Parkinson’s free reign to tinker (but not the Tuesday after if City win)

As thoughts turn to Bradford City’s important home game against Northampton Town this weekend, manager Phil Parkinson will be in his rights to make changes to the team that lost 2-0 to Hereford the week before.

Matt Duke can be dropped, Luke Oliver can sit in the stands, Ritchie Jones can warm the bench and Craig Fagan can practice some more on his playstation. And if Parkinson wants to undergo these radical team selections and more, there can be apparently be no complaints from supporters.

Because the Bantams lost their last game, which means the manager has our “permission” to change the team.

Sounds nonsense to drop Oliver? Agreed. But in my opinion so is holding the manager accountable to a daft rule that he is not allowed to change a winning team. After an encouraging win over Torquay United that was badly needed, three changes (one enforced) were made at Hereford and many supporters have since blamed the resultant loss on Phil Parkinson (or Phil Plonkinson, as he was dubbed by one supporter on the Official Message Board) for changing a winning team.

Why is it so bad for him to have done so? Sure, the win over Torquay and the performance by the players was outstanding on the day. But does one victory really mean the previous problems have been fully solved and now all the manager needs to do is pick the same 11 players until the next defeat? Or shouldn’t he be entrusted to make further improvements if – in his qualified judgement – he feels it’s needed?

Let’s look at the two controversial changes. Jack Compton played only 27 minutes against Torquay before he was unfortunately subbed because of Andrew Davies’ red card enforcing a defensive reshuffle. He played his part in the win to a certain extent, but the decision to recall fit again midfielder Adam Reed and move Jones out wide – thus leaving Compton out – seemed reasonable.

Almost all season long – and this includes under Peter Jackson, Colin Cooper and now Parkinson – City’s midfield has been lined up with one out-and-out winger and three central midfielders, one of whom played a wide midfield role. The idea is to enable City greater dominance in the middle of the park, with three midfielders against either an opposition two or three. Over recent years we’ve seen numerous City sides play 4-4-2 with two direct wingers, and rarely has it worked well. Too often they are outgunned and the opposition can claim a draw or win.

Jones – who has played for much of his career as a wide right midfielder – seems a natural choice to take on that wide midfield role. I personally would prefer he stay in the centre with Flynn, and Chris Mitchell recalled wide right, but I can at least see the thinking behind Parkinson’s decision and – in the first half at Burton at least – Reed looked a very clever player. Going into any away game with two out-and-out wingers (which is what Compton and Kyel Reid are) would have left City very open. This approach is more acceptable in home games when the opposition will be more defensive, but not necessarily the best tactic on the road.

I like Compton, but I do think there are better wide players at the club. When he played at Huddersfield, it was notable that his lack of defensive awareness allowed Town’s Daniel Ward the freedom to give Luke Moore a difficult opening 45 minutes. Parkinson eventually swapped Luke O’Brien and Compton – so the left-footed OB played wide right – to nullify this threat. It made a big difference with O’Brien excellent as a right midfielder, and in my view was a negative mark against Compton.

As for the other Hereford change – Stewart for Jamie Devitt – while doubts about his style of play remain, the evidence so far is that Devitt is a quality player at this level who can improve the team. Stewart had a great game against Torquay, but all of his best work came outside the penalty area. So again, there is reason to understand Parkinson’s thinking in making this change, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

Too often there is a compliant in football, heard at City in recent days too, that the manager “doesn’t know his best 11.” Yet in this day and age few  managers ever stick with the same 11 players and football is about squads. Form – at this level especially – fluctuates and the theory a manager can decide his best 11 and stick with them for weeks and months is flawed. I’m glad that Parkinson doesn’t seem to know his best 11, because it gives everyone in the squad the opportunity to stake their claim and keep pushing others. Equally the best 11 to beat one type of opposition (say Dagenham) is not necessarily the best 11 to win against another style of play (e.g. Crewe).

We have a squad of 37 players – the ideal that Parkinson cannot choose the 26 who didn’t start the previous game, because it was won, is a restrictive and outdated view of football management.

Sir Oliver Popplewell, Bradford, Liverpool, Hillsborough and the obstructions to moving on

I was sitting in the back row of the old wooden stand on that fateful May afternoon. Four years later, when Hillsborough was the scene of the next football disaster, I was living in South Yorkshire. In 2004, while I was researching what became ‘Four Minutes to Hell’, I spent a number of days in a room at Bradford University reading the original papers from the Popplewell enquiry and even corresponded briefly with the (by then) retired judge about using quotes from his 2003 book ‘Benchmark’. I moved from Yorkshire to sit as a judge and by now I have lived on Merseyside for the best part of seventeen years. So I suppose it was inevitable that I would get the media phone calls.

For those who haven’t read the letter from Sir Oliver Popplewell, published in The Times on Wednesday of this week, it can be summarised as praising the dignity and courage shown by the citizens of Bradford in 1985 and asking whether there is ‘a lesson there for the Hillsborough campaigners.’ Crucially, Sir Oliver uses a short phrase about those of us involved in the fire, to sum up what the lesson might be; he says we ‘moved on’. There is no way to exaggerate the effect those two words have had on so many people in this part of the world.

I was asked several times to comment on what he had written. Some of my comments were used as sound bites, others given a little more air time. But I always feel happier writing than speaking, not least because I can re-read what I write, whereas I can never pull the spoken words back into my mouth to re-arrange them. So here is what I did say to various media outlets, except this time it’s better constructed.

I was proud to see again Sir Oliver expressing his opinion on the city where I grew up. I had read it before, both in his report and his book, but we don’t get too many compliments of that sort these days, so it’s always good to read one. Letters to newspapers are often reduced, sometimes vastly, to the point where the author may wish he’d never sent it. Perhaps that happened to Sir Oliver. I don’t know. ‘Moving on’ is a risky phrase to use in these circumstances. Making such a direct comparison between two disasters also has its problems. Valley Parade and Hillsborough are different, but not just because one was a fire and the other a crushing. Valley Parade is unique as the only football disaster in this country where the fatalities were caused by fire. Hillsborough followed Burnden Park and Ibrox, either of which might have been a more relevant comparison.

The essential difference is in the immediate aftermath. There was one reporter, whose words I will not dignify by naming either him or his newspaper, who insisted that he ‘knew’ that the fire had been started by a smoke bomb, an act of vandalism so common in football grounds of that era. There were other reporters who intruded into the recovery of hospital patients, even to the extent of erecting ladders so they could look through first floor windows. But by and large the press was not a problem.

The most significant difference was in the way the enquiry was conducted. Sir Oliver heard the evidence he needed to hear within little more than a month after the fire and produced his first report within another month. The reason he could do all this is familiar to those of us accustomed to the way courts work. You only go in detail into the evidence that is disputed. Hardly any evidence was disputed after the fire, although there were disagreements about what inferences should be drawn from the admitted facts. In particular, Stafford Heginbotham, the club chairman at the time, admitted publicly all the things that might have been done better or more quickly. The experts and the other witnesses made it easy for Sir Oliver to conclude that the fire had been caused accidentally. It was equally straightforward for Mr Justice Cantley to conclude the proceedings in the civil courts, which resulted in the payment of damages, and for the Coroner to hold a fairly non-controversial inquest.

Within a few weeks most of us felt we knew what there was to know, that such blame as there was had been apportioned and that we could now look to the future and decide how to ‘move on’. Moving on is a very difficult phrase. First and foremost, it quite decidedly does not mean ‘forgetting’. We will never forget. It seems to me it involves finding a way of going about our day-to-day lives without allowing the events of 1985 to intrude unnecessarily or inappropriately. They will come back – and very sharply – at the most unexpected moments. I remember sitting one day in 1999 or thereabouts in a courtroom in Liverpool. There was some work being done outside to a building with a flat roof. Bitumen was being heated to apply to the roof. The smell took me right back to that melting bitumen on that Saturday afternoon. I took over another courtroom.

So ‘moving on’ is not an exact science. It means different things to each of us. Some, I know, cope with the fire only by blanking it out. Others feel better for talking about it. But most of us in our personal and individual ways have ‘moved on’ since 1985. We were given the opportunity to do so because we felt that we knew what had happened. We need not go back over past events to discover the truth. We could draw a line and were given the chance to look to the future. In the more modern parlance, we had closure.

Hillsborough is just not like that and therein the essential difference (and the problems with Sir Oliver’s letter) lies.

Lord Justice Taylor’s enquiry took much longer. There were no clear cut admissions; the evidence had to be gone into in greater detail. He made his findings, particularly about the inadequacies of the policing on that afternoon, but the families of the deceased were not satisfied that they had discovered the whole truth. It became clear, for example, that the senior officer, David Duckinfield had at one time said the gate was forced and later accepted that he had given the order for it to be opened. Duckinfield and his immediate junior, Bernard Murray, were the defendants in a private prosecution, which was halted on the grounds of Duckinfield’s health. But by this time the families had evidence that the police had not told the whole truth.

They also had to face ‘The Truth’ from another source, a headline in The Sun, a newspaper which many shops in Liverpool refuse to sell to this very day. Unnamed sources made claims of disgraceful actions on the part of some supporters. That particular obloquy remains the subject of another campaign, still in the news this week.

Sir Oliver’s letter was, of course, published because of its newsworthiness, following close on the debate in Parliament about the pending release of further papers. But it is the very release of those papers that ensures that the Hillsborough families will not be ‘moving on’ just yet.

Twenty two years later, they do not feel they have heard all there is to hear about why those fans died. Despite the detail of the Taylor report, they do not believe that blame has been fully and finally apportioned. They do not believe they have been told the whole truth. They do not believe they can draw a line. They do not believe they have been given the opportunity to look to the future, to ‘move on’ in their individual ways.

When the documents are released next year, they may be given that opportunity. They may, however, still feel that they have not been told the whole truth, that blame still has not been properly apportioned and that their campaign for ‘Justice for the 96’ must continue. If that is the case, they will still be unable to ‘move on’, which will be even more sad. I can only say that it took me and, I’m sure, many others at Valley Parade a very long time to reach an accommodation with the events of that day. We had the benefit of being able to start on that process quite quickly and yet it still took many of us half a lifetime to make such progress. You have to feel sorry for those who, so long after their own loss, still have not been able even to begin that process.

The Hillsborough families will be given the opportunity to ‘move on’ only when they are satisfied that they know the whole truth. I hope that day arrives soon for them.


Retired Judge Paul Firth is the author of Four Minutes to Hell which presents the details of the fire of 1985.

Our own tinkerman

There was a time, just before Chelsea’s Roman occupation when the blues had one of their Italian managers, this one named Claudio Ranieri.

He came to be called “the tinkerman” due to his habit of constantly changing his first eleven. He used to mystify and exasperate Chelsea fans with these incessant changes simply because they weren’t the result of injuries ore any apparent loss of form of those players who lost their starting berth. Each match there seemed to be at least two (and sometimes more) needless team changes.

During Colin Cooper’s brief spell as caretaker manager the players showed real signs of beginning to play as a team… more than the sum of the individual parts. Fans began looking to and talking of the possibility of a better future just round the corner.

Phil Parkinson came in and with him brought 4 (or was it 5) players who went straight into what had just recently begun to look like a settled eleven.

We were assured that these were “better calibre players” so we trusted the managers judgement. the results didn’t improve as the team seemed to be back at square one… needing to “gel” all over again.

Recently, against Torquay City began to look like a team once again. Playing as a unit with a man short they worked together to get the result.

Now we all appreciate that due to the sending off the manager had to make one change but many fans, myself included were left shaking their heads at the other shuffling of the pack with other needless changes. The question came over and over again “why has he made those changes? Doesn’t he know, from all available players, what his best eleven is. Our worst fears were realised with the poor showing at Hereford. Even with their recently arrived loan signings most fans were looking forward to our first away win or at least another creditable draw.
These seemed like changes just for changes sake.

Please Mr Parkinson, unless you want to become our very own “Tinkerman” give the players a chance to become a team forego the temptation to keep making changes when they’re apparently not really necessary. The eleven lads out on the park will only become more than the sum of a load of individuals by playing together. Instinctively knowing what their teammates are going to do even before they do it. This only comes with time and matches together.

Each time you needlessly tinker with the side, that day is slightly further away.

Devitt with the best and worse of Chris Waddle

We are getting to an age at Bradford City were one can no longer assume that the younger supporters have a knowledge of what has proceeded them – I knew little of the late sixties when I started watching City – and so for those you remember indulge me the recap, those who do not pull up a chair.

There was a footballer called Chris Waddle and he was one of the most able players of his generation. He played for England missing a penalty in the World Cup semi-finals and he played in a European Cup final which went down on record as one of the worst games to have been seen at such a level. At the end of his career Waddle turned up at Valley Parade.

He was signed by Chris Kamara after Kamara sent his chief scout up to Falkirk to find out if the former England man still had the legs – he did – and his months at City are the stuff of legend.

The goal at Everton, the pass at Grimsby, Waddle would do one thing a game which no other player you had ever seen would do. It was a joy to behold for sure but it was a pain too and the pain was of lingering relegation worries. For all Waddle’s personal abilities – and they were significant – the team he was in lost far too often.

Waddle exited and was replaced by Shaun Murray who – despite being a highly touted George Green of a youngster in his day – was hardly a player of Waddle’s stature. Nevertheless it is my belief that Murray saved City that season and that with Waddle we would have been relegated.

It is a contradiction for sure. Very good players are sometimes not able to feature in good teams and – at times – take something from that team.

History over we return to the current Bradford City side and the problems which it faces in the form of Jamie Devitt – the Waddle of our story. Without a doubt Devitt is a confident and able footballer and his runs and control on the ball are great to watch. We used to way that Waddle seemed like he had an extra second on the ball – he did seem to – but Devitt like Waddle took their time in going forward and so the pace of attacking moves slowed down.

Devitt – a link man between the forward and the midfield – has that Waddle habit of hanging onto the ball and taking the sting out of an attacking move. As midfielders advance forward and wide men run towards space Devitt’s holding onto the ball means that midfielders go from being in space to being next to him and wide men check back for fear of running offside.

There is a theory in sports psychology that the longer that one holds onto possession the fewer options there will be – defending players being more able to cover attacking players than attacking players are able to create opportunities – and that problem is illustrated with Devitt.

But it is not illustrated when Devitt surges into the box beating men for fun, nor when he hits an arrow-like shot at goal. This is not some mealy mouthed criticism of a player but rather the way that the player is deployed. At the moment Devitt takes the sting out of City when coming forward, but when forward he presents problems for defenders.

Which sets Phil Parkinson a problem. Keen on his 4411 Parkinson has Devitt as his link man but I believe that that link is negated by its ponderousness. Much better to press Devitt against the defensive line and allow him to get the ball in the second phase of play after the ball arrives in the final third. Much better to have him having the ball delivered to him and much better for City to attack without having to go via a slowing factor. The win over Torquay saw City sacrifice the link man position and look the better for it.

Of course watching City one might worry about the supply not being available but I believe that with Devitt deployed further forward that supply will come from a driving midfield which does not have to check when it feeds the link man. Like Shaun Murray rather than Chris Waddle Devitt could get on with doing what he does rather than being the focus of a fulcrum of expectation that the ball must go through him.

The ‘worst squad in the league’, and where the priorities should be

Saturday’s dispiriting defeat to Hereford once again provides cue for a discussion that is, over the last few weeks, increasingly being aired in the national media – could Bradford City become the first former Premier League club to be relegated into non-league?

The current league table certainly suggests that could be the case. With over a quarter of the season played, the lack of points on the board is starting to go beyond being labelled “poor start”. The undoubted potential which has been regularly witnessed is so far going unfulfilled. There had been signs of improvement in the previous three games prior to the loss to Hereford; but unless City quickly recover from this latest set back, uncomfortable fears about the possibility of falling out of the Football League will be difficult to shake off.

Adding fuel to that fire – and with some pretty poor timing in hindsight – were Joint Chairman Mark Lawn’s pre-Hereford comments on BBC Radio Leeds that he thought the squad Peter Jackson had built during the summer was “the worst in the league”. That squad has since been added to by Jackson’s replacement, Phil Parkinson; but still, what sort of a message is Lawn trying to convey with this statement?

For although Guy Branston has been moved out on loan to Rotherham and it’s rumoured Jack Compton’s loan deal is going to be terminated this week, by and large the group of players Lawn called the weakest in the division are still at the club. The comments may or may not be personal to individuals, but it seems harsh and unfair to be so critical of a group of players who are battling hard to gain or keep a place in the team.

Rash judgement

Nor does it seem particularly well-thought out. The team Jackson built during the summer may well have proven to be the worst in the league, but only four league games of football were played before he walked away. Is it really fair to have made a judgement on the squad so soon? And how can anyone at that stage have realistically evaluated the 23 other new-look squads and concluded they were all better than City’s?

No one could of course, and so one is left considering Lawn’s statement as being a veiled attack rather than something he realistically believes. We can reasonably assume that Lawn was criticising Jackson directly – the person handed a transfer budget this summer and who ultimately made the decision on every player it was used to bring in. But there were other people involved in those choices, too.

So some people can view Lawn’s criticism as a partial attack on Archie Christie, the newly-appointed Chief Scout and Head of Football Development who was tasked with finding suitable players for Jackson to consider. It can be judged to be criticism of Colin Cooper, assistant to Jackson – but who well-placed sources suggest had a much more hands-on role in the summer recruiting, team selection and tactics than an assistant manager might usually enjoy. Lawn probably only means to single out Jackson, but Christie, Cooper and a host of players brought in this summer might also have caused to feel miffed upon hearing his viewpoint.

But the poor start to the season was not just about people. When City played Aldershot in the opening game of the season they did so with hardly any knowledge of who the visitors would be. The  empty filing cabinet inherited by the new scouting set up could only be filled by watching matches (a friendly game offering a limited source of information) – and on opening day that cabinet was more or less empty.

If you give any value to the work that Christie and Nigel Brown are doing in filling that filing cabinet at the club – and if you do not you should – then you have to conclude that Jackson’s squad was playing in the dark.

A false start

There is no doubt that Parkinson has sought to do things differently to Jackson. He has strong ideas on the kind of players needed and wasted no time in bringing those in. Parkinson spent his time out of football scouting, Jackson – and this is meant in the nicest possible way – worked in a care home. Jackson wanted to sign Gary Jones on large wages and had never seen of Richie Jones. His contact book was out of date and some of his signings showed that. Nevertheless those brought in who have lost their place under Parkinson can, with some justification, feel aggrieved by the lack of opportunities they have received over recent weeks – sadly for them, that’s football.

When they have been called upon by Parkinson, the players Lawn’s criticism can be viewed to include have let no one down. At Huddersfield, Mark Stewart, Compton and Chris Mitchell made positive contributions. Stewart has started every game that City have won (if you include the two penalty shoot out wins). Nialle Rodney showed his potential against Huddersfield and Torquay. Ross Hannah has scored two important goals from the bench. Branston stepped in for Andrew Davies impressively last week.

City’s captain may have gone for now, and in time some of the other summer signings will exit the club too. But that doesn’t mean they are all bad players and it doesn’t mean that – had Jackson being prepared to show more fight in the job – they wouldn’t have performed well in time. The point of a manager – and the point of setting a plan of progression – is that things improve over time and not that they are good within four games (and this is before we recall the start made in the promotion season of 1998/99, which at the time was a huge lesson for us all).

Jackson’s squad in those opening games of the season featured faces from the Development Squad and in that one must take a cue from the name: Development. There was a decision taken at the start of the season to fund a development project and to stop looking at the first team as the be all and end all of the football club in the way, for example, Peter Taylor had.

When Jackson left the club the Development Squad numbered four or five players and a number of the youth team – and cost less per week than the lowest paid member of the first team squad. It is not that the Development Squad had sucked up resources from the first team, but that the first team was to develop with the addition – in time – of the Development Squad.

Had Jackson not taken bat and ball home then – in a month’s time and just like Parkinson – he would be taking delivery of Terry Dixon (“Championship player in a non-league body”) and have Scott Brown to call on to replace Michael Flynn, or Andrew Burns to bridge any gap between Liam Moore after he returns and Simon Ramsden before he does.

One might – in time – ask questions about how good the players who come out of the Development Squad are, but the policy at the start of the season supported a squad which was designed to improve and not just over the course of this season, but over the next one too.

The plan for promotion is a two-year one. The results four games – or even twelve games – into that, when the onus is on the club to perform in games 47 to 92 of those two years are hardly worth commenting on when the plan is to spend 1 to 46 improving. It is like criticising the kid on his first day of school for not knowing the things he has come to school to be taught.

Re-visiting pre-season’s objectives

City began this season with everyone talking of it being a building one. A sensible strategy, considering how far from the goal of promotion the Bantams had been in the previous two campaigns. It was also a strategy that allowed Jackson to sign players with the potential to grow with the club, it enabled Christie to launch the Development Squad initiative without the pressure that it would be binned nine months later if it hadn’t produced enough first team players.

Most importantly it suggested an end to the season-after-season-cycle of signing a load of players and releasing a host of others, which has meant such a constant high turnover. The club has a four-year plan of getting into the Championship, and one assumes budgets and transfer policies have been agreed on the basis that no promotion this season would not be a disaster and will not spell cut backs.

As City sit third from bottom of the Football League, a revisit of these pre-season aims is more timely than ever. Promotion would be welcomed this season – but not expected or demanded. Therefore the objectives are surely to shape a squad of players who can be good enough for at least a top seven finish at the end of the 2012/13 season.

There is no reason to believe these aims have changed by appointing Parkinson – in fact it would be ludicrous, given the fact he wasn’t around to build in the close summer, to demand more of the City manager than was expected of Jackson. When BfB spoke to Parkinson at the training ground last month we asked what his aims for the season are and he replied that the initial one is “to be in the top half of the table around Christmas”. A reasonable objective and one that deserves questioning at that point if it is not achieved.

In the meantime, more short-term pain might be unavoidable as he tries to find the right team. In the wake of the Hereford defeat, the usual hysterical message board reaction occurred with anyone and everyone blamed. There will be further murmurings from people outside the club that a relegation battle is on the cards. This is unavoidable of course, but the club itself has to rise above it and present a calm, rationale and positive front. Lawn himself probably knows this better than anyone, but his radio comments help no one and undermine those efforts.

That said though when Lawn talks on the radio he speaks his mind as any fan does (as if he to prove this, he also commented that he was about to become a granddad again but had travelled to Hereford because he is a fan). Perhaps that is the difference unperceived in this radio interview and previous ones. When Lawn ran the club seemingly from top to bottom these were the thoughts of the Chairman. Now the chairman has more help around him then he is more of the fan than he has been allowed to be. His exasperation is matched by many supporters, because it is spoken as a supporter.

Beating the drop

Ultimately, the first objective for this season has to be to avoid relegation. It may be lacking ambition to say that and it certainly feels like setting the bar low; but the idea of it actually occurring is difficult to contemplate. We need to get to around 45 points as soon as possible. And, if and when we do, we can then talk about revised targets for however many games are left.

The club badly needs a season of stability, so that the squad can be developed in a way that can spark momentum needed to succeed in realising Christie’s vision of Championship football by August 2015. Jackson’s departure was a dreadful start in that respect, but the future is more important than raking over the past.

Time is more important than timing. The league table looks bad now for sure, but the true importance of this season is not how we begin it but the shape the squad and club when it ends it.

Osborne leaves City

Leon Osborne has left Bradford City but mutual consent after the player failed to make an impact under his fourth manager at Valley Parade.

Signed by Stuart McCall, cherished by Peter Taylor and cast aside by Peter Jackson Osborne’s time at City is tracked by the managers who were in charge of him and if – for want of a better phrase – they fancied having him in the side.

Which is not to say that for players of Osborne’s age – he is 21 – the only people involved in his development are the first team managers but rather than until recently there has been no stable system in place to support players who fall between first team and youth levels.

Taylor saw something in Osborne which other did not and gave the player a number of starts to prove himself. If – with a run of games – Osborne might have settled in and become a better player we will not know but we do know that the chopping and changing around Leon Osborne has not produced a player for Bradford City.

Out of the Frying Pan

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Marcel Seip, Robbie Threlfall | Richie Jones, Adamn Reed, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, Craig Fagan | Mark Stewart, Luke O'Brien, Michael Bryan

Hereford’s new Director of Football Gary Peters likened to himself to “Red Adair” when he took over at Edgar Street, in reference to his track record of rescuing struggling clubs, and these qualities will be required in abundance if the Bulls are to escape their predicament. On Saturday’s evidence they may not be alone in that assessment. A disjointed, uninspiring display from Bradford resulted in them leaving with exactly what they deserved, now only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

Phil Parkinson decided to recall Jamie Devitt and Adam Reed into the starting eleven with Devitt playing off Craig Fagan and Reed partnering Flynn in the middle. This again forced Ritchie Jones out to the right flank, something seen often over recent weeks without the midfielder ever looking comfortable. Marcel Seip, replacing the suspended Davies and the departed Branston alongside Luke Oliver, stands as one of the only success stories to come out of the game for the Bantams, putting in an assured performance in the heart of the City backline in the face of a testing aerial barrage throughout.

The match started slowly in the sleepy confines of Edgar Street, only awakened by the sporadic calls of the hordes of school children shipped in for today’s game, cited as a must-win for Hereford by manager Jamie Pitman. What was seen on the pitch would be better described as rugby than football. Little focus or energy was expended on ball retention or build up play, instead focusing on field position and set pieces. Long throws and corners were the entry point of choice for Hereford, and both sides spent the majority of the game attempting to find touch deep in the opposition half. This was obviously the game plan of Hereford who boasted a physical side, led by lanky midfielder Harry Pell and their powerful forward Nathan Elder.

It would be nice to say that Phil Parkinson’s side attempted to play football around the rigidly defensive Bulls, but it wouldn’t be accurate, they were just as bad. Hereford brought Bradford down to their level with remarkable ease.

Neither side showed the attacking intent or skill to indicate any goals were forthcoming and it was clear early on that this game would be decided by mistakes. A couple of marking mishaps in the City backline led to first half chances for Elder and Pell which were spurned, and after a corner was poorly cleared Stephen Leslie rocketed a shot destined for the top corner before the intervention of Duke who tipped the ball onto the bar. This was a startling moment of skill, entirely out of context in a game such as this. Bradford’s best chance fell to Craig Fagan who crashed the ball over the bar from close range after good work from Devitt set him clean through on goal.

The second half picked up where the first left off, seemingly destined for 0-0 until the ejection of Michael Flynn changed the course of the game. City’s captain could have no complaints about his sending off, the second booking coming after the Welshman cynically brought down the surging Pell outside the City area. Stephen Leslie, who had two long distance shots saved well by Duke up to this point then dispatched the ball into top corner. Leslie, recruited by Peters from Shrewsbury soon after his arrival was clearly Hereford’s key man and it was of little surprise he was the difference in the game.

It’s easy to blame Duke for the concession of another long range strike but there was little he could do about this one, and he had made two impressive saves from distance before this. What should be more of a worry is the performance of the outfield players who showed a distinct lack of invention and skill throughout. Hereford flooded the midfield, restricting the space for Devitt to work, and doubled up on Kyel Reid leading to Bradford running out of ideas all too quickly. In lieu of attempting to work through the rigid defensive lines, Parkinson’s men instead resorted to pumping the ball long in the vague direction of Craig Fagan and the corner flags, worryingly reminiscent of the Jackson era.  

Fagan cut a frustrated character throughout spending large periods of the game isolated, chasing after a succession of lost causes. This frustration grew as the game wore on and culminated at the final whistle as Fagan angrily attempted to smash the ball out of the ground amongst the euphoric celebrations of the Hereford contingent, before heading straight for the tunnel. After the support, or lack thereof, he received from his teammates during the game, this was easy to understand.

After Leslie’s opener the mood around Edgar Street noticeably lifted, the confidence began to flow throughout the team, and there was little doubt in which end the next goal would come. Parkinson altered to a 3-4-2 with Luke O’Brien taking over in central midfield, this left City exposed to the counter, and after a probing run at the heart of the defence, the impressive Tom Barkhuizen neatly played a one two with substitute Yoann Arquin before slotting past Duke.

Arquin’s introduction along with the ever more rotund Delroy Facey at 0-0 showed the endeavour of the Bulls who could see this game was for the taking, and both contributed well as Hereford closed out what would prove to be a relatively easy win.

After the game Phil Parkinson placed the blame at the feet of Michael Flynn for the defeat, but this rather seems an easy excuse for the City manager. In truth the side deserved nothing more and a better opponent would have exposed them to a far greater extent. Bradford also got away with what looked a certain penalty before the opener, Jones handling in the area. It’s difficult to recall a shot in anger on the Hereford goal nor any periods of sustained pressure from Parkinson’s men. With the exception of the suspended Davies and the injured Syers, this would probably represent the strongest side possible, and they looked thoroughly unimpressive throughout. Flynn is now set for a two match suspension missing next week’s games against Northampton and Macclesfield thanks to his fifth booking in the midst of his red card.

Peters’ impact on the struggling Bulls cannot be underestimated, for the second straight game he spent the second half on the touchline alongside manager Jamie Pitman, and it was clear that he was heavily involved in the management of the side. Five goals and four points in the two games since his arrival illustrate the impact which he has had on the West Midlands club, and while Bradford have improved markedly since the start of the season they remain in the same position, struggling for points, struggling for consistency, and looking over their shoulder with greater urgency with each passing week. Whilst Bradford look to have the talent and fire power not to have to call on a Red Adair or a Boots Hansen, the fact they are struggling to escape the grasps of the relegation zone is beginning to worry.


BfB is pleased to welcome Alex Scott to our band of Bantams. Alex’s own Bradford City website Concentrate On The League is on our must read lists and we point you towards it.

Branston loaned out to Rotherham

Guy Branston has been loaned out to Rotherham United for three months.

Branston – who was recruited as City’s skipper in the summer – put in his best performance for the club last week in the 1-0 win over Torquay United and it was thought that he would claim a place in the side with Andrew Davies’ suspension but it seems that the return to fitness of Steve Williams and the signing of Marcel Seip have seen a shuffling of the pecking order.

As Peter Jackson’s headline signing Branston has suffered from the change of manager at Valley Parade more than most although the rise of Luke Oliver was unexpected and has afforded City options at the back.

Phil Parkinson confirmed Branston’s loan move.

The building of our squad is still an ongoing process and I felt that the offer we received from Rotherham was a very good one financially for the football club. This is an opportunity for him to go and get the guarantee of first team football that we can’t offer him at the moment.

Branston is expected to feature in the Miller’s squad for the game with Bristol Rovers tonight while City are expected to give either Williams or Seip a place against Hereford United. Branston will not play in the FA Cup for Rotherham, nor will he play against City which – considering Jamie Devitt’s abilities to turn a man and tempt a foul – might not be a good thing for the Bantams.

On his loan – a return to Rotherham after a five year spell there earlier in his career – Branston could not have been more pleased.

When he told me who the club was I thought it was an opportunity to come and play football which is what I`m all about. I don`t believe in keeping benches warm so I took the opportunity and I`ve got a big grin on my face.

Branston added “I’m a different person. I’m calmer and more relaxed.” The mind boggles as to what he must have been like before.

When you have to change a winning team

There is an adage in football that a manager should not change a winning team and as the Bantams celebrated the uplifting result over Torquay United last weekend one can imagine Phil Parkinson would liked to have kept what the Bantams brought off the pitch on against the South Coast club and put it straight into the game with Hereford United.

However, having passed up the idea of appealing Andrew Davies’ red card Parkinson is in the rare position of being able to change a winning team by adding another player to it.

And that player seems certain to be Guy Branston who came off the bench to great effect against his former club last week and looks set to replace Davies. The next three games offer Branston a gilt edge chance to do all his talking – and he does like to have his voice heard – on the field. If in three games time Branston and City have thoroughly put the habit of conceding one or two soft goals a game behind them then the captain will have convinced all.

However with Steve Williams playing the full game at Gateshead as the reserves won 2-1 the more mobile defender might give the manager a choice to make between Williams and one of Branston and Luke Oliver.

With Phil Parkinson new to the job it is difficult to guess what the manager will favour: two big men, one big and one nimble, and so on, and Saturday will start to tell us how the Gaffer likes his teams to play.

Matt Duke celebrated his first clean sheet of the season in goal and Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will continue at full backs. Luke O’Brien and Marcel Seip would both like a place on the bench but the new squads of sixteen rule looks like forcing Parkinson into a selection. Parkinson told BfB he is no fan of the drop from seven subs to five and preferred the more full bench. Personally I see no reason why a team should not be able to call on any registered player giving a limitless bench of which three substitutions could be made.

Also lighting up Gateshead on his first appearance and hoping to trouble the bench is Scott Brown although the sixteen year old looks like he may have to wait and watch Richie Jones and Michael Flynn who are growing into a superb partnership. It is hard to know who to praise more. Flynn for his comeback and the way he has worked well with Jones or Jones for his expansive play and work rate. Both are the sort of player you want in the heart of your midfield.

Kyel Reid will carry on on the left hand side. Norman Hunter – when City assistant manager – was once asked who the best player he had seen was and unexpectedly he answered “Leigh Palin.” The lightweight City midfielder – who struggled to nail down a place next to Stuart McCall in the mid-to-late-1980s – came with a caveat though as Hunter continued “for twenty minutes, and then nothing.”

Reid seems to have the same capacity to have a spell in the game where one is convinced that he is hardly worth a pair of boots and then another spell when one joins the flat footed defenders in being mesmerised by his play. If he could turn it on every week one doubts he would be in League Two, but as long has he keeps his defensive duties done then his on/off play does no harm and much good.

Adam Reed – who returned from Sunderland after going back North to get over injury in his first game at Burton – might trouble the right wing although Mark Stewart’s play when dropped back merited a standing ovation last week and could see him keep the spot. Jack Compton started in the position last week and will hope to feature again, Jamie Devitt is hoping to find a place in the side and could also feature.

Whoever does not feature at right wing may get a call alongside Craig Fagan up front. James Hanson may recover from injury and as with the central defensive pairing we will learn much about Parkinson’s approach to attacking options from who he picks. Playing with another big man would suit Hanson’s game and he could do well – as we saw against Barnet – in feeding as well as flicking the ball on. The likes of Devitt, Stewart, Nakhi Wells and Nialle Rodney all chomp at the bit for a place up front.

Which is good. City have a big squad – but a small playing budget, this season’s big squad costs less than Peter Taylor’s small one and one would struggle to say it is worse – and plenty of competition for places which Parkinson is a great advocate of. “It takes care of training” says the City boss.

Hereford United – second bottom of League Two – will be fighting the same fight as City won last week. The season starts to become established and teams do not want to be near the bottom when it starts to be set in cement. Last week’s win from City was great but to meet Phil Parkinson’s plan of being in the top half of the table by Christmas there is a need to pick up points at the least on the road.

The pressure on Parkinson – after last week’s result – will to be return with three and again we will learn something about how he approaches the game in how he sets out to get a win or keeps safe in looking for a draw.

It takes twenty to tango

There is nothing new about the idea that Liverpool’s Ian Ayre floated this morning would allow clubs to negotiated certain television rights as individual entities rather than a part of the Premier League collective bargaining group but the idea remains a poor one.

Ayre’s logic seems sound when he talked about international rights being sold on the basis of watching the higher profile teams like his club, Manchester United and Arsenal but he is wrong to consider the reason for that that the teams themselves are available to watch.

When Manchester United play a friendly tour the rights are sold for less than the Premier League games because the competition is less. Even though Ayre’s team might be the star of the show, the show is all twenty teams and the league, and what is good for the show is good for all involved.

All of which seems like a simple concept. The concern of Ayre is that the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid who are able to individually bargain for rights will leave the Premier League clubs behind in revenue for those rights but an unbalance in a league which has to automatic righting system (the Premier League – because it has no promotion to take away the cream – is prone to unbalance) is never an attractive one and ultimately that will cause revenue to suffer both domestically and internationally.

What Ayre gathers with one hand, he loses with the other. He is not a stupid man, he knows this, but his primary aim is not the long term health of English football it is the medium term finances of Liverpool football club.

Which is the problem with Ayre and people in his position at the clubs who are at the top of the European pile. The aims that their positions dictates they have are not those which would guarantee long term health for the top flight, and thus the rest of the game.

Ayre raises the ire of the smaller clubs and some of them smaller clubs are pretty big. It was clubs in the position of Bolton Wanderers – a team listed as unattractive by Ayre – who voted for the establishment of the Premier League. The appeal then was that a line would be drawn below clubs in that position, now that line creeps higher.

There is a need for football in all its spheres to look at what the aims of the Premier League are and address them towards the long term protection of that league and alls its members now and in the future.

Alas though while such changes are so far away from taking place the game instructs the likes of Ayre to find whatever ways of making money he can regardless of the impact it might have in the longer term.

The solution – perhaps – lays with the 75% of the Premier League who enjoy the excess at the top but would lose out in this and perhaps that solution is to start mandating a more level playing field all the way from top to bottom rather than standing at the top of one ladder trying to make sure they can grasp the next one as the kick the previous away.

Williams and McLaughlin in the reserves win over Gateshead

Both defender Steve Williams and keeper Jon McLaughlin played in Bradford City reserves’ 2-1 win over Gateshead.

The Heed – who are second the the Conference and hoping for promotion to the League this season – scored though former favourite (of mine) Kyle Nix but the Bantams pair of Naille Rodney and Adam Baker gave City the win.

The Bantams gave a first start to midfielder Scott Brown along with new recruit Marcel Seip who played centre back with Andrew Burns at right back.

The win is City Reserves’ third victory of the season in three games having already gone to Rotherham and hosted Hartlepool coming out on top.

Luke Oliver stands to his full height

It is cliché to say that six foot seven Luke Oliver stands head and shoulders over his team mates but on Saturday as City claimed a hard fought one goal win over Torquay United the defender put in the kind of performance that many of his more celebrated peers who have played the position over the past few season would have called a good afternoon’s work.

Signed by Peter Taylor and often seen (in a negative way) as that manager’s favourite Oliver has hardly spent his time at Valley Parade as the most popular player on the field but his honest work ethic and robust displays seems to have started winning over supporters as well as management. Since his arrival at the club Phil Parkinson has picked Oliver for every match.

Which is a turn around from the first friendly of the season when the rag, tag and bob tail under Peter Jackson were posted to Silsden FC with Oliver, Michael Flynn and Robbie Threlfall seemingly being sent a message to them that their time at the club was coming to an end.

Talk about “writing players off” Oliver – it seemed – was with Flynn and Threlfall part of Jackson’s cull of players. Four months later Oliver, Flynn and Threlfall have all played their way back into the first team but one might argue that of the three Oliver’s turn around is the most remarkable.

Peter Jackson signed and named as captain Guy Branston pairing him with Steve Williams in pre-season and Lee Bullock in the opening match against Aldershot. Draw up a list of players in the manager’s thought and Oliver would have been fourth or fifth. That same list now would have him around the top.

All of which is massive credit to the man who took some fierce criticism when playing up front for Taylor’s side and a good deal when he was back in defence. Such criticism I always found curious and could never agree with. Oliver’s displays were practical if not revelatory and his attitude excellent. A year ago today Oliver was leading the line for City in a 2-0 win over Barnet with little impact but great effort.

I could not say what other publications were saying about the player but looking forward to this season at BfB we talk about a player who had not let anyone down and could do a job when needed.

For the forgotten man Luke Oliver it is hard to imagine how he can break into the side with Branston in his way but – eighteen red cards remember – a good season for Luke Oliver is to be the able replacement to be drafted in when needed. Whenever called on Oliver has played with enthusiasm and professionalism. Not the best player in the world a good season for Luke Oliver is to not let anyone down when he is called on and – despite the moaning of the malcontent – he never has so far.

Which perhaps is the key to Oliver’s revival in fortunes. By offering a calm reliability he has created a platform to move onto a higher level of performance. None of which is to suggest that the player has room for complacency just that he has reason to be proud of his achievement in winning over the new manager.

And winning over fans. Last season one might have found long odds on the Bradford End signing “One Luke Oliver” but so they did on Saturday in appreciation of another clearance.

Watching him commanding at the back against Torquay on Saturday one has to admire Oliver for how he has stepped out of the shadows cast by higher profile players and claimed a first team slot. In doing so he provides a message for all City players who are looking to edge into Phil Parkinson’s side about the application needed to claim, and retain, a place in the starting line-up.

So far Luke Oliver is the success story of the season but – typically – that story has been told in quiet tones. No bluster or bravado just honest, hard working displays which have been noted and rewarded.

City will not be launching an appeal about Andrew Davies’ red card against Torquay and with the loaned suspended the question now is who will be partnered with Luke Oliver, and not if Oliver is going to be called on, and that is a great credit to the player who after a season too big to not be a target has now stood to his full height.

Recent Posts