Issue The Dogs of Winter

As told by Michael Wood

Managers should know their own position – at least that is the theory – and for sure Stuart McCall seems to have started to learn a lesson about his position holding the Bradford City midfield together.

As he wakes this morning McCall has his first win as Bradford City manager in eight games – a 2-1 victory over Chester City – and when pieces fall together one hopes the correlation between the return of Paul Evans and his pairing with the industrious Eddie Johnson and the spirited Nicky Law will not be lost. McCall put out a midfield with a remit to work hard and keep the ball and the desire to do both seldom flagged.

It is impossible to under estimate the impact that the return of Evans has had on the side. As an engine in the midfield he equals McCall in spirit if not ability and as an exemplar to the rest of the Bantams he should be lauded from the rooftops of Manningham. If every player in the side showed the effort that Evans puts in – playing every ball as if it were his last kick in the profession – then we would see more performances like Omar Daley’s best of the season last night.

With engines engaged the likes of Daley – shifted to a forward role for long periods last night to allow a tight midfield four of Johnson, Evans, Law and Nix to control the game – improved immeasurably. Daley’s opening goal – a screamer from distance – had been coming for some time and arrived with an implicit challenge for McCall to raise the levels of the winger’s performance that high on a weekly basis.

Confidence is the key – it normally is – and City seemed to bloom with the confidence of having the ball courtesy of the ball winning midfield. With some control of the game and the returning Peter Thorne intelligently holding the line confidence started to flow through the team. Passing movements – lost in recent months returned – and Paul Heckingbottom and Kyle Nix began to craft chances on the flank which built to a corner which resulted in a clumsy tackle by Mark Hughes on Eddie Johnson after the City man had stepped around him and a penalty that – curiously – Young Nicky Law decided to take and took weakly for keeper John Danby to save. I always admire a player who has the cahoonas to take a penalty but like David Batty circa 98 before him I’ll never understand why non-goal getting midfielders take the job on.

Law’s weak attempt was but a memory after Omar Daley gave City the lead that first half deserved – and let us not forget the context of the 19 of 21 points Chester City had picked up on the road – and even a curiously given second half penalty against Matthew Clarke for fouling Kevin Ellison on the edge of the box could not dent City’s gathering of a win.

The foul seemed a mirror of a free kick given against Chester for a foul on Thorne in the first half and one supposes the Ref Andy Hall saw a significant difference in the two but the sense that justice was done when Donovan Ricketts saved the spot kick was clear. Ricketts deserved it on his return.

A mention also for Matthew Clarke for whom Mark Bower was dropped and who provided the pace and power that allowed a more able display from David Wetherall with the older man’s pace problems less readily exposed and the younger man’s presence working well.

Nevertheless despite increasing second half pressure and a rather bizarre switch of Law and Johnson which seemed to nullify both Wetherall and Clarke will have more busy evenings.

Alex Rhodes made the result sure with a run that probably included a bit of the stands as well as the left wing so far out it seemed but that did not seem to matter when Rhodes finished off the move with a smart finish. Two minutes later Kevin Ellison made it interesting with a diving header that seemed a good way offside – League Two Referees have a way of levelling things out – but the final whistle came and McCall had that much awaited win.

From the win though come the lessons. The passion that Paul Evans brought to the team raised the games of many around him – as McCall did for City – and as with the ginger midfielder’s ball winning of old the more that the Bantams had the ball the more chances came. Perhaps the real lesson is that while Stuart could perform the role solo it takes two men to replace him.