Bradford City 1
Crawley Town 0
Tuesday 3 March, 2015
By Jason McKeown
The heated debate about league versus FA Cup has intensified over the past few days, but Phil Parkinson firmly planted his flag here.
Four days before the FA Cup quarter final against Reading, the City manager made seven changes in a demonstration of his priorities. It worked, but it didn’t work brilliantly. The gamble paid off, but only just. City were one late mistake away from a heap of criticism heading Parkinson’s way. The joy of victory was muted by relief.
Making wholesome changes rarely works as well as it seems it would do on paper. Players given a rare opportunity do not always impress. Tonight was certainly the case, as a disjointed City side produced individual performances ranging from 5 to 7 out of 10. Whatever was in Parkinson’s team selection thoughts for Saturday, he is unlikely to change his plans based on this.
It was a good night for some at least. Francois Zoko made the most of his belated full debut to strike an early goal that would prove the winner. His header found the net largely due to some woeful Crawley goalkeeping.
Zoko’s shoulders became broader following his moment of glory, and he led the line reasonably well. The on-loan Blackpool man is powerful and pacy, which had defenders on the back foot. He needs to develop a greater awareness of team mates and tactics, and his partnership with the returning James Hanson was non-existent; but still this was a welcome step in the right direction.
Matty Dolan also gave a timely reminder of what he can offer the club. Playing at the base of the diamond, the young midfielder was industrious and regularly won back possession. Dolan is no Gary Liddle but has pushed himself above Jason Kennedy in the pecking order. With games coming fix and fast, he will make more appearances.
Dolan’s inclusion saw Christopher Routis only found room on the right side of the diamond – his fourth different position of the season. Finding a role for the Frenchman is a challenge that has so far eluded Parkinson. He was not suited to a wide position but let no one down; he is evidently a talented footballer that is in need of some direction. At the moment, you fear for his future during the summer.
Mark Yeates and Andy Halliday were also offered opportunities having been largely on the fringes of late – Halliday was arguably man of the match tonight – and both are useful players to have around. They enjoyed plenty of possession and created decent openings for others. Gary MacKenzie was brought back into the back four and looks like a player enjoying himself.
For 35 minutes, City were streets ahead of Crawley. The decision to rest key players looked to be verified, and the Bantams were only limited by their own ambition. They got forward often but lacked tempo and urgency. Crawley’s defence was panic-striken, but City let them off the hook and they eventually regrouped.
In the final 10 minutes of the half, the visitors – backed by a mere 33 supporters – threatened with intent. They carried that purpose into the second half, which proved much more even. City looked stuck in a low gear and the game drifted from them. Crawley caused some anxiety in the closing stages but they lacked the quality to make it count. They are a poor side that will surely be playing League Two football next season.
It was dreary stuff, and in truth you couldn’t help but clock watch and wish the evening away. Get the three points, strengthen the play off push and move on. And at the end of the season, no one will remember this game even happened.
Which is why the league vs FA Cup is so polarising. Of course nights like these are important, and the prize of promotion to the Championship is one we’d take over, say, an FA Cup semi final appearance against Manchester United. At least if our head was allowed to rule the heart.
But yet the cup has the glamour, it has the sense of one-off occasion. The league is a marathon of good, bad and indifferent games that collectively mean a great deal but on an individual basis rarely provide the same excitement or memories as the big cup games. What would be your favourite league match this season? Does it compare to Chelsea? To Sunderland? Or even to Millwall?
So yes the league matters, but the cup has given City so much this season – not least confidence and momentum to turn around a flagging league campaign – and the considerable riches on offer from beating Reading far outweighed three points tonight. Whatever happens on Saturday, it will go down in history in a way that even promotion at Wembley possibly wouldn’t.
Parkinson gambled on prioritising Saturday, and can be extra happy that doing so hasn’t compromised City’s league position. And by winning tonight, everyone can now look forward to the Reading game with extra glee and excitement.
City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, MacKenzie, Meredith, Routis (Sheehan 69), Dolan (Knott 77), Halliday, Yeates, Hanson, Zoko (Stead 68)
Not used: Williams, Kennedy, Burke, Clarke
Categories: Match Reviews