Changes / Institutional / Retention

There has been much talk since his return to Bradford City that Stuart McCall had changed as a manager and that talk was manifested for the first time as his team came from a goal down against Coventry City to win 3-1 at Valley Parade.

A goal down and not playing well one worried at half time that whatever the City manager was to say to his players it would make matters worse. This, after all, was the criticism most fairly applied to McCall in his first spell as City manager. That he has the capacity to take a disadvantage and turn it into an eight game losing run.

That was the McCall way. McCall created teams that played not just with passion but were fuelled by it. When that passion was applied the result was a team of flair and verve that – like some Hendrix lead guitar riff – worked not because it had passion but because it was passion. When it did not work one ended up with two month sulks.

Which contrasted with Phil Parkinson’s five years at City were the Bantams were bass guitar perfect in their rhythm never to be put off balance. McCall had – in his previous time at the club – sent out teams transformed from bad (or average at least) to good after the fifteen minute break but too often it was the other way around.

City trailed Coventry City to a debut goal from on loan forward Burnley Daniel Agyei who had turned Romain Vincelot and finished well following a frustrated attempt to clear the ball up the left hand side of a lopsided Bantams team.

McCall had sent out a three man central midfield with Mark Marshall given a single winger role that overstates his ability to have an influence on the game. Marshall provided an outlet on the right for attacking play but there was no mirror to that the left leading to the singular problem with clearing before Agyei’s goal and a general problem all first half that City were predictable in dysfunction.

Coventry knew what the Bantams would do and that when they did it it would not work.

Coventry City’s Tony Mowbray deployed his Sky Blues team – still looking for a first win – to press high up the field and lock on City player to player. They played at an intensity which was not sustainable for ninety minutes – legs would tired and tired soon – but that one worried at half time would have broken the home team’s resolve and need only continue to keep the Bantams at arm’s length.

But at half time McCall addressed the problem down the left by pushing Billy Clarke – rancid in the first half, much better in the second – alongside Jordy Hiwula and having one or the other break left when the Bantams had the ball.

This tactical tweak had two effects: It balanced the width of the midfield giving an outlet on the left and it stopped Clarke dropping deep and – as a result – allowed the three man midfield to push forward into the last third. It was the opposite of the charge of tactical naivety but I never bought into that charge anyway.

That the change worked was down to metronomically good displays from the likes of Vincelot, Josh Cullen, Nicky Law Jnr, and Daniel Devine. Players who were able to maintain a level of performance and – by doing so – provide a platform for those who were playing poorly to turn their performances around on on.

This was the hallmark of the Parkinson era and the thing one was most worried about losing when Parkinson left. No matter who took over the knowledge Parkinson grafted into his teams of maintaining a level of performance when performances around you after going bad had to be lost.

How that knowledge has been retained is a mystery or perhaps it has just been recreated. Vincelot’s clean through ball to Clarke after an hour came when the visitor’s legs were too tired to press but the Frenchman had not fatigued physically or mentally. Clarke went for goal but was pulled down and Tony McMahon’s penalty pulled the score level. It was simultaneously reassuringly familiar and entirely new.

Coventry City’s approach of going man-to-man on the Bantams failed following the dismissal of Jordan Turnbull for conceding the penalty and within minutes Mark Marshall arrowed in a diagonal long range strike which is as good as any seen at Valley Parade in recent years.

Marshall’s performance was still a problem though and one which may become pressing as City progress. He spoke following the game about how previous managers had not allowed him to play with freedom and there may be good reason for that. Marshall unleashed is as liable to land a 25 yard screamer into J block of the Kop as he is the back of the goal.

That Marshall is allowed a platform at all is a balance created by the metronomic midfield. My worry is that he does not create enough to provide weight in that balance. His improvement is slow but this goal and this game showed a step in it.

A second McMahon penalty came after Cullen was hauled down in the box – that the midfielders were getting in the box showed the turnaround caused by the switch McCall made with Clarke at half time – and the stand in skipper stepped up to score again before hobbling off injured.

McMahon will miss four to six weeks after history maker Kyel Reid trolled into him leaving him with a dead leg he pushed too far. Reid had a very Kyel Reid type of game. He ran a lot, fell over too much, and should have scored a couple of times but did not and on each occasion recognised his failure with a big smile.

But Reid looked different from a distance and playing for another team: more dangerous sometimes, more cynical sometimes, more desirable maybe too;

Which is enough to make one think on a wet summer August afternoon where what one worried about losing with Parkinson and regaining with McCall began to evanish.

Selection / Manager

First this then what? While the history of BfB remains unwritten if I were to follow our friends at A Post in doing so there would be a large chunk of that about the process of recruiting managers.

Because while Bradford City have not had to appoint a replacement manager for some five years in the five years before the practice was becoming so common as to have started to be tedious.

The transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson was something of a disorganised fumble with the candidates being interviewed not understanding the remit of the role they were applying for. Colin Cooper is believed to have told Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that were he to get the job he would sack Chief Scout Archie Christie and Rhodes reply – as reported by Christie – was that Christie’s input on the manager would weigh heavily on the process.

At the time Rhodes and Lawn had wanted John Still the then Dagenham and Redbridge manager (who is now manager of Dagenham and Redbridge again) to take the position but were turned towards Parkinson as a better option.

Jackson’s appointment was a Sunday afternoon nonsense where it seemed that the club had decided that as a former player Jackson could skip an interview process for who would replace Peter Taylor and go straight to the manager’s chair,

Jackson had been working in a care home when he got the call to become a football manager once more. In my view he was barely adequate in his performance and the problems of his appointment were those of his departure. No matter how Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp go about recruiting the new manager for Bradford City one doubts it can be worse than that period of the club’s history.

Peter Taylor had been an outstanding appointment to replace Stuart McCall bringing to the table a seniority which McCall lacked and a proven track record of success. Taylor’s time at the club is rightly not fondly remembered but it is his professionalism rather than the lack of material which stopped him from sticking a few boots in on the way out.

The Shane Duff fish story speaks volumes.

Taylor’s appointment is perhaps the model that Rahic and Rupp – and any other chairman looking – would best follow when looking for a new manager. Selecting a candidate who had achieved success is important but much more important are multiple successes across different situations.

This adaptability is probably what attracted Bolton to Parkinson. Parkinson has worked on a budget at City at first, and at Colchester United, and he has shown an ability to take on big occasions at Chelsea, Arsenal et al.

There is an element of confirmation bias in Parkinson’s appointment.

The news that Chief Scout Tim Breacker is leaving with Parkinson comes as music to the ears as the club badly need to readdress that area. Parkinson’s recruitment was becoming an problem at Bradford City. Of the players he was happy with Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and Kyel Reid were all picked up a long time ago and if there was a faultline between Rahic and Parkinson along the idea of recruitment then one would struggle to suggest that the manager should have been allowed to carry on doing things the same way.

Likewise following the defeat to Millwall I expressed a concern that Parkinson had created a kind of Oakland Athletics in League One (The Oakland A’s being the subject of the book Moneyball) which was able win in the grind of week to week football but were found wanting at the sharp end of the season.

That concern was just that – a minor concern, rather than a fully stated question – and of course is denied by memories of Aston Villa away and Stamford Bridge but while the strength of Parkinson was his team’s ability to grind out results and sneak 1-0 wins that was a weakness when overplayed.

One should never be critical the the days of milk and honey ended but Millwall game illustrates this concern. In one of the forty five minute periods – the first – the Londoners dominated City and in the others the Bantams were arguably the better team but did not repair the damage done.

Perhaps more significantly to the concern is that in those three forty-five minute periods that followed Parkinson’s side did not seem as if it could repair the damage of being 3-1 down. Keeping game’s tight and nicking goals works over a longer period, less so in a two legged tie.

But would overplays this at one’s peril. Parkinson was an exceptional Bradford City manager and as Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp look for his replacement they must hope to keep the best of Parkinson.

Parkinson’s teams were seldom out of games. Rarely were the side over a goal down and always did it look capable of getting something out of an encounter. One of the more compelling reasons to follow Parkinson’s City on the road was the fullness of the ninety minutes of football. Never being out of a game was a watchword of the previous manager, and hopefully will be one of the next.

This was in no small part down to the spirit Parkinson’s side had which was second to none seen at Valley Parade. One could write books about how the players aided each other through bad moments that stopped bad games and probably still not understand exactly how that team spirit worked. Suffice to say whatever it is needs to remain, as to Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle the chief proponents of it.

Finally Parkinson’s pragmatism needs to be a factor in the new manager especially when confronted with the stated iconoclasm of Rahic and Rupp who have a clear idea of how they want the Bantams to play (“High pressing, exciting”) but may have to accept as Parkinson had that tactics are created to suit players and situations. Parkinson’s final season at City was defensive by necessity. The new manager, whomsoever he may be, should hope to make sure that he understands this.

Player / Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End / End

All good things, it is often said, must come to an end and so it was that on the 48th game of a season that started with an unsettlingly easy 4-1 defeat at Swindon Town Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City acquiesced to remaining in League One for another season.

City lost a two legged game 4-2 to Millwall and while there was plenty to be said about those games: why was that wall lined up like that? Why was a handball to deny a goalscoring opportunity not the cause of a red card?; more needs to be said about how City got to the play-offs.

Parkinson’s team had been built to win promotion, but struggled badly, and what was built was rebuilt. 2015/2016 was the year of two the Bradford City teams. The first was a team with flying wingers – even in the inside midfielders were wingers at heart – and had a name goalkeeper and a pacey forward. The second was a nailed together collection of talented loan players, short term signings and making the best of what was there.

And to that extent the success of this Parkinson this season – his ability to forge a team from scraps – is also his failure in that the summer recruitment of 2015 has more than anything shaped the campaign. That failure is shared – very little at a modern football club is down to one man – but the lessons from it need to be understood for the club to make progress.

The success of this season was the return of Kyel Reid as Parkinson attempted in a reboot of his team. Lee Evans and Josh Cullen were better than anyone can expect a pair of loan players to be and Reece Burke showed no little ability but each of those successes is a retrofit to a mistake in the summer. Jamie Proctor, who others adore but I have reservations over, arrived a swap for Devante Cole.

Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall had campaigns which neither would like to remember. That Anderson’s was hampered by a broken leg was unfortunate but neither before or after did he look like he was going to prove as useful to the side as Reid has. Likewise Tony McMahon’s season leading number of assists is impressive but his place on the right hand side of midfield was a result of his failure in the holding midfield role Cullen would take.

It is impressive that Parkinson found a way to make McMahon work – he is certainly the City manager’s type of character – but had McMahon, Anderson, Marshall et al started the season as well the likes of Evans, Burke and Cullen finished it then the play-offs would have been a consolation in a failed promotion bid rather than a richly deserved reward after playing catch-up.

The failure to recruit a goalkeeper – remember Jussi Jääskeläinen in a City shirt – which concluding with a disinterested Brad Jones wandering away led to Ben Williams which in turn led to a team necessarily stacked towards defending. Williams deserves some credit for a record number of clean sheets this season but never had a City team been so committed to not allowing the opposition to cross the ball and that commitment to defence and mutated the team into a glass-jawed pugilist able to take nine our of ten blows but incapable of landing a knock-out blow and on the canvas when something gets through the guard.

The credit for Parkinson is that he recognised that he had to shape his team in this way and – after doing so – shaped that team superbly. The fix worked, and some, and the fact that City were in the play-offs at all is a success far outweighs the problems in the first half of the first leg, and the second half of the second, and for that matter in the summer of poor recruitment.

Without Parkinson everything that is good about Bradford City would be lost.

Change

Next season everything about Bradford City changes.

The game that Bradford City play is changing. The next time you watch Bradford City a player making a foul while trying to play the ball in the penalty area that denies a goalscoring opportunity will not be sent off with the penalty and a yellow card being punishment enough.

That player would be sent off were the foul outside the penalty area leading to the potential for a situation where a player in the first minute of a game might beg the referee to place the offence in the box, not outside it, thinking that one down with eleven is better than level with ten.

Also a dog can head the ball into the net now, and it can still be a goal.

The players Bradford City play the game with is changing. Obviously a large number of the current squad are either out of contract or were on loan. A retained list will come out which will probably reduce the squad by four or five – we may have seen the last of Billy Knott, and that is a shame – while Lee Evans has already bid farewell to be followed by the other loan players. We will miss you Reece Burke. We will not miss Wes Thomas.

Loans in the style of Wes Thomas will not be replaced. The FIFA laws of the game have long been out of sync with how loans work in the Football League and the Football League have finally had to comply. Loans will be made in transfer windows. The team at the end of August will be the team at the start of January – Paul Anderson broken leg or not – and so more pressure is put on clubs to get their summer recruitment right.

We will never see another Kevin Wilson month loan cameo at Valley Parade again.

The club or Bradford City is changing. You do not need me, dear reader, to tell you the rumours around the ownership of the club or how much credibility those rumours have gained. The Rhodes family – who own 66% of the club – have long since said they are prepared to sell.

Whatever the reasons why the sale has suddenly become motivated, and whomever the new owners are, the challenges for the club remain and were unconquered in the co-chairmanship of Juliand Rhodes and Mark Lawn. The story that Bradford City missed out on Leicester City’s en vogue Jamie Vardy caused some amusement earlier this season but City seem to spend the summer months missing out on targets. Andy Williams ended up at Doncaster Rovers when Parkinson wanted him, Mark Beevers reached the play-off final with Millwall having sat around a table with City.

This is not a new problem. Chris Brandon once stunned his manager Stuart McCall by revealing how much he had been able to negotiate as a weekly salary. The club missed out on the chance to sign Gary Jones 12 months before he actually arrived having shown him around Valley Parade. Just after that Parkinson told me and Jason (The WOAP man, when he was still of this Parish) than every club needed someone who could get a deal over the line.

Recruitment is identifying targets and acquiring them in the most efficient way. If it were Lawn and Rhodes, of Mr Palidini, or the Germans, or the contacts George Galloway had (who never seemed to materialise, like all of Galloway’s promises) the task would be the same. Find more players to choose from and then the choice is made, sign them for the right price.

And this is the final headline of length, and with sub clauses, about how change will happen

That Parkinson was able to make a superb season out of the wreckage of the Summer 2015 recruitment is testament to his abilities as a manager. He got it wrong, and then got it right, and his right was bigger than his wrong.

But as Bradford City as a whole woke up with a sad heart after play-off defeat its worth noting that any failures done did not happen on the field against Millwall but in the summer before.

Bradford City need to be better at recruitment or this season will happen again, which might be no bad thing because it has been a blast, but were we to get recruitment right then we have a manager peerless to get the best out of them.

The character of Bradford City’s goalscoring problems

To understand the problems Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City are having scoring goals at the end of the League One season – a season which has gone far better than one would have thought for much of it – one has to go back to the problems that marked the start of the season.

By August 2015 Parkinson had put the final nail into the coffin of his 4312 playmaker formation by signing Paul Anderson to add to other recruit Mark Marshall to give his team two out and out wingers.

Marshall and Anderson would be Jamie Lawrence and Peter Beagrie for the 2015 generation and City would rampage through the division with an attractiveness which joint chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes have asked for previously.

However in the opening week trips to Swindon Town and York City, and the game at home to Gillingham, Parkinson’s plans faltered and they faltered because his team were vulnerable to counter-attacks and crosses and these vulnerabilities were caused by a hole in City’s defence.

Joke Hole

That hole was an key. The hole was a gap between goalkeeper Ben Williams and the centre of the defensive line. Whenever a ball would come into the City box Williams and the defenders would struggle with one being too far from the other and as a result opposition strikers being given the freedom of the penalty spot to exploit City again and again.

This coupled with the counter-attacking problem in that Swindon Town exploited ruthlessly. When a City attack broke down the opposition recycled the ball past the wingers and brought the ball into dangerous wide positions challenged by only the City full back, or took it past the central midfielders.

Parkinson’s first solution to this problem did not work.

Brad Jones came and left very quickly and is widely considered to have been a failure at the club. After Jones’ exit a kind of media spin was given to the remaining keeper Ben Williams – that he had “seen off” the more experienced Jones – and so could be considered solid number one material. Williams bought into that and his grown since.

Williams’ record breaking run of clean sheets has written him a paragraph in the history of Bradford City and he deserves credit for it. But how those clean sheets came about is the root of the current goalscoring problem.

Because as Jones left and Williams stayed Parkinson changed City’s approach to games, or their tactics if you will.

Mints

(Brian Clough used to say there is a lot of nonsense talked about tactics by people who could not win a game of dominoes and I’m very aware that I may add to that but I’m not a believer in the reductionist view of tactics which had taken hold at all clubs in modern football where tactics can be boiled down to how the ball is delivered to the final third of the field: long pass or series of short passes; and I’m not a fan of making the word synonymous with the word formation which is also too inexact for our uses. For the word tactics to be of use it has to be nuanced, else it is a nuisance.)

Staying with his philosophies on the game Parkinson changed how City played to stop them conceding goals. His five years at the club have shown us that Parkinson works from a solid defence forward. To this effect the midfielders would take a step back in the course of play and not commit to attacking in forward positions when City had the ball.

Flash your mind back to 1999 and Jamie Lawrence crossing from the right. In the box Lee Mills would be in the six yard box, Robbie Blake would dally at the penalty spot and Peter Beagrie would be just past the far post, just out from the touchline. That season Mills, Blake and Beagrie scored 75% of City’s goals. In addition Stuart McCall and Gareth Whalley – one forward one back – would offer short options and there would be a full back in attendance.

attacking-1999

Consider last night at Coventry City when Kyel Reid had the ball and in the box was Jamie Proctor, and that was it.

Billy Clarke offered a short option but staying outside the box and both Josh Cullen and Lee Evans were back down field. The support from the full back was there but on the opposite side of the field Tony McMahon was not in the box looking to add to the forwards, or forward if one were more honest. Instead McMahon is stepped back making sure that if the keeper catches and throws the ball out City are not exposed.

attacking-2015

Reverse the wings and the story is the same. This is not an issue with personnel it is a part of the way that City are playing. Everyone is a step further back than they could be, and the are further back because when they stepped forward at the start of the season they left holes which were exploited and results were terrible.

That Williams and the back four can claim a record number of clean sheets is a function of the fact that they are not fielding as many crosses, or taking on as many shots, because the midfield is balanced towards making sure that defensive holes are plugged.

Being Reice Charles-Cook

zones-on-a-field

When Reice Charles-Cook – the Coventry City goalkeeper – caught the ball on Tuesday night he looked to get play started quickly for the Sky Blue team that make a fetish of possession but the quick throw to a midfielder on the wing or a player in central position in zones 4-6 are not possible because Reid, McMahon and Clarke are already in zones 4-6 getting back to zones 7-9 while – by contrast – Blake, Lawrence and Beagrie would be in zones 1-3.

Likewise when City attack Cullen and Evans do not need to venture to zone 14 – Billy Clarke lives there – so they stay in zones 8 and 11 making sure that any breakdown of play does not leave the defence exposed. No counter attacks through zone 8/11, no wide attacks leading to crosses through 4/7 and 6/9.

This approach has done wonderful things for City in the last few months – the move from struggling in lower mid-table to third in League One is a result of this approach – but were Parkinson to alter it now for more of an attacking focus then the defensive issues that mandated the approach would no doubt reappear, or at least Parkinson might worry they would.

The defence – and specifically the control gap between Williams and the defensive line – has not been solved just been filled up with players sitting back. It is control through numbers. Shrewsbury Town’s equaliser will remind you that that issue between Williams and his defensive line has not gone away.

And Parkinson knows this.

Character and confidence

He knows that if he were to add – for example – Filipe Morais to the right flank over McMahon with instructions to get into zone 17-18 then the team would return to the same concession problem it had at the start of the season. He knows that if he had Billy Clarke (or someone else) press alongside Proctor in zone 17 rather than staying in zone 14 then the result without be that Cullen and Evans came forward, making the entire defensive unit harder to control, and the concession problem would emerge again.

Parkinson might try beat opposition sides in a scoring contest a la Kevin Keegan trying to win games 4-3 but considering the statistic talked about about City’s forwards scoring one goal in thirty shots over the last two games – which I would argue were low quality shots, because of the options in the zone 17 mentioned above – one doubts that the manager will change his approach so drastically.

And why should he? That approach has taken a team which struggled badly at the start of the season into genuine contenders for the play-offs. That prospect did not look likely at Gillingham when the third goal without reply went in back on the 2nd of January. Parkinson has shown that he can build confidence from teams that do not concede, and that is what he has done this time.

The arguments over Billy Clarke’s missed goal at Coventry – it never looks any better – or his goal should have stood goal at Shrewsbury – it never looks offside – can continue but on a longer timeline City’s goalscoring is not about players missing the target but rather about decisions made to patch defensive weaknesses and to give the team the chance to build confidence by not being beaten.

Like it or not that is the character of Bradford City 2015/2016.

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 Ben Williams season continues with City facing Aldershot Town in the FA Cup

Williams from Williams

The first time Ben Williams became known to Bradford City supporters was during the first round of the FA Cup when – minutes into the game with Halifax Town – he was picking the ball out of the back of his own goal.

An inauspicious start to a campaign that would see Williams keeping goal at Stamford Bridge but his afternoon at The Shay better when Phil Parkinson switched formation and Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke turned the match and the season around.

Jon Stead scored – he always scored in the FA Cup – and Williams’ role was largely forgotten but he did make a very good save from a Williams’ close range header. I’d describe it as memorable but it seems that not a lot of people remember it.

Ben Williams save from Steve Williams. Steve Williams is a former Bantam who exited Valley Parade around the time of the change from Peter Taylor, to Peter Jackson, to Phil Parkinson . In the words for former Chief Scout Archie Christie when asked why the talented Williams had left said that the player “did not want it enough.”

Wanting it enough was big for Christie, and is big for Phil Parkinson.

Wanting it

The last three weeks of Bradford City have been the definition of “wanting it”. A trip to Millwall, a visit from Blackpool, a trip to Aldershot for the 0-0 draw that brings about this reply, and a 2-0 win over Crewe Parkinson’s team had dug in hard to turn a few good wins into an impressive unbeaten run.

Parkinson’s has taken his Bradford City back to the most simple of building blocks creating a team which fetishises not conceding in the same way Barcelona lust for possession. Parkinson’s City will not concede – so the thought goes – and as a result the result will take after itself.

One has to go back to 24th of October when Wigan Athletic took the lead past Ben Williams for City’s last concession. Williams could have done better with that strike, and he got lucky with a shot from Crewe on Saturday that slipped greasy off his body and flew back into play but Williams has earned his luck with his graft.

My issue with Williams’ goalkeeping style – that he allows too much of a gap between the defensive line and himself – is addressed by Parkinson compressing his defensive unit at the expense of his forward line leaving the forward line lacking numbers. It is meat and potatoes and City are criticised for a negative approach to the game.

Criticism is always relative though, and relative to the criticism one gets for losing.

The work

The work which Phil Parkinson’s team have put into the last two months is transformative. Players have developed pairings where previously there was confusion. Stephen Darby has found an unlikely partner in Tony McMahon while James Meredith probably thought reuniting with Kyel Ried was unlikely too.

The central midfield pair are of two of Lee Evans, Gary Liddle and the much improved Billy Knott are a product of days at Apperley Bridge. Knott would be the poster boy for improvement with his push back from the Ghetto of being an “attacking midfielder” into a genuinely useful box to box player.

Would be if it were not for the backline of Rory McArdle, Reece Burke and Williams himself. Calm has replaced barked blasts. Control has replaced scrambles. Stern has replaced soft when running at the heart of the Bantams team.

There is a significant need for a collective improvement. It has happened.

A Ben Williams sort of season

Bradford City’s season has become a Ben Williams sort of season. Capable of slips, and at times doing things wrong, but improved with hard work and no better/no worse as is shown on the field.

I’ve always found this aspect of football as – perhaps – the most understated joy in football.

To support a Liverpool in the 1980s, a Manchester United in the 1990s, a Manchester City now is to experience football top down where expectation is winning and winning is everything. Bristol City supporters last season – with a team outspending its league – expected the same. It is rare to have that in football, I’m sure most at City never will have had it.

For the rest the drama is in watching teams which are – and I struggle to find a better description – only as good as they are on the field. City are in a morass of teams in League One who are in a similar situation. The FA Cup against Aldershot Town offers the kind of assumption which the Bantams seldom get, and can never enjoy.

Aldershot Town are struggling for form in the National League but so were City when City rolled up at Chelsea last year – everything in the FA Cup is set in the Chelsea context for a while at least – and while the Bantams should win they will only do so with the same hard graft that has turned the season around.

Hard work, and hoping the mistakes go unpunished. A year on from his debut and we are all having a Ben Williams sort of season.

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.

When the immoveable object met the immoveable object and Bradford City and Reading agreed to a replay in the FA Cup sixth round

Balls in bags

On Monday night, at Old Trafford, something well happen that has not occurred in over one hundred years. Bradford City will be in the draw for the FA Cup semi-final. The goal-less draw at Valley Parade in the FA Cup sixth round with Reading guarantees that the Royals will be in that draw too.

The immoveable object met the immoveable object in the first of the four quarter final ties and while City will look back to a chance or two which could have resulted in more the game which mustered only a single shot on target had the hallmarks of a pair of teams more concerned with losing than committed to winning.

Which is not to criticise either side for that approach – I spoke recently about how Phil Parkinson’s approach puts importance on not being out of a game – but to explain the dynamics of a game which promised everything and left tension unresolved.

Each side enjoyed a half of the game. The first forty five minutes Reading edged possession and hit the post through Pavel Pogrebnyak although the seemed to be a fast and loose being played with left hand touchline calls by a linesman who gave the benefit of geography to the Royals.

Nevertheless Pogrebnyak’s shot – along with a deflected effort by Hal Robson-Kanu – was all that Ben Williams in the Bradford City goal had to do. Williams’ inclusion over Jordan Pickford was a surprise but a pleasant one. Williams kept goal for every Cup tie while Pickford was tied to Sunderland.

“The guy that brung her”

That Parkinson kept faith in the keeper that had got him to the sixth round recalled Paul Jewell’s decision at Wolves in 1999 to go for promotion with the eleven who had been his most regular starters. “A girl dances with the fella that brought her”, I said then and I think it now.

Indeed after watching Ramires burst from the Chelsea midfield to put the Blues into a 2-0 lead Williams has not conceded a goal in the FA Cup. Thinking back to that day one recalls how Chelsea were lacking a Claude Makélélé in holding midfield.

While Chelsea had allowed the Bantams to build in the forward midfield positions Reading deployed a man to sit in front of their back two and make sure that Billy Clarke’s influence on the game in the first half was as minimal as possible. Nathaniel Chalobah sat next to Clarke and forced a gap between Jon Stead and James Hanson which split City’s forward options leaving the Bantams disjointed in the final third.

Chalobah put in a very impressive game – especially in the first half – and looked as if he may be the decisive difference between the sides until Phil Parkinson tweaked his approach at half time to play more through left and right midfielders and less through his front man. Chalobah – oddly – is on loan from Chelsea. He has a very brought future.

Tweak

Parkinson’s tweak was to have the ball played through Billy Knott and Filipe Morais – and to have Knott and Morais pick the ball up deeper – and then allow Clarke to drift left and right effectively taking himself and Chalobah out of the game.

And so City enjoyed more of the game in the second period. Morais had a chance just after half time which he passed when he could have shot – he seldom is accused of “making the wrong decisions” as a Kyel Reid or Omar Daley was although he probably does as much – and James Hanson swept a ball the wrong side of the upright after good work by Jon Stead.

The best chance of the game presented itself when Morais bent a free kick in and Andrew Davies connected but watched his headed chance take the paint off the post as it skimmed wide. Davies’ reaction suggested he knew that the best chance of the game had gone, but that the tie would have more chances in it, and so it will prove on Monday week.

Reading’s Pogrebnyak tried to handle the ball into the goal in the last moment. That was all the City defend had to cope with in the second half.

It would be easy to miss

In the swirl of a crowd of 24,321 at Valley Parade and the first FA Cup sixth round since the mid-1970s, and in the media coverage which seems to have decided that this game was not worth watching, it would be easy to not give credit to Phil Parkinson’s team. (Hob Nob Anyone? can give Steve Clarke’s team credit.)

That City went toe to toe with a Championship side is impressive. If one were to ask which side regularly played at a higher level one would be simply guessing an answer. There was a character needed from City’s side today to handle being favourites and there was a character needed to turn the performance around at halt time.

That good performances and great character are common does not make them less impressive.

Looking forward

One wonders what City have to do to win the second game which was not done today. Away from Valley Parade the Bantams have a tendency to replace Billy Clarke with Billy Knott and play Andy Halliday – a late sub today – to create a different shape to the midfield and that shape seems more effective.

City have won more games away from Valley Parade this season in League One than at home, and on travels to Chelsea, Millwall and Halifax Town have shown character in different ways. The Valley Parade turf was better than it has been (which is, of course, not down to Roger Owen who is not responsible for the pitch) but is heavy and the ball bounces little from it. A better surface will not suit City any more than it does Reading, but it will allow for City to play the tight triangles that much of Parkinson’s attacking play is built around.

City face trips to Coventry City and Gary Jones’ Notts County in the nine days before Reading. In League One today City slipped to tenth and the expereince in the build up to this tie did not suggest that the Bantams will be turning games in hand into three points.

1911, and all that

But those worries are for another day. It will be the 16th of March and City will still be in a cup competition and that has not happened in over one hundred years.

Not for Parkinson though. The manager who has as a modus operandi not being out of a game is not out of a tie. Nine days to assess Reading, and the game that passed, and to plot a victory which will make City more than a name on a ball in a bag.

Nine days cannot pass soon enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beating Halifax Town by returning to a Phil Parkinson team

Two years ago Giantkiller. Now giant. Brought down to size. Three minutes and everyone was getting what they wanted.

Bradford City’s trip to Halifax was a defeat waiting to happen and when Lois Maynard ploughed in from close range following a series of corners needlessly conceded defeat seemed to be worryingly unavoidable. It was what the BBC, BT Sport, and a lot of the local media coverage had sharpened pencil for.

The team that conquered Arsenal, have themselves been giant killed.

The overdog role with a depressing ease

A cliche like that proves irresistible even to the subjects of it.

Halifax Town – OK, FC Halifax Town if we must – took the role of the underdog with a lot of the gusto which City took showed in the cup run of 2013. Town made things were difficult for the Bantams. Throw ins were launched long and were hard to head out. Midfielder’s were chased down. Wide men were pushed wider.

The home side made the most of set plays which led to the goal after three minutes and to the general sense that Halifax took their role in a way Phil Parkinson would have been proud of. Parkinson’s City took the overdog role with a depressing ease.

Starting out with a flat four with two in front of them, then a three sitting behind a single front man were disparate and far too easy to play against. Filipe Morais, Billy Knott and Mark Yeates were a line behind Jon Stead but ineffectual and quickly parted, separated, and not difficult to counter. The onus was then put on holding two midfielders Jason Kennedy and Andy Halliday but they failed to provide that and both seemed to be guilty of waiting for someone else to make something happen.

There was a moment – following City’s cup keeper Ben Williams’ save from former City defender Steve Williams’ close range header – where another narrative wrote itself. It was about the decline of a manager in Phil Parkinson and how in the future we would talk about how one could tell that things were over for the City boss when he played that Andy Halliday in central midfield in a 4231.

The rapid switching between formations, picking players in ill-suited positions, and lifeless performances or cup exits are the stuff of the last days of a manager’s time at any club. What happened to the Phil Parkinson who used to so love his 442?

It may have been that that thought occurred to Phil Parkinson at the same time as it did to me. His Bradford City team were not playing very poorly – chances were being created – but the story of the season has been sporadically creating chances without patterns in the play.

Former Italy manager Arrigo Sacchi said of Mario Balotelli that is was “not a player, because a player moves as part of a team. He’s just a footballer.”

City had a lot of footballers, just as Arsenal had, but Halifax had a team.

Giantkiller/giantkilled

Perhaps that realisation stung Parkinson.

City had so easily fallen into the giantkiller/giantkilled narrative and responded accordingly. I like to think that the City manager thought that if this game at Halifax was going to be the start of the final days of his time at the club then he would go out on his own terms.

Parkinson of old. Four Four Two and the big man/little man combination of substitute Billy Clarke alongside Stead. Billy Knott – wandering in the first half – was given a place in the midfield engine and the full backs Stephen Darby and James Meredith were given the support of wide men in front of them.

Clarke threatened goal within a minute pulling a good save from Matt Glennon and carried on his direct, provocateur play by pulling the Halifax backline wide and creating a hole that Jon Stead appeared in when Morais had played a fine ball forward. Stead walked the ball around the keeper to equalise.

And two minutes later Morais had been found by Clarke and blasted across Glennon to score.

More dangerous, more determined and stronger at the back Parkinson’s team started to look like a Phil Parkinson team. Halifax huffed and puffed but City looked like a solid unit again and for the first time this season – maybe this year – seemed like they would score more goals. Pressure, directness and confidence. I do not know if it is what the boardroom call attacking football but it was Phil Parkinson football.

Reshaping the squad

City go into the second round, and have beaten a second West Yorkshire club of the season, and move on to face Preston North End next week with Parkinson mulling over which way he takes the City squad.

By returning to his favourite formation Parkinson seemed to free his City players from thinking in terms of their personal displays and enable them to focus on a team performance. The English footballer’s DNA is 442 and as soon as Parkinson switched to it the players seemed to switch to inbuilt positional play.

Morais – lost on one flank in the first half and playing the sort of game Sacchi would comment on – was more effective in a right wing role not only because he knew where to go (Note to pedants: his football education is that of the English footballer) but because every other player knew where he would be. When Billy Clarke flicked the ball forward to him for his goal it was in expectation. It is not that Morais found Clarke in a good position for the first goal or that Clarke found Morais for the second it is that both knew where to expect to find each other which will have pointed a way for Parkinson.

All of which questions the shape of the City squad. Next week Phil Parkinson takes his team to Preston and Kyel Reid who’s pace is lacking from the Bantams squad and seems to prevent City returning to 442. Perhaps when the transfer window opens Parkinson needs to find someone who can add the pace if he wants to return to his way of playing.

Because after avoiding the obvious narrative at Halifax Town Parkinson will probably be afforded the chance to reshape the squad once more.

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.

Can Parkinson afford to keep Kyel Reid during his rehabilitation?

The injury to Kyel Reid’s which will keep him out of the Bradford City team until the end of his contact shows an inherently cruel side to football which upsets even the most cynical of supporter.

Watching Kyel Reid has – for me – been a joy and I very much hope to do it again. There is nothing on the football field which gets my pulse racing like the sight of a speedy winger attacking a full back and Reid did that with jet heels. I hear people talk about making wrong decisions and I understand the meaning of such phrases but I find it hard at the end of a run in which my body stops breathing and I sit at the edge of the seat I’m on to criticise. I’m entranced.

Away from the personal point of view there is a pressing need for a speedy winger for Bradford City with Nahki Wells having departed the club and that is something which Phil Parkinson will need to address. Without the ability to get behind a defence with pace the Bantams allow the opposition to push a high line up the field and stop the one forward’s flick ons getting to the other in dangerous positions.

And while Parkinson has the option of playing the increasingly impressive Oli McBurnie it seems that the manager was planning to play the (not slow, but slower) Aaron McLean with James Hanson and allow Reid to run at defenders.

Without this option Parkinson is forced to look for reinforcements. McBurnie is a rare promotion from the youth ranks for the manager and it seems that if the funds are available then the budget would need to be increased to accommodate a replacement for Reid’s pace. Without that Parkinson will turn to Mark Yeates who does not have Reid’s pace and would pivot the way the Bantams play.

And while Parkinson could look to replacing six week injured James Meredith at left back he has to look at replacing Reid or risk that pivoting leading to the kind of fall off of results that happened the last time City were at this level and lost a player in the then sold Dean Windass. He could throw in Jordan Graham the loanee from Aston Villa but that would require a huge leap of faith in a player that has yet to kick a ball in claret and amber.

For the rest of this season higher defensive lines would require a slower build up and more midfield craft to counter and Parkinson’s side are not renowned for that. One can think of times when the Bantams have worked the ball around a compressed defence but examples of fast attacking play are more common.

What then for Reid though? Reid and Parkinson have been through some astonishing times together but the manager has to think as he hears that his player will miss the next eight months that – unless the calculations on budgets at the club are wrong – all the hopes for Reid’s recovery are probably not going to be able to extend to offering him a new deal.

In fact if Parkinson is to sign a player of the quality to replace Reid then he would probably expect to have to give away the part of next season’s budget that would have gone to a new deal for Reid. How cruel is it that as Parkinson seems in the position where because the club did not realise there valuation of Wells there is not funds to offer a contract to Reid for next season as well as a replacement player? We were following the Wells sale that the club was over budget. Extending that budget to include a new player who would come in on at least an eighteen month deal and keeping Reid as he returns to fitness seems unlikely.

It is grotesque. Parkinson’s other option is to muddle through the next four months and hope that Reid’s rehabilitation runs into pre-season and the player comes back able to pick up where he left off. One might hope that is the case Parkinson’s job at City depends on results and his hand may be forced.

If that is the case one is left with the memory of a sunny May day at Wembley and Kyel Reid’s contribution which will be so ill rewarded.

McLean’s debut continues City’s story of the season

With the kick of off his first Bradford City game a minute away Aaron McLean wandered backwards from middle of the field and started to bump fist and slap hands with his new team-mates. He drifted to left back and bumped Carl McHugh, he slapped Gary Jones, and walked forward with purpose to start his this new part of his career.

A player is rarely under more scrutiny than on his debut and McLean was the focus of attention for the three thousand plus Bradford City supporters. His first touch was the kick off, his first in play was a contested ball with Blades defender Harry McGuire which the defender won but McLean put his body into in a way which was not at all reminiscent of the previous occupant of the number twenty one shirt which the new recruit wore.

Phil Parkinson made no bones about wanting to bring McLean to Bradford City and immediately favoured him over seventeen year old Oli McBurnie. As McLean won his first win of the ball from the towering McGuire it was obvious that Parkinson saw this as a physical encounter. A battle, and one which City lost in the opening forty five minutes.

Jamie Murphy was the first recipient of two goals in the first half which will were to prompt action from the City manager at half time as Carl McHugh’s failings at left back were exposed by winger Ryan Flynn. McHugh was an island adrift in the City team not connected to Kyel Reid or Mark Yeates in front of him, adrift from Matthew Bates to his right Flynn first combined with Tony McMahon who whipped a ball low in to Murphy to finish from inside the six yard box and later forced a corner which McGuire headed a second from.

And City struggled. Struggled to find a plan when Kyel Reid went off on a stretcher after turning his back onto a Hospital ball and having a defender tackle through the back of his legs. Struggled to find a way around McGuire and at the heart of the Blades defends. Struggled to find a blend of the midfield in which Gary Jones and Jason Kennedy not only look similarly but seem far to keen to take up the same position.

Kennedy could be so much more than he is at City and hopefully will be. Games pass him by and he seems to do neither part of his role well. He is not the best player of City’s season so far by a long way but he is the story of the season: unable to get out of low gear but not for the want of trying.

The second half and McHugh was switched with Bates to the central defensive position he was more comfortable with but more over performances were stepped up and for a time City were able to take the game to the home side. Kennedy and Jones were at their most useful in that period after half time which brought two goals and it was Jones who got the first – a massive deflection taking the ball past George Long in the home goal.

Jones’ shot, not a well hit one nor would which was going in before the deflection, came after McLean had won the ball and played in the midfielder. Parkinson deployed McLean behind Hanson as he had McBurnie the week before but often with Nahki Wells in the side the faster forward would be on the backline and Hanson withdrawn.

As Jones slapped McLean as a friendly credit for the assist one might wonder if Parkinson is not unhappy with the outcome of January so far. Wells forced a way of playing – big man/little man – and he would have been foolish to ignore the potential of that but big man/big man with both working hard is more in keeping with the manager’s promotion side at Colchester United.

The second goal was an untidy finish by James Hanson and a note goes to the maligned Garry Thompson who made enough poor decisions to keep his detractors happy but did involve himself when it mattered.

From that point on United laid something of a weak siege to City’s goal. They had chances to retake the lead but City had returned to some stability and strength. 2-2 came and City were happier. Away draws are always good results.

And some might feel that Aaron McLean should have had a penalty late on when a bouncing ball bested McGuire and the City man almost got to the ball but McGuire stayed strong and McLean bounced off him. McGuire may be leaving Bramall Lane this winter with talk of £4m bids. He seems to lack a level of mobility for top flight football but he was very impressive.

As was McLean. He worked hard – his virtue we are told – and in offering strength and hold up play as well as some pace he gives Parkinson an option he seems comfortable with. His part in the comeback was no more nor less than his teammates and that will no doubt suit Parkinson who prizes effort over all else.

Which is the story of City’s season so far. There is hard work and there is reward, sometimes, and the way to increase those rewards is to work and work harder.

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.

What matters and what shouldn’t

Booing from Bradford City fans at the final whistle is hardly a rarity. But as the Macclesfield evening grew ever chillier, the frosty farewell from a decent-size away following was for once not directed at our own players but at the man who had won Macclesfield the game.

Step forward and take a bow, Rob Lewis. Only as the boos and cries of “cheat” reigned down towards him at full time, the referee took a rare moment to hide away from the spotlight. A furious Phil Parkinson joined his players in confronting Lewis over the range of bewildering decisions he had made. It’s hard to recall the last time a referee had such an obvious impact on the scoreline.

For 65 minutes of the evening, Lewis was a minor irritation rather than obvious match winner. Then Macclesfield’s Ross Draper chased a slightly over-hit long ball into the box that was gathered up by Matt Duke, fell over as he ran into the City keeper and Lewis ruled the midfielder had been fouled. Luke Oliver, the nearest defender, could have been adjudged to have nudged Draper, but there seemed to be no contact whatsoever.

By the letter of the law, any foul by Oliver or Duke would have meant they were the last man and so a red card should have been issued. There was no card and so one can’t escape the feeling Lewis was looking for an excuse to even up the fact he’d turned down a much more credible Macclesfield penalty appeal in the first half. There was certainly no hesitation in awarding the second half spot kick that Lewis Chalmers dispatched easily.

Yet there was just the warm up act for Lewis, who spent the final half hour seemingly giving every decision against a City side who pinned Macclesfield in their own half in a desperate search for an equaliser.

Lewis didn’t simply fail to award City free kicks when players looked to have been fouled – he gave Macclesfield free kicks seemingly as punishment for the City player been fouled. On a number of occasions it appeared as though he had spotted what looked to be clear fouls on Bantams’ players and blew his whistle to stop the game, only to trigger indignation from City players and supporters by pointing in the opposite direction to signal a home free kick.

Examples of this bizarre decision-making process were numerous; but when Jamie Devitt was sent crashing to the floor by two Macclesfield players jumping on top of him to head the ball away, only for Lewis to rule City’s substitute had fouled the two players, you wondered if the rules of football had been changed without anyone telling us.

It’s impossible to write an account of what went on in the final half hour without coming across as bitter and biased. All I can say is I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a referee make so many bad decisions and so obviously favour one team when making them. City’s players would be kicked, pushed and hauled to the floor by home players and get nothing, while the slightest bit of contact on a Macclesfield player in possession would see them earn a free kick. Either come down hard on every tackle or (preferably) show some common sense, but to apply a different set of standards towards each team is a referee having far too much influence on the outcome of a football match.

All of which is not to be disrespectful to Macclesfield, who put in an impressive first half performance where they passed the ball around with confidence and came close to taking the lead through a series of decent long range shots – one of which hit the outside of the post. As expected, Parkinson had elected to pick three central midfielders rather than two out-and-out-wingers, but a very poor display from Adam Reed contributed largely to possession being easily squandered.

Up front Craig Fagan and Kyel Reid played just behind James Hanson, but the trio failed to click in the manner it had on its previous two outings.  Fagan’s wide position seemed to be aimed at making the most of Macclesfield’s weakest player, left back Carl Tremarco. Yet Hanson was left far too isolated and Reid had fewer close options to pick out when he came forwards. City’s best first half chance came when Ritchie Jones’ clever charge into the box was eventually picked out by Reid, but the midfielder failed to make a decent connection.

Defensively City looked more assured than on Saturday, with Marcel Seip again impressing if showing a slightly worrying tendency to push out quickly when his fellow defenders sat deeper. A rare mistake by Oliver when under-hitting a back pass allowed Draper in on goal for that strong penalty shout; but as he poked the ball past Duke and fell over the keeper rather than go around him to tap the ball into an empty net, the resultant appeal carried some degree of suspicion that he was looking for it.

It became obvious – shortly after break – that City’s gameplan involved ensuring they were at least level at half time level, before pushing on in the second half. And for the second 45 minutes they pinned Macclesfield back, quickly unmasking frailties in their defence which led to panicky clearances and a struggle just to get out of their own half. Jones twice went close, while full backs Liam Moore and Luke O’Brien – who replaced the injured Robbie Threlfall early in the second half – provided overlapping width and some testing crosses. A goal seemed only a matter of time.

Then came the penalty at the other end, followed by a final 25 minutes that seemed to be 11 vs 12. Michael Bryan came on for the anonymous Reed, and City’s move to 4-4-2 had the home defence stretched further. Yet good build up play and a number of superb crosses in the box went unrewarded. Strong pressure would invariably be punctured by Lewis awarding a home free kick for very little.

Three City players were booked as frustration took over, but only Jones seemed deserving of such a punishment following a wild tackle that revealed his growing frustration. Hanson’s booking for contesting a 50-50 ball was nonsense, while as City prepared to take a corner it appeared home keeper Jose Veiga raised his arms at Fagan with Lewis’ back turned. The result? Fagan was booked. Of course. Makes sense.

Devitt was brought on for Jones and did extremely well, while Reid was a constant terror who made things happen whenever he had the ball. As a winger he is both intelligent and brave; always looking around to assess his options, while not being afraid to take a kick or two from the opposition.

For all the pressure, not enough good chances were created. Hanson had two decent opportunities, but a shot and header lacked power. Reid blasted a free kick over and Flynn wasted a free header from a corner, glancing the ball well over. In the final minute of stoppage time Oliver nodded a Seip cross narrowly wide.

Beaten, but not bettered. Any defeat is a set back, but the evening’s effort and endeavour deserved much better; and for Parkinson the challenge is to get that bit more quality from his players in the final third, so City start returning from trips away from Valley Parade with a point or three. The league table once again does not look great, but slowly the tide of City’s season is turning.

The boos at full time for Lewis were followed by the players receiving a great ovation for their efforts, yet somehow back home in City’s cyberworld people not at the game were starting to demand that Parkinson is sacked and that blaming the referee for this defeat was an “excuse”.

I’m sick of making a huge amount of effort to attend away games, only for people who don’t watch them to jump to their own, misguided conclusions and claim they know better. The idea that any City fan could possibly believe – after years and years of driving managers away in the doomed belief it will improve things – that getting rid of Parkinson is now the answer is simply astonishing. If you are one of these people, take a glance at the Scottish Premier League table.

It seriously is time for a few people to take a long hard look at themselves and to question whether their online actions are helping the club or hindering it. If you don’t go to a game yet believe you can make a qualified opinion on what went wrong, that opinion does not deserve to be listened to be anyone.

Playing Reed was a mistake in hindsight, but no one can convince me that Parkinson’s approach tonight was wrong. Sadly, the amount of effort and preparation that would have gone in was undermined by a shockingly bad refereeing display. Stick to this path, however, and the rewards will surely come.

Bradford City man up

There was a moment after Northampton Town’s Michael Jacobs hit a fine long range effort into the goal to give the visitors a second half lead that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City seemed to make the collective decision that they deserved more from the afternoon than defeat, that they should summon up from a reserve of responsibility and courage and force the performance to swing in their favour. In the parlance of our times: City manned up.

Ten minutes later the Bantams had won the game.

Watching football with a scouting report in one hand is a strange afternoon. Northampton’s side lined up not at all as they had in the game which our report detailed and many of the problems which the City scouting report suggested a few weeks ago had been plugged by Gary Johnson’s side who were missing striker Adebayo Akinfenwa and seemed to have adjusted accordingly. The result was a robust Cobblers side who deployed a man – Ben Tozer – holding between City’s midfield pair and as a result broke up much of the Bantams play but that was all that the visitors did with the Bantams backline utterly shutting out the visitors.

A surprisingly recalled Michael Bryan carved out the best chance – only one of two which stood out the other being a long range effort by Robbie Threlfall – taking the ball in field and twisting the loft a shot onto the bar. City gave nothing away and edged the first half but it was difficult to see where the goals would be coming from.

Where Northampton would be getting goals from was less of a mystery with the report warning of Jacobs and his abilities to strike the ball. His opportunity came when Adam Reed – booked for a bad tackle, but later subject of a similar one which got no punishment – was left floored and as he struggled to get back to position Jacobs fired in.

At that point Reed and Richie Jones – the midfield partnership in the absence of suspended Michael Flynn – seemed to have struggled to get around the Cobblers midfield nor could they make partnerships with the wide men but both seemed to sense the need to make a performance and Jones stepped to the fore.

It had been suggested that the midfielder was wasted on the right flank last week and one might have thought that thinking wishful until Jones took control of the middle of the field coming forward with direction and drive, tracking back to create solidity when needed, and leading by example.

It was Jones who drove forward with the ball feeding it left to Bryan and eventually resulting in a cross which defender Andy Holt tried to cut out but only succeeded in handling. Craig Fagan beat keeper Sam Walker from the spot.

Five minutes later and Jones came forward again battling in to push the ball wide to Kyel Reid for the winger – who had usual game veering between utter frustration and sublime moments – to drop a ball to James Hanson who beat his man and converted from inside the six yard box.

It was a worthy turnaround and one which Jones had much to do with. The midfielder might spend his career being the guy who plays the ball to the guy who gets the assist and very few stats record that contribution, but I’m sure the scout report would have noted it, or will do in the future.

Having been beaten by a long range shot only City never looked like surrendering the lead. Luke Oliver’s performance was remarkable for the fact that we are growing to expect that sort of display from a player that many, many would have written off at the end of last season while Marcel Seip’s Valley Parade debut saw him looking assured, mobile and confident. No one said the words “Guy Branston” all afternoon and as City start to rise up the league so the goal difference starts to look more respectable.

Moreover though City’s victory was – as with the win over Torquay – hard fought. While the attractive football of Stuart McCall’s side might have gone so has the soft centre. City are less easy on the eye, but Saturday nights after a win are satisfying.

Sitting back on such a Saturday night and flicking over the scout report the danger of Michael Jacobs is written in black and white but so is that of Lewis Young – the right winger wearing number two who was frustrated all afternoon – who the Bantams coped with superbly. The talk about the goalkeeper Walker and his control of his box were accurate and City seemed to fire low hard crosses rather than allow the six foot seven custodian grab balls from the air.

One wonders though what the scouts who watched City will have written about the Bantams today. One thing is for sure those reports will have had the word “character” in them, and that is what took Phil Parkinson’s side to victory today.

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 enemies of football as Parkinson’s City claim a first win

The last time he left Valley Parade happy Phil Parkinson was called “the enemy of football” by then City manager Colin Todd after his Colchester United team battled to a point. As Parkinson celebrated his first win as Bantams boss it seemed that no matter what how much of an enemy if the game Todd might think he may be, he is effective against the opposition.

Torquay United came to Valley Parade and were almost entirely neutered in their attempts to win the game thanks to a defensive effort from Parkinson’s side the match of anything seen at City for seasons and despite the Bantams having a man sent off.

Lining up with two rows of four, and Mark Stewart behind Craig Fagan Parkinson’s side were the picture of tight defending and – when they had to be – smart enough to kill off the game when legs got weary with the Bantams having to play over an hour with ten men following the sending off of Andrew Davies in the first half.

Now, dear reader, our views may divert (at least until television reveals more) but from my bit of plastic in the near 12,000 filled seats at Valley Parade Davies went in aggressively on Danny Stevens taking both feet off the floor and even in getting the ball the red card that Carl Boyeson showed was (as little as I like to see City players sent off) the right decision.

(Sunday note: Watching again the only way the Ref could justify a red card is if he believed that because the tackle was two footed that it was automatically either reckless, dangerous and endangered an opponent thus a yellow card even if it got the ball and, by virtue if the goal scoring opportunity denied, a red card. If that is the case Davies would get a one match ban. It was certainly not a violent or aggressive tackle which would merit a three match ban. Having seen it again, and in the context of other tackles in the game, I would not have even blown the whistle for a foul.)

My views were not shared by most and Valley Parade went into uproar and most (including t’other half of BfB Jason Mckeown) thought that Davies had taken ball hard but fair, that Stevens had made a meal of the tackles – he was booed for the rest of the afternoon – and that Boyeson was wrong.

If Boyeson did get the decision right then it was pretty much all he got right all afternoon in which time and time again he showed a near contempt for the rules that he was on the field to enforce. For sure we can all forgive mistakes – one or Jason and myself will be wrong about the red card tackle – but what can not be forgive is seeing offences and ignoring them.

So when Kyel Reid – on a foray into the Torquay United half when City were attacking on the counter – turned Eunan O’Kane on the edge of the box despite the midfielder tugging on his shirt only to be hacked at and pulled down in the box and Boyeson gave only a yellow card one had to wonder which part of the rules he was enforcing. The part that says that denying a goal scoring opportunity mandates a red card was ignored, and thirty years of football tells me that that was one.

Of the goalscoring opportunities City created the lion’s share with Matt Duke having to save once low down to his right but spending most of the rest of the afternoon watching the heroics of defenders Luke Oliver and substitute Guy Branston who blocked and blocked again whenever the ball penetrated the wall which the midfield pair Richie Jones and Michael Flynn had put up which was refreshingly not often.

In a game when plaudits were available for all special mention goes to Michael Flynn who put in a box to box midfield display which makes one wonder why at the start of the season he was seemingly on his way out of the club. His combination with Jones – who is a fine player for sure and one with a great engine – made for a powerful midfield display nullifying the previously excellent O’Kane.

Oliver and Branston – and Davies before his departure – were immense. Again Oliver was on his way out at the start of the season but his performance today looked like the best defender to have taken to the field for City since the slide into League Two. Graeme Lee, David Wetherall, Matt Clarke et al would have all loved to have put in a display like this.

Branston loved it too. Not wanting to dismiss the travelling supporters who applauded him last year he was gracious in victory but his display was the sort of showing which seemed promised when he signed.

Some of Branston’s tackles walked the line for sure, but so did much of City’s play and one was reminding of Todd’s talk of enemies when City got tough. City under Stuart McCall (in his first two seasons) and once or twice under Peter Jackson could be a joy to watch but they could also be a joy to play again for the opposition. A side that wanted to pass and impress an opposition side, Parkinson’s City were more aggressive.

Torquay United will return to the South Coast knowing they have been in a game. Michael Flynn was booked for a hard tackle, Richie Jones lucky not to follow Flynn into the book. Branston cleaned out everything, Oliver put muscle in and Craig Fagan leading the line gave his defender Hell. City, for want of a better phrase, manned up.

Sturdy at the back, giving nothing away, and ending up with a clean sheet all City needed to do was score – not something has been a problem this season – and so the goal came in the last ten minutes of the first half when a cross in from Robbie Threlfall was headed on by Luke Oliver, taken under control by Craig Fagan and struck in with power.

Fagan’s fitness is returning and he is looking like a very good player. He nearly got a second in the second half when he latched onto a the ball when racing against goalkeeper Robert Olejnik and lobbing the ball over the custodian only to see it hit bar and post and bounce away. Threlfall’s had a direct free kick pushed wide by a diving Olejnik later. Another goal would not have flattered City.

Not getting a goal though City played out the last ten minutes at game killing pace and the frustration started to show. Kyel Reid toyed with a few Torquay players and got a couple of kicks for his trouble one of which could not have been said to have been near the ball. Boyeson seemed to be happy to let that – as he did the many deliberate handballs he blew for against Torquay striker Rene Howe go without further censure.

Not one player will have left the field without the warm handshake from Phil Parkinson. Liam Moore battled hard at full back well supported by Stewart who dropped back to the right following the sending off. Kyel Reid turned a performance which seemed to be going nowhere into a great display. Luke O’Brien and Nialle Rodney put in great shifts from the bench. Parkinson has drummed in the need for hard work, and he got it today.

It was a new Bradford City modelled by Parkinson. More canny, a bit more nasty, and victorious. The sort of thing which Colin Todd called the enemies of football but without the ability to trust officials to carry out their jobs as detailed (and I reiterate that the red card, to me, seemed sound but one correct decision does not a performance make) City had to look after themselves today, and did.

Twelve games in and City have moved up the table to fourth bottom but it seems very much like this season has finally got going.

Archie Christie Day: Part 1/3

Early risers

7.15am on Thursday 29 September. The reception of the Cedar Court Hotel – just at the end of the M606 at the top of Bradford – is quiet and largely deserted, with a small smattering of smartly dressed guests peacefully reading newspapers or checking emails on their lap tops.

The tranquillity is interrupted by the booming voice of Archie Christie, Bradford City Football Club’s Chief Scout and Head of Football Development, as he enters the reception and welcomes BfB’s Michael Wood and Jason McKeown.

Christie shakes our hands warmly and hands us each a towel, before walking to a side door and bellowing “follow me.” We have no idea where we are going or what we’re doing; only that Archie told us we had to wear shorts today.

“It’s a deal-breaker.”

How did we get here?

With the season starting slowly for the Bantams and the fallout over Peter Jackson’s sudden walkout still fresh, summer arrival Christie has become the subject of much criticism from a small but vocal section of City supporters.

It was rumoured he wouldn’t let Jackson manage the club; it has been argued the summer signings who have not yet set the world alight are down to his poor judgement; even Christie’s role at Dagenham has been questioned in terms of how much value he actually brought to the Essex club. Throw in complaints that money is being wasted on the Development Squad when it should be channelled to the first team, and Christie it seems is an unwelcome outsider.

Christie appears to have very broad shoulders, but the criticism has clearly hurt a little. Early attempts to engage with fans by writing a blog were abandoned due to some fans emailing to say they didn’t care about his opinions. Some message board grumblings have seemingly been relayed back to him. Worst of all, two supporters managed to get hold of his mobile number and left some rather disturbing voicemails, demanding the Scotsman leaves the club.

So having become a reader of BfB, Archie contacted us out of the blue with an invitation to spend a day shadowing him as he goes about his job, so we can see and report on what he does for Bradford City. It is his way, we feel, of setting the record straight about how he operates – and the potential value it brings.

Many aspects of what we were to see on the day have to be confidential, though over the coming weeks BfB may be in a position to report on some of them. That said, Christie was true to his initial promise in that we were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime ‘access all areas’ type of day.

There was so much we took from the seven hours we spent with him; so we’re going to run a three-part special of what we experienced (parts two and three will follow Monday and Tuesday).

Along the way we interviewed Development Squad players, Peter Horne, Phil Parkinson, an agent and his head scout – their views will appear over this series. We were able to witness up close the first team players in action, meet the staff who work under Archie back at Valley Parade, and receive a friendly hello from Julian Rhodes. We got a fantastic appreciation of the hard work that is taking place behind the scenes – unseen normally by us regular supporters.

Although none of this would have been possible if we’d forgotten to turn up with our shorts.

Making an early splash

As it was the shorts were needed for joining him for a morning swim at the Hotel’s facilities, which he stays at regularly during the week. So we got changed and jumped into the indoor pool – with water colder than it looked – in order to embark on a few laps with him.

Appearances can be deceptive. This is no life of leisure for Christie – while we showed up bleary-eyed at being out and about so early, he’s been awake since 5.30am having telephone meetings with important people at two different Premier League clubs (one of which was a manager). This is therefore a well-earned mid-morning break, before Christie gets back to his phone that seems to ring twenty times per hour.

As we relax in the pool, football is naturally the main topic of conversation. Carlos Tevez is still in the news after refusing to play for Man City in midweek, and Christie is scathing in his views of the £200k per week striker.

Closer to home, he’s understandably feeling excited at having just secured a pre-season friendly tournament at Valley Parade next summer that will include Glasgow Rangers and Tottenham. The fourth club for this line up is not 100% confirmed yet, so Archie asked us not to disclose it to you – but if it comes off, it is a name that will overshadow the other two in interest it would prompt. Don’t bother booking a holiday for next July just yet.

Christie is full of enthusiasm for the Development Squad players he has signed. With great feeling he describes taking his Development Squad and eight youth team players to fulfil the reserves’ opening fixture at Rotherham – where others told him he was mad and that the team would be heavily thrashed by a strong Millers’ team – and they won 2-1.

After the previously injury-plagued Terry Dixon came off the bench for his first game in two years and scored the winner, Christie declared it was “the proudest moment of my career”. This from someone highly regarded within The Game for his achievements (he turned down scouting positions at Premier League clubs this summer to come here, has an impressive array of contacts and even once sat in the dugout with a country’s coaching staff at a World Cup Finals match).

In addition we talked about some of the criticism he’s been getting and about those shocking voicemails (we won’t repeat the language the ‘fans’ used here). He seems surprised to have received such a hostile welcome to Bradford, but is undeterred by it. It seems a natural time to bring up Peter Jackson and any role that he may have had in the former manager’s sudden departure. Archie talks of how much he respects Jackson as a person, and re-affirms it was a matter of resignation. Maybe one day Peter Jackson’s reasons for quitting will be made public, but that is down to Peter Jackson.

Archie is excited about the four year plan he is implementing, that is aimed at City returning to the Championship. He talked of how much passion he has for the club, how much sorrow he felt about the Valley Parade fire – looking in from the outside – and his despair about the last seven years of under-performance in the bottom two divisions. We’ll come back to this and more later on; when we we’re in a position to record his views.

A successful businessman in a position to retire at 40 – thus moving into football – Christie is not here for the money. He only receives expenses for the work he undertakes, and his only objective is to reignite a football club which has become directionless and desperate.

Fresh fruit and beans on toast

By the time we’re changed again, Development Squad players Andrew Burns and Scott Brown have arrived at the hotel for breakfast. Terry Dixon joins us soon after, while first team players such as Liam Moore, Kyel Reid and new signing Adam Reed mill about.

The Development Squad has been one of the major talking points among City supporters since it was introduced during the summer. So we had asked Christie if we could meet some of these players, to learn more about how they are finding the experience of joining the club. All three players are polite and softly-spoken. Perhaps curious as to what we are doing here, but certainly unfazed. Brown (still only 16) and Burns (18) are living in one of the Chairman’s houses (the Chairman not there), while Dixon (21) has been ordered by Christie to live with him at all times, so he can monitor the youngster’s battle to regain fitness.

“I’ve had a few injuries – dislocating my knee twice and having cartilage problems from the age of 14,” explained former Tottenham and West Ham striker Dixon when we asked him how he joined the club. “I’ve fully recovered from that now, it doesn’t swell up anymore. My agent got in touch with Archie and he said come down and see how you go. It’s going alright at the moment.”

For Brown, who signed from Scottish club Clyde, moving to City was a fulfilment of a dream. He said, “I’ve always wanted to play in England. I think it suits my game more. So when Archie came in for me I was never going to say no. I didn’t know what it was going to be, whether I would be joining the first team or the Development Squad. Turns out it was for the Development Squad, although I’m training with the first team now.”

Burns’ route to Valley Parade seems the most ordinary of the three, having been released by Bolton during the summer he was given a second chance by Christie. “I hadn’t been any where else previously after leaving Bolton, though I had a couple of trials set up,” he revealed. “But after speaking to Archie, then once I had been here a few days, I knew it was a good place to be.

“A lot of people have said to me, dropping down from Premiership to League Two, there must be poor facilities and everything. But for a League Two club it’s brilliant here. It’s a club in the wrong league, definitely. Hopefully it will start turning soon and we will get up there where we should be.”

With numerous players having been signed by Phil Parkinson since he joined a month ago, it would appear that the first team chances for the trio are limited. Yet in actual fact Christie is expecting them to make their debuts this season – an aim that Parkinson reaffirms later. With Dixon it’s a question of getting fully fit and he is currently on loan at Halifax, but soon he should be pushing for a starting place; while Brown almost made his debut against Wimbledon recently.

“Scott was four minutes away from starting on Saturday,” revealed Archie. “Flynn was struggling so Scott was starting.” In Christie’s view, Burns is about six months away from the first team and two years away from being the club captain. “Don’t be fooled by Andrew’s baby-face,” he chuckles. “In the Development Squad he’s my captain and he’s a proper captain. He’s big in the middle, he’ll be saying to others to keep going.”

On his potential debut at just 16, Brown seemed unfazed. “It would have been brilliant, but these things (Flynn’s recovery from injury) happen so you just need to get on with it, keep working hard, training hard and pushing for a place in the first team.”

“At Bolton I didn’t really feel like I was going to get that first team chance,” admitted Burns. “Here training with the first team and impressing the manager, you feel like you have a chance. Obviously Archie says I may not be ready just yet, for another couple of months.”

Dixon added, “Archie told me to be a part of the Development Squad for a couple of months to get my fitness and then push on for the first team. (Being at Halifax on loan) has been alright to be fair. Good set of lads there. Nice pitch as well. I’m getting game time and I haven’t had games in a while.”

We were curious at to the role Christie played with the management of the Development Squad. Did he take the training? “Never. never ever, ever. I only do contracts, development, strategy. Never take training. I have nothing to do with technical aspects whatsoever. That’s what I hire coaches for. Wayne Allison is the current Development Squad coach.

“I help the Development Squad by offering advice on all sorts. If they want to get a mortgage, if they want to get a car, if they want to get a driving licence – that’s what I’m here for.”

Yet talking to the three players alone as Christie ducks out to take yet another phone call, it’s clear they hold him in much higher regard than his own modest claims. Christie regularly drops round to the house Brown and Burns share to check “they’re not getting into mischief”, while he asks all three about their families as we scoffed down breakfast – all three taking the healthy options.

“If we’ve got a problem on the training pitch we go to our coaches, if it’s anything else we go to Archie,” explained Brown. Have you had an Archie figure in your careers before? Neither Scott nor Andrew had, and all three agreed that they viewed him as a surrogate dad. “Any problems you go to him and he’ll sort it for you,” added Andrew.

Terry laughed, “He’s completely mad!”

Aside from Archie, it was clear that the players also receive strong support from Parkinson, Steve Parkin and senior players; with Michael Flynn praised by Brown in particular. On his first game for City at Silsden in July, “It was a great experience, especially playing alongside Flynn. He has a lot of experience and he helped me out a lot during that game.”

As the players say their goodbyes and head off for training, we can’t help but feel impressed by their quiet but strong determination to build successful careers at this club. It seems all three are closer to the first team than we supporters might expect, and are excited rather than apprehensive at that prospect.

The young(er) ones

As the players depart Peter Horne arrives to kindly have a chat with us; more tea and coffee is poured.

Promoted by Christie to Head of Youth Development during the summer, Horne has almost become a permanent fixture behind the scenes – how many other Bradford City employees, if any, have been here since 1998, when he joined? “I’m a Bradford lad. Born in Bradford, lived in Bradford all my life,” he explains when we ask him about his ongoing loyalty. He’s turned down opportunities elsewhere in the past, but has probably never been considered more vital by the club than he is now.

Christie, who made a point of praising Horne when he joined, explained: “It was the first thing I did when I started, sign Peter on a four year deal. When I met the Chairmen I said ‘we need to sign Peter on a long-term deal’ I’d not even met Peter at that point, but I knew from his track record that we needed to sign him on a longer deal. I said ‘find him, get him in front of me and let’s get it done’.

“Players aren’t the most important thing at this club. It’s about the bricks and mortar and foundations we can build the club upon. That’s why Peter was my first signing.”

This promotion was great reward for the job Horne has done, largely behind the scenes, nurturing young players and generating sizable revenue through player sales over the years. He oversaw the negotiations for transferring for large fees the likes of Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverly and Andre Wisdom; often in difficult circumstances, such as the club been in administration and a weak position when clubs came knocking. Without disclosing names and potential figures, Horne and Christie are confident of securing more sales of the best young players to big clubs in future.

Christie said: “Looking forwards we’ve got to change the previous policy. We don’t want our best youth players to go to Liverpool, we want them to go somewhere where Liverpool will buy them (and City would benefit from a sell on clause). We’d rather they go to Glasgow Rangers or Southampton, play there for two or three years and get to 20 and then a big Premiership club comes in.

“You saw Jordan Henderson go for £20 million – that’s ultimately what we want. That sell on would enable us to sustain in the Championship for three years, just that one sell on. Or it would guarantee us promotion from League One, because we could buy three or four players for that.”

“A lot of supporters don’t see that,” adds Horne. “I get a lot of comments along the lines of ‘why aren’t we seeing any young players coming through?’ But it isn’t just about that. Our youth department is working in a different way. Yes we produce some players for the first team, but we’re helping to sustain things for the club.”

So what has changed this summer since Christie’s arrival and Horne’s promotion? Horne stated, “I’ve signed a four-year deal at the start of this year. And with David Wetherall leaving I had to restructure it all, I don’t do as much coaching now but I’ve brought in Steve Thornber from Rotherham who I’ve known for nine years. And we’ve restructured everything.

“I leave some jobs to Archie and the Chairman, and I just oversee the youth development. I promoted Alan Nevison into Centre of Excellence; he’s been working here for a long time. And so far it’s all working alright. Touch wood, it’s working alright.

“I don’t think I’d have the confidence with this whole restructure thing if it wasn’t for having in Archie – a father figure who has a different style. If me and Archie were the same it wouldn’t work.” Christie added: “We’re the opposite. He tells me how it is even if I don’t agree. We speak every day and have meetings three or four times a week. We plan the strategy from the ground up.”

Clearly Archie thinks a great deal of Horne, and the respect is mutual. “There are too many people that waffle and go around corners and round the houses, Archie just gets it done,” Horne said. “If it needs doing he just gets it done. We’ve never had that at Bradford City. It’s a great asset I think, what he does for the club – for example the Development Squad is something I think that we need. Not everyone in the Development Squad will get into the first team, but if we get a decent percentage of them in and considering how low it’s costing – it’s happy days all round isn’t it?

“The best thing that’s happened for our youth department is the Development Squad. Because now when the older youth players get to a certain age, we can offer one a pro and put others in the Development Squad and give them another six months to see if they develop anymore. So it’s fantastic really.

“If Archie wasn’t here, I’ve got to be honest with you I think that I would feel isolated. That’s what his role is, to link the set ups. But you know, if people don’t fit they’re not here are they?”

At which point Christie added, “Yeah if people don’t fit they’re not here. Unfortunately. That’s not arrogance, that’s just a fact of life. We’re club first, Peter and I. I phone him up asking ‘who are you going to watch tonight?’ and we’re both always going to games. Other people were at home with their families. Well their families aren’t more important to them than our families are to us. But we put the club first. Those people who don’t put the club first can fuck off. And you can quote me on that. That’s how I feel.”

With Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon comments about a “losing mentality” at the club still fresh in our thoughts, we ask Horne how important a winning ethos is for the various youth teams. “It needs to be instilled at all levels,” he declared. “I’ve told the youth team that this year I’m not accepting anything but a winning mentality. Winning is really important and you’ve got to have it in at youth team level.”

In no time at all it’s time to end the conversation and prepare to drive with Christie to the training ground.

Talking to Horne is a hugely refreshing experience. As supporters we can often be guilty of only thinking about the youth team when the first team has lost and we’re sulkily wondering “where’s the young talent coming through?” But while Bradford City has had to sell its best youngsters before they were old enough for the first team, there’s little doubt the money this generated has been vital for the club and the likely continuation of this route will see those revenues continue. In future Christie will manage the negotiations of any such transfers with Horne’s support, and both agree this likely to result in securing even larger transfer fees.


Continued in Archie Christie Day: Part 2.

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.

Patience is here and there as Bradford City face AFC Wimbledon

When the history of early 21st century football is written, the emergence of clubs with AFC prefixes will surely loom large. Whether they will be portrayed as grassroots revolutions or romantic daydreams only time will tell. At present their impact on the greater game is limited. They are a curiosity more than a threat to the established structure of the game. However, if AFC Wimbledon progress further up the divisions their ethos and ownership structure has the potential to reverberate throughout the professional game. The watershed moment would surely arrive if AFC Wimbledon overhauled the MK Dons.

However, we would do well not to over romanticise AFC Wimbldeon. Multiple promotions, and even a debt controversy, suggest that they are not FC United-esque mid-life crisis, revolutionaries. AFC Wimbledon are a limited company, albeit one dominated by the shareholding of their Supporters’ Trust.

Interestingly they also have an Independent Supporters’ Association, which suggests, in parallel with revolutions everywhere, Lincoln City for example, that factionalism is a fact of football life. So, is Saturday’s match at Valley Parade an encounter between two former Premier League clubs, or a vivid example of how a well organised grassroots football club can rise through the leagues to meet a former Premier League club which has spent a decade fighting crisis after crisis?

All that will fade into insignificance once the whistle is blown at three o’clock. The Dons arrive at Valley Parade off the back of an impressive 4-1 victory over Cheltenham. However, their form, like many in the division, is erratic. It has included a four goal thumping at Macclesfield. Are we in for another high scoring encounter? Few City fans would put money on their defence keeping a clean sheet, so it is probably a question of outscoring the visitors.

City have injury doubts over Kyel Reid, Michael Flynn, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall. Phil Parkinson has shown a reluctance to change the starting eleven during his short stint at the helm. However, perhaps the injuries and the poor second half performance at Crawley will force his hand?

Fortunately, he has options, although it appears that the most popular change among some supporters, Luke O’Brien for Robbie Threlfall, is the most unlikely to happen with the former Liverpool player seemingly the most likely to recover. Undoubtedly the defence requires work. The return of Steve Williams in a couple of weeks appears to be a formality. For Saturday Parkinson’s options are limited. Whilst he has wingers to spare, the back four is highly likely to remain in situ. We can only hope that the defence, and the captain’s Twitter account, have a quiet weekend.

The Dons game is beginning to take on some significance. Despite the team receiving praise for their free flowing football, and pledges that the fans would be content to have attacking football this season, some are beginning to nervously glance at the table. However, a similar glance at the calendar will reveal that it is still September. We have a new manager and a restructured team. Patience is a dirty word at Valley Parade, but show me the options?

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 pain can’t override the pride – or the concerns

Suddenly the weekend bitterness of Bristol Rovers’ Paul Buckle seems more understandable. The pain of conceding a last minute goal never gets more bearable, no matter how many times you endure it. And so the temptation for Buckle-style bluster and to argue the opposition are unjust in scoring can feel overwhelming.

Three minutes of injury time were almost over at Vale Park, when substitute Doug Loft found himself with plenty of time and space on the edge of the area and swung in a superb cross. There at the back post was Tom Pope – twice a scorer against City in this fixture last season, and who has only scored two goals since – to head the ball past Matt Duke. The paltry 4,000 home attendance roars loudly in delight, and as you slump back in your uncomfortable plastic seat there’s a realisation that the pain now engulfing you won’t completely go away for days yet.

Just like Morecambe and Bristol Rovers found against the Bantams in the previous two games, there simply wasn’t any time for the players to make up for conceding so late. The referee blew the final whistle within seconds, the Port Vale fans cheered enthusiastically again.

Outside the ground one Valiants supporter stopped me and my friend to commiserate and bluntly sum up our misery: “You must feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach.” His kindness was a comfort of sorts, perhaps because it revealed even the opposition knew their late joy was not merited. As we had began to file out of the away end seconds earlier, City’s players had received a great reception for their efforts. As though we were all conscious not to let them think we we’re going to turn on them.

And why would we; for this was an evening featuring lots of positives, which now must be built upon rather than hastily written off. On the back of such a promising attacking performance at the weekend, City continued to look dangerous in the final third and are genuinely threatening to flourish over the coming weeks from their new, quick-fire passing approach.

Carrying on where they left off, Phil Parkinson’s two outfield signings Kyel Reid and Jamie Devitt again impressed greatly. The former enjoyed comfortably his best performance in a Bantams shirt to date and was behind so much of his team’s best moves, even working hard defending too. Devitt once more looked a player far above the level he is playing at – and the only negative from enjoying his elegant approach work and deft touches is knowing there is no way he will remain at Valley Parade for too long.

With Michael Flynn and Ritchie Jones linking up effectively in the centre of midfield and James Hanson showing greater work-rate and aggression than on Saturday, City were a joy to watch and had Vale on the ropes at times in the second half. We can only hope such eye-catching tactics prove more successful quickly, before they are compromised for something less appealing.

Because there is no doubt there are also some sizable problems for Parkinson to tackle. It took barely a minute for Port Vale to get in behind City’s backline, with Ben Williamson firing a one-on-one opportunity wide of the post. Soon after the home side took the lead with an outstanding long-distance strike from left back Rob Taylor, yet the time and space he’d been afforded to run at the back four and take aim was hugely worrying.

The opening weeks of the season are seeing City concede far too many soft goals. Opposition teams are not having to work nearly as hard to find the back of the net than they should. In each of the eight league games to date, City have gone 1-0 down. No matter how much good attacking play we see at the other end and whoever Parkinson eventually brings in as an extra striker option, without a solid defensive platform points will continue to be dropped.

It seemed as though City were getting better defensively with the second half display against Barnet, and draws with Sheffield Wednesday and Morecambe. Yet on Saturday and even more so tonight, leaks have sprung again. When Pope headed a sitter wide on seven minutes he should have been putting his side 3-0 up. During the first 45 minutes especially the entire back four looked panicky and unsure every time Vale attacked.

Not that this is an issue that should be blamed fully on the defence. Parkinson’s more expansive style of play is bringing out the best in Flynn and Jones going forwards; but not enough protection is being afforded to the back four, which the opposition are exploiting. Vale’s opener tonight was similar to Bristol Rovers’ second on Saturday in the fact no one was tracking deep runners in possession. Both also featured Flynn and Guy Branston arguing over who was to blame. The problem of how the midfield is set up when they don’t have the ball should be high on Parkinson’s radar.

At least City found their feet eventually; and with Reid causing havoc on both wings, chances began to occur at the other end. On 24 minutes Devitt struck an equally spectacular goal to Taylor’s, following a brilliant run by Reid which opened up the space. Branston’s header from Chris Mitchell’s corner was tipped onto the bar soon after, and a first away win of the campaign seemed more probable.

Yet momentum and spark was ruined by a howler from Duke just before half time. A corner into the box had initially been punched clear by the former Hull stopper, but Taylor’s attempt to float the ball back into the danger area ended up slowly looping in the air before dropping under the crossbar. Realising too late, Duke’s attempt to claw the ball away only speeded up its arrival in the back of the net.

Duke received some disappointingly venomous abuse from some City fans in the immediate aftermath. To date it had been a low-key start to his Bantams career, but although he enjoyed a more solid second half that included been targeted physically by Vale with high balls towards him in the box, this mistake now leaves him under greater scrutiny. Two weeks ago this evening, on-loan Oscar Jansson was performing penalty heroics for City before been sent back to Spurs early. Duke has it all to do, though the thinking behind Parkinson’s decision to swap a loanee for a permanent keeper is laudable.

In difficult conditions, home keeper Chris Martin didn’t enjoy a perfect night either. Five minutes into the second half, he might have done better in his attempt to keep out Jones’ low shot which nestled in the corner, following an excellent burst forward by Devitt. At 2-2 the game was end-to-end with City’s backline looking more solid and their fluent approach play cutting Vale open regularly. Devitt, Flynn and substitute Jack Compton all came close, while Duke made a couple of decent saves.

A draw seemed a fair result. But as the game headed towards stoppage time and City won a series of corners and throw in chances for Liam Moore, we were greedy for more. Instead, then came Pope’s punch in the stomach.

Much work needed defensively, and in the longer-term the increasing reliance on Reid and Devitt could prove a problem too. Both continue to struggle for match fitness and the threat from the visitors reduced considerably after Parkinson subbed them, with no one else in the team able to offer such pace. City’s style of play requires speed of thought in passing but also speed in movement, and while Devitt is able to offer that until at least the end of November there remains a troubling question of what happens next. Build the team around him now and worry about what to do after he leaves? A question for another time, perhaps.

Ultimately City left Vale Park as they arrived it – a work in progress. But while efforts to bolster the forward line are a visible priority for Parkinson, it may be the other end of the pitch where the most pressing work is required.

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.

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.

Kyel Reid signs for Bantams, Cooper to undertake key role against Sheffield Wednesday

In what must be the quickest ever first signing by a Bantams manager, Kyel Reid has this afternoon signed a two year contract with Bradford City.

Reid, who played under new boss Phil Parkinson at Charlton, is a 23-year-old left winger and his arrival would appear to place Jack Compton’s future in doubt. The on-loan Falkirk winger is here until January and has impressed, but Reid’s quick arrival is a statement of intent.

Parkinson told the club’s official website:

I watched some of our games over the weekend and I just felt another attacking threat was needed, especially in wide areas. Kyel certainly fits that bit, he’s like an old-fashioned wide player. He’ll attack the full back and get balls into the box.

Reid could make his debut in tomorrow’s JPT game, subject to Football League clearance. He began his career at West Ham, making just three appearances after emerging through the youth ranks. He chose to leave Upton Park in search of first team football, moving to Sheffield United in 2009. However, he only made seven appearances for the Blades and joined Parkinson at Charlton, initially on loan. He has also had loan spells at Barnsley, Crystal Palace and Blackpool.

Meanwhile Parkinson has confirmed assistant manager Colin Cooper will play a big part in plans for the Sheffield Wednesday tie. Parkinson told the official site:

Just to keep the continuity going from Saturday, he has taken training this morning and he will be sorting out all the organisational stuff for tomorrow. I will also be seeking his advice when it comes to the team selection. I think that is the best thing to do for tomorrow and then we will take it from there.

On Wednesday the pair will sit down and discuss Cooper’s future. It would appear up to Cooper – who has ambitions of becoming a manager himself – whether he stays.

City have made a bid for Paul Benson but have yet to be given permission to speak to the Charlton striker. The transfer window closes on Wednesday.

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