Drone / On

The 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers at Valley Parade followed on from the previous three one goal each affairs against Gillingham, Millwall and Oldham Athletic as Stuart McCall’s team continue to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

Delight in that McCall has in a short space of time managed to create a team which mirrors much of what was wonderful about watching the manager play his own game. One could argue that City have become – in seven or eight of the players – a team of defensive midfielders so calm in possession, so unhurried in their play, and so pleasing on the eye.

But frustrating that the defensive midfielder is not the creator and the team lacks creation. With James Hanson restored to the starting line-up Romain Vincelot opted to break the pattern of short passes between players who were alive to possession and hit the big man from afar with a well floated diagonal pass.

Le Rory, or Rory Le Cardle. The more things change, one is forced to think, the more they stay the same.

Last season’s Bradford City seemed to get exactly what they deserved from every game. If they were poor or off the pace they were beaten. If they were together and strong they got a point or sometimes more. This season’s vintage the opposite seems true in that every week one is left with the feeling that City were due more but that some Olympian conspiracy had denied them what was rightfully theirs.

This is a trick of the eye though and of the brain. If The Parkinson Years – which will be cemented as The Parkinson Rivalry with next week’s trip to Bolton – taught us anything it was to focus on results as being the purpose of a way of playing. Attractive football that does not succeed is ultimately not attractive football.

Because frustration is not attractive. Mark Marshall’s contributions today include a lashed shot in a crowded which bounced up in the defence and was headed in by James Meredith to make the game 1-0. His replacement after seventy-five minutes Filipe Morais’ contribution was a poorly selected pass to a closed down Haris Vuckic that saw Bristol Rovers break away and score.

Both seemed to be to be the result of this frustration. The City forward play too up much of the game but again one struggled to recall a lot of spurned chanced. Consequentialism suggests that what Marshall did was good – it resulted in a goal for us – and what Morais did was bad – it resulted in a goal for them – and one wonders if McCall is happy with his team playing on such a knife edge.

The knife edge was deep into injury time when Vuckic headed towards goal from a few yards out and Rovers keeper Kelle Roos saved well. Had Vuckic’s effort fell a foot behind the line then the lingering worries that this team does not create enough may have receded.

As it is those doubts still hover.

Hover

Sixty-five minutes into the game a drone hovered over Valley Parade.

It was an amusing story in the morning that the Referee took the players from the field and the game was delayed.

But what it was not was the reason to start a conspiracy theory but start one it did. The Occumist view applies here. There may be concerns about television rights, or about other teams scouting, or about using the drone as a method of attack but – probably – the Referee’s biggest worry was that it might drop on someone’s head.

Perhaps his own.

Opening / Generative / Failings

One day after the last game of last term Bradford City was sold to new owners starting a close season which felt like nothing of the sort. Managers went and came, players followed or did not and and so the opening day 0-0 draw with Port Vale which marked a new era beginning felt oddly like a remnant of the old.

Oddly because while the faces had changed the problems remained the same. Stuart McCall replaced Phil Parkinson as City manager and will have been pleased not only with his team’s clean sheet but with how untroubled his goalkeeper was. Colin Doyle’s opening day did not see him seriously tested.

That the defence played as well as it did denied its rapid construction with Romain Vincelot dropping in along Nathaniel Knight-Percival and both putting in fine first ninety minutes. In training in the week Nathan Clarke joined Rory McArdle (injured) and Matthew Kilgallon (to fit) on the sidelines but the famously niggard Parkinson would have been proud of how few chances the City back four gave up today.

The midfield saw Timothée Dieng injured too – that last week in training must have been very exciting – and with Vincelot dropped back Daniel Devine came into make his début as Nicky Law Jnr made his second, or is it third, first appearance for City.

Devine’s first game answered a problem for McCall. As an eighteen year old he was largely able to stand up to the cut and thrust of a physical Port Vale who anchored the midfield with the impressive and tough Anthony Grant but looked confident enough to play on a level with the more senior players around him. He was good in the way that eighteen year old midfielders should be good.

There is a desire to bring in another midfielder to the club and one hopes that that desire is sated by Devine’s performance. It certainly should be. New chairman Edin Rahic has talked about wanting to develop young players and here is the first opportunity. The virtues of development are seen alongside Devine in Nicky Law Jnr who left Bradford City some six years ago as the kind of flimsy attacking midfielder who needed the steel of a holding man alongside him and returned cast in iron.

That may over-dramatise his changes but his usefulness at collecting the ball and taking responsibility for it was a revelation in the truest sense of the word. Law spent much of the first half setting the midfield line and controlling the distance between himself and wingers Filipe Morais and Mark Marshall. He plundered the occasional shot at goal too as did Vincelot who saw a shot just go over the bar, Billy Clarke watched Vale keeper Jak Alnwick push his effort onto the bar too, and there was a slash off the line to keep Alnwick’s goal intact.

But to iterate chances oversells City as an attacking force. Marshall, Morais and Anderson toiled without much return or sign of return. Morais involves himself in much and performed best of the three but never managed to find a cross or through ball or piece of play that created the chances the play up to the final third merited.

Morais on corners seemed a curious thing when one watches this video of all seventeen of Tony McMahon’s assists last season and notes how many of them were corner kicks. McMahon was at right back today, James Meredith at left back, and neither combined on the flanks with the wide men in front of them as well as one might have hope. The season is early and there is work to be done on understanding players patterns but all five fullbacks and wingers used were at the club last season yet seemed more adrift that then players in the heart of the team who were making first appearances.

Marshall followed on from last season with a performance which left one wondering what his aims on the field are. Is he to supply the ball quickly to James Hanson before the defence is formed up or is he to take his time and why – assuming he has one or the other of those instructions – does he not do it nearly half the time?

He is frustrating to the point of bringing down expectation levels when the ball comes to him. His delivery – which I would have argued was the best part of his game when he arrived at City – is so seldom seen that he borders on making himself redundant.

Which is a good word for Paul Anderson who has – in August 2016 – mislocated anything that made him a player to get excited about when he arrived from Ipswich Town. Anderson is a spectator to his own abilities with seemingly no sense of position – he comes forward when the ball goes beyond him, he drops back when James Meredith wants an option – and no output. I’m reminded of Irvine Welsh’s take on the unified theory of life: “At some point you have it, and then you lose it.”

McCall could persist with both Anderson and Marshall and in the hope that the pair will rediscover whatever it was that attracted Phil Parkinson to them and one suspects he will. One of the better parts of McCall the manager was his warm hearted work with players to try improve them. It might be that one longs for the ruthlessness of Parkinson who sliced Gary Liddle out of his team eight months ago having had him as a core member of the team previously.

Perhaps McCall might ring The Macron Stadium and tell Parkinson that he left a couple of things behind? But that is not McCall’s style and it is a real test of the manager who is praised for his man-management that he might manage these two (or three) men into something much more impressive than they showed today.

Football was – for a time – not wanting for attacking midfielders who could play in wide positions. The decline in wing play seems to have altered this and now every player who does not have a position is a number ten rather than an eleven. I’m not a man of faith and faith is required to believe that Paul Anderson will do in his second season what Peter Beagrie did in his.

As it is McCall is stuck with a generative unit which adds too little to be worth the shirts they take up. Add Billy Clarke to the mix and one ends up with a Bradford City team that can defend well, takes the odd pot-shot, but does not create good enough chances. Plus ça change.

Neither James Hanson nor Billy Clarke are the twenty a season striker that are bayed for but I’d argue that with a generative unit that fails to create no player would score twenty in this team. Which is not to say a further forward is not needed but that the real problem lays in creating rather than converting.

Port Vale were happy with their point at five o’clock and the aforementioned Anthony Grant will have impressed the watching scouts but City should not be wondering how this draw was not a win.

Preview / Players

It’s just words I assure them. But they will not have it – Simon Armitage

Something unique at Bradford City as one of the goalkeepers is the only player in British Football to have his transfer fee on his back as a squad number. Number one, and costing just one pound, is Colin Doyle arrived from Blackpool and looks to be starting on the first day of the season.

A commanding figure at six foot five Doyle has had the kind of career that seems to engulf goalkeepers who get used to the bench. He is thirty one and has played less than one hundred games.

Steve Banks – who arrived as keeper coach from Blackpool alongside Doyle – has the faith that the Irishman can step up to the duties of a starting keeper and should he fail then Rouven Sattelmaier gets a chance.

Sattelmaier – City’s first European number twelve goalkeeper – has played more first team games than Doyle, albeit at a lower level, and is three years his junior. The German talks confidently about challenging Doyle for his position.

It will be interesting to see at what point Stuart McCall opts for change – if he does – but the relative levels of experience afford an odd unbalance in confidence levels in Sattelmaier’s favour.

Joe Cracknell is third choice. He wears number thirty. The lesson he might learn is to not to get to thirty having been anything other than a first choice goalkeeper.

Of the five candidates for the central defensive roles Stuart McCall is spoilt for choice. Rory McArdle is initially unfit having had an operation in the summer and Matthew Kilgallon has had not pre-season following his release from Blackburn Rovers and so may not figure in the opening games but Nathan Clarke is able enough in the short term and Nathaniel Knight-Percival impressed on previous visits to and from Shrewsbury Town.

Kilgallon seems to be too high profile a signing to be anything other than McCall’s long term choice in one of the two central defensive positions and Knight-Percival has probably not moved to West Yorkshire with now expectations. McArdle has proved himself to be as close to undroppable as a player could be and there is little reason to imagine he will not carry on at such a high standard.

Which leaves McCall with – when fitness comes – the sort of headache any manager might want of having too many good players. There is the option of playing three central defenders which the new manager did experiment with when he was the old manager but failing that it seems that Kilgallon, McArdle and Knight-Percival have got reasons to perform in a fight for their places.

Which damns Nathan Clarke and youngster James King to a season picking up scraps.

On the left side of the two full backs James Meredith has no competition for his position following Gregg Leigh’s departure although there are moves, we are told, to bring in cover for the Australian. Meredith could be employed further forward should McCall play a three man central defence with wing backs. Should Meredith miss out then someone in the squad will be press ganged to left back.

And that someone is probably Tony McMahon who has played in most positions at Bradford City in his one and a half years at the club and after being – some may argue – the best player last season on the right hand side of midfield he has been officially announced as now being a right back.

A stranger move it is hard to imagine considering Stephen Darby’s position not only as right back and captain but consistent performer over the last few years. It is not accident that Darby’s name – as with McArdle – appears alongside the better moments of Bradford City’s recent history. An acid test of McCall’s second/forth spell at Bradford City is his ability to see this.

Again as with McArdle Darby starts the season injured and is two to three months away from full fitness. McMahon has the position for now.

Darby is important – very important – but McMahon’s abilities are not to be underestimated either. He led League One on assists last season and performed the wide midfield role far better than players who were signed with much more flourish. Finding a place for McMahon in the side is important but to replace Darby is to cut out the heart to add an extra hand – or foot – where it should not be.

Daniel Devine can also play right back, but he can do anything, read on.

Stuart McCall’s situation with midfielders is similar to his central defensive proposition in that he has at least three players who one might argue should have places and two places to play them.

Romain Vincelot continues the Brexit baiting European-ness of not only being French but also wearing number six and playing in midfield – does he believe he is Luis Fernández? – and seems assured a place in McCall’s side while Timothée Dieng who wears a more respectable eight jersey has done enough in pre-season to suggest that the two might combine into a dogs of war midfield. Or should that be chiens de guerre or perhaps coeur de guerre which sounds much more romantic.

However Nicky Law Jnr’s return – the first summer signing of what can justifiably be called a new era – suggested that he was likely to be favoured in a central midfield role. The aforementioned McMahon and Filipe Morais can also play the role and Devine has impressed too.

Devine, King and Reece Webb-Foster who we shall come to later have an interesting position in the 2016/2017 Bradford City squad. Where previously injuries in the Football League were on the whole covered by loan players new regulations mean that such moves can only happen within transfer windows.

This sets a requirement for players like Devine to be kept near the first team squad as cover rather than being sent out on loan, or isolated from the first team squad because the intention is to send them out on loan.

As the aim is to have a Devine, or a Webb-Foster, or a King ready to be dropped into first team action in the way that Wes Thomas or Tom Thorpe was last season then there is an opportunity to have those players blended into the first team squad. And in that context should Webb-Foster show day in day out in training that he can score then his path to the first team is highlighted.

This was not the case under Phil Parkinson where young players would complain about a lack of development – there was no reserve team some of the time – and there was an obvious preference to loan signings over development players. News that McCall is interested in Liverpool’s Cameron Brannagan and is trying to bring back Josh Cullen is interesting in this context.

It would seem that Vincelot and Dieng will start the season in the centre of midfield for City and that Law Jnr, and Devine, will cool their heels waiting for an opportunity or for McCall to try a three man midfield that would take Dieng holding and Vincelot and Law alongside him.

It would be odd if McCall – an advocate of the FourFourTwo – abandoned that formation just as its resurgence post Euro 2016 took hold. His willingness to do that perhaps depends on Brannagan or Cullen signing or the performance of the most disappointing group of players last season.

We shall dub these the creators if only because repeating the words “wingers, attacking midfielder and and drop off strikers” over and over will get tiresome. Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall’s failure to fulfil these roles last season deformed City’s season and to expect both to improve is an act of faith.

Anderson’s first season was interrupted by injury but when fit his play was not especially useful. He is fast and able to send a ball into the box at a ninety degree angle to his running path but as previously mentioned crossing is football’s overrated virtue and not only would Anderson have to play better this season to impress he would have to play differently.

Which means that Anderson – who enjoys a seniority at the club and is expected to perform – needs to not take the easier options he so often did in his performances at the start and the end of last season where he went wide hugging the touchline and hit the ball into the box and to nobody. His delivery was poor and considering the lack of numbers City got into the box that was a problem.

Anderson needs a reinvention. He needs to be the player who uses possession much better than he has done previously. He needs to be the player who can effectively cut inside as well as go outside of a full back and when he does he needs to have more presence of mind to find a target more often or to choose to do something else such as a surge into the area.

It might be that Anderson does not have these attributes to his game but if that is the case then he condemns himself as a very easy player to play against and one which will struggle. Even at League One level football has no time for the player who has but one way to achieve his aim and persistence is only admirable when a player carries on doing something effective.

Which brings us to Mark Marshall who has a similar situation albeit one he has shown more capacity to address. Marshall’s delivery is better than Anderson’s and he shows a willingness to vary his play which makes him genuinely difficult to play against but he is troublingly negligent in the defensive side of his game.

Marshall too often could be accused in his appearances last season with exposing the full back behind him and not working well in the defensive unit. A coeur de guerre midfield might give Marshall more licence to idle in this regard but he is simply not a good enough winger to set up a team to carry him if he does not track back.

Unlike Filipe Morais who offers McCall the type of endeavour that the previous manager loved but not the creative output which the team needs. Morais is being considered more of a drop off striker to play in what is now called the number ten position but was the hole although his effectiveness there seems to be a result of his randomness rather than the teams ability to blend him into a style.

Morais, as with Marshall and Anderson, is a creator who does not create enough and this is where the worries about Stuart McCall’s planning for the season start. The back six players provide a superb platform – arguably better than the one that Parkinson’s side had – but there seems to be a dearth of creators to stand on that platform.

Which leads back to McMahon who – like it or not – created a lot last season and should Anderson, Marshall and Morais not step up their contributions significantly then one suspects that McMahon will need to be taken out of whatever hole he would like to fit into and bashed back into one of the wide midfield positions.

Creation, assists, and defensive ability to not leave the team undermanned this should not be a difficult choice to make but one worries that McCall will have to learn this lesson the hard way. As it stands McCall is putting a lot of faith in players who have done little to merit it.

Should McCall favour a three man midfield then one might see Anderson and/or Marshall deployed further forward as part of an attacking three but that does not seem to solve the problems so much as make them less relevant by shifting the creation to the three midfielders. If McCall opts to play Vincelot and Dieng deep and a row of three creators behind a front man then one might worry about the effectiveness of such an approach but still these players would have to step up their performance.

McCall seems to be prepared to put that faith into Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall and one hopes that his faith is rewarded – much depends on it being – and one expects to see both starting against Port Vale for the opening game of the season and hopes to see the two players who were promised twelve months ago.

Which leads us to the subject of Billy Clarke and the strikers. Clarke’s promise at the start of last season evaporated leaving the top scorer of the year before idling towards the end of Parkinson’s time at City.

As with Anderson and Marshall the problem Clarke presents is that he does not scorer enough to be considered a goalscorer nor does he create enough to be thought of in that role and unless there is a drastic change in either of those qualities then there are problems when he is in the team.

One can try play a passing game routed through Clarke the number ten but to do so is to put undue faith in the Irishman’s sporadic ability to unlock a defence. This is a distinct contrast to James Hanson who one can rely on to beat defenders to high passes on a regular basis.

This was always the unsaid – or perhaps unheard – quantity in the debates over how Phil Parkinson’s side played football. Hanson would reliably win high balls, Clarke would not reliably unlock defences through craft. The argument was more pragmatics than cosmetics and the nature of that argument has not changed with the change of manager.

Get the ball to Hanson and there will be flick ons more often then there will be through balls from working the ball through Clarke. The two can play together with Clarke playing off Hanson but to do that Clarke needs to remain close to the man they call Big Unit and not wander off on esoteric crusades for the ball deep in the midfield.

Likewise to play the ball through Clarke and look for craft to open defences Hanson would need to be more mobile than he is and make the sort of runs which have not been a staple of his career.

Which is where Jordy Hiwula and Webb-Foster present options that are valued if only because they are unknown.

The problem that Stuart McCall has is that Bradford City do not score enough goals. I would argue that they do not create enough chances and the reason for that is that the team was set up defensively after a recruitment issue left the team with a goalkeeper and back four who could not deal with crosses.

The solution to not creating enough chances is in the creative players: the Andersons and Marshalls; and in the strikers: Clarke and Hanson; and the onus on them to make more chances to allow a reasonable conversion rate to result in more goals.

It is not impossible that this situation will have been addressed by a general step forward by the entire team – the defensive posture of last season prized not conceding over everything else – but unless it has or unless the players perform then the strikers will spend the season once more trying to convert a high percentage of fewer chances.

One can expect to see Hanson and Clarke start the season and one can expect before August closes the strikers and the creators to have been augmented. At the moment City and Stuart McCall seem to have a team that his half right which at least is not a step backwards.


This preview might get out of date quickly and if it does it will be updated. Just so you know.

Unfamiliar / Preview

Matthew Kilgallon joined Bradford City on a one year deal from Blackburn Rovers bringing a level of excitement to some supporters at the end of a summer where things at Bradford City fell apart and were put back together again.

The usefulness of Kilgallon’s recruitment will be seen in time. He and Nathaniel Knight-Percival joi in the central defensive position and Nathan Clarke and Rory McArdle remain. This gives Stuart McCall’s Bradford City three or four – depending on your view on Clarke – strong choices to start in the middle of the defence.

At the other end of the pitch things are different and attacking options are thin on the ground. McCall arrived in June to find James Hanson still at the club he had left five years ago but one could argue that Hanson and his colleagues players in attacking positions: Mark Marshall, Paul Anderson, Billy Clarke; need improvements on last season’s performances to be significant.

Teams score goals, not players and while four of those mentioned above could be more creative than converting – the flick down from McArdle’s diagonal ball is an act of creation – none could be said to have created enough.

Tony McMahon’s withdrawal to right back form the right wing – where he spent a season under Phil Parkinson – is a curious move from McCall exactly because it removes the one player in the Bradford City team who excelled in creation last season.

Drop

His name dropped into the preview it is worth acknowledging that Phil Parkinson is going to have more of of an impact on Bradford City 2016/2017 than Stuart McCall will. Parkinson – who of course exited for Bolton Wanderers in June – built as much of a monolith as football allows a manager to create in the modern game at Valley Parade.

Parkinson took his backroom team with him to Bolton and his backroom team – it is reported – took everything they had worked on with them. Once again – just as with the situation a few months prior to Parkinson’s arrival at Valley Parade – the file cabinets that contained scout reports were empty and the structures around a football club were scant.

And it is this way because Parkinson wanted it this way. The former Bradford City manager had had experiences sharing out the power at a football club previously – most notability at Hull City – and found it wanting. Parkinson fought a hard fight against unspecified directors with unspecified roles to make sure that he had some control in every aspect of the footballing side of Valley Parade and he won those fights.

There was no pressure on Parkinson to develop young players and so Stuart McCall arrived to find no young players with first team experience. There was no pressure on Parkinson to create a squad which was sustainable from one season to the next. There was no pressure on Parkinson to develop a squad with resale value until new owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp arrived at the club and – within a few weeks – Parkinson was gone.

Rahic and Rupp arrived to replace Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes as Bradford City owners and began to talk about a future in which the squad was shaped around recycling the waste product of Premier League academies.

That last statement sounds needlessly dismissive and should not. If one looks at the example of The Chelsea Academy of the last fifteen years one can only think of a single player – John Terry – who was not waste. Millions are spent on players who are discarded for not reaching and elite standard but are able to be turned around and made into useful footballers.

A production line of turnaround players is as close to a business model as the game at lower levels has ever had and one which Rahic and Rupp believe they can benefit from. Clearly the club they bought was an ill fit to achieve that.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes freely admitted that they could see no other way of the club going forward than someone arriving and injecting more money and, as the ultimate result of that paucity of thinking, they were prepared to give Parkinson total control of all football matters.

Which is not to say that Parkinson should not have enjoyed carte blanche to do any or all these things as he sees fit. Parkinson’s methods showed constant year-on-year improvement and perhaps would have continued to do so but without the manager ceding some control they would not have aligned with the owners.

Parkinson used many short term contracts, and Parkinson used many loan signings, and Parkinson was not entirely interested in developing young players, and if the club are now interested in long term permanent signings of young players then it starts from a negative position.

Which is a long way of saying that the 2016/17 season – the first post-Parkinson season – is defined by the decision taken by Rhodes and Lawn to allow Parkinson to be the entire centre of the footballing side of Bradford City. There was no institutional retention of knowledge – the scouting cupboard was bare – and that is the result of choices made before June 2016, not after.

Five

Phil Parkinson’s final finish for Bradford City was fifth in League One and it is that which – rightly or wrongly – Stuart McCall will be measured against in the next twelve months as will Parkinson at Bolton Wanderers.

Both measurements could be unfair. For Parkinson his record of first season success is thin and the Trotters would be better to be prepared to wait.

For McCall he is a manager who started late and without structures which are necessary. McCall has not walked into a Southampton where the manager is an appendage to a well run system. He is at a club which – both rightly and wrongly – allowed itself to be defined by its manager and who has now gone.

There is much work to do to replace Parkinson and while Rahic has an idea of the shape that he would like the club to take in the long term there is no reason at all to believe that any of the work ahead of McCall, Chief Scout Greg Abbott, James Mason or Edin Rahic can be achieved without any negative effect on performance.

That Bradford City that finished fifth last season is gone and progress must now be judged anew.

These are unfamiliar times.

Goalscorers / Conversions

Nothing in football is as overrated as a goalscorer.

This is a truism within the game but something which supporters – and the pundits who pander to them – steadfastly refuse to acknowledge. In short: Goalscorers do not score goals, teams do.

A goalscorer is a part of that team for sure but not one who is more valuable than the other parts in the process of scoring goals. The centre forward could not head the cross in were the cross not made by the winger who needed the through ball from the central midfielder. A classic economic mistake is to overvalue towards the end of a production chain and football excels in doing that.

We can all recall the goalscorer who filled his boots at one club, moved, and found that goals dried up. The idea that signing a goalscorer will add thirty to the Goals Scored column is an obvious myth.

This leads us to one of footballers darkly comic stories. Manchester United manager Dave Sexton signed Nottingham Forest’s Garry Birtles for £1.25m in the early 1980s after Birtles had started the season with six goals in nine games for Clough’s side.

Sexton played Birtles twenty five times for the remainder of the season and Birtles did not score once which was an embarrassment for Sexton that got worse when – following their release from six months captivity at the hands of Radical Islamists in Tehran – one released former captivee started his statement to the world’s media with the words “Has Garry Birtles scored yet?”

He had not. But he would do. In Birtles first season United scored fifty-one. The season after Birtles got eleven of fifty-nine but ended up back at Forest the season after.

Sexton’s assumption – that he could buy Birtles the finisher of Nottingham Forest’s play and get Birtles’ goals – is both wrong and regnant. The team creates goals which the score’s name is (sometimes more than others) arbitrarily attached to.

Premier League 2015/2016 scorers ordered by percentage of teams goals.

  1. Ighalo – 15 goals of 40 – 37.50%
  2. Kane – 25 goals of 69 – 36.23%
  3. Vardy – 24 goals of 68 – 35.29%
  4. Agüero – 24 goals of 71 – 33.80%
  5. Deeney – 13 goals of 40 – 32.50%
  6. Defoe – 15 goals of 48 – 31.25%
  7. Lukaku – 18 goals of 59 – 30.51%
  8. Ayew – 12 goals of 42 – 28.57%
  9. Arnautovic – 11 goals of 41 – 26.83%
  10. Sigurdsson – 11 goals of 42 – 26.19%

Consider in the above how Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney both features in the top five for percentage of goals scored by their team. Watford scored forty goals last season, Spurs sixty-nine, but while everyone would expect that Ighalo would score more if he were in the Spurs team few would suggest that if you moved Harry Kane to Watford he would be or should be happy to score few goals (or take fewer corners)

Likewise Jermaine Defoe rightly gets tremendous credit for being a goalscorer for putting in 31% of Sunderland’s goals where as Lukaku is considered to have levelled out having claimed a similar percentage. It seems obvious to suggest that if you put Defoe in the Everton side he would not improve on a personal level (at least in the short term) but he would be expected to score more commensurate with the team scoring more.

Twenty

There is a near obsession with the idea of signing a twenty goal a year striker and not just at Bradford City and this misses the point of what a manager should be looking for in his recruitment. Ighalo scored fifteen goals of forty last season and my contention is that had he been at Spurs he would have got twenty-five of their sixty-nine. These are very good strikers and a very good striker gets 33% of his teams goals. James Hanson – not a goal getter by anyone’s imagination – got 20% of City’s goals last year. Billy Clarke got 7%, Devante Cole 9%, Jamie Proctor 11%. To put this in the context of successful teams with shared out goals Dimitri Payet was West Ham’s top scorer with nine of sixty-five goals which is 14%.

To have a 20 goal a year striker based on last year’s fifty-five goals is to look for someone between Kane and Ighalo on the list above. It is to hope for the extra-ordinary. If we pitch ourselves somewhere between where City were under Parkinson and the performance of Jamie Vardy when we might look at a striker who converts 25% of his teams goals as being a good level of performance then the onus is not on any of the forwards to score more goals but rather on the team as a whole to create more goals. Twenty-five more goals in fact, to take City’s return from fifty-five to eighty.

Teams that score eighty goals or more tend to win leagues which is the conclusion of the lust for a twenty goal a year striker. Twenty goal a year strikers emerge at teams that have exceptional seasons. They are the result of good goalscoring rather than the cause of good goalscoring. Put Harry Kane in a team which is not creating goals and his return will suffer, we all saw that.

If the team creates enough goals then – if they are commensurately good enough – the strikers will score enough goals and teams would be much better looking for ways to increase the total number of goals scored rather than trying to buy in goals Dave Sexton/Garry Birtles style.

Transfer / Improvement

If you were to use the words “nothing has happened” in relation to the last two weeks someone might look at you askance.

Prime Minister, Brexit, Iceland, Etc.

If you did said it about Bradford City’s transfer policy you would be able to claim some level of accuracy. The list of transfers in June 2016 grows and the signing club is not Bradford City in any of them.

And that list includes some interesting names too. George Moncur – who joined Championship Barnsley – is the very type of player one might want to see in Stuart McCall’s new Bradford City team. Paul Downing – who joined MK Dons – is reported to have been a target that City missed out on.

No matter. As season ticket sales report to be slower than hoped for there is an idea that were Bradford City to make some impressive signings then bums would go onto seats. This is wishful thinking. While there are players who might sign at League One level who could convert the unconverted they are hard to think of.

If you, dear reader, believe that were we to sign the much lauded Bradley Dack, or Romaine Sawyers of Walsall, or Millwall’s Lee Gregory that the man sitting in his armchair watching Match of the Day will be beating a path to Valley Parade I’d suggest you are engaging in a wilful self-delusion.

There are a number of great targets available for sure but the people who know them are not staying away from Valley Parade for their absence. If you are the sort of person who knows who Mark Beevers is you have probably already got your season ticket sorted out.

If you are waiting for City to sign a big name then I would suggest that there is no name City could sign big enough to stimulate your interest.

So while it is curious that City are a few weeks away from pre-season and have allowed the player pool to be whittled away it is not exactly troubling. New chairman, new owners, new manager, new scouts, new targets. It might be unfortunate than Moncur and Downing have slipped away from City’s grasp but it is hardly surprising.

And it probably beats the alternative which is a scatter signing where you get the best players you can find on paper and nail them into system. If you want to know what scatter signing teams look like you need only cast your mind back to Monday in Nice where a group of very talented players with very expensive price tags were beaten by another group of talented players with much less expensive price tags who had been assembled with a little more care.

Or better still think back to Stuart McCall’s first spell as City manager where players were brought in and shipped out with an indecent frequency causing a team with as brittle a character as one can remember.

Players like Paul McLaren came in and were shipped out and one wonders how much care went into their signings. Three of the best signing in City’s recent: Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, and Stephen Darby; all came with a guarantee of character from assistant boss Steve Parkin.

When signing a player managers want to – need to – know about the character of the individuals they are signing. Skills are obvious – on the whole – but how do you know you are not signing a Jake Speight, or a Leon Osborne?

Take two of McCall’s signings. James Hanson is proved himself as a character and as a player for Bradford City. Steve Williams has proved himself as a barber.

Williams looked like a superbly talented footballer and a classy defender but the two conversation I have had with people who knew Williams said they same thing. He did not have the desire needed to be a footballer. He did not “want it” enough and it showed.

There is a celebrated story of West Yorkshire’s own Frank Worthington – a sublimely talented 1970s footballer – turning up to play for Sir Alf Ramsey’s England wearing leather boots and all over denim.

This was the England team of Bobby Moore and the Shelf Cowboy need not apply. He did not fit in, at all, and which accounted for his few caps in the same way that his move to Liverpool was – according to David Peace’s account and popular folklore – cancelled because his to STDs he picked up in the space of a week.

Shankley, and Ramsey, took one look at Worthington and knew that as good as he was on the field he was not good for the dressing room.

How do you find these things out? How do you get better at recruitment? I’d imagine it has a lot to do with scouting, with knowing the difference between a good footballer and someone who is good at kicking a football, and about having enough contacts to find that information out.

Maybe it can be done ten times in the space of two weeks. Maybe not.

We heard much talk of hoping that Stuart McCall had changed and had learnt as a manager and here it is. It might put a dampener on season ticket sales that City have not brought in ten players in a week (and I would argue that it does not) but it heartens me that no one at Valley Parade is bringing in ten new faces with a week or two preperation.

To me that is the first sign that McCall has changed and, dare one say it, improved.

Holes / Fit

Stuart McCall gets to the business of building a squad to compete in League One next season and he does so starting with a compliment of ten outfield players and no goalkeepers.

The goalkeeping situation offers most scope for change. Ben Williams – who is considering a new deal – would not suit McCall’s style of play at all. Williams’ weakness on crosses forced deep sitting defensive lines in Phil Parkinson’s final season. McCall needs a keeper who can control the defensive line, keep it high, and clear out any cross that comes behind it.

And then he needs another of these keepers as back up, and perhaps a third considering the changes to loan rules.

Across the back four Parkinson has left three solid players: Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and James Meredith; and certainly Meredith seems to be exactly the type of attacking left back which McCall fielded all through his management career. Darby offers a balance on the right and – unless Parkinson is able to call either of both like some crazed Boltonian head of the herd – McCall would be best advised to keep both in position.

Rory McArdle seems a player to build any defence around and McCall’s fondness for a big central defender was personified in Marius Žali?kas at Rangers a year ago. During his first spell at the club McCall inherited David Wetherall and Mark Bower and ended up struggling to work out what he wanted from his central defensive pairing.

The new City manager often preferred two commanding central defenders and McArdle fits that bill but he has played his best football last season with a faster, clean up player alongside him and McCall might be advised to find one of that type of player as well as cover.

Considering Phil Parkinson’s sit deep team Stuart McCall might be surprised to find he has two wingers in his dressing room. Both Mark Marshall and Paul Anderson need to perform significantly better to be considered League One standard – which for Anderson is a bold statement considering his pedigree and remunerations – but the new manager has shown a commitment to wide play which affords an opportunity.

Filipe Morais and Tony McMahon are not McCall’s definition of a wide player but both could prove useful if in the merits of a better balanced midfield are to the fore. This all assumes that McCall will play the 442 formation he did at Valley Parade in 2010.

McMahon proved last season his ill-fit in a central midfield role being to weak in the tackle to hold the middle of the pitch. McCall needs an entire new engine room for his team. Last time he favoured one robust midfielder and one more attacking player while fielding two who could still be considered box to box players. It will be interesting to see if in the intervening time he has gained any faith in specialist defensive midfielders.

He has four players to bring in for that area. It will be interesting to see who they are and what roles they will take. McCall needs to find character and leadership in those positions and those things are seldom going free in a summer. It is easy to say that McCall needs to find his McCall, and is not untrue.

One midfielder is expected to be returning is Nicky Law Jnr. The Junior being increasingly humorous in a man who, like your author, has inherited his father’s hairline.

Up front McCall finds familiar face James Hanson. Discussion on Hanson will always be split and split along an ideological line. Hanson is the only player City have who could clearly be said to be the best at an aspect of the game in the division. People can cross a ball better, and shoot better, and defend better but no one in League One is as commanding in the air as Hanson.

This has massive implications for the opposition going into game. If a manager ignores Hanson he faces the prospect of watching his team be dominated from corners and crosses. If he takes special measure for Hanson he surrenders more space to other City forwards. That two men are marking Hanson at set plays affords space to someone else.

Ideologically though some are unable, unwilling or uninterested in this sort of dynamic between teams and are of the school of the thought that suggests it is for a team to dominate and dictate their way of playing onto the opposition. McCall was of this mindset too, far more than Phil Parkinson, and it will be interesting to see if he has changed.

The aforementioned Clarke seems very much McCall’s new Michael Boulding and while one can expect the manager to look at bringing in strikers one doubts Clarke will be hurried out of the door. Reece Webb-Foster will probably be given a chance – McCall’s record on untried players is a stark contrast with Parkinson’s – and another rumour reunites McCall with brief Rangers loanee Haris Vu?ki?.

Retained / Leave

Steve Davies has been released by Bradford City along with Christopher Routis, Billy Knott, Alan Sheehan, Dylan Mottley-Henry and Sam Wright. Greg Leigh, Nathan Clarke, Ben Williams, Jamie Proctor, Joe Cracknell and James King have been offered contracts.

Davies leaving the club seemed to be inevitable after a season which he failed to secure a place in the starting eleven. The same could be said for Billy Knott who was always individually impressive in games but played a kind of attacking midfield which Phil Parkinson seldom uses. Knott and Davies could both be retooled into the withdrawn striker role which Billy Clarke plays but Parkinson obviously has not seen enough from either in that position. Davies’ legacy is a late goal against Millwall in the league game at Valley Parade and any number of kicks and niggles that earned him the nickname “The wind-up footballer” so easy did it seem to be to get under his skin as seen at Coventry City.

Knott scored against Leeds United, and played against Chelsea, and shall always have a place in my heart and I suspect yours.

That Jamie Proctor has been offered a contract to stay – and the contract offers in situations where the player will be at the end of a deal always tend to be of the take-it-or-leave-it variety – says something about his usefulness in the squad. When Phil Parkinson is asked to choose between Proctor and James Hanson his decision seem to be given the weekly grind of a season – and the injuries that brings – he might as well have both if the money is right. Otherwise Proctor is free to look elsewhere.

One suspects that along with Proctor Nathan Clarke, Greg Leigh, Ben Williams have all been given an understanding of their position in the pecking order. Clarke might have thought he did enough at the end of the season to warrant a chance in the starting eleven but his similarity to, and inferiority to, Rory McArdle has allowed him to leave if the offer he has is not suitable. The younger Greg Leigh is in a similar situation as understudy to James Meredith.

That Parkinson is prepared to let record breaking goalkeeper Ben Williams reject a deal and exit the club says a lot about his position and – one suspects – the hunt being on for a new custodian with often loaned out Manchester United man Sam Johnstone supposedly of interest to City.

All of which leaves City with:

  • Perhaps Ben Williams
  • Perhaps Joe Cracknell
  • Stephen Darby
  • Perhaps Nathan Clarke
  • Rory McArdle
  • James Meredith
  • Perhaps Greg Leigh
  • Reece Webb-Foster
  • Mark Marshall
  • Filipe Morais
  • Tony McMahon
  • Josh Morris
  • Paul Anderson
  • Billy Clarke
  • James Hanson
  • Perhaps Jamie Proctor

Ultimate / Reasoning

The news that Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle will miss the first month and two months of the season respectively following operations leaves Bradford City in a position of having five players for the opening day of the season.

Of the entire City squad – stripped of those on loan or on contracts that run out at the end of June – Phil Parkinson has James Meredith, Mark Marshall, James Hanson, Josh Morris, Filipe Morais, Paul Anderson and Tony McMahon remaining (see comments below). With recruitment over the summer a problem for the City boss but with investment having arrived one wonders if things were not meant to be this way.

Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp had declared an interest in buying City twelve months ago. One can assume that that interest became more concrete as the season went on. One wonders how much impact the German pair’s arrival had on Parkinson’s winter spending. Had the previous regime known they were selling the club would they have authorised signing players on deals that went beyond the end of the season? Would Parkinson have wanted them to?

Devante Cole – a square peg at Bradford City – left for around £45,000 and a loan deal for Jamie Proctor that became a short term contract. The money – one imagines – went into the books for negotiation making the club look healthier and Parkinson was not saddled with an eighteen month contract for a player (Proctor) who he probably would not want if he had improved resources.

The reported £85,000 for Gary Liddle caused a lot of upset and head scratching at the time but perhaps makes more sense now. The player is sold, the money goes onto the bottom line of the club, and Liddle is replaced with a loan player in Cullen improved the team. Again knowing that the club would be being invested in one might speculate that Parkinson would have been looking to replace Liddle with some Bradley Dack-a-like.

So Parkinson goes into the recruitment phase with a near clean slate which – if the James Hanson to Sheffield United talk come to fruition – could be even cleaner because of the approach to signing players adopted in the last transfer window.

As Alan Sheehan – who departed yesterday to Luton Town – might have been tempted to say. There is just an inner circle left at the club now and that seems to be the way it is supposed to be.

Phil Parkinson and the team of tautology

It seemed odd twenty minutes later but at half time I waxed lyrical about how good Walsall were.

Walsall were, after all, the first team to put the ball past Ben Williams in over eight games when they scored in what would be their manager Dean Smith’s final game in charge at the Bescot Stadium back in November and they had won that game.

At half time – defending City’s noisy North End – they had gnarled their way through the opening forty five minutes with the type of performance that City’s Phil Parkinson would have been proud of from his players.

Indeed Walsall’s James O’Connor typified the Saddlers approach to gutsy determination to not allow goalkeeper Neil Etheridge’s clean sheet to be dirtied. Away from Valley Parade during the transition period between City’s early season floundering and that eight games without concession it was exactly the sort of determination that O’Connor showed that Rory McArdle was dragging out every game.

But that was then, and this is now.

Transition

Turning this Bradford City team around this season ranks alongside Chelsea, Arsenal and Wembley twice in Phil Parkinson’s achievements as Bradford City manager.

So meek in surrender earlier in the season, and so aimless at times, this was to be a fallow year for Bradford City.

It was a season where signings did not work out – Paul Anderson watches from the bench, Mark Marshall nowhere, Brad Jones elsewhere – and where even the signings that did work didn’t work. How strange does Devante Cole’s decision to join a relegation battle in preference to staying at City look now?

Which is impressive is not just that Parkinson has spun this season into something when it threatened so often to be nothing but how he has done it.

Parkinson has created the team of tautology: A committed group of loan players.

Shut up Wesley!

Josh Cullen, Lee Evans, Reece Burke were a good chunk of the spine of Bradford City in the 4-0 win over Walsall and have been crucial in the transformation of the team. Indeed Cullen’s arrival allowed the much loved Gary Liddle to exit for Chesterfield and another relegation scrap and while one doubts Cullen (or Burke) will be starting next season in the Olympic Stadium with West Ham neither of them are committed to City in the long term.

But in the short term they are? And why is this? Loan players are as Wes Thomas has been. Oddly out of sorts perhaps, and stuck in their ways. Thomas was to the Bradford City support what Jamie Proctor became: The alternative to James Hanson;

Nevertheless Thomas’s unwillingness or inability to play a high pressing game – which resulted in opposition side’s getting an easy route out away from their own goal – has seen the player confronted with two choices: Parkinson’s way or no way at all. Being a loanee and able to ride out the rest of his deal Thomas seemingly did not care for the former and ended up with the latter.

Which has been City’s experience with loan players since their presence went from odd novelty to (apparently) a necessity in the last two decades of the game. If one includes Kyel Reid and Jamie Proctor as loan players (as they initially were) then half of City’s team could not be around next season.

So how are they not a team of Wes Thomas’s?

The fault is not with the stars

The answer to that question probably resides in Rory McArdle and James Hanson, who both returned to the side for the Walsall game, and with other long time servers like Stephen Darby, James Meredith and perhaps the aforementioned Reid.

There is an adage in football – which is attributed to Brian Clough but I’m sure pre-dates him – that a club is as good as its senior players. It seems that Parkinson believes that to be the case. There is a circle of players like Hanson, McArdle, Darby, Meredith, Reid, and perhaps extended to Ben Williams and Tony McMahon who create a tone and an atmosphere at the club which has in its way become a repeatable pattern of success.

To that circle – an inner circle perhaps – Parkinson trust everything. It is to those players who the manager turns when defeat to Coventry City and a draw at Shrewsbury Town has questioned the club’s play off credentials. And with rich reward too. Hanson scores his first professional hat-trick and remains the club’s top goalscorer while McArdle returns the club to clean sheets. The 24th of the season.

For younger players who arrive on loan at the club the message is obvious. Take your cue from that inner circle in how you play, and how you train, and learn the lesson about how far that sort of attitude will take you in football.

What do you learn

One wonders what a young player gets from League One football. Dele Alli – named PFA Young Player of the Year – started last year scoring against City for MK Dons. The intelligentsia have it that it is his blooding as a child in the lower leagues that maketh the man. As if the sort of cold Tuesday night in Crewe that the football media so often sneer at is actually of crucial importance in some way or other.

If it is then Cullen, Evans and Burke have those lessons which are attributed to Alli, and to his partner Harry Kane who wandered the lower leagues as a part of the loan system. Parkinson’s approach to the game involves making sure you are never out of a game – never cast adrift two or three goals behind – and keeping the competitiveness for ninety minutes.

To not lose easily perhaps sums it up best and contrasts with a Walsall side who saw the tide turn away from them on Saturday and did not want to get their feet wet in it. From dogs of war to puppies in the space of fifteen minutes and incapable of stopping the game from going away from them. Parkinson’s approach would have been to close the game down at 0-1, and he has been criticised for that, but only once or twice have City been out of matches all season.

That approach has become the season and there is something about Parkinson’s approach – about following Parkinson’s approach – that is instructive to young footballers. Certainly they show the trappings of players who understand the nature of league football. Burke is committed against Walsall ensuring nothing goes past him. Evans has a poor first half but Cullen carries his team mate through a bad forty five minutes and the pair emerge imperious at the end.

Cullen carries his team mate. A 20 year old loan player prepared to put some of his performance into making sure his team mate’s performance can recover. If that does not tell you the scale of Parkinson’s achievement with this group of players nothing will.

And the achievement is in the approach and the approach relies on the inner circle of players who maintain an attitude throughout the club.

After all these years City have finally got good at loans.

Do you remember the last time?

Just as City start to master loan signings then loan signings disappear. The loan system as we are used to it in the Football League is changing and next season loans are restricted to transfer windows. No emergency bringing in Kyel Reid after an injury to Paul Anderson, no drafting in Lee Evans because things are not going how you want them.

Next season’s summer recruitment has to be more fruitful than this year or the club face a long slog to Christmas but the same was true this season and when Hanson wandered off with the match ball – two headed goals and a powerful right foot finish – one might have wondered if Parkinson were forced to work with the players he had would he have been able to get them to the play-offs this season? If Paul Anderson had not had his leg broken would he be doing what Kyel Reid is now?

In this case retrospect does not have to provide an answer.

When to start pressing your palms together as Bradford City beat Oldham Athletic 1-0 at Valley Parade

Bradford City ground out a win against an Oldham Athletic team who played most of the match with ten men after Connor Brown was sent off for a late and long lunge at Kyel Reid and were defeated when James Meredith’s deep cross was lob headed in by Tony McMahon.

City had chances to add to the lead which were squandered – strikers James Hanson and Billy Clarke both were guilty of missing the target in the final third – but it seemed that there was little commitment from City boss Phil Parkinson that his team would add a second, or third, goal against a team in the bottom four and playing with one fewer men.

Parkinson was happy with a one goal win. Parkinson is always happy with a one goal win. Parkinson has been Bradford City boss for around 250 games and we know that he approaches football like this. He likes clean sheets and takes a geological (“Geology is the study of pressure and time“) approach to winning matches.

This approach was in evidence at Parkinson’s finest hour and in many other fine hours before and since.

The game this time last year against Millwall which saw the visitors fold after an early sending off was the game that everyone wanted once Brown was sent off but it did not happen. Oldham under new manager John Sheridan were more robust than that Millwall team and approached the game trying to not be beaten rather knowing they needed to trying to win.

Wedded to that was City’s struggle to make play. James Meredith had one of his better games but most of the other players have had more fruitful afternoons. None of the players have got more points on an afternoon – there is no four points for an entertaining win – and so City continue to occupy a place in League One where with games in hand and a good wind the Bantams would trouble the play-offs.

Pressing palms

After around eighty minutes of the win over Oldham Athletic a cross from Mark Marshall was headed wide by James Hanson. It was a bad miss and received only a smattering of applause from the Valley Parade crowd of 18,522. I did, and was (in a roundabout way) ticked off for a friend who sits nearby at VP.

“I’m not clapping that” he remarked with what could be described as a cheery grump, before asking me why I was. The exchange was good natured with fifteen minutes of him turning to ask if it was acceptable to clap now and me telling him that he could not.

This exchange culminated with (and I shall let you, dear reader, judge if this is a high bar to clear) my point which encapsulates the argument crisply.

“You can clap when the fourth goal goes in against Chelsea, or you can start before then, its up to you.”

It all comes back to Chelsea in the end.

Gnomic

What is supporting a football team? A disinterested friend of mine calls it “cheering laundry” while a friend of his defines his life by the fact that he has a season ticket at Old Trafford. One suspects that there is a type of support for every supporter.

But there does seem to be an Isthmus of Suez between those who believe that supporting is an active participation in creating a better football team and those who believe it is appreciating the endeavours of that team. The former see supporting as an active process of involvement in a community while the latter look at it as a reactive experience in which their involvement is largely immaterial.

To start to characterise the two groups the latter group Hanson’s miss has nothing to applaud. It is a failed attempt to produce an aim. To the former group Hanson’s miss is a subject to improvement and that that improvement is made through hard work by the players and that hard work comes as the result of encouragement. It is not hard to imagine what the latter group would think about that.

The latter group look on a miss like Hanson’s as being similar to a duff album track, or Star Wars Episode One, as something that could be done better but was not. Why get excited about something like that? Why clap Jar Jar Binks as a good attempt that went wrong?

The former would reply that the heights of achievement are only possible because of the support at the bottom and that when teams are playing poorly, or when players miss headers, it is the role of supporters to rehabilitate and return to the heights.

When to start and when to finish

The classic Chicken or Egg situation exists here. Are Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United et al popular because they are successful or successful because they are – or were – popular? Is there a symbiosis of the two?

The Chelsea game gives a case in point. The cheer for the fourth goal – the footballing cherry on the top – was so much full-voiced than that for the first which seemed a consolation at the time, or the second which equalised. Instinctively I know why this is but it would be better to have cause and effect explicit.

I clapped Mark Marshall’s cross, and James Hanson’s effort to get to the ball, and Jon Stead’s 1-2 goal and the effort which created the single chance City mustered at Accrington in a Peter Jackson inspired 1-0 defeat which represents the lowest ebb of City’s play I’ve seen.

Hanson’s header went a long way wide but his header against Aston Villa put the club into a Cup Final. The approach, losing a man, getting in front of a defender, the effort required, everything to the finish was the same. Is only one admirable?

Perhaps I should have saved my applause for the moment Yeates had put the ball past Cech or some other rung on a ladder between there and here and somewhere lower. I did not and I cannot help but wonder what football would be like if people did that.

The Neville Southall problem returns to Bury as City draw a blank in the FA Cup third round

Bradford City fans saw the end of Neville Southall’s career, Bury fans saw the start. Southall – who many regard the best goalkeeper of his era – played 39 games at Gigg Lane and presented manager Jim Iley with a problem.

Southall’s predecessor John Forrest had kept goal for the Shakers for twenty four years but such was the new goalkeepers nascent ability was such that that Iley’s strikers – who included future PFA chairman Gordon Taylor – were struggling to beat the him in training.

So much so that Taylor and his team mates got used to spending training sessions putting their best efforts at Southall and seeing them saved.

They got used to not scoring. And they lost confidence.

The Phil Parkinson era

Southall had been gone seven years, Iley four, when Phil Parkinson made his debut for Bury. City manager Parkinson played 145 games at Gigg Lane most of them as the position of midfield spoiler that he would make his hallmark at Reading.

There is an adage that one can trust a manager to know his own position. The suspension of Nathan Clarke following a sending off at Gillingham that also saw Reece Burke injured and then returned to West Ham United had given Parkinson a problem in the middle of his back four. Rory McArdle needed a partner and while Christopher Routis had returned to fitness Parkinson had previously dropped Gary Liddle back from the holding midfield berth to he him in the role.

And that approach had failed. It had failed at the end of last season and failed at the start of this and – to my estimation – it had failed not because Liddle can not play the position (he spent a season in central defence at Notts County before arriving at Valley Parade) but rather because he was missing from the middle of midfield.

Phil Parkinson decided he would not be without his Phil Parkinson.

The best from the worst

Liddle in central midfield presented the problem of using Christopher Routis in the heart of the defence – a role he has not played since Joe Garner spent fourteen minutes ripping him apart before he was sent off – in front of a keeper in Ben Williams with whom there is a direct correlation between McArdle and Burke being in front of him and him keeping a clean sheet.

One recalls with horror Williams struggling to set the defensive line at the start of the season and the number and type of goals conceded as a result.

Looking over the field and almost half the City players: Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Kyel Ried, James Hanson and James Meredith; had joined the club as it struggled in the bottom half of League Two. Bury are a peer at of City in the top half of League One and all those five players are worth their places a league and a half above where they were when they first got on a training pitch with Parkinson.

Which is something to describe in assessing the skills of Phil Parkinson. He picked up the players signed when CIty were (arguably) at their worst and got the best out of them.

And so it proved with Routis, and so it proved with Williams, who both performed superbly. I would have written off Williams as not worth the work to improve but when Andrew Tutte got behind McArdle in the first half and was in a one on one situation with the City keeper my heart was not in my mouth as Williams narrowed angles, made himself large, and ended up pushing the ball away.

Likewise Routis kept le coeur from la bouche most of the afternoon matching McArdle for vigour and showing the physical strength that was missing from his game previously. He went too far and one two footed tackle in the second half should have seen him sent off.

Parkinson had decided that the way to battle Bury was to battle Bury and City were physically robust bullying the Shakers into the playing the game as the away team in the own stadium a fact made easier by the decision to put Bantams fans behind both goals. They do not like it when you suggest away fans outnumbered the home around these parts but that seemed to be the case from my corner of Gigg Lane.

What did John Iley do about that problem?

Having been bullied onto the back foot by a City team pressing high Bury struggled to create a tempo to their play and while they had two chance to snatch a lead it would have been snatched. The Shakers best moment ended with Darby and McArdle taking control of the ball between them in a six yard box scrum and wandering away with it as if it were a training game.

But at the other end of the field the Bantams struggled to convert chances. Tony McMahon hit the post with a free kick, Liddle headed wide when everyone expected him to score, and Hanson scooped over from inside the six yard box in the last minutes of stoppage time. Confidence is obviously low and shows with all City’s players.

Difficult to score against but labouring at the other end with strikers. What did John Iley do about that problem?

The Iley way

Iley effectively banned Southall from training – albeit with a smile – and in doing so allowed the 1981 vintage Bury strikers to get used to scoring in practice again. Southall’s rise was inexorably unaffected.

The Shakers ended the season blasting in fours and sixes, clearly with confidence recovered, and finished above City in the 1981 Division Four table. Southall left for Everton and glory at the end of the 1981 season and so the problem solved itself the next season having been fixed on the training pitch before.

And one suspect that it is on the training pitch that Parkinson will solve his team’s goalscoring problems. The team are defending well, are creating chances, are controlling games. The ball will not go in and confidence has suffered as a result but Parkinson (and I) believe that it is easier to add goals to a team that defends well that stop a free scoring team conceding.

This is Parkinson’s way. He builds teams that are hard to beat and capitalises on what can build the confidence. Sixth choice striker off the bench against Rochdale blasts it in and he becomes Nahki Wells. Middling League Two team beats Arsenal and Parkinson galvanises the club around it. City bob along in League One, beat Chelsea, and end up a a place outside the play-offs.

Parkinson takes a clink of the light of confidence and bathes the players in it. How that is done will probably not become a part of football folklore like Iley and Southall have but everything we have seen from Parkinson in the last five years suggests it will.

How Football is ploughing fields without planting seeds

An away trip through South Yorkshire

Chesterfield away is a classic of the genre. A one goal victory that came when Bradford City ground the ambition out of the home side leaving only struggle.

Every pass forward was marshalled and pushed away by an imperious defensive line. Every easy clearance was made hard by strikers and midfielders who chased down what would have been the routine were it not for the attitude that manager Phil Parkinson has drummed into his team.

The goal came when Tony McMahon finished off a mazy run and low cross by Billy Clarke. Clarke enjoyed his best game in claret and amber and tormented the Chesterfield backline dropping into the hole between James Hanson and the midfield and exploiting it.

Chesterfield’s response – to bring on the aging Richie Humphrey – showed a team stepping back on their home turf. McMahon’s goal finished off the home team.

Parkinson would say after the game that City could have had four – indeed the post was pinged a number of times – but really the City manager oversells his policies. A one goal away win excites Parkinson – and excites me – because of the grind that has seen wins come Scunthorpe United, Rochdale, Doncaster Rovers, Oldham Athletic.

Those days are Parkinson at his best.

Playing away to teams that want to win mirrors the visits of Sunderland, or Arsenal, or Aston Villa, or the trip to Chelsea. When the opposition commits to victory Parkinson uses Hanson the battering ram occupying multiple defenders, and soaks up pressure with a mean back four.

The City manager’s problems come at home when teams sit back and defend the Bantams attack which is sporadic as shown by the third fewest goals scored total in League One. When City are forced to make the play in a game then games slip away from Parkinson.

Or sometimes things do not work.

An away trip to South Yorkshire

Text message before the game with Sheffield United: “Upper or lower?”

Reply: “Neither.”

Going to a football match should not cost more than going to the cinema. I’ve said this in the past and I believe it.

I think that Bradford City’s home pricing is a rare oasis of sense in a madness of a game in which this generation sells the game from the next and does so with a great deal of support from those getting fleeced.

Bradford City’s away pricing – and walk up pricing – is equally toxic to the game as a whole. Last time I checked it cost £25 to go to Valley Parade as an away fan. It cost £22 at Chesterfield, it cost similar at Walsall, it cost similar at Doncaster, or at Scunthorpe and so on.

The impact of this aggressive pricing that makes following football a thing that only some can afford is obvious to anyone who sees the aging supporter group and the gentrification which seems to come with it.

£27 to get into Sheffield United is certainly something I can afford but it is not something I will pay. It is a few pounds more than other games and those few pounds are hardly significant to me but I will not pay it.

And I do not know when the hand becomes the wrist nor do I feel like I’ve created a hard and fast rule never to be broken but I would not support this part of football’s attempts to gouge out of my pocket because they assume that because I can pay it they should sell to me, aged 42, for a price that me, aged 21, would never have been able to pay.

The combination of the two

If you enjoy a team that puts in a performance that is part frustration, part opportunism then you would have enjoyed the Chesterfield game.

I would argue that Chesterfield, or Scunthorpe, or Doncaster, or Oldham were little different to the game with Chelsea that defines 2015 for Bradford City: Minimise chances coming at your goal and maximise what one has at the other end.

But I cannot say with all honesty that all people would enjoy all or any of those games. I am cut from a cloth were I am more impressed with hard work and honesty on a field than I am by rabona kicks and 45 man massing moves.

I enjoy seeing a team with limitations which overcome those limitations, some of the time, and the processional football of the Champions League leaves me cold. I’ve no interest in football where the players who walk onto the field against Barcelona believe they are beaten before kick off.

Winning away at Chesterfield from few chances but battling to make sure that the team does not concede a chance let alone a goal is a good Saturday afternoon for me but probably only because of the narrative it creates.

It is enjoyable to watch my team Bradford City attempting to overcome limitations because I know those limitations. There is an overarching story of the emergence of Rory McArdle from understudy to as rock of defence, or about Tony McMahon finding a role having floated anchorless at the start of the season.

(There is also a story about James Hanson being not good enough for a transfer to a professional club, not good enough for the bottom of League Two, not good for the middle of League Two, not good enough for a League Cup semi-final, not good enough for a play-off second leg, not good enough for League One, not good enough for a team chasing the League One play-offs. One day he will not be good enough and I’m sure the phrase “we told you so” will be used regardless of all the times naysayers were proven wrong. Watching Hanson over the last few years is a lesson in the narrative of football.)

These things are seen over the course of months, and years, and not in isolation. Football, for me, is never viewed in isolation. I find the idea of turning on Sky Sports to watch any old game as mystifying as opening a book at a random page, reading twenty pages, and then putting it back on the shelf.

To watch the unfolding narrative of a team one needs to be able to watch often and prices over £20 are no aid to that for me but would have been a substantial problem to me twenty years ago. Is Sheffield United vs Bradford City £27 worth of entertainment when – if one considers it – one could take a friend to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX and still have change for popcorn?

I can’t remember a worst time

Sheffield United away is not Chesterfield. Without a game owing to waterlogging and without the regular training pitches owing to flooding reports return that City lack sharpness and are easily beaten. Football is a multi-polar world and games are hard enough when preparations are ideal.

The supporters – both Bradford City and Sheffield United – are subject to some racist chanting from Sheffield United fans and some chanting that is unpleasant. This will be passed onto The FA – who are perhaps the least able and qualified body in the Universe on this subject – but probably not to the Police.

The FA never seem to tire of their role as prosecutors of – some might say persecutors of – those whom the Law of the Land can find no case against claiming their lower standard of evidence as somehow better than the one that is required by any court which could not be prefixed with the term Kangaroo.

I would not want to have The Racists of Sheffield who were at Bramall Lane to be convicted for what they said or what they think. I’m happy to just consider them to be a collective of idiots and be done with it.

But I did not pay £27 so what can I say?

The focus

To suggest that football needs to understand better its audience is to allow the game – the collective of clubs and organisers – leniency on the charge that they understand full well that they increasingly greying men who populate matches are the ones who will dig deepest for tickets and that they exploit that.

The people who run football always need more money and they know that people aged 35+ in good jobs with good incomes will fund their extravagant demands for more wages paid, more promotions pushes, more mistakes and managerial pay-offs.

These people are the focus of football’s attention. In twenty/thirty years time when those people have retired to Saturday afternoons in more comfortable surroundings there will be no generation to replace them because that attention is so narrowly focused.

Oddly enough because of the odd combination of Wembley twice and season ticket pricing Bradford City are one of the clubs who have some protection against this – there is a healthy group of younger City fans who have been allowed a stake in the support – but mingle with the home fans at an away game and appreciate the difference.

Football is ploughing fields without planting seeds.

The longview

Sheffield United away is I am told a bad performance in isolation but not out of keeping with how Bradford City perform. When taken over a longer period City are averaging a point and a half a game away from home, as well as the odd Chelsea if you will.

Often the game plan of Chesterfield works but when it does not the result is as it was in South Yorkshire. Since Phil Parkinson arrived his plans have had a shifting impact on the mentality of the club.

When he arrived the club was congratulating itself for avoiding relegation out of the Football League under the hapless Peter Jackson. Now there is a consideration that the club is not ideally placed to reach the second tier of English football.

But I – and perhaps you – only know this having been fortunate enough to be able to afford to follow the club from that period to this.

I do not see how that will be possible for the coming generations of football.

Getting back to a better bad as City lose 2-1 to Walsall

Football, in the end, is a zero sum game. If a game if going to have a winner then – in a very real sense – it has to have a loser.

Between that starkness lays an admission that performance in football match can be anything other than zero sum. It is possible, and not uncommon, for both sides to have played well in a game one lost. Players can put in good performances against other players who put in good performances.

And so when Bradford City surrendered the seemingly endless clean sheet that had meant not conceding a goal in the previous two months it seemed hard to accept that the Bantams might have – in a first half which many grumbled through – that City had played well.

Played well but not as well as the host Walsall.

Walsall are an interesting team managed by the very impressive Dean Smith. Half beautifier/half pragmatist Smith sends a team which likes to pass the ball but does not marry themselves to passing football. That plays an open game but closes matches off with (frankly shocking) time wasting. That has room for flair players but takes care to take care of the oppositions.

So it was that when Rory McArdle would get the ball he would have the nuisance Tom Bradshaw closing him down in a way that central defenders seldom get closed down. That the midfield allowed Billy Clarke to drop back as far as he wanted and effectively ensnared the striker into the middle and pushed the Bantams pair of Lee Evans and Billy Knott deep. That the home side played the ball across the back to pull City one way when attacking having compressed them when defending.

Bradshaw took the first goal well after a long range shot got caught in McArdle’s feet and the striker enjoyed the spoils. A good finish but without the type of long range effort that Ben Williams has been gathering with ease for the last half a dozen games taking a ricochet it was hard to see how Walsall were going to score.

Which perhaps speaks to the general improvement that has been seen in City since the last defeat. After the loss at Colchester the idea of the first half at Walsall representing a low tide mark of form would have been considered surprising.

A bad half at Swindon saw City ship four goals and a summer of confidence. If the first forty five minutes against Walsall represent bad then one can reflect that it was only 1-0, and that Walsall had not dominated possession, nor squandered chances, nor had City not been in the game.

City cold have scored through a James Hanson lunging header, and lived with the home side who were fourth at kick off to such an extent that for Phil Parkinson’s side to come back into the game after half time there was little in the way of wholesale changes needed.

Evans and Knott pushed forward pushing Clarke forward and it was the Irish striker who headed on for Evans to hit a well placed drive across the Walsall keeper Neil Etheridge which nestled delicately into the low corner.

Tony McMahon – ineffective for a large part today – lashed a chance over. James Hanson had a mobile and burly game and saw one header pushed away by Etheridge. City looked secure in at least a draw but a poor exchange between Evans and Kyel Reid saw Romaine Sawyers quickly pass to Milan Lalkovic who beat Williams with a low, hard drive past him.

The speed from the ball being given away to it nestling in the goal was reminiscent of the early season woes but the character of the game – and of the players – could hardly be more different.

A bad – if you want to call it that – first half recovered from and in the end Parkinson’s side would have been left believing they could have had more even if they did not. Contrast that to the aforementioned season opener at Swindon when a good first half was so quickly undone and players so quickly surrendered.

If this is the new bad, it is better than before.

But football performance, to the wider world, is that zero sum game and the display gets little credit. Had Referee Mark Brown – who gave a handball decision against Bradshaw for jumping at Williams and having a flailing arm redirect the ball, and one against Hanson when the striker missed with a leap and saw his trailing arm carry the ball – decided that Devante Cole’s injury time effort that was blocked with two raised hands was of the same nature as those offences then we may well have been looking at today as a hard battled for draw.

As it is it is a hard battled for defeat. Which is zero. In the zero sum game.

The superb and stupendous success of Scunthorpe United

There were probably more Bradford City fans in the stadium applauding off their side than there were supporters of Scunthorpe United following City’s 2-0 victory.

The Bantams had scored a goal in each half with Kyel Reid being fouled after his own shot was saved to allow Tony McMahon to score his second penalty of the week. Greg Leigh scored his second mesmerising run and finish from left back of the week too. Which was good, if you like that sort of thing.

City drafted in Jordan Bowery on loan from Rotherham United to cover Steve Davies in covering James Hanson in the forward line. This caused some upset with some supporters aghast that the Billy Clarke/Deavnte Cole partnership would not be given a chance, others that Bowry’s training would be to have Rory McArdle kick the ball at him very hard, and others that Luke James would be furious. The irony of Parkinson being called out for overlooking long term loan players in favour of short term loan players is not to be lost.

But so it was that Bowery – a willing runner who ran up with cramp towards the end of the game – played target man and Billy Clarke fell deep from the forward line to bolster a midfield which was already bolstered by favouring the more defensively minded Gary Liddle over in form Billy Knott.

City dug in and delivered the ball quickly to the final third. It was the first Wintery day of the season and – at times – one half expected to hear the old stand-by that the ball would come down with snow on it.

Oh to be a Scunthorpe United supporter

By contrasts Scunthorpe United are a joy to watch. Set up with a 433 with one fulcrum midfielder they deployed the insanely talented ballplayer Gary McSheffrey on the left side of a three up front and he drifted between the lines perfectly.

The Iron midfield moved and played short balls well – or tried to – and the forward play of Darius Henderson was all about him dropping deep and trying to turn balls on the floor into him, into passes to supporting players. Henderson ended up isolated and isolated because after a team the belief seemed to seep out of Scunthorpe.

Promiscuous manager Mark Robins has created a Scunthorpe United team who try to – underline on the words try to – play football “the right way” and while the two best chances that the home side created came from raked balls forward on the whole Robins deserves whatever credit swirls around for playing passing football to focus on him.

Yet nobody stayed to applaud his team off.

What you say you want

What Scunthorpe United do is what you (and it should be obvious who the “you” referred to is) say you want. You say you want to see Bradford City play passing football. You say you want City to stop playing long balls to a target man and play through the midfield. You draw little pictures of formations with Devante Cole on one side of attack and no Tony McMahon.

This is what you say you want. Players with deft touches trying to create the perfect chance. The passing game. If you are brave enough to match the courage of your conviction and utter the phrase “I’d rather see City lose than play like this.”

This is what you say you want.

And I wonder if you would stay behind and applaud off a team that lost 2-0 and lost heart when the deft touch was bitten down and the team fell short in effort as well as quality despite the desire to do the right thing.

The evidence of the home supporters suggests that the superb and stupendous success of Scunthorpe United is not all it is cracked up to be.

And perhaps you should stop saying it is.

And onwards

There was a sense of hopelessness in the air when Phil Parkinson brought back Kyel Reid and put McMahon on the right at Rochdale but City have not lost a league game since.

McMahon talks about a team meeting that turned the season around and brought the squad together. That togetherness is – to me – what is worth watching in football. Seeing players enjoying working hard for each other, and enjoying the rewards.

It is what elevates the game from twenty two grown men running around a bit of grass taking everything too seriously.

Stern tests await. Coventry City are top of the League One table and arrived at Valley Parade on Tuesday night. They used to have McSheffrey and now have Joe Cole in his position.

One can not imagine that if reading that all the Bradford City players would smile and note that McSheffrey’s position is somewhere deep in Stephen Darby’s pocket.

Bury, Wigan Athletic, styles of play and the reductionism coming to Bradford City

Constructionism

Three ways of playing football in a week on show at Valley Parade, and three different outcomes.

Foremost was Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City who – revitalised after a poor start to the season – play a direct game and press high looking to force mistakes from an opposition.

Parkinson’s side look to make the most of set plays and do. Both goals against Bury and the single strike against Wigan Athletic were the result of corners. That this will be the case was obvious as Wigan put eleven men into the penalty area every time Tony McMahon or Lee Evans crossed. It worked on fourteen occasions. On the other James Hanson headed past Jussi Jääskeläinen for an equaliser.

Wigan’s response to City’s strengths was to try counter them – naturally enough – while trying to play to what they believe are their own better qualities. Gary Caldwell’s Wigan side are quixotic in a belief that every move must be built from the goalkeeper to defender and forward and Jääskeläinen never once kicks from his hands. The try pull the compressed Bradford City side forward because Caldwell – as well as Parkinson – knows the need to counter the opposition.

David Flitcroft at Bury falls somewhere between. As the second goal – a deflection from former City man Reece Brown – bounces into the Bury goal Flitcroft forgoes his attempt to pass the ball and ends up with four players across the forward line. They will score in the dying seconds of the game when a long punt from the keeper is flicked on and then over shoulder volleyed past Ben Williams without having touched the floor from keeper’s hands to the back of the goal.

Flitcroft’s five man midfield met Parkinson’s strong banks of four in a first half in which both teams tried to make sure that there would not concede. Rory McArdle headed in just before half time from another well delivered corner. Bury hope to control games, to shut down games, away from home and as with Wigan they successfully identified Parkinson’s plan and looked to counter it. Bury are a burly side – more so than City – and at the end of the game Steve Davies run in the side would be ended as he begins three months on the sidelines.

This physical approach is also seen when Wigan Athletic score having felled the oak of James Hanson with a high tackle. This was not illegal – at least not illegal today for this referee – but City always seem much worse at dishing out this kind of physical play than they are at receiving it. The likes of Billy Knott might put in the odd sliding tackle and deserve the odd card (although not Knott today who is booked for being pushed over) but City seem incapable of making a tactic out of this.

The strategic physical approach is all over Wigan’s play. They are beasts one minute brittle the next and Chris McCann earns the ire of the crowd for faking a foul every time a striker goes near him. McCann is not injured, he will not miss three months, but he successfully stops City from pressing high as they fear more bookings.

This behaviour is effective and not isolated to the left back. You will not read about it in the morning papers when you read that Wigan Athletic try play the game in a better way than Bradford City but Gary Caldwell’s Latics gamify the Referee’s decision making process. Any Referee will book a player for persistent misconduct after five fouls and most players commit at most four in a game. An act of fabrication – be it in foul or reaction – adds to the natural attrition of discipline and scares back players pressing high.

To their credit Flitcroft’s Bury do not react in the same way and battle man for man with a City team which is getting used to hunting in packs. Knott starts to look capable as he did before his dalliance with the footballing graveyard of the “Attacking Midfielder”. He runs down players alongside Evans who provides a more than useful pass. Bury’s struggle to contain City as they leave defensive duties in search of two goals and Mark Marshall is criminally profligate in front of goal.

City miss enough chances to win the game against a Bury team which is aptly described as free-spending by four or five goals ending instead with a seemingly slim 2-1 victory. The response to the game is muted – the late goal took a gloss off the match – and needlessly so.

The draw with Wigan results in Tony McMahon punching the air as if in victory. McMahon was persona non gratis at City a month ago but having come into the bolstering right wing role his delivery and attitude have found a place and a balance with Kyel Reid on the wing opposite. McMahon is the spirit of the new City that emerged four games ago and has not lost since. His energy allows for a high pressing game and his delivery is useful. More over though what he does is working, and often that is all that is needed.

Neither Wigan nor Bury will adapt their games to exploit City’s most significant weakness of the season. Wigan artfully try to pass through Rory McArdle and Reece Burke while Bury look to play into a single striker. Neither cross to exploit the gap between Ben Williams and his defensive line and the goalkeeper has two good games to build confidence right up until Michael Jacobs hits a shot from the edge of the area that the keeper gets to but does not keep out.

For Caldwell it seems to be a matter of principal that players like Yanic Wildschut – too expensive for Bury who tried to bring him in from Middlesbrough – be able to dribble through the opposition. Later in the game Grant Holt is on the field but the service to him is not apt and he struggles. Caldwell can be proud of how rarely his team resorted to playing crosses directly to strikers if that was his aim but his aim counter-acted what often works against Bradford City.

And so City win and Wigan draw and Bury lose. The approaches to the game are different in many ways. Bury want to stop the home side playing but fail to do so and then become more direct than any team could imagine. City look to maximise set-plays and deliver the ball early and direct while Wigan Athletic want to play on the floor and take as long as they can about it. If Wigan cannot play how they want they will not play – simulating imagined offences – while Bury will be burly and too much so as they try claw back into the game.

Reductionism

The increasing level coverage of football has not increased the depth of that coverage and unnecessarily there is a reduction of the complex to try to be more digestible than it is. Ockum’s razor asks you to make things simpler but not more simple than they should be.

And so the way a team plays football is reduced from the multitude of variables to a single almost aesthetic consideration. How the ball arrives in the final third of the field. Is it lofted in from a defender, played from a winger, passed from a midfielder. Pick a variable and label a team forgetting anything else that most obviously is involved. Colin Todd called Phil Parkinson “the enemy of football” on the basis of such a reduction.

That reductionism has started a train of thought amongst Bradford City supporters which normally one could ignore – this is about the football and not about supporting the football – were it not to do more than form a significant part of the discussion around the pitch and start to impact what is on it.

With Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes already declaring that for City to prosper in football it would be necessary (in their opinion) for an injection of funds and perhaps their exit there is little prospect of City taking the approach that either Wigan or Bury have of trying to spend more than the rest of League One to escape it. It is possible – and I would say preferable – to be promoted without this sort of financial investment but as most teams are attempting the same that becomes hard to ensure. Would City with – as was wanted – the odd Doncaster Rovers player here and Jussi Jääskeläinen there be guaranteed promotion. No.

So without success – or perhaps guaranteed success – the questions become not about if something will be achieved then how it will be. It is not if City will finish in the upper-middle of League One it is how will that happen.

And so the suggestion is that without guaranteed success then the way that the status quo is maintained becomes important. If we are not going to be promoted then – the thought goes – can we at least be entertained? Do we deserve what oft sacked Steven Pressley described as “dark ages football

And of course this assumes one is not entertained already.

There is a school of thought – one that I subscribe to – that entertainment in football is not synonymous with passing football and that how the ball is delivered into the final third is but one of a number of things all of which can be entertaining. I have long since recognised in myself that I do not go to Bradford City games to watch Barcelona’s passing style. Indeed if I wanted to see that I would go to Barcelona – or at least watch the disturbing last bastion of acceptable nationalism on Sky TV – which I do not and will not do.

I would consider this to be symptom of a footballing culture which has allowed television to reshape it and is currently in the process of letting new media complete the mutilation. Highlight TV shows like Match of the Day sold the public the idea that one did not have to watch a full game to understand it, one could just watch a slice of it. It is garnished with a uncritical critical media who for largely commercial reasons repeat this same trope that watching football matches is of the waste of time that is the difference between ninety minutes and the highlight clips. To hear Robbie Savage blindly reading out appearance, league position and goal statistics to support his idea that a single incident can be extrapolated into the entire make up of a player is to commit suicide of the intellect.

This of highlight slice is further shrunk into clips of the highlights of the highlights which are distributed on YouTube creating a contextless football which is all about a series of ten seconds slowed down and repeated until one is convinced. One has never really appreciated the difference between the types of football supporter if one has not had to break up a work conversation with someone else who ventured to a Millwall, or a Walsall, or a Torquay to hear the progress of YouTube scouting on the latest player linked to a high up Premier League team.

At that point one can almost certainly guarantee that what you enjoy as a regular watching a League One team is not the same as what someone who has the mediated top flight football experience enjoys. It really matters to those people what pace EA Sports assign a player in FIFA 16. Really matters.

And it is for those people that football has contorted itself and continues to do so. The mindset that is rife in football – the middle ground – is one which suggests that only the things which make a good highlight reel are of value.

One is tempted to suggest that every person in a stadium has a set of elements they enjoy in the context of a football game and that while it will be true for some of them that they have haphazardly wandered into Valley Parade having mistaken it for Nou Camp BD8 for many, if not most others it will not be. For one person football might be about community, another it might be about victory and nothing else, and another might want to watch wingers beating men (one of the most exciting sights the game has to offer) and very little else.

It became obvious to me that I watched football to watch the narratives created around a set of players. To watch a boy become a man and a man accept – or not – the responsibility for how he plays his own games and then for his team’s performance. This arc is – to me – endlessly fascinating in its differences. Some players thrive, others do not, and watching a team over a series of weeks and seasons is watching the progression of that narrative. That Stephen Darby went from skinning kid to captain was a thing to be seen and to be enjoyed, that James Hanson went from the man who worked at the Co-op to a League Cup final was enjoyable in itself and that enjoyment had little to do with the type of football played.

(This contrasts sharply with the Mercenary team of Colin Todd where the likes of Bobby Petta, or Steven Schumacher, or Marc Bridge-Wilkinson were lauded for failing to take responsibility for the general performance of the team field and singled out for praise for individual displays. There was no need – under Todd – to make sure all your team mates played well, just yourself, and that attitude which Todd allowed was – to me – the enemy of football. Likewise at the moment Phil Parkinson’s neglect of the youth set up and disinterest in bringing through players is not something I enjoy.)

Yet the mix of reductionism and a belief that there is a single criteria of enjoyment is pervasive in discussions on the game to a point where it starts to be a metric to criticise a manager as if he had failed. The less one plays in this way which is perceived as what everybody wants the more a manager should be called to account. And at Bradford City we talk often about how we have “fans as chairmen” (I would argue we abuse that phrase) but by virtue of Mark Lawn/Julian Rhodes being fans they can be assumed to be vulnerable to the same moods as fans.

There is a constant background noise against Phil Parkinson for his way of player (“bilge“) but will anyone be critical of Gary Caldwell for trying to pass through the middle of a team who are so obviously vulnerable to crosses? Will anyone – other than the odd City fan – be critical of him for ostensibly allowing his players to fake fouls and injury to avoid having to cope with Phil Parkinson’s high pressing team?

One doubts it. Aside from not winning the reductionism in football criticism has it that only the way the ball arrives into the final third of the field is a subject of debate and criticism. Were I to watch City players behaving as Wigan’s were yesterday – “tactical simulation” might cover the charge very well – I would enjoy the game less regardless of result but factors like Parkinson’s unwillingness (for whatever reason) to “tactically simulate” are not brought into the discussion about the aesthetics of managers performances.

All other factors are filtered out until one returns to this idea that if the team is not to be successful it should play the game in a specific way regardless of the issue that maintaining a way of playing as dogma can be – and was in the case of Wigan – counter-productive.

Assuming Parkinson does not continue his trend of upward movement at City – and that is not a safe assumption to make – then he will increasingly be called to account for his approach to the game. Bolton Wanderers under Sam Allardyce, Charlton Athletic under Alan Curbishley, Manchester City under Peter Reid, West Ham United every other manager it seems that football is littered with clubs that believed that they should be playing the reduced, different, “better” type of football and slumped as a result.

This will be the discussion at Bradford City – if not in League One now then in The Championship later over the course of the manager’s three year deal – and the people who assume that all share their view that Parkinson’s approach to the game which is direct but is also honest is inherently worse than (for example) Caldwell’s passing and faking or Flitcroft’s controlled midfield and less controlled aggression. They will assume it is commonly held that a team that passes the ball into a striker’s feet is inherently better than a team of character, or a team of players who test and surpass their limitations, and they will demand it.

And you may agree with that, dear reader, but if you do not and if you believe that there are many thing about Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City you would not change then you had better prepare to take a corner and argue for what you want.

The reductionists are shaping the middle ground of football to be a bland nausea of highlights and YouTube clips. They want to take Bradford City and shrink it to the three clips that will look good on Football League Tonight.

If you do not want that you had better get used to tools of opposition against this reductionist mindset and get good at making your arguments.

The first day, the fourth year, and Bradford City beating Doncaster Rovers 1-0

Day one

There is a much mangled by often said phrase which mumbles around the words that time will make strangers of us all. It is is a gnomic observation and one which has little denoted meaning. “Death” is sometimes substituted for “Time”, “Angels” for “Strangers”

But it is not perhaps unfair to suggest that if the phrase can be applied to mean anything it means that people change over time. I am not the man I was four years ago, dear reader, and probably neither are you.

And nor is Phil Parkinson who has been Bradford City manager for a shade longer than that period.

The friend who is a new manager

The talk before this game is about the new manager. The new manager of Liverpool Jurgen Klopp has taken the national headlines. At Doncaster Rovers Darren Ferguson arrived on Friday to take charge of the home side.

Doncaster Rovers and Liverpool are not often united in expectations but both are united in a sense that pervades that both feel as if they should be higher up in football without any real justification for that. Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool will not make Manchester City any poorer, or Arsene Wenger any less keen to focus on finishing third or forth without risk of second of fifth.

Likewise there is little about Doncaster Rovers that suggests they have a natural place in The Championship and plenty to suggest that – as with a few other club in this level – they do some things right and others not. Standing around the Keepmoat Stadium looking at the pitches for juniors, the modern facilities, the ample parking one cannot help but be half impressed and half underwhelmed.

For all that impresses in the environment there is a sense that as Ferguson arrives the manager is an afterthought in a club doing all the right things to be an impressive 40-60 ranked side. They have created a setup for a team at this level. I contrasts sharply to City who are a club built in the image of the manager, and entirely dependent on that manager.

Ferguson might change that at Doncaster. He could take Doncaster to “the next level” that I’m sure has been mentioned in his recruitment. He, and Klopp, are welcome friends. Time has not made them strangers yet.

Phil Parkinson the Stranger

Which is the excitement of a new manager and the contrast with having a manager for as long as City have had Phil Parkinson. Ferguson, and Klopp, are dealing in potential. Today could be the start of the Ferguson-Era at Doncaster – in two years they could have been at Wembley twice – but it probably will not be. What is most odd about considering four years of Phil Parkinson is that most managerial appointments do not work out but Parkinson has.

Nevertheless there is a growing conflict within the Bradford City support that divides along an analytical style of Phil Parkinson’s style of play.

That style of play has always been pragmatic more than pretty and the defence for it – if a defence is needed which I would say it is not – is that the directness brought about success. “Would you rather be playing pretty football in League Two?” comes the retort, as if that sort of weighing of options were ever offered.

It has been noted that City are not progressing up League One – although the league position finished suggest otherwise – and that results at home are not good – especially if one excludes Sunderland and Millwall which in this argument one does – and so if results are not what one would want why suffer a manager playing a style of football which is not pleasing on the eye?

And of course it is never phrased that way – no one suggests Parkinson should leave Bradford City – rather it is phrased that things would be better if Parkinson were to adopt a different style of play. That if Parkinson cannot bring progress (and that is some assumption, considering he is doing) then he could at least have the decency to stagnate in an attractive way.

To wish for the end of things

Time makes strangers of us all, but Parkinson is no so strange.

When he arrived at Hull City – a larger club than Colchester United where he had made his name – Phil Parkinson was offered the opportunity to change his methods. I am told that he believed he flexed too much, and that senior Hull City players believed he flexed too little, and after an indecently short length of time Parkinson was sacked.

That Parkinson walked away from that experience – and from his time at Charlton Athletic – with the belief that he needed to be more committed to his approach rather than more flexible to change as he accuses himself of being in the past says much about why the manager is not about to begin Tiki-taka football now.

(An aside on Tiki-taka)

(It is worth noting that Tiki-taka – lauded as the most attractive way of playing the game that speaks of Spanish passion and flair – is at its heart a statistical reductionism of football tactics based on the correlation between the amount of possession a team has an its frequency of victory.)

(It is a Moneyball tactic that objectives the number of goals scored as a function of possession and thus makes possession the most important aim within a game. Possession in Tiki-taka is more important than scoring goals because retaining possession minimises the oppositions opportunity to score goals. It is, at its heart, a defensive approach.)

Not changing

To wish for Phil Parkinson the Bradford City manager to take a different approach to the game is to wish for another manager of Bradford City.

When after thirty seconds of the game with Doncaster a throw in cleared the first defenders and ended up in the middle of the penalty area one wished for City to have the sort of player who poked the ball in in such positions and there was Devante Cole to do just that.

One goal in less than a minute and to hope that Phil Parkinson would use the early goal as a platform for more is to not understand the manager who it was said of that he made teams which could defend. Recall Parkinson’s coming out party as City manager against Wigan Athletic, or the follow up against Arsenal, and Parkinson played a team of pragmatism and pressing.

The management of players working hard to constantly defend is what Parkinson brought to City and what he will hope to return to. With eighty nine minutes left to play were the situation reversed and who in Doncaster knows what new manager Ferguson would have done?

How does a Doncaster Rovers fan know how a new manager will react 45 seconds into his first game? Every City fan with an attention span know what Parkinson would do.

What Parkinson did

The performance, as it arrived, was in the spirit of 2012/2013.

The midfield pair of Lee Evans and Gary Liddle sat on top of the Rory McArdle and Reece Burke back line, and Steve Davies (and then James Hanson) defended the midfield. Tony McMahon came inside to bolster and Kyel Reid and Devante Cole stretched the home side to prevent them coming too far forward, and to stop them adding pressure to pressure.

Attack sporadic, and pushed wide it was the Parkinson we had become familiar with and perhaps forgotten. The feeling that if Nahki Wells can nick a goal then the defence could see any game out was the stuff of that season that ended at Wembley.

The best laid plans…

Which is not to suggest that there were not chances for Doncaster to get back into the game – indeed they will still be smarting over a chance that hit the bar, came down and was not ruled to be in before it was punched in by a Keshi Anderson – but the chances were minimised, and they were pushed out wide then soaked up by the central defensive pair.

Up front Devante Cole scored – he seems to do that often – but most important ran his legs off chasing down clearances and putting defenders under pressure damaging the delivery forward for Doncaster.

Like Ferguson Devante is another Manchester “son of” and that will take a line in a report despite Darren not taking the job officially until Monday. Whatever Ferguson attempts to do with Doncaster Rovers it would be easier with a striker like Cole to do it with. It is easy to forget after five Cole goals in eight games that had Parkinson had his way then Doncaster forward Andy Williams would have been leading the line for City.

We have got to know much about Parkinson. We know that he is not the greatest recruiter in football – and no one’s idea of a wheeler-dealer – and struggles to replace players he has made on the training field. Wells was replaced by Cole after eighteen months of looking at players like Williams but City still wait to see a new Gary Jones, a new Andrew Davies.

Cole fits more and more into Parkinson’s plans and Parkinson’s plans continue unchanged. Today those plans came good while often of late City have looked incapable of seeing out a lead. Parkinson makes his players, and his teams, on the training field. Improvement happens slowly but is permanent when it does.

The poster boy for this is is James Hanson. There is a school of thought that Hanson – working hard off the bench today – is “not good enough”. The people saying this flatter themselves having said that Hanson was not good enough for the bottom of League Two, and then for the top of League Two, and then to fight relegation in League One, and then to play in team fighting for promotion from League One.

The retort writes itself of course but the more salient point is that under Parkinson players like Hanson, like Rory McArdle, like James Meredith who could have spent careers in League Two are continuing to improve. “Hanson is not good enough” will eventually be right, because time will make a stranger of us all.

Parkinson is at City – Parkinson is in football management – because he believes that a team that plays as City did today defending, pressing, working with each other, will be successful.

After four years that is no different than it was on his first day at the club.

City walked in a line and beat Rochdale 3-1 at Spotland

Heart and Soul

When Steve Davies arrived at Bradford City the role he would play in the squad seemed straight forward.

As a target man of sorts he would replace James Hanson when James Hanson could not play. City’s number nine is not without the odd strain for sure but as a man who spends Saturday afternoons being bashed around thirty yards of pitch Hanson – we recall – needs a rest.

In fact it was this need that prompted City to bring in Jon Stead on loan twice. The second time Stead wrote his name in the to the club’s folklore but in my estimation did too little else.

Stead could be the smart, give-nothing-up, resourceful target man that City wanted but was not too often – or rather was not when he did not want to be too often – and so he is in the middle of League Two at the Notts County inner circle.

No Love Lost

Alan Sheehan’s rather curious parting shot at City – that he could not get into manager Phil Parkinson’s inner circle of players – was a somewhat heartening thing for a team that seemed to be losing the very core that the left back who rejoined Notts County could not crack. Parkinson’s response – that Sheehan never cracked the core because he never was better than other players in the positions he played in – tells half a story.

Sheehan has shown some ability at his time at the club and one excuses him the drop in form after his mentor/dad died but he was never a player who led by example, and never one who put his heart and soul into a game. A professional for sure and one of the rank and file but no one ever left a match saying that Sheehan had run his legs down the knees, or committed himself to tackles, or any of the other cliché we use when talking about full-hearted players.

The Irishman’s finest moment in City colours had come twelve months ago at Rochdale where his ability with a dead ball from central defence turned the game which is much less than Jon Stead’s performance at Chelsea but if if Stead or Sheehan wanted an illustration of why a player with talent are outside the core of squads at so many clubs he need look no further than Steve Davies’ in the 59th minute at Rochdale chasing down James McNulty until the home defender slipped and Davies squared a ball that after ineffectual swipes all round was in the goal with Devante Cole running away happy.

New Dawn Fades

The enduring problem for Bradford City since the change in the team of 2013 has been a lack of character. The enduring problem for Bradford City fans has been being told this after every defeat only – following victory or a decent draw – to be alerted to the character returning.

I’m guilty of this myself of course and can only apologise in the hope that that buys some credibility back. There is a tendency to use the word “consistent” in the place of “excellent” in football – a team could be “consistent” by losing 10-0 every week – and the character of a team which is lacks character is the kind of lose-a-game/win-a-game runs which City go on.

Every win is assumed to the the start of a consistent run of other victories. A kind of endless Disneyland of football in which defeats never occur, until they do and reading the output of #bcafc on Twitter have the character of all the other Joy Division songs, or the lyrics of the one now oft sung.

When we say want character to end inconsistency we say that we want the team to win more and to lose less which is a statement with almost no content of use in it whatsoever.

Atmosphere

At Spotland where Keith Hill tells us – and I am legally not allowed to argue with him – that there were more Bradford City supporters in the ground than there were Rochdale fans City’s character was hardly tested at all. Perhaps it was the feeling of being tourists at home that robbed Rochdale something today. Andy Cannon chopped Tony McMahon in half on the touchline near the visiting supporters after 29 seconds and one might speculate that the noise was enough to keep the home side quiet for the rest of the afternoon.

Whatever caused it aside from a tidy finish by Peter Vincenti after a shot by Callum Camps has been deflected into his path City had little pressure to cope with. That Camps rans so far with the ball unchallenged was the only black mark on another good afternoon for Lee Evans.

Evans scored an opener for City when a McMahon free kick hit the wall and bounced invitingly to him. He floated a cross which Oliver Lancashire looped over his own keeper in the second half just after Cole’s goal to give the scoreline the entirely correct impression that the visitors won the game with something to spare.

Which is not to suggest that the Bantams faithful roared City to victory – although I’m sure I will read that too somewhere this weekend – just that the supporters like the team were surprised by just how little resistance Rochdale offered.

Leaders of Men

So the problem with the leadership shown by Bradford City’s players is not so much answered as fudged but there are things to reflect on for Phil Parkinson. The midfield was strengthened by Tony McMahon on the right hand side coming in to add to the middle two when needed. The balance of a one-wide/one-tight midfield with a central two players one of whom wins the ball and the other who goes box to box rarely fails.

Does Parkinson seen McMahon in his best eleven? One doubts that he does but without someone else to play that role – and with a need to have a more sturdy midfield more often – one can see McMahon continuing to feature. On the other side Kyel Reid returned from City and had a wonderful afternoon of spiriting with the ball at feet and crossing. This is – in theory – what Paul Anderson should have done but seldom wanted to.

Reid talks about playing with a smile on his face – which he does – but players like a player who has an understanding of how temporary careers can be when outside the higher divisions of English football. That Reid will run all day is the character which we have talked about lacking, as is Davies’ pressure which led to a goal, leading us to a conclusion which Sheehan – and perhaps Stead in a different context – missed: That running in a straight line up and down the left wing as often as you becomes the inner circle.

Bradford City from all angles after the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United

Angles

…and what made Bradford City’s pay so impressive was the number of angles on which they attacked.

When the ball was in the middle of the field Lee Evans was able to use his not inconsiderable passing abilities to play in Mark Marshall on the right, or the much improved Paul Anderson who is starting to look like the player promised when he signed, on the left and to find Devante Cole who ranged around the forward line.

The old standby of the long diagonal pass from Rory McArdle to James Hanson was still a feature – coming as it did with the usual brutalising of Hanson by defenders – but there was much more for the Bantams to do to cause a threat.

The irony being that at the end of the game it was exactly the kind of attacking play – the long ball and the bluster – which ended up denying City victory.

Trajectories

That City should have won the game is to say that during the first half in which the Bantams were on top of the game there should have been more than a one goal lead after forty five minutes. The goal – coming ten minutes before the break – came from James Meredith following a ball which the full back had given up on and dinking the ball over Sheffield United keeper Mark Howard.

It was a break through based on pressure. City had been able to apply pressure many angles and as a result circumnavigated the Blades holding midfielder Louis Reed in a way that they were not against Bradley Dack of Gillingham or Shrewsbury’s Ryan Woods earlier in the season. Sheffield United, on the other hand, seemed to be at a loss for any kind of response.

The Blades wanted Phil Parkinson in the summer but settled for Nigel Atkins. Atkins’ teams try to play their football on the grass, and they try to pass and move, and the fail on the whole. Sheffield United look like a team who have gone backwards since last season while City look better.

Which is not to say that City have eclipsed United but that the trajectory of both clubs seemed obvious.

Obtuse

James Meredith – who it seems is on the brink of joining new goalkeeper Brad Jones in (or around) the Australia national squad – put the ball past the keeper who was making his first appearance following a hurled in Sheffield United throw in.

That City had a second goal came from Devante Cole chasing down another ball that it seemed the defenders would take but did not. Cole’s speed is impressive and so is his presence of mind in his play.

He charged down Howard’s attempt to clear and scored his third goal in four games. One day he will actually kick a ball into the goal at Valley Parade but until then his knees and arse efforts are validated by getting into dangerous position.

Meredith’s goal at each end was unfortunate and the result of the Blades having either run out of ideas in their passing game or abandoning them altogether. Long throw ins, long punts, and the Blades got back into the game but did so by sacrificing whatever principles they have adopted.

City, on the other hand, and under that pressure from Sheffield United’s more direct play fall back more gracefully to the default position of playing into a target man. Steve Davies replaced Cole and headed wide. James Hanson saw Jose Baxter head his powerful attempt from a corner off the line in the last action of the game.

That City were 2-2 at that point. A long pass from defence was picked up by Billy Sharp who race between Rory McArdle and in behind Reece Burke and the striker put in a rebound after Jones had saved well. Sharp took his goal well and Atkins will be pleased with the spirit his side showed in coming back into the game but worried that the way they were able to get back to parity was a long way away from the way they started the game, or want to play it.

I had one, two, three, four shots of happiness

In nineteen ninety-eight Bradford City started slowly. This is not rare. Many seasons have started badly but that is exceptional because it ended with promotion to the Premier League. Eight or so games in City drew 2-2 with Sheffield United – Dean Saunders was exceptional for the Blades that day – and following the game Paul Jewell’s struggling side started to gain admirers.

“I think we will make the play-offs” I observed, and was wrong, because Jewell’s side went better. Watching over recent years has been an extension of that feeling. It seems that Parkinson is building another team, making a another set of people to be better players, getting more and more out of the squad.

We only had one chance to see Paul Jewell do that at City – he only got to build one team – but Parkinson is in his third era now (The Wembley Team, The Chelsea Team, and now this) and his methods of blending the ill fitting Anderson into the useful player we saw today seem to work.

The post-script

Referee Neil Swarbrick would not have been in charge of this game had it not been “treated” to being played on Sunday morning for Sky TV and one cannot imagine the bog standard League One official who would have been there making such a mangling of the game.

Swarbrick presents himself as a man who believes that the Referees job is to be a part of the unfolding story of the game. Phrases like “playing the referee” seem to have ligitimised this type of thinking in officials who revel in their role as deus ex machina of events.

They are not. And when they are – as Swarbrick clearly enjoyed being – they ruin the narrative that a football match creates.

Starbrick has a single role: To enforce a set of rules handed to him dispassionately. Another referee once said “I’ve never sent a player off in my life, players get themselves sent off. I’m just there to make a note of it.”

No one forced the booked Billy Sharp to dive, or continue fouling, or scream at the referee following every decision against him and I’m not saying that I like that those things should result in cautions but they should. Swarbrick decided that it would be the turn of his hand that decided who lived or died, who could play and who could not, as befits his self appointed role beyond his remit.

Which took something from the spectacle.

Three more years as Phil Parkinson signs up but deserves more at Fleetwood

A false premise

Bradford City would have beaten Fleetwood Town with some ease were it not for a mistake by Ben Williams where the keeper fell behind the line trying to catch Jimmy Ryan’s free kick.

Phil Parkinson – who signed a three year contract to carry on as City manager this week – will have been pleased with how his team responded. James Hanson equalised after a great run by Devante Cole fed Josh Morris who crossed to the number nine who finished well.

And Cole hit the post later, and headed wide, and Hanson flashed another wide and with the last action of the game Steven Davies headed in a Lee Evans free kick which was ludicrously flagged offside by a linesman who – frankly – was pretending that the part of the rules that mention “benefit of the doubt” are simply not there…

The three types of mistake

It turns out that there are only really three types of mistake in football.

There is the type of mistake in which a person tries to do a right action and fails. This is the striker missing the open goal, the defender bringing down the player he tries to tackle, the goalkeeper who – in this case – goes behind the line with the ball.

We see this kind of mistake all the time in football. The stray pass is less highlighted than Williams’ mistake but is a version of the same. That Williams made the mistake is more costly than a Billy Knott pass that went past Morris and into touch does not mean the essence of the error is not the same.

A person tries to do something and does not achieve it. Mistake number one.

One is left with the conclusion that to blame Williams for the defeat is to punish him by virtue of the position he plays. It is – in this consideration – no more of a good idea to apportion blame to Williams than it would be to Devante Cole for trying to hit the goal but hitting the post.

Dropping a player for making a mistake is an obvious managerial mistake. It presupposes that the replacement player will never make a mistake – which is not true – and it sets the precedent that all players in the team are one slip away from being out of the team.

A team cannot play with confidence if it is one bad pass, one off target shot, one slip on the line away from the Reserves. A good manager knows this.

The second mistake

The second is the mistakes in which a person thinks he is doing the right action but is not.

This is the kind of mistake which defines how limited a player is. The best example to come to mind is Paul Jewell who – before he was a great manager and a decent centre forward – was a terrible winger who would sprint past a man well enough but never raise his head when crossing the ball.

Every cross randomly shot into the box for no one at all. It did not matter if the actions Jewell took of firing the ball over without looking were taken well or badly they were the wrong actions (or they were only right by chance) and so they were mistakes.

We deal with these mistakes all the time saying things like “that is the sort of player he is.” We do it with James Hanson who scored the kind of finish which he rarely scores because his skills are more battering ram than fox in the box. We did it with Hanson’s former strike-partner Nahki Wells who could sprint past any defender and would have considered the kind of goal which Hanson claimed at Fleetwood to be all in an afternoon’s work but seldom involved himself in the approach play as Devante Cole did all afternoon.

Which is not a criticism of Wells but an acceptance that some players do the wrong things – this second type of mistake – and some do not. Cole’s afternoon in front of goal could have been more fruitful – misses are mistake one – but his all round play promises so much.

Cole involves himself in build up, he moves into position in the box, and he thinks about what he will do on the ball before he gets the ball. Even when these things do not come off – be it hitting the post or blazing over the bar – they have such scope.

Cole does not make this second type of mistake but Ben Williams does when he pushes the defence out further than he can cover when he comes off his line. If you are convinced that this is Williams’ problem then Saturday’s mistake was neither here nor there. I want a goalkeeper who can control the area in front of him and Ben Williams does not do that well enough to be a part of a successful team.

As it is there seems to have been a waiting for Williams to make a mistake – a type one mistake – before he can be dropped which should it happen seems undignified and troubles me. If I make a value judgement on how Williams keeps goal I find myself wanting someone else but that is an honest decision. Parkinson using Saturday as a pretext to make the change he wanted to but could not seems like a decision fudged.

The third mistake

The third type of mistake a person can make in football may not really a mistake at all. It is to follow instructions that bring about the wrong action. It is for a full back to stay back and hold the line rather than attack because those are the manager’s instructions. It is for a midfielder to not chase down the ball but to keep in position. It is for Rory McArdle to play a long pass to James Hanson because that is how Phil Parkinson has instructed the team to play.

One can hear these described as mistakes often. “Just hitting it long” seems to be a bugbear and when Steve Davies came on for Cole late on as Parkinson looked to consolidate what he had rather than go after what he wanted at 1-1 there were noises that the manager had brought the wrong player for the occasion on.

Davies, as it happened, scored with almost the last touch of the game heading in after a free kick but it was ruled out – another type of mistake – but he remit was to come on and hold the ball up front which he did as Parkinson’s game management came to the fore.

Another game without defeat builds confidence within the squad which was Parkinson’s aim from the opening exchanges of the season. Players who were lagging behind the line are coming up to speed – Paul Anderson was his most impressive today – and players like Billy Knott are being given challenges which they rise to.

The premise of Parkinson’s management at City has always been gradual improvement through a squad which stood together. Parkinson’s progress is not about smash and grab raids and it is about not losing, and taking a point even if you did deserve more.

Directing Traffik at Boundary Park as City beat Oldham Athletic 2-1

There was a time in one of the easier away victories Phil Parkinson will have claimed as a manager when it seemed that the direction of the traffic of Bradford City’s would be constantly one way.

Devante Cole had scored his second goal in two games latching onto a smart through ball by Billy Knott with a run behind the home side’s back line and the Bantams – then playing against ten men – were enjoying the luxury of being able to be profligate with chances.

Mark Marshall, Luke Morris, and James Hanson all enjoyed lashes wide or over and one could easily say that that was the result of a confidence that comes from having a goalscorer in the team. Such are the thoughts when leads are comfortable.

That it was comfortable was the result of a high tempo start where City applied pressure up field which Oldham struggled to cope with. The Latics midfield was centred around the thirty six year old David Dunn who had some class on the ball but needed others to get stuck in for him in midfield. That following the sending off for Jonathan Forte for heading Stephen Darby one of his midfield-mates was Mark Yeates explains City’s dominance.

Gary Liddle took most of the midfield duties for City allowing Knott the space and remit to have one of his best games at the club. Knott drove from midfield past Dunn who could not keep pace and Yeates who never kept pace and Danny Philliskirk who might have kept pace but was dragged wide as – finally – City’s wide players understood their purpose off the ball.

Reece Burke scored the opening goal for City after a Mark Marshall pull back when a deep free kick was flapped at by Joel Coleman in the home goal. There is a gap between where defenders stand and where goalkeepers can get to which Coleman is still working out.

My contention is that Ben Williams has not worked this out and as he keeps goal for City at the expense of Brad Jones – a reward for consecutive clean sheets – he does so despite this fact. Oldham’s goal came from Mark Yeates pitching a ball over the zone between defenders and keeper perhaps knowing that Williams would not come – he did not – and seeing Joe Mills score to make the last ten minutes more tense than they might have been.

The goal had a sobering effect.

Parkinson may have told his City players that they need to be more clinical in front of goal – plenty of wasted chances today – and he might use the concession as a reason to put Jones over Williams which seems as inevitable as Cole over Luke James who made a spirited by fruitless cameo today but mostly he will use the game as a signal of things improving.

Seven points from two away and one home game is impressive enough to justify City’s position as second favourites for the division.

Parkinson wandered up to the City fans after the game – mutual applause and all – and both fans and manager can be glad of how convincingly the form has turned around.

It was one way traffic, but deservedly so.

The aside about the K in the title

I once met Clint Boon of The Inspiral Carpets – the Madchester band who were Oldham fans – at Kendal Calling festival and I went up to him to talk about Oldham as I bought a brownie his wife was selling. I said Hi and he said Hi and as an ice breaker before I started talking about how icy cold it is at Oldham – although was not today – I thought I’d tell Clint how much I enjoyed the Devil Hopping album that the Carpets put out as they declined in the mid-90s. Clint was pleased – very pleased – and enthused that he liked the album too raising the idea in my mind that people in bands might release albums they do not like. I suppose they must. I told Clint that I thought that Devil Hopping was the Inspiral Carpet’s attempt to be “The British R.E.M.” and his face lit up. As it happens that was exactly what Clint was aiming for with the album and to have that recognised – and recognised by someone buying one of the brownies he was selling – seemed to have given him unexpected recognition of a sort. He looked around perhaps for someone to share this with and his eyes fixed on a man wandering up to the brownie stall. It was Tom Hinkley – lead singer of the Inspiral Carpets. “Tom, this guy liked Devil Hopping. He thinks its British R.E.M.”, Tom was less enthused but it did not matter to Clint who was smiling broadly adding “You can have that brownie for free.”

Bradford City from finish to start as Devante Cole starts in style in the win over Port Vale

After ninety six minutes of the game the Referee – a rather finicky official named Jeremy Simpson – alleviated the final pressure from Port Vale to and blew this last of many whistles. The game won with a goal by new recruit Devante Cole a minute earlier had threatened to end scoreless – a second blank ninety minutes following the draw at Barnsley – but Cole’s latching onto a ball which bounced into the box saw him able to cap a début cameo in the finest way one might imagine.

Cole beat Mark Marshall to the ball in the box and Marshall had some return for a afternoon of frustration against his former club where often he seemed to operate on a different wavelength to that being used by his team mates. Marshall poised more of a threat as the game wore on and it is obvious that for all his speed his main attribute is delivery. He excels in his delivery and had he got to the ball he might have been expected to score too but he did not, Cole did, but Marshall seemed not at all concerned with who put the ball past Jak Alnwich in the Port Vale goal as long as one of the two men in the box had.

That there were two men in the box to celebrate the goal came, in no small part, to the work of James Hanson on the edge of the eighteen yard line. Hanson suffered a blow to the leg earlier in the match and as City hit the ball to him he was marked one in front and one behind and he darted away and under the long pass Rory McArdle had played taking the defenders, one in front and one behind, out of the penalty area leaving a large space in which the ball bounced and Mark Marshall and Devante Cole lurked.

That the space was formed behind Hanson, who took two defenders one in front of him and one behind him out of the penalty area was because Rory McArdle had his the ball long and accurately towards him. McArdle’s passing to Hanson has been a significant route to attack for Phil Parkinson’s side in last three years and so it was again. A tried and tested pass forward which McArdle was able to play not in a rush – a rush would have been to hit the ball when he picked up up seconds and twenty yards before – but when he was ready and where he wanted to play it from.

Rory McArdle, walking the ball forward, looking for James Hanson with one in front of him and one behind him, and knowing that even though the fourth minute of four in injury time will elapse soon there is a benefit to an accurate forty five yard pass over a wilder seventy yard punt. McArdle who has slowly begun to take to the role of seniority in the back four and who got the ball from Reece Burke who seems as assured a stand in as one could imagine playing with. Burke and James Meredith had made some progress down the left in the second half after a scattershot first in which Marshall appeared to appear in random places and no pattern to the attacking thrust down the left could be established.

The requirement for Marshall on the one side and Paul Anderson on the other to provide more attacking thrust – rather than just to join central midfield – was largely because of the performance of Gary Liddle in the centre of midfield. Liddle quietly put in the kind of defensive shielding performance which the likes of Ryan Woods were lauded for. Liddle slotted back into the role breaking up Port Vale’s attacking play and playing simple balls to midfield partner Lee Evans and later Billy Knott.

Liddle was composure and with his strength Evans and Knott were able to drive from midfield and there were signs of a healthy responsibility for the ball. Evans dropped between the lines to take the ball from Burke and McArdle and looked for targets which were hard to find, but hard to find against a Port Vale side who had four clean sheets in six games. As the game continued players began to make themselves targets, increasingly confident that Liddle would win the ball, that McArdle would play the ball, that Hanson would head the ball.

“Real bottle,” Peter Beagrie said and I paraphrase, “on the football field is doing the right thing the twelfth time even when it has failed the last eleven times because it is the right thing.”

And I am not inclined to disagree with him.

Taking back control of the result as Bradford City draw 0-0 at Barnsley

When talking this week about the need for Bradford City’s players to put in a Bradford City performance manager Phil Parkinson engaged in a little modesty, and a little evasion.

I don’t think there was enough out there in terms of the Bradford spirit and determination we’ve known – and that didn’t sit easy with me – Phil Parkinson

Four years ago on Tuesday saw the Bradford City manager who proceeded Parkinson go into a broad room meeting trying to justify a lifeless performance against Dagenham & Redbridge and failing. He resigned and within a week Parkinson came to the club after the cameo of a Colin Cooper 4-2 against Barnet.

Many wanted Cooper to have the job and Parkinson, less obviously attacking in his approach than Cooper, was criticised as he went about a process that made City more predictable and by virtue of that less interesting.

Jackson’s last side was as lifeless as one could imagine but it was not criticised for that having come after Peter Taylor’s weak outfits and Stuart McCall’s sides who famously could take an offside decision going against them in a win and sulk it up into a six game losing run.

This has been the way Bradford City have been perhaps since Paul Jewell left the club in the Summer of 2000. For those ten years we were a club often at the whim of external forces be they financial or on the field. To a greater or lesser extent until Parkinson arrived City were a club who seemed unable to control its own fortunes.

Unless one wants to journey back decades then it would be more accurate to say that it is not a “Bradford City performance” that Bradford City failed to show in the 2-1 defeat to Gillingham it was a Phil Parkinson performance.

Modus operandi

Having watched Phil Parkinson’s teams over the last four years it strikes one that first and foremost the City boss demands the level of effort which was lacking from his players on Tuesday night. For much of Parkinson’s time at the club he has been able to select a team from a squad who all were able to reach that level required.

That that situation was coming to an end has been obvious for some time. If one believes that the Gillingham performance would not have happened had Jon Stead been in the forward line, or had Andy Halliday been in the team, then one convicts oneself of the most idealised thinking.

On Tuesday night – and over the week – it became obvious that he did not have eleven who put in what Parkinson requires and so new faces were called in: Reece Burke on loan from West Ham United, Lee Evans from Wolves.

In the past four years Parkinson’s loan signings – as opposed to his loan to purchase deals – have largely been to decorate the fringes of his team. Burke and Evans came straight into the side recalling Parkinson’s first month at the club when the likes of Matt Duke, Jamie Devitt, and Andrew Davies were signed and put into the side.

Loan signings disrupt the flow of a team, but when the team is not flowing what is to lose?

Replacements in South Yorkshire

In the event Lee Evans turned in a fine performance in central midfield as the Bantams had more control of the central area than they had in any game previously this season. It should not be said that Christopher Routis is the sum of the problems at Bradford City but with him injured, and Tony McMahon ill, the middle two of Evans and Gary Liddle looked to have the kind of solidity which has been lacking of late.

Evans will be at the club for five months at least. He is young and has some ability. His signing on loan suggest is is an after thought but one finds it hard to believe that Parkinson can have thought that he could go into the season with such poor resources in central midfield and perhaps Evans’ two weeks sitting out games at Wolves focused his mind on how to progress his career at another club.

Only here for a month Reece Burke – 19 years old and having only played five games previously – slotted into the defence alongside Rory McArdle and never looked out of place. Burke put in a calm, assured performance as one might expect from a player on his debut but he seems to be a short term solution to the problem of replacing Andrew Davies.

Alan Sheehan – who has performed the role better than anyone else this term – was on the bench and is thought to be about to leave the club. Millwall defender Mark Beevers has had talks over a move but those talks came to nothing. Nathan Clarke is on the bench until such a time as Parkinson redeems him.

Redemption/reconstruction

While there were chances for Bradford City to win at Oakwell against Barnsley Parkinson’s City were not seeking a redemption so much as reconstruction.

Burke slotted into a back four which was supported by a central midfield who did not stray too far up field and most of the afternoon the full backs were supported by the corresponding wingers Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall.

Parkinson has made it clear that we are at a stage in the season were we can judge all the players (except for Brad Jones, once again absent having missed training all summer) but judgements on those two wide players – and a third Josh Morris – are not kind.

Anderson has – thus far – failed to live up to the hefty reputation he arrived with. His performance against Gillingham was risible and while he was defensively better at Oakwell he showed only very occasional abilities to go beyond the forward line and link onto what could be won by James Hanson.

There is much to do for Anderson.

Josh Morris – who replaced Anderson after just over an hour – has shown more in terms of the ability but is frustratingly easy to knock off the ball for a player with pretensions to take a central midfield role as well as a wide one. For defenders playing against Morris is about playing on the line of fouling and hoping that the Referee has no sympathy for the player who concludes every challenge looking back at the official and appealing.

More curious is Mark Marshall who has very good delivery of a ball when he happens upon the right position to deliver it from but getting Marshall into those positions seems to be a random process. Defensively he issues vague and wrong instructions to the full back behind him but such things are worked on in training and that could improve with time.

Going forward Marshall needs to position himself to take on defenders and go forward rather than to dribble past central midfielders and move sideways. A man who can beat a player is useful when attacking but dribbling through central midfield is dangerous at worse, and fairly pointless at best.

One understands Marshall’s frustrations even without agreeing with his way of venting them.

City’s trip to Barnsley was about keeping a clean sheet and in keeping a clean sheer starting building belief in the squad that it is master of its own destiny. The balance was in favour of defending and none of the wide players was given much of a remit to attack. Parkinson wanted to see if Anderson, Marshall, and Morris were prepared to dig in, that the team were prepared to do as told, and to be responsive for achieving an outcome, and the answer was a qualified yes.

In this context Steve Davies and James Hanson toiled up front with the latter often isolated and the former missing a great chance when one on one with Adam Davies in the Barnsley goal.

One doubts Parkinson will lose much sleep over that. He goes into training for the first time this season – and I would say the first time since Reading – with a team that can be said to have had control over the outcome of the game rather than been buffeted on the winds of occasion.

That was the first thing Phil Parkinson achieved when he arrived at City four years ago. He hopes to have won it back on Saturday.

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 welcome to Bradford City moment as the Bantams draw 1-1 with Shrewsbury Town

For those who were new at Valley Parade in this the first home game of the season one got a sense of an early baptism. The Bradford City who beat Arsenal and Chelsea are also, and very much, the Bradford City of a 1-1 draw with Shrewsbury Town.

With morale low and a team to build Phil Parkinson would have liked to win, would accept a draw, and did not want to lose and everything about this first home game said that. Playing his playmaker formation with James Hanson and Steve Davies in the forward line Parkinson’s City matches Micky Mellon’s Shrewsbury Town man for man with Billy Clarke occupying the impressive Ryan Woods who sat in the spoiling role in front of the huge Jermaine Grandison
and the coveted Connor Goldson.

And in doing so the two sides, more or less, cancelled each other out. A mistake by Martin Woods in midfield allowed Billy Clarke to burst forward and scored following a returned pass by Davies. Tyrone Barnett equalised after half time getting credit for chasing a very long ball forward and perhaps earning the luck that came as his shot cannoned back off Rory McArdle and then over Ben Williams. Nothing Williams could do about that which seems to be a phrase said a little too often for comfort.

Those goals sandwiched half time and from that part on it was a very typical Parkinson performance. Not wanting to throw players forward and risk losing the game City did try Mark Marshall and Paul Anderson as wingers to pull the play out of a packed middle but the middle two of Shrewsbury were firm.

Goldson was rated highly and is composed on the ball. Alan Sheehan has not been rated so highly this week after his penalty miss starting as central defender in the place of Nathan Clarke he put in a very good display. He seems prepared to offer Parkinson an option in that position and I believe is worth considering for the role.

Gary Liddle’s return strengthened the midfield immeasurably and Josh Morris showed his ability to play the side role in a three man midfield. I shall not pretend to Parkinson’s preference for Christopher Routis but will note that Routis had a serviceable game but if he wants to be a midfielder he needs to stop wasting possession on silly passes and ludicrous shots. If we are to persist with Routis then he needs to be judged on the same standards as other players in the team.

There were shouts for penalties as the game wore on and Stephen Darby’s shot at the end of a well worked move was blocked when it looked like it would win the game.

But this was a game not to be lost, and it was not, and at every step in the accent of Bradford City under Phil Parkinson there have been games like this where one wishes that City were more adventurous and not be so content with a point.

But such is Parkinson’s way and it is that way which has brought all these people to Valley Parade in the first place.

A life more ordinary as Bradford City lose on penalties to York City

Let us not, dear reader, waste too much time with the symbolism of Bradford City’s long standing record of winning penalty shoot outs coming to an end at York City. Eventually all sequences end.

Let us look instead at the nature of the performance that led to the penalty shoot out. Once again Phil Parkinson’s team put in a hollow performance. There was a shell of a performance and there were moment of good play and spells of in game dominance but in the core of the display was empty.

City are playing without character and, truth be told, it has been that way for sometime. Bristol City, Preston North End, Swindon Town. These games tell the same story as York does. Playing some good stuff, having chances, but when pressure comes the players – both collectively and individually – failing to show the mental toughness to stop games from going against them.

Which is hard to say about the team and especially hard to say about the team that builds its reputation on having that very quality. Two down at Chelsea, Arsenal equaliser, Burton away and so on.

And of course we have to realise that having a team that showed that level of character was a hard build thing on Parkinson’s behalf. Forged perhaps in the Crawley Brawl and build though an historic League Cup run the opposite of which we have seen this year we got used to having a team that excelled in its mental toughness, and its character, and its spirit.

We are used to that team.

What we have now is the team more ordinary.

That we return from York City recalling a fine volley from Christopher Routis and talking about how serviceable Routis was in midfield is an illustration of that ordinariness. Routis gave City the lead peeling away at a set piece and cleanly striking the ball in after a deep cross.

Sitting in the middle of a 442 with Gary Liddle Routis played some good football and Liddle’s breaking up skills were important and the problem was a collective one of character rather than one of performance it is worth dwelling on the performance for a moment.

Make a square mentally between the central defenders and the central midfielders. Controlling that square is absolutely how teams win football matches. Stopping the opposition playing within that square is what good teams do.

With Nathan Clarke as one corner of that square struggling to get up to speed following his signing and Routis on the other struggling to constantly maintain his corner the square stretched and York were allowed too much of the ball in that most dangerous position.

This manifest itself when Clarke was run at, and Gary Liddle brought down, Reece Thompson was he broke into the box. The gap between Clarke and Liddle was too big and Thompson got to pick his attack. Luke Summerfield scored the penalty.

Later James Berrett would hit a free kick in after being pulled down by Rory McArdle stretching too far and again showing the gap between defence and midfield. Defenders should not need to lunge for the ball in such a way and that McArdle did continues the theme of the mental toughness that is lacking.

Mental toughness, and character, are much to do with how much faith one puts in one’s teammates and at the moment the answer to that question is not much. Rory McArdle will lunge at the ball believing and only he can get the ball away, Gary Liddle will bring down players believing he and only he can make the tackle.

Every goal that goes in comes with a worrying Ben Williams lambast – which seems different in character from Jon McLaughlin’s similar shouts but in a way I struggle to quantify at the moment – which suggests that he has not got the belief in the defenders. The way defenders turn away suggests the feeling is mutual.

The defence of Williams is that he can not be expected to save anything that comes at him – a curious job description for a goalkeeper – but I’m not sure how Williams’ post-goal antics fit within that. On assumes anyone who believes that Williams should not be expected to stop any of the six goals he has conceded this season would also not expect Alan Sheehan to score a penalty. His miss tonight compounded Billy Clarke’s on Saturday.

James Hanson equalised in the last minutes of stoppage time and going forward Mark Marshall looked interestingly threatening while B. Clarke, Luke James and Steven Davies – to be known as Serpent Head or Serps if you will – looked good. Paul Anderson struggled all night.

But one of the marks of the ordinary team, rather than the extraordinary heroics of the last few seasons, is the clenched sigh of what could have been had various strikers done more. It is football’s l’esprit d’escalier.

The penalties favoured York.

So now then

Phil Parkinson has admitted that he allowed Jussi Jääskeläinen to leave the club rather than the Fin signing for Wigan over City. Chris Kirkland is, it is said (although not by me), training with City with a view to filling the number one position. That Parkinson watched Jääskeläinen for two weeks and then decided he was not the man suggests that the City manager is looking for something Jääskeläinen could not give him.

Likewise City have had a bid accepted for a defender – believed to be Connor Goldson of Saturday’s opposition Shrewsbury Town although you trust rumours at your peril – but one can not underline enough how the problems with Parkinson’s side are not solved by signing players.

York City looked like middle of League Two team and when the applied pressure to City – just as Swindon did on Saturday – City had no reply. Players became disconnected to other players. The shape broke up. The lack of whatever you would call it: team spirit, belief in one’s peers, confidence; was obvious.

Those things are uncommon. Ordinary teams do not have them in the abundance Phil Parkinson has built them into recent Bradford City teams.

This is Phil Parkinson’s hollow team. As a manager he knows what he wants and he knows this is not it. It will take time, and hard work, to build them back into this Bradford City team.

Bradford City’s first day defeat and the honesty applied to it

After watching his Bradford City team lose 4-1 to Swindon Town on the first day of the season Phil Parkinson was in need of the very trait the lack of which defines close season: Intellectual honesty.

The second half collapse which saw the Bantams go from strolling to a comfortable win to strolling a deep defeat was nothing new for Parkinson and seemed to be 2015 in a match for the City manager. It started well and then drifted and as it drifted it went away from the team, and the manager.

And it is the manager Parkinson – rightly praised in the build up to the season – who needs most to find the honesty to look at this performance and sort bad luck from bad judgement, and bad play from bad players.

45 Minutes

The opening goal of City’s season was a near carbon copy of the Andrew Halliday effort at Chelsea. A ball worked down the right and put back to Tony McMahon who held the ball up and played it to Joss Morris who – four minutes into his debut – applied the finish.

It was Morris who was fouled for a penalty which Billy Clarke hit too low but wide enough to beat most keepers but Lawrence Vigouroux is six foot six and pushed the ball away.

Which is where the first dishonesty in the game emerged. The penalty was not a turning point in the match. Accepted had the game been two or three to nil at half time then Swindon Town might have found a rally more difficult but the penalty miss was part of a half long period of pressure where the Robins allowed City to dominate possession happy in themselves to play nice passing football at speed and be blocked off by the Bantams physical size.

City bullied Swindon for forty five minutes and Swindon in turn allowed that to happen. The speedy possession play was ineffectual. Ball comes forward, ball pinged around some strikers, Rory McArdle cleans it out, Swindon look sad.

If one is looking for a turning point in the first half then look no further than Billy Knott’s break on 38 minutes which was abruptly ended by a two footed tackle by Nathan Byrne.

Byrne got the ball but with two feet so the Referee Steve Martin seemed to have mandated a given a free kick for an offence which is only punishable by a red card, and gave a yellow.

Quite apart from the fact that Nathan Byrne was to have a not little impact in the second half this moment formed an idea in the head of Swindon boss Mark Cooper which was to turn the game.

15 Minutes

How knows what is said in a dressing room at half time and how those phrases are manifest in performance. Who knows what. Phil Parkinson will look back at the changes he made as having a cause and effect on the second half collapse, Mark Cooper on the revival. One suspect that Cooper said a phrase like “get amongst them” or “match them physically”.

Cooper and Swindon seemed to recognise that the Referee Mr Martin was no disciplinarian and had a broad definition of what constituted robust play. In the first half Bradford City’s side had dominated play because they were more physical but there was clear space between the edge of Mr Martin’s robust play and City’s first half play that Swindon could occupy.

90 Minutes

The effect was that Swindon applied pressure some of which resulted in free kicks and some of which did not and Bradford City wilted in the face of that in the same way that common at the end of last season against Preston North End or Bristol City.

Parkinson’s half time changed the way that City approached the second half. Playmaker Knott and right midfielder Christopher Routis were detailed with closing down Swindon as they tried to play out of the back line leaving left midfield Morris and central man McMahon as the two in the middle and Billy Clarke and James Hanson falling wide when Knott and Routis were closing down quickly.

The idea was not without merit in that twice City robbed Swindon as they worked the ball out of defence but its massive detriment was how porous it left the City midfield. Swindon moved the ball around well but with City committing Knott and Routis to attacking the ball in the Swindon Town half should Swindon get pasted that line – which they were always going to – they found rather than eight or nine players defending six or seven.

They had the space to play and Byrne – lucky not to leave the field in disgrace – left it with a hat-trick with Jon Obika adding a fourth for good measure. Each goal a celebration of passing and moving, running into space and playing the ball quickly, and enjoying the fact that putting in the sort of challenge that is not the done thing in pre-season they had gone in the space of a half hour from being bullied to doing the bullying.

And at ninety minutes the distressing thing was just how City had let that happen.

Honesty

Returning from Swindon will have given Phil Parkinson time to think over what went wrong and much of the season will depend on what those thoughts were.

The manager could look at the players and conclude that they were lacking. It would be true to say that the depth of the collapse of the second half showed the same signs of weak character which were obvious at the end of last season but that explains the depth of the defeat but not the direction. How did things go to defeat at all after the first half? This requires an honest answer, or a series of them.

The Routis/Knott closing down was a tactical mistake from Parkinson.

It solved a not especially urgent problem – that Swindon could bring the ball out – by creating a far more pressing problem of Swindon being able to find space to pass the ball around in the City half which was the cause of the defeat.

The decision to leave Gary Liddle on the bench – one Parkinson said before the game was down to the form of other players – was also a mistake.

The main crux of criticism directed at Liddle is that he is a more defensive midfielder and offers little going forward but this is to vilify a man for his virtues. City needed Liddle to stand up in the midfield and stop Swindon Town playing and whatever the abilities of Tony McMahon he did not do that.

In fact McMahon spent the second half closing down Swindon players who had just played the ball away and if Morris was near him he was doing the same thing but Morris was more often caught between two players with options and failed to take either.

Routis had too far to travel between his hunter role beyond the forwards and his midfield duties which he did well in the first half when no pressure was applied and Knott spent much of his time cast as a Bradford City Frank Lampard watching play happening thirty yards away from him and waiting for the ball back.

The application of honest to Billy Knott is that he needs to be able to play a box-to-box midfield role or all his abilities in the attacking positions are all for nothing. I think he has that capability but I think that if leaving him on the half way line when play is happening in the City is because Phil Parkinson does not feel Knott can play central midfield then he would be best not having Knott in the squad.

As it was Knott was isolated and away from the game which badly needed a player who would try take control of the midfield and – as with the defeats of last season – rather than that it got Christopher Routis.

That Morris always had more to do than McMahon was because of a grimly sobering reality that Mark Cooper’s half time team talk seemed to have told Swindon that they should attack City down the right to avoid Rory McArdle and target Nathan Clarke who was slower than the attacking players, and more lumbering than the attacking players, and without Andrew Davies’ judgement that allowed him to suffer those deficiencies.

If Nathan Clarke is to be a first choice central defender for City then Parkinson needs to find a way of fielding a midfield that offers him more protection against the ball being dribbled and played at him at speed. This would mean looking at a holding midfielder (or two) sitting ahead of the defence to break up that kind of play which again points to Gary Liddle’s afternoon on the bench as a thing of mystery.

Which is not to say that McMahon is not able to play the position he did today just that he did not do it effectively today. If City were to play Swindon every week then I’d be urging Parkinson to field a Double Six of McMahon and Liddle with three in front and a back four behind to compress play leaving Hanson up front alone but City will not play Swindon or Swindon like teams every week. Few teams try to play possession football at pace in League One and next week we may be talking about how it is a lack of creativity, not the inability to stop creative teams, which is the problem at hand.

Part of the rigour of intellectual honesty on Parkinson’s park though also comes in recognising what has gone well on an afternoon that ended badly. He has a Bradford City team which is brittle but – when on top of games – is dominant. James Hanson’s play is both target man and works well in support and Hanson works hard suggesting that if the supply to Hanson is good then City will prosper.

There is a worry about how infrequently Billy Clarke gets into dangerous positions but B. Clarke is an intelligent player and should supply increase then he will adapt his game appropriately, or he will stand down.

Parkinson also needs to look at Ben Williams in the harsh light of Football League reality.

Williams is an unremarkable goalkeeper and one of whom it will always be said that he did not have a chance, or that the defenders should have protected him, or that looking at goalkeepers for concessions misses the reason for concessions but I struggle to recall a time which I had so little expectation that a goalkeeper might – occasionally – stop a shot from going into the goal.

Both Mark Marshall and Paul Anderson made cameo appearances and Steve Davies came on and looked like he wanted to plant the same kind of “robust” challenges which the home team had done. City ended the game with Tony McMahon and Christopher Routis in central midfield and the kind of result which one would expect from a team with Tony McMahon and Christopher Routis in central midfield.

Which is both a criticism of the character of the players in the second half and one of the management in not foreseeing that repeating the same mistakes will get the same results. Central midfield is the heart of a team and City’s team were heartless in more ways than one.

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.

James Hanson’s exit to Millwall highlights the benefit of managerial stability

At time of writing Millwall seem to want James Hanson more than James Hanson wants Millwall but rumours in football has a habit of becoming true in football and while it is an unwelcome thought for many, if not most, that City’s modern day icon might end up playing for another club it is a thought that is increasingly crystallised in the mind.

For the sake of argument, and for this article, let us assume that Hanson is heading South and ask ourselves why Bradford City would be in a situation where a popular player is being allowed to join a rival club for a not substantial sum of money,

It is said that Hanson will cost Millwall £500,000 some of which will go to Guiseley as a sell on payment leaving the Bantams with, well, not that much. I’ve said before that I believe Bradford City’s board allow themselves to do bad deals and shall not labour the point.

Suffice to say that Hanson is not going to Millwall because a deal that was too good to turn down came on, nor is he going because he needs to change clubs, nor after the successes of last season could anyone say with a straight face that the club needed the money.

Why Millwall want Hanson

It is not that hard to see what would attract Millwall manager Neil Harris – himself a burly centre forward – to Hanson. Over two games in the FA Cup last season the City striker bullied the Lions until the were kittens.

One could almost say that it was the pinnacle of Hanson at City if it were not for Aston Villa and his leaving of Ron Vlaar in his dust which reminds us – and perhaps suggests to Harris – that Hanson is not the one dimensional player that some have accused him off. Indeed one recalls Keith Hill saying of City’s patterns of play after the Bantams best Rochdale 2-0 at Spotland that had he had James Hanson in his team then he would play like City do too.

Such talk underestimates Hanson in my opinion – and seemingly in Harris’ too – and I would point to his rangy finish against Burton Albion amongst his many successes with ball at feet but I, Hill, Phil Parkinson and probably Neil Harris at Millwall know that having Hanson in your team urges you to play in a certain way.

Seemingly Harris wants Millwall to play like that in League One next season and Phil Parkinson does not want Bradford City to.

Why Phil Parkinson does not

2014/2015 is remembered as a vintage year for Bradford City – Chelsea and all that – but a quick reality check recalls a season in which Phil Parkinson tried and failed to change the club’s style of play which saw a low at half time against Halifax Town in which it seemed unlikely that the Bantams boss would remain the Bantams boss.

Parkinson hit the reset button on his City side which struggled to try play with a playmaker rather than with supply from the flanks and were in danger of going out of the FA Cup in the first round. Filipe Morais became an effective force on the right hand side and fits better in a three when following Halifax and a return to confidence the playmaker returned.

It had its moments but eventually failed to push for promotion largely because of the problems with injury to Andrew Davies. In brute mathematical terms the playmaker formation did not produce enough goals to make up for those which which went in when Davies was not present and Christopher Routis was.

Parkinson had tried to change his forward players using Billy Clarke behind James Hanson and Jon Stead on occasion, and Billy Knott behind Hanson/Stead and Clarke on others. The change seemed to be more tinkering than fixing the problem the the number of goals (by which I mean chances to score goals) was suffering because the supply came in the same way to the same players and from the same areas.

To make a playmaker formation work this season when it did not last a more fundamental change is needed and that change seems to be in moving Hanson on. Already the club have tried – and failed – to sign Andy Williams as a replacement.

This is where I part company with Parkinson in my thinking. I believe that Hanson has the capacity to be the forward that Parkinson is looking for. The one in three man to go with a one in two man and I base that opinion on having seen a good chunk of the 225 games James Hanson has played for Bradford City.

But there’s the rub.

The problem with stability

If you watch Bradford City home and many away games you may – in the past five or six seasons – have seen James Hanson play around two hundred times. You’ll have seen him play well, and seen him pay badly. You’ll have seen him at Wembley in June and at Torquay in December. You’ll have an educated view on James Hanson.

José Mourinho has probably seen James Hanson play once.

So who knows James Hanson better? You or José? Modesty aside logic forces you to answer the former.

This is – in embryo – the argument for stability in football management which used to be the province of this website and the main point of discussion between supporters. A reason why it is bad to change manager is that a new manager has no experience of the players in his charge.

The majority of the time a new manager arrives at a club and on the strength of a few weeks of training and a couple of games making a number of value judgements on players which necessarily have to be less informed than they should be.

Being hypothetical again imagine Phil Parkinson had joined Sheffield United and we were now starting the Stuart Gray era at Valley Parade. How could Gray make an informed decision about a player he may never have seen kick a ball? And probably had never met?

The answer, in practise, is that a manager like Gray cannot do that and do rather than looking for what they need within the ranks of a club a new manager brings in “his own people” at the club’s expense and allows squads to be broken up without them getting a chance to show their qualities.

But this is not the case with Phil Parkinson and James Hanson.

Parkinson has probably seen as much of Hanson playing at anyone needs to – certainly more than Neil Harris has – and he has worked with Hanson day in day out for years. He knows James Hanson well enough that he can make as qualified, as educated a judgement on a player has any manager at Valley Parade in my memory has.

It will make me sad if Parkinson thinks that the future of Bradford City does not include someone with the heart, and the usefulness, of James Hanson and I might wonder how much the manager wants to force a style of play and at what cost he will go to do that but I could never accuse him of doing these things rashly, or without everything he needs to make a judgement call.

Which is the benefit of managerial stability. Assuming Parkinson is making the decisions around Hanson – and is not under financial pressure to make them – then one is forced to see those decision in a long term context. Parkinson has tried to make what he wants to do work with a squad that included James Hanson, and now he believes he needs to try it with a different squad.

Putting a manager into a position in which he can make this sort of nuanced, fine decision to improve squads rather than the constant overhauls which used to mark the club’s summers is exactly where we want the club to be.

But I’m still hoping that we might get their with Big Jim Hanson up front.

The rise and pause of James Hanson

Having watched them fail to cope with his muscular style in the FA Cup it was hardly surprising that Millwall put in a bid for James Hanson. The London club – who will compete with City in League One next season – have seen the effectiveness of the Bantams bluntest object first hand and were evidently impressed.

The Lions bid has been rejected. The word from Bradford City was that it was not near the amount the player is valued at which sounds troublingly more like a negotiating tactic than a hands off notice. We await developments with a sense of worry.

For most who cast an eye over Valley Parade in the past five years James Hanson’s rise is the rise of Bradford City. Emerging from nowhere – he did used to work at the Co-op – to heights previously unprecedented and very unexpected. It was Hanson who scored the goal which took City to Wembley in 2013 and who the BBC choose to use as their representative of the club in their coverage of that League Cup final.

It is not hard to associate the tall striker with all the good things that have gone on at City in the past few years. He was the man of the moment in the greatest moment to date at Villa, he scored a superb strike at Burton Albion in the playoffs, and he worked his backside off on the left hand side against Chelsea. In-between he puts in the kind of hard working displays that he promised back in 2010.

But there is a temptation to ask what the limits of using a player like Hanson are. At League One level the teams that do well have a powerhouse forward like Hanson but the higher up a club goes the less used the more obvious parts of Hanson’s game are. Strength and the ability to hold the ball become necessities at some point although that point is a deal higher than the middle of League One where City are at the moment.

One is tempted to look at the stalled progress of Hanson’s former partner Nahki Wells and suggest that somewhere in the middle of The Championship – the hurdle that Huddersfield Town cannot manage to leap over – there is a gradual change in playing style away from the type of football that gets you into the league at the bottom and towards the type of football that gets you out of it at the top. Wells and Hanson were a classic big man/little man pairing and that is out of fashion at Watford and Norwich where promotion is being celebrated.

Indeed much of what Bradford City under Phil Parkinson do could be said to be out of step with the successful teams of the division above. Football as a whole sneers at City’s physical play, direct football and hard work ethic. That sneer is turned away after Chelsea, or Sunderland, or similar but only in those instances. The prevailing narrative of football is that what City do week-in-week-out is some how less teams that pursue “pure” football.

Parkinson is given awards for his work but none of the managers who lost at Stamford Bridge is tempted to imitate him.

Which gives Hanson, and Parkinson, a moment of pause. Will City’s rise be a result of the same patterns of play – albeit with refinement – or will the club, management and players have to change to progress?

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.

The thrashing by Bristol City that taught us what we already knew

The emotion

“Eight One.

Eight Bloody One!

Eight One To Brighouse. They are a team of old aged pensioners! The centre forward wears glasses. During the match!”

Eight goals! Four of them from back passes to the goalkeeper!

They were the worst.”

Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns

The substance

If the one goal defeat at Gillingham did not finalise Bradford City’s inability to make the League One play offs in 2015 then the goal sodden mess of a 6-0 home defeat to Bristol City did.

For those who had seen City only in the brightest moments: the Chelsea, the Sunderland, the Doncaster Rovers, the Millwall at home, the Preston away; then this result might not be able to be set in context. For those of us – and this is most of us – this represents the low watermark in a season which offered equally contrasting highs but was always due to tend to the middle.

That Bristol City looked like the all-stars of the bottom two divisions goes some way to explaining their success this year. The likes of Luke Freeman, Marlon Pack, Wade Elliott, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, and Aaron Wilbraham have been best players for different teams for the last few years. The Robins have put them together with devastating results for the Bantams.

Bradford City – on the other hand – endured a night of compounded mistakes passing through the team like a virus and starting from the dis-effective. There was something in the way that Mark Yeates kept playing James Meredith short that caused Meredith problems and those problems chipped into a decent display from the left back which became a very poor one.

From Meredith it spread. After the left back was beaten by the effervescent Freeman for a second goal which Stephen Darby was massively outjumped for it had passed to the opposite full back (credit Darby, he strode on manfully) but most crucially to the goalkeeper Ben Williams.

Williams’ command of his box was shot and the area behind Rory McArdle and Gary MacKenzie was freeland for the opposition where it should be an area for a all out keeper to come claim balls. This would be seen in the 4th goal, or perhaps the 5th, where Pack bent a ball behind the central defenders and in front of Williams and there was the freedom of the pitch to head home in.

It is horrible to write off a man’s career but Williams seemed a spent force. A technical goalkeeper who needs to show a command of his box which he does not he is like the minutes after a goal when Jon McLaughlin would sulk stretched out for entire games. Jordan Pickford’s mouth on style will take him to places Williams’ laconic ways will not, and are far more useful.

MacKenzie caught what was going around. His defending was average but his failure was in attempts to play controlled passes rather than clearances, and a strange choke that saw him trying to volley away things he would previously have headed.

The Choke – an interesting concept in Sports Psychology – I use to to describe a failure to win what was expected but to do what is normally done. MacKenzie – when under pressure and at three goals down – stops being the reliable clearance based replacement for Andrew Davies and starts trying to play the ball like Beckenbauer.

The midfield were out muscled – at times unfairly and Gary Liddle will wonder how his being elbowed in the closing stages is something that can be ignored – but at times by a Bristol City side who were more committed to winning the game. The 442 Phil Parkinson favoured for the evening badly needs a speedy winger to stop an opposition midfield sitting toe to toe knowing it will not be beaten for pace.

Parkinson switched to a 4312 for the second half. If the manager wants to maintain an ability to move between the two formations he needs at least one fast wide player who can make the flat four lass flat and he needs to rethink Billy Clarke’s ability in the playmaker role in a three man with one behind formation.

Clarke drifted out of the game at about fifty five minutes last out never to be seen again. Pack dealt with him well – one seldom comes up against such a player – but to highlight the problem Luke Freeman was offering a masterclass in playing the playmaker role for the opposition.

Freeman was a constant threat – the type of player you do not want to see on the ball – in a way that Clarke has not been. In truth Freeman offers a model the playmaker role – set out for Mark Yeates at the start of the season – to be filled by Billy Knott who does the job of constant annoyance better than Clarke.

As it was Clarke was ineffective as was Jon Stead. Stead fills the heart with joy – Chelsea and all that – and typifies City’s season. Sometimes he is Chelsea, sometimes he is this, and when negotiating with the forward (perhaps in Lira, so to speak) one hopes nights like this where he offered very little of note are remembered.

Which is not to criticise the former England u21 player but while he was an England u21 player James Hanson was working at the Co-op and on the night when he saw his team get battered Hanson emerged with credibility. His head did not go down, his levels did not drop, and he alone could be said to have earned his corn on this woeful evening.

What then for Parkinson and his squad. As obliquely referenced above takeover talk buzzed around Valley Parade with the idea of investment on the horizon. Often a double edged sword this investment may give Parkinson the wage budget to improve his side but Parkinson will look for characters to do that, and it is character that was lacking tonight.

The squad – at the moment – seems to break into three groups. There are players who lead and who have the character needed for success: Hanson, McArdle, Davies, Darby and more; and there are players who when led will show the character to create a great group and team: Morais, Knott, Meredith, MacKenzie and more; and there are players who seem to have failed a test of character or of usefulness: Yeates, Routis, Zoko, Williams and more; who the manager has taken a look at must have found wanting.

The ability to process the side to sift the one from the other is the test that Parkinson faces every year. It seems more pressing when one throws a carriage clock out of a window but it is not.

Promotion this year was an optical illusion based on the curvature of a win over Chelsea and ignoring the displays where City came up short mentally, and in character, and was a practice in confirmation bias.

The 6-0 home defeat to Bristol City confirmed promotion for them but told us what we already knew – that Bradford City were not going to be promoted this season – and so we move onto next.

Parkinson’s success is seen in the shifting of the Overton Window when Bradford City beat Doncaster Rovers 3-0

The Overton window in politics

In political theory, the Overton window is the range of ideas the public will accept. According to the theory, an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within that window. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.Overton Window, Joseph P. Overton

It is commonly held, and held for good reason, that the current and previous incarnation of The Labour Party (Miliband and Blair) are substantially to the right of the 1970s (Wilson) party and that the current Conservative policies are also massively to the right of where they could have been in the same decade. 1971’s Industry Relations Act from Ted Heath would put him left of current Labour thinking.

The Overton window is defined – broadly speaking – by the left and right of what the public will accept and so the two parties stand glaring across it. The window was dragged significantly to the right under Thatcher and so Heath would be out of step with modern Tories just as Blair would be out of step in the 1970s Labour movement. The left and right are relative to a centre which is defined by the greater populous.

James Hanson, predictable

Which seems to have very little to do with a Friday night in Doncaster and Bradford City wandering into the dressing room at half time scoreless against a Rovers side who – like Chesterfield on Tuesday night – looked very similar to the Bantams in approach and effort.

First half blows had been exchanged – weakly perhaps – and once again City seemed to be playing a game on a knife edge. Gary MacKenzie’s slip on Tuesday night had decided the Chesterfield game in the visitors favour and something similar would decide this game, or so it seemed.

Which was the frame of reference that a grumble about the predictability of City’s approach of hitting the ball to James Hanson came about. The speaker thought City needed to “get rid” of the man 442 had called the 45th best player outside the Premier League and one could waste ink on the denotation of this rather than its connotation: that City needed something to tip the knife edge in their favour.

Hanson was policed all evening by a Doncaster Rovers backline who know the striker’s threat and did what they could to respond to it. After forty five minutes they would have been pleased with their attentions – not so after ninety – but the instinct of City fans that the Bantams needed to add something less predictable alongside the thrust of James Hanson was telling.

At this stage of the season four years ago there was (needless, in my opinion) talk of City falling out of the League because of Peter Taylor’s management and Peter Jackson’s arrival was seen as something of a saving grace. Taylor’s team were never in danger of relegation and so any credit to Jackson for “saving” a club that was not in trouble is – in my opinion – misplaced but he is given that credit in wider public opinion.

The Overton window in football

Manchester City almost finished in the UEFA Cup places in 2005. At the time it was high drama in the Premier League. David James – goalkeeper – went up field to try seal this amazing achievement for the Blue side of Manchester but it was not to be. In the end Manchester City reflected on a good season but finished 8th.

A similar finish for Manchester City now would be cause for alarm. The ownership of the club – through Khaldoon Al Mubarak – has changed what the populous believe Manchester City should be achieving significantly. When winning the Premier League last season the reaction was muted – or so it seemed – because of failures in the Champions League.

The Overton window in football for Manchester City has shifted as a result of the massive investment in the club.

The same can be said for Chelsea who played league games at Valley Parade in the 1980s but now measure their success by European Trophies and Premier Leagues. It can be said to have shifted down for Newcastle United who go into a derby game with Sunderland hoping for local bragging rights and a secure Premier League finish as a return for a club that twenty years ago believed they would win the League. Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club has – in the minds of fans and the rest of football – made sure that ambitions should be limited and so they are limited to a window of achievement which is shifted downwards since the Keegan era.

It can be said for Blackpool who – when the North of England used to holiday there in the 1950s – were a team capable of winning trophies but as overseas holidays took business the Overton window for football slide down and down to a point where the team who had the Greatest Footballer ever (some say, Matthews himself thought Tom Finney was better) are now amazed to have had a year in the top division.

Four years ago the Overton window in football at Bradford City had shifted down to a point where relegation from the Football League was feared and the idea of promotion from League Two was considered to be all but unreachable. “My main aim next season is to play attractive football, but winning football as well” said Jackson, “I can build for the future.”

Something changed

What words were said at half time by Phil Parkinson at Doncaster Rovers we will not know but the outcome was incredible. In the second half the Bantams were yards ahead of the side that has matched them stride for stride in the opening forty five minutes. Gary McKenzie’s opener came from a scramble on the far post following a corner, and a cross in, but it was the result of pressure following half time that did not relent.

Hanson, tireless, chased down defenders all evening and in the centre of midfield Billy Knott and Gary Liddle stopped the home side having time on the ball. Indeed Knott – coming up against one time favourite of this Parish Dean Furman – can be pleased with his best performance in a two man midfield for City so far. His tendency to go missing went missing and Knott manifested his progress over the season in the display. Liddle battled through and Filipe Morais’ control of possession in the home side’s half showed what had been missing in recent weeks.

Hanson ran defenders down and made room for Billy Clarke to add a second. Tony McMahon got a third – his first for the club – filling in at left wing for Mark Yeates who felt his shoulder pop out ungraciously in front of the visiting supporters. McMahon seems ready to play anywhere for City just to be at City and that attitude is probably worth noting.

McMahon’s goal – picking up on a slip by Reece Wabara – completed a fine enough evening that Phil Parkinson walked the length of the away supporters to give thanks to those who had come down from Bradford. The scenes seemed as unlikely an hour previous as they would have done four years ago.

Which is Parkinson’s success at Bradford City and one which is not dependent on promotion being achieved this year although this result increases the chances of that. The shift in the Overton window in football upwards for Bradford City has it that City should be thinking in terms of a Championship side and thinking about how to win games against teams like Doncaster Rovers who have just exited that level. How can we win the game on the knife edge to chase a place in the Championship? It was not a question we asked four years ago.

And while Manchester City and Chelsea are foremost in clubs who have shifted their windows up through investment – and clubs like AFC Bournemouth, Hull City and others have had smaller investments and smaller shifts – most of the time when the Overton window for football shifts it is because of money coming in or (Blackpool, Newcastle United, Leeds United, Portsmouth) going out in City’s case it has been achieved on the field, with the same scale of resources, and no sudden injections of funds. In fact City have paid back investment in the last four years.

Which is truly remarkable. With the same resources (less, arguably) which were considered only good enough for playing “good football” at the bottom of League Two Phil Parkinson is measured against Bradford City’s ability to be promoted to The Championship.

Now that is success.

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 continuing problem with Bradford City’s promotion push

When Fleetwood Town scored the second of their two late goals to equalise a game that Bradford City were strolling in one could not help but wonder two things: Just how the visitors from the East Coast found an extra two gears after a performance that suggested they had finished playing for the season, and just what Phil Parkinson would be saying to his Bradford City players after the game.

On the first point one has to give credit to Fleetwood and their manager Graeme Alexander for turning the game around. For long periods they looked uninterested in not losing the match, and incapable of doing to stop Bradford City winning without breaking into a run.

Nathan Pond equalised in the last moment capping a very good display from the defender but for long periods of the game the visitors were pedestrians watching the football go by. It speaks to their character that they came back into the game from the position they did, but it should worry Phil Parkinson that they did.

Which moves onto the second point which was the problem with the level of application which the Bantams put into the game and how this differs from Monday night. If Monday night was City exhausted this was City playing without wanting to expend too much energy.

Things started well enough when Billy Clarke slipped down the left and Jon Stead put in the ball from close range and Christopher Routis finished a fine move just after half time to suggest that the game could be won without much of a stiff challenge from Fleetwood but during the afternoon City lacked a level of application which would have won the match with ease.

Which is not to minimise the tiredness of bodies – it was obvious that the players are still suffering the long season – but when that tiredness is allowed to manifest itself with inaccurate and unproductive play then it becomes a problem and that was a problem today.

To win matches players must show character and showing character is a lot of about wanting to take up a position that gives a team mate an option for a pass rather than sitting behind an opposition player. Showing character is about making sure that when one is the only target (or one of few targets) for the pass then one attempts to take up a position where the pass is easier.

City’s midfield two of Routis and Yeates, and Clarke playing off the front man, were all too ready to watch the ball being hit long to James Hanson and Jon Stead from the safety of marked midfield positions. The full backs delivered little and the front two took up few threatening positions to be delivered too.

These issues compounded but would not have been a problem were it not for the late rally that Fleetwood mustered. When the visitors got going they found a City team who were not controlling the game so much has enjoying the remainders of it.

And one could point at Billy Clarke’s last twenty minutes where the ball passed over his head far too often and he engaged in neither attack or defence or François Zoko’s failure to hold the ball and preference for trying to spark a low percentage chance out of every ball rather than high percentage retention but to do so would be to inadvertently make a virtue from a performance which seemed better than it was up until the final moments when it got the result it deserved.

Without putting more on the line City will not win games, and not win promotion.

Which is not to damn City’s chances. In Parkinson we have a manager who has made a small art out of getting a team to believe it is better than it is, and then making the players that as good as he told them they were. Think back to the games before Millwall at Valley Parade and remember how Gary Jones returned with people suggesting that City had not improved the side since the summer.

The FA Cup run has created the idea that City are too good for League One and – on our better days – that is very true but those better days come from levels of application that far exceed what was seen today in the last ten minutes for sure, but in the previous eighty too.

Parkinson knows this of course. His stock in trade is getting overperformance from players. Not for nothing is Jon Stead’s game at Chelsea called the absolute best single player performance of the season.

Which is the continuing problem with Bradford City’s promotion bid. As with the recently finished FA cup run the push for promotion requires City to overperform often and – when things do not favour Phil Parkinson’s side – they are dragged into a plethora of clubs in the middle of League One.

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.

Millwall, Yeovil Town, Chelsea and the most important thing in life

Before we begin

Ask me who I think the best manager is I say Brian Clough. Ask me who my favourite is I say Bobby Robson.

There are many reasons I have such high regard for the former England and Newcastle United manager and I am not alone in holding him in high esteem. The Brazilian Ronaldo was signed by Robson’s PSV aged seventeen and considered the manager a Second Father.

Robson brought a dignity to his football. When asked about Diego Maradona’s handball in 1986 he said only “Well, he knows he cheated”. When asked if he thought about what would have happened had his England side not lost on penalties to West Germany in 1990 his reply was a haunted “every day.”

When he watched his Newcastle United team beat Bradford City 4-3 and was asked about the poor defending on display he told the journalist who asked him that he has seen a brilliant game of football between two great teams and that he should go home to his family happy.

“That is what I’ll be doing.” he said.

Only one team in it

Shall we clarify how much of a favourite Millwall were presented as before the FA Cup Third Round. There was a chance of an upset at The New Den on the Saturday morning but when the game kicked off the media focus was elsewhere. The City game lurched back and forth with one team taking the lead, then the other. One wondered if there could be a cup tie giving more entertainment.

Two goals for Billy Knott and a couple of defenders struggling to cope with James Hanson who – if City lost – would probably have been the player sold in January to balance the books. The game seemed to matter.

At 3-2 with ten minutes on the clock it seemed that Bradford City would have something of an upset but Ricardo Fuller scored late and in the reply it was considered that City would have more of a chance.

Favourites now then. Valley Parade bustling after a successful campaign to hashtag-be-the-difference based on the anticipation of a fourth round trip which would take City to Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea.

Chelsea were and are top of the Premier League. It was anticipation. The chance to be against the best.

And then it began

And it was over very quickly.

The sixth minute dismissal of Mark Beevers was already against the run of plan. The Bantams had put in three corners before Andy Halliday put a ball forward to James Hanson who outpaced Mark Beevers. Beevers who pulled him back and the Referee did as they do.

Two minutes later Hanson was heading a flicked on corner in to suggest that City should start preparing for the trip to Chelsea. Ten minutes later and another ball in was loose in the box watched – watched – by three Millwall players. Jon Stead had time to cross oceans and acres to put the ball into the goal. He did.

The rest of the story, dear reader, you know. Halliday, then Knott again and Millwall ended up paying their supporters back for turning up.

And so we asked the question

Were Bradford City good or Millwall bad?

The question did not dare suggest itself until after Saturday’s trip to Yeovil Town. Millwall gave up but – it must be remembered – they gave having started from their position of strength in the first game.

When Lions manager Ian Holloway talks about how he has never seen a team collapse in that manner he excuses himself of amount of time which passed in which the advantage in the tie – not just the replay – past from South London to West Yorkshire.

That a team has a poor performance is almost always the result of a good display by the opposition. Bradford City had got into a habit of making games difficult for opposition sides from the divisions above in the League Cup. Make every free kick difficult, make every throw in prompt, run for every ball to make the defender run too, make every passage of play into something that presents a difficulty for the opposition.

Bradford, 2000

When Bradford City beat Chelsea 2-0 in the Premier League on Benito Carbone’s home debut the performance represented something of a high watermark.

I once saw David Wetherall – defender in that side – asked if he thought that City had only won because Chelsea were so bad that evening that they beat themselves. Wetherall could hardly understand the question and struggled to answer.

He mumbled “erm, not really.”

Bradford, 2015

As Millwall manager Ian Holloway kept his team in the dressing room for an hour following the game Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side took the plaudits.

There was a crispness to how the playmaker midfield – abandoned of late but reasserting itself – worked with Billy Knott in the forward midfield position and all over the pitch players could be proud of great performances.

The pitch was covered with high watermark performances. Filipe Morais’ ability to find the rhythm for the inside midfield role as distinct to that played when on the wing seemed like a justification for his two and a half year contract. Morais is a more useful player than first he seemed and his ability to play simple football most often sets him apart from other players who show off tricks to try convince all that they are more useful footballers than they are.

Andy Halliday was praised for his steady work ethic. The back four for their solidity. When Alan Dunne throw James Hanson into a wall and goalkeeper David Forde punched Billy Knott in the face City were even praised for how they all stood together in the brawl that followed.

For City talk moved to a game with Chelsea of course, but also to play offs and possible promotion. By contrast Holloway was telling his charges that eight changes would be made for Saturday and a new captain would be appointed as they prepared for something like a slaughtering.

And that night I remembered my favourite maxim of Bobby Robson.

Having won European trophies with Ipswich Town, and having been knocked out without a win of Euro 88. He had taken England to semi-finals but been the subject of very personal criticism Robson had experienced enough of football to advise this:

“You are never as good, or as bad, as people tell you you are.”

Yeovil, 2015

Perhaps it was the idea that the club he was playing was selling tickets for another match on the day they faced his side but Yeovil Town manager Gary Johnson sense that his team which had not won since September would get something against City.

It was in the air.

The Bantams too light in the tackle perhaps fearing suspension, too slight in the challenge perhaps fearing injury. Or perhaps a ten minute game against Rochdale followed by a mid-week cup tie on a heavy Valley Parade pitch just took it out of the team. Either way City were a shadow.

Gozie Ugwu scored the only goal of the game and Parkinson will have been pleased with a second half where his team pressed more but City suffered a second league defeat in two. This one was against the team bottom of the league.

And so in an atmosphere of discontent over tickettng for the Chelsea game Parkinson’s side were driving back into ill temper.

Not good enough was the general tone and in fact not good. The unexpected high watermark was expected to be the new standard.

Here comes the fear

Chelsea manager José Mourinho described the game against Swansea City as “the perfect game

The Londoners were magnificent in putting five goals past Swansea City without reply. They have a fluidity in their forward four which one doubts Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle will have faced before and they have John Terry and Gary Cahill ready to go man for man with Hanson and Stead.

It would be a folly to suggest that Chelsea have all the ability by City have character because without character Chelsea would not be the top of the Premier League.

And they are top of the Premier League, and they are playing well.

Chelsea are playing the best football in the country at the moment and they have won every league game at Stamford Bridge this season.

One wonders what to expect next week in West London. One wonders what we will go home and tell the family.

Lisbon, 1992

When he was appointed Sporting Lisbon manager in 1992 Bobby Robson appointed José Mourinho – then a scout at another club – as his interpreter. Robson took Mourinho to Porto, and then to Barcelona.

When paying tribute to Robson following his death Mourinho said that Robson had told him the most important thing in life:

“You are never as good or as bad as people say you are.”

What they heard back at Chelsea as Rochdale beat Bradford City

With all due respect to Millwall FC

Dear Mister Mourinho,

Allow me to start, Mister Mourinho, by saying let us be thankful that any fourth round tie between Bradford City and Chelsea will be played at Stamford Bridge.

I arrived in this part of West Yorkshire in biting cold, and watched a game on a wet pitch which cut badly under foot. Mister Mourinho, if you want to avoid the same, you will try beat this Bradford City within one game.

The weather aside I do not envy the man who was sent to watch Blackpool beat Millwall 1-0 for I have much to tell you Mister Mourinho and tell you it I shall.

There is much about this Bradford City which you should know

This Bradford City are a which will not be defeated, even in defeat.

Today Mister Mourinho I saw a football injustice when Bradford City were beaten in the last moment of the game by Rochdale Football Club having performed far better than Rochdale Football Club during the course of the game.

That this Bradford City played the game with only ten players was hardly noticeable Mister Mourinho. Indeed often in the game it seemed that Bradford City had played the game with eleven players and Rochdale Football Club had played it with ten, but that was not the case Mister Mourinho.

A player on loan from Sunderland (prob. not play. Gus is like that) in goal for Bradford City was sent off after ten minutes.

What shall we say about the sending off Mister Mourinho? Shall we just say that you would not have found it acceptable were it Thibaut Courtois dismissed for denying a goalscoring opportunity when the striker had run so wide and did not have control of the ball.

You would say Mister Mourinho that it was not denial of a goalscoring opportunity because the striker had run so with and did not have control of the ball. And you would be right Mister Mourinho, although I suspect you would not continence the possibility of being wrong.

And for the striker who were fouled Mister Mourinho I found myself wishing that he, A player called Matthew Done, was to be playing against John in two weeks time. I found myself wishing as he constantly tackled late on defenders who were clearing the ball on Mister Mourinho that he were to try that on John and found myself imagining what John would do in reply.

A note Mister Mourinho. We should be careful if Gavin Ward referees one of our games. Today he allowed a penalty to be scored from a rebound when the taker was in an offside position as the ball was struck. He made mistakes that compounded mistakes. He is a weak and poor Referee and obviously easily influenced and carried away Mister Mourinho. The beautiful game deserves better Mister Mourinho even at this level.

Character

But when reduced to ten players this Bradford City showed character Mister Mourinho which suggested that they were not a team to be taken lightly even with the obvious gap in quality between our side and theirs because that gap in quality would be seen by this Bradford City as another challenge which they would attempt to overcome.

With ten men this Bradford City played cleverly Mister Mourinho keeping the ball well and using their strength at set plays. James Hanson and Jonathan Stead are bustling centreforwards who upset defenders. Hanson wins most balls played into him and that was the case when a free kick was played too deep. Hanson headed it back and Stead headed in an equaliser. Perhaps Mister Mourinho I might suggest that Gary Cahill and John are a suitable pair to play like on like and I do not want to tell you how to do your job Mister Mourinho but I do worry that they may eat Nathan Ake for breakfast.

The supply to Hanson and Stead comes from Billy Knott and Fillipe Morais. Both have previously played for us in their youth.

Knott is a player of constant motion Mister Mourinho and the energy of Bradford City dissipated as he left the field after being the most influential player on the field for long periods of the game. He will make wrong decisions and expend energy needlessly on occasion but between errors he is the agent provocateur.

We must force Billy Knott into mistakes to cloud his judgement Mister Mourinho, rather than allow his head to be clear. Ignoring him is not an option. He is Bradford City’s finest irritant.

Your friend Fillipe

Fillipe Morais I believe you know. He is not the svelt wide player he was but he has a muscle about him and the ability to play intelligent football that shows your own influence Mister Mourinho. He is a player of discipline and has some strength in the tackle. He has expended his game since first you met and seems comfortable in a number of positions. That a local dubbed him The Man-o-War may please you Mister Mourinho, or it may not.

These players are anchored by Garry Liddle who is serviceable in the pass but not as strong in the tackle as a holding midfielder could be. Today his role was to break any play coming through the middle for Rochdale Football Club and he did break any play coming through the middle for Rochdale Football Club.

The defence is strong although Alan Sheehan, who plays at left back ideally but is covering central defence, is a weak point. All four can play the ball effectively long. Mister Mourinho if we stand away and let them play the ball long then they will pick out forwards with accuracy and while we can call this the dark ages of football we must not mistake it as such.

There is a measured control to this Bradford City Mister Mourinho which I cannot stress enough.

A measured control

With ten players remaining on the field for Bradford City Mister Mourinho Liddle was forced to put in the work rate of two players rather than one player and he did put in that level of work as did the other players of Bradford City. If I could underline one thing Mister Mourinho it would be the level of effort which Bradford City perform with and the character they have in their team.

Mister Mourinho we would beat them if we matched that character, and as with today we could expect to beat them as they will be at a disadvantage (numerical today, perhaps more obvious against Chelsea) but we must match that character.

Because, Mister Mourinho, that is the single most impressive thing about this Bradford City. The character which saw them outplay Rochdale Football Club with ten against eleven will see them come back from defeat today to carry on an unlikely promotion push which seems to have little chance of succeeding just as the team have little chance of beating Chelsea if they beat Millwall.

But if something is made of little chances Mister Mourinho it is made by character.

Yours,
The Scout

Why you cannot fit a system around Aaron McLean

Aaron McLean has joined Peterborough on loan for ten weeks – although one suspects that he will not play for Bradford City under Phil Parkinson again – and so a tedious post-mortem on his time at the club begins.

Did the board panic by McLean? Not really. Was he Parkinson’s signing? Seemingly so. What does that say about Parkinson? Nothing good. Will McLean be a great success “home” at London Road? Seemingly inevitably.

McLean’s parting shot was gentle enough. He suggested that the move was the best for both him and City because he did not fit into the system that Parkinson played. As has been debated much this season Phil Parkinson has tried very hard to change his system from a 442 with James Hanson leading the line to a 4312 centred around Mark Yeates.

The transition has proved difficult and but McLean has not suffered any more or less with the change from playing off James Hanson in a target man system to the Mark Yeates playmaking system that City started the season with. It would be fair to say that he has not done well under either of the two different approaches to the game.

System that McLean did not fit into

With the Hanson system McLean’s role would be to get close and look to be found, or find, head downs and flicks on or defensive clearances. In this the second striker role McLean would have been tested on his speed of reaction and his ability to read the game.

If the target man wins the ball and heads it on the second striker has to be first to set off – the first yards are in the head – using his anticipation and reactions. If the defender wins the ball but does not clear well, or a mistake is made, then the second striker must read the game well enough to be in the position to benefit.

Wayne Gretzky – who some call the greatest Hockey player of all time – was the master of this type of game reading. He would seem to skate in the opposite direction of play and almost by magic the puck would end up at his skates.

It seemed like an innate ability but, as with most innate abilities, it was the result of a significant effort on Gretzky’s part and Gretzky’s father who schooled him in the game from an early age. Gretzky was not big, so he had to be there first, and to be there first he had to know where the puck would go.

This is pattern matching in sport and in the case of the great man Gretzky it came from a dedication to study the game and break it into patterns the outcome of which were predictable. The puck would come out in that position this time, because it most often did.

Dean Windass was very good at this game reading too and a lot of his goals came from him “being there” as if through blind luck. One doubts Dean thinks too much about how that happened.

Aaron McLean showed no real capacity to pattern match especially well. McLean was not “there”, nor was his first off the mark as Nahki Wells had so often been. It is easy to say that McLean did not fit into that system because he was not Wells but its accurate to say that he did not because he did not have Wells’ characteristics as a player.

System that McLean fit into

The Yeates playmaking system required the striker to move around more and create space for other players to fill, and to move into space in dangerous areas in anticipation of the playmaker either passing to that space, or to someone who moves the ball into space.

When playing with a target man a striker reacts, the strikers in a playmaking system have to be proactive. They have to either create a target or play a part in someone else being a target. The onus on the striker is to work hard without prompting and often without reward.

Every run a striker makes probably is not picked up on by teammates and much of the time the striker seems to not be effecting the game. The reward is that when the run is picked up then the position that the striker finds himself in is – on the whole – a better chance.

Aaron McLean – a strong player with a powerful shot – always showed that when in those position he was able to control the movement of the defender near him and, when called upon, shooting accurately and with power.

Off the ball McLean could find pockets of space – his typical goal is to cut across a defender and use his power to keep the defender where he wants while he finishes – but he did that infrequently.

McLean’s strength, technique or movement was not a significant problem but his motivation to keep on making those runs that the playmaker system requires was. For whatever reason McLean was not doing what he needed to be doing.

We could probably wrap this up into the cliche of “losing confidence” and not be paying anyone a disservice but I expect it is deeper than the term often connotes.

Why Parkinson lost patience

With McLean in the side Bradford City played – broadly speaking – two systems. One of which did not suit him that Phil Parkinson moved away from it. One which did suit him but he lost confidence in it.

It is no wonder Parkinson sounds terse when talking about the striker whose exit will be “better for both sides”. He gave the chance to Mark Yeates to be playmaker and Yeates responded. He gave Aaron McLean the chance to be a powerful striker and McLean beat a path to the door.

And Parkinson is not alone. McLean came from Hull with warm regards for his effort but a recognition that he “was not suited to the right wing” or “was playing out of position” and one wonders how much of that masked the same problem of struggling to find a system to fit McLean into with managers finding out as Parkinson has that when you do fit him into a system he does not deliver what the manager wants.

Now City have reverted to playing off a target man – be it Jon Stead or Hanson – McLean does not fit into the system and moves onto Peterborough where Darren Ferguson will try do what managers at Hull City, Ipswich Town, Birmingham City, and Bradford City have failed to do and find a way of getting enough out of Aaron McLean to justify fitting a system around him.

Aaron McLean and the heroes of failure

The collective view of history

There is a view of history which holds that if there had never been a Genghis Khan, a Joseph Stalin, a Pol Pot, then the course of the world would have been drastically different. No Mongol hordes, no Cold War, no pogrom.

This is the individual view of history.

There is a competing view that suggests that those three people, indeed any person of history, is only of history because of the rising and falling of collective events. That if it had not been Genghis Khan then someone else would have been credited for leading the hordes, and history would have remember their name instead. That large groups rather than an individual caused the world to turn.

This is the collective view of history. It is less exciting, but probably more accurate.

From Pol Pot to Pulis

Stoke City’s rise to the place of mid-table in the Premier League is largely down to former manager Tony Pulis, and Pulis puts any success he has had down to a recruitment policy based on character.

When speaking about Ryan Shawcross Pulis commended the defender’s character – which is to say his desire to win football matches – saying that a team was built on players such as Shawcross.

“You can have other players who don’t have that (character),” Pulis added, “but only for eighteen months and then you have to move them on.”

The heroes of failure

Why do Bradford City supporters not curse the name Benito Carbone? Why is Ashley Ward’s time at the club given a light disregard when the memory of Mike Duxbury can cause grown men to froth at the mouth? What is it about Darren Morgan that has some City fans reserving a place in the inner circle of failure which even Aaron McLean – seemingly leaving City this week – need not fear reaching?

And what is this word scapegoat which is applied in defence of McLean? Has his treatment been unfair? What are the mechanics of failure at a club like Bradford City that can lionise one player and condemn another.

And let me start by saying…

When Aaron McLean leaves Bradford City, few will be upset. McLean has done well in the past proving his ability but did not do well at Bradford City. The sort of ability McLean is credited with is rare for Bradford City players over the last decade. Few players have been criticised for want of motivation rather than ability.

More common in the last decade have been the players who have shown a level of effort that defined their abilities. The words “give everything” are used about James Hanson, Gary Jones, and Andrew Davies. Players like Barry Conlon, Matthew Clarke and Lee Crooks were never said to be shirking, just that they were poor footballers.

McLean gets to nestle his name alongside Ashley Ward, Nicky Summerbee and Bobby Petta in the players who idled away their talents rather than had no talent to begin with.

In the worst possible way

Aaron McLean arrived to replace Nahki Wells. Wells enjoyed a meteoric rise at Bradford City. His speed and eye for goal were impressive and he played a role in taking City to Wembley twice in three months. After an early exchange of distaste for his choice of clubs following City it seems that Wells has settled back into his place in the hearts of City fans.

One might speculate that the fact that Wells has joined a Huddersfield side in the year they have achieved next to nothing is his saving grace for City fans. Were Town in the play-offs and Wells the architect of that, then things may be different.

But Wells is not an architect. The type of player he is – they are called “finishers” for a reason – puts him at the necessary end point rather than the engine room of a team. Wells was the end of a team of Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Hanson et al. Those players were the big characters who pushed the team. Wells, Nathan Doyle, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh were (seemingly, and by virtue of their exit) the “eighteen monthers” that Pulis talks about.

Being Phil Parkinson

Losing Gary Jones was inevitable. Phil Parkinson probably joins with the rest of City fans who watch the skipper playing for Notts County and wonders if there was another year in the now 37-year old midfielder, but giving him that extra year is a delay of the inevitable need to replace him.

Losing a player like Gary Jones from your team – be it from age or transfer – matters more than losing a player like Wells because of the type of strong character he is. Bringing in or building a replacement takes time and may not be achieved. Those old enough may remember the attempt to replace the massive presence of Stuart McCall with Iain Banks and wince at the memory. If you are younger, read “Gary Locke” for Banks.

It is Parkinson’s hardest job and while developing Billy Knott may be a long term solution, one suspects the City manager has concluded that he needs to bring a character into the side and is working to that end. At the moment though Parkinson puts out the team he has and that team has some qualities, although is lacking in others.

Who does not love Xaviar Barrau?

Who was the scapegoat in David Wetherall’s relegation side which was the worst team Bradford City have fielded in my lifetime? Who carries the can for those feeble months? Not Wetherall, and not his players. Spencer Weir-Daley’s many misses against Leyton Orient and Omar Daley’s giving up of the ball on the wing are critical memories but on the whole the players are not criticised. Kelly Youga (injured during his time at the club) is fondly remembered. Who does not a place in his heart for Xaviar Barrau?

Wetherall’s side were simply too poor for scapegoats. To single out one player is to allow a club and a culture at a club to be freed from blame. No one points the finger because no one has enough fingers to point.

Likewise relegation from the Premier League is never assigned to a group of players, and the likes of Benito Carbone are heroes of the club. Circumstances dictate that a scapegoat will not be found, at least not on the field.

Parkinson’s team are not so outgunned as those two examples. The are far better than Wetherall’s side for sure, and the rest of League One is – in relative terms to City – not as good as the rest of the Premiership was in 2000.

Phil Parkinson’s team are closer to success. Indeed at the moment City win and lose on the basis (seemingly, but probably not in the opinion of the management) of individual actions. Billy Clarke puts the ball an inch lower and Oldham away is a good point; Christopher Routis heads a ball into the stands against Sheffield United then City get a battling point with ten men and so on.

Just as two years ago Rory McArdle’s determination was the difference between winning and losing against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi-final. When the difference between success and failure is small there is a temptation to assign it to individuals and individual actions.

Stevie Gee

Importantly though one can only justify assigning success to individuals when margins are small. A scapegoat is the player who did not apply the marginal difference. The opposite – a player who applied the individual difference between success and failure – is what he call in football a hero

Watching the career of Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is watching that that theory in action. In European Cup and FA Cup finals (both of which ended 3-3) he has been heroic because he has been the individual difference between success and failure.

Last season his defensive slip against Chelsea – an individual mistake – seemed to cost his team the Premier League title. “If he had not slipped” is said with a misty eye by many, but few ask what would have happened if (now Liverpool’s) Dejan Lovren foul on Daniel Sturridge in November 2013 in a Southampton 1-0 win at Anfield had been given as a penalty.

Scapegoating is arbitrary.

Had Aaron set off in time

Aaron McLean’s first game at Sheffield United for City – a 2-2 draw – had the striker almost score the goal which almost built his confidence and almost put him on a run of goalscoring, and so on.

McLean is in poor form, and plays like a player in poor form, and many people (not me) consider that the problem City face at the moment is the need for a finisher. The logic follows easily that McLean, a finisher, could be difference between wins and defeats.

My view of football is increasingly more inline with Pulis, and it is more inline with the collective view of history. When Nahki Wells was scoring for City it was not because of his abilities so much as because of the team’s abilities (which he was a part of) and had you dropped Aaron McLean in then, McLean would be the “Goal Machine” his name so cruelly rhymes with. If you put Wells into the current City team, he would struggle.

The team struggles because of the recrafting job that is needed on its core following Jones’ departure. and the wider break up of the “History Makers” team that Phil Parkinson built. The eighteen months were up, and now Parkinson starts again. The manager is not back at square one, and the fact that the gap between success and failure seems bridgeable is a frustration, and causes this illusion.

Nahki Wells was a hero of Bradford City’s success.

Aaron McLean, because of his place in our history, is a hero of failure.

How Bradford City lost at home to Doncaster Rovers because there is not enough of Mark Yeates to go around

Let us clear one thing up

First, before we talk about the 2-1 defeat to Doncaster Rovers and so we can talk of it properly let us clear up this talk about midfield diamonds.

Bradford City do not play a diamond midfield at least not in the way that the term was originated in football tactics. A diamond midfield sees a a player operate between the defensive line and the midfield line and a second player between the midfield and attacking line.

Bradford City played at the start of the season, and played today, three men on the midfield line with a single played tasked with winning the ball back and two players either side of him with dynamically moving between the midfield line in defensive play and taking up attacking positions when attacking. Added to that there is playmaker between the midfield line and the attacking line.

Think of the midfield as a T-shape or an inverted T-shape depending on if the team are attacking or defending.

When defending the two side midfielders need to be level with the ball winner and when attacking they need to level with the playmaker, more or less, and be inwards of the lines of the penalty area.

This difference is import, and is not semantic.

How many steps does Phil Parkinson take?

One doubts that on the walk back to the Valley Parade dressing room after this 2-1 home defeat to Doncaster Rovers that Phil Parkinson would have taken many steps before being clear what problems faced his team today.

Rovers scored twice in the second half after the Bantams had taken the lead. Neither side could have said they had controlled the game and the visitors will go home pleased with a good counter attacking performance.

Parkinson could have been tempted to think of a Refereeing performance which bordered on the random as being the heart of his problems. It was a performance where kicking the ball away before a free kick was not a yellow card and where kicking a player off the ball after the whistle was.

Referee Kevin Wright seemed to be ideologically opposed a way of playing through a target man that rendered City’s best asset James Hanson useless. What they call “hoof ball” might not be the beautiful game but it is not against any rules and the fact that Hanson committed so many “fouls” without being booked told a story of its own.

It would have been tempting for Parkinson to conclude that his defence was a problem and that problem was because he was Rory McArdle who was suspended following two yellow cards that were justifiable last week but – by the standards set today – would not have been bookings. Defensively through City gave little up.

Parkinson might have been tempted to look at how the visitors took few shots and scored two goals and wonder if the problem lay with his strikers conversion rate or give credit to the (excellent) Sam Johnstone in the Rovers goal. Johnstone, on loan from Manchester United, was superb when called upon and is probably a name worth remembering. Profligate strikers and great goalkeepers are sometimes the story of a game but they are not the story of this game.

Parkinson must have walked to the dressing room knowing that his team failed in creating quality rather than quantity in chances and been able to pinpoint which two positions – ergo the players – that problem lays with.

The side midfielders

Run any number of statistical calculations on Mark Yeates at City and you’ll find that he is involved in positive action on the field more than any other player.

It was Mark Yeates who took the ball from the midfield through – through rather than over – the Doncaster Rovers defence and fed it to Jon Stead to kept the ball under him as he dribbled then fired past Johnstone for the opening goal of the game.

It is Yeates who prompts most of the attacking possession and his work rate in doing that is admirable. Defensively Parkinson knows to not give the Irishman too much of a role and so Billy Knott breaks up play carrying the water for Yeates.

Both players did what they were expected to do today and they did it well. The problem lay with the two positions beside them and regretfully the players in those positions.

With Gary Liddle injured and Jason Kennedy dropped Filipe Morais and Andy Halliday took the side midfield roles.

Kennedy offers hard work but is not creative. Liddle is a consistent performer. Morais and Halliday are more creative than either and while neither shirked their work today – this is not an attempt to pick a (pair of) scapegoat(s) – neither were able to address the balance that these side midfielder roles need for this formation to be more successful than it is for Bradford City at present.

The two side midfielders have not matched either ball winner of playmaker in their performance level. Today Morais and Halliday were found wanting in the bite in a midfield battle and created little.

Yeates creates a goal a game and a couple of other chances – very roughly speaking – and that is City’s main source of chance. Tthe side midfield pairs have not been adding to that. The frequency of which Morais and Halliday, and for that matter Kennedy or many of the other players tried in the side midfield roles, are involved in positive action for City contrasts sharply to Yeates.

It was a deep cross to Reece Wabara from James Coppinger – who Halliday probably should have closed down sooner – that resulted in the goal that pulled Doncaster level and a break away counter-attack that Curtis Main rifled in that gave them the winner that settled the game but as with last week’s lost at Oldham Athletic 2-1, and the defeat at Barnsley 3-1, creating good chances is City’s problem.

Taking the lead in the game and then not applying pressure to score more creates a sense of nervousness in the City side and seems to see the opposition grow. That Doncaster Rovers were behind today was not because of a period of pressure, nor did City’s goal signal the start of such a period, and because of that the visitors had concluded that they had taken what City could muster and survived it.

That became the story of the game. City toiled going forward both a 1-1 when a break away saw the visitors second goal and when behind but it would be hard to say that City putting Doncaster under pressure, or at least under the sort of pressure that brings goals.

And what is to be done

Since the play-off were recently introduced into football (about twenty years ago, time does get away from one) promotion can be as much as hitting form in the second half of the season as it is about marching to the titles.

Phil Parkinson found this two years ago and City’s only other play off success was based on the same. With that in mind one might wonder if Phil Parkinson hopes to take his team to the transfer window and make of it a side that could win more in the second half of the season. Word that comes that Arron McLean is to be loaned out and the money saved to be used to bring in another striker suggests he may have that in mind.

However I am unsure that that fixes the problems that City suffered today.

The side midfield roles are demanding and require players to rise to those demand. At the moment Liddle does sometimes, and Knott has shown he can, but one of those two is required for the ball winning role and so one might be tempted to say that City could have Pellè or Pelé up front and would struggle if the quality of chances created does not improve.

Parkinson’s decision now, as he counts the cost of his cutting his losses on his recruitment of Aaron McLean, is if he has enough in the midfield to justify bringing in a striker to finish off a paucity of creation. Remember that tonight Bradford City’s manager and fans are not left cursing strikers missing chances.

If not he might be left thinking as he no doubt was today. That there is not enough of Mark Yeates to go around.

The dangers of the quixotic in football

“Eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.”

In his peerless work of 1605, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra presents us with an elderly man, Alonso Quixano, who so believes in the rules of chivalry that he is moved to take to his horse – a skinny workhorse – don armour – a rusty old suit – and take the name Don Quixote.

Don Quixote wanders the plains of La Mancha in search of noble quests in which he can prove his worthiness for the position of Knight. He acts as a Knight should, behaves as a Knight should, and while he is a laughable figure, he brings honour to his encounters with others. The overarching moral of the story is clear: If you want to be a Knight, be a Knight.

The author of the tale would not let this be such a simple one though. A young neighbour posing as The Knight of the White Moon locates Don Quixote, challenges him in combat and demands he lay down his arms and return to his sanity. Don Quixote loses and does as instructed, and so Cervantes’ comment on fantasy and reality is complete.

At Apperley Bridge, in preparation

Slyvan Ebanks-Blake is training with Bradford City following his release by Ipswich Town at the end of last season. Ebanks-Blake, a graduate of Old Trafford, followed his former Wolves manager, Mick McCarthy, to Portman Road after the Midlanders were relegated to League One. It has probably been the frequency of injury which has seen the 28 year old striker leave his previous clubs, despite very good goal scoring records. It is probably worry about injury which has seen him trial with Brentford, and now for Bradford City, in order to prove himself able to play the game again.

If you got to the end of that paragraph – dear reader – with your concentration intact you have done well, but I suspect you did not. Your mind probably started to drift after the word’s Old Trafford and more than likely will have gone at the mention of good goal scoring. By the end of the paragraph you, and I, were probably dreaming about the impact Ebanks-Blake would have off the bench, about his runs proving his fitness in a League One game, about him peeling away after scoring, and scoring again, and again.

And while the more rational parts of one’s brain tells us to at least wait until Ebanks-Blake has kicked a ball before these fantasies can be given any licence, we fail to recognise the importance of their position in our intellectual narratives to our own peril. The ability to abstract what success would look like is a vital part of having success or, in this case, supporting it.

But this is the quixotic view of football and it has dangers.

Bolton calling

I like watching James Hanson. You may enjoy watching him too. Neil Lennon certainly does. Hanson had been considered by Celtic scouts whilst Lennon was at Parkhead (in an ever decreasing budget that has seen three of the four top supported clubs relegated), and now that the Ulsterman has moved to Bolton Wanderers of The Championship it is reported that his scouts are watching Hanson again. I doubt they will be unimpressed.

Quixotic thinking – the ability to think “as if” – has played a large part in James Hanson’s career. Stuart McCall looked at the man from Idle Co-op who was scoring for Guiseley, and thought “as if” it could be acceptable to have him as Bradford City’s centre forward. The rewards have been obvious to all.

Play out the next few months

Mid-table performances continue. No money comes in from the Tom Cleverley deal. Even without the fanciful linguistics, there is a suggestion that City will need to sell a player to balance the books this year. Even if this is not the case, Phil Parkinson – or whoever else is City manager – will be under pressure to bring in different players.

Does the option of selling James Hanson to Bolton Wanderers in January become viable? There is an obvious correlation between City getting wins and the presence of James Hanson (and Andrew Davies, more of whom later) being in the side. Selling Hanson seems a guarantee of worse results though. But perhaps not if Ebanks-Blake is there…

And here we encounter the quixotic. The idea that if Ebanks-Blake gets the chance he will prove he can be a replacement for Hanson.

Likewise Andrew Davies, beset by injuries for a quarter of a season every season. He is a high earner at the club and his wage could readily be used in other areas. This statement is made in the belief that Christopher Routis is able to replace Davies effectively. It is a dangerous fantasy based on the idea of what could be rather than what is.

This is perhaps the single keenest lesson to be learned from Parkinson’s time at City. That football is played in harsher realities than we might want it to be, and that the Knight of the White Moon sometimes lurks to force that reality onto those who would dream too fancifully.

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.

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.

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.

Dirty James and the reading of football analytics

James Hanson is the league’s dirtiest player. If you do not appreciate that then you do not appreciate James Hanson.

Statistics leaked out that showed that Hanson had given away more free kicks than any other player in the Football League prompting Phil Parkinson to defend his player against the accusation saying James is the fairest jumper I’ve ever seen. He never jumps with his arms and catches anybody. He’s different class at that but he gets too many fouls against him.

Parkinson continued to say that he was unhappy with the level of protection that Hanson gets from double or triple marking he suffers but eventually sighs that the problem that City have is that the opposition do their homework on how the Bantams will play.

That Hanson gained this label of the league’s most fouling player should be no surprise to anyone who has watched him in his five seasons as a footballer. He commits more fouls in a game that Bruno Rodriguez did in his entire Bradford City career but I find I am not unhappy with that situation.

In fact I find that watching James Hanson jumping for absolutely everything is a more satisfying and inspiring afternoon than watching – for example – Andy Gray being outjumped with his two feet rooted to terra firma. The fact that Hanson wins more than most probably makes his approach more palatable too but there is something to raise the spirits in a player who very obviously throws himself into everything.

Yes James Hanson is dirty, but its the dirty on his shirt and knees from jumping and falling and the dirty under his fingernails from a hard afternoon of graft.

The fact that this statistic has surfaced continues football’s increasingly affection for the world of numbers. Manchester City pushed big data in football into the public arena with the MCFC Analytics project. There is a response to this movement which is summed up in the phrase People who reduce one of Zinedine Zidane’s famous pirouettes to a statistic about completed dribbles don’t deserve football.

The middle ground for this debate is in Everton manager Roberto Martinez reading over reams of stats before concluding that footballers are footballers one day of the week and people six, and that much of the game is instict and not analysis.

The argument against statistics in football is a pointless one. Everything in football can be “reduced” to a dataset be it a jump from Noel Blake or a Cruyff turn but that is not a call towards reductionism and a statement that Zidane’s pirouettes were just “dribbles” just a statement on the nature of statistics as being a method of capturing a record of events.

It might be forever beyond the abilities of statisticians to create a metric on how two dribbles differ but many attributes of a player which were considered unmodellable have now been defined and proved useful.

Jordan Henderson’s move to Liverpool was driven by his “win back in the final third percentage” which made him worth capturing for a club invigorated by analytics convert John Henry. Pure instinct on the player said he had “funny gait”.

A football match generates a multitude of statistics (although it is only defined by two: goals scored for both sides) but what Henry and the Sabermetric devotees in Baseball that he rose out of and their footballing counterparts believe is that some of those, and some combinations of those, can give you insights. Baseball sabermetrics is the quest for the perfect compound statistic like a Holy Grail. Football statisticians are looking for the same.

It is incurious to say the least to present “most fouls” as “dirtiest” and one would love to contrast the fouls given away by Hanson to the headed challenges he wins, the ones he loses, and the goals that come from those challenges and the contrast those with other players in the division.

Similarly as Phil Parkinson is soon to ascend to the being the manager who has been in change of the 7th most Bradford City games – and as those managers are often judged on “win percentage” in isolation – it is worth considering at what other metrics could be added to get a more accurate reading of the value that those managers have brought to the club, or to any club.

Failing to enrich the understanding of statistics in football and how they have to be compounded will lead to the misuse of statistics like (I suspect) labelling James Hanson dirty because he gets involved in play a lot. The worst excess of this is watching Robbie Savage says statistics with increasing volume as if the validity of restating something out of context is dependent on volume.

As analytics begin to play more of a role in football – and they are doing – then supporters will need to get more used to the idea of not seeing a single stat as an end but rather as a part of a wider picture.

Parkinson, Taylor and the case of the low standard

Gillingham boss Peter Taylor was kind enough to raise an arm to greet the Bradford City supporters who for a brief time watched him manage the side and for a time he must have wondered how the noise from the Bantams stands had changed.

Taylor once heard his own team booed off after winning a match, and his leader Tommy Doherty was booed on the field, to a point where the then City boss suggested that if the fans thought jeering was so beneficial he should work it into training.

When he watched Aaron McLean sprint into the box as a James Hanson header was fed out wide to Adam Reach and probably feared that the once feared hit man would dart past the defender and do what he had not done in eight weeks as a Bradford City player and score. He did.

McLean’s relief was obvious after his goal as was the affection for him from the Bradford City supporters. Such a drastic change since Doherty being booed, Taylor must of thought, and as City pressed on his Gillingham side in a tide which should have washed the Kent side away how right he was in his criticism of the booing supporters.

McLean has been nursed through every game by fans willing him to be all he could be. It warms the heart to watch.

But little else did as City squandered near total domination over Gillingham and ended up with a draw which it might be said both managers will be happy with but that Phil Parkinson should take no delight in at all.

Gillingham’s open midfield in the first half left an area between the back four and the midfield which City were able to exploit and did so. Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett started to show an understanding as if linked by sixty yards of elastic one showing one side when then other came in for the ball. Matthew Dolan moved forwards well and City had a chance to expand on the one goal lead but that chance – or those chances – were squander.

Amine Linganzi moved into the gap in the second half and Adebayo Akinfenwa came on and City would soon be looking at an equaliser by Cody McDonald and an afternoon where standards were lowered.

A word on Akinfenwa. He is often a joke of a player massive as he is but today Referee Michael Bull, and a good few of the City players, were taken in by that joke. Akinfenwa played by his own set of rules about the physical game and Bull allowed him to do so. It was like watching a kid at school who was rubbish so he was allowed to be offside to even things up.

But Akinfenwa is not rubbish, he is over weight, and he is allowed to throw that weight around with far less intervention from the Referee than other players on the field suffer. It is as tedious as it is disappointing and Andrew Davies must have wondered why Akinfenwa was allowed to spend fifteen minutes at the start of the second half jumping at him rather than with him (including in the build up to the goal) without a free kick being given.

But had Davies played with the spirit that saw him not even give Akinfenwa a kick at Wembley last May then City would have won and that leads us to the lowering of standards which was in evidence especially in the second half.

City have started to accept less than they should and this Parkinson should be worried about this.

First let me draw a distinction here between the idea that fans deserve more – a phrase I hate – or that players should always score with every shot or never make mistakes or other things which go under the idea of not accepting less and focus on this very specific issue of the lowering of standards.

Take Matthew Dolan on seventy minutes when the ball came to him thirty five yards out and when falling he lashed a ball which would not trouble the goalkeeper even slightly. Take Nathan Doyle putting in a half challenge in midfield and complaining that he has fouled. Take Kyle Bennett being challenged in his own half and unlike Adam Reach’s Elvis hips shimmy into the box in the first half falling and darting eyes to the Referee.

Parkinson needs to set a higher standard than this. He needs to underline to the players what playing well looks like and not accept that the players had a jolly good try at doing something else. Players need to play with their heads and with the trust in their teammates, and they need to play in a way that understands that they have teammates and that much of the time their jobs are to serve those teammates.

There was a moment in the game when Kyle Bennett, furthest forward, chased a ball and on catching it hooked it to the goalkeeper tamely. It was not understanding where your teammates are, it was not playing intelligently, and it was the sign of a standard slipped that Parkinson has to address.

Players are playing for contracts – they always are – and Parkinson will look at Adam Reach and feel that he has found a player who can raise the level of the team but many of the other players who may not be at Valley Parade next season are playing under a standard which they need to be to worth keeping at the club.

And again I underline the difference between holding a high standard and highlighting mistakes. It is not that players are pilloried for mistakes it is that some of the players will have left the field today feeling the did “alright” in a “decent result” and I believe that that is not the right attitude for a team looking to progress.

Today City needed to play to a higher standard and did not. Parkinson’s reaction to that – if he thinks that the way Matthew Dolan played today will replace Gary Jones (eventually) or the way Kyle Bennett played will be a substitute for how Kyel Reid played – will define next season.

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.”

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.

The unwilling battle of the managers

Despite the two wins which proceeded this home defeat talk about Phil Parkinson is framed in a discussion of his potential dismissal. Those who suggest he should not despite a run of no winning in a number of games found voice again when Stevenage recorded a 3-2 victory.

Parkinson had been engaged in a spot of curious pre-game mind-games by Stevenage boss Graeme Westley seemed to bemuse the City manager. At the final whistle it was hard to say if Westley’s chides at Parkinson’s way of playing – and his clear statement at how he would counteract that – had had any effect at all.

After ten minutes Westley’s publicised plan seemed pointless when James Hanson rose well to head back to Adam Reach who lashed home on the angle past Chris Day in the visitors goal. It was a great strike in a great first half by Reach who for forty five minutes was the player he could be and for the second forty five was the player he would rather not be. When Reach sets high standards he impresses and their is an onus on Phil Parkinson to make sure he stays to them.

In fact Reach lashed another shot which Day saved only to watch James Hanson put the rebound past him for City to get a second goal which restored the Bantams lead after Francois Zoko had equalised.

Zoko’s goal was troubling. Andrew Davis slipped in the build up and there was no specific point where one felt that City could have claimed the ball back but Stevenage took time to pass the ball around the penalty area and look for a hole in City’s rearguard.

Davis’ slip gave way to an injury and in his absence City looked less assured at the back. Rory McArdle is less of a player when not alongside Davis and once against the stablising influence of the City defender was missed.

Parkinson – the pragmatist – was told squarely by Westley that his game plan was obvious and that Stevenage would counter it by playing around the physical Bantams and he must have felt that the suburbanite team were attempting to play a game that they could not master.

And Westley would be right to say that Parkinson and City are easy to read. The team is based around hitting high passes to James Hanson and the players around him working hard to feed from that. Stevenage’s counter to that was to keep possession away from the middle of the field – that worked, Nathan Doyle was a ghost of a player today – and put the ball behind the full backs.

Which, as a plan, could not be said to have worked. In the second half Stevenage only once penetrated City’s backline in that way – Bira Dembele ended up heading against the bar – and would have gone home in defeat but for the dead eye of former Arsenal midfielder Luke Freeman.

City carved out a number of chances in the second half which if scored would have secured a win and probably a few players will be left with a question that at that stage had they had kept more composure or been committed to extending the lead then City would have won, but they did not and Freeman did, in a way.

In the first instance Freeman drove a ball from range past Jon McLauglin after Gary Jones had stumbled in the midfield and in the second powering home a free kick (really Mr. Sarginson? a free kick?) from the edge of the box. Both were exceptional strikes of the ball but one doubts that Westley could have planned on those executions at Friday’s training sessions.

Which leaves City with a sore feeling. Objectively the Bantams did not do enough to win the game but on other days this would have been a 2-1 win with mocking noises made towards the opposition fifteen for blasting the ball over. Not today though.

And Parkinson will regret that but as a pragmatist he will feel if it takes two remarkable strikes to beat his team then his team will win this type of game more often than not. Graeme Westley will be ecstatic in victory but his survival plan for the team he first brought to League One will have to hope that this kind of lightning strike happens again and again.

Having called the game before hand – in essence got lucky (although see this article for thoughts on luck) – but seemed to outwit the man who this time last year was taking a team out of Wembley he can use this to build belief in his squad. It would be tough.

Where City go from here seems more easy. Simple, slow, slide into a safe position in the middle of League One.

It never shimmers but it shines

Bring me lucky Generals.” Napoleon.
People said I was a lucky golfer but I found the more I practiced the luckier I got.” Gary Player.

If there was the shimmering of a change in luck in Carl McHugh’s last minute winner on Tuesday night then James Hanson’s winner after seventy eight minutes was a shine through the clouds.

Hanson followed in a ball back to Milton Keynes Dons keeper David Martin expecting little but was rewarded as the custodian performed a pratfall leaving the City striker to put the ball into an unguarded goal.

It was lucky. A fluke. Good fortune.

And it came after nearly eighty minutes of football in which both sides committed little forward seemingly for fear of losing. City drove more of the match but not enough of it to apply pressure on the visitors goal.

Other than an enterprising effort from Hanson that came after the striker had got the ball from one of very few crosses and taken it under control well and apart from the visitors getting a great one handed save out of Jon McLaughlin there were few threats at goal. Stephen Darby – brilliant today – cleared a ball off the line which was City’s Martinian mistake.

It was difficult to see where a breakthrough would come for City – or for the Dons – until that error but Parkinson will take credit for the solid rearguard defence. His maxim that games are won by clean sheets and punishing mistakes was never truer.

City’s effort earned the reward but had that misfortune befallen rather than benefited the Bantams the visitors would be able to say the same. It was the shine of luck

Luck though Parkinson’s change to a 433 when Chris Atkinson joined a three in the midfield just before the goal allowed him to seize any initiative that was there. Its hard to know if that has the decisive impact but fortune favoured the brave.

Both Parkinson and opposite number Karl Robinson drilled in the need for application on the field and both will feel that they have got it. As a side note Robinson’s fulsome praise for City in the week is respectful enough to not be an application but does suggest that should they have won the game and Parkinson be “in trouble” then the club might look at the MK Dons boss as a replacement.

That was the case though and Parkinson strengthens his place at Valley Parade with two 1-0 wins going into a third home match on the bounce when struggling Stevenage visit next week.

In the last week Parkinson had returned to his original managerial philosophies of a solid team and a clean sheet above all else – Colin Todd called him “the enemy of football” for it – and today the attack suffered for it. Hanson and Aaron McLean showed signs of an understanding but mostly working from long punts and not often enough in the game.

Adam Reach needs to forget any good things he read about himself this week and start doing what he did to gain those reviews again. Kyle Bennett looks increasingly like a player which too much work needs doing with to make him useful. As soon as Garry Thompson arrived on the field City improved.

Both Bennett and Reach were problems today. Parkinson needed creativity from his wide players and neither offered it. Bennett came short when he should have been looking for passes from Gary Jones behind the full back and when he did get the ball his control let him down. Reach did not do enough right on the left and needs to get back to being harder to play against.

This is a problem and – without creativity from the flanks – Parkinson’s game plan is left looking for luck and misfortune.

Today he got both.

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.

Jones and the rage against the dying of the light

When Gary Jones scored City’s equaliser with five minutes left of a blustery scrap at Valley Parade it seemed that the Bantams may be set to lay siege to the Crewe Alexandra goal for a winner in a game which the visitors never trailed it but ultimately went home happy.

Instead City seemed exhausted and the game ended with little more to report. Having refused to be beaten twice it looked very much like Phil Parkinson’s team could not muster much more. Bradford City – it seems – have reached a limit.

Looking down the teamsheet at the number of new or younger players in the side one might think that Parkinson has come to the same conclusion. He gave Carl McHugh a start to allow the young defender to show what he can do. McHugh misjudged controlling the ball with his head a dozen minutes into the game and Uche Ikpeazu steamed past him to lob home an opening goal.

McHugh floundered in tough conditions. Fingers were pointing at left back Matthew Bates in the murmuring of supporters but McHugh as central defender failed to command his part of the backline all afternoon and will have to step up his level of performance to turn potential into progress as a player.

Similar improvement is needed for Kyle Bennett who looked as lost a player on the right flank as one can recall. Bennett – as with a good few of his team mates – is ostensibly playing for a contract at Bradford City next season but proved very easy to defend against for the visitors and offered little for his teammates to find useful. He represented neither an outlet to pass to for the midfield or a danger when on the ball. The combination of these failings meant that much of the progress down the right in the first half resulted in long, raking balls to no one.

Bennett needs to do a single thing well to start being useful and I’d suggest that thing would be to improve possession when he gets it rather than cheaply giving it away either to an easy tackle or a wayward shot.

Better was Adam Reach who needs to get involved more but shows signs of attempting to do that. In the second half he combined well with fellow Middlesbrough loanee and debutant Matthew Dolan who had a better second half prompting play and able to say at the end of the game that the two Crewe goals and most of the attacking play came from going around his position rather than through it.

Ikpeazu’s second came after City had taken the game to Crewe but been caught with an extremely high line which Stephen Darby was outpaced to exploit. It sparked a revival that manifested itself as Aaron McLean turned back a ball across the box for James Hanson to thump in from eight yards.

A minute later and Hanson’s leap found McLean who used the strength he offers over Nahki Wells to tuck the ball back to Jones. A well hit shot and the power given by a fierce wind did the rest.

That Mathias Pogba scored for Crewe seemed to go against the spirit of proceedings as City launched a series of assaults. James Hanson spurned the best chance after he had taken and beaten the impressive Mark Ellis (different one, me thinks) only to fire over and it seemed that City lacked the ruthlessness that Crewe were showing.

Crewe, for what it is worth, seemed a surprisingly unsophisticated outfit firing balls forward to big, fast attacking players. After the years of Dario Gradi one got used to the idea of the Railwaymen playing good football. Nothing lasts forever.

Nothing at all.

To watch Gary Jones is to highlight City’s problems. I’m often mystified by modern football’s desire to make definitive judgements on events in progress. Jones – one is alternatively told – is either past it and needs to be replaced or he had fuel left for more and perish the thought he would ever not be in the midfield.

For me the joy of watching Jones is seeing how he valiantly pushes back the drawing of the night. There will come a day when Jones no longer should take his place in the City midfield but that day was not today.

He got to a flick back – the Hanson/McLean partnership starting to create goals – and lashed the ball low and long to nestle into the back of the goal.

Jones represent the state of the team at the moment. The limitations are obvious but the character is to push those limits as far as they can be. To play in the way Jones does that says that for all the sight of dark you will rage against the night.

The aforementioned Wells talked about crying the day he left City because he would miss the team which is already breaking up.

It’s impossible to know how many more vociferous moments Parkinson’s team of 2013 before it’s last hurrah but Jones’ arrowed strike was one of them.

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.

Why did it not work out for Alan Connell?

Alan Connell is a bit too smart for a footballer.

It is said that when he was carpetted by then Swindon Town manager Paulo Di Canio for going for a drink with three teammates following the Wiltshire club’s League Two championship which coincided with the death of Di Canio’s father than rather than take the ire of the Italian Connell opted for reasoning.

Something along the lines of that while he was in no way pleased about the death in the family he thought it was not inappropriate that he and his friends have one or two drinks to celebrate a job well done.

The fact Connell ended up at City shows the response to that from the manager.

Phil Parkinson is a less autocratic man than Di Canio and his successes are in building team spirit. Connell has become a part of one of those teams but only a small part. The emergence of Nahki Wells rendered Connell a bit part player and that – on the surface – is why it did not work out for Alan Connell at Bradford City.

Perhaps though – Wells aside – Connell was never Parkinson’s sort of striker. The City manager when talking about former City forward Mark Stewart said that he thought he was a good player but that he did not threaten the goal enough and the same could be said about Connell. He had scored one in three at Swindon but at City he rarely looked like repeating that at Valley Parade primarily because he did not get past defenders, did not threaten the goal, did not shoot often enough.

Everyone who said that Connell was a Robbie Blake kind of player was right. His goals come when he joins in attacking movements in the third phase. He joins in the link up play in the first, takes position in the second and makes what he can in the third. Parkinson’s teams favouring a ball to James Hanson with a flick down to the speedy Wells were never really suited to Connell’s play.

Not Parkinson’s sort of striker but very much Parkinson’s sort of player.

Connell’s demeanor and his role as a senior professional – only 30 but one of the older players in the squad – the manager used Connell’s professionalism as an example. He came off the bench and toiled often for little reward. He trained well and set a tone that the likes of Wells and Hanson followed.

It seemed to work out well for Parkinson and for City but not really for Connell.

Grimsby Town are asking after Connell. He deserves to do well there.

Next to Parkinson in the best or times and the worst of times

The greatest success of Phil Parkinson’s time at Bradford City came on the day he lead the team out for a League Cup final against Swansea City but it did not happen at Wembley stadium or during the game but after when the City manager addressed his players.

At some post-game party – if party is the right word after being beaten 5-0 – Parkinson told the players, the player’s wives, the club officials, and anyone with YouTube that the success of the season was not in that trip to the capital but the one that would come after in the play-off final. “Eleven cup finals” formed an especially cogent part of it.

Parkinson’s success last season was to take a team which was idling in the middle of League Two and – because of two hard earned penalty shoot out victories – convince them that they were far better than the position in the division suggested. And once Parkinson convinced the players they were better, they played better, and so they got better results which Parkinson used.

We could call this a Parkinson Loop if we wanted to.

We often talk about managers being good or bad but seldom are we able to say what they are good at. Parkinson is good at creating a sum of the experiences of the players and turning them into a shared belief in the squad. He recycles the experience from games into belief in the squad, and he seems to be good at it.

And so the fight against Crawley Town became the birth or a team spirit. The defeat to Burton Albion became a chance to show character. The loss of Nahki Wells is the rest of the squad showing their abilities. Indeed James Hanson has responded with a goal in each game since Wells’ exit.

And perhaps the outcome of this fruitless spell of games will be similarly positive. Parkinson will tell the players that if they can stay together through this barren run they can stay together through anything and when the self-righting nature of football form addresses the results then City will be all the stronger.

Which is the opposite of Paul Jewell’s modus operandi which was to treat each game – Premier League games mostly – as discreet and heavy defeat in one having no influence on the next and perhaps we might wonder if that part of this idea of being a good manager is not that you do something that is “right” just that you do something effectively.

All of which points to a reason to retain Parkinson’s services when there is an increasingly grumble about the number of wins in the last few months. The experience of Parkinson is that he wins, or he takes defeats and makes them into wins, and that the worst of times feed into the best.

And at some point that will end one suspects and Parkinson’s abilities to spin gold from straw will fade but why rush to that conclusion now when the past few years have shown the capacity to make bad times feed into the good?

The Return of the Boy from Brazil

Fukuda Denshi Arena, Chiba, Japan, June 2013

We had come all this way, but there was no Boy from Brazil.

Valley Parade, Bradford, England, November 2012

Chesterfield are a stern footballing side and Bradford City are struggling to break them down. I’ve moved seats for the night parking myself next to Nick – young Nick if you will – who apologises for the frequent, violent bursts of swearing from one of his seat neighbours. “He is always like that,” my host says wearily and I nod full in the knowledge that were positions reversed I would end up saying the same thing about the people who sit around me.

“We fucking need to be fucking winning fucking games like this if we are not going to be shite.” The linguistics are laughable, the sentiment anything but supportive.

Wembley Stadium, London, England, February 2013

I will confess, dear reader, that there had been a time that I was partial to things Danish and in those few weeks of 1986 when the red shirted Scandinavians were enthralling in the late night glow of the World Cup in Mexico that Michael Laudrup was everything a footballer should be. The second round 5-1 exit to Spain derailing what seemed to be the birth of a new footballing power from the tiny Northern European democracy.

That defeat seemed to be born of a Danish belief that they were the anointed team that a thirteen year old in Bradford thought they were and was an object lesson in the beautiful game and how it rewards completeness. Six years later when the Danes won Euro 92 their most notable player was John Jensen, a holding midfielder.

That lesson that all games had to be won seemed to have settled in the mind of Laudrup. His Swansea City team were adorable on the ball and worked peerlessly hard off it. The victory over Bradford City – a handsome 5-0 – was made easy to take by virtue of the elan of the opposition.

Laudrup gathered his players into an honour guard to greet Gary Jones’ and his side on the way down the Wembley stairs. At least half the City fans had left Wembley when Ashley Williams lifted the Capital One Cup, deserved champions that they were. They will regret that.

Fukuda Denshi Arena, Chiba, Japan, June 2013

To suggest there is a manufacturer air to football in Japan is to mistake the construction of palaces for the tilling of gardens.

Arrive at Soga station, some forty minutes from central Tokyo, on the evening of a match is to better understand the idea of the sea of support. The yellow floor rises to the station which boasts a burger bar on one side of the corridor and profiles of the players along the other. Indeed the staff of the station have broken with the cliche of reserve and are wearing football shirts belonging to the home side. Make no mistake traveller, you are in JEF United country.

JEF United, founder of the J-League but now in its recently established second tier having failed to win promotion through the play-offs last season, are woven into the fabric of this part of Toyko’s industrial lands. They play in the Fukuda Denshi Arena, an 18,000 capacity venue a strong stone’s throw from a collection of oppressive looking oil refineries, and even at 75% full it is an impressive stadium. No running track, and the close to the action, the support is fervent without aggression.

The politeness which oils Japan’s societal wheels is evident. The Referee leads the players in a thirty second silent meditation before the match, the players bow to all four sides of the arena before kick off.

It is a derby of sorts. JEF United take on Toyko Verdy and both are chasing play off places. I know this because I have been following JEF United for a month now. The J-League is on hiatus while Japan play in the Confederations Cup and this game offered the closest available match on our tour of the Far East nation. JEF United have been in good form since they gathered my interest. They have won three on the bounce and can move up to fifth with a win against a Verdy side who would overtake them in victory.

In any language, this is a tasty encounter.

The J-League restricts the number of non-Japanese players, part of a plan that the JFA and its clubs follow that aims to create a game in touch with the communities they are based in (the full name of the club is JEF United Ichihara Chiba) and guarantees that the clubs are financially sustainable. The league has come a long way and a burst bubble since the days of Gary Lineker and Hidetoshi Nakata which marked its formation. Those were early years in what is a 100 year plan.

Following JEF United from afar is an abstracted version of football. JEF United’s top scorer – and thus one assumes their finest asset – is physically big striker called Kempes. Each team can have two designated non-Japanese players, and a single non-Japanese Asian player who is most likely a Korean. Like most of the non-Japanese players Kempes is Brazilian.

Taking up seats before kick off the stadium is an array of waving flags. All JEF United fans are given yellow hand flags on the way in and behind the goal the mass of yellow supporters fans are housed behind giant standards to be waved on queue. The singing is led by a megaphoned leader, and is as passionate as any I have seen.

On the other side of the stadium are Toyko Verdy. They have flags, they have songs, they have a singer with a megaphone. Having mingled with Toyko’s supporters on the way to the game I can also attest to the fact that they have nothing to fear. I’m told that fights have been seen at Japanese grounds but they are uncommon, and no one attempts intimidation. There are songs I understand: “Chiba, Chiba, Chiba”; and ones I do not but there is no aggression in the voices.

The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I catch my breath as the first ball is kicked. I listen for the voices of those around me. There is passion, but not aggression. No fists are shaken and when hands are raised the palm is open. It is football with a partisan edge but without an aggressive one and for the first time in weeks, in months, in over a year, I feel like I am home.

Looking at the line up though – and unable to understand the discussion as to why – there is no Kempes in the JEF United side tonight. We had come all this way, but there was no Boy from Brazil.

Back at Valley Parade, Bradford, England, November 2012

Chesterfield frustrate, causing the aggression, and ultimately take a point away from a City team which already look tired in a campaign that will include an historic run the League Cup, a good stint in two other competitions and victory in the play offs.

In six months time the league table will show Bradford City in the final play off place with 69 points, Chesterfield a place below with 67. A reversal in this game would have switched though positions.

If there is a reality to supporting football it may be on nights like this. The final reckoning will make this the keystone game in the season but how many would walk away from Valley Parade having enjoyed the match. If voices are raw and sore the morning after it is from those who shouted abuse, not support, through the game which would end up being decisive.

The reality of supporting football clubs is that these steps are the significant ones and, it seems, as much as the destination of Wembley (twice) and a victory parade in an empty fountain in the middle of Bradford was celebrated that was an antipathy on the journey.

The Pirelli Stadium, Burton, England, May 2013

One am, Friday night or Saturday morning. Queue for tickets in the bowl of the stands at Valley Parade. A line is drawn at about seven and no one who comes at what might be called a reasonable hour will get tickets. The queue is somber.

Having lost 3-2 in the first leg, and not playing especially well at Burton it seemed that Phil Parkinson’s team’s run was in danger of ending. Burton’s backline was repelling James Hanson’s strength and pushed Nahki Wells wide nullifying him. Burton Albion manager Gary Rowett had paid City the respect of doing his homework, and in doing so had found a way of snuffing out the threat that City poised.

And then there was a poor back pass that was too close to Wells, who has a turn of pace to surprise even those who feel ready for it, and then everything was as it was supposed that it should be.

Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, England, May 1999

After Robbie Keane scored for Wolves on the day that would end up with City winning 3-2 and getting promoted to the Premiership it seemed that the entire support had concluded that this was a bridge too far for the Bantams. That this noble effort would end in failure.

There was a core of strength in the players though, a belief which transcended the terraces and it was that which turned the game around.

Wembley Stadium, London, England, May 2013

It is easy, and rather lazy, to say that Bradford City put in three goals while Northampton were still taking photographs and waving at their families in the League Two Play Off final. Put that City team up against a side that had been the the National Stadium ten times and the result would have been the same. It was a belief, a belief in each other’s abilities and in the unit as a whole which was the DNA of Phil Parkinson’s side and the reason why the Bantams were victorious.

A long time ago Parkinson told a story about how he once let a player – a player some would have called the best at the club he was at – leave because he did not fit into the mentality that the manager was looking to build.

Toyama Athletic Recreation Park Stadium, Toyama, Japan, July 2013

And there he was: Kempes; The boy from Brazil.

Toyama is 263 miles from Chiba but we’ve come from Hiroshima via Kyoto because one of the things about wandering around a country with a backpack is that you need to find a destination. Hiroshima is about the distance from Bradford to Portsmouth four times over away. The Shinkansen is a thing of beauty.

We pull into Kataller Toyama. Its a big town or a small city. No skyscrapers but the odd tall building. Its hot but everywhere is hot in Japan in July and I’ve given up worrying about it. I have no idea what we are going to find but looking down the main street at the shops boasting with pride the local dish it is, evidently, Chickentown.

JEF United, away. There were ten thousand or more at the home match but around two hundred at this athletics stadium. Cups of barbecued chicken are available for very few yen under the stands. Going up to the away section you can see the kind of stunning mountain view that takes breath away in the midst of an oncoming shower. The chicken tastes good sitting on the grassy bank behind the goal before the rain and we attract a few glances. Being six foot two in a claret and amber shirt will do that. This is Japan and reticence and politeness are a culture. No one interferes.

The game is played out in an welcome shower of warm rain that cools the blood. A song comes up – the man with the megaphone is there again – and the songs are about Kempes. He will finish the J-League 2 season as top scorer but he is off the pace today and unimpressive. His first touch is woeful and he strolls through the game. To counter this the group of around sixty singers wave banners, sing songs and get behind their team, and the Brazilian.

They are rewarded and so am I. Yusuke Tanaka – number six – darts out of midfield and is found by a diagonal ball into the middle. He checks over both shoulders and he runs and completes and side footed lob from an angle over the home keeper who did not realise he was stranded until he saw the ball nestling behind him in the goal.

I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of better goals I have seen with my own eyes. It is beautiful. The acceleration from midfield, the precision of the finish, the ambition, the craft, the subtle magnificence.

The game ends 2-1 with and by the time it does I’ve joined the JEF support bouncing, singing songs in a language I do not understand, being welcomed having transitioned from interested outsider to lifetime supporter. #winbyall we like to say.

There was a bus back to Toyama – the stadium about forty minutes walk away – and not many people talked on the way back because even after the ebullience of football this is still Japan and there is a reserve to these things. I pick up words pulled out of few conversations like the old Fast Show sketch.

“Something something something Kempes.”

Kempes was withdrawn after about seventy minutes and unimpressive on the night. JEF United would finish the season fifth on to draw in the play-offs (lower team plays higher and has to win to progress). They will spend another year in J-League 2, a fifth out of the top division they were founder members of in 1994.

“Something Kempes something something something something.”

Valley Parade, Bradford, England, January 2014

James Hanson scores in the first minutes and Nahki Wells has gone to Huddersfield to be replaced in the first team by the son of one of my friends. Seventeen and eager his name is sung in support not just of the player but of the spirit which had emerged in the supporters of the club.

Something bigger than one player or than one person, bigger than bad results and bad performances. Something that speaks of an opposition to apathy and cowardice dressed as pessimism.

Something that sounds like support should. That sounds like belief.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have in my hand a piece of paper…

…or rather a collection of a pieces of paper stapled together in the top left corner. It was passed to me by Archie Christie – it has his first name under the staple – as part of the day we spent with him as an illustration of the work that get done at City.

I’m not going to tell you what is in the papers for reasons which will become clear, dear reader, but I can tell you what it says on the front. Under a large Bantams’ Badge reads the words “Bradford City Match Assessment” and under that – written in pen (although this is a photocopy) read the names “Macclesfield T” and “Northampton T”.

The date reads “17th of September” which was – according to the inscriptions – a dry and windy day.

For years, decades, I’ve heard about football clubs who “do their homework” on the opposition, who “have them watched” and for the first time I have the information (or a part of it) which Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin will be looking over to plan City’s team.

It is a coincidence that paper I got was between is City’s next two opponents but probably not that scout Nigel Brown who authored the document – it carries his name – took in the match. Nigel Brown and Archie Christie talked about arriving at City and finding a filing cabinet marked scouting reports which had sub-divisions for each league and each letter in that league but absolutely nothing in them. If someone had been doing the homework at Bradford City before Christie and Brown then the dog had almost certainly eaten it.

It struck me in the weeks after embedding with him that Christie’s role at the club split down three lines none of which were having that much attention paid to them before his arrival. The first and most obvious was the player recruitment and development side which is an all encompassing one taking in watching players as well as the activities with the Development Squad. Then, most celebrated, is his deal making as seen in George Green’s move to Everton. Potentially Green’s move is the largest transfer between the fourth tier and the top tier of English football ever. Finally there is the homework side and preparing information for the first team’s manager.

Christie started the operation from an empty cabinet and was taking in a game at Halifax Town when he bumped into Brown – Brown told us that most Scouts know each other – and Christie invited him to come in and help with the network. The pair of them assembled a team of around a half dozen scouts up and down the country. There is a private scouting network which clubs can subscribe to which provides information on any team for a fee which might account for where Peter Taylor was getting his information on visiting teams but Brown is sceptical about the merits of that. It struck me that if the aim of scouting teams is to find weaknesses then a report that is freely purchased by anyone will detail faults that a manager would be a fool not to fix. Christie and Brown’s scouting – if it contains a note on how a team can be got at – is known only to City.

The scouts (including Christie and Brown) go watch League Two games, non-league games, reserve games and fill in the type of form which sits in front of me today. The approach is detailed. Reserve games are important in case of suspensions forcing a change to the starting eleven while non-league games (and higher reserve games) allow information about players who may end up being recruited by the opposition. Christie tells a story of Dagenham being undone by a player who had not featured in the first team but cropped up on a Tuesday night on the south coast to frustrate the Daggers.

There was an obvious question about what Christie’s scouting network had thought about the City teams he had faced. Christie did not say anything against anyone who had stalked the halls of Valley Parade before him but the impression I got was that at Dagenham City’s team under Stuart McCall was considered to be nice to look at but soft in the centre and easy to get at, easy to beat. I loved watching Stuart’s side’s play expansive football but I’d have to agree with that analysis.

The empty cabinet is an interesting idea but we know that in the past managers at City have talked about watching clubs – Stuart McCall’s post-game interviews would often include a reference to having seen the team before – but the image remains. John Hendrie once talked about how City would often see unknown faces around the training ground who turned out to be the opposition scouts finding out the team for Saturday.

So one assumes that there must have been paper in this cabinet at some point, files on teams and players filled by McCall (who took a scouting role for Norwich after he left City), Colin Todd or whoever, but the open space tells a story of its own.

That story involves the recruitment of a scouting network to watch teams 70% of which are based in the South. It involves a network of contacts built up who fulfil Brown demanding criteria. Brown worked with Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn Rovers having a hand in the signing of Alan Shearer for £3.5m and the sale of him for “£16.75m” (which is not the figure widely circulated, but the one Brown told us) after “getting the best years out of him.” After working with Dalglish – “He never watched games, loved his videos” – Brown moved onto Wigan Athletic as Dave Whelan started building his tier three club built to compete at the top level from the ground up. Brown is the sort of man you hope a scout is, quietly spoken but deeply knowledgeable and with a steel in his eye for a player. While Christie believes that desire is the thing to look for in a player Brown wants acceleration over five yards. The two are a great combination – Christie calls Brown “Nigel Green” and Brown smiles back. “I can’t do the negotiations like Archie can” he went on to say.

The scouts who Brown and Christie got to join City were tasked with watching City too – the City they watched being the one which Mark Lawn commented on last week – and gave their opinions. Perhaps these informed Lawn’s comments and Parkinson’s changes since he took over. Certainly there were recurrent themes in the reports which Christie and Brown got back and it seems to me that those have been addressed, or have been attempted to be addressed.

The aim of the opposition scouting networking is to provide the manager with everything he could want. It is then up to the manager and his coaching staff to decide how much notice he wants to take of that information. Not all managers are interested but what I have in front of me makes fascinating reading and I could see no reason why a manager would not welcome this with arms open. The Damned Utd (not an historical source but a cracking read) has Brian Clough refuse to look at Don’s Dodgy Dossiers on the opposition, real life tells us he had Peter Taylor watching every inch of opponents.

Without showing the report it is hard to illustrate what it has in it but the circulated version of a report on Newcastle United written by Andre Villas-Boas when he was scout at Chelsea offers similar (although City use numbers and not pictures of shirts) and is indicative of the level of research which goes into preparing for a game.

There is no Bradford City Official Secrets Act (aside from Christie tell us not to go showing the report around, it has not left my office physically or virtually since) but I think it is best if what we know about them stays under wraps for now but I recall watching City over the past thirty years and seeing the odd event that would have been captured in this document and would not have poised a problem. The Paul Merson/Benito Carbone short corner that unlocked City in the Premier League, the wall of tiny Wigan players who created themselves in front of City’s wall at a free kick in the late eighties only to break off and leave many bemused and little else, Peter Jackson and Chris Branston’s antics from a corner at the McAlpine in the mid part of the decade.

Simple things like the fact that a number three might play in central midfield and not left back to more technical and detailed lore. The experience of watching City play Northampton Town at Valley Parade will, for me, come with a crib sheet and I wonder how that will change the way I see the game. When he was Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan was fond of appearing on Match of the Day saying how he and his players had worked all week on doing one thing and – for reasons of their own – the players had decided to do something else. I wonder if I will see the same.

Northampton Town arrive at Valley Parade on the back of a 3-0 defeat by Port Vale which saw questions asked but in generally rude form. They are seventeenth in the table.

City go into the game on the back of a disappointing result at Hereford United and have before them a familiar set of criticisms. Matt Duke is criticised because he could have been better positioned for the goals that Hereford scored (or so it is said) although the best position is always “in the way” and “not in the way” seldom has any merits. Duke’s single clean sheet was last time out at Valley Parade against Torquay United.

Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip are expected to retain the central defensive positions although Steve Williams is returning to the reckoning. Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will be full backs although looking at the report I might be… No, best not.

Michael Flynn’s two game suspension sees him sit out the match and allows Adam Reed and Richie Jones to take the middle positions with Kyel Reid wide left. Phil Parkinson could be tempted to drop Jamie Devitt to wide right, recall Mark Stewart for that position or give Chris Mitchell his place in the side back. City have missed Mitchell’s delivery in recent weeks. David Syers’ injury and Flynn’s suspension open the possibility of Scott Brown getting a place on the bench.

Craig Fagan is starting to be cemented into the forward line up in James Hanson’s absence though injury. Hanson may return and take a place in the starting line up although if he is not fit Parkinson may continue with his policy of having a man lead the line and another feeding off him and deploy Devitt or Stewart behind Fagan. All link men – the position in question – are judged by a standard of Peter Beardsley and Stewart seems most able to find space and move the ball on then make for an attacking position but Devitt’s game could be tweaked to do the same.

Such talk is the talk of scribbles on paper though – attacking diagrams done on beer mats – and football is played on grass and not paper. Some pieces of paper, however, certainly are worth a read before the boot sets foot on turf.

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.

The smile, and how to retain it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A slow revival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The week we lost our faith

The round trip to Crawley Town was a long and tedious 496 miles in total, but by the time City’s players alighted from the bus back at Valley Parade the mood of the season had quickly turned as dark as the Bradford night they walked into.

By all accounts, the team was poor in losing to Crawley – surrendering a 1-0 half time lead to concede three goals in dismal fashion. The result kept the Bantams third bottom of the entire Football League, with a gap to the clubs above beginning to emerge. Small wonder then, that many of us supporters are feeling so despondent.

Yet at the same time, the outcries of anguish and the anger which has been directed at individuals who represent the club has been difficult to observe this week. The criticisms have been loud and far reaching, and suddenly the outlook of how the season is going appears to have been altered. The likes of Guy Branston and James Hanson are singled out unfairly; Phil Parkinson’s signings are retrospectively criticised; while a sinister and unhelpful vendetta from some towards Archie Christie continues.

One can understand the concern over City only winning one of their opening eight league matches, but less so the need to be so negative and to panic.

Weeks like this – coping with a Bantams defeat – have become such a regular occurrence in recent years that it’s all depressingly familiar. And as a result the only option to avoid having to feel miserable and upse  is to switch off as much as possible and try to focus on other things in life until Saturday. But it’s always there, at the back of your mind – worrying and fretting about your club. And as much as you want to ignore people on message boards and on Twitter attacking the players, there’s an overriding worry that others will be listening and acting upon this vitriol.

Is it justified to suddenly allow a glass half empty outlook to dictate the overall mood of us supporters? Perhaps in the past yes, but on this occasion I strongly believe it isn’t. Crawley sounded bad for sure, but only four days earlier I and some 300 other City fans had watched the players put in a strong performance against Port Vale, where they were very unfortunate to lose. The last time the team played at Valley Parade, they produced an eye-catching display that included a first half performance as good as anything we’ve seen for years.

Looking at the season as a whole, the effort levels and standard of performances have also been encouraging. To date I have seen every game but Accrington, Dagenham and Crawley. Each time the workrate and determination of the team has been commendably high – and I understand this was the case against Accrington and Dagenham too. Application-wise there is room for improvement, but it seems Crawley was the first occasion this season where we can agree the players really let us down.

So why be so quick to jump upon them and write them off? Branston was in the PFA League Two team of the season last year, has he become a bad player overnight or is it a question of him finding better form and confidence? Hanson is picked upon time and time again, yet so often this season the team has not played to his strengths making it very difficult for him. Chris Mitchell is viewed as slow and lightweight, rather than us focusing on his on-the-ball qualities. Matt Duke is clearly lacking match sharpness, but some have seemingly written him off.

The strategy adopted by the club this summer should not need repeating, yet it is now criticised in retrospect by some in the laziest of ways. If Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had ignored the idea of the Development Squad and once again thrown money at the first team this summer, I personally fail to see how we’d be any better off save for a few more points at this stage. The club has lacked a sufficient infrastructure off the field for a number of years and progress is too much at the whim of how big the playing budget is for a particular season. This long-term approach is just that, long-term. We should not be writing it off after just eight league games.

There has been talk that the emphasis of the club has changed from a “building season” to “promotion or bust”, because of the signings Parkinson has been allowed to make – but when viewed closely the facts don’t support this theory. The new boss has sought to make changes to the two positions in the team covered by loanees – wide left and goalkeeper – by bringing in players on permanent contracts. Surely this is in support of a longer-term focus?

Craig Fagan has arrived too, but we know from Peter Jackson’s final days that a need for a striker had been identified and he was actively searching. Fagan is a notable signing and it’s been suggested won’t have come cheap. Perhaps but, given the former Hull striker had missed a year’s football through a broken leg and was struggling to find a club, it seems more likely he is here on low wages with an eye on impressing enough to ultimately attract interest from higher up the leagues (or even a better contract with City next summer).

This is similar to Lee Hendrie last season, who had a decent short-term impact. We can question the wisdom of signing Fagan and where this leaves the promising Mark Stewart, but that doesn’t mean the club has abandoned the strategy agreed in the summer. The problem with suggesting it is now “promotion or bust” is that the expectation bar is suddenley raised and City’s performance seems all the poorer as a result.

In many ways, weeks like this one show a lack of perspective to our judgements and emotions. Losing to Crawley is upsetting, looking at the league table is painful – yet with rationale thinking and remembering the bigger picture, the level of doom and gloom should have its limits. If you’ve sent Branston a nasty tweet this week – as many did – shame on you, because you are not in any way helping the club progress. If you attack players and management on message boards, at least throw up constructive solutions to the problems you deride.

Football supporting seems to allow us to be childish and moody in how we behave – especially in defeat – when in every other walk of life we would never dream of acting in the same way. It’s time to take a step back more often, appreciate the difficulties the club faces rather than jumping in with anger and blame. Passion is a good thing, but directing it in a destructive way does little to help and this seems to be all that some can do.

Bradford City is a club that has to welcome and be grateful for every supporter it can get, but it needs to be remembered that it is our choice to support them and this sense of personal injustice we throw back at them when they struggle isn’t always their fault.

The actions taken this summer mean that this season we have the chance to help create something special. A team we can be truly proud of, because they care deeply about our club and understand what makes us special. Parkinson is trying to implement an attacking, passing style of game that is a welcome relief from the direct football we’ve endured so often in recent years. The Development Squad offers the promise of providing a handful of players good enough to make the first team in time. Scott Brown looks amazing, and he can play soon.

We are not that far off from been a good side, already too much hard work has been completed to throw it all away. So please, let’s not go to the Wimbledon game on Saturday with arms folded waiting for an opportunity to act indignant; let’s do our bit and prove to the team and to each other what being a football supporter is really all about.

The friends of Bradford City welcome back that rarest of thing

Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall will return to Valley Parade on Thursday 22nd September at 20:00 as the Friends of Bradford City host a forum with the former players and coaches of the club.

Both Wetherall and Jacobs put in sterling service for Bradford City with the pair of them clocking up around thirty years combined service. For Jacobs the service was on the way up the leagues starting as a free transfer from Rotherham United recovering from a season long injury and going on to be a Premier League player. For Wetherall – who scored the famous headed goal which kept City in the top flight – the only way was down and as City slipped down the leagues the former captain’s contribution was to slow that decline.

Jacobs put in 318 games for City, Wetherall 304 which dwarfs anyone in the current set up and leads one to wonder who – in ten years time – will be being invited back for functions such as this? Who are are heroes of the future when the current player with most appearances for the club – Luke O’Brien – is persona non grata at Valley Parade. Injury to Robbie Threlfall (21 apps) may see O’Brien add to his 122 appearances for City this weekend.

O’Brien and Lee Bullock (120 apps) are the only players at the club in triple figures – a long way behind Ces Podd‘s 502 – but neither seem to be set to add many to that list. Bullock was unwanted by Mark Lawn but kept by Peter Jackson while O’Brien is frozen out of the first team for reasons unknown, or at least unsaid.

Not that O’Brien has ever enjoyed great popularity at Valley Parade. As a player he is better regarded on the bench than he is on the pitch. On the bench he is the world beating Roberto Carlos ready to turn things around but, when on the field, one might wonder if one were hearing the same crowd describe the player where his efforts are met with grumbles and only quiet support.

Often the same can be said for third on the list James Hanson (79 appearances, 21 goals) who proves that he can score when given service but is subject to a level of criticism which would suggest he had picked selected members of the support and punched their dogs.

Hanson’s return is under a goal every 3.76 games – around the same strike rate as Robbie Blake (153, 40) – which puts him above a good few well respected Bantams of the past. Joe Cooke (3.99) played 271 time and scored 68 although he played central defence at times. Ask men of a certain age about Don Hutchins and they go weak at the knee and his return of a goal every 5.5 games (286 appearances, 52 goals) was a good return and secondary to his overall contribution. The lauded Paul Jewell (269 appearances, 56 goals) banged in one every 4.8 games although most of them were before Christmas.

To paraphrase the problem is not in the stars but with ourselves. A mentality has grasped most of football – having taken hold a good many years ago – which suggests that supporters are blissfully happy to be unaware of what they have until it is gone. Sean McCarthy banged in a goal every two games for City – more or less – but was nicknamed “Scud” as a reference to his perceived inaccuracy.

McCarthy won the hearts of City fans when he exited Valley Parade for Oldham on deadline day and turned up wearing a ludicrously high squad number on Match of the Day a few days later playing at Old Trafford. Players who leave the club are well regarded. Wetherall and Jacobs’ defensive team mate Andrew O’Brien was – according to one voice in earshot – “On his way to Halifax Town, if they will have him” following City’s promotion. Two years later and he was “being sold too cheap.”

An exit infers a kind of status on a player, a respect because someone else has recognised the ability, and without that status our own players are generally disregarded. No player racks up hundreds of appearances because they either are snapped up by someone higher or they are slapped down and leave of their own volition.

A Catch 22 situation then. If a player never leave it is – in the eyes of some – because he is not good enough for anyone including City so should not be suffered to be in the side. It is no coincidence that the greats of Bradford City history: Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Peter Beagrie; left the club before coming back.

Not Jacobs or Wetherall though. Both stayed with the club as players and became part of the coaching set up at later Valley Parade. Wetherall left for a development job with the Football League while Jacobs was unceremoniously launched from the club after Peter Taylor’s sacking. There was a verbalised question mark over Jacobs coaching ability and the former number two probably has too much class to point at the current state at the club – the so called “worst team in Bradford City history” – and ask how his departure improved things at Valley Parade.

One wonders if Wetherall and Jacobs are a rare thing. Only fourteen players who topped three hundred games for City and to add to that list Luke O’Brien would have to play pretty much every game for the next four season for a club where he is the only player who has been here for more than four seasons.

Rare things, and worth see. The forum is free to Friends of Bradford City members or a single shiny pound for non-members.

The hare and tortoise approach to team building as Bradford City head to Crawley Town

The Manchester City defender Wayne Bridge will always hold a special place in Bradford City’s history – for it was his free kick goal for Southampton vs Wimbledon in 2000 that indirectly helped the Bantams avoid relegation from the Premier League. But in the wider football world, it seems unlikely he will be remembered beyond once refusing a handshake.

Bridge has recently been in the spotlight after turning down numerous offers of first team football away from Eastlands, in preference for stagnating in the reserves and training alone.

He has not started a Premier League match for Man City since last October. And though he may shortly be persuaded into joining a Championship club on loan, the £90,000-a-week left back apparently seems more concerned with living the footballers’ lifestyle than playing football itself.

The deep pockets approach to building a team

It didn’t have to be like this, and Bridge can hardly argue he wasn’t warned. He left Southampton to join Chelsea’s sudden Roman Abramovich revolution in 2003 – a star signing for the club at the time – but as the Blues progressed and could attract a better calibre of player, Ashley Cole arrived and took his place.

So when Man City, suddenly flush with money, came knocking in 2009, one might have thought he’d realise what would eventually happen and say no. Perhaps, with The Guardian quoting a Man City insider declaring Bridge has become “more interested in what he’s doing on his Saturday nights rather than Saturday afternoons”, he was happy to fulfil his fate.

Nevertheless Bridge has been both the beneficiary and victim of two of the highest profile team building strategies of recent years. Considered a key arrival for both Chelsea and Man City at one stage; each club’s speed of progress then left him no longer good enough for its ambitions.

Yet for both Chelsea and Man City this left a difficult problem. Huge wages were committed on signing the likes of Bridge, Hernando Crespo and Adrian Mutu at Chelsea, and Bridge, Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy at City – and with even bigger wages then needed to bring in the ‘next level’ players, a very expensive and unneeded reserve team was a legacy and a headache.

Man City might have bottomless pockets for the moment, but most other clubs do not. And so the folly of splashing out heavily on players, who can only take you some of the way towards your intended destination before you need to replace them, becomes clear in time.

2008/09 revisited – the flaw in the plan

At Bradford City, and on an altogether different scale of budget, such an approach was tried in the summer of 2008 when then-manager Stuart McCall was handed a budget of £1.9 million and joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes spoke publically of aiming for back-to-back promotions.

That money largely went on the wages of Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding. Let’s ignore for one moment the fact this strategy failed on account of the Bantams failing to go up, and pretend the season hadn’t collapsed with 11 games to go.

Had City crossed the promotion line, would these four players have been good enough to lead the Bantams straight through League One and into the Championship the following season? Or would they be near the top of a list of players needing selling, as McCall would have looked to spend money securing the on-loan season stars Dean Furman, Nicky Law and Steve Jones – on top of targeting other new signings?

And herein perhaps would have lied a significant problem. For the wages of Brandon, McLaren, Lee and Boulding would have proved too high to allow them to sit on the sidelines, and efforts to move them on would have been just as troublesome as they were when McCall had to try to get rid of them because the promotion effort had failed. Meanwhile to get Furman and co, plus others, would have needed the Chairmen to dig deeper once again. The path of progression would have come at a much higher cost, and may not have been sustainable.

£100,000 a year to sit on Crawley’s bench

Crawley Town arrive to Valley Parade tomorrow with very real concerns of this type. Benefiting from sizeable investment which is dubious in its origin, the Red Devils spent some £600k on transfer fees alone last season and were rewarded with a stroll to the Conference title. Having again been heavy spenders this summer, they began as pre-season favourites for promotion and have gone into their first ever Football League campaign with the pressure and expectation they will sail straight into League One.

Yet recent results are not good. Having not lost a league game since October 2010, they have been defeated in three of their last four games. Add in cup matches, and it’s five defeats from six. Last Saturday they were thrashed 6-0 at Morecambe, on Tuesday they were beaten 3-0 at home to Swindon. Not exactly the form of would-be champions.

And for the dislikeable Steve Evans and his wealthy benefactors, a new and perhaps unexpected problem is emerging. All that money has only got them so far, and to fulfil their ambitions it looks like they will need to spend a great deal more. Some of the players who may no longer be good enough are reportedly earning £100,000 a year – who else would be willing to match that and take these unwanted players off their hands? Last season Crawley were nicknamed the ‘Man City of non-league’. It looks like they could soon have a few Wayne Bridges of their own.

Work in progress

The contrast in the Bantams’ new approach is stark. So much has been talked about this building for the future outlook that it is getting repetitive, but with City electing to buy potential rather than buy expensive a more sustainable approach is developing. Relatively speaking most of the summer signings came cheap, and if they don’t prove good enough or can’t match the progress of the club they will not be expensive to move on. On the other side of the coin they may also become valuable assets if they develop strongly, potentially providing decent transfer fees.

If this strategy and this team can take City upwards, there would be a less likelihood of a nosebleed halfway on route to the top and fear that vast money must be found to sustain improvement. The speed of progress may be slower, but perhaps along the journey we’ll skip past a few clubs who had apparently spent their way to success, but are finding it a struggle to maintain momentum.

The midweek defeat to Port Vale emphasised that this is a slow burner approach. Eight games in and City have produced some wonderful football and the team is developing into one many of us have fallen in love with, because of their high work rate and commitment. Yet only one win has been recorded and four defeats have already been chalked up. As the league table begins to carry meaning, 22nd-placed City are one point worse off compared to last season’s dreadful start.

Promising displays are not yet turning into results. No one is panicking, but for now an uneasy feeling is difficult to avoid.

Bouncing back from a first defeat in five

Despite Crawley’s recent results, tomorrow is a tough test for a City side looking for an immediate response to Tuesday’s set back. Matt Duke is top of the list aiming for redemption after his howler for Vale’s second goal raised questions about his match sharpness. At the moment he is averaging two goals conceded per game; and while some of those were unstoppable strikes, we’ve not yet seen him make too many noteworthy saves to prevent opposition attacks.

The back four may be shaken up or Parkinson – who at half time at Vale Park told his defence not to sit so deep, which brought about an improvement – may be tweaking other areas of the set up to provide greater defensive protection. Liam Moore got through a tough first half to again impress, and his long throws are a useful weapon. Robbie Threlfall did okay, but the more attack-minded Luke O’Brien could flourish in this team. Guy Branston had a tough evening at Vale Park and – if Steve Williams is back soon – could be favourite for a breather with Luke Oliver showing better form.

The midfield four often becomes a five when Jamie Devitt floats deeper, and is impressing greatly when City have the ball but are a concern when they don’t. Michael Flynn has received some criticism for his performances this season, but to me it seems he is playing a deeper role than he used to which might be confusing some. Just like Lee Bullock two years ago, it seems Flynn is being asked to perform in a way that better conserves his ageing energy levels while still contributing positively. Ritchie Jones will play alongside him, with Chris Mitchell wide right and Kyel Reid wide left.

Mitchell is another with his critics in the stands. I had the misfortune of sitting next to a no-doubt-committed-but-ridiculously-negative supporter in the first half on Tuesday, who commented that Mitchell reminds him of Gary Locke because “he was half a yard off the pace too.” Mitchell is the kind of non-tackler, methodical player many fans always seem to hate, but continues to be quietly effective in his positioning and passing ability. The direct-minded Reid gets better every game – he is Omar Daley v2.

Up front Parkinson’s search for a striker concluded with the signing of Craig Fagan but the former Hull City man has not played much in over a year so will be lacking match fitness so expect James Hanson to partner Devitt. Hanson’s time in the first eleven is probably coming to an end for now, but in away games his value in holding up the ball to relieve the pressure on the rest of the team is especially invaluable and he emerged from Vale Park with plenty of credit. Ross Hannah bangs loudly on the door but the excellent Concentrate on the League website argues why he should be super sub for now. Nahki Wells has also moved up the pecking order; worrying times for Mark Stewart.

Undoubtedly the pressure tomorrow is on the home side. Defeat for Crawley and who knows what ambitious owners would do about Steve Evans. A loss for City would spell greater relegation fears but, as Micky Adams declared in midweek, this team has the potential to challenge at the top.

Crawley climbed to the summit much faster, but may increasingly become envious of the Bantams and their plan.

The show of solidarity

To an outsider at least, Bradford City’s start to the season must appear to be on the brink of being labelled catastrophic. Yet within the four sides of Valley Parade this afternoon and over the past few weeks, it’s hard to recall the last time we felt so giddy with excitement.

Michael Flynn’s successful stoppage time penalty means City have struck a late equaliser two weeks running and stretches the unbeaten run to four games, though only once in this season’s nine league and cup matches to date have the Bantams won outright over the 90 minutes. Yet while in the past such form would prompt moaning, instead there is optimism. We’re not looking at the future with glass-half-empty despair, but with relish. No panic, just patience.

When at half time the players trooped back to the dressing room a goal down to a decent Bristol Rovers side they did so with the boost of a standing ovation from just under 10,000 home supporters. How many times has this scenario happened over the past decade? Typically when losing at the break, the only question is how loud in volume the boos would be; yet today there was a defiant and powerful message delivered to players – we’re genuinely right behind you.

And how richly deserved that standing ovation was. Lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation which allowed loan signing Jamie Devitt to operate in a free role behind James Hanson, City dictated the tempo right from kick off and produced a display of attacking, passing football that was remarkable to watch. The ball was passed back and forth with great accuracy and some dazzling attacking moves were only thwarted by a strong visiting defence or eventual slight inaccuracy in possession.

For the last four seasons in League Two, we’ve largely become used to a more direct style of football which has proved effective at times but at others was dismal to watch. Today City looked as if they’d spent the week watching DVDs of Arsenal and – dare I say it – Barcelona. Quick fire, one-touch football with the ball knocked across from wing to wing and ending up in the penalty area having remained on the turf on route, rather than hit high. On another day and against weaker opposition City could easily have been three or four goals up.

Devitt is skilful in possession and proved hugely effective in his free role, while fellow home debutant Kyel Reid looked a constant menace on the left wing and regularly had the beating of Pirates’ right back Adam Virgo. With Chris Mitchell again providing that mixture of width and central support alongside the again impressive Ritchie Jones and Flynn, the Bantams dominated the first half through their stylish approach.

Goalscoring opportunities were less frequent, though Devitt was unfortunate to see an overhead kick attempt sail over, Flynn could have gone better with an effort from the edge of the area and Devitt again came close with an excellent run but weak shot. The best opportunity of all fell to Jones, whose late charge into the box saw him meet Reid’s superb cross brilliantly with head and the gangling Scott Bevan pulled off a world class tip over. Aside from a moment of confusion where Bristol Rovers thought they had scored – only for the dismal referee Nigel Miller to eventually realise his linesman had flagged for a foul rather than goal – it was one-way traffic.

So when Matt Harrold got free of Luke Oliver to send a looping header over Matt Duke and into the net, following a superb pass from Stuart Campbell, there was no justice at all. City continued to press, but the downside of Phil Parkinson’s formation – which had been hinted before the goal – came into focus when two brilliant crosses into the box were missed by home players. There just weren’t enough people getting into the box and, as wonderful as the build up in the final third was at times, City lacked options when it came to finishing them.

Hanson bore the brunt of this frustration from supporters. Understandable at times as his work rate seemed to be lacking his usual high standards, but once again it seems a question of feeding him the ball in areas where he can hurt the opposition. Perhaps this new style of play means selecting a target man like Hanson isn’t going to be the most effective approach. But equally more runs into the box from midfield are needed to support him or whoever is selected up front instead, and as the half came to an end with that uplifting standing ovation the question to ponder was whether we are lacking a striker or just missing David Syers.

The quality of City’s play wasn’t as exceptional in the second half – partly because of Rovers’ manager Paul Buckle’s decision to place a deep-sitting midfielder right in front of his back four in an effort to curb Devitt’s influence – but enough of a head of steam was built up to find an equaliser on the hour.

Hanson’s header from a corner struck the post and Devitt’s rebound attempt was blocked by a defender, but as the Hull City youngster looked set to hit another shot at goal he was hauled down for a penalty. Flynn – second-choice penalty taker behind the benched Jack Compton – side footed it casually into the right corner and the strong backing from fans increased further in volume as substitute Ross Hannah forced Bevan into another outstanding save.

Disappointingly the Bantams sat back and Bristol Rovers re-took the lead when Eliot Richards was allowed too much space to send a powerful shot past Duke. It is a source of worry that a back four which looks solid for the most part of games can then switch off and is so often punished for doing so. Guy Branston, Oliver, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall couldn’t be faulted during the match, but Parkinson needs to find a way of tightening them up further.

City pressed hard in the closing stages, but just like last week you couldn’t see an equaliser occurring. But then, half way through the four minutes of injury time, a great piece of skill by Devitt lead to him being tripped in the box for another penalty. Compton – who again impressed when coming on – pressed his claim to take the spot kick, but Flynn was given the responsibility a second time, firing into the opposite corner despite Bevan’s best attempts to keep it out.

Another draw doesn’t do much for City’s league position, but there’s no doubt an upwards direction is being taken. From being unlucky to lose games at the start of the season, the Bantams are now somewhat unfortunate to be drawing matches. Parkinson’s ongoing search for a striker might prove to be the final piece in the jigsaw, but if the current standards of performance are maintained the victories will surely come.

And when they do, the joy is everyone’s to share. The atmosphere inside Valley Parade today was superb and while it might not intimidate the opposition it certainly makes a difference to our players. Everyone can see how much they care and are trying for this club, and only an incredibly heartless person wouldn’t appreciate their commitment.

Peter Jackson, Colin Cooper, Archie Christie and Parkinson have or are building a team that we can truly feel proud of, and the half time standing ovation proved how much we care about – and feel inspired by – our players.

Exciting times ahead, but perhaps we want more

Welshman John Hartson likes a good rant. When his Wimbledon team conceded a goal at Valley Parade in 2000 he ranted his way to a red card after reportedly nearly ranting his way to one in the tunnel before this game. Something in the last eleven years has convinced the good people at ITV that he should be given the microphone in support of the England vs Wales game in the week and so his rants moved into my front room.

Moving aside from the curiousness of his statements on the English having an Italian manager Hartson declared himself excited by the young Welsh team which claimed a gallant defeat at Wembley casting a critical eye on Fabio Capello’s England who had ended the game as victors, a draw off winning the group and qualifying for the European Championships.

Hartson’s excitement is justified – Wales look like they might have a team capable of undoing the wrongs committed against the country by John Toshack and getting back to the Mark Hughes side of 2004 where they nearly qualified for a major competition – but as a practical concern it misses the rather obvious point that what he is getting excited about has become tedious for the team he criticises.

No matter what one thinks of England’s performance there has become a kind of metronomic precision to the national team’s progression to World Cup’s and European Championships. Since the early 1980s England have missed three summers of what will be sixteen times of asking. While Hartson may be excited about the chance to be a part of one of those tournaments the reality of football is that England will be.

Which is because – as has been proved over the last two games, and the previous World Cup qualifying under Fabio Capello – England are good at winning games and getting results to get to the sort of tournaments which their group opposition aspire to.

Being good at getting results is not always something to get excited about but the last minute conversion of Jack Compton’s cross by Ross Hannah at Morecambe last week has pulses racing. City’s game plan seemed to have been blown away in the blustery coastal winds but Phil Parkinson’s new team showed a character to keep going and a resolve to nick a goal which turned a defeat into a good result.

Again a reality of football is that at all levels an away draw is always a good result and if a team wins home matches, draws away amassing two points a game then it will probably end up promoted. Parkinson is looking to build on that result with his first home game.

Parkinson inherited a City team which seemed to be growing in belief. The 4-2 win over Barnet showed what could happen if the young team got the ball down and passed it. In the league, since Peter Jackson left, City have a home win and an away draw.

Another former England manager – Sir Bobby Robson – said that a team needed a player who scored one in two and another who scored one in three and then it would do well. Up front James Hanson has three in six games and he may be partnered with Ross Hannah who has two in six. Mark Stewart would be unlucky to step down after some very good performances but Hannah has knocked firmly on the door. Nakhi Wells is back from international duty while Nialle Rodney is injured.

The midfield two of Richie Jones and Michael Flynn is growing in effectiveness. It is curious that Welshman Flynn – obviously a player capable enough to be in the side – was being cast aside by Jackson with no more explanation than the idea that the manager “didn’t fancy him” as if that were a reason to lose a good and useful player. Chris Mitchell will hope that his last league performance at Valley Parade has not been forgotten and Jack Compton will hope his pinpoint cross to Hannah wins him a place in the side but Kyel Reid and – especially – Jamie Devitt will be hoping to get places on the wing.

Matt Duke will keep goal behind an increasingly settled back four of Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall.

The Bantams face a Bristol Rovers team who are sitting in mid-table as they recover from relegation and are smarting from a 4-1 defeat by City’s opposition next week Crawley Town. Rovers have not won since the 16th of August and when a team is not winning then there is always a worry. As City found before Jackson’s surprise exit losing can be softened by an exciting, young team.

How long exciting losing under Jackson could have been tolerated we will never know, but perhaps John Hartson will tell us.

Comments off. Michael Wood is on holiday.

Cooper Provides Perfect Platform for Parkinson to Launch From

Tomorrow morning City’s new boss Phil Parkinson is due to discuss the futures of the backroom staff and that namely of Colin Cooper. Cooper took the helm to guide City to a second impressive display in four days, that saw the Bantams go through to the second round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, via penalties, at the expense of League 1 opposition. On this evidence it must surely be highly tempting for Parkinson to keep him on as his number two.

That is to say if Cooper wishes to remain in the role, because on the back of these two games he has done himself no harm if he was to go looking for a number one spot elsewhere.

His mantra seems to be to get the team passing, using the flanks effectively and pressing teams into their own half. It would be nice to see this ethos continued under the new boss as not only is it pleasing to watch, it has also yielded two positive results in as many games.

Whilst the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy offers an unhelpful distraction from the league to some, it offers others the chance of a cup run with a trip to Wembley at the end of it. City set up with the latter in mind and named an unchanged starting line-up from Saturday’s victory against Barnet. Megson’s team selection seemed to apply to the former, choosing to blood a sixteen year-old centre back, but nonetheless offered the Owls a chance to pick up their first away victory of the season.

Megson’s clear scepticism towards the tournament was further confirmed only minutes into the game when first choice Wednesday keeper, Nicky Weaver, was replaced by second choice stopper Richard O’Donnell. A slight bending of the rules perhaps, which stipulate that six first team players must be included in the starting line-up, and not, one would argue, in the spirit of the game or competition.

To add to this early surprise, after only fifteen minutes Megson made more changes, sacrificing former Leeds midfielder David Prutton and defender Jose Vitor Semedo. The sentiment that you can only beat who is put in front of you seemed to echo around Valley Parade and did not deter City, but surely spurred them on sensing a higher opposition scalp.

With these distractions aside, Bradford started the game brightly and looked to play a passing game through the midfield, feeding the wide men Compton and Mitchell. Compton particularly looked dangerous and increasingly demonstrated the confidence to go beyond his full back, this led to an early pull back for Mark Stewart who had the ball nicked off his toes just before connecting with his shot.

Continuity in selection seemed to be paying off for City as Michael Flynn and Ritchie Jones struck up a decent understanding that saw Flynn playing the aggressor, whilst Jones showed finesse to find a yard of space to push the Bantams forward. Indeed this was a refreshing sight following the midfield being by-passed far too often in recent memory.

Despite early amounts of possession and positive play, the Bantams rarely tested the Wednesday keeper and as the half wore on the Owls seemed to settle into the game and gain more possession themselves, but likewise, without every really threatening Oscar Jansson’s goal.

As the half drew to a close, the tenacity of Mark Stewart carved half a chance for the Scottish striker, his shot ballooned up into the air and straight into the path of James Hanson who could only managed to knock his header into the ground and agonisingly wide of the far post.

Despite the miss the near chance seemed to send the Bantams into the break with positive intent and left Wednesday looking vulnerable at the back.

Vulnerability that nearly proved costly only seconds into the second half, when a loose pass back to his keeper by sixteen year old Ayo Obileye, was nearly seized upon by the alert Compton, who saw his effort deflected wide by the keeper’s legs.

The City forwards continued to hustle the inexperienced Owls backline, Hanson using his brute strength and Stewart his guile to carve out more chances; Stewart’s best effort was pushed wide by keeper O’Donnell, whilst Hanson dragged his late effort wide.

Midway through the second half, City introduced boyhood Wednesday fan Ross Hannah who continued where Stewart left off and continued to pressurise the Wednesday defence. Mitchell was then also replaced by winger Michael Bryan, who again looked a little lightweight when up against opposition fullbacks.

Wednesday continued to pass the ball effectively through the midfield carving few chances on goal and never really testing Jansson, but as the half went on, it was City who finished the stronger.

Firstly, a Luke Oliver header that was cleared on the line (following a watch of the replay on TV it certainly looked over the line), the resultant clearance came to Flynn who volleyed an effort that was effectively saved once more by O’Donnell. Then Compton curled a vicious free kick just wide of the far post; Hannah tried to scramble a shot in on the turn following a Hanson knock down and Jones also had a powerful volleyed effort saved.

With the game drawing towards the last five minutes City introduced prodigal son Luke O’Brien for Compton. Early link up between O’B and Robbie Threlfall saw the Bantams force a free kick on the left flank; the ball was swung across into a dangerous area by Threlfall and was met again by the consistently impressive Oliver, whose header struck the bar and bounced to safety.

It seemed that it was going to be one of those nights for the Bantams, who’s endeavours went unrewarded. With the game finishing level, the lottery of penalties ensued and saw City keeper Jansson come into his own.

Sheffield Wednesday started the spot kick proceedings at the Bradford End, Clinton Morrison blasting his effort way over the bar. Ritchie Jones then stepped up and made it 1-0 with a coolly taken spot-kick. The Owls’ second penalty saw Jansson dive athletically to his right to push the effort wide, then Flynn doubled City’s lead with another well taken effort. Wednesday’s third effort saw the visitors get on the board, only for Ross Hannah to smash City’s third into the top corner. As Wednesday’s fourth taker stepped up, it felt amongst the crowd that the superior City performance was about to be rewarded and duly it was as Jansson dived low to his left to push the shot around the post.

If this is seen as a lesser competition then nobody told the Bantams’ players whose reaction was one of delirium as the arm-linked Claret and Amber stripes stampeded towards Jansson for a good old-fashioned pile on, topped off by a Guy Branston Swan dive (Ouch!). The team spirit was clear to see and it is hoped that Parkinson will now look to continue this in order to build on the confidence gained in the last two games.

The two victories represent a massive step forward for the squad and Cooper’s influence cannot be ignored. So it is hoped that Phil Parkinson’s observatory role tonight has shown him enough to know a good thing when he sees it and does all within his power to keep Cooper on. This will surely aid the transition and maintain continuity, whilst hopefully demonstrating to the new boss, cited in previous articles for favouring a tight 451 formation, that playing an attacking 442 formation can merit its own rewards and do it in style.

It will be interesting now to see how many new recruits Parkinson decides to bring in, as it would be a shame to oust the promising talent that has been on show in the last two games, without first giving it a chance. An experienced striker is still an attractive prospect, but the players handed over by Cooper must at least leave the new man thinking hard before spending Mark Lawn’s newly available funds.

The cost of changing managers

As Phil Parkinson sits down to watch his first Bradford City game as manager already he will have made a signing and put in approaches for others with Charlton’s Paul Benson having talked to City as one of three clubs he is expected to consider joining before tomorrow’s transfer deadline.

Parkinson is unequivocal. He wants to add players to the squad and he wants to do it before Wednesday. This time last week the current squad were Peter Jackson’s team, his lads, hand-picked and with some security. Now some of them are looking at a long time on the sidelines.

Jack Compton is first with his neck on the block. A player on loan from Falkirk having not parted on the best of terms with his manager he worries that he might be sent back to Scotland but the arrival of Kyel Reid casts a shadow over his future. For sure Parkinson might have watched Compton for a couple of games, but he knows Reid from old.

Compton though is a loanee, and such is the life, but what the likes of Nialle Rodney, Nakhi Wells and Ross Hannah will make of Paul Benson’s arrival should it is a little more significant. These players might all have a future at City, but that future is pushed further away when the club start bringing in senior players over your head. Hannah might look at Benson’s record at Dagenham and Redbridge and think that he could do now what Benson did then, but that he might not get the chance to now.

Hannah is bubbling under, and so are James Hanson and Mark Stewart. Performances like Saturday and momentum builds and careers come from that. Sitting on the bench watching players signed over your head is a route back to non-league.

As Benson would probably testify to League Two is a league that makes players and as Stuart McCall would note bringing in the big names often does not work. Watching Saturday’s performance one might conclude that if you put eleven men on the field and got them playing the right way then you have eleven good players.

Nevertheless manager’s want to change things and while three months ago Peter Jackson was feathering his nest with his own squad so Phil Parkinson will do the same. Players come in with signing on fees, players go out with contract termination agreements. It is not cheap and the three rebuilding jobs of the last few season suggest it is not effective either. Peter Taylor’s self assembled team did no better than Stuart McCall’s.

There is scope for improvement at any time of course. The squad needs more wide men and has very limited resources in the holding midfield area. There is also an argument that when the right player becomes available then you add him to the squad. The right player is an example to the younger players in the squad, someone who trains and plays in the right way and with the right professional attitude. A Stuart McCall if you will, a Peter Beagrie. Paul Benson might be that kind of player.

Ultimately Bradford City, once again, pick up the price of changing the squad once more but there is a different cost an a more human one. Peter Jackson went to people like Hannah, Wells, Rodney et al and – on behalf of the club – told them that Bradford City was a way to start your career. The cost of changing managers may end up being those careers.

Implosion avoided as the young Bantams come of age

Perhaps Mark Lawn is being economical with the truth over the degree of influence and pressure he and his Boardroom colleagues placed upon Peter Jackson. But as it became obvious it was entirely the departed manager’s decision to quit, uneasy questions began to surface over the squad building he has overseen.

Just how bad were these players, to prompt someone apparently proud to manage them to quit after just five games in charge? Had he detected the ship is sinking and so clambered aboard the first lifeboat available before anyone seriously questions his leadership? When Barnet disrupted 15 minutes of promising home play by taking the lead this afternoon, the despair that flooded across Valley Parade weighed heavily.

Although at least the gloom didn’t last long, because James Hanson headed home an immediate equaliser that – in time – could be looked back upon as the crucial moment in City’s campaign. However, even during such a short period of time losing, the cracks of implosion could be heard. Barnet’s opener was almost an exact replica of Aldershot’s first in the opening day 2-1 defeat of the Bantams, with Guy Branston inexplicably allowing Ricky Holmes time and space to charge into the box and send a low cross that Izale McLeod couldn’t miss from. As the game restarted Branston’s next touch was greeted by a smattering of boos. The team was being turned upon by the loud minority. Yet again. Sigh.

Hanson’s goal halted the boos and frustration in the stands, while on the pitch it breathed belated confidence into a young side that in the past five games had simply been on the wrong side of narrow margins rather than humiliated. It was a goal of genuine quality, with Mark Stewart receiving the ball in the final third and expertly laying the ball off to wide man Chris Mitchell. His cross was superb, allowing Hanson to glance the ball into the net. From seemingly on the brink of panic, the corner was being turned.

In a match up between two teams better going forward then defending, City gradually began to take control with so many of the new faces in particular enjoying a season’s best performance. Stewart looked easily-bullied and weak in his two previous league starts; today he ran Barnet ragged with intelligent running and far greater strength on the ball. Liam Moore recovered from a poor start to enjoy a storming second half at right back. Ritchie Jones linked defence and attack up nicely, while Jack Compton was always a threat on the ball.

Ironically this was the same team set up and almost identical line up to the one which begun the season losing to Aldershot. Mitchell looked lost as wide right midfielder that day, but on his recall gave City the balance in midfield needed to allow them to increasingly dominate. He tucked in alongside Jones and the energetic Michael Flynn when an extra body was needed in the centre, and tracked back well to support Moore at moments Barnet tried going down the flanks. When City attacked, he popped up in different areas that included providing width on the right hand side. On this form he is the answer to a midfield conundrum that has plagued the club since dropping into League Two.

And there were his deliveries. His cross for Hanson’s equaliser was breathtaking. Early in the second half, Hanson’s excellent persistence earned City a free kick out wide which Mitchell delivered perfectly onto Branston’s head for 2-1. (And at this point let us say those who booed Branston had no right to cheer this goal.) Five minutes later Mitchell pick pocketed the full back for possession before firing across another glorious cross that Hanson tapped home for 3-1. It was a genuine surprise he wasn’t involved in the fourth goal that occurred early in stoppage time.

But Hanson was. All four of the goals included him. Substitute Nahki Wells may have robbed a defender, dribbled past another and slammed the ball home for a mightily impressive first senior goal, but Hanson’s bullying of his marker enabled it to happen. It was the kind of low-key contribution many fail to recognise the importance of as they slate target men like Hanson.

It’s hard to remember the last time the former shelf-stacker played as brilliantly as he did this afternoon. Yet still, at 3-1 up, numerous fans continued to get on his back and slag him off in the most derogatory of terms. It should leave every right-minded City fan angry enough to march over to the booers and rip their season tickets out their hand.

If you thought Hanson was poor today and so criticised him – you are a moron. End of. If you don’t like being labelled a moron, don’t read this site. I’m sick of people like you ruining the matchday experience and confidence of players for no obvious reasons other than selfish. The people who booed Branston today – who admittedly was at fault for both Barnet goals, that’s hardly the point – deserve to feel very stupid tonight too.

Back on the pitch, the difference in the players from kick off to full time was colossal. The Leeds game had showed the potential offered by the new-look squad, but doubts over where it really matters were finally eased by the way everyone grew in stature and confidence. Against such a turbulent backdrop in the immediate build up, caretaker manager Colin Cooper deserves immense credit for maintaining the players focus and should now figure in the Board’s thoughts if they haven’t already decided who will be next manager. In Jackson’s final two games he was apparently losing his way in team selection and tactics, Cooper brought back a level of organisation that laid the groundwork to an excellent performance.

A performance that could easily have included more goals. In the first half Compton, Stewart and Mitchell both came close with decent shots that flew just wide, while Hanson should have scored (boo!) from a looping Compton cross. Once 3-1 up in the second half City sat back