Bury vs Bradford City preview
@Gigg Lane on Saturday 9 January, 2016
By Jason McKeown
Imagine if Phil Parkinson had spent the coach journey home from Gillingham looking up the bcafc hashtag on Twitter, noting the demands of what he should and shouldn’t do, and then implementing these instructions at Bury tomorrow? That instead of discussing with Steve Parkin the team’s tactics for the FA Cup tie at Gigg Lane, he selected a team based on what people were posting on Claret and Banter or the Bradford City Facebook page?
It would be incredibly weak leadership. Proof that he didn’t know what he was doing. And it would probably fail, too.
Phil Parkinson won’t be doing any of this, yet there is a section of Twitter and message board users who seemingly expect him too. It is not enough for them to exclaim what they think the manager should do, they are annoyed that he doesn’t listen to them and act.
This often manifests itself into a particular slogan – that the manager is ‘stubborn’ (dictionary definition of of this term: “. Stubborn, because he doesn’t do what some supporters want him to do. I read in various places this week that Parkinson is stubborn. But then I read it of Peter Taylor and Stuart McCall and Colin Todd and Bryan Robson and Nicky Law and Jim Jefferies too. Paul Jewell was accused of being stubborn back in the day also, and he was quite successful. You could keep going back.
For decades, it seems, Bradford City have employed stubborn managers. We must address this next time. Forget having someone with the conviction of their own mind – the ability to make tough decisions and an understanding they will be judged on the results of those calls – let’s hire someone who will do as he is told.
In the wake of back-to-back away defeats, Parkinson has once again endured a week of tough criticism from some fans. It is part of the job, and much of it is merited, but as per usual some people take it that little bit too far. Rationality and balance goes out of the window. The digs are in poor taste.
And slogan criticisms emanate, like they always do. Like they do towards every City manager ever, and probably to every manager in the country in employment right now. Parkinson is tactically inept, and has taken the club as far as he can, are two slogan statements that are utter nonsense. Another – and one every single City manager in the past was accused of – is that he makes his subs too late in the game, and when he does make changes they are too predictable.
Like with the ‘stubborn’ slogan, you again have to question what people want of their City manager. When should he be making subs? How unpredictable does he have to be, in order to find approval? Should he have started making the changes at the Preistfield Stadium in the 12th minute, with City two goals behind, for example?
I personally think the role of substitutes is overblown by the media and fans – and the media are definitely to blame for this. How often do you watch a game on TV where at half time one team is in front, and the only thing that the pundits and commentators can talk about is how the losing manager needs to change it?
Sometimes substitutions can change the outcome of a match, but in reality it is not that often. Games follow a pattern and they can be difficult to change midway through, or you can make a substitution that adversely effects the outcome. Going too gung ho is one such example. If you’re losing 2 0 away, and start throwing too many bodies forward, the home side can sit back and hit you on the counter attack, potentially increasing their winning margin. (See examples A, B and C.)
And equally, just because your starting XI have fallen behind in a game, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to come back. Sometimes you have to trust in them.
All of which isn’t to say that people are wrong to moan about so-called late substitutions, but it doesn’t mean they are right either. It’s an opinion, and, just like backsides, we all have one. What makes football such a compelling pastime is that we can all form opinions on all aspects, and sharing and debating them keeps us engaged beyond 90 minutes of football on a Saturday. If you think James Hanson is a useless lump I will disagree strongly, but if holding that view keeps you interested in Bradford City then we can at least shake hands and buy each other a beer. We share a common interest, even if we’re viewing different sides of the coin.
But the problem, beyond those who resort to meaningless slogans, are those who believe that their opinions should carry more weight than they merit. That Phil Parkinson should be listening to them and acting on their view. And that if he doesn’t, he is somehow stubborn or arrogant or clueless or inept.
Like the rest of us, Phil Parkinson has an opinion. Unlike the rest of us, his opinion actually matters. We supporters can call for all manner of team selections or formations, but we don’t have any responsibility when putting those views forward. If they were to be the wrong calls, we would have no one to answer to. Phil Parkinson carries responsibility for results, good and bad, and should be allowed to make decisions however he sees fit.
And he makes those decisions from a position of knowing the full picture. Often our own views are shaped with a level of ignorance filling in the gaps. You see it last Saturday, when supporters not at Gillingham decided to blame the defeat on James Hanson, due to their own pre-judgements and prejudices. You also see it when people start demanding Luke James or Mark Marshall starts in the team or “deserve a chance” when none of us are watching how they are performing in training, or are privy to Parkinson’s reasons. If we were, our own views would probably be very different.
As fans, we pay our money to follow the team and deserve to air our views, but that doesn’t mean we deserve to be listened too. Phil Parkinson is the expert, not us. He is. We might consider ourselves knowledgeable about the game and many of us are, but we are not as knowledgeable or as clued up as the man paid to be. We can disagree with his judgements, but that doesn’t mean we are right.
There is no common consensus amongst the 18,000 of us over what is going well and not so well; but debating it is fun and part of the appeal of being a football supporter. It keeps us invested in the narrative, and increases how much we care about the club. The next City manager will prompt similar frustrations, and the one after. So all we can each do to console ourselves with that fact that if we want to view the Greatest Manager Bradford City Never Had, all we need to do is find a mirror.
Moving on then…
Bradford City make their first visit to Gigg Lane in more than five years tomorrow, looking to extent their FA Cup run and earn a fourth round draw to match last season’s trip to Chelsea.
This might not have quite been the tie City would have chosen, but it could certainly be a lot worse. A fellow League One team, only just up the road, and with recent problems to match the Bantams. Bury have lost three games in a row to slump to 14th, and since a 2-1 October loss at Valley Parade have only won three of their subsequent 10 league matches.
A winnable fixture, no question then. City will take another large travelling support to Gigg Lane; and with a full week until the next league match,there is no reason for Parkinson to select anything less than his strongest team.
That will mean Ben Williams continuing in goal. The recent, low key announcement that Joe Cracknell has had his contract extended for the rest of the season would suggest that Parkinson has no plans to sign up someone else to truly rival Williams for the number one jersey – a sign of how far he has come since the start of the season.
There is a school of thought that Williams was spurred into stronger form because of the challenge posed by Brad Jones, but any fears the former Crewe man might now slack off should be allayed by the fact his contract runs out in the summer. Williams faces a big second half to the season, and he will need to maintain recent standards.
In front of Williams could be a hole vacated by Reece Burke, who went off injured against Gillingham. Parkinson may elect to bring Gary Liddle into the defence or select Chris Routis – neither the ideal scenario. It was woeful timing on Nathan Clarke’s part to land a suspension for his red card in Kent, but somewhat typical of his luck this season. Rory McArdle will once again be the main man at centre back, and the full backs slots will be filled by Stephen Darby and James Meredith.
In midfield, Lee Evans’ imminent return to Wolves is unexpected and disappointing. The Welshman has largely enjoyed a solid loan spell at Valley Parade, although there were question marks about his temperament given his adverse reaction to being substituted on three separate occasions. Evans has the ability to make it in the Championship and with more maturity to his game will enjoy a long career. He made a positive impact in West Yorkshire and will be missed. With Gary Liddle possibly needed as centre back, Evans may make a final start alongside Billy Knott in the middle of the park. Josh Morris is also back into contention.
On the flanks expect Tony McMahon and Kyel Reid to continue, with Mark Marshall failing to make a convincing case to play ahead of either. It will be interesting to see if Marshall – presumably on reasonable money – sticks around for the rest of the season or heads out on loan. Marshall’s move to Valley Parade has clearly not worked out, and the likelihood of Reid sticking around longer would suggest there is little prospect for that to change.
Up front, the dilemma is whether to play James Hanson with Billy Clarke or Devante Cole, or to leave Hanson out and experiment with a Clarke/Cole partnership. Everything we know about Parkinson over his four years at the club suggests he will retain a big forward in his starting XI, albeit Hanson might feel uneasy about Steven Davies’ increasingly close return to full fitness. As many have said, no City striker has scored in the league since November, although Hanson and Cole did net in the FA Cup second round win over Chesham.
Whatever the result tomorrow, City have 23 league matches to go – 13 of them are at home. A lot has been written and said over the past seven days, but at this halfway stage City’s season remains firmly in the balance. There is a long way to go, and the rest of this month will help to set the tone for the battles ahead.
It’s time to put back-to-back away defeats to bed, and to see if City can spend Monday evening excitedly talking about the outcome of the FA Cup fourth round draw.