Bradford City 0
Saturday 5 March, 2016
By Jason McKeown
If this game is to be considered another failure, it was at least a different type of disappointment – and that makes it more tolerable.
For whatever lack of quality that was on show at Gigg Lane, the positive traits of character, bravery and commitment were displayed in abundance. This group of players were full of purpose and determination to right the wrongs of Tuesday evening’s debacle against Colchester United. They were back to looking like Phil Parkinson players, and demonstrated the effort and spirit that we supporters demand of Bradford City teams.
10 of the 11 players who started against Colchester United had kept their place – many, frankly, were very lucky to do so – but on a difficult pitch and in driving second half rain, they righted some of the wrongs from midweek. This was the beginning of redemption. As fans we don’t forget, and we certainly aren’t ready to fully forgive, but at full time there was warm applause from the visiting section rather than the boos that had reined down on Tuesday. It was a step forwards.
It wasn’t enough to earn City all three points. This was as tight of an affair as you will witness all season. Two teams going at each other in measured, often cagey fashion, with nothing to choose between them. It was a day for making sure that you didn’t get beat, and both teams achieved just that. The visitors slightly edged the first half from a possession and territorial view, and the home side shaded the second half. But both goalkeepers will face much more difficult days than this. By and large, they were spectators.
For City, the return of Reece Burke was a major boost. Nathan Clarke has filled in for the West Ham loanee often in recent months, largely to very good effect, but Tuesday night was a tough night for the summer signing from Leyton Orient, with Burke’s composure and authority badly missed. He slotted back in seamlessly and was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch. Against a niggly but clever Bury front two of Ryan Lowe and Leon Clarke, Burke and Rory McArdle won their tussles. The gaping holes at the back on Tuesday were not on show here.
With Lee Evans recovering reasonably well from his own midweek horror show, and Josh Cullen excelling once more, the two City banks of four were well structured and compact. Not for the first time in recent weeks, almost all of the attacking responsibility fell on Kyel Reid’s shoulders to deliver. He performed well and had Bury panicking on several occasions. Though a second half Reid shot on goal that flew so wide of goal, it somehow stayed in play near the corner flag, was symptomatic of his team’s lack of cutting edge.
Which is where the failure of today lay. In the final third of the pitch, the Bantams couldn’t get the better of a physical and solid Bury backline, with few clear cut chances created. James Hanson and Wes Thomas both played well and were a threat – Thomas had the game’s best opportunity where he forced a brilliant save – but they struggled to receive truly effective service, and sights of goal were minimal.
At times they were too isolated, at other moments they were well supported by team mates but didn’t get the breaks. It is a familiar tale of City’s season: set pieces looked their most likely route to a breakthrough.
As it stands Hanson and Thomas are clearly the best front pairing available to Parkinson. If Steve Davies hadn’t gotten injured at Blackpool last week, he would surely have started here alongside Thomas, and it would have been interesting to see if they could strike up a good understanding. Much is said about Hanson this season – any season, in fact – but he has thrived when genuine competition is breathing down his neck. Davies’ injury came at a really bad time for all concerned.
With Tony McMahon also recovering well from his no-show on Tuesday, it became a war of attrition with both teams cancelling each other out. When a game is so delicately poised, the focus in the stands inevitably turns to the subs bench and if the solution for changing the pattern of the match might lie in fresh legs and new ideas.
Cue vocal grumblings from many about Phil Parkinson’s reluctance to make a change, and in particular to introduce Mark Marshall. It manifested itself into dissenting chants that the manager would clearly have heard, and it wasn’t nice to observe. When a game is at a stalemate, and you’re perhaps wondering what your opponent will do, making early subs doesn’t necessarily make sense.
Parkinson was clearly rattled by how open City became in the second half against Colchester and wanted to make sure that the same thing didn’t happen here. He didn’t want to lose this one, first and foremost. And whilst going more gung ho might have helped City edge a winner, it might also have cost them a point. And those same people who barracked his late substitutions would have been the first to criticise him for making a bad call.
So eventually Marshall replaced Reid in a like-for-like swap. Then in a very late and slightly pointless throw of the dice, he changed over his strikers by sending on Billy Clarke and Jamie Proctor for Hanson and Thomas. It was ironic that McArdle went down shortly after, with a serious looking injury to his shoulder causing his afternoon to finish there and then. City had no more subs to make and so were down to 10 men, and with it the possibility of pushing for a winner receded.
McArdle must be a major doubt for the Burton game on Tuesday, which is now a huge moment in the Bantams’ season. They remain 8th in the league after this draw, with a mixed bag of results elsewhere once again suggesting this was a missed opportunity to climb into the top six. With promotion rivals Wigan and Millwall approaching on the horizon, this is a make or break period for City. They need everyone fit and flying.
Not too many players will feel great about this performance, but they will at least feel better than they would have after Tuesday. They showed that they are up for this fight, and that they do care about playing for Bradford City. The true acid test will be the next moment of adversity, and if they handle it better. But for now, it’s about picking up the pieces from the fall out of midweek.
After all, it could have gone the other way. Confidence could have been shattered by the dismal Colchester performance and the angry inquest that followed. The players could have continued to shy away from the ball, hope that team mates would get them out of a hole and pass on responsibility. But they didn’t. Each and every one of them stood up for the fight and battled to the end. They deserve credit for that.
This wasn’t a game of football that will live long in the memory, nor was it a performance that in any way suggests City are good enough to finish in the top six. But it was much better than the 90 minute performance that preceded it, and means we can start to move on from the other night.
Which is something at least.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Burke, Meredith, McMahon, Cullen, Evans, Reid (Marshall 82), Hanson (Proctor 89), Thomas (B Clarke 89)
Not used: Cracknell, N Clarke, Leigh, Knott
Categories: Match Reviews