From August, 2007
Bradford City 2 Wrexham 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
The days have past since the blast of Luke Medley’s left foot that change the course of City’s 2-1 win over Wrexham – probably more when all is told – and allowed Stuart McCall to taste victory at Valley Parade as a manager for the first time but the taste in the air is just as sweet.
Medley has been talking about his first kick – nice to have your first kick be one of the best goals at Valley Parade in years – and McCall has been speaking of relief now the pressure of hunting the first win is over and everyone else has fallen into line, rightly so. Like the first springs of love if you can not enjoy an eighteen year old lashing in a debut goal with his first kick then you can not enjoy anything.
Medley’s goal came from an impressive pass down the left flank by Kyle Nix whose contribution to the first win of the season can not be under-estimated. Pulled from Sheffield United by McCall Nix lost the headlines but did much to convince of his worth coming in on the left flank and getting to grips with the lack of width at Valley Parade to use the ball well pushing inside to the hardworking midfield of Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans. Evans was once again Imperious. The best player in League Two wears Bradford City’s number four shirt.
Nix’s ready supply of creative movement balanced out Eddie Johnson’s hard working but ultimately unprobing midfield work that is a worry. Johnson’s graft deserved a reward and as Nix tried to beat one too many bodies on the edge of the Wrexham box at the start of a second half that followed the Bantams best of the first twenty then even run of the last forty-five Johnson snapped onto the lose ball and hit hard and definitely into the lower left hand corner of the keeper’s goal. Johnson – like Andrew Cooke before him – had his goals celebrated for the obvious effort he puts in. Any player who works that hard deserves a reward.
Conversely what is to be said of Omar Daley the most enjoyable dribbler one could hope to see but often found wanting when pointing in the opposite direction. McCall obviously wants Daley’s attacking flair and more often than not – although not always – Daley does enough coming back to merit his inclusion but rather unfortunately for all when the winger is required to track back he is rather ineffectual in his efforts. Exhibit A is the noodle limbed wafted at a ball crossed by former Bantam Michael Proctor to another Neil Roberts who headed an equaliser. There is a call to be made on Daley and one suspects that McCall might accept his deficiencies at the back for his forward play and – for once – I’m not sure that is entirely the wrong idea should Daley maintain a level of effort.
Defensively City worried over Darren Williams – who will miss four weeks injured after falling in the first half – but a shorn Simon Ainge looks to be made of the right stuff for the step up and impressed at right back. The back five look anything but uncrackable and one hopes that long term unification could bring more solidity. Perhaps one is worrying over nothing, Donovan Ricketts was rarely troubled.
McCall will be troubled by the ratio of chances to goals – Barry Conlon works very hard but never looks like finding the goal – but will hope that the likes of Medley can make do until a rhythm is found and his team looks on the brink comes of age.
Shrewsbury Town 1 Bradford City 0 At Gay Meadow in League Two, 2007/2008
Also: Wolves 2 Bradford City 1 – League Cup First Round 2007/2008
Those that saw it said it was typically City to battle with Championship side Wolves head to head for the lion’s share of the game but then give up the chance of a lead with two goals in four minutes at the start of the second half that cut the chance of turning the toughest of away fixtures this first round could throw up into a victory to next to nothing and while Kyle Nix and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu did their chances of long term deals the power of good by combining for the last goal the Bantams day was done.
Those who saw it gave the Bantams credit but Stuart McCall’s first game from distance read like a worrying City display. Barry Conlon’s spurned header in the second half against Macclesfield Town has set his image in the mind as a target man who does not know where the net it. Those that saw it will tell you that without Conlon City struggle to keep the ball and that his profligacy compared to hold up play is the reason he is not playing at a level higher but the removal after an hour and subsequent benching for Saturday speak much from distance.
Worryingly the speak whispers about McCall too and one hopes he does not fall into Colin Todd’s most annoying feature. Even the former gaffer’s advocates were irritated by Todd’s inability to stick with a forward partnership. As City were going down at Wolves Andy Cooke was getting the injury that would keep him out of the weekend Shrewsbury game against the Bantams. Cooke’s work rate was never questioned and he could have hoped for more of a chance from Todd rather than the constant flux of forwards. On Saturday Nathan Joynes would be partnering Ndumbu-Nsungu.
To McCall’s credit he has already worked out that the best back fours are constantly selected and Donovan Ricketts behind Darren Williams, David Wetherall, Mark Bower and Paul Heckingbottom with Paul Evans sitting on top is as good a back six as will be found in League Two. Wolves was always going to be tough but Williams’s 8th minute foul on Marc Pugh aside – one sometimes worries about Williams’s pace – City did enough to suggest that conceding goals in open play lacks inevitability.
Indeed McCall’s midfield of Evans behind the hardworking Eddie Johnson – hardworking being employed as a term to ignore a worrying lack of creativity from him which Nix seems able to remedy without the graft of the former Manchester United striker – with two wide men seem able to create chances for the forward pairing but worryingly those chances occur too far down field for the liking of those who saw them.
Everything in snapped at because the ball is not delivered into killer areas often enough. City need the constancy of delivery that a Nicky Summerbee gave Dean Windass or a Peter Beagrie gave Lee Mills to build a twenty goal haul for a striker on. Omar Daley is a frustrating joy, Alex Rhodes looks capable, Joe Colbeck gives everything and often deserves more than he gets but none have the repetition of crossing accuracy that builds confidence for strikers and so McCall and Wayne Jacobs must go to the drawing board and behind to look for a way to shift City’s final ball ten yards further forward. Daley’s twenty-five yarders are speculative – his fifteen yarders would weigh in with ten goals a season. Sometime the gap between success and failure is an inch, sometimes it is ten yards and McCall must work at going that distance. He tried by pushing Joynes behind GNN but the Barnsley loanee was starved of the ball leaving the jury out as to his suitability for such a position.
As it was City had enough to take something from the game that was settled by David Hibbert – a cameo player for the Bantams last term – scoring a penalty. Paul Evans had a keeper’s amazing save to curse once again and Paul Heckingbottom struck a post. Nothing that three points against Wrexham in front of a crowded Valley Parade will not cure from a morale point of view and – perhaps – Peter Thorne from a striking berth as the experienced hitman looks to get back to fitness.
With the aid of Roland Harris
Wolverhampton Wanderers have taken a semi-magical status in the minds of Bradford City fans. It was here on the 9th of May, 1999 that Stuart McCall held arms aloft and proclaimed that Bradford City were now a Premiership football club and while the pictures of that day never fade the experience of big time football is dim and distant for the League Two Bantams.
City never won another league game in the white shirts we wore that day at Wolves and things that went well went bad and there it was and here we are lining up as massive underdogs against a Wolves team which sits in The Championship and is tipped for a play off place. Mick McCarthy may field a second string and one suspects that as the Bantams did when roles were reversed that could render the home side there for the taking. That said the gap between divisions is not what some would tell you and our eleven could beat any eleven with strong win and good gusto.
Liverpool in 1981 lost 1-0 at Division Four City at Valley Parade and few teams in the history of the game have been better than Liverpool in 1981.
Donovan Ricketts struggles with injury caused by a sprinkler at Valley Parade on Saturday and a few swift kicks from Macclesfield players that followed but Stuart McCall is confident that he will play. The back four of Darren Williams, David Wetherall, Mark Bower and Paul Heckingbottom continue in what is expected to be a near unchanged team. Omar Daley, Paul Evans, Eddie Johnson and Alex Rhodes make a midfield with Barry Conlon and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu should he be allowed clearance to play by his host club.
Bradford City 1 Macclesfield Town 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
After eight minutes Francis Green of Macclesfield – obviously not having been shoved a copy of the mythic script that goes with events such as Stuart McCall’s first game as Bradford City boss – screwed a long range low drive past Donovan Ricketts for the opening goal of the season at Valley Parade which would ultimately end in the Bantams 14th – but least disheartening – consecutive home game without a win.
That the Bantams rarely looked like conceding to a Macclesfield Town side that opened with first day endeavour and ended with the kind of two lines of four and willingness to shed blood for the cause – not their blood of course but blood nevertheless – said much about City’s task this season. A lesson in what is in front of the Bantams in more says that one.
City had the lion’s share of the ball, the game and the chance. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – GNN if you will – equalised for McCall’s side after Barry Conlon had seen his penalty saved just before the half time whistle blew. GNN was booked for his shirt off celebrations following his rebound pounce which – while technically correct – baffled many including no doubt Carl Regan who had given away said penalty for a two footed tackle on GNN eight yards from goal when the Congolese player had nothing but the keeper to beat. Regan got the ball but the two footed lunge has long been outlawed in football in the same way that the head tackle – while a very effective way of making sure man and ball are separated in Rugby League – is strictly forbidden.
Eight yards out, GNN clean through. The rules of football make it very clear that just as GNN must be booked for removing shirt in celebration Regan must be sent off. Welcome – one and all – to League Two: The Wild West of football.
Remember the John Ford movies where Sheriff Gary Cooper or John Wayne on a better day would dish out justice not on the basis of law and what was written as write and wrong but more on the grounds of what would keep the peace of the town. Referee Graham Horwood wore no star badge but as with officials at this level behaved in the same way. Luke Dimech handled clearly in the penalty area before the goal but he probably didn’t mean it so play was waved on. Gareth Evans and Terry Dunfield spent much of the second half trying to break Donovan Ricketts in half but this is League Two yeah? The peace was kept with smatterings of yellow cards but consistency was never considered above the dramatic flourish for effect no matter how many times David “Premiership” Wetherall bounced a ball off a visitor who on refusing to retreat or standing over a free kick is mandated for a booking Horwood was having none of it because this is League Two and we have our own way of doing things down here.
Green’s goal aside City have a way of doing things which was mostly pleasing. McCall is building a team with a directness about it and that team plays off the excellence of is avatar Paul Evans who was everything that the number four shirt at Bradford City should be today: Passionate and able to raise his team mates around him, skilful and able to play a generous ball, strong on pitch and on the ball. Evans is this team’s Stuart McCall with bending free kicks two of which came out of the locker today and both could have resulted in goals and it is a pleasure to watch him play once more.
City’s thirteen today featured not one bad performance. Barry Conlon holds a ball up with power and while he looked less likely to trouble the net that Lee Mills a player in his style has been missing for sometime. Alex Rhodes on the left wing is still getting up to speed – or so we are told – but is a great find thus far with a less speedy more skilful display. He is more Beagrie than Muirhead and all the better for it. Omar Daley tried – nice work their Stuart – and Eddie Johnson received a half time rocket and got more involved after the break. The back four were not at fault all day and Donovan Ricketts had little to do which was a good job considering the ear snappingly horrible sound of him falling and needing his foot strapping up – an injury rather shamefully exploited by some nasty tackling by Macclesfield player. Invaliding goalkeepers out of the game should not be a part of football at any level but Ricketts continued with few tests on his agility.
All that was lacking was the second goal for the Bantams despite Conlon’s smart play feeding Daley who dragged his shot wide. More clear cut chances would have sealed a win no doubt but such things will come and on the day when the Bantams walked into what was in many ways the last chance saloon – this McCall/Cheap Season Tickets/Mark Lawn thing has to work or what it the future for the club – they emerged on the road to gold.
The path to that gold may depend rather too much on the random peace keeping of the Sheriffs.
I think I remember how this works. Many things happen during a Summer and this Summer was more eventful than most but on a weekend in August everything that is shaken up returns into place and – on a sun soaked afternoon as the clock ticks over to three – football in all its would be egalitarian glory returns.
For minutes everyone is equal – nice to see the Premiership kick off on the same day once more – and until the first goal is scored in the country no one is ahead and no one is behind. Except for Leeds United. My Nan Margaret Gunn used to say that one should be nice to people on the way up because one would meet them on the way down. That is pretty much all one can say about Leeds.
Within minutes some unlucky group of supporters are going to watching their custodian pulling the ball out of the back of the net. Within forty five and when the expectant 12,000 at Valley Parade are looking for probably rare pies someone will be three down and they will be beginning a bad season. With hope that will not be Bradford City.
Football is watching Bradford City this season. The £138 season ticket and return of Stuart McCall has suggested a new paradigm in football. Give them something to watch and do not stop them from coming to watch it. In a very real way a small revolution is happening at Valley Parade tomorrow and who knows where it will end? Football pricing in line with a trip to the cinema. Mr Rhodes, you deserve the best of things.
One suspects though that Mr Rhodes and his new partner Mark Lawn would settle for a win – any win – but if the footballing Gods smile then a good win. Stuart McCall’s return is invigorating and both he and Wayne Jacobs have proved something at assistant level. It is graduation day.
McCall’s first team for his first game in the big chair at home to Macclesfield Town will feature the heart of the defence of last season. Donovan Ricketts behind David Wetherall and Mark Bower could be the best three in the league. Paul Heckingbottom makes his second debut at left back and Darren Williams plays on the right. A defence that picks itself week in week out is the basis of the best teams.
Paul Evans – still without contract – is expected to be signed up in time to take the number four shirt and the McCall position breaking up play and moving the ball on. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley scrap over the right wing – what the former lacks in class the latter lacks in effort – and Alex Rhodes is expected to make a debut on the left not long after signing from Brentford as McCall opts for a 442. A host of players would partner Evans in the middle but expect Eddie Johnson to get the nod.
Barry Colon takes one slot up front but Peter Thorne’s injury prevents McCall from giving a first outing to his pairing. Gillingham’s Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – signed on loan yesterday – is expected to add pace and power to the forward line.
Three o’clock. Turn up, cheer, see a win. I’m not sure is how it has been working for a good few years now but this is graduation day and things can change.
Well, it’s that time of year again when all supporters up and down the country start to talk about their team’s chances for the forthcoming season (except in Scotland where the season has already started). It has certainly been an interesting close season this summer with football authorities shirking their responsibilities with both the on-going Tevez affair and the recent announcement of the 15 point deduction for Leeds United. (At this point, I must add the City supporters should have some sympathy for Leeds United supporters after ourselves going through two separate administration periods. We, the City supporter, should understand how it feels when your club is in serious financial difficulties. City supporters laughing at Leeds’ current position have short memories and deep down would you really want to see our rivals disappear from the footballing map?)
Following our third relegation since the 2000/2001 season in May of this year, you would have thought that going into this new season, City supporters would be full of pessimism. Far from it if you gage supporters views on messageboards, in newspapers and from general discussion. The main reason for this new found optimism is the return of a true hero, Stuart McCall, as our new manager. Julian Rhodes should take alot of credit for securing McCall’s employment as he stuck to his task of obtaining the legend after the sacking of Colin Todd back in February. Indeed, when Neil Warnock was relieved of his duties at Bramell Lane, many people thought that we had no chance of obtaining Stuart as our new manager.
Stuart now has the enormous challenge of getting us promoted during his first season in charge. Well, this is what most supporters are demanding before a football has even been kicked. Stuart has made some interesting signings since he took over at the helm and along with the players who remain from last season, I believe that Stuart will have done well to have secured a play-off position come May 2008. It will be interesting to see how the likes of Penford, Bentham, Colbeck and Ainge perform this season. Much has been written about home grown players in the past and supporters all have their own views on the four players that I’ve just mentioned. For me, City looked like a more balanced side when Bentham was playing in central midfield last season and it will be interesting to see how Eddie Johnson performs in his new midfield role this season. Penford was down the pecking order when Bridge-Wilkinson and Schumacher were at the club. They have now both departed but McCall has signed Scott Phelan (another midfielder from Everton) and he looked useful against Farsley in pre-season. Ainge could have a promising future as he looked composed on the ball when he was given his chance in the first team last season. Of the home grown players, Colbeck played the most first team games last season and much has been written about him. Supporters need to give this young lad time to progress. At Farsley, supporters were barracking him if a pass went astray but then he played a neat pass to trialist Simon Johnson who set up Peter Thorne’s goal. All of a sudden, Colbeck’s not such a bad player. Talk about supporters blowing hot and cold with their opinions.
Another reason for renewed optimism is the fact that the club has told over 12,000 season tickets. Again, credit to Mr Rhodes for sticking to his guns when others thought that his superb idea of reasonably priced football was set to fail. If Stuart hadn’t taken up the managerial reins, the number of season tickets that would have been sold is debatable. However, we don’t have to worry about that and we should have the biggest home attendances in Division 4 this coming season. We will be the big fish in a small pond. Other teams will come to Valley Parade and will feel inspired to play well in front of a large crowd and a fantastic stadium. As we know from the past, this could have a detrimental effect on our performances. Hopefully, our new look team will feel the need to perform well in front of their own supporters. We shouldn’t however have this big club mentality and should keep our feet firmly on the ground. As I mentioned earlier, many supporters are demanding promotion this season and I’ve even heard people say that if we don’t gain automatic promotion they will be disappointed. After seeing us in freefall for the past few seasons, it would be nice if we can have a good season but we must remember that we don’t have a divine right to promotion just because of out stadium and the size of our attendances.
However, we have a good platform from which we can build a club that we can be proud of again; a legend as manager, a great club servant as assistant manager, a Chairman who supports the club (I use the word support in relation to passion and not in terms of financial support), a solid supporter base in terms of number of season tickets sold and no large debts hanging around the club’s neck thanks to our new Co-Chairman.
If, and it’s a big if, we are promoted at the end of the season I would be absolutely delighted for two people more than any others; firstly Julian Rhodes for supporting the club in times of crisis and for David Wetherall who has stuck with us despite 3 relegations.
Bring on the new season!
Bradford City 1 Blackpool 2 At Valley Parade in Friendly Game, 2007/2008
They say that he approached the ball with something like the eye of a Hawk and ran to it with an unusually bandy stride of a baby gazelle trotting to Mother and they say that he stumbled slightly after meeting the ball which rose and fell over wall and into the goal. LA Galaxy pay £450,000 a for this skill – Bradford City pay Paul Evans for it and McCall’s McCall scored his first free kick since his return on the day he writes his name on the second contract he has signed for Bradford City.
Evans – scoring the one in a closed doors 2-1 defeat with good run out against Blackpool – is back and he is not alone. Paul Heckingbottom’s impressiveness years ago came after a slow build up and the left back showed the same steady improvement. Darren Williams supports the right hand side of midfield in a way that McCall will recall Brian Mitchell doing. The new gaffer’s Bradford City forms into a wonderful amalgam of previous incarnations.
Lazy comparisons put Omar Daley and Jamie Lawrence together but industrious Alex Rhodes – former Brentford boy looking at earning a contract – is more like the number seven of ’99. Rhodes worked both wings – or so they say – and chased everything. Also chasing is Eddie Johnson who seems to have nailed down a place in McCall’s starting midfield alongside Evans. Johnson is a triumph of breeding and attitude over expectations and is welcome in my midfield any time.
Those who saw the game were impressed with City’s gusto and thought the late Blackpool winner was unjust. They said that Nathan Joynes alongside Barry Conlon in McCall’s 442 showed flashes but was worryingly Isaiah Rankin in front of goal. They noted that McCall’s 442 omitted a Peter Beagrie figure but they are few and far between.
Eyes were rubbed when Xavier Barrau – scorer of the last two goals at Valley Parade in May – returned for another go and McCall seemed ready to let the exuberant Frenchman train. Barrau has become a footnote in Bradford City history – a quiz question about who scored the goal before… – but McCall’s referential Bantams are a broad church to play for a massed congregation of up to 12,000.
Room for the Frnechman, the Welshman and anyone else ready to take up the cause.