By Matt Briggs
I can’t remember the last time a Bradford side scored eight league goals from set pieces in a season, never mind in the first eight league games.
Watching goals scored from corners and free-kicks has been somewhat of a novelty at Valley Parade over the last decade or so, but so far this season we’ve been spoilt. There were signs last term that Phil Parkinson’s men were finally using deadball situations to their advantage, but this time around we look like a team who mean business. And our early set-piece supremacy is one of the major reasons why Parky’s boys look like giving everyone a run for their money in the football basement. Of course we’ve had hopes of promotion before and seen our dreams quickly evaporate, but I’m sure our strength from corners and free-kicks can underpin a successful promotion tilt.
The media often paints a negative picture of teams who regularly net from set pieces, and there is a misconception amongst fans that it’s seen as ‘boring’. But forget that, because it’s a potent weapon and one you can use alongside fluency in open play and as Arsene reminded us on Sunday. After his Arsenal side held the champions Manchester City 1-1, he said: “We conceded a goal from a corner but Man City is a team who scores more goals than anybody else from set-pieces.”
Bradford, might be a million proverbial miles away from the champions at The Etihad, but it’s refreshing and encouraging that half of our 16 league goals to date have come from corner kicks and free-kicks and already they’ve proved crucial – turning drab draws into hard-earned wins.
Saturday’s 2-0 away victory at Oxford was described as ‘professional’ by Parkinson, but it was a game we won with two goals created by Gary Jones flag kicks. By all accounts, Parkinson included, we were well worth the points against an Oxford side low on belief, but we still struggled to carve out a glut of chances and it was left to our new-found set-piece potency to reward us with victory. In seasons gone by the best we could have hoped from that game would have been a goalless draw, but now we’re edging out our rivals with hard work done on the training ground. Though it does help when you’ve got a mercurial midfielder who can put the ball on a postage stamp.
New boy Jones has been the stand out player of the first two months and his two assists at the Kassam Stadium were on the back of a crashing free-kick, which put the final nail in Morecambe’s midweek coffin. There were a few noses being turned up, including my own, when the 35-year-old arrived in the summer. Was he winding down his career with one final payday?
Well, with eight games gone I think we can totally dispel that suggestion, because Jones has been a revelation and a major driving force. He has an infectious attitude which seems to be rubbing off on those around him and especially on his midfield partner – the classy Nathan Doyle. The latter might be a few pounds heavier when he arrived a Valley Parade as an eager youngster in 2006-07, but his composure alongside Jones looks like a match made in heaven. He, like Jones, has had a huge early impact at Valley Parade, but Jones’ ability from deadball situations makes him look like a signing that has Parky patting himself on the back every time he turns up at Apperley Bridge.
His unerring accuracy to pick out an amber and claret shirt in a crowded penalty area is an asset that cannot be underestimated. Stoke have caused havoc from set-pieces for years and, although we’re yet to find someone who can throw the ball in like an exocet missile, in Jones we have a man we can hang our hat on. Of course the squad that Parkinson has assembled has more in its locker than set-piece magic. In his year in charge Parky has already built a dependable back four, acquired wide players with a real threat and collected three strikers who look like getting 20 goals apiece, but when it’s 0-0 and final balls are just going astray, we know that a flag kick from Jones will provide a guilt-edged chance to edge us home.