The quest to manage the ‘state of emergency’

Bradford City vs Exeter City preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 17 November, 2012

By Alex Scott

The cost from Tuesday night is only now becoming clear as the dust settles. James Meredith (hip flexor) and Zavon Hines (ankle ligaments) both joined the long term injury list alongside Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies, and as the side’s aspirations continue to grow ever higher, their anxieties only deepen.

Stephen Darby is carrying an injury but without any cover behind him, is unable to rest up. Carl McHugh will likely slide into Meredith’s vacated left back spot, and John Egan moving up at centre back. Without disrupting the rest of the team, the cupboard is now bare, apart from youth prospect Forrayah Bass. (I noted that he looked interesting in pre-season as an offensive left back, but he probably isn’t ready to start at this point.)

Whilst Phil Parkinson can point toward the congested fixture list as a trigger for the crisis, the root cause lies back in the summer with his squad design.

It has been noted this season that the lack of loan players has led to a settled squad and with it, success, finally. But the causality is in the other direction. It’s a matter of resource allocation. Settling on a squad of only 17 senior outfielders, Parkinson was able to attract a higher calibre of player thanks to the higher wages available. These higher calibre players have led to the success.

If he decided to recruit, say, 20 players, the wage budget would have been diluted, reducing the talent level of the squad, but probably providing adequate cover for a minimum 49 game, already curtailed season. (With the Olympics and the Wembley Champions League Final, it wasn’t a secret that this year would be condensed.)

So for Parkinson to cry poverty in November as his intentionally thin squad is beginning to fracture is disingenuous. This is the other side of the coin which has the side flying high in 4th position. But (as he gambled) if he could get the side out of the gate quickly, before the inevitable injuries came, he could likely pressure the board into releasing additional loan funds. Which is the reason behind this week’s Parkinson-fuelled, Telegraph and Argus ‘STATE OF EMERGENCY!!! THE SKY IS FALLING!!! WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST!!!’ narrative.

They’ve been unlucky, but one can prepare for adverse circumstances, Parkinson just chose not to.

I’m not criticising him. He was right, he still is. It is better having a thinner, more talented squad. He has changed the culture around the club and within the squad. And if the worst did happen, the board would cave anyway. Which they have. I agree with much of his decision process. All I’m saying is, the ‘woe is me’ argument isn’t going to fly. It is what it is, these were the risks. This is the game.

Onto Saturday’s game, which marks the first of two eminently winnable home games as the Cheltenham chase continues.

Whilst Parkinson may feel fate is conspiring against him, it must be noted that City couldn’t be catching Exeter at a better time. After a hot start to the year (16 points from first 7 games), Paul Tisdale’s men are currently on a run of 8 points from 10, with their only wins in the period coming against Wimbledon and a pre-Davids Barnet.

In spite of the preposterous form of evergreen Jamie Cureton (12 goals in 17 games), the Grecians are reeling. Whilst one of the pre-season favourites to be there or thereabouts at the end of the year, recently-relegated Exeter have struggled to re-acclimatise to conditions in League Two. Relying on a host of experienced old heads like Cureton, Matt Oakley and Craig Woodman, they’ve chosen an oft-favoured path, and are suffering from oft-witnessed underwhelming returns. For a young team, the run would be understandable, if not defensible. For a team this experienced, 8 points from 30, is a pathetic effort.

Familiar faces like Rhys Evans and Tommy Doherty will likely be met with divergent receptions at Valley Parade on Saturday, unless Evans committed some terrible affront that his historical insignificance has diluted in my mind. Neither is likely to make it off the bench though.

A decent attacking outfit, especially since the return of Alan Gow, Exeter have been dismal early in games. Conceding the first goal in almost 60% of their games (third worst in division), they don’t match up well against the clinical Bantams (boy, does that feel weird to type), who have won each of the seven games in which they have scored first.

If you were after another little statistical pick-me-up this Friday morning, it turns out Bradford have the strongest ‘Total Shot Ratio’ (chances created v chances conceded) in the entire Football League, a statistic with supposed impressive predictive power for future success. Make of that what you will.

A home game against a side so out of form, with such a dismal record against top half teams, should be circled as a ‘should win’ game, regardless of how patched up their team might be.

Patched up it is though, and with another long term injury, the backline is becoming a worry. Not due to poor performance, they’ve worked wonders so far, but relying on young players to consistently play above themselves is difficult. Loan signings permitting, Saturday’s defence will consist of Darby (24), Rory McArdle (25), Egan (20), and McHugh (19).

With the cavalry being called, it would definitely be beneficial to try and get some experience in to help out the youngsters. Another teenage loanee doesn’t really solve anything. (Parkinson has already disputed, through Simon Parker, this report which never looked to make much sense.)

Anyway, experienced heads around the team are at a premium, so I’d imagine Matt Duke will return after a midweek off. I don’t think he is better than Jon McLaughlin. There isn’t much in it, but he’s not better. Duke didn’t have much to do last Saturday, and did make a glaring error, but after three clean sheets in four, it would seem a bit harsh to bench him. Especially with the experience factor I mentioned in his favour.

In midfield, Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle will continue inside, while Craig Forsyth will likely return for the injured Zavon Hines on the left flank, with either Garry Thompson or the in-form Will Atkinson across from him. Tuesday night marked the fifth full game in 14 days for Atkinson, two of them going the distance in extra time. One would think a break would be in order, especially with a minimum of seven more games in the next 24 days.

Something of a 12th man at the beginning of the season, he was the first man off the bench. Atkinson performed well in this role, but his playing level in the rotation games in which his influence grows, has been the real triumph. It is exactly the arc Parkinson hopes for from his fringe players: supporting well, and taking their chances when afforded to them. Thanks to his efforts in the cup games, Atkinson has grown into an automatic starter at this point. The notion of him being rested by November would have been the longest of long shots in August, but here we are.

One thing to look out for, with the squad’s surplus of available central midfielders (six: Atkinson, Scott Brown, Doyle, Jones, Ritchie Jones, Ricky Ravenhill), and Forsyth being cup-tied, it may be that the diamond implemented at Northampton could make a return ahead of the Brentford, Port Vale and Arsenal games where it may be a necessity. To get the side’s best eleven players on the field, the diamond absolutely feels right at this point.

Up front Nahki Wells and James Hanson will continue, with Alan Connell moving back to the bench. If the rumours are to be believed, the Wells era may be entering its final stretch, which isn’t really that nice to think about. With a prospect as good as he is, with his record, and a high-profile nationally-televised shop window looming, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it remains sobering. Feeling nostalgic over events even as they are happening is a weird sensation, but I’d implore you to enjoy him while you still can.

Saturday marks another big game in a run of them. It’s weird to hear a manager screaming the ‘State of Emergency’ narrative when his team have only lost one in ten, and it is more than a little hyperbolic. But the pressure is rising, and the cavalry is being called. He is definitely right about one thing though: how his current charges handle the next few weeks could go a long way to defining their season. The pressure is rising.



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19 replies

  1. I find this a slightly odd piece, coming from Alex, who normally seems fairly measured. The block capitals, exclamations, Parkinson ‘screaming’ narrative is a tad explosive in itself, and which is, anyway, based on something written by Parker not Parkinson.

    • Having some experience of local media relations myself (not all positive) I would say it is unlikely that Simon Parker would print anything that Parkinson was not happy about. The T&A might have sensationalised it somewhat, but the message Parkinson has which Alex has written about remains the same.

      I can’t remember the last time a City manager was speaking so bluntly about budgets in the press. I do think that he is going public to partly put some pressure on the two chairmen to give him the money he needs. And although most fans would back the manager on this, it’s worth noting that we have a £600k budget deficit that needs to be made up before the end of the season. The Arsenal game helps this (£300k) but where does the rest come from? And does spending more money to increase this deficit help City in the long-run? The fact of the matter is we might have to sell Nahki in January if that deficit is still a problem.

    • The effusive tone of the early part was meant to be ironic, to mock the tone emanating from the club (manager).
      It’s true the ‘state of emergency’ quote from the headline was never uttered by Parkinson, but the tone of the quotes in that article, as well as the ‘Agony and Ecstasy’ piece from the previous day, and his post match interview from Tuesday all illustrated an out-of-proportion air of desperation. And I agree with Jason that Parkinson would probably have had clearance on the pieces.

      I’m not panicking, and I’m sure Parkinson isn’t either, but him acting like he is is a ridiculous charade which seems out of place, (and sort of insulting) for a team flying high in 4th, and still in all three cup competitions, with only one (unlucky) defeat in ten matches.

      The entire act was merely a shameless money grab by Parkinson. That’s it. It is what it is. And it worked! He got his money. But it’s all a bit unedifying, especially as we are all now expected to forget the pages upon pages of ‘small squad = better’ propaganda from pre-season.
      Anyway, probably didn’t explain my point that well, but that’s what I was going for. Hope Naylor is good, but any financial pressure the club had to sell Wells in January has only risen today.

      • I am a big fan of Parkinson, and have been from day one. However, I find it a little disturbing, and wonder what it means about the relationship between manager and board, when he makes this sort of public utterance about the need for more resources, and as such seems to force the board into a corner publicly if not privately. I think he even did it in his post-Wigan match comments, if I’m not mistaken, and which seemed very odd timing to me, if nothing else. If I was a member of the board I would probably be less than chuffed about this sort of public sort of ‘negotiation’.

  2. It would be the wrong decision for Nahki to leave in January. Far better to continue his run in the team and scoring goals until at least the end of the season. then, if City have won promotion, I still think he would be better off staying for one more season, after which, again City could be looking at promotion to the Championship. If not, he’d be better off moving on to a championship club if possible.

    Moving on too early could see him miss out on game time and get out of the habit of scoring, and eventually dropping back to where he is now.

  3. They will be well on the way to making up the budget deficit without selling anyone Jason. Dave Baldwin stated that selling players was the last resort if everything was to go wrong.
    Getting 300k will be a massive unexpected bonus and despite Mark Lawns comments they will have made something from the Wigan game and also from increased league attendances through our good position. The other budget saver is our young players at other clubs and already Andre Wisdom is earning us good money every time he plays for Liverpool. The final monies will hopefully come from the sale of the shop and offices to the free school which I believe is now likely to happen. Don’t forget we are still in the FA cup and already earned 18K plus half the gate money from 2 ties and at least 1 more tie to come. I haven’t even mentioned the JPT yet. In short the boards pre season budget deficit gamble has paid off handsomely and if Wells does go it will because we have been made a silly offer that we would probably be foolish to reject.

    • Although this is a great comment Bruce and you make some good points, I think it’s far too early to state that the gamble has paid off handsomely.

      I agree too there shouldn’t be pressure to sell Wells. But if my source is right and there is significant interest from higher league clubs at this stage I think it will be hard to keep hold of.

  4. Why do we need to spend more money, surely some of the big clubs would be happy to pay a young players wages if he was getting games in league 2!

    • Perhaps…but more often such free deals are done with the condition they are guaranteed first team football. Not helpful for anyone even if they are good.

  5. If we are short of funds then why not sell Nakhi in January with a guaranteed loan back to us for the rest of the season. Nakhi gets to continue to score goals for fun and we hopefully get promoted with funds to buy another striker.

  6. Just getting to the quater final of the league cup and drawing Arsenal is the reason I think the gamble has paid off handsomely. With extra attendances to come as our promotion push gathers momentum and potential FA cup money I think our board will be thinking it has gone incredibly well. Having said that had Notts county not missed that sitter in stoppage time on August 11 they would have been sweating a little.

    • I understand the point you make about reaching the QF and the extra revenues from playing Arsenal. But the ‘gamble’ which the club made was to put additional investment into the quality of the playing squad in order to gain promotion out of this Division. According to ML, that was and, I assume, still is PP’s challenge. As yet, it’s somewhat premature to suggest that the gamble has paid off handsomely or otherwise.

      • Absolutely Steve,promotion is the prime directive but we have a great squad that gives us an excellent chance of promotion due entirely to the pre season gamble ,and financially due to Arsenal, Wisdom, free school I would say the gamble has paid off in that we will have recouped most of the money on the increased budget and a very good squad to watch.

  7. Are we actually out of pocket, surely the club has previously said that no money was spent other than what was budgeted for on a smaller but better quality squad. Without anyone actually knowing the club finances for this season, on the face of it we look quids in…if on the other hand there has been a gamble taken..then i’m with Keith…for me it’s paid off. I’m betting BCFC actually make more than £300,000 on the Arsenal game if you take into account the commercial side of that game and of course we’d have made some money on the other cup wins plus as Bruce says payments made to the club on ex youth players. I’d say on the face of it the club hasn’t looked healthier than it does today…certainly since well before our last bout of administration.

      • Hi Jason….Having read the YP piece, thanks for the link…it’s obvious the club did gamble…a ball park figure of £300,000 is mentioned regarding the Arsenal game, i guess we’ll never know if that is a conservative estimation of the possible monies than can be made… putting myself in Rhodes position i’d tend to underestimate the possible implications of money making on this particular game but even if that is the limit of what can be made, i believe that the gamble was worth taking especially taking into consideration BCFC’s very healthy league position at the minute. Obviously the real answer to this question can only be answered come the end of next April. Personally i think the buying of the carparks and shop building was inspired by the joint chairmen……..the likelyhood is that the sale of this land and building is going to happen which can only be good for both the One In a Million charity and Bradford City Football Club. There is another senario..one which the sale falls through again…i still believe that the joint chairmen have the opportunity to get tenants into the building as was done previously to cover their outlay of cash with rentals to small firms of office space….for me it’s a win win situation for both the joint chaimen and Bradford City Football Club.

  8. Hindsight is 20/20 don’t they say?

    I am certainly enjoying this season more than any since 1999. We can complain or savage the ‘gamble’ but how many players have we used in the last 5 years? Was it 40 last year by the end? That worked well didn’t it?

    The squad has always looked threadbare but I don’t think we’re carrying any sicknotes this time around we’re just genuinely unlucky. Burton was a nightmare and we lost 2 in a game twice this year you cannot plan for that without it becoming luxury

    I’m not gonna juge Parkinson because for all we know he’d already been told he could recruit plus if he can put some pressure on ML he gets respect from me cos ML has had the run of every manager in hs tenure as far as I can tell

    If we get a big 3rd round draw we’ll most certainly strengthen in Jan and as long as we come out of christmas up there we’ll have a few fresh(ish) players for the end of year slog

    Steve Wiliams to make himself a hero anyone?

  9. An aside here, (I agree on the enjoyment levels btw), didn’t Steve Williams blow out his achilles in the summer? Isn’t that why the club couldn’t release him? I’ve heard conflicting reports on this. Can’t find any confirmation which doesn’t lead to an obscure Arizona running back. Did I imagine this? I’ll always maintain there was something there. Rochdale at home last year illustrated as much, then one mistake in the next game and he disappears.

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