Soft / August

Jordy Hiwula’s single goal in Bradford City’s 1-0 win over Peterborough United changed the tone of the conversation around the club from a general worry that no goals would ever be scored to more of a consideration of what a fully fit Bantams would look like.

Hiwula’s goal is the only return for a first week of over seventy chances in three games and the hunt for a striker continues despite Vincent Rabiega joining on a one year deal this week.

With everyone at Valley Parade slowly admitting that the club is weeks behind in recruitment from where it would like to be Bradford City are not alone in being unprepared for the new season – Everton are only 70% ready it seems – and the five league games in August start to resemble a soft launch rather than a start with squads being assembled up to the end of August.

Take – as an example – City’s Matthew Kilgallon who for reasons personal arrived at City not fit enough to play even in a situation where only one central defender was fit. That Romain Vincelot fits so well into the position is pleasing for many reasons but all those reasons mask how acceptable being ready for September rather than August has become.

Because of this there is reason to believe that Chief Scout Greg Abbott may be able to find the striker City are looking for – Abbott, McCall, and most of Bradford seem to want a proven goalscorer – in the last weeks of the month.

Take – for example – Sheffield Wednesday’s Gary Hooper who is a proven goalscorer across four divisions, Scotland and Europe but is currently sharing time at the owls and not getting the lion’s share of that time.

With Steven Fletcher having arrived in South Yorkshire and Fernando Forestieri edging his way out Hooper has a good chance of playing. If Forestieri can be convinced to stay then Hooper is considering spending his twenty ninth year making cameo appearances from the bench.

Of course Hooper is probably out of City’s range – I doubt he is a target – but in the next two weeks it could become obvious to Hooper if he is going to get game time or not and if he is not he might decide that he would rather move on to somewhere where he gets it.

Another example is the oft talked about Adam le Fondre who has yet to feature for Cardiff City this season despite some pressing for his inclusion.

At the moment le Fondre is being well paid to go out on loan – Wolves and Bolton had him in the last few years – but as the end of the transfer window now means an inability to play for another club until the start of January the likes of le Fondre are facing a long time watching football happening around them without getting involved.

Of course this is not a new phenomenon just one with different timing. It was that players would turn up to pre-season and cast glances around the training field and play in a few friendlies to decide that New Face One and Young Kid Two were probably going to get into the team over them. Rather than bench warm for a year they looked for a move before the season started in August.

That still happened but it happens in this first month of the season. August is pre-season with fifteen points available. Last year the soft launch August pre-season told Phil Parkinson that Nathan Clarke and Rory McArdle needed a more mobile player alongside them and so Reece Burke was signed.

One shows one’s age when one wistfully recalls when a team was ready for the second Saturday in August.

So Matt Taylor of Bristol Rovers is “tired” three games into the season with the ink not yet dry on his new contract but rumours starting immediately that he is having second thoughts. Jay Simpson does not appear on the Leyton Orient team photo and speculation rises.

Which is perhaps where Abbott and McCall are poised ready for a player who shake loose who previously seems cemented into position.

How Bradford City got to the sixth round of the FA Cup and how easy it was

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Andrew Halliday, Mark Yeates, Francois Zoko

A story of abject failure

Bradford City’s 2-0 win over Sunderland was most remarkable because of how easy it was.

From Billy Clarke’s third minute shot deflected in by John O’Shea onwards the result at Valley Parade was hardly in doubt.

Bradford City played accurate passing at tempo which Sunderland could not match, and with a shape which Sunderland would not adapt to. Robbed of midfield quality in Jack Rodwell and power in Lee Cattermole Sunderland played Liam Bridcutt and Sebastian Larsson in the middle against City’s three of Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle and Billy Knott and lost the midfield.

Bradford City dominated the first forty five minutes. Liddle sat behind his two partners who were both admirably disciplined, and while Bridcutt picked up Billy Clarke in the playmaking role Sunderland manager Gus Poyet left Larsson on his own with three players.

And Larsson could not deliver a quality of possession on the flanks for Sunderland who had based the game on the ball to wide players – Adam Johnson looked lively – which would be put in for Steven Fletcher to finish with Danny Graham in support. Fletcher vs Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies was hardly even a contest.

Better matched were James Hanson and Jon Stead against O’Shea and Wes Brown but with Clarke coming forward and Hanson moving out wide left City pressed with strength, movement and intelligence. O’Shea and Brown with Bridcutt coming back were unsettled by Hanson’s strength and Clarke’s speed with ball at foot.

Only unsettled though, but with so much of the rest of Gus Poyet’s team selection playing exactly as Bradford City’s Phil Parkinson would have wanted it to be it seemed that the Premier League time arrived at, and played with, a hand tied behind their back.

And that hand was tied by Gus Poyet. At half time, watching his team lose the midfield battle, Poyet threw on Connor Wickham for Graham, went route one, and lost the game.

In terms of a manager approaching the game, understanding how the opposition would play, and putting out a team capable of navigating that Poyet failed utterly abjectly.

Shall we switch narrative?

We have become old hands at this of course. The giant killing narrative that is spun around a team who have done what Bradford City have done in the last few years. The talk is of passionate performances and playing with character. It is of small changing rooms and bad pitches.

(The pitch was was better today, something I would congratulate and praise Roger Owen for but as he has said he is not directly responsibility for the pitch and that it is not his responsibility so I offer him no congratulations and no praise at all.)

Talk like that misses the point of Bradford City’s wins against Chelsea and Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan but it especially misses the point of this game. Bradford City did not approach Sunderland with a blowing hurricane, just with determination, but Sunderland’s preparation and approach was so far away from what it should have been that the distance between the two sides was great.

For all the coverage of a “team of heroes”, or “plucky players”, or (curiously) “real men” the reality was a Bradford City team who put in a very steady performance. Not that the players were not very good – they were – but that at the end of the game where City had won in something of a canter no player had especially surprised, or played beyond himself, or amazed.

All had played very well, in a very good unit, and carried out the roles that they were assigned very adeptly. Billy Knott – the agent provocateur against Chelsea – slipped into the discipline of a central midfield role as well as he had since first he joined from Sunderland. Filipe Morais continues to curb his solo excesses too.

Everyone played very well but Bradford City did not spring a surprise on Sunderland, or mug Sunderland, or rough Sunderland up. Bradford City played in the same way as in the win over Milton Keynes Dons on Monday, and did not have to play better to beat Sunderland.

Sunderland were the team that were beaten 8-0 by Southampton once again. Bradford City – in this giant killing – were just here to make up the numbers.

The best thing about Sunderland

The only good thing one can say about Sunderland is that the team is much, much poorer than the supporters. The supporters of Sunderland applauded former players, applauded Bradford City for beating them, applauded Bradford City fans for the atmosphere in Valley Parade. They deserve better.

They will be told – perhaps by Guy Poyet – that City roughed up the team on a bad pitch and the media will tell them they were beaten by a team with chutzpah.

But that is not true, and those fans know it.

Poyet set out an attack that played to City’s strengths and a midfield that was outnumbered in the centre of the field, and they played without the commitment to a team structure and the belief that what they were doing would work.

One does not want to downplay what Bradford City and Phil Parkinson have done against Sunderland or in his time at City. The level that City play at is very high and the squad’s character is obvious to all.

Sunderland played badly and often Parkinson’s teams make other teams play badly. Parkinson has his team close down the space for opposition players making time on the ball claustrophobic. That was certainly the case today.

But Parkinson just had to ensure that his team continued Monday night’s MK Dons performance and the victory was not even difficult.

So then now…

After a few minutes Billy Clarke took the applause after lashing a shot back across goal which cannoned off John O’Shea and into the goal past Vito Mannone and City – perhaps – expected the Premier League visitors to come back into the game. Phil Parkinson’s return to 442 from his 4312 was the making of his City team against Halifax in the first round of this competition, as City go into the sixth round the three men in the middle smothered Sunderland.

Sebastian Larsson – a fine player – struggled to move the ball to the flanks effectively. Occasionally Johnson looked impressive but with only Larsson in the middle either Knott or Morais could help full backs deal with wingers. Graham was anonymous finding no room to play around Gary Liddle and Stephen Fletcher’s abilities in the air are less than either of Davies or McArdle’s.

The best Fletcher did – and the best chance Sunderland got – was a ball that slipped through the offside line and nestled at the Scots striker’s feet until McArdle appeared (as if from) nowhere and hacked the ball away. The cliché writes itself here, McArdle wanted it more, but Fletcher did not seem to want it at all.

Contrast that with the quick thinking in the second half when James Meredith pushed Johnson all the way back into the corner of the pitch and Johnson lobbed the ball out for James Hanson to head softly beyond Brown and O’Shea, but not beyond Johnson deep, and to Jon Stead who picked up the ball and finished well under Mannone.

An hour in and with Sunderland resorting to playing long balls which Davies and McArdle took care of, and aside from Ben Williams making a single save the Bantams defence was untroubled.

Phil Parkinson and his City players took plaudits from a capacity Valley Parade – including a good few Sunderland fans – for a fifth Premier League team beaten in three years. The sixth round of the FA Cup is the last eight teams in the country. Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United (or Preston North End), Aston Villa West Brom, Reading, Blackburn Rovers and Bradford City.

Wigan was unexpected and tough, Arsenal was hard but deserved. Aston Villa was a double sucker punch at the end of the game and Chelsea was understanding the power of pressure and seeing that pressure pay. These were all great, great games and great football matches to be at.

Sunderland, though, was easy.

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