This bumpy beginning

Bradford City 1

Clarke 43

Shrewsbury Town 1

Barnett 46

Saturday 15 August, 2015

By Jason McKeown

Two sub plots set the soundtrack to this Bradford City performance, and the collective conclusions drawn were troubling.

The first narrative concerned a tactical battle in which Shrewsbury Town manager Micky Mellon had the measure of Phil Parkinson. The newly promoted side came for a draw and set about achieving it through stifling the home side. Whatever move Parkinson made, Mellon had a counter plan. An impressive level of homework was in evidence and it paid off.

The second story was one of an undercooked and dysfunctional Bradford City that has been constructed this close season. That Parkinson has made nine new signings and yet is still missing two key players says much about the pace and scale of change. There is clear quality in this squad but what, exactly, is the plan going forward still looks unclear. Worryingly, there is a suspicion that Parkinson doesn’t know either.

And so a nullified, under-prepared Bantams side laboured to a disappointing draw and, boy, was it a tough watch. On an afternoon of big expectations, the players only dampened hopes for the months ahead. There is a long way to go and it’s a marathon not a sprint, but the first week of the season has proven pedestrian and underwhelming.

The effects of sub plot number one were particularly disconcerting. If it was a surprise to see Parkinson revert to the diamond formation, Mellon had prepared for such a possibility. He had clearly identified that Billy Clarke was the dangerman, and tasked Ryan Woods with a man marking job that was carried out impressively. Wherever Clarke roamed, Woods was right by him. A physical, tough tackling player for sure, he made sure that the gap between the midfield and defence, which Clarke so typically exploits, was closed off.

And at this point, the narrowness of the diamond became a real issue. Chris Routis couldn’t get into the game on the right, and Josh Morris and James Meredith struggled to link up with fluency on the left. It meant the ball was continually launched long from the back by Rory McArdle and Alan Sheehan, with James Hanson the principle target. It might have proven effective if a more mobile striker than Steve Davies was playing off Hanson, but it was all so predictable and easy to defend against.

There were chances in the first half, but they were intermittent rather than frequent. City couldn’t find their rhythm. Morris had a free kick tipped over; Routis a shot deflected wide; Clarke should have buried a back post chance when a header from Hanson was palmed away by Jason Leutwiler. At the other end McArdle and Sheehan – who was picked ahead of the out-of-sorts Nathan Clarke – enjoyed a comfortable afternoon.

Just before half time a slip up in Shrewsbury’s midfield enabled City to make the breakthrough. Clarke was free of Woods and charged at goal, before laying the ball out wide to Davies and continuing his run into the box. Davies crossed the ball back, and Clarke was able to finish in style. It was a real moment of quality, but in truth the lead was barely merited. 45 minutes of direct football was tough on the eye and one hopes Parkinson was as frustrated by it as any home fan.

At half time you suspected Mellon would have to change tact and attack, but an equaliser barely 30 seconds into the second half meant he could continue to park the bus. A long ball forwards enabled Tyrone Barnett to get in on goal with defenders struggling to get back, and his shot somehow bundled over the line via a McArdle deflection. It was once again unconvincing stuff from Ben Williams. It was once again a moment to lament the decision to let Andrew Davies move to Ross County. Let us hope that this mystery new centre half is finally secured this week.

With the game back to square one, Parkinson opted to try width and bring on Mark Marshall and Paul Anderson. The idea was to play 4-4-1-1 with Clarke pushed further up. Parkinson was desperately unlucky that Clarke was injured just minutes later and unable to continue. Billy Knott came on, City went 4-2-3-1, but Mellon was prepared for that too.

If Clarke had remained on the field, Mellon might have wanted to continue to give him special attention, but without that concern he was instead able to double up on City’s two wingers. Marshall and Anderson were denied room to operate, and even on the occasions they beat their man there was someone else to close down the space.

Knott struggled to deputise and Parkinson reflected after that his midfielder was trying too hard. And so the pattern of the second half followed the opening 45 minutes. City couldn’t build up any attacking momentum. They pressed, but rarely penetrated. A couple of penalty appeals and some shots from distance. It was too comfortable for Shrewsbury.

It is concerning to see City’s attack thwarted by far-from-formidable opposition, and it might set a pattern for the months ahead. Not every opposition side will come to Valley Parade with such modest ambitions, but the audible groans of 18,000 home fans during the closing stages will show any other League One manager that frustrating the Valley Parade crowd should form an important part of the game plan.

This is something Parkinson and City will have to overcome if they are to challenge for promotion. And yet sub plot number two suggests that this won’t be achieved quickly. The new-look City are lacking in understanding, fluidity and cohesion. New signings like Anderson and Davies are short of match fitness.

Parkinson spoke in the week about looking forward to watching his best team emerge, but surely he should have a good idea of his best XI, even if that is inevitably a moving beast. Right now, Parkinson seems a long way from settling on it, and with the season firmly underway that is worrying.

Worrying in the short-term, and worrying in the context that the ambition is to challenge for the play offs this season – but not worrying if the bigger picture approach can be taken. It might look disjointed right now, but on an individual player basis there is some real talent in this squad – you could argue this is City’s best squad for over a decade.

And if we can begin to see what the new vision and strategy is, we can buy into it. Why wouldn’t we? This is Phil Parkinson we are talking about. The extraordinary job that he has performed – which is about to reach its fourth anniversary – means that backing his judgement is an easy call to make. If what he has built this summer means City are ultimately capable of knocking on the door to the Championship, we should be excited – even if it takes longer than anticipated to get going.

But the problem right now is that everything has been positioned for the short-term. This was going to be our year, where if not promotion a strong challenge would be formed. This could still happen – the season is only a week old – but it looks set to require patience. A rocky few weeks should probably be expected. It may get worse before it gets better. If this was a two-year plan, it would make more sense. But at the moment Parkinson’s contract talks are yet to be resolved with a deal that takes him beyond the end of this season.

No one wants to write off a season so soon, but at the moment this one carries an all-or-nothing feel and it’s important to remember that we should be planning in years not months. Get the final two signings made, tie down Parkinson’s future and let’s get this plan working. And as long as City get there in the end in achieving its ambitions, ugly days like this can be forgotten.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Sheehan, Liddle, Routis, Morris (Marshall 64), B Clarke (Knott 67), Hanson, Davies (Anderson 63)

Not used: Cracknell, N Clarke, McMahon, James

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Categories: Match Reviews

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15 replies

  1. Spot on match report and I can’t disagree with the game analysis. The team looks under prepared, unfit & lacking in any understanding. Slow build up play too many backward passes which culminated in long balls from mcardle to Hanson.

    The team appears very fragile mentally and there wasn’t enough pressing or support play through out. 1st half was decent and in truth city missed some very good chances notably Davies hitting the side netting fro 6 yards out against a team & tactics picked to frustrate & contain.

    I cannot understand why parkinson hasn’t signed a no 1. Williams is slow off his line , his kicking and distribution is also lacking. He was kept out of the team last season by a 20 year old keeper who we were breaking in for Sunderland. A no 1 should have been priority last season and to start the season in this position again shows a lack of preparation & pre planning.

    Nathan Clarke has been dropped already and I wonder if Parkinson saw him play as he is nothing like an able deputy for Andrew Davies. He looks like a panic buy and a player at the end of his career wanting a move back home to Halifax.

    There’s lots of hard work ahead and further signings are needed. The squad is going to require a further 10 to 15 games of rotation to find out who works well with who and what formation and tactics will work best.

    Parkinson looks bewildered at the moment and for the first time I do not agree with his post match analysis of the 3 games this season and he looks worried and concerned.

    It’s been a very low key and shakey start to the season and there is undoubtably some quality players within the squad. Let’s hope parkinson can bring in some further quality ie a centre half, midfielder & goal keeper and gel this team together sooner rather than later or it’s going to be a very difficult season.

  2. How about we shelve the Guinness Book of Records attempt for the longest drawn out transfer in the history of football and instead of a bid for a Centre Back, ring Shrewsbury at 9.01 with a firm bid to take their number 4 (The Stuart McCall lookalike) off their hands. We are not as desperate for a Davies replacement as Sheehan illustrated today, but could well do with a player who can take the ball upfield with pace and precision as Woods did today. Having said that he cant be playing like that every week or he wouldnt be playing at our level.
    Time now for an end to Pre-season games (And yes the Swindon, York and Shrewsbury games do rather have that feel) and start to look at playing a serious game. Leading in all three games and still waiting for a win is a major concern.

    • Mark – that ginger haired player is probably going to be sold for around £1.2m. We don’t have that amount of money to spend.

  3. “Williams is slow off his line , his kicking and distribution is also lacking.”

    I recall around 3 occasions where ST were attacking our box within 10-15 seconds of the keeper distributing the ball. Not wanting to single BW out as there were plenty of flat displays, but it is a part of modern goalkeeping, even in L1.

    And we will never look like top 6 candidates until we have or let our midfield get a hold of games and control that area of the pitch. We had too many home games last season that descended into a frustrating slugfest as we let ourselves get drawn into them. And it happened again today.

    With each game that goes by, the less and less it looks like we have the cliched leader – someone who can organise the team, keep the heads up during those frustrating stop/start periods, someone reassuring.

    Overall though we looked way too slow – in terms of thought, moving the ball and physical speed. Think back to Bristol City and that night at VP they had all that in abundance. We just look static – I’m sure it was nerves/fear of errors that partly influenced that.

    We have another quick chance to produce on Tuesday but with the pressure for a win is increasing.

  4. I don’t think last seasons squad was that far away and we did finish 7th but for some reason PP has decided to send the likes of Davies, Stead ,Halliday and the rest packing. Now having signed 9 new players and hoping to get another 2 he obviously decided that major surgery was required. For me he only needed a decent keeper a sharp striker and a pacy winger and of course retain Davies. He has got the wingers in but failed in the other quests and with a rocky defence and a none cohesive attack we could have problems this season.

  5. Fully agree with you K. Bruce! No decent keeper, no adequate Davies replacement and no pacy striker. we have brought in real quality in the winger/wide midfield area but the other weaknesses remain.
    went to the game with five mates, one of whom was a shrewsbury lad now living in yorkshire. just before he departed for the away end i said to him “don’t get downhearted if you’re a goal down at half time. knowing city from last season we’ll give you ample chances in the second half to get something from the game”.

  6. At the moment I am clinging to the fact that I went to Burnley preseason and saw a decent performance that showed we can play better.
    The wait for a centre half might just be in vain judging by previous incumbents; Nelson, McKenzie and others. Oh how I wish for Carl McHugh…
    I have said before on here that whenever Parky has had a reasonable number to select from he seems to meddle and only when injuries dictate his squad do we settle down. I am not sure that I buy into the lack of fitness excuse at this stage of the proceedings.
    When did Meredith become one of the Chuckle Brothers? Me to you, back to me, oh back to you!! Two big guys stood in the middle ‘twiddling thumbs’ do what you are good at, run at the full back and stick a ball in!!!
    After saying all that I do feel for Parky as it seems the best way to get the best out of Billy Clarke is to play him behind a front two but to ‘get at’ other sides he needs to deploy wingers like Marshall who was a bright light at York.
    Oh well, bring on Gillingham and let’s have it!!!!

  7. What are the club up to ,out the cup one point from six and we still building our squad, surely the main targets should have been sorted weeks ago now trying to get players when most of the best ones have gone it’s very poor planning and we look way off ,looks like we don’t know what we doing either on the field or off .

  8. In response to Gareth’s comment about Meredith – he does this because he’s so one-footed and can’t trust himself to use his right foot. Likewise Darby wasted a brilliant opportunity in the second half because he had to shift the ball onto his right foot and by that time the defence were back covering the line.
    Don’t know what they do in training but I’d think about fining one-footed players a pound for an hour in training every day each time they used their weak foot.

  9. More over reaction I feel at the moment. Expectations have gone up and we are expected to just blitz through games. Shrewsbury came for a point and did a reasonable job of frustrating us – their dirty, but talented number 4 was superb at containing Billy Clarke – however we still managed to create 4 or 5 excellent opportunities and went in 1-0 up. Had we not gone to sleep at the beginning of the second half it would have been interesting to see how the game went as Shrewsbury would have had to open up.

    Having said that the real concern was the lack of pace and urgency when we had the ball. I don’t mean the lack of quick players here – the ball moves quicker than the man and pass and move is the most effective way of getting through any team and this was shown by how we scored our goal – capitalising on an error and not giving them chance to recover. Run, pass, move, pass, goal. For the rest of the game we passed to feet without any zip and stand still. Even the players who can carry the ball at pace didn’t seem to want to do so.

  10. This display was frustrating in the extreme and the tactics employed by Mr Parkinson were somewhat baffling. We clearly lacked width and it was clear throughout the first half that the manager would need to deploy his wide players at some point to get at the Shrews defence. The manager may have felt unable to start with Marshall and Anderson due to the 120 minutes played by the former in mid week and the lack of match practice in the case of the latter. I was impressed by Steve Davies performance at York in mid week however it looked the wrong decision to play him and Hanson together up front as we simply resorted to our tried and trusted tactic of working the ball back to Rory Mcardle and playing the long diagonal ball to Hanson, which did not seem to overly concern the Shrews defence. Despite his awful penalty at York I have been impressed by the recent performances of Sheehan who has looked assured on the ball and who has the ability to carry the ball out from the back. Billy Clark looks our most dynamic forward by a country mile and it is to be hoped that Parkie`s post match mention of possible media ligament damage is not as bad as it sounds. Routis is a bit of an enigma as he is clearly talented and versatile but he is somewhat erratic and inconsistent. All is not doom and gloom as it is clear there is much talent in the squad but we look disjointed and off the pace. I think we will all have a much clearer idea of how far this squad will take us this season after another 7 or 8 games and the addition of a quality centre back and Goalkeeper.

  11. Good report – but we do have to remember Shrewsbury finished 2nd in their league, so are on a high, and they beat Blackburn away in the cup this week (with Blackburn allowing them to play the ball out from the back, which helped them win, and City didn’t allow that). Shrewsbury aren’t mugs and should finish reasonably high (top 10).

    • Also, they have some players that will cost real money. The ginger haired player is worth around £1.2m and Goldson around £800k supposedly. We don’t have players worth that amount, so no wonder we may “struggle” against a team like Shrewsbury.

  12. Spot on as usual. This pre season has been worryingly slow with no positive vibes apart from the season ticket sales.

    I fear a season in which we go backwards, and it looks like Parkinson and our board are not exactly United.

    If Hanson had been sold I fear Parkinson would currently be Sheffield United manager, and in all honesty can’t see him lasting the season. I fear the bubble will burst this season, and our owners have an appalling record in managerial appointments, Parkinson excepted.

  13. Goldson and Woods were the two best players on the pitch, both young (one a Yorkshireman) and unfortunately beyond our budget.Last Sundays 5 lives sports week interview with Sam Alardyce provided real insight. He highlighted that his biggest challenge each season was to get the new squad to gel,stating that it always takes 10 to 12 games to find the strongest team/ formation. We need a win to take the pressure off PP, results have turned on fine margins in the last two games hopefully a more positive formation will see this change on Tuesday.

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