From October, 2008
Stuart McCall never got to the by-line.
He never skinned a full back and he never cut inside.
Little legs and a low centre of gravity Stuart McCall would have been a rubbish winger but his City team is all about the men on the flanks.
Omar Daley’s random darts have confused enough defences this year to make him one of City’s most dangerous players and the route of lots of chances but while no one else can understand a word he says Referees can and have booked him enough to suspend him.
Joe Colbeck offers something different but still important for City beating men with accurate crosses but injury at Grimsby has him sidelined and Stuart is left looking for new wingers.
Nicky Law did a reasonable job on Tuesday night but did not give the supply line that Colbeck or Daley does and Kyle Nix might be able to do what Joe does but movie left but only on a good day and the Rothstrailian hasn’t had one of those in a while.
So options like Leon Osbourn and Billy Topp in a wide role are getting talked about. Expect one to sit on the bench but Nix and Law to be the guys next to Paul McLaren and the brilliant Dean Furman.
Similarly up front Barry’s heroic header on Tuesday will bring him a place on the bench behind Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding.
At the back Matt Clarke is back and could replace Tom Clarke which would be harsh on the loan player from Udders who did well alongside Graeme Hammer Boot Lee. Tom Moncur and Luke O’Brien are full backs with Rhys Evans in net.
Barnet are without Jason Puncheon since last year after if wowed then transferred but they do have Luke Medley now which says a lot about where the club seems to be going.
They messed about in the top half of the table for a bit but are bottom half now. Expect a battle but one City can win if the squad can keep in mind the fact that the flying wingers are not replicated.
Not so much Plan B as Style B.
News that Kyle Nix’s contract is up soon focuses the mind on the more significant of the City players who have deals that expire on the 31st of December with Barry Conlon two months from being a free agent.
Conlon signed for six months in the Summer and – after much talked about rocky patches – has seen his stock shoot up as both cult hero and useful member of the squad. At the moment his being in the sixteen is bringing City points.
So it would be little wonder if one of our rivals looked at the situation and decided that having seen their forwards bullied by the likes of Matt Clarke and Efe Sodje for a half a season they need the burly target play that Barry brings. We know this because far too often City have been in this situation of needing a big fella up front as an option at least.
It seems unlikely the Bantams will offer Conlon anything other than another six months leaving the player open to the enterprising club who can give him a year and a half. In League Two that represents the difference between being a professional footballer and having to get a proper job in July.
Should Stuart McCall reward Barry with eighteen months? Perhaps although with the plan for April 2010 being battling for promotion to the Championship it would be elevating the player beyond where most would pitch his ability level.
It certainly seems that Barry has to be at 100% every game to be at the same level as the rest of the squad and with his role mostly as battering ram for big defences and mostly done in fits and (not that many) starts he is able to do that.
Should Conlon leave in the transfer window then McCall would be left looking for someone else who can bring the ebullience from the bench but understands his place in the pecking order at the club, who can play the target man role with proven effectiveness and who is ready to scrap for the cause.
In other words should City be looking for the best guy to take the place in the squad that Conlon fills the best name on offer is Conlon himself.
So for McCall fingers must be crossed that no one else has been impressed enough to put that 18 month deal in front of the number nine that would lure him away.
When Barry Conlon checked back to see it the header that gave City a 1-0 win over Bury we all checked back a month or so to when City were in trouble.
The jungle drums that beat were against him but sound distant now. McCall was never the hapless legend afforded a job above his talents that his detractors would have him portrayed but neither does he have a Midas touch either. Sometimes he gets things right and sometimes he does not and it seems that the former out weigh the latter.
McCall suffers as all managers do from the wisdom of crowds where broad judgements are given to fine situations. It is very much a tool in the modern arsenal of a manager to be able to filter the signal from the massive noise that pervades every decision one makes.
McCall’s continued use of Conlon shows this skill is growing in the City boss. The manager wants Barry in the squad but not the side and while backing him to beat boos and be useful he is careful not to overplay his importance at the expense of his plans for Michael Boulding.
McCall does the same with TJ Moncur who’s presence in the side over Paul Arnison is a mystery to me but not to the manager who ultimately is charged with maintaining cold judgement when all around are dealing in hyperbole.
The calls for Barry to start will increase but Stuart must keep his own council on the hard working, prolific Boulding despite the noises around him and the emotion of Conlon, Willy Topp et al.
Perhaps one day McCall will join a club where if need not worry about damaging his legend status – his comments at City have shown on occasion an impressive willingness to wield the power he has – and his relationship with supporters will differ.
Then he may be aggressive as well full throated in his defence of a Conlon but for now he has the lesson of filtering out all except performance and the justification that comes with winning.
Now the manager faces a different set of tests with Joe Colbeck out for two months and the continued motivation of Omar Daley now paramount but those tasks begin from second in the division.
Plan B? Tactics? Barry Conlon? Everything becomes right with a win.
Bradford City 1 Bury 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
The ball would not drop.
It held in mid-air like the frost had clung to Bradford’s trees this first Winter morning and took time to come down to the crisp grass of Valley Parade.
Later it would fall to Barry Conlon – of course to Barry Conlon – who would stand straight and head past Wayne Brown. Allowing Conlon to head past him was the only one thing the man in the Bury goal did wrong all evening but a half hour before that moment it would be Michael Boulding trying to take down a looped cross from Peter Thorne and – when on his own in the middle of the penalty area – control and convert the chance.
The chance had come when Brown had sprinted back to his line to scoop away a back pass by David Buchanan which had seemed to be going into the visitors goal. Boulding’s pressure had forced the error but that would be no consolation as the ball steadfastly refused to sit up to be struck hanging in the air from Thorne’s cross.
Wins, promotions are made of such things.
This phrase seems to be commonly uttered at Valley Parade of late as the Bantams slump – the dire Bantams of Darlington eight days ago – nestle in to second place in the table with 14 games gone. If promotions are made of late goals and of the late goals that Conlon seems to have more of a hand in then they are also made of characterful performances where the Bantams ground out that rarest of things – a home win against an opposition who would have been happy with a point.
Happy and deserved. Bury were a desent side who came to Valley Parade with a game plan to anchor the midfield and hit on the break. After a half where City edged the game once the mismash of players had started to build an understanding of each other the Bantams began to convert possession into chances.
Nicky Law Jnr came in on the right wing for the injured Joe Colbeck and offered little going forward but his attitude and approach was typical of a City performance which ensured that despite some interesting probing by The Shakers the defensive line remained solid and from that came the win.
Bit by bit in a first half City took more and more control of possession in the game. Tom Clarke – in for Matt Clarke – looked to have a head beyond his years and put not a foot wrong. As the game wore on into the second half Luke O’Brien would become more and more important as a distribution outlet and as a capable defender. His current form would keep Paul Heckingbottom out of the side.
From Boulding’s chance onwards City mounted attack on attack save sporadic meanders forward by the visitors with Dean Furman’s deep role allowing him to control the passage of possession and Paul McLaren probing forward. Law’s right wing role did not offer the outlet of Colbeck and City struggled to breakdown Bury but with the lion’s share of the ball the game was the Bantams to win.
A free kick for an arm in Furman’s face dummied by McLaren and struck with hitherto unpredicted venom by Graeme Lee and the ball pinged up into the air looping down to the waiting head of Conlon who after scoring joined the rest of Valley Parade in expecting referee Mr Friend to be anything but but tellingly as his central defenders were booked for complaining Wayne Brown said nothing.
The goalkeeper twice watching how the pieces fell in front of him. Two similar situations, two different outcomes.
Colbeck’s injury could keep him out for months, Daley is suspended for Saturday and Peter Thorne took a whack and could join Mark Bower, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon on the sidelines. Like all managers Stuart McCall’s test is to make the best of the pieces that fall to him and second after fourteen games he would seem to be making a good fist of that.
When this Bradford City vs Bury fixture crept onto the horizon a few weeks ago it seemed very much like the Bantams would be looking at getting something from a tricky visit from one of the top three as they struggled to stay in the play-off places.
The game will no doubt still be tricky but with Bury losing 2-1 at home at the weekend to Luton the Bantams are a point and three places above the Shakers with Shrewsbury and Darlington sandwiched in-between.
All four play-off teams have seem – at times – to be about to become the team to beat in League Two. City are last month’s Brentford, Bury are last week’s.
The visitors are looking to get back to the winning ways The Bantams found on Friday at Grimsby and Stuart McCall will be hoping his players dig in for the same kind of battle bested at Blundell Park.
McCall has brought Nicky Law Jnr back to the club on loan as the effects of five games in two weeks begin to pile up. Joe Colbeck joins Mark Bower, Paul Heckingbottom and Lee Bullock on the injured list and two suspensions – Omar Daley and Matthew Clarke. Daley’s suspension will kick in on Friday leaving both (we think) and he is free to play tonight. Clarke M does not play.
Clarke M and his place in the back four alongside Graeme Lee will be taken by TJ Moncur with Paul Arnison or Tom Clarke coming in at right back and the oft impressive Luke O’Brien on the left. Rhys Evans will stay in-between the sticks because not only is he the only goalkeeper at the club he also played a blinder at Grimsby.
Daley’s last game before suspension could see him switch to right to cover Colbeck with Kyle Nix coming in on the left although speculation and wishful thinking on the part of some have Willy Topp on the right and Daley left on the left. Topp impressed in that role in pre-season.
Others put Topp up front alongside Peter Thorne with Michael Boulding switching out wide left while some think that will happen but see Barry Conlon in rather than the man from Chile.
Paul McLaren and Dean Furman will no doubt see off the challenge from Law Jnr for the middle midfield berths with both playing excellently going forward and Law having never suggested that he is the man to plug any defensive gaps in the midfield.
At close of play some things will have become clear for both these teams: How much will City miss Colbeck who’s importance in the side seemingly grows with every game? Can Bury break the losing run by playing away from Gigg Lane? Have the Bantams put the bad patch to bed or just played a bad Grimsby? Will Willy Topp play? If he does, will he be any good? All these questions, and more, will be answered…
However come nine thirty on Tuesday night we will be no clearer in knowing if either of these teams is to be promoted. Wins in League Two jump you over this week’s losers but the pattern of the season is frequency of movement bubbling under the top.
Grimsby Town 1 Bradford City 3 At Blundell Road in League Two, 2008/2009
It wasn’t a night where the attacking swagger of football which characterised Bradford City’s excellent start to the season fully returned, but nevertheless manager Stuart McCall will have been delighted with those answers his players did provide to the questions raised of them.
In the wake of Monday’s disappointing defeat at Darlington, Stuart had stated he needed big characters to reverse a season in danger of slipping away and, after Matt Clarke’s controversial early sending off, the remaining players had 78 minutes to prove how much resilience they had. Whether the feeling of injustice helped spirit or it was a strong determination not to let things slip again, they responded by scoring a further two goals and then put in an excellent defensive shift which partially answers increasing accusations they aren’t good enough at the back to last the distance.
After the match Stuart admitted the referee had no choice to send Clarke off, though he did not have the benefit of such a good view of the incident as the 803 travelling City fans behind the goal. Grimsby’s Nathan Jarman had charged through only for the former Darlington defender to produce a risky, but clean, tackle to stop his route to goal. As both players laid on the ground referee Graham Salisbury consulted with his assistant before producing the red card and awarding a free kick.
It means that, in each of Sailsbury’s last three occasions he has officiated a City game, a red card for a player in claret and amber has been produced. The other two – Jermaine Johnson at home to Yeovil in January 2007 and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu in last season’s FA Cup win against Chester – were also questionable decisions and one is left to wonder how credible the term ‘coincidence’ can be to the decisions Sailsbury has made against City. Though given Clarke’s challenge had been inside the box, the home side will also feel aggrieved they were not awarded a penalty.
The red card punctured City’s excellent start to the game. Having taken the lead after six minutes when Omar Daley latched onto a weak headed clearance, beat the full back and charged across the penalty area before unleashing a fierce drive into the top corner, a convincing away victory looked probable. Graeme Lee caused panic in the area soon after and the home defence struggled to clear their lines following another corner. Paul McLaren and Dean Furman looked busy in the centre and Daley was a constant menace.
The sending off saw that particular threat deactivated as Stuart sacrificed the Jamaican for the on-loan Tom Clarke to make his debut at right back, with TJ Moncur moved across to the centre where he looks more comfortable. Both were kept busy as Grimsby sought to take advantage of the extra man, though the chances they did create were often wasted by poor shooting.
To City’s credit they did not sit back either and tightened their grip with a second goal on the half hour. McLaren set Colbeck away on the right and his burst towards goal was blocked on the edge of the area. Ex-Mariner Michael Boulding was following up and unleashed a superb low drive which flew into the bottom corner. It was Boulding’s fifth strike of the season and, the impressive manner he’s been tucking away chances when presented to him only adds to the frustration at the lack of service he’s been getting in previous games. City are still working out how to get the best of a player who scored 25 goals for a relegated club last season.
Unsurprisingly Grimsby exerted strong pressure at the start of the second half in an effort to get back into the game and Rhys Evans made two excellent saves, but it was heartening to see how many balls into the box were cleared by a City head. The Bantams more obvious quality going forward was soon rewarded again when a rare corner was met by Lee’s diving header at the far post. Had he and his colleagues been marking so badly at the other end a home win may have resulted, but captain Lee’s exuberant celebrations for his first City goal were much deserved during an evening that he led his team so well. Special mention should also go to the corner taker McLaren; he’s received a lot of criticism recently but his last few performances have shown improvement. Think back to some of City’s goals in recent weeks and consider how many have featured City’s number 4 in the build up.
With the game seemingly over Grimsby suddenly pulled a goal back through Liam Trotter’s header to set up a final 25 minutes of pressure, but it would be the only blemish on City’s defence all night. Evans hasn’t fully convinced in goal since joining during the summer, but had an excellent game with the confident manner he deals with high balls into the box something which can only spread through the rest of the team. It was also heartening to see Luke O’Brien stand up to such a big test and, with each recent game, he is blossoming.
The final whistle was met with some ugly scenes in the home end as some Grimsby fans tried to charge onto the pitch, with Mike Newell recently put in charge it was presumably the players who were the target of their anger. It’s 20 games since they last won; but while that might lessen the impressiveness of this result for City, how victory was earned and the recent dismal record when facing teams on such poor runs means the 10-men deserve plenty of credit.
It wasn’t a game won through the attacking ability the team processes – it was shown on occasions, but it’s nothing we didn’t know before – but the way in which the players, particularly at the back, stood up and showed a robustness which has been lacking. Promotion is not ultimately won during games against struggling teams, but it can easily be lost.
So it’s back to Valley Parade for games against Bury and Barnet and the target must be six points to continue the recovery. Expectations will be allowed to creep up again and, with the Shakers having enjoyed an excellent start themselves, the Valley Parade support needs to be rediscover its own early season form on Tuesday and offer the sort of backing which so impressively helped the team at Blundell Park.
Matt Clarke will be suspended, as too will Omar Daley after picking up a fifth booking of the season. Joe Colbeck is also a doubt after been stretchered off with ten minutes to go. It all adds up to a few headaches for Stuart, though after Friday’s win he can be confident his team has the character to still deliver.
Soon Grimsby Town will move town – to Grimsby from Cleethorpes so lets not expect the uproar that Wimbledon and Milton Keynes caused – and when they do few will miss the oft touted coldest place in football that is Blundell Park.
It was this ground that saw two City players sign off their Bantams careers in vastly different circumstances.
The week before Christmas a single pass from Chris Waddle gave City an equaliser in a dour game at this ground with the cold win whipping off the North Sea and Gordon “Sid” Cowans was substituted after an hour or so too a ring of boos. He would not play for City again and to many – if not most – it was good riddance.
Years later the Bantams under Nicky Law won a free kick on the edge of the box which was deftly, carefully, accurately floated into the top corner of the goal for the only score of the game and the last contribution on the field of Benito Carbone.
Stuart McCall takes his City team to this curious graveyard hoping for a rebirth.
The Bantams are in what has been dubbed a bad six. Six games with only one win and with so few minutes in the lead that it is hard to recall a period of Bantam enjoyment. Luton Town, Accrington Stanley and Gillingham saw City lead less than half an hour.
In contrast the home side would kill to have six good games having half a dozen points from draws and defeats that have caused a change of manager to Mike Newell. Newell’s guidance has seen the Mariners come within a minute of a win and the question seems to be if the new manager buzz faded when Luton equalised on Tuesday night or if they can carry it over to this game with City.
The Bantams come into the game with a new face – Tom Clarke – who will look to unseat Matthew Clarke from his role in the side partnering Graeme Lee in front of Rhys Evans in goal. The full back question continues on the right hand side with some – me included – favouring Paul Arnison over TJ Moncur and others not doing. Luke O’Brien is expected to keep his left back berth with Paul Heckingbottom injured. O’Brien’s improvement in recent weeks has been a bright spot.
The midfield of Dean Furman and Paul McLaren are expected to have Joe Colbeck and the returning Omar Daley – back from the bench – on the wings with instructions to feed the wide men more.
Peter Thorne is rejoined by twice former Grimbarian Michael Boulding who returns from injury and displaces Barry Conlon. Louis Horne presses for a place on the bench
Tom Clarke – who joined from Huddersfield Town on loan for a month – is most probably a good player. The Town Academy system at the freezing cold Studentville that is Sthores Hall has a good reputation for a reason and the number of player filtering into the rank and file of professional football is that reason.
Clarke will add a full back option and put pressure on Matthew Clarke who has had his form drop recently. Realistically man mountain Clarke (M) was always going to have a downturn. He is speedy, he is good in the air and he can tackle. There had to be a reason why he was knocking around League Two on free transfers and perhaps consistency is it.
Nevertheless Clarke pressures Clarke and hopefully performances improve but by delving into the loan market to bring in a player who with only a handful of games under his belt and no real track record McCall has added to – rather than adding on top of – the quality of the squad.
The quality of City is under question. The six bad games have concluded with the Bantams dubbed dire following the 2-1 defeat at Darlington on Monday night. What that says about the rest of the league is interesting. But for the late goal flurry the Bantams would have ended level with Darlington and while you might argue that City would not have deserved the point for a lack of attacking endeavour – if you do argue that point then you must often come away from Valley Parade convinced that City deserved the win because often when at home we are the only side attacking – but a point we would have had in a not dissimilar way to how Luton Town took one from us a few weeks ago.
All of which raises two interesting questions. Firstly if the Bantams are dire for trying to do what Luton did to us were they then not dire against Luton – consider at will – and secondly if one is edged out of games at the death when playing “that badly” then perhaps the calibration of the division has it that the League is won by the team that plays “very poorly” rather than “dire”.
I recall thinking just before the first goal at Darlington that City need only have snuck in one of the two chances that edged past Barry Conlon’s foot to have turned the game on Monday into a win. The performance would hardly have been better but the result could have been and City – oddly as it sounds in the current debate climate – could have gone top.
Perhaps then with the idea that playing dire is only one step away from winning games McCall would – I believe – have been better working within the squad and addressing the issues that have arisen within the last six games that differed from the first six to try return to previous form.
The Bantams – with Tom Clarke – play a Grimsby team that have not won all season in the league hoping to do what Chesterfield have when they claimed a first win in seven last night and put a marker down that the bad times have ended.
By bringing in loan players for squad places McCall risks that marker suggesting that the slump in results is more permanent than can be fixed by returning to the basics of providing quality supply to dangerous forwards alleviating defensive problems by virtue of having the ball in the oppositions net more.
The players – and lest we forget the maxim about players winning you games – need to get back to the first six game mindset and know that should they – the current squad – do that then the wins will return.
I never really cared for the commentary of Barry Davies preferring the more factual style of The Motson but Davies has one riposte that comes to mind in City’s current situation.
When asked who he thought would win a match Davies would give the same cheery reply of “If I knew that I would not be here.”
Davies believed that the beauty in the game was the inherent unpredictably. The fact that anyone could win a game was – for Davies – the game.
He would have a shock at Valley Parade where the Bantams chances have been declared done.
All over Bradford the defeat to Darlington has seen City’s hopes for the year consigned to history as if the season had already been played out and this were just a rerun. As if from these past six games a season could be extrapolated.
Perhaps such a bit of sooth-saying is possible but my quarter of a century plus watching City has told me otherwise. I’ve seen City roar to the top of Leagues which they later finished 17th in – 2001 under Jim Jefferies springs to mind – and I’ve seen City get two points from the first seven games in 1998/1999 and we all know how that ended up don’t we?
The Bantams have played a dozen games which at the moment seem to be split between the good half dozen and the bad ones – although at BfB we call them the pre and post-Paul Arnison eras – and it seems to have crystallised in many supporters conciousness that the poorer games are some how more of a representation of the players true abilities than those good ones were.
All of which requires you to believe in the idea that teams and players are either “good” or “bad” as if they could be given numerical ratings and quantified. Teams either play well or they do not. There is nothing else. The City team that celebrated at Wolves in May 1999 were no better footballers than the one that kicked off the season at home to Stockport County they just played better and by that one could qualify with the words got better results.
Today phrases like “dire” are being thrown at City – nothing is ever as bad or as good as reactionary opinion says – but after the round of League Two matches on the evening the Bantams sit in a play-off place in seventh four points off the lead and two off an automatic promotion slot while some supporters are saying that the Bantams are doomed to another season in this bottom division. One doubts that Gillingham and Darlington fans – whom have both got results from City in the last four days – are considering all to be lost and they fill the two positions below us.
Like the team of 1998/1999 Stuart McCall’s team need to build the confidence to minimise defeats and the mental strength to move on to the next three points which are no less available the next time the team takes they field as a second head is on a coin that has just flipped a first.
It is somewhat upsetting though that those players have to build that confidence without the assistance of supporters who are so used to negativity that they look at a play-off place as being an indication that the team will not be promoted. Perhaps it is a self-fulfilling prophecy? Certainly no one could accuse you of looking at the situation with rose tinted glasses if you suggested that a team that is in the play-offs might get promoted.
Why predict at all? Barry Davies would not have because the game is at its heart unpredictable – yes Hull City we mean you – and to be honest saying that a club will not get promoted is a little like betting that any given horse will not win the Grand National. It sounds smarter than it is.
Where did this negativity come from? Why has it taken a grip at Valley Parade and all over football? Moreover though why is it that when given to predictions supporters indulge in this negativity?
Why not look at these six games as the blip and the six before as common form?
Darlington 2 Bradford City 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
Real football isn’t Championship Manager I keep reading but if it was what would Stuart McCall be doing after last night’s defeat 2-1 to Darlington?
He might say it was unfair that the home team got a later goal when their tiny midfielder out jumped Matt Clarke. “As if that would happen!”
He would probably say the same out Kevin Austin’s free kick five minutes from time that looped over Rhys Evans but maybe he should take a look at Evans who made a couple of great saves but was beaten too easily by this free kick.
He might do that thing where you clear all the players and pick your best eleven again but if he did would he include Barry Conlon who was booed by the home fans because he was playing so well cleaning everything out at the back.
He might wonder why his team has started letting in two goals a game in the last six games and look to the game before this bad run started. The difference is in the full backs. Luke O’Brien is coming on well but TJ Moncur and the way he ignores Joe Colbeck in front of him is huge problem.
The pressure on the ball on the flanks has been lessened as has the amount of possession City enjoy in a game and much of this is down to the full back positions and how those who play them play the game.
Dean Furman almost had another impressive game alongside Paul McLaren who looked good but it was Furman who was caught in possession allowing the home side a second goal as he looked for a perfect pass rather than doing the simple ball.
City did some simple things well for most of the game but were caught out trying to ease out a draw and now go to Grimsby down on luck and looking for a win at a team that haven’t got three points all season. Stuart has been watching players who know better and who has has seen play better make mistakes in the last few games and that is depressing. Darlington was different and most of the defensive mistakes of the past few games were ironed out for most of the game but still at the end the Bantams resistance was undone by errors.
How will Stuart approach the game on Friday? How will he turn things around? If life were like Championship Manager he’d probably turn it off and go for his tea instead.
Following Saturday’s defeat capitulation the Bantams head North for the first of two games in a week – Grimsby follows on Friday – with an added onus to collect a positive result.
The perceived loss of two points and short turn around between games poises problems for McCall who has Michael Boulding struggling with injury and may use Barry Conlon against his former club to partner Peter Thorne.
Tiredness was expected in Omar Daley’s game following his mid-week international jaunt but the winger seemed spritely and along with another former Darlington man Joe Colbeck he is expected to keep his place in the midfield at the side of Paul McLaren and Dean Furman.
Graeme Lee and former Darlo man number three Matthew Clarke had an uncomfortable second half on Saturday but both are to retain their places while TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien compete with Paul Heckingbottom (a fourth former Quaker) and Paul Arnison at full back. Rhys Evans stays in goal.
Bradford City 2 Gillingham 2 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
Having apologised in public for underestimating the quality of City’s display last week Stuart McCall had clearly had a word in one of two ears before the Bantams started the battle for nine points in a week.
For forty-five minutes the Bantams did simple things impressively and should have been taking the first three of those nine points on the road. City faced Gillingham on Saturday, go to Darlington on Monday, and Grimsby on Friday and the Bantams are very much within – as opposed to ahead – of the pack leading League Two.
It was noticeable how the Bantams defensive line smashed the ball out of play when under pressure. how often Dean Furman and Paul McLaren got on the ball in midfield, how Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley moved wide when needed and came back when not. The simple things that when done well result in results.
So they would have over Gillingham had they been maintained for the full game. The Bantams battled with a Gills side who deserve a huge mention for playing an open game rather than trying to kill off the game when they arrived at VP and who would get their rewards. Those rewards looked distant when a free kick from Paul McLaren was headed towards goal by Furman – who had his best game for City thus far – and after a save and a scramble was smashed in by Peter Thorne for his tenth of the season.
All of which was City edging ahead rather than dominating but was a good return for the opening and deflated the visitors. That deflation saw Joe Colbeck batter in an impressive slip inside by McLaren from inside the box as McCall switched his wingers to allow the tired Daley to charge at the booked Barry Fuller but in that combination the problems that City would have in the second half – and had all day – were shown.
Colbeck and Daley are a quality pair of wide players and good enough for any team in this league but they are only best value when they are supported by full backs and today they were often left disconnected, flailing ahead without the back up a winger needs.
TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien were those full backs with Paul Arnison and Paul Heckingbottom on the bench and while O’Brien did not do much wrong at the back he offered little coming forward. Moncur – who replaced Paul Arnison in the side five games ago when the number two was injured in the Bournemouth game – was troubled while defending and failed to connect with Colbeck coming forward with unpredictable results.
From a statistical point of view since Arnison was injured five matches ago City have shipped ten goals and scored eight. Watch the team one sees Colbeck taking up good positions and being ignored by Moncur most of the time and the full back lashing in ineffective crosses. Arnison was criticised by some supporters but his crossing was better and he provided options for Colbeck which Moncur does not and after the defence got back to basics so – one hopes – will McCall.
Only once was Daley able to push the ball back to Luke O’Brien for support in attacking positions. In wins like Exeter The Full Pauls were a major part in making sure that Thorne and Michael Boulding had supply to score and that Daley and Colbeck had players to team up with that they could rely on to be predictable and constant.
As it is Thorne and Boulding feasted on scraps today and the game should have been beyond Gillingham’s reach but Simeon Jackson pulled one back for the Gills after getting beyond the pairing of Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee following head tennis and high feet and smashing home. Jackson’s pace troubled City all day but in the second half the Bantams put as much into their defeat a the visitors did.
The simple things that were done in the first half faded. Defenders began to try to put foot on ball rather than clearing, pinging the ball over the midfield and into the arms of a referee and linesman who flagged for offside incorrectly three or four times as the ball was pumped up to Thorne and Boulding. City looked alive and dangerous when the ball was brought through wide but neutered by the linesman’s flag and the defending of the men from Kent when whacked long. City stopped doing the shorter passing, the easy play, that had served so well now and previously.
So too often the Bantams wasted the ball and turned over when in dangerous positions for the want of application falling too easily into the trap of believing the besting the offside flag was the only way to score. When Peter Thorne was substituted with ten minutes left he arched his back in agony knowing the game was not won. He was right.
Despite Mark Bentley’s deserved dismissal for a two footed challenge on Paul McLaren too many City players seemed too ready to so the most obvious – rather than the most simple – thing and point to the man in the middle as wronging them.
So when Jackson burst through and scored an equaliser the Bantams seemed a long way from the team that had done the simple things well in the first half and the team that could roar into games earlier in the season. Five minutes if injury time saw the Bantams find that roar with Colbeck hitting a shot to the top corner that was excellently palmed away, Graeme Lee smashing a header from teh resulting corner against the bar and Willy Topp hooking the ball over his shoulder and the bar as City went close to a winner.
However in simple terms the Bantams allowed two points to slip away today in the way that Accrington did last week and did so when losing sight of the basics which they had done so well.
Darlington on Monday and everyone – players and management – should be looking at the things that work most often most of the time.
And so, Barryboogate has morphed into Ashleyboogate. This allows the Football Association to describe as ‘crazy’ the section of England fans who made their feelings plain about who was to blame for the Kazakhstan goal. It also brings a comment from the Football Supporters’ Federation that ‘People have paid their money and have every right to express their opinion.’
Well, yes, it’s a free country, isn’t it? Well, up to a point, do I hear you say? OK, I’ll say it for you. It’s a free country up to a point. The question often gets asked ‘But when do we reach the point when we’re not free any more?’
Some answers are easier than others. I’m not free to assault you or steal your money. I’m not free to spread malicious lies about your character. I’m not free to make racist or homophobic comments about you. And that list of crimes or legally recognised civil wrongs could and does fill a very thick book or two.
But what happens if you want to express an otherwise permissible opinion, about the abilities of a professional footballer or a manager or even a work colleague, but you use intemperate language? By ‘intemperate’ in this context I mean abusive or threatening or simply foul-mouthed. The answer is, at least as far as Bradford City is concerned, you will not be allowed to use such language.
The club message board has been suspended since Wednesday. The club ‘always welcomes criticism’, it says, and has ‘resolved the problem with regards to racism and unacceptable language’. Well, maybe it hasn’t. Or maybe it is the subject matter rather than the language that counts. The message board has been suspended because it has ‘recently seen unwarranted verbal attacks on players, staff and supporters which [the club] will not tolerate’.
I don’t read the message board every day, so I’ve missed the ‘verbal attacks’ in question. It surely is no coincidence, however, that they follow within days of Barryboogate. The manager made his feelings perfectly plain in his after-match interview. I don’t always agree with him, but on this one I’m with him 100%. To me as a supporter of Bradford City it doesn’t matter what opinion you have of one of your own players, you are foolish if you boo him and expect him to perform better as a result. If you boo him before he has kicked a ball, then maybe you are ‘crazy’.
But being ‘crazy’ is no reason for shutting down such a well used channel of communication. Being insulting or abusive certainly is a justification. You could even argue that the club is under a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent such language being used. So, not only does the manager have my 100% backing on this one, but so does the moderator of the message board.
Football has always been about opinions. The vastly knowledgeable Jimmy Sirrel, who died recently, once told an after-match press conference ‘You know the score. You can read the league table. The rest is all opinion.’ It’s all down to how those opinions are expressed.
There are people in all walks of life, far beyond football, who believe that there are only their own opinions. Everything else is wrong. At least they won’t start a fight in an empty room, but they may find themselves in that empty room rather more often than those who are prepared to listen to other opinions.
Most people with strong opinions listen to the other side and may well rarely change their mind. But at least they recognise the other side exists and respect their right to exist. I guess that’s what Bradford City mean when they say they ‘always welcomed criticism’.
But when an opinion can be expressed or challenged only in abusive or threatening terms, especially in a medium open to all ages to read, maybe it is time to draw that line and say ‘You are not free to say that in this place’. No, there are no ‘maybes’ about it. It was time to end the opportunity to be abusive. The minority of those who misused the message board may not have caused the physical damage that the other minority (or is it the same minority?) did on the coaches to Leeds, but both sets damaged the name of Bradford City and of football supporters. They took us one step nearer to the atmosphere in and around football grounds back in the 1980’s, a time when fewer and fewer people came to watch games. The vast majority of us must say ‘No more steps in that direction’.
I’m sure there will have been one or two supporters who left early on Saturday, now kicking themselves after missing such a stunning fightback – I was nearly one of them.
I didn’t want to leave early because I had no faith in the team’s ability to come back, though admittedly I certainly couldn’t see it, but because of the way I’d seen fellow ‘supporters’ treat my wife, each other and Accrington’s Kenny Arthur. With wholly inadequate stewarding, I feared for the safety of myself and others and that no game of football was worth this.
Let me start by explaining that my wife, Rachel, is quite a short person. Not that it’s a problem, but she can suffer when we go to the cinema and a tall person sits in front – and while sitting at the football is rarely an issue, standing on a terrace where the view is never as great is. So I was desperate to ensure she got as good a view as possible.
So we arrived early, went right to the front and stood by one of the crash barriers to the right of the goal. She had an unopposed view of the pitch, save for the gangway in front which fans have to use to enter and exit the stand. All seemed fine until, just after the game kicked off, a group of middle-aged men arrived and decided to stand directly in front of her, on the gangway, and pay little attention to anyone’s feelings behind them.
I watched with amazement as a steward stood nearby and did nothing. What’s worse more of their gang were joining them, having stopped off at the food hut. They ate with their backs to the game, a lovely view for my wife well worth paying £13 for.
Belatedly more stewards arrived to ask them to move, but then the problems really began. Their requests were not just refused, but responded to with loud bursts of swearing and threats. They kept trying to reason with them but there were more and more fans still arriving on the gangway and a lack of places for them to go and stand, even if they’d agreed to move. It became apparent that the stand was overcrowded and later there would be reports some fans with tickets were locked out. Given there seemed to be only ten stewards to marshall the crowd (no police), it was a worrying situation.
One of the most aggressive members of this group was eventually persuaded to comply, so suddenly leapt underneath the crash barrier and shoved my wife out of the way. With steam coming out of my ears I confronted him about his actions, to which he at least apologised. Two minutes later he was back on the gangway with his mates, with the stewards having given up and left.
So the game going on ahead was one Rachel could not see, instead she got to witness some of the most appalling behaviour I’ve ever seen at a City game. Instead of watching the match they continued abusing the steward nearby and making threats to charge onto the pitch. Occasionally they looked at matters on the pitch, one asking “what colour are we playing in?” The game was at least 20 minutes old.
Suddenly Accrington were 1-0 up and the focus of this group of supporters turned to home keeper Arthur. As he walked back towards his goal they hurled abuse in his direction for no obvious reason, to which he just kept his head down and ignored. As he went towards his towel inside the goal he was spat at by one of this group, which provoked an angry reaction from supporters around me.
A steward confronted one of the group, but it was the wrong person, so four or five of us began shouting to the steward and pointing towards the culprit. We were ignored, the steward choosing to scuttle off instead. This group remained definite and seemed to believe they were the innocent victims. “You couldn’t organise a p*** up in a brothel!” was one angry shout (note, that is what they shouted). I’ve heard some people say we didn’t deserve to go 1-0 down when we did and I have no idea if that’s true, as the game was not in my focus, but after this guy’s actions the only fitting punishment was for his football team to be losing.
So what would you do in this situation, your wife in an uncomfortable position with a large group of drunken men shouting horrible abuse and acting in a disgusting manner? I asked if she wanted us to leave and she said no, so I wandered to find us a better spot to move to at half time. In between it had become clear a couple were part of this group with a son, who looked no more than 6-years-old, left to his own devices and stood near us. When someone behind accidentally caused him to spill some of his drink, they received a volley of swearing and abuse from this kid. Judging by the language of his parents, it was easy to see where he gets it from.
So we moved at half time and I was partly cheered up to know that the supporter who spat at Arthur had belatedly been identified and ejected from the ground. We were now in the stand alongside the pitch with a decent, if limited view, and the conversation around us was on what it should be – a football match. There was lots of moaning, but constructive criticism which the players deserved for their lacklustre efforts, and when things did go right I was cheering with them and had I stayed where we were I don’t think I’d have been able to celebrate anything.
The behaviour of these City fans was despicable, showing no respect for Accrington officials or their fellow supporters. Those who had to endure their behaviour will have been left with a negative impression of Bradford City Football Club and that is the most depressing aspect.
Yet what really upset me was the action, or lack of it, from Accrington Stanley. As stewards they are supposed to look after our interests and our safety, but it was obvious they did not have the confidence or ability to manage a huge crowd. There was so few of them and one has to wonder what sort of away following Stanley had anticipated. Clearly it’s a friendly club and last season’s trip was one of my favourite away days out. I’d come across pleasant members of staff all willing to help and welcome us as we parked up, walked to a pub and then entered the ground. The stewards were probably nice people too, but in my opinion not good enough to do the job they were required to do.
In this day and age it is not good enough for a football match to be so badly managed and for paying punters to fear for their safety. This club has ambitions to build a fanbase and climb up the leagues, but if it’s going to succeed it needs a more professional attitude off the pitch as well as on it.
But at least we’d moved away from where the problems were and the afternoon took that unexpected turn for the better. Peter Thorne’s winner was one of those rare moments of unconfined delirium you only get to experience once every three or four years, but which reminds you why football is such a fantastic sport. So I lost the plot and jumped about like a madman, with my equally excited wife celebrating wildly and hugging me back.
The goal was sweet in so many ways – not least because I knew the coward who spat at Accrington’s keeper had missed it.
Accrington Stanley 2 Bradford City 3 At Crown Ground in League Two, 2008/2009
At twenty five to five this report was going to be very different. At twenty five to five the report was going to centre around Bradford City and the October curse but at quarter to five Peter Thorne completed an amazing come back and the report had been turned on its head.
Our record in October over recent seasons has not been good last year we played 5, lost 3 and drew two. The year before played 4, lost 3, drew 1. Going into the last ten minutes today with confidence obviously low it looked as though this year would read played 2, lost 1, drawn 1. However thanks to an inspired performance from the player, who was the focus of what is becoming known as ‘boogate’, defeat was avoided and Bradford are sitting pretty in the automatic promotion spots.
Bradford set up like they do for all home games in a 442, Nix predictably came in for Omar Daley who was on duty with Jamaica, Luke O’Brien replaced the suspended Paul Heckingbottom, and TJ Moncur returned to the side in place of Ainge despite him doing a more than capable job against Luton. For much of the first half Bradford dominated possession without creating much but were more than comfortable with an Accrington side who didn’t look in any danger of breaking the deadlock. The Bradford fans locked out of the ground despite having tickets weren’t missing much of a spectacle.
On the same day that Lampard and Gerrard were being reunited for England and consequently sparking the usual debate of whether they can play together, Bradford seemed to be suffering from the same problem with their two talented central midfielders, MacLaren and Furman. Where as Lampard and Gerrard both like to push on and get up with the strikers leaving a hole behind them in front of the defence, MacLaren and Thurman both like to lie deep in the midfield leaving a gap just behind the strikers. Consequently any ball knocked down from Bradford’s front two was not contested and simply picked up by the Accrington players, who would soon easily give possession back to Bradford. It seemed as though this pattern would continue until changes were made.
Then 20 minutes into the game Accrington won a corner and a few nerves seemed to enter the Bradford players as they shakily defended the corner and eventually scrambled it out for a second corner. Again the corner wasn’t dealt with in the most sure manner and as the ball went out for a third corner an air of tension seemed to be gripping the strong Bradford following. The third corner saw Bradford punished by a move they themselves have used to good effect as the corner got sprayed to the edge of the box which was dummied by one and placed into the bottom corner past Rhys Evans by the onrushing James Ryan. Out of nowhere Bradford found themselves a goal down having once again been punished for the slack marking which has been evident over recent weeks.
Fortunately this seemed to spark life into the men wearing claret and amber and the tempo of the game picked up as they began to turn the screw. Minutes later Nix brilliantly switched the ball from left to right in a well worked move that found its way to Thorne on the edge of the box but City’s red hot striker just pulled the ball wide of the post with the chance that nine times out of ten he would have nestled in the bottom corner.
It was the Bradford youngsters who seemed to be stepping up to the plate, Furman was battling away and still keeping composure with the ball at his feet, while Luke O’Brien was bombing on from full back to give Nix the over lap and create the extra attacking threat. This threat was probably more effective due to absence of Daley purely because any full back would struggle to catch the Bradford speed merchant never mind overlap him.
City continued to look for the equaliser as the first half wore on and were extremely unfortunate to have a goal ruled out for offside just after the half hour mark. A lovely weighted free kick found its way to Graeme Lee and Lee cleverly nodded the ball down to Thorne who did find the net on this occasion only to see the linesman flagging. Somehow he had seen Lee to be offside when the free kick was taken.
As the half wore on frustrations began to show and Colbeck was booked for dissent by the referee, Mr. Jones, who was handling the game very well. It was the referee giving another free kick Bradford’s way that led to the best and final chance of the first half. A Colbeck free kick caught a deflection off the wall onto the bar and the rebound fell to Michael Boulding with an open goal gaping. However, the ball bounced away from the player who couldn’t get his head far enough around the ball to direct it into the net.
The mood at half time was neither upbeat nor low, although some were annoyed the Accrington catering staff were unable to cope with the big crowd and although it has been denied that Windass will return rumours may reappear because someone had eaten all the pies! After the break the players returned to positive reception as the crowd certainly didn’t think this game was beyond Bradford yet.
Unfortunately this mood lasted no more than 5 minutes as Terry Gornell playing in only his third game on loan from Tranmere slipped all too easily in between Bradfords two centre halves and an exquisitely played through ball found him one on one with Evans and the youngster slipped the ball between the former Chelsea keepers legs. Now Bradford found themselves with a mountain to climb.
The goal seemed to zap the confidence from the players and the effort seemed to have gone too. I was soon worrying about what I would be able to put in this report as for the next half hour nothing appeared to happen. Gornell still worried the City defence with his movement but Bradford could no longer seem to put anything together themselves. Numerous times Rhys Evans rolled the ball to the disappointing TJ Moncur who proceeded to just lump the ball back to Accrington side. This seemed to happen with almost every possession Bradford had and made the exclusion of Ainge seem even more unfair.
After the game McCall would say in an interview about how he worried about the lack of leadership on the field and this was certainly evident as the 11 players went completely quiet with no communication apparent. With around 20 minutes left McCall resorted to his much criticised ‘plan b’. Barry Conlon had warmed up and stripped off and everyone waited to see what reaction the travelling Bradford contingent would give the big striker. I admit that I have been one of Barry’s biggest critics in the time he’s been with the club but would never go to the extent of booing him. I have never seen what he offers and have even labelled him lazy despite the majority appearing to think he gives 110%. I have often thought he doesn’t compete for headers and falls over to easy for a big lad.
My disappointment was further enhanced by the fact the player he was replacing, Kyle Nix, is a player who’s cause I have championed on many occasions and a player I feel always likely to get a goal when played down the middle. To be fair Nix had not had his best game off he came with Boulding taking his place out wide. The 442 was retained but the wingers were pushed further forward as Stuart tried to find a way back into the game.
For his first ten minutes on the field of this game Barry did nothing to change my negative view of him, that however was soon to change. With ten minutes to go and Bradford looking like making it 1 point from 12 another long punt was launched up the field. A punt which before would of been won by the Accrington defence was brought down by ‘Big Baz’ and neatly laid off into Boulding’s path who struck it first time into the underside of the bar and down into the net. Suddenly Bradford felt they may get a point after all and no more so than Barry who was all over the place. Winning the ball in his own half and spraying perfectly into the channels, winning balls in the opponents half and knocking it to players wearing claret and amber. Something the rest of the side had struggled with for much of the second half.
Two minutes from the end Conlon found the ball coming his direction inside the box and for once his leap saw him rise above everyone else and he directed a header into the back of the net. For the second game in a row he had come off the bench to score and if he wants to stop the boo boys then he can do no more than find the net regularly.
Accrington were on the rocks and Bradford were now wanting blood. Less than 60 seconds from the restart they worked their way into the Accrington half and Bradford fans had barely had time to catch their breath before the ball was slid into prolific Peter Thorne’s path and there was no doubt about where the ball would finish. Thorne thumped the ball home to complete an amazing Bradford comeback that had been unthinkable just ten minutes before. The relief and joy was evident in the stands as the fans went wild and some idiots even charged onto the pitch, hopefully no repercussions will follow for the club from these actions.
The shocked Accrington players threw men forward in vain even keeper Kenny Arthur appearing in the Bradford box for a late corner but City hung on and the three points ended up somehow crossing the border from Lancashire to see Bradford climb back into the 3 automatic promotion places. However the result certainly did not tell the whole story and it was obvious from Stuart’s face at the final whistle that he was less than impressed with the overall display. Still it is about time the gloom merchants at Bradford began to look on the bright side and we go into the Gillingham game only a win away from top spot and the curse of October ended.
So how do we get back to winning ways?
Well why don’t we put Paul Arnison back in the team. He has been out for two and a half games and in that time City have been in the lead for about five minutes when we drew with Luton last week and have lacked a bit of something going down the right. Of course the people who had a pop at Barry Conlon had been warming up for a go at the right back. I wonder if they will put the not winning together with him not playing?
Joe Colbeck has missed him and the help he gives coming forward for crosses and you can bet that Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding have missed the supply and with all three playing on Saturday along with Arnison the team will welcome him back.
At the back Arnison joins up with Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee who need to get back to the commanding ways of early season. Those two had been clearing out everything in the air so that Luton goal will have been a blow. Paul Heckingbottom will miss having been sent off last week so Luke O’Brien is expected to start at left back.
Paul McLaren and Dean Furman might find laying deeper away from home a bit more rewarding than trying to batter down the door of Luton last week and both play in the middle. Both strikers are expected to play and rightly so. When they stop putting away chances we will have a problem but at the moment they are not getting enough.
Omar Daley has been providing a good few chances but he misses Saturday suspended as well. Willy Topp is on stand by to replace him on the left hand side after returning to the reserves and showing readiness. If every a player needed a goal…
Kyle Nix is also an option. Nix looked very good very often last season and some people are calling for him to be put into the team. This could be his time. Certainly McCall seems to be favouring him.
If ever a team needed a goal. An early one please cause the only thing wrong with City is big defences and a lack of confidence and goals do wonders for that. Is that the only thing that City need to get back to winning?
It is Stuart McCall needing some more of that tactics stuff? Does he need to do a 433 with Willy Topp hanging back behind the strikers to create and Colbeck tucked in? I doubt it cause wingers have got us to where we are now and where we are now is not that bad.
Maybe it is getting rid of Barry? How do you get rid of a player? Why would you? Anyone who thinks like that probably won’t be there tomorrow.
Because that is the thing about City on the road. They moaning, the booing, the general “I dont wanna be next to these idiots”ness of home games is gone and it is people who put into watching City and get something out of it.
Maybe that is how City will get back to winning ways. A good hearted away support making loads of noise and getting behind the boys to a win that we can take back to miserable old Valley Parade where you get booed for drawing but bring the confidence too and win there too.
Funny how these days the away form has to prop up the home.
I’m not normally the level headed one but as all the dust settles on the weekend and BarryBooGate I find myself with the calm voice for once.
I loathe the people who boo Barry. They are miserable people and I’d rather push my face over a cheese grater than knock about with someone that quick to criticise a bloke who seems so bloody likeable but that is them.
I guess you can see their point in booing Barry cause if they want to find the guy who is least able to kick a football in she squad they have probably got it bang on. Me, if I was the type who got his porks letting it out at the football, I’d probably be more likely to boo someone like Michael Standing who could play well if he could be bothered.
I guess I’d think that no matter how much you shout at Barry he is never going to be able to kick a ball better but shouting at Standing might have made him get his finger out. Personally I’d like shouting at people who shout at players to try get them to close their mouths. I get really tired of people wanting to defend their right to spout garbage. Have you noticed that people who talk sense never bleat on about freedom of speech? They just speak.
But that is not the point the point is this.
Booing Barry is nothing compared to the grumbling and the booing that we got against Exeter and Bournemouth as well as Luton. I’m a big one for saying that everyone should get behind the boys and all and most of the time I get that people are not going to go crazy when the team is not winning but we got booed off at half time against Exeter and at full time we were top of the league.
I mean it might just be me but there is something wrong with this picture.
I hate booing at football. I don’t think it makes players play any better and if anything it makes them play worse but I’m proper puzzled at the trend to boo players when they are doing well.
Forty five minutes from the top of the league is doing well. In the play off places is doing well. To be honest in terms of this club over the last ten years not being relegated is doing well. I just don’t understand.
I guess if you were the type that thought a good boo made people play better then you might be thinking you were doing everyone a favour but I don’t think if you talked to any of the players they would agree. In fact I think if you went up to Barry Conlon and said “I booed you cause I thought you would play better” he would say “Well I guess it did cause I scored” but be thinking about how good it would feel to smack you about the head.
I hate booking at football cause I think it is kicking guys when they are down but this kicking of the guys when they are up is beyond hating and is just confusing.
There is an article to be written but we all know what it is so I’m not sure there is any point in writing it.
It is the article that starts off talking about how Stuart McCall is offended by the booing of Barry Conlon on Saturday. It talks about how McCall mentions his childhood as a Leeds fan when referencing Terry Yorath getting booed at Elland Road and notes that some damage must be done if the City manager is starting to reveal that side of his past.
It talks about how McCall should be supported in bringing on the players he wants to. It asks what support is if it is not cheering for the team at nil-nil on a Saturday with ten minutes to go? You could ask what is the point of having a manager if the fan’s want to veto who gets to play and who doesn’t. If you wanted to link that to Kevin Keegan resigning you could.
This article – if you want to write it – can talk about a comment on the T&A website that tries to justify the booing of Conlon by saying that McCall should have been bringing on Willy Topp or Rory Boulding ignoring the fact that Conlon scored. It could mock that person or insult him. Both would be appropriate.
The article that needs writing will talk about what some fans hope to gain by booing a player who gives everything he can to the cause. It will say that Barry is not the most talented player but no one puts in more effort and that booing the players who put in effort is counter-productive. It could then say that booing plays who try causes players not to try.
This article would expand to ask about the nature of support and ask if it is important to the modern footballer? If booing has become so common that players now ignore it or expect it? If fans are now considered to be mindless and not worthy of paying attention to because of this sort of booing.
If you want to write the article you could try expand it into talking about a football culture that is so sick that the expectations set are unachievable at every level or a society that is so self obsessed that people believe that they can get into a large enough mob then they should be allowed to make every single decision there is to make and who demand that their voice be heard no matter what they are saying.
You could try appeal to reason and construct arguments why the negativity around Conlon and the mis-judged comments about McCall and his staff and their abilities are bad for the club and thus bad for the people saying them as well as the one’s listening but they have never listened to that kind of argument in the past and write it off as spin or as naivety without the shame of admitting that the previous times they have had their say has lead us to this point.
When you do write the article prepare for people suggesting that you are trying to paper over the cracks of McCall and Conlon’s lack of abilities and try not to laugh at them when they say this despite the fact that a few weeks ago we were top of the division because they really do mean it. You could mention the way that Championship Manager has made everyone think that being a football manager is as easy as looking at numbers and picking the highest but again do not expect to be believed should you counter that point dispite the blindingly obvious nature of your claim.
After that you could point out the logic of that or you could conclude you are wasting your time in doing so and that these people are concerned with themselves first and the attention they can get and Bradford City second.
Or you could take another tack and say that you thought that the people who booed Barry Conlon on Saturday, City in general and who use message boards and forums to agitate are beneath contempt. You could rail against them in the name of good sense and site the work done to keep the club going over two administrations and you could ignore the ad hominim attacks you would get for it and the lies that they would say about you and carry on screaming to anyone who would listen about how obviously damaging the actions of these people were.
You could do any of these things – and God knows at BfB we have made all these comments over the past nine and a half years – and probably it would do no good at all. Good people like Wayne, Steve and the people who sang Barry’s name and cheer City on would listen to what you said and be heartened but the people who you wanted to reach would not care.
You would have to conclude your article and you could issue a rallying cry to those who find the booing as destructive and pointless as you do but what is the point?
Our legend, our manager, the guy that is here to turn our club around is saying clearly that booing is achieves nothing apart from attacking our club. If Stuart McCall cannot get stop some people from ripping this club apart then what chance has anyone else got?
“I like to think the team who takes the initiative is rewarded but it’s not always like that in football. We lacked a little bit of sharpness to pull them out of position.”
The above quote was from Arsene Wenger, who was less than impressed with the tactics of home side Sunderland as his Arsenal side laboured to a 1-1 draw, but these words could just have easily come from Bradford City manager Stuart McCall after Saturday’s draw with Luton.
Like the Frenchman, McCall was to endure a frustrating afternoon in the dugout trying to get his side to overcome opposition whose ambition was little more than not to lose. There are positives to take from this; it’s the third home game in a row that the visitors have taken a defensive approach and, while clearly not everyone is firing on all cylinders just now, it’s says much for the ability of City’s squad that teams are worrying so much about them. The frustrating aspect is how successful Bournemouth and Luton have been with their cautious approach.
Let’s just for one second suppose City hadn’t conceded that late equaliser and held on for the three points. Log onto a City-related message board now and you’ll find little but criticism for the performance and alleged poor tactics Stuart employed, would such strong views have been expressed without Michael Spillaner’s late goal? Remember City did have only 10 men for the last 15 minutes.
Amid the wide range of criticisms is an impression City failed because they adopted long ball tactics, but this was clearly not the case. If Stuart really wanted City to play long ball he would not have bothered playing two out-and-out wingers, or leave the tallest striker on the bench and play two for whom holding up the ball and winning flick-ons is clearly not their game.
Once again City’s wingers were double marked and there was little room for the central midfielders to influence the game in the final third. In an attempt to counter this, City tired to play the ball forward from the back with goal kicks sent short to defenders Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee. The aim with this, it seemed to to me, was to attract some of the ten Luton players camped in their own half to break rank and try to close Clarke or Lee down. Had this happended space would then have been created for our midfielders to take advantage of and the ball could have been played towards them. Other Luton players would then have to close down that player, freeing up more space.
The tactic didn’t work because of the discipline of the Luton players, who were happy for Lee and Clarke to keep the ball in their own half. It meant they had to either play riskier short passes to the midfield in front or knock it long in the hope a City player would get on the end of it. Two people sat near me moaned every time they tried the former option (“they’re lower league footballers, just hoof it!”) and equally the latter (“that’s just aimless!”). Clearly these fans expected Lee and Clarke to be able to play pin-point accurate long balls up the field.
In the second half Stuart told Rhys Evans to launch the ball forward himself and City would attempt to win either the first or second ball. This was more effective and finally they were able to enjoy more possession in the final third, but still space to do something with it was rarely afforded by the Hatters. More chances were created, however, with Hatters’ keeper Conrad Logan making two excellent saves. The final ball wasn’t always good enough and there was a lack of fluency to moves, but the effort was there and, considering the tactics up against, it was hard to work out what Stuart was doing wrong up until Barry Conlon struck.
We can’t just throw on more strikers, particularly with only ten men, to force the goal. In the centre Dean Furman and Paul McLaren worked really hard and were among our better performers. The wingers were trying their best and, while Colbeck had a disappointing game, Daley was a menace despite the difficulty of two markers. On a Message Board one ‘expert’ asked of Stuart with reference to the wingers, “why haven’t you told them, that when they receive the ball to pass it quickly and make a run off their markers, because they will have two players out of position?” If only football was as simple a game as some people seem to believe it is.
I believe that, at first, the two widemen were playing too wide, but tucked in more in the second half to better support Furman and McLaren. Michael Boulding was ineffective but it’s not as if the rest of the team didn’t want to play the ball to his feet, which is his strength – he was tightly marked. Bringing on Conlon was a clever decision in the circumstances and for those who screamed to ‘free Willy’, why would Topp have found the space and service Boulding couldn’t?
For all this negativity they were up against, City overcame it by getting their noses in front and, but for a moment of lapsed concentration, would have got the three points they clearly deserved. The concern has to be that other visiting teams will adopt similar tactics although, with a defensively-shambolic Gillingham and second-placed Bury due to visit next, perhaps we’ll see more open games. Three days before travelling to Valley Parade, Bury entertain Luton and, while at the moment the league table suggests the Shakers are a better team than City, it will be interesting to see what tactics Luton adopt then and how successful Bury are in overcoming them.
Like Arsene Wenger and Sunderland, it’s difficult to take a positive impression of Luton from Saturday, particularly after reading the managers’ assessment which is at odds with the evidence. They have 30 points to make up on all but two teams, but are seemingly happy to play for draws rather than the wins they clearly need. One cannot help feel they’ve already written off the season and manager Mick Harford is just trying to do a decent enough job to avoid the sack. Even in a league where physicality often wins over ability, this approach will not keep them up.
Despite the crude chant they’ve nicked off Leeds United, their supporters probably know it too and many appeared out to live up the ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality their predicament breeds. I walked down Midland Road after the match with a small group of 18/19-year-old City fans ahead chanting across to a larger group of Luton fans on the opposite side who chanted back. It seemed harmless banter, though you could hear increasingly angrier shouting coming from Luton fans and suddenly they were crossing the road and two or three were charging towards these City fans to start a fight. The police and some more sensible Luton fans dragged them away, but you still have to wonder about the mentality of middle-aged men trying to start fights with cocky teenagers.
Like Mansfield Town’s supporters singing racist chants last year, its supporters and team’s graceless football is helping to ensure less people feel sorry for them as they head to non-league. Back in my car and setting off, we discovered trouble did emerge near the retail park – from both sets of fans – which meant the police had blocked our route home. Somehow it seemed fitting.
Bradford City 1 Luton Town 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
The frustration was clear at the final whistle when rain lashed Valley Parade and the players as they trooped away seemed to realise that two points had been lost.
Stuart McCall saluted the crowd but seemed heavy shouldered as if he recognised that the late goal that gave the visits what they wanted – a draw – was as avoidable as it was annoying.
Avoidable because a ten men City side had allowed Luton Town to score an easy equaliser when Michael Spillane headed in Ed Asafu-Adjaye’s cross under no pressure in the middle of the penalty area. That City had dropped back to a 441 to try soak up pressure showed some inexperience in analysis of the way the game would flow following the Bantams taking the lead with reduced numbers but regardless of how McCall told them to play the way the players dropped off and allowed the cross to come and the goal to go in was disappointing in a game so hard won.
The first half was marked with a strong wind that pushed the visitors into attack for the opening twenty minutes but resulted in little in the way of good play. Former Bantam Lewis Emanuel picked up the ball to take a corner and was booed by the Kop for a few seconds until those boos were drown out by recognition and applause.
Emanuel had left City for bigger and better but it turns out that Luton were – according to the FA – cheating and making illegal payments. I mention this cause I remember them beating the Bantams in the FA Cup one year and as a victim of their misconduct I find it hard to amass the sympathy that others seem to have for the Hatters.
The tide of the first half changed as – aside for a booking for Paul Heckingbottom for fouling the excellent Claude Gnakpa – the game moved into the Luton half to stay. The nervousness of the is most apparent in games were City are on top. The Bantams tried to work the ball out of the back – I assume they did this because the wind would render long balls fruitless, because the returning Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding are not target men and (to be honest) long ball football is moronic and we hated John Docherty for doing it so why would we want Stuart McCall’s side to? – but such efforts were greeted with grunts to get rid of the ball.
Paul McLaren lead the Bantams in frustration as he looked for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Michael Boulding to come deeper to look to take the ball from him but often had to dally in possession. Those three players need to begin to make themselves targets more than they are now because at the moment too many City players are waiting for things to happen.
Which is not to say that Daley and co played badly just that they wanted for play to start and engaged in the second phase rather than drifting into the Luton midfield to start it. Daley’s running was impressive and threatened often.
Nevertheless at half time honours were even but possession not and sure enough the Bantams started the second half taking the game to Luton who had withdrawn Emanuel and resolved to make sure that they would have more defensive resolve. Typical of this was Paul McLaren in midfield looking for City players and seeing ten Luton players in the cone from him to the edges of the penalty area.
City this year – as with previous years and to be honest most of football – found such resistance hard to breakdown. Peter Thorne saw a header clawed away by Conrad Logan but the rain and darkness started to come in and it seemed the Bantams would struggle breakdown the back line and this assumption seemed to be fact when Paul Heckingbottom – lunging in on Gnakpa who muscled him off – was sent off for a second bookable offence.
It was not odd that Mr G. Laws – who we know like to invent his own rules – decided to punish the two bookable offences which Heckingbottom will have few complaints about but it was curious as to why those two bookable offences would be punished when others were ignored. The officiousness that saw him book Heckingbottom twice was absent when he allowed Rossi Jarvis to go with a warning for kicking McLaren or only booked Chris Martin for diving after the Luton striker had shouted complaints at him.
It says much about Referees and respect that they will only book you for diving if you shout at them and it says much about how Mr Laws referees that he allowed Asa Hall to swing a leg, miss the ball and fully make contact with Omar Daley as the City winger struggled to control the ball in the box. It was a soft penalty to give away but it was a penalty but Laws being Laws he seeks some kind of romantic reasons to give decisions rather than observing the events on the field and giving the decisions as appropriate.
Laws escaped without the booing that some City fans reserve for our own players. I observe that Barry Conlon is booed as he stands at the side of the field and when he comes on for Michael Boulding there is a mixed reception for this player who – in my estimation – gives all he has in his tank every time he pulls on a claret and amber shirt. He is not the most talented player in the squad but he gives the most effort and – I believe – when you boo Barry you give licence to other players to put in 90%.
Nonetheless his first name was still being sung by his advocates as a bouncing ball caused confusion in the box and Conlon was on hand to put in from the six yard box. He celebrated having turned the jeers into cheers and we celebrated what should have been a hard won win – all of use – even the ones who booed him onto the field. It is what we call a brassneck around here and I think they should be made to formally apologise to Barry at half time next week but no one listens to me.
That should have been that but with ten minutes of winding the clock down McCall got it wrong putting on Luke O’Brien for Peter Thorne but one doubts that McCall told the likes of Dean Furman and McLaren to sit off and let the visitors play which we did and the goal resulted.
The goal – headed into the back of the net from about ten yards – the ball nestled behind Rhys Evans and the visitors doing cartwheels and cheering in front of their own fans. The ball in the back of the net and them enjoying this draw they had come for and got. The ball being returned not by an eager striker trying to get the game restarted to try win it but by City. Them celebrating getting the point that moves them to minus eighteen and leaves us in sixth but not trying to win the game.
They never wanted to win the game. I mention this because this Luton Town address the football community as if they are wronged. They want your sympathy and complain about being punished for the massive misdemeanours and for exiting administration without a CVA. They want your sympathy and they come to your ground with the express aim of getting a draw and dragging out a dull afternoon of football where they try stop any football being played. I would not miss them.
Luton’s fate though is decided elsewhere while City’s is still up in the air. Three games without a win the Bantams go to Accrington Stanley next week with the team slipping the wrong way. The players seem to lack a freshness and labour over games. We are a team who need an early goal break to get in the habit of being in front again.
The quality is obvious but the belief starts to slip and McCall has to find a way to inject the freshness back into the side who seem to spend all game worrying about not having scored yet. Everything is being over cooked, passes over thought out, runs fretted over.
We are stuck in third gear and to find the spark to shift up because results like this are causing confidence to ebb.
I have no problems with Luton Town being relegated from the Football League this year not especially because the were negative in the 1-1 draw at Valley Parade but because they broken rules and are should be punished for breaking those rules regardless of how honest they are about breaking those rules.
Not only did they break rules but they overspent while doing it as they tried to capitalise on the fact they were doing well by virtue of going outside the rules that everyone else was playing to. They came to our ground and dumped us out of the FA Cup while playing on this unlevel playing field.
Why should I, we or the other fans of clubs who behaved properly while Luton obeyed the rules they wanted to obey feel sympathy for Luton Town?
I’d rather feel sorry for Tranmere Rovers or Crewe who got denied promotion or were relegated in Leagues where in the words of the FA “there can be no doubt that Luton Town Football Club, between July 2004 and February 2007 was run with a flagrant disregard for the Regulations laid down to protect the game.”
It was during that time when a City team having won five games on the bounce went to Luton and lost 4-0 to be taunted by a Referee. Our season turned on that game losing Dean Windass and confidence and it turned because we thought that Luton had beaten us on a level playing field and they had not.
Of course Luotn Town may escape the drop – Rotherham United are very excited today because they have managed to reach zero points – and they will see it as a great triumph just as they saw today’s point as a massive achievement but to me they are a cynical team on and off the field and those who have taken over them take a part in the crimes of the past by trying to avoid the punishment for them.
The other 91 clubs in the Football League deserve Luton Town to be punished and the sympathy that they try generated with the idea that they are wronged is an insult to every other club who play by the rules.
Come 5pm Saturday Bradford City’s promotion hopes will have either been strengthened or weakened – but one thing they certainly won’t be is over.
Two successive defeats is disappointing and three would be considered “unacceptable”, but with City’s home vulnerability resurfacing that is entirely possible as would-be-11th-but-for-crazy-points-deduction Luton come to town. After a week in which talk of failure has emanated from some quarters – preceding any actual failure itself – it’s worth reflecting on what it would look like. A home defeat would probably push City out of the play off positions; but, at worst, City would be six points behind the leaders, with 37 games to go.
It’s said by some that the fear of failure led to Stuart McCall playing 4-5-1 at Shrewsbury last weekend and, largely ignoring three key injuries and an appalling referee display, the City manager’s perceived negativity has resulted in some of the strongest criticism towards him yet. Whether or not the system worked in the way he intended; Stuart will obviously be moving back to 4-4-2 for this one.
Top scorer Peter Thorne, who’s absence in defeat has further highlighted his importance, is expected to be fit enough to lead the attack alongside Michael Boulding. Barry Conlon will be back on the bench having been made scapegoat by some for last week’s failings. Some of the criticism is unjustified but it’s hard to argue that the Irishman has done enough, when given the opportunity, to warrant a contact beyond January and it’s up to him to prove his worth. Willy Topp, fresh from a wonder goal in the reserves and closer to fitness, is also likely to be among the subs.
Lee Bullock’s injury will allow the promising Dean Furman to keep his place and Stuart may look for him to share more of the defensive responsibilities with partner Paul McLaren than Bullock has been. Former Hatter McLaren joined City in the summer having topped the League One assist chart the previous season, but the more withdrawn role he’s playing has lessened his impact going forward. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley will be patrolling out wide, with some disappointment this week that they won’t be pushed as hard to keep up their excellent form as they might.
At the back Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke will be looking to rediscover their early season swagger and, unless Paul Arnison makes a miraculous recovery, Simon Ainge will get a chance at right back. The 20-year-old made his City debut two years ago but has had few opportunities to push on, his last one ending in failure. Stuart’s decision to give youth a chance instead of making yet another loan signing is applauded on this site and Ainge will aim to make it a quiet afternoon for keeper Rhys Evans.
For Luton, former Bantam Lewis Emmanuel makes a second return to Valley Parade since leaving two years ago. Briefly it seemed he’d gone onto better things in the Championship but, despite having trials at Birmingham and Southend during the summer, Lewis has fallen with the troubled Hatters and could feasibly be playing non-league football next year. It’s to be hoped Don Hutchinson won’t carry the influence his fellow ex-Premiership star Darren Anderton managed two weeks ago, while ex-Chelsea striker Sam Parkin will need to be watched.
Yet the biggest threat of failure will arguably come not from the visitors, but in the stands. Considering we were topping the division two weeks ago, the criticisms levelled at City by many supporters this week have been unnecessarily high. Conversations before this match are likely to contain the phrase “we’d better win today” and, judging on past form, the chances of supporters getting behind the team if they don’t start well are highly slim.
A delve into City’s recent history adds further reason to fear such failure. During the past two seasons, promotion hopes looked credible going into the middle of September – and were all but extinguished when October was over. It’s easy to pin point the respective defeats to Huddersfield and Hereford as the moment things went wrong, but defeats are always going to happen and it was the later ones at home to Brighton and Accrington which really tipped the balance towards another season of failure. During both these games the crowd quickly turned on the team and worked against it – and a similar reaction if things aren’t initially going to plan on Saturday could prove similarly damaging.
Earlier this week one fan wrote they were sick of hearing the management and chairmen falsely building up our promotion hopes each summer, as though pre-season optimism has nothing to do with us supporters. Well promotion this season is my dream, promotion this season is your dream, promotion this season is Stuart McCall’s dream, promotion this season is Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn’s dream, promotion this season is even Barry Conlon’s dream.
If we all channel our efforts in the same direction, accepting we succeed and fail together, the chances of us all achieving those ambitions will surely be greater. So, should City fall behind on Saturday, how are you going to react?
Thomas Moncur does not remember much of the Shrewsbury match and frankly neither do we.
The right back was left sparked out before a goal that sent City to a second defeat on the bounce but while the AFC Bournemouth defeat hung around in the air for the week the loss at Shrewsbury Town was quickly folded into debates on Referees and head injuries.
Moncur is not allowed to play for two weeks as a result of the knockout blow and the Football League are not up for answering any questions about Jarnail Singh’s performance that day of his abilities going forward – I know because I’ve asked them – leaving City fans to talk about the man in the middle and not the men on the other end of a two goal deficit.
No one had much of a positive thing to say about the Bantams in Shropshire until Dean Furman – hoping to cement a role in midfield at the expense of long term injured Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon – chipped in with the idea that City could take something form the game that while over shadowed saw good exchanges in the second half.
Furman did not talk about collapsing probability matrices or Schrodinger’s Cat but perhaps the mood in the dressing room is that without losing Moncur and then Bullock the Bantams might have been able to give the home side more of a game.
Certainly there is much talk now of rebounding and a look at the table shows that at five on Saturday the Bantams could be back top of League Two but even if results did not go our way following a win the confidence that is so brittle amongst supporters would return.
Some believe that the nervousness of the Valley Parade crowd gets to the players – certainly Nicky Law believed so – but the truest test of a team I’ve ever seen came when all were silent and the supporters had all but given up. I talk about Wolves in 1999 and the fact that after the home side’s early goal it seemed to me that only the player’s believed and it was that core of belief in the players that saw us promoted.
Building a similar core – unshakable and solid – in the current side is Stuart McCall’s task and it is his test this weekend.