Rampant Yeovil Town issue Bradford City a reality check

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Bradford City 1

McArdle 26

Yeovil Town 3

Martin 8 +23, Leitch-Smith 72

Saturday 6 September, 2014

Written by Alex Scott (images by Jason McKeown)

That loud ‘thud’ you can hear is the sound of Bradford City crashing back down to earth after a start to the season beyond even their expectations. In a worrying parallel to last year’s 0-1 reverse to Tranmere which signified the end of that strong start, City were outdone 3-1 at Valley Parade by a Yeovil team that looked like the real play off contenders on show.

Rather than a harbinger of doom – City are still well-placed, and with a lot going for them – today’s humbling should act as a reality check for everyone involved with the club. This league is so competitive, if you don’t show up at a 100%, you will get turned over regardless of who you are or what run you are on, and Parkinson’s men were nowhere near 100% today.

Something was afoot from the first minute. City looked second best from the outset, second to every ball, and after the troublesome Ajay Leitch-Smith burst clean through for the second time within the first ten minutes, it was already clear a long day was in store.

Yeovil were excellent today. For all of City’s litany of failings, ‘litany’ being the operative word, the focus should be on Yeovil, first and foremost. That was as comprehensive an away win as you’ll see at this level. For a team going through as much as they are at the moment, it was a mightily impressive performance.

The tone was set by centre half Aaron Martin. Where many have failed before him, the tall defender managed to nullify James Hanson almost entirely as an attacking force, as well as adding a brace of goals from set pieces from which he and his team never looked back.

Missing six first teamers, and only five points and two cup defeats to show for their season so far, Yeovil leapt from the first whistle as a team with something to prove, and their win never really looked in doubt.

AJ Leitch-Smith’s emphatic third from the edge of the City area was nothing less than the Glovers deserved, and in the end it might have been more. The troubled Gary Johnson will look for this to be a springboard for his team, and if they can perform like this every week, their eyes should be set squarely on the play offs.

Onto City, and well, where do you start? The overwhelming impression was a lack of energy throughout the side, which after a tough, busy run to start the year is understandable at least.

The team’s foundation of success thus far has been built on the prevention of shots on goal based on the energy of the midfield. Today that energy was absent and the barricades looked easily breached throughout. 3-1 was flattering for an out-of-sorts City team, outmanned and outgunned by a supposedly in-disarray Yeovil outfit.

Performances of teams are often defined by how they start games and City fell two nil down before they even began playing, through a couple of painfully soft headers from set pieces.

Man-marking gets away with murder compared to its cousin, Zonal, but today showed than Man-marking is only as good as the men doing it. James Hanson was uncharacteristically outmanned by Martin from an in-swinging corner on the edge of the six yard box early on, leaving Jordan Pickford in goal with little realistic chance of keeping out the powerful header.

You could try put this down to a lack of concentration on Hanson’s part, but in fairness to Martin, it was his strength and determination that got the goal. It isn’t often Hanson is bettered in that position, but he clearly was today. Just as he was throughout the 90 minutes. Martin shut him down as expertly as anyone has over recent years. Hanson may be fatigued, but he was totally nullified today in ways seldom seen at home.

The second Yeovil goal was even softer, with a free kick from the touch line halfway though the City half being flicked into the corner of the net by Martin after a lack of decisiveness in the Bantams’ defence. It isn’t clear on replay who exactly was assigned to clear that ball, although it was clearly ‘someone’.

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This indecisiveness was a frequent characteristic of the defensive line today, and the team’s performance in general, in fairness.

It’s one thing to say that the team miss Andrew Davies, of course they do. That said, one can only expect 25 games out of Davies in any given season, and this is not a secret. If he could play 40+ games in a year, he’d be at the top of the Championship. The management will have planned to be able to cover the absence of the towering centre half, and on today’s evidence, more work may be necessary in that department. Rory McArdle battled manfully with Leitch-Smith, as did his partner Alan Sheehan, but the returns were mixed.

Sheehan especially looked uncomfortable in the centre of defence, struggling with the physical side of the game his opponents were relishing. McArdle was more impressive, but again not for the first time giving off the impression that he is an excellent Number Two centre half, masquerading as a Number One. That’s not meant to be a criticism, particularly – he is just about my favourite player in this team – but he is clearly a different player with Davies alongside him captaining the ship.

The Northern Irish international got a reward for his graft just before half time after inexplicably being left unmarked five yards out from a pinpoint Sheehan corner to bury home. City were back in the game, building up a head of steam on the stroke of half time, and the crowd were understandably expectant. But there was nothing there to be found.

The indecision pervading the performance was driven by an almost tangible lack of comfort throughout the team all game long. One of the most clearly unnerved was last year’s consensus player of the year, Stephen Darby.

He is being asked to play a new role this season, with a much greater emphasis on him to provide width going forward. City were lopsided throughout the afternoon, with left back James Meredith much more comfortable advancing on the left flank than his counterpart on the right.

Darby is clearly an excellent right back at this level, and a worthy captain; that said, how well he is suited to this new system is a question at this admittedly early point of the season. He never got into the game going forward and Yeovil left back Nathan Smith overloaded a severely-exposed Darby on numerous occasions, and should have buried a chance clean through early in the second half.

If you are going to leave any full back in this league out on an island, it’s Stephen Darby. But he is only one man. Even he cannot mark two attackers.

Exposing Darby is clearly by design in this formation, and on many days he may be able to hold down the fort on the right flank. Today he came up against a mightily impressive pairing on Yeovil’s left, and struggled without adequate support in front of him.

French central defender Christopher Routis had reviews bordering on the ‘rave’ after City’s 1-0 defeat to Oldham midweek, and you have to wonder whether Parkinson is tempted to promote his new recruit to the first team. Whilst Alan Sheehan was by no means a disaster today, he is clearly not as comfortable inside as he is on the left side of defence.

Promoting Routis would also afford Parkinson the option of advancing James Meredith into midfield. Ever since the move to a midfield diamond, the Australian’s skill set on the left hand side of the midfield pairing has intrigued. On form, Meredith has to retain a place in the team, and he would offer a steady supply of energy and width to an obviously-jaded midfield lacking both.

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Despite the rest most received in midweek, the engine room for City was clearly out of gas from the outset. Yeovil’s midfield were often untracked and the diamond were all left chasing shadows throughout the match.

After an impressive start to his career at Valley Parade, Billy Knott’s radar was off all afternoon, and although being placed at the base of midfield affords him more opportunity to dictate the tempo, he was repeatedly exposed by a dropping-off James Hayter throughout the first period as Yeovil dominated.

In front of him, Gary Liddle and Jason Kennedy never got going against a harrying Glovers’ midfield pair, and as a result of the lack of power through the middle, City fell back into their old ways, firing balls to Hanson’s neck early and often. Little joy was to be found down this path as Martin easily handled the threat of a similarly out-of-sorts Hanson.

As Phil Parkinson noted after the match, if he team are going to play this way, there is little point in having Billy Clarke out there, and he was ineffectual on the rare occasions he got near the ball.

Even when they are behind at the half, City’s second half home performances usually stir up some enthusiasm, but today’s charge was non-existent. The Alamo were on a tea break. The energy in their reserves wasn’t there to be tapped into.

Yeovil were seldom troubled, and could have had more goals if they wanted them. However clearly out of sorts City were, Yeovil must be credited. They did an expert job on the home team today.

The introduction of Aaron Mclean had little-to-no impact – to the surprise of basically no one at this point. Whereas Nahki Wells and Hanson shared an almost telepathic relationship as a front pairing, Hanson and Mclean’s understanding looks like, well, whatever the opposite of telepathy is.

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I think everyone involved will want to strike this up as ‘a bad day at the office’ and that’s probably fair. There are no catastrophes to be concocted, no mountains to be made, just a jaded team, not in form. They will be back. But for whatever reason, City were not at the races today from top to bottom, and outclassed by a clearly-superior team.

Despite that fact there will be fundamental issues to concern the manager going forward, first and foremost his number 7 and his worrying ‘paletethy’ with the team’s most important player, Hanson. The fact Mclean, easily the club’s most expensive player, is currently behind an unconvincing eighteen year old loanee forward still finding his feet in professional football in the depth chart is concerning. The fact that the battle is not even close at this point has to be a legitimate worry.

Phil Parkinson won’t be too disconcerted after today, the fact his thin squad is tired after their tough start shouldn’t be a surprise. This is part of the deal with building a shallow squad. The first eleven, when firing on all cylinders, is clearly dangerous and a real threat to everyone at this level.

But given the budgetary constraints outlined in detail by Julian Rhodes before the game, they don’t have the luxury of being strong *and* deep. They can be one or the other. Parkinson’s decision to go for strong and shallow is understandable, and almost certainly right. But with that approach, you leave yourself susceptible to the whims of injury and fitness. Today was just one of those days.

Ten points from the first six games, and progression to the League Cup Third Round is an excellent return from the beginnings of a new era. There are a lot of young players in this team that should grow throughout the year; however days like this are an inevitable by-product of this strategy, just a bad day at the office.

How many of these the team have will define their success this year as much as the heights they can grace on their day.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith, Liddle (Yeates 77), Kennedy, Knott, Clarke, Bennett (Mclean 65), Hanson

Not used: Williams, Routis, Dolan, McBurnie, Wright

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Categories: Match Reviews

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9 replies

  1. I’m sure McArdle was marking Martin (or not) when the first came in. And the second. The free-kick not long after he was just left unmarked.

    • Listening to Parkinson’s post match interview, he said that a specific player had been assigned to mark Martin on set pieces and that this player did not do his job. I (Jason) thought he meant Hanson, and the movement for the first would suggest Martin got away from Hanson and McArdle tried to cover.

      • I definitely thought McArdle was picking up Martin for the two goals. And where was Pickford ?
        I’m sure he is a promising young keeper but he makes me nervous in his dealing with crosses. I am sure that the majority of the goals we have conceded this season so far have come from corners or set piece deliveries.

        Alex – whilst I think this is an excellent article and a very good assessment of the game, I have one disagreement.
        I thought Hanson coped well with 2 very physical central defenders yesterday, constantly (and cleverly) shirt pulling and blocking off. Despite that Hanson must have got at least 5-6 excellent cushioned headers into dangerous areas in the box for players to run onto/attack during the course of the game which we couldn’t exploit.
        I am going to declare “emperors clothes” now on Aaron Mclean. I am sure he is a nice guy, but my opinion is he is not going to get any better. He tries, but he is just not good enough, and his best days are long behind him.
        We will be no better than a mid table League 1 team if we cannot find a goal scorer to replace Wells. Leitch Smith would do – he was a class above yesterday !

  2. Yeovil were superb, whilst we looked tired, and which meant that there was only ever going to be one winner, and Yeovil definitely visited with the intention of winning. Their tactics were spot-on. Without the ball, their forwards harried our back line so that we ended up launching it long, which a year ago might not have been such an issue with Wells around, but now it meant that our midfield was by-passed, and consequently we had a much reduced attacking threat. In possession, it was plain to see that they had reached the league above, with crisp passing and clever movement we were left chasing them for long periods. We need a plan B, as we did last season when our style was found out, to get our midfielders on the ball when this happens. Perhaps a specialist winger? I don’t know, but I think we will need to become more adaptable as the season progresses.

    • Yeovil must have the biggest overall back four in the league. Against sides like that you can try to play 2 big strikers and possibly a winger with physical presence (Garry Thompson?), or change the rules and play them at a different game. It would have been interesting to see Clarke playing as our most advanced player but dropping off to find space and play in runners from midfield. 4-6-0 (or 4-3-3-0) sacrifices a lot of penetration but you get great dominance in central midfield and confuse the hell out of the opposing centre-halves. It’s a good plan B against a superior side with a physically dominant defence, especially with the players we have. The only real victim would be Hanson, who would presumably have to occupy a wide berth to track a full back and run to the far post on the attack.

      Parkinson is the kind of manager who prefers to trust his players rather than chop and change systems to counter the opposition, but you there will always be games where you need to approach it differently.

      McClean should be loaned out to recoup any portion of his wages we can at this stage. We can bring him back in January if needed.

  3. Yeovil are a fit and strong side and were first to everything especially the second ball. Yeovil hardly wasted a pass and they had a crisp incisive pass & move style that city could not cope with. Yeovil ran out easy winners & the score line hardly flattered them. City’s diamond shape is fine against inferior opposition or teams that sit back however, city’s formation lacks width & that can only happen if the team play a higher line & the full backs push on. Darby looks totally lost within the system and it’s effecting his confidence. The midfield lacks pace and the build up is very slow and predictable. Without investment has parkinson taken city as far as he can? I think Jason as already pointed out that he hoped our season hasn’t already peaked with the win against Leeds. Furthermore, Bennett is struggling with the physicality of the game and I don’t see any link up play with Hanson & he looks to be off the pace of the game. That said McClean looks like a player who’s come to the end of his career and 3 goal return in 25plus games for a player with a proven track record at this level. Breaking in a 20 year old keeper for Sunderland may also prove a costly move and although Sunderland will be paying his wages an experienced older no1 is what’s required and it appears this position has been sacrificed to give parkinson more outfield options in terms if the playing budget this season. Without further investment mid table finish looks on the cards.

  4. Oh dear. The first “Has Parkinson taken City as far as he can?” comment of the season.

  5. I’d agree with Jason that Hanson was probably assigned to mark Martin at set pieces. It didn’t however excuse McArdle ducking under the ball for the second goal and the total lack of communication with Sheehan.
    I was far from McLaughlin’s biggest fan but if he had conceded so many goals from set pieces already this season then he would be being slaughtered.
    I’ve stuck up for McLean so far by saying that his effort cannot be questioned however, although I realise that he was introduced too late to influence the game yesterday, I was left asking myself what he brings to the team. He’s never in the box which is where I feel he needs to be for us. His game appears from the early stages in claret and amber, to be all about running from deep. Yesterday there were at least two occasions when I felt that he could have done more to reach Hanson’s flick ons.
    Finally, I gave to agree with the comments about Stephen Darby. This system has exposed him horribly and he has looked a shadow of last seasons player even in our early season victories.
    Swindon next week will be another massive test and it isn’t inconceivable that our home league form could read W1 L3 come next Saturday evening.

  6. Doyle (Nathan) still without a club…..

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