Leyton Orient vs Bradford City preview
@Brisbane Road on Wednesday 18 February, 2015
By Jason McKeown
Make that 11. Add Sunderland to Huddersfield Town, Sheffield United, Notts County, Watford, Wigan, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Leeds United, Millwall and Chelsea. The number of cup victories that Phil Parkinson has masterminded over higher-league opposition is astonishing. The scale of the achievements cannot be overstated. Bradford City are consistently and routinely punching well above their weight, and in doing so have transformed both their outlook and financial capability.
“Parkinson is the special one” boomed out around Valley Parade during the closing stages of the Sunderland game. It was sung loudly and proudly by the Bantams’ biggest crowd since 1960. The atmosphere all afternoon was incredible, as good as any the old ground has ever experienced. The home supporters roared their players to victory, cheering every tackle and every attack. The volume never dipped. It was relentless. A tone matched by the home team, who dominated from the first whistle to the last.
On and off the pitch, Bradford City were magnificent. The 10 previous cup shocks instigated by Parkinson ensured that we knew exactly what to expect on Sunday, but you can never grow tired or complacent in your admiration of the performances Parkinson gets from players. It is not about luck or over-powering Premiership opposition with crude physical tactics they can’t handle. Only one team played attractive passing football on Sunday, and it wasn’t the team from the top flight.
Intensity is the most obvious quality that Parkinson brings into these games. He talked post-match of ensuring the team played the underdog card, and the reality is that the club relishes being in that position. During the day-to-day humdrum of league football, City have spent a decade performing the role of big fish in small pond, and the players have not always carried that tag with comfort.
Parkinson sends a team out that is undaunted by the loftier status of their opponents. However big the gap on the league ladder, City close it up on the field. They are so focused on the task in hand. Intense. I would love to be in the City dressing room to witness just how Parkinson instills this mentality.
“Parkinson is the special one”. Or, as journalists agreed in the wake of the Chelsea victory three weeks earlier, Parkinson is a managerial genius. Everyone knows the dismal situation the club was in when he took charge at the end of August 2011, but it is still something to look back on for perspective, as the club continues to reach new heights under his watch. Bradford City’s best ever manager? It depends on whether you consider Peter O’Rourke’s top flight and FA Cup achievements of a century ago to be more impressive. Either way, Parkinson is the greatest manager of our lifetime.
When in May 2013 and City had earned promotion to League One, an out-of-contract Parkinson signed a new three-year deal that raised some eyebrows at the time. He is over halfway through that contract, and there are increasing calls for the club to talk to him about an extension now.
Certainly the board cannot allow Parkinson to go into next summer with less than a year of his deal to run. There are surely going to be offers from other clubs, and City would place themselves in a vulnerable position if they failed to fully appreciate just what a job he has done. Over to you, Lawn and Rhodes.
Parkinson deserves to enjoy every piece of praise that is currently being sent his way. His list of accomplishments just grows and grows.
Keeping City in the Football League after inheriting a squad that some claimed was the worst in the club’s history; rebuilding that team in a manner that captured the imagination of the Bradford public; guiding the club to the League Cup Final, after night after night of thrilling cup upsets; masterminding a successful late play off push, that same season; lifting the team back from a dreadful Burton play off semi final first leg to reach Wembley again; Northampton; stability in League One; developing Nahki Wells to the point the club could sell him for a relatively huge profit; beating arch rivals Leeds United for the first time in 28 years; Millwall, Chelsea and now Sunderland.
Beyond these obvious high points, what continues to impress and give confidence is the way in which Parkinson gets the club through the inevitable dips. Such as how he kept City in the Football League in 2011/12 after that calamity night against Crawley which robbed him of his three best players. Or how he didn’t give up on promotion a year later, when everyone else had written off the team. Or how he ensured that last season’s disastrous mid-season slump didn’t lead to an instant return to League One.
In fact, it is exactly a year ago tonight since City ended that awful run of one victory in 21, after a last minute Carl McHugh header earned victory over Port Vale. One year ago on this day, Parkinson’s stock had fallen and there was a loud minority of supporters arguing it was time for another manager. His three-and-a-half years in charge have often thrown up this debate, right from the early weeks in charge.
Some supporters would have sacked him in October 2011. It was rumoured the club were one game away from calling time on his tenure in April 2012. And a year ago the pressure was heaped upon his shoulders once more.
McHugh’s priceless goal against Port Vale deserves its place amongst the biggest moments of Parkinson’s reign. It turned around a season heading for a nosedive, and enabled the manager to rebuild the team during the summer from a position of strength.
And although this season’s story is yet to reach its conclusion, you can make an argument that the achievements so far in 2014/15 are on course to out-rank the history makers of 2012/13.
For Parkinson, to build one truly brilliant team is one achievement, but to reshape and create a second inspirational side – and that’s what the current lot are becoming – is even more impressive. In relative terms, this new team was constructed cheaper too. The budget cuts of last summer suggested tough times ahead, but Parkinson has managed his hand expertly.
The team is significantly improved on last season’s. The decision to break up the history makers during the close season – which at the time looked a massive call – has been completely vindicated. Questions over Parkinson’s recruitment ability, which were rightly floated a year ago, have been answered emphatically.
This time, the minority was even smaller. More people understood the background and the challenges facing the manager going into this season, and they gave Parkinson the time and patience needed during those difficult September and October days where results were poor. There were no demands for his removal, not even on notoriously impatient message boards. A few idiots on social media claiming Parkinson “had taken the club as far as he could” looked unbelievably insulting at the time, but now seem downright stupid. Everyone else remained unmoved.
Parkinson knows, and we know that he knows.
What happens over the rest of this season will be mightily interesting. Can City cause another upset in the FA Cup quarter finals? Can they remain in the play off hunt despite the fixture pile up that must be tackled? And what do we, the supporters and the board, class as a good season from here on in?
The legacy of this cup run has to be truly observed next season. Parkinson has once again helped the club make a fortune, and there should be no budget cuts in the summer. Some fans expected City to spend money in January but it was entirely correct not to do so. This season’s budget overspend accounted for, all future income should go into making sure Parkinson has an even more competitive playing budget next summer. So he can strengthen on what he is building here. Regardless of which division the club find themselves in.
We must do everything we can to support the manager in his aims. Whatever Parkinson needs, within reason give it to him. He has proved time and time again that he is capable of delivering success to Valley Parade, and we can be confident that, in good times and bad, he understands exactly what is needed to continue the wider upwards curve.
In Parkinson We Trust has been the mantra since his early days. There is not one single person connected with Bradford City who can argue anything different.