particularly in the first half) since the halcyon days of last September.

City came into the game looking back over their shoulders towards the relegation places after successive defeats to Stevenage and Brentford.  Phil Parkinson made three changes from the team, with Adam Drury in for Carl McHugh at left back, Matty Dolan coming in for Gary Jones in midfield and James Hanson as a late inclusion for Chris Atkinson, meaning City were back to their more comfortable 4-4-2 formation.

Both teams came out of the blocks strongly and had opening chances in the first few minutes.  Firstly it was City with Aaron Mclean latching onto a through ball with an early flick-on and shot saved by the keeper, followed by a neat passing interplay from Colchester which resulted in defender Ryan Dickson looping a header just wide of the post.

Colchester continued this early bright spell, with Freddy Sears striking successive shots over just the bar after the 10 minute mark.  The front four of Sears and Clinton Morrison in the middle, Sanchez Watt on the left and Gavin Massey on the right caused a handful of issues for the City backline throughout the match, with Morrison holding the ball up well and bringing others into play.

The next passage of play however, would result in City’s first goal.  It was Adam Reach’s deflected low cross which came to Doyle, who struck a wonderful 25 yard volley which was turned away at the far post for a corner.  From the resulting Matty Dolan set piece, Hanson bulleted a header home at the far post to the jubilation for the 200 or so City fans in the away end.

City looked fresh and with a point to prove.  Doyle and Dolan excelled in their roles to either begin attacking moves or press and defend when needed, and Jones will do well to regain his place on Saturday.  The addition of Hanson and Davies to the team added quality and stability, and on the wing, Bennett looked much livelier and full of running.  Bennett had City’s next real opening on the half hour mark with a mazy run inside but his shot drifting over the bar.

City continued with their impressive, composed passing style and this was suiting Mclean, getting more balls into feet to capitalise on.  Yes, it can be said Colchester’s pressing game was not strong but still credit to City. Mclean had City’s next chance, running onto a downward Hanson header to volley into the keeper’s hands. His reading of Hanson’s headers improved; but although the work ethic is still superb, the lack of goals is worrying for your centre-forward.  Mclean had a great opportunity to break his duck just before half time, latching onto a through ball after Bennett dispossessed the Colchester defence, but his left foot shot was scuffed wide of the post.  So that was half time and for me, arguably the best half of football I have seen from City in months.

Colchester were still in the game at only 1-0 down though and, with Freddy Sears pulling the strings and Gavin Massey continuing to give left back Adam Drury a tough time on the wing, it was well timed for City to get their second goal early into the second half.  It was Hanson who won a header from a touch line throw in just inside the City half and sloppy defending caused Bennett to nip in with a nifty run and fire home low from a tight angle just inside the box, right in front of the jubilant City fans.

The second City goal seemed to give the U’s a wake-up call into mounting a comeback and, as City continued to sit deeper happy to defend their lead, the pressure mounted but resulted in very few clear cut opportunities. Jon McLaughlin barely had a save to make for the rest of the game.  City’s first substitution came in the 78th minute with Bennett receiving a deserved standing ovation making way for Garry Thompson.  This was easily Bennett’s best game in a City shirt and thankfully is showing us what he can do.  Full of energy and nifty running, his attacking play was excellent.

Adam Drury was next to follow, again with a fine, solid display making way for Carl McHugh in the 85th minute.  The mood was jubilant as City comfortably saw the game out with some scrappy, dogged defending but the win didn’t feel in doubt, particularly after the second goal knocked the stuffing out of Colchester.

All in all, much improved and an impressive display from the Bantams provided a much needed confidence boost.  It’s now onto Gillingham at home on Saturday in search of more points to take us closer to safety.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury (McHugh), Bennett (Thompson 80), Dolan, Doyle, Reach, Hanson, Mclean

Not used: Bentley, Bates, Atkinson, Yeates, Gray

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City fail to take the sting out of The Bees’ tail

9 Mar

SAM_2677Brentford 2

Donaldson 61, Saville 76

Bradford City 0

Saturday 8 March, 2014

Written by Rob Craven (images by Mike Holdsworth)

Like waiting for the a London Bus us Southern Supporters have been waiting all season for the Bantams to grace the capital, and now have two games to look forward to in one month. On Saturday, City travelled to West London for the first time since last May – although this time we hurtled straight past the national stadium, down the North Circular en route to Brentford’s Griffin Park.

Brentford have certainly taken some knocks since last May. They had two bites at the promotion cherry but were condemned to another year of League One football thanks to an incredible last game of the season and then a loss to Yeovil in the Play Off Final. Following a shaky start to this season, Uwe Rolser got his team firing on all cylinders again by October but then left the club for Wigan Athletic in December.

These events would have left most clubs shell shocked – but what hasn’t killed Brentford has made them stronger and they currently sit very pretty in 3rd with two games in hand on 2nd. With their biggest league defeat of this season coming at the hands of today’s visitors (a 4-0 thumping at VP ), revenge must have been on the lips of Clayton Donaldson and co as they stepped on the pitch looking to get a step closer to automatic promotion.

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Prior to kick off the mood was good amongst the travelling contingent and discussions in the New Inn (one of four pubs on each corner of Griffin park) were of a good weekend away in London regardless of the result. The mood dimmed slightly though, as the rumours circulated that there would be no Andrew Davies or James Hanson in the line up and thoughts turned to how we would mix up the tactics to account for the change in personnel.

Speaking with an old school friend and life-long City fan, Paul Naylor, we discussed how tough it is to be a Southern-based supporter and not wear rose-tinted spectacles when viewing a game compared to those who, like Paul, follow the Bantams home and away. With two key players missing and the odds stacked against City, I think even with the rosiest of tints we could agree that what we were going to be in for a tough afternoon.

The early spring sunshine shone brightly over the Brook Road Stand at Griffin Park which has been the home of Brentford for 100 years. The home fans will have been more than glad of that sunshine caressing their faces (and being in their eyes) because what Bradford City turned up with today was not a pretty sight at all.

So many times we have  watched an away team come to Valley Parade and shut up shop, hoping for a draw. Packing out the midfield and risking very little going forward hoping for a set piece or a run against play to get a lucky goal. Today it was our turn to play that very role, to the detriment of the whole game.

It would have been completely understandable to see us set up as we did if Hanson was playing in the lone striker position, because he excels in winning everything that is pumped up to him and chases down everything that isn’t.

But with him unavailable, Aaron Mclean was put in James Hanson’s position and expected to perform the exact same role. You had to feel for Mclean as he applied himself exactly as you would want effort wise, but he was feeding off the very little and could not get near the ball to create any kind of resistance against the Brentford waves of attack.

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Even with a five-man midfield of Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Chris Atkinson, Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett, City struggled to get any grip on the game and the first half was like an attack and defence training routine. The middle two of Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones couldn’t get a handle in the middle of the park and Atkinson, who was playing just in front, was largely ineffective and failed to offer any support for the lonely Mclean up front.

Any moment of magic (should it have arrived) would have been expected to come from the wide two Bennett and Reach. Unfortunately for Reach he was up against a highly impressive right back Alan McCormack, who dealt with any threat and kept him at bay for the full 96 minutes.

The brightest attacking performance in a blue shirt today came from Bennett – but even that was muted by a impressive Brentford defence. Bennett kept knocking on the door of left back Jake Bidwell showing trickery and good touches, but he just couldn’t get through.

When City did have opportunities to attack it came from a few free kicks around the box and five corners. Gary Jones delivery, however, was not up to its usual standard and struggled to connect with a blue head. It wasn’t our day at all.

Still, we somehow managed to hold strong in defence and dealt with wave after wave of attacks, until the referee blew to end the first 45 minutes. Rory McArdle partnered Carl McHugh at centre back with Matthew Bates and the impressive Stephen Darby taming the advances of the Brentford wingers.

Half time brought despondency amongst City fans that I have not seen for a long time, but Parkinson will have been happy as his game plan was fully effective after 45 minutes. For the fans though it was bad viewing – we had not had a shot on goal and we didn’t look like getting one. It was horror show stuff.

The second half kicked off and for a brief moment City opened up Brentford but after a few traces of what might have been Brentford regained control and continued the onslaught on the City goal. The two goals inevitably arrived and inevitably it had to be that man Clayton Donaldson to begin proceedings. He could have had a few today so even though one was salt in the wounds – it could have been worse.

Having gone a goal behind Parkinson made a change and took off the ineffective Chris Atkinson and replaced him with Andy Gray and reverted to a 4-4-2; but before Gray could get his heart rate going we were 2-0 down. The second goal by George Saville seemed to take an age to trickle over the line but it did and was a final nail in the coffin for City’s hopes of taking anything from the game.

With ten minutes remaining and the game slowly grinding to a halt, a double substitution by Parkinson saw new loan signing Adam Drury gain some much-needed game time and Garry Thompson replaced the tired and battle scarred Mclean.

Brentford were relaxing now and were considering what they fancied for their tea that night and so the game opened up slightly and City were able to push forward and managed to win a few more corners. We even had a shot on target from Jones, but it was an effort that brought more of a flashback to Swansea than it was to Crewe at Valley Parade a month ago.

As if the afternoon wasn’t already painful enough we had to endure six minutes of injury time due to Mclean’s head injury – never before have I heard an entire stadium let out a despondent groan when those minutes were held up by the 4th official.

The 2-0 score line flattered City today and what Parkinson had planned to do here today ultimately failed. Brentford dominated from start to finish, but as damming as this report is I do not feel that I can take any credit away from any of the players for efforts – no one can be credited for having a particularly bad game – we were outclassed.

If it is true what they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder then I was certainly in a situation of being totally excited and slightly hopeful that we might pinch something against Brentford today; but as my rose tinted spectacles lay in pieces on the floor of Braemar Road, I can only hope that this performance is improved upon and quickly.

Today’s saving grace for me was our fans. You have to love the Bradford City supporters. Many travelled down to London this weekend with nothing but a hope of a lucky result and, despite a terrible outcome on the pitch, they really gave it their all. They sang from start to (nearly) finish and were undoubting in their support for a team that has given them so much in the last twelve months. Surely they deserved more today.

I wonder if Parkinson approached the game today as he did Wolves at the beginning of February? I can see the sense in resting your best two players for a game that is more winnable and not risk them getting injured in a tougher fixture. Maybe that is the case, but that is not in the slightest bit entertaining and it is not what the Bradford City supporting faithful will want to see much more of in the future. We want and deserve better.

Thankfully we have Colchester away on Tuesday which can offer us some quick relief (hopefully). It can’t come soon enough.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates, McHugh (Drury 84), Bennett, Atkinson (Gray 72), Doyle, Jones, Reach, Mclean (Thompson 84)

Not used: Jameson, Stockdill, Yeates, McBurnie

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