From January, 2008
There are several things I’m looking forward to about my trip to Moss Rose for the Macclesfield game on Saturday. A visit to a ground I’ve never been before, the hope that the pub where we enjoy our pre-match pint will be as good as the one at Accrington, hopefully City will play well and grab three much-needed points and, while the away stand is apparently roofless leaving me anxious about the weather, there’s a chance to have a good sing song.
Another part I’m looking forward to is not following the match from home like I had to for the Wrexham game. Of course it’s not the same when you’re not there, but it can be deeply frustrating relying on the media to let you know what’s happening. Listening on the radio, every opposition attack sounds dangerous and the roar when the home side score reaches you before the words of the commentator describing the bad news. Even when we score, excitedly jumping around the room isn’t the same on your own.
And it’s the negative approach of one local radio station that especially leaves me wishing I could afford every away trip. It’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve bothered to tune into The Pulse for commentaries as Radio Leeds, with three teams to cover, can’t be relied on to feature every City game. The first time I listened to their commentary team, Tim Thornton and Ian Ormondroyd, I thought City must be playing abysmally given how much they slated the performance. I was therefore very confused when the draw received a more favourable write up in media reports elsewhere.
Since then I’ve listened to commentaries on a handful of occasions and learned that Tim and Stix’s negative attitude is no better than some of our more miserable fans watching in the stands. Everything we do is rubbish, our tactics are clueless and our players are hopeless. Switch between coverage on The Pulse and Radio Leeds and you would think you’re listening to a different game.
Last season Tim Thornton’s post match interview with Colin Todd after the Cheltenham home draw was considered so unfair on the under pressure City manager that it led to him boycotting radio interviews for a month and BCST’s Phill Marshall taking the unusual step of blasting Thornton in the matchday programme. I had the misfortune of listening to The Pulse’s commentary of Todd’s last game at Gillingham, where they complained and ripped apart everything City did. If Julian Rhodes had also been listening, it was no wonder he sacked Todd the following Monday.
A year on and, despite a new man being in the hot seat, the familiar moans and criticisms fill the airwaves. I understand Thornton is a passionate City fan of many years so fair to play to him, he is certainly no worse than some of the resident moaners who attend Valley Parade every fortnight singling out home players for abuse. For Ormondroyd I find his opinions slightly embarrassing. He is a supposed to be a good friend of Stuart McCall’s, so to hear him slate the City manager’s tactics is disappointing. Of course he’s paid to give his views and no one expects him to say false nice things, but surely a more balanced perspective isn’t too much to ask for?
It’s also worth noting that Ormondroyd’s day job is Football in the Community Officer for City. I’m not sure if he is directly paid by City or the organisation for this work, but it seems wrong to have a person who represents Bradford City in the community to be publicly questioning another most weekends. I wonder what Stuart would think if he knew what Ormondroyd was saying behind his back?
I’ve heard some City fans stick up for The Pulse commentary team because they “tell it like it really is”. Their outlook may appeal to a section of supporters unhappy about the way this season has gone, but it’s contradictory to that of a side unbeaten in five.
The draw at Wrexham produced some very mixed reactions from fans and those particularly upset with the result kept using the argument “they are bottom of the league.” I think it would be a useful exercise to revisit this draw at the end of February and see how City and Wrexham have done since then. That ‘disgraceful’ draw may look like a decent result, or it may not, but with Wrexham improving it was never going to be the easy game some imagined.
Personally, if City dismiss Stuart anytime soon I would like to see Ormondroyd given the manager’s job so that I can take text The Pulse to slate his tactics. Until then I’ll continue to attend as many City away games as possible, where I can make my own mind up at to whether things are as bad as The Pulse would have us believe.
Bradford City 4 Shrewsbury Town 2 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
He is a stocky character – this Barry Conlon – and his has broad shoulders.
Those broad shoulders carried a lot of weight after his signing from Mansfield at the start of this City’s supposed promotion season and when his “fight in an empty room” style of bustling forward play lacked it’s foil in the then injured Peter Thorne he needed those shoulders to carry the criticism he was loaded with.
He worked hard – this Barry Conlon – after missing a penalty on his debut and his reward is ours. His name is sung loud after he – this Barry Conlon – shoulders the responsibility of a penalty that made sure a game that should have been sure five minutes from time.
This Barry Conlon chips low his penalty given after Darren Kempson had stopped David Wetherall scoring and the win is as sealed as it is deserved. This Barry Conlon hears his name sung loud.
That Conlon’s spot kick had to make the game sure was a criminal offence of a decision by the latest in a long line of appalling officials with a linesman allowing a goal for Marc Pugh after his headed was rather randomly powered into the hands of City’s latest on loan goalkeeper Scott Loach but Paul Heckingbottom. The ball was nothing less than a foot on the right side of the line and moving forward.
That the appalling and newest “worst decision ever” was made pulled the blinkers over an excellent save from Loach who has joined from Watford to replace QPR bound Donovan Ricketts. Loach performed well in goal for sure but his mouth open fearless style that saw the 19 year old shouting the sort of instructions that mad Gary Walsh a better keeper than Matt Clarke was more noticeable. He signed as many autographs as he could after the game too. Good kid.
Ricketts is no doubt getting his feet under the table in West London – good luck and thanks for the memories to him – although had he been at Valley Parade he might have wondered how the Referee could see troublesome striker Guy Madjo “make a gesture” to the home supporters and not be called to book on it. Ricketts might have wondered why he was sent off for such an offence at Southend and Madjo was not. He might wonder if Madjo had the same provocation. He might wonder many things and he will probably hope that at his new club the rules are applied more even handily.
In the end that is all I, dear reader, want from officials. Evenhandedness.
Peter Thorne played for QPR – they paid £2,990,000 for for him than they have Ricketts – and it is not hard to see why people thought highly of the striker who from the tail end of his career looks like he should have made more of himself. Sharp, he was, as he finished off a deflection following a pacey run up the field from Omar Daley as City pushed out from a corner which came too soon after a former Bantam Dave Hibbert’s header that put the visitors back into the game after half time.
Hibbert took his header well looping it past Loach but Matthew Clarke will hope to make his aerial clearances more decisive in future. City’s upturn in performances – all but undefeated since Christmas – coincides with Clarke displacing Mark Bower in the side. In the last month City have grown in confidence and now the side can assimilate changes and maintain direction. Tom Penford arrived in the place of Paul Evans in McCall’s holding role and performed well all evening.
City’s upturn also has much to do with Stuart McCall getting the best out of Omar Daley who has moved from central figure to a more suitability less involved player in the Bantams side. McCall has given Daley a remit of using pace and sticking to the flank and then the solo Reggae boy cut past the left back and across the box firing a shot that took a huge deflection to go in from it struck one that Omar is play finisher and not playmaker.
Let the word float in the air. Think about what it means. Savour it like wine around the mouth. The playmaker.
Seven minutes in and it is the strength of the man, the turn that left three – four maybe – blue shirted defenders chasing shadows. Willy Topp skipped to the box and found Kyle Nix to allow the Aussie to finish superbly and while Nix deserves every plaudit thrown his way it was Topp’s show.
This Willy Topp – who played 55 minutes before being replaced by Barry Conlon as the Chilean builds match fitness – has a clutch of attributes that picked him out at this level. His touch is superb giving him time and space which he uses well so far and his strength is impressive. This Willy Topp knows how to use his body to keep the ball and when he has it he knows what to do with the ball.
And he wants to make play and he has he scope to be the most exciting player at Valley Parade since Benito Carbone and he can go far – further probably than Bradford City and he can hear his name sung loud as long as he follows the example of the balding Irishman with the broad shoulders.
Garth Crooks was getting excited. He cheered as Havant & Waterlooville scored their second goal at Anfield after dubbed Liverpool’s concession of a single goal at home to the non-leaguers as acutely embarrassing. It is comments like this that show why in the case of football management those who can do and those who can’t become pundits.
Havant & Waterlooville’s success – limited by the fact that in the end they did get beaten – is being celebrated as a glorification of the FA Cup and the way it levels the mighty and the minnows and of course in headline terms that is a nice way of selling the story but there was no magic about the non-leaguer’s performance at the Premiership side and very little to do with the big hearts and bold spirits that are being talked about.
In fact Havant & Waterlooville were – on the whole – a triumph of head over heart and of smart over spirit. They arrived at Anfield with a determination to stick to a well drilled game plan and rather than roaring into the game as mice against lions they took the approach that Liverpool were no different a proposition than Braintree Town or Bromley and should be met in the same way.
Back fours flat and well marshalled they went out at Anfield. Fullbacks supported by wingers coming back and midfielders protecting the back four they got the reward for an understanding that while they could do little to match the skill and fitness of Liverpool the majority of the battle of a football match is in approach and team discipline.
Who knows how manager Shaun Gale stopped his players from being phased but somehow he put them on the pitch drilled into a formation and with the belief that while Liverpool might – and did – possess the fitness and odd bit of skill to beat them if they could match the twice in three years European Champions League finalists for effort and keep to the tactics then they would make an account of themselves.
This is far from embarrassing for Liverpool – at least in the sense that Crooks intended – and such comments come from a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the game. The belief that being a “better” player in a “better” team means that you can utterly nullify the opposition is country to the experience of watching football week in week out and far too close to the increasing Pro Evo/FIFA inspired view of football that seems to have gripped terraces to the detriment of the game.
Teams that keep to a disciplined formation and have self belief will always play well and likewise very skilful footballers will – when regiments are forgotten – look disjointed and ramblous. Be it Havant & Waterlooville or Manchester United the embarrassing thing for Liverpool – if such a term should exist in top class football – is that the non-league team were for much of the game more committed to a tactic and an ethic of belief than the Premiership side.
The wife is unlikely to agree, but I can be something of a romantic. Nothing to do with possessing the thoughtfulness to buy flowers or watch Hugh Grant films without complaining; but some events do tug at the heart strings, such as the re-crowning of Kevin Keegan as King of the Toon Army.
Keegan’s return to manage Newcastle United is a great story that may inject some much needed interest into an increasingly tedious Premier League. He brings back memories of a more golden period of English football in the 1990s where his attacking principles, as enthralling to watch as they were naive, almost saw Newcastle crowned Champions of England. Compared to the style of football some of the top teams now bore us with, take a bow Chelsea and Liverpool, it’s no wonder this attack-minded philosopher’s return has prompted jubilant scenes on Tyneside.
At City, we can understand how those Newcastle United fans are feeling after our own hero returned to Valley Parade. The fact that Stuart McCall’s appointment came during the summer meant our celebrations were more muted, but no less ecstatic. Compared to the situation a year ago at the end of Colin Todd’s reign, we fans are largely united in our support of Stuart and any future success will taste all the sweeter with him leading us.
Whatever the outcome of this season, and on the evidence at Gigg Lane on Tuesday it’s less likely to feature a trip to Wembley, there will be some success to build on. The level of support this season has been astounding at times. The season ticket initiative has seen huge crowds at every home game and we are on course for our highest season average attendance since the days when the term ‘administration’ held little meaning. Away from home the support has been equally notable and on a cold, wet January night we took 1,056 supporters to Bury – who would have expected that a year ago?
The disappointment of two points dropped meant that, not for the first time, the atmosphere in the away end was the highlight of the evening.
All of which is leading to a special atmosphere around the club and, while the support at Gigg Lane was outstanding, it’s become the norm on the road this season as we fans travel in large numbers to back our team. On the field, things are also slowly improving and there are signs that things might belatedly be coming together.
Not the team assembled can quite match the support just yet. There were some positives to take from the draw with Bury; we’ve heard plenty recently about the need to become a more physical side and Bury, enjoying the rejuvenation that sacking a manager can bring, offered a stern test. In difficult conditions tackles were flying in and long balls booted into our box. City struggled at times to clear some dangerous deliveries, but largely stood strong with David Wetherall particularly outstanding.
Going forward we didn’t quite enjoy the same fluidity as the previous two games but, in Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck, possess a pair of in-form wingers. The ink drying on a newly signed contract, this was the sort of evening where Daley might previously have disappeared. Not everything he tried came off, as ever, and his defensive abilities still need some work, but his pace and dribbling skills frightened the home defence and he was always the likeliest City player to break the deadlock. Keegan would surely approve.
Up front Barry Conlon toiled hard again and was wholly effective at holding up the ball. He was exactly the type of player needed in such a physical encounter and his goal, widely appreciated by his growing fan club, appeared to lead us on the path to victory. City were far from their best though and Bury came back strongly. It was unfortunate that Matt Clarke’s error allowed the home side back into it, though it’s testament to the outstanding recent form of our centre back that his mistake came as such a shock.
It was left to City to find the initiative again and, while our attacks often had more purpose than the struggling Shakers, the familiar frustrations of poor use of the ball were evident again. If only our players would be prepared to take their time and work the ball around, instead of feeling the need to punt the ball into the box following a few passes. The quality we do possess was evidenced by Kyle Nix’s brilliantly taken goal 12 minutes from time, superbly set up by Daley, but Bury deserved the draw which was earned by Dale Stephen’s screamer three minutes from time.
It was frustrating that City couldn’t hang on and we were never able to gain a grip in the centre of the park. Fingers are firmly pointed at Paul Evans as the Welsh midfielder is suffering a disappointing run of form.
My memories of Evans’ first spell at City are of a player who would have one brilliant game followed by a succession of average performances. Once again we’re looking for consistency from the 33-year-old. We know he is capable of delivering a match winning pass, but we also need to him to play the simple ball when appropriate and stamp his authority on a game. Eddie Johnson’s presence on the bench, returning from a long lay off, was welcome. Stuart must be considering his inclusion into the first eleven at Evans’ expense. Alongside Evans, Lee Bullock quietly impresses. Hopefully, with Hartlepool announcing he can leave, a deal can be agreed for a player out of contract in the summer.
The disappointment of two points dropped meant that, not for the first time, the atmosphere in the away end was the highlight of the evening. The last time we played at Gigg lane, on route to the Premiership in 1999, we had more fans than Bury and it wasn’t far off again last night. The sheer numbers and passionate singing around me left a tingle down my spine. The standard of football isn’t the best, but our stature and size has made our first season back in League Two a memorable one.
At the time Keegan was on the brink of bringing the title to Tyneside before imploding in 1996, City were embarking on a superb late run of form that lifted us from mid table to promotion via Wembley. Newcastle won’t go 12 points clear this season, but history could yet repeat itself for City. For that to happen the passion and enthusiasm City fans are displaying home and away will play its part.
A quote from a Newcastle supporter during the Tyneside hysteria last week should also ring true for City fans, “The louder we scream, the faster we’ll go.” Us City fans are certainly screaming loudly on our tour of League Two and, despite dropping points at Bury, now’s not the time to quieten. Our noise cannot be matched in this division and may yet inspire an unlikely play off push between now and May.
And I would just love it if that happened, love it.
Bury 2 Bradford City 2 At Gigg Lane in League Two, 2007/2008
Despite leading twice, City were pegged back by a late equaliser that denied them a third straight win.
City started the game much the brighter, forcing numerous early corners and creating a couple of half chances. Barry Conlon had an excellent first half – really rising to the challenge of this game in testing conditions. He held the ball up brilliantly and was a real presence up front.
Neither team really stamped their authority on the game until a key moment late in the first half. Omar Daley picked up possession on the right, darted forward, and whipped in an extremely dangerous ball, which looked destined to pick out Peter Thorne at the far post – but it was stopped from reaching its target by a blatant handball by a Bury defender inside the penalty area.
The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. There seemed to be some debate about who was going to take the penalty, with Thorne and Conlon both eyeing it up. But it was Conlon who stepped up and drilled the ball straight down the middle, and whilst the keeper got a touch with his legs, it wasn’t enough to stop it nesting into the back of the net, much to the jubilation of the City fans behind the goal.
The second half got underway with City looking comfortable. The pressure was very much on Bury to come out and start showing the form that they did last week in beating Championship side Norwich.
There were no real signs of being City’s lead being under threat, until a shocking mistake by Matt Clarke. He released a kamikaze backpass that immediately forced Wetherall and himself to backtrack rapidly, but Bury striker Andy Bishop capitalized by outpacing them both and slotting the ball past Donavan Ricketts. This type of mistake from Clarke was so uncharacteristic of his recent City form, and it was clear to see he was devastated in the immediate aftermath of Bury scoring.
Unfortunately for Clarke, that goal really changed the game, as City went from being comfortable, to having to really pull out all the stops in an effort to grab the three points.
The game faded away midway through the second half. Both teams showed no real signs of having enough to grab a late winner.
But on 80 minutes, City broke with Colbeck feeding Daley, who seemed to hesitate, before releasing a brilliant pass that picked out substitute Kyle Nix. Nix took a touch, which seemed to have taken him too far wide, but he unleashed a deadly low strike with his left foot which he planted at the keepers far post. Celebrations in the away end were euphoric as it seemed certain that we could hang on to pick up a precious three points.
A special mention needs to be made for Omar Daley’s contribution tonight. He was my man of the match with his assists for both goals and whilst he wasn’t always at his scintillating best, he backtracked and helped out the defense on numerous occasions. His workrate was a breath of fresh air. There was one instance (halfway through the second half) where he had just ran half the pitch during a run on the attack on the left wing, and when Bury broke on the counter attack, he cover the full length of the pitch to come back to help Heckingbottom defensively. Maybe with his new contract, this is hopefully a sign of things to come?
But an away victory tonight wasn’t to be. City never looked convincing or confident enough in the last 10 minutes to see the game through. And when 18 year old midfielder Dale Stephens unleashed a stunning strike from 25 yards that gave Ricketts no chance, the game seemed destined to finish as a draw.
And in typical City fashion, after Bury equalized, we had to endure more nervy defending and it even looked like Bury could snatch a late winner, as they finished the stronger.
But the referee blew his whistle with honours even. And once again, City succumbed to a late goal. Its seems to be a trend this season that the team don’t quite have enough conviction to “ shut up shop” with 10, 15 or even 20 minutes to go. We can think back to Barnet away (conceded a late winner that cost us a point) , Morecambe away ( a point thrown away, that should have been 3) , MK Dons away ( 2 late goals conceded) , Stockport at home ( late goal that cost us a win). This type of play is especially hard to accept given the number of experienced campaigners in the team – but I don’t necessarily think they are 100% to blame. It is more of a team mentality , that we sit back and invite pressure, and away from home teams come at us, and we don’t know how to cope without panicking.
We have a good enough footbaling side in this division to have to talent to play the ball to feet to get ourselves out of trouble when we are under pressure. But too often this season, we have resorted to playing it “long”, Wimbledon style. And that doesn’t just apply to defending, we often attack in the same way. And how often to these high balls up the pitch result in success? Hardly ever. Yet, the management team insist on playing this way. Most probably because they think that it could be the only way that we can play to get out of this division.
But I personally, wholeheartedly disagree. We have enough players that are decent with ball to feet, running a passing game, that would surely be more effective, as playing flowing football generates confidence and allows us to confidently pass our selves out of trouble when pressure mounts on us – especially away from home.
The optimistic nature of the football fan should never be forgotten and – in the case of Stuart McCall as he ends his first six months in charge at Bradford City – is a powerful agent in making the more important shifts in the culture that when crafted can generate success.
The recently deceased John Harvey Jones specialised in turning around companies but even he would be impressed with the way McCall’s men have gone from eight defects to play off dreams since Boxing Day.
It is business turn around at the speed of light and it works. Most clubs in football struggle not for the want of ability but rather organisation and motivation. A bit of positive thinking can do a power of good.
Take Newcastle United as a prime example. The Magpies are blessed with players as talented as any in the Premier League – Owen, Duff, Smith, Martins and Geremi would not be out of place in any squad in the top flight – but they flounder because as ill fated Big Sam found they are gripped by a culture of defeat.
Indeed so gripped is St James Park in the notion that the club will always under achieve that they see no irony in describing the big chair there as a poison chalice. Recast as ‘a job at a team that could compete’ – and there are precious few of those – then the role may be more appealing.
Appealing or not the problem Sam was beaten by at Newcastle and McCall addresses at City is one of institutional memory. Put simply just as a player learns patterns to be repeated in muscle memory so a club retains habits good and – in the majority of cases – bad.
At Bradford City since the fall from the Premier League defeat has become the default setting and while players, managers, chairmen and almost everything has changed the institutional memory clings onto the negative culture.
Ask one of the tea bar staff if City will win and they will say probably not. When new people come into the club at any level they are tacitly invited to join this way of thinking.
Shifting from negative to something more bright is difficult but not impossible and Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are attempting manfully. The most significant move was bringing in The Legend McCall whose presence has been the most significant change in the culture of the club in recent years. His presence alone has stopped much of the negative thinking.
Indeed should Newcastle United be looking for a sign of the effects of having an Alan Shearer or a Kevin Keegan at the helm then they would do well to look at Valley Parade and McCall. It is not just the patience with which the Bantams fans stuck with the manager through that long period of defeats but the ease in which the mood of the ground was turned around.
Put simply with the club’s legend at the helm the supporters want to believe. That is a significant shift at Valley Parade.
Persistent change in institutional memory – to get a club to forget the (footballing) past and look forward – is a more difficult thing to master but Stuart is doing better than anyone at City in the last ten years. He is the shock to the system to change the memory.
Football teams play good football when partnerships work together. Teams may be made up of individuals but that’s no good if they’re not working together. In the past we have had the SAS (Sutton and Shearer), Cole and Yorke, Bruce and Pallister etc. These have all been great partnerships – and all for successful teams.
Even at City we have known a few good ones. Mills and Blake and Jacobs and Beagrie are ones that stand out for myself. We’ve had the odd great individual, such as Windass and Carbone but, without a partner for them, the team suffered. And this is what gives me great optimism for the current City side.
Watching us play this season has been frustrating. We have the players who have the ability to do well, they just haven’t delivered on the pitch. There are many reasons being given as to why, but I think the most obvious reason is “lack of partnerships”, and especially ones that work. Watching the City side on Saturday against a poor Notts County I saw a side that was littered with partnerships.
First of all, at the back you have the captain Wetherall and Matt Clarke. Wethers looked rusty at the beginning of the season and Clarke wasn’t even in the side, but now, Wethers is back to his best and Clarke has become one of the vital members of the side – who can imagine the defence without him? They are solid.
On the left side you have Heckingbottom and Daley. Heckingbottom has been on and off this season, although mainly on, and the last few matches have seen good performances from him. Daley is you’re Marmite – you either love him or hate him. He frustrates at times, but against County got forward, got back and the inter-play between the two was good.
On the right it’s much the same story. Colbeck, having come back from Darlington, looks like the player from two seasons ago. Things may not go right all the time, but some great runs and crosses have seen him become the right winger for us. Backing him up is Williams. A bit like Wethers he started slowly, but is getting better all the time. His link up play with Colbeck is good and gets forward to support Colbeck, just as Heckingbottom does with Daley.
Up front, after nearly 30 games, Stuart seems to have stumbled on what most fans have wanted to try for a while – Conlon and Thorne. Fans favourite Conlon may not be scoring, but does the “donkey” work to great effect. Make no mistake though, Conlon is no donkey. He has a great touch, good vision and puts 100% effort in. Just a bit more composure in front of the net and goals will come. Composure is something his strike partner Thorne has in abundance. Injury has meant a delayed start to his City career but, now he’s with someone who can hold the ball and take the hits, Thorne is reaping the rewards. His hat-trick on Saturday showed that if you set him up, he’ll take the chances. Together they are making defending hard work for the opposition.
You may now expect me to go on about the partnership in the middle, however, as we’re 17th in the league everything cannot be rosy and this is the case in the middle. Although the Bullock/Evans partnership is in its infancy (like the Thorne/Conlon), it hasn’t been as effective. Bullock comes across as a decent player. On Saturday he didn’t seem to be involved much, but when he was he did everything well – certainly good to have in the side and a much needed spoil for his partner in midfield. Evans, however, has a question mark over him. Yes, we all know he does have a good touch, good passing ability and a great shot – but that’s not much good if it isn’t working. If Evans can get it right then the partnership in midfield could prove to be the best of the lot. If it doesn’t, Kyle Nix – my favourite of the season so far – stands on the sidelines waiting. He may be a left winger, but has shown can cut it in midfield and is dangerous going forward.
So, all in all, the City side is nearly there. We have a great square of partnerships around the pitch, we just need the centre one. If that can be built on, then 2008 could be more than we hoped for than at the beginning of December.
Bradford City 3 Notts County 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
City continued their great start to 2008 with this convincing victory against lowly Notts County.
This was a home team display that has been unseen by the Valley Parade crowd in many, many years, but this performance aspires confidence that City are on the right track.
Matt Clarke was once again in dominant form, putting opposing striker Hector Sam in his pocket from first minute to last. This type of performance has been typical of the lanky defender in recent months – indeed he is fast becoming City’s best, and most consistent player – nothing less than he deserves after waiting patiently for an extended run in the side.
Bradford started the game in a confident mood, winning numerous corners and threatening the County goal. There were one or two edgy moments in the first half defensively, but it quickly became apparent that County did not offer much going forward.
When City got their noses in front midway through the first half, the result was never really in much doubt. David Wetherall and Lee Bullock both did brilliantly to keep the ball alive from a set play, and Peter Thorne was on hand to tap in from 8 yards in predatory fashion. City have had a tendancy to not make territorial advantage convert to goals at home this season, ala Darlington and Wycombe, and there was a really sense of relief that Thorne had broken the deadline before half time with his close range finish.
The first ten minutes of the second half were slightly edgy, as County offered a few more ideas in attack, and City stood off. But that pressure was certainly not typical of the rest of the match, as County seemed to massively lack confidence that they could score, and they most certainly lacked ability throughout the side.
When Thorne crashed home a sweet second from an Evans corner on the volley, the game was over.
And the script was written for Thorne to round off his excellent display by finishing off his hattrick with aplomb. He was played in on the break by Colbeck on the right, and Thorne confidently buried the ball in the bottom corner of the keepers near post. It was a fitting end to the game for Thorne – who is most certainly showing signs of the form he promised, and his ability being a cut and class above this level. We have seen him excellently hold the ball up, and play some nice passes in bringing others into play with his back to goal, and now he is delivering the goals to go with his excellent all round play.
And Thorne’s excellent display was mirrored by the rest of the team. Omar Daley showed some exciting bursts forward and crucially battled away defensively in a way that was reminiscent of Jamie Lawrence in his Valley Parade heyday. Darren Williams is looking assured at right back, and veteran’s Wetherall and Heckingbottom seem to be delivering performances of late that represent a solid defensive unit.
Barry Conlon’s performances create much debate within the City support and it is clear to see why. He is absolutely woeful in front of goal – to non league standards, and that form continued in this game. But, he does bring something to the team, and seems to compliment Thorne quite well, as he can control the ball when it is played up to him. His willingness to battle has endeared him to some of the City support, but surely a striker that finishes as poorly as Conlon cannot be part of a successful team? That aspect is for Mr McCall to debate. I ,for one, would have been interested to see Willy Topp partnered with Thorne up front for the last 20 minutes against County, with the game all but won.
And so, to the rest of the season. Team displays like this create confidence. And now that we seem to have settled into this division, the length of a run we can go on between now and the end of the season will determine whether we can challenge or not. Our early season woes may have cost us, but collecting a number of wins on the bounce will certainly give us a chance – and more importantly, hope , that the season may not be over for us just yet.
Bradford City 3 Notts County 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
Lied to us, smokescreen, disgraceful – some of the more polite terms used by a minority of City fans in the build up to Saturday’s game with Notts County. The reasons for their anger include an apparent lack of transfer activity in the January window and a belief that City have given up on the season already.
There’s a long way to go, both for the current transfer window and the season, but already some of our more excitable supporters are calling for heads to roll. Apparently Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn are lying to us supporters and Stuart isn’t much better. There are demands from some supporters for a fans forum so these people can express their anger face to face.
All of this was before City demolished a poor Notts County team to record their biggest home win since April 2005. There’s a feeling of frustration from a section of support about the way this season is turning out, but you wish that those who complain so quickly and readily would think a bit more before directing their abuse at individuals who deserve better. After all, are things really that bad at Valley Parade at the moment?
For the first time in years we are debt free and this means there is some money to spend on new players, although who we need to bring in is a matter of debate. Expectations have been raised following comments made by Mark Lawn on 23 October about bringing in players who have been at City before and proved popular with fans. Crucially he said that he wanted to bring these players in, rather than saying deals were already lined up. Yet over the last few months these comments have been exaggerated so that they now look like broken promises.
Whether any former City players do arrive before the window shuts remains to be seen, but it hasn’t stopped some fans already slagging off our joint-chairman. Who these former players are and whether Stuart wants them is another question. Some fans are calling for Nathan Doyle to return, for example, but with Darren Williams enjoying a good season and a limited budget available, is a right back a priority?
It may only be one game, but looking at the team that comprehensively demolished Notts County on Saturday left me wondering just how desperate we are for new signings. All over the pitch City were too good against an admittedly weak side, perhaps the worst team to play at Valley Parade so far this season. Right from kick off we took the game to the visitors and carved out some decent opportunities. Omar Daley might have had a hat trick inside the opening half hour with only the heroics of County goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington keeping the score level.
The breakthrough arrived 10 minutes before half time from a scrambled corner. Matt Clarke headed Paul Evans’ delivery goalwards only for it to be cleared off the line. Lee Bullock, making his home debut, headed the ball back into the danger area and Peter Thorne tapped home. Barry Conlon, impressing alongside Thorne up front, might have got a second when put through on goal just before the break, but a combination of a weak effort and good goalkeeping denied the Irish striker. A standing ovation was the least the players deserved at the break.
A second goal was always going to be enough to kill off the game and duly arrived early in the second half. Again Paul Evans was behind the goal with a clever corner move. His low cross was met by Thorne just inside the area and his low shot flew into the bottom far corner. Joe Colbeck, Evans and Conlon had other opportunities before Thorne hit a sweet third from the edge of the box after been cleverly set up by Colbeck.
That was how the win came about, but the efforts of all the players involved deserve huge credit. Defensively we were strong and are reaping the benefits from a settled defensive line. In Clarke and Wetherall have two strong competitors in the centre. Clarke was probably my man of the match and, apart from one mistake just after half time, he won everything against a tricky opponent in Hector Sam. His performance brought back memories of Darren Moore for me and Stuart would be well advised to offer him a new contract before it runs out in the summer.
Up front Conlon and Thorne are showing signs of forging a fruitful partnership. Conlon is capable of being terrific and woeful, usually within the space of a few seconds! Yet his hold up play and battling qualities are making a real difference and winning over supporters. Barry needs to continue showing this consistency over a number of games. He’s never going to score a hatful and his finishing can be woeful. I do fear he will one day miss a really easy chance in a crucial game for us, but for now Conlon is a worthy name on the teamsheet.
Now fully fit and enjoying a run of games, Thorne is looking an excellent player at this level. A hat trick certainly won’t harm his confidence and he is on track to be the first City player, other than Dean Windass, to reach double figures in a season since Andy Gray and Claus Jorgenson in 2002/03. With Willy Topp an unused substitute and Stuart believing Daley’s best position to be striker, another forward is unlikely to be on Stuart’s January shopping list.
Midfield was perhaps not at its best, though recent signing Bullock is a decent addition if not quite hitting the heights of his performance at Accrington. Evans received plenty of criticism and his passing was at times awry. Yet he had a hand in all three goals and his quality, when he gets it right, is invaluable. Eddie Johnson will soon be available again leaving Stuart with plenty of choice in the middle. The two wingers, Colbeck and Daley, were quiet on occasions, but both contributed to the easy win.
And that’s the encouraging thing at this moment. For all the talk of needing new faces, the efforts of the current players is very high. There’s no slackers and under achievers, currently in the team anyway. Listening to the comments of Thorne on the radio after the game, and January signings Bullock and Paul Heckingbottom, reveal there is a strong desire for our squad of players to perform and be successful for this club. There may be failings at times, but effort is not among them. Daley spent the first half of the season thinking he was above tracking back and defending, but now works as hard as anyone.
Had the season begun on November 6 City would currently be 11th in the division, four points off the play offs with two games in hand. It shows that the efforts of the players since that important win over Chester have been much improved and what possibilities there could be for City had they not underperformed so badly in September/October.
Things may now be slowly coming together for City and, while a couple of new signings would be nice before the window shuts, there is no need to consider the current situation a disgrace and demand changes at the top. With 12,500 season ticket holders, the end to bad debts and return of Stuart, something very special began during the summer. Belatedly, it now looks as though it’s beginning to extend onto the pitch.
League Two (since 6.11.07)
(P GD PTS)
1 MK Dons 12 13 28
2 Rotherham 11 12 25
3 Morecambe 11 7 24
4 Stockport 12 9 23
5 Hereford 10 5 21
6 Wycombe 12 3 21
7 Grimsby Town 12 2 22
8 Rochdale 10 6 20
9 Darlington 9 17 19
10 Chesterfield 11 4 19
11 Bradford City 10 7 18
12 Shrewsbury 12 6 18
13 Peterborough 11 3 18
14 Brentford 12 -6 16
15 Accrington 12 -8 14
16 Lincoln City 12 -5 13
17 Macclesfield 12 -7 12
18 Barnet 12 -9 9
19 Chester City 11 -8 8
20 Dagenham & Red 11 -9 8
21 Mansfield Town 10 -8 7
22 Notts County 11 -8 6
23 Wrexham 12 -13 6
24 Bury 10 -9 4
Mark Lawn is not happy with Sammy McIlroy after the Morecambe gaffer knocked back City’s offer of £10,000 for right winger Garry Thompson throwing about words like ludicrous. McIlroy says it is not enough for a player of “Garry’s experience and potential” which hitherto had been considered separate quantities. Steve Claridge was trumped for his experience, Issy Rankin for his potential. Seldom is a player considered to have both.
Semantics aside Lawn showed a traditionally Bradfordian approach to the Ulsterman’s comments stating that City made a bid, that bid was turned down and that could have been the end of the story. Indeed had McIlroy not made the offer public it probably would have been and with Thompson having less than six months left on his deal and the ability to sign for whomever he chooses without giving a fee to the Seaside club then one cannot help but think that it is in the best interest of the Christie Park side that his potential availability becomes more widely known.
Get someone to double the offer today rather than let the player walk away for nothing in six months and McIlroy has done a good bit of business and Lawn – and City – can be excused for feeling a little used and Lawn – a recent convert to the world of football directorship – will have to get used to having the sort of sums of money that would be a welcome lottery win being dismissed as peanuts. Stuart McCall speaks well on the dismissed offer – “We know where our club has been for the last few years and we don’t want to go back there.” A manager who is not prepared to mortgage the future of his club to further his career is a rare thing.
McCall has been shopping as he shapes a Bradford City team through evolution. Paul Heckingbottom joined yesterday and Swansea midfielder Ian Craney was tracked until Accrington Stanley paid £85,000 for him. Players at this level who have that sort of value to a club are few and far between and McCall would do well to stay out of the market that starts to spiral. £85,000 would have paid Dean Windass’s wage for another season and costs of employment are a much better use of resources in a saturated footballer market like League Two than recruitment costs.
Paul Heckingbottom is a Bradford City player again, again and I couldn’t be happier.
Heckingbottom is exactly the sort of player I want City to have. For a start he is took good for this division even if he isn’t good enough for The Championship and I’m not sure that he isn’t to be honest. Second he fits right in at City being from near enough to almost be a home grown lad (Even his name conjures up Bantams of old – Ed.) and third he is the sort of honest footballer I love to watch.
I’ve never seen Hecky do anything other than put in 100% for City. I’ve never seen him drop to his knees to dive or point at team mates when he makes a mistake or any of that rubbish that you see all the time in football these days. I’ve never once looked at the left back this season and not thought that we had a guy who will give us everything.
Maybe it is the Wayne Jacobs effect because him and Heckingbottom are peas in a pod when it comes to attitude and credit goes to Stuart and Wayne for signing him up.
At this level footballers get lazy. It is dead easy for a player to decide that the other ten guys are the reason things aren’t going so good in League Two and it is dead easy for players to stroll out the end of contracts blaming everyone else for failing to get to the play-offs. Paul Heckingbottom would not do that.
He is not the first piece but he is an important on into a team that can go places.
My girlfriend probably things I am having an affair. Every morning I furtively close my hands around the screen of my trusted N95 and sneak a peek at some covert information, these modern days such actions are tantamount to having lipstick on one’s collar in the list of telltale signs of infidelity.
Every morning I gaze longingly at every loving word crafted to speak of outlandish possibility and I know that such things will never come to pass but we can all dream. Every morning I covertly check out the BBC’s transfer gossip and rumours page.
Sitting all year round the scrapings of tabloid and broadsheet fantasy goes into a kind of meltdown every January when the transfer window opens and a parade of names are stapled to clubs in a cavalcade of would be transfer.
Most concern players few – if any – have heard of joining clubs that simply do not need them. Today we learn with lusty glory that Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is set to spend £7m on Slovakia international defender Martin Skrtel. – or so the Beeb tells us that the Telegraph tells us – and we raise an eyebrow and ponder if the Anfield club’s failure to mount a serious challenge for the title is really for the want of a player who costs less than Newcastle United paid for Jean-Alan Boumsong.
“Failure to mount a serious challenge” is a phrase that haunts Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side troublingly. Clearly The Reds are not winning the thing this year but to suggest that they have not mount a challenge is akin to suggesting that Scott and Oates were just having a wander in the snow just because they were beaten to the Pole.
The vowel light Skrtel may be Kendal Mint Cake to Benitez and our job is in the observation. In likelihood Skrtel will not be heard of again being swooped to play for Bryern Munich, Rapid Vienna or Fulham’s Reserves but for a day we can all imagine him wandering down the wing in Red. It is the pornography of the Subutteo generation.
Of course the Mighty Bradford City have not featured in this procession of names and clubs for sometime but this is no bad thing and not something one would complain about although Big Sam will save his job by pairing Michael Owen with Bradford’s Barry Conlon is probably as realistic to us Skrtel’s move to Anfield is to supporters of his – nameless – club.
Realism is not the point. Distraction is.
Football – as previously mentioned once or twice – had gone to Hell in a handcart at anything other than the top level and like the trappings of the French Lord’s of old the purpose of the big name club transfer gossip is to distraction joyless citizenry from the dullness of their every day existence. Never mind the fact your club cannot afford to have the stadium roof fixed – Manchester United are thinking of buying a Belgian who’s agent will take a cut the size of Luton Town’s much talked about debt.
It is football supporting as Hello Magazine reading – a glimpse at how some live with the far flung hope that you might one day move there yourself. Queens Park Rangers suggest that one day it will I guess, and I suppose one day we did too.
So furtively I look at my mobile phone to read this list of pipe dreams and I should be as offended as I am when I see those documentaries on the lavish fineries of Royalty I pay for but have no access to but for some reason I’m not.
So rest assured should you be worried Ria it is not an affair but with lusty eyes trained on what I want but can’t have it is – at least – flirting.
Accrington Stanley 0 Bradford City 2 At Crown Ground in League Two, 2007/2008
Being of a more cynical nature, I find the hopes and promises made which coincide with the turn of the year bemusing. Vowing to stop smoking or start exercising is commendable, but expecting things to suddenly change just because we start using a new calendar is unrealistic. It’s traditional for the last City matchday programme of the year to be filled with contributions about how we should hope that the year ahead will be better for City and, of course, that the home form will improve; but not everyone’s life can change for better or worse on the same day. It may happen at any point during the year ahead, but January 1 and what this signifies isn’t on January 1 for all of us.
For City, New Years Day was really Saturday 11 August and events since will dictate what sort of year 2008 will be. According to an ever honest Stuart McCall after Saturday’s defeat to Hereford, it’s unlikely to include a trip to Wembley. This is due to the efforts of the first half of the campaign, or since City’s New Years Day. Results over the last couple of months have been largely decent, but it’s the infamous five successive defeats of September/October that have cost us and may predetermine what sort of a year 2008 is for City.
In my heart, I’m quite angry at hearing Stuart effectively write off the season with five months to go. Stuart’s post match interviews are notoriously honest but, when I think back to Stuart the player performing heroics, I don’t recall him ever giving up. In my head though, I grudgingly know that Stuart is correct in stating it’s highly unlikely City can make the play offs and is looking to the future. After years of treading water, City have the stability to build again and we need to be patient. Stuart the player had a brilliant football brain and it is his judgement that we now trust in carrying out that rebuilding.
As if to emphasise that the turn of the year doesn’t instantly herald change, City’s opening 45 minutes of 2008, at Accrington, were as average and frustrating as ever. We have the basis of a decent side, particularly at the back, but going forward we often fail to attack with purpose and provide our forwards with decent service.
Midway through the half City worked the ball into the penalty area but the home defence cleared. We picked up the loose ball and worked it back to Darren Williams, who then booted the ball aimlessly up the pitch and through to the keeper. Why is it that, the further we go up the pitch, the more the ball is treated like a hot potato? It’s as if the players are wary that, after stringing together four passes, they must be looking to test the keeper. Donovan Ricketts made a couple of easy saves in the mud, Peter Thorne and Paul Evans went close, the referee Barry Knight went off injured and that was the first half.
Straight after the break City took the lead. If the scorer was notable, Matt Clarke’s first in a City shirt, so to was how it came about. All season our set plays have been shocking but, when Stanley keeper Ian Dubavin weakly punched Evan’s corner kick, Joe Colbeck cleverly lobbed the ball back and David Wetherall headed it into Clarke’s path to stab home.
The goal lifted everyone’s spirits and from there City took control. With new signing Lee Bullock adding much-needed presence in the middle and catching the eye with some decent passes, City pressed forward at will. Two decent penalty appeals were rejected while Omar Daley should have done better after a brilliant mazy dribble left him with just the keeper to beat. Daley tried to be too clever and only succeeded blasting over. Barry Conlon, who received brilliant Andy Cooke-esqe backing from us fans all game, was played through one on one with the keeper and produced the tamest of shots which was easily blocked. As Accrington pushed forward towards the end, the fear was that City would pay for their wastefulness.
Then in the second minute of injury time, Daley broke away after City cleared an Accrington corner. With everyone in the City half, Daley was left with just the keeper to beat, he tried to take it around only for Dubavin to block, but Colbeck was on hand to gather up the loose ball and coolly slot the ball home. Cue wild celebrations behind the goal.
Colbeck walked off the pitch at full time still receiving congratulatory hugs from team mates and had City fans chanting his name. Since returning from the loan spell at Darlington he is looking a much more confident player. He was excellent all afternoon and his crossing caught the eye. In this sort of form Colbeck can have a big future at City and Stuart will no doubt be telling him to keep it up and not to get carried away.
City’s star performer was on the opposite wing though. Daley has begun performing much more effectively in recent weeks and he was in scintillating form against Accrington. I don’t get to every game, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play so well for City. He terrorised the Stanley full back and, crucially, is aware of what’s going on around him and doesn’t just run the ball down blind alleys. His work rate was equally outstanding and he helped the defence out on numerous occasions. I think we are belatedly seeing what a good player the Jamaican international is.
Indeed the second half performance left me thinking we’re a decent side at this level. There are areas to improve on, but the main failing in general this season is lack of consistency. If City could play like they did in the second half every week the play offs would still be a possibility. The problem is they probably won’t; I think well enough to enjoy a better second half of the season but, as Stuart said, the teams currently in the play offs are a long way ahead in terms of points.
In the programme, Accrington manager John Colman wrote that he thinks Stanley can make the play offs this season, so to see City easily beat such a poor side who believe they can go up is frustrating. If only City could have started the season better we could now be looking forward to 2008 with more relish. Instead the rest of the season will seemingly be about building for the next one and ensuring that, for City’s next New Year’s Day in August, we hit the ground running.