Outsiders are welcome

“Come and visit Bar 71 lads”, said the Swindon Town steward who had appeared from nowhere after we had queued up at the County Ground away ticket office for tickets to Saturday’s game. “It’s for away supporters only, and we’ve put Bradford City photos up to make you feel at home. There’s even one charting how far you’ve travelled today, which I researched myself.”

So we did visit Bar 71, located directly underneath the away section of the County Ground. And though the posters looked a bit naff (see photo below) and the beer hardly cheap, it was nevertheless a pleasant experience with plenty of room and big screen coverage of the Chelsea v Arsenal game. And though we were the only people there for half an hour, by the time Robin van Persie was completing his hat trick, Bar 71 was packed out with City fans. And suddenly in from the pitch outside burst a jokingly annoyed Lennie the City Gent, wondering why no one was sat in the stand watching his routines. “Never mind the beer,” he ordered “get out there.”

"Welcome to Swindon, here's a picture of Craig Fagan to make you feel at home."

"Welcome to Swindon, here's a picture of Craig Fagan to make you feel at home."

There has been much comment made of Swindon’s decision to charge us £25 to watch a League Two match and rightly so. Times are tough and all that – football, at this level especially, should be an affordable activity not a luxury expense. A week earlier I’d attended the Blackburn Rovers v Tottenham Premier League fixture and paid just £17 for the privilege. When you consider the petrol expense of travelling 200+ miles to Wiltshire, Saturday was a costly day out.

Yet after getting past the monetary concerns, it was also a hugely enjoyable experience. Bar 71 might be little more than a glorified Working Mens Club, but it was a nice touch by Swindon to lay on facilities for away supporters. Financially profitable for them, of course; somewhere nearby, there will have been a local pub or two missing out on revenue we would have otherwise provided them. But the Robins were also making an effort to ensure our matchday experience was a good one, rather than rely on others to do so.

It may have cost £25 a ticket, but if we’re in the same division next season I personally will favour a trip to the County Ground over some League Two away games (like, for example, Port Vale – £20.50 ticket, not allowed in their supporters bar).

And that’s a point that few football clubs – Bradford City included – appear to be aware of. Away support is an important financial consideration, and there is much they can do to make sure a visit to your stadium is an attractive proposition beyond providing away fans with a decent view of the match.

Perhaps Brighton deserve the status of pioneers in this respect. As part of the development of their brand new Amex Stadium, they built an away stand where they can make bespoke changes to the facilities. Visiting supporters to Brighton this season have arrived into an away concourse in the colours of their team, with posters of their present and past heroes on the wall. Inside the ground, the away seats are cushioned. Martin Perry, Brighton Chief Executive, explained the reasoning to the BBC during the summer: “Why not be welcoming to your visiting club? Why not make it a fantastic experience for them? Because actually what happens is, they look for the Brighton fixture and they say “I’m going to that one” and we get a full house.”

Swindon’s Bar 71 was a low rent equivalent. Bespoke posters on the wall, a chance to socialise before the match and then a 5-second walk to the away turnstiles once everyone in your group had supped up. Certainly profitable for Swindon in terms of the bar and food takings; but potentially even more rewarding for the club when it comes to the number of fans who attend their club’s fixture at the County Ground the following season.

Not that it’s solely a football club’s responsibility to ensure away fans have an enjoyable experience. My favourite away trip of the season so far was Oxford in August. A few hundred yards from the stadium was a pub which put on outdoor seating, a special beer tent and a DJ playing indie classics. We were warmly welcomed to join the large group of home supporters, and we spent a good hour chatting to a number of friendly Oxford fans. A great experience which they do for every game, apparently; and because of it we’ll be travelling to Oxford the next time that City play them.

At Morecambe, Bradford City supporter Dan Thornton – who’s caravan park is based opposite the Globe Arena – has for the last two seasons put on special events before Morecambe-Bradford matches for City fans only. Although the racist stand up comedian was not to my taste and so I won’t be going again, other City fans were not bothered by it and will go in the same high numbers next time.

Whoever instigates them, the efforts of Brighton, Swindon, Oxford and Dan add something extra to the day which makes them more rewarding. When the most important factor – the match itself – is beyond our control and more often than not disappointing, it’s nice to return home from a day out with something positive to look back on from it.

Which brings us to the obvious question of what – if anything – Bradford City and us supporters are doing for visitors to our own city? As much as we can complain about Swindon’s £25 entry, the fact we charge away fans £20 to see their team at Valley Parade makes our moral high ground position rather dubious. The facilities in the Midland Road stand are okay but nothing special, while there is no Bar 71 equivalent (or a realistic location to open one) to offer visitors.

Sadly, there are no decent pubs in the immediate vicinity of Valley Parade and – without doing some research first – few away fans would have a clue where to find one. The excellent Haigy’s is hidden away, and the City Centre pubs aren’t especially football-focused. The Sparrow Cafe on North Parade, for the moment, remains a hidden gem that only a handful of City fans are aware of (well worth seeking out if you’ve not been, mine’s a pint of Bernard Unfiltered if you’re buying). That and a good curry after the match aside, it’s hard to know what would make a trip to Bradford especially more attractive for an opposition supporter.

Does it matter? When opposition away followings at Valley Parade are sometimes dipping below 100 and rarely top 500 I think it does. Consider that – to a Southern-based opposition fan – a trip to Bradford is similar in distance and effort to Accrington, Morecambe and Rotherham, which would you favour if money and a social life meant you had to pick and choose?

In early 2012 City will face away trips to London borough clubs Barnet, Wimbledon and Dagenham – a fair equivalent to the above for us. Some fans will go to all three of these; me I will probably go to two of them. Wimbledon I’ve not been too before so that will be included, and my other choice would probably be Barnet on the basis I had much more fun travelling down to North London last season compared to going to Dagenham the year before.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps we shouldn’t give a toss what away fans think of Bradford and the fact they will rock up on Manningham Lane at 1pm looking for a pint and can find only sex shops. But when experiencing the difference in visiting a club who were genuinely welcoming to me and who had clearly made an effort to ensure I enjoyed my time, I feel sad and wonder if we lose out financially from the fact ‘Bradford City away’ is unlikely to be any opposition fans’ highlight of the season.

The spirit rises as City refuse to beaten

As a general rule, unused substitutes don’t usually need to join in with the team’s warm down after the match. Yet after spending the entire final 30 minutes at The Country Ground stretching and jogging up and down the touchline, at full time Bradford City’s Jack Compton and Ross Hannah might have been tempted to join their 10 heroic team mates on the cool down.

Substitutes Compton and Hannah were on permanent stand-by in case it went wrong. Under clear instructions from their manager, Phil Parkinson – who at one stage ordered them back to their feet when they had returned to sit down on the bench – to be ready for the call to go onto the field at the shortest of notice. Victim to yet another atrocious refereeing decision that had seen central defender Andrew Davies red-carded after 57 minutes, City were left to defend for their lives with Compton and Hannah ready as Plan C, if their goal was breached. The pair’s failure to get on the field illustrated Plan B’s success.

For although the Bantams has parked the bus in the preservation of a point; once a man down they were left with little realistic alternative, considering their high-flying hosts Swindon Town had, since August 16, failed to score in a game only once. It was a truly outstanding, backs to the wall performance in the final half hour, with central defenders Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip particularly courageous and Michael Flynn and Ritchie Jones superbly protecting the back four. A first clean sheet on the road for six months, and a very, very good point.

That it came to hanging on was the game’s major talking point – and how depressing and frankly boring it is to be writing about a referee yet again. City were on the attack deep in Swindon’s half, but the ball suddenly broke for Jake Jervis who was then fouled inside his own half by Davies. A mistimed challenge for sure, a yellow card perhaps. Yet the referee Oliver Langford instantly pulled out a red to send the on-loan Stoke defender off on the day he’d returned from a three match suspension following a previous controversial red card.

There is some talk that Davies was dismissed for being the last man and denying a goal scoring opportunity. While that does seem nonsense in view of the number of City players around – and the fact Jervis was in his own half – it’s even harder to understand how Langford could believe the tackle warranted a red card. Davies took a long time to leave the field, as team mates supported his protest appeals. Liam Moore – unfortunate to have been left out, but who had been poor at Macclesfield – quickly joined the action with Seip moved inside. A 4-4-1 formation was employed to try and see out the game.

It’s ironic that City were forced to hang on for a point, given the criticism – largely unfair – towards Parkinson for supposedly playing too conservatively in the previous two away games. Plan A today involved two wingers and a 4-4-2 formation which showed clear intentions to attack Swindon. Parkinson’s pre-match comments that City are good enough to beat anyone in League Two had felt dubious but – as they evenly matched opponents who began and ended the day in the play off positions – this barometer reading of how the Bantams compare to a top seven side produced encouraging results.

Swindon certainly had the most chances and possession even before Davies was sent off, but the improvement in defence that has been evidenced for a number of weeks now – even if not always reflected by results – was continued. Decent home build up play was often stopped by the hard-working Jones and Flynn, while new full backs Seip and Luke O’Brien both did well neutralising the threat on their wings. Davies was like Oliver, rock solid. When City had possession they didn’t simply hoof it hopefully to James Hanson or Craig Fagan, but passed the ball around patiently and got wingers Kyel Reid and Michael Bryan heavily involved. Both caused problems and created openings.

City did not look and perform like a team 4th bottom of League Two.

Home keeper Wes Foderingham’s mistake in picking up a back pass gave the Bantams an early indirect free kick inside the box, but Flynn’s effort was blocked. Not long after Fagan shot tamely from Hanson’s knock down and sometime after that City’s top scorer couldn’t get power when heading a Seip cross goalwards. The best chance came when Bryan was played clean through on goal but in a wide position, and the young winger couldn’t get a decent ball into the box towards the onrushing Fagan. Swindon had chances too, but Matt Duke’s only save came, once again, from a shot outside the box (on this occasion a free kick) – underlining the robustness of his back four.

Without Davies’ red card the game would probably have continued in that way: Swindon having plenty of the ball and producing some attractive football, City defending well and a strong threat on the counter attack. Langford’s intervention stopped the game as an even contest, and left Swindon with 30 minutes to make their extra man count.

It was easy to fear the worst, as the home side produced some heavy pressure and fired numerous crosses into the box. Not least when it became clear Duke had picked up an injury which meant he could not take goal kicks. Yet Oliver and Seip seemed to have a magnetic effect on the ball, and time and time again it was one of the pair who would get to it first and clear.

Duke had just two second-half saves to make – and one came when it was 11 v 11, after O’Brien’s slip forced the keeper to make an excellent one-on-one block. Other attempts at goal sailed wide or over the bar, but never really close to going under it.

The threat of a goal remained right to the end, yet Swindon seemed to run out of ideas and perhaps took a lead from their attention-seeking, immature manager Paulo Di Canio. He began to get ridiculously wound up by any decision he didn’t get or whenever his players made a mistake. Sure, all managers get like this to a certain extent too, but with 20 or so minutes to go and Swindon well on top one would have expected more coolness and professionalism from a manager – rather than transmitting obvious panic that it wasn’t going to be their day.

Some people think Di Canio is amusing, me I’d take the more reserved but clearly still passionate Parkinson any day.

The full time whistle was met with a huge cheer from us away supporters, and deservedly so. Applying rationale thinking, it is obvious the corner is being turned and City are moving forwards. At the start of this month we had set off to Burton with such little hope and growing fears about the future. But we produced a great performance that day, followed by a memorable cup victory over our neighbours, two home wins and now this point. The two defeats among this run were frustrating for sure, but it is beginning to come together.

October has ended with City in a much better position than when we started it. Progress might still be too slow to inspire hope of joining Swindon in the play off push, but the foundations of developing a side good enough to be up there ability-wise are starting to come through. City have improved greatly at the back, while Parkinson has a range of attacking options available that not too many League Two clubs can better.

That side of the Bantams had to be shelved for the final half hour this afternoon, but the spirit and determination to cling on to the point stands the club in good stead for the winter months to come.

What matters and what shouldn’t

Booing from Bradford City fans at the final whistle is hardly a rarity. But as the Macclesfield evening grew ever chillier, the frosty farewell from a decent-size away following was for once not directed at our own players but at the man who had won Macclesfield the game.

Step forward and take a bow, Rob Lewis. Only as the boos and cries of “cheat” reigned down towards him at full time, the referee took a rare moment to hide away from the spotlight. A furious Phil Parkinson joined his players in confronting Lewis over the range of bewildering decisions he had made. It’s hard to recall the last time a referee had such an obvious impact on the scoreline.

For 65 minutes of the evening, Lewis was a minor irritation rather than obvious match winner. Then Macclesfield’s Ross Draper chased a slightly over-hit long ball into the box that was gathered up by Matt Duke, fell over as he ran into the City keeper and Lewis ruled the midfielder had been fouled. Luke Oliver, the nearest defender, could have been adjudged to have nudged Draper, but there seemed to be no contact whatsoever.

By the letter of the law, any foul by Oliver or Duke would have meant they were the last man and so a red card should have been issued. There was no card and so one can’t escape the feeling Lewis was looking for an excuse to even up the fact he’d turned down a much more credible Macclesfield penalty appeal in the first half. There was certainly no hesitation in awarding the second half spot kick that Lewis Chalmers dispatched easily.

Yet there was just the warm up act for Lewis, who spent the final half hour seemingly giving every decision against a City side who pinned Macclesfield in their own half in a desperate search for an equaliser.

Lewis didn’t simply fail to award City free kicks when players looked to have been fouled – he gave Macclesfield free kicks seemingly as punishment for the City player been fouled. On a number of occasions it appeared as though he had spotted what looked to be clear fouls on Bantams’ players and blew his whistle to stop the game, only to trigger indignation from City players and supporters by pointing in the opposite direction to signal a home free kick.

Examples of this bizarre decision-making process were numerous; but when Jamie Devitt was sent crashing to the floor by two Macclesfield players jumping on top of him to head the ball away, only for Lewis to rule City’s substitute had fouled the two players, you wondered if the rules of football had been changed without anyone telling us.

It’s impossible to write an account of what went on in the final half hour without coming across as bitter and biased. All I can say is I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a referee make so many bad decisions and so obviously favour one team when making them. City’s players would be kicked, pushed and hauled to the floor by home players and get nothing, while the slightest bit of contact on a Macclesfield player in possession would see them earn a free kick. Either come down hard on every tackle or (preferably) show some common sense, but to apply a different set of standards towards each team is a referee having far too much influence on the outcome of a football match.

All of which is not to be disrespectful to Macclesfield, who put in an impressive first half performance where they passed the ball around with confidence and came close to taking the lead through a series of decent long range shots – one of which hit the outside of the post. As expected, Parkinson had elected to pick three central midfielders rather than two out-and-out-wingers, but a very poor display from Adam Reed contributed largely to possession being easily squandered.

Up front Craig Fagan and Kyel Reid played just behind James Hanson, but the trio failed to click in the manner it had on its previous two outings.  Fagan’s wide position seemed to be aimed at making the most of Macclesfield’s weakest player, left back Carl Tremarco. Yet Hanson was left far too isolated and Reid had fewer close options to pick out when he came forwards. City’s best first half chance came when Ritchie Jones’ clever charge into the box was eventually picked out by Reid, but the midfielder failed to make a decent connection.

Defensively City looked more assured than on Saturday, with Marcel Seip again impressing if showing a slightly worrying tendency to push out quickly when his fellow defenders sat deeper. A rare mistake by Oliver when under-hitting a back pass allowed Draper in on goal for that strong penalty shout; but as he poked the ball past Duke and fell over the keeper rather than go around him to tap the ball into an empty net, the resultant appeal carried some degree of suspicion that he was looking for it.

It became obvious – shortly after break – that City’s gameplan involved ensuring they were at least level at half time level, before pushing on in the second half. And for the second 45 minutes they pinned Macclesfield back, quickly unmasking frailties in their defence which led to panicky clearances and a struggle just to get out of their own half. Jones twice went close, while full backs Liam Moore and Luke O’Brien – who replaced the injured Robbie Threlfall early in the second half – provided overlapping width and some testing crosses. A goal seemed only a matter of time.

Then came the penalty at the other end, followed by a final 25 minutes that seemed to be 11 vs 12. Michael Bryan came on for the anonymous Reed, and City’s move to 4-4-2 had the home defence stretched further. Yet good build up play and a number of superb crosses in the box went unrewarded. Strong pressure would invariably be punctured by Lewis awarding a home free kick for very little.

Three City players were booked as frustration took over, but only Jones seemed deserving of such a punishment following a wild tackle that revealed his growing frustration. Hanson’s booking for contesting a 50-50 ball was nonsense, while as City prepared to take a corner it appeared home keeper Jose Veiga raised his arms at Fagan with Lewis’ back turned. The result? Fagan was booked. Of course. Makes sense.

Devitt was brought on for Jones and did extremely well, while Reid was a constant terror who made things happen whenever he had the ball. As a winger he is both intelligent and brave; always looking around to assess his options, while not being afraid to take a kick or two from the opposition.

For all the pressure, not enough good chances were created. Hanson had two decent opportunities, but a shot and header lacked power. Reid blasted a free kick over and Flynn wasted a free header from a corner, glancing the ball well over. In the final minute of stoppage time Oliver nodded a Seip cross narrowly wide.

Beaten, but not bettered. Any defeat is a set back, but the evening’s effort and endeavour deserved much better; and for Parkinson the challenge is to get that bit more quality from his players in the final third, so City start returning from trips away from Valley Parade with a point or three. The league table once again does not look great, but slowly the tide of City’s season is turning.

The boos at full time for Lewis were followed by the players receiving a great ovation for their efforts, yet somehow back home in City’s cyberworld people not at the game were starting to demand that Parkinson is sacked and that blaming the referee for this defeat was an “excuse”.

I’m sick of making a huge amount of effort to attend away games, only for people who don’t watch them to jump to their own, misguided conclusions and claim they know better. The idea that any City fan could possibly believe – after years and years of driving managers away in the doomed belief it will improve things – that getting rid of Parkinson is now the answer is simply astonishing. If you are one of these people, take a glance at the Scottish Premier League table.

It seriously is time for a few people to take a long hard look at themselves and to question whether their online actions are helping the club or hindering it. If you don’t go to a game yet believe you can make a qualified opinion on what went wrong, that opinion does not deserve to be listened to be anyone.

Playing Reed was a mistake in hindsight, but no one can convince me that Parkinson’s approach tonight was wrong. Sadly, the amount of effort and preparation that would have gone in was undermined by a shockingly bad refereeing display. Stick to this path, however, and the rewards will surely come.

The walking stage as City head to Macclesfield looking to build a running position

Functionalism seems the most fitting label when reflecting on the way Phil Parkinson has lined up Bradford City in the last three games, at least.

Functionalism is a theory that design (in this case tactics and team selection) should be determined by its practicality rather than by aesthetic considerations. Like buying a supermarket brand of baked beans because money is a little tight, aside from the slip up to Hereford, the Bantams have accomplished their objectives in a largely efficient manner. The style will have to come later.

A run of disappointing results had intensified the need to start winning at all costs, and so for now at least the attractive manner of passing football that had featured in the Bristol Rovers and Port Vale games has been shelved by Parkinson. That’s not to say City under Parkinson have become as dour as they were a year earlier under Peter Taylor, but there are certainly similarities in the more organised nature of the way City have played.

As the saying goes, you need to learn to walk before you can run. City couldn’t afford to carry on playing well but losing points, so for now we are watching a different approach that is proving more effective in grinding out results and slowly tightening up a defence which has been far too leaky.

Expect more of the same at in-form Macclesfield tonight. City have only managed to pick up three points on the road this season, and haven’t won in the league away from home since James Hanson’s first half header at Moss Rose six months ago did much to preserve the Bantam’s league status. Parkinson apparently adopted a more defensive approach in the last away match at Hereford but didn’t get the sufficient levels of performance from his players; but it seems plausible he will prioritise not getting beaten this evening over playing in the open way at Port Vale a month ago, which was highly unfortunate to go unrewarded.

Should the slow and steady improvement be continued, it will be interesting to observe when Parkinson begins to give his attacking players more of a free reign to show their flair. Perhaps he has looked back on his early games in charge and concluded he tried to implement that passing, expansive style of play too soon.

As much as we can say recent tactics are more in the thinking of Taylor’s ethos, the former City manager had his team playing in that manner from day one and made no attempt to disguise such intentions. Parkinson, you feel, is different. Complaints about the style of football he played in previous jobs are well-known, but you don’t get to be a scout at a club with the philosophy of Arsenal – like Parkinson was when out of work last season – by being anti-football.

The need to earn wins and push City away from the relegation worries is hugely important, but that doesn’t mean Parkinson has found a formula that he will stick to for the rest of the season.

So we watch recent performances with raised spirits by the results, a few tiny doubts about the approach taken but optimism that what the more stylish football glimpsed previously will be continued when the time is right and with better personnel (e.g. a more solid defensive platform from which to play attacking football). Right now, functionalism is the key. One hopes we’ll have fun this season too.

Macclesfield offer a much stronger test than City’s last three opponents. Without being disrespectful, there is a theory that clubs of the Silkmen’s type – that is to say clubs with low resources compared to others – tend to start seasons well, but fade away when injuries and suspensions become too testing for a small squad. Nevertheless with three wins from four and only one home loss to date, it is not the greatest of timing for City to face them.

A win for City tonight though and we’ll have our own three from four, and the mood around the club will improve dramatically. A defeat and – with tough games to come against Swindon and third-placed Cheltenham – doom and gloom will weigh heavily.

Matt Duke keeps goal despite a constant soundtrack of supporters demanding he is dropped for Jon McLaughlin (odd that, seen as at the end of last season McLaughlin was getting slated). For me, the relationship between supporter and goalkeeper is about trust and, at the moment, Duke struggles to hold ours. As such, every time a goal goes in we instantly question whether he should have saved it. When a goalkeeper has earned our trust, we don’t do that unless they make a notable mistake.

Duke was blamed by some supporters for Michael Jacobs’ thunderbolt strike for Northampton – which seems ridiculous. Equally I can’t understand why Hereford’s goals were labelled his fault the week earlier. He is getting slowly better, and we need to stick with him.

In the defence, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall sit either side of Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip. It was an encouraging home debut from the Dutch defender, who looked better when he didn’t have to think compared to a few occasions when he had time to assess his options. Perhaps he is the opposite of Steve Williams.  Two of the midfield four pick themselves, with Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid both producing superb second half displays on Saturday.

Who will play alongside them is where the controversy will centre on, if the game is lost (because Parkinson has already seemingly past the honeymoon and has been attracting some strong criticism from some supporters,  so they will need some ammunition). While Adam Reed did okay on Saturday, Michael Flynn is playing far too well not to be recalled on his return from suspension. However, Reed may keep his place in the centre and Jones moved wide right.

If Parkinson does this all hell will break loose, because it means the promising Michael Bryan will have been dropped. Yet the functionalism theory dictates that playing with two out and out wingers away from home is a more risky strategy, and Parkinson does not seem shy of making such a tough call in picking Jones as a wide midfielder to give City a stronger central midfield. Personally I thought Bryan did well in flashes on Saturday, but some of the praise he received seemed a little over the top.

Up front Craig Fagan and James Hanson will continue, with Parkinson a big fan of the pair developing a partnership that showed initial promise on Saturday and at Burton a few weeks back.

There are plenty of other people waiting in the wings, but the likes of Jamie Devitt, Chris Mitchell and the injured Ross Hannah may have to wait patiently until the pressure on the team lessens to the point style can be prioritised again. Rarely has a Bradford City season being about the squad of players, rather than the first 11, in the way that this one is shaping up to be.

Robbie Threlfall the comeback kid

Two months on from his shock resignation as Bradford City manager, Peter Jackson has yet to utter one word in public regarding his reasons for departing, other than apparently telling a group of Huddersfield supporters that “two people at City are going to kill the club” for the way they are running it. When the day comes he sees it fit to explain himself, it’s hoped whoever is holding the microphone in front of him asks what his thought process was towards his left backs.

Back in those care-free days of pre-season, a flattering 4-1 win for Premier League Bolton over the Bantams was followed by Jackson revealing he’d told full backs Robbie Threlfall and Lewis Hunt, “they can go if they find a club”. For Hunt – only still at the club because a desperation for a right back forced City to offer him a new contract – being told he could leave was understandable and he’s only featured once this campaign. Yet as Threlfall made his 18th start of the season in the home win over Northampton – enjoying arguably his finest game to date in a City shirt – a question popped into my head concerning why three months ago he was told he had no future at all.

I’ll admit I’m a big Luke O’Brien fan. When it comes to selecting who plays left back between Threlfall and O’Brien, I would always – and still would do – favour Luke because of the greater attacking threat he provides. When Jackson rarely picked Threlfall in pre-season and then made his revelation post-Bolton, I was pleased that O’Brien has apparently won his battle to be first choice.

What happened next – and where Jackson’s honest opinion would be welcomed – was baffling. The final pre-season friendly against Carlisle saw Threlfall brought in from the cold and then starting the season’s opener against Aldershot with O’Brien not even on the bench. An unfortunate own goal wasn’t the greatest of starts, but Threlfall’s superb assist for Michael Flynn’s goal at Leeds will live as long in the memory as the Welshman’s terrific strike.

Yet still, we waited for O’Brien to reclaim his place in view of Jackson’s earlier declaration; and as City made a slow start and Threlfall looked fairly average in those early games, bewilderment grew. When O’Brien was brought on as sub in the Johnstones Paint Trophy win over Sheffield Wednesday – a week after Jackson’s exit – there was a chant of “hallelujah” in support of the Halifax-born player. But neither caretaker Colin Cooper nor new manager Phil Parkinson took Threlfall out of the team.

Which would have been harsh – because with each passing week, Threlfall has quietly gone about his business looking more effective than the last game. Having originally being signed by Peter Taylor in February 2010 and much made of his set pieces during his initial loan spell, he’s again making his mark in this area too. Most notably setting up City’s opening goal at Huddersfield in the superb JPT victory.

O’Brien played that night too, and to date all of his appearances have been as a winger rather than his natural full back role. With his greater dribbling ability and willingness to take people on, O’Brien could make a good career out of this position. Particularly because – unlike your bog-standard League Two winger – he has a much greater awareness of his defensive responsibilities and will regularly help out his full back. In the last two home games Parkinson has started with two out and out wingers and then brought on O’Brien when needing to protect a lead. On each occasion he made a decent impact.

So having apparently won the full back war only to lose the battle quite badly, O’Brien’s City future now appears to hinge on his willingness and adaptability to become a winger. Competition is strong in this area of the team too, but with Michael Bryan and Jack Compton only here on loan for now O’Brien’s aim must be to prove to Parkinson these temporary players are not needed long-term. New rivals, but the same kind of challenge he has been used to at left back.

Meanwhile Threlfall has surely become one of the first names on the team sheet. He was outstanding against Northampton, time and time again successfully tackling his winger and providing good cover for Luke Oliver and Marcel Siep, while showing great positioning. Meanwhile in the less-celebrated side of his game – going forwards – he put in a strong display, linking up well with Kyel Reid. He doesn’t take people on like O’Brien, but his greater passing ability means he is starting attacking moves and then joining in further down the line by charging down the flank. With Chris Mitchell struggling to get back into the starting eleven, Threlfall has taken on the greater responsibility regarding set pieces.

All credit to Threlfall for his attitude. There are more celebrated and eye catching members of the team, but his determination to re-discover his form – after a disappointing 2010/11 campaign – and battle for his future at the club is a shining example of what City are trying to achieve this season.

Improvement in individuals, improvement as a team. Threlfall was supposed to be consigned to the scrap heap, but too often City have given up on players and released them rather than develop them. Told to get lost by Jackson, he has come back stronger than ever. Threlfall’s first team spot is his to lose – and on current form I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

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.

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.

The smile, and how to retain it

The wife woke up at 5.45am as usual on Wednesday morning, discovering that she had still not refound her voice that had been lost in the wake of Bradford City’s thrilling penalty shootout win over Huddersfield Town. She was tired. Too tired really. The journey back from the Galpharm seemed to involve a couple of wrong turns and so we got home later than hoped. No voice and feeling utterly knackered – not a good combination for a Primary School teacher.

Still on the plus side, one of her teaching colleagues was a Huddersfield Town supporter. Be sure to ‘bump’ into her today…

And that’s what derby victories are all about – the bragging rights. The opportunity to get one over our friends, family and work colleagues and to continue taunting them for months to come – no matter what they try to argue back. In the wake of Tuesday’s victory for the Bantams, there were some attempts from those of a blue and white persuasion to talk its significance down. “It was only a Huddersfield reserve side” argued some Town fans, in view of eight changes made. Given Phil Parkinson made six for City, so too was ours by this logic.

“The league’s the most important thing” whined Huddersfield’s BBC Radio Leeds pundit Kieran O’Regan, as though it isn’t for City. Presenter Gareth Jones beautifully caught O’Regan out by then asking the former Terriers player when he thought Town and City would next face each other in the league. (Para-phrasing here) “Well we’re going for promotion this season, I can’t see Bradford going up. So not for a while.” “So you’re saying it will probably be a few years until they play each other? Well until then, Bradford fans now have the bragging rights don’t they?” Long pause.

What a night. The penalty shootout was utterly nerve wracking, but after Nialle Rodney struck the winning spot kick – euphoria. When Michael Flynn missed City’s first attempt, it was easy to fear the worst. As the twists and turns unfolded with the packed away end cheering or groaning, my wife was completely frozen in fear. She couldn’t move, so gripped with worry she was. The celebrations in the end were wild, while the Town fans looked as devastated as we would have. At 1-0 a group of home fans on the left side had attempted to charge at us City supporters in anger, only to be stopped by stewards. Trouble occurred outside as we headed home.

That is the ugly side of football that no one should enjoy, but it showed how much the game mattered for both sets of supporters in attendance. Yes it was only the JPT, but as Stuart McCall once said a game of tiddlywinks between the two sides would matter. Yes it was via the lottery of penalties, but two League One sides have now been dumped out of the cup by the Bantams which is impressive. Yes there were no league wins in-between those two victories, but perhaps the corner is finally turning.

The victory over Town followed a better weekend that followed a bad one and bad one before that. Now the challenge is to maintain the upwards curve of improvement and finally start to make an impression in the league. There has still only been one League Two victory to date, and past form would suggest City will follow up a heroic cup victory with a cowardly league performance. That can’t be allowed to happen, not least with a bumper crowd expected and in need of being entertained.

Torquay will be no pushovers – beaten in the play off final last season, and with memories of a 3-0 stroll at Valley Parade last April still fresh in the mind. But at the same time they are no world beaters – even by League Two standards, as they are only 13th so far. There’s no guarantees in football and City are in no position to underestimate anyone, but another slip up will be difficult to accept and the team badly need to keep the fans’ post-Huddersfield mood in tact come 5pm.

The six changes Parkinson made on Tuesday worked well and will give him plenty to ponder for tomorrow, although the five players who kept their place after Burton Albion were the five who truly excelled. Matt Duke, Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall and especially Flynn were outstanding at the Galpharm (even if Threlfall could have used the ball better at times). Indeed it was noticeable that Parkinson choose to keep the backline in tact and was rewarded by further improvement even if two goals were again conceded – at least two have been let in for six consecutive games now.

Duke might have made a meal of a couple of Huddersfield shots, but produced a string of terrific saves that will have done his confidence the power of good. Moore played with a level of commitment not usually associated with loan players, while so powerful was Oliver’s header for 2-1 that it brought back fond memories of David Wetherall. Threlfall will also keep his place tomorrow, though Andrew Davies will be recalled over Guy Branston. It was a mixed night for the club captain, who was superb in many aspects but struggled with his distribution.

In midfield Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid should return, but Adam Reed is out and whether Jamie Devitt – on his way back from injury – comes straight back in too depends on Parkinson’s view on Luke O’Brien. I thought he was excellent on Tuesday taking people on, and he did a good job helping Moore when switched to the right midway through the first half. Chris Mitchell had another good game and set up the opening goal. He will probably be left on the bench and is unlucky to do so. Jack Compton should be back on the sidelines too, which seems right compared to what Reid and O’Brien offer. Flynn is the only certain midfield starter.

Up front, James Hanson’s absence on Tuesday offered fans calling for his permanent removal from the starting eleven a chance to press their claims. Rodney and Mark Stewart did well at times, but in my view Hanson’s presence was missed and when City struggled to clear their lines and keep the ball I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hankering for a target man of Hanson’s ilk. It was heartbreaking to see Ross Hannah’s big chance be ended by an awful challenge just seven minutes in, and with the former Matlock striker set to miss this game Stewart will probably take his place on the bench and Craig Fagan and Hanson – if fit- recalled.

Whoever is left out of the 11 from Tuesday can feel unfortunate, and for those who come in or who retain their place this week has seen the competition for places intensify. Parkinson needs to have a squad who can’t be sure of their places and who must deliver the goods at all times, and he needs to have people queuing up outside his office door pressing their claims for a starting spot.

Every reason then, to believe this squad should be sufficiently motivated to win tomorrow.

Every reason then, for the bragging to be able to continue.

A slow revival

There is a theory in football that you can score a goal too early. Either because the subsequent psychological effect causes players to falsely believe the match is going to be easier than it proves, or it results in them worrying too much about defending the lead instead of following the pre-agreed game plan. Whichever it was for Bradford City this afternoon, they paid the price for surprising everyone – not least themselves – in how brilliantly they began.

2-0 up inside 15 minutes, the Bantams were in complete control against Burton Albion. But somewhere in the last third of the first half, they took the foot off the gas and switched over to cruise control. Burton had looked beleaguered, but were sufficiently encouraged to make a quick-fire comeback, going into the half time break on equal terms.

Losing a 2-0 advantage never looks clever, but it should not detract from the fact City’s performance was much improved and that the point taken back up the M1 is progress on the three previous defeats. The league table still looks dismal and the run without a win now stretches to six games; but slowly, perhaps, the tide is beginning to turn.

Considering it has been such a slow start to the season, for City to come flying out of the blocks this afternoon was an unexpected pleasure. Only six minutes had been played when Kyel Reid picked up a loose ball midway in the Burton half, raced to the edge of the penalty area and struck a powerful shot into the corner. Colour restored to the players’ cheeks, they continued to knock the ball around with purpose and Craig Fagan – making his full debut – and Liam Moore both came close.

A second goal wasn’t long in coming though, with James Hanson poking home the ball after more superb work by Reid saw him skip past his defender and send a low cross into the tall striker’s path. And suddenly a rout looked entirely possible.

With Adam Reed brought into the centre for his debut – pushing Ritchie Jones to wide right and Chris Mitchell into the stands – the team was back to the attractive passing, zestful style that had gone missing since the unfortunate defeat to Port Vale. Reed impressed in the first half at least with his purposeful forward passing, as Reid and Jones pushed strongly down the flanks and Michael Flynn protected the back four.

City were dominant, Burton poor and ponderous at the back – attracting the ire of home fans, who had booed their former defender Guy Branston as the substitute warmed up pre-match. Yet they found a way back when City switched off. Out of nothing a deflected cross found Billy Kee to fire past Matt Duke, and just as it seemed the visitors had survived through three minutes of first half stoppage time to head back to the dressing room with a slender advantage, Burton won a penalty and Justin Richards levelled the score.

That a penalty was awarded was a contentious point. Jimmy Phillips had seen a low shot palmed away by Duke, and Kee had fired the rebound against the post. Just as it seemed the goalmouth scramble was over, the ball was worked back into the box from out wide and Robbie Threlfall was adjudged to have handled the ball as Adam Bolder shot towards goal. Threlfall has since angrily Tweeted that he did not touch the ball with his hand and the referee was wrong, but if so what is more troubling is the fact that – at the time – none of City’s players appeared to contest the decision.

The second half was more even, but the Bantams undoubtedly shaded it. Andrew Davies headed just wide; Reed forced a good save from Ross Atkins. Plenty of good approach play – with Reid scaring the life out of Burton every time he ran at them and Fagan producing some great touches – but perhaps a lack of cutting edge which saw attacking mores fizzle out. Burton created a few half chances, but the back four was much improved with Davies and Oliver again outstanding.

Manager Phil Parkinson looked to the bench to find the extra something needed to win the game, and during the final quarter of the game Ross Hannah, Luke O’Brien and Jack Compton were introduced. Aside from O’Brien, on this occasion the changes seemed to weaken City and in the closing stages it was Burton who looked more likely.

And that may be telling, for the three players taken off are – it can be reasonably argued – the best three forward players Parkinson has at his disposal. Jones’ move to wide right wasn’t a failure, but his influence on the game was less than it has been and one is left querying why Parkinson has sought to disrupt the promising partnership he was building with Flynn. Jones was replaced instead of Reed and, although on-loan Sunderlandlooks a good player, he faded in the second half and seemed less demanding of the ball than Flynn; even if the Welshman was then guilty of being too wasteful when he did receive it.

With the other two taken off – Reid and Fagan – it’s a matter of lack of match fitness. This can only be developed with games, and once Parkinson can get 90-minute performances from the pair it’s more likely that City will end games as powerfully as they started today.

Over the past two weeks there has been the familiar but still frustrating slating of the manager by a vocal minority of supporters. Parkinson is accused by them of ripping up Peter Jackson’s team by bringing in “old friends” who are of less quality – conveniently ignoring the fact Jackson’s team lost four of their five games.

Yet it’s clear the signings Parkinson has made are an improvement on what we had before, and the squad is stronger as a result. Right now this is not reflected in results, and we could very well look back upon this start to the season in a few months time and bemoan how costly it ultimately proved. But that doesn’t mean there should be as much doom and gloom as exists right now.

The set backs against Crawley and Wimbledon were hard to take, yet before them there have been genuine signs it’s beginning to come together and that encouraging feeling was taken away from the Pirelli Stadium. The speed of progress has so far been painfully slow, yet as today proved football is not always about how well you start.

Phil Parkinson looks to address the mentality, but the problems run deep

Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon defeat comments about a losing mentality at Bradford City may be entirely accurate, but it remains curious where this mindset has originated from and how it can be addressed.

After the Bantams third successive defeat, Parkinson declared: “In the second half after we conceded their second goal I thought there was just too much acceptance that it wasn’t going to be our day… The club is fragile in terms of getting beaten too often and I’ve got to change that mentality around.”

It might seem an obvious statement to make that a club which has endured such a dismal 11 years has a losing mentality, yet a look at the starting eleven on Saturday suggests it’s worrying if this is the case. Seven had either joined the club during the summer or within the past month. Of the other four, only Michael Flynn and James Hanson were at Valley Parade just two short years ago. If it’s all about mentality, how does it spread so quickly to relatively new faces and what is causing it?

On a day where we celebrated our 125-year-old home, it was the long-standing problem of a poor Valley Parade record which again came into focus. Since returning to the Football League in 2001, City have won 85, drawn 62 and lost 88 matches at home – a weak platform which has hindered attempts to halt the slide down the divisions. Only once over the previous 10 seasons – the 2008/09 promotion failure – have the Bantams not lost at least a quarter of their home games. The rate of player turnover has been relentless over that time, but it seems the problem cannot be solved.

What is it about our own turf that opposition players find so welcoming and our own so daunting? Perhaps the lack of width – Valley Parade is one of the narrowest pitches in the country – is a hindrance. On Saturday Wimbledon lined up in a 5-3-2 formation which made it very difficult for City to get in behind, especially on the flanks. Looking at many of the teams who have triumphed over the years, a defensive focus is a common feature in how they line up. Either flood the midfield or keep numbers at the back, and City struggle to find the space to play in the opposition half. Other clubs with wider pitches don’t seem to have this same issue.

At a considerable cost, the pitch could be widened by getting rid of the first few rows on the Main Stand and Midland Road sides, although the disabled facilities in the latter are hugely important and would need to be adequately replaced. All of which is perhaps unrealistic and it’s worth noting that Peter Beagrie had few problems with the pitch; but as Kyel Reid struggled to get past his full back all afternoon on Saturday and attracted a barrage of abuse from fans, you couldn’t help but feel he would have benefited from a bit more space to utilise.

As for that barrage of abuse, it remains a bone of contention just how well we as supporters get behind the team at times. Earlier on in the season the atmosphere was much improved and the standing ovation the players received when trailing 1-0 to Bristol Rovers two weeks ago undoubtedly had an influence in the second half recovery. As the half time whistle was blown on Saturday and with City having played okay but not fantastic, a fan nearby kept his arms folded before breaking out into a smug grin and telling his friend “I’m not applauding that”.

Fine, not exactly the finest 45 minutes we’ve seen, but surely missing the point of what been a football fan is supposed to be about?

Too often people seem to have this viewpoint that they are not on the same side at the team. If the players don’t do the business, it becomes their job to tell them by booing and swearing and moaning and a variety of other negative reactions. We undoubtedly have the most fans in League Two, but no one can tell me that we have the most supporters. I genuinely don’t understand this refusal to get behind the players when they struggle, and instead opt to be personally outraged.

Of course such attitudes prevail at football grounds up and down the country and so can hardly be used as an excuse for repeated failure. Deep down, I think, we all know that being positive and cheering for the players would make some difference, but we each have our reasons for choosing to behave the way we do. Perhaps, for the seven players which started on Saturday who are new to the club, coping with the obstacle of fan abuse is something they simply have to get past and they will become better players for it.

Looking beyond the mentality issue and for other reasons for the backwards steps in form recently, the early days of Parkinson in the Valley Parade dug out deserve some consideration. Two weeks ago it seemed the unexpected transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson had gone remarkably smoothly, but now the disruption in line ups and strategy is becoming clear.

Parkinson hasn’t changed a great deal in truth, replacing two loanees from the previous starting line up with permanent players and strengthening the attack and defence. The victims of these changes – Oscar Jansson, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart and Guy Branston – can certainly feel hard down by, but the potential shown by Reid, Jamie Devitt, Craig Fagan and Andrew Davies suggests the squad is stronger as a result of these arrivals. Just as the season started with Jackson’s team struggling to find its rhythm; it is now taking time for the new-look team to come together.

Time being a key word when looking at the job Parkinson performed at other clubs. He has never been an instant impact type of manager that Ron Atkinson was famous for in the 1990s. The promotion achieved at Colchester took four seasons of building work; he was sacked by Hull before been given time to turn a poor start around; and he was relegated as Charlton boss in his first season before developing them into play off semi finalists the year after.

His methods appear to be proven in the long-term, but short-term pain has to be lived through first.

Indeed his first 10 games at his three previous clubs show an interesting pattern for two at least. At Colchester he made a great start, taking 19 points from a possible 30 – though the team had already been in good form before he took over under caretaker boss Geraint Williams. At Hull, his first 10 league games saw only one win and a total of five points acquired. At Charlton he lost six of the first 10 league games, picking up only six points. The two points from a possible 15 achieved at City so far are very much along these slow-burner lines.

All of which fits in with the club’s abandonment of short-term thinking which has occurred so often in the past. Parkinson has delivered clear improvement over time at Colchester and Charlton (at Hull we’ll never know), but it wasn’t a speedy journey. Even before we get depressed about the League Two table after 10 games, we can probably predict with confidence that Parkinson will not deliver promotion during his first season at Valley Parade. For him to succeed, patience will be required.

If a losing mentality really does exist at the club, it’s been proven in the past that drastic changes are not the answer. Defeats like Saturday hurt a lot, but as fans it often seems like the lows are more severe than the highs. It’s almost as though we’re collectively nursing an open wound that isn’t allowed any time to heal, causing every subsequent bump to seem even more painful.

There is – perfectly understandably – a losing mentality amongst us supporters in that we are far too quick to allow the gloom to descend; indirectly forcing the recent past to weigh heavily on the shoulders of everyone connected with the club. We have to find a way of coping with defeat better; we have to find a way of not allowing the most recent 90 minutes of football to dictate our mood for the next seven days; we have to change this scapegoat culture and learn to better support our players in good and bad times.

The only constant of the past decade is our narrow Valley Parade pitch and us supporters. The misery we’ve endured over that time certainly isn’t our fault, but we can all play a role in turning around the club’s fortunes by challenging the mindset that this constant failure has inflicted upon us.

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