Five tactical solutions Phil Parkinson might consider to reverse Bradford City’s league slump

Image by Thomas Gadd (

Image by Thomas Gadd (

By Tim Penfold

Phil Parkinson has a key month ahead of him as he tries to turn around a team that has begun to wobble in recent weeks. Defeats at Sheffield United and Gillingham have seen City slip to mid-table, and the lack of goals is now a major issue. So what can he do to fix it tactically?  Here are five suggestions:

1) Swap the wingers

One of the main reasons for City’s struggles to create chances is that attacks only really go down the left.  Kyel Reid is an out-and-out winger, and James Meredith and Greg Leigh are both naturally attacking full backs who get forward and overlap well.  However, on the right we have Stephen Darby, a more orthodox fullback, and Tony McMahon, who for all of his set piece qualities doesn’t really create much from open play.442 Jan 16

This makes the team very unbalanced, and easy to shut down – Sheffield United managed this by pinning Leigh back with Billy Sharp’s runs into the channels, then putting two men on Reid.  By swapping the wingers over, it means that there is an attacking outlet down the right in the winger, and the more defensive wide man tucks in on the left, stopping the central midfield from being overrun and creating space for the overlap.

City played this way in late August/early September with Marshall on the right and Josh Morris or Paul Anderson on the left, and looked more fluent than they have all season, against the likes of Oldham, Fleetwood and Sheffield United at home, but the injuries to Morris and Anderson have prevented this from being replicated. Perhaps it’s worth another go?

2) Build the midfield around Knott

Billy Knott had a poor game against Gillingham. He was slow and sloppy on the ball, repeatedly surrendering possession, and was rightly substituted after an hour. However, with Lee Evans returning to Wolves an opportunity has opened up for him and it’s one that he should be given a proper chance to take.

Out of all of our central midfielders, he’s the only one with the eye for a pass and technical ability to be able to create chances from the middle – see the wonderful through balls for Cole against Oldham and Fleetwood, and the pass to Leigh against Aldershot.

He’s inconsistent, but some of that must be due to him not getting a run of games, as he’s often dropped away from home. Over the next month, he should be given the main playmaking role in midfield and told to show the ability that we’ve only seen in fits and starts so far.

3) Sort out the strikers

Hanson and Cole? Hanson and Clarke? Cole and Clarke? And what about Steven Davies? City haven’t really had an obvious strikeforce for much of the season due to injuries and issues with form.

Hanson has been short of his best for much of the season, but calls for Clarke and Cole to be paired are likely to fall upon deaf ears, and rightly so. The defence relies on having a physical outlet up front to hit, and Cole isn’t strong enough, nor is his hold up play good enough, to play that role – with him up front, the ball won’t stick.

Until Davies is back, Hanson will remain as the main front man, but he’s not a natural goalscorer and while his flick-ons created plenty of goals for Nahki Wells, neither Cole or Clarke thrive off them.

The question then is who to pair him with. Clarke provides extra creativity but doesn’t look like scoring at the moment – his injury early season has taken a lot out of him. Cole, meanwhile, is a penalty box poacher (with the exception of the Gillingham game) but doesn’t provide any means of creating chances. Therefore the choice is between creativity without someone to finish them or someone to finish the chances that nobody is creating.

It’s not an easy issue to solve – my instincts would be to go with Clarke and hope that Hanson returns to form, but I’m not convinced that this would help.

4) Return to the diamond

Of course, there is one way of fitting Hanson, Clarke and Cole into the same side – the much-maligned diamond. Diamond Jan 16This restores Clarke to the role behind the front two where he excelled last season, and Cole is suited to pulling wide as one striker has to do in this formation. It also suits James Meredith, who excelled in the left back role last season, and provides extra solidity in midfield.

However, the diamond is often too easy to shut down, as it focuses everything through the centre, and, like the current side, nothing would be created on the right (assuming McMahon plays on the right side of the diamond). This is also a system that doesn’t fit in either Kyel Reid or Mark Marshall, and relies entirely on Cole for pace.

Like most tactical systems, it solves some issues but creates others.

5) Or a back three

Again, this is a way of fitting Hanson, Clarke and Cole into the same team. The front line would stay the same as it did in the diamond, but Liddle shifts further up and Meredith at left wing back has license to go even further 532 Jan 16forward.

There are, however, a couple of issues here. Neither Darby nor McMahon are natural wingbacks, although McMahon is a bit more suited to it, and this system either drops Darby or puts him on the right of a back three, which isn’t his natural position.

This provides more width than the diamond, but at the same time it means disrupting the defence and changing it to a system that the players, particularly the defenders may not be comfortable with.  The last time City tried a back three they abandoned it when 2-0 down at half time, so this would be a huge gamble.

Categories: Opinion

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9 replies

  1. Some interesting ideas and I certainly think that the third point (strike force) is spot on, the team needs to have a similar if not the same strike force every game so players like Knott and Evans can learn how to work with the forwards more effectively. The diamond didn’t work the last time it was used but I personally think it could work effectively with Clarke in the hole as it gives him more freedom. Don’t think a back three would work due to personnel as you mentioned but at this stage it’s worth a try in my opinion, the team needs a bit of a shake up!

  2. Nice ideas – maybe. This is not a time for ‘Frog kissing’, and I fear all five points you mention, if applied, would cost us further points. We had a good spell, and need to replicate that form. I’m sure PP has led an autopsy or two, but let’s just stick with the tried and tested. It’s not as if we are in a relegation dog fight, is it?

  3. I guess the question is do you fit a system around the players or the players around the system. I would suggest the former. Whilst the players Phil has brought in this year does allow him some flexibility in this regard injuries have reduced the scope he has to make tactical changes.

    I agree with Chris, changing systems and putting square pegs into round holes is not the way forward. Anyone can lose 2 games on the bounce, especially away games against strong opposition. What we need is to get back to basics and hope that the strikers remember how to hit the onion bag….

    • I guess I’m saying there’s a sixth option – do nothing. Its often the most difficult option to take but could be the most effective.

  4. Thank goodness for freedom of speech. Your article looks at some of the concerns and issues which are close to most of us who support City. The potential solutions are interesting. However the fact that you raise these issues, which in my opinion seem reasonable to both debate and consider, then you should be careful that you do not fall foul of one of your fellow writers. This was what they said, “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.”
    So should Phil and anyone at the club take a blind bit of notice about your article? Should fans have an opinion? Personally I think articles which explore issues are fine. Just be careful that you stay below the radar of ‘Counsul et Critique’ (sic) a column, which criticises anyone who expresses an opinion!

    • Rod, this is the second time you have criticised the article I wrote last week. I appreciate you didn’t like it, but did you read the full piece?

      I did not criticise anyone for having an opinion on City, in fact I argued about how it is a good thing to have one and that it keeps us engaged. I was being critical of some supporters who seem to think their opinion should be listened to by the manager, and call him “stubborn” amongst other things, when he doesn’t do what they say.

      This article has not been posted out to PP and I totally agree he would be daft to read and consider it. It is just an opinion piece exploring the kind of options that he might be considering right now. If he ends up doing one it will not be because of us, and if he doesn’t we will not be slagging him off and calling him stubborn.


      • I support the situation, where people can have a debate and form an opinion. The above article is an ‘opinion’. I worry that there is a growing tendency to disparage Twitter and Message Board activists, who also form and express ‘opinions’. A number are not as articulate as those who contribute on WOAP. However they have views and express them on those mediums. This is not dissimilar to what occurs in homes/work places/pubs/clubs and the like, but reaches a wider audience. We may think that they are poorly expressed, but their views actually do count, whether you or I like them. However in your article you are being critical of some supporters and acknowledge that above. I worry that if people become alienated, that rather than engaging them, a siege mentality develops and they become disillusioned. There is a risk, that what WOAP says, will then be ignored or be seen in a negative manner.
        Being determined is not a bad thing in a manager, perhaps that is a better choice of words than stubborn, but if you look at the synonyms of the word ‘determined’, you will find that stubborn is included. I will not be ‘slagging’ off Phil Parkinson, that is not my style. However City supporters come from a wide and diverse set of backgrounds and express themselves in many ways and people have to accept, that as long as they are not abusive or threatening, then they have a right to express them.
        Look forward to future articles.

      • Hi Rod

        I was not disparaging Twitter or Message Board activists in general, just some individuals on them. I have no issue with either, and WOAP is certainly not pitched above them or trying to be high and mighty in comparison. It is each to their own and there is room for everyone. Some people don’t like Twitter/Claret and Banter, others don’t like WOAP.

        To be honest I don’t like criticising supporters because I think we have a brilliant fanbase, but unfortunately there are some nasty things said by some fans about people like Phil Parkinson and players, and it is not something I ever enjoy reading. The idea that people can be so horrible about PP after everything he is done staggers me, but you will find plenty of examples of that on Twitter in particular. I have no problem with people criticising PP even if I don’t agree, but it should be constructive and respectful. I can’t control other platforms and I have no desire – but I can control WOAP and around here we try to keep the criticism fair-minded and balanced.

        I occasionally read Claret and Banter and it seems like a decent forum full of good opinions and decent arguments. Unlike a certain City Gent columnist, I will not be attacking this site. I think Twitter is brilliant too and a brilliant way to interact. It’s just the handful of idiots on both I can’t stand.

        (And let’s not even get started on the T&A message board)

        So I hope no offence was taken as none was meant. On Friday you will find a long article from me on this site about what I think PP might be doing wrong, but it’s only my opinion and I don’t expect anyone to act on it (other than readers agreeing or disagreeing).

  5. Thanks for the reply and clarification. I think that suitably closes the matter. City has 18,000 supporters and they all will have a slightly different take on things. I guess they conduct themselves in a wide range of different ways.
    All the best.

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