Unacceptable Bradford City performance underlines need for major change


Bradford City 2

Reach 35, Jones 90

Oldham Athletic 3

Wesolowski 22, Clarke-Harris 45+58

Saturday 5 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

The relegation issue just won’t be put to bed, and the real concern for Bradford City is that they are running out of opportunities. How they could be left to rue this costly home defeat; one that narrows the margin for error considerably with just five games left to play. That the next three are against teams with promotion aspirations means no-one should be sitting comfortably on that six-point cushion.

Survival is within touching distances and yet – after another wretched performance from the players – any sense of achievement looks increasingly likely to carry a hollow feel. No one was planning to order an open top bus to celebrate successfully avoiding relegation, but this feeble crawl over the line lacks dignity and deserves to have serious repercussions. Because as City allowed themselves to be easily beaten by an Oldham side who sit below them, there’s a growing stench that is becoming difficult to avoid.

This team is past its sell-by-date. It needs a radical, radical shake-up.

That Phil Parkinson will be the man tasked with that considerable close season challenge is entirely right, but he did much to harm his standing with City supporters today. After speaking in the build-up about knowing exactly what to expect from Oldham, there can be no excuse for the disorganised and ill-thought out approach that his team took. Opposing teams that play a three-man midfield has long been the manager’s Achilles Heel and it beggars belief that he still cannot find a solution. Oldham hunted in packs for the ball and then worked in groups to keep hold of it. City were chasing shadows.

Yet equally, Parkinson has every right to feel let down by his players. From front to back they were awful today and it’s time that they came under the firing line rather than aiming all criticism at the manager. Parkinson needed his senior players to step up and perform, and he needed those who want to be at Valley Parade next season to demonstrate their desire to earn a contract. It didn’t happen. Today’s City XI contained just two players – Andrew Davies and Aaron Mclean – who don’t go into the summer facing an uncertain future. After this showing, Parkinson’s released list may have grown in length.

Oldham looked more confident, more determined and more comfortable in their game plan. In James Wesolowski they possessed the best player on the park (it was the same story in the reverse fixture). The Oldham number four was up and down the pitch with boundless energy. When no one picked up his late run onto Jonson Clare-Harris’ knock down, the 26-year-old was able to smash his team into a deserved lead midway through the first half.

Jon Stead, making his home debut up front, had glanced an early header wide of the post, but that had been it for City. The initiative was passed up in a way that has been depressingly familiar of late. Parkinson sought to combat Oldham’s dominance of possession by switching to a 4-5-1 formation that had Mclean on the right wing and Kyle Bennet tucked inside, but the results were decidedly mixed.

For the game was retrieved – but then ultimately lost – during the 10 minute run-up to half time. Firstly, City equalised after some excellent work from an otherwise disappointing Matty Dolan. He won the ball high up the park, before spinning and producing a defence-splitting pass that enabled Adam Reach to race past a defender and slot the ball home. But then just as the board was to go up for injury time, Gary Harkins played an offside-looking Clarke-Harris through on goal. Rory McArdle, Jon McLaughlin hesitated and the ball was in the back of the net. As the cliché goes, you play to the whistle and City did not.

Yet the passage of play at 1-1 was equally crucial on the game. Having been pegged back, Oldham retreated and City began to dominate the ball. Their 4-5-1 meant plenty of players available for a short pass but no one to support Stead. A wall of blue shirts stood firm, and the home crowd grew frustrated. It was in some ways proof that – for all the complaints from some about City’s style of football – deep down most people cannot tolerate a passing game and want to see direct football. Parkinson decided to abandon the approach almost as quickly as he’d switched to it. Such indecision is out of character. He was streets behind Lee Johnson in the tactical battle.

And it meant a second half depressingly familiar. Oldham bossing the middle of the park, as City went 4-4-2 and Dolan and Gary Jones were found wanting. Mclean and Stead were starved of possession yet completely failed to make anything that did reach them stick in the final third. Reach stood out more than most as lacking commitment for the cause – he was a loanee playing for himself, which is unacceptable – whilst Bennett regressed back to old ways, following promising displays of late.

The Doncaster loanee stood ball-watching as a pass was played up to Clarke-Harris, who ran clear of the back four and slotted home impressively despite Davies’ late attempt to block him. A really bad goal from a City perspective. Whatever the huge failings in midfield and up front today, everything was undermined by some incredibly woeful defending. I have never seen Davies have such a poor game for City, and he and McArdle made numerous mistakes.

With 32 minutes left on the clock, you hoped to see a determined fightback from the home side. Worryingly they looked defeated and – substitute Oli McBurnie aside – fearful of receiving the ball. McBurnie’s introduction for an underwhelming Stead saw boos directed at the manager that were repeated when he later brought off Mclean for Yeates. Whilst the frustration was easy to understand, as Parkinson simply didn’t have adequate options on the bench to take off his two senior strikers, performance-wise both players merited their withdrawals.

I’ve tried to retain judgement on Mclean and it is still too early to make a call on him, but to date he has been a long way short of expectations and – if rumours of his wage packet are to believed – we are entitled to demand a lot more from him. James Hanson was hugely missed and City need to get to the root of his fitness problems as a matter of urgency. In the circumstances Stead is a good signing, but City need their Plan A back, fit and firing.

As Valley Parade emptied long before the end, a late flicker of hope was ignited by a second City goal, deep in stoppage time. Yeates raced clear of the back four and struck a shot from an angle that smacked back off the post. The rebound fell to Jones, who picked his spot to beat the defenders rushing back. It was too little, too late. Within seconds, Oldham’s terrific away support were able to celebrate the final whistle and a deserved three points.

For the Bantams, the last four home games have yielded just one point and it is their away form – one loss in four – which is keeping them above water. But while this terrible performance probably doesn’t change the fact that one more victory should be enough to seal survival, this defeat should be viewed as a watershed moment.

Because this team simply isn’t good enough for where we are and where we want to be. It needs wholesale changes, if a more credible promotion push is to be realised – heck, just to make sure that relegation is avoided next season also. Parkinson has to make some tough decisions over the next few weeks over who to keep and who to let go, and he needs to be ruthless about it.

Sentiment clearly clouded too much of the planning for this season, and for that Parkinson has been rightly criticised. We will never forget the contributions of those 2012/13 History Makers and they will always have a place in our hearts, but the time has come to move on.

The bar has been lowered of late. Every single person in that Valley Parade dressing room shares some responsibility for allowing that drop in standards to happen. In the short-term, what matters is to get those final few points needed to confirm a place in the 2014/15 League One. But the inquest into what has gone wrong has already started and, whatever division City are in next season, sweeping changes need to be made.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury, Bennett (Thompson 64), Dolan, Jones, Reach, Stead (McBurnie 64), Mclean (Yeates 83)

Not used: Barker, McHugh, Bates, Stockdill

Categories: Match Reviews

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

31 replies

  1. In over 60 years of watching City I cannot remember feeling so depressed and angry after, and during, a game. They were appalling, devoid of fight , skill, system and effort. I support Phil Parkinson, but if we are to be expected to waste our money watching that drivel then he should ask himself whether he is doing his job even half well. Davies is usually so sound–he wasn’t today, but you could go right through the team. They were appalling. Then he comes on BBC Leeds, and says the players don’t like playing at home. Why, when you have support like today?
    It was appalling.
    The players , the management and the directors should be ashamed of taking our money.
    If I could, after today, I would pack up watching them. But I can’t.

  2. Brilliant match review. Lovely words and terminology masking some stinging, but deserved, criticism. Today was woeful. Truly appalling. A team devoid of craft and effort. As a City fan I can live without the skill and craft, but not the effort.

    Last years team was effectively decimated by poor summer signings. Starting with Andy Gray the signings have been awful. Not one improving the squad. Because of this Parkinson has had to tinker and delve into the loan market. The heart of the squad ripped to shreds. Today we fielded 5 loanees. Not one, Reach causing some deliberation, would induce excitement if signed for next season. This is of the managers making.

    Also, and I’m not going to labour a sore point so brilliantly put, PP has been found out. A one trick pony. A one tactic man. A man unable to counter opposing managers tactics.

    That being said, I want him to remain at the helm. He’s a big part of our recent success. His record entitles him to another bite at a summer rebuild. And, no small point for me, he’s a wonderful ambassador for the club. Respectful of his surroundings and the fans, a great public front.

    I also say this because I truly wouldn’t like to make some decisions he has to make. Some player releases are easy. So easy. Some not so. McArdle. Should he stay or go? Again a great servant. But is there better out there?

    So a big summer ahead.

    Also though, some good points raised re players we would want to keep and who seem devoid of criticism. Jones had a shocker today. Davies has been poor, by his standards for a good view games. Doyle has had a poor season in vast spells.

    May I raise a number of points in discussion from the article though please?

    “Deep down people cannot tolerate a passing game and want to see direct football”.

    Nothing could be further from the truth for me personally. The football served up is from the dark ages and hard to watch. Today Oldham, like at theirs, got the ball down and played football. How I long for that.

    McLean- “if rumours of his wage packet are true…”

    I fail to see the relevance of his wage. Very northern assessment! Sorry Jason!

    But, the criticism of him to date is ridiculous. Yes, he’s done really nothing to write home about. Yet, how can he be questioned? When all you do is play balls to his neck what does he have to work with? Haven’t his goals come from 2 quick drives into the box? If so why persist with playing it to his Adam’s apple?

    “James Hanson was solely missed….City need there plan A back, fit and firing”

    I actually am starting to think this is the cause of all our problems. As long as we have Hanson, and I’m a convert by the way, we will persist with the long ball. If you read my comments above it can be seen that common threads start to appear and knit.

    So a big, big summer ahead. Please get it right, again, Parky.

  3. So who would we like to see join in summer? I personally think we need a mobile forward who makes intelligent runs and a midfielder who can pick them out with a pass. This would add variation to our attacking play and make us harder to defend against. Also, more pace anywhere in the team would be useful.

    Strategically, we should consider having more depth even if it means a slightly weaker first 11. Phil Parkinson has rarely had much on the bench to change a game with and injuries have done us a lot of damage this season.

  4. Maybe today was a blessing in disguise.

    If City would have been unbeaten in the last 6 matches of the season then Parky may be tempted to keep most of the out of contract players. Now, hopefully, he realises that a little tinkering just isn’t good enough. A bigger clear out is needed with no certainties other than Stephen Darby. Parky needs to be ruthless, or we could be relegation candidates next season.

  5. Good report Jason and I can see the rose tinted specs re PP are starting to fall away. There are several reasons for where we are now, the sale of Wells I still can’t understand, poor recruitment in the summer none of them have made any impact, to me the manager is constantly out thought on tactics, probably too many players either out of contract soon and don’t want to risk getting injured ala Reid and too many loans players in the team.
    Today I left early something I can’t remember doing for a long long time even the 10 terrible years we endured prior to last season.
    Is PP man for next season, can he recruit successfully this summer? I hope so but to be honest I am not convinced.
    Finally what’s the comment mentioned above about PP saying the players don’t like playing at home!?

  6. Four wishes for the Summer……

    1…A return of the Bradford End to BCFC fans.
    2…A hooped Claret and Amber home shirt
    3…Oscar Jansson signed
    4… Dean Furman signed

    Four simple steps to a successful 2nd season in division One.

  7. We are ok being an underdog but when we have to play as the favoured team and break teams down we are tactically inept. The number of times we just surrender possession with the long ball it is so easy for the opposition to defend and ultimately control the game.
    Wen we get the ball down it is like having 10 David battys in the team we only pass sideways.
    We need to be creative in the final third and have freedom to make runs and play short passing triangles this will open teams up not hoof or crab football. The players wen attacking are stuck to there positions and too rigid too slow and we only look to get a cross in there is no variance and unfortunately I can not remember the last time our wingers supplied a consistent number of quality crosses.
    The two Oldham games I have been to this season I have been very impressed by number 4 and 14. Sign em up!

  8. C’mon City 6 points from the drop is not a place to be. The age of some players is taking it’s toll on the game. Hope we turn this around.

  9. An accurate assesment of a depressing game. But unfortunately “our” team has gone – no Meredith, Doyle, Hanson, Wells or Reid. I certainly did not envisage a City side without these players (probably PP did’nt either), and the replacements for all of these do not compare. As has been said we need to build again.

  10. It seems as though even you have become disillusioned with the management Jason. Unacceptable you say – but far from a rarity. Notts County away, Tranmere, Oldham, Shrewsbury, Carlisle, Crewe, Stevenage and so on. The list is long and all are very poor sides who have plundered easy points from Bradford. Why do we perform so consistently badly against these struggling sides yet pick up valuable points against the top half of the table? It’s a genuine question and too much of a pattern to be taken as “one bad day at the office” (we were like it in the lower division and always found the Accringtons, Barnets and Dagenhams almost impossible to beat).
    For me Phil has now used up all his credit from last season. He should be judged without sentiment on what he does this summer (assuming we do stagger over the line). However I have switched from a firm Parky supporter in January to just marginally in favour right now and it sounds as though you are heading that way too.

  11. My glass also looks increasingly half empty following the very poor performances of the last few home games. My retained wish list contains more names of players from last seasons campaign, than it does from the list of recruits who were brought in to strengthen the squad: this only highlights how many poor signings Parkinson has made since the play off final.

    We have been hit by injuries to key players, but that will happen most seasons and that is why we have a squad; I honestly think that this seasons squad is weaker than the one which got us promoted, and can anyone say that there was one player on the pitch yesterday from our loan signings who would merit being offered a contract for next season?

  12. I was very disappointed with the substitutions yesterday.
    I like Thompson, he’s a great worker. But the last two home games we had the same substitution – Thompson on with around 20 minutes (give or take) to go, with the same result: absolutely no change. So why not try something different this time?
    McBurnie for Stead – what was that about, that a 17 year old with 3 or 4 games to his name was going to make an impact against a pretty tough defensive pair – that had kept Stead, with 10 seasons of high level football to his name, quiet all afternoon. Did Parkinson really think that was going to work? Wasn’t it a surprise when very time he challenged for the ball in the penalty area their centre half just gently muscled him away from it. It wasn’t fair on McBurnie to bring him on at that stage, and it wasn’t fair on the fans. I’d really like Phil to have been asked how he thought McBurnie was going to turn that gam around.
    And Yeates with 6 minutes to go………………words fail me. Except to say, who made the chance that Jones scored from? What might have happened if he’d been brought on at Thompson time.

    Now I know that Phil has loads more knowledge and experience as a player and a manager than me and the rest of us supporters, so my question is: why doesn’t;’t he use it?

  13. Parkinson’s will be judged on his Summer recruitment if he gets it wrong and we struggle he will be under significant pressure prior to Christmas. One point that does give me comfort is that his post game assessment is consistently accurate, he knows what the issues are we now need to see if he can resolve the issues in pre season. I too left early for the first time in over a decade, two points of note, how often do we play the ball backwards and how many shots on goal have we had in the last 4 home games ? I estimate it is less than 10 attempts in total !

  14. Can’t add much to what has already been said but I noticed an interesting little scene playing itself out as Oldham celebrated their third goal. Jones was berating Bennett for his feeble effort in the build up and Mclean was trying to act as peacemaker. The old, the loanee and the new, it seemed to sum up for me how things stand at the moment, we have a team but they are not a team in the true sense. They are a collection of units who clearly don’t gel for one reason or other, the spirit and camaraderie of last season has been lost and whilst teams can win with players who don’t get on we have lost our way massively and need to find a win to get us over the line and buy some time over the summer to put things right.

    I hope that the Board give PP the opportunity to do this but I fear that recent home performances may put people off renewing season tickets which will leave them with a decision and possibly a reason to get rid. If they don’t then the extent to which they loosen the purse strings in the summer will be telling as they won’t let him spend big if it is in the back of their minds that he’s on borrowed time.

  15. To me it’s an issue of commitment, and the last two home performances have slipped well below the levels that we have set ourselves under Parkinson.

    I seem to remember it was the Rotherham defeat in Parky’s 1st season, where he locked them in the dressing room after the game, and explained what it was to play for Bradford City.

    Ever since that day, we have had a committed bunch of players who have been prepared to run themselves into the ground for the club, and that is why the fans have always got behind them.

    On the few occasions we have slipped below these standards, then we have got beat, like Oldham or Walsall, as we are simply not a good enough side to win the game.

    It’s when we turn in a performance full of energy and commitment, and get outclassed then I will start to worry.

    I think in Hanson’s absence, we were caught between playing our natural direct game, and because we didn’t have him up there, trying to play more football through the midfield.

    It’s very difficult to play through a 4-5-1 and i think we did need to be more direct, but by playing it into the strikers feet, so they could give early ball out to our wingers.

    To be able to do this though, you need movement from your front two; coming short for the ball, or looking to make a run between the full back and centre half, but they were static for much of the game.

    I still think we will survive comfortably and we have to be careful what we wish for. I will openly admit that I wasn’t a fan of Todd, but I would’ve happily settled for boring mid table league 1 finishes, over playing the likes of Accrington Stanley. I never want to go back there again.

    I think though, it is a big season for Parky next term, as he needs to show us that he is capable of taking us beyond from what he has already achieved.

  16. The loss of the left hand side & notably our best link up players in the team have missed the 2nd half of the season which has yealded only 5 victories. Reid & Meredith. Also missing is wells 15 goals from the first 18 games. With a fully fit & functioning squad we were a match for all teams at this level & gave wolves, Sheffield utd, Preston, Brentford. Walsall& Coventry tough games & we held are own easily. Unfortunately Parkisons last 9 signings before heading into the loan market recently Nelson, Gray, Taylor, Forlan, De Veta, Kennedy, Bates, Yates & Mclean have not & in the case of Nelson & Forlan did not make any impression or bring any quality or competition to to the starting 11. As injuries have bitten & it has become glaring obvious that the signings were not going to be good enough to challenge for the play offs or gain a top half finish we have become reliant on loanees to get us over the finish line. Reach is the pick of the 6 loanees. The rest are not the future of club. The players in last 2 home games have shown no heart, desire or appetite to compete and earn the right to play at this level next season Individually & collectively the team were awful & Oldham simply passed the ball straight through us and fully deserved their victory as the score line flattered us. Parkinson needs to rethink his style of play & bring in 8 players & mold a team that can play the ball on the ground & don’t bypass the midfield in favour of a punt up the park. Let’s hope that he can reverse this worrying trend of poor signings and build a team & spirit worthy of its predecessor.

  17. Something else that frustrates me with the recent home form. Why don’t the media adopt a more robust attitude and challenge PP about his decision making in post match interviews? It is all rather “too cosy”. With some robust questioning, we might get some interesting answers.

    • I agree with this and it is quite amazing that no mention was made of the booing when PP made those subs. If nothing else, the media should have asked him about it to give him the opportunity to his explain his thinking to supporters, who might be understanding if they could see the rationale.

      • Agree with this report, Jason. A big summer ahead and PP needs to rectify his poor recruitment from this season. I can’t see us changing our style, and I’ve given McLean the benefit of the doubt for long enough, no effort and lacks attributes. For me the poor run from November has coincided with a change in style, early on in the season we played high pressing football off the ball and we scared teams into making mistakes and on the ball we were effective with Hanson and Wells up front. All of a sudden this style was abandoned and we reverted to a more defensive approach allowing teams to play it round at the back and dominate, consequently there was a shift in fear, teams used to be scared to come to Valley Parade but the different style makes us look scared of the opposition, regardless of league position. The most frustrating aspect is that when we score we don’t capitalise and score another 1 or 2, we just wait for them to score. We make it so easy for teams to beat us tactically, defences love to play against 2 strikers who always play in front of them, they hate playing against ones that get a run in behind them. The only way I can defend McLean is that we aren’t playing to his strengths, which are so far unknown, so the midfield has to take some blame for a poor standard of service.
        In the summer I feel we need to invest in a fast striker who has quality on the ball and who is a constant threat in behind to play up front with Hanson because that’s how we are most effective.
        We will mount no play off or promotion challenge next season if we keep playing in this boring, ineffective, defensive style. Revert back to a high pressing set up and make teams scared of playing us, 3 or 4 shots on target in 2 home games against average league 1 teams says it all, we are not in the final third enough and it’s unbelievably easy for teams to come and get a result. Big clear out and get back to basics. CTID!

  18. You had better get over to Claret and Banter they have a noose with Parkys name on it

  19. Don’t really see what the problem is, BCFC are pretty inconsistent, step forward every other team in this division bar the top five. I’ve supported BCFC long enough to know they are just as likely to beat the top of the league as lose to the bottom teams, yes it’s annoying but it’s been happening for as long as I’ve supported Bradford City Football Club. It’s hardly front page news. I’ve alluded to changes I’d like to see the club make above and in other threads, but the biggest change BCFC needs is to get more searing pace into the side, take Wells and Reid out of the BCFC pace equation and we start to get to the root cause of our inability to break down defences and panic defences and in Wells you also had his goals, a triple whammy of pace and goals that we are struggling to replace. Looking at the quality of players we’ve actually lost to both injury and being sold on it’s hardly surprising that BCFC have been incredibly inconsistent playing in the third tier of English league football. 49 points gained with still five game remaining seems a pretty solid first seasons performance in this league.

  20. Any body who thinks Jones should be retained for next season after that performance need their head examining. I’ve not really been that impressed with him for the majority of the season. However I’ve kept my opinions to myslef until now. I paid particular attention to his performance at the weekend.. and in my eyes I can’t remember a meaningful thing he did all game. For all the headers he jumped for and all the tackles he went in for I can’t remember him winning a single one..

    He unfortunately is just half a yard off the pace everytime.. Yes he runs around at 110mph for 90 minutes and you can see he’s trying his utmost to do something.. However I’m afraid to say father time has caught up with him.

    I think it’s time to say thank you for what he did to give this club some identity back and either offer him a coaching role or allow him to leave with dignity..

    Thank you for the memories Jones, you have been a great for this club in our time of need!! Now it’s time to pass on the baton

    • I don’t agree it is the end of Jones. Frankly, if you were to judge every player on Saturday I would get rid of the lot because no one did themselves credit.

      I think the key to Jones is giving him a role next season that gets the best out of him and benefits the club. For me he cannot be a week in week out starter, but I believe he could play a role in certain games, sitting in front of the back four and encouraging an attacking midfielder to bomb on. It depends what Phil Parkinson’s thinking is next season, but I wouldn’t write him off on Saturday. He has produced some very good performances at times.

  21. Don’t worry about it lads!….you know what City are like. We will probably take points off Rotherscum and Swindon away and lose to Crawley at home!!!….fingers crossed.

    Got to agree regards the Bradford end and the hoop shirts though.

  22. To follow up on Chris’s post about Gary Jones. My mate pointed this out to me and on Saturday I counted: 50% of his passes go behind the man, so they slow us down, but more importantly give the opposition time to get back, or get closer to the City player so he doesn’t have time to settle.
    Count them next match.

    • And this is why the tika-taka passing style some of our fans are crying out for will never be accepted at City, despite what people say. As the guy who I used to sit in front of would bellow every week “FORWARD!!” 😉

      • I have to disagree Jason, the way Jones plays I don’t think he would simply sit in front of the back four. I also don’t believe he is quick enough to do it. Whenever there is a 50/50 ball to be win he always seems to get there 2nd.. And also his passing isn’t up to scratch, he always seems to have to fire it at someone stood five yards away from him which makes it difficult to control.. I don’t want to turn this in to a Jones bashing as he has had some good performances this year. However they seem to have been few and far between…

        Also with regards “tika-taka” works if don’t a pace and we have players who move without the ball… Too many times this season when we have a throw-in or the ball is being played around at the back we just slow the game right down and everyone is stood still rather than moving in to space wanting the ball… The best teams i have seen this season at valley parade (and i include Oldham in that, as i thought they were very good) have had players moving all over the place.

      • Absolutely agree, no way in the world would BCFC fans put up with a slower build up, the frustration, if we were losing, would be heard miles away, can you imagine the screaming at players, the sheer panic and character assassination that would follow any player not launching it in that situation. I’d be amazed if we could afford to put such a team together anyway.

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