Bradford City 1
Watkins 45, Mawson 69
Tuesday 13 October, 2015
By Jason McKeown
It doesn’t really matter, but it should. A third successive immediate JPT exit won’t prompt any unrest at Valley Parade, but it is another instance this season of City falling short of the required standards – and these occasions are beginning to tally up.
For 25 minutes here they were excellent. A nothing game burst into life when Billy Knott fired home in clinical fashion after an initial effort had ricocheted back to him off a defender, and the Bantams found a spark to their play. But Barnsley came to win through a pair of near identical set piece goals. And they were good value for that victory, especially after a second half where City were lethargic and too easily tamed.
It is too easy to play against Bradford City at Valley Parade. Six teams have now visited this season, five have gone away with some reward for their game plan. It follows last season’s equally disappointing home record. City will never be a force in League One if they cannot be masters of their own domain.
On such evenings the complexion is distorted by the weakening of the starting line ups. With the exception of the injured Chris Routis, Phil Parkinson had gone with the same team that he picked a week ago. A debut for the young full back Greg Leigh. A first home appearance for the beleaguered Nathan Clarke. Only a second start for the energetic Luke James. Knott and James Hanson were also back in the side, with one eye looking over their shoulders and towards a bench featuring players who have recently been selected in front of them.
Lee Johnson, the under pressure Barnsley manager, went with a stronger team. This was no meaningless cup game for the young boss, who after recent poor results needed his players to deliver him a result. The enthusiastic celebrations on the field and in the away section, for the winning goal in particular, told their own story. This mattered, and the visitors’ attitude reflected that.
Which isn’t to suggest the home team were lacking effort or intensity. But it came in fits and starts, and as a group of players they were often disjointed in their endeavours. Knott’s energy and drive in the middle was a positive, and he deserved his goal. The young midfielder’s second season at Valley Parade is not yet going to plan and – in view of the tactical evolution from diamond to 4-4-2 – there remain question marks over whether he can play as part of a central midfield two. Still, Knott strode around with a purpose here that was sometimes lacking in his partner, Gary Liddle.
On the left hand side Leigh recovered from a slow start and impressed. He is confident in the tackle and in bringing possession forward, linking up well with another player in and out of the side – Mark Marshall – to decent effect.
City’s main attacking threat stemmed from this side, whilst on the right Stephen Darby and Tony McMahon were solid. At the back Clarke had a decent evening; although given his torrid start to life at Valley Parade, the bar was low for him going into this game. He will need to build on this.
For the two goals City conceded were poor and did not reflect well on Clarke and Rory McArdle. Right on half time Marley Watkins was left completely unmarked to head home an equaliser. Ben Williams also made two decent saves in the first half as Barnsley’s front two caused problems.
Encouraged by their first half display, Barnsley continued to press hard and went 2-1 up with barely 20 minutes left on the clock. Another free kick from out wide, another header. Alfie Mawson had to work hard to engineer the space and his glanced effort had pace and power.
City’s best second half chance had occurred five minutes earlier through James. He robbed the defender of possession, cut inside and into the box, and fizzed a low effort that was tipped behind. Soon after, James – and Hanson – were substituted. James worked hard all evening and is liked by the crowd for it, but he and Hanson had little chemistry and moves too often broke down.
Parkinson has four potentially excellent League One strikers fit and available – but he doesn’t yet have an excellent partnership. If two of these players can forge an effective understanding, they will get the starting nod. Devante Cole – who came on for James and produced nothing – is probably the key man in this regard. Yet he and Steve Davies could not replicate the promise they showed together at Spotland.
All of which meant Barnsley could see out the closing stages with ease. They looked more capable of adding to their lead than City did of coming back. That will especially trouble Parkinson, given how often his teams have ended games strongly over the past four years.
Not one home supporter who rolled up tonight would swap a victory here with one at Doncaster in the league on Saturday. But still, there is a whiff of stagnation at Valley Parade this season and it must be quickly banished. This might be a period of transition; yet under Parkinson in the past, lesser quality players have produced far better than this.
Losing tonight might be relatively painless in view of the low stakes; but it is adding to a worrying early season pattern that must be addressed. Especially on home soil.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, N Clarke, Leigh, McMahon, Knott, Liddle (Evans 73), Marshall, Hanson (Davies 64), James (Cole 64)
Not used: Jones, Meredith
Categories: Match Reviews