More late heartbreak blurs the mood as Bradford City are held

Bradford City 1

Davies 43

Burton Albion 1

Yussuf (or possibly Parks) 85

Saturday 21 January, 2012

Suddenly there is a consistency to Bradford City performances. A way of playing that might attract groans on occasions, but which provides a more solid balance. A level of effort not always universally displayed by everyone, but which emanates from a core of players who are producing 7 or 8/10 ratings each week. An organised functionalism which failed to deliver maximum points again today, but which appears just a few tweaks away from sparking a flurry of victories.

Consistency and League Two rarely seem to go together, and certainly the Bantams four-and-a-half-years at this level have seen us witness several City teams and players who look world-beaters one week and non-league fodder the next. So even after Burton Albion substitute Adi Yussuf apparently got the faintest of touches to force a late equaliser and earn the visitors an underserved draw today, the huge sense of frustration that engulfed most of Valley Parade should not have detracted from how well City had acquitted themselves once again.

Sadly, small sections of City supporters saw events another way and turned on their team during the closing stages; undermining efforts to snatch a winning goal by hurling abuse whenever moves broke down. At full time, there were even boos.

It was, unfortunately, another bad repeat of the Morecambe game seven days earlier. City had controlled the match for long periods and got themselves a goal up, but the failure to kill off the contest by getting a second came back to bite during the closing stages, as the opposition came back.

Apart from Yussuf’s goal and a comfortable save minutes earlier, Jon McLaughlin had nothing to do all afternoon apart from coming off his line to intercept the occasional through ball. The defence – robbed of Luke Oliver to injury and with Rob Kozluk still not yet 100% fit – switched off for just one second and were made to pay the price. Six points should have been collected from the previous two games – placing City in 16th position and only 11 points from the play offs – but the four which have been dropped still leaves them close to the bottom two.

Still, it shouldn’t have warranted any boos at full time. The fact events of the previous week were played out so similarly again may have understandably prompted such anger, but it does not excuse it. Rotherham apart, since Christmas we have seen a series of strong performances which have arguably been the best of the entire campaign. Denting the players’ confidence by turning on them now risks hindering that progress.

And Burton themselves are hardly any mugs. Slow progression over their previous two basement division seasons has been rewarded by a credible play off push this campaign, though the over-physical manner in which they approached this match was an unwelcome change from their trademark attractive passing football. When Nakhi Wells was thrown to the ground three times during the first 10 minutes, due to over-zealous challenges that went leniently punished, it was clear this was going to be an afternoon for battling.

Yet the Bradford City side which Phil Parkinson is building is not one who allow themselves to be bullied in the manner other Bantams’ teams did over recent years, and the two lines of four defended well during a first half which Burton shaded. Lee Bullock slotted into central defence alongside Andrew Davies and had an outstanding match against the pacy and elbow-throwing Justin Richards. Kozluk continues to look a steady replacement for the injured Simon Ramsden, while Marcel Seip’s confidence at left back has grown considerably following a hesitant first few outings.

However, the direct tactics we are becoming used to caused the ball to come back at City too often, as the central midfield of Ritchie Jones and Ricky Ravenhill was regularly bypassed despite the pair impressing once again when they did receive possession. Andy Haworth made a slow start that was improved significantly upon during the second half, while initially James Hanson and Wells struggled to get into the game.

Then, from a direct punt down the middle, City were able to go in front after Hanson was ruled to have been fouled on the edge of the area when flicking the ball on. Davies struck the resultant free kick superbly into the top corner, which Burton keeper Ross Atkins had no chance of saving. Until now his dead ball ability had been a secret to us all, but Parkinson quickly confirmed after the match that Davies will be entrusted with this responsibility going forwards.

If City were slightly fortunate to go in a goal up at half time, they set about earning the victory more forcefully in the second half by ensuring Burton were never able to build any attacking momentum. Most of the chances fell at the Kop end of the ground City were attacking, with Ravenhill drilling a shot narrowly wide, Davies seeing a header tipped onto the post by Atkins and Haworth having a shot blocked. The on-loan Bury winger also had two great opportunities to set up a second goal; getting into promising crossing positions on the counter-attack, but firing the ball over a little too speedily for Hanson and later Wells, who were both unmarked in the box.

Ultimately, this wastefulness in front of goal was punished by Burton’s late equaliser, and though City pressed hard in the final stages and debutant Deane Smalley – on as substitute for Wells – fired wide, the points were shared. Cue boos from some, but warm appreciation from many.

As much as Parkinson – who after the game revealed Luke O’Brien could be leaving – has enhanced his standing with City supporters over the past five weeks, there remains a quiet soundtrack of disapproval from a minority of fans regarding the job he is doing. Only five wins from 21 league games in charge will do that, perhaps. But the merits of his tenure to date should form part of a wider debate regarding what we exactly want to achieve between now and May, in view of what has occurred so far.

This was, famously, to be the building season. The birth of the Development Squad, the trust in younger players rather than throwing money at more established ones. The threat of relegation demanded a change of priorities, and – with City dropping to 20th place – that threat is still far from removed. But as important as winning matches quickly undoubtedly is, that ethos of developing players for the future is, to me, still one we should be focused upon.

The likes of Wells – the leading light of the Development Squad to date – and Hanson are the type of players we should be looking to help improve further over the next few months, not improve upon. Both played excellently today, but for Wells the weaknesses in his game became more evident during the second half when tiredness took over. Meanwhile Hanson is still the subject of abuse and ridicule when he gets something wrong.

The strike pair and others, such as Jones, are not perfect yet; but can become truly outstanding players for this level if we continue to stick by them and stick by the team. Even if short-term results will be slightly frustrating.

The good news for Parkinson is that he’s getting consistently good performances from around seven or eight positions in the team, despite injuries and suspensions causing selection problems. It is a matter of keep going, rather than fearing something is fundamentally wrong with his tactics, the work-rate of players and the team functionalism which has been developed.

Today was another bump, but we’re on the right path.

City: McLaughlin, Kozluk, Bullock, Davies, Seip, Fagan, Jones, Ravenhill, Haworth, Hanson, Wells (Smalley 72)

Subs not used: Duke, Mitchell, Taylor, Hannah

Categories: Match Reviews

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