Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Oldham has firmly put the Bantams back into the promotion hunt. Width of a Post pundits Katie Whyatt, Nick Beanland and Phil Abbott reflect on how the win was earned, the headache of Andrew Davies and City’s prospects for the two huge games coming up this week.
What proved to be the difference in defeating Oldham?
Katie: Desire. The hunger that the team played with, the vigour and energy that characterised their every move in the second half – it wasn’t always pretty, but the effort was there in droves, and that fed into the positivity in the stands.
Christopher Routis was superb and Billy Knott was magnificent when he came on, opening up the middle of the park to create space for Billy Clarke and Jon Stead to revel in. I also think the break in Portugal had something to do with this: the team looked refreshed, and you can imagine the level of mental fatigue and exhaustion that sets in after such a claustrophobic run of games.
Nick: Ultimately the painful memory of last week’s late collapse meant the players were ultra motivated not to let it happen again. I thought we looked a little wobbly in the opening ten minutes with Oldham’s neat passing opening us up at times, but after that we gradually got a foothold in the game and were then on top in the 15 minutes leading up to half time.
The second half saw a vintage Phil Parkinson-inspired performance as, without playing particularly well, we overpowered the Latics with relentless energy, pressing and occasional flashes of quality on the ball from Clarke, Routis, Jon Stead and Knott.
The real difference was that we got our technical players on the ball more than Oldham did and we looked far more powerful than they did. The question is can we reproduce this now we’re back on the treadmill of two games a week?
Phil: Whilst I think we deserved the victory overall, there was very little between two teams who spent most of the game going through the motions. The fact we put away two of the good chances we generated was telling in the end, but 70 minutes in, the dour stalemate was a clear indication of two well matched teams, neither of whom looked particularly likely to challenge in a play off situation.
Harsh as that might sound, quality was lacking too often and despite a week of low-intensity holiday training, City looked disjointed and too reliant on the aerial ball once again.
The introduction of the late substitutes proved pivotal, just like last week! However, this time round, their contributions were positive. Billy Knott in particular got the game by the scruff of the neck.
Billy Clarke now joins Jon Stead and James Hanson in double figures, showing the goals are being spread around. Do you think City are scoring enough goals this season?
Nick: Not particularly – the forwards are each contributing goals pretty much in line with their career averages, but the midfield and defence are a little light in this department.
The diamond system offers fewer opportunities for three of the midfielders to get beyond our forwards but I think Mark Yeates and, to a lesser extent, Billy Knott, should be contributing more goals.
Phil: I don’t think we have been prolific in front of goal and this ultimately has cost us quite a haul of points. This has been particularly so when we’ve wasted glorious opportunities to put teams to bed. I am surprised that Clarke has scored so many – we were told on his arrival that his goal tally would be offset by the number of assists and creative performances he put in, and to some extent this is true.
Katie: Just about, generally. I was talking to someone on Friday and they were worried we don’t have an out-and-out goalscorer in the Nahki Wells mould.
While I’m not overly concerned about this and think it’s probably preferable to have everyone contributing, so that you’re not reliant on the form of one or two players, my problem is that we don’t always seem clinical enough in front of goal. We created so many chances on Saturday where players were clean through, but we just didn’t take them – we could have had three or four before Billy Clarke broke the deadlock.
This feels hugely negative in view of the final score and strong second half performance, but if Clarke hadn’t netted, we’d be looking at the game through a different lens and rueing those missed chances. I think it’s been a recurring issue at times this season, particularly at the end of games – take Fleetwood last week, when François Zoko missed that glorious chance.
That said, I think Stead, Hanson and Clarke are magnificent on their day (Saturday = exhibit A) and the goals have only really been issues when the games have been tight. I love watching them, and it’s never going to be easy to put away chances when the pitch is in that condition.
Is Andrew Davies’ Valley Parade future in doubt?
Phil: As soon as he went down injured, smashing the floor in frustration, my immediate thought was, “Not again!”
The stats with him in the team are hugely more impressive than when he is missing, but his absences through both injury and suspension are costly. I don’t think Parkinson will want to let him go, nor do I think Davies himself will be looking for a move, but there may well be plenty of bartering to do if he isn’t to compromise the wage bill next season.
At this stage, I think I would keep him, given there is a promise of increased investment in the playing budget next season. We aren’t a big enough club for expensive commodities, and he is danger of becoming just that.
Katie: It’s such a tough call. You can see a big decision being made, what with his contract on the brink of expiry, but it’s horrible to think of him a) leaving us and b) on a free. Maybe the cup run money will allow us to renew his contract, but for someone that’s going to be playing just over half of our games every season, he might not be viable.
Davies’ significance is defined as much by his own ability as City’s ability to cope in his absence – that was a near-impossibility previously, and the stats, though riddled with limitations and caveats, reflect that: in the 2013/14 season, the team won just once during the 21 games he was absent, but won 13 times when he was there. The replacement that year was Bates, who wasn’t up to the challenge, but it seems to be a different story this season.
Davies is such a huge player for us, and it would be unfair to let him go when you look at how much the club are paying Aaron Mclean to, um, manage Peterborough.
I think it will depend on whether we can recruit the right kind of centre half on a cheap enough fee – we can’t fill in with full backs or holding midfielders, and Alan Sheehan demonstrated the pitfalls of moving players slightly out of position. If you got Gary MacKenzie permanently, however, or someone in his vein, I think it would be a different debate, although it’s also worth noting MacKenzie’s injury history is probably slightly worse than Davies’.
The point I’m attempting to make was that the club have found a – presumably cheaper – player that can perform Davies’ role ably. We have a relatively sound replacement, unlike previous years, and that’s hugely important, but I still think I’d be tempted to go for Davies – who we know, who is loyal and who really cares about this club – than someone we’ve just seen a handful of times, regardless of wages.
Nick: Definitely – so far we’ve accepted that he’s worth his salary even though we know he’ll miss about 40% of each season.
Parkinson has a big call to make in the summer. With the bigger budget to play with I’d be inclined to gamble on him, but would understand the logic in not doing so. Each passing year increases the chance that he will miss more games so at some point we’ll have to cut the cord.
How big are the two games coming up for City this week?
Katie: Huge. City leap-frogged Oldham at the weekend, and we’ll push Chesterfield and Doncaster back if we win these next two matches. This run is really favourable to us in terms of closing the gap, as we’re playing the teams that are right up there with us – you can see huge numbers of clubs dropping out of the chase, because just about all the promotion contenders are playing each other at some point, right across the division.
The race for sixth has been wide open this season and it’s so, so tight – everyone, from sixth to fourteenth, is still in the promotion hunt, and it’s been like that since the beginning.
The next few weeks are massive for every League One team – now, I think, will we see teams dropping away, and the number of challengers fall to maybe four or five, rather than nine.
Nick: Very. I’m thrilled we’re still in the play off hunt and three points as a minimum this week will keep us well in touch. The bigger the games get the better this team tends to play so I am hopeful.
Parkinson is as wise as ever to focus on the process of tackling each game in turn rather than talking about the longer term goal of making the top six.
Phil: These two games will shape the rest of the season. With everyone else seemingly playing each other too, we could find ourselves in the play offs with a two or three-point buffer by Easter.
That would be a magnificent position to find ourselves in. However, and perhaps with a greater sense of realism, I think this is going to be difficult to achieve. Whilst I hope I am wrong, I just don’t think we are ultimately good enough to secure and maintain a top six spot from here. We are too inconsistent at home and becoming too reliant on the long-ball again, remaining brittle to pressure with a busy backlog of games.
Prove me wrong City! Prove me wrong.
Categories: The Verdict