Boulding stays and will hope for a more competitive League Two

Touch wood, everyone will be starting the new campaign equal. Last season’s League Two saw a whopping 74 points collectively deducted from four teams, with the result a less competitive and more conservative division. With Luton beginning on minus 30 and Bournemouth and Rotherham minus 17, you had to be really bad to become embroiled in the relegation battle. Two clubs – Grimsby and Chester – were, thanks largely to some wretched winless runs. The latter getting relegated with Luton, who never really stood a chance.

But what of the rest? There were around 10 League Two clubs with little to play for last season. No where near good enough for promotion, but no where near bad enough to throw away such a sizeable headstart that relegation worries were anything stronger than faint. It was a campaign for going through the motions.

The downside, on Valley Parade evidence, was how good a result an away draw was thus considered and we had to become used to visiting team after visiting team playing either five at the back or five in midfield. Compare Macclesfield Town’s – the perfect example of a club able to coast through a nothing season – approach at Valley Parade last March to that of relegation-threatened Mansfield and Dagenham the March before. City’s home record may have been better last season, but few opposition teams turned up to BD8 with ambitions of testing it.

No player seemed to suffer more from this than Michael Boulding, who’s first season in Claret and Amber can be politely described as disappointing. It became quickly obvious that Boulding was a player who likes to run the channels and receive the ball at his feet, but the deep defensive tactics of opposing teams meant the space to do so was minimal. In too many home games Boulding was anonymous, rarely touching the ball never mind threatening to score. Away from home he wasn’t always on his game, but the increased space afforded by home teams more prepared to take the game to City meant he was a more notable threat. He ended the season with 13 goals – but hasn’t scored at Valley Parade since December 2008.

The affect of these opposition defensive strategies meant the kind of football the majority of City fans like to see wasn’t always possible, and over time the myth has grown that manager Stuart McCall likes his teams to play ‘hoof ball’. It’s true to a point that City have become more direct under Stuart compared to the style that predecessors Colin Todd and Nicky Law, for example, liked to play, but the chances of City getting through a sea of opposition players parked resolutely in front of their keeper makes the success of short patient passes manifesting into goalscoring chances limited. Get it into the opposition’s final third, even if it’s not by the prettiest of means, and the opportunities to get closer to goal increase.

During a season where there was endless debates about no Plan B, it would be wrong to say this was all City tried. It appeared they went for a mixed style with the ball passed around some times, then targeted down the wing at others, with direct attacks another weapon. Play the same way all the time and, against defensive-minded opposition, it becomes too predictable. Some of City’s better moments certainly came through quick-fire passing and, when in form, were an exciting team to watch.

‘Hoof ball’ really came to the fore during the poor run of form in March, which showed it was a sign of drained confidence. Players are less likely to try the patient approach when people in the stands are screaming “forward!” and ready to chant “you’re not fit to wear a shirt” at the first sign of problems, so our necks began to feel the strain from all those ‘hoof balls’ during the increasingly desperate run-in. Stuart needs players with certain qualities to take the club forward this season, the conviction to play to your strengths and take ownership of situations, even when low on confidence, being high up there. Easier said than done with League Two calibre players though.

Which brings us back to Boulding, who has today revealed he wants to stay and prove himself after last season’s disappointment. Whether opposition teams – more likely to go into matches targeting a win with a proper relegation and promotion battle – change their defensive approach this season remains to be seen. However for Boulding to succeed he’s going to have to show more in his game. Unlike at his former club Mansfield, where he was the star, this City team is not going to be built around him. He faces a battle just to make the starting eleven ahead of Peter Thorne and Gareth Evans. It’s not going to be enough for him to have long anonymous spells in games and to wait for the team to play him the right ball, he has to come looking for it and to be more determined to influence games.

There’s no doubting Boulding is a good player and City remain fortunate to have him. In a division that should be more adventurous and competitive this season, he needs to follow suit.

Lee exits having not touched the sides of the hole

City captain Graeme Lee has joined Notts County on a tree transfer and will line up against The Bantams in the first game of next season with supporters wondering why the defender failed to make the impression expected of him at Valley Parade.

Lee’s new manager Ian McParland praised his new signing talking much about his abilities in defense that would be echoed by Bantam fans. As a central defender Lee put few feet wrong all season and for the winter months was part of a back four that seemed to forget how to concede.

His abilities were at the top of this league and – as with Michael Boulding who offered to take a pay cut to stay today and others at the club – he is only moved on for financial reasons but Lee’s position at City as captain and senior player required more than simply doing a good job at the back.

McParland talks about Lee the leader and it was that side of his game that was sadly lacking over the last twelve months.

The Bantams sided floundered for the want of a firm hand and an open mouth on the field having moved from the calm control of David Wetherall and the Imperious McCall. If Wetherall struggled to fill the hole skipper Stuart left then Lee was positively swamped by it.

So as a player he will be missed but for a team that looked so rudderless for the last two months of the season a change is mandated.

McCall needs to find a captain of character to build a team with strength. He tried to make that captain Graeme Lee. Addressing that failure is a step forward.

Furman joins Oldham

Former City loanee Dean Furman has left Rangers to join Oldham Athletic with Stuart McCall’s endorsement ringing in his ears after the City boss said

“I had a good long chat with Deano on Sunday and wished him all the best. He’s got a great future in the game because of his attitude and his ability.”

It was reported Furman demanded first team football which he no doubt deserves but if last season’s experiences with a two tier squad caused by some players seeming more favoured than others proves is hardly the way to ensure a great team spirit.

McCall once again turns his attention to finding a new number four.

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