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Bradford City cameo king's chance of a start at Plymouth rests on Phil Parkinson solving tactical dilemma
Bradford City 1 Aldershot 1
So the Alan Connell conundrum is back at the top of the agenda.
City brought up their half century of games and still the jury is out on how best to accommodate one of their best finishers.
Once again, Connell came off the bench with a big late goal – his ninth of a season where he has made more sub appearances than starts.
To reinforce his reluctant “supersub” tag, several of those strikes have been result-changing.
Add Saturday’s 97th-minute penalty to winners at home to Torquay and Accrington – the last City triumph at Valley Parade on Boxing Day. There was also a late equaliser at Accrington early in September, his first goal for the club.
By my calculations, he’s been worth an extra six points with those goals in the last ten minutes – a proper modern day David Fairclough.
So the clamour is growing to give him more game-time than a late cameo, particularly as top scorer Nahki Wells has gone off the boil in recent weeks.
Connell’s style of play is different to anything his other strikers offer. He does not possess the pace of Wells or the physical strength of James Hanson but has that extra technical edge.
Given space to play in, Connell’s skill and eye for an opening can be decisive. But that room tends to appear further on in games as fatigue sets in and they become more stretched, rather than from the opening whistle.
Hence the argument for holding him back until later on, something that Paulo Di Canio also favoured last season when Connell top-scored in Swindon’s title win.
“It’s just about getting the balance of the side right to get him in the team,” admitted Parkinson. “I thought Alan was immense when he got on and his attitude is a credit.
“He’s had a few setbacks but has always been great round the lads.
“I’m glad he grabbed the ball to take the penalty. Not that I watched it because I kept looking down and waited for the crowd to cheer! But I knew he wouldn’t miss because he’s a very good finisher.
“He’s played well up front with Thompson. Those two were outstanding in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Port Vale and that was one of our best performances of the season, albeit in a cup competition.
“But if you look at it lately, Hanson scored a couple of goals, Thompson’s scored a couple. Those strikers have been scoring.”
For the second home game in a row, City left it late to grab a share of a contest they should have won hands down.
On the plus side, it shows there is still plenty of resistance and stamina in the tank. But once again this was another big opportunity missed.
While it remains as you were, with seventh-placed Exeter drawing goalless at Fleetwood, City should have seized the opportunity to close the gap with so many of the top bracket playing each other.
The statistics highlight the one-sided nature of the contest – 14 shots on goal compared to three from the visitors and a 13-0 whitewash on corners.
The only time he admitted defeat was after smashing into the shoulder of his own defender Aaron Morris, which left the Australian woozy and in need of hospital treatment for concussion.
Even then, sub keeper Glenn Morris carried on where he left off until the last-gasp penalty.
Shots boss Andy Scott swallowed his disappointment to salute a sterling defensive display. But he also felt City’s approach was predictable.
“We got bombarded with long balls and that’s all they had. They didn’t create anything particularly until Connell came on in the hole.”
Aldershot themselves were non-existent as an attacking force until Rory McArdle fouled Paul McCallum right on half-time.
Kieron Cadogan, a product of Jamie Lawrence’s London academy, curled the free-kick into that awkward no man’s land in front of Jon McLaughlin and Craig Reid’s unsuccessful lunge to get a touch did enough to put the keeper off as the ball drifted inside the far post.
It was a complete sucker punch after a half that had been spent camped in opposition territory.
The second half followed a similar pattern without so many clear-cut chances. In fact, the best up to the equaliser came at the other end when McCallum went with the wrong foot as he slid on the end of a Cadogan counter-attack.
Jones, described as the “best midfielder in this division by a long stretch” by Scott, kept driving City onwards. Wells, who had again failed to spark, made way for Thompson and then on came Connell for Michael Nelson – who had also been guilty of missing a close-range header.
The system changed with Connell’s arrival to 3-4-1-2 as Aldershot tried to counter by flooding midfield.
The departure of Young and then skipper Ben Herd – who had called pre-match for a Swansea-style effort from the Shots – meant it was going to be a hefty whack of added time. As the volume increased, Scott feared the worst with rookie referee Richard Clark.
“The ref said seven minutes initially, then six and he came up with eight. I think Steve Parkin and Phil Parkinson got in his ear.
“I warned our bench what was coming. The crowd got behind their team and had an influence and I felt the ref got a bit carried away towards the end.”
It was nearly 5pm – a good seven minutes extra had passed – when Jones stabbed one last short ball into the corner of the box.
Hines initially paused then went for it. Similarly, the two defenders around him hesitated waiting for each other to take command.
Terrell Forbes was late in making the tackle and nicked the winger first. It was hardly the heaviest of contact but sufficient to draw the decision and Connell maintained his perfect record from the penalty spot.