Inefficient / Attitude / Passing

The Team

Colin Doyle | Daniel Devine, Romain Vincelot, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, James Meredith | Mark Marshall, Josh Cullen, Timothée Dieng, Nicky Law | Billy Clarke, Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila | Vincent Rabiega

Nothing useless can be truly beautiful – William Morris

Long after the final whistle of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Oldham Athletic came the revelation that City have scored without reply in the closing stages of the game then the Bantams would have been top of League One.

Bolton Wanderers – under former City boss Phil Parkinson – drew on his return to another former haunt Charlton Athletic and Scunthorpe United lost at a Port Vale side who have carried on whatever promise they showed on the first day of the season to nestle forth in the five o’clock league table.

For the want of a goal the Bantams were thwarted on an afternoon which was more interesting than it was exhilarating.

The Stuart McCall brand Bradford City are a strange team to watch as they find their feet. For sure they are possessed of some determination having gone behind to an early Peter Clarke goal when the former Huddersfield Town skipper targeted Daniel Devine at a set piece and beat the youngster in the air.

Devine typified the team in shrugging off anything like a set-back and carrying on the afternoon. Following Tony McMahon’s injury Devine switched to right back where aside from avoiding crossing the ball he looked for all the world like a seasoned veteran of the utility man variety.

So determination and no little craft in that as a team the role of the midfield – and one could make an argument that City played six, perhaps eight, players in midfield against Oldham Athletic – is fetishised beyond what seems necessary or useful.

The ball was caressed around the field with élan and possession was retained for long periods of time. When the equaliser came – a Billy Clarke penalty – it seemed to come because that possession had wandered into the box as it continued a scenic tour around Valley Parade. Ousmane Fane – excellent in holding midfield for the visitors – pulled down Josh Cullen in a moment of undue rashness and the game was level.

It is easy to laud this new Bradford City for the contrast that it presents with the five years that came before it. The term hoofball is banded about freely to describe Parkinson’s City as if one could sum up an entire approach in a single word.

Alt

There is something to be said for looking at Oldham vs Bradford City through the eyes of Phil Parkinson. Imagine one of those away trips that took an hour to get over the Pennines to watch Parkinson’s City take an early lead. Imagine watching Rory McArdle and Reece Burke swamp a tricky little centre forward, deny him possession, and snuff him out as Clarke and Cameron Burgess did to Jordy Hiwula.

Imagine watching a wide midfielder capable of laser guided shots gradually minimised through the game. He troubles the goalkeeper from long range on occasion but that is more acceptable than cutting through the defence.

Imagine the satisfaction that would have come watching their Billy Clarke withdraw from pressing the forward to hunt deeper for the ball in increasing frustration. Imagine how one would phrase the summation of the game to anyone asking. “Yes they had possession but they just passed it around midfield and never really broke us down.”

There is much talk about how with a different centre forward for Bradford City – and City have fielded five already this season with Vincent Rabiega making his debut off the bench today – would score goals and this could be true but thinking back on the game with Oldham Athletic one struggles to recall a plethora of chances missed.

Billy Clarke and Jordy Hiwula can both be accused of having missed the sort of chances one would expect them to score but saying that leaves twenty of the twenty two shots on goal in an impressive statistic unaccounted for.

I would suggest that against Oldham Athletic as with Coventry City most of the chances are of the half, or not clear cut, variety. That (around) twenty two chances that create just (about) two moments where one might expect the striker to score suggest the problem is not in finishing chances but in creating better ones.

Which returns to the question of the creators and where they are failing to convert the possession into chances with the implied understanding that possession is not equal to chances. Clarke and Mark Marshall – who faded into anonymity after a good opening – are chiefly accused here but creation is a shared aim which is not being served at the moment.

Addressing that – and with Paul Anderson ready to leave the club this week there is scope to address it – is the prime concern and bringing in a forward secondary.

It could be that there is a forward out there who can make the runs and command the space in a way that allows for more possession to be converted into chances which could then be converted into goals. It could be that a new creator is able to do that. There could be a solution found in the current squad which – after all – is not second in the League One table for no reason.

How that is addressed is something Stuart McCall has time to work on and may not need to work on at all. That City are inefficient is less important than that the are successful and they are successful at the moment.

However as the collective at Valley Parade congratulate themselves for being less like they were under Parkinson it is worth remembering that there was more to the last five years than just how the ball arrived into the final third of the pitch.

Away

Away games such as Oldham Athletic enjoyed today – where a great passing team passed itself out and Parkinson’s City went back to Bradford with something – were a part of the success of those teams. Stuart McCall has transformed City into a team of would be promotion passers from the team that frustrated would be promotion passers.

That frustration was not a function of the style of play but rather of the team’s attitude and that attitude was about grinding out results through a kind of bravery which centred around a managed risk on the field.

Watching Bradford City pass the ball around a lot but create a little it remains to be seen if City have that bravery within them bursting to get out or if the side pass that retains the ball is a soft option. It is that part of the Parkinson attitude – not signing players – which will define if City are promoted this season or if they are another of the pretty teams who populate the middle of League One.

Player / Season

If you look back through the list of people who have won Time magazine Man of the Year you see some curious names: Stalin, Hilter, Kissinger. Time Magazine’s award is not a prize for the best or most worthy, nor is it an indication of the most agreed with, it is a statement on how that person captures the year gone by.

So it is in that spirit where I dismiss talk of Reece Burke as City’s player of the season and champion Kyel Reid.

Reid, more than anyone, signals the fulcrum point of 2015/2016 and the two Bradford City City’s that played in it. Brought in to replace the injured and floundering Paul Anderson Reid’s return from Preston North End signalled an acknowledgement from Phil Parkinson that something was going rotten in his Denmark.

Reid’s performances have continued the theme that Reid’s performances do. Some superb runs, some curious slaloms. Some controlled shots, some high wide handsomes. He plays with a smile and if his play does not make you then you are the worse for it. Watching a winger charge at a full back is one of football’s most glorious sights and Reid’s passion for that has taken me to the edge of my seat many times.

More than that though Reid was Parkinson’s man. A winger who borders on the flamboyant it is easy to exclude from one’s thoughts Parkinson having signed Reid three times in his career, including on his first day at Bradford City in 2011. The trust between manager and player is key here. As Parkinson watched his team ship goals he bright in an attacking player who he knew he could trust in defensive positions. As his team lacked character he brought in a player who he knew the shape for the dressing room. Reid fit in in 2015 because Reid fit in in 2011, and in 2010 at Charlton Athletic, because teams always need players with the character of Reid.

The turnaround in City’s season was not about mazy runs or pinpoint crosses it was about a solid defence and a strong character and the return of Kyel Reid – along with Tony McMahon’s move onto the right hand side of midfield – cemented that. One might want the best from Paul Anderson/Mark Marshall last year and next but Parkinson needs them to build a rapport with their full back. Reid seldom gets credit for his defensive positioning – and sometimes he is maligned for it as a kind of holdover from the days of Omar Daley – but his connection to James Meredith in the defensive third of the field stops crosses.

After Kyel Reid’s return City won seventy points from thirty six games. That 1.94 points a game compares to champions Wigan’s 1.89 points per game over 46 matches. The importance of knowing the character of a player before bringing him to the club is a lesson taught time and time again and comparing the failing Mark Marshall to Reid teaches it once more.

Reid might not have a contract at Bradford City next season. He is another player waiting for the retained list and perhaps worrying about how much investment Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic will invest for other talent. But the example of Reid this season should inform next. Recruitment is not about something more that technical gifts. It is about reliability and character and if the players who come in at August 2016 do not have that then I’d hope Kyel Reid is sitting by his phone.

Burton / Bolton

There was so little in the statement and interviews given by Edin Rahic on his first day as Bradford City chairman that there seemed to be a challenge to the accepted wisdom that it is always easy to be negative.

The German’s remarks ticked so many of the boxes Bradford City fans wanted ticking that they presented even the most pessimistic person a problem finding something to be unhappy about. Rahic respects the club’s traditions, is looking forward to working with Phil Parkinson, and wants to bring success a measured way.

Rahic said that he and Stefan Rupp had looked at four or five clubs and settled on City because of a alignment of aims. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Could be.

While everyone hopes Rahic and Rupp will be everything they say they will be the fact is that the Football League has welcomed these new owners with only a tick on a Fit and Proper Test which many have serious reservations over and very little else.

What have Rahic and Rupp had to do to prove they should own a big community assets in one of England’s top ten cities? What did Massimo Cellino have to do to show he should own Leeds United? What did Ken Bates have to prove? Very little.

And this is not a comparison between Rahic and Rupp and those two brigands just a realisation of the lack of protection afforded supporters as they watched the process of the club being sold. A recognition that the level of regulation in English football around clubs is so scant as to be virtually non-existent.

The Football League has made some movement in the past decade to regulating the owners of clubs – a response perhaps to the “never again” moment of Milton Keynes – but still it is an under-regulated body with members who like to keep regulation loose.

Even though many clubs struggle, many are run by directors who are using the under-regulated environment to take a few chances with their club’s futures.

City will face Bolton Wanderers – recently of the Premier League – in League One next season. League One is littered with clubs – clubs like Bolton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic, and for that matter City – who have gambled and lost.

Bolton Wanderers were £172.9m in debt at the end of 2015 having fallen from the Premier League and seemingly had no method of dealing with the decline. I cannot say why no one at Bolton arrested this financial situation sooner but I feel sure that it is uncontroversial to say that there is something wrong with a system where a club can spend that much money unchecked.

Another former Premier League club Charlton Athletic are run in a way that scares the Football League to an extent that they fear their supporters protesting the Championship presentation. Blackpool have exited League One downwards with their fans practically at war with the the people who run it.

When the likes of Burton Albion – the new Crewe if you will – reach the second tier of English football seemingly just by being persistently sensible in a sea of insanity you might wonder if Rahic and Rupp wanted an English club because all you need to get on is an ounce of good business planning.

Burton Albion, AFC Bournemouth, even Leicester City all have some money behind them but they are mostly characterised by sensible management. Contrast that with Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Leeds United, Bolton Wanderers, Charlton and on and on.

Nevertheless there is little appetite in football for any type of regulation which might stand in the way of clubs being run exactly how clubs wish to be run.

The hope for supporters is that it is run like a Burton and not like a Bolton.

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

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary McKenzie, James Meredith | Andy Halliday, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Mark Yeates | Jon Stead, Billy Clarke | Francois Zoko, Alan Sheehan

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.

The two Phil Parkinsons

If Phil Parkinson could have been in two places at once at Layer Road Colchester on Tuesday night he would have been.

He would have been in the Bradford City dug out watching a team win 2-0. He would have been happy to see James Hanson barge his way past two defenders to power a headed goal in in the first half, he would have been happy to see Kyle Bennett score in the second and at full time he will have reflected that after a hard Winter Spring is starting to come for his Bradford City side.

But he would have been in the Colchester dug out too, ten years ago.

He would have been that rookie manager starting out in the game just as Joe Dunne is now. He would have got the bit between his teeth and got his teeth into City in a way that Colchester failed to do.

One wonders what the one Parkinson would have shared with the other. What he would impart back through a decade of experience. Ten years ago no less than Bantams gaffer Colin Todd was calling Parkinson the enemy of football. Perhaps he would have shared a smile that Parkinson – for any validity in Todd’s statement – will always be better thought of at Valley Parade than the former England player was.

Parkinson took two seasons to get Colchester to the top of League One. After 99 games he had a third wins, a third draws, a third defeats but he stuck to his principals and promotion followed. The older Parkinson might underline that point.

He might say “Son,” as all of us would, “make sure you never let those principals slide. It’s what will matter in the end.”

Parkinson’s time at Charlton Athletic was the holding pattern of his career. A nothing of a time when he was not his own man nor was he surrounded by his own men. He has, he has said, promised Mrs Parkinson that he would assure he would never get into that situation again.

Hull City things were different. He stuck to principals about how he wanted senior players to behave and as a result they stuck the knife into him, between shoulder blade, and it seemed that his chance had gone when Phil Brown took what he had and took it to the Premier League.

One wonders what it would have been like to be Parkinson in 2007 watching Dean Windass send Hull to the top flight thinking that if only you had allowed Ian Ashbee to do what he wanted then you would have been leading that charge.

“Be calm,” the older Parkinson would have said, “you are making the right decision.”

And when Bradford City turned him down to appoint Peter Taylor Parkinson had to cool his heels and not jump at a job that would not have served him well. “Be calm.”

Its hard to imagine that any young, ambitious man would have listened to an echo from the future. “Make your own mistakes” might have been the right thing to say.

And then, thinking of the persistence it has taken to stand by his principals this season, he might have added “but don’t make them twice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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