Tag Archives: Andrew Davies

A very Good Friday

20 Apr

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By Philip Jackson

Andrew Davies is harder than I am, much harder.

I’ve had a bit of a sore knee recently, ooh it’s been achy, lots of driving and that heavy clutch pedal has set it off alright, got a bit of a hobble on. I did stretch to chasing the kids (my kids) around the park, but you can’t push these things can you. An hour in and our blonde talismanic defender snuffs out another potential Peterborough attack with a beautifully timed slide to dispossess Brit Assombalonga, who then brings down his size 15’s on his knee right in front of us.

Aaaarrrrgggghh, look at him, I can’t look at him, it’s Davva, its knees, not again, there he is writhing on the floor, face red, arms flailing. This is BAD. I imagined him imagining months of rehab and physio, on comes Matt Barrass, a few leg stretches later and he’s getting him to his feet, don’t do that Matt, his leg is likely to fall off! OK he’s walking off, fine, no probs have a seat Andrew get Carlo on. The only thing that is going on, however, is a knee support onto Davies’ knee.

Ah yes the old knee support, I did that, my knee feels much better. But then I’m not about to go and carry on a professional football match after a large fully grown man has performed an impromptu tattooing on my knee using his football studs, I’ll just be able to get up the stairs more quickly.

No, this man is back and he’s fired up! Now if I’d been clobbered at footy and I got annoyed, I generally just run around faster and feel more inclined to kick people in the ankles, which seems to work for me.

This incident goes a long way to secure our victory. The 10 men of Peterborough have had us under pressure during the opening of the 2nd half, but we’ve been holding them back. Now Davies just goes ‘Not today, we’re having this’ and the rest of the team feed off that. It felt like he just willed us to victory.

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Stephen Darby likes practising judo at throw ins.

The man is like a slippery eel, arm holds, throws, blocks, his opponents seem to think, ’he looks a bit lightweight, I’ll push him out of the way’. You’d probably have said that about Bruce Lee if you saw him (I know Bruce Lee didn’t do judo, although I bet he was alright at it), Darbs looks skinny but he knows what he’s doing, reading your mind, that’s what he’s doing, predicting every move then moving in for the kill.

Now I tried judo for a bit, up at Richard Dunn back in the 80’s, but wasn’t very good. My best move was to lose but simultaneously give my opponent chicken pox (true story), I went back to football at Parkside sports centre, while Mr Darby would probably get a black belt if he didn’t spend so much time, clearing balls off the line, galloping up the right wing, shepherding wingers towards corner flags (if he was a dog, would he be a greyhound or a collie?), gliding in from nowhere to steal a ball he has no right in winning and generally being awesome all the time.

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Adam Reach can strike a ball.

I was just saying how I’d love us to do something different at free kicks, decoys, lay it off, slip a diagonal ball in to an unmarked man at an angle, but let’s not just predictably blast it into the stand or into the wall as that’s what always happ…. Ooh he’s pinged it into the top corner!!! Yeeeessss!! Wonderful goal, saw Bobby Petta do something similar (honest, I actually did).

In fact most of the team are having a pop today, most do get it on target or close, but Reach knows he’s got it today so he’s having another crack, no son you’re not meant to hit the Bradford End roof! His mazy dribbling won us the free kick for the goal, although probably not a foul, and got their defender sent off, but he does need to try passing a bit more rather than ending up down a blind alley thinking he can do it all.

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Away fans are good.

Peterborough have supporters, I have to say they did well with the noise level, and it certainly helped the atmosphere, they became their 11th man at the start of the 2nd half, although it did peter out, a bit like their team.

There is something special about two noisy sets of supporters that add a new dimension to a football match; you feel you are more involved, and I believe that intensity translated to the pitch as the action didn’t seem to dip at any point. It was a pretty clean match, good sportsmanship on both sides and the referee let the game flow, so allowing the energy to build and build.

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Young girls may well prefer fairy stories.

The young lass just in front of us was thoroughly engrossed, not in the game, but with the Disney Princess comic she was reading. I read her match report, apparently Snow White worked hard for her team, providing a much needed aerial presence, but then choked. And when Cinderella got the ball, she played a blinder, but had a problem with her boots in extra time.

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Jonny Mac is a socialist.

Whilst being employed full time by Bradford City, Comrade McLaughlin cannot forget his brothers around the Football League and has taken up the role of Shop Steward for The Goalkeepers Union.

This was very much in evidence during the closing stages of the match, when the hot headed firebrand that is Joe Day, the stand-in Peterborough custodian, chose to race up for the last two corners of the game.

On retrieving the ball our Jonny’s mind drifted back 12 months when up for a last minute corner against the tsarist forces of Rotherham he was caught out for their 2nd, and he couldn’t bring himself to inflict a similar misfortune on young Joe.

Run free young man, run and enjoy life, I cannot left a fellow goalie suffer in that way, said he (possibly). Gentleman Jon held on to the ball, safe in the knowledge one goal was enough for us before playing it out. Actions, which no doubt he will be recognised for by the Gordon Banks and Peter Downsboroughs of this world.

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‘Some of us Made History’.

One of the themes of this ‘transition’ season has been the break-up of last season’s team, this game felt as if this spirit has not been distinguished and a new spirit may well be growing. They were defending higher up the pitch, both sides of the pitch covered and closed down well, I was impressed with the work rate of all, especially seeing ‘skill’ players who are sometimes seen as lazy doing this also, glad to see De Vita, Stead and Reach all join in with this ethos.

Peterborough slid the ball left and right but were covered at most points, tackles, blocks and interceptions (many involving sliding) were made and our harrying led to some good openings, two of which got their man a red card.

If that can become the norm, the basic level this team works at, then a little more adventure up front could reap the rewards which would turn those 600 draws this season into a few more wins next.

I’ve already said I thought it was a clean and fair game, although there were plenty of ‘proper’ tackles, going in, Drury, Stead De Vita etc. all joined in with this and I hope that the post 2012/13 players see what we had last year and that that came about for a reason, and I hope are buying into the same ethos.

The end of the game saw the players exultant, truly pumped, loving the atmosphere and the camaraderie, it’s what you want to see in the team and I hope that I can see it blooming. Maybe Parky’s new baby is starting to develop?

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Its games like this that just feed that drug a bit “You’ll never escape me boy, I’ve got what you need, feels good doesn’t it?” Yes it does, the bright sun, followed the bright floodlights and the glorious claret and amber everywhere to be seen.

What a sport, great company, great club, bit of banter and that warm glow of three vital points in your pocket, it puts a new spring in your step, that knee feels as good as new.

Who should stay and who should go?

14 Apr

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Written by Gareth Walker (all images: Mike Holdsworth)

It’s that time of year again where thoughts are turning to which names will be on the retained list and, conversely, which players Bradford City fans will be waving goodbye to during the summer. Whilst City aren’t yet mathematically safe in League One, Phil Parkinson will privately be considering the make up of his squad for next year, depending on which division we are in.

Here I get to play manager: discussing each current member of Parkinson’s squad and what decision I would make over their future if I was the in the hot seat.

The players who will be out of contract:

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Jon McLaughlin: KEEP

He probably splits opinion more than any other player currently on City’s books. My own opinion is that he is a very good shot stopper, but the other areas of his game – in particular his distribution and the communication with his defence – are below average.

This means that on the occasions when the standard of his shot stopping drops, such as the games against Huddersfield (away), Wolves (home) and Walsall (home) this season, he looks to be a poor goalkeeper. Personally, I think he is a decent League Two keeper, but that if we have aspirations of getting promoted to the Championship then we need a better number one.

I’d offer him a contract as our back up. Whether he would accept that role is another question.

Stephen Darby: KEEP

He should comfortably win the player of the year award this season, and I doubt that any City fan would want him to leave the club. When considering all the players whose contracts are up, Darby is the only one who I would be really desperate to keep. Let’s hope that he feels the same way about staying at City.

James Meredith: KEEP

For the second year in a row, Meredith has been missing through injury for a large part of the season. Prior to this his form was average to say the least, when compared to his performances last season.

Personally I feel that he has suffered from not having any out and out competition for his place at left back. This has been highlighted by how much we’ve struggled to fill the role in his absence. When he is fit, he knows that he is a guaranteed starter and this cannot be good for any player. I think that it’s imperative that we sign some competition next season, to push him all the way.

Rory McArdle: KEEP

This is a really tough call for me. I think that last year’s ‘Marathon Man’ has struggled with the step up to League One. I’d keep him, but he would no longer be my first choice partner for Andrew Davies. I’d bring in a new right-sided centre back to succeed where Matt Taylor failed, and at the very least by competing with McArdle for a starting role. However, if the under-contract-Taylor can’t be moved on, the out-of-contract-McArdle might have to make way for an upgrade.

Carl McHugh: KEEP

‘Carlo’ is arguably my favourite player at City at the moment. Parkinson has gone on record as saying that the Donegal-born centre back would run through brick walls for the manager and the team. He is a vastly talented defender, who never lets us down.

He suffers because his main position is as a left hand sided centre back, and as such he is in direct competition with Davies for a place in the team. He is not a left back, although has often had to fill in there due to the lack of options to cover Meredith’s absence.

Considering Davies’ injury record and up and down form since returning to the side, I’d keep McHugh; possibly even fazing him into the side as Davies’ long-term replacement. The problem we may have is that if McHugh knows that he is only being kept as an understudy, he might think it better for his own career that he moves on.

Matthew Bates: RELEASE

Brought in as a utility player who can be used in a variety of positions, Bates has suffered by mainly being employed as the stand-in for Davies during the latter’s prolonged injury absence. As a former Middlesbrough captain and England U21 international, Bates certainly has the pedigree. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really impressed anyone.

Bates’ tendency to back off from attackers and bark orders at others, whilst seeming to do very little himself, has seen him targeted by supporters. I think it’d best for everyone if he moved on, and that his wages are freed up to use elsewhere.

Gary Jones: KEEP

‘Magic Man’ has bounced back from an indifferent start to the season – when many people were questioning his performances and writing him off – to re-establish himself as one of our most important players. Jason Kennedy’s failure to hit the ground running has meant Jones has played far more games than he or Parkinson would have expected. Being another year older, we really cannot afford to put off finding a suitable heir to his throne. However, he would still be a fantastic player to have in the squad and play half of the games, or to come off the bench to see matches out when needed.

Will the budget allow us to keep him in a diminished role? Maybe a player-coach type position would facilitate this move.

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Nathan Doyle: KEEP (just)

I really can’t make my mind up about Doyle. He is still one of my favourite players. He should be our best player. He is arguably the most talented player at the club. So why doesn’t he show it on a consistent basis?

Doyle came back from the summer rest in great shape and put in some of his best performances since he rejoined the club. However, similar to last year, his form dipped considerably and his influence on games diminished. I don’t know whether this was down to fatigue or the injury that he was said to be carrying. Whatever the case, he needs to be more consistent.

We certainly miss Doyle when he isn’t in the side, but he splits opinion amongst fans, with some seeing him as a favourite and others thinking that he doesn’t contribute enough. Parkinson is known to like his versatility, but he is rumoured to be one of the highest paid players at the club and, as such, it will be interesting to see if he is considered a luxury that we can no longer afford.

Kyel Reid: KEEP

I like Reid. Although he infuriates supporters sometimes with his erratic-ness and sometimes poor decision making, it is undeniable that he is a major threat to opposing teams, who are often so fearful of him that they double or triple mark him.

I feel Reid is an upgrade on our previous enigmatic wingers. When he is out of the team injured – as he has been for a long time this season – we carry much less of an attacking threat. He is still our main outlet, and I would like to keep him in our squad; albeit with players brought into provide him with better competition for his place.

The problem we may have is that Reid has a young family down in the London area and he may decide to move on for personal reasons.

Garry Thompson: RELEASE

Thompson’s City career has seen more highs and lows than most. His form has varied vastly, but who could ever forget his goal against Arsenal? His commitment to the cause has been questioned in the past, but this season we have seen him show commendable fight when he has come on as a substitute – desire that has put newer signings and younger players to shame.

He is a favourite of Parkinson’s because he facilitates the high diagonal ball to his wing. It will be a shame to lose him and it is a big call, because we need characters such as him with experience if we were to avoid another season of struggle. However, I feel that if we want to move forwards and progress as a club, we just need slightly younger legs and that little bit of extra quality.

Thanks for the memories Thommo!

Rafa De Vita: RELEASE

Barring a brilliant assist for James Hanson’s finish against Preston in October, and a goal at home to Wolves a few days later, De Vita has been totally anonymous in the few games that he has played. He has spent large parts of the season on the treatment table, but his limited contributions when he has been in the side have meant that we haven’t missed him.

De Vita has been a disappointment, because I was impressed with him in pre-season and Swindon supporters speak relatively highly of him.

Andy Gray: RELEASE

It’s difficult to argue that Parkinson has made a successful signing in the last three transfer windows, but Gray really does take the biscuit as the worst of the lot. A high wage earner, who simply hasn’t provided the competition to Hanson that he was supposed to – and the veteran has spent most of his time injured.

Gray’s second coming at Valley Parade has been a major failure.

Louis Swain: RELEASE

Has anyone seen Swain since last summer, when he was given his one year contract? Being farmed out on loan to non-league wasn’t really a surprise, but the lack of updates on his progress makes it look like he is surplus to requirements. 

The players who will still be under contract:

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Andrew Davies: KEEP

Signed a two year deal last summer and, despite his injury problems and up and down form since his return, Davies is still our best centre back by some distance. If he wasn’t under contract there may be a discussion to be had as to whether we are getting value for money – and whether someone who is, say, 75% as good as Davies but always fit would be a better signing. For next season, we have to hope that Davies’ injury problems are behind him, so we can build a team with him in it.

Matt Taylor: MOVE ON

We know so little about this player, partly because he has been injured for such a long time. However, when Taylor has been fit, Parkinson clearly hasn’t liked what he has seen.

A fleeting appearance in one league game, along with starts in cup competitions at Huddersfield and Hartlepool, are his own appearances, which made the decision to recall him early from a loan spell at Colchester – where he was getting game time – a strange one.

His signing was initially well received, because of his reputation and promotion history when he was captain at Charlton; but these all now point to the fact that his wages are likely to be high and unaffordable for someone who rarely plays. With one year left on his contract, hopefully we can find a club willing to take him off our hands.

Jason Kennedy: MOVE ON

A dazzling performance at Valley Parade whilst playing against for Rochdale last season convinced Parkinson that Kennedy was the long-term successor to Gary Jones. Unfortunately, it simply hasn’t worked out and Kennedy finds himself warming the bench back on loan at his old club.

This is one disappointing signing where the blame cannot be solely laid at Parkinson’s door. Some fans at Spotland regarded Kennedy to be a better player than Jones, and most of the Valley Parade faithful were delighted when he decided to finally make the journey down the M62 to West Yorkshire.

However, in claret and amber, Kennedy looks half the player that he did in black and blue. Hesitant on the ball and avoiding responsibility are just two of the criticisms levelled at him. Again, with one year left on his contract, I hope that we can find someone who wants to take him.

Mark Yeates: MOVE ON

The biggest disappointment of all of last summer’s signings. 12 months ago, Yeates was a regular player for Watford as they marched towards the Championship play off final. He started this season well, scoring a great goal at home to Carlisle, but that was as good as it got. Yeates soon lost his place to Reid, and found himself reduced to being a bit-part player.

Along with Doyle, he should be our best player. However, many supporters have questioned his attitude and commitment – and as one of our highest earners, with another season to run on his deal, I expect him to be moved on. That is unless he can show us some real form over the last few weeks of the season.

James Hanson: KEEP 

The fulcrum of our side, and arguably our most important player due to Parkinson’s Plan A. Hanson is getting better and better, and I am delighted that he has committed his long term future to the club. We do, however, need to find a way or a style of playing without Hanson, for the times when he is injured or ineffective.

Oli McBurnie: KEEP

The cream of the crop of our talented youth team, McBurnie is being handled with care and I expect to see him being continually drip fed into senior action next year. He has shown enough potential so far for me to think that he should have a bright future, and I’d like to see him as our fourth striking option next year.

Lewis Clarkson: KEEP

Another player who has suffered with injury since signing, we have so far seen very little of Clarkson. Brought in as one for the future by the current coaching staff, I see him as striker number five next year; possibly being loaned out for experience if the right opportunity arrives.

Aaron Mclean: KEEP

Having arrived to much fanfare as Nahki Wells’ replacement, Mclean has so far failed to live up to expectations. However, with another two years to run on his contract I refuse to write him off after just six months. The effort is clearly there in his play, I just feel that he looks a poor signing because he doesn’t fit in with Parkinson’s tactics. Mclean is the player who I feel would benefit the most if we manage to develop a Plan B.

The players who are on loan

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Arron Jameson: SEND BACK

A token signing if ever there was one. With hardly any senior games to his name, Jameson was not the player that supporters wanted to see brought in to challenge Jon McLaughlin for the number one jersey. We might as well have put the youth team goalkeeper on the bench, and that is in fact what Parkinson has done when faced with the task of balancing the allocated number of loanees in his match day squads.

Adam Drury: SEND BACK

We were crying out for a proper left back after James Meredith’s injury, and it was puzzling that it took so long to bring one in. Drury has been steady if not spectacular in the role, and there is a chance he could be offered a deal for next year. Personally, however, I would question whether he has done enough to earn it.

Adam Reach: SEND BACK

When Reach signed for us in January, I spoke to a Shrewsbury-supporting friend of mine who revealed that Reach had been brilliant for his first month on loan at New Meadow, earlier this season, but that his form then dropped off spectacularly.

Unfortunately that seems to have been the case during his stay in Yorkshire, too. Reach was so good at the start that we were worried about Middlesbrough recalling him. However, his inconsistency probably explains why they haven’t done. Another player who clearly has talent, but doesn’t show it enough and recently has appeared to be playing for himself rather than the team. I don’t think that we can afford another squad member of that ilk.

Kyle Bennett: KEEP

In contrast Reach, Bennett’s City career started slowly but has improved considerably. He had a poor performance against Oldham recently, but I think that was more to do with the bizarre tactical shifts from Parkinson during the game. Bennett put a good performance in at Rotherham on Friday.

At times he frustrates by playing very narrow, but I feel that is partly on the manager’s instruction. If he can continue to improve, I would like to see Bennett as one of four wide players in next season’s squad.

Matty Dolan: KEEP

One week, Dolan looks like the best player on the pitch. The next he has an absolute stinker. Contrast his performances against Gillingham (home) and Leyton Orient (away) with those against Shrewsbury (away) and Oldham (home). However, even in the Oldham game, Dolan managed to produce the only bit of quality in a Bradford shirt, when he set up Adam Reach’s goal.

As a relatively young player I think that Dolan will continue to improve and become more consistent. I believe it’s pretty much agreed that he will join us permanently in the summer, and I am quite comfortable with that.

Chris Atkinson: KEEP

This is one where Parkinson and I would no doubt disagree. Along with Jameson, Atkinson has been one of the unlucky ones who have missed out when we have been limited to just five loanees in a match day squad. It’s a shame because I feel that he could provide the attacking impetus that we sometimes lack from central midfield.

Atkinson did well in brief cameo appearances against Wolves (away) and MK Dons (home), and would likely be a relatively cheap signing as a fourth central midfield option. I hope that Parkinson leaving him out doesn’t indicate that he isn’t intending on keeping him.

Jon Stead: SEND BACK.

I was impressed with Stead at Leyton Orient (away) and even more so at Rotherham (away); but he definitely isn’t the man to be Hanson’s understudy, because he doesn’t win enough in the air. I’d rather see Parkinson sign a different type of striker, especially considering the wages that Stead is likely to be earning at Huddersfield.

However, much will depend on whether Parkinson intends to try new tactics next year. Stead is ideally suited to playing the lone striker role, as he proved at Rotherham, because he has experience of doing this in the Premier League with Sunderland and Blackburn. I wouldn’t totally rule out him signing permanently.

The players in the youth team

I’d expect youth team captain and dynamic midfielder Jack Stockdill to be offered a contract. Deals may also be awarded to central defender Niall Heaton, wide forward Nathan Curtis and winger Callum Chippendale.

New signings

If the above decisions were to come to fruition, there would be spaces in the squad to fill and a need for several new signings. As a priority, I’d be looking to sign a first choice goalkeeper, some competition for Meredith at left back, a right-sided centre back to replace Bates and Taylor, and a third senior striker to compete with Hanson and Mclean

There would also be a need to sign a couple of wingers or wide midfielders, to compete with Reid and Bennett.

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

Nowhere to hide as Bradford City go to Rotherham

11 Apr

Leyton Orient

Rotherham United vs Bradford City preview

@New York Stadium on Friday 11 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

It is impossible not to fear the worst about tonight. It is difficult to envisage any other outcome but a home victory.

Rotherham’s defeat to Sheffield United on Tuesday was their first defeat in 17 matches – they had been unbeaten since New Years Day. During that run they averaged 2.44 goals per game and scored three or more times on six occasions. Despite their midweek blank, the Millers are the top scorers in the Football League, and the third highest of the 92 – behind only Liverpool and Man City.

The recent run has taken Rotherham from play off challengers to being in the hunt for the second automatic promotion place behind Wolves. They currently lie nine points behind second-place Brentford with five games to play, and recently crushed the Bees 3-0 at the New York stadium.

Be afraid tonight. Be very afraid.

Particularly when you throw in City’s wretched recent record against their South Yorkshire neighbours – six straight defeats for the West – and the Indian Sign that Steve Evans holds over Phil Parkinson, going back to the former’s Crawley days.

There is every chance that the Bantams could suffer a real hiding tonight. It is not the game we needed at this stage of the season, when there is still some work to be done to ensure survival. Had Oldham been defeated at Valley Parade last Saturday, tonight could have been considered a free hit for City. But it is not. It is an important match for both clubs.

The time for pragmatism

After enduring one of his worst days in office, Parkinson is undoubtedly under some pressure to produce a big reaction from his players – although he should not have to fear for his job. From where City were two years ago to where we are now, he has engineered a 30-place improvement in the club’s league position. In other words a climb of one-third up the 92.

When such progression stops over a meaningful period of time, we can certainly raise the question of his future. But for now he continues to hold plenty of credit in the bank, and the two remaining years on his contract would cost the club a pretty penny to settle up. And if we were hunting for a replacement, we’d be looking for someone with the qualities that Parkinson possesses to take us forwards. He deserves the opportunity to rebuild the squad during the summer, and nothing I have heard or read over the last few days has convinced me otherwise.

The local media chose to completely ignore the fact that Parkinson was booed twice on Saturday over his substitutions (a shame because, if nothing else, asking the manager about it would have allowed him the opportunity to explain the changes). In many respects Parkinson has done well to last this long without suffering the indignity of such booing before. I struggle to recall a single Bradford City manager over the past two decades who wasn’t booed for their choice of substitution (Peter Jackson perhaps, but he wasn’t around long enough).

Even Paul Jewell, during a City Premier League away match at Sheffield Wednesday in January 2000, was booed for taking off Stuart McCall. If the man who took the Bantams to the top flight for the first time in 77 years – and kept them there – cannot escape such booing, Parkinson should not be concerned.

And the most important thing that Parkinson can do right now is to continue to be his own man and not listen to the crowd. Worrying about such matters has been the undoing of past City managers – think of Nicky Law bowing down to supporters in 2003 by playing Ben Muirhead when he evidently wasn’t the answer. Parkinson is experienced enough to know that there is a big difference between doing the right thing and doing what the crowd believes to be the right thing. And over these last few games in particular, he needs to be pragmatic rather than popular.

With Rotherham prospering at Valley Parade on Boxing Day through a 4-5-1 formation, Parkinson needs to ensure that his side can match that system if Evans is to repeat its use. If that means going 4-5-1 also and leaving, say, Aaron Mclean  (who is struggling for fitness) on the bench, so be it. There’s a section of City fans who hate 4-5-1 and will criticise any manager who tries it. So what?

Parkinson cannot set up his team for another Rotherham thrashing. A point tonight would be a great achievement and there is nothing wrong with targeting that.

What’s needed

To have any chance of succeeding, Parkinson needs every single player to put in a shift ala-Leyton Orient – there can be no passengers like there were in the Oldham game. Parkinson needs Andrew Davies, Stephen Darby and Gary Jones to demonstrate their leadership skills and set the example for others to follow. Rory McArdle needs to quickly get over last Saturday’s woeful display and demonstrate why he should continue to be at the heart of next season’s back four. Jon McLaughlin has not been playing badly, but also needs a good night.

If City do go 4-5-1, Chris Atkinson or – if either are fit – Mclean or Nathan Doyle will come into midfield. Adam Reach needs to use the platform of being live on TV to impress, and I suspect we will get a better performance than recent feeble efforts. Kyle Bennett needs to forget last week’s no-show and get back to the level he had been building up towards before. That said, Garry Thompson’s promising cameo off the bench on Saturday could be rewarded with a start ahead of the Doncaster loanee.

If James Hanson is fit enough to play, it could change any such thoughts of a 4-5-1. Parkinson needs Hanson, but it would be asking a lot for the big man to start on his own up front if not 100% fit.

What hope?

If there is a chink of light to be offered, it is that Rotherham have been better on the road than they have away; winning nine, drawing eight and losing three at the New York Stadium, with no one in the top half of League One having conceded more goals at home, including the Bantams.

Small crumbs, on a night that seems to be about damage limitation and raised relegation anxiety. The heart fondly remembers recent shock away victories when no one expected anything from City – Leyton Orient, two weeks ago, Southend United, two years ago and, one my all-time favourite away games, Rochdale in February 2010 (Peter Taylor’s second game in charge).

I guess the minimum that we can expect tonight is an improved performance from Saturday, and to hope that the players show sufficient passion to demonstrate they want to still be wearing a claret and amber shirt next season. Whether that will be enough to avoid a seemingly inevitable defeat is highly questionable, but at the very least it would be nice to walk out of the New York Stadium at the end of tonight feeling more confident about the future than we did leaving Valley Parade last Saturday.

Unacceptable Bradford City performance underlines need for major change

5 Apr

IMG-20140405-00067

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

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

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

Fragmentation and imperfection

17 Mar

Mike (6)

By Jason McKeown

Some people say…that Bradford City Football Club is in its best position for at least a decade.

Some people say…the recent nosedive in form is proof that we are in decline.

Some people say…the club is in robust health now it has paid off Mark Lawn’s loan.

Some people say…the League Cup windfall has been wasted away.

Some people say…this group of players have done well to acclimatise to the higher division and are meeting overall expectations.

Some people say…the style of football is terrible, the players are not good enough and their weaknesses too obvious to our League One rivals.

Some people say…the struggles of Nahki Wells to adapt to life at a higher level suggest City did well to agree the deal it did with Huddersfield.

Some people say…Aaron Mclean is a poor replacement for Wells.

Some people say…Phil Parkinson has done a magnificent job as manager, when you reflect on his three seasons in charge.

Some people say…Phil Parkinson has blown it as manager, and must be sacked.

Valley Parade has become increasingly fragmented over recent months. There are major splits in opinions about the current situation and the future – and with it passions are running high. As editor of a Bradford City website, this overriding mood makes it particularly challenging to write about the club. Whatever personal views I and my fellow writers express, someone will disagree. Too positive, too negative, too much on the fence – we are either bang on right, or embarrassingly wrong. It’s all about your own view of the Bradford City world, and your interpretation of events.

Over 10 years of writing about Bradford City has long ago taught me that you can’t please everyone – nor should you try to. And over recent weeks, I have received bits of feedback here and there that this site needs to be more negative and to be criticising the club. That we should be leading the calls for Parkinson’s resignation, for example, or questioning the directors. It all goes with the territory of producing such a website, and in its own strange way is a sign of our success: that people care enough about what we write to be unhappy when we differ from them in our judgement.

This is not a platform to attempt to defend myself, as criticism comes with the territory. Some of the best feedback I’ve had for my writing efforts has occurred at times when others would be slating me on message boards. Criticism comes with the territory, and it is valued as much as the kind words other people bestow every now and then. Width of a Post has no editorial policy with the exception of one golden rule: analysis of players, management and chairmen must always be backed up with sound reasoning. Somewhere along the evolution of Width of a Post, it has become more club-friendly for sure, but that is largely because – in the main for the two and a bit years this site has existed – the club has got more right than it has wrong.

When it comes to writing about City, I have always tried to be 100% honest in how I feel: good or bad. Over recent months, I have written some deeply critical match reports, such as those against Rotherham, Notts County, Sheffield United and Wolves. I doubt any players read the site but, if they did, some would no doubt be unhappy at the stuff we have had to say about them. At other times, Width of a Post has been gushing with praise for performances, players and the manager, and encouraged by the overall progress of the club. Against a backdrop of an increasingly negative #bcafc Twitter hashtag, Facebook pages and message boards, this more positive outlook can go against the grain. But perhaps we offer a level of balance in such circumstances.

Whatever your view, this season is set to go down as one of fragmentation. Beyond the fact Stephen Darby is bloody amazing, there probably isn’t a single element of Bradford City’s 2013/14 performance that would find universal agreement. We have done well to be mid-table, or underachieved not to be in play off contention. This group of players has successfully adapted to a higher level, or needs wholesale changes. The manager has taken us forwards, or has run out of ideas. Football is such a reactive sport, full of passion and subjectivity – and Bradford City is certainly no different to the rest of the football world.

So what has Parkinson got wrong this season? Well, as mentioned so many times, his summer recruitment business has proven to be dismally unsuccessful. It was quickly apparent that even he has lacked faith in those he brought in during the summer, and when things have not gone so well it is these players who are invariably the first to fall on their sword.

I think that he got the balance wrong in his defensive planning. At one stage, Parkinson had six centre backs on the books, plus Nathan Doyle (who can cover successfully) and the promising Niall Heaton. Meanwhile, the squad featured just one recognised left back. The unreliability of Andrew Davies’ fitness, the uncertainty of Luke Oliver’s recovery from serious injury and the international commitments of Rory McArdle necessitated plenty of centre back cover, but the lack of game time for Matt Taylor suggests something has gone wrong.

I think that Parkinson has continued to struggle getting results on the road. Just 14 away victories in almost three seasons in charge is not a great record. I think that he has yet to bring in the personnel that can formulate a change of approach from the tried – some say tired – 4-4-2 formation. He has largely built a team around the strengths of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, but failed to quickly adapt to the breaking up of this prolific partnership. Wells’ replacement has a very different style, but at times the way City have played seems to assume Nahki is still wearing that number 21 shirt.

Yet I think that Parkinson has also got plenty right this season. Gary Jones has continued to defy his age by producing a number of inspirational displays. He is a true leader, who lifts the performances of those around him. Parkinson was right to put so much faith in James Hanson by awarding him a new contract mid-season, rather than risking it running down. Hanson is said to have been given a sizeable pay rise and has revelled in the added responsibility thrust upon him since Nahki left, playing that bit further up the park and scoring more regularly. A proven League One striker now, and you suspect James can still go higher.

Next in the contract line needs to be Stephen Darby please, Phil.

I think that Parkinson has ensured his team are tough to beat and can compete in this higher division. For all the poor form since October, only six teams have lost fewer matches than the Bantams all season (including Crawley, who have played four games less). It is too many draws that has hindered City’s progress. Only Scunthorpe United – out of the five national divisions in English football – have tied more matches than the Bantams. It really isn’t a major improvement needed to change those one-point returns into three. Just turning four of those 15 draws into victories would currently see the Bantams fighting for the play offs.

Adam Reach shows Parkinson can hunt out a good loan signing; Aaron Mclean is proof of the manager’s pulling power. For all the criticism Mclean’s distinctly average performances have received, there is a proven lower league striker in there who is capable of filling Nahki’s rather large shoes. If he can build on his excellent first goal for the Bantams and contribute more often to the goalscoring column, it will look a great piece of business by the manager. The future also looks bright, with Matty Dolan – expected to sign permanently during the summer – looking a capable heir to Jones’ throne. Oli McBurnie has enjoyed some game time and shows huge promise; Jack Stockdill looks a real gem with a bright, bright future.

Certain mitigating circumstances cannot be overlooked. Losing top scorer Nahki Wells was always going to be testing, particularly with his head seemingly turned during the run-up to the transfer window. Had Andrew Davies been fit all season, we would not have endured such a sustained slump in results over mid-season. Kyel Reid has been sorely missed also, albeit the form of Reach softening the blow to a point. Nevertheless, the loss of the club’s two quickest players – Wells and Reid – has been keenly felt at times. Pace must top the summer shopping requirement list.

The story of this season is one of fragmentation and imperfection. Some things have gone well, some things could have gone better. Certain obstacles have been successfully overcome, but other, greater challenges have either sprung up or heightened in their size. We’ve not looked so close to the holy grail of Championship football since 2006, but at times is has depressingly hit home just how far we still have to go.

The most important element, in the short-term, is that League One survival is comfortably within reach. Then the planning for next season, and the longer-term, can truly begin. The steps taken this season may not be vast, but they are at least forwards. The bruises picked up, the lessons taught, and the set-backs overcome will hopefully lead to a stronger and wiser football club.

In the summer we need to apply that experience. And in the meantime, fragmentation will continue to dominate.

Back to form with a deserved three points

12 Mar

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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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The Colchester learning curve as Bradford City go to Essex

11 Mar

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Colchester United vs Bradford City preview

@Weston Homes Community Stadium on Tuesday 11 March, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (images by Mike Holdsworth)

The subplot to this week is one of former managers returning their old stomping grounds. On Saturday Peter Taylor makes a first visit to Valley Parade since his departure three years ago; but first of all tonight, Phil Parkinson goes back to the club where he first made his name as a manager.

It is just over 11 years ago since Parkinson took charge of Colchester United. Two seasons later, the U’s were promoted to the second tier of English football for the first time in their history. Parkinson’s squad – which included notable players such as former City keeper Aidan Davison, Greg Halford, Neil Danns, Chris Iwelumo and on-loan Mark Yeates – would finish League One runners up, prospering on the lowest gates in the division.

Some achievement, yet rather than proving to be the Launchpad of a glittering managerial career, it became a false start for Parkinson. Don’t expect him to receive a warm welcome from his former supporters this evening, due to the the bitterness surrounding his shock resignation that quickly followed securing promotion.

Parkinson was persuaded to jump ship to the relative bright lights of Hull City, a development revealed a few days after he handed in his notice. He still had a year to run on his Colchester deal, and his former employees sought a high court injunction to prevent the-then 38-year-old taking charge at Hull, after rejecting their “modest” compensation offer. The Tigers admitted to making an approach for Parkinson whilst he was still employed at Layer Road. A Colchester statement at the time revealed they still hoped to keep Parkinson, “The decision to seek an injunction to prevent him tearing up his contract is in part a vain hope that he will change his mind.”

Eventually a £400,000 compensation package was agreed for Parkinson to move to the KC Stadium (Colchester wanted half a million). But less than six months later, a wretched start to life at Hull came to an end for Parkinson, who was sacked. His penultimate game in charge must have proven particularly painful – a 5-1 thrashing at Colchester.

People close to Parkinson have told me that he looks back his decision to leave Colchester as a major mistake, and the only time in his career where money had played a significant part in his decision-making. It was an episode that ran through his mind again in January 2013, when Bradford City chairman Mark Lawn informed him that Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston had made an official approach for his services. He declined even to talk to the Seasiders about the possibility of leaving Valley Parade. During all the protracted new contract talks this time a year ago, it was said that, rather than wage demands, progress were so slow because Parkinson wanted to ensure that his coaching staff were looked after at the same time.

So a lesson learned that has proven beneficial from Bradford City’s point of view. Yet you do wonder if the Bantams have still felt some of the negative effects of his Colchester defection, over the course of this season, given the challenge he missed out on trying to solve: acclimatising a club in a higher division.

The 2012/13 ‘We Made History’ success was the second promotion of Parkinson’s managerial career, and it means that this season has been the first where he has being in charge of a newly promoted club. 11 years as manager, but this was a step into the unknown. Perhaps the lack of experience of this situation is something that Parkinson will have keenly felt over recent months; and perhaps there are things that he would look to do differently if he could begin this season all over again.

Chiefly, was the dilemma he faced on whether to stay loyal to a group of high-achieving players, or begin the process of replacing them. It has been a common talking point – well documented on this website – that up until January at least Parkinson kept faith in what he had. For a time it looked a brilliant decision, as City began the season in flying form, but poor form since October has carried more than whiff of squad stagnation. The urgency to update and refresh his charges must have come around quicker than the manager originally anticipated, yet mid-season offered limited opportunities to evolve the squad.

Parkinson will also undoubtedly reflect on the new arrivals of last summer: were they designed to complement what he had, or enhance it? Perhaps he will look at how Manchester City – another club traditionally starved of success – failed to progress from their 2011/12 Premier League title victory to weakly hand the title back to their neighbours a year after. A familiar story of a manager sticking with what he had: making filler signings instead of Stella.

Parkinson has built two excellent football teams – Colchester 2006 and Bradford City 2013 – but this is the first time he’s been tasked with improving on his achievements. This season hasn’t been a roaring success – at least when judging form since October – but the glass-half-full viewpoint is to hope and believe that Parkinson will be a better manager from making these mistakes and learning the lessons. And there is no doubt that he has previously shown that he knows how to rebuild a broken team.

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Before he can apply that experience to this squad, however, there is still work to be done. 12 games of the season to play, and realistically City need to pick up another 10-12 points to guarantee their League One status. There is an obvious urgency to reach this tally as soon as possible, and on the immediate horizon are four winnable-looking games: Colchester and Gillingham this week, followed by a trip to struggles Shrewsbury and visit of Walsall.

With a busy month of March ending with another visit to the Capital – this time facing top two contenders Leyton Orient – a reasonable aim must be to pick up at least two victories from these four games.

Tonight would certainly be a good start. Prior to Colchester’s Saturday 2-1 victory over another free-falling League One side, Coventry, they stood just one place above the bottom four. That a home victory tonight would place them above the Bantams is an illustration of how tight the situation remains at the bottom – and would no doubt prompt more angst and panic in this corner of West Yorkshire. Parkinson badly needs a happy return to his first managerial outpost.

And his chances of doing so would be helped considerably if Andrew Davies and James Hanson were to prove their fitness, after the pair sat out the 2-0 defeat to Brentford. With Aaron Mclean’s ongoing struggles (something Width of a Post plans to cover in more detail later this week), greater responsibility weighs upon Hanson’s shoulders, but he has relished it rather than wilted.

Davies is equally influential, and the rest of the back four seem to find an extra 5-10% in themselves when he is marshalling them. Matthew Bates came in for Davies at Brentford, but his stock amongst supporters continues to decline. If recent loan signing Adam Drury (apparently heavily criticised by some City fans for his Leeds connections. Really? Are we that petty?) is fit enough and Davies doesn’t make it, there is the option to move Carl McHugh to centre half. Either way, thank goodness for the ongoing reliability of Stephen Darby and, to a lesser extent, Rory McArdle – both write their own names on the team sheet right now.

In midfield, Parkinson’s decision to line up with five at Griffin Park failed to yield the point he must have been hoping for as a minimum; but if Hanson is back we can probably expect a return to 4-4-2. For the first time in the league this season, Gary Jones could miss out (virus). Chris Atkinson, Nathan Doyle and Matty Dolan – who was not on the bench on Saturday – fight for the central midfield positions. Dolan’s lack of game time to date is a surprise given the original plan had been to sign him on a permanent basis in January. Perhaps he was held back for tonight.

On the flanks will be Adam Reach and one of Kyle Bennett and Garry Thompson. Bennett has hardly set the world alight since rocking up from Doncaster, but has shown glimpses of promise. Thompson has of late looked a better impact sub than starter.

For Colchester, their 2-1 Coventry success was their first victory in seven matches, and they find themselves in a similar situation to the Bantams of being too far from the play offs to take any keen interest, and so instead focused upon avoiding going into the final few games with serious relegation concerns. Parkinson has spoken of this season’s League One being the toughest he has seen and I would agree with that judgement, but there a number of teams in the middle who are a much of muchness, striving for a nice boring end to the campaign.

The victors tonight can certainly feel more confident of planning for another season in this division, but for the losers there is a worry about the queue of clubs behind who are slowly but surely catching up. Therefore tonight is something of a pressure game, in order to avoid facing real pressure come May.

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