Issue Good, but…

As told by Jason Mckeown

For sure we have being good this season, but to ultimately succeed we may need to be better.

Bradford City kicked off the season as promotion favourites and started in exhilarating fashion. Performances then stuttered as autumn leaves began falling but improved after the clocks turned back. In recent weeks results have been better than performances but surely the former won’t continue unless the latter improves.

For sure we have a good team, but one we hope can be better. Goals have been plentiful though we seem to have the usual City jinx of only one striker consistently scoring at a time. Early season Peter Thorne couldn’t miss and then Barry Conlon took over the mantle as the regular scorer. Now it’s Michael Boulding with four in four games and though there are concerns over how long it is since Thorne last scored – Barnet home – it shouldn’t be forgotten that was also the last time Conlon netted from open play. Get two of the three in a run of form at the same time and surely City will climb up the league.

For sure we’ve improved defensively and in the middle of the park in recent games, but we still need to be better. Some have tried to blame all the defensive shortcomings on TJ Moncur and Matt Clarke and have at least had half their wish – Paul Arnison reinstated ahead of Moncur – granted. Clarke isn’t playing as badly as some tell us but needs to maintain a higher level of concentration and rediscover confidence, otherwise his run in the team will come to an end. We saw a dip in form from Graeme Lee which he has recovered from and Stuart will be hoping Clarke can too. Meanwhile in midfield Paul McLaren is winning over the doubters and we wait for four injured players to come back and provide stronger competition for those alongside him.

For sure Stuart McCall has done well as manager this season, but we still hope he can be better. Every poor result has been greeted by a blast of criticism from some fans and much of it is as unjustified as it is ludicrous. Go online to the and you’ll be able to read serious debates about whether we should sack Stuart if promotion is not achieved this season and you begin to wonder whether some believe we’re the Real Madrid of League Two. We don’t have a god-given right to get promoted and debating Stuart’s future now is as pointless as it could be a hindrance.

Not that Stuart has been flawless. It is worrying to watch your team outplayed at home by opposition adopting crude long ball tactics, as we saw against Dagenham last week, and it’s hard to shake off the feeling City were there for the taking and Stuart did not know how to prevent it. There’s seemingly being a reluctance to change around a defence which has made too many mistakes.Rightly or wrongly there’s a lack of confidence that Stuart possesses the ability to address problem areas during games, though sometimes doing so increases the risk of making mistakes and receiving more criticism.

Yet for sure City’s support this season has being good, but could be much better. We can get a cracking atmosphere going home and away but invariably only when things are going well. When they’re not to many people adopt a negative mindset and look for fault. Straight after listening to the Brentford defeat I visited the club’s official message board. The first two posts I read were to blame Clarke and then Stuart for the loss and I was left wondering how people can be so quick to criticise when it’s not even backed up by having seen the game.

Even when City are doing well many fans are guilty of sitting in silence or still finding fault. Blind faith may be both unrealistic and undesirable but there is no justification for exaggerating failures. Against Dagenham the team struggled but received some great backing from the crowd in the second half which helped inspire them into the lead, but as soon as it was lost the noise level dropped and boos were soon filling the air. We wouldn’t expect players to stop making effort and letting things get them down during adversity, so why do we act this way ourselves?

What’s the solution? City have three winnable looking fixtures to end 2008 with and a good points haul is vital to push clear of the pack. Much has been made of the fact we’ve lost to four of the top eight on our travels, but they have all to visit Valley Parade in the New Year, a venue from which the other three top eight sides – Rochdale, Exeter and Bury – have all returned pointless. Indeed home games in 2009 appear to be a fascinating mixture of promotion six-pointers and teams near the bottom of the table. Our record of only one home defeat will probably get worse, but come May we should still be looking at our best home points tally in years.

Injuries will all have cleared up as we get into January and the prospect of a bulkier squad battling for starting places should guarantee those who make it do so because they truly deserve it. With Stuart in the market for a new striker the goals should continue to flow. Lee Bullock back in midfield will also do much for the defence and though Nicky Law and Steve Jones may be bidding farewell it’s not unrealistic to expect Dean Furman and TJ Moncur to stay on, possibly even permanently.

What of Stuart? Before the Brentford game an Omar Daley interview was played on the radio where he praised his manager for improving his confidence and helping him discover top form. Remember Barnet home last season where the Jamaican was subbed at half time following a poor performance which attracted heavy abuse? Stuart stood by him at his lowest ebb and has coached Daley into the player he’s always threatened to be. This is just one example which shows Stuart is a manager of patience willing to work with players rather than follow the supporters’ cry of ‘get rid’. If Clarke plays as many games in the second half of the season as he has in the first it is likely to be because the management stood by and saw him improve through this rough patch.

Stuart is accused of playing too direct, not having a ‘plan B’ and the crime that has apparently befallen every City manager in history – not bringing his subs on soon enough. But as he keeps learning from mistakes while still guiding City forward we should remember he’s still a rookie manager doing a good job. Better? Of course in time, and we should not underestimate that desire. Stuart is not Colin Todd, a man who, for all the unfair criticism he got in the Valley Parade hotseat, was ultimately earning a living he’d happily have made elsewhere. Stuart took a risk by starting with City; his managerial career could be defined at the club where he was such a magnificent player.

And what of us fans? When City take to the field against Chester this Saturday will we merely sit back and wait for the expected win, or will we get behind the players from kick off, ten minutes in, half time – even if it’s 0-0 or worse? We face opposition every fortnight who aren’t used to playing in front of a fraction of the support we enjoy. Surely it can be more advantageous, surely passionately cheering on our players is a better route to them succeeding?

For sure this season has being good, but everyone has a role to play in making it better.