Bradford City 2
Connell 19 (pen) + 36 (pen)
Gornell 6 + 40, Tutte 28, Grimes 33
Saturday 29 December, 2012
By Jason McKeown
This must have seemed like a rude awakening to Phil Parkinson. To see the side that he has carefully assembled – which has been so impressive for half a season – have its strengths easily nullified and its weaknesses cruelly exposed, all in such clinical fashion, was as harrowing as it was shocking. A bad, bad day at the office for Bradford City. A troubling expose of how to stop the Bantams, which we can only hope other opponents will not wise up to.
And yet, despite the huge sense of disappointment that today’s home defeat to Rochdale has provided, I find it difficult to feel down-hearted or to lose any faith.
To say that Dale manager John Coleman had done his homework on City would be a huge understatement. The visitors thoroughly deserved to become only the fourth opposition side to win at Valley Parade in 2012. Thanks in part because every single Rochdale player was on top form, but thanks mainly because of the hugely effective way in which Coleman had set them up.
Any outsider looking to stop the Bantams would understand just how key James Hanson is to City’s play. And so Rochdale’s 4-1-4-1 formation allowed the deep-lying midfield, Peter Kavanagh, to double-mark City’s number nine, along with a defender, and also patrol the space in-between City’s midfield and attack that Alan Connell likes to operate within. The jury is still out on whether Hanson and Connell can create an effective partnership, but this afternoon they were both denied any time and space to link up. The result City could not attack with purpose.
Then there was the four Dale midfielders in front of Kavanagh, who stuck closely together – enabling them to completely out-gun Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones. In such a game City badly needed an extra body in the centre, but with Garry Thompson and Kyel Reid operating as widemen that was never going to happen. It was a similar tactical error by Parkinson to the one he had made in the 4-0 defeat to Rotherham in September, an error he immediately owned up to when speaking on local radio at full time. He had at least rectified it at half time, bringing on Will Atkinson for Thompson. The value of Atkinson to City had been emphatically demonstrated in 45 minutes where he wasn’t even on the field.
By that stage Rochdale had a 4-2 cushion and the damage was, in effect, done. After both sides had traded early chances – Rory McArdle heading wide from a corner and Andrew Tutte’s lob from distance sailing over the bar – Dale took a sixth minute lead when Bobby Grant played Terry Gornell into space and fired home emphatically (Hanson was surely fouled in the build-up, though). At this stage there should have been little panic, and it wasn’t long after that that Connell hit the crossbar. Then the City striker was ludicrously barged over in the penalty area, before dusting himself down to fire the resultant spot kick low into the bottom left corner.
But Dale weren’t going to lie down and quickly retook the lead through Tutte. Of all the goals City conceded today, this one offered the most apt illustration of their failings. Doyle and Gary Jones easily bypassed by Dale, and then the gap between midfield and defence was so great that Tutte had all the time in the world to aim and fire. Psychologically, I’ve often thought that a team who goes 1-0 down will usually be able to find the belief to come back. But when that team does come back to equalise and then concedes again soon after, it’s invariably a different story in terms of finding the resolve to get back off the canvas.
And sure enough, City struggled to rediscover their composure. Ashley Grimes – the man who turned down Peter Jackson’s City in favour of Dale 18 months ago – was simply outstanding and gave James Meredith a torrid afternoon. He made it 3-1 when a corner wasn’t dealt with by City and he was able to slam home a loose ball. City simply do not concede goals like this. The concern was growing.
Before we go any further though, I can’t allow the reaction of City fans to these adverse events go past without comment. At 1-0 down, a small number of ‘supporters’ turned on their team and began to barrack them for the smallest of things. It came as a major shock to me, simply because it feels like such a long time since the crowd got on the players’ backs in such an unhelpful manner. At 2-1 and then 3-1 those levels of disapproval grew and spread to more fans.
You could almost picture Coleman smiling to himself. The other part of his masterplan – one that so many opposition managers over the years have targeted too – was to turn the so-called 12th-man on their own team. It reached farcical levels for me when Rochdale had goal kicks. Josh Lillis’ back four would drop back to the edge of his area so the Dale keeper could pass it out, and they would then knock the ball back and forth to roars of anger from City fans at their own players. Yes it looked bad to see Dale passing it around in space, but City could not and should not have made the mistake of rushing in to making challenges in an area of the pitch where there was no need to.
We can go back to Stuart McCall’s Bantams charges for a lesson in what Dale were trying to achieve. Back then opposition sides would often turn up and stick eight players behind the ball, denying City’s forward players room. So McCall would get Rhys Evans to roll the ball out to Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke and urge the back four to pass it between themselves, with the aim of it encouraging opposition players to break out and try to close them down. By doing so, they would leave gaps up the pitch which City could work the ball into, and suddenly the players would have the time and space to attack.
It was exactly this tactic that Dale were attempting. Pass it around at the back, get the crowd on City players’ backs to the point where they push up the pitch, then start passing the ball around and quickly counter attack. City needed to retain their discipline and wait for the opportunity to win the ball back. They did not need thousands of their so-called supporters screaming at them and booing.
Hope that City could come back was briefly offered by another home penalty, this time after Meredith’s cross was handled by Phil Edwards. Connell blasted the spot kick home into the same side of the goal, and the half time whistle would have been welcomed at this point. Alas, Gornell was left unchallenged to loop a header into the top corner for 4-2. So instead of going in at the break with the momentum, City departed the field with a mountain to climb.
Matt Duke was badly positioned for the fourth goal, but the reaction in the stands to his mistake was stunningly disgusting. The sight of people leaping to their feet to scream abuse at City’s keeper, or to ironically cheer when a few minutes later he saved a weak low shot on goal, was simply embarrassing. I mean seriously, people, what sort of culture do we want to create at Valley Parade? To have a player, who has had difficult times in the past but has recently enjoyed a good run of form, be turned on after one mistake? What sort of message does this send to every other player? Those who turned on Duke today, please hang your head in shame. It doesn’t help anyone. It is selfish.
Parkinson went into the dressing room with much to ponder. How had his back four, so impressive Wednesday and over the past few weeks, managed to perform so badly? McArdle has been flawless of late, but seemed to fall apart today. It didn’t help that he too was targeted by some supporters and wilted under this public anger. Tom Naylor was also below par. Only Stephen Darby of the back four emerged with any credit.
But the out-gunned midfield had not exactly pulled up trees either. Parkinson later admitted that, with hindsight, Doyle should not have played due to still feeling the effects of illness. I’m not sure what happened to Gary Jones today, but on the back of an untypically quiet afternoon on Boxing Day he too might benefit from a breather.
The second half dilemma for Parkinson was a tough one. He had to shore up the open wounds inflicted by Rochdale – Atkinson’s introduction successfully ensuring an extra body in central midfield when City did not have the ball – but also find a way back into the match. To their great credit the players did not give up and continued to chase the game. The possibility of a third City goal – thus sparking everyone into life – remained reasonably high throughout. Though despite Kyel Reid never giving up and Connell showing some good touches, few clear cut chances were created. Nahki Wells would have made a huge difference today.
Dale retreated into ultra-defensive position. Time-wasting beyond belief (hang your head in shame, Joe Rafferty), but as annoying as it was you couldn’t really blame them. They had won the game, with Kavanagh and Jason Kennedy particularly outstanding. Blair Turgott and Ross Hannah were thrown on, but there was no way back for City. Ross’ arrival was received by sarcastic-sounding cheers aimed at Parkinson, as though it’s some sort of injustice/mystery why Hannah hasn’t been playing. I really don’t get this clamour to stick Hannah in the team, or those people who moan he hasn’t been given a chance. Who are we/were we supposed to drop for him?
Valley Parade had long since emptied before the end, meaning the boos at full time were faint. But as we headed into the West Yorkshire night to hear panicky texts and tweets being read out on both local radio stations, I couldn’t help but feel despair. One game and people have turned on certain players. I think this is really out of order. Someone within earshot of me called Atkinson a “tw*t”. Another screamed at Duke to “f*ck off”. Another blamed it all on Hanson. I could go on. One game and we has this sort of reaction. It would be laughable were it not so serious.
That to me was the worst thing about today. I saw nothing on the pitch that cannot be fixed. I don’t think any player deserves to be dropped for one bad game. The club has come a long way in a short space of time because of this group of players and their manager. They deserve our support at this moment, not to be attacked.
And it worries me because if this is how supporters react when the chips are down, what will happen later in the season during a promotion run-in? It’s all very well applauding the team when they’re winning matches or singing loudly in cup games when we are massive underdogs. We have no divine right to beat anyone; and when the team is struggling we should be roaring encouragement, not roaring abuse.
The sky is not falling in on City. The end is not nigh on our automatic promotion hopes. It’s sad to end such a great year on such a low note, but what an exciting 2013 we have in prospect. Let’s please get behind the players in good times and bad. In Parkinson we trust to mend the issues exposed by Rochdale today. But we also have to address our own attitudes rather than revert to bad old ways.
City: Duke, Darby, McArdle, Naylor (Hannah 74), Meredith, Reid, Doyle (Turgott 74), Thompson (Atkinson 46), Hanson, Connell
Not used: McLaughlin, Ravenhill, Ritchie Jones, Hines
Categories: Match Reviews