Bradford City 0
Tuesday 26 January, 2016
By Jason McKeown
When you’re 1-0 down inside 120 seconds, and are completely overrun for the next eight minutes, you face some very tough choices. As a player you can continue to duck the mounting challenge and hope that a team-mate comes to the rescue. And as a supporter you can turn on your team and boo their next mistake.
Or you can choose something else.
There was a defiance here – on the pitch and within the three home stands. Almost everyone stood together, feeding off the strength and support of each other. It manifested itself into a drive from the players to shake off such a dreadful start and to remember the gameplan. It triggered a loud chant of “Parkinson’s Bradford Army” from the crowd that echoed around Valley Parade. There was no white flag hoisted up here after such a poor opening, there was a backbone. This time, there really was courage.
It wasn’t enough to undo the damage of those opening two minutes, but it led to one of the best – and certainly the bravest – performances of the season.
88 minutes is a long, long time to hold onto a 1-0 lead for. Barnsley didn’t exactly sit back on their early present of a goal, which signalled a continuation of their outstanding form, but they were under the cosh for long spells and had to defend for their lives.
They had scored so early in the easiest of fashions. A deep hanging ball from out wide slowly made its way into the Bradford City box. Not one defender dealt with the cross, so Ben Williams took it upon himself to try to claim it. It was a misjudgement from the goalkeeper, although he more than made up for it with some subsequent excellent saves. Marley Watkins’ header made it 1-0 to Barnsley, before some in the stands had even reached their seats.
And you feared the worst. You really did. Minutes later Watkins charged through the backline and shot wide, without a home player able to get near him. There was an alarming hole between midfield and defence, and the visitors were ruthlessly exposing it.
With a City central midfield of Chris Routis and Tony McMahon, at that stage it didn’t look a clever call by Phil Parkinson to leave Gary Liddle out of the squad – or to restrict Billy Knott to a place on the bench.
Routis and McMahon did their very best to disprove the theory they are defensive midfielders. They were woeful in their protection of the back four. They let players run through in possession and at other times failed to pick up off-the-ball runners. But still, going forward they offered so much more. In most un-Parkinson like fashion, this was a City middle four with no holding midfielder. It was remarkable stuff. Whatever you want to say about Routis and McMahon’s failings, their passion was infectious. They wanted this so badly. Others followed their lead.
Mistakes? They made a few. All 14 City players involved tonight were guilty of numerous errors. If you want to pick holes in any player’s worth to the team, you can have a field day with the evidence from this game. Imperfection reined from front to back. This was no one’s finest hour.
But what could not be questioned of anyone was their commitment.
It was a performance full of risks. Of not being afraid to make a mistake in pursuit of a bigger reward. Of trying out more difficult things whilst knowing they might fail. And it was a welcome relief. If we fans are as fed up of defensive football as we claim to be, this approach has to be preferable. Indeed, as a crowd, most of us did respond to it. We really got behind the team. We stuck with them. The groaning was kept to a minimum, reserved only really for moments when attacking moves broke down.
And there were a lot of attacking moves. At 1-0 down at home, of course you are going to attack more, but this was markedly different. The use of the long ball from the back was rare. The back four played the ball out to McMahon and Routis, who linked up with Josh Morris, Mark Marshall, Billy Clarke and Jamie Proctor. It was passing football at a quick tempo, with variety and invention shown in the route to the Barnsley box.
It was so…refreshing. There was a real threat to City attacks, which have looked so one-dimensional and laboured for months. The ball would be lost, but people would hurriedly win it back. The gaps were left and Barnsley certainly had the chances to capitalise, but at the back City were excellent with Rory McArdle, Reece Burke and – after Burke went off injured – Nathan Clarke outstanding.
If only City had a clinical striker, they would have won this game comfortably. Ironically Devante Cole would have thrived on the way City played here. Billy Clarke did at least enjoy a better game after weeks of under-performing, and on occasions prompted fear in the Barnsley defenders that he ran at. Proctor built on his impressive Vale Park debut and was the focal point of home attacks. On the wings, Morris proved just what a big miss he has been when out injured, whilst Marshall was a threat if sometimes lacking in confidence.
The 20 minutes after half time proved the key period. City continued to press forward and Barnsley were on the ropes – but somehow the Bantams couldn’t land the killer punch to equalise. Billy Clarke shot wide, Routis had two headers well saved, Morris drove a cross shot just past the target and McMahon’s long range piledriver was somehow tipped wide of the post.
The best chance of all fell to Proctor. The keeper misjudged a clearance, leaving the on-loan striker with an open goal from just inside the Barnsley half. He couldn’t hit the target, with his curling effort going wide of the goal. Not an easy opportunity, but still a criminal one to pass up. There were groans of frustration after the miss, but then the loud chanting recommenced. “Everywhere we go”.
In the final stages City seemed to tire. Billy Knott made a positive impression when introduced and the attacks still continued, but their frequency decreased. The final chance of the night came from a McMahon free kick on the edge of the box. It flew just wide of the post. Belief that City could come back had deserted many people, and the home sections were half empty well before the final whistle.
From those who did stay, there was booing at the end. I don’t get that at all. Nor do I understand all the heavy social media negativity that immediately followed. Which home game did you prefer: Oldham or Barnsley? I left Valley Parade deflated after the former, but I felt really heartened by this performance. And it was also, after all, a first home league home defeat since September.
You could give every player 5 out of 10 for the quality they showed tonight, or you can applaud their bravery and the way they kept going. You can deride the lack of goals once more, or be encouraged by the greater attacking intent. You can moan about the negative football this season – but surely you must acknowledge the more positive approach tonight?
I have no issue with anyone booing if they feel that way. If they feel let down by the way this season is unfolding. If they are disillusioned by recent events. But I personally enjoyed the way we played tonight. I think this was a very encouraging performance. So I applauded.
Clearly, the season now all comes down to whether Parkinson can sign the right striker before the window shuts on Monday. Our play off hopes completely depend on it. If we don’t sign one, forget it. If we get the right man, there is still a chance.
Either way, this was a return to the way Phil Parkinson has sent out City teams prior to this season. A performance filled with purpose, commitment and a high workrate. With a few tweaks, this approach can prove much more enjoyable and rewarding than anything we saw over the first half of the season.
There was a different plan on show tonight. Let’s please give it a chance.
City: Williams; Darby, McArdle, Burke (N Clarke 45), Meredith; Marshall, McMahon, Routis (Knott 71), Morris; B Clarke (Davies 55), Proctor
Not used: Cracknell, Hanson, Leigh, Reid
Categories: Match Reviews