Bradford City from all angles after the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United

The Team

Brad Jones | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Reece Burke, James Meredith | Mark Marshall, Lee Evans, Gary Liddle, Paul Anderson | James Hanson, Devante Cole | Billy Knott, Steve Davies, Luke James

Angles

…and what made Bradford City’s pay so impressive was the number of angles on which they attacked.

When the ball was in the middle of the field Lee Evans was able to use his not inconsiderable passing abilities to play in Mark Marshall on the right, or the much improved Paul Anderson who is starting to look like the player promised when he signed, on the left and to find Devante Cole who ranged around the forward line.

The old standby of the long diagonal pass from Rory McArdle to James Hanson was still a feature – coming as it did with the usual brutalising of Hanson by defenders – but there was much more for the Bantams to do to cause a threat.

The irony being that at the end of the game it was exactly the kind of attacking play – the long ball and the bluster – which ended up denying City victory.

Trajectories

That City should have won the game is to say that during the first half in which the Bantams were on top of the game there should have been more than a one goal lead after forty five minutes. The goal – coming ten minutes before the break – came from James Meredith following a ball which the full back had given up on and dinking the ball over Sheffield United keeper Mark Howard.

It was a break through based on pressure. City had been able to apply pressure many angles and as a result circumnavigated the Blades holding midfielder Louis Reed in a way that they were not against Bradley Dack of Gillingham or Shrewsbury’s Ryan Woods earlier in the season. Sheffield United, on the other hand, seemed to be at a loss for any kind of response.

The Blades wanted Phil Parkinson in the summer but settled for Nigel Atkins. Atkins’ teams try to play their football on the grass, and they try to pass and move, and the fail on the whole. Sheffield United look like a team who have gone backwards since last season while City look better.

Which is not to say that City have eclipsed United but that the trajectory of both clubs seemed obvious.

Obtuse

James Meredith – who it seems is on the brink of joining new goalkeeper Brad Jones in (or around) the Australia national squad – put the ball past the keeper who was making his first appearance following a hurled in Sheffield United throw in.

That City had a second goal came from Devante Cole chasing down another ball that it seemed the defenders would take but did not. Cole’s speed is impressive and so is his presence of mind in his play.

He charged down Howard’s attempt to clear and scored his third goal in four games. One day he will actually kick a ball into the goal at Valley Parade but until then his knees and arse efforts are validated by getting into dangerous position.

Meredith’s goal at each end was unfortunate and the result of the Blades having either run out of ideas in their passing game or abandoning them altogether. Long throw ins, long punts, and the Blades got back into the game but did so by sacrificing whatever principles they have adopted.

City, on the other hand, and under that pressure from Sheffield United’s more direct play fall back more gracefully to the default position of playing into a target man. Steve Davies replaced Cole and headed wide. James Hanson saw Jose Baxter head his powerful attempt from a corner off the line in the last action of the game.

That City were 2-2 at that point. A long pass from defence was picked up by Billy Sharp who race between Rory McArdle and in behind Reece Burke and the striker put in a rebound after Jones had saved well. Sharp took his goal well and Atkins will be pleased with the spirit his side showed in coming back into the game but worried that the way they were able to get back to parity was a long way away from the way they started the game, or want to play it.

I had one, two, three, four shots of happiness

In nineteen ninety-eight Bradford City started slowly. This is not rare. Many seasons have started badly but that is exceptional because it ended with promotion to the Premier League. Eight or so games in City drew 2-2 with Sheffield United – Dean Saunders was exceptional for the Blades that day – and following the game Paul Jewell’s struggling side started to gain admirers.

“I think we will make the play-offs” I observed, and was wrong, because Jewell’s side went better. Watching over recent years has been an extension of that feeling. It seems that Parkinson is building another team, making a another set of people to be better players, getting more and more out of the squad.

We only had one chance to see Paul Jewell do that at City – he only got to build one team – but Parkinson is in his third era now (The Wembley Team, The Chelsea Team, and now this) and his methods of blending the ill fitting Anderson into the useful player we saw today seem to work.

The post-script

Referee Neil Swarbrick would not have been in charge of this game had it not been “treated” to being played on Sunday morning for Sky TV and one cannot imagine the bog standard League One official who would have been there making such a mangling of the game.

Swarbrick presents himself as a man who believes that the Referees job is to be a part of the unfolding story of the game. Phrases like “playing the referee” seem to have ligitimised this type of thinking in officials who revel in their role as deus ex machina of events.

They are not. And when they are – as Swarbrick clearly enjoyed being – they ruin the narrative that a football match creates.

Starbrick has a single role: To enforce a set of rules handed to him dispassionately. Another referee once said “I’ve never sent a player off in my life, players get themselves sent off. I’m just there to make a note of it.”

No one forced the booked Billy Sharp to dive, or continue fouling, or scream at the referee following every decision against him and I’m not saying that I like that those things should result in cautions but they should. Swarbrick decided that it would be the turn of his hand that decided who lived or died, who could play and who could not, as befits his self appointed role beyond his remit.

Which took something from the spectacle.

The reasons Phil Parkinson might join Sheffield United

Sheffield United want Phil Parkinson to be their manager having made an approach for the services of the City boss yesterday which was rebuffed. Rumours are rife in these matters – the Blades are also said to be keen to talk to Nigel Atkins – but it seems that the South Yorkshire side will return with the promise of more money as a managerial transfer fee to sweeten the deal for the seemingly outgoing chairmen pair of Rhodes and Lawn.

Aside from the obviously open nature of the Blades approach the promise of money always being a reason why bad footballing decisions are made at Valley Parade it seems sure that at some point as he picks up an award for his work at Valley Parade this season at half time in the FA Cup final Parkinson will be considering if his future is in West or South Yorkshire.

We all know why Parkinson should stay.

He has assembled a squad with the character he believes is necessary for success. He has the prospect of a wealthy set of backers. He has been in the situation of jumping ship for a seemingly more sturdy vessel before when he joined Hull City from Colchester United only to be shipwrecked before.

If anyone knows the impact of moving clubs on a career heading on an upward trajectory it is Phil Parkinson. We do not recognise it at Bradford City but Bradford City were Parkinson’s last chance saloon. If Parkinson had failed at City there was not another job for him elsewhere in professional football management. He would be wary of returning to that situation should a trip to Bramall Lane be successful.

We know these points by heart now. The heart of Bradford City wants Phil Parkinson to stay so why would he leave?

Why indeed. We know this list in the darker places of our heart too. That Bradford City have a limit which Mr Lawn and Mr Rhodes have set a little too readily and that limit is not a significant distance from where City are now.

When Parkinson talks to his board they talk about getting to the middle of The Championship. Sheffield United will talk to him about the middle of the Premier League. Such overweened ambition may be best avoided for any manager but ambition is not easily ignored for the ambitious as we remember from the last time one of the Steel City two came asking for a gaffer.

Then there is the prospect of a Director of Football arriving at Valley Parade in the shape of Neil Warnock. Warnock – a Sheffield United supporter – is reported to be incoming chairman Gianni Paladini’s choice for a role supporting Parkinson. Some suggest that Parkinson will see this as a negative. He has said previously that is is happy to work in such a structure noting in a conversation about Director of Football elect Archie Christie “everything club needs someone who can get a deal over the line.”

I am of the belief that a Director of Football at City is badly needed to support Parkinson and that a manager who wants to run a modern club single handed is condemning that club to an existence of slight returns but the usefulness of someone in an overseeing role is not the subject of this discussion. If Parkinson moved to Sheffield United he would be welcomed by Scott McCabe who holds the title Director (Football Club) and John Stephenson who is Head of Football Operations.

There is no choice to be made between the two roles that leaves Parkinson in singular control of the club except – perhaps – in a Bradford City without Paladini and with the current board.

But therein is the problem. The current board who forced Parkinson to bend a knee this season and who have a perfunctory relationship with the manager. The boardroom which is – by nature of having co-chairmen – schizophrenic and has on a couple of occasions have seemingly been so ready to boot the manager out of the club that former players say that have been sounded out about an interim role.

One can see the outline of shapes but it is hard to get the detail about Parkinson’s relationship with the board from distance but that relationship – should Paladini not arrives – could be the key to the manager’s future of the club.

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