The Perfect Ten

Bradford City 0

Coventry City 0

Tuesday 25 November, 2015

By Katie Whyatt

There are lies, damned lies, but no falsehoods hidden in these statistics. Pore over the impending 30-or-so words, because they’ll be the best read you’ll do all season. Ready? 10 games unbeaten. 7 consecutive clean sheets, shattering a club record that has stood since 1911. And Bradford City strutting from the fringes of the top six, to occupying the final play-off spot. Statistical or anecdotal, you can’t argue with the evidence: this Bantams side – and, in particular, this Bantams defence – have turned ailing form around in dramatic fashion.

Parkinson is relishing the luxury of having at least two players for every position – but this ain’t Peter Taylor recruitment. This is quality on top of quality, depth unprecedented despite a profusion of injuries. For sure, much of this success lies with the loanees, a reliance that, in itself, presents several issues; but just take a look at the bench that watched from the sidelines tonight: Mark Marshall, Gary Liddle, Josh Morris, Jordan Bowery, Joe Cracknell, Luke James and Devante Cole. Greg Leigh has given Phil Parkinson a genuine left-back selection dilemma. Gary Liddle, one of 2014/15’s stand-out performers, is being left out. The versatile Josh Morris, capable of playing on either flank, will return to breathe down the necks of the in-form Tony McMahon and on-loan Kyel Reid. You trust each of these players to come in, do a job and make a difference. There is promise everywhere you look.

And amidst the early season jitters that saw City tumble out the blocks without a compass, there were no greater two scapegoats than Nathan Clarke and Ben Williams. In a start typical of the annus horriblis that culiminated in his Leyton Orient’s side relegation to the bottom tier, Nathan Clarke’s opening week travails against Swindon and York were disastrous, and, following the arrival of the teenage Reece Burke, he look destined to endure a season of oblivion. With Burke merrily going about being, you know, Burke, and becoming a vital cornerstone of a defence that have now gone 668 minutes (that’s all three Lord of the Rings films, with 110 minutes exactly left to spare) without shipping a goal, that looked to be the end of that.

Yet Clarke has proved every single one of his critics wrong. For both of City’s left-sided centre halves, any severance from the freight of Andrew Davies would have constituted success; for Clarke and Burke to now have absolutely vindicated that decision speaks volumes about the depth Parkinson has at his disposal.

This was Clarke’s best outing thus far for City, but such performances are becoming the norm for the former Orient skipper. Diving into a game-saving last-ditch tackle to thwart the visitors on the edge of the six yard box, Clarke set the remit for everything the back four did well tonight. And were there any lingering doubts that the spirit defining Parkinson’s tenue had yet to be inherited by his latest charges, one image will assuage every question: Nathan Clarke lunged in with another game-saving tackle, conceded a corner, then pounded the pitch in frustration. Greg Leigh was later visibly upset with himself for not beating the ball to the byline. The perfectionism that permeates this team is obvious.

As it transpires, Clarke needn’t have worried: this was another solid defensive performance to add to the roster. Ben Williams was outstanding, thrice keeping City in the contest during the closing stages with a string of truly world-class saves. Stephen Darby battled manfully down the right and his positional discipline was top drawer when handling Coventry’s slippery Adam Armstrong. Rory McArdle was, you know, Rory.

That this comes against Coventry City, the league leaders buoyed by a recent 4-1 demolition of previous trailblazers Gillingham, is particularly reassuring. It was brave of Coventry to play such a high-pressing game away from home, first half, and the result was classic end-to-end stuff. There were times when City rode their luck – Armstrong hitting the post before the Bantams belted the danger clear – but they coped adeptly with the visitors’ presence in the final third.

The Sky Blues’ holding midfielder, the composed Newcastle loanee Gael Bigirimana, was acute in his vision, but was matched by Billy Knott and Lee Evans. Knott’s decision-making has come under fire at times this season, and there were still some rash moments in the final third tonight, but he put in a workmanlike display and his mobility was vital in keeping things ticking over in the middle of the park. Evans ran the show tonight, playing the role of the more defensive partner to routinely win back possession.

Yet, there is one troubling hamartia that refuses to disappear. The landscape is almost unrecognisable from the fixture that frames the history between these two sides: the 3-3 draw that marked potentially Nahki Wells’ greatest league performance in a City shirt. The tie was billed as a battle between the then-two most prolific lower-league strike pairings: Coventry’s Leon Clarke, now at Bury, and future Bournemouth hotshot Callum Wilson – and Bradford’s James Hanson and Nahki Wells. In truth, it was probably the moment Nahki ceased to be ‘ours’ – and it’s a gap we still haven’t managed to plug.

As good as this run is, the inescapable truth is that it ultimately risks being undermined by a lack of a definite strike partnership. Bemoaning this in light of tonight’s draw, when optimism is so high, feels churlish – but this is the heel that will betray our Achilles.

James Hanson performed well tonight, battling admirably and almost scoring when played clean through early on by Evans – but the lack of connection with Billy Clarke was telling. This was potentially Clarke’s poorest performance in a Bradford City shirt: he’s proven time and time again that he has the potential to be the best auxiliary striker in this division, but, on tonight’s evidence particularly, it seems increasingly that a diamond midfield is the only way to properly exploit his strengths. Clarke is simply not utilised well enough when positioned off the shoulder.

He needs that space between midfield and the forward line to function, but you cannot dismantle the Evans-Knott and Evans-Liddle partnerships. City would undoubtedly be weaker for having a narrow midfield, and Kyel Reid wouldn’t have the width to truly stretch a back line without compromising the structure in the middle.

Jordan Bowery put in a strong display against Scunthorpe, but neither he nor Devante Cole, brought on in a double substitution to replace Hanson and Clarke, offered anything that could stake a reasonable claim for a starting berth. Tonight was the best home midfield performance we’ve seen, but the discordance between the front two was inescapable and, without some sort of harmony, City’s dominance will come to null.

Back in the 1980s, Coventry gave us The Specials. Back in 2012, they gave us Callum Wilson. Twenty years on, Bradford City have, for the third time under Phil Parkinson, built their own Specials; but they need to find their Clarke and Wilson. They have the numbers – six forwards on the books – but the best combination remains to be seen.

Just seven points stand between City and the league leaders, but just seven points separate City from fourteenth placed Rochdale. Fill in that final piece, and the Bantams will be unbeatable – otherwise, the limitations they are, for now, surmounting could come back to haunt them. They have worked so hard to get this far – and it would be heartbreaking if this effort was then undermined.

City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, N Clarke, Leigh, McMahon, Knott, Evans (Liddle 85), Reid, B Clarke (Cole 74), Hanson (Bowery 74)

Not used: Marshall, Morris, Cracknell, James

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Categories: Match Reviews

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19 replies

  1. I would not say there is one hamartia, it’s more of a trompe d’oeil. “Quae cum ea ita sint” as we say in Skipton.

  2. a great report on the game and spot on about Clarke

  3. What a lot of show-offs!
    Great report, even if I had to find the dictionary.

  4. All for some creative writing but “Ben Williams was outstanding, thrice keeping City in the contest during the closing stages with a string of truly world-class saves.” Not sure that the saves were truly world class, more bread and butter for a keeper whose finally found the belief in his own ability.

    Keep up the writing, always good to read!

  5. Could anyone tell me which ‘club record that has stood since 1911’ suffered a ‘shattering’ last night?

    If the reference is to the fact that this Bradford City team has not conceded a goal for the last seven games – two in the F A Cup and five in the league – and that Ben Williams has been in goal for all seven of those games, then I have to report that Mark Mellors’ 1911 record still stands. Between February 25 and April 1 1911, he was in goal during City’s eight game run – five in the league and three F A Cup ties that included a semi-final win – during which no goals were conceded.

    So not so much ‘shattered’ as ‘not quite equalled yet’ for that record.

    Maybe there’s another ‘club record that has stood since 1911’. Oh yes, there is, isn’t there? But this Bradford City team will really be dream makers if they equal that one!

  6. Katie comments ‘Clarke is simply not utilised well enough when positioned off the shoulder’. Might not the problem therefore be Hanson rather than Clarke – or am I not allowed to say that?!

    • Hanson doesn’t make a lot of runs behind the opposition defence which makes it hard for Clarke. I wouldn’t say Hanson is the ‘problem’; they just aren’t a natural pairing.

      Clarke is our best attacking player and finding the right players to put around him will be the key to a more productive attack..

      I don’t agree that only the diamond system suits him. He’s a versatile player and could thrive as part of the forward line or as a central midfielder in a number of formations. He just needs runners ahead of him to give him space and options.

  7. I wasn’t pinning the blame on any particular striker – I was saying we have a range of decent forwards, but don’t seem to be able to find a way to use all their strengths well. Billy Clarke is my favourite striker but it’s a waste to play him off the shoulder. It’s a big conundrum about who Parkinson should favour and the personnel changes he’ll have to make to bring out the best of his front two.

  8. Totally agree on Billy Clarke – I remarked a few weeks ago prior to his comeback that we only seem to see the best of him in a diamond formation and it wouldn’t be fair to change the setup to accommodate him. At the moment he is being shoehorned in IMO because Devante hasn’t grasped his opportunity fully.
    I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the Williams saves were “world class” but decent yes.
    Also pleased to see Nathan Clarke play well last night. It’s early days IMO to say that he has proved all of his critics wrong after his horror shows of early season but if he continues to perform like that then he will. With the good news on Reece Burke this morning, it’ll be interesting to see who gets the nod at CB on Saturday and beyond.

  9. As much as Hanson is a good target man, he doesn’t get into the box enough. Too many times crosses are sent into dangerous areas in the penalty area and it’s crying out for someone to be at the front or back post. I accept that the strike partner or wingers could equally get there too, however, Hanson usually plays as the furthest man forward, he can often hold up the ball, then play the ball to the wing, but makes a slow run into the box, instead of busting a gut to get into a good position, ready for the cross. His inability to strike up a partnership is concerning. We got lucky that Wells was able to hassle defenders, and didn’t necessarily need the ball to his feet. However, Clarke, Cole and James seem unable to make it click with Hanson. Cole and Davies seemed to be linking up well before the injury to Davies.

    By all accounts Bowery and Clarke linked up well at Scunthorpe. It’s difficult to conclude what the right approach is, as Hanson would be snapped up by most league 1 sides, and does have a role in this squad. However, I can’t help but think that we would be more fluid in our attacking play in the final third if we played two strikers who can mix up their play by dropping off as well as running in behind defenders, who like the ball played into feet, and can turn / run at their marker. (You only have to look at Coventry’s strikers for an example of this style of play.)

  10. I would like to see davies and Clarke play together up front, both have a bit of creativity. Also josh Morris will add something different when he gets up and running. That said its hard to fit all these players into 11!!! Great problem for Parky

  11. Great article Katie.

    There have been ongoing concerns expressed about the ‘harmatia’ resulting from the Nahki Wells/James Hanson break-up since the very moment he moved down the road. Whether that type of partnership ever materialises between Hanson and A N Other remains to be seen, Nahki has been gone how long? His absence doesn’t appear to have resulted in a plummet down the table or the inability to take on and beat Premiership teams.

    The team is doing fine regardless of the absence of what was probably a unique partnership and I don’t think Parky should risk changing what is working fine results wise in order to bring Billy Clarke into the game more.

    Coventry played 4-2-3-1 and I think that playing a good team with that set-up means that it was extremely difficult for Clarke to find space between their back 4 and their midfield. They played two holding players in order to stop Clarke getting the space in which he can be so dangerous -in my opinion- and against lesser teams than Coventry I am sure we will see Billy getting in ‘the hole’ and causing havoc once again.

  12. Your Article seems to get hung up on your perception that unless the team is banging in goals left right and centre every week with the same two as strike partners then the season will not end well. Do you remember the famous phrase “One nil to the Arsenal” and have you seen how many goals Burton have scored ( four less than us) but their League position?
    This season the Board have backed Phil in his aim to have two players for each position who can slot in without a problem to suit circumstances or the opposition, plus one or two others who can play almost anywhere. That decision is starting to pay off and who knows where we might be even in November with that squad plus the long term injured available for selection each week.
    Phil is meticulous with pre-match preparation and his study of the opposition and thereafter team selection, after all he now has the squad to take options. Who expected Bowery to play against Scunthorpe?, not Scunny, they were prepared for Hanson. Who expected Hanson to play against Coventry?, not the Sky Blues, they were prepared for Bowery. Did Scunny expect Luke James when Billy Clarke came off?, no they were prepared for Devante and so it goes on.
    Your comments about Billy are a little unfair. Yes he was not quite as effective on Tuesday but this is more to do with a player making two appearances in four days in hard games than anything else, especially after three months out with a serious injury, it takes time to get back to full speed.
    With respect I think instead of second guessing the Manager or worse trying to put yourself in his place you would be better keeping your obvious reporting talents to the game and leave the team selection and formation to the guy who is paid to do it, after all there is quietly a good job being done, and I for one would accept “One nil to the Arsenal”
    Roger Owen,
    Director.

    • Hi Roger

      Thanks for your comments and welcome to the debate. Always nice to hear from the board.

      With respect, however, I think that it is a little unfair to single out WOAP’s coverage for criticism when you will find much more negative comment elsewhere in the Bradford City community. Certainly we have consistently praised and defended Phil Parkinson in good times and bad, often in the face of angry criticism from other fans. We got accused of not being critical enough of the club quite often, so it’s a little strange to read some of your comments.

      Equally we have said a lot of nice things about Billy Clarke over the past 18 months. He had a poor game on Tuesday and as you say there were good reasons for this, but surely there is nothing wrong with pointing this out?

      I agree that as fans we shouldn’t be overly fixated by the lack of goals for. And, you will be pleased to know, I am currently writing a piece to go live next week, praising the defensive efforts. However, amongst fans there is a concern about the lack of goals and I think it is justified. I believe we have the fifth lowest goals for to date? It’s certainly low and when you look at our top six prospects, you worry this might be an issue. It is a concern to us fans. If you know better than great. Clearly you are more privy to the plan than us given you get to speak to Phil whereas we don’t. We can only judge what we see.

      It is indeed great to have so many options. The board and Phil deserve great credit for the squad we have built. However, I agree with Katie that I hope a first choice front two – a partnership – does emerge from the current forward line. I’ve watched City for the best of 20 years and our best periods have come when we have a clear front two who work well together, aided by good options behind. That’s what we want to see, as just like the back four such continuity helps the club.

      I don’t think that Katie – or indeed any WOAP writer – has ever attempted to put themselves in Phil’s position, and I don’t know where that criticism has come from. We are just supporters with opinions and we are entitled to have and to air them. As editor I have always tried to instil a rule that criticism must be constructive and fair-minded, with reasons given for our views. Katie does this better than anyone. People might not agree with us – and many don’t – but we at least give our reasons. Without criticising other forums, you don’t see that type of balance on other sites.

      Anyway thanks again for your comments.

      Jason

    • That’s the thing about football Roger, it’s a game of opinions, and looking at your post its seems you’ll be dismayed to hear everyone is entitled to one and that might not agree with yours. Width of a post is a fantastic balanced “supporters” view of goings on at Bradford City, I happen to agree with the comments but that’s not saying I’m critical of Phil he players or the board. It’s fair to say goals win games and we could find ourselves needing more to win games come crunch time, who knows a playoff place could come down to goal difference and it’s fair to point all this out.

      It does appear heavy handed for a “director” to come on here and criticise a fantastic writer and website for saying what they see.

      Mark
      Supporter.

    • Roger, I think you need to bear in mind that this is one of the best football sites to be found on the internet and the Bradford City community should be very proud of it. You are certainly entitled to your opinion but please bear in mind that we don’t have the luxury of speaking to Parky on a daily basis and must judge progress in the 90mins we see each week. Strike partnerships are the talk up and down the football league pyramid and I don’t see why City supporters should be any different. Perhaps instead of criticising Katie you should instead pen an article on the work that goes on behind the scenes at City and the values and belief systems that underpin it all. That would make a far better contribution to the debate.

      Criticise the ideas in the article by all means, but not the writer. Given the state of the pitch last year and the debate surrounding it I would have thought that you more than anyone would appreciate that sentiment…

      • Interesting debate. The opinions below are my own! Katie wrote a cracking article. The site is sometimes criticised for being too pro club. I disagree it’s fair and balanced IMO and as Jason states he welcomes positive criticism. Parky has proved himself time and again IPWT. The board should be proud of how we have grown with their backing and support. Billy Clarke is our best player IMO. He knits play together and makes us more fluid so cov played 2 deep lying midfielders to blunt him. It worked to a degree but billy is quality and will shine again. Our defence has been superb yet I tend to agree that we haven’t been ruthless enough in front of goal to date. EG Crewe were there for a battering. We do need to score more goals as we won’t go to the end of the season not conceding although I’m hoping otherwise. If we think we can keep winning 1-0 then we are mistaken! Yet Coventry were a very good side and we took the game to them for large parts of the game. This seasons roller coaster is heading north! Come on city. Katie and WOAP keep up the good work. It’s always a good read.

  13. Katie, take the response as a compliment. There is so much drivel written about the club elsewhere that it is refreshing to read the sort of constructive comments that you contribute. The response to the feedback says it all. One point to add… I remember when the run of 10 (or was it 9?) consecutive wins in 1984 proved to be a real launchpad. I wouldn’t bet against it now.

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