Bradford City vs Gillingham match preview
@ Valley Parade on Saturday 24 March, 2012
By Jason McKeown
At Gresty Road on Tuesday I was sat close to a very well known fan (we’ll just call him Darren) who, aside from showing off a print out of a letter he had sent to the Telegraph & Argus demanding a change of manager, repeated an interesting soundbite – “Phil Parkinson is just a thinking man’s Peter Taylor”.
He is not the first, nor will he be the last, to compare the current City boss with the one who departed Valley Parade 13 months ago. At the time Taylor blamed his decision to quit on the crowd reaction towards him, after his popularity had sunk considerably during a six-week period at the beginning of 2011. It seems few people have fond memories of the job Taylor performed, and so any comparison made between Phil and Peter is almost always going to have negative connotations.
Parkinson approaches tomorrow’s game with Gillingham facing a growing tide of criticism, and the next few games could prove crucial in whether he ultimately ends up going the same way as Taylor. It is ludicrous to believe his job might be under threat simply because a number of supporters appear to be panicking – only one month ago, Joint Chairmen Mark Lawn told a packed Skipton Bantams meeting that he really rated the job Parkinson was performing – but there is a fear that we are starting to go down a very familiar route that always ends in a change of manager.
Three defeats on the road has undermined much of the good work City had produced during February – where Parkinson was shortlisted for manager of the month – and the start of March. Two weeks ago the players and coaching staff departed Valley Parade with warm praise ringing in their ears and a seven point cushion over the relegation rivals, after a superb win over Oxford. The gap is now four and there are just nine games to play. This is a crucial moment in the season, which Parkinson needs to get right.
He got it wrong at Crewe, and the way he got it wrong was similar to how Taylor ended up losing the majority of support from City fans. That included me, after Taylor approached a key game at Oxford with a negative mindset of defending an underserved early lead, which ultimately caused a defeat. It had not been the first time Taylor had prioritised caution instead of letting some undoubtedly talented players off their leash. Worrying too much about what the opposition could do to us, rather than feeling confident in what damage we could do to them.
If Parkinson continues to play in a defensive manner, he will lose even more support. All season long we’ve heard – and believed – that we have a talented squad in a false position. Midtable standard at worst, not relegation fodder. We therefore shouldn’t be limiting the ability available by playing too much like a relegation-threatened team. Going to Crewe and playing with two holding midfielders – at the cost of leaving attacking players heavily isolated – was not the way we want to go down fighting. As good as this defence is, it isn’t solid enough to grind out 0-0 draws or lay on the platform for scrappy 1-0 wins.
So I, and others, want City to go for it more. Of course we can’t be too gung ho and – against promotion challenging opposition in Gillingham tomorrow, who have recovered from a mid-season dip – we need to be wary of their threat. But we should equally take pride in a 10-match home unbeaten run and know that the Gills will fear a difficult afternoon from us. Remember how much success we had playing attacking football over Christmas against Crewe and Shrewsbury?
Jon McLaughlin keeps goal as he continues his solid form, in front of a back four that will hopefully be unchanged. Matt Fry looked promising at left back midweek and will retain his place because Marcel Seip is still injured, while on the right Simon Ramsden’s obvious leadership skills are a big plus. In the centre Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies pick themselves, though curiously the latter has made a few mistakes in recent weeks – such as the penalty conceded at Crewe – despite some outstanding performances.
In midfield we could see David Syers or Ritchie Jones – assuming they are fit – partnering Lee Bullock or, more likely, Ricky Ravenhill. Michael Flynn could be in Parkinson’s thoughts too, but I hope that we don’t see two holding midfielders again. Syers and Jones are box-to-box players, with Jones in particular solid defensively. They can do the work of Bullock or Ravenhill, while also getting forward more to support the attack.
Depending on when his expectant partner goes into labour, Kyel Reid either continues on the left or spends Saturday at the hospital; with the right wing proving to be a headache as Deane Smalley and Will Atkinson struggle to impress. Craig Fagan – ill midweek and sent home in a taxi – will hopefully feature instead, though is said to be doubtful. Andy Haworth may also be in contention if Reid is unavailable. What of Chris Mitchell too, said to have impressed in a second team friendly midweek?
Up front, the James Hanson/Chris Dagnall partnership is showing promise. Dagnall has good movement on and off the ball, though in comparison to Nahki Wells seems to conserve his energy rather than chase every lost cause. He is probably a good role model for Wells to learn from as the Bermudian looks to continue his impressive progress.
So Dagnall, if you like, is a thinking man’s Wells. But tomorrow all eyes will be on the man dubbed the Thinking Man’s Taylor and how he reacts to the growing pressure that is on his shoulders. Parkinson has, in my view, done a lot of good for this club since he joined. And I still retain faith in his managerial ability. It’s going to take time to get to where we ultimately want to be, and despite recent set backs I have confidence he will get us there.
But there is no doubt he and City need a good few days. Otherwise – just like Taylor – he may find that the rising negativity is too much of a hindrance for him to take the club forwards.