For about 20 minutes on Saturday things looked like they were really set to change for the better. The sun was shining, Coventry City, all fluid movement, had taken the lead and whilst we weren’t in complete control of the game, Port Vale were offering very little threat of their own.
The momentum of the game seemed to turn around a lengthy injury delay around the half hour mark, although we had lost some of that verve that we had started the game with long before then. Port Vale grabbed an equaliser that looked offside from my position (just about as far as you could be away from it whilst still being in the stadium, but still I clearly know best) but once again it was the case of a Coventry City team completely falling to pieces after conceding a goal. By way of contrast, after Vale lost their lead in the second-half, they continued to play like they were ahead and very quickly retook the lead.
A lot of what Mowbray had done in just two days work with the players appeared to make sense in the early stages. Marcus Tudgay as an attacking foil worked okay alongside two players in Frank Nouble and Dominic Samuel who were never going to engage with the same selfless attacking play as Tudgay. Jim O’Brien’s snappy work-rate allowed Fleck to get the ball in dangerous positions whilst we had the insurance policy of Adam Barton effectively playing as a third central defender.
Inexperience cost us, the defence looked panicky whenever the ball landed at their feet and it led to basic errors which were punished by a street-smart Port Vale. To criticise the defence for the defeat lets the midfield, attack and manager off the hook. Once again, there was little protection for our back four thanks both to a meek midfield and Tony Mowbray’s attacking 4-3-3 formation.
In fairness to Mowbray, leaving the defence exposed was as a direct consequence of setting the team up to play attacking football, and in the context of this dull season on the pitch, he gets a pass from me. In general, I think that we will be rewarded for trying to be the proactive team in matches for the rest of the season and there will be teams that we play who will be overawed by such an ‘all guns blazing’ approach. Those first 20 minutes made me hopeful that were we to stay up next season, we would enjoy watching the team Mowbray would then build.
For this game against what may well be a Bradford team who promise to be more competitive and robust than Port Vale were, it would seem foolhardy to re-attempt Saturday’s game plan. Mowbray spoke of going ‘back to basics’ in his post-match interview on Saturday which could mean a recall for Andy Webster in defence. Additionally, Sanmi Odelusi’s goal on Saturday seems likely to have earned him a starting spot tonight.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Burge; Phillips, Martin, Webster, Stokes; O’Brien, Barton, Fleck, Odelusi; Nouble, Samuel.
Last Time We Met
Whenever I think of this current iteration of Bradford City, I reflect upon Steven Pressley’s ‘dark age football’ comments in our 3-3 draw at Valley Parade back in November 2013. It’s always a dangerous approach to take in criticising another manager’s style of football after a disappointing result as it leads to a blindsided analysis of your team’s failings if you deem the opposing style of play to be unworthy somehow. 15 months later Steven Pressley is out of a job whilst Phil Parkinson the pragmatist has led Bradford on yet another remarkable run in a cup competiton.
That competitive edge that Parkinson has instilled in his team was on show back on the opening day of this season as his Bradford City team recovered from losing the lead twice to secure a 3-2 opening day victory. It was the physically imposing centre-forward James Hanson who was once again the architect of the Sky Blues destruction as he dominated our then back three by grabbing a brace of headers.
How Are They Doing?
Bradford City are once again in the headlines after another remarkable cup run, this time in the FA Cup. The Bantams faced Championship Reading last Saturday but were unable to secure a spot in a Wembley semi-final after a 0-0 draw which adds further congestion to their fixture schedule. What has been especially amazing about this run is how Phil Parkinson has completely rebuilt his team from the one that made it to the League Cup final two seasons ago.
It’s fair to say that Parkinson has implemented a more attractive style of play during the course of the season with technical players like Filipe Morais, Billy Knott and Billy Clarke helping form a dynamic 4-4-2 diamond formation. A front two of target-man in Jon Stead and James Hanson provide the hold-up play to bring in the more nimble midfield runners whilst also providing a threat from the many crossing opportunities that the team are able to manufacture with overlapping runs from all over the pitch.
With the fixtures continuing to pile up for Bradford, Parkinson may continue his policy of squad rotation which has been employing since the start of their FA Cup run. Our defence may be saved from the threat of James Hanson with the forward a player who can struggle to play two games in a week to full effect. It would still mean though that Jon Stead would be there to hold the ball up and Parkinson could introduce the trickery of Francois Zoko to the attacking mix to give them a different kind of threat.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2 Diamond) Williams; Darby, Davies, McArdle, Meredith; Routis, Knott, Halliday, Yeates; Stead, Zoko.
Despite Saturday’s defeat, we are still in that hopeful phase of a new manager’s reign where we can forgive a defeat by telling ourselves that it was due to the team bedding into new methods. Losing his first two home games though could make Tony Mowbray’s extra difficult with an unforgiving Ricoh Arena crowd expressing their frustration against a mentally weak group of players who have led this club into a relegation battle through a lack of courage.
Bradford City will be perfectly happy to play against a team lacking in confidence, one that they can bully with a few early rough tackles and if they can take the lead early, via time-wasting tactics. They may be going through a congested fixture period but like us, they have played the same amount of games over the past 10 days and they have the sense of purpose and momentum that we currently lack. Because I am optimistic though, I’m predicting a 2-2 draw.