The play offs part two: The element of surprise

Image by Thomas Gadd ( - copyright Bradford City

Image by Thomas Gadd ( – copyright Bradford City

By Jason McKeown

Ian Ormondroyd was a regular in the Bradford City team over the 1995/96 season. The focal point of Chris Kamara’s attack. After a play off semi final first leg defeat to Blackpool during which Ormondroyd had been isolated and ineffective, Kamara decided to leave out the striker and change tactics. No one, least of all Blackpool, expected it.

City won the second leg and made it to Wembley.

Ricky Ravenhill had been the catalyst of City’s late and successful 2012/13 play off push. He came into a team struggling through a post-Swansea cup final hangover, and inspired the eleventh-hour surge into the top seven. After a play off semi final first leg defeat to Burton where City’s cut-and-thrust had been out-witted by Burton’s counter attack, Phil Parkinson decided to leave out Ravenhill and recall Nathan Doyle. City kept possession much better in the second leg; Doyle was outstanding.

City won the tie and made it to Wembley.

As Parkinson prepares for Friday night’s play off semi final second leg at Millwall, hoping against hope to emulate the club’s feats of 1996 and 2013, there must be some consideration paid to what he could do differently to surprise the Lions and revive his players. Is there a tweak to the starting XI, beyond the obvious return of Reece Burke, James Hanson or Billy Clarke (if either prove their fitness) that can give City the edge?

Because as badly as the injured trio were missed on Sunday, their presence at the Den might not be enough to overturn the considerable odds. It would help greatly of course, just as Andrew Davies’ return from suspension in the second leg at Burton three years ago was a major factor in the improved defensive display. But City have it all to do, and they need inspiration from somewhere.

Could Paul Anderson be the secret weapon? After breaking his leg in the September home defeat to Peterborough, no one expected to see him play again this season for City. Anderson has battled his way to fitness, has been carefully eased back into first team contention, and must be in Parkinson’s thoughts right now.

Anderson was City’s marquee summer signing. Brought in from Ipswich, and 12 months ago netting a famous goal for the Tractor Boys in a Championship play off semi final against fierce rivals Norwich City. It was a coup for City to sign him, even though he started life at Valley Parade slowly. The injury robbed him of any chance to prove himself, but if handed the opportunity on Friday that could change.

City certainly need much, much more from the wide areas than Kyel Reid and Tony McMahon contributed on Sunday. It is not the Parkinson way to play two out-and-out wingers, and to do so at the Den risks the centre of midfield being outgunned. But if Billy Clarke was fit to play and able to sit deep when City don’t have possession, it could work to play two out-and-out wingers. It is a gamble, but this isn’t a time for conservatism.

That could free up Anderson to replace McMahon, and Parkinson could even take go more leftfield by recalling the forgotten Mark Marshall. The former Port Vale man has not figured since the 1-0 loss to Wigan and not started since January. He is seemingly on his way out of the club this summer, but there might be this one last chance.

If that’s too far-fetched (Marshall has not even made the bench of late) then Josh Morris could be a safer option. He is capable of playing the McMahon, tuck-inside-winger kind of role, and could line up on the opposite flank to Anderson, with Reid and McMahon on the bench. Extreme perhaps, but we’re in last-roll-of-the-dice territory. Filipe Morais back on the wing seems a more feasible option.

If not out wide, would Parkinson want to break up his high-performing central midfield? Josh Cullen and Lee Evans have been terrific in the run-in, but fell to pieces on Sunday. Can they pick themselves up quickly, or is it time for someone else to come in?

That might involve Billy Knott or the on-loan Tony Thorpe. The latter offers no attacking threat but could sit in front of the back four, perhaps enabling the two out-and-out wingers approach to work. Knott has rarely been trusted in starting away games and seems a long, long way out of the picture right now. But Parkinson will know only too well that Knott netted two superb goals at the Den in the January 2015 FA Cup tie that helped pave the way for the game with Chelsea.

If not personnel, what about formation? Does Phil Parkinson try again with the diamond approach that was last seen failing miserably in a February defeat to Burton? The diamond rarely worked at home last season, but was largely effective in away games. If Parkinson doesn’t have Hanson or Billy Clarke, and so remains robbed of one of his two strike partnerships, the diamond might be something that causes the front players to be more effective than they were on Sunday, by channelling their obvious high effort in a better way.

Parkinson may decide to stick to the gameplan that has served City so well this season. Trust in his players to do their jobs better, and believe in their ability to give the Lions a tougher game. And doing so might very well work – it has proved successful more often than not since March.

But imagine if Millwall’s Neil Harris was presented with a Bradford City team sheet containing a surprise or two. One that leaves him uncertain over just how the visitors will play, and thus limits his ability to warn his players over what to expect. If the seed of uncertainty could be planted into the home dressing room, it could spread remarkably and damagingly quickly.

The element of surprise might be one of the few remaining options left, but it could also be Bradford City’s biggest weapon.

Categories: The 2015/16 play offs

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13 replies

  1. Please not the diamond agree the element of surprise would be fantastic got to keep Reid in the team I would put Morais on the right in place of Mcmahon whos corners nearly all hit the first man and were too easy to defend.Also think Davies size upfront with Proctor could work nicely against their bullying defenders.
    COME ON CITY!!!!!

    • Totally agree re.Davies, he’s the wildcard & has that spark to produce something from nothing – if we ever needed that – now’s the time !! IPWT

    • Why do we have to keep Reid in the team, he has contributed nothing this season so far.

  2. There is another reason not to start Tony McMahon. Millwall will know he is easy to “wind up”. He is at risk of getting sent off and was lucky not to do so on Sunday. And with 10 men, no chance.

    • On that point though, can we trust Davies to last 90mins either? His lash out at Coventry suggests he’s even easier to wind up that Macmahon, and bet your life they’ll have a go at him with all the same games as Sunday.

      With Hanson now ruled out, it may be Davies and Proctor (who I hope both score a brace!), but Davies is yet to prove reliable in terms of goals and temperament when it comes to starting games.

  3. I was just thinking this week about this. Ie how can we do something different and effective. You’ve covered all bases in the article which is brilliant. It’s such a shame we’ve been hit by more key injuries at this stage in our mammoth season. I watched the Derby v Hull game last night and the firsts half was superb. I’m hoping hoping hoping we can show a similar level of intensity and performance. Just make us fans even prouder than we already are. If we go out. Let’s go out fighting to the end. CTID.

  4. On the mention of Andrew Davies – watching Sunday Icouldn’t help but think how much Davies would have relished that game. No way would Morison have been able to bully us in the way he did. It was the same in 2013 with Zola and for the final with Akinfenwa who had bullied everyone that year. Not a chance against Davies.

    Hopefully Burke – although obviously less physical – will have the same effect on Friday! I can’t say I’m confident about our chance – I know there are comparisons with 2013 but we don’t have a Wells this year. But then again this is a Phil Parkinson team…

  5. Spot on Jason we simply have to attempt something different on Friday.
    The limits of some of our players was shown on Sunday and to go with the same again, even if we get an improvement will probably not be enough.
    Although I cannot see any of the players rumoured to be on their way out of the club featuring, I would much rather go down fighting by at least trying to be pro-active.

  6. How about Morais wide and Anderson supporting Proctor with Hanson (calf injected) and on the bench with Davies..i think Burke will return and Evans & Cullen will be ready this time around for what they need to take on..Reid to dominate the left, Morais the right, and Cullen/Evans to link up with Anderson & Proctor. Hit them on the deck first half and Davies on with Hanson to hit them in the air in the second..4-1 heard it here. 80-1. The £ 10 bet is on !

  7. While I agree with some of these ideas I’d put 80-1 on McMahon playing. He’s a Phil Parkinson player – the manager obviously likes him and trusts him. I’ve seen it written somewhere that Parky was a similar type of player – not the most skilled but gave his all. McMahon has had some mediocre games this year and still made the team next match. Parky will also want him for his combative nature because, if we get to 2-0 you can bet the tactics from Millwall will not be pretty and McMahon is our only enforcer in the midfield.

  8. Hi Jason
    Another spot on article. I think the element of surprise, whatever that might be, if we can do it, will keep Millwall on the back foot even before kick-off and we need every little edge we can get over them.
    Maybe they will be expecting us to attack from the off and will be prepared for that? Maybe they’re expecting us to be cautious and not concede an early goal? Maybe.
    However, your right, there will not be a second chance. This is it. It’s not a time to be conservative or cautious nor a time for the faint hearted. Fortune favours the brave and come 10pm Friday night, no matter what happens we want to be able to say that we gave it our best shot everywhere – formation, tactics, effort and endeavour…
    That is what I’m expecting from my team. That is what is making the 11 hour flight into Heathrow on Friday afternoon for the match worthwhile. To have that one last chance of oneness with the team before the curtain falls on our season. Do us proud boys no matter what the result. That is all we’re asking.

  9. I think Burke in at the back, he’ll keep central midfield as was. City can’t simply launch high balls in given the size and makeup of Milwall. I don’t expect to see Tony in the first 11 after Sunday. I’d go for two quick wingers (not Marshall). Up front, not sure, whoever can perform best when the chips are down. There is only one person I keep coming back to…….I hope he’s fit – his swansong? I hope not

  10. One element of surprise taken out of the equation is telling all that Hanson will not be playing! Maybe that would have been best to keep under wraps and have Millwall guessing right up until the team sheets are produced one hour before kick off.

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