Burton Albion 3
McArdle OG 17, Naylor 73, Duffy 77
Bradford City 1
Saturday 6 February, 2016
By Kieran Wilkinson (images by Thomas Gadd and copyright Bradford City FC)
It is impossible to view Bradford City’s match at Burton Albion without the lingering shadow of our last visit there. We will never tire of the Pirelli Stadium. Like Molineux, like Bloomfield Road, there will always be a welcome amount of “remember when?” accompanying return visits. I make no apologies for yet more of that nostalgia here.
5 May 2013 at Burton was everything that is good about Phil Parkinson’s time at City. A swashbuckling, against the odds performance. The passion of Gary Jones. The power of James Hanson. The guile of Nahki Wells. An all round team performance inspiring a tubthumping atmosphere. Team and supporters as one.
Fast forward two years, nine months and one day. 6 February 2016 at Burton was everything that constitutes a bad Phil Parkinson performance. An insipid, uninspiring, missing-in-action midfield. Over-caution. A failure to score, to take chances, to make things happen. A far from good enough team performance inspiring nothing but an ultimately flat atmosphere. Chants for Gary Jones and even Omar Daley near the end of the match (ironic though the latter chant might have been) showing a certain element of “us and them”.
Some hearts sank when the City line-up was announced. No wingers and an apparent return to the midfield diamond. Christopher Routis given another chance in midfield despite being subbed at half time last weekend. Greg Leigh stepped in for the injured (but on the bench) James Meredith, Nathan Clarke continued at centre back and Jamie Proctor partnered James Hanson up front. The rest of the line up was as you would expect.
Whilst there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with taking a cautious approach (and bear in mind, there is a difference between being cautious and over-cautious) when visiting the league leaders, Burton are far from being a team who have handed out thrashings left, right and centre. Fifteen of their nineteen wins in league and cup this season have been by a single goal and they have only managed more than two goals in a game on three occasions.
In a certain way, a more efficient version of City? The Bantams’ line-up certainly didn’t give any feeling that we were likely to “go for it”.
The Burton team boasted three former Bantams, ranging from the stalwart Jon McLaughlin (one hundred and thirty eight appearances, one promotion), the flash in the pan Mason Bennett (twelve appearances, one goal) and the forgettable Tom Naylor (seven appearances – I must admit to having completely forgotten his time at City).
I’m not going to dwell on the first half action – if you want a ball by ball account, you can read one elsewhere and I have no real desire to relive too much of it. City struggled to get out of their own half at times and Burton’s first big chance came after around ten minutes – half cleared corner being pumped back into the box and Burton putting it over when they should have hit the back of the net.
Whilst the Burton goal, when it came in the eighteenth minute, had some good fortune to it, a shot by Mason Bennett taking a hefty deflection off Rory McArdle, it couldn’t be said that Burton were not good value for their lead.
City’s one big chance of the first half saw James Hanson one on one with Jon McLaughlin after some slack play from Cansdell-Sherriff. However, rather than the back of the net bulging, the ball went wide.
Given the performance, there was a feeling that 1-0 down at half-time wasn’t the worst score in the world.
Routis made way for Mark Marshall at the start of the second half and it was a case of “Proctor? No” as the recently signed striker was replaced by the on-loan Wes Thomas. It is a real reflection on how underwhelming the first half was that two changes needed to be made at half time. The fact that Routis has been hauled off at the interval two games in a row also raises questions. Surely he won’t be in the starting line-up at London Road next week?
The changes did however have an immediate effect. City attacked from the off and Mark Marshall gave the team a certain amount of swagger that was missing from the first half showing. Wes Thomas also looked bright in patches. However, despite this positivity, it was ultimately all for nought. No chances were taken (and to be honest, no gilt-edged chances were really created) and McLaughlin wasn’t really troubled. He may have been tested a couple of times, but I don’t think he had one diving save to make.
After the match, Burton boss Nigel Clough talked about the “immense amount of pressure” that City put Burton under in the second half. Whilst true to an extent, whatever pressure we did have wasn’t converted into anything tangible.
The positive start to the second half inevitably faded away and it was game over when Tom Naylor (I’ll remember him now!) turned in a cross off the bar in the seventy-third minute and Duffy showed no mercy by adding a third four minutes later.
Rory McArdle perhaps atoned for his part in the first goal by heading in from an injury time Tony McMahon corner but this was nothing more than a “dictionary definition” consolation goal.
I think Mark Marshall could come out of the match with some credit – he was one of the few players who looked like he could make something happen. Beyond that I’m struggling to heap too much praise on anyone. However, Burton were far from the all-dominating side that you might expect the table-toppers to be. This only adds to the frustration of the City performance.
So, what now? I consider myself a positive person but even I’m struggling to see us getting in the play offs. Whilst my heart says that we can still go on that run which propels us up there, my head tells me that I have seen too many of these second best performances for this to happen.
Midfield remains the problem that it has been all season. Whilst you would hope that the fabled young, Premiership attacking midfield loan player (if we sign one) will give us a boost, hoping that such a signing would inspire us to reach the play offs is perhaps placing a lot of unrealistic expectation and pressure on young shoulders.
I think by the time Burton make the return trip to Valley Parade in a month, we’ll have a clearer picture as to whether we are already looking further forward to a summer rebuilding job for Phil Parkinson (and, for the record, I have no doubts that he is the man to take us forwards, whatever the outcome of this season) or whether the season will continue to maintain some intrigue.
I want to be wrong, I’d love to be wrong but, hand on heart, I think we will fall short this season, in the same way that we fell short today.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, N Clarke, Leigh (Meredith 81), McMahon, Knott, Routis (Marshall 45), Morris, Hanson, Proctor (Thomas 46)
Not used: Cracknell, Burke, Reid, Davies
Categories: Match Reviews