From September, 2008
Let me begin with two important statements. The first is that referees hardly ever lose games; much more often players lose games or opposition players win games. Referees’ decisions can have immense bearings on the outcome of games, especially late on and in close contests. But those situations are quite rare. Jarnail Singh’s decision to play on after the obviously serious injuries to Lee and Moncur almost certainly cost City a goal, but they had 84 playing minutes to catch up. They were lucky it was only 1-0 at half time.
The second thing I have to say is that I really did start the new season in the spirit of Respect. I thought the trappings (walking out together, shaking hands and the like) were all about style and nothing to do with substance. As such, they represented very accurately the times we live in, which is a pity for our great game. But there we are, still looking for the substance and hoping to find genuine respect in our game.
So, with the statements over, let me express my grave disappointment after less than two months into the new season. Sadly the Respect campaign has, as I feared it might, already been found out for what it is. The totality of the campaign is that the players and managers are expected to give their unquestioning respect to referees automatically and at all times.
Real respect may be granted at the outset, but then has to be earned. I have always compared the status of the referee with my old job as a judge, while conceding that I had time to make decisions and referees may have to act very quickly. (An argument in support of technology, but we’ll leave that for another time.) There is, however, at least one perfectly valid comparison with my old job. Whenever I first sat in a new area, I may have had the initial respect of the professionals in front of me. I hoped that, as they listened to my decisions and the reasons behind them, the regular professionals would continue to respect me, without necessarily agreeing with every decision I made. We all make mistakes and with many decisions there must be a sinner and a sinned against; a winner and a loser.
Respect for referees, it seems to me, should work the same way. It should be granted as a starting point, but it may not last forever. If the referee is plainly not up to the job – I shall come back to that phrase in a moment – he will lose the respect initially given. And he will rightly lose that respect, just as judge or a policeman or head teacher or a manager who is not up to the job will also lose the respect of those over whom he has authority.
So, having said that retaining respect (as opposed to the initial granting) requires that the referee act in a manner that does not destroy what he started with, I must go on to a second point; respect works two ways. Many readers of this will spend much of their time in a workplace where either they supervise or manage others and/or those others supervise or manage them. When a new manager arrives, we all wonder what he or she will be like and we may well take time to get to know his or her particular methods and personality. We may not always agree with our new boss, but we will surely respect sound ideas, especially if they outnumber the dodgy moments.
But we have all had bosses who, for one reason or another, have lost our respect. I once had one who couldn’t face awkward truths and consequently told me what I can only describe as a right cock and bull story about my career prospects. All respect was lost once I worked out the truth and, having been lost, it was never recovered because she kept on avoiding the truth, thereby continually repeating the very reason for losing respect.
So what of a referee who loses the respect of the players, not because of a decision or two they don’t agree with, which might or might not be a mistake, but because of the general manner of his refereeing? Are the players and coaches seriously intended to remain genuinely respectful to such a person, despite the fact, as the crowd’s chant might put it, that he’s not fit to referee?
All of this has been brought to a head by two particular referees in the last week. What I believe they have in common causes me real concern for the way our game is refereed and for the future prospects for genuine respect. I question whether these referees (and probably several others who referee in similar styles – no, I don’t necessarily mean you, Mr Styles) understand how football should be played. More fundamentally, I question whether they, like the worst managers we’ve worked for, have any understanding of the people over whom they have authority. They may not even feel the need for such an understanding, so long as they know the rules and get the respect they think they deserve by virtue of their status.
A lot has been said about the first of these two referees. Mr Atwell, at 25, used to be famous for being the youngest referee in the Premier League. He is now more famous for allowing the goal that never was at Watford. Much as I was troubled by that goal and what the referee and his assistant thought they had seen, I was more concerned by how the referee reacted to the players. And I don’t mean just the Watford players. The Reading players were equally baffled. The only difference was that one team was laughing and the other arguing. Nobody but the officials thought there had been a goal.
What this suggests to me is that either the officials weren’t watching the players or they didn’t feel the need to observe and understand those over whom they had authority. Anyone with a basic understanding of football observing the Reading players would have spotted immediately that not one of them had thought for even the briefest moment that there might even just possibly have been a goal scored. Now what does that tell us? It tells me that there wasn’t a goal.
But what did it tell Mr Atwell? Nothing at all, it seems. I don’t know where he was looking at the time, but it can’t have been at the ball. If he had been watching the ball, he would surely have seen that it never went anywhere near the goal posts. He must, then, have been watching the players nearest to the incident. But what did he actually see? Not enough to suggest to him that there was something very wrong indeed here, when both teams were playing on, when not one Reading player was appealing for anything at all, when no fans were shouting for a goal and when the only person in the entire stadium who thought he had seen a goal scored was his assistant.
Let me go back to Mr Singh and what he has in common with Mr Atwell. A minor incident it may have been in the context of TJ’s injury, but in the last few minutes Grant Holt hit a shot yards wide, cursed himself and turned to trot away for the goal kick. Rhys Evans went to retrieve the ball for the same reason. Mr Singh gave a corner. What was he watching? What had he seen that no one else on the pitch or in the crowd had spotted? Why was his eyesight so much better than everyone else – including Grant Holt? And didn’t the unanimous reaction of the players on both sides tell him he might just have got it wrong? Apparently not.
The Moncur-Lee incident is in my eyes a much more serious symptom of the same problem. According to Stuart McCall, Mr Singh says he saw the clash of heads ‘and felt they were both okay.’ I might be inclined, with another referee, to put it down to just one single human error, albeit one with potentially the most devastating consequences. The resulting goal was a mere nothing compared to what might have happened. Even from the stands it was immediately obvious that this was very serious. Listen to the commentary. Listen to anyone who saw the incident and understands football or has even a rudimentary knowledge of falls. But Mr Singh ‘felt they were both okay.’ He, of course, has form for this sort of mistake, as City fans know only too well. I think Steven Schumacher will also remember more of his head injury than TJ can recall.
In the second half at Shrewsbury there was another head injury. From my seat some 80 yards away I was sure the Shrewsbury defender was the victim of a foul by Omar Daley, an arm or a hand to his face, as Omar took the ball away from him. Where the ref was looking is another little mystery. The defender went down, play carried on and, so alarmed was she by what she saw of her player and what she knew of the referee’s earlier failure, the Shrewsbury physio ran on to the pitch while play continued for quite some time. OK, she broke the rules and the ever efficient Mr Singh told her off. But she acted on a genuine human concern for a man obviously suffering from a head/facial injury. She was up to her job.
Later in the game two Shrewsbury players collided, both going to the ground, although not in the same bone-crunching fashion as Lee and Moncur. Mr Singh had finally learned his lesson and stopped the game. Neither was, as it happened, all that badly injured and both carried on after the briefest treatment and the mandatory leaving of the field for five seconds.
Now what concerns me about these two referees and those others like them is not that they make mistakes; not that they make important and possibly dangerous mistakes; not even that they make lots of mistakes; but that they do not understand what football and footballers are all about. In that sense they are plainly not up to the job. They have other and wrong priorities. They want to demonstrate their knowledge of the rules, rather than their ability to evaluate. They feel the need to satisfy the assessor or, in the Premier League, the TV cameras.
In the old job I always had to give a public explanation for each decision, which could be used on any appeal. There was always someone who didn’t agree with the decision, but at least we all knew how it been reached. Referees explain very little and most of their decisions are immune from appeal.
But if referees don’t understand what they’re doing and why some of them are doing it so wrongly, not just making human errors, then the respect will soon be lost, never to be regained. Long before Saturday I’d lost respect for Mr Singh, not just because of the Schumacher injury, but because he failed to send off Darren Holloway at Yeovil for a waist-high scythe. I would have been furious if he’d been an opponent. The yellow card, while a relief from the team’s point of view, finally convinced me that Mr Singh doesn’t understand football.
How many more referees come into the same category? And does the FA really expect fans, players and coaches to forget what they see and dutifully respect them? If that is the FA’s expectation, they too do not understand those of us who care about this game and its future.
Without wanting to do something as dull as look at the rules of the game of football after the controversial goal that set Shrewsbury on the way to the 2-0 win over City Law 5: The Referee in the section Injured Players the first two laws are:
- Play is allowed to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in the opinion of the referee, only slightly injured.
- Play is stopped if, in the opinion of the referee, a player is seriously injured.
As Bradford City fans have seen Mr Singh deal with five head injuries in two games, yesterday and three years ago when he allowed Oldham to score against the Bantams while Steven Schumacher was injured.
Mr Singh once stopped the game for Grant Holt and Kevin Mcintyre and neither were injured meaning that his assumption that – under the rules above – at least one was seriously injured. He did not stop it for Schumacher and should have as the player needed treatment and was seriously injured – he missed games after – nor did he stop it for for Lee and Moncur when one of them needed to be replaced and collapsed again on his way off the field. All of which suggests that his judgement of the seriousness of an injury is not to be trusted not least of which by himself.
The idea that it is probably better to be safe than sorry when dealing with head injuries perhaps Mr Singh should blow his whistle and risk stopping the game for no reason rather than “letting the game flow” while a player is injured when he is incapable of judging the seriousness of that injury.
Of course last week we talked about if players can be trusted to do the right thing. What can you say about the Oldham players who scored while Schumacher was down or Grant Holt and Ben Davies who tried to score while Lee and Moncur was down?
Certainly if I were a professional footballer I’d probably not want either on my team and would probably be careful around them in training.
As a supporter I have a fairly low opinion of both. I’m often calling for footballers to be given more trust and to be treated as adults but incidents like this where players continue not in spite of but because a team has men down thus increasing the chances of scoring.
Given the choice I’d rather footballers thought like Miguel Llera who gave away a penalty yesterday handling the ball because his goalkeeper was hurt rather than looked at injuries as an opportunity for goals but more so I’d rather Referees and players considered scoring when players were down was inherently worth less and – for want of a better phrase – “was just not cricket.”
I’d rather that after ten minutes watching TJ Moncur needing treatment Shrewsbury whacked the ball into their own net and said to us “See that, 1-1 – We can beat Bradford City without favours.” I’m an idealist and that is an ideal.
Perhaps it is the stunning lack of empathy of a Ben Davies when he seems two guys pole-axed and rather than thinking “I hope these guys are ok cause if that had happened to me I would want someone to give me treatment as soon as possible” one assumes he thought “Wow, a massive gap in the defence has been caused by those two guys laying about there, I can use that to get a goal” or perhaps it is the idea that winning in such circumstances is more hollow but incidents like this sour football because they bring home some ugly facts about the game:
That referees are barely capable of understanding the issues in the game and that players – certainly more than those at Oldham and Shrewsbury – are more concerned with goals than safety.
Shrewsbury Town 2 Bradford City 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
So what plan is this?
This week all we’ve talked is is Plan Bs and tactics and about fans and other fans and in about ten minutes everything that had been talked about had come to a head.
I was worried that Stuart McCall had listened to the moaners and because he had no Peter Thorne who I guess is injured went for a packed midfield with Dean Furman in it and Barry Conlon leading the line with Michael Boulding on the bench. It was Stuart doing something to counter a team that had scored seven at home I hoped and not Stuart trying to prove that he did know his tactical arse from his elbow.
Barry Conlon is more loved away from home where you get to watch him chasing balls all afternoon long trying to make feasts of scraps. I’m not saying that everyone who goes away loves Barry but they seem to appricaite him a bit more than the VP crowd who look at goal tallies more than effort. When you’ve come all this way as most of us do week in week out then you like the fact that someone is going to run around.
The Barry buzz was still going and people were still talking about it when Shrewsbury scored although after that the week was totally forgotten. The ball came in and Rhys Evans seemed to punch it but as he did Graeme Lee and TJ Moncur went up for it and both went down after having smashed heads against each other. The referee was the same guy who allowed Oldham to carry on when Steve Schumacher was poleaxed three years ago and the result was the same as Shrewbury’s Ben Davies whacked the ball in.
Great game this football. Davies was wheeling away cheering while our guys were on the floor injured. Moncur stood up and went down again and people said he had a fit but soon he was off for Kyle Nix and Lee Bullock was at right back.
So no leading forward, goals going in when players are fitting, a lot of possession for the start of the game and a good shot by Furman that troubled the keeper. I have to wonder what non-niave tactics should Macca use now and what the Hell plan letter are we supposed to be on now?
The game settled into a pattern but the City players and fans seemed a bit quiet and someone aid that Moncur was off to hospital and it didn’t look good but we hd no idea what that meant. Grant Holt buzzed through and had a shot that dribbled wide. By half time Nix and Paul McLaren were dipping crosses around the keeper and just as half time was supposed to come City were on top but we played minutes added on my J. Singh to allow Shrewsbury to score while our player was down. Omar Daley had one cleared off the line and we were still playing at four when everyone else was kicking off and at half time we had been robbed cause while I’m sure that we will hear that Davies didn’t know about the injury and that Singh should have blown his whistle again but seems to be getting closer and close to his aim of seeing a goal scored when their are dead bodies on the field. We felt robbed by someone and maybe the Stockport manager can tell us who.
And down was the word. Everyone was down but everyone was together in being a bit worried about TJ Moncur and less about what was going on on the field. Even in the second half when Joe Colbeck slammed his custom right foot blast from the wing across the keeper which went over and Lee and Grant Holt battled away. Bullock moved back to right back but came off injured agian with Michael Boulding coming on and went up front with three at the back or was it four and this was Plan D or perhaps it was Little PLan Zee and after that comes Vroom? Boulding joined the forward line and we all wondered who was going to be left to play Luton next week but this week seemed lost with Shrewsbury basically keeping the ball from us and Paul McLaren ending up at right back.
The game got scrappy with an stupidly named midfielder going close for them and the much tidier Kyle Nix having a shot for us but from that scrappiness City started to get something together and started to control the ball a bit better. By the time five o’clock came City were giving as good as we got from the team that will use today as some kind of indication that they are more promotion bound than us but to be honest the difference between the teams came when we had two down and as it happened one badly hurt and I guess we will never know if the home team would have got a goal against City without the injuries but the rest of the game where Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke pocked Grant Holt while the rest of the plan, the tactics, the sodding game was in chaos says to me that they would not.
But like the guy said if you moan about a Ref they come back to haunt you and you have to wonder what sort of stink City kicked up about J. Singh last time and how much that played on today. Barry lashed one wide in stoppage time before they took a second goal while we were trying for an equaliser and that was that.
But in a week about plans this was City without one. It was freak football and the most important man on the field was an Referee who I think we can all agree at BfB and on the OMB and on the terraces at VP and in the hushed tones around pubs in Bradford should not be allowed to Referee football matches because of his dangerous policy of letting games carry on when players are hurt.
Probably won’t agree for the same reasons though.
Sitting from my seat up high in the Kop I look down and right and can’t understand why Kyle Nix is on his on seat the bench. I accept that a winning formula shouldn’t be changed and so far this season Bullock and McLaren have done a fine job but at the same time I wonder what has Nix done wrong?
To me, at this level anyway, Kyle seems to be almost the complete central midfielder. If you ask yourself the qualities you look for in this position high on the list would be; passing ability, bite in the tackle, work rate, composure on the ball, and a knack for finding the net. Then ask yourself who ticks these boxes? Kyle certainly has a ferocious tackle, he is judging on pre season tests in the top three fittest squad members and last season he got himself more goals than most.
Still, however, he gets overlooked.
He is versatile and the reason he got so many games last season was his ability to ‘do a job on the left’ but although he is no slouch I don’t think he has enough pace to be a winger. The fact he can play left side has probably worked against him being able no nail down a first team spot in the middle. It meant that he was always first port of call to fill in should one of the winger become injured, even if he’d been having a run of games in the middle before that. He got the majority of his goals while being played down the middle because he seemed to be able to ghost into the box unmarked, much like a young Paul Scholes would of done.
McCall has his reasons, the big factor appearing to be his size. McCall has said that he likes to play big men in there so we don’t get outfought. You certainly can’t argue that Nix is a bit on the small side, but he’s not scared of being kicked or, for that matter, kicking anyone!
Towards the end of games when we need a creative spark Nix continues to be overlooked. Even against Leeds, he was the one who got us the goal, although if it did get credited to Conlon who didn’t know much about it. Then he is taken off despite being the one who is threatening them the most and was probably our man of the match on that night.
Constantly Kyle Nix comes into the side does a good job and then someone comes back and he’s straight back out. Dean Furman has come into the squad on loan and has done well, but what has he done to be thought of above Nix? Then we still have Chris Brandon to come back and that makes me worry Kyle will be pushed even further down the pecking order and the player is likely to become increasingly frustrated with life at the club.
Understand I’m not saying he deserves a place in the starting eleven but I have much more confidence seeing him coming off the bench and unlocking the defence for Boulding or Thorne, than big Baz coming on and taking the place of one of these two prolific scorers.
McLaren is 31, Brandon is 32, Dean Furman is only on loan, while Nix is just 22. A young, talented player with a future, but soon he will be wanting first team football and Bradford’s loss would certainly be another side’s gain.
Once again one could be forgiven for thinking that Bradford City were going into a weekend fixture with the heaviest of black clouds over the club rather than playing the team a place below in a game in which the winners end up in the promotion area.
Having heard from various sources that City’s manager was inept, that the assistant was ruining what the manager did and that some of the players were simply good good enough and need to be got rid of it would be interesting to see what reaction a good result at Shrewsbury would have.
By reaction of course I talk about supporters. Within the club Stuart McCall’s job is to minimise defeats and keep player grounded in wins. A reaction in the dressing room akin to that in the stadium and we really are in trouble.
As it is by five we could be top again. Rhys Evans keeps goal but his back four is changed with TJ Moncur coming in for the injured Paul Arnison. Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee are in the middle with Paul Heckingbottom on the left.
Omar Daley continues in front of Heckingbottom as Chris Brandon recovers and Joe Colbeck will look to continue his impressive form on the right.
Dean Furman – rested from the reserves – may make a first start with one of Lee Bullock or Paul MaLaren stepping down, probably the former as McCall feels the need to add steel to his midfield for the visit to the other highly fancied club in League Two.
Shrewsbury have spent the money raised when Joe Hart made his England debut triggering a half million release clause in the deal that took him to Manchester City on Grant Holt who is am impressively troublesome striker but with the likes of Michael Symes and David Hibbert to pair him with the onus seems to fall on City to snuff out the expensive man in the way clubs would mark tight Dean Windass and not be troubled by whomever was alongside him – a role both Hibbert and Symes took.
Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding would both have been better partners for Windass – who is rumoured to be thinking over an offer to manage Grimsby Town – and both are in the same bracket as Holt entitled feared strikers.
Come five one of there teams will have laid down a marker for promotion. Come next season the bookies expect both to be in League One.
As far back as I remember I wanted to be a football manager.
Perhaps it was Kevin Toms that gave me the taste for it, perhaps it was the sight of people like Bob Paisley winning with charm or Bobby Robson managing with dignity but to me being a football manager would have been better than being President of the United States.
Managers ran the clubs that we lucky to have them and they ran them how they pleased. They didn’t take on players who board decided they should have and they didn’t play spin games around the truth they wanted to say. Alan Durban said that his job was to win football matches and the media could lump it. Brian Clough was not the manager of Nottingham Forest – he was Nottingham Forest.
And now it is all over.
Clough’s heir – Roy Keane – has spoken out on the attitude of fans and players at Sunderland and will not have the abuse thrown at him. Keane’s talk of late has impressed me but he is so often an isolated voice. He says he will not have Sunderland fans abusing him but he must envy Clough who would not have been abused by Forest supporters who would fear a thick ear.
The manager is a lesser figure now sharing his club with chairmen and chief executives, with directors of football and heads of football development and these may all but good things for the long term future of clubs, the stability of the game and the wellness of managers themselves but without a doubt he is a neutered figure.
He takes what is given to him. Taking what is given to him and smiling sweetly as he gets it is practically Gianfranco Zola’s job description.
Enter Jim Gannon.
Gannon is manager of Stockport County – not a club to raise excitement normally – but what he has done in issuing a statement accusing Referees of bias is exciting. It is exciting for all the reasons that the old managers – so unwilling to allow anything to harm their clubs – were exciting. It is a manager not worried about his future CV and how he will get the job after this one but just furious at seeing an unjustice time and time again and wanting to do something about it.
I agree with Jim Gannon. I agreed with him when Hereford won 3-1 in a game that every football watching instinct in my body tells me was fixed and I agree with him after watching Blackpool steal a win at Valley Parade by the same score.
Gannon’s claim is that because he has criticised some Referees in the past other Referees are victimising his club. He details untrue allegations which are accepted by the authorities as being made up by Referees and a list of incorrect and improper sendings off for his players. He says he has lost faith in the Referees.
When City were beaten by a Luton Town team – who have seen been convicted of improper behaviour – Colin Todd and Dean Windass were furious after Referee Joe Ross mocked them for the result (which now, it turns out, was gained on less of a level playing field as we were told at the time)
From that day on some say City have not had an even break from Referees. Todd – who no matter how much or how little one thought of him was almost by definition a jobbing manager – did not have the courage of his convictions that Gannon has.
Is Gannon right? Are Stockport County being victimised? Perhaps, perhaps not but every football fan who has ever seen a dodgy offside and wondered if the officials have made a mistake or perhaps something more should back him to the hilt in his attempts to get an investigation.
If Gannon is found to be wrong and referees have not been punishing him and his team then they are proved to be innocent and while they have no requirement for that in a game built on the core trust that the man in the middle is impartial – and when that trust is so obviously and openly questioned – exoneration would do much to move the game forward. Perhaps though – as Gannon believes – that exoneration would not come.
Regardless the audaciousness of Gannon brings back thoughts of old. Who would be a football manager?
Firstly I’ll say that I like message boards and their ideals. I’m a highly irregular poster myself, choosing only to chip in to respond to an opinion which particularly riles me or to join in with some banter (during the summer someone found a link to a porn film where the male star’s surname was Daley, and joked this was why our Omar was struggling for fitness – so I replied asking what the poster was doing to lead to him stumbling across this film). I do enjoy reading the boards though, and find the topics of conversation interesting and, sometimes, enlightening.
I can see why people participate in them, as talking about City as much as we’d like isn’t always possible with our loved ones; as we’d drive them round the bend and they are unlikely to say anything meaningful back. So I read threads from City’s Official Message Board a couple of times a week and enjoy some of the topics. Like being on your own on a train and listening to a group of friends nearby hold an interesting and funny conversation; I hope the participants continue speaking at a level I can hear and don’t notice I’m there.
But message boards do have their flaws too. I dislike the fact people don’t post under their real name. I appreciate it’s a culture that goes beyond Bradford City and to the wider world wide web, but it takes away accountability and gives the user licence to write statements they don’t have to back up with their own John Hancock. If you have conviction over your views, why hide behind an alias? Even though the people reading wouldn’t know who you are, it’s harder to write Stuart McCall is a muppet using your real name.
And yes, I should point out that I am no better. I have my own alias for the rare times I post. Once upon a time I did use my real name, but it had been recognised from appearing next to articles on here and I was soon receiving abusive responses and been asked where my mate Roland was.
The other problem I have, which Roland was getting at in his piece, is the lack of balance message boards have. There are many who’ll routinely post comments on them and make good points in victory or defeat, but when the latter occurs the amount of posts dramatically increases as several others join in, usually to criticise players and/or management. After the Bournemouth defeat I was glad I was straight out for the night with friends and wouldn’t have the opportunity to go online until Sunday evening, sure enough there was a higher number of posts than usual and a lot of it stinging criticism.
Look at the history of posts from a participant starting off the ‘McCall is useless’ thread, as you can do on the Official Message Board, and more often it’s their first post in weeks and months – probably since the last time they were angry with a City defeat. Where are these people when things go right and Stuart isn’t ‘useless’? This is where message boards lose perspective.
It’s a wider mentality though, if City win many of us will sit there content and go home in good spirits, lose and we’re moaning loudly and often booing and this kind of tone is continued in pub conversations after the game, to work mates on a Monday morning, oh and I’m still not satisfied that enough people have been told what went wrong, let’s go onto the message board…
My final irritation with message boards is the lack of argument those who criticise make. If you’re going to tell the rest of us Daley is rubbish and Paul Arnison isn’t up to it, at least explain why. It’s this last issue which has so riled Michael and Roland this week and, while no one disputes the right of others to hold a different opinion, failure to back it up with reasoning means it lacks credibility.
So we have some saying Stuart has no Plan B and that is why we lost, then when it’s argued by others that we did and it involved taking Graeme Lee off and bringing on Barry Conlon we’re then told it was a stupid plan and our manager is tactically naive.
My personal view is did we need a Plan B anyway? If we have conviction to play a certain way and players of sufficient ability to do so, why not stick to those principles to force our way back? I’m not saying don’t make substitutions or slight tweaks, but was there a need to launch long balls into the box with 20 minutes to go, instead of the passing game we favour in home games at least? Sure with five minutes to go launch the ball into the box, but for how disappointing Saturday’s defeat was we could easily have pulled a goal back minutes after Bournemouth had gone 3-1 up through playing the way we like, then it would have been game on.
That sort of conviction, to trust in your players and believe in the way you want to play, might not be something City can possess for sometime. I don’t know yet if our players are good enough, relative to this division, to beat most of others by playing better football – but I hope they can prove they are. Looking back to our last promotion 10 years ago I can recall only very occasions when manager Paul Jewell changed tactics in a game, even if we were trailing. Sure, players should be switched and if the opposition, like Bournemouth, are tactically beating you make alterations, but I hope that one day ‘Plan B’ will only be used in extreme circumstances.
Just over a year into the job, I still feel unsure about Stuart as our manager. Not in a sense that I don’t think he’s good enough – I can see with my own eyes the progress he’s made – but that, by being our manager, we have a legend who was and still is worshipped by most of us but with whom it is now acceptable to slag off and label ‘tactically naive’. I don’t think he’s above criticism and I think he’s made mistakes – though I fail to see why people are surprised and angry when he does given he’s managed a football team for barely 50 games – yet he’s a legend who’s given so much to this club and some of our supporters lack respect for it.
Win on Saturday and the arguments die down (until the next defeat) and those who’ve slagged off Stuart will say nothing. No offence to the people who run them, but I hope all City-related message boards stay relatively quiet between now and May because it will mean we’re having a good season.
I have become so tired of hearing the phrases “tactically naive” and “No Plan B” and if life were QI then the siren would be going off around almost every football discussion heard.
These two phrases are banded about by the media with one being used to apply to Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson but within months of their uptake they became part of the lexicon of every football supporter.
Any team that has not won are lacking a “Plan B”. Every team that get beaten are managed by someone tactically naive. It is no more sophisticated analysis than saying that a match was a game of two halves but it sounds more analytical and there is is the key to its asinine overuse.
Stuart McCall and his management team was accused of having “No Plan B” this week not a fortnight since we saw a City team struggling to breakdown Exeter and until McCall pulled Paul McLaren further back on the field creating spaces and holes for midfielders to probe and twenty minutes later we had four goals. He either got very lucky, understood the tactics involved in the game or found a “Plan B”. That or he made a change, put some rockets up backsides and reminded the players that they had no little quality.
The whole assumption of “Plan B” in football is flawed. It assumes that every week a manager goes into a game telling his players little more than “Go with Plan A today, boys” which is probably a product of Championship Manager/Pro-Evolution Soccer thinking and almost certainly not based on anything that happens in a real dressing room where other teams are watched, players are singled out, danger-men noted and patterns recognised in the opposition.
Don Revie famously complied dossiers on every team in the First Division and every Referee that his Leeds United team could face in a season each game presenting itself differently to the last or the next, each game requiring individual preparation.
Not “Plan A” or “Plan B”. Nothing so simple.
In truth “Plan B” is one of those football phrases that when translated means little. If a manager’s team is losing then “Plan B” is the term given to his demonstrable actions. If those actions work and his team win then he is judged as “being able to influence the game from the sidelines”, if they do not he “has no Plan B.”
Likewise a manager is “tactically naive” if he does not use uncommon formations or should I say if he does not use uncommon formations and win. Sir Alex Ferguson won the treble using a 442 formation but very few called him naive. He won the double last year using the same formation which Kevin Keegan was using during his brief spell back at Newcastle United but few suggested the two of them as having the same tactical acumen. Too often “tactically naive” means “plays the default formation in FIFA 2009″ and the people who generally believe that a Keegan or a McCall is lacking in understanding of how the game is played need a new way of saying what they think.
Tactics are painted in such broad brush strokes that such ham fisted criticism is almost inevitable. Within football tactics are about the jobs that must be performed on a field and who performs them, they are about making the most of combinations on the field, about when to attack and when other players should commit to attacking. They are nuances and subtleties that are simply not addressed in the phone number phrases that are passed off as analysis. “Four-four-two” is a starting point but it is not a tactic and when played with an Owen Hargreaves/Michael Carrick formation it is simply not the same way of playing football as when Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard occupy the middle positions.
These are phrases used as pejorative that have long since lost any meaning. One might as well say Stuart McCall is “player boot naive” that he has no Plan Nine from Outer Space. That or you could – if that is what you think – say that Stuart McCall has a troubling lack of options in his squad when his team is behind other than bringing on Barry Conlon to play a battering ram role and perhaps – as has been said before – that that sort of talk might be more appropriate than randomly firing around criticisms which have no granularity between “slight issue with” and “majorly incompetent at”.
Football management is not about applying single skills – you cannot add a dash of tactics to a team and make them win – it is a combination of mental and emotional skills and not the kind of problem that can be modelled and brought down to such simple mechanics.
It certainly cannot – in the most – be summed up by soundbite phrases. We live in a time when through official message boards and forums, fanzines and websites (such as this one which has given voice to over 125 City fans and only turned away less than half a dozen articles in ten years), blogs and letters to the T&A football fans are more listened to than ever. It is thus important that when they speak they do so with a sense of understanding of how what they say will be perceived and responsibility they have when they say it.
Bradford City Reserves 0 Leeds United Reserves 1 At Valley Parade in Reserve League, 2008/2009
Reserve team manager David Wetherall’s pre-match team talk would have played heavily on it.
Barely 48 hours since the first team had suffered its first significant setback of the season; this was an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim. Manager Stuart McCall, watching in the stand, has repeatedly talked about how the strength of his squad means those in the team have to maintain standards or lose their spot and, while a radical revamp is not expected nor encouraged, this performance may help lead to that theory being tested ahead of Shrewsbury.
Despite the game ending in a 1-0 defeat, it was a decent performance by City’s second string against a youthful Leeds side; with chances and territorial advantage stacking up in favour of the home side. After his decent substitute cameo against Bournemouth, Barry Conlon continued where he left off impressing with his hold up play and passing. Strike partner Rory Boulding matched his work rate and was at the heart of City’s two best first half chances. The best of which resulted from his excellent hold up play which allowed Blackburn trialist David Ryan – who showed promise, if a little rawness – to cross the ball and Sean Taylforth to strike an effort against the post after Leeds keeper Alan Martin had fumbled. Minutes before Boulding had cleverly flicked the ball into Conlon’s path, who fired over.
That chance had also been created by Luke Sharry, who had a promising game in the centre of midfield. Tenacious in the tackle and strong going forward, the 18-year-old was at the heart of much of City’s best play. He consistently sprayed passes across the pitch to spark attacks and his only weakness was his failure to play the simple ball when the opportunity allowed. The fact Dean Furman did not figure suggests the on-loan Rangers midfielder features in Stuart’s thinking for Saturday, but a first team debut for Sharry cannot be far away.
In the second half Willy Topp replaced Conlon and impressed on his return from injury. As with his first team appearances to date, the Chilean can be guilty of taking too much time on the ball and causing moves to break down through lack of awareness; but his touch and dribbling skills excite and it’s to be hoped he can finally get over the little niggles which have blighted his City career and make an impact in League Two.
The chances still mainly went City’s way, with a glorious pass to Luke O’Brien by Sharry allowing the left-back to charge forward and cross for Topp, who couldn’t plant his header beyond Martin. Kyle Nix looked industrious as ever, alongside Sharry, though Taylforth and Leon Osborne will not be threatening Colbeck and Daley’s places in the team on this showing.
Neither will goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, who inexplicably fumbled Sam Jones’ long range shot into his own net for the game’s only goal. The former Harrogate Town player will be hoping Stuart wasn’t paying attention at that point, particularly as he had little else to do to all evening as he tries to convince that he could be called upon if Rhys Evans gets injured.
City continued to apply pressure and Boulding forced a great save from Martin when through on goal, but the visitors defended well. Perhaps it wasn’t as strong a performance as many of the players would have liked to have put in, but when it’s Stuart’s turn to deliver his next team talk he may be warning a few to watch their back.
If you go to enough places you can find some big idiots. Football is full of them.
Like at Watford at the weekend. You can bet your bottom dollar that some of the Watford fans were telling others to sit down and stop being so biased to say that that ball didn’t go in just like City fans can watch Omar Daley do the exact same trick that wins penalties off clumsy defenders week in week out and still moan that he wasn’t touched.
You can find people ready to forget what they see and say what the thought they should have seen everywhere. Sometimes I wonder why some people bother going to games when they ignore the evidence of their own eyes.
Last week is was morons booing totally ignoring that fact you could see City had played well. This week it is people taking a pop at McCall and Jacobs after we lost 3-1.
First the Jacobs factor. I’ve no respect for people who single out Wayne Jacobs. These people are cowards too scared to have a go at Stuart. They don’t want to comment on the hero so they act like they know the difference between what the manager and is assistant do and blame the softer target. Cowards.
I don’t have much respect for the things thrown at the manager either. Reading the monotony of tripe that is the Official Message Board I read people saying McCall has on Plan B two days after I’ve seen the skip replaced by Barry Conlon and City play a 343.
I read that McCall has lost the plot. I’m speechless! We went into the game top! Did he lose that plot between 3 and 3:45? If so it is probably on the touchline somewhere.
It is not that I think that Stuart should be above comment it is that I worry that people might take this idiot commentary seriously.
Have a go at anyone but make sure when you do it makes sense and isn’t just ignoring what you see so say something else. Say Stuart’s plan B was stupid but saying he doesn’t have one just means you were not paying attention.
This is the age of the Internet and and everyone gets their opinion listened (including me, which so I’m telling you mine now) to but I just hope that the when listening to the sort of people who make the kind of moronic comments aimed at Stuart and Jakes this week people remember what they saw with their own eyes and ignore the kind of voices that complain at anything.
These kind of people who want to be negative about everything are not the sort of people who deserve listening to. They are not the people who saved this club, they don’t represent the people who saved this club, they are not the people who the club was saved for.
Bradford City 1 AFC Bournemouth 3 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
Brian Clough once said that despite the crap talked by people who didn’t know how to win a game of dominoes, it was players who lost football matches. Kevin Keegan – for his messianic effect – said there was little he could do once the players have gone over the white line.
Both Clough and Keegan made good on what, at the time, seemed limited resources by the application of effort. Both played for England. When Joe Colbeck – one of City’s brighter players today – was 12 the Bournemouth number 8 was smashing in a goal to put England on the way to a 2-0 win over Colombia. Anderton got the first and the second was scored by David Beckham who usurped the oft injured Anderton for country. Beckham went one way and Anderton’s career took him to this sunny afternoon at Valley Parade with a team relegated and relegation prospects because of financial problems.
City’s support today was in good voice and backed the team fully but today the Bantams’ players lost the game. Collectively the level of effort was not high enough to win this game.
City started slowly, facing a visiting side who dropped Anderton into a shielding role in front of the back four and played with only Jeff Goulding up front. The Bantams’ midfield stood off Anderton and the always excellent Sammy Igoe all afternoon allowing the pair to pick out runners and use pace to break. Danny Hollands got the first goal of the afternoon doing just that.
Which is not to say that the Bantams played bad football – some of the passing moves were impressive and edged on opening up the visitors with Paul McLaren picking up the runs of Michael Boulding – but edging is not opening and the commitment that was seen in last week’s second half was lacking.
Nevertheless a second half riposte seemed to be on the cards when Anderton missed a pass and then was not strong enough to keep Colbeck away allowing the young City winger to power through and fire home.
The second half saw more of the same 90% football that the first had and while the likes of Colbeck, Daley and Boulding motored the bit extra – that commitment that sees a player take full responibility rather than waiting for others to create – never materialised. Paul Arnison – who limped off in the first half – was missed on the right when Colbeck came inside hunting for the ball and everything seemed out of sorts with McLaren and Graeme Lee both being replaced during second half which were lost when Goulding all too easily converted Hollands’ cross which came from another swift counter-attack.
Jason Pearce added a third from a corner at the end and the visitors enjoyed a comprehensive away win with City’s reply being a Boulding shot that pinged off the bar and not a massive effort save Barry Conlon’s second half cameo which saw him put not one foot wrong.
Which is not to say that the players were bathed in shame or are to be jeered until one’s throat is sore, just that every football match has to be won no matter who the opposition is and today they did not do enough to win this game. Manager speak for this is “they let themselves down”.
Perhaps they did or perhaps they were just bested. Jimmy Quinn sent his side out with a plan for sure but they also had hearts full and Anderton typified that spirit. God knows why he is playing – he surely does not have to financially nor can one imagine the blast from the middle of League One to the foot of League Two were part of his plan but he seemed to simply enjoyed passing the ball, making himself available and generally playing a good game of footie. The enjoyment, the zest, the desire to play well was lacking for the Bantams. Too many City players today thought the game was won in the dressing room and so it was lost on the field.
Little more to say then save talk of another Referee Mr David Webb who used two rule books – one in which Omar Daley is booked for diving but Lee Bradbury is not and Paul McLaren gets a yellow for a clumsy tackle but Anderton escapes a warning – and a hope that next week’s trip to Shrewsbury who could knock the Bantams out of the top three tomorrow afternoon sees more application.
29 points separate leaders Bradford City and second-bottom Bournemouth going into this one; though no one, least of all those who chose to boo the team off at half time last week, should be fooled by the deceptive nature of League Two.
The Cherries are one of three teams who began the season on minus points due to financial difficulties, with the early indications already suggesting this year’s relegation battle will have ultimately been decided before a ball was kicked. A good start was clearly vital and, while one of the three, Rotherham (deducted 17 points), would now be occupying a play off spot had they started on zero, for Bournemouth (17) and Luton (30) the prospects are already looking grim.
The away fans dedicated enough to make the 540-mile round trip will arrive at Valley Parade having yet to celebrate a league victory this season and could be forgiven for feeling a touch bitter. Were it not for a ten point deduction last season they’d have finished mid-table in League One, now they’re facing up to non-league. It’s difficult to argue with the logic clubs who spend beyond their means should be punished, but the loss in revenue Bournemouth can expect should they go down is hardly going to help matters. Are Boston and Halifax uncomfortably closer than they’d like to imagine?
Such financial problems are thankfully a thing of the past for the Bantams, though the resultant lessons should not be forgotten. This week Mark Lawn has talked about promoting the Bradford City brand in America but behind those headlines were some interesting, if unsurprising comments. The Rhodes family and Lawn pushed the boat out during the summer and this will result in the club losing “a fair amount of money” this season, which they will cover. More investment is welcomed and Lawn has made it clear that this summer’s considerable transfer activity is unlikely to be repeated.
All of which means the club has taken a gamble of sorts on gaining promotion this season and, while the risk of it causing financial headaches later is faint, the plight of clubs like Bournemouth should remind us supporters that relative high levels of spending should not be demanded if things don’t go to plan.
The early indications are that the summer transfer activity has left manager Stuart McCall with a squad capable of matching the club’s ambition. He’s likely to name an unchanged team for the sixth consecutive league game and the benefits of building familiarity are evident. Rhys Evans keeps goal behind a back four which failed to convince last week but has earned three clean sheets from six. Paul Arnison still has something to prove but the form of Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Paul Heckingbottom has been pleasing, so far.
In midfield Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren are developing a decent understanding, with the latter playing a deeper role to enable the former to get forward more. Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck took most of the plaudits last week and will consider the muted response to their efforts from those supporters who’ve spent the last couple of seasons yelling abuse at them a victory of sorts.
Up front Peter Thorne continues to suffer from minor injuries but continues to find the back of the net, while Michael Boulding’s brace last week will help him to settle. There have been minor questions raised by some over the former Mansfield man’s start with City, but he’s looking sharper with each game under his belt.
Boulding will do well to match Stuart’s opposite number’s enviable goal record. Former Bantams striker Jimmy Quinn has sat in the away dug out at Valley Parade before – a 3-0 defeat for Swindon during our promotion campaign 10 years ago – and will have similar limited ambition for his current team this season. No Cherries player has managed more than one goal so far this campaign but, in Lee Bradbury and Darren Anderton, they have players of some pedigree. Striker Brett Pitman is also one to watch.
A home win is expected of course but, as Exeter threatened to prove last week, assumptions can be dangerous. City have pushed the boat out this season and the early signs are promising, but many battles lie ahead. As Stuart has stated, it’s how you finish which counts and it should be remembered how challenging it will be to realise our ambitions next May.
Only four teams will be promoted from League Two this season, even if only 21 began it standing any chance.
Remember when Michael Boulding was a bit dodgy, a bit of bother who wanted to sign but only if we would take his brother?
Remember when Darren Moore snubbed us for what looks like one season of Championship football and we had to ‘make do’ with Graeme Lee?
Remember when Omar Lazy used to get groaned at every five minutes?
Remember when City used to lose at home?
These ideas and loads like them have changed at City so quickly that the club seems to have altered itself over night. Going top of the league seemed a long way away after Huddersfield but we are and suddenly Stuart has a whole new set of problems.
How are we gonna get rid of Daley has become who will come in for him at Christmas? Boulding is starring and the summer is long forgotten. The City who no one ever thought much of are now expected to win every week. Hell even the full backs can go 90 minutes without being jeered.
After eight years of falling how quickly it has all turned around. How ready we are to have some feel good factor. Sure this is a good month and not a good season but the quickness of the people with brains to condemn the morons who booed on Saturday suggests that the City fan has a bit of belief and wants to enjoy his football again.
All this the result of two good months? Probably not.
Hard work on and off the field by Julian Rhodes first to keep the club and Mark Lawn to build it. By Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs and by a group of players prepared to put in hard work. Barry Conlon I’m talking about here, showing everyone that giving your all is the minimum.
So to us City fans. Away from home everyone is a Barry shouting and cheering but at home we have some of last season’s Omars needing to turn their performances round and believe in the team a bit more.
The good news is that we can do that turnaround at the speed of thought.
As hours go the one from four to five as City played Exeter on Saturday was remarkable even by the standards the Bantams have set.
Leaving the field to a smattering of boos at half time Stuart McCall tweaked the layout of his team and sixty minutes later was the manager of the league leaders.
Wycombe Wanderers failed to beat Brentford and while Shrewsbury were sending out a warning with the match up between them and the Bantams to come in two weeks time City were the only team on fifteen points, the only team to have five wins, the team who is rightfully at the top of the division.
The hour turnaround pleased McCall – he called City “awesome” – and silenced those boos although those people were probably taking credit for turning things around. Credit though for the turnaround needs to go to McCall and an oft unspoken about tactical acumen in the management team that rather than addressing the issues of the first half that saw City a goal behind anticipated the problems of the second.
One up, Exeter would put two banks of four behind the ball and try frustrate the Bantams until the final whistle. McCall withdrew Paul McLaren to a deeper laying midfield role forcing the visitors to either allow the playmaker room to play or break ranks and leave holes. They never managed to balance out that quandary with McClaren pulling strings when left alone and the gaps left when he was pressured being exploited by Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck surging inside from the wing.
We talk about McCall the motivator, McCall the man-manager and McCall the legend but rarely does McCall get credit for tactical nouse as he showed to build this victory.
Getting credit is Omar Daley who seemed to be able to do no wrong in the eyes of supporters who seemed to have taken what they read in the T&A about his permanent purple patch to heart right until he showed the first sign of “the old Omar” – trying the sort of dribble that would win him man of the match an hour later – and the cliches poured forth.
The eight minute pre-half time spell did little to suggest the final result but this Bantams side has a mental toughness that is in no way mirrored in the chorus of the supporters who while not speaking with one voice are represented and remembered as jeering off a team that in an hour’s time would be top of the pile.
Perhaps though supporter’s reactions – boos and cheers – have lost significance to football clubs. Like a 14 year old who uses the eff-word as punctuation the boo has no currency as a comment because of its frequency and when language has no currency it stops making sense. We all lose our voice.
If Mike Ashley at Newcastle’s willingness to ignore the feelings of his club’s supporters – until he thinks they threaten his safety, that is – signals one thing it is that those in the club are far less concerned with what those supporting it think they are or should be. Perhaps the boo everything mentality that has taken hold in football is the justification for that.
If you stage a protest about how the club is being run just before the club ascends to the top of the Premier League you cheapen the value of a protest. If you boo a team playing well but a goal down you make your voice so much more ignorable.
Once clubs become hardened to the boos – once ignoring what the fans say becomes necessary – then all utterances from the stands becomes more ignorable. If as an owner or director of a club you cannot take the boos seriously because of their unintelligent frequency then why take the cheers as such? Why take a petition seriously? Why involve the supporters at all? All questions that as fans we need to address.
For the club, players and management the best riposte against boos is the league table, the five wins, the ascent to the top of the league for as a section of supporters make all our voices increasingly irrelevant Bradford City have rarely ever been so vital.
Bradford City 4 Exeter City 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
In the end the result disguised the fact it had been Bradford City’s biggest test of the season.
Going in at half time a goal behind having collectively played average, supporters unrecognising and undermining efforts, a disgruntled manager to face and the first questions over their ability to muster a promotion challenge – the players had much to prove.
An hour later they were leaving the pitch to wholehearted applause after a second half performance Stuart McCall would label “awesome”. Quickly finding an equaliser and not looking back, the players found a previously unused high gear to notch three more goals through some devastating attacking football.
All of which leaves City sitting top of the league and, while it may be early days, coming 11 years to the day of the last time a divisional summit was reached after August – a 2-2 draw against Middlesbrough in the old Division One – shows it’s a rare enough occurence to enjoy. Now the challenge is to stay there.
If the second half blitz provided plenty of evidence to believe this could finally be City’s season, the doubts cast during a disappointing first half performance shouldn’t be discounted. Home games against so-called lesser sides have proved City’s Achilles Heel to often in recent years. Usually on the back of a decent away win, the expectation is more over how many goals will be scored than merely whether the game would be won.
Newly promoted sides can be dangerous to play early season, as City discovered a fortnight ago, but Exeter appeared content to keep men behind the ball and attack on the break. The initiative was there to be taken but, as chances were created and a feeling a goal would inevitably arrive grew, the warning signs which have formed part of so many home failings in recent years were again neglected. Grecians strikers Marcus Stewart and Adam Stansfield provided Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke with some uncomfortable moments, with one slip from Lee resulted in City’s crossbar rattling and Rhys Evans earlier been forced into an excellent tip over.
The Bantams had chances too, with an Omar Daley rocket from distance been touched onto the bar by keeper Paul Jones, but when the visitors went in front it was far from the shock it might have been considered at 3pm. Midfielder Matt Gill fired home via a post after Clarke woefully sliced a clearance into his path. It’s not the first time the former Darlington centre half has cost City a goal through poor distribution, but his steady second half recovery offered a reminder of the qualities which make him a firm fixture in the side. A mistake can be forgiven, if it’s not repeated.
Up until this point the game had been played out to a rather muted atmosphere, save from the Bradford End, but in response to going behind the volume dramatically increased from the home crowd. Not, sadly, in support of their team, but to complain and boo. Firstly a loud crash could be heard as hundreds of City fans seemingly threw their toys out of the pram in unison, then it was the players turn to take cover.
The eight minutes between Exeter scoring and the half time whistle were easily City’s worst, and it can be no coincidence it occurred with many City fans vocally criticising everything they did. I don’t understand the thought process which concludes everything must suddenly be bad just because we’d fallen behind. As City attacked in Exeter’s box one fan near me loudly screamed they were not capable of scoring so what was the point. “Stop playing long ball!” yelled another. Two minutes later City knocked the ball around patiently just inside Exeter’s half and the same person demanded the ball be “put into the box.”
At half time his assessment was that City had been “rubbish” but this was simply not true. Faint booing could be heard and I pondered how our old home failings emanate from more than just our players and wish we’d provide them support when they need it most. Still a mistake can be forgiven if it’s not repeated, right?
So the test was set up, and passed with flying colours. Stuart later revealed that at half time he’d told Joe Colbeck to up his game and spark the rest of the team into life and, while it’s testament to last season’s Player of the Year that such expectations can be placed on him, the fact he delivered in such style shows it’s not just Daley we should be worried about receiving bids for come January. Colbeck ignited by picking up the ball on half way and charging forward, beating three covering defenders and firing in a shot across goal which was tipped out of Thorne’s reach by Jones. Next time the former Leyton Orient keeper would not be so lucky.
Minutes later the ball was worked to Colbeck, who unleashed a stunning shot from distance that Jones could only palm into Thorne’s path. City’s top scorer athletically shifted his body into a position to tap in the rebound and City were level. As the home fans roared in a mixture of approval and relief I thought back to the words I’d heard just as Colbeck’s shot flew towards goal from someone nearby, “What are you doing shooting from there?”
Four minutes later City went in front after another well-worked attack. Paul Arnison was invited to cross and his beautiful delivery was met by Michael Boulding at the far post, who headed home. Finally Exeter had to commit more players forward and they continued to pose awkward questions at City’s defence, though the likelihood of more City goals was always there.
The killer third arrived after Daley’s great close control and clever pass set Colbeck away and, though his low shot across the keeper looked to be drifting narrowly wide of the opposite post, Thorne prodded the ball across the line to make sure. Not the greatest of his eight goals this season, but the kind of poaching which leaves him on course to smash the 20-goal barrier by Christmas should he steer clear of injuries.
Daley’s contribution should not be devalued and he laid on the fourth after another lighting burst forward – was I the only one who felt a bit sorry for Exeter full back Steve Tully in facing the in-form Jamaican? – and clever setting up of Boulding to fire home his second. There could have been more with Boulding and substitute Barry Conlon going close before the end. If the home side had ended the first half desperate for the whistle, it was now the visitors anxious to be put out of their misery.
So top with only 40 games to hold out. The squad’s ability to cope with injuries and suspensions has yet to be proved, but as a settled side continues to grow so to do the expectations of what it can achieve. Few teams in this division will cope with City’s attack on this form and it should be noted that worse sides than Exeter are still due at Valley Parade.
Another test passed but, increasingly, it’s the rest of the division who’ll be considering the Bantams their biggest.
- Consistency (con-sis-ten-cy)
- noun for use in Professional Football
- 1 personal: To maintain outstanding levels of performance over the length of a career.
- 2 for a team: To win all the time without fail except – maybe – when playing Brazil.
The word of the week in seven days that have seen England revert to heroes from zeros and heard Mark Lawn tell all that Omar Daley has a release clause in his contract is been this football specific variation on consistency.
For England – as with all football teams – consistency is defined by winning every game in emphatic style. A subnote in the thrashing of Croatia was that the national side needed more of the C word which stuck one as odd considering that a consensus seemed to have emerged that the Three Lions played badly all the time.
Derby County were consistent last season in the Premiership – they got beat all the time – but that is never what is meant in the football world.
Likewise when players are called on to be consistent very few people are suggesting that they maintain average levels of performance week in, week out. Omar Daley’s work on the left wing in the first seven games of the season has been impressive to say the least and now there are calls for the Jamaican winger to be “consistent”.
Since his arrival in England at Preston then Reading and during his Bradford City career Daley has been the very model of inconsistency veering between the unplayable for defenders to the unplayable for managers and he has enjoyed these patches of blistering form that justify his games in the wilderness. These variations seem to be the nature of the beast and probably have as much to do with the size and agility of the full backs, the widths of pitches and the service of team mates as they do Omar’s attitude which is oft and justifiably criticised.
Nevertheless the calls for a consistent Omar are decoded as a request for the winger to continue his mesmerising play at least until Christmas when he can be sold to the Championship and Chris Brandon might be fit to replace him.
Brandon’s injury in a reserves win over Scunthorpe means he will not be making his long overdue Bradford City debut in the weekend tie with Exeter City and stays on the sidelines supporting the team he has always supported. Brandon no doubt appreciates what he is watching as much as the rest of the City fans. Being injured is no fun for any footballer but the pain of not playing on Saturday must be eased by seeing the side you should be in winning games.
Winning ways were re-established last weekend at Port Vale with Peter Thorne returning to scoring ways. Thorne speaks highly of his partnership with Michael Boulding which will continue when City face Exeter.
Another partnership that thrives is Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren who have worked out teething problems to build solidity. The challenge of playing at home against teams who pack defences has broken more midfield duos on the slide from grace than we – or Chris Brandon – care to recall but this pairing seem to enjoy holding the ball more than most which works well with the four other forward players attempts to make runs and find positions. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley make those runs on the wings once more.
The back four continues to pick itself with the two Pauls Arnison and Heckingbottom at full back and Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee in the middle. Rhys Evans has a clean sheet to build on from Port Vale.
All of which is consistency of a sort – how often has City’s one to eleven been so easy to name? – but the consistency City fans are hoping for is that definition of continued victory.
Exeter City – recently returning to the Football League – stand in the way. They have had an inconsistent start to the season losing three times at home but being unbeaten on their travels. They recorded a first win agianst Accrington Stanley last weekend and their promotion from the Conference last season gained them a reputation as hard to beat.
Nevertheless beat them City must – if only to maintain consistency.
As far as England wins go the 4-1 duffing of Croatia was one of the more satisfying and Fabio Capello’s telling comment after – “This is the start” – suggested a dawning of kinds for England.
Of course we are constantly told – and will be told again – that England is the country of footballing false dawns and that while a win for the three lions last night is appreciated it is really just a tease – a set up – for failure to come.
Which in a way is true because having an exclusive set of winners numbering less than 1/25th of the entrants the likelihood of anyone starting on the road to winning the World Cup actually winning the thing is slight. As well as England play there is always the propensity that we may come up against another top class side who are on top of their game and not progress. I think they call this quarter-final heartbreak in the print media.
The print media now clouds talking about the England national side to such an extent that results are now less important than good publicity. The printed media in the country long stepped over a line that their remit dictates that they should report the news but not get involved in it and now they procrastinate at how 4-1 takes the pressure off Capello as if it were not pressure they were applying.
They cloud everything about the England team losing sight of the heart of the game – the quickening of the pulse when Walcott fired across the Croat goalkeeper, the fury of seeing Joe Cole poleaxed – and muddy the reason any of us would be interested in the first place.
The last time England lost in Zagreb I had been invited to select my eleven for the game and did so using Scott Parker and Gareth Barry as a midfield. I was told by someone who dreamed of putting Rooney in that mythical “hole” which I have yet to see on a football field that should I pick that side I would be slaughtered by the press. “Yes,” I replied, “but I’d win matches.”
So used are England supporters of looking at the team through the prism of its coverage – or in the case of games being hidden away on pay-per-view channels the lack of coverage – that we have on the whole forgotten the raison d’être of the game. The excitement is the thing. Always has been, always will be.
The notions that success and failure can only be judged on winning a World Cup or a European Championship is something that needs to be addressed. We should reject the notion that we are too stupid to understand if a team is or has not playing well unless we can see its name on a list of tournament winners and reject those who pedal it.
More so than that though we should counter such arguments with a remembrance if the thrill of Theo Walcott lashing diagonally past the keeper after being set up by Rooney, of Michael Owen charging at the Argentina goal after a Beckham pass, of Bobby Moore stepping in to take the ball from the greatest player to ever pull on a shirt and kick a ball.
England is mine and I’m not ready to give up that excitement.
Last Saturday, myself and a friend who are both regular watchers of all things claret and amber found ourselves on the A63 heading towards North Ferriby, and then on to Church Road – the home of North Ferriby United.
As you may know a certain player by the name of Dean Windass once played for North Ferriby United before going on to grace grounds including Boothferry Park (former home of Hull City) and Valley Parade.
With the time approaching 2.40pm we were able to park within a few minutes walk from the ground and then upon entering the ground (cost of £8 plus £2 for a programme) we were greeted by some friendly officials. We then headed to the clubhouse where many of North Ferriby’s loyal supporters were to be found enjoying a pre-match pint. We decided that we had enough time for a swift pint prior to the match starting and so we enjoyed a pint of Boddingtons costing only £2.20.
Indeed, myself and my friend spotted the last available seats in the clubhouse but just to be sure I asked an elderly looking gentleman if the seats where available to which he responded with a polite “yes”.
The game had not yet started but already we had experienced things that you would not get at a Premiership game or indeed a game in the second, third or fourth tier of English football; free parking within walking distance from the ground, friendly officials greeting you upon your arrival to the ground, a non-inflated price for a pint of beer and a friendly welcome from the home supporters.
I must stress at this point that it goes to show what a superb deal Julian Rhodes has offered us, the Bradford City supporter, with the season ticket prices for the current season and last season; still cheaper per game than a Unibond Premier league game. The only other disappointment was the programme which we felt didn’t offer value for money as a large proportion was devoted to adverts.
However, with the time fast approaching 3pm, we walked outside and found a standing spot just to the side of the goal that North Ferriby United were attacking. To the delight of the dozen or so faithful supporters who had made the long journey from Kendal, their team were 2-0 up after about half an hour. Then a dubious decision was made by the referee right in front of us. The Kendal Town goalkeeper clearly handed the ball outside of his area but to the frustration of both the North Ferriby United supporters and players, the goalkeeper was only shown a yellow card.
A couple of North Ferriby United players made their feelings known to the referee but it was nothing like the overstated reactions that you see from Premiership players week in week out when they believe that the referee has made a wrong decision.
A trip to the tea bar during the first half provided more friendly service, this time from the catering staff. And the prices were cheaper than those experienced at league grounds. Half time approached and North Ferriby United pulled a goal back from the penalty spot. A short walk to the clubhouse at half time to find out that City are one up at Port Vale through Lee Bullock.
The second half progressed with myself and my friend stood at the opposite end of the ground, urging ex-City striker, and substitute today, Stephen Torpey to score an equaliser for North Ferriby United. I must confess that I wasn’t the biggest Torpey fan whilst he wore the famous claret and amber.
The goal that North Ferriby United deserved didn’t arrive, partly thanks to two smart saves by the Kendal Town goalkeeper. In the final minutes, one of the Kendal Town substitutes was sent off for what was perceived as a reckless tackle much to the disgust of the former Preston North End player, Lee Ashcroft, who is now the player/manager at Kendal Town.
An enjoyable afternoon had been spent at Church Road and as we walked towards the exit of the ground, it was good to see that the teenagers present inside the ground and wearing Hull City replica shirts easily out-numbered the single teenager who was wearing a Chelsea replica strip. In the week that we had heard how Manchester City were going to win every trophy in the next ten years following the takeover at Eastlands, I couldn’t help but think to myself that real football is now only to be witnessed in the lower leagues.
There was a sense of vulgarity to the whole thing.
Man City supporters, trying their best to ignore reports of a poor human rights record and corruption charges this past year, had run out of patience when their ‘ruthless’ owner Thaksin Shinawatra was suddenly unable to buy new players. On transfer deadline day he was ousted, collecting twice the money he’d paid 12 months earlier – by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).
Man City fans were celebrating suddenly becoming the richest club in the world.
In the few remaining hours before the window closed, the new owners managed to cause enough of a stir to suggest the Premier League’s natural order might be threatened over the next few years. “We can win the Champions League in 10 years” has been the cry, amongst boasts of signing the world’s best players in January. Despite having just broken the British transfer record – £32 million – to lure a confused Robinho to Eastlands, the club will apparently have no problems – financially or ethically – spending £120 million on one player to help make those dreams come true.
Not so long ago, as Kevin Keegan will now have time to tell you, football clubs succeeded through clever management, shrewd buys, developing youngsters and adopting better tactics than others. In the modern day, the way to succeed in “the most exciting league in the world” is to have more money than your rivals. For how well the likes of Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp and David Moyes have managed their respective clubs, the glass ceiling just above their heads means they’ll achieve little more. After a superb season last year things are unravelling at Goodison, due to money of course. Everton can’t match others’ spending power and their Chairman, Bill Kenwright, offers the solution that the club needs a billionaire owner themselves.
Do billionaires grow on trees? One can only respect people who have built up vast fortunes during their lives, but also question why they would want to invest in a football club. Do they just have so much money that they want to get rid of some by donating it to clubs, or is it more likely that what got them to the level of billionaire in the first place will play a part as they eye up TV money, loyal fans and corporate facilities? Sure, come in and spend £80 million to get your new ‘toy’ into the Champions League cash cow, but ultimately most will collect a profitable return.
Man City might be the exception, just like Chelsea with Roman Abramovich, but the price of success will be felt somewhere. Without a hint of sorrow, Man City Assistant Manager Mark Bowen has warned his club’s youth players that they’ll largely be ignored in favour of paying over the odds for the world’s best players. As Man City start rising, so to will their worldwide fanbase. They already joke about overtaking their neighbours but, after years of self-smugness at been the club true Mancunians support while Man United’s followers hail from Essex, their die-hards might have to get used to the people sat next to them at games having funny accents. If Man City were a band, they’d be accused of selling out.
Last week someone asked me if I was jealous no billionaires were eyeing up Bradford City and I surprised them with my negative reply.
Suddenly having the relative fortune to buy the best players and rise up the leagues might seem exciting, but the price is one we’d more than likely have to pay. Would a billionaire appreciate the virtues of offering supporters cheap season tickets? Would they think there was a point to the youth team? Would we bother harbouring links in the community? Already Mark Lawn has uttered the ‘brand’ word when talking about City, but it’s a long way removed from the rampant commercialism of his Premier League counterparts.
Of course the Bantams were guilty of throwing money in pursuit of the elitists’ dreams eight years ago and the consequences are still with us. The aim, during those six weeks of madness, was to speed up the club’s growth beyond its natural resources but, unless you have an Ambromich or ADUG to soak up the losses, it’s a huge gamble.
We learned some harsh lessons when reality set in but for all the misery it has caused, not just to us supporters but the people who lost money due to our actions, one also wonders how happy we’d really be had it succeeded and we were now a regular Premiership club, when even the wildest of ambitions would stretch to no more than touching that glass ceiling.
Back in the big four, Arsene Wenger has made laudable noises about ensuring Arsenal becomes self-sustaining in a few years, rather than relying on the pocket of a rich owner. He’s pinned his faith in a youth system which, while not above criticism, has reaped great rewards. Their impatient fans might not agree but, if the team takes a few years to succeed, it will still be all the more worthy for doing it the right way. Some ran off into the sun at the whiff of more money, but Arsenal are building a team of players fully committed to their club’s cause.
Stuart McCall did not use money to persuade those who joined this summer; he used his own ambitions for glory and the club’s biggest asset, its fanbase. Last week Stuart revealed that promotion this season would surpass anything he has achieved in his football career.
“I have been lucky enough to realise a few dreams in football but promotion this time around would mean everything. How much? Put it this way, I can’t see Alex Ferguson getting more pleasure than I would from taking my team into League One. That might sound daft but it illustrates just how deeply I care about Bradford. This club is in my heart and soul. Every win we get gives me so much satisfaction, it’s unreal.”
Should Stuart succeed, we’ll be looking back and noting promotion was not achieved because of throwing pots of money at it; but by using the club’s resources to build a hungry team desperate to succeed, having gone through years of hardship as punishment for going down the route of spending beyond our means. In it’s own way that will make the achievement seem greater and be celebrated wilder – the feeling we’ve earned it after years of punishment.
Two years ago this site looked at how the club could arrest itself from the decline and, while there has been more misery since it, some of those ideals have been followed. Success can be an overnight thing when money’s thrown at it, and of course it shouldn’t be forgotten that the investment of Mark Lawn has speeded up our recovery, but it can be hollower and raise headaches further down the line.
It might be a long time before we play Man City on merit again, but if they are now living the dream it’s not one all of us are interested in pursuing anymore. Reality could prove far more enjoyable.
Port Vale 0 Bradford City 2 At Vale Park in League Two, 2008/2009
Who cares about cups? Yes, a cup run can be good for morale and can be financially rewarding for a League 2 side, but when City exited the JPT I can’t say that I was particularly disappointed. Let’s face it, there is always a bitter taste any City fan’s mouth when we lose to a team like Leeds, but the fewer distractions from our main objective the better. However, in the wake of two straight defeats, City needed to come back with a convincing victory, and this 2-0 win against a fairly strong Port Vale side is good enough for me.
The game got off to a cagey start, but after about ten minutes Bradford became dominant. Omar Daley was impressive on the left wing, and was a constant threat. His movement led to almost every shot on goal, and complaints that he has a lack of end product were duly answered when he slotted a ball to Lee Bullock in acres of space just outside the penalty area. Bullock then fired home a well-placed shot that reinforced his credentials as a player who has more to offer going forward than was seen last season.
Port Vale’s only real goal threat in the early stages was striker Luke Rogers, who was too small to be an aerial challenge. He had a bit of pace, but his speciality seemed to be mistiming runs, and he was given offside so many times that it became monotonous.
However, after around half an hour, Bradford sat up and the youthful Vale side began to play some decent football. They had some good possession and passed fluently, with Anthony Griffith beginning to take control of the midfield. Around this point, the Bradford fans were beginning to get a bit distracted, and I think there may be a correlation between the distracted fans and the team’s loss of momentum, although City sometimes do have a tendency to switch off even when they’ve got the crowd behind them.
In the second half, Griffith was moved to right back, which worked in the sense that he dealt more effectively with Daley than original full back Sam Stockley, but thankfully it meant that City were able to regain the tactical initiative.
Things looked to have settled down, when Peter Thorne scored an unexpected goal that any striker would be proud of. On the break (where City look very impressive this season) but with two defenders on him, Thorne created enough space to shoot on the edge of the penalty area and hit an inch-perfect finish into the bottom left hand corner, giving the keeper no chance. Until that point he’d been quite quiet, but being the consummate professional that he is, when he received the ball he was ready. You could argue that it was a defensive error, but I’d rather say that it was sheer class from someone who has every chance of finishing the top scorer in league two – as long as he stays fit.
After Thorne’s goal a lot of impetus went out of the game and Stuart made his typical defensive-minded tactical changes, by adding the spritely Furman to strengthen the midfield in the place of Boulding and pushing the midfield further back. Port Vale then had six corners one after the other, but never really looked like scoring from them, and although substitute Robert Taylor did make a direct impact to their attacking after he came on, City never looked like a team that were here to do anything other than walk away with three points.
Bradford City continue their form in League 2, and are still unbeaten in the league in Claret and Amber. Today was definitely a good day for Bradford. Especially considering that all the other results went our way (apart from Wycombe), meaning that we now climb to the dizzy heights of second place. And with two very winnable home matches coming up next, we have every chance of gaining more on our rivals in the coming weeks.
City face Port Vale at the end of a week in which Stuart McCall became something of an endangered species.
The departures of Premier League pair Alan Curbishley and Kevin Keegan leaves only Middlesbrough’s Gareth Southgate as a top flight manager who has played for his club.
Indeed Keegan and McCall both enjoyed the protection of legendary status at their clubs – people actively want them to succeed – and parallels between the two are often drawn.
Nevertheless Premier League has clubs owned by multi-nationals and League Two clubs by the local butcher and while the local butcher in this case sells the chips that guide Amaram missiles the differences between top and bottom are becoming more and more marked as the weeks go by.
Not least in the fact that coming off the back of two good-performance-shame-about-the-result City are more able to focus on the positives of the week rather than being scooped up in a 24 hour news cycle.
City have lost two games but performance levels are high and McCall has been able to minimise any negativity and move on to this game.
Matthew Clarke is in contention for a return after his ligament damage was downgraded to cramp and is expected to slot back in alongside Graeme Lee. Pauls Arnison and Heckingbottom are full backs in front of the goalkeeper Rhys Evans who causes concern.
Dean Furman is expected to drop back to the bench after a first start at Leeds with Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren in the middle and Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley out wide. Both wingers are in exciting form and there is little more watchable in football than an on form winger.
Peter Thorne’s form is not under question despite his penalty miss last week and the five goal hit man is partnered with Michael Boulding in the forward line.
The game represents City’s third away game on the bounce – we return to Valley Parade next week to play Exeter City – and fifth game of the season that has brought three wins and a defeat. Working out that a team will get promoted should it win all home games and draw all away then after five games split two home, three away the Bantams should have nine points which at present they do. Vale offers a chance to get ahead of the curve.
That curve of expectation and realism – unlike in the cases of best start to the season in a decade Curbishley and legend Keegan – still has some meaning at Valley Parade for Stuart McCall.
England will beat Andorra on Wednesday night, but there is the possibility that the tiny team could sneak a 1-0.
There was a chance – one supposes – that Bon Accord faced up against Arbroath on September 12, 1885 they thought they had a chance of a win. They were beaten, and some, so from that point on it was decided that seeding competitions was probably a good idea. Relying on the assumption that the seedings are calculated reasonably accurately, any match of any two teams in any competition, there exists the real possibility that team A can beat team B and vice versa.
Regular top ten ranked England and Andorra – 182nd – as one of the more one sided games in any competition, but in the weekend that the FA Cup’s qualification started when the first or third rounds are played, we will hear that two teams separated by not more than a couple of dozen places in the pyramid are to play out a foregone conclusion.
It will be – we are told – unthinkable that a team from League One could beat a Premiership team because football is not that competitive.
This was not Bon Accord or Andorra but rather two teams that had qualified as the cream of Europe. Nevertheless there is something afoot that is there to tell us that is a superior group of teams that are to be considered unbeatable.
On Saturday Newcastle United would have gone top of the Premier League should they – and I quote BBC – “Upset Arsenal.” Upset was previously a word used for non-league clubs knocking out sides from the top two divisions.
Two teams in the same league should not – and cannot – “upset” each other. Teams play matches – much as City did and lost on Saturday and Tuesday – and from that a winner can emerge. Unless the competition is woefully unbalanced then either can win without employing the terminology that one would use to describe Bon Accord doing over Arbroath or Andorra beating England.
Nevertheless as one of the (in)famed top four, Arsenal are judged as only to lose games as a shock result and while perhaps a case could be made for this in the Premier League – more of which later – it cannot be the case in leagues in which the top clubs are promoted at the end of each season.
Yet this coverage of football, where results of games amongst the same or similar divisions are seen as preordained by the press and then the public, has taken a grip to such an extent that losing to a team below/a team that has spent less money than you/a team that is less famous than you/a team that has recently been promoted (delete where applicable), is considered to be an upset for them and a disgrace for you.
Take City’s 2-0 defeat to Southend in the first home game of 2005/2006. Southend went on to win the title that season and City only flirted with play-off places, yet on that night it was considered a massive upset and one which Colin Todd was to be held accountable for. In actual fact it was a game – pure and simple – which was contested and won. The resultant blow to City’s morale – on and off the field – shaped the season in a rather ugly way. We believed we had been humiliated and reacted thus, yet in eight months time Southend were promoted and the result put in the context of playing the best, statistically, in the division.
Without the negativity of that August night the Bantams might have mounted a promotion campaign (Go with me on this one, dear reader, for the factors around it matter less than the understanding that it was possible in theory) and should we have played Southend on the last game of the season it could have been a top of the table clash.
Nevertheless, the belief was that City had been beaten by someone poor and thus were poorer. That City had been shocked and thus were shocking. That City were upset.
Back to the Premier League which this week is in uproar over the signing of
Kevin Reeves Robinho. The indication being that Manchester City will now create a “top five” by spending flipping great wodges of cash on players who cannot get into the Chelsea and Real Madrid starting line-ups, has been common in the media and on the streets.
“The week that turned the Premier League on its head” one tabloid – adding the Kevin Keegan curio and the fact Alan Curbishley has left West Ham after the best start to a season in a decade to the pot – blazed and one could be mistaken for paying no interest to the Premier League on the understanding that it is, in fact, all decided by who has spent well in August. Read enough red tops, listen to Mark Lawrenson enough, and you would think that the table in May is sorted out now.
However Newcastle, before the fall out, drew at Old Trafford. Chelsea drew at Spurs. Liverpool drew at Aston Villa. All three viewed as shock results. It takes a special kind of mentality to see a shock or two every weekend and still consider it a “shock”. Whatever the agenda is behind the idea that there is an unimpeachable set of clubs who should win every week, the effect lower down the leagues is that a club like Bradford City who have set sights on promotion are expected to do it flawlessly. One is expected not to perform like a Manchester United, but rather like the projection of what Manchester United achieve which – oddly – not even Manchester United can do.
We have a situation of impossibly high targets and unachievable goals. No club can ever be as good as they are expected to be and no manager can ever do as well as is expected of him. Kevin Keegan – probably exiting stage left at St James’ – is the only man the fan’s there will tolerate because they will forgive him perceived failures in competition and the non-domination of football leagues and matches. We know this because our fans feel the same about Stuart McCall.
Fabio Capello’s England side will no doubt beat Andorra but a win in Croatia – a high task – is what is expected and anything less will be considered failure because Capello’s job is to win in every game and that is understandable, if not realistic, but open your mind to the thought that Andorra could win.
Not that they will, but they could.
Open your mind to that thought – look around at the times when the less fancied of two teams wins such as Chester’s 5-0 mauling of Barnet last weekend or Doncaster winning promotion last season – and you will see that football is not the haruspical and predictable procession that some would have you believe it is.
The new season may be less than a month old, but for Bradford City it has already featured defeats from its two biggest rivals. Unlike the 4-0 humiliation at Huddersfield in the Carling Cup, Tuesday’s narrow defeat saw the Bantams leave the field with pride. Yet for how well merited the standing ovation 4,000+ City fans awarded their team at the end was, the feeling that it was an opportunity not fully taken remained.
It was a night of agonising what ifs and if onlys. The penalty decision that set Leeds on their way seemed harsh, there was the controversy of the disallowed equaliser by Omar Daley which captain Graeme Lee held an animated conversation with the referee about at half time. Barry Conlon’s miss, which was punished two minutes later by a momentary lapse in concentration for the second goal, and a few chances in the second half where the ball just didn’t fall in the box in a way City players could profit from. Leeds were deserving of their victory and, if they weren’t necessarily a class above in terms of their play, that extra professionalism and concentration to take advantage of the luck which came their way was evident.
It was no surprise to see both managers make changes with the league in mind, or for City to line up in a 4-5-1 formation. The collapse at Huddersfield has clearly been weighing on Stuart’s mind since the draw for this game was made and he set about at least avoiding a repeat. City packed the midfield and denied Leeds space but going forward there was a lack of support for lone striker Barry Conlon, who had an average game at best. City needed to have more runners from midfield and would arguably have been more effective had Lee Bullock started, as late surges into the box are more his game.
Defensively City were shaky on occasions, with Mark Bower and TJ Moncur not having the best of first starts of the season. Rhys Evans also had a disappointing first half where he flapped and panicked too often; had this been Donovan Ricketts the abuse would have been reigning down from City fans behind his goal. Joe Colbeck was praised by Gary McAllister after the game but, given he was up against a 16-year-old left back starting only his second game, he might have hoped to make a bigger impact. Daley and Lee were probably City’s best players but Dean Furman and Kyle Nix also did well, if the latter giving the ball away a bit too much.
At half time we were unfortunate to be 2-0 behind but, until a goal was pulled back, the second half was a frustrating affair as the game became too easy for Leeds. It’s questionable why an attacking change wasn’t made sooner so City could force more pressure and Stuart’s thoughts were probably influenced by that horrible night at Huddersfield, but for a while it seemed City’s ambition didn’t stretch beyond walking off the field only losing 2-0.
I can understand the decision to rest Thorne, but if there was no intention to even give him 10 minutes on the field why include him on the bench? Rory Boulding was kicking his heels somewhere and the wait for changes to be made was frustrating. Belatedly Lee Bullock and Michael Boulding came on, but only after the heavy pressure that pulling a goal back sparked had died down and Leeds were firmly in control again.
Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference; but as I stood there surrounded by fellow supporters looking nervously on while singing our hearts out, desperate for a late equaliser that would have sparked scenes of celebration probably not matched since the Liverpool game eight years ago, it was hard to escape the feeling that the belief it could happen was not shared on the bench.
There was a lot to be proud of – the atmosphere from the City fans (I’ve a croaky voice today), the commitment and resilience from the players, receiving a text from a Leeds fan in the home end expressing how worried he was with ten minutes to go and the excitment the match produced.
Stuart certainly deserves credit for the way he lined up City and the performance was very encouraging but, with a bit more positivity, we could have been walking out of Elland Road (after a 25 minute delay) with more than just our heads held high.
Leeds United 2 Bradford City 1 At Elland Road in Johnston's Paint Cup First Round, 2008/2009
City proved more than a match for local rivals Leeds in this entertaining JPT clash at Elland Road.
Bradford did much of the early pressing, with Omar Daley’s blistering pace proving a real threat. In one attack he dribbled down the left, cut inside and released a powerful shot that went into the side netting.
But Leeds took the lead via Robinson’s highly controversial penalty. With the ball heading into the box, Paul McClaren was adjudged to have handled by the linesman – a very poor decision right in front of the sizeable City contingent. McClaren clearly chested the ball down quickly having collected the ball from some height, but no contact was made with his hand ( we had a view from only a couple of yards away, nearly at ground level).
But minutes later, City seemed to have levelled. A scramble inside the Leeds box resulted in Colbeck thrashing home from close range, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
With the half drawing to an end, Robinson smashed the City bar with a thunderous effort from 20 yards which was quickly knocked out by Heckingbottom. From the resultant corner, substitute Becchio was disappointingly allowed to head home directly from the cross, with Lee and Conlon seemingly to get in each others way when trying to mark the striker. It was poor defending from a set piece.
Thankfully though, City refused to lie down in the second half. Despite a couple of hairy moments where Leeds went close, including hitting the post from a Richardson effort, City more than held their own. Colbeck and Daley both had excellent games, and they forced a number of second half corners with their good wing play.
And real hope was in the air when a goal was pulled back by Barry Conlon. Daley brilliant weaved his way around the Leeds defence, and cut the ball back to Kyle Nix. His cross cum shot was diverted into the back of the net by Conlon to the jubilation of the Bradford faithful.
At this point, we had Leeds worried. All the play was with the away side, as we tried to force penalties.
But there was an air of disappointment in the air when it became apparent that McCall was not willing to bring on another striker to really force the issue. Tactics from the start were to play Barry Conlon in a lone striker role , with the midfield packed out with five. Surely with 20 minutes to go we could have brought on Boulding (M) or Thorne to add some real threat?
But Stuart only decided to bring on Lee Bullock with 5 minutes to go for Dean Furman (who had a promising full debut) and Micheal Boulding was given 60 seconds to make an impact. Why couldn’t we have really thrown the kitchen sink at Leeds in the final stages to make it interesting? Chances are we might have conceded if it didn’t work out, but at least we would have had more of a chance of levelling things up and forcing penalties which could have lead to a famous victory on enemy territory…
But don’t let those thoughts put a dampener on what was an excellent and very credible City performance. We more than matched the best squad in League One for the full 90 minutes, and really had them under the cosh at one stage. Despite us being 2-0 down at the break, we actually had the better of the play in the first half. And in the second, we made them nervous and really had a good go. It was a night to be proud of the team – and more encouraging signs for the rest of the season.
As we were kept inside the ground for 25 minutes after the final whistle had gone, there was plenty of time for reflection on our start to the season. If we continue playing the way we did in this match, there is no doubt that a top three finish will surely be ours.
The stats show that we have lost two games in a row – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We battled gamely in both the defeats and have shown real signs that we have the spirit to not lie down in games, which is crucially important.
A trip to Vale Park on Saturday awaits for City – and three points there could really set us on our way to keeping up with the leading pack, with two very winnable home games to follow.
Our last trip to Port Vale resulted in us winning 1-0 with Steve Claridge getting the winner. This time we will be pitting our wits against a Port Vale side with ex City man Lee Sinnott in their managerial hotseat.
Lets hope we can perform on Saturday in the same courageous way we did tonight at Elland Road, and concentrate on get our promotion push back on track.
If Bradford City’s 2008/2009 campaign were a film, tonight’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy First Round trip to Leeds United would represent little more than an early sub-plot for added interest while the main one takes shape.
Sure, it could provide an exciting action sequence or two and it may include moments that are remembered long after the closing credits are run next May; but, regardless of the outcome, it’s not what this season is all about – nor will it define it.
Nevertheless the Bantams make the 9.5 mile journey to the other side of Pudsey with some expectation. The League Cup embarrassment at Huddersfield showed that, so far, manager Stuart McCall has been unable to better the efforts of previous managers when it comes to cup competitions, but this trophy is one which joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes said City should be taking seriously during the summer.
The often-maligned competition has rarely been kind to City, especially since the club returned to England’s bottom two tiers in 2004. During the first season back there was the home defeat to then non-league Accrington and while the area Quarter Finals were reached the following year – helped by a first round bye – progress came to a crashing halt at another non-league club, Kidderminster, with manager Colin Todd and player Lee Crooks having a bust-up after the latter got sent off only six minutes in.
The last two seasons have seen first round exits and controversy, first by Scunthorpe in 2006-07 when they went against rules and fielded a largely reserve side – a league encounter at Valley Parade five days later in manager Brian Laws thoughts – and last season when Stuart did the same at holders Doncaster and City were duly thrashed. Both Scunthorpe and City received fines for doing so, with Stuart paying ours out of his own pocket.
Such restrictions on team selection may not be welcomed by former Scotland team-mates Gary McAllister and Stuart this evening, but they should at least ensure both sides take the tie reasonably seriously. The disappointing news that Matt Clarke will be out for a month means Mark Bower will make his first start of the season, while the sight of Graeme Lee playing out the second half at Aldershot with a head bandage may mean TJ Moncur is drafted in. Barry Conlon is also expected to start, confidence lifted by his five-goal haul in the reserves last week. Peter Thorne will probably be rested and Stuart may look to find room for on-loan Dean Furman in the centre of midfield.
Leeds, who’s slow start to this season is in contrast to their flying one to the last, may also make changes; though it should be noted McAllister is making noises about this tie’s importance. On Saturday they drew 2-2 with Bristol Rovers meaning they have collected only 19 points from a possible 42 at Elland Road in 2008 so far.
The City-Leeds rivalry is a curious one given its apparent one-sidedness, with Leeds supporters I speak to, at least, usually at great pains to point out how indifferent they feel towards us. Indeed we are often accused of being ‘jealous’ – though why we would be envious of a club often dragged down by sections of their support, have a Chairman who is no friend to football fans, were voted the most hated club in the country and who’s financial mismanagement has arguably been worse than ours is beyond me. What Leeds should be proud of is the passion and level of their support and, for all the success of the season ticket initiatives at Valley Parade, we certainly wouldn’t mind a few more bums on seats to rival them.
Whether they care about us or not, it’s likely there will still be a sizeable home support and why not? Derbies are a great feature of football and playing their neighbours is arguably still a more interesting proposition than some of the clubs Leeds face in League One and even the Championship, should they return. It’s a tin-pot competition that means little to anyone but the winners, yet tonight’s game is of far more interest to both clubs than if City were travelling to Hartlepool and Leeds were at home to Lincoln.
For us City fans it’s a chance to avenge the previous meeting and gain our first victory over Leeds for 22 years. It might not matter as much to them, but a few thousand City fans will be situated in the South Stand, hopefully chanting non-stop. A victory would be talked about for years and may just irritate those Leeds fans, who would have to put up with our gloating, enough to look forward to the next derby with more relish.
Tonight may be a short lived sub-plot and, in our heads, we’d swap victory for three points on Saturday; but it’s still one for us City fans to relish and create a white-hot atmosphere to spur on our players in their efforts to take bragging rights.