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Phil Parkinson must address shortage of Bradford City midfield firepower
Cheltenham 3, City 1
Nothing new came out of City’s final away defeat.
A poor season on the road typically ended with another loss as once again the Bantams headed back north cursing points that had got away.
The manner of Saturday’s setback – so positive and in command before the break, then chasing their tails after – rammed home the major flaw of a frustrating campaign: City simply haven’t scored enough when on top.
Don’t point the finger at the front two. Nahki Wells made it a dozen goals for the season with the clinical strike that should have set his side on the way to a third win on the spin and James Hanson put himself about all afternoon, bouncing one header on to the bar.
But it is the lack of input from the rest of the team that is an issue Phil Parkinson must solve during his summer shopping.
Departing duo Michael Flynn and Craig Fagan accounted for 14 goals of City’s season, although the bulk of those were from the penalty spot. At least the 26 the two strikers have rattled up all came from open play.
City need more from other outlets – central defenders at set-pieces and, in particular, midfielders.
So it was ironic that the post-match talk was dominated by the uncertain future of David Syers, the one midfield player who you can expect to chip in with his fair share.
Syers has had a season to forget with the long-term knee injury, the red card on his return and the over-riding frustration of finding himself sitting on the bench most weeks.
The revelation that he had apparently turned down a contract offer at the start of the year came as a bolt from the blue.
The ensuing shenanigans on Twitter did nobody any favours. His comments about crossed wires and stormy tea-cups implied an uneasy truce had been declared with management.
Where it goes from here, nobody can be sure. Parkinson insists the deal is still there to be signed; the reaction from Syers suggests that he will not be rushing back to the table.
Should the impasse not get resolved, then the pressure will be on the City boss to summon up a suitable replacement.
The name game has already begun on the message boards, as is the case at this time every year. But Parkinson, typically, will keep his cards pressed closely to him.
Waving goodbye to Flynn frees up a chunk of the budget but the club may feel that should be directed more at another striker, particularly while they try to tie down Wells to something meatier.
Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones are clearly Parkinson’s preferred engine room but two goals from the 62 starts between them does not suggest an untapped scoring source.
Ravenhill did hit the inside of the post at Whaddon Road – one of those chances that went begging when nervy Cheltenham were there for the taking.
Will Atkinson arrived at Valley Parade with a reputation for goals here and there. Just one at Barnet so far has hardly convinced the fans that he is the answer.
The Hull winger joined with a view to next season and there are rumours of a pre-contract already in place. But his first outing since Aldershot in mid-March faded fast after a bright early flurry.
That was the general theme to City’s afternoon. For 45 minutes there was only one team in it – and it was the same for the second half, only this time it was the hosts who dominated.
Parkinson reflected: “That first half was as good as we’ve played away from home all season. We had chance after chance and should have come in two or possibly three goals ahead.
“But we didn’t and inevitably Cheltenham stopped giving us the space they had done. We also stopped doing the things that brought us success. They’re a good side and we let them back in the game.
“This season we’ve probably lacked goals from other areas, not just the front two. But when you have that amount of pressure you really do expect to score more.”
Wells’ stock rose once more with the quality of his seventh-minute opener, capitalising on a poor defensive header to slip one way then the other before whipping a low drive wide of Scott Brown.
But the Cheltenham keeper got his own back with a couple of key saves from the Bermudian to deny City the commanding lead their play warranted.
The home side, needing the win to secure their play-off berth, were edgy and out-of-sorts. Their midfield diamond was being bypassed time and again.
Realising his tactical blunder, Mark Yates threw on winger Kaid Mohamed five minutes before the break and switched to a more conventional shape. It turned the match on its head.
Having whistled an immediate shot wide, Mohamed kicked off the second half by breezing through a half-tackle from Simon Ramsden before teeing up Jimmy Spencer’s equaliser with the outside of his boot.
Just 45 seconds of the second half gone and City had paid the price for not pressing hard enough when they had Cheltenham by the throat.
The section of the crowd who had serenaded Yates with a chorus of “you don’t know what you’re doing” now acclaimed his substitution. What followed was predictable.
Luke Summerfield shovelled a pass through to Spencer for the on-loan Huddersfield man to curl his second goal beyond Matt Duke’s fingertips just after the hour.
Hanson headed over before Cheltenham put the lid on the result with a Ben Burgess lob after Guy Branston had lost a long ball in the wind. The defender’s reaction at being subbed five minutes later showed what he thought.
Spencer and Mohamed went close to more before City found a late rally, Hanson clipping the woodwork and Syers flicking wide from six yards; chances not taken again – a season-long problem.
Parkinson will spend the next couple of months seeking a solution. How he gets on will define whether anything will change come August 18 when we start all over again.