Phil Parkinson became the first non-caretaker Bradford City manager since Trevor Cherry in 1982 to lose a game at Valley Parade before he had won one. But after watching his newish-team lose weakly to AFC Wimbledon last September, the recently installed gaffer made some notable post-match comments.
“We need more than that, we need better, and all I can do is keep working hard with the players until I get that,” he told the club website after the game. “The club is fragile in terms of getting beaten too often and I’ve got to change that mentality around in training. But not just wanting to win in training, but making sure we put that into practice on a Saturday. That’s what I have got to do – I’ve got to change the mentality around. There can’t be that acceptance. We’re Bradford City on our patch.”
Such views – that the club had a losing mentality – may have seemed mind-numbingly obvious to us City supporters after suffering a decade-long slump down the four divisions. But it was a shrewd diagnosis by the outsider Parkinson, and a clear statement of intent with regards to his priorities. The problems at the club ran deeper than simply getting the leaky defence to stop conceding, or the goal-shy forward line to start scoring.
Four months on, Parkinson’s attempts to change the club’s mentality have at times proven painfully slow in speed; but the signs are growing that the hard work on and off the field is beginning to bear fruit. Only one league defeat in seven league games has seen the Bantams begin to pull clear of relegation worries, while the spirit and endeavour displayed during recent matches is evidence of a group of players understanding and delivering on what is expected of them.
And the losing culture might just be exiting the door too. Saturday’s game with Morecambe arguably provided the greatest example of team spirit seen to date, as the players shook off a number of obstacles to almost record a third straight home win.
From the moment Ricky Ravenhill collapsed on the floor during the warm up, the tide appeared to be swimming against the Bantams. Ravenhill was able to play on – and play on well, opening the scoring with a superb strike – but team mates Luke Oliver and Rob Kozluk weren’t so lucky; having to leave the field because of injuries. This left a severely fragile back four, and Morecambe’s Jim Bentley was able to target a struggling Ravenhill, playing out of position at right back, as an obvious weak pressure point to exploit.
When the dismal referee Scott Mathieson missed Kevin Ellison take out Ritchie Jones as Morecambe counter-attacked, and Andrew Davies turned a cross into his own net, with two minutes to go, the old Bradford City would surely have accepted it was a bad day at the office and timidly tried to hold on for a draw. Yet instead there was a strong, determined response from the players that bodes extremely well for the rest of the season and beyond.
They didn’t allow their heads to drop, they didn’t go through the motions until the referee blew his whistle. They piled forward in numbers in an attempt to force a winning goal that their performance had merited. And when a loose ball in the box was smashed home by central defender Marcel Seip – and let’s double-take on that, a central defender was in the opposition area as City attacked – the way the team celebrated his goal together was one of the most up-lifting moments of the season. To have won the game in such circumstances would have provided a huge boost to already soaring confidence.
What a shame then, that Ellison was able to net an equaliser half way through the four minutes of injury time. This time heads did drop, understandably, and there weren’t sufficient minutes left in which to take the lead for a third time. Instead of leaving the ground with a spring in our step, we supporters departed feeling as though the team had lost.
Yet still, the direction under Parkinson is upwards not down. Reflect on the months he has spent trying to instigate his playing style and ethos; the number of disappointing results that prompted very real fears the club was doomed to relegation; the negativity amongst some supporters towards the job he was doing and the signings he was making. The corner seems to have well and truly being turned for Parkinson and City. There may be further bumps on the road over the next few months, but the future looks much brighter than it was when City were 1-0 down to Plymouth just over a month ago.
Parkinson seems to have stamped his authority on this football club in a quicker time than any other City manager I can recall. It hasn’t proved immediately successful by any means, but recent improved results and the growing team spirit suggest the club is on the brink of lift off.