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Phil Parkinson's shock at Bradford City’s ‘positive’ start to season
Phil Parkinson is very good at humouring me when it comes to stats.
You can detect only the faintest roll of the eyes from the boss as I trot out another amazing Bradford City-related fact.
Statistics, damn statistics, can be used to make any case. They rarely have much relevance, especially in football.
Take the opening game at Gillingham where the BBC website claimed City had 75 per cent of the possession. Whether that is scientifically accurate or not – and they certainly had plenty of the ball that day – ultimately the only figure that mattered was the three in the home side’s goal column.
Similarly, Watford might have had twice as many corners at Vicarage Road the other night. But which name plopped into the third-round hat?
But one gem I revealed at the pre-match press conference drew a genuine intake of breath.
The fact that it is nearly three years since City were in positive goal difference left Parkinson stunned. His “you’re joking” reaction was no case of playing along with the local reporter; it was natural shock at such a ridiculously improbable statement.
A little bird tells me Parkinson even trotted it out on the team coach on the way down to Hertfordshire. The reaction of the players was exactly the same.
It is a stunning statistic and indictment of how low City have slumped in recent times.
On Tuesday, November 24 2009, Stuart McCall’s side cruised to a 3-0 win at bottom club Grimsby. Simon Whaley, remember him, got the first, Steve Williams (another blast from the past) made it two before James Hanson – then still finding his feet as a pro player – secured the victory.
At that stage, the Bantams were unbeaten in five games and up to 11th in the table. Things were starting to look up in a season which had begun with McCall being talked round from walking away.
The goal difference went into the positive for the first time since a 5-0 hammering at Notts County on the opening day. And that was as good as it got.
A week later, a Gary Jones-inspired Rochdale rolled up at Valley Parade and waltzed back over the Pennines with their own 3-0 away win under their belts. The nil on that frozen rain-swept night flattered City.
And for the next two-and-a-half seasons, City’s goal difference column – like my bank account – has been firmly stuck in the red.
Peter Taylor , the manager who will always dine out on giving David Beckham the England captaincy, never managed to create a team that scored more league goals than they conceded.
Peter Jackson , picking up his pieces, didn’t get close either. And neither, before last Saturday, did Parkinson.
But the five-goal salvo over Wimbledon finally tilted the balance. As City headed for New York this morning, well the Rotherham version of the Big Apple, the goals-for tally outweighs the against by three. After 123 games since Blundell Park, they are back “in the black”.
It’s easy to scoff at this early stage of the season but that is an indication of progress being made. Even the fourth place in the fledgling league table – while far too early to be hunting for bunting – represents a first appearance in the top seven of League Two since March 2009 and that infamous implosion under McCall.
This afternoon’s Yorkshire derby with the bookies favourites will tell us a lot more about the make-up of Parkinson’s new troops. But for now, at least, let’s acknowledge a significant milestone they have surpassed.
In the week of Neil Armstrong’s passing, it might seem one very small insignificant step for most clubs. But given City’s recent history, positive goal difference can be seen as one giant leap.