Bradford City 1
Scunthorpe United 1
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
Categories: Match Reviews