Falling short, fading out?

knott

Burton Albion 3

McArdle OG 17, Naylor 73, Duffy 77

Bradford City 1

McArdle 90

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”.

leigh

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.

Proctor

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.

mcardle

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

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Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Back in the summer we had all the hype of 18k season ticket sales. However, it would be a shame for that goodwill to peter out like a damp squid. I’m sure the board, playing staff and players share the frustration the fans feel at present.

    So as the quote goes, If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got. I still trust PP but think he needs to change tact, as it ain’t working at present. Hopefully with Evans back in the squad and Burke in next week’s starting 11, PP can try to plan final throw of dice. Regardless I will still be at VP next season #CITD

  2. Hmmm…. Same problems, as previously mentioned, have been evident for the last couple of months. I believe PP is the man to take us forward but his defensive approach to matches (even at home) could be his undoing. I’m not suggesting that he should throw caution to the wind and be gung-ho but to just have more belief in the players and set the team up with a positive approach to win the match rather than to not lose. PP is the man but at the moment he is using up a lot of the goodwill that he has in the bank and I just hope that’s enough to see him through to the end of next season as unless something remarkable happens this is as good as it’s going to get. IPWT.

  3. Good article. Now what does the Club Management do about the Team Management? Julian Rhodes once famously dispensed with Colin Todd’s services when we were 14th in February I think it was. and we were relegated under David Wetherall & Frank Barlow’s temporary stewardship at the end of the season 3 months later!

  4. Tom Naylor for those “supporters” who don’t remember him, was a successful short-term partner to Curtis Good, the Aussie, in the 2012-13 push to Wembley. Might have replaced John Egan after his broken leg?

  5. If we are to fall short then can it at least be by regularly drawing 2-2 and by losing 2-1 and 3-2..in other words can we score some goals, but ones in matches where we actually take the lead!! We have gone behind in six of the last seven league matches and won only one of the matches we trailed in (lowly Fletwood). Conversely we have won both the matches we led in (Chesterfield & Oldham). The problem is simple. Score first and we usually win these days. Conceed first and we usually lose. Therefore the emphasis has to be all out attack in the first 15-20 minutes of each half to gain the advantage..then tighten things up like we generally have been quite good at. 1-0 to the City started the season off…we couldn’t hold it back then…but Reece Burke arrived..then Lee Evans..and things changed defensively. Now they neef to change offensively..and fast. Thomas must start…and interchange Protctor & Davies to see who partners him best. Handon can be a last 25 mins impact sub..and would play that role well vs a tired oppposition defence. It is time again to win away..1-0 to City v Peterborough will relaunch the play off campaign!

  6. You’re a brave man for suggesting ‘he who must not be criticised’ be dropped to the bench! But I totally agree!

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