The form team

It would be easy to not notice in the trials and tribulations which are the life of a Bradford City supporter that the club has returned to something approaching form.

In the six games since the start of October City have played twice at home and four times on the road in the league which our “win at home, draw away Championship” form tell us should result in ten points. With two home wins and two away draws City have returned eight.

So when Phil Parkinson talks about the club having got the message about what it takes to get on in football he does so from a position of believing he is having some success in that aim.

Indeed the one thing that can be said about City’s recent games is that the players have shown the guts to drag out results in trying circumstances. The win at home to Torquay United and the draw at Swindon Town were both done with ten men following sendings off.

Which says much about Phil Parkinson’s approach to management and how he hopes to have his City teams become hard to play against. Swindon, in the play off places, could not break down the Bantams and like Macclesfield before them found chances hard to come by. It is a different City to one we are perhaps used to – Stuart McCall’s side created chances at both ends – but one which has started to have an impact.

Both the sendings off were for Andrew Davies and both were straight red cards leaving the player on loan from Stoke City with a three, and now a four match ban. The luck of the draw – or bad luck – is that two of those games will be the JPT and FA Cup.

In Davies’ absence Marcel Seip returns to his role in the centre of the defence alongside Luke Oliver while Liam Moore and Luke O’Brien take the full back berths in front of Matt Duke. It is heartening that with the changes at the back have not come an instability suggesting that Parkinson’s attempts to build an ethic as well as a team are having some effect.

Michael Flynn and Richie Jones were reunited in the middle at Swindon and continued to good effect. No two players typify Phil Parkinson’s comment to his players:

The emphasis we’re putting on the players is that to wear a Bradford City shirt, you’ve got to roll your sleeves up and work hard.

Kyel Reid takes a place on the left and Michael Bryan will hope for a place on the right although Jamie Devitt is pushing for a recall having returned to the squad. James Hanson and Craig Fagan are expected to carry on up front.

Cheltenham arrive at Valley Parade in a play off place and – like Swindon and Macclesfield – are in what is called good form. How Parkinson will approach the game – not including a reaction to a red card – will further inform us as to the style of management he hopes to cement at Valley Parade.

The spirit rises as City refuse to beaten

The Team

Matt Duke | Marcel Seip, Andrew Davies, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Michael Bryan, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Craig Fagan, James Hanson | Liam Moore

As a general rule, unused substitutes don’t usually need to join in with the team’s warm down after the match. Yet after spending the entire final 30 minutes at The Country Ground stretching and jogging up and down the touchline, at full time Bradford City’s Jack Compton and Ross Hannah might have been tempted to join their 10 heroic team mates on the cool down.

Substitutes Compton and Hannah were on permanent stand-by in case it went wrong. Under clear instructions from their manager, Phil Parkinson – who at one stage ordered them back to their feet when they had returned to sit down on the bench – to be ready for the call to go onto the field at the shortest of notice. Victim to yet another atrocious refereeing decision that had seen central defender Andrew Davies red-carded after 57 minutes, City were left to defend for their lives with Compton and Hannah ready as Plan C, if their goal was breached. The pair’s failure to get on the field illustrated Plan B’s success.

For although the Bantams has parked the bus in the preservation of a point; once a man down they were left with little realistic alternative, considering their high-flying hosts Swindon Town had, since August 16, failed to score in a game only once. It was a truly outstanding, backs to the wall performance in the final half hour, with central defenders Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip particularly courageous and Michael Flynn and Ritchie Jones superbly protecting the back four. A first clean sheet on the road for six months, and a very, very good point.

That it came to hanging on was the game’s major talking point – and how depressing and frankly boring it is to be writing about a referee yet again. City were on the attack deep in Swindon’s half, but the ball suddenly broke for Jake Jervis who was then fouled inside his own half by Davies. A mistimed challenge for sure, a yellow card perhaps. Yet the referee Oliver Langford instantly pulled out a red to send the on-loan Stoke defender off on the day he’d returned from a three match suspension following a previous controversial red card.

There is some talk that Davies was dismissed for being the last man and denying a goal scoring opportunity. While that does seem nonsense in view of the number of City players around – and the fact Jervis was in his own half – it’s even harder to understand how Langford could believe the tackle warranted a red card. Davies took a long time to leave the field, as team mates supported his protest appeals. Liam Moore – unfortunate to have been left out, but who had been poor at Macclesfield – quickly joined the action with Seip moved inside. A 4-4-1 formation was employed to try and see out the game.

It’s ironic that City were forced to hang on for a point, given the criticism – largely unfair – towards Parkinson for supposedly playing too conservatively in the previous two away games. Plan A today involved two wingers and a 4-4-2 formation which showed clear intentions to attack Swindon. Parkinson’s pre-match comments that City are good enough to beat anyone in League Two had felt dubious but – as they evenly matched opponents who began and ended the day in the play off positions – this barometer reading of how the Bantams compare to a top seven side produced encouraging results.

Swindon certainly had the most chances and possession even before Davies was sent off, but the improvement in defence that has been evidenced for a number of weeks now – even if not always reflected by results – was continued. Decent home build up play was often stopped by the hard-working Jones and Flynn, while new full backs Seip and Luke O’Brien both did well neutralising the threat on their wings. Davies was like Oliver, rock solid. When City had possession they didn’t simply hoof it hopefully to James Hanson or Craig Fagan, but passed the ball around patiently and got wingers Kyel Reid and Michael Bryan heavily involved. Both caused problems and created openings.

City did not look and perform like a team 4th bottom of League Two.

Home keeper Wes Foderingham’s mistake in picking up a back pass gave the Bantams an early indirect free kick inside the box, but Flynn’s effort was blocked. Not long after Fagan shot tamely from Hanson’s knock down and sometime after that City’s top scorer couldn’t get power when heading a Seip cross goalwards. The best chance came when Bryan was played clean through on goal but in a wide position, and the young winger couldn’t get a decent ball into the box towards the onrushing Fagan. Swindon had chances too, but Matt Duke’s only save came, once again, from a shot outside the box (on this occasion a free kick) – underlining the robustness of his back four.

Without Davies’ red card the game would probably have continued in that way: Swindon having plenty of the ball and producing some attractive football, City defending well and a strong threat on the counter attack. Langford’s intervention stopped the game as an even contest, and left Swindon with 30 minutes to make their extra man count.

It was easy to fear the worst, as the home side produced some heavy pressure and fired numerous crosses into the box. Not least when it became clear Duke had picked up an injury which meant he could not take goal kicks. Yet Oliver and Seip seemed to have a magnetic effect on the ball, and time and time again it was one of the pair who would get to it first and clear.

Duke had just two second-half saves to make – and one came when it was 11 v 11, after O’Brien’s slip forced the keeper to make an excellent one-on-one block. Other attempts at goal sailed wide or over the bar, but never really close to going under it.

The threat of a goal remained right to the end, yet Swindon seemed to run out of ideas and perhaps took a lead from their attention-seeking, immature manager Paulo Di Canio. He began to get ridiculously wound up by any decision he didn’t get or whenever his players made a mistake. Sure, all managers get like this to a certain extent too, but with 20 or so minutes to go and Swindon well on top one would have expected more coolness and professionalism from a manager – rather than transmitting obvious panic that it wasn’t going to be their day.

Some people think Di Canio is amusing, me I’d take the more reserved but clearly still passionate Parkinson any day.

The full time whistle was met with a huge cheer from us away supporters, and deservedly so. Applying rationale thinking, it is obvious the corner is being turned and City are moving forwards. At the start of this month we had set off to Burton with such little hope and growing fears about the future. But we produced a great performance that day, followed by a memorable cup victory over our neighbours, two home wins and now this point. The two defeats among this run were frustrating for sure, but it is beginning to come together.

October has ended with City in a much better position than when we started it. Progress might still be too slow to inspire hope of joining Swindon in the play off push, but the foundations of developing a side good enough to be up there ability-wise are starting to come through. City have improved greatly at the back, while Parkinson has a range of attacking options available that not too many League Two clubs can better.

That side of the Bantams had to be shelved for the final half hour this afternoon, but the spirit and determination to cling on to the point stands the club in good stead for the winter months to come.

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

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Marcel Seip, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Adam Reed | Craig Fagan, James Hanson, Kyel Reid | Luke O'Brien, Michael Bryan, Jamie Devitt

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.

The walking stage as City head to Macclesfield looking to build a running position

Functionalism seems the most fitting label when reflecting on the way Phil Parkinson has lined up Bradford City in the last three games, at least.

Functionalism is a theory that design (in this case tactics and team selection) should be determined by its practicality rather than by aesthetic considerations. Like buying a supermarket brand of baked beans because money is a little tight, aside from the slip up to Hereford, the Bantams have accomplished their objectives in a largely efficient manner. The style will have to come later.

A run of disappointing results had intensified the need to start winning at all costs, and so for now at least the attractive manner of passing football that had featured in the Bristol Rovers and Port Vale games has been shelved by Parkinson. That’s not to say City under Parkinson have become as dour as they were a year earlier under Peter Taylor, but there are certainly similarities in the more organised nature of the way City have played.

As the saying goes, you need to learn to walk before you can run. City couldn’t afford to carry on playing well but losing points, so for now we are watching a different approach that is proving more effective in grinding out results and slowly tightening up a defence which has been far too leaky.

Expect more of the same at in-form Macclesfield tonight. City have only managed to pick up three points on the road this season, and haven’t won in the league away from home since James Hanson’s first half header at Moss Rose six months ago did much to preserve the Bantam’s league status. Parkinson apparently adopted a more defensive approach in the last away match at Hereford but didn’t get the sufficient levels of performance from his players; but it seems plausible he will prioritise not getting beaten this evening over playing in the open way at Port Vale a month ago, which was highly unfortunate to go unrewarded.

Should the slow and steady improvement be continued, it will be interesting to observe when Parkinson begins to give his attacking players more of a free reign to show their flair. Perhaps he has looked back on his early games in charge and concluded he tried to implement that passing, expansive style of play too soon.

As much as we can say recent tactics are more in the thinking of Taylor’s ethos, the former City manager had his team playing in that manner from day one and made no attempt to disguise such intentions. Parkinson, you feel, is different. Complaints about the style of football he played in previous jobs are well-known, but you don’t get to be a scout at a club with the philosophy of Arsenal – like Parkinson was when out of work last season – by being anti-football.

The need to earn wins and push City away from the relegation worries is hugely important, but that doesn’t mean Parkinson has found a formula that he will stick to for the rest of the season.

So we watch recent performances with raised spirits by the results, a few tiny doubts about the approach taken but optimism that what the more stylish football glimpsed previously will be continued when the time is right and with better personnel (e.g. a more solid defensive platform from which to play attacking football). Right now, functionalism is the key. One hopes we’ll have fun this season too.

Macclesfield offer a much stronger test than City’s last three opponents. Without being disrespectful, there is a theory that clubs of the Silkmen’s type – that is to say clubs with low resources compared to others – tend to start seasons well, but fade away when injuries and suspensions become too testing for a small squad. Nevertheless with three wins from four and only one home loss to date, it is not the greatest of timing for City to face them.

A win for City tonight though and we’ll have our own three from four, and the mood around the club will improve dramatically. A defeat and – with tough games to come against Swindon and third-placed Cheltenham – doom and gloom will weigh heavily.

Matt Duke keeps goal despite a constant soundtrack of supporters demanding he is dropped for Jon McLaughlin (odd that, seen as at the end of last season McLaughlin was getting slated). For me, the relationship between supporter and goalkeeper is about trust and, at the moment, Duke struggles to hold ours. As such, every time a goal goes in we instantly question whether he should have saved it. When a goalkeeper has earned our trust, we don’t do that unless they make a notable mistake.

Duke was blamed by some supporters for Michael Jacobs’ thunderbolt strike for Northampton – which seems ridiculous. Equally I can’t understand why Hereford’s goals were labelled his fault the week earlier. He is getting slowly better, and we need to stick with him.

In the defence, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall sit either side of Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip. It was an encouraging home debut from the Dutch defender, who looked better when he didn’t have to think compared to a few occasions when he had time to assess his options. Perhaps he is the opposite of Steve Williams.  Two of the midfield four pick themselves, with Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid both producing superb second half displays on Saturday.

Who will play alongside them is where the controversy will centre on, if the game is lost (because Parkinson has already seemingly past the honeymoon and has been attracting some strong criticism from some supporters,  so they will need some ammunition). While Adam Reed did okay on Saturday, Michael Flynn is playing far too well not to be recalled on his return from suspension. However, Reed may keep his place in the centre and Jones moved wide right.

If Parkinson does this all hell will break loose, because it means the promising Michael Bryan will have been dropped. Yet the functionalism theory dictates that playing with two out and out wingers away from home is a more risky strategy, and Parkinson does not seem shy of making such a tough call in picking Jones as a wide midfielder to give City a stronger central midfield. Personally I thought Bryan did well in flashes on Saturday, but some of the praise he received seemed a little over the top.

Up front Craig Fagan and James Hanson will continue, with Parkinson a big fan of the pair developing a partnership that showed initial promise on Saturday and at Burton a few weeks back.

There are plenty of other people waiting in the wings, but the likes of Jamie Devitt, Chris Mitchell and the injured Ross Hannah may have to wait patiently until the pressure on the team lessens to the point style can be prioritised again. Rarely has a Bradford City season being about the squad of players, rather than the first 11, in the way that this one is shaping up to be.

Bradford City man up

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Marcel Seip, Robbie Threlfall | Michael Bryan, Adam Reed, Richie Jones, Kyel Reid | Craig Fagan, James Hanson | Luke O'Brien

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.

I have in my hand a piece of paper…

…or rather a collection of a pieces of paper stapled together in the top left corner. It was passed to me by Archie Christie – it has his first name under the staple – as part of the day we spent with him as an illustration of the work that get done at City.

I’m not going to tell you what is in the papers for reasons which will become clear, dear reader, but I can tell you what it says on the front. Under a large Bantams’ Badge reads the words “Bradford City Match Assessment” and under that – written in pen (although this is a photocopy) read the names “Macclesfield T” and “Northampton T”.

The date reads “17th of September” which was – according to the inscriptions – a dry and windy day.

For years, decades, I’ve heard about football clubs who “do their homework” on the opposition, who “have them watched” and for the first time I have the information (or a part of it) which Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin will be looking over to plan City’s team.

It is a coincidence that paper I got was between is City’s next two opponents but probably not that scout Nigel Brown who authored the document – it carries his name – took in the match. Nigel Brown and Archie Christie talked about arriving at City and finding a filing cabinet marked scouting reports which had sub-divisions for each league and each letter in that league but absolutely nothing in them. If someone had been doing the homework at Bradford City before Christie and Brown then the dog had almost certainly eaten it.

It struck me in the weeks after embedding with him that Christie’s role at the club split down three lines none of which were having that much attention paid to them before his arrival. The first and most obvious was the player recruitment and development side which is an all encompassing one taking in watching players as well as the activities with the Development Squad. Then, most celebrated, is his deal making as seen in George Green’s move to Everton. Potentially Green’s move is the largest transfer between the fourth tier and the top tier of English football ever. Finally there is the homework side and preparing information for the first team’s manager.

Christie started the operation from an empty cabinet and was taking in a game at Halifax Town when he bumped into Brown – Brown told us that most Scouts know each other – and Christie invited him to come in and help with the network. The pair of them assembled a team of around a half dozen scouts up and down the country. There is a private scouting network which clubs can subscribe to which provides information on any team for a fee which might account for where Peter Taylor was getting his information on visiting teams but Brown is sceptical about the merits of that. It struck me that if the aim of scouting teams is to find weaknesses then a report that is freely purchased by anyone will detail faults that a manager would be a fool not to fix. Christie and Brown’s scouting – if it contains a note on how a team can be got at – is known only to City.

The scouts (including Christie and Brown) go watch League Two games, non-league games, reserve games and fill in the type of form which sits in front of me today. The approach is detailed. Reserve games are important in case of suspensions forcing a change to the starting eleven while non-league games (and higher reserve games) allow information about players who may end up being recruited by the opposition. Christie tells a story of Dagenham being undone by a player who had not featured in the first team but cropped up on a Tuesday night on the south coast to frustrate the Daggers.

There was an obvious question about what Christie’s scouting network had thought about the City teams he had faced. Christie did not say anything against anyone who had stalked the halls of Valley Parade before him but the impression I got was that at Dagenham City’s team under Stuart McCall was considered to be nice to look at but soft in the centre and easy to get at, easy to beat. I loved watching Stuart’s side’s play expansive football but I’d have to agree with that analysis.

The empty cabinet is an interesting idea but we know that in the past managers at City have talked about watching clubs – Stuart McCall’s post-game interviews would often include a reference to having seen the team before – but the image remains. John Hendrie once talked about how City would often see unknown faces around the training ground who turned out to be the opposition scouts finding out the team for Saturday.

So one assumes that there must have been paper in this cabinet at some point, files on teams and players filled by McCall (who took a scouting role for Norwich after he left City), Colin Todd or whoever, but the open space tells a story of its own.

That story involves the recruitment of a scouting network to watch teams 70% of which are based in the South. It involves a network of contacts built up who fulfil Brown demanding criteria. Brown worked with Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn Rovers having a hand in the signing of Alan Shearer for £3.5m and the sale of him for “£16.75m” (which is not the figure widely circulated, but the one Brown told us) after “getting the best years out of him.” After working with Dalglish – “He never watched games, loved his videos” – Brown moved onto Wigan Athletic as Dave Whelan started building his tier three club built to compete at the top level from the ground up. Brown is the sort of man you hope a scout is, quietly spoken but deeply knowledgeable and with a steel in his eye for a player. While Christie believes that desire is the thing to look for in a player Brown wants acceleration over five yards. The two are a great combination – Christie calls Brown “Nigel Green” and Brown smiles back. “I can’t do the negotiations like Archie can” he went on to say.

The scouts who Brown and Christie got to join City were tasked with watching City too – the City they watched being the one which Mark Lawn commented on last week – and gave their opinions. Perhaps these informed Lawn’s comments and Parkinson’s changes since he took over. Certainly there were recurrent themes in the reports which Christie and Brown got back and it seems to me that those have been addressed, or have been attempted to be addressed.

The aim of the opposition scouting networking is to provide the manager with everything he could want. It is then up to the manager and his coaching staff to decide how much notice he wants to take of that information. Not all managers are interested but what I have in front of me makes fascinating reading and I could see no reason why a manager would not welcome this with arms open. The Damned Utd (not an historical source but a cracking read) has Brian Clough refuse to look at Don’s Dodgy Dossiers on the opposition, real life tells us he had Peter Taylor watching every inch of opponents.

Without showing the report it is hard to illustrate what it has in it but the circulated version of a report on Newcastle United written by Andre Villas-Boas when he was scout at Chelsea offers similar (although City use numbers and not pictures of shirts) and is indicative of the level of research which goes into preparing for a game.

There is no Bradford City Official Secrets Act (aside from Christie tell us not to go showing the report around, it has not left my office physically or virtually since) but I think it is best if what we know about them stays under wraps for now but I recall watching City over the past thirty years and seeing the odd event that would have been captured in this document and would not have poised a problem. The Paul Merson/Benito Carbone short corner that unlocked City in the Premier League, the wall of tiny Wigan players who created themselves in front of City’s wall at a free kick in the late eighties only to break off and leave many bemused and little else, Peter Jackson and Chris Branston’s antics from a corner at the McAlpine in the mid part of the decade.

Simple things like the fact that a number three might play in central midfield and not left back to more technical and detailed lore. The experience of watching City play Northampton Town at Valley Parade will, for me, come with a crib sheet and I wonder how that will change the way I see the game. When he was Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan was fond of appearing on Match of the Day saying how he and his players had worked all week on doing one thing and – for reasons of their own – the players had decided to do something else. I wonder if I will see the same.

Northampton Town arrive at Valley Parade on the back of a 3-0 defeat by Port Vale which saw questions asked but in generally rude form. They are seventeenth in the table.

City go into the game on the back of a disappointing result at Hereford United and have before them a familiar set of criticisms. Matt Duke is criticised because he could have been better positioned for the goals that Hereford scored (or so it is said) although the best position is always “in the way” and “not in the way” seldom has any merits. Duke’s single clean sheet was last time out at Valley Parade against Torquay United.

Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip are expected to retain the central defensive positions although Steve Williams is returning to the reckoning. Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will be full backs although looking at the report I might be… No, best not.

Michael Flynn’s two game suspension sees him sit out the match and allows Adam Reed and Richie Jones to take the middle positions with Kyel Reid wide left. Phil Parkinson could be tempted to drop Jamie Devitt to wide right, recall Mark Stewart for that position or give Chris Mitchell his place in the side back. City have missed Mitchell’s delivery in recent weeks. David Syers’ injury and Flynn’s suspension open the possibility of Scott Brown getting a place on the bench.

Craig Fagan is starting to be cemented into the forward line up in James Hanson’s absence though injury. Hanson may return and take a place in the starting line up although if he is not fit Parkinson may continue with his policy of having a man lead the line and another feeding off him and deploy Devitt or Stewart behind Fagan. All link men – the position in question – are judged by a standard of Peter Beardsley and Stewart seems most able to find space and move the ball on then make for an attacking position but Devitt’s game could be tweaked to do the same.

Such talk is the talk of scribbles on paper though – attacking diagrams done on beer mats – and football is played on grass and not paper. Some pieces of paper, however, certainly are worth a read before the boot sets foot on turf.

Out of the Frying Pan

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Marcel Seip, Robbie Threlfall | Richie Jones, Adamn Reed, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, Craig Fagan | Mark Stewart, Luke O'Brien, Michael Bryan

Hereford’s new Director of Football Gary Peters likened to himself to “Red Adair” when he took over at Edgar Street, in reference to his track record of rescuing struggling clubs, and these qualities will be required in abundance if the Bulls are to escape their predicament. On Saturday’s evidence they may not be alone in that assessment. A disjointed, uninspiring display from Bradford resulted in them leaving with exactly what they deserved, now only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

Phil Parkinson decided to recall Jamie Devitt and Adam Reed into the starting eleven with Devitt playing off Craig Fagan and Reed partnering Flynn in the middle. This again forced Ritchie Jones out to the right flank, something seen often over recent weeks without the midfielder ever looking comfortable. Marcel Seip, replacing the suspended Davies and the departed Branston alongside Luke Oliver, stands as one of the only success stories to come out of the game for the Bantams, putting in an assured performance in the heart of the City backline in the face of a testing aerial barrage throughout.

The match started slowly in the sleepy confines of Edgar Street, only awakened by the sporadic calls of the hordes of school children shipped in for today’s game, cited as a must-win for Hereford by manager Jamie Pitman. What was seen on the pitch would be better described as rugby than football. Little focus or energy was expended on ball retention or build up play, instead focusing on field position and set pieces. Long throws and corners were the entry point of choice for Hereford, and both sides spent the majority of the game attempting to find touch deep in the opposition half. This was obviously the game plan of Hereford who boasted a physical side, led by lanky midfielder Harry Pell and their powerful forward Nathan Elder.

It would be nice to say that Phil Parkinson’s side attempted to play football around the rigidly defensive Bulls, but it wouldn’t be accurate, they were just as bad. Hereford brought Bradford down to their level with remarkable ease.

Neither side showed the attacking intent or skill to indicate any goals were forthcoming and it was clear early on that this game would be decided by mistakes. A couple of marking mishaps in the City backline led to first half chances for Elder and Pell which were spurned, and after a corner was poorly cleared Stephen Leslie rocketed a shot destined for the top corner before the intervention of Duke who tipped the ball onto the bar. This was a startling moment of skill, entirely out of context in a game such as this. Bradford’s best chance fell to Craig Fagan who crashed the ball over the bar from close range after good work from Devitt set him clean through on goal.

The second half picked up where the first left off, seemingly destined for 0-0 until the ejection of Michael Flynn changed the course of the game. City’s captain could have no complaints about his sending off, the second booking coming after the Welshman cynically brought down the surging Pell outside the City area. Stephen Leslie, who had two long distance shots saved well by Duke up to this point then dispatched the ball into top corner. Leslie, recruited by Peters from Shrewsbury soon after his arrival was clearly Hereford’s key man and it was of little surprise he was the difference in the game.

It’s easy to blame Duke for the concession of another long range strike but there was little he could do about this one, and he had made two impressive saves from distance before this. What should be more of a worry is the performance of the outfield players who showed a distinct lack of invention and skill throughout. Hereford flooded the midfield, restricting the space for Devitt to work, and doubled up on Kyel Reid leading to Bradford running out of ideas all too quickly. In lieu of attempting to work through the rigid defensive lines, Parkinson’s men instead resorted to pumping the ball long in the vague direction of Craig Fagan and the corner flags, worryingly reminiscent of the Jackson era.  

Fagan cut a frustrated character throughout spending large periods of the game isolated, chasing after a succession of lost causes. This frustration grew as the game wore on and culminated at the final whistle as Fagan angrily attempted to smash the ball out of the ground amongst the euphoric celebrations of the Hereford contingent, before heading straight for the tunnel. After the support, or lack thereof, he received from his teammates during the game, this was easy to understand.

After Leslie’s opener the mood around Edgar Street noticeably lifted, the confidence began to flow throughout the team, and there was little doubt in which end the next goal would come. Parkinson altered to a 3-4-2 with Luke O’Brien taking over in central midfield, this left City exposed to the counter, and after a probing run at the heart of the defence, the impressive Tom Barkhuizen neatly played a one two with substitute Yoann Arquin before slotting past Duke.

Arquin’s introduction along with the ever more rotund Delroy Facey at 0-0 showed the endeavour of the Bulls who could see this game was for the taking, and both contributed well as Hereford closed out what would prove to be a relatively easy win.

After the game Phil Parkinson placed the blame at the feet of Michael Flynn for the defeat, but this rather seems an easy excuse for the City manager. In truth the side deserved nothing more and a better opponent would have exposed them to a far greater extent. Bradford also got away with what looked a certain penalty before the opener, Jones handling in the area. It’s difficult to recall a shot in anger on the Hereford goal nor any periods of sustained pressure from Parkinson’s men. With the exception of the suspended Davies and the injured Syers, this would probably represent the strongest side possible, and they looked thoroughly unimpressive throughout. Flynn is now set for a two match suspension missing next week’s games against Northampton and Macclesfield thanks to his fifth booking in the midst of his red card.

Peters’ impact on the struggling Bulls cannot be underestimated, for the second straight game he spent the second half on the touchline alongside manager Jamie Pitman, and it was clear that he was heavily involved in the management of the side. Five goals and four points in the two games since his arrival illustrate the impact which he has had on the West Midlands club, and while Bradford have improved markedly since the start of the season they remain in the same position, struggling for points, struggling for consistency, and looking over their shoulder with greater urgency with each passing week. Whilst Bradford look to have the talent and fire power not to have to call on a Red Adair or a Boots Hansen, the fact they are struggling to escape the grasps of the relegation zone is beginning to worry.


BfB is pleased to welcome Alex Scott to our band of Bantams. Alex’s own Bradford City website Concentrate On The League is on our must read lists and we point you towards it.

Branston loaned out to Rotherham

Guy Branston has been loaned out to Rotherham United for three months.

Branston – who was recruited as City’s skipper in the summer – put in his best performance for the club last week in the 1-0 win over Torquay United and it was thought that he would claim a place in the side with Andrew Davies’ suspension but it seems that the return to fitness of Steve Williams and the signing of Marcel Seip have seen a shuffling of the pecking order.

As Peter Jackson’s headline signing Branston has suffered from the change of manager at Valley Parade more than most although the rise of Luke Oliver was unexpected and has afforded City options at the back.

Phil Parkinson confirmed Branston’s loan move.

The building of our squad is still an ongoing process and I felt that the offer we received from Rotherham was a very good one financially for the football club. This is an opportunity for him to go and get the guarantee of first team football that we can’t offer him at the moment.

Branston is expected to feature in the Miller’s squad for the game with Bristol Rovers tonight while City are expected to give either Williams or Seip a place against Hereford United. Branston will not play in the FA Cup for Rotherham, nor will he play against City which – considering Jamie Devitt’s abilities to turn a man and tempt a foul – might not be a good thing for the Bantams.

On his loan – a return to Rotherham after a five year spell there earlier in his career – Branston could not have been more pleased.

When he told me who the club was I thought it was an opportunity to come and play football which is what I`m all about. I don`t believe in keeping benches warm so I took the opportunity and I`ve got a big grin on my face.

Branston added “I’m a different person. I’m calmer and more relaxed.” The mind boggles as to what he must have been like before.

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.

Williams and McLaughlin in the reserves win over Gateshead

Both defender Steve Williams and keeper Jon McLaughlin played in Bradford City reserves’ 2-1 win over Gateshead.

The Heed – who are second the the Conference and hoping for promotion to the League this season – scored though former favourite (of mine) Kyle Nix but the Bantams pair of Naille Rodney and Adam Baker gave City the win.

The Bantams gave a first start to midfielder Scott Brown along with new recruit Marcel Seip who played centre back with Andrew Burns at right back.

The win is City Reserves’ third victory of the season in three games having already gone to Rotherham and hosted Hartlepool coming out on top.

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