Out of the Dark

coventry home2

Bradford City 3

Wells 17+28+90 (pen)

Coventry City 3

Webster 2, Clarke 7, Wilson 42

Sunday 17 November, 2013

Written by Alex Scott (image by Claire Epton, see note below)

Well that was fun, wasn’t it? Sunday afternoon’s clash against a mightily impressive Coventry side will almost certainly go down as the game of the season at Valley Parade and Nahki Wells’ penalty deep, deep into stoppage time rescued a point for City which looked all but gone.

The Bermudian was back to his best, and his hat-trick couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment for the striker, or his agent. Going up against another young star in Callum Wilson, he went blow-for-blow and in the end stole all the headlines, and the hero’s finish with an emphatically-dispatched penalty into the right corner of Joe Murphy’s goal.

As the nation’s eyes descended on Valley Parade, Wells characteristically rose to the occasion with his ninth, tenth and eleventh goals of a season already curtailed by injury. He also hit the bar with a free kick in the second half and Nahki really could have had as many as he wanted. Nahki Wells is a businessman and his business is goals.

Coventry City manager Steven Pressley likened City’s performance to “dark ages football” after the match, and the all-encompassing adrenaline from the game spilled over into the technical areas throughout the game. There will certainly be no love lost between the two managers.

Sidebar:  According to the BBC match report, one team committed 11 fouls in that game; the other committed 20. Anyone want to hazard a guess which team was which? Little known fact, and I never knew this, but if you look closely, Chapter 7 of the Tiki-Taka Handbook is actually titled “How to Shamelessly Hack Away at Your Opposition’s Left Winger After He’s Shredded Your Full Back For The Eighth Time”. We can but dream of playing football in a style as morally spotless as Steven Pressley.

Did that sound bitter? That felt bitter. Moving on!

Whilst this charge of playing football from the dark ages does harken back to Todd’s “Death of Football” rant at Parkinson from a few years ago, Pressley’s outburst only betrays the depths of his frustration at his own defence. Bradford certainly didn’t hit their free-flowing best during the game, but when the opposing central defence is as soft and fragile as Coventry’s, they didn’t need to.

And in truth, as barbaric as Pressley may wish to paint the men in yellow, if City’s defence had shown up, his side would have been beaten today. Convincingly.

Whilst Coventry are without question the best attacking side I’ve seen this season (I don’t think it’s even close), and have a sure-fire star in Callum Wilson, they were constantly undermined by a back line who had absolutely no answer for James Hanson, and in particular Nahki Wells. You can’t help but think that in the end, this will be their undoing in the promotion race especially if the starlet Wilson leaves in January.

Parkinson’s men have come in for a surprising amount of stick in recent weeks, but the most damaging lament from the crowd has been how soft they were in defeat at Rotherham. That isn’t something which you could often label at this team; their mental strength a running feature. And their refusal to die, their refusal to be denied, has never been more apparent than it was today.

Coming back from two nil down in ten minutes against a team as good as that? That doesn’t “just happen”.

This team never, ever, ever know when they are beaten. They will run themselves into the ground each week for as long as the clock will allow. Count them out at your own peril. And that adage is as important for their own supporters as it is opposing managers. They will never give up, and neither should we.

The first half of football was a spectacle to behold, almost gladiatorial in style. Who needs Rollerball when you’ve got that? I’m not even sure the last twenty minutes of that half could even be classed as ‘football’ in the traditional sense, or in any sense really. The defending from both sides was a comedic as it was tragic, and this was the foreground narrative throughout the game.

There were 39 attempts at goal in this game. THIRTY NINE! The home side’s decisive twentieth attempt coming as the clock ticked silently on all zeroes.

It resembled a poorly-executed NBA game with both sides relentlessly driving to the hole back and forth without much in the form of transition defense. This was a sight of two of the best strike forces in the division dominating over two of the weakest defences.

Coventry were two to the good before some had even taken their seats, the first being netted without a City outfield player yet touching the ball. The only one who came close was Rory McArdle who collided in calamitous fashion with his own keeper, dislodging the ball for Adam Webster to bury home.

The Northern Irishman didn’t cover himself in glory for the second goal either, five minutes later. Muscled off the ball by Wilson who spurned a one-on-one opportunity before strike partner Leon Clarke dispatched the rebound.

If City didn’t get that last-gasp penalty, the recriminations of the back line will have run long into the week, especially after the recent wobbles. And it must be said, as frail as the boys in sky blue looked, City’s back line was every bit as bad in the 1st half.

There wasn’t much in the form of organisation in City’s display defensively, with almost every Coventry attack looking like it would bring a goal. There is a gaping void in City’s defence at the minute, and it doesn’t look likely to be filled until Andrew Davies returns in the New Year.

Matthew Bates continued his shaky run of form, and alongside McArdle the pairing represent a worry. It was a surprise to see their partnership reprised, especially after the horror show at Rotherham last week. This fact pays testament to how poorly Luke Oliver, Matt Taylor and Carl McHugh must be performing in training. From the outside it is curious how none of the three have managed to hold down a place in the side in Davies’ absence. But clearly Parkinson doesn’t see any of the three as an improvement over what he currently has. And that speaks volumes giving what he currently has on the field.

They did improve in the second half, it must be noted. Especially James Meredith who put in one of the better halves of football of his season. Hopefully this will bring them some confidence heading into next week’s battle with Patrick Bamford and his MK Dons.

Stephen Darby was peerless amongst all defenders on the pitch, in a very tough match up against Franck Moussa. This was headlined by a headed clearance in the six-yard box which I still don’t understand how it didn’t result in an own goal. There was a relentless intensity in his battle with Moussa, with each giving as good as they got, and this was no better epitomised than the moment directly after a handball decision outside Coventry’s box when everyone else stopped for the free kick and those two carried on battling against each other for a full five seconds attempting to retrieve the loose ball.

Bradford came back into the game as the first half wore on with James Hanson rising imperiously against a set of Coventry defenders whose boots appeared to be incased in some form of concrete. Two textbook Hanson-Wells goals followed with the former’s hilarity matched by the latter’s elegance. There is an almost beautiful art to the thunderous collisions of Hanson at his finest, and after Wells contorted his body to slot home City’s equaliser, that was all you could see.

Coventry, and Callum Wilson in particular were not to be denied though, and his explosive first half performance was capped by a powerful near post finish to give the Sky Blues a half time lead.

Those of the mind to pick fault will question the goalkeeper as he broke the fundament football tenet of being beating at his near post, but frankly I disagree with that logic and the underlying necessity to apportion blame at every opportunity. It was a hell of a finish, and if you really, really want to blame someone, I’d take a look at that preposterous V-Shaped defensive line before McLaughlin.

Of course the second half couldn’t match the intensity of the first, but both sides continued their adventurous style knowing the importance of the next goal.

As the game wore on Parkinson went into the bench searching for an answer, and to an extent, he did. The futility of the cavalry has become apparent over this slide City have found themselves on, with each sub invariably making the team worse. Today in Mark Yeates and Alan Connell, Parkinson did find some impetus that his tiring side desperately needed. Connell in particular I thought was excellent. Which is nice to be able to type.

But in the end, all of the changes and formational shifts were made redundant as the final equaliser came in the only way it ever could in this game, with a long heave to Hanson who drew an inexplicable handball from the centre half, allowing Wells the chance to complete his hat trick from the penalty spot.

The kid really is special, and for all the negativity which is beginning to pervade our fan base, we all need to take a step back and just appreciate what we are able to see on the pitch in Wells. Appreciate him while we still can. Today was a tour de force in a nascent career so far littered with them.

Coming into the game the two sides appeared as different as could be, at polar opposites on the scale of momentum. In the end, the tale of two cities was in fact the story of one. Two very similar teams in design and performance, inseparable to the last. Rather than the bleak Dickensian epic every home fan feared heading into the weekend, this game more represented a Shakespearean tragic comedy.

And as the minds of every Bradfordian can attest, All’s Well that Ends Wells.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates (Connell 83), Meredith, Thompson, (Yeates 68), Jones, Doyle, Reid (De Vita 85), Hanson, Wells

Not used: Ripley, Taylor, Kennedy, Folan

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Claire Epton for providing the image included in this report. Take a read of her superb site: capturedbyclaire.wordpress.com.

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Categories: Match Reviews

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11 replies

  1. Really enjoyed the game two decent teams and styles going toe to toe, as for city being the New Wimbledon according to mr. Presley well bring it on they didn’t do too badly did they.

  2. ‘Some carry-tale, some please-man, some slight zany’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost -as you’re introducing Shakespeare) about sums up a great match report Alex and some very different performances marked by two strikers in Wilson and Wells that should and probably will be in the Championship soon and some woeful defenders on both sides.
    Unfortunately, I could not make the game so watched it on Sky, which offered a different perspective, particularly close-ups of things not always noticeable from the stands. For one Phil Parkinson is certainly passionate and at times adversarial with the opposition manager. For another, Jones puts a lot more yardage in than Doyle, which may contribute to him at times looking slightly behind the pace in this league. Against the better teams in the league It would be interesting to see him playing a holding role in a 4,3,3 then we’d really be able to sing you’d never get past Gary Jones. Oh and the two Mc’s were the zany ones. Time for Taylor?

  3. Thought the fans were immense again. Maybe that’s the default and not worth mentioning but the backing the team got when behind was brilliant. Fortress VP once again. Could hardly hear the Coventry fans. The kop in full voice is worth the entrance fee alone.

    • Nice report Alex. I agree that for once the subs made a difference. I’m not sure about Yeates, but I do think that when we bring him on the team needs to play to his strengths, ball to feet where he can run at opposition. Not sure we always do this enough.

      David’s comment above is interesting in regard to Parkinson. Sitting in the Sunwin Stand up behind the benches it is a regular sight to see – Parkinson having a row with the opposition coaches. Not one I personally enjoy – I like my team manager to show dignity and passion. Why doesn’t he leave the rowing to Steve Parkin, who looks much more handy in a scrap!!

  4. Great article. Spot on about the ‘dark ages’ thing. What was he on about?

  5. Regarding Stephen Pressley, by far the worst thing he said, in my eyes, was his claim that Bradford City raise their game when they are on TV. I think this an outrageous statement to make, questioning the professionalism of our players in such a way. A complete load of nonsense.

    But it is interesting to look at the game through Pressley’s eyes and the preparations he made for it. With Coventry’s money situation, I doubt they have a wealth of resources for scouting. So you’d imagine that Coventry will have seen the recent games with Crewe and Rotherham, with very flat City performances. In the case of Rotherham especially, the physical prowess of Hanson was less evident as the direct play was meat and drink to the Millers’ centre halves.

    I believe that City have always mixed up the play under Parkinson, and we have three main threads. The long ball from the back to Hanson, with Wells anticipating flick ons, but also the wide players and the centre of midfield, with Nathan Doyle’s superb passing ability. For whatever reason, I imagine that Coventry and Pressley (who one assumes was at Rotherham last week as Coventry had played Friday night) saw the dangers of Doyle and the widemen and focused on this.

    Certainly they targeted Doyle. He was not given the time and space he normally enjoys and his influence on the game was the poorest I have seen in weeks, if not this season. They had a man on him to close him down whenever he had possession, and we saw that rarest of things – Doyle giving the ball away – on numerous occasions. As Alex alluded to in his report, the widemen were also targeted with Reid in particular hacked at repeatedly (I’ve now seen the game twice, having watched it back on TV). So two of the three options that City have were negated to an extent (though Reid and Yeates both played very well).

    However the third (direct ball), for whatever reason, they seemed unprepared for and could not cope with. And with City having other avenues cut off, they increasingly took the direct route. And going back to the TV rant, I guess having seen us be so poor against Crewe and Rotherham, Coventry and Pressley weren’t expecting such a high tempo game and the character to be so evident, especially when we were 2-0 down after seven minutes.

    I believe that Pressley was surprised by a few things he hadn’t expected from us, and has reacted badly to being caught out. He has done himself no favours with his post-match comments, and hopefully when he calms down he will realise that too.

  6. Another excellent report followed by thoughtful comments. Whilst accepting that Coventry’s front two were good, our pair in central defence were very poor, and though both made mistakes I feel that Bates is the one to change. Last seasons efforts (without Davies) suggest that we could do better in this area, and we now have Matt Taylor to call on (who apparently had a decent loan spell). But great spirit and a world away from our Division 2 fare.

  7. I don’t really see what Pressley’s agenda was with his comments, perhaps Jason is on to something. It made sense for us to attack that was as they were very porr at defending against us. There did seem more up and under clearances rather than diagnal balls so maybe he thinks we weren’t making passes and were just “getting it up there” but Hanson’s success rate was high. The Coventry Telegraph have taken this and run and have said Parky makes Boothroyd look like Guardiola which is slighlty OTT to say the least.

    Throughout the second half they played a flat back four and put two midfeilders very close to the centre backs so there was no way of playing through that. We certainly did use the flanks as much as possible.

    From where I was sat much of Coventrys attacks were high balls over the top towards the corner for their fast striker to chase and shoot or cut back – hardly the best football ever!! But they used this tactic to expose the vulnerability of our slow centre backs, as is their perogative (without being judged for it in the press afterwards).

    On the stuff that Pressley won’t repeat as he doent want to get anyone in trouble. In my opinion he should put up or shut up – either say what he said or don’t say anything at all – and if he thinks the FA would deem it a punishable offence, I dont believe he should keep quiet and pervert the course of justice…

    • I think the comment that annoyed me the most was that about long-ball football being the source of our success against the big boys in the cup. Against Villa we played wonderful football and owned the flanks.

      Yesterday though we were poor. With the exception of one or two passes from Jones and then one lovely ball from Yates, our approach play through the centre was awful and never on the deck. Reid (and Yates when he came on) were a genuine tonic. It really gets my goat when people are slating Reid in the crowd (fortunately this year the noise in the kop is largely positive), he runs at defenders, mixes his crosses between quick first-timers and deeper floating balls. He does shank quite a few and often makes the wrong choice, but you know he scares the full back every game. He was very good yesterday IMO. I find it staggering that Thomson gets a game though. He walked for 70 minutes.. For the second home game in a row. It felt like we played with ten for 70 minutes yesterday.

      Yesterday though Bates and McArdle (who really were poor defensively) lumped the ball every time. I think McArdle, who I really like, has been guilty of this far too often. Coventry in contrast looked composed from their midfield forward. Their one-touch game was another level compared to ours.

      I think it is a difficult truth that it is our determination and the class of Meredith, Reid, Jones, Hanson and Wells is getting us by and as a team/squad, we probably lack the quality needed to compete at the top end. I don’t blame anyone for that, it is just great to look like a solid L1 team!!

      What struck me most about yesterday though was just how important Hanson is. He won so much. He turned what were hopeful, aimless punts into opportunities. Lose Wells and we look less dangerous of course, but without Hanson I think we’d really struggle

  8. What business is it anyway of a manager to comment on the opposition?
    I believe Pressley should have concentrated on his own team in the post match interview and I guess that the last minute penalty denying him of three points resulted in comments which given longer to consider, he may well have modified.
    He must have been very frustrated by his own teams defending resulting In City getting back into a game at 0-2 which should have been won, further frustrated when having regained the lead, they lost it again by dint of a needless handball.
    Yes Coventry tried to play neat passing football, however their goals came from more direct means, and to say we are one dimensional is unfair when one takes into account the number of times we try to use wingplay.
    Pressley, Moore and Evans all have one thing in common. They need to show more respect to the opposition. Parkinson too should not get involved. We are better than that.

    • I think we shouldn’t pretend that Phil Parkinson is an angel when he is in that dugout area. He seemed to take offence at Pressley over something but clearly gave as much as he took at the end and it’s not the first time this season that PP has got too involved. Stevenage among others and he spends too much time haranguing 4th officials. Never seen much point in that.  But the match was great TV. Perhaps Pressley should be force fed the last 10 live Premier Division matches on Sky and then be asked to reconsider his thoughts on football from the Dark Ages and entertainment for the viewing public.  Maybe it was the fact the City tactics worked so well that got his goat. To be fair to City fans, we are often critical when there is too much ‘hoofball’ and we didn’t really cause enough problems to Cov in the second half. But Hanson has much improved the direction of his heading and Wells is ideal at picking up the pieces so it works and his two finishes were sublime. The tactic was much less effective when Wells was absent. I think we could add variety now by replacing Thompson with a strong running midfielder. Jones and Doyle can be a little static and we could add more attacking threat because there is some truth in a criticism of ‘predictable’ rather than ‘Dark Age’ and we have been undone by teams really running at us from the middle of the field – Crawley and Wolves for example. Finally if Taylor doesn’t get his chance now, surely he never will. But McArdle has recovered from embarrassing defending before. The first half of the first game at Bristol, he was all over the place but he is typical of the City spirit and bouncebackability!

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