The unwilling battle of the managers

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Carl McHugh | Garry Thompson, Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, James Hanson | Matthew Bates, Mark Yeates, Andy Gray

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.

The value of local bragging rights

Consider – if you will – Burnley and Burton Albion. Two clubs which have not much to link them other than the fact that they finished the place below Leeds United and Bradford City in their respective leagues last season. Burnley nudged in behind Leeds in 8th in the Championship while Burton wound up just behind the Bantams in the lower reaches of League Two.

Cast your mind forward five years and can one imagine Burton (or a team in a similar position) playing against Burnley in second tier game? The Championship has the likes of Peterborough United, Hull City and Doncaster Rovers in it showing a kind of movement between the leagues which suggests that the likes of Burton playing Burnley has a likelihood to it. Teams like Swansea City and Blackpool have battled – and won – for the play off places which Burnley aim for. Burton are not the close to Burnley, but they are in sight of each other albeit from distance.

In five years time could one imagine Burnley battling with Manchester United for the Premier League title and Champions League? Even with unprecedented investment Manchester City have not been capable of doing that (thus far) and more and more the top of European football where Manchester United reside recedes away from the rest of the game where the likes of Burton and Burnley play. In the world of Oil wealth and Oligarchs the chance of Burnley battling with Manchester United is minuscule.

For sure it would only take a promotion for the Clarets to enjoy the odd game against The Red Devils but that is a long way from competing at the same level which – in the case of Manchester United – would include a top for finish to qualify for the Champions League. The idea of a Burnley/Manchester United Champions League match seems far less likely than a Burton Albion/Burnley play-off game.

Which is to say that Burton Albion are closer to Burnley than Burnley are to Manchester United and by extension that when one considers the idea that Leeds United and their supporters are not concerned with the rivalry with Bradford City because they consider Manchester United to be their peers then one must wonder why they are so keen to be in a contest in which they are so massively the junior partner.

No win, no lose

Of course two years ago Leeds United supporters were celebrating beating Manchester United at Old Trafford – a 1-0 victory in the third round of the FA Cup – but there was no shifting of the tides as a result of that. Leeds went on to promotion, Manchester United console themselves with a record number of league titles. Were City to record a similar win at Elland Road then one doubts too that there would be a reform of West Yorkshire football recognised, but it would be fun. Likewise were City to be defeated then having lost to the team that finished 7th in the Championship is merely an “as expected” in what is on paper one of the most mis-matched ties possible. When it came out of the bag this was 27th in the ladder plays 86th.

In fact it is hard to imagine any situation in which this game can go against the Bantams. The money generated from the gate receipts and the SKY TV coverage funded City’s first six figure bid for a player.

A win and everyone in claret and amber is happy for a time but this time last season City beat a team who finished higher in the league than Leeds – Nottingham Forest but in no way was it a springboard to anything bigger or better and it has no impact on the league form at all, nor did it matter after a month of the season when results faultered.

A draw and resulting penalties offers no shame and a defeat is softened by the estimated £200,000 which goes a long way in League Two. Even if the season gutting 4-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town was equalled then it would be set in a different context. The club is following a plan in which talk of promotion is gone and replaced with Archie Christie setting City as a University for 18-21 year olds looking to learn football. Nothing that happens in the first week of that could change that but the money goes a way to funding it.

Why don’t we all just, get along?

And perhaps that is where I divert from much of the build up to this West Yorkshire derby in which there taunting talk is of Cup Finals and opening day defeats because – to be honest – I find much of the local rivalry of football counter-productive. If we generously exclude the horrors of the 1980s on the grounds that we should all condemn the sort of morons who burn chip vans, riot around the South Coast and generally disgrace their club (and my county and country) and focus instead on the football clubs then from West Yorkshire to the West Country all local rivalry in football does is to distract. While Derby and Forest, Bristols City and Rovers, and Leeds and whomever they feel are falling out then the higher echelons of the game carry on trying to kick the ladder away.

Squabble about who is kings of West Yorkshire all you want, it makes little difference should Manchester City’s Executive Garry Cook’s plan for a ten team Premier League with no relegation come about. Rather than the 72 football league clubs standing as one against this sort of perversion of football there is argument, and there is weakness.

Moreover though I personally find the West Yorkshire derby to be a tedious affair. The games are interesting or course but almost everything around it is not. Try strike up a conversation with another supporter and not have it follow a familiar pattern that involves the words “chip van”. Sadly talking about Leeds United is talking about the racism of the 1980s, the violence and death caused by the infamous, disgusting subset of their supporters, about the equally loathsome subset that sing songs about the fire of 1985. Who wants to discuss such things? Who wants to discuss them with someone who would not condemn them outright?

The end of the season

It look ninety minutes of Saturday’s football for some supporters of both these clubs to declare the season over. The first half display which allowed Aldershot Town to best City and with ten minutes left on the clock and three goals conceded at Southampton you could find a good few Leeds fans on social networks saying that relegation was probably unless Ken Bates left and took his Yes Man (former Bantam and current Leeds manager Simon Grayson) with him. Bates apparently needs to spend some money or get out of Elland Road. Of course Bates has just bought Leeds having taken control of the club from someone who we shall call Ben Kates, who is almost definately absolutely not Ken Bates.

It might be interesting to see how the Leeds supporters – watching a team robbed of Max Gradel to a call up for Côte d’Ivoire and featuring the unimpressive (although I thought he had his charms) former City man Billy Paynter in the forward line – would react to choppy seas in the game but the same is true of City fans with talk of scrapping in the main stand within thirty minutes in an argument about manager Peter Jackson.

Jackson once scored in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Elland Road for City – his best contribution in his second spell at City – and was the subject of a rather amusing rumour that he was in fact a Leeds United supporter. A blood sample would show if his loyalties are East or Pudsey or not.

Jackson’s team is expected to feature a new keeper with Jon McLauglin recovering from illness and Martin Hansen not allowed to play by parent club Liverpool. Spurs man Oscar Jansson has taken up the gloves. The twenty year old Swede arrives at the club on loan from Spursbut coming into the West Yorkshire derby as a late replacement keeper does not bode well. Neville Southall and all.

At right back Liam Moore – another loanee – may also sit the game out giving Jackson the chance to move Chris Mitchell back to right back the position he seemed to end up trying to play on Saturday. Mitchell’s delivery is impressive to say the least and one can expect a place to be found for him in the side. At left back Robbie Threlfall is expected to continue but with Luke O’Brien reported move to Preston North End for £50,000 being but a rumour there is a question as to how the former Liverpool man went from nowhere to the first team so quickly.

Steve Williams will hope to be fit to play alongside Guy Branston but Lee Bullock will stand by to replace him once again.

Jackson is expected to keep faith with the shape his midfield which improved towards the end of the game with Aldershot with Michael Flynn in the middle although if Mitchell moved back then Richie Jones – fitness willing – may look to come into the middle moving David Syers out to the right. Failing that Dominic Rowe may make his first start of the season on the right. Jack Compton is expected to feature on the left supporting Mark Stewart and James Hanson who will test themselves against the fine man marking of former Bantam Andrew O’Brien and the, ahem, robust Patrick Kisnorbo. Stewart was unhappy with his first display for City on Saturday and has a tough night against O’Brien, Hanson deserved to be pleased with his goal scoring opening day and Kisnorbo represents a similar tough test to the six strong men of Aldershot faced on Saturday.

The game is the first of three away trips the Bantams have before returning to Valley Parade on the 20th to face Dagenham & Redbridge while anything that Leeds could gain with a result on this night would be lost should a defeat follow in the league to Middlesbrough on Saturday. A place in the second round of the league cup has some value, and so do local bragging rights, although it is not clear what those values are.

Another chance to end the season that did not start

Watching Nottingham Forest sneak into sixth place in the Championship at the expense of Leeds United it was remarked that one might not have predicted Forest would do so well after their defeat to Bradford City in the second game of the season.

That evening David Syers’ debut goal and an extra time strike from James Hanson gave City a 2-1 win and seemed to kick start a season which promised much. That early indication was as close as the club got to the season starting in earnest and some eight months on as City fans watch a team struggle with relegation one feels a little robbed of a year of football.

Not that we expected much from the season – Mark Lawn and the rest of the Valley Parade board did to such an extent where The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled over the coals for predicting that the Bantams would be finish a place outside the play offs. Mike was – it seems – right that we would not be in the top seven.

One might wonder though what impact the predictions and preferences of supporters have on a football club. There was a school of thought – helped by the financial mechanics of the bookmaking industry – that City would be favourites this season which went alongside the predictions for Harrison (and from myself, for I was no more confident) and all these are set against a near constant stream of negativity which is tied to the club like a stone around the leg of a drowning man.

On that subject one can only look in envy at groups of supporters who realise the impact they can have on their team. City fans – it seems – have long since made a choice that the players are very much on their own and as the Bantams look for three points to end the season without relegation they do so alone.

Luke Oliver – a target for abuse regardless of his performances – sneered at City fans singing to him and his team mates that they were not fit to wear the shirt over at Accrington and will have gone into the dressing room to hear Peter Jackson agreeing but nothing in the club invites Oliver or his team mates passions.

One year contracts that make sure your future and the club’s are not tied together, abuse from supporters on the days you flog your guts out, and talk of the club not even starting next season.

For sure any professional pride you have might mean you want to win, but on the days when your opposition have the same professional pride and a crowd who want them to do well, who encourage them and who try lift them, playing for a manager who lives and breaths the club then one wonders what we want the mercenaries who we gather together every summer to care about?

Assuming the current crop of players – those who are “encouraged on” by being told they represent the worst Bradford City team in forty years – can steal three points in the next three games then the club – assuming that it can struggle into next season without the self inflicted wounds of administration – then let they be the last who are so poorly assembled.

My belief is that players are much of a muchness at this level and that the current set will be replaced by players no better, no worse, but that it is up to a club, a manager and a set of supporters to build those players into a team. The club can offer contracts of a length and a stability that encourage the players to realise that their futures are tied to the team’s performance, the manager can instil belief and desire in those players, and that supporters can – for once – decide to swallow the scream of abuse which vents their own frustration but creates or furthers the cauldron of negativity which Bradford City has become.

Or not, and we can try carry on like this.

Jon McLaughlin seems ready to return for Lenny Pidgeley in goal for the Bantams as we look to record a win over Aldershot which could end relegation fears. A defeat for Barnet at home to Oxford United and a win for the Bantams would see City safe mathematically.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Luke Oliver paired with either Lee Bullock or Steve Williams should Williams have recovered from illness. Luke O’Brien will hope for a recall at left back over Robbie Threlfall.

Tommy Doherty is – we are told – fit to play but not being selected. Mark Lawn spoke about only wanting to sign players who wanted to play for Bradford City and it seems that Doherty was certainly amongst the those covered in that criticism. Not that the criticism is especially valid. Most players we approach would want to play for the club but the trick is making sure that they still want to play for Bradford City after a few months.

Instead Jon Worthington and Michael Flynn make up City’s midfield. Flynn’s efforts are seemingly the target of criticism themselves by some supporters with the idea being that since he has returned from injury he has “struggled for form” or “been rubbish” depending on your vernacular. Dropping the players who put in effort, in an attempt to get more effort, is no solution I could subscribe to.

Kevin Ellison is fit to return but will most likely be kept to the bench as David Syers and Omar Daley take the wings although there is an idea that Peter Jackson will use Daley as a second striker alongside James Hanson with Jake Speight dropping to the bench alongside Gareth Evans.

With undoubted ability – recall Northampton last season – and a willingness to work hard on many, many occasions Gareth Evans cuts a forlorn figure which perfectly represents the Bantams lack progress.

Seldom does one see a football who has so obviously had all the joy of playing football squeezed out of him.

Now we ask players like him to squeeze out just one more win, before sending them away and replacing them with the next set of hopefully to be crushed on the broken wheels that make no progress.

Playing favourites

Jon McLauglin was left cooling his heels again on Saturday after Peter Taylor dropped the keeper to return Lenny Pidgeley to the side for the weekend win over Wycombe. Talking to the T&A the City manager offered his sympathy saying

Jon has done nothing wrong but you have to make a decision that you think is right. I thought it was a good game to bring Lenny back.

Pidgeley’s return from four games out with a virus saw him excel while Lewis Hunt – survivor of a penalty appeal which I would have been surprised if it was given at the other end for City – seemed to be shoved back into the side as soon as he could be. Luke Oliver is nailed into the team thanked for playing up front while Omar Daley was played all around the field but did not get a note of thanks from manager Peter Taylor when he exited the club.

Taylor stands accused of playing favourites.

Compared in style to sometime City boss John Docherty who peopled his team with former Millwall youth players Taylor’s lads from Wycombe: Oliver, Hunt, injured Tommy Doherty and now, ahem, departed Gavin Grant; are perceived to have a leg up over other players in the side.

When Doherty cost City a goal at the start of the season Taylor was quick to jump to the midfielder’s defence. When McLaughlin erred the finger was quickly pointed. As a way of managing one’s players some would approve of singling out players for criticism and some would not – Stuart McCall would never allow his team to be criticised accepting any blame on himself, Taylor points fingers at the squad and refuses to accept a scrap of responsibility – but it is not the criticism but who Taylor aims it at which provokes a response.

If McLaughlin can be hung out to dry why can’t Doherty? If Oliver has to be thanked for playing (poorly) out of position why isn’t Daley who played on both wings, up front and at the front of central midfield during his last season at City?

Perhaps the question is framed wrong.

Having brought four players from his previous club Wycombe – as well as the odd face from Hull City who one assumes the manager has a contact at the KC Stadium who prompts him as to who might be worth signing – Taylor obviously has his favourite players. Luke Oliver has played for the City manager at three clubs. There must be something that Taylor likes in him.

With Oliver, and Hunt for that matter, one doubts the players were signed for their raw ability so much as their attitudes. Taylor knows them, knows how they react, and want that attitude in his squad at Valley Parade.

Luke Oliver has by no means the most impressive defender I’ve ever seen but his attitude is extremely admirable. He is one of the most discreet players I’ve ever watched able to box up mistakes and errors he makes – and he makes them – and put them deeply in the back of his mind. No sulking, no dragging a bad performance from one game to the next, just getting on with getting on.

It is not hard to see why Taylor defends that attitude. McCall’s team had a nasty habit of taking one defeat into the next game, and to the next. If Taylor wants to avoid that – and he should – then the attitude that Oliver has is important. Ditto Hunt, ditto Doherty.

Why shield those players while hanging out others to dry? One would have to know the players man for man to be able to make that call but one might speculate that players who have that attitude Taylor wants – be they his recruits from former clubs or those players he found at City who signed up for the Taylor plan – get the protection while the others are chided unless they come into the fold. Michael Flynn was fulsome in his praise of Taylor, and is never criticised.

The results of Taylor’s methods are questionable – we are not on for promotion and it looks as if the manager will be on his way next season – but the manager has to be allowed to manage and part of Taylor’s management techniques is to set up examples of good attitudes and good behaviours protecting those players while leaving others on the outside, tempting them to come in.

Management by playing favourites, if you will.

The most obvious defeat in the book

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Richard Eckersley, Luke Oliver, Shane Duff, Luke O'Brien | Tom Ademeyi, Jon Worthington, David Syers | Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Omar Daley | Michael Flynn, Mark Cullen

Walking away from Valley Parade after some defeats you hear the same murmurs on everyone’s lips. People trudging away after games like the 3-2 reversal to Crewe last season all mumbled phrases like “How did we lose that?”

Walking away from this 2-1 defeat to Lincoln City that continues Bradford City’s flirtation with the possibility of non-league football next season the reason for the defeat was obvious and the responsibility lay clearly with manager Peter Taylor.

No head scratching from Taylor one hopes and no moving around of the blame from player to player – although some of them could have put in better displays – but forty minutes into the game the City boss must have joined the majority of the supporters in thinking that the Bantams had the game all but won.

Lincoln City arrived on the back of three straight wins and seemed to believe their own press standing off and waiting for things to happen as City made play. The Bantams started brightly with a move down the left finding David Syers in the box and Syers’ playing over to James Hanson who scored his second in two games.

From then the City looked massively in the ascendancy with chances coming freely. Omar Daley air shotted in the box, Tom Ademeyi lashed over the bar but it seemed more of a “when” than an “if” another goal would come.

Some players were out of sorts – Daley and Gareth Evans seemed under instruction to stay closer filling the gap between full back and flank, whatever you think of Daley few would put him on a pitch and tell him to not try run against his man – but City were winning and winning well.

And then it fell apart. A quickly taken free kick went out to Gavin Hoyte and was swung over to Delroy Facey who hung for an age on the far post to head in with Jon McLauglin screaming at his defenders for not clearing while his defenders stared back to blame the keeper for being rooted to his line. The defenders were right, McLauglin was at fault for the goal but not the loss.

Although something happened to City after the goal that was ugly to see. The character which is brittle at the best of times shattered and as Lincoln emerged from half time full of belief City seemed to have been sapped of it.

Ali Fuseini came on for Lincoln and they stepped up taking control of the midfield and looking increasingly threatening. City’s middle three were scrapping with the visitor’s four and needed bolstering.

Which is when the game was lost and it was lost by Peter Taylor. The City manager – seeing his side struggling to regain midfield control – removed Jon Worthington who was putting in a good display as a foot in midfielder and added, well, no one.

As with the defeat at Crewe last week Michael Flynn came on and joined James Hanson in the forward line leaving Taylor’s side with something like a 424 which was utterly ineffectual. The four of Lincoln City were walking past the two of Syers and Adeyemi with such ease.

On this point I struggle. How could Peter Taylor – in football all his adult life – have thought that the way to win a game was to surrender control of the midfield? Adeyemi was more miss than hit while Syers put in his 100% but Taylor’s tactics – his tactical switch – required these two players to put in an insane level of work with two players against four while City’s four forwards looked down the pitch at them.

How did Peter Taylor expect this to work? That City would do better with less of the ball? Isn’t the idea that having more attackers on the pitch will give more goals but those ideas one of those things that people stop believing along with The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? Yet there we were, with four players watching two trying to hold the midfield together.

Lincoln scored of course – and by mugging Syers who had no back up – with Fuseini bursting through and producing a save from McLaughlin which Gavin McCallum powered the rebound in from. From then on – and even after Mark Cullen was thrown on and Gareth Evans pushed back into midfield – City never looked like they believed they could get back into the game.

So it proved, and while some might want to talk about the players “not being good enough” I can only say that I do not believe that Messi and Maradona would have been able to win tonight when put as two men against four. Games are won an lost in the midfield, and it was Taylor who lost it there tonight.

How does one categorise this? Before “the players weren’t good enough” we used to hear the phrase “tactical naive” banded around but never given a meaning. There was talk about “Plan B” and not the merits of change for the sake of change, of change without enough thought of the effect of that change.

Taylor was an outstanding appointment to the job of Bradford City manager – Mark Lawn found someone who had success and repeated success – but he has made mistakes concluded with by a substitution which hobbled his team, that exposed two young players in Ademeyi and Syers, and that threw points away.

At the end there were chants calling for Peter Taylor to be “out” – they were not widespread but by no means single voices – but rather sacking the manager I’d rather the experienced manager stopped making massive, misjudgements and started doing his job properly.

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