sees Parkinson, Milanese and the beauty of beating Leyton Orient

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith | Andy Halliday, Billy Knott, Gary Liddle, Mark Yeates | Jon Stead, Billy Clarke | Francois Zoko, James Hanson

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.

From Despair to Delight

Following Saturday’s desperate loss at Accrington not too many would’ve predicted the events of last night at Spotland. Prior to the last night’s game BfB’s Jason ‘Winston’ McKeown had issued a rallying cry for supporters to find their voice and really get behind the team.

The message had definitely sunk in. Prior to kick-off their seemed to be a sense amongst the fans that City might just cause a bit of an upset. Another strong away following made the short trip over the Pennines to Rochdale however this time they had brought with them their full singing voices.

The atmosphere was fantastic and the acoustics allowed the chanting to echo around the ground, no doubt creating an intimidating environment for the home players.

As the snow poured down City, who had reverted to 4-4-2, started fantastically. They came absolutely flying out of the blocks and pressed Rochdale forcing them into early mistakes and adding pressure to their defence.

Michael Flynn had been moved up front to play with James Hanson and his direct approach, battling and strength really put the Rochdale back-line under strain. It also allowed James Hanson to become more involved in the play and the role of target man interchanged between the two players.

Gareth Evans, who started on the right side of midfield, began brightly showing real determination and pace to cause Dale’s left-back Kennedy a lot of problems. Luke O’Brien took the role on the left-side of midfield that allowed new signing Robbie Threlfall to slot in at left-back.

Threlfall, who has signed on an initial one month deal from Liverpool, offered a bit more height, strength and positional awareness than O’Brien and looked composed throughout. He also offered fantastic delivery from dead-ball situations and this came to the fore in the tenth minute.

City’s high-tempo start put the home side under early pressure from which City won a corner. New signing Threlfall whipped in the corner only for Dale keeper Fielding (who was dressed in bright fluorescent orange in a bin man/lollypop stylee) to flap at the cross; the ball dropped to Matt Clarke 4 yards out and the big centre-back made no mistake in thumping the ball home for City’s first goal since the Torquay game. Cue wild scenes of celebration from the City faithful which was a just reward for their excellent early backing and City’s excellent start.

City continued to press following the goal which resulted in Flynn going close from long-range forcing a good save from Fielding although strangely no corner was given. Despite City’s excellent play Rochdale still looked composed and passed the ball well through the midfield. Their strikers, Chrises Dagnall and O’Grady linked well but their attacks were often snuffed out by the resilient City backline with all four defenders impressing.

O’Grady frequently tussled with Clarke throughout the half and often won soft free-kicks when it appeared, to the majority of City fans, that the former loanee was constantly backing in.

Rochdale continued to press towards the end of the half with efforts from Jones and O’Grady although City keeper Glennon watched both go harmlessly over. As City showed signs of tiring from their early tempo Rochdale began to find more space in the midfield often through Dale midfielder Taylor who had so clinically exposed City at Valley Parade. More passes were strung together as pressure built on the away side which resulted in Dale pulling a goal back just before half-time. O’Grady managed to battle his way past Williams and fire a low ball across the face of goal for Chris Dagnall to apply a finish that squirmed under Glennon’s body at the near post. In previous weeks heads would’ve dropped and a feeling of inevitability would have set in however, buoyed by their brilliant start and vocal support, City battled on against an increasingly dangerous Dale and made it to half-time for a well earned breather.

Suitably refreshed from their half-time oranges and no doubt words of praise from their new manager, the players returned to the field for the second period. Once again the support for the players and manager rang throughout the ground.

City started with a similar intensity to press and shut down the Dale players but seemed to be increasingly getting pushed back deeper and deeper as Dale enjoyed the early possession. After having a moan to the referee as the players walked off for half-time, Chris O’Grady seemed to have convinced the ref that the City defenders were constantly fouling him, and not vice versa, resulting in the man in blue giving the striker a floury of early second half free-kicks around the City box.

Once again City’s resilient defence managed to keep Dale at bay, snuffing out several attacks. The desire to prevent the home side from attacking was typified by Gareth Evans who, after requiring treatment twice in the first half, never stopped running and tracking back (and forward) and arguably enjoyed his best performance in a City shirt. He not only worked tirelessly but showed signs of skill and composure going forward that have been lacking in recent weeks; he even managed to act as mascot to gee the City fans up after receiving a nasty boot to the face in the first half.

City’s never-say-die attitude resulted in the home side making two attacking changes to find the break through. During this period of pressure City looked to break on the counter attack using Hanson as an outlet but the former shelf-stacker looked increasingly shattered as the game went on.

With 15 minutes left Michael Boulding came on for the solid Stephen O’Leary where Flynn pushed back into central midfield. Boulding’s fresher legs put more pressure on Dale as City looked to steal all three points. As City attacked left-back Threlfall found himself on halfway and played a quick one-two with Luke O’Brien, getting the ball back Threlfall powered his way past two Dale defenders and was up-ended by what appeared to be the last man right on the edge of the box.

The away fans screamed for a penalty and a sending off but the referee took lesser actions instead giving a free-kick and a yellow card to the guilty Dale player. City lined up the free-kick with Flynn waiting to drill an effort goalwards, instead Threlfall stepped up to curl a beautiful strike over the wall that appeared to go off the bar and in off the keeper’s back (Not entirely sure as I haven’t seen the replay). The away fan’s erupted with delight with noise that nearly tore the roof of the stadium off.

The home side looked to hit straight back and a close range effort from Dagnall was well saved by Glennon. City again played on the break and a floated ball from mid-way inside the Dale half by Threlfall was nodded down by James Hanson to an on-rushing Evans, the shot was suitably smashed home by his left boot from the edge of the box giving the player a much deserved reward for his awesome, tireless performance.

Jubilation again amongst the City fans who could not believe the transformation from their side of a few days ago to now. The fans stayed standing until the full-time whistle as choruses of ‘City till I Die’ pulsed around Spotland.

At full-time, most notably, Michael Flynn ran over to City fans to celebrate this was in stark contrast to the disgusting abuse he had unduly received at Acrrington. Simon Ramsden also joined in as did the rest of the team in the celebrations so that the City players and manager left the field buzzing.

I couldn’t help but walk out of the ground with a massive grin on my face, shared with other fans, with a reminder that this is the reason why we put up with all the upset and the heartache for days and occasions just like this.

So now we look to Saturday and Darlington coming to VP. With a bit of luck, word of mouth should spread to those that didn’t make it to Spotland about the fantastic display and the renewed confidence. I hope now that we can really build on this and carry on the excellent work come the weekend. It just goes to show that as a City fan you can go from despair to delight in just a few short days.

What we can all take with us on Saturday is the desire to get right behind the team and push them on to more great performances like this one. Then who knows where we might be come what May?

Reacting to the cold, sifting the good from the bad

Defeats are always worse in the cold.

A miserable night and a miserable result for Bradford City going down 3-0 at home to a Rochdale side that – in a League Two context – redefined ebullience.

As the bitter winter drew into Valley Parade the Bantams were beaten by what was probably the best team to come to the stadium in the two and a half years since relegation.

All had started bright enough for Stuart McCall’s side when the early exchanges saw City pinging a cross over that James Hanson turned just wide of the post and the 433 formation that saw James O’Brien return to a midfield alongside Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock and Gareth Evans and new boy Simon Whaley flank Hanson up front seemed to pile pressure onto the side which had ambitions for the top of the division.

Ambitions they would realise by the end of the evening and with no little help from City – Steve Williams’s attempt to clear a ball and his inability to step up after he had given that ball away saw a ball ended up being fired under Simon Eastwood for Dale’s first goal scored by Chris Dagnall.

The visitors played like a team brimful of confidence and as drilled as any who have been to VP for years with every man pressing at City. The full backs added to the wide men to force City’s two wide strikers to come back and be employed as weak midfielders – almost wing backs at times – resulting in a poor first home start for Whaley and Evans’s worst game since he signed for City.

The two wide played stolen away James Hanson cut a lonely and easily policed figure up front while James O’Brien struggled to get a grip in the midfield – the problem with 19 year old players is that they are, by nature, inconstant and hindsight says that McCall would have been better with the more experianced head of Chris Brandon, not that I would have made that decision at 19:45.

Luke O’Brien and Simon Ramsden – who later switched inside to cover (one assumes) an injured Zesh Rehman leaving Jonathan Bateson on the flank – were exposed by Whaley and Evans’s inability to perform both jobs adequately and the ball inside Ramsden ten scattered minutes after the first goal was centred by 39 minute City loanee Chris O’Grady for Dagnall’s second.

The Bantams players got heads up after but the support on the whole rounded on the players with not one player saved a lashing of tongue (and often worse than lashing, but let us concentrate on the main thrust) and a suggestion of their inability. All teams who are not winning at half time are booed of these days, but is there not a distinction to be made between a team playing badly and another team playing well and – if that is a distinction – was it the case on this evening?

Rochdale played as well as any side who have come to Valley Parade in this league have done and showed signs of belief in each other that the Bantams aim towards. One could spend fifteen minutes at half time reviewing every City player to find a problem in his performance but ultimately the main problem the Bantams had tonight was that they were playing against a side that played brilliantly. Swapping out any of the City squad, switching formations, changing personnel: none of those things would have altered that.

Last season’s 3-0 reversal at Spotland saw Paul Arnison hung out to dry for not being able to cope with Will Atkinson who presented a myriad of problems for Simon Ramsden tonight. When does it stop being the fault of our right back that a cross has come over and start being the credit of their left winger? Did right backs up and down the First Division lose their jobs the week after Peter Beagrie ripped them to shreds in 1999?

The build up of understanding between Dale’s pairings – the two at the back, the midfield pair, wide payers, the forwards who caused problems all night with a running off the ball and movement that border on zealous – was honed and the strength of will in the squad was evident and there as an example – no, as something to aim for – to City and to all sides in League Two and beyond. Well drilled, confident teams will always do well, they should always do well.

Rochdale got a third – O’Grady scoring after some more defensive hi-jinx – but any bad luck the Bantams had in the odd run of the ball was made up by two or three great saves which earned him a man of the match award in a match that City could hardly get into. Scott Neilson arrived late and nudged a headed chance at goal but the result was a long time decided at that point.

Ultimately while supporters will no doubt go into a catatonia of debate over the reasons and machinations behind tonight’s result – and while everyone will have a different take on those elements – it will be Stuart McCall’s decision as to sift out what he considers to be issues which can be addressed and those which came around as the result of an excellent performance by the visitors.

I have said many times in the past that the key to dealing with results good and bad is to minimise and move on and that is McCall’s task now. To isolate the problems which can be addressed and to address them, then ignore the others and not let the fact that another team has played well force his thinking away from the idea that the side – the young side – is learning and improving. Tonight was a lesson, and a spanking, but it is something which is learnt from.

The Rochdale fans asked if they could play City every week – considering the one win each of the season then we might take them up on that – but in all likelihood should they maintain that level of performance it would have to be in a division above. The last time Rochdale were promoted The Beatles were number one (with Get Back, which, oh irony, they did) and Keith Hill’s side have managed to escape promotion twice over the last two years.

City on the other hand take stock, sift the good from the bad and move onto Darlington on Saturday. Seasons are made up of cold winter nights like this and how they are reacted too.

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