Port Vale 1
Bradford City 1
Saturday 23 January, 2016
By Jason McKeown
This is a gamble from a manager who appeared to have stopped taking risks. A shake up. A throw of the dice that might land on six but could also end up on one. The balls have been thrown into the air, and now we are waiting to see how they land.
Phil Parkinson has recognised that he had to do something different with his squad. That things couldn’t go on like this. Without major money to spend, tough decisions have to be made. This is not the easy route. When you are the league’s lowest scorers, selling your joint top scorer is a hard sell. It doesn’t sound clever. There is no obvious logic to it. But something had to be done. Things couldn’t go on like this.
If Bradford City’s promotion hopes were a game of blackjack, Parkinson probably held a hand of 16. Decent, but probably not enough to beat the dealer’s hand and to win promotion. Parkinson could have continued to play it safe. He could have chosen to stick, but instead he has twisted. It might prove a smart move, or it might prove the wrong call. But things couldn’t go on like this.
So out with Devante Cole, out imminently Luke James. Out, possibly, Gary Liddle – although that is looking less likely than it was a week ago. In comes a guy who can’t even get in the Fleetwood Town team, with a career average of one goal every 5.8 games. What the hell?
The club are £52,500 better off for selling Cole to Fleetwood, and will have made a big saving on wages too. Parkinson has declared he will use this money to bring in a replacement. That the Fleetwood reserve – Jamie Proctor – is not taking Cole’s place. He is a small part of the solution. We wait and see who is lined up. Because there is no way Parkinson will have let Cole leave without having someone already in mind. Some of the balls have yet to land.
If Jamie Proctor’s welcome to Valley Parade from supporters was underwhelming, his first face-to-face meeting could not have gone better. For the second time this season City signed a striker just before they played Port Vale, and for the second time this season that striker scored on his debut.
65 minutes into this encounter, with his new team both a goal and a man down, a superb pinpoint cross from substitute Mark Marshall was begging to be headed home. It wasn’t an easy chance for Proctor. He had to wrestle with his marker to win the ball. His header was bullet-like. It had to be, with a Port Vale defender on the line attempting to keep it out. It bounced off the home player’s arm and into the net.
It was a wonderfully taken goal.
Proctor had made the best possible start to what could prove to be a short-term career at Bradford City, by becoming the first Bantams striker in two months to score a league goal. He raced over to the away end that was able to let go of an hour’s worth of frustration and disappointment to embrace their new goalscoring hero. The look on Proctor’s face was a picture. He was overjoyed with his moment, and a few minutes later was serenaded with his own chant.
Jamie Proctor is having a party.
Proctor is not Cole’s replacement, but his arrival is timely. James Hanson is injured and not at his best. Billy Clarke was once again utterly anonymous here. Steve Davies – a late substitute – still waits for his first Bantams goal. Luke James didn’t even get to come on for what was probably his final matchday involvement for City. Proctor led the line admirably. He was physically tough, strong in the air and difficult to knock off the ball. He has footballing intelligence.
Presumably he has so far struggled to reach these high standards week in week out. That’s why he is a Fleetwood reserve.
The goal could prove a huge one in City’s season. The first half had been as bad as they had played all season. Ajay Leitch-Smith – who has so often excelled against the Bantams – smashed Port Vale into a lead after only 1 minute and 50 seconds. A mix up between James Meredith and Reece Burke enabled him to run through and pass the ball into the net beyond a badly positioned Ben Williams.
Port Vale could, and should, have been two or three-up in the first 30 minutes. They continued to press City high up the pitch, forcing uncharacteristic mistakes from a backline that has been so consistent all season. Eventually the back four settled down, with Burke looking like he had never been away. But better home finishing would have put the game out of sight for the visitors.
The midfield were no help to the defence early doors. Tony McMahon kept giving the ball away in poor areas of the pitch, and Lee Evans went missing. Gary Liddle – back in the side after a week of transfer speculation – was better, but has always lacked the forward play to drive attacks. When City attacked they were as they have been all season. Slow. Predictable. Sideways pass after sideways pass on the edge of the box. Lacking the urgency to get the ball into the area from out wide.
Gallows humour filled the away end with chants about our lack of goals, but really no one was laughing.
There was improvement over the final 15 minutes of the half, but Parkinson would have spent much of the interval ripping into his troops. He decided to take Liddle off – a decision that might just have left the midfielder hurriedly searching for Keith Curle’s mobile number – and he tore into Evans for failing to influence the game. Just before half time Evans had criminally ducked out of a tackle. He would not make that particular mistake again.
For only five minutes into the second half, Evans was heading to the dressing room after picking up a deserved red card for a crude challenge. The on-loan Wolves man had been fed a poor ball in the middle of the park. He was frustrated as he lost possession. He went in hard, and late, in a futile attempt to win it back. He was probably too fired up after his half time dressing down from Parkinson. Not one City player argued the referee’s decision. City had ended the half with two defensive midfielders in the middle, and now they didn’t have either.
Parkinson regrouped his team, admirably. They went to 4-4-1, with Billy Clarke dropping into central midfield alongside Tony McMahon, whilst still attempting to support Proctor. He kept two wingers – half time sub Mark Marshall and Kyel Reid – on the pitch. At 1-0 down City had to chase it and did just that. Port Vale will feel they should have finished the job, but struggled to create any clear cut second half chances. They were an average League One side, and they left the game open for City to come back.
Cue the equaliser from Proctor that changed the mood in the away end. Quite possibly, it could change the mood for the season too. It was a mood that has been growing ever darker, as the poor results of the festive period and unconvincing recent home displays, coupled with Cole’s departure, sent some fans into meltdown. Proctor’s goal was joyous. Maybe the future isn’t so gloomy after all. Maybe a play off push can still happen. Let’s hope so. Things couldn’t go on like this.
At 1-1 City could have easily won it. A glorious run forward by Burke resulted in the cultured defender playing a one-two with Marshall and smashing a volley at goal that was superbly tipped over. It would have been an astonishing goal. Port Vale make substitutions which were booed by their own fans, and their attempts to push forward were hampered by the threat of City on the break. Marshall played really well on his old stomping ground. He must start on Tuesday.
It was a point, and it was a very good point. The City supporters sang Parkinson’s name during the closing stages. They warmly clapped the manager and players off the pitch at full time. There is work to be done, and there were issues prevalent here for sure. But there was a sense of positivity restored by the end. A flicker of optimism, which has been missing over recent weeks.
City are still playing ponderous football. They entertained here, but are not entertaining their fans back at home and must change that this week. After the game Parkinson passionately defended the number of chances his team are creating, and squarely blamed the lack of goals on his strikers. I’m not sure I agree with that. There is a big difference between creating chances and creating good chances. City have indeed had plenty of shots on goal over recent games, but in the words of Homer Simpson “you can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty per cent of all people know that.”
But either way, Parkinson is doing something about it. He has recognised that City have become too predictable to defend against. That the goals for column is not good enough. That this team he has built is good but, hamstrung by several long-term injuries, doesn’t look good enough to make the top six, or to be promoted.
Things couldn’t go on like this. So he’s changing things around. Making tough decisions. Shuffling the pack in the hope of landing an Ace. We don’t know yet how his plan will shape up, but the fact he is doing something excites me. These are interesting times at Valley Parade and, if he gets it right, it might finally become interesting on the field too.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Burke, Meredith, McMahon, Liddle (Marshall 45), Evans, Reid (Routis 89), B Clarke, Proctor (Davies 77)
Not used: Cracknell, Leigh, Morris, James
Categories: Match Reviews