What is an underdog, anyway?

Picture by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Picture by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Oldham Athletic vs Bradford City preview

@Boundary Park on Saturday 25 October, 2014

By Alex Scott

Well, that point was unexpected. In a way. I mean, no one could realistically could have said they were expecting a point out of that game, but turning around no-hoper dead rubber nil pointers away from home is becoming something of a party trick for Phil Parkinson teams.

The resilience of the squads he has built cannot really be questioned, and Tuesday night’s draw at Ashton Gate marks the latest excellent example of this. The ‘guts’, the ‘stones’, the ‘cojones’ that each of these Parkinson teams have shown in the face of severe adversity really is impressive. The tougher the situation, the lower the expectations, seems to have led to the best performances in the Parkinson era, almost throughout. It’s bizarre.

That tomorrow’s trip to Boundary Park looks treacherous on its face almost bodes well for this team, 3/1 outsiders or not.

And have no doubts that the trip will be treacherous: Oldham have not been turned over since Preston scraped a 1-0 win on August 23. Two months and ten league games undefeated is impressive, whoever you are. Tuesday night’s 4-1 obliteration of Coventry wasn’t bad either. In Jonathan Forte, Jabo Ibehre and former Leeds man Dominic Poleon, the Latics’ front line is strong, but their defensive record has been just as impressive. 13 points from the last 15 possible home points really does show the nature of City’s test this weekend.

I have as much idea as you as to who is going to start for City tomorrow. Pick eleven from sixteen. Impressive away point or not, James Hanson will probably play if he’s fit. Thus ends the insight section of this preview.

The formation could be one of a number of options, as could the starting. The fact I have no clue as to how the team will line up probably implies Lee Johnson may have doubts too. This has to be a good thing.

And as I mentioned, these Phil Parkinson teams have proven to be at their best when the going is at its toughest. From the outset with a battling last minute draw at Morecambe back in 2011, each of Parkinson’s teams have shown their resilience, their guts, their ‘cojones’, again and again and again. Tuesday night was just the latest in the line.

In honour of this, I have convened the “Stones” Performance Committee – Can one man be a Committee? – to go all John Cusack and run rule over the past few years to definitively name the Top Five “stones” performances of the Parkinson era.

Recency bias has prevented the nomination of Tuesday night’s, but in time it may come into the mix for the five spot at least. Going away to the leaders, staring three straight defeats in the face, missing their captain as well as James Hanson, not to mention losing Andrew Davies in the first half. However, rules is rules, even if they are being made up as this paragraph is being typed, thus it must remain an honourable mention for the time being.

T5. Aston Villa 2 Bradford City 1 (22 January 2013)

Had difficulty slotting this in, so chose to make it tied fifth, because as again, rules is rules, and I’m making this up as I type. Quite obviously a “stones” performance – successfully protecting a lead away at a side three divisions higher than them after being written off by all – in that stadium, under that pressure, but looking back, the story of the game was the home side’s failings in the last half hour as much as anything else.

That said, all it takes is one flashback to that Hanson header, and I can be talked into putting it into any Top Five list, about anything. Even as an addendum.

T5. Sheffield United 2 Bradford City 2 (18 January 2014)

Also known as “The Gary Jones Game”. This is a personal choice, mostly because it was the ultimate Gary Jones performance, but also because it sums up the late-era Parkinson teams better than any other. They didn’t even play well in this game. 2-0 down at half time, Kyel Reid stretchered off, Nahki Wells already out the door, one win in 16. They were dead in the water.

But Jones refused to let them lose; he single-handedly earned them a point when things were about to spiral, scoring one and putting another on a plate. This was the beacon for the rest of the season; they were always going to be fine after this one.

4: Milton Keynes Dons 1 Bradford City 2 (16 September 2014)

This was a textbook “stones” performance for Parkinson’s men. Also it is now out of the one-month cooling off period for recency bias purposes – again, rules being created as they are typed. Two depressing home defeats on the turn and confidence waning, Hanson out in the warm up, and then bam! Two nil up in 25 minutes, with both forwards Aaron Mclean and Billy Clarke on the scoresheet.

I’m relatively optimistic as City fans go, but even I had them pretty much written off in this one. Key learning point from this entire exercise, this team’s resilience is not necessarily tied to the players themselves. Only Stephen Darby, James Meredith and Rory McArdle remained from the fabled City teams of seasons past, but the same resilience shone through as Parkinson’s men turned over the home side to the expectation of literally no one.

3: Leyton Orient 0 Bradford City 1 (29 March 2014)

This may have been more out of the blue as any on this list. I went to this after seeing City hammered at Brentford a few weeks previous, hoping only for a shot on target. Orient were flying high in third place, whilst City were mid-spiral with Hanson on the sidelines and the number on the ‘…Years Since A Win Without Hanson In The Team” sign flipped over to “2”.

Parkinson was apparently sent off at half time in the tunnel, but his team kept their heads, led characteristically by Gary Jones, as they preserved their status in League One for another year with fantastic backs to the wall effort.

2: Northampton Town 1 Bradford City 3 (14 April 2012)

Also known as the “The Nahki Wells Game”. Coming soon off the back of “The Quarrel at the Coral” – copyright pending – against Crawley, which saw three City starters suspended at the season entered its final straight, Parkinson’s men shone through in this six-pointer, refusing to be denied.

The stakes were impossible to underestimate for the future of the club. The first of Nahki Wells’ hat tricks for the club stole the headlines, but the story was really the resilience of the team as a whole, refusing to be denied, not least the makeshift defence coming through as impressively as they did. This game in many ways represents the foundation upon which the 2012/13 season was built.

1: Burton Albion 1 Bradford City 3 (5 May 2013)

This is the definitive “stones” performance of the Parkinson era, without question. With the pressure they were under, in that situation – 3-2 down after the home leg, against the team with the best home record in the division, in a play off semi-final elimination game – with an entire year’s work on the line, to put in the quality of the performance they did was really remarkable.

This was the best performance of the season, and probably of Parkinson’s tenure as manager. Gun to your head, the team that started this game versus City’s team right now? …2-0 or 4-0? This was the best City team in years, at their peak, in the most important moment in years. And they came through. That is “stones”.

Honourable Mentions:

Bristol City 2 Bradford City 2 (21 October 2014); Rotherham 0 Bradford City 0 (11 April 2014); Southend 0 Bradford City 1 (16 December 2011)

If you wish to make a representation to the Committee regarding this Top Five – *cough* six – and potential omissions then you can do so via Twitter, or below the line here. As I mentioned earlier, the Committee will reconvene in the future, and there’s a chance that Tuesday’s result will make this list. These such performances have become a hallmark of the Parkinson era.

Regardless of the individuals wearing the Bradford City colours in any given week, month, or season, there has been this running thread of raised performances in the face of adversity. At this point, the clear conclusion is that this effect is down to the manager in his motivation and in the players he brings to the club.

Tuesday night’s point at Ashton Gate was another pointed example of this. Only Rory McArdle and James Meredith remained from the teams of the last few years, but the approach and the effect were the same. This team, in spite – or maybe because of – the new faces showed that it was up to the task against a team with 16 points out of a possible 18 at home, flying high at the top.

Tomorrow’s game at Oldham sets itself up for another of these performances, with any result looking like a bonus. But irrespective of the last few home performances, would you put it past them?

As has been extensively belaboured here, the capability is there. Whether they can go again on such a quick turnaround after Tuesday night is another question.

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3 replies

  1. For me one of the games which reminds me of Parky is Wigan away league cup. Davies injured and a young Carl McHugh (still wish he was here) in centre of defense with McArdle and we kept a clean sheet against the premier league team and then won on penalties.

    A game i was at, magic

  2. Totally agree about the Wigan match with McHugh excelling. I spent the entire match just asking my friends “who is that kid with the dark hair? He’s a machine!”. A truly special atmosphere that myself and 4,999-ish other City fans will never forget

  3. Everyone remembers and talks about the Arsenal and Villa matches and quite rightly so. But the Wigan game, in the context of the serious injuries to both centre halves only days before, was probably the greatest achievement of all. Rory McArdle had been playing all his matches at full back and was suddenly thrust in to the centre of defence with an untried youngster at his side.

    Both were immense but the way Rory marshalled the defence that night had to be seen to be believed and was certainly the best I have ever seen him play. The whole team gave everything that night and I am pleased to remember that I was there. What a night!

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