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.
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.
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