From November, 2008
Bradford City 1 Leyton Orient 2 At Valley Parade in FA Cup Second Round, 2008/2009
Watching the Bantams go out of the FA Cup 2-1 to Leyton Orient two frustrations of this 2008/2009 season struck me but only one left me surprised.
The Bantams interest in knock out competitions ended after a header former Leeds man Danny Granville headed home a well placed corner leaving City – who had got back into the game following going behind in the first half – tired and heading for the exit.
City had started slowly – a problem of late – and Graeme Lee’s continuing problems with TJ Moncur maintaining a position to his right hand side saw the skipper foolishly following the wrong man leaving time and space for Jason Demetriou to turn and pick out a fine shot to beat Rhys Evans from range. It was a deserved reward for the team from the division above having the better of the opening exchanges and there was a worry that as with Tranmere Rovers 3-0 win in a previous FA Cup tie that League One would just have too much quality.
Credit then City for clawing back into the game to such an extent that the first half ended with the Bantams in the ascendency much of which had to do with the Bantams midfield – second choice and second best – adding a needed steel to proceedings.
The quartet of Nicky Law Jnr being anchored by Tom Clarke with Kyle Nix on the right and debut loan winger Steve Jones replacing the injured Omar Daley were bullied out of the opening exchanges but added perhaps a little too much of the tough stuff with Clarke picking up a booking and Nix pushing in two challenges that had they connected could have resulted in red cards.
Nevertheless the muscle matched the visitors from the league above who’s robust style of play had seen a heavy challenge on Barry Conlon in the first ten minutes result in the in form 100 goal man coming off after twenty minutes with a back injury and considering that none of the midfield four would be in Stuart McCall’s all squad fit team then credit is due for the resurgence that bore fruit after an hour when a smart through ball allowed Michael Boulding – who ran tirelessly all afternoon – to get behind the immense Alton Thirwell who had a superb game for the visitors and equalise for the Bantams.
At that point City looked the team most likely but the goal galvanised the visitors who stepped up and within ten had taken the decisive lead. The Bantams had chances to equalise – Peter Thorne uncharacteristically heading the best of them wide – but Thirwell, Jordan Spence and midfielder Adam Chambers kept a strong spine to restrict City who lost by an edge, but just an edge.
Curious then that a decent turn out despite pricing villainy by the Londoner’s boardroom did not get behind City more. The Bantams battled with a team a league above and battled well. A nicer drop of the ball or a slice of luck and City could have been through yet the atmosphere was once again strangely muted. Hardly a surprise but whatever a crowd can do to push a team through we do not seem to do it, at least not at Valley Parade.
Surprising and disappointing has been the rumbling of balls around Bradford City this season. Four times the Bantams have been drawn out of hats and every time we have faced a team in the highest division possible. Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Milton Keynes Dons have previously faced City in the cup this season all from League One.
With the Bantams doing well in League Two we could assume that a draw against anyone below us – and in every draw we have been in most of the teams have been below us in the league structure – would have been more beatable but rather than Grimsby Town away in the Johnsons Paint we end up with Leeds and rather than Chester in the League Cup we went to Huddersfield. Of course there is no guarantee we would have won those hypothetical games but City should not be down hearted about being out of all the cups but rather surprised at the bad luck that saw us get four tough games.
Leyton Orient was a winnable game – both in theory and during the match – but it was not Histon Town 1 Leeds United 0 and as we look to the league now and the next five months of trying to ensure promotion we should do so knowing that in all four of those games – save the second half against Huddersfield – the Bantams gave as good as they got against the teams we want to be playing week in week out.
Four times we played league one clubs. Once we learned a lesson, once we got an apology, once we played and won and once we played and lost. We are ready for that league.
We remember Ben Murihead stupidly running down a blind alley with 10 minutes to go, losing possession and Barnsley racing up the other end to crucially equalise. We remember Jermaine Johnson’s incredible dribble from his own half before shooting wide when reaching the penalty area, then a Nathan Doyle own goal gifting Millwall an undeserved win. We remember David Wetherall hitting the crossbar with a header before, erm, Tranmere proceeded to play us off the park and win 3-0.
The previous three Bradford City seasons have featured progress past the First Round of the FA Cup, before each time falling at the Second. We’ve allowed ourselves to dream of City’s name being included in that illusive 3rd Round Draw with the opportunity of a lucrative tie. On Saturday we dream again that this could our year as Leyton Orient rock up to Valley Parade – will it be fourth time lucky?
The so-called “magic of the FA Cup” will be duly hyped all weekend and City could, by some stretch of the imagination, be considered one of the giant killers of the last round after the impressive win at MK Dons – a result which looks more impressive each week as the Buckinghamshire club climb League One.
It’s doubtful whether the magic really will touch Bradford this weekend though, the stadium will be barely a fifth full and there’s a convincing argument that, unlike the last three seasons, an FA Cup run is an unnecessary distraction. Nevertheless as memories of recent disappointments remind us of the often thin line between success and failure it’s worth noting that City have twice this week been on the right side of such margins – Rhys Evans’ wonder save at Rotherham and Jack Lester’s miss at 2-2 on Tuesday – and it’s the sign of a good side when they’re the ones regularly benefiting from such fortune.
A good side. Worth emphasising to some of our supporters who still can’t manage to do anything but criticise and moan. Tuesday’s comeback win against Chesterfield was a fantastic game of football – arguably the most entertaining of our season so far. Yet still all some can do is focus on the disappointing first 25 minutes, pick on a couple of players who didn’t reach the heights of others and, perhaps most stupidly of all, moan that City we’re hanging on during the final 10 minutes. Let’s imagine our team had fallen 3-2 behind and had a man sent off with 10 minutes to go, wouldn’t we still expect our players to force pressure in the closing stages? Why shouldn’t Chesterfield fans expect any less of their side?
We witness an injury hit City side show tremendous character and commitment to recover from an awful start and win against an impressive visiting side, why can’t we enjoy it? All some people can do is look for negatives; there’s been some over-the-top moaning about Matt Clarke (who apparently was booed by some ‘fans’ in the Kop whenever he touched the ball on Tuesday), the medical experts amongst us have managed to blame Omar Daley’s injury on Stuart McCall and there’s a certain balding Irish striker who some attempted to argue was one of our worst players. I am staggered how any City supporter could have left Valley Parade on Tuesday feeling unhappy. As Alan Hansen would say, “it’s unbelievable.”
Of course there were things which didn’t go so well and Stuart will look to address these on Saturday. I’m full of admiration for the way he stuck to his guns with the line up on Tuesday. At 2-0 the diamond formation he’d employed did not look a clever decision but, rather than panic, he got the players doing the right things and the improvement was vast. It won’t work every game and may not be used tomorrow with no Daley, but Stuart has a lot more faith in his team than many of us supporters do and surely it’s time more of us got behind them, particuarly when they’re struggling.
Stuart is unlikely to make many changes for this tie. Nicky Law and Tom Clarke have both had their loan spells extended and both arguably enjoyed their best games in Claret and Amber so far on Tuesday. They will make up the centre of the midfield with new loan arrival Steve Jones, taking Daley’s place, on the right. Kyle Nix, who did reasonably well Tuesday considering it was his first game back from injury, will push his claims for a regular spot on the left.
The back five will be unchanged with Matt Clarke still causing concern but Graeme Lee winning fans over. At 2-0 down and in real trouble on Tuesday, strong leadership was needed and Lee stepped up to the mark in more ways than just his impressive free kick. TJ Moncur must improve on his recent showings while Luke O’Brien will reflect that it was a year ago this weekend he made his debut and how far he has come. Rhys Evans keeps goal.
Up front Stuart has a real dilemma. At last Valley Parade got to see what a talent Michael Boulding can be and it would be difficult to rest him with confidence improving. Same with Barry Conlon, who’s popularity is surpassing the ‘cult hero’ status of last season into genuine ‘fans favourite’. That could mean Peter Thorne is left out again, which might not be a bad thing with a busy Christmas coming and injury niggles. FA Cup rules allow Stuart to name seven substitutes, which will give some fringe players a chance – will Willy Topp be one of them?
Of course the last time Leyton Orient were in town they cruelly smashed our hopes of avoiding the drop with a two-goal burst which had people around me crying and the boo boys curiously gloating. That day City battered Orient and wasted a hatful of chances to be out of sight by half time.
It’s those margins of success and failure that good teams invariably benefit from and poor sides are left cursing about. If City are the beneficiaries on Saturday we supporters just might start to believe in magic again.
Bradford City 3 Chesterfield 2 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
City produced a fine comeback from 2-0 down to grab all three points and ascend into 2nd place in League Two.
It was a game full of incident and open play, and City’s superb resolve and spirit was highly commendable against dangerous attacking opposition.
McCall sprung a surprise in naming the starting eleven by leaving top scorer Peter Thorne on the bench. His troublesome back problems that have developed over the last few weeks is likely to be the reasoning behind not risking him from the start. With so many injuries to contend with, McCall tinkered with a diamond formation in the first half, with Tom Clarke playing the anchor role in midfield protecting the back four, and Omar Daley getting a free role to roam with menace.
Things could not have got off to a worse start when a long throw into the area was not dealt with, and Jack Lester rifled in a left foot strike beyond Rhys Evans to put Chesterfield ahead.
The game opened up and City had two good chances to level via Omar Daley – in particular when he seemed to have got clean through and just before he was about to shoot, an excellent last ditch challenge was produced by Chesterfield defender Downes, to deny the pacy Jamaican.
Things went from bad to worse when Chesterfield doubled their advantage on 23. A loose ball floated around the penalty area that City failed to clear and it was left to Darren Currie to produce a rasping left foot strike that took a deflection and flew into the roof of the net, prompting jubilant celebrations from the scorer.
To their credit, City never let their heads drop and really began to play with more purpose despite being 2-0 down. There was some nice interplay and with Michael Boulding a willing runner all night, City began asking questions of Robert Page’s Chesterfield backline. When Barry Conlon was fouled just outside the box, the resultant free kick was left to skipper Graeme Lee who smashed the ball directly into the net with a thunderbolt that threw City a lifeline.
And just before halftime a short corner produced a left wing cross that was headed firmly down by Boulding that drew City level.
The second half began with City in the ascendancy and should have taken the lead twice through Boulding. First, he was unlucky to see his strike bounce wide following an excellent cross from the left from O’Brien. Then he really should have scored when one on one with Page, but he dragged his shot wide of the target.
Chesterfield were still having a fair amount of attacking play though, and Jack Lester missed a very presentable chance when clean through on goal to the left of the box. But Evans did a brilliant job, making himself big, and only providing Lester with an acute angle left to shoot which he sliced into the side netting.
The penalty that was awarded in City’s favour that won them the game seemed to be a fairly harsh one from my viewpoint. Nicky Law did brilliantly to take on his man and dribble inside the box, but seemed to go to ground too easily (I haven’t seen the replay yet) and initially I thought Law was going to be booked for diving. But the referee pointed to the spot, and served as some compensation for the terrible offside decisions that were given against us attacking wise.
Battling Barry Conlon grabbed the ball and confidently stepped up to take the penalty (I must admit I wanted either Boulding or Thorne to take it!). What followed was an audacious chip (Dwight Yorke style in his heyday) that went straight down the middle for the Burly Irishman’s 100th League Goal highlighted by his flash of his undershirt in the goal celebration, which was rewarded with a booking.
City held on for the last 20 minutes against ten men (Goodall was sent off for a second bookable – his foul on Law inside the penalty area) largely thanks to an excellent save from Evans from a Jamie Ward effort, and TJ Moncur made a vital interception at the back at the death – nipping the ball away from Lester with the goal gaping inside the area.
Whilst they made it very hard for themselves, its hard to find anything to criticise about City’s under strength side tonight. Yes they started slowly – but their battling back from adversion is promotion form (demonstrated also away at Accrington to grab all three points).
Boulding had a productive night and never stopped running. Tom Clarke produced an effective display protecting his back four, as was his brief. And Lee really is producing “Captain Fantastic” performances consistently now – a really worthy replacement for David Wetherall. His strikes from set pieces are now something of a secret weapon ( 30 yards out against Bury, The winner away at MK Dons in the FA Cup and now tonight).
My only grip about tonight were my fellow supporters in the Midland Road stand. With 2 – 3 minutes remaining there was an exodus of people making their way to the exit. Having just seen their team produce a stunning comeback against a very strong side, surely the team are worthy of a standing ovation. Or at least a round of a applause from the over 11,000 home fans? No, some people want to leave early to “ miss the traffic”. It’s pathetic.
You either commit to supporting the team or you are simply a spectator with no heart in caring about the team when they deserve some support or a pat on the back. People would be quick to boo the entire game if the team lost but to not reward a winning team who have dug really deep to deliver an excellent result is really not on.
At the rate that people were leaving the ground before the final whistle it was like we had lost 4-0.
Anyway, well done to Stuart and the lads. Our position in the table is very encouraging. And what is more encouraging is that I don’t think we have even hit top gear yet. From the way things look tonight, a top three finish is very achievable by this team, who like to do things the hard way.
There’s little doubt this is an important week in Bradford City’s season.
On Saturday it began with the low-thrills win at Rotherham and tonight’s game is a great opportunity to increase pressure on those near the top and move further clear from the chasing pack, which includes visitors Chesterfield. Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Leyton Orient carries the possibility of a lucrative 3rd round tie for the winners, while events in the days before it will also be far from insignificant.
Thursday is deadline day for loan deals until January and, with five league games in December, manager Stuart McCall has much to do to ensure he has sufficient options. After tonight, Tom Clarke and Nicky Law’s loan deals expire and, while Stuart appears keen to retain them both, it appears likely only Law will be allowed to extend his stay. With Huddersfield caretaker manager Gerry Murphy keen to give those players who he nurtured through Town’s youth academy the opportunity, Clarke is expected back at the Galpharm.
Murphy’s philosophy may lead to his on-loan option Steve Jones making the opposite journey on the M62 and former Leeds winger Seb Carole remains a possibility Clearly a right-sided midfielder is badly needed by Thursday, even if it’s just the retention of Law. Stuart may be running up a large phone bill over the next couple of days in pursuit of targets.
Clarke and Law will feature from the start tonight as City look to continue in the manner they finished at the Don Valley on Saturday. Paul McLaren’s injury isn’t expected to be serious enough to see him missing for long, but in his absence Clarke’s more defensive-minded approach should allow Law to get forward more regularly in the way he did for the final half hour on Saturday.
On the flanks Kyle Nix is back in contention after injury and made a 10-minute cameo on Saturday. He may replace Leon Osborne, who Stuart revealed was disappointed in his own performance at Rotherham. The youngster has apparently been playing well in the reserves and will look to inspiration from the likes of Luke O’Brien and Joe Colbeck as he tries to cross that psychological barrier of doing it in the first team. Whether he is ready for the test of a five-figure Valley Parade crowd remains to be seen.
Omar Daley will remain on the right wing. Many fans on Saturday were frustrated to see the Jamaican switched over from his usual spot on the left and it was fair to say he was less effective. Stuart might allow himself to feel a little smug after persisting with Daley on the left last season and receiving criticism from some supporters for playing him ‘out of position’.
What is clear is the service to City’s forwards needs to improve. Stuart may wish to chop about after Saturday and recall Barry Conlon after his introduction indirectly saw the team score two quick-fire goals. Michael Boulding would be favourite to be left out with Peter Thorne possibly taking his turn for a rest on Saturday.
At the back Rhys Evans and O’Brien will be in high spirits while Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee will be hoping for their first back-to-back clean sheets since August. TJ Moncur will be looking to get forward in the same effective manner as O’Brien, though has the added defensive responsibility of playing behind Daley.
The last time Chesterfield were at Valley Parade their supporters taunted their manager Lee Richardson with the chant “you don’t know what you’re doing”. The former Halifax and Huddersfield midfielder is still in charge, with his team unbeaten in seven and climbing the table after a slow start. Having been injured for both meetings last season, Jack Lester (35 goals for The Spireites from 53 appearances) will line up against City and scored for Nottingham Forest on his last visit to Valley Parade. Jamie Ward, who had a superb game on that horrible afternoon 19 months ago is winning plaudits and attracting attention.
He will be with Chesterfield until January at least but who will be lining up for the Bantams over the same period isn’t fully clear. We wait for Chris Brandon, Colbeck, Lee Bullock, Dean Furman and now McLaren to return from injury and, while it leaves a larger reliance on loan players than Stuart would probably like in the short-term, it’s nothing on the situation two seasons ago where so much of Colin Todd’s long-term plans depended on them.
If it’s to be good bye from Clarke and Law tonight, let’s hope it ends in the same way their loan periods started.
Rotherham United 0 Bradford City 2 At The Don Valley Stadium in League Two, 2008/2009
It wasn’t pretty, it was far from convincing and it will be quickly forgotten – but the most relevant description of Bradford City’s 2-0 win at Rotherham would be ‘job done’.
The open manner of attacking football which manager Stuart McCall is largely pinning City’s promotion hopes on was rarely exhibited, but some of the other equally important qualities that any side with promotion aspirations was. It may have been played out in the unusual and somewhat soulless setting of Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium, but Rotherham provided that familiar awkward test and the Bantams had to display steeliness, grit and determination. Ultimately the three points earned by Luke O’Brien and Nicky Law’s second half strikes will be all that matter come May.
Not that it was a bad performance from the pre-season League Two favourites. Rotherham United supporters might consider that their entire home crowd can be dumped into one stand of their temporary home as an indicator of their place in the world, but they will also know their team would be battling with City for promotion were it not for that 17 point deduction. For 70 minutes the Millers dominated possession and posed plenty of questions of a defensive line which has being needing to provide answers.
Rhys Evans made an early low save and the City stopper had a busy afternoon. With widemen Jamie Green and Dale Tonge causing plenty of problems, numerous balls were fired into the box and Matt Clarke – who appears to have heeded the wake-up call from losing his place in the last home game against Barnet – and Graeme Lee stood up to the battle.
Not that Stuart would have been happy with how much they had to do. In the middle of the park City were second best for much of the game and possession was too easily squandered. There’s seemingly been a learning curve all season about the best way to play, with many players often taking the direct option of launching the ball forward as quickly as possible. While it’s effective at times – some of City’s better first half opportunities coming this way – it needs to be used in the right way. In the early stages there was a reluctance to slow the tempo and pass it around, instead the ball quickly sent forward and invariably returned just as fast.
Questions continue to be asked of Paul McLaren, who it’s felt can do more. This is the sort of game where a midfield leader, a Stuart if you like, is badly needed and McLaren is the closest we have. His manager must be looking to McLaren to demand the ball off others to then deliver sensible and, when the opportunity arises, killer passes which set City on their way. McLaren was guilty of taking the wrong option too often in the first half and moves broke down. Like with other City players who’ve struggled, the management is capable of coaching more out of him. Should Stuart succeed, McLaren will be a better player for it.
Two widemen were employed, with Leon Osborne brought in on the left and Omar Daley switched to the right. It was unusual to see Daley on this side and served to only remind us that, while his pace and dribbling skills are such a potent weapon, his final ball into the box can sometimes be poor. Daley was City’s best attacking outlet but Osborne too was a willing worker.
The second half became a fascinating battle as Rotherham continued to exert strong pressure and waste some good chances, but City slowly began to play in the right way. Possession wasn’t feebly squandered seconds after been won. There was some impressive passing with some moves agonisingly breaking down when one pass wasn’t quite good enough. City also seemed to work out when to go direct and when to slow it down. In short – they began to play like a good away side.
So while heavy pressure in City’s box continued, more and more gaps began to emerge at the other end and the counter attack was on. The ball was played quickly to Osborne or Daley, who used their pace and the space to get City on the attack. Nothing was to come of it at first, but as Rotherham showed a degree of naivety in how far forward some of their players went, the opportunities were increasing. After Tom Clarke was brought on for the injured McLaren, Law suddenly had the licence to get forward even more and this made a difference.
Seconds after Barry Conlon also joined the action, City got their counter attack spot on. A Rotherham corner saw plenty of red shirts forward, but the was played towards a galloping O’Brien, who burst forward to the edge of the area and hit a low shot which appeared to leave Rotherham keeper David Stockdale unsighted as it flew into the bottom corner.
Two minutes later Rotherham fans thought their side had equalised as Drew Broughton’s header from close range was magnificently pushed onto the bar by Evans, but then another counter-attack delivered a killer second goal as Law’s shot from distance flew past Stockdale into the same corner of the net as O’Brien’s.
With the game effectively won City were able to slow the tempo and pass the ball around in a calmer manner. An O’Brien dribble forward was illegally stopped and the resulting free kick fired over, while a great passing move resulted in TJ Moncur wastefully stabbing the ball well wide of the goal. A third would undoubtedly have flattered City.
Those sat near this writer will have to excuse my over-exuberant celebrations for both goals, particularly the first. For most of the game the cold air around me was polluted by one supporter who’s non-stop moaning about his team was not only moronic and largely unrealistic (they are League Two players, but I doubt even Premiership players could manage what he expected our players to do), but his choice of players to ‘target’ was ludicrous. All game long I watched an excellent performance from our young left back, O’Brien, and all game long I listened to irrational abuse about how rubbish he was, with this fan often calling him a four letter term beginning with T. That was when he wasn’t yelling equally ridiculous abuse about Osborne and demanding Stuart sub him.
Is this the way we should be encouraging our younger players? No one says we should gloss over if they fail to reach the standards required for first team football, but when they’re not even having bad games it was hard to listen to this fan’s clueless rants. So when O’Brien struck the first I had to fight every urge to turn around and call my fellow supporter a four letter term beginning with T, though my mouth dropped to the floor in astonishment as he joined in when others later started a chant praising O’Brien.
But in some ways it was that sort of afternoon. The Don Valley stadium is a horrible place to watch football and the freezing conditions had us longing for the final whistle well before it was due. Any attempt to build an atmosphere by the 1,600 City fans was largely lost in the wide open space and, for those of us with limited eyesight, it was difficult to see the ball at the opposite end of the pitch when it got darker. It can’t have been much fun for the players either, with three sides of the ground completely empty. It was a matter of getting the win and moving onto the next game.
Rotherham’s 17 point deduction should mean the Don Valley stays on the fixture list for League Two sides next season – another incentive for City to get the ultimate ‘job done’ and earn promotion.
This is the seventh season out of eight to feature Rotherham away on Bradford City’s fixture list, though there will be nothing familiar about Saturday’s trip.
The financial difficulties which the Millers have struggled to overcome during the last few years has resulted in a temporary move to Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium. With a running track around the pitch and the stands – of which for only one side is there a roof – positioned well back, it will certainly be a contrast from the intimacy of Millmoor.
For Rotherham the move was born out of necessity as Millmoor’s landlord, former Chairman Ken Booth, demanded too much rent and not enough access to its facilities for it to be financially viable. Attendances have slightly dipped through the six-mile relocation, though with only two home defeats so far it’s clear the players have adapted to new surroundings quickly.
For us Bradford City supporters, it should be a case of being thankful for our lot. Clearly the Bantams have suffered from financial troubles in recent years and the two relegations since leaving the Premier League can be blamed on it to varying degrees. Yet both City’s spells in administration came before the sort of point deductions which have been inflicted on Rotherham for three consecutive seasons. As for a former chairman owning the ground and the struggle to make rent payments, a move to Odsal looked a possibility back in February 2004.
Which goes to show that, if there can be positives to take from what this club went through, it’s the timing of it. Pity the marketing men at Rotherham, who this summer had to work out how to sell season tickets for a club which had moved to a nearby city, which wasn’t fully guaranteed to be allowed to continue by the Football League and who even then started with a 17 point deduction. The self-righteous whining from Leeds United supporters last season has ensured many of us hold little sympathy for clubs who break the rules by getting in such debt, but things could have been much worse for us during those dark days and at the time that didn’t seem possible.
For City at least, such difficult times are now part of the history books and they approach the only proper League Two Yorkshire Derby of the season with strong promotion aspirations. Last week’s defeat to Wycombe may have tempered confidence among supporters, but manager Stuart McCall will know the true quality of a good side is how it responds to set backs. So far this season the players have made a good fist of it.
The team is likely to be similar after Stuart’s attempts to bring in a right winger on loan drew a blank. Rhys Evans keeps goal behind a back four slowly recapturing its early season solidness. Paul Heckingbottom came through the reserves unscathed midweek and Stuart may consider giving Luke O’Brien a breather. TJ Moncur seems to be comfortably first choice ahead of Paul Arnison on the right and Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke continue in the centre.
The other Clarke will continue in midfield. City’s line ups this season have largely not featured an out and out holding midfielder and the hope has to be that Paul McClaren, alongside Tom, can get forward more than he has been afforded to. Lee Bullock is close to a return to fitness and McClaren may be aware he needs to show more in order to keep his starting place. Nicky Law will play on the right with Omar Daley likely to provide the team’s main source of attacking inspiration from the left.
Up front Michael Boulding will be hoping to get the nod over Barry Conlon, with the latter still sweating over a new contract offer in the new year. There are some concerns over Peter Thorne’s recent performances, but there’s no one you’d rather have on the end of any decent chances the rest of the team can create during the game.
Rotherham are not without their problems having lost experienced keeper Andy Warrington to injury and with only Steven Cann, who played his first senior game midweek and was on the end of a 3-0 defeat, to call upon between the sticks. Manager Mark Robins too has been left frustrated by the loan market and, unless any late attempts prove successful, it will be a big day for the 20-year-old South African. They also have their own Omar, who is perhaps more Willy Topp.
One familiar face will be Alex Rhodes, who joined the Millers from City during the summer. The winger was an excellent proposition on his day, as Rotherham themselves know only too well, but lacked consistency. Had Stuart kept him on it’s likely he’d have barely figured for City this season up until Joe Colbeck’s injury, so his regularity for Rotherham suggests City would be finishing above them even if they’d not suffered that heavy points deduction.
Like City, Rotherham will be aiming to put their financial troubles behind them but the impact which the credit crunch has had on so many parts of UK life has yet to be realised in football. With the UK heading for recession tough times may be ahead and typically its lower league clubs who will suffer.
If United had trouble with season tickets this season what about the next, when people’s spending will become even tighter? This week Rotherham announced half-year season ticket prices which are still more expensive than it cost for a full City season ticket. If levels of support are to be maintained in 2009/10 season clubs are going to have to consider the sort of innovate pricing approach which has succeeded at Valley Parade, though that might be difficult for clubs like Rotherham to implement with money in short supply.
If City can march onto promotion this season they should have few problems retaining their support should they keep similar prices, which would once again leave us pleased with our timing and thankful for our lot.
Just like video goalline technology, winter breaks and the declining tradition of the FA Cup – the opinion “it’s a poor league” is one uttered on an annual basis.
In City’s case, it doesn’t seem to matter which division we are in – even during our second season of the Premiership the national media spent a few concentrated weeks deriding the standard of the top flight – or how well we are doing, the opposition are always poor and City firmly part of such mediocrity. It’s a viewpoint the vast majority of supporters also hold no matter who their team is, every league is always poor.
When looking at this season’s League Two table it can be tempting to trot out such well-worn phrases. Discount the points deductions of Luton, Bournemouth and Rotherham and the gap between top and bottom would be a measly 22 points after a third of the season. Everyone can beat everyone and, while that makes for an exciting and unpredictable league, it also leaves the playing standards open to accusations of poorness.
It’s been said that, unlike last season, there are no outstanding teams going to runaway with it like MK Dons and Peterborough; though a look at the League Two table this time last year offers few clues that was going to be the case. MK Dons had its noses in front, but Peterborough was back among traffic. This year Darlington and Wycombe hold the same advantage of the Dons, though the chasing pack remain closely on their tails. The six-point advantage both enjoy over ninth-place Bury is in contrast to a year ago where fifth-place Peterborough was seven behind MK Dons. Meanwhile the eventual Play Off Finalists, Stockport and Rochdale, were 15th and 17th respectively, a fact which will give Aldershot, Port Vale and Notts County inspiration this season.
Above those three are 12 clubs which retain credible aspirations of promotion, which illustrates just how competitive a league it is. That Wycombe remain unbeaten is a great achievement and the Buckinghamshire club will be hoping to turn a few more draws into wins to build on its impressive start. It remains to be seen how they will react to that eventual first defeat, but Peter Taylor has clearly been able to take the club forward after the good work of Paul Lambert last season.
Like Wycombe, Darlington lost in the play off semi finals last year but have responded strongly. Dave Penney is rumoured to be interesting Huddersfield and isn’t universally popular with Quakers fans, but on the evidence of games against the Bantams they look stronger this season. Much depends on if they can keep the impressive on-loan Billy Clarke, who’s Ipswich contract expires in January and is seemingly surplus to requirements.
Currently top of the of the six clubs on 27 points is Shrewsbury. Having spent big money on Grant Holt during the summer the Shrews are looking particularly strong at home and have a manager experienced enough to guide the club in lasting the distance. Rochdale has climbed after a slow start, though don’t quite appear as strong as last season. Brentford’s Andy Scott is cementing a reputation as one of the game’s bright young managers and Gillingham, relegated last season, are improving. The biggest surprise is Exeter still being up there, though the newly-promoted Grecians have suffered heavy defeats to City and Chesterfield suggesting they aren’t strong enough to last the pace.
Doubts which were also raised at Bury and Dagenham, which seem to be coming true as both fade away following impressive starts. Chesterfield and Lincoln, who both started slowly, are closing in and have the expectation and quality to force themselves into the top seven above.
Which just leaves the Bantams. Predictably Saturday’s defeat has lead to some fans writing off our chances of achieving anything better than a play off spot, but the injury situation which Stuart McCall is currently contending with is clearly going to slow things. Omar Daley is the only out-and-out winger fit and, while the Jamaican’s performances are remaining highly consistent, the lack of a similar threat on the other flank for a team which bases much of its style of play on the widemen is reducing chances for the forwards.
There are question marks still over the defence but, in general, the team has been able to respond to weakness at the back with potency going forward. The next few games may be a battle and not wield as higher a number of points as we’d like, but if City can approach Christmas in a similar position to now, with Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon due to come back, the prospects of a good run of form at the turn of the year are good.
It would take a brave man to bet on who will finish in the top three spots come May right now, but clearly the next segment of the season will be vital in reducing the number of possibilities. Next Saturday Lincoln entertain Shrewsbury; the Tuesday after Gillingham face Rochdale, who’s game after is Darlington away; City travel to Brentford the following Saturday; the Saturday after sees Shrewsbury host Wycombe. With the Christmas fixtures including Rochdale v Shrewsbury, Darlington v Chesterfield and Gillingham v Wycombe, the chances of anyone running away with it seem unlikely.
It’s a league where you don’t want to take your eyes off anyone, even if we are all ‘poor’.
Dean Furman is still injured and Paul McLaren is still carrying a knock. Joe Colbeck and Lee Bullock still cannot run about and Chris Brandon is not coming back until next year. The Bantams are still as threadbare as they were going into the game with MK Dons last weekend but after that win the City have hope.
Hope that is that Stuart McCall’s side which he this week declared he was happy with the progress of is more than just the eleven players on the field and that there is strength in the squad.
Barry Conlon showed that strength coming off the bench and scoring goals and being part of last week’s winning side but the Irishman is expected to step down for a biting at the bit Peter Thorne. Michael Boulding’s intelligent play and pace away from home rather than Conlon’s battering ram approach will be favoured alongside.
At the back Matthew Clarke’s return to the team and to form seems set to leave his Huddersfield name sake Tom cooling his heels with Graeme Lee partnering him at the back. TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien are expected to continue at full back with Rhys Evans behind them.
The midfield continues to be a black hole of injury. Omar Daley has continued good form on his return on the right hand side and Leon Osbourn did enough on the left to suggest his continued presence in the side. Certainly Stuart McCall seems more impressed with the youngster’s attitude than he is with Willy Topp’s. Topp – an option in midfield – seems to be a long way from the side.
Wycombe go into the game having led League Two but now on a dip in much the same way City were. They have drawn four of their last five fixtures and have needed 90th and 98th minute goals to maintain the stream of points. They are – for sure – a good side but City’s one defeat in seven suggests that we are too and that this is a game between teams who will be battling for the chance of automatic promotion and the championship rather than play-off places.
Bradford City’s top scorer Peter Thorne is looking forward to facing promotion rivals Wycombe this Saturday. It’s not just that the striker, rested for the FA Cup win at MK Dons on Saturday, is hoping his team can win the ‘six-pointer’ against a team yet to lose in the league, but the challenge and battle he will face from the Football League’s meanest defence.
Thorne said, “I look at it as a big challenge. I’m not the sort of person who thinks ‘oh no, this will be a hard battle’. It would be great to score against them…If I do play, I’ll expect a bit more special attention as well, being the top goal-scorer at the moment. The defenders will know they have to raise their game but that’s football and is why I love it.”
It’s the last part of Thorne’s comments which really stand out. He love’s football? Might seem like an obvious thing to say for someone paid to do just that, but in age where footballers are widely viewed as money-grabbing, mercenary folk with little grasp of reality, his views seem somehow refreshing.
This is a man who admitted he’d fallen out of love with The Game a couple of years ago and took a pay cut to remain a Bantam during the summer after rediscovering it during a superb season – and it’s the sort of attitude you’d want from your players on the eve of a tough match. Wycombe’s defence has only been breached four times at Adams Park, but they’ve yet to face a clearly-excited top scorer of League Two…
Such views also stand out given how little it seems to be reflected among City supporters. Of course we all love football, why else would we bother spending so much money and travel so many miles in support of City? Yet the negative mood which has hung around Valley Parade for the last few disappointing years has been curiously hard to shift this season.
At the end of City’s last home game, against Barnet, they were booed off the pitch by some – despite the draw leaving the Bantams only a point from top of the league. Of course it had been a disappointing second half performance and its not the first time the team had struggled this campaign; but City are third in the league and it’s a long time since we’ve been able to say that in November, shouldn’t we be enjoying this a bit more?
There seems to be such an extreme range of emotions and comments expressed about City from many supporters this season, often during the same game. The opening goal against Barnet was described as some as one of the finest goals we’ve seen at Valley Parade for years, but then howls of derision are heaped on those same players when goals go in the other end. Is TJ Moncur a good player? He set up two goals and was widely praised, but then makes a mistake at the other end and is ridiculed. It may not be like watching Brazil, but we’re not watching East Timor either.
Sunday’s news that City would face Leyton Orient in the next round of the FA Cup has brought back some sore memories, following the 2-0 defeat to them 19 months ago which proved critical in the failed attempt to beat the drop. City could just have easily been drawn to face Chesterfield, Accrington, Luton, Scunthorpe, Stockport or Bournemouth – opposition which can also prompt flashbacks of previous disappointments. There’s been so little to celebrate in recent years, which would only accentuate how happy we’d be if promotion is achieved this season.
But there’s a long way to go yet, so can’t we try to enjoy things a bit more? Apart from those in the Bradford End, the atmosphere at Valley Parade this season has been disappointing. I’m tired of people around me sitting in silence when things are going well, only coming alive when the team is struggling to moan and criticise. I’m tired of fans making pointless digs at Stuart’s management while failing to provide reasoning; no one should be immune and he’s made mistakes, but half of the complaints are embarrassingly stupid and unnecessary. I’m tired of hearing what’s wrong with the team when I see them sitting high up in the league and wonder if people really do believe we should win every game. I’m tired of hearing booing, so very tired.
There are no guarantees this season and there’s every chance we could be discussing where it went wrong come May, but what we should know is we have a bunch of honest and hardworking players giving their all, managed by someone who wouldn’t tolerate anything less. They will make mistakes because they’re League Two players competing in a league where those near the bottom are capable of beating those near the top. They will lose games, give away bad goals and miss easy chances. Yet the evidence shows they will win more games, score many great goals and maintain their promotion challenge throughout the season. When was the last time we played a match in May which meant something?
And that’s what we should love about football, right? Up there near the top of the league, competing with other teams and going through all those ups and downs. The nervousness before the big games, the hours studying the league table and remaining fixtures and, hopefully, one night sinking many pints in celebration as it all comes together.
Nothing is settled in November, but we can still enjoy the ride now.
Milton Keynes Dons 1 Bradford City 2 At stadium:MK in FA Cup First Round, 2008/2009
Who wants to go to Stadium:MK? Who even knows where it is? Or what it is? “Is it a hockey stadium” Ian asks and then we have a debate over if hockey is a big enough game to have stadiums anyway. “It is something you do down the park” says Dawn, “or at school. It isn’t a grown ups game.”
This argument rages over the team news which sees City without a load of players and without Peter Thorne. “Perhaps we can lend his stick to Barry” says Noel breaking from shouting at us for not being able to stop arguing about having a colon in the middle of a phrase and find this stadium:mk thing. We are going to be late and we are. We get into the ground to see footballer:od (Omar Daley) messing around in the box and hitting a shot that sneaks in past Lewis Price in the home goal. “F*ck Barrack Obama! We’ve got Barrack O. Daley” is both idiotic and hilarious and as we look over the pitch to see how isn’t playing rather than who is. Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon in front of a midfield with Daley, and Leon Osbourn on the wings and Paul McLaren and Nicky Law in the middle. Law got off to a good start setting up the goal.
And City had a good start. Away games have long since been better than home for atmosphere and sure enough the Bantams fans buoyed by an early goal were in good voice. WimbleMKDons most dangerous man Dean Lewington started to warm up and I remember how he smacked Joe Colbeck over the back of the head in the second to last game of the season which resulted in Colbeck being sent off for a horrible tackle back. Colbeck, like Conlon, has come out of the other side of the tunnel of booing and Barry running about this afternoon is proof that while it is pretty stupid the players that come out of the other side tend to do so as better players.
Not that that is a good reason or anything.
Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee had the throats warming up but stuck back together today they were impressing in the first half blocking MK Dons as they tried to drive through the middle of City. If Roberto Di Matteo had had City watched they came back with the wrong info because City looked stronger in the middle today. Away from home and leading we could park a bus in front of the goal but we need to be careful on the flanks were TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien still amazingly keep out the Paul Arnison and Paul Heckingbottom combination.
Able to sit deep City enjoyed a good share of possession against the Champions of League Two who look less of a team than they were last term. Lewington still looks like the best player in the Galaxy when he faces City and manages to get above Graeme Lee as it looks like the City skipper could put in number two. Some Bantams make a decent shout for a penalty but of course it is given the other way. I wonder if I’ll live long enough that City ever get one of those games where we are the underdogs and everyone loves us and we get let off with two footed tackles and the News of the World want to talk to us but then I remember how much I hate clubs like that and the managers who play up to it like last week’s Barnet manager Paul Fairclough when he was manager of Stevenage when they played Newcastle ages ago. As I’m thinking about this I start to worry about how often Ali Gerba is getting caught offside cause at some point the linesman will let him go and he will equalise. He doesn’t but Jemal Johnson does hitting the ball in from miles away from the goal.
“That was a great goal” Ian offered at half time, “You couldn’t do that in hockey. The ball never leaves the ground.” Sometimes you wonder especially when it is really clear that you are nowhere near the National Hockey Stadium but it does turn out that stadium:mk is next to arena:mk where the Milton Keynes BasketBall team who they might have nicked off Chicago but probably didn’t play. “Rory Delap would be great at that, he should play for them” says Noel.
Half time is a different mood. What can Stuart McCall do? He is without a load of quality players in the midfield and almost every option that is suggested seems to be taking a punt on a player in the hope that while he might not do much most of the time he will be stunning today. Oddly enough this is not just applied to Billy Topp but Luke Sharry and Rory Boulding who as far as I can tell have done nothing to say they are the guys you play when you want to beat a team in the league above you.
Then again they have done nothing to say they are not. Sharry is a big lad and fills a midfield hole but we seem solid enough and have a good chance of taking these back to Valley Parade if we don’t throw Rory, Toppy and Sharry up front and take off everyone who is ever in our half.
The second half started in our half with Omar Daley’s long runs and Barry Conlon’s head being the only way that City could find to get out from the cosh. The home team won corners that were cleaned out by Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke who were both having great games. “The second corner should be a short corner” Dawn said and we all agreed that was a good idea really and that football could learn a lot from Hockey. “You could get two goals for shots from outside the box” which was a Basketball thing and could have had City losing at this point so probably wasn’t a good idea. “Imagine what Deano would have done with the stick, heads would have rolled.”
The Milky Dons started to use the flanks more with former Town flop Kevin Gallen running the channels for them and Michael Boulding starting to do the same for City. The defence which is never lauded of late did not buckle and Stuart McCall seemed to have settled for whatever this stiff rear guard and occasional counter-attack football would produce be it replay at Valley Parade or narrow defeat. We were all surprised when what was produced turned out to be a goal from Graeme Lee.
Boulding was fouled on one of his enterprising runs and while had Lee not blasted the free kick in then we would probably be asking why the fouler was not sent off but the free kick saw Lee step up like Marco Flaming Sas and belt the ball in hard and low to the back of the Dons goal. Like Marco Flaming Sas. I mean, who was expecting that? “He slam dunked that with his chuffing stick!”
Then it was attack and defence with Lewington wandering around the field trying to do everything and Matt Clarke looking as strong as he ever has. The Referee blew his whistle and we were through to the second round six fielders out and no Peter Thorne and everything.
Which says something about Stuart. Belief was thin on the ground today for us all and most of us who had come expected very little and chattered through the game about nothing much like the management team enjoying a trip with no expectation to win. Following City this year is about getting three points every week and the two cup games have been local derbies. We came here with hardly any midfielders against a team that beat us twice last year. This is the least pressure of the season and probably the most fun.
Stuart always clenches is fists and punches the air after a win but today he did so without that feeling that he had stuck it to his doubters but with a smile that he might have not expected it either.
The second round awaits. I doubt it will be as much fun.
The chances are that those of us at Stadium MK this Saturday will witness a City defeat – but I hope to still make the 162-mile journey home feeling happy.
I will be happy if I see commitment from those who don Claret and Amber for this FA Cup 1st Round tie. Injuries, in midfield in particular, are severely limiting Stuart McCall’s options. There are already plenty of excuses which can be made if defeat occurs, but if those who are fit to play show anything less than full commitment towards the cause of City’s name appearing in Sunday’s 2nd Round draw those excuses will lose credibility.
I will be happy if Stuart is able to learn something from the game. Those injuries allow others their opportunity and, with seven substitutes allowed in the FA Cup, there will be plenty queuing up to take it. Injuries to Dean Furman and Kyle Nix – added to Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon – open up a hole in midfield. Stuart may move Nicky Law across to partner Paul McClaren in the centre, which should leave Leon Osborne or Willy Topp battling to take the vacant right midfield role.
Osborne made his debut for City against Millwall in May 2007, but got off on the wrong foot with Stuart that summer which hindered progress. Topp’s contribution this season has been two appearances from the bench. He played reasonably well out wide during pre-season, through Stuart may wish to bring him in up front tomorrow.
If Law is kept on the right, Luke Sharry could make his much-anticipated debut for City having impressed in pre-season and for the reserves this season. At the back Huddersfield’s refusal to let Tom Clarke play should mean a return for the other Clarke; though Paul Arnison could be recalled and TJ Moncur moved to the centre to partner Graeme Lee. Luke O’Brien, who made his senior debut in the FA Cup this season, will hope to recapture his promising form at left back, with Rhys Evans keeping goal.
Up front it seems unlikely Peter Thorne will be risked into action, with City’s top scorer seemingly picking up as many niggling injuries as goals. The in-form Barry Conlon should partner Michael Boulding, although don’t rule out the 4-3-3 formation adopted against Leeds in the Johnstones Paint Trophy which would see Boulding and Omar Daley assume the wide forward roles. Otherwise the latter will return from suspension in his familiar left wing role.
The MK Dons are far from unfamiliar opposition and it’s barely six months since they sealed the League Two title with victory at Valley Parade. Currently 4th in League One, they are nicely set up to achieve Julian Rhodes’ ambition for City of back-to-back promotions.
And that’s where the real happiness could be gained, even if City make it a hat trick of first round cup exits this season. They are not there yet, but we hope this City side can be as good as last year’s MK Dons and follow their path towards the Championship. That doesn’t mean we’ll be good enough to win, particularly with significant injuries, but we want to at least see our team compete with them.
There were many impressive facets to the MK Dons side which beat us at home April, right up there was their resilience. We travel South in the hope of an upset, but even if the best our patched-up side can achieve is to run the Dons close it would speak volumes of the character and strength of this squad. There’s no excuse for the players who’ll get a rare opportunity to show anything less than their all, but that should go for the remaining regulars too.
Eight games without a win and only 12 points picked up from the first 14 games – the 2-1 victory which Bradford City managed over Chester City a year ago today was certainly much needed. A season of incredible high hopes had begun disastrously and recently appointed manager Stuart McCall was struggling to turn things around. On the night Omar Daley and Alex Rhodes scored two memorable goals to kick-start the campaign.
12 months later and, while all isn’t quite well at Valley Parade, the picture is certainly different. The Bantams are 3rd in the league, rather than three points above the foot of it as they were on November 5th last year. Peter Thorne isn’t anxiously hoping to get off the mark in Claret and Amber, he’s on course to equal last season’s tally of goals before Christmas. City aren’t playing catch up, they’re out at the front – 15 points better off this time.
Yet it’s by looking at the last 12 months as a whole which really demonstrates how much City have progressed. Including the Chester win, the Bantams have acquired 78 points from 45 games – good enough to seal a play off spot, judging by last year’s final League Two table, with a game to spare. It’s certainly an improvement from the measly 37 points achieved from the 45 league games which preceded it.
Such stats show just how much that Chester victory a year ago was a turning point – not just for that season, but in the seemingly unstoppable decline in the club’s fortunes. There have been ups and downs since, and there will continue to be, but this last year has seen a continuing upwards curve of improvement in the direction the club is heading.
Much of the credit belongs to Stuart, who would have learnt much that night against Chester and plenty more since. It’s difficult to know what was going through his mind during that miserable autumn run last season, but he appeared unsure how to turn it around. Significant changes – with Paul Evans and Matt Clarke brought in– were made that night and both played a significant role in the victory. The former may be long gone and there are currently big questions centred on the latter, but their presence that night added some much needed grit to a team which looked too lightweight for the rough and tumble of League Two.
Many of the subsequent signings have added to the team’s physical strength and, while any one who has witnessed City’s better moments this season will know this is a team which can play good football, that extra steel has made a difference. Sometimes we groan at the more direct style City have adopted, particularly in away games, but its often proved an effective strategy over the last year. Those who believe Stuart wants to play football this way are only half right – it’s more about doing what’s needed to succeed at this level.
Stuart didn’t stumble on the magic formula that night against Chester, and it’s clear a lot of hard work has been carried out since and is still required for success to be achieved. Only seven of the fourteen players involved that night – which includes the recently-returned Nicky Law – are still on City’s books. Some fans have recently suggested Stuart’s summer signings have all been disappointing, but this harsh generalisation ignores the signings he’s made over the last year and the improvement he’s got from those players who were here already.
But most of all what Stuart has learned over the last year is how to be a better leader from the touchline. During last year’s autumn slump post-match interviews revealed the City manager to be taking defeats very badly. Famously, after losing at Morecambe, he said he “felt sick to the stomach” and almost contemplated walking away from football for good. At the time it was comforting to know the manager felt as hurt by defeat as us supporters, but in hindsight it’s dubious what his players would have gained from it.
When trooping in after a defeat they needed to hear their leader tell them what was wrong and how they can put it right, blast individuals who had let down others and then go outside and confidently tell the rest of the world where the club will go from here, defending the players if appropriate. Listen to the audio of Stuart after the Darlington defeat last month and there’s a world of difference in tone. No blind defending of the team, but fair reflections and a positive look ahead. Seven points from nine since suggests the players responded well to it.
Some of the results and performances during this year’s early autumn slump have tested the faith of many of us in regards to Stuart’s managerial abilities, but the bigger picture shows progress is being made. A few of us could certainly do with viewing our pints as half full and enjoy the typical ups and downs which life as a City fan continually presents.
The last time City were challenging near the top of a league was October 2004 – but by November 2004 hopes had quickly faded. City may not be promoted in May, but all the indications are they will be challenging for it all season. So can’t we enjoy the ride a bit more and not focus so much on the negatives? An up and down promotion challenge has to be more enjoyable than an up and down relegation battle, after all.
The top of League Two remains very tight – and the six league games between now and Christmas are likely to prove significant as larger gaps will begin to emerge. If City are still a point behind the leaders, or even better off, when they visit Lincoln on Boxing Day, the prospects of a successful season will be extremely good.
A one year anniversary to note, though it’s where City are come Stuart’s second anniversary as manager which will ultimately matter.
Stuart McCall must long for a pair of boots and a way to peel back five years to allow him to bolster his midfield ranks so depleted as he takes his City side in the weekend with injuries to what one could argue is his first choice four.
Joe Colbeck is on the sidelines until January after the kick at Grimsby Town but such an absence is nothing compared to summer signing Chris Brandon – everyone’s choice to dump Omar Daley out of the side this season – who has yet to kick a ball in anger for the Bantams.
Brandon is an unknown in many ways but his absence – almost forgotten – is one of the reasons why the middle of the park is so stretched for the Bantams. Had he been in the squad on Saturday then City would not have the situation where – after five games in two weeks – Paul McLaren, Kyle Nix and Dean Furman were all playing with injuries.
McLaren will most likely be pressed into service as walking wounded again on Saturday – one might suggest with the away tie at Milton Keynes looking like one of the harder draws and City so depleted that McCall would be better resting his number four for the league games a week later – but Furman will miss the game as he starts an estimate three weeks on the treatment table.
Furman’s place in the side came because of injury to Lee Bullock who is estimate back to fitness before the Christmas period and has been missed by the Bantams more than one might give credit for. As with Paul Arnison Bullock’s exit from the side at Shrewsbury coincided with the start of the “slump” which has left City third dropping from the summit of League Two.
The quartet: Bullock, McLaren, Colbeck and Brandon were in many people’s minds the starting four for City this year. The form of Omar Daley and Dean Furman gives City six to select from but – now the Jamaican winger is back from suspension – injury has those six depleted to Omar and a semi-fit Paul McLaren.
Nicky Law Jnr’s arrival has not replaced Colbeck’s thrusting runs on the right – although a switch of Daley from one side to the other may do that – but the Sheffield United youngster is a versatile thing and can plug a gap in the middle two where Furman would be and could be pressed into that role on Saturday should The Blades allow him to be cup tied. Assuming they will then he and McLaren will take the middle, if not then Luke Sharry – star of pre-season – may find himself thrust into the action.
Sharry did enough in pre-season to suggest himself to McCall and like Luke O’Brien he may find the step into League Two football from juniors/reserves play to be less steep than youngsters who were thrown into action in the divisions above. Looking forward to league games then City need bodies to allow other bodies to recover and at some point pushing Sharry in to allow recuperation for a senior professional like McLaren becomes a good idea.
On the flanks – assuming McCall does not continue with an obviously unfit Nix – the management have the chance to switch Omar Daley to the right hand side and deploy Leon Osborne on the left continuing the theme of pace which is lacking when Colbeck is replaced by Law and once again Sharry provides an option of speed and strength on that right hand side. Willy Topp – not even featuring on the bench of late – is another options but McCall sees more of him than anyone and clearly does not think he is worth including at the moment.
Saturday’s use of Michael Boulding on the left wing should hopefully put pay to the idea that the fox in the box can be the thing on the wing. Sadly injury to Rory Boulding stops him from featuring wide. Rory Carson and Ryan Harrison are the bright things suggesting themselves from the youth set up with Harrison featuring on the left hand flank for the reserves of late.
On Saturday and for the next few weeks Stuart McCall needs to balance recuperation with maintaining an effective team – City are in fine scoring form at the moment – and in doing that he masses what he has in deep reserve. Now is the time for the likes of Sharry to be called upon.
That or McCall has to find his boots.
There are no comments to be made on this article because it is a personal reflection. It is not right or wrong just what I think of things – not OpEd just Op – and what I think is this: I did not enjoy the 3-3 draw with Barnet.
Allow me to elucidate. I love football. My earliest memories include watching Clough’s Nottingham Forest and Paisley’s Liverpool in Europe and I’ve seen football in six or seven different divisions.
I’m a City fan first of course but I’m not blind to good football and I enjoy the cut and thrust of a game. 4-4 with Bolton when we had two sent off, 2-2 with Sheffield United a couple of times, 5-4 at West Ham. I enjoyed these games as much as many wins.
I did not enjoy Saturday even though it was that sort of thriller and it had the makings of a cracking game of football.
It had goals, attacking excellence, defensive troubles, good defending at times and some impressive keeping, a controversial winner. It should have been the sort of game that while not great not to win left the taste of battle in the mouth.
The only taste it left was sickening and bitter and bad.
The feeling that should have been with me was a buzz from an exciting game but what I was left with was a sick feeling in the stomach that something has gone badly wrong.
Of course there were problems on the field. City’s second half display attacking petered out quickly but defensively we stood firm enough to keep the visitors to lashes from outside the box and one chance which Rhys Evans says did not go in and Stuart McCall was right to say that on balance we barely deserved a point.
It was far from vintage football but it was the stuff of promotion campaigns and in many ways what we go to football for or at least what I was under the impression we went to football for.
It was not the processional football that people fear the top four of the Premiership will become, it was the excitement of a contest. It was the cut and thrust. It was battling for the points against another team who wanted to go away from Valley Parade with something.
It was silence.
It was clapping the goals and nothing else.
It was abuse to our players at every turn. It was every single mistake being latched on as an excuse to pour vitriolic scorn onto the field. It was foul of mouth and of mood and unfathomably aggressive in the name of support.
It was horrific.
It was almost the total opposite of the phrase “City’s fans roared home the team home to victory.” It was hard to see how much less the players on the field – winning as they were – could have been supported. McCall says we barely dissevered a point and did not perform but any poor play on the field was nothing compared to the performance of the 12th man which was beyond wretched.
Not one person who has seen the game thinks that Barnet were a poor side yet the level, the constancy, the content of the abuse poured onto players such as the leading scorer in the division or a nineteen year old who has played less than a dozen games for his home club or the guy on a hat-trick for not brushing them aside was as unnerving as it was upsetting.
How has it come to this where the only sound to be heard was supporters that are so viciously, aggressively negative to their own players? How has it come to pass where players are not cheered on to inspire them but play in fear of not mindless but mindful abuse directed at them, directed personally, aggressively charged against them?
I admire Joe Colbeck for having the character to not wilt under this wrath. I worry that as he looks to come back to fitness in January when Leeds sell Fabian Delph and start looking for a new winger that there is precious loyalty shown to him to keep him at Valley Parade.
Do not mistake this, reader, for a call to arms to stop booing Player A or support the team with a kind of jingoism – although those things would no doubt improve matters at Valley Parade – but rather as a marker in my future recollections of my time following football; a Rubicon; a point where the hand becomes the wrist.
This is not blaming the fans for the performance or the result it is an observation and a worry. Perhaps fans get the team they deserve and if so how the Hell do we deserve to even be pushing for promotion?
This is not what I remember football to be. It is not what I became enraptured with in 1977 watching the European Cup being lifted of 1981 watching City for the first time. It is a perverted view of how football should be.
Saturday was a cruel caricature that is the stuff of Poe-esque nightmare where all that you thought was good turns out to be a spoiled, sick, rotten version of what it used to be.
Saturday mocked my faith in Bradford City and the fans that follow the club and the time that I – and others – put in supporting them.
It is that that left me sick in my stomach.
Bradford City 3 Barnet 3 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
If there was one positive for us Bradford City fans to take as we exited Valley Parade at full time it was that it’s unlikely we’ll witness as wretched a second half performance from our team all season.
Going in at half time in a far from commanding 3-2 lead, the players appeared unsure whether to keep attacking or see out the game and failed to do either with any conviction. And although it’s questionable whether Albert Anomah’s 75th minute prodded equaliser crossed the line, there was no disputing how deserved it was – or how fortunate City were that the two points lost didn’t become three.
This was an afternoon in which much of what’s good about City this season was on display, but was undermined by much of what’s not good. Three times they took the lead in the first half and each time it was well taken. First Barry Conlon nodded the Bantams ahead after 10 minutes following a fine team move out of defence which resulted in Peter Thorne’s clever lay off been crossed into the box by TJ Moncur. Paul McLaren’s superb free kick delivery on the half hour was aching to be nodded home and Thorne did just that to put City back in front. Conlon then got his second – and sixth of the season – after finishing well from Moncur’s pass for 3-2. Recalled to the starting line up after his midweek heroics, the Irishman had an excellent afternoon and has now moved ahead of Michael Boulding in the goalscoring charts.
Yet in between those three goals were two soft ones at the other end to grimace about. Conlon’s opener was cancelled out after a woeful Moncur back pass sold Rhys Evans short, but even then the City goalkeeper should have made a better fist of clearing the ball instead of dallying and allowing John O’Flynn to roll the ball into the net. After Thorne’s header for 2-1, Anomah beat Luke O’Brien on the byeline and got a shot in which Evans did well to save, only for slow defending to allow Nicky Nicolau the space to slam the ball home. Conlon then struck again to re-establish a lead City’s first half efforts deserved.
A half which heavily featured attacking football from both sides. Manager Stuart McCall, without the suspended Omar Daley, moved Boulding out wide and brought in Conlon; but while Boulding had enjoyed an excellent game on the left wing at Grimsby eight days ago he was a huge disappointment. Whether he was unhappy to be switched or there’s some anxiety at playing in front of a large demanding crowd which is hindering, he failed to produce what was expected. Worse he was woeful at tracking back and helping out O’Brien; the latter too often left exposed against the threat of Anomah, who thankfully couldn’t cross as well as he could dribble.
Going forward Boulding was little better and, with Nicky Law playing in fits and starts, City played without the wide threat which has helped them to stretch and win games this season. Stuart must have recognised this and no one would have blamed him had he brought Kyle Nix or Leon Osborne on at half time, but instead he persisted with a line up which wasn’t functioning properly.
Barnet came out strong in the second half and their threat never went away. With pace on the flanks and a midfield not afraid to put a boot in, it became more and more one-way traffic as City struggled to keep them at bay. Rare home attacks carried a threat – Law and Conlon both going close – but the visitors enjoyed far more of the ball and posed too many questions of a fragile backline.
And herein lies the problem with City at the moment. There’s no doubting the attacking quality within the ranks, shown here despite the absence of key players, but when they do go in front there is some uncertainty over what to do next. Once again we see too many long balls launched in the hope the strikers can hold the ball up, but the offside flag or strong, and sometimes questionable, Barnet challenges limited this effectiveness. Stuart seems to want City to pass the ball about from the back and this often works well, but when the nerves are prevalent or the lead is slender ‘hit and hope’ seems to be favoured. To Barnet’s credit they must have noted this and sought to apply pressure on City from high up the pitch.
In such situations it’s as if City have one less player in midfield and the ability to slow the game down, keep passing the ball around and take the sting out of Barnet’s attacking momentum seems to be beyond the players. They will often work really hard to win the ball back, only to lose it cheaply seconds later. It meant the defence was overworked and the equaliser seemed inevitable.
The sight of Dean Furman having to limp off the field was distressing, given he was the only member of City’s midfield successfully doing the right things. His injury might have meant Stuart decided to keep Boulding on when his ineffectiveness should have been rewarded with an early exit from play, but three minutes later City were kicking off again and seemingly lacking the belief and composure to get back in front.
The performance of the backline is clearly a huge concern. Graeme Lee has looked much more the player of early season during the last two games, but he needs to be more commanding of the troops around him. Tom Clarke is a decent player but struggled as the game went on and it was O’Brien’s toughest afternoon to date, not helped by that lack of support in front. Moncur considers himself a right back, but the doubts are still there. Much of the recent defensive shortcomings have been blamed on Matt Clarke, but I believe he hasn’t been as bad as others make out.
Not that City particularly missed him, but there is someone sat in the same dugout who it can be argued they are. David Wetherall was always going to be a tough act to follow after retiring last season, but it’s the way Stuart is now trying to get City to defend which is perhaps causing teething problems. Wetherall’s lack of pace meant City had to defend deeper and the back four are now trying to play a higher defensive line. This is working reasonably well – though defenders need to be more decisive in possession when opposition forwards are pressing them – but was seemingly abandoned in the second half due to the midfield’s lack of control. The pressure grew, but the more forward players didn’t drop further back with the defence and huge gaps emerged which Barnet were able to exploit.
After Barnet’s equaliser there only looked to be one winner as the impressive visitors continued to attack. At least the defence did well to prevent a late winner with some excellent headers and blocks, how frustrating for them it must be to see the ball come back towards them so quickly after.
The full time whistle was met with boos, but it’s questionable how this sort of reaction helps anyone. There still remains a lot to be positive about when assessing City’s chances this season and the problems afflicting it can be sorted in time. Some fans said that last season City would have lost the sort of game they won against Bury midweek, well that’s true about this game too.
An unexpected late Halloween horror show at the back to endure, but the ability to keep producing fireworks at the other end has left City in an excellent position in the league. Those shortcomings will need to be banished in order to stay there.