Sticking by your principles

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Bradford City 1

Thompson (OG) 10

Swindon Town 2

Obika 23+43

Saturday 13 September, 2014

By Jason McKeown

That bright future is in danger of looking like a false dawn. Three consecutive home league defeats have all but extinguished Valley Parade’s buoyant early season mood, paving the way for darker thoughts of a difficult winter ahead. Expectations are lowering fast.

This was a big improvement on Yeovil – frankly, it couldn’t have been any worse – yet there were too many similarities to dismiss the Glovers’ defeat as a one-off. Once more, dreadful defending on set pieces was Bradford City’s undoing, as Swindon profited from hesitancy and uncertainty to overturn an early home lead. The game was won – and lost – by the 20-minute spell that preceded the half time break.

City didn’t react well to the set back of conceding Jon Obika’s equaliser, and looked on the ropes when Swindon’s debut signing was farcically left unmarked to slam home a second. Had the first half continued another few minutes, the rattled Bantams would probably have endured further collateral damage. It was grim watching.

The inquest into the two goals conceded will be long and brutal. In both occurrences, good initial Bantams’ defending was not followed up after the ball had been cleared for a corner. Billy Knott must have felt extra frustrated to see his last-ditch block, when City were leading, count for nothing when seconds later Obika – who signed from Tottenham on deadline day – was left unmarked to bundle home the resultant set-piece. Obika’s header took a deflection that deceived Jordan Pickford. There were post-match criticisms aired at the on-loan keeper, although it is difficult to ascertain what, exactly, he was supposed to have done wrong.

Pickford was certainly blameless when three of his team-mates fell over in the area, allowing Obika to profit and score what proved to be the winner. It was another corner badly dealt with; this time following the successful defending of a Swindon free kick, after Mark Yeates was harshly penalised for a 50-50 challenge in front of the Midland Road stand.

Both goals – and the three gifted to Yeovil last time out – were a brutal reminder of one of last season’s toughest lessons: that at this level, City simply cannot get by without Andrew Davies. Like Pickford, Rory McArdle unfairly emerged as a post-match scapegoat when he was in reality the pick of the back four. The Northern Ireland international had a mixed afternoon for sure, but this still bettered troublingly poor displays from Stephen Darby, Alan Sheehan and an especially out-of-sorts James Meredith.

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It had initially looked so promising for City. They began the match in the confident, vibrant manner that had characterised their August endeavours. By the 10th minute they were a goal to the good and had already missed an earlier penalty. Sheehan’s spot kick was weak and easily read by the hugely impressive Wes Foderingham – although there was a question over whether the Swindon keeper should have remained on the pitch to save it.

Foderingham was the last man when he hauled down Billy Clarke, who had latched onto a blindside backpass, inside the area, just two minutes in. Referee Richard Clark pointed to the spot but kept his cards in his pocket; with Foderingham probably spared from dismissal by the angle that Clarke was running at when tripped, and the fact it was so early in the game.

It was all academic after Jason Kennedy was on hand to pressurise Louis Thompson into bundling Yeates’ superb low cross into his own net. City were passing the ball around well and continued to push forward in pursuit of a second goal, and the spirit looked good when Swindon threatened at the other end. Witness an excellent save from Pickford that saw team-mates rush over to congratulate the youngster.

Swindon’s equaliser punctured the mood and broke the home side’s spirit far too easily. The confidence evaporated, the self-belief drained. The visitors – who looked so sloppy early doors – improved greatly and took their opportunities clinically. At half time, boos rang out from three sides of Valley Parade and – for the second Saturday in a row – a 2-1 deficit looked a considerable challenge to overcome.

City made a better fist of it this time, gradually clawing their way back into the game during the opening minutes of the second half, and then beginning to dominate. Phil Parkinson’s decision to replace Meredith with the wide threat of Filipe Morais was decisive on the pattern of the game. Gary Liddle moved to centre back and Sheehan back to his natural left back slot. Finally, the home side brought some width to their attacks. The pressure on Swindon grew.

At which point, the Robins retreated from a progressive, counter-attacking side that were pleasing on the eye, into one that readily embraced the dark arts of football. They time-wasted at every available opportunity; their players going down at the slightest contact, causing the match to be stopped for long periods. Special mentions go to Thompson and Brazilian Raffa Branco, who are both quite simply an embarrassment to their profession.

Referee Clark had an erratic game, which played right into the hands of Swindon. He showed no inclination to address their time-wasting, and was inconsistent in what he deemed to be free kicks. Swindon deserved to win this match, and at times looked like a top six-side, but their antics in the final 20 minutes left a very sour taste. At full time, Mark Cooper should certainly have shown more humility in the way he celebrated, given the way he had instructed his team to get over the line.

When Swindon players weren’t lying on the ground, City forced several corners and two brilliant saves from Foderingham. First, Sheehan’s free kick required Foderingham to tip the ball past the post. Then deep into six minutes of stoppage time, Darby was left unmarked in the box and his header was magnificently tipped over, when it seemed destined to loop into the top corner.

It was all in vain, however, and a minute later Sheehan lost his head in the face of more Swindon time-wasting, raising his arms at Branco and earning a red card. That said, the way that Branco fell to the floor after Sheehan’s fairly minimal contact was disgraceful.

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Where this defeat leaves City is now the big question. They played well during periods of the match, but let themselves down badly during that 20-minute spell. Nevertheless, there are positives to take and the extreme mood of doom and gloom should be avoided. City are nowhere near as bad as these back-to-back home losses might suggest.

The clichéd talk will be of a need for a Plan B (Morais probably was Plan B, but as it didn’t overturn the result it may be overlooked). Everyone knows that the addition of a couple of wide players would be welcomed, but the likelihood of bringing in sufficient quality may have disappeared when Tom Cleverley’s proposed transfer from Manchester United to Aston Villa merely became a loan move. The finances largely dictate that Parkinson must largely go with what he has. That is the reality that people need to accept.

And for Parkinson, that means getting the diamond sparkling again. Since his stunning performance against Leeds, Knott has been assigned the deeper role within the midfield to limited success. He was City’s best player today and certainly fares well in taking the ball from the two centre backs – who then split apart to take full back spots, whilst the full backs themselves temporarily move forwards and become wingers.

Knott is the heart of the team and terrific at setting up attacks. However, he is less suited to winning back the ball when the opposition are coming forwards, and the shunting of Liddle to a wide diamond position has completely neutered the former Notts County man’s influence.

Equally, Billy Clarke is not as effective playing up front compared to his favoured position behind the front two. He partnered James Hanson to limited effect, and always looks more comfortable taking up deeper positions and trying to make things happen. Yeates also didn’t suit the tip of the diamond, as he clearly prefers to drift out wide. It was a typically mixed display from Yeates, although for now he deserves to remain in Parkinson’s thinking.

Playing Liddle, Yeates and Clarke (and arguably Knott) in positions they are less suited to appeared to have a negative impact on the team’s balance – but Parkinson wouldn’t have been forced into doing so if his highly paid striker was in any kind of form. The manager has issued a public kick-up-the-backside to Aaron Mclean – who came on as sub and toiled hard – and so much depends on him rediscovering his goal touch. James Hanson, who was superb all afternoon, needs a strike partner and Clarke does not look the answer.

The England coach, Gary Neville, stated in his national newspaper column that the diamond is “one of the most complex formations to get right”. At Valley Parade we are not yet approaching the crossroads for sticking with or ditching the diamond, but it clearly needs to be tweaked quickly to become more effective.

And perhaps – on a difficult and disappointing day – sticking by this approach was the biggest plus to take home. Unlike against Yeovil, where the players resorted to a default setting of launching the ball long to Hanson, the players kept to the passing principles of the diamond in their pursuit of an equaliser. Forget Plan B for the moment, because there is no point in the Plan A if we cannot trust in it during times of adversity and when chasing a game.

This is the route the club has gone down, of playing a more passing and attractive style of football – and it was a route that was demanded by supporters. It cannot be undone now, and it shouldn’t be undone now. The answers to the problems lie within the building, and it is down to Parkinson to find the right combinations to turn around what worryingly looks like the beginnings of a slump.

Turn it around he must do quickly. The season cannot hinge on waiting for Davies to come back. History shows that he will break down again and again. There is enough quality within the camp to achieve better results than this, and this second half fightback against suggests we are not that far away.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Meredith (Morais 65), Knott, Liddle, Kennedy (Bennett 83), Yeates (Mclean 75), Hanson, Clarke

Not used: Williams, Routis, Wright, McBurnie

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Categories: Match Reviews

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16 replies

  1. My observations (asides to the more important, better articulated stuff Jason has said above – and not intended to excuse or distract from them)…

    Mark Yeates appears to thing he exists in a different time-stream where everything happens slower and you can take ages to things before people do things like tackle you as make liesurely forays into the oppostition half.

    What was up with passing yesterday? Loads of really promising moves broke down beacause of short passes.

    What was the deal with the dissallowed goal? Not seen the replays but the lines(wo)man flagged for offside but the cross looked to have come from pretty much the goal line.

    On the topic on linos, why do refs give so many free-kicks for things that have happen right in front of the assistants that they havn’t flagged for?

    Also, Rory maybe needs longer studs.

    • I don’t think the goal was disallowed for offside but because the ball crossed the line on the way over before coming back into play.

      We have been crying out for more height defending set plays. Why keep playing Sheehan out of position and leaving Routis on the bench. The guy must wonder how bad we have to get before he gets a league game.

  2. Worrying times, our build up is slow and ponderous and we have no strikers who can complement Hanson. McLean is a woeful signing and I hope it doesn’t cost Parky dearly as McGinley cost Kamara. As Steve said why play Sheehan out of position when Routis apparently did well at Oldham. Just wish we still had Gary Jones to rally the troops when things go wrong.

  3. The loss of Davies is clearly (and obviously) having a major impact on the side. This, for me, is my biggest criticism of Parkinson.

    We know that Davies will miss large chunks of the season because we have seen it season after season and we know that when that happens the rest of the defence (and the team) struggles and we pick up very few points. Yet we haven’t successfully addressed this problem, and it’s a problem which makes us uncompetitive for about 1/3 of the season..

    I know that someone of Davies’ quality would be playing higher up the league if he wasn’t so injury prone but we have to have a decent solution for when he is not playing. Otherwise if we write off the 1/3 of every season then we will always be in trouble.

    Some signings will be good, some will be bad – that’s just the nature of being a football manager. Failing to address a glaring strategic issue with the team – that’s not good enough.

  4. So much negativity. A couple of weeks ago we won well at Rochdale, following up the victory over Leeds. We subsequently have been beaten by two decent teams, and I thought we played OK yesterday, with their keeper making several excellent saves. We are probably a bit lightweight in the squad, particularly with Davies, Dolan (and now) Sheehan missing. But overall, apart from the Yeovil game we have played quite well – support the team and leave selection and formations to PP. We have endured so much heartbreak prior to the last couple of seasons, don’t give the last two dissapointing results too much significance.

  5. How sad that our whole season seems to revolve around the fitness (or lack of) of Andrew Davies. If he plays, all is fine – If he is injured , doom and gloom. Football these days is supposed to be a squad game, players who play and players who don’t but are capable of stepping in if needed.

    So if Davies is injured, why not play Routis, and if the guy is not up to it, then why did we sign him ?? And why not recall Niall Heaton from his loan ?? If we need a centre half to dominate aerially, move James Hanson back there, who I am sure would perform equally as well as Sheehan who is NOT a centre half, but who is a very good left back. It’s horses for courses. Team selection at times mystifies me.

  6. I think that you have summed it up perfectly Jason. The supporters demanded a more creative midfield and with it has come a loss of physique in the team. There is no Thompson, Jones and Doyle to supplement the defence and Hanson at set pieces. There was no great outcry (including myself) when these players left. The manager does need to address the issue of cover for Davies and Routis will be given a chance. Hindsight is wonderful and perhaps Parky is regretting some signings but who can honestly say that they have not done something they later wished they hadn’t . Finally it is still early days and there is time to address these issues.Keep up the good work.

  7. Another great article Jason. Just a couple of things to add.

    Steve is right, Sheehans corner went out and back into play hence the flag. What you don’t realise nowadays as fans is that the communication system the officials have, they are already communicating verbally so the ref appears to be making all the decisions. It doesn’t help us fans but is supposedly there to help the 3 officials sell decisions – unfortunately it gives the impression that the assistants are not giving anything.

    Meredith was very poor yesterday and it was disappointing that he wasn’t removed earlier. Sheehan actually punched Branco in the midriff – but not so violently in the way Branco was rolling about who should have been yellowed again for his overreaction.

    • Looking back on TV, it is interesting to note that after Sheehan’s penalty miss, Thompson races over and barges into him and a scuffle ensues. It is as though Swindon were trying to deliberately wind up Sheehan, and perhaps his actions in the final minutes of the game were a culmination of an afternoon where he felt more and more frustrated by events.

  8. In terms of the debate on Davies, it is nothing new that we are having to deal with the fact that he is out injured for a period, and the only certainty we have is that it will happen again in the near future. We all know this is why Davies is playing for us and not higher up the leagues.

    It is a week shy of three years since Davies made his debut for City and the pattern of his unavailability for periods has been repeated again and again. Yet over those three years, Bradford City have climbed 30 places up the Football League ladder and reached the League Cup Final. So as much as it can be a short-term hindrance to lose him for spells, the bigger picture is that we have been able to move forwards significantly thanks in part to him.

    I think that it is all about trade offs and Parkinson clearly feels it is the right one (for now at least). A top quality centre half who is surely amongst the best in the division, playing below his natural level. But we base our back four around him whilst accepting that he is liable to break down injured again and again.

    It’s not perfect but it has worked, and with Davies out of contract at the end of the season, what we are looking for over the coming months is for it to continue working.

  9. Not much to add on the above apart from a quick note on Gary Liddle. From what I’ve seen he can play but sticking him out on the left is like England doing the same with Gerrard, he can do the job but in no way do we get the best out of him and by cutting inside and coming back he slows the play down. I hope Parky can find a way to get the best out of him.

  10. We need a couple more characters, leaders to help spur on the team. We miss the Jones type that provides the glue which bonds them together and will pull them back from defeat. Maybe it’s still early days and someone like Liddle might provide that role…

    The new formation works well when we’re on the front foot, we need to take the ball to the opposition and that’s perhaps where a little injection of pace is needed in that final third. I also worry that teams can just run at us and straight through us – that needs to stop and soon.

    On the mention of McLean, I think he has good ability and with the right service goals will come. At the same time I think it’s wrong to suggest he is PP’s man, I think the decision to bring him in was made higher up. I hope it works out with Aaron for PP’s sake.

  11. In the last 2 games we have conceeded from corners and set pieces …we even conceeded 2 against Coventry when Davies was playing !!! . At Oldham in the JPT the paring of Mc Ardle and Routis looked solid . Routis looked to me a cultured centre back and Oldham didnt look like scoring all night till Hanson gave the ball away in our own half when the line was moving upfield.
    I dont understand why Parkinson didnt play him either against Yeovil or Swindon….Swindon for all their ability only had 3 shots on target and scored 2 soft goals….at least Routis is a natural centre back whereas Sheehan is a natural left back and is far more effective there. Why bring in a centre back on a yrs contract and sit him on the bench and play Sheehan and Liddle as centre back. ??
    With Sheehan banned for 3 games will he now give Routis a chance ..or will he play Liddle at centre back ??

  12. Jason,

    We all know how you feel about Hanson because of the praise you keep heaping on him at every opportunity. But to say “he was superb all afternoon” is surely way over the top? Average at best would be nearer the mark. You rightly say that Knott was City’s best player on the day so what superlative could you use to top superb?

    • Mick – I say this as a fan of Billy Clarke – I don’t think that Clarke is the right partner for Hanson at all. His strengths lie in playing deeper and 99% of his best work takes place outside the area. From what I have seen this season, Clarke should be first choice for the tip of the diamond. The problem with playing him up front in a two was that he was not close enough to Hanson, who was left isolated. I thought Hanson won everything in the air, and linked up well with people on the ground. But the problem is that he is playing with his back to goal as there was no one near him to link up with, and as such he did not get in good attacking positions. I can’t remember Hanson having an opportunity at goal.

      Perhaps we might evolve to a side that plays 4-5-1 with Hanson the lead man, and players running up to support him. If that is the case, different things will be expected of Hanson. But for me, he did very well on Saturday and put in a shift for his team. He needs a proper strike partner.

      As an aside, I thought Hanson was below-par against Yeovil (but as I didn’t cover that game I have not had the opportunity to write about it). And he made the mistake at Oldham which I was critical of him for. But overall, no apologies for singing Hanson’s praises consistently. There are enough people out there who jump on his back.

  13. It seems to have been forgotten that Sheehan played as CB against Leeds and Rochdale and played very well. He was found wanting against Yeovil’s more physical forward line and was poor again on Saturday, but he does offer balance given he is left-sided.

    As for Routis, he did look impressive against Oldham but it was more in reading opposition forward play, bringing the ball out of defence and his distribution. These are all qualities that Sheehan has too. What I think Routis lacked at Boundary Park was physical presence, and I’m not sure that he would have fared any better against Yeovil than Sheehan. Swindon were less physical so maybe so. I think we have to give Routis time to develop and understand the English game. He has a lot of promise but I’m not sure if he is ready for League One football.

    That said, he will surely get his chance over these next three games so let’s see. But I don’t personally have a problem playing Sheehan as CB in certain games. He was arguably MOM against Rochdale.

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