The last day of term

AFC Wimbledon 2

Midson 83, Alexander 90

Bradford City 1

Thompson 59

Saturday 16 February, 2013

By Alex Scott

I haven’t been looking forward to today. There’s been a dread in the pit of my stomach which has been building for weeks. The 2-1 reverse, and especially the performance that led to it would imply the same feeling amongst the squad.

The talk from within has been about focus, rectification, priorities. Phil Parkinson and the players have been out in force this week preaching the party line, appeasing our fictional overseers, the Football Gods, re-emphasising how our priorities were in the ‘right’ place. Even though they weren’t (his team selection tells you that much). And even though none of us had a problem with that anyway.

This past couple of weeks hasn’t felt like football at all. It’s felt like a gauntlet.

Everything has been viewed through the lens of next week; us, them, the media, everyone. Players have to focus and perform to ensure their starting place at Wembley. We need to build momentum for Wembley. For Wembley.

Every mention of focussing on the job at hand has highlighted it, ‘we must ignore what’s coming’. The blinking light amidst the darkness. The silence is deafening.

The segment of fans complaining about the league form, rueing the cup run have grown louder. They cannot be changed. They do not want to be changed. It will be always thus.

I really wanted to see a reserve team, I really did. Not because I didn’t care about winning, although I didn’t. It primarily a selfish act in that I couldn’t face the prolonged anxiety of panicking over every challenge, every jump, every run.

This is the downside of caring. The other side of the coin. After the semi final I wrote about how this team dragged me out of my cocoon of reason, making me feel again, this is an unfortunate side effect. I’m invested in these guys, not the win next week (I couldn’t care less), but these guys. These guys who are living out their (and my) dreams.

I’m not sure I could deal with a last second injury or suspension. I care about them. Damn me but I care. I wanted a reserve team.

An unchanged side from Tuesday partially allayed my fears, although anyone who has had to watch Gary Jones play whilst hyper-aware of his safety knows the wringer I’ve just been through. Terrifyingly all-action.

The game followed the path of many a Parkinson game. An illusion of control, a fragile dominance. A side good enough to dominate, but restricted by themselves. They don’t know how to be front-runners.

I’m not going to critique Phil Parkinson, he’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know, and come on, look where we are. But it isn’t a surprise that his greatest successes, even going back to last year, even with makeshift teams, have come in the cups. In the underdog role.

That he isn’t able to convert the team’s man-for-man superiority into points on the board is the other side of the coin.

I imagine there will be complaints about the referee, the corner that led to the winner, the pitch. Do not be derailed, these are sideshows to the actual issue. The ref wasn’t great, but he was the norm. And he was non-discriminatory. As a referee, when both sets of fans are ironically cheering free-kicks, you are either doing something right, or a whole lot wrong. It was probably the latter, but whatever.

What cost us the game was that, against the worst defence in the division, the worst home team in the division, the worst team in the division, we created two chances. And I’m defining ‘create’ loosely.

The goal game from a defensive howler, wonderful finish that it was. Shout out to Garry Thompson by the way. Amid a woeful attacking effort, he played as well as I’ve seen him today. He stands alone deserving of praise.

He was through again seconds after the opener, but the pitch did for him with an awful bobble. That chance came from another defensive mishap.

That was it. The midfield never got the ball; Michael Nelson et al had their phasers set to ‘hoof’. If I was being generous, I would say that was a function of the pitch. It also isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you have a striker who can hold it up, and midfielders who can get past the forwards. We had neither.

City’s ‘control’ and I really feel uncomfortable using that word here, was a function of their opponent’s incompetence. It’s true that Wimbledon didn’t have a chance until late on, but that was because they were incapable, not because they were overpowered. This fragile dominance has been a running theme this season, a tentative step into the fog masquerading as control.

The fact is, and I know I’m repeating myself here, the side haven’t shown an ability to play without Nahki Wells, or James Hanson, all year long. Today was merely another page in the book which seems set to damn our promotion hopes.

Looking forward to next week (to the extent we haven’t been this entire time), the only worry to come from today was Andrew Davies who took a knock early into the second period, refusing to come off when prompted by Parkinson after the opener.

I imagine he would be fit enough to play (if selected), but he was a shell of himself for the last half hour.

Kyel Reid had a frustrating day, where everything he tried didn’t work. Some may say, some who may have a narrative to fuel, that he was trying too hard to stake a claim for next week. I’m not sure that’s right, but I wouldn’t disagree with the sentiment. The fact Zavon Hines didn’t feature bodes poorly for the former Charlton man.

That same man with a narrative to fuel would note the lapses of concentration in the closing periods leading to the defeat, and although that would be really useful here, I just didn’t see it that way. Jones was his normal self, Nathan Doyle doubled over at the final whistle, Thompson fell to his knees. They wanted to win this game. Whilst the shadow of the arch loomed over the team selection, the performance was wholehearted. It just wasn’t particularly good.

Stood at Norbiton station after the game on the way back into London, a surprisingly sizeable and unsurprisingly loud selection of fans were rueing the cup run, complaining how they “wouldn’t want to get to Wembley again” (as if it were a choice). They cannot be changed, and come the end of the year, they may not be wrong. But I really struggle to care that we lost this game. It was a poor performance, they deserved no more, and now we can get to the matter at hand.

Next Sunday is a new day. City can sit back, play to their strengths. The big guns will be back for their moment in the sun. Fans can go back to their negativity on the Monday. As a week of magic is about to begin across Bradford, especially here on Width of a Post, this game will fade into the ether of terrible away defeats. Next week will be immortal. I can’t wait.

City: Duke, Darby, Nelson, Davies, Dickson, Atkinson, Jones, Doyle, Reid (Wells 84), Thompson, Gray (Hanson 66)

Subs: McLaughlin, McHugh, Hines, Turgott, Good

Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Pitch perfect report Alex, brilliant read and really think your take on all of this is spot on……

  2. Great report.
    We have made it to Wembley! So we lost to Wimbledon; even if we lose 7-0 to Swansea and don’t get promoted, the feelings after the Arsenal and Villa games will live for a long time. If people choose to criticise Parkinson, Hanson, whoever, then that is their problem, not the clubs. Some people are never satisfied; Me? Going to a Wembley Cup Final, even as underdogs, is way beyond what I ever expected from City and I intend to enjoy every minute of it. It is unlikely to happen again in my lifetime whereas League Two promotion campaigns are ten a penny.

  3. You’re a great writer Alex and I agree with your take on Parkinson. I am firmly on the camp that see the league as the priority however, right at the far extreme of that camp in fact. City fans seem split right down the middle on this and the debates could rage on forever – just see my twitter feed tonight (admittedly I have been drinking alot).

  4. City will get promoted again maybe not this year but it will happen and I’m still hopefull of playoffs this year but another cup final in my lifetime I very much doubt it.. I think you can see which camp I’m in. Que sera sera whatever will be will be where going to Wembley!!!!!!

  5. I wasn’t there, but this report was superb. It summed up my feelings. I have supported, watched, followed, worried about, got angry with City since long before most supporters were born. Last season, fearing the BIG drop, was a torment, and it truly adversely affected my life.
    I want promotion, but this is Wembley IN A PROPER CUP FINAL, not a play-off. That is something to dream about. I think Leeds United have done it 3 times, Huddersfield never in my lifetime, Burnley once.
    We , in my opinion, would have been in the top 3 now but for the Cup. but surely no sane person would swop.
    Next Sunday will be the biggest event ever for City—-no one alive remembers 1911.
    I ask all supporters. Enjoy this week, thinking about it. Enjoy the journey to London. Enjoy the match. Be proud of our team and management. Be proud of ourselves.
    It may never happen again.
    It will be the best day of my sporting life..

  6. A great report and discussion of our current situation.

  7. I have to disagree the cup has, and always will be, a secondary concern. The priority needs to be getting out of this godawful league. We cannot sustain this team in this league and we cannot even sustain the fanbase. Even after the arsenal and villa games we haven’t seen an uplift in numbers.

    We NEED to get out of this. Wembley will be a great day out and something I will never forget but I would happily trade it to be sat at the top of the league and to say that wembley is more important smacks of the short term thinking that seems to haunt this club. Will we keep Doyle & Wells if we remain a league 2 team? Will we arrest the ever decreasing season tickets sales by remaining in league 2?

    I’ll still enjoy wembley but not as much as I would if we were sitting in the play-offs

    • One would argue that the short-term thinking that haunts this club led to a situation where a team that finished 18th in League Two last season has to earn promotion this time around or we risk losing our squad. Last year we were three games away from going out of the Football League and perhaps going out of business. Then we conduct a strategy where we bring in players we can only afford to keep if we go up, with the likelihood that if we fail to earn one of the four promotion spots we have to rip everything up and start again.

      One might argue this is arrogance. The belief that if we throw a load of money at the problem, we can steamroller over every opposition side and get promotion. And if we don’t achieve that aim, then the manager is clueless and we should get rid. And if we do that we would have to start all over again.

      I and others on this site argued from day one that this season should have been about improving on 18th place and becoming play off contenders (doesn’t mean we’d make the top seven), so that we can progress forwards. If we go up, fantastic, but if we don’t we should be ready to pick ourselves up, make a few tweaks and then go again.

      Even if you did not share this view, surely you have to agree that the goalposts have moved with the cup run? We went into this season with a team we could not afford (had we not had the cup run, we would have been looking at selling players in January or trying to arrange deals with Liverpool to get the Wisdom money early). The cup run has not only covered the deficit, but can set us up financially for years. It means we can afford this team for next season and the season after.

      If we don’t go up this season it will be very upsetting, but we can go again now. The cup run has given us the financial platform to move forwards not rip things up. I don’t get this growing mood of discontent that Parkinson is a bad manager and we should get rid if we don’t get promotion. We have moved forwards hugely this season. May be when we get to May, we will look back and conclude that we’ve not moved forwards as much as we’d like, but we will have moved forwards nonetheless.

      The point is we don’t, as you say, “NEED to get out of this”. If we don’t go up this season it won’t be the end of the world. It will suck, yes, but it won’t be the end of the world. Without the cup run, it would have been the end of the world. It’s time for people to stop bashing the cup. I firmly believe it will be the catalyst that takes us up the leagues over the next few years.

  8. Come on guys…. Let get all this into perspective! We’re 7 points off the playoffs and only 9 off automatic promotion – and we have at least 1 game in hand against most of the people above us. Plus we’re in a major cup final at Wembley. Supporting your club doesn’t get any better than this! This is the best season in donkey’s years for being a City supporter. Enjoy!!!!

  9. Oh – and did I mention there’s circa 15 games still to play – 45 points still to play for!!!!

    • The cup run has taken over our season when you see the Cty of Bradford once again washed with stalls selling Cty scarfes and flags people wearing the Bradford Cty shirts with pride again it’s made me realise the potential support the club has that as yet we haven’t been able to tap into due to our lowest seasons in the basement division!.
      Wembley and the financial clout it provides should give the club at least another 2years financial help to achieving promotion!
      I still feel we can grab a play off place it’s not impossible.
      I remember when our seasons were over by Christmas ( avoiding relegation ) .
      In just short of 18 months Phil Parkinson has brought with him optimism .

  10. Just a thought about this whole concept that “the club is set up for years”. Don’t get me wrong, I agree to an extent, but we shouldn’t get carried away. As Jason rightly points out and some rough calculations will prove, the cup run has probably enabled us to keep the “quality” of the squad at the same standard for the next two years. I refer to it in that way because I don’t think the squad will keep the exact same personnel next year if we are still in L2. I personally believe that Wells, Davies and one or two others will move on but that they will, hopefully, be replaced with players of similar quality.
    This moves me on to Phil Parkinson and his current contract situation. Now I am assuming that Mr Parkinson will be looking for at least a two year deal to stay at the club. With this in mind and considering that we can only afford to keep this standard of squad together for two more years, do you give him what he wants and put all of our eggs in the Parkinson basket so to speak by giving him both of those years and hence our main chance of getting out of this league?
    I’ve been as impressed as anyone by our cup run this season but even the most ardent Parkinson supporter must admit that our league results haven’t been good enough. I can’t quite comprehend how a team can get the results that we have in the cup whilst losing to teams such as Barnet and AFC Wimbledon in the league. The easiest explanation for this is that the cup run has been a distraction and that is probably true to an extent. However, I am also of the belief that managing a team in the cup against higher league opposition is a totally different challenge to that of managing a team playing against sides of a L2 “standard”. Let me pose this question – what if the cup run is masking our league performances so much and some fans are getting so carried away that we are underestimating this difference in skills / tactical nounce that is required for each of these challenges?
    The ideal scenario of course is that if we don’t make the playoffs this season then we get promoted next season or at least the season afterwards because we don’t have the cup “distraction”. However, what if we give PP both of these years and then we are still in L2 at the end if it? I think many fans would be disgruntled and would perhaps be pointing to the warning signs that are being dismissed amid cup euphoria now.
    In my mind, PP deserves at least another year to show us what he is capable of with this standard of squad without the cup distractions. After all, his skills have earnt the money that will enable us to have two more cracks at our original goal and anyone would have to be pretty heartless in denying him at least one more go himself.
    However, seeing as the main goal of promotion will still remain unachieved at the end of this term ( I was still optimistic regarding our promotion hopes until the defeat on Saturday but now the odds are stacked firmly against us), I for one think that the club should be very careful that it is not held to ransom in order to tie him down to us for the next two years and therefore our best tel chances of getting out of this league.

%d bloggers like this: