The outlook changes as Bradford City record second straight victory

Bradford City 1

Hanson 71

MK Dons 0

Saturday 22 February, 2014

By Jason McKeown

From such thin margins have come such considerable returns. Two 1-0 victories, two sets of three points. The league table suddenly looks so much healthier for Bradford City, who if not fully satisfying relegation concerns have certainly eased them. Nine points above the bottom four, with nine clubs between them and the dotted line.

Today was a different type of victory requiring a different type of performance. The attacking exuberance of Tuesday, which eventually wore down well-organised opponents, was less of a feature, as tired legs had to stand up to a talented-if-flawed MK Dons side. It was about grinding out the points rather than winning through greater intensity. Being dogged when you couldn’t be dominant.

Luck played its part too, none more so than for the game’s only goal. A long ball over the top was chased down by James Hanson but should have been cleared by David Martin. The visiting goalkeeper’s wild swing failed to make contact with the ball, and it rolled past him. Hanson continued his run and finished low into the unguarded net from a tight angle. A stroke of fortune, even though Martin’s hesitancy all afternoon made him seem like an accident waiting to happen.

You could make a strong case that the goal – which came in the 71st minute – was undeserved at the time, given it followed a spell of strong MK Dons’ dominance that saw them threaten Jon McLaughlin’s goal on several occasions. But the turnaround from second-best performers to ultimate victors was a triumph for Phil Parkinson. The Bantams manager reacted well to the threat of the opposition over-running his struggling midfield, replacing Aaron Mclean with Chris Atkinson and going 4-3-3. Suddenly the Dons weren’t passing the ball through claret and amber shirts so easily.

Let us not be romantic. Had City failed to earn this victory, Parkinson’s tactical change would have been heavily criticised by an increasingly sceptical section of Bradford City support. To swap a striker for a midfielder brought a confused reaction from many at the time, and it could easily have turned into dissent. That the switch brought such notable success deserves to go down as a big tick in Parkinson’s favour. As lucky as the goal might have proven, the improvement from City in the final 25 minutes was no coincidence.

Prior to that 65th minute re-shuffle, the home performance had been mixed. City started the game on the front-foot and Mclean should have belatedly broken his duck, tamely firing a one-on-one shooting opportunity straight at Martin. There was some promise about the way he and Hanson linked up, but this was by some distance Mclean’s least effective game for City. His first touch is often impressive, but he plays too much with his back to goal and several attacking moves broke down due to the former Hull man’s hesitation.

Hanson was certainly faring better. The MK Dons knew all about him from the 3-2 City victory in the reverse fixture last November, and clearly made plans to combat his threat. But even being double and – on some free kicks – triple-marked failed to curtail the big man’s dominance. He won everything in the air and showed some good touches bringing the ball down.

Hanson was involved in everything good about City. Clever link-up play with Mclean saw him charge into the box from a wide position and lay the ball off, via a deflection, into Nathan Doyle’s path. Doyle – easily the pick of City’s midfield four – should have made more from the opportunity than lashing a shot well wide. Hanson also teed up the promising Kyle Bennett for an effort straight at Martin, and finally had the best chance of the half himself with a fierce volley that smacked back off the crossbar.

Yet the MK Dons had chances too, with the 4-5-1 formation employed by Karl Robinson offering the flexibility for different midfield runners to support targetman Izale McLeod, and Daniel Powell pulling the strings in a holding role. Their best opportunity saw McLeod break forward after Carl McHugh and Andrew Davies collided going for the same ball. After a jinxing run, McLeod struck a low shot that beat McLaughlin but not the outstanding Stephen Darby, who heroically blocked the shot on the line.

Having ended the half stronger, the MK Dons continued to edge proceedings in the second. McLaughlin made two important saves and the back four – again very impressive, with Rory McArdle firmly back to his best – cleared a succession of corners. Cue Parkinson’s reshuffle midway through the second half, which was soon after followed by Hanson’s goal. A Valley Parade that had been almost mute for 20 minutes sprung back into life to help the players through the closing stages.

Perhaps the MK Dons were their own worst enemy, stubbornly refusing to deviate from their short passing principles and patient build up play – despite the greater urgency required. City looked far more likely to claim a second goal than concede their slender advantage. Doyle’s powerful drive from distance flew narrowly wide, substitute Garry Thompson had a reasonable penalty shout turned away and Hanson forced a smart save from Martin after getting on the end of a Jones cross.

Despite eight minutes of stoppage time to negotiate, City held out for a victory which keeps them in 11th and closing in on the top 10. With the third of three successive home games seeing bottom-club Stevenage next in town, there is every reason to be confident that the Bantams can strengthen their position and take another significant step forwards in retaining their League One status.

Yet although we have witnessed clear improvement over the past few days, it has hardly proven so vast to believe that there was a great deal wrong prior to Tuesday night. Aside from a wretched display at Carlisle, performances over the past few weeks have in the main being good, with only two defeats in the last eight matches. Since the end of October, only one visiting side has been victorious at Valley Parade. Davies’ five games back from injury have yielded three clean sheets. To date this season, just six League One sides have lost fewer games than City’s nine.

The fallout and the angst aired loudly by a minority, post-Carlisle, looked wholly unfair at the time. Some claimed that City were doomed to relegation and that a change of manager was the only remedy. It would be wrong to crow too loudly about how misguided these rash judgements now appear in hindsight – there are still issues for Parkinson to resolve, particularly long-term – but these back-to-back victories should quell recent criticism and hopefully win back a few doubting minds.

Increasingly it appears City are going to see out a comfortable mid-table season. There are plenty of better teams in the division, who will line up ahead of the Bantams in the promotion and play off positions; but also many worse sides, who over the coming months will be consumed by genuine relegation fears. The ultimate challenge for Parkinson is to get the club into the former group next season or the one after, despite the likelihood of his playing resources being reduced in the summer.

Such thoughts are for another day, and for now the manager deserves to bask in the glow of six points in five days, and two team performances that had all the hallmarks of their manager. In a season of thin margins, they are once again going his way. As a result, Parkinson can go into the final 14 matches looking upwards rather than down.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Bennett (Thompson 56), Doyle, Jones, Reach (Dolan 90), Hanson, Mclean (Atkinson 65)

Not used: Jameson, Yeates, McBurnie, Gray

Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Well deserved 3pts today also about time we had some luck & the goal was bizarre to say the least.
    I thought James Hanson was absolutely first class all 90mins. Chasing down defenders, holding the ball up & bringing players into play. I’d like to see McLean on the last man more & try to read James Hanson’s flick-ons more but clear signs that their understanding is getting better.
    I’m a little upset at a section of supporters today who quite clearly haven’t a clue on what exactly is long ball football! We played some excellent football today varied from direct to playing through the midfield.

  2. Fed up with the nay sayers at bcfc; are their memories so short? 2 years ago we were nearly relegated from the Football League.Since then, two trips to Wembley and probable survival in the league above. Whassup?
    I think we have a higher than average % of numpties who post nonsense on sites like this than the norm. This is a golden era for BCFC; enjoy!!

    • Hi Chris

      While I totally agree with your sentiment, I’m not sure what WOAP readers (or writers) have done to be bundled in with the ‘numpties’.

  3. Possibly a little bit harsh on their keeper – it was an air kick, but their defender deserves more criticism for the waist-high, bouncing backpass that forced it in the first place.

    Hanson was outstanding today, particularly as a lone frontman, and the Parkinson tactical switch to 4-3-3 was absolutely key – they were walking through us beforehand and we needed the extra man to gain possession.

  4. Its a funny old game isn’t it?! Looking at our record over the last 10 games only only 5 clubs in the league have lost less games yet nobody has won less frequently. I wonder if this should lead us to be more ‘gun-ho’ in games, being prepared to lose more in order to win more…?

  5. Great read Jason.

    Got to point out that Stevenage will be a very hard game, a team desperate for points will come with a game plan to frustrate the home fans a grab at least a point. I mention this as BCFC have a history of not doing well in these circumstances against struggling clubs. If the BCFC players and fans go into this next game with the same attitude as was on show against Port Vale and MK Dons, BCFC have an excellent chance of getting a positive result, anything less and BCFC will struggle.

    Thought Hanson was outstanding yesterday as was the defence. Davies gives this group so much confidence!!! Well done to Thompson , he’s come in for some stick this season but certainly made a difference when he came on yesterday.

    Thought the BCFC fans were fantastic once more, what excellent backing was given especially from the upper Kop.

    • MOM would be equally shared by Darby, Davies and Hanson, but great to see Thompson’s contribution being recognised. I feel that most of the negative criticism of him has been underserved, and he’s a great one to have to come off the bench, with his experience and, still, speed (whatever some might think) even if he doesn’t start so often.

  6. Perhaps McLaughlin should come in to the MOM shake up, he was good yesterday. Not sure how Bennett can be described as “promising”, I thought he was awful, and in the first half Reach also failed to impress. But we grafted throughout, and deserved 3 points rather than 1, the 1 point outcomes have allowed the negative voices far more prominence than merited.

    • If there is one thing that nearly three years of Phil Parkinson has shown, it is that he favours playing a four man midfield with one out-and-out winger and another wideman who tucks inside.

      Kyle Bennett is clearly being asked to play the latter role, yet at the moment suffers from an expectation – rather like Will Atkinson during 2011/12 season – of being an out-and-out winger. So he is being criticised by many supporters for not being positioned outwide and not taking players on.

      Don’t get me wrong, I have expressed the same frustration in his early outings. But the more he has played for City, the more it clearly seems that this is not his game, or at least he is being deliberately instructed not to play in this way. As such, I think he needs to be judged on the basis of how he fits in with PP’s planning and the effectiveness of his performances in that role.

      So while I don’t think you’d rate Bennett beyond a 6/10 on Saturday, I do think that there is promise to his performances that can be built upon. I do think the effort is there and at times we see his quality, but there is improvement to be had for sure. I don’t think he is ever going to become the flying winger people are criticising him for not being, but I do feel he has something to offer.

      The jury is out for me.

  7. Observations on a few players:

    I really like Bennett and I want him to succeed. We’re lucky to have a player with such good close control and understanding of the movement around him. I agree with Jason that he looks like a good replacement for Will Atkinson, a player who I think we’ve missed quite badly as a kind of lubricant for the passing that allows us to move up the pitch. I think he needs to drop deeper in search of the ball and try to find space a bit more. He played increasingly high up the pitch on Saturday and ended up in a congested zone with our two strikers and the opposition players very close to him, meaning he had limited options for his impressive passing.

    Garry Thompson looks quite good as an impact sub, doesn’t he? He seems to lack confidence in his own fitness when asked to play for 90 minutes though. I can see him playing a key role in our run-in, as he can shore up the right flank when protecting a lead or add another dimension to our attack when we need a goal. Also, he has the best movement off the ball of any of our players, which doesn’t seem to have been picked up on by many fans.

    The way he is playing at the moment, I’m starting to worry if Aaron McClean fits into this team. He kept dropping off the front line in search of the ball and was another player guilty of drifting into congested areas and not moving enough to find space. His noted preference for receiving the ball with his back to goal makes me wonder if he’d be more comfortable as a lone striker, which doesn’t really work given that we need James Hanson for so many reasons. Hanson has an impressive ability to adapt his game but when he’s playing so well why should he? So the onus is very much on McClean to get about the pitch more and trust his teammates to find him. He seems in little danger of losing his place prior to summer so he has a golden opportunity to learn whilst actually in the team, which should be a lot easier than doing it on the training ground.

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