Parkinson must find way to accommodate Connell in Bradford City line-up (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Phil Parkinson must find way to accommodate Alan Connell in Bradford City line-up
Dagenham & Redbridge 4, City 3
Two questions must have dominated Phil Parkinson’s mind on the way back home from this latest Dagenham debacle.
One of City’s least favourite stop-offs had once again put paid to hopes of building momentum on the road.
Last season they arrived at this particularly unglamorous corner of east London on the back of successive away wins and went back with nothing.
On Saturday, a three-match unbeaten run on their league travels – the first time that had been achieved since the final weeks of the 2010 campaign – was put to bed by a rollercoaster performance.
John Still, Dagenham’s wise old manager, once more waxed lyrical about putting one over such a big name. But having done it for the fourth season in a row now, he should really change the record.
What will really stick in the craw for Parkinson is the defensive implosion that gave Dagenham the headstart which City’s spirited second half just could not quite manage to peg back.
So question number one for the manager. How could a team that had conceded only one goal in the previous three away games suddenly collapse like a pack of cards?
Yes, City have let in three at Gillingham and four at Rotherham but they were in the opening three weeks. Nothing in the last month’s hectic schedule had suggested that anything like this was on the horizon.
It was attack not defence that was the talking point pre-match after successive blanks against Port Vale and Rochdale.
But for the first 45 minutes, a back four that was developing into a formidable unit played like a bunch of strangers just picked off the street.
The marking – or absence of it – for the third goal was no better either. And ultimately that near-post header from Luke Wilkinson was to prove the significant blow in Parkinson’s eyes.
City had been drilled all week into what to expect from Dagenham. To be fair, anyone watching could have told them.
The Daggers only operate one way – put the ball forward quickly and get in your face. It’s simple and can be very effective.
But the visitors could not handle it and in particular lone striker Dwight Gayle, who was banging in goals for fun with non-league Bishop’s Stortford this time last year. He might as well have worn a Barcelona shirt on Saturday...
Not that City were too shoddy going forward, at least in the second half anyway. Having barely got a foot on the ball up to then, they battered the Daggers for a way back.
That brings us to the manager’s second dilemma. Where does Alan Connell fit in?
The substitute was City’s match-changer after replacing the ineffective Zavon Hines at the break. Playing just behind the front two, his cleverness on the ball and speed of thought were instrumental in their concerted attempts to pull back from the brink.
Connell finished with the scars to show for it, courtesy of the punch in the nose from keeper Chris Lewington that won the City penalty. He also had a goal bundled home from a scramble while another angled chip just carried too much for the top corner.
He deserves far more than just a cameo run-out – but the dilemma is how he can be accommodated.
Nahki Wells scored two more to take his tally to a team-leading seven. His place must be nailed down.
And to leave out James Hanson would lose that aerial dominance and hold-up play that the other strikers thrive from.
The switch to 4-3-1-2 was necessitated by the scoreline and the absence of any wing threat. How City missed Kyel Reid in their first game of his predicted six-week lay-off.
If this was Hines’ audition for the starring role, he failed miserably. Hooked after barely touching the ball, let alone beating his man, it is no wonder that Parkinson is seriously contemplating his first loan reinforcement.
The change of system worked a treat but would be a gamble to use from the start. It could work with full backs prepared to get forward, though there is always the risk of going too gung-ho and leaving themselves too open on the counter.
That happened with Gayle’s well-taken fourth goal, leaving Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle running in custard as he raced away from the centre circle.
But it would be wrong to blame defeat on that. The damage had been done in that feeble first half.
City were undone inside six minutes from their own free-kick. Will Atkinson, a shadow of the all-action performer at Rochdale, gave the ball away cheaply and Gayle was away.
Jon McLaughlin saved from Tom Williams but midfielder Billy Bingham followed up to mark his 50th Daggers appearance with a confident finish.
The lead was doubled on the half-hour mark. City could not stop the flow down the Daggers’ right and when Medy Elito skipped past Davies, Gayle stepped over his cross for Michael Spillane to tap home.
Half-time could not come quick enough for the toothless opponents as Bingham’s curler was only a couple of inches away from making it three.
And then it all changed, although not before Wilkinson had been unguarded to surely kill off the contest at 3-0 after 51 minutes.
City, having shown more in the opening six minutes of the half than they had in the first 45, suddenly refused to go quietly.
Wells powered in a superb free-kick from 25 yards out and there was a glimmer of hope. As Dagenham panicked, Luke Oliver flicked across the goalmouth and Lewington clocked Connell’s face rather than the ball.
Wells was again the man on the spot to send the keeper the wrong way from 12 yards. Game very much on.
The 350 away fans roared on the miracle in front of them and Wells looked to have a strong shout for a second penalty when Wilkinson nudged him down. Referee Phil Gibbs was unmoved.
Connell latched on to Hanson’s header to shoot from a tight angle. A bit less oomph behind it and the ball would have dropped under the bar with Lewington already giving it up.
Gayle then exploited the inevitable gaps as City committed the job lot going forward. Surely the points were in the bag now?
Or maybe not. City had five up front by this stage – the three strikers, Garry Thompson and SOS targetman Davies.
Abu Ogogo cleared off the line from the centre half before the incessant pressure paid off again. Nathan Doyle’s long throw was touched on by Hanson, Davies and Connell threw themselves into the mix with the substitute getting the decisive touch.
When the fourth official flashed up five minutes of added time, the stage was set for City to complete their comeback. But there was to be no fourth goal.
Wells almost got his hat-trick from McArdle’s cross before Davies headed too firmly on to the top of the net.
It had been an exhilarating finish to a depressing result. For all their considerable effort in the second half, City had still come up short against opposition they should be beating. Parkinson has much to ponder.