York City 2
Summerfield 49 (pen), Berrett 85
Bradford City 2
Routis 19, Hanson 90
York City win 4-2 on penalties
Tuesday 11 August, 2015
Written by Jason McKeown (images by Kieran Wilkinson)
It shouldn’t feel so serious, so soon. And yet as Bradford City moved into stoppage time at Bootham Crescent, on the brink of a 2-1 cup defeat to follow the Swindon farce, dark clouds were gathering over a Bantams season that is less than a week old.
James Hanson’s tremendous injury time equaliser brought salvation but it would prove fleeting. Hanson would ultimately be the last Bradford City player to kick the ball, after he converted his penalty during a shootout lost by his team. No league points, out of the cup, and already four spot kicks missed. Happy new season.
Compared to the dismal surrender at Swindon this was much better from City. It had to be. There were positives. There were some solid individual performances. There was a show of team strength of character and unity in coming back from the dead. But there was also much to cause worry. There is a huge Andrew Davies-shaped hole at the back. There was a midfield missing in action in the second half. There is a lack of composure in front of goal.
For a time it all looked so encouraging. City bossed the first half and were a class above their League Two hosts. Phil Parkinson made six changes, but he gave the four Swindon scapegoats amongst the fans – Ben Williams, Nathan Clarke, Chris Routis and Tony McMahon – the opportunity to earn quick redemption.
Routis certainly grasped that chance in the first half, volleying City into the lead from an Alan Sheehan free kick. It was a terrific finish from the Frenchman and clearly a deliberate training ground routine to engineer the space for Routis – they tried it again shortly afterwards. It also illustrated his growing importance to the team.
So much has been written about Routis and much of it has been very uncomplimentary. But what is clear is that Parkinson sees something in Routis and is trying to develop a role for him. Routis is technically excellent on the ball and if he can remember to keep things simple he can go far at Valley Parade. He did well overall here. However, it’s still a challenge truly getting the best out of him for the good of the team.
Tony McMahon and Ben Williams also experienced good nights, although the struggle goes on for Nathan Clarke. The former Huddersfield defender had another torrid evening and his confidence looks shot to pieces. What was particularly worrying was Clarke’s failure to get the basics right and numerous errors offered York encouragement throughout. City tried to build on Routis’ goal and Sheehan had a long range drive well-saved by Scott Flinders. Luke James went on a mazy run and hit a low shot narrowly wide. James looked a useful player on tonight’s evidence, similar in style to Michael Boulding. Alongside him Steve Davies grew into the game and impressed greatly with his hold up play and vision.
But just like on Saturday, City’s profligacy in front of goal came back to bite. Parkinson must have surely spent the interval urging his players not to be slow out of the traps again. Russ Wilcox would have told his charges to stop showing their opponents so much respect.
In a pulsating second half, York came roaring back. Gary Liddle – recalled to the side and largely excellent – rashly gave away a penalty that was converted by Luke Summerfield. Despite two decent efforts from Davies, the game descended into one-way traffic at the other end.
York were brilliant. They knocked the ball around with confidence, and found alarming gaps between City’s midfield and defence. A Nathan Clarke slip-up went unpunished, and there were other goalmouth scrambles that ended with the ball rolling past the wrong side of the post.
But City earned a get out of jail card with a penalty completely against the run of play. Billy Clarke – who had just come on as sub and impressed greatly – charged past defenders on the break and played the ball into Davies’ path. The former Derby man was felled in the area, and after an argument between Routis and Sheehan over who should take the spot kick, Sheehan blazed woefully over the bar.
It looked even more costly when, with five minutes to go, York won a hotly disputed free kick and the excellent James Berrett smashed the ball into the net. Williams’ otherwise encouraging evening was blighted slightly by the poor way he had set up the wall. York fans were jubilant, whilst the mood amongst a muted City following grew darker.
Parkinson, who had just thrown on James Hanson, urged his players to attack more and the tempo was increased. For all the positives of James and Davies, Hanson and Clarke are on a higher level and will remain Parkinson’s first choice strikers. Mark Marshall enjoyed an excellent full debut and was a constant threat on the right wing. He is not pacy or direct, but has a good range of passing ability and can really cross a ball.
The final four minutes were carnage. City kept pumping the ball into the box and Hanson saw a shot blocked on the line whilst Josh Morris had a penalty appeal turned away. They never gave up, and deep into stoppage time Hanson drilled the ball into the net to spark brilliant scenes of celebration amongst the away fans behind the goal. The cross from Routis was perfect and Hanson reacted instinctively to sweep the ball home.
Extra time saw the tempo drop, as both teams looked more worried about losing than going for the winner. Hanson headed over from Sheehan’s cross and York hit the post, but after a cagey half hour penalties ensued. There was some controversy about the decision to take the spot kicks at the York end of the ground, but there shouldn’t be excuses. McMahon and Routis missed, Morris and Hanson scored, but York netted four of their five to win the game. It brought an end to City’s world record penalty shootout winning sequence. It brought an end to City’s interest in this competition.
There is hope offered that City are expected to make two signings before Saturday. A centre half for a transfer fee – rumoured to be Shrewsbury’s Connor Goldson – and WOAP understands Chris Kirkland has been training with City. The extra signings are badly needed. The Bantams look strong in most departments, but are badly lacking at the back. The first two games have cruelly exposed their defensive weaknesses. Nathan Clarke needs taking out of the firing line immediately.
It shouldn’t be so serious, so soon – but it is. There is despondency and unrest amongst fans. There is a divide of opinion. There are fears that City aren’t good enough to live up to the rising expectations. And these fears can’t be easily dismissed. There are ultra-positive supporters trying to do just that, citing that past successful seasons like 98/99 and 12/13 didn’t start well, so not to worry right now. That is true, but at the moment things don’t look too clever. And whilst it is indeed far too premature to panic, to shrug off defeats as ‘early days’ risks missing a very important point.
Successful seasons like 98/99 and 12/13 didn’t start well, but there are other campaigns that also started badly and then didn’t get any better. The Notts County 5-0 defeat on the opening day of the 09/10 season, the Shrewsbury 3-1 day one loss the year after, the Aldershot 2-1 debacle the year after that. They immediately set the season’s tone to negative, and it proved near-impossible for the team and manager to recover from it.
There is a risk of something similar happening here. It would be foolish to label Saturday’s home game with Shrewsbury as must-win, but imagine the post-match reaction if City lose again? There is pressure now. It is pressure that can be eased and the tone can be changed, but only if it happens quickly.
The season has started in the worst possible manner. There is no need to be carried away by doom and gloom, but the negatives cannot be ignored. It’s all got serious, quickly. For the players, the huge crowd on Saturday must be an inspiration rather than something to fear.
City: Williams, McMahon, McArdle, N. Clarke, Sheehan, Marshall, Liddle, Routis, Anderson (Morris 61), Davies (Hanson 80), James (Clarke 66)
Not used: Cracknell, Leigh, Mottley-Henry, Knott
Categories: Match Reviews