Sticking together or falling apart as City travel to Barnet

Barnet vs Bradford City match preview

@Underhill on Tuesday 28 February, 2012

Saturday should have been a great day for Bradford City, with a 17,000+ crowd the highest at Valley Parade for eight years. But a combination of two dropped points and criticism over the formation employed by manager Phil Parkinson meant the pendulum has swung negatively again. A week which could determine so much about this season has started on a bum note.

Parkinson’s continuation of a 4-4-1-1 formation – which had worked so well at Torquay the week before – proved to be a huge talking point; but it was the players who were missing, rather than the tactics, which seemed to be the biggest hindrance.

Already without James Hanson for another month at least, the absence of Craig Fagan to play the lone forward role was always going to prove tricky for a team which plays direct football. The diminutive Nahki Wells spent 90 minutes trying to compete for high balls and run onto passes over the top. It was never going to be prove as successful compared to Hanson and Fagan.

But still, I find it hard to join others in fully condemning Parkinson for playing in this way; and find the criticism he’s received difficult to read. Losing top scorer Hanson was always going to be a huge test for a squad which is strong in certain areas, but has struggled for goals all season. Essentially Parkinson had the choice of playing the same 4-4-2 way and finding players to fill the holes, or shaping a team around the best players he had available. He chose the latter at Torquay, making the most of an abundance of central midfield options, and it worked impressively. Why not look to continue that success in the next game?

Sadly, for me, the biggest failing against Hereford was a poor performance from Michael Flynn. Playing Wells on his own up front always promised a tough afternoon for the Bermudian, but he was particularly hindered by a lack of support from the Welshman when he was competing for balls or had possession.

Sometimes just challenging for a long ball – even if you don’t win it – is effective because, as defenders clear, other City players can be in position to pick up the loose ball. Flynn was unable to link up effectively between midfield and attack, which was curious given he has performed this role so well in the past.

Undoubtedly the introduction of David Syers from the bench in place of Flynn made a big difference. And – as City travel to Barnet tomorrow with Parkinson under some pressure to ditch the 4-4-1-1 – the tweak of starting Syers behind Wells could make this formation much more successful than it was on Saturday.

Is 4-4-1-1 (or, if you like, 4-2-3-1) really as negative as others have made out? Once Syers was brought on against Hereford I wasn’t so convinced. City have played with two strikers pretty much all season, but under both Peter Jackson and Parkinson we have seen a midfield four where one of the two wide players is required to tuck inside and support the two central midfielders, so that City aren’t outgunned. This is perfectly understandable against the context of a number of years watching City’s midfield struggle to win its battles, because visiting teams invariably play an extra central midfielder. But doing so has meant the one out-and-out winger (Kyel Reid usually) is easier to target and stop.

The 4-4-1-1 allowed Flynn/Syers to drop back and support the two central midfielders when City didn’t have the ball, and has given both wide players greater licence to get forward without as much defensive and positional responsibilities. Even the full backs have been able to move up the pitch with the ball. So the two games where 4-4-1-1 have been used have seen Reid deliver two outstanding performances and Deane Smalley, on the opposite side, begin to show what a good player he is.

I just don’t believe that playing only one out-and-out striker has to be viewed as negative. Hereford came to Valley Parade with a game plan to defend for a point and were even time wasting during the first half. Sure City might have taken more risks to break them down and it was frustrating to see good attacks on the flanks break down due to a lack of City players getting into the box; but with a Hanson/Fagan leading the line, and Flynn in better form or Syers playing behind the striker instead, it can prove to be a successful way of playing.

With Fagan a doubt for tonight’s game, we can expect to see Wells continuing up front and we can predict Syers will come in for Flynn; but beyond that’s it’s unclear. Parkinson was unapologetic for playing 4-4-1-1 – so he should be in my opinion, the criticism he has received for defending his own tactics was harsh – and is unlikely to be swayed by supporter pressure. Therefore, Smalley and Reid will probably continue on the flanks with Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones playing in the centre, and Syers in front. Jones’ form of late is outstanding, what a great signing he is proving to be.

In defence, the absence of Luke Oliver was felt on Saturday and Parkinson will be hoping he is back either tonight or at least by Saturday. Lee Bullock will continue in his absence, alongside Andrew Davies and Marcel Seip in the back four. At right back there is a problem with Simon Ramsden yet again suffering an injury. Rob Kozluk did not convince on Saturday, so Matt Fry may come in on the left and Seip moved to the right. Jon McLaughlin is between the sticks.

It’s completely understandable that Parkinson’s tactics were questioned and debated, but the level of criticism directed is a concern in view of the damage it could lead to if we continue down that path. A year ago since Peter Taylor left as manager and two years since Stuart McCall quit – and not forgetting Jackson had a few months in charge after Taylor – surely we can’t go down the route of hankering for yet another managerial change?

This is a pivotal part of City’s season. A few good results now – and relegation fears can be banished. A couple of defeats from the trips to the London area this week, and we could be set for an extremely stressful end to the campaign. We all need to stick together and back the management and players. The last thing this club needs is yet more instability.



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1 reply

  1. Thank goodness for that, at least there are two of us with a similar view of Saturdays proceedings and the context of the team selection……reading various comments over the last couple of days has just been the usual depressing rants from people who seem to prefer a constant sense of turmoil! One of the most positive things to come out of Saturday for me was the performance of Wells who still managed to give their centre halves plenty to think about and was not afraid to get stuck in despite the poor quality of the balls played to him. As for Flynn, not sure if it was too much too soon after his ilness but he just never seemed on the pace of the game in what was probably the key position for the formation/style of play chosen by the manager; if any criticism is to be levelled at Phil Parkinson it is the failure to recognise this shortcoming earlier in the game; I have never been totally convinced about Syers as the complete package (I always felt his personal goal tally in a low scoring team masked other shortcomings) but I have to admit that in this formation he is just about the perfect foil to the single striker, a position that really suits his game.

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