A heartening way to lose a game of football

Bradford City 0

Barnsley 1

Watkins 2

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

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Categories: Match Reviews

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16 replies

  1. In addition to getting a striker in I feel we would greatly benefit from a creative midfielder in order to give us a much more attacking threat

    • For me we have one……..get Morris playing more central and he has the ability to pick out the killer pass.

      • I agree he could play that role but he was effective on the left last night and we have nobody else to play there.Marshall showed last night he is definitely an out an out right winger he wants to get to the byline past his man and deliver a cross on his favoured right foot which he effective at. On the left our only other option is Reid where all the attacks in recent games have been breaking down.

      • Totally agree JP77, ive been wanting to see this since his return. He got a decent amount of goals for Fleetwood. Luke, the comment about Reid is a fair comment because he has been poor the last few games but surely that is because hes been the only attacking outlet and teams know we only attack down that side – imagine if we had Marshall on the right with Reid on the left and Evans and Morris in the middle! Teams wouldn’t be able to mark him out of a game then because they are attacking players across the midfield that they would have to try and pick up.

  2. Great report, some good attacking play tonight and the commitment was plain to see.
    One minor criticism – how can you not mention ‘that tackle’ by McArdle? Amazing stuff from our player of the season!

    • I was not at the game tonight unfortunately, heard radio commentary instead. For me work rate and endeavour characterises a good city team. This was evident in last nights game. Let’s get behind the lads, hope Parky can sign a goal scorer or an attacking coach. Either way I.P.W.T, onwards and upwards.

    • That tackle. Class. Down the Boo boys, up the bantams.

  3. Effort and determination certainly there and Rory was outstanding. The more I watch this team the more I think Billy Clarke is the wrong man at the wrong time…..which is a shame because he is probably our most naturally gifted player. He masks our conservative midfield’s attacking shortcomings to some degree but leaves a lone striker with an impossible task, particularly at home. Morris left side of midfield could be worth a go with a Meredith/Leigh (not sure which one in front of the other?) left hand side to give Morris a bit of protection and balance the out and out wing play of Marshall on the right. Last night Marshall was very good and showed what is lacking in Reid’s play but does suggest we have a rather unbalanced squad when Morais and Anderson are fit again. My one moan…..can Stephen Darby please practice playing a first time ball, his constant ‘safety’ touch just saps the momentum out of our build up play.

  4. Thanks Jason for the article.You’ve provided some reassurance to me that I wasn’t at a different game to most other supporters last night. Yes, it looked to be an unusal line-up; yes, PP took a huge risk with the personnel and yes, we made several mistakes on the pitch. But the gamble almost paid off and whilst the result was a huge disappointment, the performance was one of the best recently.

  5. I think the report here is trying to put an optimistic spin on how things are the moment. Let’s not forget, Rory bailed us out twice when Barnsley should have put the game to bed. And we only had, what, 2 shots on target? (That’s after Parky talked up our attacking intent before the game).

    We’ve made it almost into February without Parky deciding what his best team is. How many striking combinations have we had this season? Last night we had another midfield pairing, thrown together in the hope they will click. McMahon and Routis both have qualities, but they are not a promotion chasing midfield partnership. Routis can spray lovely balls when he has time, but he isn’t great under pressure. McMahon has good set piece delivery. But they are both cautious, and when they receive the ball their first instinct is to shield it (they are defenders after all) which slows down our attacks. Our best midfielder last night, in the first half, was Reece Burke. For how many weeks have we all seen how deep our midfield is, and how little the central midfielders get forward to support attacks. But neither Routis nor McMahon go into hiding when things aren’t going their way.

    Our attacking play is so obvious and repetitive that it is easy to defend against. One of our midfielders drops between the centre backs, plays a few short passes, sends it back to the defence to send long (and hope for something off the second ball). We give Marshall/Reid the ball on the halfway line and expect them to beat two men and swing in a cross. Other than that, we hope for set pieces.

    I believe this all goes back to the start of the season when we were shipping goals. Parky worked on getting the defence strong and in doing so has compromised something going forward. We beat Blackpool and Crewe at home both 1-0 (both very poor teams) and even in our better form, most of our goals were coming from set pieces.

    A new (good) striker should make a difference, but we need to pick the best players in their best positions and stick with it (injuries permitting). No changing it every week, bringing in a player for one game and then benching him.

    Something must be going on behind the scenes. Clarke – superb last season – has looked less than half the player. Liddle (our lynch pin in the middle) is cast to the fringes. We have a stronger team and a stronger squad, but are somehow not as good as last year. Can’t fault them for effort last night though, which is something that can’t always be said for City teams in the past.

    • I am in agreement here.

      I went last night as I hadn’t been to a home match since Coventry, and thought perhaps they would show signs of improvement and make my journey worthwhile – wrong!

      “Entertaining & excellent/positive” – you are kidding, I must have been to another match and if that was one of the better games, then all I can say is I am glad I have missed the others.

      No cohesion between them, nobody looks like they know where they should be or what the are supposed to do, (probably because they are being played out of position?). Just huffing and puffing with no end product.

      There is a lack of ideas/cutting edge, goalkeeper looks like flapping as before, and had “Barnserley” taken their chances, (with credit going to Rory for his blocks) we would have been buried and out of sight. NOT entertaining at all I am afraid, and mid table at best.

    • Agree with almost every word Stephen.

      In your final paragraph you say Clarke was superb last season but I would say he was good for only a part of last season and this season , well you only have to have been sat in the stands to know the answer
      .
      I do not pretend to know what is going on with Liddle but what I do know is that Mcmahon or Routis are not an improvement.

      As for a stronger team and squad I don’t see that. Most of the players signed during the summer have spent their time injured or on the subs bench. Along with that players such as Hanson ,Knott, and Liddle have hardly shone.

      Have we replaced what Davies and Stead brought to the team, I don’t think so.

      Finally, I wonder what the Chairman think about the level of entertainment and excitement at VALLEY PARADE this season. Do they think it is going to entice people, not fans, to sign up for next season?

      Where do we go from here?

  6. Thanks for write up Jason and agreed – we might have got some things wrong last night but it was one of the more enjoyable games of season – I left entertained (& a little frustrated) a big improvement on the last few games we may have won but not entertained!

    I know some will say we want points rather than entertainment but hey ho 6 of 1 and half a dozen etc we all pay to get in.

    Let’s get on with supporting the team and remember that the Coventry Telegraph called the crowd the ‘BCAFC 12th man’ when they came up cos the boys need the extra man at the moment.

  7. Ultimately we need to score..and to win…1-0 will do…the problem now is conceeding twice in 2 minutes means the three points are immediately out of reach..and the players know it as they know we are struggling to score at present…we simply have to stop conceeding first..Gillingham, Sheff United, Walsall and Barnsley all took the lead..and all games were lost..only Port Vale was rescued for a valuable point .Things are so tight for sixth that four wins on the bounce could propel us into fourth or fifth, let alone sixth..so gamble, invest, keep playing like last night..and make sure that this season doesn’t simply tail away.

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