Issue The end seems nigh for City at Chester City

As told by Michael Wood

The transfer deadline for loan players passed without incident at Valley Parade as the season’s true end game began. Lincoln City prepare for another season in League Two by cutting costs while Wembley is prepared for the end of season flurry of games.

End game, but not yet “must win”.

The words “must win” are used far too often in football and as such have lost relevance and once again City face a game that a win would do a power of good in but defeat while telling would not be fatal to the club’s play-off chances.

There will come a time in the next six, seven, eight, nine or ten games that the Bantams will face a game that if it is not won then League Two football is a certainty next season but it is not this day at Chester City.

It says much about the season that four defeats on the spin have not ruled City out of the chance of a play-off place – never look at the table and add twelve points, it is not good for the mind – but do spare a thought for those bookmakers who lined up two clubs as favourites for automatic promotion: Bradford City and Shrewsbury Town.

It it us and them, and Chesterfield if they win games in hand, who are bashing out for the bottom of the play-off places as things stand and whatever gut wrenching is being done at Valley Parade is probably also taking place at The New Meadow. Grant Holt does not come cheap.

However to restrict the talk to these clubs and this last play-off place is to undersell the essentially random nature of the top of League Two this term. We are time away from “must win”.

“Should win” has been a problem for City this season. Around Christmas time the players seemed to slip from the mindset of digging out victories to expecting better results than earned and I would argue that the turn away from “doing the right things” – the panacea of all things in football – came at Shrewsbury when TJ Moncur and Graeme Lee clashed heads and the home team scored.

Since then it will be better when the right backs are fit, when the midfielders are fit, when the form turns around. Players are excused in a variety of ways and Stuart McCall’s job make sure that City minimise defeats and move on and one suspects that if he had the season to do again he would do things differently. That, dear reader, is the beauty of institutional memory and retention of people.

My take on City at the moment is that the Bantams have a pool of players more than talented enough to be winning games but that those players are not taking responsibility for winning those games. The phrase “players standing around waiting for someone else to win the game” has featured far too often in my thinking and in my estimation this is a problem one gets in modern football where teams at this level boast four or five loanees and a few who have contracts that expire when the season is over.

Long term commitment, significant investment, institutional memory.

All of which undersells the superb form of Dean Furman who has shone out for City this season. Such is the problem at the heart of the debate over the future of City management. It is all in the balances, and it is hard.

Rhys Evans will keep goal but in front of him four of Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien will play. There are those who would not play Clarke but I am not one of those people and recall the brittle way the Bantams used to be bested before the big former Darlington player came into the side. Could Rehman do the same job? See above.

Up front McCall hopes to have Peter Thorne back to partner Michael Boulding but will use Paul Mullin if Thorne needs more rest. McCall’s thinking on rather having Thorne fully fit for six games rather than half fit for seven precludes the play-offs. It was said at the end of last season that keeping Thorne fit for this year was key to success and certainly when the striker started to struggle with injury so did City.

Midfield holds the problems. The embarrassment of riches seems to be a thin seem these days with the likes of Keith Gillespie and Steve Jones hardly inspiring on the flanks last week.

Chris Brandon, Lee Bullock and Joe Colbeck all got a run out for the reserves and with the addition of Dean Furman that could be the Bantams midfield for Saturday. I would throw in Paul McLaren for Bullock in that quartet and others would not think of leaving Nicky Law Jnr out. It is all in the balance, and it is hard.

Chester City is not “must win” and – blame a week off work – there are many permitations and calculations around the end of this season. If one assumes that the rest of the division will continue to score points at the same rate and that the Bantams picked up seven wins then City could expect second place. More realistically the Bantams have to do a couple of wins better than some of Shrewsbury Town, Bury, Exeter and Chesterfield to be in the play-offs.

This seems like a tough call for a team in a slump but with the division’s poorest travellers Shrewsbury heading to Wycombe the Bantams could expect the seventh place team to have 59 points even if we still had 58 at the end of play. In two weeks we play Brentford while they play Grimsby. When we play Morecambe they will be playing Bury.

Not must win. Not yet.