Monday, 18 November 2013

The Beginning of the End for the Class of 2012/13?

Much has been made this season of Phil Parkinson keeping faith in what is near as make no difference the same team that won promotion last season, after finishing seventh in League Two. Bar the recent injury, Parkinson has kept faith with the team that so easily put Northampton to the sword on that delightful May afternoon. Perhaps Parkinson's faith has been fully justified, considering City’s ascent to the play off positions in League One in comparison to Northampton's tumble towards the foot of League Two.

However, in recent weeks, coinciding with City's first real testing set of fixtures, these players have faced their first real criticism.

Garry Thompson, the provider of two assists at Wembley and so influential post-Arsenal last season, has seen his contribution scrutinised in recent times. 0 assists and 1 goal in a comfortable 4 goal win over Brentford has done little to keep the masses happy. It is, however, difficult to argue with those statistics – a winger is, after all, meant to be both the creator and scorer of goals. A third of the way through the season, a single goal reflects a pretty paltry return for the former Morecambe man.

Likewise, James Meredith who personified so much of what was great about last season has also seen his performances called into question. Compared with his ever reliable partner on the right, Stephen Darby, there have been whispers in the crowd that Meredith has reached his ceiling. Before the season started, fans were stringing the words Meredith, Brazil and World Cup together as calls for him to make the Aussie World Cup squad grew stronger and stronger. However, you would be hard-pushed to find many fans expecting to see Meredith strutting his stuff on the biggest stage of all come next summer. Perhaps Meredith is a victim of his own success. Meredith was a revelation last season for City - starved so long of a decent left back, possibly since the days of Wayne Jacobs and Andy Myers - bombing forward and forging a formidable left side partnership with Kyel Reid. His performances were only exacerbated when he had glandular fever, the team feeling his absence as McHugh, Good, Darby and McArdle all filled in with varying degrees of success.

And perhaps most surprisingly, Gary Jones (he’s magic, you know), has been labelled as past it, as is seemingly obligatory for any player the wrong side of 30. Jones, the most influential player City have had since Stuart McCall, swept up at the end of season awards last year. It is Jones who Parkinson has built the revival of City around, the central midfielder representing everything a fan wants in a player. He may be limited technically, and maybe this is the reason he’s rarely ventured further than League Two and Rochdale in his near-20 year career. For someone taken so emphatically and so quickly to the heart of each and every City fan, for him to be written off so quickly shows how quickly and how far expectations have risen.

A League Cup final appearance and play off victory after two consecutive 18th placed League Two finishes has seen the club revitalised and many believe the momentum now apparent can turn the decade of decline around and see the club reach and sustain Championship football. But is Parkinson right to stick with the players that begun the upward curve the club is now upon, or does he need to be more ruthless in his retention and recruitment of players?

A third of the way through the season, I don’t believe I have seen City emphatically outplayed by anyone, certainly not in league encounters anyway. So far, so good. City have shown that they can compete a level up, and should be relatively comfortable in their new, loftier surroundings. However, I do believe there is one area in which City lag behind their League One counterparts and that is how comfortable on the ball. For all his drive, motivation and leadership, Gary Jones is not the most technically able player in League One. For all his pace, trickery and match-winning ability, Kyel Reid doesn’t have the requisite ball control to be a constant menace.

The most technically able player City have on their books appears to be Mark Yeates. Yeates has shown in glimpses an ability to manipulate the ball, put defenders on the back foot and pick out a pass not seen at City in many a year, and yet Parkinson cannot seem to find a place for him in the team, nor can he find his best form. So where does Parkinson go from here?

He has clearly begun the process of clearing out the excess from the squad. Alan Connell, Andy Gray, Ricky Ravenhill all being told they can leave. Connell and Ravenhill having clearly reached their ceiling and Gray, having seen a second spell at the club not go as planned. With few of the current squad signed up beyond the end of the season (Wells, Davies, Kennedy, Yeates off the top of my head), a big rebuild is clearly going to happen sooner rather than later. Parkinson already has this in mind, signing players up with supposed higher pedigrees in Matthew Bates and Caleb Folan. But does Parkinson continue to do this throughout the season, or does he stick with the players that have coped with the step up admirably so far.

Far from throwing the current players on the metaphorical scrap heap, there is a solid base to the squad already within the building to build upon. Andrew Davies, Nahki Wells, James Hanson, Stephen Darby, Nathan Doyle and Mark Yeates represent gifted players all capable of playing at this level and beyond – contracts permitting. Parkinson's challenge resides in finding the correct players to complement this group and further aid the clubs development.

For what it’s worth, I believe the current crop is more than capable of securing a comfortable mid-table finish, which would represent a fine season a year after gaining promotion back to this level. It seems League One is a different beast to the one which City departed from just over 6 years ago, with teams displaying more footballing ability than in years gone by and back-to-back promotions may be a step too far.

City’s upward curve may slow down a little this season, and a real tilt at promotion may be more realistic next year, but for the time being I am going to enjoy watching the team that has revitalised the club, even if they may not be quite able to achieve that much desired double promotion.
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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

In Defence of Phil Parkinson

Some of the comments about Phil Parkinson letting Jack Compton leave the club in recent weeks have bordered on the insane. Practically every thread on the clubs Official Message Board has somehow wound back up on the subject of Compton. And it’s boring. Yes, this article brings the subject back to the surface but it is only fair to defend Parkinson.

I’ll start off by saying I liked Compton on the wing. Had I been in charge I would have kept him myself. But we don’t get to see what Phil Parkinson sees day in, day out at training. And if anyone was in a position to judge on Compton, it was Parkinson.

Some of the opinions spouted on the internet about Compton have bordered on the ludicrous. Listening to some people would make you believe that we have let Lionel Messi slip through our grasp. And while I cannot say my opinion is any more right than anyone else’s, a bit of objectivity from people would have been nice.

Jack, while technically gifted, is a limited player. His engine runs out after 60 minutes, he lacks real pace for a winger and often shirked defensive responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong, he was a creative force and he had an uncanny ability to be able to squeeze past two defenders at once, but in my opinion it wasn’t enough. And what’s more, Kyel Reid has more goals and assists to his name. And he came in late without a pre-season.

What’s more, it is alleged that Compton has a poor attitude. He was allegedly bombed out of Falkirk for having a less than desirable attitude and the issue reared its head at City when he wasn’t picked for Gillingham away. Compton was given a legitimate reason by the manager, yet he still felt the need to let his feelings be known by the medium of Twitter. While frustrating, not something you would want from a potential signing.

And when push came to shove, Compton showed a lack of fight when the opportunity came up to sign on for the season. A player who was apparently desperate to sign for Bradford City, but turned down the chance to when offered the chance. It was always unlikely that the club would offer Compton a permanent deal this January, with him not being a Parkinson signing and with Reid to come back. And with Compton supposedly using interest from other ‘English clubs’ to try and get a better deal from City, Parkinson has done the right thing in calling his bluff. Expecting a permanent contract was always going to be wishful thinking in January when Parkinson will be doing much of his rebuilding in the summer.

Phil Parkinson’s signings so far have generally being excellent and if he believes we can better than Compton then I am willing to believe him.

But I still wish Compton well. He gave us some good memories; putting City 1-0 up at Elland Road and his cross for Mitchell at home against Rotherham was exquisite. It’s just a shame he was too stubborn to stay for another 4 months and try to cement a permanent place at Valley Parade. And hopefully this will be the last we hear of the Compton saga!
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Monday, 2 January 2012

A Reality Check

For the first time in what seems like an eternity, I went to today’s game with Rotherham actually expecting a win. I cannot remember the last time I expected victory going into a game and that is testament to the way Phil Parkinson and his players have begun to slowly turn things around in the past month or so. But it is these heightened expectations that make defeat that much more difficult to swallow.

Today’s defeat was thoroughly disappointing. Having seen the way the team performed in the previous two games against Crewe and Shrewsbury, the difference could not have been any more obvious. The spark was lacking today – the tempo and pace which were so decisive in the last two victories were completely missing. Despite the lack of a performance of any note from City, they were unlucky to be on the end of a 3-0 score line.

The first half was a turgid affair. Scrappy play often interrupted by even scrappier play led to a dull showcase with a lack of substance. Two chances of note came in the first half; one for City and one for Rotherham. On the counter James Hanson beat the Rotherham centre half to the ball, but struck his venomous shot from 15 yards straight at the keeper. Rotherham’s single first half chance came after good work got them in behind the City defence only for the shot across goal to drift wide of McLaughlin’s post.

It seemed as if City were playing to contain Rotherham in the first half and it was working well, but at the expense of any real attacking threat. The first half was an even affair, lacking any quality, but that was unfortunately as good as it got for the Bantams this afternoon.

The second half saw City struggle to make any impact on the game.

But it could have been a lot different.

The ball fell to man-of-the-moment Nahki Wells on the edge of the box, through one on one, but unfortunately his touch let him down and the frustration was clear to see on the young Bermudans face. Wells had a slow start to his City career, struggling to get in the match day squad and jetting off with Bermuda, but his recent performances have been extremely encouraging. Today, however, Wells and his strike partner James Hanson – whose own performances have been improving dramatically lately – were left both isolated and frustrated in a game where they barely had any scraps to feed off, let alone decent service.
City didn’t once threaten the score sheet after this and 3 goals in eleven minutes wrapped up the game for Rotherham.

Jon McLaughlin has been superb recently and a big factor in City’s defence turning into one of the meanest in League Two, but he had a hand in all 3 goals conceded today. He wasn’t alone, though, as the referee had a contributing hand in 2 goals too.

The first goal, which came from a soft, soft free kick, was smashed home by Lewis Grabaan after McLaughlin dropped the ball. Having been floated in from the free kick, McLaughlin came, dropped and Grabaan wasted no time in hitting the ball into the back of the net. 9 times out of 10 nowadays McLaughlin would have won a free kick (I think, it’s difficult to tell when you’re watching the game sat in Barnsley) but he should have been stronger when coming to deal with the ball.

Within 5 minutes Rotherham had doubled their lead as Grabaan also doubled his tally for the afternoon. A long punt forward sent Sam Wood free as he and McLaughlin raced to the ball inside the box. McLaughlin appeared to win the ball in the tackle as it ricocheted off Wood and out for a goal kick. But the referee saw differently and opted to award a penalty. Grabaan sent McLaughlin the wrong way from the resulting spot kick and it was effectively game over.

And by the 75th minute Rotherham had a gloss on the score line they did not deserve. McLaughlin was spotted off his line, and Brett Williams shot more in hope than expectation from 30 yards, managing to beat McLaughlin as he fumbled into the net.

A poor day for the young goalkeeper, but it would be silly to lambast him too much, as he has been part of the mini revival and the defence look a lot more assured with him behind them than they did Duke earlier in the season.

And it was a poor day at the office for City, too. Parkinson, forced into changes today, with the fresh injury to Simon Ramsden, expiration of Jack Compton’s loan and knock to Ritchie Jones exposed a weakness to the City squad.

Charlie Taylor was given his debut on the left, but he looked woefully short of having the required ability to perform in League Two. It may be too early to judge him, and today was a difficult game to be thrown in to, but I fail to see what he brings as cover that Luke O’Brien couldn’t do for a month as Parkinson searches for another winger.

The recent unbeaten run came to an end today, perhaps reigning in recently increased expectations. It may also reinforce the manager’s hand when it comes to releasing funds for squad strengthening this month. City clearly have the makings of a decent team together now and on another day there is no reason why City couldn’t have won today.

The main thing to take from today’s game for City is that they cannot rest on their laurels. Hard work and graft have given them the chance to pull away from danger and they need to continue with this to ensure the rest of the season is played out with little drama. 
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Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Importance of Andrew Davies

Phil Parkinson is currently managing Bradford City in a very similar fashion to Peter Taylor. He clearly believes that good teams are built on solid defences and that is what he appears to have built now. And key to that is Andrew Davies. Let’s be fair, he is far too good to be plying his trade in League Two and if any managers in higher leagues have any sense they will attempt to sign him up come January.

From a City point of view, however, it is imperative that his loan is extended until the end of the season. When he is not busy being sent off, Andrew Davies’ inclusion in the City team has seen a marked improvement in fortunes.

Since signing for City at the end of September, Davies has played in 7 league games and missed 5 league games through suspension. Davies was thrust into the team immediately after signing so it would have been difficult for him to influence his first game against AFC Wimbledon, but that is the only league game he has played in and lost for City.

In his 6 other games, City have won two and drawn four. A return of 10 points from 7 games is 1.428 points per game; which if extrapolated over a season would see a points total of 65. This clearly shows his importance to the team, considering that in the games where he hasn’t played, City have amassed a points total of 9 from 14 games, which would mean a points total of 30 over the season. A huge, and worrying, difference.

His first game after Wimbledon was the credible draw at Burton and results were beginning to improve the week after City beat Torquay. Unfortunately, Davies as we all know was sent off in that game ensuring he missed the next three games. Two were lost and one won.

Davies then returned and City once more kept a clean sheet at free scoring Swindon. Again, as we all know he was sent off and missed the next four games. Only two of those were league games, though, but both were defeats against Rotherham and Cheltenham.

Davies’ latest return coincided with yet another upturn in fortunes, with a credible draw at Gillingham, a further draw against Plymouth and an excellent win at Southend. With Davies’ return to the team, City have now gone over 270 minutes without conceding a goal on the road – an excellent record.

With the return of Simon Ramsden at right back, the excellent form of Luke Oliver and a relatively solid, yet out of position Marcel Seip at left back, City now have a back four which looks impressively solid. With the returning Jon McLaughlin in net looking a lot more confident than he did last season, City finally have a back five which can be depended on.

Andrew Davies is clearly an important cog in the Bradford City defence and Phil Parkinson must do his utmost to ensure his stay at Valley Parade is extended beyond January 7th. Despite him not being in a position on the pitch to influence goals scored, his inclusion is obviously vital for City to continue improving and push up the league table.

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Friday, 9 December 2011

Minds Turn Back to the League After a Week of Welcome Cup Distractions

Being knocked out of the JPT this week felt almost unjust having knocked out three of League One’s top five teams, but attention now turns back to the league for the big game with Plymouth after a week or so of welcome cup distractions.

Tuesday’s trip to Oldham highlighted what is great about this club, and in a season (Or more like decade) where everything has been doom and gloom, the Johnstones Paint Trophy has been a real shot in the arm for the club. 2,500 fans making the trip over the Pennines to the coldest ground in the world on a wet December night is nothing short of fantastic. Parkinson, Andrew Davies and Oldham Athletic have all commented on the impressive nature of the Bantams fans. Unfortunately we were left empty handed coming away from Oldham and the 2,500 City fans minds turned to this Saturday.

City were not great on Tuesday night, not a patch on their Saturday performance against Wimbledon, but that was to be expected considering the number of changes. I’d expect that had we put out the same team against Oldham as we did against Wimbledon we would have fared much better. Last Saturday showed what City can do against an opponent who claimed a comfortable 3 points at Valley Parade only 6 weeks ago. This City team now look solid, but are struggling for goals up at the other end of the pitch. Hopefully Phil Parkinson now knows what is his best eleven and he can begin to tinker with the team less. Last Saturday against Wimbledon the team looked to have far more balance and benefitted from two strikers, two wingers and two central midfielders. Parkinson has to stick to this formula as much as possible.

Plymouth have recently changed managers and it paid dividends as they won their last league game 4-1 against, an admittedly poor, Northampton team. Player boss Carl Fletcher will bring his team up to West Yorkshire hoping to eliminate the points gap with ourselves which earlier in the season looked an impossible task. With the history between Marcel Seip and Plymouth, Fletcher will no doubt have his team fired up for the game, something City need to match if they are to win.

With an illness sweeping through the City squad, it is difficult to see what sort of a team Phil Parkinson will be able to put out for Saturdays match. Ricky Ravenhill, extremely impressive against Wimbledon, is the latest to be struck down and he will be a big miss in the middle if unavailable.

Having seemingly regained his confidence, Jonny Mac will continue in goal, continuing to hold the number 1 shirt currently above Matt Duke.

After Liam Moore’s disappointing performance it is almost certain that Simon Ramsden will be recalled for the right back spot. Andrew Davies and this seasons Player-of-the-Year-So-Far Luke Oliver will continue to forge their partnership in the centre of defence and former Plymouth man Marcel Seip will slot in at left back to complete the defence.

Craig Fagan and Kyel Reid will be recalled to perform on the flanks against Plymouth, and after sitting out his one game ban on Tuesday, Michael Flynn will be back. Ricky Ravenhill will partner him depending on fitness, with Ritchie Jones on stand by having returned to action on Tuesday night.

Up front James Hanson will continue to lead the line, with a likely recall for Ross Hannah, with Nahki Wells seemingly more effective in the ‘super sub’ role against tired defenders in the latter stages of the match.

As strong a team as City can put out, it is time they transferred some of the form from the cup competitions into the league. How many times have we heard that before?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Goals Win Games

Howard Wilkinson once said ‘I am a firm believer that if you score one goal the other team have to score two to win’ and as obvious as that seems, it seems particularly fitting for Bradford City at the moment.

On Saturday City were much the better team. They controlled the game, the tempo and at times played football to a level which we haven’t seen at Valley Parade for some years now. It felt great to watch a team go out and attack, play positively and actively look to win the game. Yet City still didn’t win. In 7 games so far this season, City have scored 9 goals; 6 of which came in two games. Reducing the rest to 3 goals in 5 games; a paltry amount.

While this season is still new, and the play has been very encouraging, it seems City are still struggling for goals as they did last year. The play, despite being much improved has failed to yield more goals. Whether this is down to the service or the strikers is debatable. So far this season, numerous front lines have been seen; Stewart-Hanson-Compton, Hanson-Stewart, Hanson-Hannah, Hanson-Stewart-Hannah, Hanson-Devitt, Hanson-Rodney, Rodney-Hannah, Hanson-Wells etc... What we can see from this though, is that no partnership has been given any time to blossom.

Without a period of stability up front, it is unlikely that any striker - no matter how good or poor they may be – is going to be able to feel settled and perform to their maximum. It is no secret that Phil Parkinson wanted to add another striker to his ranks in the shape of Paul Benson before the window closed and if rumours are to be believed a signing this afternoon is in the pipelines.

Despite the apparent disruption up front with the numerous different line ups, the signing, if right, is key as the current forward crop is very inexperienced. Hanson, Hannah, Stewart, Rodney and Wells have something around 35 Football League goals between them – around 25 of them being Hanson’s – so it is blatantly obvious that an experienced head is needed up front. Oddly, Peter Jackson highlighted this in the summer, but either didn’t try, or failed to bring in an older head up front.

The addition of a wise old head up front would be immeasurable at this moment in time. It would take a lot of pressure off the front line. Ross Hannah still looks very raw, Mark Stewart while looking a good player is taking time to adapt from the Scottish game, Rodney and Wells have had limited game time and Hanson is coming in for criticism.

Hanson suffers from being the focal point of the strike force. While it is right to expect him to have improved and be more of a threat in what is now his third season as a professional, he never had an ‘easy’ bedding in period and was first choice almost from the word go. Bringing in an experienced striker would allow Hanson to perhaps take a back seat, reassess his game and come back a better player.

With the likes of Rory Fallon and Craig Fagan being linked to the club, Hanson may soon find his role slightly decreased, allowing him the period of reflection he badly needs. It could well be make or break for him as he becomes a more seasoned campaigner and imperative in his, hopefully, improvement.

I will admit I am not Hanson’s biggest fan, but if he can get a break from first team action, a refreshed and rejuvenated Hanson can be a big asset to Bradford City. If he plays as we know he can do, he brings others into the action, setting up and scoring goals. Something which he did very well in his first season at the club – and something I’m sure someone like Ross Hannah would thrive off.

Howard Wilkinson once said ‘I am a firm believer that if you score one goal the other team have to score two to win’ and he difference between this City team finish lower mid table or challenging for the play offs is goals. And the key to that is James Hanson and his fellow strikers. Hopefully Phil Parkinson can pull off his signing – it could be a key moment in the season. 
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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Work in Progress

As Liam Moore clenched his fists with delight at the hard earned last gasp draw at Morecambe on Saturday, there was an odd feeling of joy tempered with despondency, having seen that City have dropped into the bottom four of the football league. A position, which compared to this time last season, is not too dissimilar.

Saturday couldn’t have started any worse for the team; having to stop off for food as the on coach cooker broke, and then getting caught up in traffic, delaying arrival until 2.30. These sorts of mishaps can often have a noticeable effect on the opening stages of the game, but perhaps aided by the atrocious conditions, City coped admirably as they shaded a weak first half with minimal chances.

City started the second half in a good manner, pinning back Morecambe for periods, but fell behind to a well struck shot from Izak Reid after a goalmouth scramble. A long range shot deceived everyone including keeper Matt Duke as it dipped to hit the bar. Two 6 yard blocks from Luke Oliver prevented a goal but the ball fell to Reid who smashed it home.

The goal came somewhat out of the blue and knocked City totally out of their stride. Having tried to play some football in the diabolical conditions, all City’s progressive work went out of the window as panic ensued and the long ball was resurrected. Allowing Morecambe to gain a strong grip on the game, it looked as it City would yet again come away from Morecambe pointless. But once again, as at Oxford, Ross Hannah came off the bench to secure a vital away point for the travelling masses. Now I love Hannah, his attitude is spot on but I don’t think he is ready to start games yet – he looks slow, weak and a little lost; all things which can be worked on - but one thing you cannot fault him for is his ability to be in the right place at the right time. Hannah seems to posses the lauded after ability of being the ‘fox in the box’ which means he will score goals given the service.

The table may make for similar reading when compared to this time last year, but the difference in attitude from the players, and fans, could not be more evident. This team encapsulates the determination of captain Guy Branston. It doesn’t know when it is beaten and won’t give up until the final whistle is blown. All very positive to see. And this was reflected in the celebrations; exuberance which hasn’t been seen in a long time – even including Robbie Threlfall accidentally taking out a fan who had encroached onto the pitch!

There were positives all over the pitch, particularly Kyel Reid and Jamie Devitt. Reid, despite clearly not being match fit, showed touches of class and when fully fit should be a menace to League Two right backs. And Devitt, who came on with 30 minutes to go, nearly scored twice and showed enough enthusiasm to pop up all over the pitch, often running off the front two as a support striker.

James Hanson remains an enigma, though. He comes in for a lot of undue criticism but equally receives vastly over the top praise and if we look at it objectively, he is an average League Two forward. However, following two impressive performances against Barnet and Sheffield Wednesday, including two goals, Hanson struggled to make any impact on Saturday. Admittedly, long balls pumped up to him while he is 35 yards from goal are far from perfect, but he rarely won a header, looked lost on the pitch and when he had a golden opportunity from 6 yards out, his header lacked conviction. Frustrating is not the word as we know what Hanson can be capable of, but into his third season as a pro now, he should be aiming for greater levels of consistency.

Follow this up next week with a win though and I think we can firmly believe City are heading in the right direction, two homes wins sandwiched either side of a point away from home is the hallmark of a good team. The slow start would be slowly forgotten about and considering the amount of upheaval in the last two weeks, this would represent excellent progress for the team.
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