The lights dim on Bradford City’s promotion ambition

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Bradford City 0

Chesterfield 1

Harrison 45

Tuesday 31 March, 2015

By Jason McKeown (image by Kieran Wilkinson)

It was a nothing ball forwards. An aimless punt. A hit and-dont-hold-out-much hope. But from such apparent Chesterfield carelessness came a season-defining moment for both teams.

The Bradford City goalkeeper, Ben Williams, could have come out to claim the directionless long ball that headed into his penalty area. Or he should at least have shouted to his defender, Gary MacKenzie, to be wary of the onrushing Byron Harrison closing him down. Harrison’s name had not appeared on the Chesterfield team sheet before kick off and he was also unseen here by the Scot. MacKenzie blindly headed the ball towards his keeper, Harrison pounced and rounded Williams for a tap in.

And at this late, late stage of the season – where the highs feel that higher, and the lows that lower – it was a huge goal. Just over an hour later, Chesterfield would walk off the pitch 1-0 victors and sitting in the top six. City meanwhile remain the wrong side of the play off line and still stuck behind traffic. This wasn’t quite a knockout blow on their promotion hopes, but a nail to the coffin nonetheless.

With time running out, there is barely any margin for error left. City still have eight games to play, and realistically have to win six if not seven of them to finish in a play off spot. It seems a mightily tall order, especially given there appears to be little left in the tank.

The spring in the step taken from the last 20 minutes against Oldham was not brought into this game. To a man, Bradford City were below par. You can single out individuals and we will get to that, but this was a collective failure. It wasn’t about freezing or allowing effort levels to dip, it was mental and physical fatigue. The positives of a few days sunshine in Portugal ran out disconcertingly quickly.

In a nothing first half, it quickly became apparent that even a point here could have been considered a good night’s work. Chesterfield were not pretty, but they did the ugly things better than City. They denied the home side the opportunity to find any rhythm and momentum. They crowded out Billy Clarke and isolated Jon Stead and James Hanson.

City were granted plenty of possession in the middle of the park, but with no space in front they too easily resorted to long balls. They badly needed a player who could beat a man and put the visitors on the back foot, but only James Meredith looked capable of taking the ball forwards with pace.

Chris Routis couldn’t hit the heights of Saturday, Gary Liddle couldn’t bring the drive. Billy Knott was the better midfielder, but he faded after a bright first 35 minutes. Chesterfield offered little going forwards, but their gameplan demanded little more than sniffing out half-chances. Cue the long aimless punt on the stroke of half time that led to City’s defensive calamity. 1-0 up at half time, Chesterfield could sit back and slow things down even more during the second half.

City kept going after the break and did improve, but attacks lacked purpose and tempo. Stead’s form has drifted of late and this was his most ineffective display for months. Hanson looks exhausted and contributed little. Clarke always offered the potential to provide a spark but it wasn’t his night.

Early in the second half, a scramble from a free kick saw Rory McArdle’s low effort on goal cleared off the line. But it was telling that the impressive Chesterfield keeper Tommy Lee was only forced into making a save deep in stoppage time, when Tony McMahon’s low effort was brilliantly saved. Top six teams need a goalkeeper who can make that sort of intervention numerous times over a campaign, and unfortunately for City there has been little evidence to suggest Ben Williams can offer that for the Bantams. Williams is number one by default but Phil Parkinson will surely be in the hunt for a better stopper during the summer.

And as City continued to huff and puff during the closing stages, the manager will also rue the fact that he simply doesn’t have a strong enough squad to cope with this heavy schedule. Mark Yeates, McMahon and Francois Zoko came on but that was all Parkinson had to call upon to change the game.

The striking aspect of 2014/15 is the similar pattern that has occurred to two years ago, where a great cup run came to an end with City in promotion contention but looking fatigued. But the big difference this time around is that the squad simply isn’t as strong, relatively speaking, as 2012/13, where Parkinson could rotate and find a late burst of form.

For all the amazing efforts of Nick Allamby, the team looks dead on its feet. There is no let up. The Portugal trip the only Time Out they could call upon. There is nothing in reserve to come in and give the team a lift. We are wholly reliant upon the players somehow finding a second wind.

It’s not over yet, but it’s not far off. Easter is going to be absolutely huge for City, and the fact they face play off rivals Doncaster and second place Preston means it could not be tougher. They have to win at least one, if not both, of these fixtures. Even a pair of draws would probably rule City out.

Parkinson’s amazing track record at Valley Parade in winning matches when it matters is now our biggest hope. Over the past four seasons, he has engineered some incredible feats and overcome some considerable obstacles. Yet with this mightily tough run-in, the high number of play off rivals to better, the thinbare City squad, and the rising fatigue levels, finishing in the top six this season would probably rank as his greatest achievement of all.

City: Williams, Darby (Zoko 83), MacKenzie (Yeates 71), Meredith, Liddle, Routis (McMahon 75), Knott, Clarke, Hanson, Stead.

Not used: Urwin, Dolan, Webb-Foster, Mottley-Henry

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Categories: Match Reviews

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20 replies

  1. Can’t agree with your comment about the subs Jason. PP has to be braver. At HT we predicted exactly which sub would come on. We were crying out for width & pace & Dylan M-H possesses both. Why put him on the bench if you are too conservative to use him. I’ll also wager Reece W-F would show more effort & goal threat than Zoko. His substitutions are far too predictable. Too many below par performances tonight. I fear the seasons efforts are catching up on a lot of the players, some tired minds & bodies out there.

  2. Good and considered report Jason, the bench shows how thin the squad is now, although some of this is self inflicted with signings that have not worked (McClean, Sheehan, Kennedy all on loan and probably never to be seen again) apparent lack of any youth players coming through (McBurnie on loan) and this year’s fringe squad players (Clarkson, Heaton) released.
    Some very unsuccessful loans (is Burke here still?) and a massive need for a good keeper (still),
    Ironically we have only two injured at this stage of the campaign and one suspended. But plenty of highlights this season, let’s rebuild with care in the summer.

  3. Fair comments. City have had a great season but have run out of steam given the high number of games and a paper thin squad. We will end the season without Davies, Pickford & 3 loanees from a club who we will be facing next term in league 1. Absolutely nothing between the two teams tonight apart from a defensive blunder which has been the story of our season. In affect the number of injury time goals and inability to see games out from winning positions will ultimately cost us a place in the play offs. Other than the top 4 teams there is little to choose between 10 /12 clubs below that. Hopefully next season parkinson can improve the squad and inject some pace down the flanks and from the midfield ares and build on a successful season for the club.

  4. Big disappointment for me tonight was PP’s reluctance to gamble with his substitutions and giving a chance to pacey winger Motley Henry.
    We have had some memorable times this season despite lacking a real goal threat ever since the departure of Nahki Wells.
    Goals win games!
    Donny here we comeđź‘Ź

  5. Given Motley-Henry and Webb-Foster have not had first team game time, it is asking a lot to have expected them to have come off the bench and impact such a season-defining game. I think to criticise Parkinson for what in effect would have been a gamble at best is unfair.

    In terms of the wide positions where City were evidently lacking during the night, Parkinson brought on Mark Yeates (who has changed many games from the bench this season) and Tony McMahon, who looked promising on Saturday when he came on to play wide right. Also, as much as Zoko has had little favourable comment on WOAP, you’d want to see the manager bringing an extra striker on in such circumstances.

    Personally it’s getting a bit boring slating the manager for his substitutions every time we don’t win. I go back to the point about the lack of strength in depth vs two seasons ago. Take Southend at home on Good Friday in 2012/13, at a similar stage to the season. City were 2-0 down, Parkinson needed to rely on his bench to earn an important 2-2 draw, here were the subs he had available:

    Duke, McHugh, Nelson, Doyle, Atkinson, Connell, Wells.

    We didn’t have that depth of options last night. These two young kids deserve a chance before the season is out, but last night was not the right circumstances for that in my view.

  6. When is the right time then to give them game time? A meaningless game at the end? You might find it boring talking about poor substitutions but his lack of belief in the youth means nothing gets solved. What must Dylan M-H think sitting there when the manager brings on a loanee full back from Blackpool to play in your position? Why should he bother busting a gut if the manager won’t try him? Just put 5 on the bench if you aren’t willing to use the youth. Ridiculous.

    • If I was Dylan M-H i’d be thinking “I’m glad that my manager has believed in me enough to give me a place on the bench and whilst I am gutted to not have got on the field I am not so arrogant to believe I am entitled to get on”. I’d be thinking I want to bust a gut even more because I am very close to the first team.

      Ian have you seen him play? Because I tell you who has seen him play – Phil Parkinson. He will know how he fares in training against first team Bradford City players and if he is ready to come into a game of this magnitude and be expected to change it.

      It’s all very well to demand a youngster comes on, but McMahon is vastly experienced, can play wide right and did well on Saturday.

      Last night was a crucial game for City, a season-definer, it was not a time to experiment with kids and if you really believed different you would be slating Parkinson for shunting McBurnie off on loan and playing Zoko.

  7. Yes i’ve seen him play Jason, i know raw pace scares defenders & yes he will make mistakes but he will excite the crowd aand lift the team if he takes players on. As regards McBurnie, you know its more a physical game in the middle & he needs to develop that side of his game. I would rather have McLean than Zoko, as we are paying his wages and he is our player.

    • So which of the three subs wouldn’t you have used ahead of them last night?

      Mark Yeates, who whilst inconsistent has turned several games and can make a big impact?

      Tony McMahon, who did well on Saturday on the right wing and had our best chance last night?

      Fran Zoko, and not put another striker up front?

      The bottom line is that PP sees how the youngsters fare in training against senior players. How they get on in practice games against Darby and Meredith for example. He will see if they are ahead of Yeates/McMahon and others. He must think they are close to put them on the bench, but i still don’t agree they should have been brought on last night given how the game went. if City were 3 or 4 goals up bring them on, but asking them to turn around such a pivotal game is unfair. Your comments on McBurnie underline that point. You don’t think he is ready, so why would it be right to throw these two into a desperate situation and have 12,000+ fans pinning their hopes on them?

      • If you really think Zoko is the answer we are in real trouble. I’ve said McLean might as well be here as we are paying his wages. Thats 1 sub. Tony McMahon did well on Saturday?? He touched the ball twice in a 5 minute cameo, Wow, you’re easily impressed. I said we lacked any pace and width so put Dylan on like i said. Thats 2 subs. You didn’t read what i said about McBurnie did you? I said its a lot more physical in the middle than on the wing. I’ll grant you Yeates if you want to accept a half hearted but very talented player who can’t be relied on to do a shift for the team.

  8. This is not a criticism of PP as I am a big fan of him. However I do feel that Bradgord City need to show a clear path to the first team for their youth prospects.

    We do not have rich billionaire owners to bankroll us and we are potentially at a glass ceiling and need to think about how realistic further improvement (e.g. Championship) is without a clear plan. Reading had a playing budget ten times ours and yet were 18th in Championship when we played them. Their squad allowed them to rest every player the game begore the replay, albeit they lost. Such is the level of resource required just to be mediocre at that level.

    Now coming back to our beloved Bfd City, we cannot support a larger squad without significant increases in gate another 5000+???, we cannot expect to get enough quality players purely through free transfers, though PP has done s great job in getting a nucleus of good professional hard working players at the club.

    To me the only way forward long term is to get more of our own kids through to at least give us a squad that has cover in every position if not to become a home-grown-nailed-on starter. Currently the message over last couple of seasons has been that loan signings are preferred in every position to playing s youth team prospect, and that may influence kids choices in long run.

    If Crewe, Milton Keyenes and other clubs can develop a balanced approach to blooding kids in first team action and allowing them to sink or swim, why should we not be able to find that balance?

    I love our players (tired and out of form as most of them are) and our manager and at the begining of the season I would have taken the season as a whole for sure, however I think more and more about that glass-ceiling….

    • And when those youth players come in and aren’t ready and results go southwards who are we going to blame – Phil Parkinson. All our best youth prospects are sold young before they move of their own accord to a bigger side.

      Look at George Green who is the supposedly the brightest prospect this club has been near and despite the millions invested in Everton’s youth program he has been sent out to League 2 Tranmere for experience because he is only deemed ready for that level. Even Ross Barkley couldn’t get in the side down the road at Leeds just a couple of years ago.

      Leeds themselves are an example of how to do it but that’s not come from being short of players and putting a couple on the bench it’s been a long term plan in the pipeline that they are now reaping the benefits from. That plan which was proposed by the current manager and has nurtured those players through the academy.

      Phil Parkinson isn’t going to risk his job by blooding youngsters who are not ready thinking they could be good in a couple of years when with fickle football fans of today he could be gone in May!

      It takes patience and years of complete overhaul for something like this to pay off and our fans attitude being disappointed with the steady progress exactly proves why PP is not going to concern himself with blooding youngsters for the future.

      As a side note – yes he never planned on using those two last night, however if he had only named 5 subs as had been suggested we would be equally criticised for not naming a full bench and giving youngsters the matchday experience!

      • Hi Luke, I hear what you are saying and I just want to make it clear that I am very pro-manager. Very pro-the players and very pro-sensible chairmen. I am jjust very interested in the future vision…..of how Bfd City sees itself progressing.

        I merely want to see kids getting action at various points of the season. Not just last night. The kids need a taster, something to make them believe that if they find those extra ounces of effort or skill that they can get a longer taste of that first team action that they desire. With such a small squad the risk is players become tired or complacent because they know there is no one else and that a manager will never play a youth prospect.

        I don’t expect kids to be world beaters or perfect, but they certainly will NEVER be good enough for city until they have some experience.

        If our kids are so bad that we cannot emulate Barnsley or Milton Keynes etc by blooding a few here and there then we need to be worried. The finances are balanced and well run to avoid us getting in the red again, however we may never compete at a higher level effectively if we can’t produce a few steady-and-away prospects with the odd saleable asset to allow us to top up the coffers here and there and bring on the odd bit of quality when needed.

        As my original post stated the glass ceiling feels very close at the moment and I would love to hear if the club has a view on a business model that could operate sustainably in the Championship without relegation.

  9. Spot on Stuart

  10. Last night was horrible.

    Freezing conditions, couldn’t play on the ground due to the pitch and couldn’t play in the air because of the wind. The whole thing just lacked any kind of spark and neither team ever got out of second gear.

    The easier ask was for an away side to frustrate and hope to counter, even better to be gifted a goal. As soon as that went in, we should have seen a reaction. There wasn’t one. And when they scored a (disallowed) second, we should have seen a reaction. There wasn’t one then either.

    Fatigue is clearly one factor, and I think that this is more mental than physical given the hugely impressive work on Allamby. But another factor is as simple as saying that players in League One, for all of their remarkable highs in one off games, do tend to be inconsistent in both performance and decision-making. That’s why they are where they are.

    Decision-making becomes so much harder when you’re dead on your feet and having to second-guess a bobbly pitch and a swirling wind. This is not an excuse for a woefully poor display last night, or to overlook that – with a different brief to sit and frustrate – Chesterfield shared those same condition.

    The inconsistent nature of the squad means we could easily bag six-points over the Easter weekend, but we could just as easily get zero.

    For me, and hugely to their credit, this squad have over-achieved this year given the reduced budget and have managed to provide the basis for significant levels of optimism for next season.A much needed cash-injection and I think we have the right to get excited about a more full-bloodied assault on the top six next year from PP and his squad. Don’t write us off yet, of course, but don’t be unduly disappointed if we’re out of it by Monday night.

    A final word on us fans, who have been such a highlight this season. It was heartening to hear a very few, very muted boos at both HT and FT whistles being very deliberately drowned out by a beating drum and a roar of encouragement on a very difficult night.

    We all have nights like this, we can’t be world-beaters every time, and I do just love the way this club sticks together in good times and bad.

    IPWT.

  11. Mark B
    Spot on.
    This squad has overachieved this season in terms of the size of it, and as you say managed to lay down an opportunity to advance next term. Sustainability was the key word last Summer used by no less than David Baldwin and no one disagreed.
    We are one of few clubs with no debt, and although we are not in a position to sign Messi and Ronaldo, we have to compare where we were with where we are.
    We also have to bear in mind where we want to be and I personally dont think we are ready to go up a level. I do however feel we are slowly laying the foundations in the shape of players such as Darby, McCardle, Meredithj, Knott, Hanson and Stead. A few tweaks here and there and maybe next season.

    • Fine words Mark. One thing; the names of the players you gave for another Third Division campaign are in my view not satisfactory for a promotion push. Big Jim has struggled for goals all season, Billy Knott needs more experience, he can only get that through starting games I agree, James Meredith has been my POTY alongside Billy Clarke, Jon Stead I wouldn’t sign on a full City contract in June as his performances of late have left a lot to be desired. If he is dominated by a big central defender he has always struggled throughout his career. That’s what you get in League 1. His stats at the many higher level clubs he has had aren’t good goal ratio wise. We might be better signing a much younger punchy style attacker to complement Clarke?

  12. Ian – WOAP has been nothing but critical of Zoko. I am not saying he is the answer, but when you are 1-0 down at home in a vital match and you look to the bench, bringing on your only recognised spare centre forward is something that has a lot of logic to it.

    Again, I couldn’t disagree more. Last night was the wrong time to throw on the two kid, in view of how the game went. A really poor team performance, a massive moment in the season, this is not the time to throw on two kids in a gamble and hope for the best. It’s not fair on the players, and it’s not a sensible strategy. Parkinson has more to him than that. He rearranged the team and it pushed to the end, with one of his subs almost scoring. The game was lost through a poor defensive error and team fatigue. Not through the subs.

    You miss the point I make about training. If in training players like McMahon and Yeates are considered to be ahead of the two youngsters, then that is going to reflected in team and sub selection. That is the standard that the youngsters must better. They have clearly done well and that is why they were on the bench, but let’s be sensible not reckless with their futures.

    For all the plaudits Harry Kane is getting – and rightly so in my book – he got to this level by being eased in by Tottenham rather than weighed down with too much responsibility too early. That is how you bring young players through.

  13. Stuart – I agree but my point is that that is a 5-10 year project that needs to be worked on in the background. It is not about calling for a couple of kids to be put in the first team if they are not ready in the middle of a scrap for the play offs in a game that would not be suited to them.

    I also think if young players are going to be blooded it needs to be from early on in the season. Throwing them in a midst a challenging battle for the last play off place is not the time and even end of season games with nothing to play for aren’t much help as they are played at pedestrian pace.

    At the beginning of the season there is less pressure but still a frenetic pace and then if they aren’t ready – like McBurnie – they can be given the opportunity to go out on loan and build confidence learn the physical man’s side of the game.

    Unfortunately I do think it is a side of the club that has been neglected due to a lack of patience and the need to progress so quickly and I agree entirely with you that because of this our glass ceiling has almost been reached. You only need to look at the failed idea of the development squad to show it is not high priority enough to the club. I don’t think the development squad was necessarily the right approach but it was a vision that should have been worked on and improved rather than scrapped.

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