Colchester United and the Crawley Brawl

As far as match reports go few are more erudite than Damien Wilkinson’s comment on Bradford City’s 2-0 defeat in Essex at Colechester United.

Colchester will probably have harder training sessions than that.

The names may have changed but the problems remain for Bradford City. A goalkeeper making a mistake, a team playing without character, a ninety minutes where there were not enough threats to the opposition goal. A replay of Saturday but one could pick a dozen games since City returned to League One where the same could be said.

It has become manager Phil Parkinson’s nadir. The manager who builds teams – including one at Layer Road at the start of his career – based on players who will play for each other turning out teams who do not play for each other.

Original sin

Brad Jones – signed with fanfare – may step down as goalkeeper for the weekend trip to Rochdale after his mistake led to Colchester’s first goal.

Jones’ mistake does nothing for Ben Williams’ ability to control the space between where he can reach and where he positions his central defenders which is more Williams’ problem than his occasional mistake. Goalkeeper – more than any other position on the field – is a judgement made and stuck to. It is worrying that Parkinson believes in a fluidity between his custodians.

Worrying but not unprecedented. The City manager moved between Matt Duke and Jon McLaughlin when they were sharing goalkeeping responsibilities. Only Jordan Pickford – probably as a product of his loan arrangement – has been cemented into the City goal.

Street fighting man

McLaughlin’s exit plays heavy on the mind.

In Jon McLaughlin – who is keeping goal for League One leaders Burton Albion – City had a keeper who some still recall as making more than his fair share of mistakes but was vocal enough and improving to a point where he holds down a spot in the team at the top of City’s division.

McLaughlin’s play aside when considering the character problem in the team which City put out I cannot help but recall the sight of the City goalkeeper sprinting fifty yards to punch Crawley Town players after they had started to fight with City, and City’s Andrew Davies.

And while I’m not suggesting that there is a nobility in scrapping on the field I think back to The Crawley Brawl as a galvanising point for that City team.

I cannot – with all my powers of imagination – see many of the current City squad prepared to do what McLaughlin did that night. I cannot picture Williams or Jones or many of the current team sprinting fifty yards to stick up for their team mates in a fight.

Character study

As City warmed up against Colchester United Radio Five Live hosted a debate where they bemoaned the lack of leadership within the current Arsenal team. Arsene Wenger stood accused of inheriting leaders like Tony Adams and not being able to create anyone to replace them once they had passed into memory.

Journalist Henry Winter suggested that Wenger’s problems were the problems of all football. That in an era of squad players who understand that they will not be in the side every game, and in the era of increased player movement between clubs that can see someone like Mikeal Arteta leave Everton for Arsenal having seemingly become a part of the Goodison Park furniture, that the sort of leadership and character of a Tony Adams was not appropriate.

Expanding on Winter’s hypothesis would seem that managers have pursued players who can be used sparingly, and who understand that they are not essential to a team and can be rotated out, and so they do not grow the characteristics of the ever-present leader.

League One football is not Arsenal’s concern but the hypothesis may hold true.

It is hard to have players who could be described as leaders when those players after often at clubs over relatively short terms. Not every player had it in them to concern themselves with the general performance. Most look after their own game and – if you are lucky – that of the player next to them in a partnership.

Leadership – the type that promotes character in the team – seems an increasingly rare commodity and one which is not suited to being rotate or traded. For a player who has arrived on a two year deal as most do the point in which he starts to grow into a role at the club seems to be the point where the club start to look beyond him.

Take – as an example – Lee Bullock who in 2010 was the player’s player of the year but having spent eighteen months at VP. He signed a new contract that summer but changes of manager and focus saw Bullock play less and move on. While not wanting to comment on Bullock’s skills as a player it seems uncontroversial to suggest that no sooner had Bullock settled in then he was being marginalised in the number of games he played, and ultimately in his position at the club.

With players coming and going in this way it it hard to imagine how a player will establish themselves as leaders in the group of players to have the effect on the field we talk about. After six months you know everyone’s name, after eighteen months you might have everyone’s respect, but if you are marginalised after that how do you lead?

It has always been thus.

Stuart McCall was made, not bought, and both Andrew Davies and Gary Jones who also typified the trait were rehabilitated having started their role at the club as curios and ended them as key men.

Parkinson needs to grow leadership from within the squad – and perhaps allow the squad to promote their own leader – and that is a process which takes time if it happens at all.

Right now we are waiting for that before the club can progress.

A side note, for the foolish only

There is no question of another manager being best suited to carry out that process.

Perish that thought.

History

Until leadership emerges within the squad City are subject to defeats and bad performances as befits any team. Two defeats – marked out because of their lifeless performances – are set in the context of a season which is in turn set in the wider context of the club’s history.

Just like the display against Gillingham in September 2001 – a 5-1 win which represents the best I’ve ever seen City play in a season which had little else of skill – the highs and lows are modulated to fit in with the overall view of the season.

The good are forgotten in bad seasons. The bad in good ones.

Much of what came before the Crawley Brawl is not remembered now. The brawl itself though – the way the squad stood literally shoulder to shoulder in the fight – seemed to jump start the team spirit of 2013 and beyond.

Colchester United 2-0 away will sink into that context too, providing Phil Parkinson can find another way to galvanise Bradford City, to create team spirit where there is none, and to enable the team to create its own leaders and character.

The alternatives to how Premier League football runs the game

How could it be any other way?

The Thierry Henry campaign to launch the return of the Premier League on Sky Television was predictably a hit. A video showing the Frenchman wandering through moments in the last 23 years of football history like some kind of Gallic Forrest Gump has been watched millions of times.

And right now there are sponsorship deals being made which will see logos for betting companies or pay-day lenders – or airlines and insurers – emblazoned on shirts.

Soon football will be returning from a Summer break that hardly seems to have happened. Which is wonderful.

Because we all love football. I know I do, but I know I do not love all football, and increasingly I recognise that there is a lot about football that I do not like at all.

It’s all about the money, Dick

This is not the prelude to a moan about money in football. I have no problem with a player earning the salaries they do.

In the most general terms the money in football comes from footballer supporters subscribing to the game through season tickets and television rights, from a pie at the game to a pint in a beach bar under the omnipresent sight of Premier League football on a screen suspended from a rattan roof.

Most of the money which comes into football goes out to players. This is often the source of consternation but it is probably not the case that if as money did not go to players it would result in cheaper shirts and lower admission. It would go to Directors and Owners.

I enjoy watching players play, I don’t enjoy watching Directors direct nor spend their dividend payments. If I had the choice of how money flows through a club, if I have a choice between Players and Directors, it would flow with the players.

Encapsulated in that choice is the perception problem we have with our football. We set the game in the tone of excess. What to do with the massive amounts of money that the game generates?

What are the ethics of a £100m transfer fee? Or a player who earns £1m a week? Should clubs use money to reduce admission prices? Who should be allowed to own a club? Should the owners of a club be allowed to relocate the club to another City? Should they be allowed to rename or recolour a club? Or to fund club to success at the expense of other clubs who have not been given huge financial injections? Or to strip out assets as someone might do with any other business?

These are the debates in football over the last few years, and they will be the debates we have for the few years to come. These debates are all framed around one central theme: the massive amounts of money generated by football, and what should be done with it.

Dead Irish Writers

Standing on the roof of Croke Park and looking out to Dublin Bay you can see Howth Head. It is the spot where Leopold Bloom asks wife Molly to marry him as recalled in her soliloquy which closes Joyce’s Ulysses.

The roof of Croke Park is a horse-shoe shape leaving one end uncovered. It seats 73,500 people which along with the 8,800 on the terrace create the third largest stadium in Europe.

It is a towering structure and one which is used almost exclusively for Gaelic Games and specifically Gaelic Football and Hurling.

The Gaelic Games are amateur sports. When more than 82,000 people go to Croke Park – and they do – they go to watch players who do not get paid anything more than expenses to play for the county of their birth. The teams in the Gaelic Games are regional and there is no transferring between them. Of course you can find example of players who get paid in some way, and who have managed to find a way to switch clubs, because abuses exist in every system, but standing looking over the expanse of Croke Park the contrast to the oncoming rush of Premier League football is stark.

And it is stark in this way. We have been told – as football supporters – that there is only one way that a sport can operate and it is the way of the Premier League.

Since the launch of the Premier League in the early 1990s all football has been mutated around it, becoming focused on what is more or less the same approach to a game at every club.

There is a circular model which operates at every club which is about trying to achieve as a high placed league finish in order to generate money through sponsorship and advertising which is put into trying to achieve a high league finish.

Its is important to make a distinction between this model and trying to win a league. Newcastle United are our model in this analysis. They aim to finish as high as they can but know that that will not be able to win the Premier League. The aim is to maintain position.

The method is to recruit a team from all over the world without any specific connection to the team or the area it plays in, or the people who support it. That team is paid for by advertising almost anything that can be advertised. There is no ethical, or interest, test employed other than the commercial one.

Barcelona – a team who said that no sponsor would dirty the shirt – accepted one in order to compete in UEFA’s world as defined by Financial Fair Play. The rules that football is played under demand that income is maximised by any means. That is the way that football is.

There is little which is not sacrificed in pursuit of the circular model. Cardiff City change the colour of the team’s shirt, Hull City try to change the name. Manchester City seem to have been prepared to change everything about the club other than those two things. Newcastle United will change the name of the stadium, West Ham United will change the stadium, Coventry City will sell the stadium. All in order to turn the wheel faster on the circular model.

Which makes sense if the circular model is the only model – the only way to run a football club – but is it?

FC Romania v Sporting Bengal United

FC Romania play in the Essex Senior League and have a place in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round this month. They are a team set up to give a place where Romanian community can play football together. Sporting Bengal United who were formed to encourage more London Asians to play the game and play in the same league.

FC United of Manchester have opened a community stadium. AFC Wimbledon seemingly exist to show that community football is viable.

To greater and lesser extents these clubs operate away from the circular model in that they have priorities other than success be that financial success or success on the field. AFC Wimbledon, for example, could make more money to spend on the team should be agree to the many attempts to create a kind of WWE style Smackdown rivalry with MK Dons but they prefer to stay quiet and dignified.

These have things which they consider more important than being successful, and which they would maintain at the cost of success. They would rather be “a thing” than be successful in the way that football measures success.

They create their own terms for success which are tightly weaved into their clubs.

Hill 16

Hill 16 is the standing area not covered by the Croke Park roof. “Why isn’t the stadium finished?” asked a tourist, “That’s sacred ground.” replied the tour guide.

On 21st November 1920 the stadium was the scene of a massacre by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Thirteen supporters and one of the players were killed by gunfire described as indiscriminate. It was a reprisal attack on a day which is known as Bloody Sunday.

Hill 16 is set as the location of the attack and as such is the focal point for the mood of defiance that surrounds the Gaelic Games. That defiance is not just nationalistic (if it is nationalistic at all) it is also anti-establishment, or at least anti-corporate.

Recently Dublin has had to contend with the news that the Irish FA, smarting from being knocked out of the World Cup by a Thierry Henry handball, were paid and accepted hush money. The Henry advert for Sky is probably not as popular in Dublin. Football and Rugby Union are popular and are part of Global sporting movements.

It is not hard to see how the Gaelic Games stands apart from that. In the bowels of the massive stadium is a small museum dedicated to the history of the games, and of what the games represent in Irish independence, which talks of a community pride and tradition.

Again the contrast to the “whole new ball game” of the Premier League is marked.

Hill 16 stands as a part of that tradition. To continue the roof of Croke Park around would be to intrude on what is sacred ground to some. It would also be to miss the point of what Croke Park is and how it is a focus of a feeling that is at the heart of the Games played there.

Hill 16 is not sold as a part of the brand of Gaelic Football. It is intrinsic to that game itself.

Reading, writing and arithmetic

I go back in my mind to that week when Bradford City played three distant away games in six days culminating in one of the biggest games in the club’s history, an FA Cup Quarter Final.

The heavy legs, the weary players, and the sense of unfairness that had come from what was the luck of the draw of fixtures on one hand, and the fixed nature of the replay date because of the demands of Television and European Champions League football.

Had I been watching that game as a neutral I would have wondered how it could be that such a handicap would be applied to one of the teams. Alan Greene said as much during his Five Live coverage of the game.

The answer is as depressing as it is predictable. The money which fuels the circular model comes from the same sources that have created the environment where that game was considered to be an acceptable part of a top level football competition in this country.

And that poises obvious questions as to who decisions are being made for in football, and made by.

The Duke

At Bradford City we have enjoyed and endured a narrative over decades which (in some contexts) sets the club apart. In the Fire of 1985 we have out Hill 16, conceptually at least, and there is a sense of priorities which does differ from other clubs.

On most occasions those priorities are folded into the fabric of the wider game seamlessly enough. When it clashes such as in the Diadora advert for example a kind of reparation is made quickly and everyone moves on.

There are serious people who have reservations about how clubs like Bradford City, or Liverpool with Hillsborough, Spartak Moscow at Luzhniki, or Torino with The Superga Air Disaster have the tragedy build onto their sporting brand often without the permission of the club or its community, and sometimes against the will of supporters involved.

There are times when it is apt to talk about 1985 at Bradford City and times when it is not.

Bradford City the football club and Bradford City the community of supporters do not always overlap. Asking a player under twenty eight years old at the 2013 League Cup final if they are (para) “doing it for the victims of the fire” is one of those times.

Matt Duke, who played in that 2013 final, having survived cancer earlier in his life and saw his achievement on the field set entire in the context of his illness. The tone was not quite that had Duke not made a major final his recovery would have been lesser but the nature of the coverages showed the inability of the football media to consider matters out of a sporting context.

When, in the build up to the 2013 League Cup Final, Liverpool born pair Gary Jones and Steven Darby were asked what their thoughts on City accepting coverage sponsorship from The Sun and replied that they would rather it did not happen and the club (to the credit of all) respected those wishes.

The media ignored that story and still do perhaps because there was no way to set that in the context of “the boys doing good”.

The Chelsea Museum

If you arrive at Stamford Bridge early on that glorious day you could have walked around The Chelsea Museum. It is as far from Croke Park which has a delight in history and the amateur codes as you would ever see.

A celebration of Chelsea, and Chelsea winning things, and the fact that Chelsea had won things largely (but not only) because of massive amounts of money which were questioningly amassed by Roman Abramovich and lavished on the club.

Perhaps there should be a corner of the Chelsea Museum donated to Dubliner Mark Yeates wheeling away after he scores the fourth goal in City’s 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge?

The Shed End full and bouncing celebrating a team of hard working players scoring a massive upset. It contrasts sharply with what Chelsea have become since Abramovich’s arrival but it seems to speak to something at the heart of the football experience for supporters.

This might seem a comic idea – and it is presented tongue in cheek – but to a person who pre-dates the Premier League standing in the Chelsea Museum celebrating someone’s success because it happened at Stamford Bridge is very much what the club is about.

The phrase “easy to rig and was in fact rigged” is the heart of the Chelsea story. It does not feature in the Chelsea Museum, nor does it feature in the advertising for “23rd Year of The Best League In The World” which is bombarding out media this week.

Who does English football serve?

Who does English football serve? We have a simple question which quickly diverges into complexities.

Is English football here to serve the season ticketed rank and file supporter? Is it to serve the wider nation that flags up every two years and consumes the game passively? Is it to serve the overseas audiences who we are told are “increasingly important markets”? Is it to serve Oligarchs and Billionaires who own clubs? Or the Millionaires who play for them?

And when we get to an answer to those questions do we think that English football serves its aims well and for the good of the people it claims to serve.

It is nothing new for a season ticket holder at a club like Bradford City to suggest that the game is expensive to follow and does not seem to have his interests at heart and this sense is not lessened the higher up football one goes. Newcastle United supporters have been given a 12:45 kick off in Bournemouth in a move “by TV” which used to cause more outrage but now is just part of the fabric of the game.

We just assume – as supporters look on – that someone else’s interests will always trump our own. If we were at Croke Park we would just assume that Hill 16 would be demolished because someone else wanted it to be, or could make money from it.

And in that we assume that the someone else benefits appropriately but are we that convinced that the overseas audience the Premier League loves so much is best served by watch it? Would football energy not be best spent making better local leagues? The one hundred year plan in Japan, and the progress of the MLS, have shown what a country that is able to get the space to create its own league can progress.

Think about the ramifications of this football Imperialism the next time you see a Real Madrid shirt in Bradford City Centre. The people at FC Romania v Sporting Bengal United are building real communities around football. How does having to compete with Real Madrid help with that?

And how is it less obvious how the expansion of the Premier League to overseas markets is not equally counter-productive for other communities?

How is it not obvious the damage being done to us all?

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.

I have in my hand a piece of paper…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you have to change a winning team

There is an adage in football that a manager should not change a winning team and as the Bantams celebrated the uplifting result over Torquay United last weekend one can imagine Phil Parkinson would liked to have kept what the Bantams brought off the pitch on against the South Coast club and put it straight into the game with Hereford United.

However, having passed up the idea of appealing Andrew Davies’ red card Parkinson is in the rare position of being able to change a winning team by adding another player to it.

And that player seems certain to be Guy Branston who came off the bench to great effect against his former club last week and looks set to replace Davies. The next three games offer Branston a gilt edge chance to do all his talking – and he does like to have his voice heard – on the field. If in three games time Branston and City have thoroughly put the habit of conceding one or two soft goals a game behind them then the captain will have convinced all.

However with Steve Williams playing the full game at Gateshead as the reserves won 2-1 the more mobile defender might give the manager a choice to make between Williams and one of Branston and Luke Oliver.

With Phil Parkinson new to the job it is difficult to guess what the manager will favour: two big men, one big and one nimble, and so on, and Saturday will start to tell us how the Gaffer likes his teams to play.

Matt Duke celebrated his first clean sheet of the season in goal and Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will continue at full backs. Luke O’Brien and Marcel Seip would both like a place on the bench but the new squads of sixteen rule looks like forcing Parkinson into a selection. Parkinson told BfB he is no fan of the drop from seven subs to five and preferred the more full bench. Personally I see no reason why a team should not be able to call on any registered player giving a limitless bench of which three substitutions could be made.

Also lighting up Gateshead on his first appearance and hoping to trouble the bench is Scott Brown although the sixteen year old looks like he may have to wait and watch Richie Jones and Michael Flynn who are growing into a superb partnership. It is hard to know who to praise more. Flynn for his comeback and the way he has worked well with Jones or Jones for his expansive play and work rate. Both are the sort of player you want in the heart of your midfield.

Kyel Reid will carry on on the left hand side. Norman Hunter – when City assistant manager – was once asked who the best player he had seen was and unexpectedly he answered “Leigh Palin.” The lightweight City midfielder – who struggled to nail down a place next to Stuart McCall in the mid-to-late-1980s – came with a caveat though as Hunter continued “for twenty minutes, and then nothing.”

Reid seems to have the same capacity to have a spell in the game where one is convinced that he is hardly worth a pair of boots and then another spell when one joins the flat footed defenders in being mesmerised by his play. If he could turn it on every week one doubts he would be in League Two, but as long has he keeps his defensive duties done then his on/off play does no harm and much good.

Adam Reed – who returned from Sunderland after going back North to get over injury in his first game at Burton – might trouble the right wing although Mark Stewart’s play when dropped back merited a standing ovation last week and could see him keep the spot. Jack Compton started in the position last week and will hope to feature again, Jamie Devitt is hoping to find a place in the side and could also feature.

Whoever does not feature at right wing may get a call alongside Craig Fagan up front. James Hanson may recover from injury and as with the central defensive pairing we will learn much about Parkinson’s approach to attacking options from who he picks. Playing with another big man would suit Hanson’s game and he could do well – as we saw against Barnet – in feeding as well as flicking the ball on. The likes of Devitt, Stewart, Nakhi Wells and Nialle Rodney all chomp at the bit for a place up front.

Which is good. City have a big squad – but a small playing budget, this season’s big squad costs less than Peter Taylor’s small one and one would struggle to say it is worse – and plenty of competition for places which Parkinson is a great advocate of. “It takes care of training” says the City boss.

Hereford United – second bottom of League Two – will be fighting the same fight as City won last week. The season starts to become established and teams do not want to be near the bottom when it starts to be set in cement. Last week’s win from City was great but to meet Phil Parkinson’s plan of being in the top half of the table by Christmas there is a need to pick up points at the least on the road.

The pressure on Parkinson – after last week’s result – will to be return with three and again we will learn something about how he approaches the game in how he sets out to get a win or keeps safe in looking for a draw.

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

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Andrew Davies, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Jack Compton, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Mark Stewart, Craig Fagan | Guy Branston, Luke O'Brien, Nialle Rodney

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.

The smile, and how to retain it

The wife woke up at 5.45am as usual on Wednesday morning, discovering that she had still not refound her voice that had been lost in the wake of Bradford City’s thrilling penalty shootout win over Huddersfield Town. She was tired. Too tired really. The journey back from the Galpharm seemed to involve a couple of wrong turns and so we got home later than hoped. No voice and feeling utterly knackered – not a good combination for a Primary School teacher.

Still on the plus side, one of her teaching colleagues was a Huddersfield Town supporter. Be sure to ‘bump’ into her today…

And that’s what derby victories are all about – the bragging rights. The opportunity to get one over our friends, family and work colleagues and to continue taunting them for months to come – no matter what they try to argue back. In the wake of Tuesday’s victory for the Bantams, there were some attempts from those of a blue and white persuasion to talk its significance down. “It was only a Huddersfield reserve side” argued some Town fans, in view of eight changes made. Given Phil Parkinson made six for City, so too was ours by this logic.

“The league’s the most important thing” whined Huddersfield’s BBC Radio Leeds pundit Kieran O’Regan, as though it isn’t for City. Presenter Gareth Jones beautifully caught O’Regan out by then asking the former Terriers player when he thought Town and City would next face each other in the league. (Para-phrasing here) “Well we’re going for promotion this season, I can’t see Bradford going up. So not for a while.” “So you’re saying it will probably be a few years until they play each other? Well until then, Bradford fans now have the bragging rights don’t they?” Long pause.

What a night. The penalty shootout was utterly nerve wracking, but after Nialle Rodney struck the winning spot kick – euphoria. When Michael Flynn missed City’s first attempt, it was easy to fear the worst. As the twists and turns unfolded with the packed away end cheering or groaning, my wife was completely frozen in fear. She couldn’t move, so gripped with worry she was. The celebrations in the end were wild, while the Town fans looked as devastated as we would have. At 1-0 a group of home fans on the left side had attempted to charge at us City supporters in anger, only to be stopped by stewards. Trouble occurred outside as we headed home.

That is the ugly side of football that no one should enjoy, but it showed how much the game mattered for both sets of supporters in attendance. Yes it was only the JPT, but as Stuart McCall once said a game of tiddlywinks between the two sides would matter. Yes it was via the lottery of penalties, but two League One sides have now been dumped out of the cup by the Bantams which is impressive. Yes there were no league wins in-between those two victories, but perhaps the corner is finally turning.

The victory over Town followed a better weekend that followed a bad one and bad one before that. Now the challenge is to maintain the upwards curve of improvement and finally start to make an impression in the league. There has still only been one League Two victory to date, and past form would suggest City will follow up a heroic cup victory with a cowardly league performance. That can’t be allowed to happen, not least with a bumper crowd expected and in need of being entertained.

Torquay will be no pushovers – beaten in the play off final last season, and with memories of a 3-0 stroll at Valley Parade last April still fresh in the mind. But at the same time they are no world beaters – even by League Two standards, as they are only 13th so far. There’s no guarantees in football and City are in no position to underestimate anyone, but another slip up will be difficult to accept and the team badly need to keep the fans’ post-Huddersfield mood in tact come 5pm.

The six changes Parkinson made on Tuesday worked well and will give him plenty to ponder for tomorrow, although the five players who kept their place after Burton Albion were the five who truly excelled. Matt Duke, Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall and especially Flynn were outstanding at the Galpharm (even if Threlfall could have used the ball better at times). Indeed it was noticeable that Parkinson choose to keep the backline in tact and was rewarded by further improvement even if two goals were again conceded – at least two have been let in for six consecutive games now.

Duke might have made a meal of a couple of Huddersfield shots, but produced a string of terrific saves that will have done his confidence the power of good. Moore played with a level of commitment not usually associated with loan players, while so powerful was Oliver’s header for 2-1 that it brought back fond memories of David Wetherall. Threlfall will also keep his place tomorrow, though Andrew Davies will be recalled over Guy Branston. It was a mixed night for the club captain, who was superb in many aspects but struggled with his distribution.

In midfield Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid should return, but Adam Reed is out and whether Jamie Devitt – on his way back from injury – comes straight back in too depends on Parkinson’s view on Luke O’Brien. I thought he was excellent on Tuesday taking people on, and he did a good job helping Moore when switched to the right midway through the first half. Chris Mitchell had another good game and set up the opening goal. He will probably be left on the bench and is unlucky to do so. Jack Compton should be back on the sidelines too, which seems right compared to what Reid and O’Brien offer. Flynn is the only certain midfield starter.

Up front, James Hanson’s absence on Tuesday offered fans calling for his permanent removal from the starting eleven a chance to press their claims. Rodney and Mark Stewart did well at times, but in my view Hanson’s presence was missed and when City struggled to clear their lines and keep the ball I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hankering for a target man of Hanson’s ilk. It was heartbreaking to see Ross Hannah’s big chance be ended by an awful challenge just seven minutes in, and with the former Matlock striker set to miss this game Stewart will probably take his place on the bench and Craig Fagan and Hanson – if fit- recalled.

Whoever is left out of the 11 from Tuesday can feel unfortunate, and for those who come in or who retain their place this week has seen the competition for places intensify. Parkinson needs to have a squad who can’t be sure of their places and who must deliver the goods at all times, and he needs to have people queuing up outside his office door pressing their claims for a starting spot.

Every reason then, to believe this squad should be sufficiently motivated to win tomorrow.

Every reason then, for the bragging to be able to continue.

City stuck in neutral looking for decisive performances

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Jamie Devitt | Ross Hannah, Craig Fagan

Framing City at the moment seems to be the question “What to do about players playing badly?”

Guy Branston was playing badly – or so it was argued by some – and Phil Parkinson seemed to agree dropping his captain for new signing Andrew Davies who put in an impressive début despite the scoreline not differing over much from that of recent weeks. Parkinson made a big decision dropping Peter Jackson’s captain and a brave one but when AFC Wimbledon’s Christian Jolley hit a ball from outside that box that looped over Matt Duke in the City goal then the City manager must have wondered how that decision seemed to result in so much of the same.

Jolley’s goal gave the Dons an unexpected win a game where they were distinctly second best in all but the most important part of football – turning possession into attacking chances – where they were very much better. Set up in a 532 Terry Brown’s side sat deep but came forward with an imagination which seemed lacking from a stolid Bantams side. The Dons did not attack in numbers, but they were direct and most importantly available for each other.

Which was not the case with the Bantams. After Midson’s equaliser mid-way through the first half – a result of the Dons’ striker speedily moving into the gap that Luke Oliver left after an impressive headed clearance and and Christian Jolley being able to play an over the shoulder flick under little pressure from Liam Moore – it was noticeable how the two sides attacking play differed. Wimbledon’s attacks were more random, less considered and as a result more direct.

City’s work in the middle of the pitch was very good. Richie Jones put in a performance which deserved to be a part of a win and with Michael Flynn alongside him the pair were in control of the middle of the pitch but when coming forward they lacked options as a result of their play. Jamie Devitt dropped off the forward line to take the ball but in doing so seemed to duplicate the midfield play rather than adding to the attacking options. Devitt’s dropping off allowed him space but with the back five of the Dons it meant that when he received the ball he was looking forward at too few options.

Chris Mitchell put in a good shift on the right but Kyel Reid will probably not suffer a worse afternoon in his entire career. Pushed wide by a full back and with cover for that full back in the occasions in which he beat his man Reid was far too often on the wrong side of the defender when Jones or Flynn was looking for an outlet. At half time Reid had put in a wretched first half and what does one do with a player who has put in a wretched first half? Reid can and has played better, keep faith with him and he might. In retrospect Parkinson should have taken Reid off, but many player has been given a half time rocket and turned in a performance in the second half.

That was not the case and so with Reid not as an option, with Mitchell quiet (but never a player to get around the back of a five) then City fed everything through Devitt and were rewarded with the first half penalty for a foul on the striker – dispatched by Flynn – but suffered from a predictability.

Devitt is a curious player. Excellent control, able on the ball, and looking dangerous when he touches it he puts one in mind of Chris Waddle or Benito Carbone because for all those abilities and skills – for all the good things he does – he seems to add a weight on the side that causes a sort of wind resistance. Like Waddle Devitt sets a pace and patten of play but – like Waddle – the City team he is in look limited when they play the ball through him.

Everything is predictable when it all comes through Devitt who slows the play down and while he looks good doing it he seemed to slow the attacking pace down. He and James Hanson attempted combination flicks, attempted, link ups, but in the end City’s best chances were a good delivery from the flank that Hanson headed and Seb Brown saved superbly holding well and Hanson’s hitting the post when charging down a Brown clearance.

The challenge for Parkinson is how to make the decisions on the distinction between the players who need to be replaced, the players who need to be backed to play better, and the players who need to play better in the team. Time for the manager to earn his money and make those decisions.

If he can do that – with Jones and Flynn purring away looking for passes, outlets and ways to attack – City could go far. As it is without a way of going forward on the field City under Phil Parkinson are stuck in neutral.

The pain can’t override the pride – or the concerns

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, James Hanson | Jack Compton, Nahki Wells

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.

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