Colchester United and the Crawley Brawl

As far as match reports go few are more erudite than Damien Wilkinson’s comment on Bradford City’s 2-0 defeat in Essex at Colechester United.

Colchester will probably have harder training sessions than that.

The names may have changed but the problems remain for Bradford City. A goalkeeper making a mistake, a team playing without character, a ninety minutes where there were not enough threats to the opposition goal. A replay of Saturday but one could pick a dozen games since City returned to League One where the same could be said.

It has become manager Phil Parkinson’s nadir. The manager who builds teams – including one at Layer Road at the start of his career – based on players who will play for each other turning out teams who do not play for each other.

Original sin

Brad Jones – signed with fanfare – may step down as goalkeeper for the weekend trip to Rochdale after his mistake led to Colchester’s first goal.

Jones’ mistake does nothing for Ben Williams’ ability to control the space between where he can reach and where he positions his central defenders which is more Williams’ problem than his occasional mistake. Goalkeeper – more than any other position on the field – is a judgement made and stuck to. It is worrying that Parkinson believes in a fluidity between his custodians.

Worrying but not unprecedented. The City manager moved between Matt Duke and Jon McLaughlin when they were sharing goalkeeping responsibilities. Only Jordan Pickford – probably as a product of his loan arrangement – has been cemented into the City goal.

Street fighting man

McLaughlin’s exit plays heavy on the mind.

In Jon McLaughlin – who is keeping goal for League One leaders Burton Albion – City had a keeper who some still recall as making more than his fair share of mistakes but was vocal enough and improving to a point where he holds down a spot in the team at the top of City’s division.

McLaughlin’s play aside when considering the character problem in the team which City put out I cannot help but recall the sight of the City goalkeeper sprinting fifty yards to punch Crawley Town players after they had started to fight with City, and City’s Andrew Davies.

And while I’m not suggesting that there is a nobility in scrapping on the field I think back to The Crawley Brawl as a galvanising point for that City team.

I cannot – with all my powers of imagination – see many of the current City squad prepared to do what McLaughlin did that night. I cannot picture Williams or Jones or many of the current team sprinting fifty yards to stick up for their team mates in a fight.

Character study

As City warmed up against Colchester United Radio Five Live hosted a debate where they bemoaned the lack of leadership within the current Arsenal team. Arsene Wenger stood accused of inheriting leaders like Tony Adams and not being able to create anyone to replace them once they had passed into memory.

Journalist Henry Winter suggested that Wenger’s problems were the problems of all football. That in an era of squad players who understand that they will not be in the side every game, and in the era of increased player movement between clubs that can see someone like Mikeal Arteta leave Everton for Arsenal having seemingly become a part of the Goodison Park furniture, that the sort of leadership and character of a Tony Adams was not appropriate.

Expanding on Winter’s hypothesis would seem that managers have pursued players who can be used sparingly, and who understand that they are not essential to a team and can be rotated out, and so they do not grow the characteristics of the ever-present leader.

League One football is not Arsenal’s concern but the hypothesis may hold true.

It is hard to have players who could be described as leaders when those players after often at clubs over relatively short terms. Not every player had it in them to concern themselves with the general performance. Most look after their own game and – if you are lucky – that of the player next to them in a partnership.

Leadership – the type that promotes character in the team – seems an increasingly rare commodity and one which is not suited to being rotate or traded. For a player who has arrived on a two year deal as most do the point in which he starts to grow into a role at the club seems to be the point where the club start to look beyond him.

Take – as an example – Lee Bullock who in 2010 was the player’s player of the year but having spent eighteen months at VP. He signed a new contract that summer but changes of manager and focus saw Bullock play less and move on. While not wanting to comment on Bullock’s skills as a player it seems uncontroversial to suggest that no sooner had Bullock settled in then he was being marginalised in the number of games he played, and ultimately in his position at the club.

With players coming and going in this way it it hard to imagine how a player will establish themselves as leaders in the group of players to have the effect on the field we talk about. After six months you know everyone’s name, after eighteen months you might have everyone’s respect, but if you are marginalised after that how do you lead?

It has always been thus.

Stuart McCall was made, not bought, and both Andrew Davies and Gary Jones who also typified the trait were rehabilitated having started their role at the club as curios and ended them as key men.

Parkinson needs to grow leadership from within the squad – and perhaps allow the squad to promote their own leader – and that is a process which takes time if it happens at all.

Right now we are waiting for that before the club can progress.

A side note, for the foolish only

There is no question of another manager being best suited to carry out that process.

Perish that thought.

History

Until leadership emerges within the squad City are subject to defeats and bad performances as befits any team. Two defeats – marked out because of their lifeless performances – are set in the context of a season which is in turn set in the wider context of the club’s history.

Just like the display against Gillingham in September 2001 – a 5-1 win which represents the best I’ve ever seen City play in a season which had little else of skill – the highs and lows are modulated to fit in with the overall view of the season.

The good are forgotten in bad seasons. The bad in good ones.

Much of what came before the Crawley Brawl is not remembered now. The brawl itself though – the way the squad stood literally shoulder to shoulder in the fight – seemed to jump start the team spirit of 2013 and beyond.

Colchester United 2-0 away will sink into that context too, providing Phil Parkinson can find another way to galvanise Bradford City, to create team spirit where there is none, and to enable the team to create its own leaders and character.

The strange case of Steve Davies as Peterborough win 2-0 at Valley Parade

When Graeme Westley was appointed manager of Peterborough United during the week he sent an e-mail to the club’s fans promising that The Posh would make 600 passes a game, leading to 25 shots, leading to victory.

He promised to win, of course, because all new managers promise to win football matches but the dressing that Westley – a manager with some qualification around the bottom of the Leagues – used was seductive. Not only would Peterborough win but they would pass there way to victory.

And passing equated to the beautiful game. Westley’s promise would be that he would have Peterborough United remoulded as the football good guys – the Barcelona of the Nene – but one game later a man had a broken leg and even the opposition manager felt free enough of sanction that he would directly state that the tiki-taka team were throwing themselves to the floor to cheat.

What City did wrong

Phil Parkinson had a lot to complain about after the game but little new to say.

The regret that goes towards Paul Anderson – who had his leg broken by a Michael Bostwick tackle in the first half which the Peterborough midfielder can share the blame with Referee Paul Tierney. Referees should not allow bad tackles to the point where players think that diving in as Bostwick did can ever be acceptable and when they do referees should punish them.

That Anderson will miss the rest of City’s season is a function of a Referee who feels that he does not have to take the duty of care that he has to players seriously. It should be made clear to players like Bostwick that when they make tackles with aggression and without care they will be sent off. They are not so they carry on doing it.

But tackles like that are a long way from the promise of beautiful football. Westley’s brand of football is steel tackles in a silken passing glove. For the entire match they showed the aggression normally associated with kick and rush football but married it with an attempt to play a passing game.

As a plan it could work, as could Parkinson’s more practical approach, but both require a level of commitment from players which was lacking from the City squad.

Anderson’s break adds to injury problems but more troubling has been the manager’s inability to get anything like a performance regularly from either Anderson or Mark Marshall on the other wing who slumped back down after a promising game last week.

Which is not to assign all the blame to two players – lethargy was common – but rather to say that just as shaping a team last season around Mark Yeates as playmaker failed because Yeates did not perform so this season stumbles because the angles of attack which glowed last week were absent this, and they were absent for the want of effort.

Players in teams that win games make it their business that the team plays well. This quality is lacking from the current City site some of the time, not all of it, but there is no one charged with maintaining that quality in the way that a Stuart McCall did, a Gary Jones did, or an Andrew Davies did.

Parkinson is battling the entropy of average performances and today he lost that battle all of which leaves the strange case of Steve Davies.

The strange case of Steve Davies

Replacing Paul Anderson midway through the first half it seemed unlikely that the entire game would hinge on substitute Steve Davies but it was the centre forward who played right wing who was ten years on the wrong side of the winger who raced forward for the first Peterborough United goal and his lack of positional sense to play in a position which is not his own that cost much.

However it was Davies’ header which hit defender then post a few minutes early which on a day with a dash more luck would have had the balance swung towards City.

Davies’ willingness to get involved was a contrast to his team mates but when a ball came to him in the box he swiped and missed, and another was stuck under his feet as he tried to get through, and nothing much went right for him.

Indeed he was left leaving Steven Darby with too much to do at right back as Westley’s side put in a second. As much as Davies tried he could get nothing right.

But try he did, even as things did not go right for him, and one can’t help but wish the rest of the player would follow his example.

Parkinson under pressure after City lose 2-1 at home to Gillingham

One wonders how quickly the pressure that swirls around football managers will start to swarm on Phil Parkinson after Bradford City lost a one goal lead to be beaten by Gillingham.

Pressure from results should be irrelevant. Results in football are both the most and least important thing in the game.

They are the most important because they are what the entire football club is geared towards achieving but the least for the same reason. As the sum of all the efforts of a club they aggregate out accurately in most cases. When those efforts are lacking then it is not important that the results are so much as it is an obvious effect.

Which was the case tonight as City’s early season crystallised.

Once again Phil Parkinson favoured the three man midfield with a playmaker but tonight the reason for that choice was not so much the dogged determination to force Christopher Routis into a position so much as the manager addressing the problems that were on the field against Gillingham, and probably seen in training for weeks.

And those problems were distributed around the field, and those problems were largely to do with the level of effort which the players applied and the amount of commitment which those players had.

The level of effort was not enough generally and it was not enough specifically in the case of Parkinson’s two wide players Mark Marshall and Paul Anderson.

“There go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them there.”

If there is an experience in football which fills me with dread its the winger who screams for the ball while hugging the touchline. They are the Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin of football. If only the ball could be got to them in whatever position suits them then they would use their influence to turn the game around.

The onus on the other players to serve them. It is the antithesis of the way of thinking and of playing which has seen Bradford City rise from League Two via Wembley and Chelsea.

And Parkinson – in August 2015 – has two of these players.

Marshall demanding the ball in his own half so he can run into the crowded midfield beating men but not making progress. Anderson getting the ball, turning from goal, and laying it off. Both of these players could be great in the future but if they are they need to make games like tonight far away exceptions to their common performances.

I have no truck with the idea that the other players on the field owed these touchline-huggers the ball.

Players get the ball when they are in good positions. When wingers run towards full backs effectively compressing their own team they are worse than useless. When wingers stand behind covering players they are worse than useless. When wingers watch the central midfield struggle from a distance they are worse than useless.

And it was obvious to me while watching Parkinson unleash his two wide men kept under wraps since signing that he must have noticed this tendency in both at the moment and that has forced him to pick narrow formations that exclude them.

There are two ways to play football: To make things happen, or to be a part of things that happen.

The last few years we have been spoilt with players who made things happen: Gary Jones, Andrew Davies et al; and out history as a club idolises them: Stuart McCall, Peter Beagrie et al; and the way those players was contagious.

And they spread their ethos of taking responsibility for the performance around the team. The culture at City in the last few years and at our best has been one of players taking responsibility for performances.

Tonight we had wingers standing with arms in the air. An illustration of the exact opposition of what brings results.

I refuse to write off careers on the basis of a few games but as far as I have seen of both Marshall and Anderson they have not even begun to show the character that success demands. This requirement comes into play before one considers the ability they may or may not have.

The questions marks

Wingers was not the sum of the problem.

We have a group of players who present with question marks over their character who have come into a group of players who had question marks over their character.

This is the team that surrendered to Bristol City, this is the team that were found wanting in the last third of last season following Andrew Davies’ injury, and those problems have not been addressed in the summer recruitment.

There is no pirouette to perform which says that it is the fault of the new players for polluting the old or the old players for not unleashing the new. There is a significant lack of character and willingness to take responsibility for performances that manifests in different ways and to different extents around the team and the squad.

And while some players are more guilty than others all players – and the manager – have to improve the collective. It is hideous in its cliché but the tide needs to rise, to float all the boats.

There is the continuing mystery of Gary Liddle who played a good performance in central defence rather than the much needed role in midfield. There was the problem with Tony McMahon who when put in central midfield represents the softest centre. I consider the role that McMahon plays in front of the back four as being the most important on the field and McMahon has not shown the capabilities to play that role thus far.

Again I do not seek to Damn him. He may be very good at that position but his very good performances will be a long way from this one not just in terms of the effect he has but in terms of how committed he is to the rest of the team and the performance. If he has a role in winning teams it will be shown character not present tonight.

The wrong side of history

This is the pressure on Parkinson. The parts he has brought together for this Bradford City team do not fit easily. He may try take responsibility for the defeat – as he did – but he can not take the players responsibility for the (lack of) effort away from them.

The players who did put in a shift tonight – and there were some – need to do more than just concern themselves with their own game. James Hanson, Rory McArdle, Alan Sheehan who put in good personal performances need to pull up the performances of those around then. That is what Gary Jones would do, and it is what Stuart McCall would do, and it is what Phil Parkinson needs from his senior squad members.

From a tactical point of view Parkinson needs to etch-a-sketch his team and start again.

Central midfield is the most important position in the team and out best player for that role should be there, so put Gary Liddle there. Hanson up front, Darby at right back, McArdle in the middle. All players you can trust to get a team out of a slump.

A shape emerges from that process and I don’t pretend to know what it is. I’ve banged on all season about Christopher Routis but watching Routis involve himself in play contrasted with Anderson hiding when the ball came forward, putting defender between him and the ball, it becomes obvious why Parkinson is picking the Swiss/French.

The pressure on Phil Parkinson comes from the squad he has assembled and making it work. I’m no fan of cliché like “Big Time Charlie” put unpacking that term is useful in analysis of Gillingham at home. Some players on the field felt that is was not their responsibility to win the game.

The wingers, McMahon perhaps, Ben Williams seemingly, Josh Morris, Billy Knott in parts (although his performance is a confusing one) and perhaps one, some or all those players think that they have made a bad move coming to Valley Parade, or that they are somehow apart from the performance of the team.

It is a long way from the Championship Play-offs to the bottom of League One but the blow of that distance needs to hit home hard – if it applies – and players need to make sure they do all they can to be a part of the a successful team.

Or they sulk, on the wing, or in midfield, or in goal, making out that it’s someone else’s job to get you the ball, or stop the man, or organise the defence.

And they fail, and we all fail.

Certainly I’m not going to be part of any criticism of the players who do show the characteristics in favour of new faces who meander the field.

There is no improvement in giving the ball to disinterested players and hoping that that sparks them into life. Anyone seeking to say that things would be better if only the players who has the bottle to win the ball shovelled it to those who did not have the weight of a history of Bobby Petta, Harpel Singh, Tim Steele et al to argue with.

Peter Beagrie did not stand on the wing with his arms in the air sulking because he could not get a pass. He rolled up his sleeves, hunted the ball, and supported his team mates.

The pressure on Phil Parkinson

Parkinson is under pressure but that pressure should be self applied.

It should be to make both his new signings and the players currently in the squad understand that there is a baseline of effort which they have to commit to win matches and that did not commit in the 2-1 defeat to Gillingham.

On the night James Hanson scored from a fine Billy Knott centre but weak attempts to control the midfield against an able and mobile Bradley Dack led to second half pressure from the visitors which too easily overwhelmed City’s rearguard and the game was lost through a Hanson own goal following a long range effort that went through Ben Williams as if he were not there.

The day after Parkinson needs to work out which of his players he can rely on to show character, and to put in effort, and turn performance around. He needs to deputise those players into forming the mentally weaker players – the followers if you will – to create an effective squad.

He needs to find or make a few Gary Jones/Andrew Davies in the current group and have them lead. The names which suggest themselves have been suggesting themselves for months: Rory, Stephen, Jim, Lids; but the team built around those men drifts.

I think that finding those leaders with the current squad might be the most difficult task that Parkinson has had as Bradford City manager.

I know that there is no other manager I’d want doing it.

Six months time

In six months time this article might be absurd.

Team building is a snowball rolling down a hill. It starts often in defeat and the response to that. Paul Jewell famously used the two points from seven in 1998 to build 1999’s promotion.

In six months time Paul Anderson might be everything we are told he is.

Mark Marshall might rip defences apart, Tony McMahon might be solid in central midfield, Stephen Darby might be improving the players around him, the defensive unit might be organised and on and on.

If all those things are the case are it will not be an extrapolation of the performance in this 2-1 defeat to Gillingham, or the (lack of) character shown in it, or the contempt for the effort that is required to win matches on display.

It will be the reaction to that. That reaction is the raw material which Parkinson has to shape his future from.

Post script

James Hanson played well.

The obvious quality of Phil Parkinson and how he could be the decisive factor in 2015/16 Promotion

The season starts and one thing is obvious: Bradford City will be promoted.

That is obvious. It is obvious because I’ve read it in FourFourTwo and it is obvious because Bradford City beat Champions Chelsea last season and that must mean that Bradford City can win League One.

It is obvious because City have brought in some real quality in the form of Paul Anderson and Mark Marshy Marshall, and while seeing Andrew Davies go is hard seeing Mark Yeates and Andy Halliday go is not.

And it is obvious because City finished a place off the play offs last season, and every season Phil Parkinson has improved Bradford City’s league finish, and as we all know no one ever gets in the play offs and does not win.

It is obvious and because of that it is a thought that has passed the mind of even the most negative Bradford City supporter.

No matter how many layers of cynicism a person might surround themselves with one cannot escape that feeling on a sunning Tuesday morning that this year is the year that City return to the top two divisions for the first time since May 2004.

But wait…

A Barnsley website who had, one assumed, lost Jason McKeown’s email address asked me to preview the coming season. They asked what my realistic view on the Bradford City season was. I chewed my pen (metaphorically speaking) and considered beating Arsenal, beating Aston Villa, late serge and beating Burton, Wembley again, beating Chelsea, getting to Wembley for a major Cup Final.

It struck me that at Valley Parade of late realism is in short supply.

And perhaps in that context it is excusable if all of us go on a little fantasy safari when considering the prospects for the season that starts at Swindon on Saturday.

The counter to those thoughts are the huge gulf that was obvious between Bradford City and Bristol City in the mauling of last season and the general lack of character in the team around that time. Reality comes in wondering if the Bantams have a Marlon Pack/Luke Freeman pairing as Bristol City had or a back line as strong as the one that took Preston North End up? Or a 25 goals a year striker?

At that point obvious stops being the operative word.

The multi-polar world

The temptation is, of course, to take the team one follows in isolation and to consider that if your team has done well in recruitment, or preparation, then it will improve in absolute terms in League One. League structures are always relative.

You can be better than last year (or worse) but your position will on the whole be decided by the strength of the other teams in the League. Was the Benito Carbone team in the second year of the Premier League worse than the one which finished 17th the year before?

It certainly was at the end of the season but after the other win over Chelsea in August 2000 was the team worse or was the problem that there were no Watford, Wednesday and a woeful Wimbledon dropping like a stone to finish beneath them?

Football is a multi-polar world. Your league achievements are necessarily measured against the other teams around you. It might be obvious that City have improved (or not) but have they improved more than the teams around them in League One?

Looking at the teams in League One this season first day opposition Swindon Town lost in the play off final last season which normally denotes a challenger but they seem to have lost a lot of players and are blooding a new team.

Relegated clubs can be strong but few will fear Millwall considering how easily the were brushed aside eight months ago at Valley Parade. Wigan Athletic have a lot to do to end a losing mentality which has come into the club since it got to an FA Cup final three years ago. As for Blackpool it is very possible they will carry on where they left off last season and finish bottom.

The likes of Peterborough United, Doncaster Rovers, and Barnsley would all argue that they have as much of a right to be considered promotion contenders as anyone. Scunthorpe United, Bury and Fleetwood Town have spent money to get where they are but not Bristol City levels of money and even if they had sometimes when you spend money you get Aaron McLean.

I have a belief that Burton Albion are worth considering as having an interest in the play off places. They are a club that seem able to transcend managerial changes and maintain steady progress. Coventry City have potential and in Tony Mowbray they have a pragmatic manager.

All of which leaves Sheffield United as being everyone’s favourite for promotion. They reach semi-finals, they bubble under in League One, they have a strong fan base and get great noisy crowds. They seem to have everything that a club that is trying to get out of League One wants.

Except for the manager.

They have their second choice as manager.

Nigel Atkins manages Sheffield United now but they wanted to take Phil Parkinson to South Yorkshire. It seems that the Blades boardroom came to the same conclusion that echoes around the City manager.

Parkinson: Special One

If all league football is relative then perhaps management is absolute.

Perhaps a manager who improves a team always improves a team. Perhaps when Parkinson is given the chance to manage – a chance Hull City did not give him in his brief time at that club but did at Colchester United – he will always improve a club as he has Bradford City.

It is hard to draw a conclusion but Parkinson’s admirers are many and growing with every achievement.

From the outside when looking at the twenty four teams lining up in League One some teams have spent more, and some teams have more season ticket holders than others, but no team has a better manager in a better position to manage his club than Phil Parkinson at Bradford City.

Parkinson has carved a space out for himself. He arrived at a club where Mark Lawn was accusing the players of not passing to a prospective signing, that had had a manager who (reportedly) felt bullied out of the club, and where the dysfunctions at the club had become endemic.

The success Parkinson earned on the field gave him the scope to create the role he wants off it. Parkinson is as powerful a manager as Bradford City have had but still had challenges to his role. One could worry about how success would be maintained should he exit if one wanted but more important would be ensuring that he is allowed to do his job and shapes the club around that.

We are, perhaps, lucky that the Sheffield United approach and the moment Parkinson had to bend the knee to the boardroom were separated by six months. Imagine starting this season without Parkinson. Where would thoughts of promotion be then?

When looking at which teams will be promoted what is most often the decisive factor? It is not in the quality of players but rather the quality of manager. The thing that unites the clubs that went up was that they had experienced managers who are spoken of in terms of their quality.

What Steve Cotterill, Karl Robinson and Simon Grayson offered last season is the thing that Phil Parkinson offers this. Likewise when José Mourinho got over his defeat at City by winning the Premier League it was – we are told – because he was the best manager. Success – the theory goes – goes to the best manager.

That, at least, is obvious.

How Bradford City mastered calm seas beating Carlisle United 2-0 in pre-season

And the day continued well. Phil Parkinson and his entire back room staff are in talks over new contracts and that was the discussion as fans mingled with players following the 2-0 pre-season win over Carlisle United. The drizzle gave way to a pleasant sun the early evening and all seemed to bode well.

Parkinson’s team had been in full race trim for the only Valley Parade friendly of pre-season and while Carlisle United had a moment or two they seemed a keen poorly set up by manager Keith Curle and set to struggle.

Curle approach centres around switched on midfielders who can dynamically move from the holding role to forward positions and he gives that responsibility to Jason Kennedy as if Jason Kennedy were able to be Steven Gerrard if Curle wants him to. I doubt he will last the year.

Parkinson’s approach is as contrasting as one can get. James Hanson is target man, Billy Clarke plays off him and with two banks of four behind them. For forty five minutes City play meat and potatoes football and they play it well grinding Carlisle in the first half and scoring two in the second.

The second saw Parkinson’s playmaker return but rather than trying to play through the man behind the front two the role was more space hunting third striker looking for the ball that came from Hanson’s head or – later – Steve Davies.

Davies was an inch away from scoring with his first kick but rather was next to Gary Liddle as he tapped in a flick down. Josh Morris had scored the first after switching to the right wing following a productive first hour on the left hand side.

Morris was impressive on the day, as was Liddle who played next to Rory McArdle in the back four, but all impressive performances were set in a context of how little trouble the visitors caused.

And there are things to write about the squad. Things to write about how Josh Morris provides a better supply of crosses than Mark Yeates in that he will cross from the byline. There are things to right about how when Gary Liddle moves out of central midfield there is no cover for him. Things to write about how Parkinson has a better first team but a weaker squad.

But all those things are conjecture based on a weak sample. Most pre-season tells one little, this one has said virtually nothing. Leyton Orient’s Nathan Clarke watched the game from the stands an looks set to sign during the coming week which will replace Andrew Davies.

One wonders if Parkinson hopes that he can maintain a small squad with players able to cover more than one position rather than bring in poor characters. Tony McMahon seems to cover one half of the defence and Alan Sheehan the other while Parkinson would rather play Christopher Routis in whatever hole the team presents than he would bring in players he does not know, who might not have the character he wants, who might not fit into his dressing room.

At the end of August Phil Parkinson will have managed more Bradford City games than Trevor Cherry did which we can broadly define as being the longest serving manager in the modern era. At the end of the season he will be the third on the list of most games managed.

This, it seems, is what stability looks like. Parkinson has players he trusts in the dressing room – players like McArdle, and Stephen Darby, and James Hanson – and he understands that those players have bought into an ethos. With that comes the tacit understanding that that ethos will be maintained.

That puts the onus on Parkinson to only bring in the right sort of character. Football is replete with players who can kick a ball well but are bad characters and it is those people who Parkinson has spent the summer avoiding. Judging a players ability to kick a ball can be seen in a friendly game, seeing how well a player fits into the dressing room will only be obvious as the season goes on.

The type of creativity Phil Parkinson wants as Bradford City start 2015/2016 beating Farsley 3-0

“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity” – Charles Mingus

Bradford City’s 3-0 win over neighbours Farsley was a given but the players in the first half who ran up a three goal lead through two James Hanson headers and a low finish by trialist Sanchez Watt deserve credit for starting the 2015/2016 season with good tempo but the theme of the afternoon was how this new generation of Phil Parkinson’s side was to do with the team’s syncopation.

Within thirty minutes James Hanson had shown that his much converted prowess in the air would figure heavily in Bradford City’s arsenal this season with Phil Parkinson having spend both forty five minute periods playing the 442 with a withdrawn striker which had seemed to be his modus operandi in his first few years at City. Full backs were instructed to go beyond wingers – which they did resulting in a third goal – and a thin slice of the performance suggests that next season will see the tactics of simplicity at Valley Parade.

Which is to say that most of the afternoon in West Leeds was spent wondering how creative this version of Bradford City would be and how important creativity is to a football team.

“Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas” – Donatella Versace

The head of Hanson is a tried and tested route to goal for Bradford City. Hanson flicks on, Hanson heads in, let us take it as read that Rory McArdle – not playing today but wandering the stands – will be hitting diagonal balls towards Big Jim all season long.

This presents two problems. What is Big Jim is not there? There is an argument that the main problem with the now departed Andrew Davies was not that he suffered injury and suspension is was the impact on the team in his absence. Take out Andrew Davies and the rest of the squad would be given am excuse for defeat. Of course we got beat by Preston North End and Bristol City – the mental process goes – we did not have Davies in the side.

This is the idea that a player is almost “too good” for the team he is in and that removing him improves the team. It is counter-intuitive and often seeps into debate as justification for making a team worse and one could dismiss it for that if it were not for the occasions when it is accurate. Chris Kamara’s Bradford City with Chris Waddle beat Everton, and Waddle was the best player by a country mile, but the team lost and drew a lot and only when Waddle exited for Sunderland to be replaced by Shaun Murray, Tommy Wright and other inauspicious names did staying in the division look possible.

The best player left but because the team had to do more than just giving the ball to Chris Waddle and seeing the outcome then there was a general improvement. Without Andrew Davies will the rest of the players be unable to use the excuse – and I use the term in the context of mental reasoning and not about what is said in the T&A – of Andrew Davies’ absence? We shall see.

And we shall also see if the same is true of James Hanson. Steve Davies sat out Farsley too and he may be a Hanson in waiting but none of the other forwards looked capable of replacing Hanson. Those forwards included Billy Clarke who picks up this season where he left off last as prolific but probably not prolific enough and Luke James who caused some problems with his energy but suffered in comparison to Sanchez Watt who enjoyed the forty five minutes before him.

Watt scored and showed a left footed touch to play the sort of ball which will be useful to overlapping players. He slowly got into the game and started to demand the ball more than wait for it. He looks every inch a confidence player who has not got confidence, or at least not where he needs it. Parkinson has a few weeks to decide if he and Steve Parkin can get into Watt’s head and press the right buttons. If they can Sanchez Watt would be a real asset. If not he floats away as it seems he will do.

(If he does though he will still give me this Abbott and Costello moment for the ages heard from two men over my right shoulder.)

Man One: “Who is that?”
Man Two: “Sanchez Watt.”
Man One: “I don’t know what?”
Man Two: “That’s his name.”
Man One: “What?”
What Two: “Watt.”
Man One: “That’s what I’m asking?”
Man Two: “Watt’s his name.”
Man One: “Yes.”

(Humour like that – and I swear that is verbatim – is worth ten pounds of anyone’s money.)

That aside aside there is an obvious problem with Hanson being a single point of failure within the team which was auditioning central defenders with the ability to play a long pass. Gary Liddle best asset as a defender is his abilities in midfield and Alan Sheehan took the second half in the middle of a back four with Greg Leigh playing left back for a half in which he registered nothing of note.

More impressive was the six foot five Jamie McCombe who seemed to quickly find a place in the Bantams side. McCombe is thirty two and has had his own injury hell but I would be very surprised if he were not a City player next season.

Which is not to say that he was especially good against the limited opposition – he was serviceable – but he fit into the role Parkinson has for him so well. Tall enough to offer a threat from set plays, comfortable on the ball enough to play it with control, and massive. Youth player Kesi Omolokun was the fourth central defender on show. He was untroubled during the second half.

In the second half midfield Christopher Routis epitomised Mingus’ point about being weird not being the same as being creative. Routis continues to be an impressive physical kicker of a ball but one who seems to lack a position. We know he is not a central defender in League One and as a midfielder he tackles sometimes and uses the ball badly. I want so much to be proved wrong about Routis because if his abilities to kick a ball could be put into a position then he would be very useful but I cannot see how it will happen.

And trying to force Routis into central midfield makes that a player like Sam Wright – full of energy for the first half and able to take responsibility for the ball – would have his development curtailed. A product of the youth set up Wright burnt himself out after a half hour but he showed his willingness to take positions and offer options to team mates as well as his control of the ball. It is not to damn him with faint praise to say that he could be a man to take a space on the bench this season but rather to suggest that doing so would bring better results than constantly trying to shoehorn Routis into positions he does not show the discipline to play.

Discipline being a key for Parkinson. Routis winning the ball in midfield and having options in front of him – only to see him smash a ball high and wide – is no more useful at Farsley than it would be at Wembley. Routis has a choice between trying to score blistering goals against weak opposition and trying to show how he can perform in a team. He makes his choices, Sam Wright made his, and I know who I believe the club should reward with first team football.

Josh Morris looked able next to Wright in central midfield although one might think that he is best used on the left flank with James Meredith going past him. Morris run and shot off the bar showed a player who enjoyed having the ball but most of his play focused on usefulness and that was a good start. Daniel Devine took a role in the second half but would need to do more to commend himself.

At full back Tony McMahon returned and Luke Hendrie – son of John (although I shall try to not hold that against him) – played at right back with McMahon strolling through the second forty five minutes and Hendrie overlapping well but defending poorly in the first half. Hendrie has spent much of his career to date as an attacking midfilder – a position which borders on fiction – and that showed but there seemed to be some potential going forward but a lot of work to be done as a right back.

Sons of Fathers include Harrison Gilkes – the son of Michael – who was generally unimpressive in the first half on the left flank running at players and losing the ball. Dylan Mottley-Henry and Joe Brennan took the second half wide positions and both looked eager. A note too on Filipe Morais who showed accuracy which gave a second route to the head of Hanson. Increasingly Morais looks key to Parkinson’s plans.

In goal Ben Williams causes me worries, and Joe Cracknell has nothing to do.

“Creativity is the thing that everybody wants and nobody wants to pay for” – Me, this week

And so considering the game the questions arise around how creativity should function in Phil Parkinson’s side. We have always known that Parkinson as a manager wants a controlled, dependable creativity. The Versace idea of creativity as being a clash of ideas is something which City tried last season and got success at but that success was limited. It game us – one could argue – the greatest season to support Bradford City we’ve ever known: Chelsea, Sunderland, Leeds; and it saw an improvement in the League One position but it saw fluctuating results.

Players have come available this close season – players like George Green – who represent that idea of idea clash creativity. The Gascoigne figure bewitches the mind but Parkinson wants the Mingus idea of creativity. He wants a lex parsimoniae creativity of simple football played in small, well practised units.

Parkinson wants the creativity of dependability, metronomic in making chances. To get this he needs reliable routes to goal. That Morais will find Hanson from dead balls is already obvious as is Rory McArdle hitting Hanson long but Parkinson wants Meredith opening the same path, he wants a player entering in the second phase of attacks, he wants full backs able to go past wider players. He wants to collect a team or reliable attacking routes to goal and he is building that from his 442 formation.

At the moment he has James Hanson’s head. It is not wonder he did not want the striker to go.

Phil Parkinson against the forces of wilful blindness

It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore – Margaret Heffernan, Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious

Two absolute legends gone in the space of a few days. I wish them nothing but the best – Mark Hainsworth ?aka @bcafcmark, Twitter

If Andrew Davies’ exit to Ross County this week was unexpected Jon Stead’s signed for League Two Notts County rather than Bradford City was confirmation for Bradford City supporters.

No one was sure what Stead’s move did confirm – that the club had less money that it seemed of should have to to be the prime concern – but Mark Hainsworth’s tweet recalls the way that City fans took Stead to their hearts after the win over Chelsea.

The fact that Stead had seemed to be Mr Huddersfield Town for a long part of his career hardly seemed to matter. Indeed as Stead put Chelsea to the sword he was technically a Huddersfield Town player and that alone seemed to be enough of a factor to ensure that Simon Eastwood’s career at Bradford City never got out of the blocks when he joined on loan from the team to the West.

City fans fell in love with Jon Stead and as Heffernan says it is not only true that love is blind it is staggering how much evidence we are prepared to ignore in that blindness.

Wilful blindness

Wilful blindness is a legal term applied to a situation in which a person deliberately avoids knowing information to avoid being liable for knowing it. In short it is why if someone gives you a £1,000 to carry a suitcase through HM Customs you are liable what the contents of the suitcase are.

Wilful blindness is carrying the case without opening the case because you know what you would find if you opened the case. It is when you avoid knowing pertinent information to avoid liability.

It is a dangerous trait to employ in football where liability is not decided so much as detected. If a Chairman retains the services of a manager being wilfully blind to the mistakes he is making results quickly remove that blindness. A manager can more easily be guilty of it. Playing a favourite player despite his failings is masked by the other players on the field but even that is eventually found out.

Do I not like that

Overall, people are about twice as likely to seek information that supports their own point of view as they are to consider an opposing idea – Heffernan

When Graham Taylor removed Gary Lineker in the final twenty minutes of his final game for England in 1992 the nation went into uproar at the way the England manager had cruelly ended the career of one of the finest strikers in the side’s history and sabotaged chances of progressing in Euro 92.

A sober remembering of the game – a 2-1 defeat – recalls that Lineker was playing poorly and the Silver Haired Goal Hanger admits so himself. That Taylor replaced Lineker with the monumentally average Alan Smith rather than – for example – fresh faced Alan Shearer was a whole different mistake but in removing Lineker Taylor worked against the wilful blindness of a country who were perfectly prepared to ignore The Static Crisp Salesman’s ineffectiveness which saw him not score in Euro 92, or in the run up to Euro 92.

It would be too much to suggest that Taylor was struck by inspiration when he ignored this common wilful blindness but there was something iconoclastic about his actions, even if they were fruitless.

Which Jon Stead?

The Jon Stead against Chelsea was a rare sight at Bradford City but it was an impressive one. Stead’s performance was inspirational and at the end of the season it was mentioned as the best single display by a player all year. It is impossible when thinking of Jon Stead not to think of that day.

But there were games against Chesterfield and Preston North End as City’s season fizzled out which were also a part of Jon Stead. His play was frustrating and he was easily marshalled by the more impressive defenders of League One like Ian Evatt and Paul Huntington.

Without knowing what he was offered by Bradford City – or by Notts County – to make him one of City’s highest paid players as was suggested would be to be wilfully blind to those games where Jon Stead was – well – not very good. Not very good or at least not very useful to the aims of scoring goals which has to factor into Phil Parkinson’s thinking.

Like Graham Taylor in 1992 dealing with Gary Lineker Parkinson does not have the luxury of looking at Stead with optimism and ignoring the information he does not want to be the case. If he spends his budget on a player on the hope that the high watermark of his performances will be the common and constant watermark then he will fail ass a manager.

He has to open the suitcase because he is liable for what is in it. Signing Jon Stead is an exercise in wilful blindness.

Yes, but which Jon Stead?

It would seem that Steve Davies has joined City to replace Stead and the standard that Davies will be held against is not the Stead of those games where he wandered, or looked disinterested, but the Chelsea and the Sunderland matches where he was at his best.

When Davies has failed to score on some boggy pitch in Bury he will be compared unfavourably with Jon Stead, but not with the real Jon Stead, but on the one we create out of the parts we want to remember.

But Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies played three season for Bradford City and played twenty eight league games in each. I think he was City’s best player last year and I would rather he was still at the club and not wandering the Highlands of Scotland.

If Phil Parkinson’s job on Jon Stead is to not be blind, is the same true of Davies? After all while I can say that the team was measurably better with Davies in the side I can bring to mind mistakes he made that cost games.

Likewise while talking about how the defender can play twenty eight games a season I ignore the fact that in his first season it was suspension and not injury that cost him matches, and that in the second half of last season injury compounded injury.

I think that he is worth a new contract but I am wilfully blind myself in this matter. I’m partial to Davies. He is my sort of player and I do not find myself wanting to think on his faults now he has gone.

But think on them we should else we ignore the obvious and create too high a standard for the next set of Bradford City players.

The strange decline of Andrew Davies

Ross County? Really?

That Andrew Davies has left Bradford City an unpleasant reality. That he has seemingly taken a move downwards to join Ross County lends the whole situation a baffling air.

On Davies I shall say this. He was my player of the season last term and I believe that when he is not in the City team that difference manifests itself in the number of goals conceded. Put any other defender in in Davies’ place and City concede about one more goal a game.

(I’m tempted to add “Put Christopher Routis in and it is two” but it seems both uncharitable and troublingly prescient)

That Davies often does miss games is the unfortunate part of this equation and it is said that City offered Davies a deal tied to how many matches he played in. It is my belief that in the balance of games he played he was worth employing for those he missed.

Seemingly Phil Parkinson disagrees and so Davies has accepted another offer which over two years will – one assumes – pay him more than City were offering.

But Ross County? Really?

No disrespect

I’m not going to claim that Scots football is a lowly enterprise or that the quality of the football played in it equates directly to a division of the English game. Ross County are a top division side, albeit one who finished in ninth position last season.

And with Davies aged 31 and no stranger to the treatment room one can see how his value in the marketplace is not as strong as it could be but he is the man who stopped Drogba, and to exit English football so soon to join a team that with the best will in the World are playing for Second (and probably not likely to get it) in Scotland borders on early retirement.

There will be games at Celtic Park for sure and who knows if The Staggies can make Europe there may be some interesting trips on the road but all those things would surely have still been open to a 32 year old Davies had he taken another year at Valley Parade.

Of to a 34, or 34, year old Davies had he been able to use his exposure this season to promote himself to another club in English football. I would have written here that a Championship side would have found him a useful recruit but I remember watching Sunderland and suggest that if he were prepared to be a bit part player he could have aimed higher.

Really, no disrespect

Which is not to say that had Andrew Davies remained in England with Bradford City or anyone else he could have guaranteed himself another Chelsea away, or a trip to Wembley, but in heading North so early he seems to have excluded himself from having those opportunities in favour of the not especially attractive proposition of middle league Scottish football.

Which is really not to be rude to Ross County or to Scottish football but one cannot help but have the feeling that whatever there is for Andrew Davies there would have waited a year or two more for him.

On the bright side his arrival will make Ross County more likely to be more top half than bottom half next season, more likely to get a “famous win” at Celtic Park, more likely to take a Cup perhaps.

The only that that exceeds my puzzlement at Andrew Davies’ move North is my desire to wish him all the best at his new club.

He deserves it.

The strange decline of Andrew Davies

He started at Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup and moved onto Southampton who were a league below and then Stoke where it did not work out and he went to a series of increasingly lowly loan deals before settling at League Two Bradford City who he played for before joining Ross County.

Reading Davies’ career written out sounds like a managed decline rather than the endeavours of one of the biggest hearted, most characterful, and best defenders I’ve ever seen play the game with my own two eyes.

Chelsea away might be a part of history, and Davies’ part in that history and the rise of Bradford City, might be recorded but to a stranger who did not see those days Davies career is not what it should be.

We were there, it was glorious, but as he starts life at a new club it seems that rather than reading like the annals of a defensive hero that it was Andrew Davies’ career has the sound of a strange decline.

Applying Game Theory to transfers and why it is best to wait before signing

The League One fixture list was released this morning to a sigh of disappointment by Bradford City supporters. Swindon Town away. A long way, a bad roundabout and a difficult game. The League Cup draw at York City cushions the blow but City will be two games into the season before the season starts at Valley Parade.

In most quarters this was met with a gentle ho-hum but in some corners every season the fixture list seems to act like a tipping point for the disgruntled. With the start of the season now in sight then improvements should have been made and the failure to make them is a concern.

The day that fixtures are released seems to release a pressure valve on a meaningless fury and – albeit in a small section of the Bradford City community – there is concern. The concern is only of note because of its fundamental belief that the best time to sign players in a summer transfer window is early.

The wrong sort of data

When it comes to transfer deals we have but one statistic. The day that the deal was registered. There is no record of the first time a team made contact over signing a player from a club or recruiting him as a free agent. That data simply is not available and so a common assumption is that there is a correlation between an approach and a signing in the same way that there is between sowing seeds and reaping harvests.

And so if a player joins a club in the first week of August it is assume that the club got in touch a month before, or two weeks before, or so on. We probably have Championship Manager to thank for this. Everything takes a steady amount of time, and everyone behaves rationally.

Yet we know from Bryan Caplan‘s work that people do not behave rationally a good deal of the time when considering options which involve game theory as player recruitment does.

Let us consider the signings of Stuart McCall for his second spell at the clubs, and of Guy Branston. In both cases the player was highly motivated to the point where he would not have considered other offers with the assumption that no other offer would be significantly better. If Everton had asked McCall to rejoin following his exit from Rangers, or had someone in League One wanted Branston, then they may not have made the choices they did but in both cases the player had decided that they wanted to join the club and entertained no other offers.

Both deals were done early in the close season because the player was not interested in generating competition. Likewise the club wanted both players as marquee signings and so they had no other transfer priorities.

Both club and player made rational decisions because there was no competition in which to create a model of game theory. This is why I continue to raise the point that City made a poor deal when selling Nahki Wells. They allowed the buyer to “own” the rational decision rather than forcing them to be irrational.

The game’s afoot

When a second club becomes interested in a player or a club is interested in more than a single player there is a context for game theory – and Caplan’s thoughts on irrationality – to apply.

Let us consider two other signings from around the era of Branston’s arrival: Andrew Davies, and first Richie Jones.

Richie Jones was signed by Peter Jackson after he missed out on signing Gary Jones who stayed with Rochdale for another season. Richie Jones was not a player Jackson knew nor had seen but he signed him because he had failed to sign a player he wanted who was similar. In this way the club was the irrational operator. The manager decided to sign a (good) player he had not heard of because he had failed to sign a (also good) player he had and having failed in that there was an apparent need to succeed in another signing.

The irrationality is in Peter Jackson signing a player sight unseen to play in his midfield because he had not secured another target. The objective of the game was not to sign any player, it was to sign a specific player, and Jackson got that wrong but it is not an uncommon mistake to make.

City made a bad decision cause by Jackson’s out of date knowledge of the transfer market. Players were not scarce, they were just scarce to Jackson and as a result City made a bad deal. Richie Jones was a good player but he was no Gary Jones at that point in his career.

On Andrew Davies the player was persona non-grata at Stoke City but allowed the summer to pass waiting for someone to make an offer to sign him. No one did and he ended up at City on a fitness boosting free loan. In the cold light of day Davies’s decision is baffling. He joined a club which had lost to Accrington Stanley and Dagenham and Redbridge in the first month of the season and that was so far down the league he may as well have retired.

That the deal worked out speaks much for his abilities and character but the deal itself is one of the most strange in football. Seldom to Premier League players drop to League Two. Davies was acting irrationally.

Having attempted – one assumes – to find a better club over the summer and with the transfer window closed Davies had no rational options left. He signed for City on 23rd September 2011 which is a good four months after fixtures had been announced and is one of the better signings in the club’s history.

Davies was out of rational choices. As game theory is applied he had lost and as a result City were able to approach him with an irrational proposition – sign for a League Two club – and Davies had to comply.

What is to worry about

The aim of a player in dealing around a transfer is to create the game conditions in which irrationality favours them. This is the power of game theory in transfer deals. The clubs can believe they are in competition for a player even when there is no other offers. You and I engage in this kind of behaviour every time we offer more than asking price on a house that has no other bidders on it.

For clubs to get good value they need to lessen the irrationality involved in a transfer.

If one imagines a footballer – a goalkeeper – who today is considering deals from Bradford City, Wolves, Wigan and Crewe then one can imagine a player who would be holding out for Wolves, and probably not interested in Crewe. If City were to make an attempt to make a deal for that player now they would effectively be bidding against Wolves, and Wigan, and Crewe. To make a bid in that context is to enter into irrational action. There are a great number of variables most of which are unknown.

In two weeks time though Wolves may have signed another goalkeeper and Wigan might have taken one on loan after making it clear they have spent all their budget on a forward. The number of variables is reduced and City end up bidding against Crewe in a game which favours them, and so can make a better deal.

Of course one can point out that in this situation had City made their offer two weeks ago – and matched Wolves and Wigan – they would have signed the player but they would have done it on the terms that were comparable to Wolves and Wigan, and have less money to make other deals, and so a worse team.

And this is common in almost all transfer deals. The best deals are done for a club when that club is in a stronger position.

In short, and to recap

There are a few cases where the club wants the (free agent) player and the player wants the club in which the best deal can be done early but in almost every other transfer a club to make a deal early in close season will be forced to do a worse deal than they would have had they waited.

There are exceptions of course. There is only one David Beckham and if you have to bid against other clubs to get him you are forced into a bad deal but League One is not like that and players of League One quality are not so scarce as to mean that there is not enough to go around.

Signing players early does not mean – in most cases – that a team will be stronger because it had first pick it means it will be weaker because it had fewer picks.

The mystery of Christopher Routis

“No object is mysterious. The mystery is your eye.”
Elizabeth Bowen

The news that Christopher Routis is staying at Bradford City for another season is a mystery that adds to the intrigue around Phil Parkinson and the remarkable progress he has made with Bradford City.

Manager Parkinson has watched more of Christopher Routis play than most ever will in and out of training. Parking watched Routis at Oldham Athletic redefine the term “bad game” for a new generation of City fans. He saw him so woefully out of position and then out of the game at home to Preston North End.

And Parkinson saw Routis put in the type of performance that became his trademark late in the season as he filled in in for Filipe Morais in midfield. Chesterfield at home was the prime example. He did some good things, some bad things, but showed a good attitude to try recover from the bad.

Jungle canyon rope bridge

The mystery is that the areas of Routis’ game which were lacking during the season seemed to be the areas which Phil Parkinson looks for more than anything else in his players while the things that Routis does do well – and I struggle for an exhaustive list – hardly seem important to Parkinson at all.

Routis stands alone in the City squad in the profile of his play. He has some abilities on the ball but is no one’s playmaker. He can tackle but is no one’s central defender. He is not short of effort but he is no one’s engine room player.

What use is a ball playing defender to replace Andrew Davies or Rory McArdle when absent to Parkinson? If Routis could do what Davies or McArdle do in the way that Gary MacKenzie did then his abilities to (occasionally) flight a ball forward would be useful perhaps but because his style of intercept defending is so different it seems to cause more problems than it solves.

One might put forward the idea that he may make a holding midfielder but Parkinson is reluctant to use him like that and it is not hard to see why when – in one of the other two midfield positions where his passing should be useful – he is bullied off the ball and out muscled from games.

Put that axe down son

Let me emphasise that I’m not seeking to put the hatchet into Christopher Routis, or say he is a poor footballer, just that having watched him I’ve yet to see him be effective for anything like a sustained period. He is a midfielder in teams which are beaten in midfield, and a defender in teams which make defensive mistakes. In anything other than bursts of minutes he has yet to play well for the club.

That Routis may or may not be what is called a talented footballer is not the question. The question is to the usefulness of having him in the squad.

After a year of watching him I’m not massively convinced by his talents, and I’m less convinced that he has a place in the Bradford City squad as managed by Phil Parkinson.

Nevertheless Phil Parkinson wants him in the squad, and Bradford City have given Christopher Routis a contract for another year meaning he will be in the squad.

What is not seen

Recalling Bowen’s comment there is no mystery as to how Routis plays or what we can expect from him so we must wonder what Parkinson gets from the Frenchman that balances out the problems he has.

Routis is not the shouter like Gary Jones, nor the leader like Andrew Davies, nor the constant performer like Rory McArdle. What he adds must be the most invisible of things which Parkinson values. One is tempted to think of it as the most mysterious thing too. The trait which Parkinson finds which he wants in the squad despite everything else.

Whatever that is, it has just secured Christopher Routis a new deal.

Steven Gerrard, no EPLs and having the football we want

As I write this article Steven Gerrard, Liverpool footballer, is preparing to play his last match at Anfield after seventeen years as a professional at the club.

Gerrard’s exit is the final story in a Premier League which seems to have long since been decided. Chelsea have won the league – Oh Chelsea – and Burnley & QPR have been relegated with Hull City to follow probably.

I say probably because it would seem that given the choice between devoting its 24 hour news coverage to the fate of Hull City, or the play offs, or Gerrard’s closing career in English football the media seems to have decided that the England midfielder is the story to cover.

And of course this gave rise to criticism on Twitter because – well – there is nothing in modern life which does not beget the fury of people on Twitter. This criticism is summed up in the idea that the coverage is excessive considering that Gerrard had not won the Premier League championship.

EPL

When I first heard the phrase “EPL” I knew that something truly ghastly had entered the conversation on English football. As an abbreviation for English Premier League it makes perfect sense alongside the Scottish Premier League, The National Football League, Major League Baseball and so on but its creation as a term in common usage denoted the internationalisation of the top flight of the English game.

“How many EPLs has Gerrard won?”, “He won UCL!” and so on. This is the lingua fraca of discussing the top of English football on some places. I do not suggest you discuss football on the Quora website but if you do prepared to be amazed by just how remote the discussions are from the mechanics of week-to-week supporting of Bradford City.

But let me be clear this situation of internationalisation of the English Premier League support is not an issue because Americans want to watch Manchester United or that people in Indonesia want to follow Liverpool. It is an issue because those Americans and Indonesians are in American and Indonesia.

They are far away

Far away and not likely to ever go to Old Trafford or Anfield but able to follow their clubs remotely through websites and live TV streams. They can commit a good deal of time to their support and by virtue of their financial contributions in shirt sales and so on I’d support an argument that they had paid their dues.

(I use the term “their” advisedly, I’m not arguing that they are less fans, or that their support is less genuine.)

However the mechanics of supporting a club you will never see – or may only see once or twice – are different from those of watching a team week-in-week-out. I know this from my experience following Japanese side JEF United in addition to Bradford City.

For City I appreciate attributes from players such as the effort they give when trailing by two at Peterborough United, or how they try motivate their team mates to sneak a victory at Rochdale when a draw would be a perfectly acceptable result. The moments which tell you the most about a player or a team are those which are not lingered on by TV cameras. The walk back after a concession, the speed of which a player gets back to his feet, the look on his face when a team mate makes a mistake.

I have none of this information when following JEF United. I have stats. Goals scored, assists, number of EPLs won.

Framing the debate

Drop into a global “EPL Talk forum” and the discussion is almost entirely about stats and not about character which, in my opinion, frames the debate of football entirely in the wrong way. In my opinion the number of EPLs that Chelsea had one was not as important as the character which Bradford City showed.

(As an aside it was interesting how easily Chelsea recovered from that defeat in the FA Cup fourth round and how little impact it made on their profile, globally or nationally. I believe that was because there was no context to the statistics that the game offered. It was impossible to make sense of stats like how much money Chelsea cost compared to City when the disparity was so large, it was impossible to make sense of it so it was ignored.)

This debate framed poorly values different things at the top of the Premier League which attracts a great many supporters who are not regular attenders of games than it does at lower levels, and for supporters of teams at the top of the Premier League who do attend regularly.

It is hard to argue that the regular attenders pay for football – TV money, advertising and so on pay a good chunk of the bills – but when chunking up and down the Motorways its easy to imagine that regulars are showing a level of commitment that demands that the coverage of the game be set up for them.

This may be an illusion – a factor of the white lines late on a Saturday evening returning home – but the idea that football coverage is for the benefit of people other than those who go to games is not something which is oft considered. We assumed that the explosion in football coverage that came in the last twenty years would be for the benefit of the same people who have season tickets. We were wrong.

We do not have the football coverage we want.

Gerrard

Steven Gerrard has some remarkable achievements as a Liverpool player – UCLs and so on – but talking to people who go to Anfield his contributions are more marked in the way that City fans have considered Stuart McCall and Gary Jones in the past, and consider the likes of Andrew Davies and James Hanson now.

The tributes to him as he prepares for his final game at Anfield are the odd mix of a football event which has some resonance with supporters of clubs up and down the country and something which appeals to the debates of the EPL Forum.

These moments are rare, and when they come they highlight the distance between these two sets of value, and how wide that distance often is.

Andrew Davies and why he is my player of the season

Dipped in the River Styx

Andrew Davies was a curious signing for Bradford City. Brought in from Premier League side Stoke City where he was persona non-gratis one could not help but hear the feint ringing of alarm bells.

Why would Davies – a Premier League player on £14,000 – join Bradford City and how had City got him to join without paying him anything? And how could he come into the team which had Peter Jackson’s big signing Guy Branston it it. Branston’s lunging defending was the legacy which Phil Parkinson inherited from Jackson. Parkinson wanted a fresh start. And he got it through Andrew Davies.

Rarely has a manager and a player operated in such simpatico as Parkinson and Davies, and not since Paul Jewell trusted Stuart McCall to lead on the field and leave him to led in the dressing room have two people tied their fortunes so closely together.

The manager: intelligent and practical; The player: passionate and purposeful; The combination at the heart of all that has been good about Bradford City.

The shot of Paris

Davies’ weakness is obvious to all. He has missed ten leagues games every season he has played for Bradford City. Sometimes suspended but often injured Davies seems incapable of a full season at full fitness. The frustration he feels at it is obvious late in 2014/2015 as he bangs his fist on the floor when he pulls up once more.

City’s promotion attempt fails, and the two are not unconnected.

One wonders how high an Andrew Davies who had the fitness of his defensive partners Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle could have gone? If he was at City and playing would this season in which the play-offs were missed by one place and four points have turned out differently?

If he had not had this Achilles Heel would we have seen him at Bradford City at all? His misfortune has become something at Valley Parade and taken on a purpose.

At Troy

League One gives players two types of challenges. The best games and the best players are battles of wits in which a smart player tries to give a defender the slip, sneak past him or through him, or pull him out of position to leave a hole for a team mate.

Look at his face closely and you can see Andrew Davies’ concentration in those games. Those are the games where a tackle is not followed by a clenched fist or self congratulation but a check over the shoulder and a retaking of position.

Then these are League One’s battles against League One’s battlers. Davies is the man for both occasions. He thrives on a physical challenge. What he gives up in speed he makes up in judgement – most of the time – and importantly he makes up in the discipline he drills into his defensive partner Rory McArdle and his two full backs.

Perhaps the greatest attribute one can afford a player is that he improves those around him. Sometimes it seems that with Andrew Davies in the side City are a match for anyone.

Indeed they are.

The river of oceans

Andrew Davies will always be Chelsea away. Put up against a genuine legend of the modern game in Drogba, and against a team who would move and pass their way to the Premier League title Davies and McArdle shipped a couple of goals in what many if not most expected would be up to a half dozen for the home side.

But something happened after half time and before Filipe Morais’ equaliser which is seldom credited. Davies lead the team in effort, and in passion, and in ability frustrating the Blues and setting up what was to come.

It speaks to the man’s character, and it echoes ever game Davies has played this season. The instance that no game should be given away, and that the attitude of the club must be that Bradford City do not let victory go cheaply, and that if victory has not gone the there is always a chance.

Give Phil Parkinson £10m to spend in the summer and he will not find a better player to encapsulate that. Get Andrew Davies a new contract.

And shall we mention

In the interests of a top five in player of the season I would suggest that Davies is followed by by Rory McArdle who has one again been a definition of dependability. Then by Billy Knott who has progressed from a high level with a winner against Leeds to a higher one later in the season where he was given an inside midfield role.

Then by James Hanson who continues his rise and at points starts to look like he is finding a ceiling but – crucially – ignores any suggestion of a limit to what he can do by constant, perpetual, hard work. Finally Filipe Morais who had something of a tempestuous time but his goal at Chelsea, and his contributions in other occasions where he sacrificed himself to the team ethic, were the proof of what Phil Parkinson is trying to do at VP.

Phil Parkinson facing the face of success as Preston beat Bradford City 3-0 at Valley Parade

The 3-0 defeat to Preston North End will be hard to take for Phil Parkinson and his Bradford City team but contained within it a number of sobering lessons.

The game turned almost entirely in the fourteenth minute when a hopefully ball forward to Joe Garner was demurred from by Christopher Routis, who then ended up on the wrong side of Garner, and then brought Garner down, and was then sent off.

Following that City enjoyed a good deal of good play and Jon Stead will look back at a shot well saved by Sam Johnstone (who frustrated City in a 1-2 reversal by Doncaster earlier in the season) but after half time when Gary Liddle – press-ganged into central defence – slid into Jermaine Beckford the direction of the match was sealed.

The three goals flattered Preston who played well and one was left with the feeling that but for a fourteenth minute sending off one could have seen a superb football match but with the certainty that for the visitor’s had enough talents they did not need all the help City gave them.

Mistakes

I’m not going to criticise Christopher Routis for his sending off but I am amazed by Phil Parkinson believing that the Swiss was ever going to be suitable to play central defender in this match.

Routis is titularly a central defender and perhaps it says he is a central defender on his passport but the skills that are needed to play a League One football game as a central defender (especially against Beckford and Garner) he does not possess. Rory McArdle does. Andrew Davies does. Gary MacKenzie does. The Preston three of Tom Clarke, Bailey Wright and Paul Huntington do.

And while hindsight is 20:20 playing Routis in the position was a mistake by Phil Parkinson and one that had consequences in short order. Without Davies and without MacKenzie one might suggest that Parkinson had only two central defenders left in McArdle and Routis and was forced into the selection but to that I would say he then had only one and had to play someone out of position.

Christopher Routis has shown time and again that he cannot play a central defensive position in League One. Parkinson made a call playing him there rather than dropping Gary Liddle into the back four and was rewarded for that with the performance one had come to expect from Routis even when Routis is playing well.

He does individual things well some of the time and is poor in team patterns. The curious thing about Parkinson’s decision to play him was that there were four very good examples of what good look like when it comes to defending in League One. It looks like Tom Clarke, it looks like Rory McArdle, and it does not look like Routis.

Not mistakes

Why Parkinson felt that Routis was capable is in his judgement and his judgement is sound most of the time. Routis aside Parkinson will look back on a team that showed much against a very good Preston North End side although there are areas of concern and lessons to be learnt.

Going forward City’s cutting edge depends on Jon Stead and Jon Stead’s mood seems to govern much. Against Preston he was not the Jon Stead who put Chelsea to the sword and was subdued. James Hanson – on the other hand – maintains a constant level of performance. It is not hard to see why managers have been frustrated with Stead in the past but Parkinson has a decision to make on the mark he sets on Stead.

The Jon Stead of Chelsea is a player one would take the edge of the budget for, the Jon Stead of Preston is somewhat lower in value, and only those inside the club know what offers have been made to the forward. With Aaron McLean still earning for City whilst in semi-retirement at Peterborough for another season there is a need for the City to have a player who can provide (in both scoring and creating) goals in games like Preston at Home.

If that is Jon Stead then one would be overjoyed – he has a #sowhat cult following and all – but the lesson of Preston for Phil Parkinson is that of the two Steads and the judgement the manager must show is which one will get get most of the time should he be signed, and how much is that worth?

There is value to be had elsewhere. City have no goalkeeper signed up for next season. Ben Williams saved a penalty and has some talents but if Parkinson wanted a keeper to control his penalty area and clean out crosses then Williams is not that man.

Which is not to take anything away from Williams but rather to say that this game with Preston is the type of match that Phil Parkinson needs to take lessons from.

We know what good looks like

To get promoted from League One you have to be good. Good looks like Bradford City’s performance with ten men in many ways. Short of a man the players worked hard and worked hard for each other. At times it was – to use a cliché – difficult to tell which side had the full complement of players but when Daniel Johnson first and later Chris Humphrey fired the kind of shots one takes when one has a man, and a goal, advantage the difference was obvious.

Good looks like confidence, and City can add more of that, and it looks like self belief and that is sometimes lacking from the Bantams. Mostly though those things need to be tweaked rather than overhauled and after the game one was left with the idea that City with eleven men would not be far away from Preston. That City have the right framework in place for promotion, but need to improve in some areas.

Phil Parkinson does not need a template for knowing what a team which can be promoted looks like but – if he does – Preston North End might represent it.

(Aside: Dylan Mottley Henry made his début and looked keen.)

Bradford City contemplating becoming what they are after beating Oldham 2-0 at Valley Parade

The month of attrition

Before Billy Clarke turned to scramble into the goal a ball that was bouncing around the Oldham Athletic penalty area it would have taken a brave man to suggest that Bradford City would definitely win the game and that the Latics would definitely lose it.

When Clarke slowly rolled a ball into the corner of the same goal twenty minutes later Oldham Athletic had sunk to 13th in League One with seven left to play leaving them – to all but the brave – with no chance of securing a place in the play-offs.

Without the odd goal in the opening hour – the Latics were on top for twenty minutes – it seems that the visitors are all but eliminated from promotion.

So we come to the defining part of the season. The month of attrition.

Duck week

Bradford City’s victory was as hard fought as any this season and all the better for it.

On the surface City spent a week in Portugal as reward for endeavours to date and perhaps away from the distractions at Valley Parade – and there were significant – the collective mind had been focused. Every game from now seems to hold the prospect of ending the season. Promotion places then are like the statue carved from marble. Bit by bit teams are chiselled away until it is complete.

The sight of Andrew Davies beating the ground in frustration after pulling up following a burst of speed to follow Conor Wilkinson worried. City with Davies are more likely to win and everyone in Valley Parade knows it. His replacement Gary MacKenzie looks assured and calm, authoritative even.

Oldham press early and Wilkinson looks useful up front although is often isolated. The early exchanged are for the Latics and City seem lost in the midfield. Mark Yeates and Christopher Routis are a pair alongside Gary Liddle who is prepared to push himself to a performance despite an obvious, creeping fatigue. Liddle is being talked about as Bradford City’s player of the season because of performances such as this.

Yeates struggles to get into the game and Routis’ positioning is poor while Billy Clarke shows both faults. It is a common feature of Bradford City teams under Phil Parkinson that players are faced with problems like these and, when faced with them, find a minimum performance. Keep going, and keep giving what you can, and see what happens.

As good as you are

Bradford City vs Oldham in March 2015 is what I go to football for. The game stands on a knife edge and until Clarke’s injury time goal it could have gone either way. The game is won not necessarily by the best team – because the difference between the sides is not significant – but by the team which takes the chance, that runs when tired, that puts in the head where it hurts.

The best thing about Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City is that they are a team who realise that they are as good as they are. The sum of the parts. The equal of the endeavour.

The reward, and the reason for the reward.

Billy, Billy

Billy Knott replaced Yeates and brought his high intensity pressing to the game as City pushed onto Oldham Athletic. It was a corner that both James Hanson and Jon Stead has attempts at heading that fell to Clarke’s left foot. From that City controlled the game by attacking and pressing the visitors.

A smart piece of fakery where Knott sold the dummy of time wasting to set up Stead, who rolled to Clarke, who scored put a gloss on the game. Half an hour before and it was hard to say who would win and Oldham deserve credit in defeat, but the defeat is probably terminal to their play off aspirations.

City go into the rearranged Chesterfield game on Tuesday night knowing a win will put City in sixth position, but the same can be said of Chesterfield, and with City looking to nudge ahead of a pack of peers one can only look forward to the game with some relish. Doncaster Rovers, Sheffield United and Barnsley all follow.

At the end of season of Stamford Bridge football and giant killing City are in a burly, knock down brawl. The next few weeks could be very enjoyable indeed.

The journey to Ithaca

I

“Did not Odysseus beside the ships of the Argives offer thee sacrifice without stint in the broad land of Troy? Wherefore then didst thou conceive such wrath against him, O Zeus?”

Within minutes of the kick off of Bradford City’s defeat at Reading the game was written out. Before the first goal – a header at a corner from Hal Robson-Kanu – the Bantams players looked leaden footed, and heavy, and no good could come of this.

This game was the conclusion of a run of three games in six days that travelled 850 miles with a squad of around twenty players. When an innocuous shot hit Andrew Halliday and looped over Ben Williams to make the game 2-0 Reading had won before ten minutes were out.

It was not that Bradford City had not made a game of the game, it was that they could not.

II

“Cyclops, if any one of mortal men shall ask thee about the shameful blinding of thine eye, say that Odysseus, the sacker of cities, blinded it, even the son of Laertes, whose home is in Ithaca.”

Tuesday night in Coventry.

The locals had offered a 2 for 1 Valentine’s day offer with the assumption that Bradford City – away at Chelsea on the weekend the offer was announced – would not stand them up on the date.

By the time the Bantams did go to Coventry City Steven Pressley had been sacked from the Sky Blues. As his time came to an end Phil Parkinson was basking in the glow of besting Jose Mourinho. “The other special one”, or “dark ages football” as Pressley had said.

As it was City ground out the first half at The Ricoh Arena only to go behind to a goal at the end of the first half by Frank Nouble. Parkinson asked his side for more in the second half and got it. James Hanson ended the game forcing a header across and low to get past Lee Burge but Burge pushed the ball away.

The win would have been just reward for the effort but the effort seldom brings the reward you would want so much as the consolation along the way. Mark Yeates approached a free kick from twenty five yards and drill-curved the ball around the wall and low into the goal.

Yeates celebrated by kicking an advertising board in half. Perhaps he would have renamed the ground had Hanson’s header gone in but the point was a good result.

For Parkinson though his eye must have gone to the level of effort put in by his team which is in a race for promotion in League One which is often as much attrition than it is about ability. Every effort to recover a game is a resource which cannot be tapped again.

That at the end of the season City had beaten Coventry City at Valley Parade and drawn at The Ricoh would be a riposte to Pressley’s view about City and the dark ages, but Pressley was blinded now anyway.

III

And City moved on. Jordan Pickford exited to the blind at Sunderland to be replaced by Jak Alnwick from Newcastle United. Jason Kennedy joined Oliver McBurnie and Aaron Mclean out on loan.

The squad thinner and thinner, the demands on it more and more.

IV

And on the fifth the beautiful Calypso sent him on his way from the island after she had bathed him and clothed him in fragrant raiment. On the raft the goddess put a skin of dark wine, and another, a great one, of water, and provisions, too … Gladly then did goodly Odysseus spread his sail to the breeze;

The sight of Gary Jones comforts the heart.

Notts County at on Saturday and City have patched a team together to face Jones’ midfield that features Christopher Routis and Matthew Dolan. Gary Liddle played every moment of a season for Notts County but his legs looked heavy on his return to Meadow Lane.

He is not alone.

Filipe Morais has returned to the side following injury but the energy levels that follow him to in the position to do what he should do while allowing him the licence to do what he wants is missing. Andrew Davies’ resting continues and it starts to become clear that the injury that sidelined him at Coventry City is more than a trick of the light.

Jones’ energy levels are the stuff of legend at Bradford City but the heavy winter has taken its toll on him. The game is more a struggle than a battle.

Still City are in the ascendancy.

Jon Stead scored after good work from François Zoko but County always looked capable of replying and Mike Edwards equalised. A point away is a good return and County are slowly ticking towards safety but with a game with Reading kicking off in 51 hours Parkinson could only worry.

Elsewhere Reading have dropped nine of the ten outfield players that make up their starting team. They are beaten four goals to one by Watford in The Championship. The sacrifice is obvious and available because Reading have concluded that they will not be promoted, while Bradford City fight on multiple fronts..

Gary Jones – and Garry Thompson – wished Bradford City players good luck on the way off the field and one could have spent a lifetime in the wash of nostalgia. The days when Jones and Thompson took on a challenge like Reading and emerged victorious, and took the spoils of victory, and all was golden and good.

V

Think for a moment, dear reader, and consider my offer. I would give you one moment at a football ground to stretch out for all time and to be all the moments at football. Pick the second that Hanson scored against Villa, or the sight of Arsenal’s fifth penalty coming back of the post, or Mark Yeates giving the world and the fireworks at Chelsea, or Wolves away or Liverpool at home.

Pick one and it is forever stretched before you as an endless sea, and you forever adrift on that sea, never to see land again but in the most blissful of ignorance.

The moment when Gary Jones pumped his fist at Wembley as promotion was sealed stretched out until the horizon and over.

And you would reject the offer?

You would.

VI

“Achilles, no man aforetime was more blessed nor shall ever be hereafter. For of old, when thou wast alive, we Argives honored thee even as the gods, and now that thou art here, thou rulest mightily among the dead. Wherefore grieve not at all that thou art dead, Achilles.”

“Nay, seek not to speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should choose, so I might live on earth, to serve as the hireling of another, of some portionless man whose livelihood was but small, rather than to be lord over all the dead that have perished.”

Two goals in the first ten minutes and Bradford City are suffering not just the effects of two games in three days but the cumulative effects of the constant attrition of playing in League One. It is not that a player rested three days ago might be expected to be fresher than one who has rested for six it is that the inexorable navigation of games takes something which all.

The difference is not the binary state of being fresh or not. It is a team at 75% playing one at 60% (or fill your own figures in here) and the rest Reading gave up a game for is put into a whirlpool of effects which have left City incapable of putting in a performance to make a game.

Second to set off, second to the ball, and second best one would struggle to fault the City player’s effort. They gave all they could offer, but there was nothing to give. Jamie Mackie scored a third after Filipe Morais was sent off for a high foot on the once again superb Nathaniel Chalobah and one was left to conclude that City had lost the chance of a semi-final not after the odyssey that followed the 0-0 draw at Valley Parade but on the rough, unplayable field at Valley Parade that has begun to characterise Bradford City’s season.

One wonders if this game represents what The FA want from the Cup. Bradford City’s reward for progressing further in the competition is to be put into a position where the club is handicapped as the quality of the opposition increases.

A League One club plays Halifax Town after a third of the season. Millwall after a busy Christmas but every game after the third round brings a postponement which has to be played mid-week. By the time Reading at home came along City had been playing weekend-midweek every week for over a month.

And all the time the possible opposition gets harder and harder. That Reading were not Chelsea ignores the fact that they were the fourth side City had faced from a higher division. As the games get harder, the ability to play those games gets less and less.

And I do not say this as a complaint or to propose a solution but just to underline the absurdity of the situation and perhaps to illustrate how impressive it is that any club outside of the top 44 of the Premier League and Championship should get this far in The FA Cup. Last year’s beaten semi-finalists Sheffield United won more FA Cup games than the losing finalists Hull City, and as many as winners Arsenal.

VII

“Come, I pray thee, goddess, tell me this thing truly, if in any wise I might escape from fell Charybids, and ward off that other, when she works harm to my comrades.”

People on the pitch.

A sea of people perhaps becoming the sea of moments to stretch out as Reading reach Wembley for the first time since 1927. A sea of people ebbing and flowing in front of the Bradford City fans looking for trouble but not knowing what trouble really is.

A sea of people and through it walks Steven Darby. Fearless, heroic, in failure and in success. Steven Darby and Rory McArdle cutting through a sea of people fearless, heroic, in failure and in success.

A sea of people and through it walks Steven Darby.

Eleven games remain. The next three are at Valley Parade before the end of March.

And so then on to Ithaca.

Bradford City and Peterborough United ab ovo

Nec reditum Diomedis ab interitu Meleagri, nec gemino bellum Troianum orditur ab ovo; semper ad euentum festinat et in medias res.
Nor does he begin the Trojan War from the egg, but always he hurries to the action, and snatches the listener into the middle of things…
Horace on Homer, Ars poetica.

To watch a a football match is to experience life in medias res. While every game has a structure starting, middling, and ending those games are largely only understandable in a wider context. Uninteresting is the match which does not continue a story at the start and suggest one at the end. The meaning of the 32nd game of a season is given by the 31 game which proceed it.

Not so Bradford City’s trip to Peterborough United where both clubs seemed to be attempting a start of things.

Most obviously in the case of the home side who dispensed with the services of Darren (Son of) Ferguson in the week and replaced him with Dave Robertson. That Robertson ended up winning his first game in charge of The Posh was largely down to a first half in which Bradford City wasted some chances and wasted more chances to create chances against an ill fitting wing back formation.

With Billy Clarke playing removed from Jon Stead in the forward line and Billy Knott partnering Jason Kennedy in the midfield City’s compact 442 once again committed only to not giving away too much of the game too early while Peterborough were laid raw in wide positions. Oliver Burke looked fast and had a fine chance to claim a lead which he squandered and from that point he faded. Andy Halliday returned to the left wing where he had been unimpressive at the start of career and looked unimpressive showing perhaps that he has found a calling in inside midfield that should not be ignored. When he switched inside later in the game his seemed more comfortable.

City’s side was marked by its absences today. The point where Filipe Morais and Gary Liddle became cemented into the team sheet might only be obvious in retrospect, but it is obvious. James Hanson spent the warm up going through his paces with the coaches but was not included on the bench. James Meredith warmed up a few times but that was all the stretching his legs got and it seemed to become clear that minds were on next Saturday’s FA Cup quarter final with Reading and not on Dave Robertson’s first game as a football manager.

Indeed when Oliver Burke was removed following Peterborough’s scrambled first by Gaby Zakuani – and when Parkinson moved to a 4312 – Meredith remained on the bench with Knott taking the holding role rather than Alan Sheehan moving forward. Parkinson may reflect how much more comfortable his side seemed in the 4312 having switched from the 442.

Robertson in the home dug out found his victory from going to a 442 and launching the ball into the City box as often as could be. If this is the start of his time as Peterborough manager then the home fans who this week went through possible replacements for Ferguson discarding some for not playing good enough football may find that they have to get used to something less beautiful. There is enough about Peterborough to suggest that they will be aiming for promotion to The Championship next season.

For City the game was players not playing with injuries they would previously have battled through, and a general lethargy in the display, and at some point in the afternoon a plan formed which is probably not spoken at Valley Parade.

Looking at City’s performance this season and seeing how strong the top four in League One are a case could be made that anyone outside the third and fourth positions in the play-offs has less chance of promotion. Parkinson could send his team out to sacrifice life and limb for a push to get to fifth or sixth but – having been defeated in the play-off semi-final – the result would be that next season the club would be in no better position than it was this.

However if those limbs are saved for the Reading game and if the Reading game were won then the rewards of an FA Cup semi-final would add significant chunk to the club’s income and – with no directors to trouser the cash as a loan repayments – that income would have no better place to go than into Parkinson’s purview. A new pitch, three top quality recruits, and a new contract for Andrew Davies and City start August 2015 as one of the favourites for promotion.

One shot as favourites rather than two as outsiders.

A late penalty made the score 2-0 but that is immaterial as – it may be – is City’s game with Crawley Town on Tuesday night. A win against Reading next Saturday and Parkinson will turn his attentions to next season via a semi-final, just a Robertson will hope that this result and his plan for next term gives him the job at London Road on a full-time basis.

Which would make this game the embryonic start of next season and a rare case of football’s ab ovo.

If Parkinson is the Special One if City only get one point?

As time ticked out on Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Walsall at Valley Parade Andy Halliday – playing right wing – stood defensively containing the visitors left back preventing him from playing the ball forward.

Play the ball forward – or beat Halliday with the ball – and the Saddlers would have a chance to create a chance. And from a chance they could turn the point time would give them into three. And that could not happen.

Likewise had Halliday tried to win the ball then City could have fashioned a chance to do the same but to do so risked losing position on the field.

As it was Halliday kept his man on the flank and the clock ran down.

Is Parkinson a special one?

Have no doubt, dear reader, that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side against Walsall will not have returned to the dressing room to an angry manager. Parkinson will not have blistered the walls with shouting nor will he have been furious at chances missed. In fact the 1-1 with Walsall is exactly how Parkinson would want his Bradford City team to play.

Of course he would have wanted more goals to be scored and fewer conceded. He would have wanted Francois Zoko to make more of the chance that fell his way in the second half, would have wanted Billy Knott to have confidence with his right foot when given the option to shoot with that, would have wanted Rory McArdle to not lose his location and head the ball cleanly seven yards the wrong side of the goal post. He would have wanted all those things.

And he would have wanted Billy Clarke to have run back to replace Andy Halliday when Halliday gave the left hand side of the Walsall attack too much space that allowed Anthony Forde to cross and Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila to head in after slipping away from the otherwise excellent Gary McKenzie on his début. We all wanted those things.

But we have learnt Parkinson’s method over the last 3 years, 177 days of his time at Bradford City and nothing suggests that he would unbalance his team to try take all three points when he had one. The failures that prevented City winning were in execution for Parkinson, but not in the planning.

Which raises an interesting question for City fans to consider.

At 2-1 down to Chelsea Phil Parkinson did not send his Bradford City team to play an all-out attack, nor did he at 1-0 down to Leeds, but those wins came from a combination of maintaining City’s position in the game (which is to say, not conceding more) and taking chances that presented themselves.

One can – and I have – criticise that approach as not doing enough to commit to winning a game against opposition who aimed to draw at Valley Parade but one cannot deny that the overall approach for games does not differ between matches.

Stuart McCall – for example – was fond of changing his team with the ebb and flow of the game. Chris Kamara was too. I would suggest that both McCall and Kamara would have looked at the Walsall equaliser as a signal to make attacking moves, bring on strikers and generally try to create a win.

And I found both managers created very exciting teams to watch. One recalls McCall’s City 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley only to win 3-2 following the introduction of Barry Conlon. Barry came on and caused chaos on the pitch that City benefited from massively.

One recalls the game at Addams Park Wycombe under Kamara were City went two down early on and Kamara brought on Carl Shutt to create a 253 which made for a massively unbalanced game which ended up as a cricket score in favour of Wycombe. At two down, Kamara thought, City were not going to win the game anyway so why not throw in some chaos and see what happens.

Parkinson is not a manager who enjoys adding chaos into games.

McCall or Kamara might have thrown another striker on at Chelsea, or today, and it might have worked. For Parkinson though staying in the game and working hard has worked.

But it has only worked at Bradford City and Colchester United. Supporters of Hull City and Charlton Athletic found Parkinson intractable and unadventurous and were largely glad when he left their clubs because of his tactics and approaches. At Valley Parade today he defended a 1-1 draw, and one doubts he would apologise for it.

If one is happy with Parkinson’s games at Chelsea, and at home to Leeds and Sunderland, then one is happy with the approach that created it then perhaps one just has curse bad luck today and regret that ill-fortune did not favour City today while accepting that other days it does.

Parkinson’s football is the application of pressure towards steady progress. To want him to be different is to want another manager.

Seven

The frustrations of the afternoon were obvious to all. With injuries to James Hanson, Filipe Morais, and Andrew Davies Phil Parkinson reverted to his 442 deploying Halliday on the right, Mark Yeates on the left and Billy Knott with Gary Liddle in midfield behind Jon Stead with Clarke playing removed from the front man. The result was a less pressing midfield that contained the game more.

Indeed Walsall seldom attacked through the middle and Liddle and Knott will reflect on a successful afternoon but Yeates was out of sorts on the flank and not involved enough to pick up the tempo of the game. Halliday was manful on the right. He was seven out of ten. Again.

The result was not so much a lack of creativity – chances came – as it was a misshape on the creativity. Stead held the ball up by fewer players ran past the forward line from midfield than had in previous games leaving him to pop the ball out from between his feet to anyone who might be near.

The supply from the flanks was sporadic. At one point Stephen Darby beat six men on a mazy dribble which was impressive but underlined the problem the players were finding. Without the reliable diagonal ball to to Hanson from McArdle City were less predictable but by virtue of that easier to play against. The paths to goal were improvised and Walsall’s backline stopped what they could. Dean Smith is a good manager and had his side well drilled.

But Smith, like Parkinson, hoped that what was created would tip the game his way but would rather not have lost. Walsall have not lost in eight away games and have their own trip to Wembley to plan for. City take up sixth place in League One.

It should have been a good day all round, but we have got used to better days than this. They are not long the days of milk and honey.

Parkinson has his thoughts on the bread and butter.

How Bradford City got to the sixth round of the FA Cup and how easy it was

A story of abject failure

Bradford City’s 2-0 win over Sunderland was most remarkable because of how easy it was.

From Billy Clarke’s third minute shot deflected in by John O’Shea onwards the result at Valley Parade was hardly in doubt.

Bradford City played accurate passing at tempo which Sunderland could not match, and with a shape which Sunderland would not adapt to. Robbed of midfield quality in Jack Rodwell and power in Lee Cattermole Sunderland played Liam Bridcutt and Sebastian Larsson in the middle against City’s three of Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle and Billy Knott and lost the midfield.

Bradford City dominated the first forty five minutes. Liddle sat behind his two partners who were both admirably disciplined, and while Bridcutt picked up Billy Clarke in the playmaking role Sunderland manager Gus Poyet left Larsson on his own with three players.

And Larsson could not deliver a quality of possession on the flanks for Sunderland who had based the game on the ball to wide players – Adam Johnson looked lively – which would be put in for Steven Fletcher to finish with Danny Graham in support. Fletcher vs Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies was hardly even a contest.

Better matched were James Hanson and Jon Stead against O’Shea and Wes Brown but with Clarke coming forward and Hanson moving out wide left City pressed with strength, movement and intelligence. O’Shea and Brown with Bridcutt coming back were unsettled by Hanson’s strength and Clarke’s speed with ball at foot.

Only unsettled though, but with so much of the rest of Gus Poyet’s team selection playing exactly as Bradford City’s Phil Parkinson would have wanted it to be it seemed that the Premier League time arrived at, and played with, a hand tied behind their back.

And that hand was tied by Gus Poyet. At half time, watching his team lose the midfield battle, Poyet threw on Connor Wickham for Graham, went route one, and lost the game.

In terms of a manager approaching the game, understanding how the opposition would play, and putting out a team capable of navigating that Poyet failed utterly abjectly.

Shall we switch narrative?

We have become old hands at this of course. The giant killing narrative that is spun around a team who have done what Bradford City have done in the last few years. The talk is of passionate performances and playing with character. It is of small changing rooms and bad pitches.

(The pitch was was better today, something I would congratulate and praise Roger Owen for but as he has said he is not directly responsibility for the pitch and that it is not his responsibility so I offer him no congratulations and no praise at all.)

Talk like that misses the point of Bradford City’s wins against Chelsea and Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan but it especially misses the point of this game. Bradford City did not approach Sunderland with a blowing hurricane, just with determination, but Sunderland’s preparation and approach was so far away from what it should have been that the distance between the two sides was great.

For all the coverage of a “team of heroes”, or “plucky players”, or (curiously) “real men” the reality was a Bradford City team who put in a very steady performance. Not that the players were not very good – they were – but that at the end of the game where City had won in something of a canter no player had especially surprised, or played beyond himself, or amazed.

All had played very well, in a very good unit, and carried out the roles that they were assigned very adeptly. Billy Knott – the agent provocateur against Chelsea – slipped into the discipline of a central midfield role as well as he had since first he joined from Sunderland. Filipe Morais continues to curb his solo excesses too.

Everyone played very well but Bradford City did not spring a surprise on Sunderland, or mug Sunderland, or rough Sunderland up. Bradford City played in the same way as in the win over Milton Keynes Dons on Monday, and did not have to play better to beat Sunderland.

Sunderland were the team that were beaten 8-0 by Southampton once again. Bradford City – in this giant killing – were just here to make up the numbers.

The best thing about Sunderland

The only good thing one can say about Sunderland is that the team is much, much poorer than the supporters. The supporters of Sunderland applauded former players, applauded Bradford City for beating them, applauded Bradford City fans for the atmosphere in Valley Parade. They deserve better.

They will be told – perhaps by Guy Poyet – that City roughed up the team on a bad pitch and the media will tell them they were beaten by a team with chutzpah.

But that is not true, and those fans know it.

Poyet set out an attack that played to City’s strengths and a midfield that was outnumbered in the centre of the field, and they played without the commitment to a team structure and the belief that what they were doing would work.

One does not want to downplay what Bradford City and Phil Parkinson have done against Sunderland or in his time at City. The level that City play at is very high and the squad’s character is obvious to all.

Sunderland played badly and often Parkinson’s teams make other teams play badly. Parkinson has his team close down the space for opposition players making time on the ball claustrophobic. That was certainly the case today.

But Parkinson just had to ensure that his team continued Monday night’s MK Dons performance and the victory was not even difficult.

So then now…

After a few minutes Billy Clarke took the applause after lashing a shot back across goal which cannoned off John O’Shea and into the goal past Vito Mannone and City – perhaps – expected the Premier League visitors to come back into the game. Phil Parkinson’s return to 442 from his 4312 was the making of his City team against Halifax in the first round of this competition, as City go into the sixth round the three men in the middle smothered Sunderland.

Sebastian Larsson – a fine player – struggled to move the ball to the flanks effectively. Occasionally Johnson looked impressive but with only Larsson in the middle either Knott or Morais could help full backs deal with wingers. Graham was anonymous finding no room to play around Gary Liddle and Stephen Fletcher’s abilities in the air are less than either of Davies or McArdle’s.

The best Fletcher did – and the best chance Sunderland got – was a ball that slipped through the offside line and nestled at the Scots striker’s feet until McArdle appeared (as if from) nowhere and hacked the ball away. The cliché writes itself here, McArdle wanted it more, but Fletcher did not seem to want it at all.

Contrast that with the quick thinking in the second half when James Meredith pushed Johnson all the way back into the corner of the pitch and Johnson lobbed the ball out for James Hanson to head softly beyond Brown and O’Shea, but not beyond Johnson deep, and to Jon Stead who picked up the ball and finished well under Mannone.

An hour in and with Sunderland resorting to playing long balls which Davies and McArdle took care of, and aside from Ben Williams making a single save the Bantams defence was untroubled.

Phil Parkinson and his City players took plaudits from a capacity Valley Parade – including a good few Sunderland fans – for a fifth Premier League team beaten in three years. The sixth round of the FA Cup is the last eight teams in the country. Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United (or Preston North End), Aston Villa West Brom, Reading, Blackburn Rovers and Bradford City.

Wigan was unexpected and tough, Arsenal was hard but deserved. Aston Villa was a double sucker punch at the end of the game and Chelsea was understanding the power of pressure and seeing that pressure pay. These were all great, great games and great football matches to be at.

Sunderland, though, was easy.

The refereeing of “So What?” as City beat MK Dons 2-1

As Sky TV pushed a camera into his face at the end of Bradford City’s 2-1 victory over Milton Keynes Dons Jon Stead was challenged by the presenter as to if he had committed a handball in the build up to the winning goal and answer succinctly “It hit my hand, but so what?

“So what” indeed?

As he did MK Dons Karl Robinson manager was fuming. Robinson watched the game from the stands for most of it self-imposing another game to a punishment the FA gave him for abusing Christopher Routis. Routis would have been seated not ten yards away and so Robinson remained in the stands.

When charged by the FA Robinson had used the Matthew Simmons defence when accused of mild xenophobia. When attacked by Eric Cantona at a game in 1995 Matthew Simmons had insisted he had incurred the wrath of The Frenchman with the words “Off, Off, Off! Its an early bath for you Cantona!”. The FA heard the defence and dealt with it in absentia of anyone from City. Indeed it seems that no one including Routis seemed to care about Robinson’s offence or punishment.

Robinson was furious about something Routis did that night, and was furious about Referee Paul Tierney‘s decision not to give a handball decision against Stead in the build up to the winning goal in this entertaining 2-1 encounter. The defeat at the boggy Valley Parade cost MK Dons the top position in League One but Robinson was smart enough to admit that – handball or not – his side were second best all game. Handball? Well, so what? MK Dons were not going to win anyway.

That Referee Tierney had not given the decision was typical of the sense of confusion which swirls around football in relation to a subset of the Laws of the Game including those around handball which the authorities seem uninterested in solving. If Tierney was pressed now he would say – no doubt – that Stead’s handball was not a deliberate handball and because the word “deliberate” features so heavily in the Laws of the Game it thus was not a handball offence even if the ball did hit Stead’s hand.

In return the MK Dons defenders might ask if they is supposed to pay the same attention to the hands of opposition players as they do the feet or head if those appendages can be used to control the ball, albeit inadvertently. We might all ask that if the Stead offence was on the goal line (either) then would it be considered to have not been an offence?

The Laws of the Game have created a margins for errors to creep in that is significant, and the game’s attitude to those errors seems to be “so what?” and that mistakes happen and are a part of the rich fabric of football to be debated.

Those debates will probably not have even been at the back of the mind as Stead played a low ball to James Hanson who kept a cool head to slot in a winner completing City’s comeback from a goal down. Stead’s form has given Hanson a new role in Phil Parkinson’s City team and the striker plays wit the relief of not being the only target. The ambition of Hanson slotting between the legs of the keeper suggested a player, and a team, who believed that they could create chances in the game. No need to snap at the first one that comes along and all.

Returning to offences that were not offences, and saying “so what”

Elsewhere Filipe Morais is given offside when walking away from the ball when Referees (and Assistant Referees) are instructed to only give a free kick when a player interferes with play and as such Morais – who had not turned to the ball and so was not interfering with play although certain had the potential to do so – should not have been called offside.

This offence (which is an ill-fitting word) happened in the corner of the field and had virtually (or perhaps actually) no impact on the game. It was the wrong decision but it was an unimportant decision and so the reaction is “so what?”

Players have got used to wrong decisions. Phil Parkinson has said that he has told his City players to not try claim penalties any longer because of the infrequency of their awarding some of which must be justified. A few moments after MK Dons took the lead Billy Clarke slipped through the well organised backline to control a Gary Liddle pass and slot in to equalise. Before he celebrated he looked over his shoulder at the linesman, ready for the wrong decision to be made, and to be told that yes he had scored, but so what? It would not count.

No flag came, and the first of three important home games for The Bantams turned to City’s direction.

Alarmingly frequent

Dele Aili will be joining Spurs for £5m in the Summer and scored when Jordan Pickford and Andrew Davies got in all sorts of trouble as for a moment neither seemed to understand that the least of all mistakes was to clear the ball for an opposition throw in. Later in the game he kicked the ball at Jon Stead while Stead was on the floor.

He did not kick the ball hard, nor did anyone really complain about it, and he accepted his booking with the shrug of the shoulders which suggested that all this would soon be someone else’s problem but everyone saw someone deliberately kick the ball at another player who was on the floor.

The Laws of the game say that this is violent conduct but there is enough grey area that a Referee like Mr Tierney can make up his own rules, if he wants to, and perhaps he is right to want to but should football games be Refereed on the question of “so what? So what if I don’t do what it says in the Laws of the game, I’m doing what I think it is right.”

The regularity of these “so what?” moments is alarmingly frequent.

Pick a random five minutes of a random game and you’ll see a few instances where they grey area of the laws of the game is interpreted by the officials. Some offences will be ignored while some non-offences will be given and the judgement on these will be given to a Referee who – with the best will in the world – is being asked to do impossible things.

Was Jon Stead’s handball deliberate? Tierney is not able to read Stead’s mind, just guess it. Was Morais interfering with play? Tierney is not able to look at a future of the game where he did not blow the whistle, just guess at it. Was Aili trying to hurt a player when he kicked the ball at him and accidentally kicked it too softly or was he trying to kick it to land short and hit the ball to hard?

When faced with questions like this the football authorities seem to believe that getting the decision wrong is not important if it happens in situations which are not important. Most Referees mistakes are not important. Is it bad for Bradford City that Aili has not been suspended? Not especially. Is it bad that Morais’ offside was given? Not even slightly. Is it bad that Stead’s handball was not given as a handball?

For Karl Robinson and Milton Keynes Dons it would seem so, for the player himself his response said much more than the two words he uttered.

How we will all be sorry after Bradford City drew 2-2 at Port Vale

Football, not football

Writing about football is difficult.

Writing about writing about football is easy.

In fact I would argue that the vast majority of the coverage of football is, in one way or another, the coverage of the coverage of football. The most viewed BBC Sport page is an abstract of a lot of newspaper stories of “gossip” – which is to say stories which no one even attempts to claim are true – while picking up the collection of local papers after the 4-2 win over Chelsea revealed column inches of reports on what City fans had said about the game on Twitter.

It is reaction to reaction, and while it is often confused for writing about football it is not. Football is that thing that happens on the field between three and five on a Saturday.

This is a preamble as to why the week of accusation followed by apology at Bradford City has been both the most and least interesting subject of conversation.

It is interesting because it concerns two of the most fundamental considerations at a football club that impact on football.

Most obviously the pitch. Literally the core of a football club Phil Parkinson pointed out, rightly, that the pitch was in very poor condition. Colchester goalscorer Chris Porter said it was the worst he had played on.

Worse Gus Poyet, manager of next Sunday’s opposition Sunderland, suggested that the forthcoming FA Cup tie between the two clubs might be moved to The Stadium of Light to provide a decent playing surface.

He did not mean it really. It was a joke but the butt of the joke was Bradford City’s ability to maintain the basic needed for a football match – a pitch – and so the butt of the joke was Bradford City.

Bradford City are a laughing stock.

The lack of blame game

Parkinson had pointed the finger squarely at Roger Owen and his co-director Graham Jones for failing to do anything about the state of the pitch which the manager had believed was within the remit of Mr Owen. He later apologised for mentioning any specific director and agreed that the quality of the pitch was a collective problem.

The club – in turn – issued a statement which read that Mr Owen and Mr Jones had no specific responsibility for the pitch but iterated through things that the pair had achievements including “sourc(ing) funding for equipment and improvements through the connection with fans group, Friends of Bradford City where they are the link to the Board” which would seem to be an act of receiving, rather than raising, funds.

Other achievements of a similar scale were mentioned and as the statement made it clear that they were responsible for small achievements but carried out those responsibilities without any remuneration. The message from Bradford City seemed to be that Parkinson was wrong to think that the pitch was the responsibility of Mr Owen and Mr Jones because the pitch was a little above the pair’s pay grade to be involved with.

Parkinson had thought that it was Mr Owen’s job at directorial level to look after the pitch but he was wrong. It was nobody’s job, at least not specifically, and so no specific director deserved any specific criticism for not doing anything about the pitch because – as a collective – all the directors shared responsibilities and thus – one assumes – any criticism shared between the directors too.

And Parkinson had made criticism, albeit pointed in what the board of directors said was the wrong direction, but that criticism was not responded to. Not responded to in in public at least. In public had been where Parkinson’s apology was made. It was carried on the club’s website which seemed to have misplaced the City manager’s original criticism from the news section.

Without portfolio

I think at the time they thought I was making excuses because the home form was poor but I don’t make excuses. Nothing was done, no help was given to the groundsman and now he’s the one with all the stress of us playing on probably the worst pitch I’ve ever seen.Phil Parkinson, 2nd February 2015

So one considered the second point which was Parkinson’s apology to the Directors without Portfolio for suggesting that they had responsibilities they did not have. Parkinson had said that he had been left with the impression that it was considered the problem of the pitch was an excuse for poor results. In Parkinson’s apology he did not, nor did the club, attempt to put right the statement Parkinson had made about the directors believing that the manager was making excuses.

Indeed there was no clarification from any specific directors or the whole of the board as to if Parkinson was right to think that it has been considered he was excuse making, that he was wrong to get the impression, that the board would perish the thought that the manager who had taken them from the bottom of League Two to the fifth round of the FA Cup via Chelsea, Arsenal, Wembley, Twice might incorrectly walk away from a board meeting thinking that he was doing anything other than a near unprecedented superb job as manager, at least from the business’ point of view.

So the picture was complete. The manager who beat Mourinho had walked into the boardroom to complain about a fundamental problem with the pitch but left having his judgement on football questioned and with the impression that it was thought he was making up excuses.

Football has a right history of managers clashing with Directors. Sam Longson got his own way at Derby County against Brian Clough and that is why Nottingham Forest ended up with two European Cups and not The Rams. You either think that football managers should be second guessed by local businessmen or your don’t. Most managers do not believe they should and some find a place where they are in harmony with the boardroom. One wonders what Phil Parkinson spent the week considering.

And so to Saturday

All of which is 1,016 words that are only tangentially about football in that they threaten the club’s ability to play the game well at home – the pitch – or under the successful manager in Parkinson who has attracted admiring glances from clubs in the top two divisions. The grass at Port Vale allowed City to settle quickly into an easy pattern of attempted ball retention against a Valiant’s side which looked as poor as any City had faced this season, Millwall aside.

Nestled in lower mid-table Rob Page’s Port Vale allowed Parkinson’s Bradford City as much time on the ball as wanted – at least in build up play – and there was something about the ease on the ball which concerned the Bantams. The popular diagonal pass between Rory McArdle and James Hanson went unplayed as McArdle enjoyed the time to pick a pass to central midfielders who moved forward uncomfortably.

With too long in possession City were indecisive and allowed the first half to all but peter out without a chance. At times it seemed like there was a game being made of attempts to play the perfect pass into Jon Stead, other times City looked like they would dominate in the box only for the ball to go unfinished for the want of players looking for flick downs.

In such situations one always worries about Filipe Morais. As a player Morais is alternatively impressive in position and undisciplined in action. He suffers a tendency to try shortcut build up play with a lashed shot at goal or an attempt to dribble from the centre of the midfield which fail but is a key part of build up when he succeeds.

For Parkinson this must be frustrating because of the frequency in which when Morais goes “off-message” fortune favours him. Forty minutes into the game and Morais decides that it is time for him to lash a low shot from outside the box which is easily charged down but the same player – doing as manager and team mates would want him to – grasped the ball and took it to the byline to cross to the waiting James Hanson who headed the first goal.

Filipe Morais squandered possession with a daft shot but got the ball back and made the opening goal. The tendency to do the former seems symbiotic to the ability to do the latter. In the second half when a good run from James Meredith saw Hanson test Vale keeper Chris Neal again and the ball fall to Morais, exactly where Parkinson would want him to be, to finish smartly, exactly what Parkinson would want him to do, and make the game 2-1.

2-1 because minutes before Vale were allowed to cross in with ease as Morais allowed the left back all the time he wanted to make his cross. The problems with a wingless team are the number of crosses that come in. Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle deal with a lot of them but not this one which was rolled in by Achille Campion from a flick down which both central defenders would probably wish they had attacked more firmly.

Who then does Parkinson charge with the responsibility for the goal? Morais for not cutting off the supply? McArdle and Davies for allowing a flick down? Billy Knott for having seen a close range chance which would have made the game 2-0 earlier saved by Neal who would do the same to Hanson later on?

By the time the game entered injury time City should have been leading by some margin and would have been but for Neal. Vale’s goal was a rare foray forward in a game which was increasingly about City coming forward. The late entry of Mark Yeates for Knott was Parkinson putting on a player who could make the most of late possession but Yeates was caught on the ball and a few seconds later Jordan Pickford was being sent off as the rapid counter-attack saw the keeper slide Greg Luer’s legs away.

All Ben Williams did was pick the ball out of the back of his goal.

The reaction to the reaction

And so back in Bradford blame was assigned.

It was the fault of Jordan Pickford for the foul, or of Mark Yeates for losing the ball in midfield, or of Hanson/Knott for not finishing the chances that Neal saved, or of Parkinson for not going for the win but the game ended level and a point away is always a good result at any level.

The disappointment – it seems – is that there was a growing consensus in support in the reaction to the Chelsea win that City were upwardly mobile and making a surge for the play-offs. This may still be true and this result may be a part of that but the narrative is not about conceding goals in the last minute.

The problem with the growing consensus is that it is based on reaction to the reaction.

City beat Chelsea, and so should be able to beat anyone in League One, and if not then there must be a reason for it and if the reason is at all mitigated then that is “excuses” and not tolerated. Anything other than a victory is because the team failed to do something they should have done, and failure is something that should not be tolerated.

And the people who fail, and who make excuses, should be told that they have failed and made excuses.

It is through this bastard child of logic that one can come to the conclusion that Phil Parkinson is the reason that City are not successful rather than the reason they are. People with that way of thinking honeycomb the support of football and get far too much attention for my tastes. These people flatter themselves that they present an alternative view of a situation but what they offer is a twisted view based on misunderstanding and ignorance. They should be pushed to the edge of the community of Bradford City support with the other trolls.

However, and this is worth considering, if a person was able to do it without pay there would be nothing to stop such a person with such a twisted view of how football works and the reasons for success from joining the board of Bradford City, from not have any specific responsibilities of any note, and from using board meetings as a place to let Phil Parkinson (or any other City manager) know he is making excuses for his poor performance face to face.

And let us hope is not something that happens or we all really will be sorry.

The moment when Andrew Davies would have done something different

The war on cliché, Part 2

Was Andrew Davies playing badly or was Gary Liddle leaving him exposed? Davies struggled on the heaviest, muddiest Valley Parade pitch most could remember and with Colchester United front man Chris Porter. Porter is a 31 year old journeyman but he is wide, tall and capable with the ball at his feet.

Davies watched Porter hard trying to decide how much space to give the forward. Was he so mobile that he would be quicker over short distances and so should be given a yard of space or should he be met with strength man on man and marked close? These calculations Davies makes on a game by game basis in the opening few minutes of matches.

What impact the pitch too? The mud was hard to turn in favouring the ball over the top of defenders and Davies could not rely on beating Porter in the air. The mud was heavy too and too pace from Davies as it did Porter. Davies did not have the speed to spare though and with Gary Liddle not closing down the midfield Davies had much to consider.

As it was Davies would get to grips with Porter and silence him. He would spend most of the afternoon beating the not inconsiderable Porter to the ball in the air and frustrating him on the ground. Porter would spend eighty minutes with hardly a kick of the ball but not until after Porter had beaten the City defender all ends up to the ball and bent a fine finish past Jordan Pickford.

Davies got the measure of Porter, but by then the damage had been done, and Davies was thinking that he should have given Porter a few yards of space before, while Porter was probably in the process of sizing up Davies.

At this point football is a game of scissors/paper/stone. If Davies goes close on a player he has not sized up and the player is fast then he is exposed, if he goes deep and the player wins the ball in the air and sets something up he is exposed. It the Porter runs at a player he is not sure of the pace of runs and the player is as fast he is frustrated, if he tries to win the header he risks getting cleaned out.

Paper, on scissors, and it was 1-0.

Or, if you will

It were after the Lord Mayor’s show for City as they suffered a cup hangover and saw Colchester race to the lead.

What was impressive when City were impressing

It took around twenty minutes for Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City to get to grips with the Colchester United side who played a compact three at the back with wingbacks and two holding midfielders on top the backline. United took the lead after five minutes and could have scored more with Jordan Pickford taking credit for one extremely impressive save but one in the lead the visitors were forgiven for sitting deep.

Forgiven and very well prepared. The two holding midfielders Tom Lapslie and David Fox trapped Billy Knott between them and there was little space for James Hanson and Jon Stead. Lapslie, 19, was very impressive in the role and it was not until Knott started to come deep and pull those two shielding players out of position that the Bantams started to get an understanding of how to create an attack against the visitors.

When they did those attacks were hampered by a playing surface that cut up badly under foot making floor play hard, and by the size and numbers of the Colchester defence. The more the game progressed the more the game suited defenders.

Most pleased Parkinson

And it is these moments that one suspects Phil Parkinson is most pleased with his Bradford City players. Having opened the game poorly, and been punished by Porter’s strike, the response was all the manager would have wanted. Slow building from the twentieth minute City got back into the game, and then controlled the game, and finally claimed an equaliser when Jon Stead found space behind the full back and crossed for Filipe Morais to finish from close range in a rare moment when the visitor’s box was not over-peopled.

Morais, more than anyone, had been guilty of trying to force a performance but once again knuckled down and was rewarded with his goal. Parkinson will be pleased that – once again – the collective effort and character of Bradford City was the defining factor in the game. In the last ten minutes City pressed for a winner but Colchester United held firm.

The Bantams turned the performance around, but not the game, and were left thinking what might have been had Davies done something different.

The definitive redefined as Bradford City beat Chelsea 4-2

The war on cliché

I went to to write an article in Czechoslovakia under the old Communist regime one day in the ’80s. I thought to myself whatever I do, whatever happens to me in Prague I’m not going to use the name Kafka. So I went to this meeting and someone must have given us away because it wasn’t long before the door fell in and in come police dogs and guys in leather coats who said, ‘You’re under arrest and you’ve got to come with us.’ And I said, ‘What’s the charge?’ And they said, ‘We don’t have to tell you the charge’. And I thought “fuck”. Now I do have to mention Kafka.

Christopher Hitchens, 2009 North Korea: no liberty

The magic of the FA Cup

There is a moment when one stops taking breaths.

The ball down the wing crossed by Filipe Morais that goes to Jon Stead and at the point where it arrives at Stead the breath has left one’s body. Watching Stead holding the ball there are thoughts in one’s mind about how well Stead holds the ball, about how Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma are used to playing a game where standing off is more common than tackling, about Stead’s options.

Around this point one passes the normal amount of time which one leaves between exhalations. Stead has a claret and amber shirt near him and could pick out a pass but at this point your eyes are darting everywhere. Malcolm Gladwell suggests at moments like this: tense, excitement, literal breathlessness; a person takes on the characteristics of an autistic person and everything is literal and for a second nothing connotes as it should.

This is not a team about to fall out of the League One play-offs playing the best team in the country. It is not an unexpected two-all with minutes left on the clock. It is not really even in the wider context of a football match where this passage of play with give way to another passage of play.

It is just a man with a ball and he is going to kick it. You have not taken a breath.

Then from a deep position – so deep – runs Andy Halliday. A man who’s most remarkable attribute in his Bradford City career to date has been his unremarkable steady performances. The man who is the definition of seven out of ten. Who has run into an acre of space in the space between the Chelsea backline and midfield.

(Later I would think of writing that this is the hole where John Obi Mikel should be, but really it is the hole where Claude Makélélé should be. It was certainly the hole where Cesc Fàbregas should have been but was not. At the time though I was not thinking that. I had just literal comprehension of the moment. The ball. So close to the goal. The tightening of the throat that breathlessness brings.)

Who better than Andy Halliday?

As the air in front of 6,000 travelling Bradford City supporters went unbreathable and as Jon Stead saw his run from deep and played the ball into him who better than the player who has defined the term steady performance to calm hit the ball beyond Petr Cech.

86th minute, from two goals down to three-two and against a team which is populated with Premier League icons, and the man who puts in seven out of ten every week has just put the ball into the goal as if he were playing in training.

And then context floods back in.

This is The FA Cup fourth round at Stamford Bridge against the best team in England managed by the best manager in football at the moment bar none who were leading by two goals when the sun shone across the field but under floodlights in the second half Bradford City have gone into the lead with minutes left to play.

Chelsea manager José Mourinho has said that to lose this game for Chelsea would be a disgrace and as Andy Halliday put his hands to his face and slid to his knees that defeat went from possibility to probability. The come back of all come backs, the giant killing of giant killings was happening.

The football match of football matches. Was happening.

And exhale.

That Mark Yeates moment

Imagine having been standing at the side of Edger Street watching Newcastle United beat Hereford United 1-0 when Ronnie Radford picked up the ball in a muddy midfield. Imagine having watched Lawrie Sanchez make his Wimbledon début in 1984 and then four years later seen him score in the FA Cup final.

Jon Stead pointing at where he wants Mark Yeates to play the ball as Yeates breaks down the left. Yeates playing the ball into Jon Stead who stands strong and plays it back to Yeates where he wants it. Yeates past the defender and playing the ball past Cech’s left hand and then running away with his arms outstretched. They will play that clip forever.

Yeates’ goal could be the definitive moment of Bradford City supporting. It was the coup de grâce that was missing at Wolves, or when beating Liverpool 1-0, or against Arsenal and Villa. It was the underline. It was the world, and the fireworks.

Burnt forever into the mind however it came to mind.

I saw it from behind the left post with Robert to my left and Nick to my right. The guy who was three seats to my left probably heard it over his shoulder as he left early to catch a flight. The fans in the top tier literally over my head making the roar. Back in Bradford listening to the Radio. Watching Jeff Stelling going back to Stamford Bridge one more time. Walking around Ikea looking at Twitter having agreed to go when it went 2-0. The diaspora of Bradfordians all over the world. Everyone.

This was the new moment of supporting Bradford City.

With apologies to John Dewhirst (and his superb A History of Bradford City in Objects which you should buy) if you have a history book at home take it out and throw it in the bin, its worthless.

Chelsea 2 Bradford City 4 (Four*)

Chelsea’s side showed a number of changes from the League Cup semi-final draw with Liverpool on Tuesday night but so did Bradford City’s side that lost to Oxford United after our League Cup first leg two years ago. We expected to beat Oxford that day and there are posters of Petr Cech and Didier Drogba outside in the gallery of icons of the club. The manager has decided that he needed a freshness to his side’s play and rotated.

Not rotated was the manager: Mourinho. The only football manager to achieve the Garbofication of being known by a single name. The best manager in the world, or so it is attested, has decided that he can manage his resources to win this game. Who am I to question Mourinho?

Mourinho is right. As the game plays out it plays out as he wants it to. Drogba is a powerhouse capable of moments of sublime skill and possessed with the strength of a bear. He only goes over when he wants to – which is too often for my taste – and he wins all that comes forward forcing a save from Ben Williams which the stand in keeper can be proud of diving down to his left after the Ivorian bent the ball with the outside of his boot.

Chelsea’s methods are as they would be in the Premier League. The tendency is to hold the ball in the forward midfield and play diagonal fading passes that go through the path where central defenders and full backs overlap to cause confusion pulling one player into another and making space. It worked in the 5-0 demolition of Swansea City and it worked against Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby.

City then being dragged around the field by a team who claim to have perfected football. The first goal came from a corner with Gary Cahill dodging McArdle and flicking in with his right boot. It was a soft goal – the kind of goal Southend score against you – and Chelsea did not have to work hard enough to get it.

And Chelsea are working hard. The home side had cleared a lash from Gary Liddle and Andrew Davies had seen Cech push an impressive header away minutes earlier. The strength of Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side in wins over Arsenal, Aston Villa et al has been how difficult The Bantams made it for the opposition to do – well – anything. There was an ease to how quickly the ball was in the Bradford City goal after Filipe Morais ran the ball into a blue shirt in midfield.

An ease that should not be mistaken for easy. The cutting attack of Ramires was everything that Chelsea promise. Ramires sprinted ball at feet half the length of the field to – after a one-two with Salah – slide the ball past Williams. Heads and hearts were heavy. Phil Parkinson had options he could utilise. He had deployed James Hanson in a role that saw him roam wide left and track back to full back on a number of occasions which seemed to have been an unnecessary rampart against an infrequent source of attack. Jon Stead was leading the line and while he battled well with Cahill, Cahill was claiming the upperhand even after a long Filipe Morais free kick had been recycled to Stead by Billy Knott deep in the box.

Knott fed the ball to Stead who lashed home from just inside the box. It was an impressive strike and at half time it seemed like it would be the spoils of the game. The performance – lauded in the Sunday morning papers – had sagged too low in the first half. Filipe Morais was struggling in midfield with his Roy of the Rovers moment not happening and Knott was struggling to make an impact in the game. Halliday had a decent first half though, a kind of seven out of ten.

(If I look at my phone I note that at half time I send a message home saying that I thought we would create a chance or two and would score in the second half, but that Chelsea looked like they would score more.)

Filipe Morais in bullet time

In the run of football a trailing team has a tendency of having five or six minutes of pressure at the start of the second half – rockets having been firmly inserted into arses – before the leading team reasserts the dominance that gave them the lead in the first place. If a team can ride out that storm it can win a game.

This was the context that City’s early second half attacks were in. A foray or two before one of the players who played in the World Cup asserts himself and the game is out of City’s reach. Perhaps watching from the Chelsea end the lack of pressure between forty-five and seventy-five minutes is damning. As City’s chances were created at some point the home side started to find it difficult to play inn contrast to the first half where things were easier.

Midfield passes were intercepted with Gary Liddle outstanding. At some point Mourinho had started standing up to join Parkinson in prowling the touchline. At some point Drogba started to spend more time clutching imagined injuries than he did standing up to Davies. At some point Ramires stopped being able to find a pass in midfield as he was crowded out. The solution: to bring on one of the most decorated players in football Cesc Fàbregas for John Obi Mikel becomes an irony in football history.

Long throw on the left by James Meredith which James Hanson flicked on and Billy Knott hass got onto the goal side of his man to bend low and blast to goal from inside the six yard box. Cech pushes away and the ball is four yards out at the feet of (former Chelsea youth/part of José’s first team/released from Stamford Bridge) Filipe Morais.

The next second plays out over a lifetime.

Morais’ face is a picturebook as he addresses the ball with an open goal before him. It is determination as he runs into position without harassment by Chelsea defenders. It is focus as he moves hie right foot towards the ball to strike it. It is unbroken as he watches the ball pass the goal line before even registering that he has done anything more than a five yard pass. And then it is an explosion of joy.

It was Catch-22 for Morais. In the first half Morais had tried to create a Roy of the Rovers moment for himself and in doing so seemed to make sure it would allude him. Allowing that moment to float away as he fitted into the Bradford City unit allowed the moment to arrive, and to be engorged on. His chest not a mortar, his heart not a shell, but a part of something bigger, a team. And by serving the team that Filipe Morais was given deliverance and in doing so created the purest moment I have seen in football since first I walked into a stadium in 1981.

Halliday followed, and Yeates followed, and that was that really.

A special one

“The Special One” is a misquotation of José Mourinho from his first Press Conference at Stamford Bridge. I am not one of the bottle, I think I am a special one. “A” special one considering the ability for multiplicity not “The special one” suggesting the singular.

Even José Mourinho thinks that that he is not the only special one.

Football’s love of fitness

At the moment English football is in love with the idea of fitness. Players must be as fresh as possible every game and every game players are rotated out and into sides to ensure that the team on the field are at the peak of fitness.

You can see how this idea has been imported as a part of Sports Science. A tennis player may miss one tournament to be at his peak for Wimbledon. A sprinter may plan his next four years in order to be at his peak for the Olympics. Being at 100% – not 99.9% – makes all the difference in those situations and it is a factor in football but it is not the only factor.

Being a team game much of football is based around collective abilities rather than individual ones and collective abilities are gained collectively. For a team to create patterns of play between players then the players involved need to be the same in training and in the game, more or less. You can swap a player in and a player out here and there but too many changes stop these patterns from working.

For the want of a better phrase we shall call this “blend”. It is the sum of how well drilled the players are for set pieces, and how when Rory McArdle has the ball at right centre back James Hanson at left forward is ready for a long diagonal pass which he will look to head on to either Kyel Reid running in behind him or Nakhi Wells in front of him. When the names changed, the blend was damaged, and 2014 was a year of getting that blend back.

And blend is, I would argue, at least as important as fitness. There is a level where players are so tired that they do not perform for sure, but there is also a level where players are so unblended that they do not perform and then there are games in which there is a play between those two factors.

José Mourinho opted to win the game through fitness. His players were fresher and had the advantage in the first half very obviously but as the game wore on that fitness advantage waned but Chelsea’s players did not have the fluidity that they had had in their previous games because of the changes made. Phil Parkinson opted for blend. He kept established patterns learned his small squad knowing that they would never be at the peak of fitness as their opposition were.

Blend, again I would argue, becomes more important when fitness becomes less important within a match. At seventy five minutes when legs are heavy and not covering as much ground it is the fact that players have a set of patterns of play to rely on rather than that they can cover ground quickly that makes for the difference in games.

The interplay was fitnesses’s attempt to destroy the belief of blend before blend could take effect. Belief is the third leg of this stool.

The Premier League especially has an obsession with changing teams to maintain peak fitness but this comes at the expense of having small groups of players who have played together often (peak blend) and one wonders – and seemingly Sean Dyche at Burnley is experimenting with the idea of – how a team would perform in the Premier League if it focused on blend not fitness and if a team of fewer players more used to each other could excel in League football over the course of a season

Because José Mourinho’s side were not conclusive victors at seventy minutes when the fitness of players is equal – everyone is tired – there was a chance for Phil Parkinson side who were more used to playing with each other, to where to pass to find each other, to where runs off the ball would be made and so on, to have opportunities to in the game.

Parkinson’s side took those opportunities, and we are now living in the time where the rest is history.

The illusion of The FA Cup

Fairy tales have a habit of being more about hard work than magic or anything like that and magic itself is an illusion.

Football itself is full of illusions. That big always beats small, or that the gap between the top of the bottom is an ocean of despair and not a river to be crossed.

If a team, a manager, and perhaps a set of supporters believe that illusions are just that then incredible things happen.

And perhaps that is the magic of The FA Cup.

What Gary Jones will have seen as the days went down in the West and Bradford City beat Notts County 1-0

Mr. James Hughes

“The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow”
Lament for the Rohirrim, Tolkien.

When does retirement first cross the mind of a footballer?

Is it when he rushes for a ball and lacks the half yard to win a race? Is it when he walks up the steps of Wembley stadium for his first finest hour and knows from then on it is all the way down? Is it the first hard tackle he takes with the second it takes to fall to the floor causing a rush of thoughts to his head?

Will he pick the time and the date when he hangs up his boots or will someone pick it for him? Will the next time he steps on a football field be the last? Will he feel proud of his career when his career comes to an end? How many regrets will he have?

When his shadow is no longer cast four ways by floodlights will he be remembered? And how so?

Mr. Shaun Peter Derry

When Shaun Derry took over at Notts County he took a decision that experienced heads were what he needed to stop a recurrence of a season of struggle. Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City team had not struggled in the previous season but it was decided that his team were a little too experienced, or expensive, or both.

Players were moved on.

And so Bradford City’s Wembley captain Gary Jones and goal scorer against Arsenal Garry Thompson were in Notts County shirts.

County Goalkeeper Roy Carroll played for Manchester United and still plays for Northern Ireland at 37. Bradford City once tried to spend £4.5m on Alan Smith – or so the rumour had it at the time – who was a young striker when he played for Leeds United but sat at the base of a midfield three for The Magpies today. Skipper Hayden Mullins played in Cup Finals for Portsmouth and missed one for West Ham through suspension. The County reserve keeper was over forty.

Derry’s planning has been rewarded with a team who having not lost away from Meadow Lane and are troubling the play offs positions which City are occupying. Both sides would be right to put the performances in the first half of the season down to the character which was in evidence on the field.

Without Mark Yeates and perhaps in appreciation of the role that Smith plays in the County side Phil Parkinson put Billy Knott into the playmaking role of the 4312 formation which had previously been abandoned. Knott’s remit was to prevent Smith from dictating play while Liddle sat deeper to make sure that Gary Jones was controlled when he came forward. Derry dropped Garry Thompson out of the forward line and onto the right hand side rather than push him against the Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle defence.

The game was close. County looked to take a solid defensive line and raid a goal while City looked to press home advantage and force the play. The game was tough in the tackle but as fair as any one would hope to see.

Mr. Edward William Johnson

What is it that made Gary Jones a man who would be given a standing ovation by the supporters of the team he is playing against? Jones was given a tribute that I have only seen afforded to Stuart McCall previously. He earned it for his performances for City. Wembley and all that.

In August 2012 City went to Meadow Lane in the first round of the League Cup. Country hit the bar in the 90th minute of normal time from three yards out.

An inch lower and would Gary Jones be another Eddie Johnson? Another Steven Schumacher? Another Tommy Doherty in the footnotes of Bradford City? If Gervinho had not missed an open goal at Valley Parade would Garry Thompson’s goal against Arsenal have meant what it did? Would Thompson have got the chance to blaze in against Burton? If he had not would City have been able to win promotion from 3-1 down?

These are the single moments that define the future but one wonders if the players define the moments or the moments define the players? What had Gary Jones done to deserve the fortune of that miss from a yard in the first round of a competition which would give him the opportunity to get to the final? Had it been Eddie Johnson and not Gary Jones in City’s midfield, would Johnson have been the Wembley captain? It seems unlikely.

Jones offers more than most footballers one will see. His impact on his own game, and the games of those around him, is marked and noticeable and in evidence for County as they battle but eventually to the single goal defeat at Valley Parade.

Jones leads by example. In the 88th minute he gets to the ball before François Zoko in a straight race. Two games in three days, and two minutes from the end, and he beats Zoko for pace. He is thirty seven years old.

How many more games will Gary Jones play? The thought must be in his mind. If this game were to be his last then he would have made an end worthy. But it will not be. And Jones will continue to play every game knowing that soon one will be his last.

And what a privilege, what an honour, to see that.

Mr. Andrew John Davies

Limping off to join an increasingly lengthy Andrew Davies will hope that he does not face another spell out of the Bradford City team. It seems that City’s chances of staying in the play offs are tied to Davies’ chances of staying fit.

Davies was well paid meat in the room at Stoke City but decided that he would rather play League Two football than not play in the Premier League. He is paid less to play for Bradford City than he was to not play for Stoke City. He was thirty years old two weeks ago. He has never played more than thirty games in a season. He is out of contract in the Summer.

How many times has Andrew Davies sat up at night wondering when it will be all over?

He gave up much to come to Bradford City and from that he was part of a team justifiably called “The History Makers.” What would he give – or give up – to make history once more?

To not let days fade into the West?

Mr. Andrew Halliday

If Gary Jones looked over at Andy Halliday as Halliday spurned the third good chance to give City a lead in the opening of the game at a snow surrounded Valley Parade he will probably have seen in him exactly what Phil Parkinson does. That Halliday on the day was consistent in being woeful.

Such faint praise is not to damn him but rather to finally define what it is that the City boss believes the Scots winger turned inside midfielder brings to the club. Halliday’s game was a footballer in misfire. What was impressive – and what Jones will have recognised – was that the young midfielder continued his level of performance taking responsibility for his performance.

That Halliday missed three fine chances, and crossed badly for three or four more, shows character. If Andy Halliday goes on to play a thousand games as a professional footballer, and if this represents the worst of those games, he will be able to say that his head never dropped.

And his spirit never dropped, and he did not sulk, and he did not flinch, and that he saw the game out on the winning side.

And that, dear reader, I find impressive.

Mr. Roy Eric Carroll

You start young catching and kicking a ball and then you are crossing seas to the East coast where you are the man who comes off the bench when the goalkeeper scores goals but you get your chance and you take your chance and your career goes forward to promotion and then to every boy’s best dream and Old Trafford. You play for the biggest clubs. You win FA Cups. You play in Europe. You play in World Cup Qualifying for your country. You have the career that the people who set you on your way from Ballinamallard United could only have dreamed of you having.

But you are remembered for one thing.

Just one thing.

It is cruel and unfair and you try and you try again and again to unblot the page but it cannot be done.

Perhaps the next performance will be the one you are remembered for? Perhaps the next rush out of the goal to clear the ball will be what people remember when they hear the name. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps,

perhaps, perhaps,

perhaps.

Mr. Billy Steven Knott

The single moment.

It was in the minutes before half time when Thompson played a ball back to Roy Carroll who seemed to come to the edge of his box looking to pick up the ball, then pushed out and seemed to push Billy Knott while on the floor but Knott slipped a ball to Andy Halliday who dribbled to the touchline and while Carroll returned to his goal by the time Halliday found Knott who hit into the net as Mullins tried to clear.

Carroll’s extra-area activity had cost County, and ultimately broke their record of not losing on their travels.

And Bradford City went into the new year in the play off places.

City beating Dartford in dressing rooms, manager’s offices and boardrooms

Bradford City beat Conference side Dartford 4-1 in the second round of The FA Cup with an ease which would suggest that the Bantams were old hands deposing of lower teams in knockout football.

It was hard to remember that three years ago around half the number of people here tonight saw City beat Burton 3-2 AET in the League Cup that concluded at Wembley in a game which less than half the first team played. Or so it seemed at the time when Gary Jones, James Hanson and Nahki Wells sat out the match.

If one were to look at the litany of failure than was Bradford City in knockout competition in the 2000s one would recall half teams being half interested playing in front of half full grounds.

The very obvious result of 2013’s run to the League Cup final and the transformative effect it had on the club has been convincing Bradford City that using games like this to rest players is a poor idea. Whatever one gains in freshness one loses – or perhaps just fails to gain – in the positive effects of playing teams in knockout football.

Winning games brings confidence. Confidence is what makes groups of footballers in football teams. One recalls how Phil Parkinson’s side found itself after Aston Villa and Arsenal, or indeed after Burton, and one cannot help but think that if anything is to come from this season over and above the middle of League One then it will come from a similar path.

So Parkinson prepares the team properly and sets out the team properly and one can expect that in the dressing room the team was told to take Dartford as seriously as any League One side faced and one also expects that that message has been repeated in at the training pitch. One also doubts that the chairmen will have questioned Parkinson’s decision to push the club forward in Cup competitions. The days of vague mumblings about the cost of progression either on legs or bank balances are over.

The club is changed. When walking onto the field the City team was noticeably unnoticeably changed from last week. Jon Stead was favoured over James Hanson who made a late appearance that would see him cup tied. Billy Knott and Gary Liddle were given the opportunity to continue what looks to be a fruitful partnership in central midfield and Filipe Morais was given the chance to replicate on the right what Mark Yeates does on the left.

Watching Phil Parkinson’s return to 442 the most obvious deficiency is a lack of pace in the side and the most obvious place to add that pace is on the right wing or in the player who plays off the front man. Which is to say where Kyel Reid or Nahki Wells played.

This creates a situation in which Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke approach games attempting to show how useful both can be almost to point to the other as being where the change should be made.

In fact today when City were leading by three or four goals Billy Clarke was upset with Morais for not finding him in the penalty area when Morais bulled away on the flank. The criticism of Clarke is that he does not threaten the goal enough – good approach play in Mark Stewart was the first thing that Parkinson was not satisfied with at Valley Parade – and so the striker looks to add to his tally wherever he can.

Today he did, a close finish after a scramble on ten minutes that set the tone for an afternoon where City would be largely untroubled. Jon Stead got a second twenty minutes later after turning in a low left hand cross from Yeates and all was going well at half time.

Morais’ third took a deflection to take it past Jason Brown in the visitors goal and Yeates finished off which a curled finish after delighting and tearing into a right back Tom Bradbrook who was never able to cope with the Irishman’s direct running and control of the ball. Lee Noble tucked in a nice back heel for the visitors who deserved something for their trouble and approached the game with a good spirit.

City’s back four of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Meredith coped with a new keeper Ben Williams sitting in for Jordan Pickford who Sunderland would not allow to play. The back four have joined together strongly and Andrew Davies is the keystone. There are rewards for progressing in this competition and Davies’ contract needs renewing. One hopes the one begets the other.

Bradford City go into a third round draw as a reward for the approach to knockout football which seems to have taken root at the club, at least in The League Cup and The FA Cup.

Dartford were treated with respect and respectfully beaten. There will be hope of what we might call “another Arsenal” to follow of course but seeing the club having learned something from the last few years one might thing we might settle for another Dartford.

sees Parkinson, Milanese and the beauty of beating Leyton Orient

En media res

Having been the Leyton Orient manager for a month Mauro Milanese is changing how things are done in his part of London. Last season the O’s reached the play-off final with Russell Slade’s side losing out on promotion to Steve Evans’ Rotherham United.

Rather than imitation of Evans Leyton Orient (under new ownership) have brought in a manager to move the club from gusto to grace. Milanese has Leyton Orient in transition. They were one of the better lower league English sides last term but very much a lower league English side and Milanese is moving them towards something distinctly more – shall we say – “continental” in flavour.

A team that can pass and move in short distances, a team that will bewitch you with a flick or a back heel, and a team that is comfortable on the ball when probe for space between defenders. When Milanese is finished Leyton Orient could be a superb team to watch.

He is a long way off finished yet.

Ad initium

Bradford City tried transition but Phil Parkinson has more recently decided that his endeavours in that direction have to be retired – for now at least – and his team has returned to the beloved characteristics of old so much so that when Chris Dagnall excitedly lunged into a tackle on Billy Knott sending the 22 year old midfielder spinning away into the distance out of the corner of an eye one half expected to see Jon McLaughlin charging from his goal looking to join in the pushing and shoving.

Parkinson has found the heart of the Bradford City side which won promotion and it still beats.

David Mooney had scored an equaliser for Leyton Orient with fifteen minutes remaining in the game following an impressive backsiding of Andrew Davies out of the way. Milanese will have been pleased with how his team had got back to parity despite spending most of the game exposing their flaws to City. When that equaliser came rather than flatline though City sparked into life again and five minutes later – following Dagnall’s red card – were 3-1 ahead.

Milanese may look back and think that equalising was the worst thing his team could have done. When defending Leyton Orient were a struggling side failing to mesh how they used to play with how they wanted to play. Players shouted at one another, pressure relieving clearances were played out of defence (badly), simple play was passed over in favour of more aesthetically pleasing but less effective football. They were as porous a team as any who will come to Valley Parade.

City led by one at half time after pushing through this defence only once and there was concern that for the second week running that the Bantams would forgo the chance to win. The goal came when Jon Stead put in good work to square to Billy Knott who rolled the ball into the goal. Today was Knott’s 22nd birthday and while he has some problems in his game he has many, many more benefits. There is nothing not impressive about a midfielder who demands to be on the ball and be involved in the game as often as possible

When behind all Leyton Orient needed to do was attack and when attacking they looked capable. They moved the ball well and one lost count of the number of times strikers peeled away from through balls to allow midfielders to burst through and take possession – or rather try to – because whatever that count it is x+1 of the times when Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies kept eyes on the ball and not on the fakery and cleaned things out.

The difference

Cleaning things out is probably the difference between the teams. Parkinson’s City team are a team of pragmatism who can be aesthetically beautiful from time to time and normally those times are when Mark Yeates – quiet today – is on the ball.

Milanese’s Orient seem to want to be beautiful all the time and beautiful in a way which seems to suggest their manager and his career around the divisions of Italian football. Beautiful in the sense that aspires to a higher ethics rather than a practical ones. One recalls William Morris‘ “Nothing useless can be truly beautiful.” The reflections on playing well but losing are long and deep.

David Hume in Moral and Political failed to turn concept into phrase when he said “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” When Phil Parkinson watched Billy Clarke appear at the far post in the minutes after Orient’s equaliser and red card and sweep the ball into the goal perhaps he considered the resilience of his team to be the most useful thing he has brought to Valley Parade and by being so the most beautiful.

There is a beauty in how the player’s celebrations centred around their manager as Clarke ran to the dug out and how the manager has (re)found the thing that made Bradford City precious.

Hard working Jon Stead latched onto a poor back pass and turned half chance into goal the victory was sealed.

A month into his time in London Milanese is a short way into transforming his team into something more aesthetically pleasing for sure but one wonders if he will recognise the beauty of a cold winter’s night in Bradford.

Bradford City vs Gillingham being settled by threefold repetition

In the game of Chess there are five ways to draw. Most of them involve no move being playable within the rules but there is a method called “threefold repetition” in which a draw is called should the same position occur for a third time in a game.

The purpose of this rule is to avoid a situation in which the two players go into a stalemate situation. It is rare in the world of perfect objectivity which is Chess. Not so much a rule to say that a draw has happened, but one which pre-empts the draw.

Even before Gillingham substitute Antonio German scrambled a stoppage-time equaliser to give his side a 1-1 draw at Bradford City a threefold repetition could have been called on the game such seemed like the inevitability of the result.

Inevitable in that watching Peter Taylor’s teams for his brief time in charge of Bradford City – especially the way he set up his teams to play away from home – was seeing a manager comfortable with a point.

Inevitable in that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City teams hold close to the believe that games are on gradually rather than but great pushes and even when an own goal by Leon Legge following great work by Andy Halliday on the flank the Bantams did not commit to getting a second goal.

Inevitable that Gillingham keeper Stuart Nelson made two saves which turned goal-bound shots onto the post one in the first half from Billy Knott and a second from James Hanson in the second. With goal efforts at a premium Nelson’s reactions were as valuable for the visitors as Jordan Pickford’s were at Preston last weekend.

That City had the better of the chances seemed to suit their being the home side but as both teams were comfortable with a point a draw was the result.

Which returns to the the threefold repetition rule and its place at Bradford City. The rule is in place to stop games in which no progress is being made and on a cold November afternoon turned evening it seemed that no progress was manifested on the field.

All animals are equal, but some…

This week there had been talk from the Inner Party of the Bradford City Supporters Board that the club were aiming to be in the Championship by 2017. It was not clear why exiting administrator David Baldwin had made this claim to the selective group without adding any detail as to how they would be achieved – it would seem that the feedback from this curious organisation is a one way process – but make it (it seems) he did.

What is the plan for that? And why is there an assumption that everything tends to improvement. City seem to sit at a crossroads in the club recent history. There is the will to improve the clubs and many paths to take to do it. The management of the club is in a good position – Parkinson gets a lot out of his players – but there are questions about recruitment that were highlighted by Aaron McLean’s exit this week.

Likewise there are questions about the structure of the club the exit of David Baldwin – a man rated above his abilities in my opinion – and how to craft the business as it tries to grow. Further there are questions as to how those improvements would be translated into success. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s contention in Why England Lose is that the only real guide to one’s place in the pecking order in football is turnover and that increasing turnover moves a team up the divisions.

Aside from wanting it to be so, and hoping that the statistically improbable falls in a way that benefits, what right have Bradford City got to expect that next season will be better than this? If Andrew Davies were to leave when out of contract in the summer why would we expect someone better to replace him? Why is there an expectation that Gary Liddle – excellent today – should be better than Gary Jones?

These are points which need to be addressed before the club start talking about 2017 in the Championship.

So now then

Phil Parkinson’s side could have been accused of not being committed to trying to win the game but Parkinson was no more going to send his team to be gung-ho than Peter Taylor’s were of doing anything other than defend.

Two teams cancelling each other out and neither looking in a position to make progress. Phil Parkinson is a good manager doing a good job at Valley Parade but one wonder what he is up against week-in week-out and how the teams who do progress support managers?

This is an open question. I am not suggesting a plan to be followed but what I am wondering is who at Valley Parade had the domain knowledge that would be helpful to Parkinson? In a week where City have agreed to pay 75% of the wages of a player in a side chasing promotion I think we all have to admit that there is scope for improvement.

On the field some games are won, some are lost, and like today some are drawn and that is how it will stay unless for outrageous fortune one way or another. That or the intervention of the boardroom at the club who – at the moment – seem to have aims without plans.

Peter Taylor, a miserable night and a miserable football match, that all reminded me of what happens when the board have aims without plans.

Phil Parkinson understanding the peaks and troughs of managing Bradford City

Fatuous wisdom in football has it that the only way to get out of bad form is hard work. The statement is not incorrect, just tautologous. The only way to achieve anything (or anything good) in football is through hard work.

Hard work is a prerequisite and is in turn both the most and least impressive thing about any player. If the best one can say about a player is that he works hard then he obviously offers little else, if a player does not work hard then he has little else to offer.

And so to Jason Kennedy, obviously, who is damned by the preceding comment. The tall, bald former Rochdale midfielder has become the poster boy for Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City this term. Not massively gifted and suffers in comparison to what preceded but capable in limited ways.

Those limits – the landscape of City’s abilities – have become obvious as the weeks progressed. Phil Parkinson can take the credit that comes from a 2-1 win at Preston North End for understanding them better than most.

In fact Parkinson deserves credit for – what Orwell was credited with – his “power of facing” the unpleasant truths about the Bradford City squad and its limits. Seldom has a Bradford City team been so clearly defined by its limitations and rarely have those limitation been circumnavigated so well.

Parkinson sent a back four out with Jason Kennedy and Andy Halliday sitting in front to shield Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies and the midfield pair did not even battle for possession with the Preston middle so much as make it their business to make sure that possession was dissipated to the flanks.

The two midfielders are not creators but will shield, the two central defenders can defend crosses, the two fulls back (Stephen Darby and James Meredith) with the support of wide men in front of them can put pressure on wide men to reduce the quality of that delivery.

Likewise those widemen, Filipe Moraris and Mark Yeates, have no pace to speak of and so no time was wasted trying to play the ball in behind the home side’s backline. Everything was worked carefully in front of the defence and converted to set plays because Parkinson also knows that if he side can generate enough set pieces then one of will be converted and so it proved when Rory McArdle got his head to a corner and that header found the goal via a post.

It was not really deserved but then again with City dug deep and Preston North End failing to break the Bantams down then why would they deserve more? At least that is what Parkinson will have drummed into his players at half-time. If they carried on doing what they were good at right, and avoided being tested on what they were not good at, then they would win.

And so it proved for the majority of the second half. Preston’s Joe Garner was flimsy between McArdle and Davies and so Kevin Davies was introduced and proved equally at arm’s length of the two defenders who stuck to their remit perfectly. Which is not to say that the pair were never breached – Garner had one header cleared off the line before his goal with five minutes left which seemed to share the points – just that they looked as robust a pair as they had done two years ago.

If Preston’s equaliser was the result of the home side’s pressure the goal which won the game for City was for the want of pressure applied to Mark Yeates. Deepdale was hoping for a winner sixty seconds after the equaliser and perhaps right back Jack King was absent mindedly hoping for that too as he allowed Yeates to take control of a long cross field ball and have all the time he wanted to pick out and place a low shot around the goalkeeper and into the net.

Yeates celebrated with gusto. The turnaround in the effort Yeates has put in are in keeping with the importance Parkinson places on him. It has been said before that Yeates will create one thing a game and today he created the moment of the season, Leeds aside.

And let no one take the credit for the win away from Phil Parkinson who was the author of victory. It is difficult for a manager to look at his team and not romanticise. It is difficult to look at the limitations you’ve ended up with and have your pattern of play defined by that.

There is a frustration for all at Valley Parade that 2014’s signings have – on the whole – not moved the team on (Why should they? Why should we assume that Gary Jones would be replaced by a better player?) and Parkinson’s ability to recognise that and build a team appropriately – a team which won – allows him time and confidence to take on the task of improving players.

It seems that Parkinson, who has sampled the peaks of his job as City manager, understood the trough and planned accordingly.

The first time Bradford City reconsider being the overdog as Halifax Town look for a giantkilling

Of the 79 other balls in the FA Cup First Round draw, few would have been as warmly met as the ball that signified a potential trip to FC Halifax Town – after comprehensively vanquishing Chorley in a replay – for the Bradford City supporter and, indeed, the wider TV audience: but there is more than geographical proximity that adds import to this fixture. This is the first time since the cup run of 2013 that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City are forced to bring the mirror to themselves and see what gazes back at them.

First, dear reader, let me make no apologies for referring comprehensively to “that season” – any article anyone at all could write about Bradford City in 2014 and beyond has the potential to lazily fall back on using that cup run as reference: but in this case, I feel it is truly the first time introspection has a real reason to be made.

The diversion of cup competition while City are in poor league form a welcome one for Bantam fan, player and manager alike: it is fair to say that in the forest of League One trees, not many are being pulled up by anyone in a claret and amber shirt this term. Nor, to stretch the metaphor to the point of abuse, are they lost in the woods.

The team remain resolutely mid-table, overall neither excelling nor failing, and this in itself is cause for the mist of doom and gloom to become increasingly lower. The natives are restless, and they demand satisfaction.

With the FC Halifax Town game, the opportunity is rife – Sunday’s opponents are two divisions beneath in the pyramid: their team is partially made up of players who never made the grade at ours – and would never get in our current side, and add to that, the cameras will be watching as our bumper crowd shifts a further 20 minutes down the A58 (or A647 if you like your air thinner and your weather more extreme). Foregone conclusion: rub your hands together and wander off into the sunset.

At the risk of pointing out the clearly obvious: apart from the slight distance between our ground and The Shay, this is what Arsenal and Aston Villa both thought – and Watford and Wigan must have both thought it was even more of a relatively closed-door formality.

We are no longer the independent coffee shop outselling the Starbucks next door: in this particular dynamic, it is us who is the Tesco looking to flatten a third-generation cornershop. No neutrals will be looking to cheer us on from their sofa – our Cinderella story is very much over.

The great cup run of 2012/13 was built on standing against adversity, on steel, on being greater than the sum of our parts, and on steadfast terrace support. On Sunday, the likelihood of any of these things being present is slender: even if the fans do sell out the allocation – which, at the time of writing, is not being projected – what is the atmosphere amongst fans going to be? It is not, “We are here through thick and thin and Oh my we’ve done it”, it is, “If we do not score within the opening five minutes we will make our ire known”.

Only three players, and the manager, remain present from the team that started Capital One Cup Final – the same number of ex-City men in the opposing squad. It is going to be as much, if not more so, of a challenge of their mental strength as it is for newer cohort members. They have tasted success because they had belief in themselves as a unit against the odds: how can Phil Parkinson, who told Rory McArdle, Stephen Darby and Andrew Davies in the dressing rooms of Vicarage Road, the DW Stadium, Valley Parade, Villa Park and ultimately, Wembley, that if they galvanise and believe in themselves as a unit, they can accomplish great things – and then principally delivered on that promise – now turn around and make those same players believe that others who are now in the equivalent position cannot easily do the same?

As much as these three and the rest of the team will utterly embrace the diversion from the frustrations of the league campaign; will they be as excited, as invigorated, as out-and-out ready for the proposition of facing FC Halifax Town as the players of FC Halifax Town will be of facing Bradford City? The three players who have been rejected at Valley Parade will have, no doubt, watched the 2013 Cup Final and thought, “I could have had that moment” and whereas the stage on Sunday is very different, their motivation will be clear.

19 years ago was the last time Bradford City faced non-league opposition against a then- relatively-unknown Burton Albion and only the rear-end of Gary Robson could save our blushes, awkwardly bundling in with a part of the body few have ever scored a goal with, much less a midfielder who would usually have struggled to tell you the general area of the goalmouth, to sneak a 4-3 win. I have no doubt that the team of 1995/96 did not conceive they were going to be so closely-ran – in May that year, they were celebrating promotion to the Championship-equivalent at the Old Wembley.

Two years prior to that, Old Halifax Town of the Conference were beating Championship-equivalent West Brom in a televised match in the First round of the FA Cup, and I likewise have no doubt that that team of 1993/94 did not conceive that such a thing was possible, no matter how hard they believed.

Of course, the Bradford City of 2014/15 are not the Bradford City of 2012/13 or even 1995/96 any more than the FC Halifax Town of 2014/15 are the Halifax Town FC of 1993/94, and on Sunday none of these histories should matter. Whether the squad of 2014/15 use the parallels of 2012/13 as a curse, or a warning, remains to be seen.

How Parkinson went to Oldham and came back with pride and nothing else

Pride/frustration

In injury time as City trailed 2-1 Billy Clarke touched the ball over Paul Rachubka in the Oldham Athletic goal only to see it clear the crossbar.

At that moment Phil Parkinson was probably caught between a burst of pride in how his team had come back into a game which seemed to be out of reach and frustration that for all the efforts of the second half the revival would end in nothing.

Clarke was a late substitute in the game to apply pressure to an Latics side who could not have expected to spend the second half defending as much as they did following the two goal lead they eased to early on in the match.

In the second forty five minutes Clarke also took a swipe at air when put though, a light touch in the box by Mark Yeates could have been more, the offside flag on Jon Stead stopped him and probably should not, Alan Sheehan melted Radchubka’s fingers and a seemingly obvious pull down on Andy Halliday must have left Parkinson frustrated but the endeavours that came to nothing were more than one might have thought City would get after a poor first half an hour.

Poor in almost every way that Phil Parkinson wants at team to be good. The defensive unit was uneven with players drifting in an out of the line, the midfield lacked bite and physicality and all over the pitch players seemed too ready to shirk responsibility for the performance.

Parkinson has employed two lines of four with James Hanson withdrawn from Jon Stead in the forward line in a repeat of a formation which was a favourite this time last season when Nahki Wells could be relied upon to make the most of little which was created.

The hope, perhaps, was that the wide men would support the full backs and provide a defensive stability but that did not occur not did it especially seem to be needed. Lee Johnson’s Oldham side – who had already beaten City once in the Associate Members Cup this season – are comfortable in possession and were able to play the ball into dangerous areas pulling City out of shape without much difficulty.

This culminated in a deep cross which split Alan Sheehan and Christopher Routis and saw the powerful Jabo Ibehre able to dominate the Swiss centreback and head back to Jonathan Forte who turned Rory McArdle to power in from close range.

The backing of the manager

Much seems to have been said about Routis this week and all first half Jason Pickford and Alan Sheehan had their say to his face, often loudly. It seemed rare that an attack was pushed away by the City defence that Routis was not given verbal instruction by his team mates. It was an angry Sheehan who confronted Routis following the defender’s reluctance to go out to break up an attack in embryo.

Sheehan seemed to have Parkinson’s backing or at least the City manager seemed to share his frustrations as he replaced Routis with James Meredith, moving Sheehan to central defence before forty minutes had expired. By that time Oldham’s ease of passing had seen a shot canon in off Rory McArdle and into the net. It seemed, and was, too easy for the home side.

Parkinson responded with a return to his three man midfield and Yeates was shifted in the playmaking role. Andy Halliday, hitherto anonymous on the right wing, tucked inside and started to perform well motoring up and down the inside channels of the midfield rather than the touchline. It is emblematic of Parkinson’s recruitment problems this season that he brings in a winger on load and that winger looks best in the inside midfield.

It was Halliday who got City back into the game although credit goes to James Hanson for a knock down at the far post that showed why many managers want him in their side and not ours. It seemed as City end the first half and started the second in fine trim following a shift in tactics and personnel that Parkinson may conclude that he picked the wrong side this afternoon and instructed them to play in the wrong way.

That could be the case or it could be that City – and any team – will struggle to fill a gap left by such an important player as Andrew Davies.

Parkinson’s Catch 22

McArdle and Sheehan kept Oldham at bay in the second forty five minutes. The home side would probably like to say that they sat on their lead in the second half but seemed more pushed back on their heels as City came forward with danger constantly. Yeates drifted around, Halliday prompted well and both Gary Liddle and Jason Kennedy looked better in the midfield three than four they started in but the lack of a finished told.

Aaron McLean watched from the bench as chances went begging and one found oneself almost thinking that the game was poised for the striker to convert one of the many of the chances but knowing that that chances only came from the craft of Hanson, Stead and later Clarke who McLean would replace were he on the field.

This is Parkinson’s Catch 22. That he needs his finisher on the field to score from the chances but knows that he would not get those chances (or as many of them) with his finisher on the field. It will be keeping him up at nights, and it is stalling City’s season.

With no resolution to the problem City ended up winning back only pride in the second half and probably believing it should have been more but knowing that the irresolvable attacking problem means it was not.

The afternoon must have become worse when Rory McArdle was given a second booking for a second offence worthy of a yellow card and Parkinson will have known that he would have to look to get a performance next week from the man he took off before half time this.

McArdle put in the kind of shift that a manager would want from his player. Full of heart he was brave in the tackle, technically excellent, and committed to the cause taking responsibility in turning the performance around but at the final whistle he was left with a red card and an own goal to his name.

That was the story of City’s afternoon. A game that for all one might have thought one deserved delivered absolutely nothing at all.

Thin slicing and how it asks and answers questions about Christopher Routis

Preamble

Three weeks ago a tennis coach called Vic Braden died.

Author of a half dozen books that constitute the bible on how to play the game Braden would scare himself when watching professional tournaments. “I got so good at calling double faults, I never got one wrong, and not just on big name players but I could do it with Russian fifteen year old girls no one had ever heard of.”

As soon as the second service ball was thrown from the hand Braden could call a double fault every time. After watching thousands of matches for tens of years, Braden’s brain was programmed to look at a lot of information – the action of a player serving – and take from that the necessary smaller information – the precursors to a double fault – and give a result on the basis of that.

The name for this technique is “thin slicing“.

The two goals on Saturday evening

Sitting in the Oakwell away end as City struggled to contain Barnsley two weeks ago I heard a shout in criticism of Andrew Davies. “We’ve a better defender than you on the bench.”

It referenced Christopher Routis.

The Swiss defender has a growing popularity at Valley Parade and while those who would place him above Davies are in a minority his advocates seem to be growing and growing despite obvious mistakes like his failure to clear a nothing cross in Saturday’s defeat to Sheffield United which, because of the Swiss’ weak header, set up the first visitors goal.

Davies, aforementioned, made an error which led to the second. His self-focused tantrum after conceding was in contrast to Routis who is quick to point fingers around but seemingly not at himself.

All of which hints at my assessment of the newest Bradford City golden boy. So far, so so for Routis who has yet to show enough to set my heart racing.

“There is just something about him…”

This is unlike summer signing from Sunderland Billy Knott. Talk to many City fans about the midfielder and they will summon up the specific second of the goal he scored against Leeds – a fine lash from outside the box that turned around a local derby – and going beyond that they will start to be much more vague.

“There is something about him”, “He has something”, “He is always there”, “He has a great engine.” Probably every aspect is covered but not by any one person. You can sort these phrases into a life size drawing of the young midfielder’s game.

For me it took six minutes at Guiseley to be won over and everything I have seen from him since has underlined what those first six minutes of the second half at Nethermoor told me. I’m no better at putting into words what that was than Braden was at saying why he could call a fault on a tennis player he had never seen before.

The thin slice

Some City fans look at Billy Knott and – without consciously being aware of it – they see in him patterns that match other players who have gone on to be very good players. In six minutes of a friendly at Guiseley in which he enjoyed a few touches my mind looked at Billy Knott and pattern matched sub-consciously in some way to players like to Dean Richards, Peter Beagrie, and Gareth Whalley. Something in those six minutes – before I could consciously say he had done anything – suggested that he could and would prove a good signing for Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City.

Three months later he has and his recent time on the bench bemuses me. Watch the break-through goal against Crewe again then and it is Knott who edged the ball onto Mark Yeates before the cross that Aaron McLean scores from.

If you are convinced by Knott then it might be a moment like that – not allowing an attack to die for want of a loose ball – or it could have been that lash against Leeds or any other point of that “thick slice” of watching football but the concept of thin slicing says that you knew it subconsciously before.

The key word being “sub-conscious”. After weeks, months or years a person will be able to give a fulsome account of what made a player good but right now it is hard to put into full sentences what Knott offered other than “there is just something about him”.

“He is going to be good, you can tell from his central line.”

You will probably not have heard of Paul Travillion but if you are of a certain age you will know his work. His pen lines gave life to Roy of the Rovers and he is arguably the greatest sequential artist of football there has ever been.

Other artists can draw, but few can draw football as well as Travillion. His panels explode in a potential of movement and action. His players suggest dynamism and a burst of pace about to carry the golden haired Roy past a man or two.

At the heart of Travillion’s work was his drawing of the footballer in motion as this image of Bobby Charlton shows. That separated him from his peers. Travillion’s players took the form of real footballers hunched over the ball rather than poster art pictures of bodies near balls.

Travillion could watch a player, draw him, and from doing that know if he would dribble well. “You can tell from his central line,” Travillion would say, “and how he hangs his body over the ball.”

Chris Waddle had it and when asked about Ryan Giggs in the early part of the young Manchester United player’s career Travillion replied that he was the best dribbler of a ball he had ever drawn. As soon as Travillion drew a player he know where his balance was centred, and so he knew how good a dribbler he was.

When drawing a seventeen year old kid Travillion knew that Giggs would be – or possessed the assets to be – a great footballer. Travillion thin sliced Giggs on a single factor – his centre of balance – and extrapolated correctly about a player who is the most successful in the history of the English game.

A cultured defender

Perhaps with thin slicing in mind it is not difficult to see how some people have looked at Christopher Routis and been impressed enough to praise him above Andrew Davies.

On Saturday one ball Routis flighted to James Hanson verged on the sublime. He is calm on the ball and can make strikers look foolish as he flicks that ball over them and moves away. He looks like – which is to say he thin slices as – a cultured defender albeit one at League One level.

A thin slice of Christopher Routis is that he is the sort of defender who looks to play his way out of trouble rather than lump the ball into row Z. That he is more about timing than tackling and would rather intercept a ball than let the striker take possession and then take the striker. That he is not the sort of player who will put his head in where boots are flying because he plays the type of game popular on the continent where defending is about anticipation.

What need do Bradford City have of a cultured defender? Watching the more successful Bradford City teams of recent years has created a set of patterns – at least under Phil Parkinson – for successful players which one can compare against thin slices.

Which is not to pass judgement on if Routis is a good footballer or not. It is to look at his style of play. Nor is it to say that one style of defending is better or worse than another in the game in general. It is a comment on the aptness of a style of play at Bradford City, in League One, in Yorkshire derby games, in Phil Parkinson’s team.

And back to thin slicing

Vic Braden got to know tennis so well he could watch a fifteen year old he had never seen before and know if she was going to make a mistake before she did. Paul Travillion could tell by drawing Ryan Giggs that he would be a great footballer. I think I’ve seen enough midfielders for Bradford City to see that Billy Knott has the raw materials to be a success.

We’ve all watched Bradford City’s promotion campaigns, and those campaigns which falter and come to nothing. In that time have we ever concluded that the type of defender that Christopher Routis is the stuff of League One promotion campaigns?

Post script

Further reading on thin slicing: Thin Slice of Expressive Behavor as Predictors of Interpersonal Conseqences: A Meta-Analysis, Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal. Blink, Malcolm Gladwell.

A win over Peterborough United has City looking at the costs of survival

If the adage holds true that football matches are won by the team which needs to win most then Bradford City can feel some pride in besting a Peterborough United who needed to win far more than the Bantams did.

This time last season City were not far from the position which Darren Ferguson’s side occupy in League One. The last play off place and looking over the shoulder at those who would take it. And just as City battled at Chesterfield last term on Good Friday for a 2-2 draw so The Posh put up a fight against Phil Parkinson’s side who nearly mathematically assured survival in League One.

It is a survival that has come at some cost. At the end of last season Parkinson was unimpeachable in his position as Bradford City manager having taken the club to Wembley twice. This term there has been a misguided but concerted effort to unseat him from some people who follow the club.

The inerudite attack on Parkinson is that he has “no tactics” which is to say that he favours a 442 and often is over concerned to ensuring the opposition do not progress rather than that his team does. The manager favoured a 4312 with Adam Reach playing behind Jon Stead and James Hanson and added Raffaele De Vita to the right side of a middle three alongside Gary Jones and the also returning Nathan Doyle.

Parkinson’s midfield offered a survival chance for Jones and Doyle who have not shirked from responsibility this season but have struggled. Reach ahead of the midfield give Jones a smaller zone to play in and allows him to focus his energy. Doyle too, dipped back into a ball winning midfield zone, had perhaps his best game of the season. Add to that a De Vita looking more comfortable and a shape for next season that ensures that two of the players who excelled in 2013 might feature in 2015.

All of which comes from the failure for Kyel Reid to survive. As Adam Reach dropped between the lines in Parkinson’s 4312 City forwent wingers and so the team finally found a way to cope without the pacy wideman who – it is worried and it seems – will not play for City again. Perhaps while Parkinson watched a fluidity to the first half of the Bantams performance which had been missing since sometime before the turn of the year he may be convinced that the 442 with wingers would not survive either.

Reach was impressive in the playmaking role behind the front too. His runs invited fouls and from one by Jack Payne the on loan Middlesbrough player lofted a fine free kick over the wall and into Joe Day’s goal. From another Sean Brisley earned his second yellow card in two minutes.

Brisley had been booked for pulling down Stead on 38 minutes, Reach on 40, and while from a Bantams point of view Reach’s sliding interception was impressive Peterborough fans might have been surprised by the high line the visitors played for the first half. In the second, with ten on the field, things were different.

The play off chasing side had to drop back and pull back players from the forward line and worked hard in doing that. Their second half display was a model of football efficiency rarely wasting the ball but the Bantams backline covered the attacks well with pressure put on the ball in the Peterborough half and cover in the City half very secure.

Four of the back five of 2014’s play off final have survived and while Adam Drury is an able deputy it seems sure that James Meredith will return to make the five. Parkinson has a decision to make on if he has faith with the five assuming he can keep all at the club. It has seemed apparent that Parkinson believes that should his side take the lead then Jon McLaughlin behind Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Meredith are solid enough to see a game out. Parkinson’s case is made by City’s defence having conceded fewer goals than Peterborough’s this season.

Which suggests the problem – if retaining a place in League One could ever be said to be a problem – is at the other end of the field. While Peterborough attacked in the second half the Bantams took a step back and were balanced towards defending. One can hardly expect Parkinson to change in his next season and so if James Hanson and Aaron McLean – a second half substitute who came on to applause from both sets of fans – are to improve on this season’s returns then they either need to become more efficient in front of goal or they need to get more chances.

Which points to the decision Parkinson has to make in the close season. If he is to carry on with a 4312 – which has yet to last a full game – then he needs to find someone to play in the role Adam Reach took today. If he is to use the 442 then he needs to find a more apt set of widemen.

He should though get to make those decisions. After months without a win, after losing his centreforward, after losing Reid, after the chairman who could not keep his face off television last season going entirely silent on him, it seems that Parkinson has survived too.

The influx of weak character players that was presented starkly

There is a debate at the moment between Bradford City supporters and a consensus seems to be forming from that debate that the woes that befall the club at the moment are because of the sentimental attachment to the players who achieved historic feats with the club at Wembley last season and that the club would be wise to move on from that.

And from move on we should extrapolate the word “players”. Move on those players from last season in order to achieve more next. If you are of a mind to believe that you can call achieving your stated aim as a woe – get up, stay up and so on – then you might buy into this idea. I cannot.

Watching Bradford City since the turn of the year has been alarming. The character which marked out last season’s team seemed to ebb away on a week by week basis culminating in Kyle Bennett’s alarming lack of commitment on Saturday which surrendered a goal.

In fact one could iterate though the players who put in spineless performances and they would make a damning list but foremost on that list would not be the team which is termed History Makers.

That list would not have Andrew Davies or Rory McArdle on it. It would not have Gary Jones on it and not have Garry Thompson either.

You can, dear reader, make another list if you want which suggests that any or all the players who were at the club last season are “not good enough” but to do so – in my estimation – is a wasted effort. At most time I will argue that “good enough” is a modern construct from the days of Championship Manager and the ability to look at players in an entirely statistical way but I need not do that here.

Simply put if a player will not put his heart, his whole heart, into a performance then his ability to bend a ball, play a pass or be accurate is irrelevant. If you’ve come to a different conclusion after watching City last year, or City under Paul Jewell, or City under Trevor Cherry then I’d have to question your grasp of the fundamentals of the game of football.

Application is genesis of success. Without it everything else is just effects.

If anyone were to tell me that Kyle Bennett could be a better player than Garry Thompson if Bennett applied himself I’d be forced to recall something that would make my Auntie my Uncle.

The Bradford City team are lacking application and this is obvious to everyone in the stadium especially Phil Parkinson who – if the talk of last year and what he does not say this is to be believed – thinks along similar lines. Is that application lacking in Jones? In McArdle? In the players from last season? It is not.

And be aware, dear reader, that I’m not talking about mistake making or misjudgements. I’m talking about the foundation of football teams. I’m talking about the willingness of a player to put himself into your performance. I’m talking about players taking responsbility for their own, and their team mate’s, performances.

I’m talking about what drives a goalkeeper to run sixty yards to punch Claude Davies because he has started on your mate and the unwillingness to put your body into a tackle with the Oldham Athletic number three.

Which is not to single out Bennett any more than Bennett singled himself out when he decided that he would acquiesce on a 75:25 ball that favoured him. One could look at how Matty Dolan decided not to track James Wesolowski when Wesolowski scored or Jon Stead’s modest return (although mostly Stead stands accused of underlining just how effective James Hanson is).

And this is not to suggest the problem is with loan players. One could look at Mark Yeates attitude all season which meant that even when a slot in the team opened up Yeates stays on the bench. Or wonder why Jason Kennedy is back at Rochdale. And the less said about Raffaele De Vita the better.

The problem is the players of last season, its the players of this. Its poor recruitment and bringing in players without character into a team which is all about character.

As Parkinson starts to rebuild the team he needs to shake out the last twelve months and build with the foundation stones of Jones, Davies, McArdle, Darby, McLaughlin, Hanson, and so on. Make a case for any or all of them “not being good enough” if you want, suggest they should be got rid of if you want, but do not assume that Parkinson will be able to find a half dozen similar characters and prepare for your better set piece delivery to come in the context of lifeless displays like the defeats to Walsall and Oldham Athletic.

Parkinson has to build a team for next season and he has to build it on what at the club was right this season and not what went wrong and what went wrong was the influx of weak character players that was presented starkly in Kyle Bennett’s meek surrender of the ball that ultimately was the difference between the two teams on Saturday.

Suddenly it all seemed simple

When Phil Parkinson got ready to go in at half time at Brisbane Road to give his team talk to a City side that were beating Leyton Orient 1-0 he must have been thinking about how simple this game of football really is.

At a corner the ball was delivered deep to Aaron McLean who spun off his man and ended up at the back post on his own. One touch and City never really looked back all afternoon against a Leyton Orient team who are much vaunted in third place but never really looked capable of breaking down the Bantams defence.

And while City had choked badly on Tuesday night against Walsall there was an ease to the play in a game in which the Bantams were not asked to make the attacking running. The same problems were obvious but they mattered less once McLean had got his second goal in City colours.

While a goal ahead and with the ability to sit deep and try use the power of McLean and Jon Stead up front or the pace of Adam Reach or Kyle Bennett to get behind a team which needed to win Parkinson could watch the second half confident that his team would win.

Sit deep, make possession difficult for the opposition, hit from set plays. It worked against Leyton Orient, it worked against Arsenal. Wry smiles all round.

But smiles from afar form Parkinson who was sent from the stand after a scuffle in the Orient tunnel following a handball by Andrew Davies which occurred after the half time whistle. It was Clive Thomas refereeing but it was as much as City had to cope with.

Stead’s arrival to cover the injured James Hanson and Andy Gray who – while also injured – did nothing to impress on Tuesday night gave Parkinson the luxury of an effective target man on Saturday without the worry of not having one for Tuesday night’s trip to Coventry City.

City go to Coventry City and both teams are on 48 points which would – last season – have ensured League One survival. One point is probably enough to rubber stamp survival for both and is perhaps the simplest outcome of the game. That The Sky Blues have achieved this from administration and The Bantams have done it from 7th in League Two will give both managers a chance to have something to smile about.

Not that they will smile at each other. Coventry City boss Steven Pressley called Phil Parkinson’s tactics after the 3-3 draw at Valley Parade earlier this season “dark ages football.”

The enlightenment of football probably eludes both these teams but neither have done as well as the slick passing of Leyton Orient who tried pass and move and ended up as thin waves ebbing away from a solid Bantams defence and beaten by a set play.

Pressley’s point is not lost but it assumes much. It assumes that Parkinson – a football manager given to elements of coaching modernity – has not looked at the way the game is played in League One and concluded that the most simple way of playing football is the most effective. That the enlightenment of football analysis tells him that dark ages football works.

On afternoons like Leyton Orient away it is worth reflecting that the simplest answer is often the best.

Doing your business early

Doing your business early

After about fifteen minutes of what would be a stolid, fruitless encounter with Walsall at Valley Parade the visitors gave up.

Adam Chambers – the number seven – had showed well pushing forward from the Saddler’s midfield but found Matthew Bates in front of him detailed to sit and stop him playing. Bates and Gary Jones were the midfield and perhaps it was Phil Parkinson’s homework that told him that Walsall would push Chambers forward and leave another back but Bates was deployed to nullify that threat.

And he did.

Such underweaned ambition defined Bradford City on the evening. One wonders what was in Phil Parkinson’s mind when he decided that against a team eight points off the play-offs the highest priority was to stop them playing. That this was achieved – Chambers simply dropped back on top of his back four creating two holding midfielders – caused further problems.

Problems for Kyle Bennett who if he has skills – and I struggle to verbalise what skills are that put him above Zavon Hines who was moved on in the summer – has skills which involve cutting into the middle of the pitch which drove him straight into that deep sitting middle two. It crowded an already crowded area which already had the static Andy Gray and the ineffectual Aaron McLean.

Its worth considering McLean, Bennett and the likes of Adam Reach on the left who looked more dangerous than Bennett on the right but considering the onus was on either to breakdown the visitors neither were able to. Throw in with them Parkinson’s other Winter recruits and recall that the reason City had to sell Nahki Wells at speed was because we needed to “do our business early”.

The results of this business? Reach looks promising, Bennett’s promise eludes me, Matthew Dolan is in and out of the team, Aaron McLean looks like he is involved in the longest pre-season in football history getting ready for next term. Why the rush? Three months after not being able to hold out on Wells the approach we are taking to an upper mid-table club coming to Valley Parade is to nullify?

Which is not to criticise Parkinson’s approach to the game over much. Every man, woman and teenager who shouted vehemently that we needed to replace (for example) Stuart McCall – who could have (and still could) learnt much about shutting down a game from Parkinson – is forced to accept that this dour pragmatism is very much what was wanted. We are not an enterprisingly, free flowing, attacking team and were not last season either. Walsall at home 2013/14 might be the ugly face of Parkinson’s approach to the game, but it is the approach which was lauded in the summer.

On the pitch City looked like a team who have forgotten what winning looks like. There is little confidence and that is obvious when players stand on their heels not expecting a teammate’s pass to reach them or perhaps not recalling what to do if it did. All that was in the subconscious is not strained and pained over. In short, and collectively, Bradford City have choked.

But it may not have been so. A free kick thirty minutes into the first half which Andrew Davies headed wide, the entry of James Hanson after an hour which seemed to inspire would have changed things against a Walsall side that would have been happy to go home having said they battle hard for a point.

A mistake on the front post by Jon McLaughlin though and the evening, and the game, were lost.

Bradford City, Brentford away and conformational bias

The words we are looking for are “conformational bias”.

You know how when you look at your watch and it is always 11:11 except it is not always 11:11, it’s just that you only remember the times you look at your watch (well, phone) is when it reads 11:11 and you forget all the other times you look at your watch (well, phone). That is conformational bias. We remember the times that support our hypothesis and forget the ones which do not.

(By the way Uri Geller believes that it is always 11:11 and has lots of very curious ideas on the subject which prove nothing at all and are basically confirmations of conformational bias)

Being a Bradford City supporter at the moment is to be judging between (at least) two different conformational bias. Phil Parkinson’s team are not performing as well this season as they did last season and a 2-0 defeat at Brentford is seen as confirmation that Parkinson is not good enough or it is not because a team in City’s position would not expect to go to a promotion chaser and win is seen as contradicting that and is thus ignored.

Likewise the two wins in a week were confirmation that Parkinson was “the man for the job.”

A lifeless first half in which neither side threatened goal much was a confirmation of how canny Parkinson was to keep things tight and try steal a point from a team which ends the day third but the fact that City were unable to do that because of second half goals from the generally annoying Clayton Donaldson and George Saville shows how limited Parkinson’s plan is.

Without James Hanson up front and Andrew Davies at the back against a team in good form the afternoon always seemed beyond the visitors and again one is stuck between scenarios as to why. Parkinson gave up the game and rested his two players because even his full strength side would struggle on the one hand and that is the smart thing to do on the one hand. On the other Parkinson’s side’s failings are his failings and depth of squad is squarely amongst those failing.

It does seem like the team that finished seventh last season/the team that went to Wembley twice – pick your own description to continue the theme of this article – have reached a plateau. While Brentford trooped off at half time unimpressive it never looked like the area between Carl McHugh and Matthew Bates would not afford Donaldson a chance during the afternoon and so it did when Donaldson drove in low. Only his proficiency stopping him adding another later but Saville gave the scoreline a perhaps undeserved polish. The Londoners edged most things on the day – but not by much – although Will Grigg and Adam Forshaw provided everything a League One midfield needed to go twenty two games with only a single defeat or twenty three games with two, if you are that way inclined.

City’s midfield is the start of the limits that Parkinson faces by by no means the end of the. Gary Jones has made a virtue out of the level of dedication he puts into all things and he will know more than anyone that the number of games he has at League One level is limited but – in my never humble opinion – he remains value for his place on his performance and the energy he puts into it which one only wishes was matched by Nathan Doyle. Doyle displays last year were excellent but that has been the exception in a career which has seen him more often than not fall below the standards he reaches on his better days on too many of his days. Doyle can play better, and has often, and to be a reliable part of Parkinson’s team next season he has to.

Kyle Bennett remains a mystery to me, Adam Reach continues to let how impressive he is one moment stop him impressing the next. Aaron McLean works hard and for that he will remain in Parkinson’s side because Parkinson prizes that above all else.

And if one agrees with that philosophy then a defeat like today is just a part of the grind. The fact that the club will shake itself off and go to the more winnable game at Colchester with more fit players is confirmation that the manager knows what he is doing. Looking at the table City have twelve games left to play and need as many points to reach fifty three which would guarantee safety. That simply requires Parkinson’s side to score points at the same rate that it has all season.

If one does agree with the hard working philosophy (or perhaps does not agree with something else that sets one to suggest that Parkinson is doing something wrong) then it is unacceptable not because it is a defeat but because all defeats highlight problems because it offers confirmation that there is a problem.

So one is left to decide if retaining a place in League One for next season represents progress or a problem.

Bradford City left considering credit where credit is due

Carl HcHugh already has scored more important goals for Bradford City than his last minute looper from a corner over Port Vale which gave Phil Parkinson’s side a first home win in months but weight lifted off shoulders at Valley Parade has seldom been greater.

McHugh got his head to a corner put into the box by Gary Jones which seemed to have gone beyond the young Irishman but had not and then was describing an arc Chris Neal into the back of the Vale goal. It denoted similarly to the goal which was decisive against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi finals last season but connotations were massively different.

This was relief, it was all relief.

City had looked like being frustrated again. Frustrated by a team which played strongly but has only won once in twenty one fixtures. Frustrated by a by a Vale side who played for a draw save the odd enterprise forward that Jon McLaughlin can be pleased keeping at bay. Frustrated by a referee Mark Brown who seemed to have decided that he would keep bookings and controversy to a minimum by ignoring what deserved one and would have caused the other.

And that frustration came to an end when McHugh’s goal went into the goal which itself came some had been convinced that the Bantams did not look like scoring. They streamed away into the dark Bradford night frustrated at City’s inability to score.

And while those people were ultimately wrong it was not hard to see how the conclusion formed.

As strong as the back two of Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies looked and as well as Stephen Darby at right back and McHugh returning to the left after his cruel exposure at Sheffield United played the Bantams did not threaten goal enough.

James Hanson is Sir Bobby Robson‘s one in three man and does all he needs to but Aaron McLean is struggling to play off him.

McLean seems to need more room than is available when a solid defence close to a deep midfield is deployed as it did today with the risible Anthony Griffith playing a holding role for the visitors. Still McLean’s endeavour does not falter and that earns him his chance to play in a City side swelled by victory.

In midfield Nathan Doyle seems not to be as he was while Gary Jones retains a level of energy and application which one cannot help but be impressed by but Jones’ work rate would be impressive for an eighteen year old.

The two wide men offer contrast. Adam Reach asks a question of a defender almost every time he gets the ball and sometimes the answer is simple – you can’t go past me but you can have a throw in – other it is not and every time he makes the defender work. Kyle Bennett is too easy to defend against and while one feels that there will be occasions where things go right for him in a spectacular and impressive way those occasions will be fleeting. Reach does more than Bennett but one gets the feeling Bennett will one day do something Reach could never do.

Bennett is a frustrating figure – an un-Parkinson like player – but he has the benefit of being defensively disciplined. Reach is a much harder player to play against for defenders and Bennett still has to show that he can be useful to the team on a consistent basis.

Nevertheless Bennett was one of the last off the field at the end of the game after Jones had led the applause for the supporters who had not gone for the early bus. They make an impressive noise, these City fans, and they do it regardless of wins or goals.

And they seem linked by symbiosis to the Bradford City team who seem refuse to give up on games, or on the spirit in the club, or on the manager that must have come close to the sack.

The players must have known that had spirited defeats become meek surrenders then the manager Parkinson would have struggled to keep his job and its to their credit that they did not let that happen. One hope that they continue to not let it happen at home to Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday.

Its credit too the boardroom at Bradford City that they have watched three months or more of games with only a single win but did not flinch. No articles distancing themselves from Parkinson, no whispers that the boardroom might be unhappy, no suggestions that things “had to turn around soon”. Just support for Parkinson and what he carries on trying to do. Credit is due to Messrs Lawn and Rhodes for resisting baser urges.

Urges which would have said – correctly – that the way a chairman wins over support is to be seen to be doing something even though that the best course of action was to do nothing other than support Parkinson in what he continues to do.

And will continue to do on Saturday taking what he can from the last few months. I confess I’ve no idea what Parkinson did when McHugh scored – goal celebrations I do alone – but I imagine he allowed himself a moment of relief before looking soberly at the team, and where improvement is needed, and how to get that improvement from the players.

A year this week Parkinson was preparing his team for Wembley in the League Cup final. The team was beaten that day but that defeat became a tool of motivation for the rest of the season.

Having looked the end so squarely in the eye in the last months one waits breath bated to see what Parkinson will make of this opportunity.


And if you, dear reader, want to know more about Port Vale then BfB points you to One Vale Fan which is a site older than this one.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager please sit down and shhhh

In the light of City’s 2-0 defeat to Wolves if you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because you enjoyed going to Wembley twice last season then please can you sit down and shhhh.

The fact that Parkinson’s side achieved anything last season has no relevance to this season in which the team have won once in nineteen games. The historic visit to Wembley – no team that far down in the football pyramid has got so far – has nothing to do with if Phil Parkinson is the right man for the job of Bradford City manager.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because the club are doing well to be in 13th position in League One considering that last season we were in League Two then please can you sit down and shhhh.

The squad that Parkinson has built is the one that he has built to compete in League One. His signings in the summer: Jason Kennedy, Raffaele De Vita, Mark Yeates et al; were not intended to come in above the 2013 players but rather to be a part of it. He is happy with the squad. He made it as he wants it to be and in signing the likes of Aaron McLean he continues to do so.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because things will go right again when the injuries clear up then please can you sit down and shhhh.

Injuries are a fact of football and Parkinson coped with the loss of Andrew Davies by playing Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh to victory against Aston Villa and Arsenal. Good managers are able to cope with injuries.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because he has turned around ten years of rubbish then please can you sit down and shhhh.

It is probably worth facing up to the fact that Phil Parkinson is not the only manager who could have won promotion last season and even the only manager who could have got to Wembley in the League Cup final. You, dear reader, can have your own thoughts on the people who preceded Parkinson as manager of Bradford City but I’d say that if you are defending Parkinson as one of a kind then you are not doing him any favours.

Managers have different sets of tools and use them in different ways. Parkinson has shown a set of tools and used them effectively previously.

If you want Phil Parkinson to be Bradford City manager because the club needs stability then please can you sit down and shhhh.

The stability debate has been had at Bradford City and the people who wanted it lost. I know, I was one of them.

Stability at Bradford City is the sort of thing that we used to joke about it. I know that the club considered replacing Parkinson in his first season. The fact that that fell off the agenda because his team created history just suggests that stability is only achieved in the face of the bleeding obvious.

Never again with it be that obvious what a good job a manager is doing and why Bradford City need to keep Parkinson in charge three months out from the end of the season where it seemed we were mired in mid-table then when that team is walking out at Wembley. It is very easy to be “stable” when the team is obviously doing well.

The argument for stability carries no weight inside Bradford City. It has not done previously and there is no sign that it will do going forward even though it is on the whole correct.

The reason Parkinson should be the Bradford City manager is because he is doing a good job.

He brings to the club a set of tools which are bringing success. Those tools include hard work and effort on the part of the players, and they include patterns of playing which get results and they include building a team spirit and ethos which if obvious on the field and off it.

The lengthy tribute Alan Connell paid to the squad on his way out is evidence of that of that. Ask anyone close to the squads of 1985, 1999, or 2013 and they will tell you that the common thread is groups of players who have been melded into a team.

Parkinson has the tools to do that and has done it previously at City and other clubs. He is not the only manager who can nor is that the only way of getting success but he is in the process of attempting to do that.

You may wonder how one win in however many games you decide is part of bringing success but poor results on the field do not alter the core facts that – if you want to make a sturdy defence of why Phil Parkinson should be the Bradford City manager – a case should be built on.

Parkinson has the tools to bring success to a football club. He knows how to do it. And he is trying to do that now.

He understands that building teams is more important than amassing players and did not risk the spirit he had in the club in the summer by throwing in new faces. He understands that what other players think of each other is more important than what the fans think of players and that is why he simply does not care that you do not like Garry Thompson, or you think Jon McLaughlin might make too many mistakes, or that Rory McArdle is not what he was.

He understands that Gary Jones’ legs might not be those of a twenty one year old but he knows that Jones is the leader of his group.

The challenges are in improving the squad both through coaching, building belief and recruitment while not damaging that core which is essential to how he does things. It is not about Wembley or wanting stability to injuries or other managers its about being smart enough to recognise the strengths of what the club have in place and standing up for that.

Parkinson has the abilities needed to create a successful club. That is why he should be Bradford City manager and that is what you should stand up and shout about.

I will be doing.

Things that happened to me when I was on loan at Bradford City

Kyle Bennett’s Bradford City debut lasted 24 minutes and for a few of them he looked interesting coming in off the right flank, getting involved in play behind the two forwards, but it was a tackle he put in on Neil Kilkenny which saw Kilkenny kick back at him and Bennett slap Kilkenny that he will be remembered for.

The red cards – both players were sent off – were deserved but the result was a game left without a pattern.

Addition:
The footage of this incident suggests that the red cards were harsh and certainly Kilkenny has some questions to answer about his reactions but Bennett is clearly not going for the ball with his hands and is – in that way – the architect of his own sending off.

Promotion hopefuls and powerful defensive unit Preston North End started better but by first half ended had been pushed back to defending. Playing an hour with ten men Preston were happy to try sneak a win by feeding forward Joe Garner. City struggled to set a pattern of play when Preston sat back.

The Lillywhites were as well drilled a side as any who have come to Valley Parade this season. Both teams saw the benefits of a draw. A draw seemed inevitable even when victories for Phil Parkinson are scarce. The onus was on not losing.

Parkinson’s side’s posture was aided by the return of Andrew Davies who stepped back into the team and immediately impressed with a controlled performance in a calm defence.

Davies arrived on loan at Bradford City two and a half years ago with the club in the bottom two of League Two and ended up staying. He was the best defender in League Two and certainly is amongst the best in League One. That is what happened to Andrew Davies when he came to Bradford City on loan.

Davies was calm and so were Rory McArdle and Jon McLaughlin alongside him despite both making mistakes. McLaughlin pushed a ball wide he could have taken but did not sulk. McArdle put mistake upon mistake giving the ball away sloppily twice but his was not composure lost. Both can mark that as personal and collective progress.

City struggled to press the game. Without Bennett the width in midfield was lost. Also on his debut Adam Reach ended up drifting from position to position occasionally looking useful but often looking lost for a place to settle in. Within an hour of his first game at Valley Parade he found every eye in the stadium looking to him to provide inspiration which was lacking all evening.

City lacked confidence going forward and have for some time.

James Hanson toils but is now targeted by big defenders who make it their business to stop him doing his. Aaron McLean looks to have the strength to hold up the ball and bring other players in but again without Bennett or width he lacked targets to do that. Oli McBurnie did well when he came on but as with Wells before him in the last three months without Parkinson committing more men forward to attack players with pace end up running into defensive bodies.

The goalless draw was threatened on occasion when McLaughlin’s post was rattled and when McLean forced Declan Rudd into a push away and both teams were content to take a point. Rudd was an assured pair of gloves all evening.

One wonders though what – in private – those managers will think of Bennett and Kilkenny. Parkinson’s run without winning goes uncommented upon at Valley Parade and there is a justified belief he is in the process of getting things right but Bennett’s actions will not have hastened that process.

One wonders though how much today will shape the things that happen with the players on loan at Bradford City. Adam Reach won admiration for his attacking play and willingness to take players on.

Kyle Bennett, on the other hand, has a lot to do.

The form team

It would be easy to not notice in the trials and tribulations which are the life of a Bradford City supporter that the club has returned to something approaching form.

In the six games since the start of October City have played twice at home and four times on the road in the league which our “win at home, draw away Championship” form tell us should result in ten points. With two home wins and two away draws City have returned eight.

So when Phil Parkinson talks about the club having got the message about what it takes to get on in football he does so from a position of believing he is having some success in that aim.

Indeed the one thing that can be said about City’s recent games is that the players have shown the guts to drag out results in trying circumstances. The win at home to Torquay United and the draw at Swindon Town were both done with ten men following sendings off.

Which says much about Phil Parkinson’s approach to management and how he hopes to have his City teams become hard to play against. Swindon, in the play off places, could not break down the Bantams and like Macclesfield before them found chances hard to come by. It is a different City to one we are perhaps used to – Stuart McCall’s side created chances at both ends – but one which has started to have an impact.

Both the sendings off were for Andrew Davies and both were straight red cards leaving the player on loan from Stoke City with a three, and now a four match ban. The luck of the draw – or bad luck – is that two of those games will be the JPT and FA Cup.

In Davies’ absence Marcel Seip returns to his role in the centre of the defence alongside Luke Oliver while Liam Moore and Luke O’Brien take the full back berths in front of Matt Duke. It is heartening that with the changes at the back have not come an instability suggesting that Parkinson’s attempts to build an ethic as well as a team are having some effect.

Michael Flynn and Richie Jones were reunited in the middle at Swindon and continued to good effect. No two players typify Phil Parkinson’s comment to his players:

The emphasis we’re putting on the players is that to wear a Bradford City shirt, you’ve got to roll your sleeves up and work hard.

Kyel Reid takes a place on the left and Michael Bryan will hope for a place on the right although Jamie Devitt is pushing for a recall having returned to the squad. James Hanson and Craig Fagan are expected to carry on up front.

Cheltenham arrive at Valley Parade in a play off place and – like Swindon and Macclesfield – are in what is called good form. How Parkinson will approach the game – not including a reaction to a red card – will further inform us as to the style of management he hopes to cement at Valley Parade.

Making no excuses

It is all about excuses, and who has to give them.

Take Phil Parkinson for example. He stands accused after the 1-0 defeat at Macclesfield Town of making an excuse about referee Rob Lewis. Parkinson pointed out that his team – who have faced not one shot on target from inside the area in the last 180 minutes with the exception of that penalty – would have had something from the evening were it not for Lewis’ intervention. This was “making excuses” – or so we are told.

We get no excuse – the City fans who travelled to Macclesfield – about why the penalty was given and the Macclesfield supporters who shouted for a red card with some justification got no excuse from Lewis for what they were not sated. BfB tried to get the match report with our usual polite email to the Football League. We were told no. Rob Lewis need not give an excuse for ignoring the Laws of Football.

He may be called to give an excuse for his language towards Craig Fagan. It seems that Fagan asked Lewis about the booking he got and was replied to by Lewis swearing. Industrial language is not uncommon in football but the Laws of the game were used to send off players (and after the game) turning games and even seasons and we were told that there was no excuse for that behaviour. One wonders what Rob Lewis excuse will end up saying to the authorities, if they ask him as a result of the complaint City have put in about the official.

“Excuse” has been the phrase de jour for sometime around Valley Parade for some time. As a club “making excuses” has been verbalised from top to bottom of the club. Mark Lawn – when talking about training facilities – said that the lack of them could be used as an excuse while Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor were both “excuse making” when they talked about various issues which hampered their team’s performances.

Should a manager find something else to blame when the slings and arrows of Referee misfortune rain down on his team? Should he go straight to problem number two stepping over the first issue? When it comes to criticising officials Ron Atkinson had a hard and fast rule: “I never talk about Referees, and I’m not making an exception for that berk.”

What is Parkinson to do? His belief is that a robust team that do not concede will pick up points on the road. Michael Flynn’s red card stopped that robustness at Hereford, the penalty robbed a point at Macclesfield. If Parkinson can put hand on heart and say that he was happy with the performances otherwise then should he make something up rather than saying something that could be called an excuse?

Are we – as Bradford City supporters – really a community which is too immature to handle the interpretation of the game as the manager sees it and do we need to have that game retold to us in a way we find more palatable?

Which is not to say that Parkinson’s approach is to everyone’s taste, that is is great to watch or that it will work in the long term just that it is the approach that he has always used and the one he believes to be right. It is also the approach that many teams come to Valley Parade with and that has caused so many home reversals so it would be wrong to not point to a certain validity in the frustration game. If people are criticising Parkinson for using it away from home then they perhaps may recall if they criticised Colin Todd for not being able to break it down at VP.

The culture we have in the Bradford City community would reject excuses and anything that sound like excuses casting babies down Manningham Lane with bathwater to follow. It is to say that we have no truck with with anyone offering reason, it is the denial of the ability to be analytical.

Imagine if you will – and dear reader imagine it is so rather than questioning the premise if you have a mind to – that the only reason that Bradford City did not return from Macclesfield Town on Tuesday night with at least a point is because of atrocious Refereeing. Would you want to know that? Would you want to be lied to? Would you want Phil Parkinson to make changes to a team which would have performed well otherwise?

The question is yours to ponder, but as Macclesfield Town headed towards the play-off places and people without the ability to do basic mathematics said that City’s season was over they did so with an undeserved result, if you would take my opinion.

To paraphrase: “You train all week, you do everything right, and then Rob Lewis decides the result.”

City go onto Swindon Town to play against popular fascist Paolo Di Canio’s side who sit seventh in the division. The Robins are much talked about for the enigmatic Di Canio’s presence but more importantly they have not lost for five (four wins and a draw) which is a run started at Macclesfield.

City go into the game with Matt Duke in goal behind a back four which will probably see Marcel Seip step down to allow Andrew Davies to be recalled alongside Luke Oliver. Luke O’Brien is likely to come in at left back for the injured Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore will retain his place at right back.

Adam Reed looks is unlikely to play – his loan deal is up on Saturday and he does not have a clause in his contract that guarantees him a place – so Richie Jones and Michael Flynn will reunite in the middle. Chris Mitchell is hoping for a recall either on the right or in a three while Michael Bryan will hope that Phil Parkinson opts for a flat four in the midfield which would give him a place on the right. Kyel Reid continues on the left.

Craig Fagan will start up front alongside or to the side of James Hanson.

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.

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.

Davies guilty of “serious foul play”

Phil Parkinson will not be appealing the red card for Andrew Davies after the club was informed that the player would miss three games being guilty of serious foul play.

One might have wondered if Davies’ sending off was a yellow card for the tackle modified by denying a goal scoring opportunity but this is not the case.

Referee Carl Boyeson sets a precedent with his decision that any tackle which involves two feet, even one without aggression or forward movement, is serious foul play even if it wins the ball and makes no contact with the man.

All of which is perfectly acceptable, I’ve no desire to see two footed tackles in the game, but only if it is applied consistently and that all offenses that could be serious foul play that turn out well also be punished.

Which begs the question as to why Boyeson watched Mark Stewart be slapped by an swung arm behind a defender, and Kyel Reid was roughed up by a Torquay player and given a yellow card for his troubles.

Referees who stick to the rules are only of value if they apply those rules evenhandedly. Failing to do that, as Boyeson did on Saturday, is just poor officiating.

The enemies of football as Parkinson’s City claim a first win

The last time he left Valley Parade happy Phil Parkinson was called “the enemy of football” by then City manager Colin Todd after his Colchester United team battled to a point. As Parkinson celebrated his first win as Bantams boss it seemed that no matter what how much of an enemy if the game Todd might think he may be, he is effective against the opposition.

Torquay United came to Valley Parade and were almost entirely neutered in their attempts to win the game thanks to a defensive effort from Parkinson’s side the match of anything seen at City for seasons and despite the Bantams having a man sent off.

Lining up with two rows of four, and Mark Stewart behind Craig Fagan Parkinson’s side were the picture of tight defending and – when they had to be – smart enough to kill off the game when legs got weary with the Bantams having to play over an hour with ten men following the sending off of Andrew Davies in the first half.

Now, dear reader, our views may divert (at least until television reveals more) but from my bit of plastic in the near 12,000 filled seats at Valley Parade Davies went in aggressively on Danny Stevens taking both feet off the floor and even in getting the ball the red card that Carl Boyeson showed was (as little as I like to see City players sent off) the right decision.

(Sunday note: Watching again the only way the Ref could justify a red card is if he believed that because the tackle was two footed that it was automatically either reckless, dangerous and endangered an opponent thus a yellow card even if it got the ball and, by virtue if the goal scoring opportunity denied, a red card. If that is the case Davies would get a one match ban. It was certainly not a violent or aggressive tackle which would merit a three match ban. Having seen it again, and in the context of other tackles in the game, I would not have even blown the whistle for a foul.)

My views were not shared by most and Valley Parade went into uproar and most (including t’other half of BfB Jason Mckeown) thought that Davies had taken ball hard but fair, that Stevens had made a meal of the tackles – he was booed for the rest of the afternoon – and that Boyeson was wrong.

If Boyeson did get the decision right then it was pretty much all he got right all afternoon in which time and time again he showed a near contempt for the rules that he was on the field to enforce. For sure we can all forgive mistakes – one or Jason and myself will be wrong about the red card tackle – but what can not be forgive is seeing offences and ignoring them.

So when Kyel Reid – on a foray into the Torquay United half when City were attacking on the counter – turned Eunan O’Kane on the edge of the box despite the midfielder tugging on his shirt only to be hacked at and pulled down in the box and Boyeson gave only a yellow card one had to wonder which part of the rules he was enforcing. The part that says that denying a goal scoring opportunity mandates a red card was ignored, and thirty years of football tells me that that was one.

Of the goalscoring opportunities City created the lion’s share with Matt Duke having to save once low down to his right but spending most of the rest of the afternoon watching the heroics of defenders Luke Oliver and substitute Guy Branston who blocked and blocked again whenever the ball penetrated the wall which the midfield pair Richie Jones and Michael Flynn had put up which was refreshingly not often.

In a game when plaudits were available for all special mention goes to Michael Flynn who put in a box to box midfield display which makes one wonder why at the start of the season he was seemingly on his way out of the club. His combination with Jones – who is a fine player for sure and one with a great engine – made for a powerful midfield display nullifying the previously excellent O’Kane.

Oliver and Branston – and Davies before his departure – were immense. Again Oliver was on his way out at the start of the season but his performance today looked like the best defender to have taken to the field for City since the slide into League Two. Graeme Lee, David Wetherall, Matt Clarke et al would have all loved to have put in a display like this.

Branston loved it too. Not wanting to dismiss the travelling supporters who applauded him last year he was gracious in victory but his display was the sort of showing which seemed promised when he signed.

Some of Branston’s tackles walked the line for sure, but so did much of City’s play and one was reminding of Todd’s talk of enemies when City got tough. City under Stuart McCall (in his first two seasons) and once or twice under Peter Jackson could be a joy to watch but they could also be a joy to play again for the opposition. A side that wanted to pass and impress an opposition side, Parkinson’s City were more aggressive.

Torquay United will return to the South Coast knowing they have been in a game. Michael Flynn was booked for a hard tackle, Richie Jones lucky not to follow Flynn into the book. Branston cleaned out everything, Oliver put muscle in and Craig Fagan leading the line gave his defender Hell. City, for want of a better phrase, manned up.

Sturdy at the back, giving nothing away, and ending up with a clean sheet all City needed to do was score – not something has been a problem this season – and so the goal came in the last ten minutes of the first half when a cross in from Robbie Threlfall was headed on by Luke Oliver, taken under control by Craig Fagan and struck in with power.

Fagan’s fitness is returning and he is looking like a very good player. He nearly got a second in the second half when he latched onto a the ball when racing against goalkeeper Robert Olejnik and lobbing the ball over the custodian only to see it hit bar and post and bounce away. Threlfall’s had a direct free kick pushed wide by a diving Olejnik later. Another goal would not have flattered City.

Not getting a goal though City played out the last ten minutes at game killing pace and the frustration started to show. Kyel Reid toyed with a few Torquay players and got a couple of kicks for his trouble one of which could not have been said to have been near the ball. Boyeson seemed to be happy to let that – as he did the many deliberate handballs he blew for against Torquay striker Rene Howe go without further censure.

Not one player will have left the field without the warm handshake from Phil Parkinson. Liam Moore battled hard at full back well supported by Stewart who dropped back to the right following the sending off. Kyel Reid turned a performance which seemed to be going nowhere into a great display. Luke O’Brien and Nialle Rodney put in great shifts from the bench. Parkinson has drummed in the need for hard work, and he got it today.

It was a new Bradford City modelled by Parkinson. More canny, a bit more nasty, and victorious. The sort of thing which Colin Todd called the enemies of football but without the ability to trust officials to carry out their jobs as detailed (and I reiterate that the red card, to me, seemed sound but one correct decision does not a performance make) City had to look after themselves today, and did.

Twelve games in and City have moved up the table to fourth bottom but it seems very much like this season has finally got going.

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.

Parkinson turns the ship

Taking his Bradford City team to Burton Albion in search of his first win as City boss Phil Parkinson talks like a man who can see the turn of the tide.

We have worked hard again in training this week, we’ve brought another player into the football club – the squad’s evolving (Adam Reed) – I feel it’s getting better all the time. The positions that we are filling now are the key positions that I felt needed addressing when I sat down with the chairmen at the very beginning.

Reed’s arrival at Sunderland to join the central midfielders adds to Andrew Davies’ joining from Stoke City, and Craig Fagan and Kyel Reid’s signings, in a Bantams team that starts to be shaped in the manager’s image.

The frustration of the AFC Wimbledon game was clear for all to see with too little decisiveness and responsibility taken and too few links between the midfield and the forward line leaving James Hanson once again isolated up front and four players attempting to make the connection between the lines and none quiet able to get it right against a five man defence which enjoyed sitting deep.

Away from home – and with less onus to attack – Parkinson’s team are perhaps better suited at this stage as they look to build confidence. Parkinson has a plethora of options available but has he calls on those he looks to do so in a way that blends a change in attitude on the field. The losing culture talked about in the week seems to have been obvious to the manager, as to managers before him.

That culture has proved near impossible to turn around and Bradford City is like a large ship struggling to alter course. Parkinson has identified the problem quickly in his time at City, which is a step in the right direction. Previous managers have not found a way to deal with it.

Sitting ninth Burton Albion come into the game with suspensions to Aaron Webster and Ryan Austin following the 3-1 defeat to Gillingham.

City stuck in neutral looking for decisive performances

Framing City at the moment seems to be the question “What to do about players playing badly?”

Guy Branston was playing badly – or so it was argued by some – and Phil Parkinson seemed to agree dropping his captain for new signing Andrew Davies who put in an impressive début despite the scoreline not differing over much from that of recent weeks. Parkinson made a big decision dropping Peter Jackson’s captain and a brave one but when AFC Wimbledon’s Christian Jolley hit a ball from outside that box that looped over Matt Duke in the City goal then the City manager must have wondered how that decision seemed to result in so much of the same.

Jolley’s goal gave the Dons an unexpected win a game where they were distinctly second best in all but the most important part of football – turning possession into attacking chances – where they were very much better. Set up in a 532 Terry Brown’s side sat deep but came forward with an imagination which seemed lacking from a stolid Bantams side. The Dons did not attack in numbers, but they were direct and most importantly available for each other.

Which was not the case with the Bantams. After Midson’s equaliser mid-way through the first half – a result of the Dons’ striker speedily moving into the gap that Luke Oliver left after an impressive headed clearance and and Christian Jolley being able to play an over the shoulder flick under little pressure from Liam Moore – it was noticeable how the two sides attacking play differed. Wimbledon’s attacks were more random, less considered and as a result more direct.

City’s work in the middle of the pitch was very good. Richie Jones put in a performance which deserved to be a part of a win and with Michael Flynn alongside him the pair were in control of the middle of the pitch but when coming forward they lacked options as a result of their play. Jamie Devitt dropped off the forward line to take the ball but in doing so seemed to duplicate the midfield play rather than adding to the attacking options. Devitt’s dropping off allowed him space but with the back five of the Dons it meant that when he received the ball he was looking forward at too few options.

Chris Mitchell put in a good shift on the right but Kyel Reid will probably not suffer a worse afternoon in his entire career. Pushed wide by a full back and with cover for that full back in the occasions in which he beat his man Reid was far too often on the wrong side of the defender when Jones or Flynn was looking for an outlet. At half time Reid had put in a wretched first half and what does one do with a player who has put in a wretched first half? Reid can and has played better, keep faith with him and he might. In retrospect Parkinson should have taken Reid off, but many player has been given a half time rocket and turned in a performance in the second half.

That was not the case and so with Reid not as an option, with Mitchell quiet (but never a player to get around the back of a five) then City fed everything through Devitt and were rewarded with the first half penalty for a foul on the striker – dispatched by Flynn – but suffered from a predictability.

Devitt is a curious player. Excellent control, able on the ball, and looking dangerous when he touches it he puts one in mind of Chris Waddle or Benito Carbone because for all those abilities and skills – for all the good things he does – he seems to add a weight on the side that causes a sort of wind resistance. Like Waddle Devitt sets a pace and patten of play but – like Waddle – the City team he is in look limited when they play the ball through him.

Everything is predictable when it all comes through Devitt who slows the play down and while he looks good doing it he seemed to slow the attacking pace down. He and James Hanson attempted combination flicks, attempted, link ups, but in the end City’s best chances were a good delivery from the flank that Hanson headed and Seb Brown saved superbly holding well and Hanson’s hitting the post when charging down a Brown clearance.

The challenge for Parkinson is how to make the decisions on the distinction between the players who need to be replaced, the players who need to be backed to play better, and the players who need to play better in the team. Time for the manager to earn his money and make those decisions.

If he can do that – with Jones and Flynn purring away looking for passes, outlets and ways to attack – City could go far. As it is without a way of going forward on the field City under Phil Parkinson are stuck in neutral.

Davies join City on loan

26 year old Stoke City defender Andrew Davies has joined Bradford City on loan for three months as the club look to address the defensive problems which have seen goals shipped.

Davies, one time of Middlesborough and Southampton, is six foot three and has experience at England u21 level. His first team chance have been limited at Stoke but as a senior professional his dropping down some four divisions to join City represents something of a coup for the club.

His arrival is expected to bring about a resuffle in the Bantam’s backline with one of skipper Guy Branston or Luke Oliver stepping down for the AFC Wimbledon game and the other perhaps following when Steve Williams regains match fitness having returned to training yesterday.

Davies is expected to make his debut tomorrow.

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