On Saturday morning the dismal performances at Gillingham, Shrewsbury, York and Swindon were merely a dot in the memory of city fans as The Bantams were about to take on Peterborough on the back of a 5 game unbeaten run. Although City should have taken all 3 points against Sheffield the week before, there was an abundance of positives to take from the game and we were beginning to look up the table instead of down.
At 5 o'clock on Saturday, though, it seemed like we were back to square one.
Up until Saturday the team seemed to be finally gelling with partnerships such as Evans/Liddle, Hanson/Cole and Darby/Marshall beginning to blossom. We were playing a better brand of passing football mixed with the quintessential grit of a Parkinson team. In the first half up until Anderson’s injury there were further signs of this and at half time, despite a slightly flat atmosphere, everyone in the ground expected the 3 points to follow. Instead what followed, as Parky admitted, was a lack of desire and no response to Peterborough’s nauseatingly unprofessional tactics. The early season ghosts of the inability to sustain performances seemed to have come back to haunt City.
This is when we have to ask what’s going wrong and try come up with solutions.
1. Lack of goals when we are on top – City’s inability to capitalise when we’re on top has haunted us, especially at home, for the past two seasons and seemingly isn’t going away in a hurry. Previously I would now regurgitate the ‘we haven’t replaced Wells’ line and that would be that but we now have Devante Cole who has proved his efficiency in front of goal. Moreover we have more creativity in the midfield for as long as I can remember, so why don’t we score when we’re on top?
2. We still leak silly goals – You can win games 1-0 by getting a lucky goal and afford to not score when you’re on top, but only if you’re not leaking goals at the other end. We finished 7th last season because of this reason and it has cost us, by my reckoning, tenpoints so far this season. Is this just down to the loss of Davies? It happened a lot less when he was on the pitch and the frequency with which it is happening now does point to his absence from the side. Reece Burke did seem to be one solution but he possibly won’t be here much longer, and then what? Even if we manage to keep him all season, we’re back to square one at the start of next season. Regardless of what division we’re in. The problem, though, I believe goes deeper than this. Midfield protection is key to any good defence and ours don’t get protected enough.
3. Injuries – Injuries shouldn’t be an excuse for poor results, but they are a factor to consider nonetheless.Morais and Clarke were pivotal figures in our team last year and their absence cannot be underestimated. Now Morris, who looks to be a great addition to the squad, and Anderson, who was beginning to find his feet again, are both out. They join Routis who has been sidelined for quite some time now. Squads should be built to withstand injuries, no matter how numerous, but there is no doubt injuries are taking its toll on our squad.
These 3 problems are solvable and these are my solutions:-
- Firstly to address Injury problems. This in a wayhas already been partially answered by Parky in his post-match pulse interview. He admitted he may have to look at the loan market for another winger as Morris is still a few weeks away. This may well be one way to solve it but surely Dylan Mottley-Henry could now be utilised? My first thought when Anderson went down on Saturday was, right Dylan – here’s your chance. Instead we saw Davies come on which I still feel was the wrong decision, despite Parky’s diligent justifications after the match. I think Mottley-Henry could have a chance for 3-4 weeks to prove himself and if not Davies could be a stop gap solution, or indeed a loanee player. We have a good youth team which we should make use of.
- My proposal to solve goal leakages and lack of goals when we’re on top of games could be seen as drastic and controversial, but bear with me.
- I need to make a few things clear. Hanson is one of my favourite players and what he has done for the club will forever live in the memory of City fans. The header at Villa or the goal at Burton to just recall two.I think we need to keep him even if we get promoted as not only does he embody Bradford City values but he can prove a handful for any centre half he comes up against. I have absolutely no problem with having a big man up top because it’s one of the most effective and simplest ways to win football matches. My problem is not with Hanson, and not necessarily with our style of play when we deploy him in certain ways but it’s his un-droppable status.
The diamond saga is behind us and City are playing with wingers but I propose one more alteration which isn’t necessarily permanent. A lot of good attacking teams don’t play with two strikers but I think Parky and maybe many city fans may see only one striker as a defensive move. It is definitely not but I can see why you’d think that. On a rare occasion against Sheffield away last year Parky left Hanson up on his own with Halliday, Knott and Clarke behind him with two holding midfielders. What this allowed for was a typical away performance – i.e. a five man midfield on defence and counter attacking wingers with a creative number 10.
This formation can be adapted into an attacking one for home games – i.e. a 4-3-3. This is where the Hanson issue comes in. It worked well with him in the team away from home that day as he can hold the ball up well but it would be more fluid and attacking if we played Cole or Davies there who can do more with the ball and run in behind. Something that you need, especially at home. Also no City fan wants to see Hanson out wide, even if it worked at Stamford Bridge.
My reasoning behind this change in formation is to solve our goal scoring issues and prevent our goal leakages as it gives better protection for the back four and can create more attacking dynamism. On attack Knott can play a more advanced and creative role due to having two more midfielders behind him. This will give him less defensive responsibility and encourage him to take more risks, something that is harder when playing in a two man central midfield pairing. Also the two wingers knowing the midfield is more secure won’t need to tuck in as much and can stay wide and push on. Midfield runners have been almost non-existent recently and it is how good teams win football matches. Furthermore when defending Knott can drop in giving the defence a 3 man wall instead of two. Solidity mixed with creativity and flair.
4-3-3 doesn't have to be permanent or used in every game. 4-4-2 has brought us and many other teams success but having two systems up your sleeve is always a bonus. ‘Sods law’ states we’ll batter Colchester and Rochdale playing 4-4-2 but for the right game at the right time having another option could prove paramount.
City are ‘Almost there’ and obviously promotion is still on the cards. It’s only early days. There have been promising signs alongside our problems and set-backs but no team is perfect. Two weeks ago Man City were ‘going to win the league’ and even with their Millions, they've lost two on the bounce. As the dust has cleared after the transfer window I think our squad is better than what we had last year and is ready to push on. Most importantly with the right man at the helm. IPWT. My proposed changes are more tweaks rather than upheaval that I see as giving us that extra edge. Reaching the play offs is achieved through marginal gains relative to your opponents. It’s a marathon not a sprint.