Big game or irrelevance? Parky will say both as City travel to Brentford


Brentford vs Bradford City FA Cup second round preview

@Griffin Park on Tuesday 18 December, 2012

By Jason McKeown

The relevance of Bradford City’s 1-1 FA Cup second round draw with Brentford 18 days ago has altered back and forth over the past two weeks. But even if the FA had stuck to its original decision to boot the Bantams out of the competition for fielding a loan player without the correct paperwork handed in, there was a significance to the original tie witnessed by only a handful of City fans.

It came with Bradford City a goal down and struggling to make an impact, where a couple of supporters close to the dugout began to vocally attack Garry Thompson’s performance. Assistant Manager Steve Parkin was heard to mutter under his breath “get back to the pub”. Yet after one fan urged Phil Parkinson to haul Thompson off, they received an unexpected response.

For the City boss is said to have turned around to the disgruntled supporter and demanded that he either get off Thompson’s back or go home. “It doesn’t help him” argued Parkinson. The fan did indeed stop criticising Thompson, and although the Bantams’ wideman was eventually taken off in a switch that sparked a comeback, it was a telling insight into Parkinson’s managerial style.

I don’t doubt that Parkinson was privately disappointed with Thompson’s contribution that night, but publically he has not uttered one word of frustration about the 32-year-old, or any of his current players. It’s an approach that I know that, from my own career, I respond well to. A manager might have a go at me and demand more, in private; but to the outside world will defend me to the hilt. And I will run (or, in my case, write) through brick walls for them. Because they provide confidence, belief and motivation, which in return encourages your loyalty.

Thompson is unlikely to be aware of his Brentford dissenter, but he is undoubtedly conscious of the fact many supporters have been critical of his performances in recent weeks. I include myself in that group – he has disappointed me at times, and from myself and other Width of a Post writers you will find criticisms of him on this site – but there is no doubt he has improved of late. That will be down to Thompson himself first and foremost, but Parkinson will have played a key role in his resurgence also.

It’s similar to how Will Atkinson would no doubt credit his manager for the impressive manner he has won over his own long list of critics from the summer. James Hanson too will probably find nicer words for Parkinson – who stuck by the then-off-form target men when he first took over as manager – compared to those he would have for Peter Taylor. Nahki Wells, Matt Duke, Kyel Reid. We could go on finding players who the manager has helped hugely.

There is undoubtedly a nastier side to Parkinson if he does not rate you. Guy Branston claims he was “treated like a d**khead” by Parkinson last season, and the turnover since he took over in September 2011 has been considerable. Parkinson said in this interview that soon after he joined, “I sat down with Steve Parkin, looked at the squad and drew a line through a lot of the players. We said we had to move them on.”

So a ruthlessness about Parkinson when it comes to players he does not fancy or rate, but a protective arm around the shoulder of those who fit the bill of what he is looking for. And just when it seemed we could point the finger at Thompson and say that Parkinson had made at least one bad summer signing, he starts performing significantly better, since half time at Bristol Rovers, and has even written himself into City’s history with a somewhat memorable League Cup quarter final goal.

In fact Thompson may now find himself elevated to being amongst a group of first choice players who will be rested tonight. Despite the strenuous efforts by the club to get re-instated into the cup, Parkinson has made no secret of the fact the appeal was a “point of principle” and that he has to give his heroically performing players a breather tonight. There was a suggestion that Nathan Doyle’s booking on Saturday for kicking the ball away was deliberate, so he could reach the five yellow cards point but serve the suspension for a game he wouldn’t have been called upon anyway. Doyle will find himself in good company of those sitting it out tonight.

Expect Jon McLaughlin in goal. Matt Duke’s performances have not exactly been flawless over the past few weeks, but he has produced a series of excellent displays that have cemented his position as number one. In defence Tom Naylor and Curtis Good (who unknowingly caused all the fuss) are unavailable to line up. James Meredith and Stephen Darby might benefit from a rest, but Parkinson will probably conclude that Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh’s need is greater and make changes accordingly. Forrayah Bass is a contender at left back.

In midfield we have been told to expect the return of Kyel Reid, two-and-a-half-months since suffering a bad injury at Rochdale. If there is an illustration of City’s progress over the calendar year of 2012, it is that the club has coped better with the absence of Reid this autumn compared to how badly we struggled without Kyel last winter. Zavon Hines too is back to fitness and could line up on the opposite flank, though Blair Turgott is chomping at the bit.

Ritchie Jones and Ricky Ravenhill will be in the centre. Again, a mark of how far we have come is that the Ritchie/Ricky partnership that was so key in the second half of last season is now our reserve central midfield. Not exactly bad substitutes to have. Youngsters Scott Brown and Adam Baker will hope to have some form of role tonight, but are likely to be on the bench.

Up front Alan Connell is a certain starter in place of Nahki Wells, but Parkinson faces a dilemma over whether to leave out James Hanson or play his targetman in order to give Thompson a breather. Ross Hannah’s loan spell is due to expire on Thursday and might have found himself starting tonight if he has have been available, though you do seriously wonder whether we will ever see him in City colours again given his time at Grimsby has gone so well

Brentford face a mental test preparing for this game, at least that’s the impression their less than happy Chief Executive Mark Devlin has provided. Speaking on Wednesday, Devlin said, “Everyone at the club has not been preparing for the game…I’ve read some of the detail and rationale behind the reversal of the initial decision and it is a bit difficult to follow the reasoning…We weren’t invited to the appeal or asked for an opinion…It will put more stress on the team and adds to the burden.”

Privately Parkinson might understand just how he feels – this is not a game Bradford City really need – but in public he’s talking up the tie’s importance. A difference in persona that his players will have become very familiar with.

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