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

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary MacKenzie, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Mark Yeates | James Hanson, Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, Tony McMahon, Christopher Routis

The emotion

“Eight One.

Eight Bloody One!

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

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

They were the worst.”

Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns

The substance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goosebury season

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Richard Eckersley, Rob Kiernan, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Tom Adeyemi, Tommy Doherty, David Syers | Jason Price, James Hanson, Gareth Evans | Lee Hendrie

“He came at noon, asking for water.

There is a tipping point in most everything which convinces all that hope and expectation are to be dashed and it seems that that Peter Taylor’s Bradford City career reached that point in a 4-0 defeat at Cheltenham.

It would be wrong to say that the defeat saw the Bantams bested with ease but to suggest that the resistance to the home side was especially dogged or passionate would not paint a true picture either. For a half hour City exchanged blows as one would expect a team on the road to do – a three man forward line hinted at but dragged out of position and Jason Price oddly named captain in what would seem to be one of his final games of a loan spell – but as soon as Marlon Pack scored the home side’s second so rapidly after Jeff Goulding’s first the game was over, and it seemed the tipping point reached.

It has been noted before that Peter Taylor’s the Bantams have a habit of being second by a centimetre that in the end might as well be a mile and at times that was true today although as the second half wore on it seemed that that centimetre had increased to more and so the chasm between what is and what is expected became obvious.

There is a level of commitment required by any team to win any football match and for sure Peter Taylor knows that – the fact that his post-match comments deftly describe the issues which resolved the game so firmly in Cheltenham’s favours serves to frustrate – but his inability to get this group of players to produce that level is the defining principal of the season.

There are times that City have looked impressive this season, indeed when David Syers put the ball in (ruled out for offside) and when Luke O’Brien showed a quickness of foot and guile down the left it was shown today, but looking impressive in spells is common to all clubs, and to all managers at this club, and has never been the stuff of promotion.

Wes Thomas’s fine finish towards the end – the result of a midfield which simply watched the ball rather than fight for it – seemed to push minds further over the brink. City, it seems, are going nowhere and not especially fast.

Which is not prediction (nor indeed a prediction I would make, because I do not deal in them) but rather the opinion crystallised in defeat. It seems that there is too much not right in the Bantams at the moment to imagine enough going right to suggest promotion. Many, perhaps most, over the past month have been optimistic that Taylor’s team would come good when the likes of Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn return and the loan players are swapped around but those ideas seemed to melt like the snow today.

So there is blame – there is always blame – and it is shared liberally around. Peter Taylor stands looking clueless it is said (although I suspect he knows more than most what is going wrong, and probably how to fix it, but struggles to get that fix in place) and it is hard to imagine Mark Lawn giving him a new contract at the end of the season. The merits of changing manager – or should that be the lack of merits – have been discussed at length but probably the most troubling thing is that six months ago Lawn jumped through hoops backwards for this manager and in six months time one worries what the next incumbent will be being given.

Certainly the players take criticism and rightly so – today few of them will have been proud and when one struggles to put in League Two performances one is not far from no longer being a professional footballer – but Bradford City’s solution is not to replace one group of League Two players with another and never has been.

The deterioration of the club over this season is illustrated in Robbie Threlfall. Signed and lauded as superb after some opening displays Threlfall has not lost a leg nor has he suddenly become less able to kick a football in the past nine months. Replacing Threlfall would be punitive on the basis of performances but there is no reason to believe the next man would be better. At some point the hand becomes the wrist and a player like Threlfall is no longer the talent he was, and is replaced, to little or no effect.

At Bradford City ultimately the manager is given the responsibility for the failings. One can create a list as long as your arm of things which Peter Taylor is doing wrong at City and in all likelihood the opposite of them would have been used as a criticism of his predecessor Stuart McCall. Taylor’s team are too regimented, it was said today, and as a result have no camaraderie but McCall’s were too casual and lax not wearing suits. Defeat does not seem to hurt Taylor, but it seemed to hurt McCall too much and cloud his judgement.

So the criticism that Taylor changes his team and his captain seemingly at random with Lee Hendrie having been dropped from both roles despite seemingly performing well in them is valid but no one would thank him for having a settled team if it lost. I am struck by the feeling though that they would lose less often if that were the case.

Indeed my personal gripes with Taylor are common to many a manager. Too many loan players who never give enough to the cause coupled with a tendency to drift away from the tried and tested especially in the four-four-two.

The achieving results in football matches are all that matters and today it seems that there was a swing in belief that Peter Taylor does not know how to achieve in football matches.

And Peter Taylor knows more about in achieving results in football matches than anyone else in a decision making role at the club does. One has to wonder when Taylor looks at this season and decides that while he has done what he can – indeed that he has done what he does to achieve promotion at other clubs – things have not gone as he would have liked. Building winning teams is not making sorbet, sometimes you follow the same recipe and the outcome is different.

But when does Taylor stop believing that City will go up? Does he believe we will?

I mention this for a good reason.”

Recent Posts