The Port Vale verdict: Vital components missing, which could limit Bradford City’s progress

Picture by Thomas Gadd

Picture by Thomas Gadd

Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Port Vale on Saturday saw a much-improved defensive display – compared to recent home games – but a struggle to create opportunities going forwards. WOAP pundit team members Damien Wilkinson, Gareth Walker, Mahesh Johal and Nick Beanland share their verdict on the display.

What did you make of Christopher Routis’ home debut?

Damien: I was mostly impressed. Having seen him in the MK Dons league match, I thought he again gave a fairly accomplished performance and seems to work well with Rory McArdle. He is good on the ball and not afraid to bring it out/work up the pitch which adds a nice dimension in conjunction with Rory!

The pleasing part of his game against Port Vale was that he didn’t buckle under the pressure that Tom Pope tried to exert upon him. When Pope took full advantage of the referee and essentially led Routis into the first half booking I feared the worst, but he recovered well and there was a strong sense of poetic justice when Pope was on the receiving end of the same treatment in the second half (which he seemed to take great umbrage with!)

Overall, it leaves Phil Parkinson with a difficult decision to make next week with the imminent return to duty of Andrew Davies. Leaving Alan Sheehan out of the starting line up would suggest Routis has earned the right to keep the shirt so far, but you feel he may well give way to allow Davies back into the side.

Nick: Routis looks very promising – he reminded me a little of Marco Sas with his ability to bring the ball out of defence and pass the ball with great assurance. I thought by and large he handled Pope well though; with a poorer referee (hard to imagine, but not beyond the realms of possibility), he might not have made it to half time.

We now look well covered at centre half with McArdle, Davies, Routis and Sheehan.

Gareth: This was the first time I have seen Routis, other than in friendlies, and I was very impressed. I like the way that we used him to bring the ball out of defence rather than the big boot of McArdle. He stood up well to the physical challenge that Pope brings, and he did well to keep his head when Pope conned the referee into booking him; even going as far as to cleverly get his own back in the second half.

It’s a shame that he looks certain to be dropped from the side so as to accommodate Andrew Davies’ seemingly imminent return.

Mahesh: I saw Routis make his debut at Oldham and was impressed then. I was further buoyed by his performance against Port Vale and thought it was an accomplished home debut.

I echo both the views of Damien and Gareth regarding his handling of Pope. I loved his fire and how he wasn’t overawed playing an experienced and proven striker. It will intriguing to see how things pan out for our three centre backs because for the first time (in a while) in Parkinson’s reign there are multiple options who could all start. However, I agree that Routis will probably make way for Davies.

Picture by Thomas Gadd

Picture by Thomas Gadd

What do you think was missing from City’s play against Port Vale?

Gareth: I thought that City missed James Hanson and, had he been on the pitch, I feel that we would almost certainly have won the game. Other than that, the side clearly lacks pace and width. We have nobody who can “run in behind” and, as such, we spend a lot of time playing in front of teams.

I don’t think it was any coincidence that we had our best spell when James Meredith got forward at the start of the second half. Parkinson could be seen demonstratively encouraging Meredith to “bomb on”, and this tactic forced Port Vale to restructure their formation in order to cope.

Nick: City’s performance was much like every other home game barring Coventry. We dominated possession, but so much of it is in areas where the away team are perfectly happy for us to have the ball.

Billy Knott epitomised our problems – very capable of playing the ball backwards and square, but as soon as he tries something more adventurous it rarely worked. He was culpable twice in the goal we conceded, giving the ball away very cheaply inside his own half before doing the same again on the edge of the area. Both very poor decisions.

Our play looks so laboured and slow and as long as we try to play through teams it’ll be very easy for away teams to defend against – massed bodies in the middle of the park will generally do the trick. The only space was in front of Stephen Darby, and Port Vale were very happy for this to be the case as, for all his qualities, he’s never going to beat a man and whip crosses in.

Pace and width still needed…

Damien: Overall I felt that we just lacked that spark/bit of nous to complete the comeback completely.

Whilst I appreciate much of our attacking play is built on patience, it did expose our lack of pace and we frequently became a bit laboured in the build up. Furthermore, and perhaps with the lack of a James Hanson in the box, we often looked like we were trying to walk the ball into the net, particularly in the second half. That’s not to say we didn’t have chances, but we did seem to lack that focal point.

I thought Aaron Mclean had a good game and was a little surprised to see him taken off, as he seemed to provide an option in getting behind the Port Vale defence. It was perhaps harsh to then expect Oli McBurnie to provide some sort of Hanson/McLean hybrid!

I just fear we are hanging McBurnie out to dry at the moment and unless he can somehow conjure a goal from somewhere, you can’t help thinking a loan spell for a month would massively benefit both parties.

Mahesh: Sorry to sound like a broken record, but I again agree with the guys about missing Hanson and some pace.

I thought Port Vale’s defence was there for the taking; in particular full back Carl Dickinson. I would have loved to see a Kyle Reid-type player just run at them with some pace and vigour.

Upfront we toiled but lacked any conviction. Hanson has become more than a physical target man, he’s our only genuine goal threat!

Gareth: Spot on Mahesh! Port Vale were very panicky at the back, it was just frustrating that we didn’t have the attacking armoury to take advantage.

The squad lacks a couple of players in my opinion – attacking players at that. Someone with pace obviously, and someone who can offer us a genuine goal threat – because we are far too reliant on Hanson not just for our style of play anymore but as a goalscorer now too.

I doubt that the finances are there to bring these two players in and, on the whole, Parkinson’s recruitment in the forward areas has been poor during his tenure. It’s a real shame, really, because with those couple of additions I could see us being a real force in this league.

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Categories: The Verdict

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5 replies

  1. All the coments seem a pretty fair evaluation of Saturday’s match and with the odd tweak I believe we can finish top ten , I also believe if the right player is available to PP he needs to get him in sooner rather than later , we do not seem to have many goals in the team so someone who can chip in with ten goals in the season and quick feet I believe we need sooner rather than later , I also think Bennett could go back to Derby he may be a good player in the making but we need a bit more of the finished article to aid our plight up front

  2. The comments about Knott are interesting. I agree that when he tries to make that final pass to really damage the opposition, it is not coming off for him enough. Maybe that is why he hasn’t quite made it at the higher level. But I still think he offers far more than just the square or backward ball. He doesn’t seem to hide when games are not going our way. He constantly looks for the ball, he links the play well and is very energetic. I think he has made a real contribution and been one of the key players in the transition from hoofball to football. It is not down to him that we are not converting chances and struggling upfront, which is where our shortcomings mainly lie

  3. Fair enough commenting that we need wide/pacey players – but surely that would mean changing the formation? With the diamond, you’ve got two “wide” players who have to keep coming inside to cover the space left in the middle. Employing two wingers in those positions will negate their natural game, thus leaving them either frustrated and ineffectual or caught out.

    I think we need a “number 10” type of player – a striker who likes to play just behind the target man, with pace to run at defenders once he’s got the ball. Clarke isn’t this type of player – although skilled, he doesn’t have the speed to directly run at centre backs. This type of player would then create more space for the other three in the diamond to play off him, as he’s going to be taking centre backs with him, and therefore dragging fullbacks out of position too.

    If we’re going for wingers – and don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing a winger running at a full back and pinging crosses in, then we’re going to have to change to a 4-4-2, which will get the moaners talking about formation again, plus also leave us with midfielders who can’t really play as a middle two.

  4. After seeing Mason Bennett at Crawley I thought we had a decent, strong player to mix things up a bit, but unfortunately, he has failed to deliver and i felt that he failed to offer any support to McBurnie at MK Dons.
    I look forward to seeing Lewis Clarkson asap, as the little i have seen of him, did show that he could be the player who is a little bit different in the box, fingers crossed.
    A major problem that we do have when Meredith ‘bombs’ forward is that the rest of the side are slowly moving out to support him and so he can find himself stuck waiting for the cavalry to arrive.
    A touch of luck and a fully fit squad will sort some problems, but will also test Parky’s management / loyalty to his players. A very simple move could be to play Liddle at right back as poor Darby looks lost at times when expected to get forward.

  5. Would it be a case of too much too soon by suggesting to employ all 3 centre backs? The article mentionned the dilemma with Routis when Davies come back. Would that allow mezza and darbs to ‘bomb on a bit more’ giving us that wide threat and pace needed? Routis could bring it out and have options left, right and straight on. Or as he’d say: a droit, a gauche ou allez tout droit.
    Do we already have the lego blocks and we need to learn how to adapt to suit the opposition?

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