By Jason McKeown
There can be little doubt that the early weeks of this season have turned into some of the most difficult of Phil Parkinson’s reign as manager. It is not that recent results have been especially worse than some of his poorest runs from the past four years, but the mood amongst the fanbase has shifted – and that is adding to the pressure. Phil Parkinson’s popularity has taken a hit, and it is going to be a major challenge to turn that around.
Amongst some fans who have prominently backed the manager in the past, there has been a change in their opinion and a growing anger to the tone of the views they are expressing. In the most extreme areas, there have been calls for Parkinson to be sacked. This is a dangerous development for the manager, because it mirrors the pattern that befell many of his predecessors in the Valley Parade hotseat. When the tide begins to turn, it becomes very difficult to swim against it.
The issue is not simply the lack of victories so far this campaign, but the style of football that has come with it. That, more than anything, has worrying echoes of Peter Taylor’s stewardship. Taylor arrived at Valley Parade in February 2010 with a strong reputation for dour football, but there was a willingness to accept it if such a strategy manifested itself into good results on the pitch. When that didn’t happen, City had the worst of both worlds: awful results, awful football. The frustration of losing was heightened by how dreadful it had proven to watch.
Of late, Parkinson is increasingly facing disapproval for his football, with retrospective criticism applied towards the previous four years. Some – disappointingly – have attempted to rewrite history and talk down his past achievements. “But if it wasn’t for the cups…” has been the starting point to many a recent conversation. If it wasn’t for all those Number One singles, the Beatles wouldn’t be known as the world’s most popular band. You can’t separate parts of the whole picture to distort an argument. If you do, you will never have the credibility that you seek.
But of course, you can’t live in the past. Yet the point of Parkinson’s long list of achievements is that they give him a large amount of credit in the bank. They earned him a three-year contract in May 2013, and they merited him signing another three-year contract only a few weeks ago. The credit in the bank also means that, even now, there is a quiet majority of supporters who continue to back the manager. This is absolutely crucial in assessing the current state of affairs. The cushion means that Parkinson is not under pressure and will be given the time to address current problems.
The infamous one win in 21 run of form in the 2013/14 season is testament to this. Under Parkinson, City went five months notching up just one victory, and other managers have been sacked or driven out for less. But Parkinson had the cushion of his 2012/13 history maker achievements, and that afforded him the time to find the answers and to turn it around.
History has since proven just what a crucial decision it was for the club to stick by their manager during that difficult period. There were calls from some fans to make a change back then – but most fans, and the board, kept faith. Subsequent days like Chelsea and Sunderland was the reward.
Parkinson isn’t currently on a run as bad as one win in 21; but even after the recent back to back league wins, long-term form is not great. Four victories in 14 so far this season. Nine wins in 25 since last season’s FA Cup run came to an end in March. 13 wins in 38 since the incredible victory over Chelsea last January.
In the league especially, the team has stagnated over this period. City began this calendar year inside the play off positions and came close to finishing in the top six last May. To date this season, they are nowhere near the promotion spots and all the signs point to a mid-table campaign. They have been producing mid-table results for the majority of this calendar year.
Turning this new-look team into something greater won’t be easy, but not impossible. Study Phil Parkinson’s league results over the past four years, and there is a clear pattern of average runs of results punctuated by strong bursts of form. The late, and successful, League Two play off push of 2012/13; the flying start to the following season in League One; the seven wins in nine at the end of 2014. When Parkinson gets it right he often does so in a big way. He now needs to find such a run of form, if City are going to have any chance of reaching the play offs.
The victories away at Rochdale and Doncaster are a good start in this regard, but Parkinson needs to vastly improve the home form, which was for such a long time so impressive under his tutelage. And beyond all that, he needs to define his style of football and to not be afraid of it. There is a pressure from the boardroom and supporters to play a certain, more entertaining way. But the people making such demands are not accountable for the results that would follow, good or bad.
Parkinson seems to be stuck in a dilemma of what to do to please others; and the result is a team lacking both character and identity. Whatever retrospective criticisms people want to air about previous seasons, they cannot dispute the fact that the team used to have both of these qualities in abundance. That, above everything else, needs to be re-established.
The great History Makers of 2012/13 (and by great, we are talking in relative terms) could play good football and it could also do the ugly things well. It attacked in different ways that included the boot of McArdle to the head of Hanson, or the direct running of Reid and Hines or the drive of Jones and Doyle. Rory McArdle’s unerring accuracy with the ‘hoof’ is a potent weapon, and there is no shame in using it.
What City’s time in League One has shown is that Parkinson cannot be one dimensional, and must have more options. Without a level of unpredictability and adaptability, City will never be amongst the top teams in the division.
But the most important point of all is that Parkinson has to remember what has made him such a successful Bradford City manager in the first place. Whatever lip service people want to pay towards aspiring to play more attractive football, Parkinson’s ways have taken the club a long way forwards. He should not have to change that if he believes it is the right thing to do. He needs to stay true to himself.
Parkinson is the football expert here, and trusting him to do that job has worked out very well so far. His four-year history shows that he has periods where he struggles to get it right, but ultimately he has always found the answers and delivered results.
Right now, he will continue to face the criticism. But there will be no knee-jerk sacking if the season continues in this mid-table vein, and he looks unlikely to resign. He will be given the opportunity to continue the club’s upwards progression. He might not succeed in this job forever, but this slow start to the season need not be the beginning of the end for him.
He has the tools to do better; and his past achievements provide him with the cushion – and time – to do just that.
Wise words Jason. Another relevant point is the injury situation, which has significantly affected Phil’s plans. There can’t be many teams so unlucky with injuries this early in the season. Losing the three wingers in particular – Morais, Anderson, Morris – has clearly had a negative impact, severely weakening attacking plans for this term, and particularly since Marshall sulks if he’s played on the left. Losing top scorer Billy Clark hasn’t helped things much either. Given the problems on the wings, I’m surprised Parkinson hasn’t made more use of Knott through the middle somewhere – in fact I sense that Billy Knott might be wondering what it is he’s done wrong to be benched so often.
All good points too Dave. The injuries to our more creative wide / forward players has undoubtedly had a detrimental impact on our style of play. We are a bit predictable and one-dimensional at times, but this has been driven by circumstances beyond Parky’s control in quite a big way so far. Coaching the virtues of a new philosophy, only to fall back on older wisdom by necessity, has probably resulted in mixed messages and the identity crisis Jason alludes to.
But it’s far from worrying. They were heralded as real force on day one, playing lively, exciting, fast-paced football, scoring at will, but time dictates we’d not rather be Swindon after all!
As for Knott, for all his flashes of promise, for me he’s a risk in the centre – too many passes astray, possession squandered, and seems caught the wrong side of his man too often for comfort. Undoubtedly gifted, and brilliant on his day, but he needs to iron out the creases and do the basics better before he can be considered reliable. Being an unknown quantity can wrong-foot the opposition; he just wrong-foots us too often. Maybe he could work on the left, with less risk defensively, if Marshall is genuinely reluctant to play there?
I do wonder about the cheap season ticket deals having an effect on the fans attending games, where we still have a core who believe in PP, there are plenty of new fans who haven’t lived through the good and bad times of recent years and possibly can’t see how good we have it! Changing a manager everytime we lose two games in a row doesn’t solve anything. Look at the Leeds situation. I am actually pleased with how things are going, our league position has improved year on year and I’m proud that we have one of the longer serving managers in the league. Consider the injuries we have had and Davies moving on, it’s not surprising that we are a bit stop and start. I’m still confident that we will make the play offs and PP is the man to get us there. I do think us quiet believers might need to make more noise on social media etc to try and keep things in context!
In my opinion I believe this piece is oddly timed coming off the back of two away league victories.
It’s true form has been indifferent and consistency lacking but we’ve reached our most promising stage of the current campaign to date.
With the next three games against “Fancied” league opposition – and two at VP. We as fans should have a clearer understnading on the capability of our current squad under Parkinson.
However to write an article which reads as a pressure piece on the back of two credible victories appears ill timed.
Usually I agree with all your articles Jason and the themes you follow, unfortunately on the above I cannot.
Then clearly you do not read other forums and Twitter etc, which is full of criticism for Parkinson even after two victories. It is not a pressure piece it is defending the manager and saying he should have the freedom to manage how he sees fit, and adding he has the credit in the bank to do so. I can only assume you have not read it if you have come to the conclusion it is a negative piece.
I admit I have given up reading fans forums due to their volatile nature. Similarly Twitter is just as volatile with “Fans” so quick to turn on individual players, the team and the manager after a disappointing result. So you are right in that regard, I do not read other forums and twitter – I go by other fans that I speak with.
I come to WOAP for its balanced views and well written articles (In paticular) by yourself and Katie Whyatt and I’d just like to take the opportunity to say what a great site it is and has been since you began.
To return to the article in question. If it is not a negative/pressure piece then I apologise. It was my interpretation and I can reassure you I did read it and have done again.
I concede the second half is more of a defense of Parkinson and the cushion he has due to his past succeses (which I agree with) and as you note the disastorous run of 1 win in 21 is conclusive evidence.
However I do stand by my opinion that the first part of the article attempts to place pressure at Parkinsons feet.
To state his popularity has been hit and that he faces a major challenge to turn this around, that the mood amongst the fanbase has shifted, that fans who previously backed him have changed their opinion and that the tone is becoming angrier amongst us and then to associate the current season with the management of Peter Taylor leads me to my original point that the article (Or the beginning at least) is ill timed.
Two away league victories on the bounce, 5 points from our objective (and a game in hand). I believe we should be looking more at our sides current development than it’s stuttering start.
I would also point to the fact that based on head-heads from last season we have accrued more points.
Excellent comment and you are right in the description of forums and Twitter as “volatile”.
The first half of my article was designed to be a summary of the situation and the mood that is out there (my opinion comes in later). And from my experience that is a reflection of the mood out there right now. There are all sorts of adverse comments and debate about PP’s ways. This is not my opinion, which I come onto discuss. I have personally been shocked by the negative nature of some of the criticisms out there, and that’s why I think it is the worst it has been under PP. I don’t agree it should be the mood, and it is only from a section of fans, but it is what it is.
I have written articles writing positive things about PP recently and been criticised (sometimes quite rudely) for it. That goes with the territory, but I don’t think I can ignore this shift in mood and pretend it’s not there, even though I personally don’t think it’s warranted.
Much of the debate centre’s on PP’s style of football. I can see why you think it is unfair I bring Peter Taylor into the debate but I am not meant to be comparing the two. I personally have no issue with the style of football as the results speak for themselves. It’s also much better than anything Peter Taylor ever produced at City.
The point of the article is to say that PP has the time to get it right because of his past successes, and he has a proven record of turning it around.
Finally I appreciate we have won two league games in a row and there are plenty of positives (we’ve covered them in detail over the last few weeks), but everything isn’t all rosy by the same degree. The Barnsley game was worrying to me for example. As Mark Lawn said the jury is out on some of the new signings. It remains to be seen if we have progressed from last season. This is a big week for City and PP.
Anyway let’s agree on one important point – In Parky We Trust.
I like the tone of this article Jase. In particular, this paragraph is very apt:
“There is a pressure from the boardroom and supporters to play a certain, more entertaining way. But the people making such demands are not accountable for the results that would follow, good or bad.”.
The form that your discuss isn’t anything out of the ordinary however, in particular in the league.
“Four victories in 14 so far this season. Nine wins in 25 since last season’s FA Cup run came to an end in March. 13 wins in 38 since the incredible victory over Chelsea last January.”
Parkinsons league record durong hai entire tenure actually reads:
2011-12: P41 W11 D13 L17
2012-13: P46 W18 D15 L13
2013-14: P46 W14 D17 L15
2014-15: P46 W17 D14 L15
2015-16: P12 W4 D4 L4
TOTAL: P191 W64 D63 L64
It’s quite a consistent record and gathered over a number of seasons. It basically equates to 60 points a season. That wouldn’t have got is in the play offs over the last few seasons. So it’s not unfair to say he must do better.
I liked this article and its tone. I personally think PP does have enough in the bank, but also feel this is the first year we won’t make progress. If that’s the case then he must be judged on how he starts next year, can he turn it around and go again? If not then the questions will become more forceful.
The identity will form once a settled team is established, having attended the Doncaster game I still think this is some way off. In terms of character, we are missing an inspirational leader who will drive the team forward and inspire the team when they are under pressure. Unfortunately we do not appear to have a compelling candidate and until we do the current sequence of results will be maintained resulting in a mid table finish. This has to be his priority for his next signing.
We werent great at Donny, yet we won. Any team that brings in new faces takes time to gel yet time is the one thing that many ‘fans’ arent prepared to give, despite the fact that Parky has shown time after time the ability to deliver impressive results. I for one wont forget Chelsea. Or all the others everyone remembers yet there are a few that see these fantastic victories as lesser achievements when we hit a sticky patch. ALL teams run in and out of form and its often how you stick together that determines the end result. We the fans are stronger with one positive voice. Its the easier option to decry and destroy anyone or anything but I for one are 100% behind what Parky has done and is aiming to achieve.Yes its frustrating when we dont play well and lose games we should win but look at the shambles down the road. Be careful what you wish for.
Wise words MK, wise words.
I often wonder how representative WOAP readers are of the fanbase in general. Looking at all the comments they are generally all supportive of Parky and what he’s trying to achieve. All seem to express concern at the current run of form but confident that Parky is the man to turn it around.
I have an image of WOAP readers being ‘of a certain age’, Guardian readers, liberal – think of a bunch of social workers in leather bomber jackets! I highly recommend Ron Johnson’s latest book on public shaming and the power that Twitter, Facebook et al has in funnelling, directing and organising mob rule. Quite how Parky, his players or the club handles those instant, ill informed judgements every week is anyone’s guess. I’m just glad its not me!
… and as MK rightly says, you only have to look east of Pudsey to look at the alternative!
I think we do seem to have a certain readership and certainly we don’t appeal to everyone. If ever WOAP gets a mention on a message board, we are usually being slagged off. But equally I know lots of City fans who hate message boards and get upset about Twitter.
Hopefully we offer an outlet/platform for a section of fans who are generally more supportive, understanding and patient. We are certainly more pro-club than probably anywhere else on the net, and we try to make sure criticism is balanced and well-thought out.
There’s obviously an element of the support that is frustrated by performances at VP. If the form guide was switched and the home record was better than the away record, then far less people would be questioning PP. My opinion is that a flat 4-4-2 is no longer suitable for the modern game (well particularly when an opposing side plays a five man midfield.) Away from home it might be more suitable as tactically you can sit back and hit on the counter through a target man hold up style of play, and the use of fast wing play. At home I think we have missed BIlly Clarke, who plays as a false striker off Hanson/Davies and effectively makes a fifth midfielder when defending. He also reads Hanson’s knock downs effectively or is at least able to get close to them as he is agile and a bit of a nuisance.
However, since Clarke has been unavailable we have added Cole (who now undoubtedly is first choice with his great start) and Reid who was also brought in as cover for Anderson and Morris. As a result there is more pace in attacking areas. Considering these factors a shift in formation may be necessary. At home we always get into a midfield battle of head tennis / congested play, which results in the long balls from the back to relieve pressure. It is usually as a result of the opposition having the extra man in midfield. This over-powering of our midfield (particularly made worse without Clarke in the false striker role) is what needs addressing. Is it possible a formation of 4-2-3-1 could address this? The usual backline, with Liddle and Evans in front, Reid / Marshall down the wings, Knott through the middle and Cole at the top.
RB CB CB LB
Marshall Knott Reid
Pace scares defenders as we know. Cole has this as well as deadly finishing. Marshall and Reid can get in behind, run at defenders, etc. Knott, Liddle and Evans all have an eye for a pass. Knott being positioned further forward and as part of a midfield three has the cover if a loose pass is made or if he is caught out of position. There is the option to play the fast moving one/two touch passes via the triangle this formation creates. It also packs the midfield when defending. Liddle / Evans provide the CB’s cover if Darby and Meredith decide they need to push on down the wing themselves. There is however little threat of a target man. And with this I see PP being reluctant to try such a formation. Teams who visit VP are not being tested enough. Something different needs to be tried, as doing the same things, and expecting a different result is unlikely to happen.
For the record I am very much behind Parkinson. I trust he will find a way to start winning at home.
I like this idea and think it would get the best out of a lot of players. However, I’m not sure elements of our crowd would accept playing one up front at home.
I totally agree that 4-4-2 is an outdated formation these days, but try telling that to some people.
I think Graham makes a great point regarding the new/returning supporters since the season ticket deal, it is a thought that I have had recently.
We probably now have about a third of the crowd that quite possibly haven’t seen how bad we actually were before Parkinson or have returned after becoming disinterested from previous uninspiring times. Maybe the credit in the bank with these supporters (understandably) isn’t as high and is having a detrimental effect on the mood around the place at the moment.
In regards to our victories against Rochdale and Doncaster, I think I have seen some changes beginning to happen. Firstly Reid at Rochdale gave us a different out ball with his sheer pace which we haven’t really had since he left. Secondly we pretty much defended a lead for 94+ minutes against Doncaster, I am not sure we would have been able to do that earlier in the season.
I truly believe that Parky is the man for the job (I wouldn’t particularly trust our “custodians” to get it right again if he does go) and I just hope that he is given the time to prove himself (he shouldn’t have to) again.
At the end of the day we are in the middle of October, we got two points closer to the playoffs after Doncaster without using our game in hand, we have a striker who knows where the net is…..I just want some positivity which was built up over the last four years to return!