Job done, move on

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Bradford City 1

Zoko 9

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

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Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. But to say “now we can concentrate on the cup” is so much better than the usual cliche

  2. I actually think we would be better making the semi-final than getting promotion this season. I know they’re not mutually exclusive mind. We’re proving to be a decent League One side but there are 5 much better sides than us at present. Look at the Championship and you’ve got Rotherham struggling despite the extra millions the chairman puts in. Huddersfield probably won’t get relegated but are losing £6 million a year just to be average!

    The semi-final cash boost won’t give us untold riches (£1.4/5m?) but that cash would help us to boost the squad for next season, work on the pitch and hopefully add to the background staff so the club can be run better off the pitch.

    If we come flying out of the blocks in League 1 next season we should add extra fans and be in a much stronger position to go up and compete when in the Champ.

  3. five sides much better than us this season? didn’t we do the double over the much disliked MK? didn’t we win at preston and draw at Bristol city? if not us then who? do doncaster have a better claim? or Chesterfield or fleetwood or rochdale? football league fans of long standing in in any division should know one thing….an above mid table finish one season guarantees absolutely NOTHING for the following season. leyton orient just missed out in the play offs last season so they should be certs for promotion this time right? Wrong! they’ve been battling relegation all season. when your chance fomes you grab it with both hands and hang on to it with all the strength you can muster.

    • Fair points made but they are better than us as they have far more points than us! I would say Bristol City, MK Dons, Swindon, Preston and Sheffield United are just that bit stronger than we are and the table shows that. Where we go wrong is against some of the weaker sides, where we drop stupid points.

      Obviously, we should aim for promotion this year if we can get it but I think the Champ will be a really tough league next season and unless we get new investment, I suspect we might struggle.

      • So essentially this is why we prefer the cups – we lack consistency. We can beat any team ‘on our day’, cup or league, but we make silly errors and drop points at home in the dying minutes. We have the capacity to attain promotion and it is not beyond us but we are hindered by our own limitations that are not visible in one off cup games.

      • @Martin – I don’t think you can judge teams on head to heads. In that case we’re a better team that Chelsea!

        Individual games are subject to luck. It’s the league position over a long period of time that ultimately is the best metric to use to evaluate the strength of a squad of players.

  4. Jason, i heard it on good authority that PP rates Routis highly due to his versatility. He is talented enough to ‘do a job’ wherever he is asked to lay, never complains, is a good trainer who is popular with the other players. I think we will take up the option on his contract.

  5. But that’s what the play-offs are all about…..head to heads. and as to teams being better than us. Play-off history tells us that it is only rarely that the best team in the play-offs actually wins through to promotion. Our own recent history….1996 and 2013 – just scraped into the final place but got promoted at Wembley. one thing I agree wholeheartedly…if we went up it would be a major struggle due to a lack of resources! but do we forego promotion for that reason? No, of course we don’t, otherwise we will be passing up promotion for as long as messrs Rhodes and Lawn are co-chairmen because they have no real money to put into City. and that might be for a long, long time.

    • I think that the “are we ready for the Championship?” is an important point and needs to be considered. Of course we don’t want to turn down the chance of promotion, but going up when we are not ready could be counter-productive in the long run. Just look at Yeovil Town.

      It’s all very well to be promoted, but we’d want to compete. If we can’t compete financially, we either accept a meek relegation back to League One (ie back where we are) or we gamble by spending money we don’t have, which if it goes wrong could lead to even bigger problems.

      Bearing in mind the expectation is a top 10 finish this season, I am personally very happy with how we are. If we get promoted, fantastic. If we don’t, we go again next season. Leyton Orient are cited as an example of how it can go wrong, but their financial troubles would suggest that last season’s promotion push wasn’t built on concrete foundations.

  6. Yu wouldn’t know if you could compete until you got there. I agree with Paul H; seize the opportunity with all strength. After all, is that not why some of us, many of us in fact, travel the length and breadth of the country following the promotion dream? Based on your (Width of a Post) logic, we may as well forget competing in a sporting sense and simply declare before the season starts that we are not ready to go up, therefore we are not going t compete. I think there are very few teams that can honestly say they are wholly ready for the next step up.

    • I quite like the phrase “Width of a Post logic” – might have to start using that!

      I guess I am in the pro-cup camp, although I didn’t think my view was that strong. Anyway, what the pro-league camp seem to have forgotten is the massive riches that are on offer from beating Reading. An FA Cup semi final, at Wembley, against someone massive, on TV – surely this would be a seven-figure sum of money to add to the rest?

      This kind of money could change the club, and ensure that we are on a much sounder financial footing – whatever division we are in. This can ensure we keep the squad in tact and add to it, without all the usual talk of budget deficits and having to sell star players. Sure we can make the play offs and we might win them, but what if we don’t? The club is overachieving in the league, and to keep that happening we need greater financial strength.

      All we have to do is beat Reading for a financial windfall. And while beating Reading is far from a given, it is not impossible for a team that has already this season defeated Chelsea, Sunderland, Millwall and Leeds.

      So yeah this is the priority for now, for me, and I guess for Phil Parkinson. We are in a great league position and let’s enjoy that and not take it for granted, but let’s also enjoy this FA Cup moment. It might be another 39 years until we get to do so again…

      #widthofapostlogic

  7. I don’t think that’s what he said – the issue is one of running before we can walk. LO should have been up there this year after last season, but (I think – from the outside) they invested so much last year that they had nothing to fall back on. ‘Width of a Post logic’ is just acknowledging the need for realistic planning, the question is can we realistically compete in a league where the vast majority of teams have those parachute payments and aspirations to be in the Prem again. We could attain promotion from this league but the Championship is a different beast financially.

  8. I completely understand, and am aware of, the financial leap from league 1 to the Championship and f the huge differentiation that exists between those clubs with parachute payments and those who gain promotion to that division. I suppose I am trying to express the view that we shouldn’t use the ‘are we ready’ argument to stifle ambition or aspiration. I have said before that I think there is an emerging gap of ambition between the Board and Manager/Team/Supporters, a gap I find slightly worrying.

  9. I really don’t understand this Cup versus League debate. who said the two are mutually exclusive? by beating Reading there will be a six weeks gap to the semi final. more than enough time to cement our play off place before our attention turns once again to the cup. maybe Im greedy but I just don’t see why a cup win excludes us getting into the play offs. as to not being ready, I say again that if we were to wait till we were financially secure with money to spend before we agreed we were ready for promotion then we would have a very long wait indeed.

  10. I wonder sometimes whether the bulk of our players are more so better equipped to play at a higher level and that is why we struggle at times against lesser skilful teams and tactics?

    After all, quite a few of them have already played at that level, which might explain the big performances they have put in this season.

    We look a far more youthful team this time round, and maybe the championship would suit us better with additions to those we already have?

  11. I’ve never bothered to comment before but I thought this discussion brought out a wider point about franchising the football league. After our history of administrations and financial brinkmanship, it is understandable that supporters may consider promotion a potential poisoned chalice. However, what could easily flow from that line of thinking is an American-style franchise system,whereby a club can only go up if they meet fixed criteria and wouldn’t the big boys love that? Remember how the Rodney Marshes of the football world continually reminded us that ,’Bradford City didn’t belong with the elite’?
    Indeed,in France, no matter how good the team, if a club doesn’t meet the criteria for financing,you can’ t go up from le National- a cross between the Conference and leagues 1 and 2 here- and the pro leagues 1 and 2. One can even be demoted in the first few weeks of the season if the requisite sponsorship, say from the local or regional council,doesn’t come through on time.
    If you go up via direct promotion or the play -offs given the current system, then you’re ready to face the challenge and that is what comes next.

    • The main problem with Championship finances is the speculative spending. The money is there (£2m TV cash + £2m PL ‘support’/bribe along with gate receipts etc) but being one step away from the PL megabucks means lots of clubs spend far more than their annual revenue in the hope of reaching the Holy Land. This pushes transfer fees and wage demands up so even clubs struggling down at the bottom build up significant debts. Huddersfield are losing about £6m a year just to be average!

      The new Champ debt rules have helped a little but still allow clubs to make big losses every season! I’d be stricter and say if clubs can’t break-even (or maybe cap overspend at £1m) then they get a 10-point deduction. As it stands, a little transfer ban isn’t enough to deter overspending.

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