Bradford City man up

There was a moment after Northampton Town’s Michael Jacobs hit a fine long range effort into the goal to give the visitors a second half lead that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City seemed to make the collective decision that they deserved more from the afternoon than defeat, that they should summon up from a reserve of responsibility and courage and force the performance to swing in their favour. In the parlance of our times: City manned up.

Ten minutes later the Bantams had won the game.

Watching football with a scouting report in one hand is a strange afternoon. Northampton’s side lined up not at all as they had in the game which our report detailed and many of the problems which the City scouting report suggested a few weeks ago had been plugged by Gary Johnson’s side who were missing striker Adebayo Akinfenwa and seemed to have adjusted accordingly. The result was a robust Cobblers side who deployed a man – Ben Tozer – holding between City’s midfield pair and as a result broke up much of the Bantams play but that was all that the visitors did with the Bantams backline utterly shutting out the visitors.

A surprisingly recalled Michael Bryan carved out the best chance – only one of two which stood out the other being a long range effort by Robbie Threlfall – taking the ball in field and twisting the loft a shot onto the bar. City gave nothing away and edged the first half but it was difficult to see where the goals would be coming from.

Where Northampton would be getting goals from was less of a mystery with the report warning of Jacobs and his abilities to strike the ball. His opportunity came when Adam Reed – booked for a bad tackle, but later subject of a similar one which got no punishment – was left floored and as he struggled to get back to position Jacobs fired in.

At that point Reed and Richie Jones – the midfield partnership in the absence of suspended Michael Flynn – seemed to have struggled to get around the Cobblers midfield nor could they make partnerships with the wide men but both seemed to sense the need to make a performance and Jones stepped to the fore.

It had been suggested that the midfielder was wasted on the right flank last week and one might have thought that thinking wishful until Jones took control of the middle of the field coming forward with direction and drive, tracking back to create solidity when needed, and leading by example.

It was Jones who drove forward with the ball feeding it left to Bryan and eventually resulting in a cross which defender Andy Holt tried to cut out but only succeeded in handling. Craig Fagan beat keeper Sam Walker from the spot.

Five minutes later and Jones came forward again battling in to push the ball wide to Kyel Reid for the winger – who had usual game veering between utter frustration and sublime moments – to drop a ball to James Hanson who beat his man and converted from inside the six yard box.

It was a worthy turnaround and one which Jones had much to do with. The midfielder might spend his career being the guy who plays the ball to the guy who gets the assist and very few stats record that contribution, but I’m sure the scout report would have noted it, or will do in the future.

Having been beaten by a long range shot only City never looked like surrendering the lead. Luke Oliver’s performance was remarkable for the fact that we are growing to expect that sort of display from a player that many, many would have written off at the end of last season while Marcel Seip’s Valley Parade debut saw him looking assured, mobile and confident. No one said the words “Guy Branston” all afternoon and as City start to rise up the league so the goal difference starts to look more respectable.

Moreover though City’s victory was – as with the win over Torquay – hard fought. While the attractive football of Stuart McCall’s side might have gone so has the soft centre. City are less easy on the eye, but Saturday nights after a win are satisfying.

Sitting back on such a Saturday night and flicking over the scout report the danger of Michael Jacobs is written in black and white but so is that of Lewis Young – the right winger wearing number two who was frustrated all afternoon – who the Bantams coped with superbly. The talk about the goalkeeper Walker and his control of his box were accurate and City seemed to fire low hard crosses rather than allow the six foot seven custodian grab balls from the air.

One wonders though what the scouts who watched City will have written about the Bantams today. One thing is for sure those reports will have had the word “character” in them, and that is what took Phil Parkinson’s side to victory today.

The problem, and the scale of the problem as City lose to Northampton

If you set off in the wrong direction to Northampton – setting off in the wrong direction being as especially apt metaphor – and end up driving away from Bradford to Leeds past Appleley Bridge then one gazes over the grassy football field with City make their home for the rest of the week.

It looks like what it is – a football pitch with some room at the side to run around on and probably one could be forgiven for wondering what is wrong with it. For sure it is uneven, even to the naked eye but perfectly flat grass is not found even in a modern build like Northampton’s Sixfield Stadium. It looks like a football field suitable, one might think, for practising and playing football on.

The afternoon at Northampton’s Sixfield Stadium was as disheartening as one might imagine looking at the raw stats of the game. There is a single chance of note for the Bantams that was squandered by Lewis Moult and while City enjoyed much of the ball there was little to suggest that a win would come. Peter Taylor had talked much about the home side’s exertions in the League Cup in the week where they knocked out Liverpool on penalties and the effect that would have in the final half hour of the game but for the opening sixty minutes the Cobblers could have mistaken the League Two game for a practice game so low key was City’s offering.

The highlight – such as it was – for the Bantams came ten minutes into the match when Moult turned his man and hit a shot which was saved and there is no special blame attached to him for not doing better with that single opportunity but he – along with the rest of the team and the squad – stand undeniably and fairly obviously accused of not putting in enough effort.

That said none of the players who took the field for City could look to his left or his right and feel embarrassed by his performance being lacking in comparison to his team mates – there was no light to follow – but none of them could be said to have done anything which would have spurred the side on.

The effect was a general failure on the field, a sense that City were second best in every way. It may have been after an hour when Tommy Doherty almost played a great pass, and a minute later when Lee Bullock almost made a tackle it became clear that the home side had not been worked for the opening hour and had not tired, and thus would not fade.

So it proved. Billy McKay and Newcastle United loanee Ben Tozer scored for the home side in this supposed period of tiring and the home side celebrated the end of a good week leaving Peter Taylor to talk about how easy the Bantams had made it for the team which added City to Liverpool in the bested column.

Indeed Taylor was utterly accurate in his assessment of City’s failings – a point which makes it all the more frustrating to see the same problem reoccurring – and when he watches his City team put in 99% effort he must know how they struggle against any team who will put in the full hundred. Being a half second late to the tackle, a half yard wayward in your passing, a little bit shy or making the chance, and in effect one may as well be a mile away.

Five miles away from Valley Parade is Apperly Bridge. “It was good enough in 1997, and 1999” said one voice in the debate over the Bantams’ failure to find new training facilities “so why is it not good enough now?” Sir Bobby Robson talks about arriving at Newcastle United and finding a training pitch covered in dog poo. He told the club – and this was a man who had come to St James’ from Barcelona – that while carrying on as they were would be no worse other clubs would improve their facilities, and would over take them.

So while City spent the last eight years paying debts and administration costs – oh for the chance to have taken a seventeen point penalty back in 2002 and carried on as a debt free Championship club – other clubs have moved on and City are obviously lagging behind. This is an issue that goes beyond training pitches though – the symbolism aside – and into every aspect of a football club that seems to believe that in almost every way, at every level that all it has to do to get on is “turn up” and is constantly coming second best not by a mile, but by enough.

The solution to City’s problems are the subject of any amount of debate – perhaps the people who told us the problem was Stuart McCall being manager have all the answers, they seemed convinced that they had the answers six months ago just as the people who wanted rid of Colin Todd had all the answers back then – but one worries that the scale of the problem has yet to be fully appreciated.