Another painful lesson as Scunthorpe United halt Bradford City’s progress

scunthorpe united home

Bradford City 1

McArdle 32

Scunthorpe United 1

Adelakun 90

Saturday 20 December, 2014

By Jason McKeown (image by Charles Wallace)

Everyone can see what the problem is, but how you fix it clearly isn’t going to prove so simple. Bradford City are having few difficulties establishing a lead in matches, but there’s a lack of know-how, composure and assurance in holding onto a winning position. Some weeks they get away with it, but in others, such as afternoons like this, they are punished. Until they learn how to see games out, they will remain on the wrong side of the play off line.

The margins have remained wafer thin all season. Only six of the Bantams 21 league matches have been settled by more than one goal; with just half of that half-dozen going the way of claret and amber. City have opened the scoring in 12 league games, but subsequently conceded an equaliser on nine of those occasions. In three of the last four home league matches, they have gone 1-0 up and yet still failed to win.

It is self-inflicted, of course. The second half here proved a wretched affair for the home side. They were pinned back in their own half for long periods, and when in possession the ball retention was woeful. Speaking on the radio post-match, a livid Phil Parkinson was at pains to emphasise that he had not instructed his team to play so deep. The City manager was seemingly barracked by some fans in the main stand as Scunthorpe struck their late, late equaliser. He was clearly hurting and spoke with a raw honesty.

The criticisms directed at Parkinson did not end with the dissatisfied punters in the main stand, as social media offered a platform for others to air their discontent. Parkinson’s choice – and timing – of substitutions was criticised in a predictably depressing way, similar to the recent home draw with Gillingham that provided the same outcome of conceding a stoppage time equaliser. It’s hard to understand what, exactly, Parkinson is supposed to have done wrong here, other than manager substitutions must always be blamed when the team doesn’t win.

Scunthorpe United were terrific in the second half. There has not been a better 45-minute visitor performance all season. They were bettered but not bested during a first half where the confidence and swagger of the Bantams was evident, but they look transformed after the interval and Hakeeb Adelakun’s bundled equaliser was the least they deserved.

And if you were a Scunthorpe United fan, you would have been proud of your team’s spirit, determination and character. You would have heralded the way in which your players fought so hard, and how they weren’t perturbed from having two goals disallowed. And you would be unhappy at the idea that opposition failings let their team play so well, and that the second half dominance was only caused by City sitting back and looking frightened to cross the half way line.

There were two teams in this contest. And though City showed glimpses of why they are in very good form, they are not good enough as team to stop opposition sides from attacking with such purpose. We can single out individuals and we will. We can call into question the team’s lack of character and we should. But let’s also be realistic about their limitations. Because I think that ability is a bigger factor here than tactics and mindset.

Scunthorpe United were terrific from 4pm, and City could not stop them from being terrific. The pressure was unrelenting. And though the home side did everything wrong in stemming the tide, the criticism needs to be tempered by the acceptance that being under such pressure was caused by the opposition playing so well.

It would have been a different story if City were more clinical when they were on top during the 25 minutes before half time. Rory McArdle had put the Bantams in front with a stunning long range strike, after a scramble in the box was only half-cleared. It was the tenth goal of the 27-year-old’s City career and he is unlikely to ever score a better one. The Northern Ireland international was the pick of a high-performing back four and, minutes after his goal, produced a terrific sliding challenge that had the crowd roaring in approval. This is a man in great form and enjoying himself.

Either side of the goal, Jon Stead spurned good chances whilst Billy Knott and James Meredith failed to make the most of other opportunities. The crisp, quick-fire passing of recent weeks was lacking, but City still cut open the opposition through clever inside passes to willing runners Stead and Billy Clarke.

At the other end Scunthorpe’s Miguel Llera planted a Gary McSheffrey corner into the net, only to see it ruled out for a push. A moment of hesitancy by Jordan Pickford almost left Richard Brindley with a far post tap-in, but the on-loan stopper recovered well to block the low effort on goal. It wasn’t going to be his last save of the afternoon.

For early in the second half, the Scunthorpe onslaught began and never let up. Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies and James Meredith enjoyed strong games alongside McArdle, but Pickford was the star of the show. The 20-year-old produced several important saves, including a superb one-on-one block with Luke Williams. Best of all, with six minutes left on the clock, was an astonishing tip over from Paddy Madden’s powerful volley.

The more I watch of Pickford, the more I believe we are looking at a future England international. We need to enjoy him while he can, because this guy is destined to play on much bigger stages.

Scunthorpe dominated the possession, shot and corner counts. They won the majority of individual battles across the pitch, and were eventually rewarded when substitute Adelakun – on the field less than 10 minutes – struck a low angled shot. So that’s still just one home clean sheet at Valley Parade all season: and that clean sheet came against the division’s current bottom side and lowest scorers.

But these two dropped points shouldn’t be blamed on the defence – you had to go further up the pitch. Not one of City’s forward players produced strong performances. Stead and Clarke could not maintain their recent high standards. Knott was once again fearless on the ball, but he gives it away far, far too much and simply has to improve on this. Mark Yeates had his quietest game in weeks, whilst Filipe Morais got little change out of the full back he was running at.

Then there is Gary Liddle, who troublingly seemed to go missing in action. I like Liddle when he is on form, and he is clearly a very intelligent player whose best work is not always obvious. But to date, I’ve yet to see him grab a game by the scruff of the neck and truly dominate it. That might be harsh, but he was brought in to replace a player – Gary Jones – who was routinely imposing himself on matches. It will be interesting to watch Liddle go toe-to-toe with his predecessor next week.

The failings of City’s midfield in particular enabled Scunthorpe United to keep pouring forward. You wanted to see a spell of the Bantams keeping the ball between them, and slowing down the tempo of a pulsating contest. But whenever they did get hold of possession, they lost it too easily or because they were too hasty in getting the ball forwards. They created chances to finish off the game but looked hesitant in pulling the trigger. It all left the backline having to perform miracles, as time and time again the ball was heading straight back to them in the possession of a player in a green shirt.

That is the problem, and how we fix it is a curious thing. The more City keep taking the lead but losing it, the greater the mental barrier becomes – but still, it comes back to ability. The players were not good enough to resist the visitor’s storm. They need a clinical striker up front to put games to bed; they need a dominant midfielder in the centre of the park to guide the other players over the line; they need a pacy wideman who can take the ball 40 yards up the field to alleviate opposition pressure.

Such players look unlikely to rock up at Valley Parade anytime soon. And so, as a team, they need to develop a way of regularly coming out on the right side of these narrow margins.

Yet still, that’s now seven games unbeaten. 11 points from a possible 15 in the league, leaving the Bantams in eighth and a point shy of a play off position. Two rounds of the FA Cup were also negotiated during this run. This is a very good return, especially following the struggles of September and October.

The mood around Valley Parade would have been very different had Adelakun not struck so late, but it’s important that we don’t allow what negatives there are about this team to outweigh the growing list of positives.

City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais, Liddle, Knott (Halliday 76), Yeates, Clarke (Hanson 82), Stead (Zoko 90)

Not used: Williams, Sheehan, Routis, Kennedy

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Categories: Match Reviews

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17 replies

  1. “Such players look likely to rock up at Valley Parade anytime soon.”

    Is that what you meant to say?

  2. Excellent comments regarding the players on show today. I agree with all comments with a slight deviation on Stead who I thought was class, in large parts of the game.

    Today has probably crystallised my thoughts on what has gone wrong this season. In wrong I mean the dropping of needless points. It’s down to midfield and in particular central midfield. There is no minder. No strong tackler. The two in the middle are so important when the wingers are flowing, even more so when the flair players add very little, just like today. For what it’s worth I thought Knott the best of the four today. But, I can’t say I’m overly impressed with him in the whole. I hope he proves me wrong as he’s a young man with a great attitude and obvious love for the game.

    As Jason says, that leaves Liddle. Hmmm, I really don’t know what to say. At times he looks promising. At times he’s like an eager five a side player. Always within 10 yards of the ball without doing anything productive at all. He’s got the engine so get a bloody foot in!

    I honestly think, without biased, we have the best back 5 in the division. So why the lack of clean sheets- it has to come down to lack of midfield cover and strength. The defence being stretched too much.

    Whilst on the back five, they were all magnificent today. Rory and Jordan Pickford were just immense. I agree Pickford will become a very famous and complimented super star.

    Onto my little gripe. We are we so defensive. Why? PP said in an excellent post match interview that it wasn’t down to tactics. As this comes from the great man I’m prepared to accept this. But I’m compelled to ask then, why didn’t Meridith maraude and cross the half way line in the second half? It did appear tactical to me to be honest.

    Also, I really don’t agree with Jason on the subs. Jason has rightly pointed out that Scunthorpe, who were magnificent, created a storm. That was never going to be quelled by replacing two strikers with two strikers.

    I have heard a great argument tonight that PP was recently criticised and blamed for being defensive with subs at home and that cost us points. A well constructed point that shows he’s dammed if he does or doesn’t. But that was a very different game. Today needed defensive subs to ride the storm.

    Sheehan, Routis and Kennedy were unused subs who, with little thought, could have been utilised to hang on in a better fashion. If we are not attacking how are Zoko and Hanson going to help our plight? Strange changes it has to be said.

    We reman unbeaten, and to moan or have a mild grumble, seems like a crime to some at the moment. But my personality dictates that positive outlook is to miss the point. Not one player will have gone home tonight and said “At least we remain unbeaten…” It’s not the right mentality. We were 1-0 up after 93 minutes. We shouldn’t have dropped points from that position.

    Finally, a word of credit for the visitors. In the second half they were courageous and never let their heads down. They surged forward. Well done to them.

    As it’s Christmas we should have a pint of their half time tipple……

    • Three weeks ago against gillingham parky takes off Clarke and replaces him with Kennedy – he is roundly condemned for a defensive substitution which ‘cost us 2 points’.

      This week Clarke is replaced by Hanson – parky is condemned for not making a defensive substitution to close out the game.

      Not easy this management lark….unless you’re doing it from behind a keyboard..

      • Exactly too many “armchair” coaches. Lack of clean sheets is not down to lack of a midfield enforcer. Look how may goals we have conceded from set plays. Parky did bring on Halliday to stiffen up midfield. That said I am sure PP will hammer home the need for better game management. Its an obvious point which will not be missed. Onwards and upwards

  3. If Hanson is brought on to replace Clarke, at least tell him to play up front, and make their centre half’s life difficult, and maybe give him some time to make a difference – not tell him to wander around midfield under all the aerial balls flying over.
    And when we get a free kick on the edge of their box- attack it, get men up there (without leaving some back) MAKE them defend, and try and score a second – dammit, we’d just brought on Hanson and Zoko.
    I don’t mid the draw so much, more the mystifying tactics late on.
    Credit to Scunny, but how did Osborne stay on?

  4. The midfield went missing in the second half. Not sure where Knott and Liddle were but our failure to keep the ball and our retreat to the edge of our 18 yard box caused us major problems.
    As others have said though, credit must go to Scunthorpe who I thought were excellent.

  5. Scunthorpe fan- Draw is a fair result for both teams. In the 1st half you could of been out of site and that is game over for us but we kept at it. Second half that is the best we have been this season and if it wasn’t for your keeper pickford i am sure we would of scored more. Credit to your fans though, best in this league by a country mile doesn’t happen often where home fans sing all game.

  6. Also to clarify we only have one 6 figure striker in paddy madden

  7. Scunthorpe were in our faces all the they outplayed us in the second half and even deserved to win, Pickford was the difference. But come on city (true) we are in a great position I would of taken that at the start of the season it’s all to play for

  8. the article hits the nail right on the head. to close out a game at 1-0 is far and away the exception rather than the rule for City. as we approached half time another supporter further on my row turned to me. at exactly the same moment we both said “we need another goal”. and therein lies the problem. too often we carve out multiple chances but only manage to put one of them away. the opposion not surprisingly take heart from this…they’re still definitely in the game.
    the problem is….i don’t think we have the personnel to do better. I have said in previous comments that we will most likely just miss the playoffs for want of two players….a dominant midfielder (where we have a bunch of good followers but no leader) and someone up front who can be relied on to put away more than the one chance a game that is the best the current crop can manage. We have to finish teams off during our long periods of dominance which we still seem to produce in games where we nevertheless end up without a win.

  9. With the squad after budget cuts that PP has left I think we have overachieved this season to reach the 30 points mark by Christmas. Without a speedy winger and a natural finisher we will always struggle at home to break teams down. With just 3 home wins and only 14 goals at home in eleven home games it sort of proves the point. Where City have done incredibly well is the away form, which has surprised me and compares well to any side in this league. If only Cleverley would sign for Villa and we could sort out the McClean problem then hopefully PP can bring in the couple of extra players that we need as well as retain the likes of Stead and Morais.

  10. City were a little off the pace and our link up play was not as fluid as it has been. Clarke & Yeates had quiet games & Morias was not as effective on the right. I thought Scunthorpe set out very negative first half & looked a little jaded and happy to slow the game down & time waste. I thought their goal from the corner was a perfectly legitimate one and scunny looked dangerous from set plays. The second half was turned on its head and it was as if city had had a mid week game and mamouth penalty shoot out. Mcardle & Pickford were outstanding and that shows just how much pressure we were put under. That said I thought the Scunthorpe number 12 was lucky to stay in the pitch for the lunge on Liddle I think the player was, but it certainly looked a straight red. We needed that all important second goal to kill the game off and it was disappointing to conceed so deep into stoppage time given the stout defending & two outstanding saves by Pickford. I think the opposition do raise their game when playing at valley parade and we could easily have 5 more points on the board we’ve dropped at home against Doncaster, Gillingham & Scunthorpe and be sitting in a play off position. The league this season is pretty even and Parkinson is doing an excellent job and with 2 stronger quality midfielders who can protect the back four and support the strikers then Parkinson would definately have a squad capable of a top 6 finish. A very respectable position and great opportunity to move into the play offs before the Millwall game as the Xmas games look very winnable.

  11. Negative post match reaction from fans was predictable but still completely out of order. Whoever gave PP grief at the game deserves a broadside out of the Nigel Pearson school of diplomacy However on the flip side positive comments from Scunny fans on City fans as a whole which is the welcome flip side

  12. agree with all of the above. But this was my first home game this season and at one point in the 2 nd half rather than just hoof the ball into the box, the players tried to keep possession and we’re roundly criticised by a lot of supporters. The fans have to be patient when we are on the ball otherwise we lose possession and Scunthorpe attack.
    I think this is a factor in home games, in that we cannot be add patient as we are away from home.
    Also I am not one to criticise PP but morais was clearly injured in the second half and became ineffective and should have been taken off early in serving half. That was also the side Scunthorpe did the most damage.
    I can see us getting in the play is with a bit of luck this season though.

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