Late breakthrough rescues the Bradford City mood

Picture by Thomas Gadd (

Picture by Thomas Gadd (

Bradford City 2

Mclean 72, Liddle 74

Crewe Alexandra 0

Saturday 4 October, 2014

By Jason McKeown

Well that feels better, doesn’t it? With time beginning to run out, Aaron Mclean’s decisive breakthrough could prove to be a big, big moment for the player and for Bradford City’s season. It finally broke the gallant resistance of League One’s worst defence, and succeeded in pouring cold water over the storm of negativity that was about to become the soundtrack to the coming week.

It didn’t look clever at all, as minute by minute ticked by and Crewe Alexandra’s goal remained unbreached. As frustration and tension was growing, patience and understanding was shrinking. The possession (61% vs 39%) and corner count (14 vs 1) told its own story of City’s superiority, and yet bottom-of-the-table Alex created the second half’s two clearest chances. The post match inquest was going to be brutal.

Then Mark Yeates found space to pick out a killer low cross into the area, and Mclean got a yard on his marker to slide the ball home. Just like in their previous two games, the eventual cracking open of Crewe’s defence was almost immediately followed by the concession of a second goal. Gary Liddle – City’s man of the match – struck a wonderful curling effort from the edge of the area. Wild celebrations greeted both goals; celebrations that were heavily laced with relief.

Crewe were spirited but utterly devoid of quality. Their only defence was to play all out defence. The bus was firmly parked in front of Ben Garratt’s goal, and its wheels were clamped down for good measure. You can’t blame them for such limited ambition, and indeed their beleaguered manager, Steve Davis, will ruefully reflect upon brilliant chances spurned by former Bantams’ loanee Chris Atkinson and George Cooper, at 0-0, that if taken could have delivered a very different outcome. Jordan Pickford made two huge saves for City, and was just as big a hero as the teammates in front of him.

Crewe’s approach enabled City to dominate the game from start to finish. Phil Parkinson’s decision to drop the midfield diamond in favour of a more conventional 4-4-2 is an interesting development; one that potentially signals an end to its use for home games. Without pace in wide areas, however, it remains to be seen if this more familiar approach can succeed against better opponents. Certainly, for large periods, the formation proved ineffective at breaking through Crewe’s backline.

Filipe Morais is the nearest thing that City have to a winger, but the former Stevenage man struggled to make an impact. Mark Yeates was a better fit on the left flank and continued his resurgence with a probing display. He linked up well with Alan Sheehan – a shock starter ahead of the in-form James Meredith – although the left back failed to make the most of the greater freedom to get forward. Still, at least Sheehan supported his man. Behind Morais, Stephen Darby’s form continues to regress.

And it was the pattern of the game for long periods. Some good passing play from City saw the ball worked into promising positions, either out wide or just outside the area; but a lack of tempo and penetration in the final third saw moves eventually break down. Sometimes it was due to the absence of a killer ball, on other occasions it was through attempting one too many passes. There is a potentially attractive Bantams’ team developing, but it still lacks vital components. For all the pressure, Crewe weren’t often stretched.

Andrew Davies – who made a welcome return in the centre of defence – saw an early header saved by Garratt. After good link-up play with Billy Clarke, Yeates stuck a shot on goal that was palmed away. Rory McArdle – who had a terrific game – should have buried a rebound effort after Clarke’s shot was parried. Jason Kennedy had a couple of long range efforts comfortably blocked.

There is a particular name missing from that list of first half chances – the man who leads the line. Mclean would ultimately be a goalscoring hero and worked hard, and he did have a first half attempt cleared off the line, but his overall performance was still some way short of what we might reasonably expect. Parkinson somehow has to find a way for Mclean to have a greater influence on his team’s attacking moves. The other nine outfield players need him to be more involved.

At least on this occasion, the manager was able to find inspiration from elsewhere. Billy Knott’s introduction on the hour changed a game that was beginning to drift away from the Bantams. After his poor display against Port Vale, Knott deserved to be dropped – but he responded in the best possible way here, providing the team with an instant spark and engineering some promising moves.

There is a joy to be had from watching good footballers like Knott, Yeates, Clarke and Liddle working effectively together, and this quartet were largely responsible for the continuing knocking on the Crewe door that was eventually pushed open. Finally, Yeates crossed to Mclean to score. It was soon followed by a good run from Morais and cut back to Liddle, via Mclean, for 2-0. There was no danger of a fragile Crewe side coming back from this double blow. Job done. Game won.

Ultimately, Parkinson can take great satisfaction from the way that his players kept going, especially as they had to deal with an increasingly agitated home crowd. He should be proud of a defence that is strong and which has solid back up options. A defence that – through a variety of combinations – has kept four clean sheets from 11 league games, shipping in just 11 goals along the way. Only three League One teams have conceded less.

Parkinson will be encouraged by the quality of the midfield players at his disposal: at times they produced some fantastic football. He will also be pleased by the league table that now shows City one place and one point outside the play offs, and only three points behind second-place Swindon. A top six push was barely expected pre-season, but it increasingly looks like a reasonable target.

Yet Parkinson will surely still worry about an attack that is too thin on effective options, and the fact that – in most games – City are failing to engineer enough shots on goal. James Hanson has scored nearly a third of the 15 league goals to date and was missed badly once again. He will be back to lead the line at Oakwell next weekend, but Parkinson needs to find a partner who will contribute more.

Mclean with his pay packet has to be that man, and a well-taken goal today is clearly a step in the right direction. Just as the knives were coming his way, a decisive goal enabled the striker to ultimately depart the field to warm applause.

It was that kind of afternoon, where the outrage and anger was about to be unleashed upon all and sundry. Instead, a lid has been placed upon supporter dissent, for the moment at least – and there’s every reason to believe that City’s season is back on track.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Sheehan, Morais (Bennett 83), Kennedy (Knott 59), Liddle, Yeates, Clarke, Mclean (McBurnie 76)

Not used: Williams, Meredith, Routis, Dolan

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Categories: Match Reviews

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17 replies

  1. A classy report as ever. McLean is looking more and more like a square peg at City in my opinion, the odd goal here and there isn’t going to change the majority perception that he is a waste of his wages.
    The first half today, against a terrible Crewe side, was woeful; no cutting edged and more sideways passing than you could shake a stick at. Second half much better and I thought that the frequently derided McArdle had one of his best games, perhaps no coincidence given Davies’s return to the side. A welcome victory but one which left many questions unanswered.
    On a different note, does anyone at WOTP towers know which team City have played most in the league?

  2. Good report again! I felt the 1st hour resembled a friendly game, then the pace picked up. Very pleased to see a win at home together with a clean sheet. Nice to see McLean score and Liddle’s goal was a quality strike from a good build up.

    Was disappointed for Meredith as he didn’t really do anything wrong to get dropped and it’ll be tough for him to get back in. Another strong performance from McArdle who looked quite pleased to have Dava alongside him again. Rory is having such a good start to this season and repaying PP’s faith in him – well worth that 3 year contract!!

    One area we need to sort going forward is corners. We had 14 yesterday and should have scored more from them. Previously, Jones used to place them spot on for Hanson on penalty spot or McArdle to turn in from near post yet this season our corner takers are getting the placings no where near. Very frustrating.

    Just a note on PP – good on him for changing the formation. He does have a plan B, he always did.

  3. Disagree about Darby, i thought he was much better with Morais in front of him. Thought Kennedy was woeful & far to negative. McLean showed just what he is about if he gets the right service. Get the ball in there and he will score, thats his job surely, i don’t care what he does in the half way line he’s here to score goals end of.

    Well done PP for changing the formation which suits us more at VP. Also having the guts to drop crowd favourite Billy Knott who showed the right attitude when he came on, he didn’t sulk. A word too for Chris Routis, didn’t deserve to be dropped but apparently was superb before the game in the dressing room urging the lads on. A class act who is unlucky that if he’s fit Andrew Davies must play, he’s a leader & talisman for us.

    • Interesting views on Mclean Ian, especially as I know you weren’t the biggest fan of Nahki Wells and complained that at times he didn’t work hard enough.

      I don’t think the diamond can work as well without Mclean getting more involved with the build up play and the only way he can only be expected to stick away chances is if we go more direct. At our best this season it is when players have got close to each other and are able to produce quick-fire short passing moves. There was a lot of it yesterday, but beyond Clarke it was difficult to get the ball into the final third. For me Mclean should do a lot more and I think that he is very capable of doing so.

      Whereas I think Kennedy did a good solid job defensively, and in a 4-4-2 formation he or whoever would be expected to stay back more. I think the way that Crewe played enabled Parkinson the luxury to take off a defensive-minded player and put Knott in the centre. I would agree with Kennedy being benched next week and Liddle taking the holding role again, but I wouldn’t fault Kennedy too much.

      • Good report Jason. There are no ‘easy’ games any more, and I couldn’t fault the desire and measured approach even as the tension began to rise (in the kop at least.) Mclean has improved markedly for me in the last two home games. He just seems more positive & is putting himself about more. Thought he was a handful & deserved his goal. Hopefully he’s turned a corner now & can begin scoring more regularly.Routis in particular v.unlucky to be excluded. If he played a season at right back for Servette (correct ?) why cant he be play alongside Davies ? A tough run coming up so important to get the win. Wll done all round lads !

  4. 1. 4-4-2? I never noticed! How do you tell?
    2. Jason Kennedy seems to be the “marmite-flavour of the month” in that it doesn’t matter what he does, to some folk he’s rubbish. Often he was last man, with no choice but to pass back or sideways. And I suppose he can be blamed for hitting the goalie with his shot……….
    3. If Morais is going to wear silver boots, he should be more careful not to trip over them!

  5. Gutted for Mezza and Routis yesterday.
    McLean just isn’t doing it for us IMO. With a decent striker we would have been three up at HT yesterday.
    Still think that if we can get Hanson back we are only two players away from being a real force in this league – a goalscorer and a pacey winger. Sadly, I don’t think that the money is there.

  6. Also pleased to finally see PP use a plan B yesterday. We should be able to play a couple of different systems depending on circumstances.

  7. Thats my point Jason, i do think McLean works hard but at times he is strangely ineffective. His first touch is usually poor but most of the goals he has scored for City have come from quick ball from the wing across the box for him to finish. This debate will last forever unless the club/manager decide to either play to his strengths or cut their losses & get rid. Tim Nobles comment about JK could be laid at any player in the City side. Just about every fan seems to have a ready made scapegoat. I’ve seen Pickford, Darby , Mezza, JK, McLean, McBurnie, Yeates, Morais, Knott & Clarke all receive awful, nasty criticism & wholesome praise in the same articles & threads. Its crazy really.

    • It is a good point you make Ian but it begs the question of what exactly Mclean’s strengths are that the team should be playing towards? When we signed Mclean I fully expected him to a be shoulder-of-the-last-man type of striker who would run onto things and come alive in the box – like Nahki Wells. And if that was the case, the team as it was in January 2014 was made for him.

      Instead what we saw was a player who liked to drop behind James Hanson and to link up with other attacking players, and the problem was that City weren’t set up this way. We didn’t have attacking central midfielders. I believe that the diamond and summer recruitment drive is a strategic move towards rectifying this and that is why I find it strange that Mclean is not prospering in terms of his performances. If he was currently playing in the manner he was in January, he would be very effective right now. So what has changed? It really puzzles me.

      What is worth noting is that Mclean has not being in a City side with out-and-out wingers charging down the side of the pitch and whipping in crosses. Mclean’s debut at Sheffield United saw Kyel Reid suffer that terrible injury and City have not brought in a player like Reid since. Adam Reach was good in patches but wasn’t a quick winger in the manner of Reid, and there are certainly no options like Reid now. I wonder how Mclean would have fared last season had Reid’s own season not come to an end at Bramall Lane?

      But overall I think we are entitled to expect and demand more from Mclean than he has shown to date. I accept that his lack of pre-season does mean he is still playing catch up, and there are signs of progress both in terms of the Port Vale (where he played well) and Crewe (where he scored) games, but there is still a long way to go.

      • I assume he’d have scored even less goals because Reid would have been too busy putting the ball in the TL Dallas stand?

        McClean seems to score all his goals on instinct. Good movement in and around the box. The team of last year played counter attacking football and not enough players getting forward to support him. Whereas Nakhi could score goals on his own so they are quite different players.

        This team does seem better suited to support the strengths of McClean and also for that matter Hanson. As I said for a long time give Hanson quality delivery and he will thrive (much like the Windass/Sumerbee partnership). Unfortunately with Reid they wouldn’t receive that and for all the positives he did bring with his pace – as it allowed Nakhi more room – he would not suit the current front line.

  8. Always a pleasure to read the reports from WOAP so well done again but i wanted to highlight something which, i believe, is becoming increasingly worrying. I have watched alot of games and Bradford have always needed a natural leader on the pitch i.e McCall etc but it was noticable (certainly against Port Vale) that we just didn’t have one to direct the players.

    I have absolutely nothing against Darby (apart from his total lack of use of his left foot – Not going on but how easy it is for a defender to stop crosses if they know it’ll be right foot only!?) but when the team was obviously suffering (both as players and from the fans) nobody stood up. Yeates showed possibly too much emotion but it was there and was infectious.

    We know the formation (like it or not) just doesnt work all the time and thats football but surely we need someone (i presume Davies etc) to take control and be the pitch leaders and i’m just not sure Darby offers that kind of push when the chips are down.

    Another point is the seemingly over the top pre match warm up the players are doing. I honestly can’t believe the players are playing a 20 min intensive touch and pass game before kick off including tackles. No wonder Hanson tweaked his thigh..just a thought..!!

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