The Southend Verdict: This squad can reach the play offs

Image by Thomas Gadd - copyright Bradford City

Image by Thomas Gadd – copyright Bradford City

Katie Whyatt asks WOAP pundits Nathan Evans, Gareth Walker and Tim Penfold to discuss City’s 2-0 win over Southend and what the recent change in form means for the rest of the season.

What did you make of Tuesday’s performance?

Tim: I thought that it was impressive – not quite in the standard of Peterborough win, but we were comfortably the better side and in control of the game.  In the end it took some decent saves by Southend’s keeper to keep the score down.  I was particularly impressed with the wide men, both of whom played their roles well, and the central midfield.  Keep this level of performance up and we’ll do well over the next few weeks.

Nathan: Tuesday’s performance was fantastic. I didn’t make it down to Peterborough for that 4-0 drubbing of another team near the play off positions but I can imagine that the Southend game was getting close to being as good a performance as at the weekend. The team looked revitalised, wanted to attack. Southend didn’t have a chance.

Kyel Reid tried to take on his marker at every opportunity, James Hanson played very well and grabbed another goal, McMahon scored a belting free kick and got another assist, the back four grabbed another clean sheet, everybody put in a 7/8 out of 10 performance at the very least.

Gareth: In short, it was the best home performance in a number of months. It appears as though we continued where we left off at Peterborough.

There were encouraging performances all over the pitch. Nathan Clarke has gone from looking like a disaster at the start of the season to now being unlucky to be third choice centre back.

Going forward, we appeared to be much more positive and obviously that made the evening much more enjoyable. Confidence was also evidently high after the weekend and there only looked like being one winner after we scored the first goal.

What do you think are the main reasons behind the change in form over the last two games?

Nathan: It’s always difficult to pinpoint just one single reason as to how a team has managed to turn around its fortunes and in our case, I think there’s a few explanations.

First of all, a higher level of confidence. This stemmed from that last minute winner against Fleetwood not too long ago and despite the result at Burton Albion last weekend, it has done wonders for the team’s self-confidence. Secondly, a change of attitude. It’s only two games that we’re judging but, to me, it’s pretty evident that there’s a clear change in attitude in how we line up for a match.

The last two games have shown that Parkinson has changed the team’s mentality to be more attacking and my third point buys into that. I believe another main reason for the change is form has been a shift of personnel. The decision to play Tony McMahon and Chris Routis in centre midfield prior to these last three games was poor, and a move away from that has reaped the rewards. We look both much more solid and creative with Lee Evans and Josh Cullen in the middle of the park.

Gareth: Getting players back for or available after suspension has helped. The bench looked pretty strong last night.

A more positive approach has definitely contributed but the midfield pairing has been key. Routis and McMahon were really struggling as a pair, with neither of them looking suited to the roles that they were asked to play. In Cullen and Evans, we now have two young central midfielders who appear – so far, at least – to complement each other.

Partnerships have also developed on both sides of midfield. Stephen Darby and McMahon played well together earlier in the season and it’s good to see them restored. James Meredith and Reid combined last night in a similar way to the 2012/13 season.

Mezza knows better than anyone how frustrating Reidy can be, but Reid in particular looks far more lively since having his slight injury dealt with. Up front too, Wes Thomas makes it look like we might finally have found the right partner for James Hanson.

Tim: I think that there are two major reasons.  One of these is that we have a midfield again – McMahon didn’t suit the middle, and was back to his form from October/November on the right, while Evans and Cullen have both been excellent.  With Liddle gone and Knott seemingly out of favour, it’s important that these two stay fit and keep in form, as I don’t want to see Routis back there.

The other reason is that our strike force looks better, and I think the key for this was Fleetwood.  We may have been poor/lucky that day, but Hanson scored and so did Steve Davies, while Wes Thomas made his debut and looked sharp.  Hanson is now on four in four and looking closer to his best, Thomas is getting up to fitness and Davies looks much better than he did a few weeks ago – partially confidence and partially fitness.

It means that when we do create chances, we’re more likely to take them.

What do you think of Wes Thomas so far and what does he mean for this team?

Image by Claire Epton, copyright Bradford City FC

Image by Claire Epton, copyright Bradford City FC

Tim: I’ve been very impressed so far – he’s instantly got a link up with Hanson which Aaron McLean and Devante Cole never managed, and he’s got an extra dimension in terms of physical strength that he can use to hold the ball up as well as his pace.  He’s not scored yet, but he’s doing all the right things and the goals will come.

One of the key things about having a pacy forward alongside Hanson is it makes opponents defend deeper – this gives our midfield more space and means that when Hanson wins headers he does so in more dangerous areas.  We haven’t really had that since Wells – McLean had lost a lot of pace and never made the runs to push a defence back, while Cole just never looked capable of getting on the end of a flick-on.

Thomas does, and it means that we have one more option in attack.

Gareth: For the first time since Nahki left, we look like we might have found a partner for James Hanson. I certainly like what I see. He’s a threat and he is used to playing off a target man. He is a tricky customer who can scare defenders and certainly has the pedigree to do well here.

Judging by the minutes he’s been given so far I assume that he’s still working his way back to match fitness, and Parkinson is right to tread carefully given his hamstring problem. But if he can stay fit and hopefully open his scoring account soon, then I’m quite excited by him.

Nathan: I really like Wes Thomas. He’s the typical Phil Parkinson striker but with that little bit extra in terms of his pace which we severely lack upfront without his presence. Thomas has come in to the squad, grafted hard for his spot on the team sheet as opposed to Cole before and has instantly linked up very well with  Hanson.

The partnership between Hanson and Thomas works well because both cause different problems for opposing defences and, when you look at it, Hanson has looked far better with Thomas by his side in recent matches.

Do City have enough to mount a realistic promotion push?

Image by Claire Epton - copyright Bradford City

Image by Claire Epton – copyright Bradford City

Nathan: Yes, 100%. This team is on the up, taking six vital points in our last two matches against other teams pushing for the play offs, scoring six in the process and keeping two clean sheets.

The last two games offer us the platform to push on now in the later stages of the season and with four winnable ties coming up against Rochdale, Blackpool, Colchester and Bury, we have a real chance to move into the top six again.

We have good squad depth, we have key players returning from injury soon and we have a very solid defence, which means we are usually in a position to pick up points even if we’re not playing at our best.

Tim: Yes.  We’ve got a solid defence, which means that even on our off days we have a good chance of picking up points via a set piece or similar.  We have a strike force that looks much stronger than it did a month ago, and the same applies to the central midfield.  Finally, Reid’s back in form and we have Anderson and Morais due to come back over the next couple of months to add depth on the flanks.

We’ve got a run of four games coming up against bottom half teams – if we can keep picking up wins here we’ll suddenly have a load of momentum at just the right time.  The play offs are a very realistic goal.

Gareth: We shouldn’t be getting too excited just yet. It’s good to see us playing well again but it’s only been two games and as with many teams in this division, consistency will be the key. At our best I’d say yes, but at our worst I’d say no way.

The next five games look winnable but we need to go and take a decent amount of points from them, rather than tripping up, to make me really start to believe that we could make the top six.

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Categories: The Verdict

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4 replies

  1. I agree with Gareth it has only been 2 games even though they were against good teams. How many times this season have we said hopefully this is the start of a decent run and it hasnt happened?

    If we can get between 8 and 12 points from the next 4 games we must have a great chance of been in the play-offs and only a win or so from automatic.

    If we dont get these points then the play-offs are out of the question.

    At the worst we should beat Blackpool and Colchester and get draws with Bury and Rochdale 8 points

  2. Almost certain that Burton will make the top 2 with their current points total, ongoing consistency, very tight defence and expetiencedmanagement.. but the second automatic place is still undecided. Indeed a lot of the current next five teams – Gillingham, Walsall, Wigan, Coventry & Millwall – all have to play one another, and four of them still play City! Several wins on the run for City (ala Barnsley) would not only propel us into the top five, but would also severely pressurise second place. We cannot afford to lose again to any of the teams above us nor lose more than another couple out of the next 16 matches, but ten wins and four draws would glean 34 points – and 81 overall. Is that impossible? On the basis of the last 2 matches, no. Would that be enough? Anyone else would have to hit 82 or have a better GD. The challenge is on!! Make them earn it!

  3. With two of our contributors going for a play off place, and two positive replies of similar opinion, I would bring in a note of caution. I too would like to see us make the play offs, but would fear that Championship football could be a step too far at present. Overall I feel we have performed to a decent level this term (despite many awful comments on some sites), and the last couple of games have revived interest. However last Saturday during a visit to family in Bristol, I took the opportunity to watch their “City” play (and beat) Ipswich, but they are only one place above relegation after going up last season very impressively and having considerable financial clout. Stability has much to recommend it.

  4. Consistency is the key. The trials of earlier in the season are fine, if we can finish strongly. If we put an unbeaten run together then top 6 is certain and top two a slight possibility. No one is running away with it and barring injuries we will be in the play offs.

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