From September, 2009
Morecambe 0 Bradford City 0 At Christie Park in League Two, 2009/2010
The final scoreline at Christie Park failed to do this fierce encounter justice. Despite the best efforts of the 25 Morecambe and Bradford City players involved over the 90 minutes, it was the guy we’re not supposed to notice who carried the weightiest influence on the outcome.
Referee Stuart Attwell came, blew his whistle frequently and seemingly did his utmost to ensure everyone’s attention stayed firmly focused on the man in blue. Perhaps he was a little peeved off that the ticket stubs had advertised a football match between The Shrimps and The Bantams, rather than his star appearance.
The most telling moment in a truly wretched display of refereeing came 14 minutes from the end when City striker Gareth Evans quickly latched onto home keeper Barry Roche’s failure to grasp hold of a loose ball by challenging for possession. Succeeding in diverting it further from the keeper’s palms, Evans attempted but failed to turn the ball into an empty net as defenders rushed into help clear the ball, Attwell blew his whistle for a foul and raced over to dish a red card to a stunned Evans. Given Roche had failed to securely claim the ball, the decision to rule Evans’ harrying attempts illegal was badly-judged at best. The pathetic subsequent claims of injury from Roche, who began rolling around the floor in apparent agony only to make a miraculous recovery within seconds, should not escape condemnation either.
Attwell’s view of the incident was hardly as good as the 1,000+ City fans behind Roche’s goal, but there can be no excuse for charging in to issue the red card without taking any time to seize up the situation. One can only expect City to be successful in contesting such a ridiculous decision and for Evans to be in action at Northampton on Saturday. If anyone should be serving a suspension, the FA might consider dishing one to a referee with a reputation for high-profile mistakes.
Indeed the validity of Attwell’s ability to referee professional football is highly questionable. A year ago he made headlines as the youngest referee to officiate a Premiership match at a time when the FA’s Respect campaign was in its infancy. With a national shortage of referees, Attwell’s meteoric rise was a good PR story, but a series of incidents – look here, here and here for just a flavour – have attracted media coverage of a different kind. Through no fault of his own, perhaps, Attwell seems to have become a minor celebrity in a football world of big egos. One can imagine him readily volunteering to appear on the next Celebrity Big Brother so the nation can see what a great guy he really is, all the while telling himself not to issue a red card to Lindsay Lohan.
Certainly the manner in which Attwell strutted around Christie Park offered strong hints of a self-belief we’d turned up only to watch him referee. In a lively contest which both sides enjoyed spells of domination, one of the biggest concerns was the timing between Attwell suddenly awarding every decision to one side and their periods on top. Morecambe started the game brightly, receiving a number of highly-dubious free kicks along the way. City progressively got better and were on top for the final 10 minutes in particular, by which time it was the Morecambe supporters’ turn to be exasperated by the number of decisions which went against their team. Lee Bullock was bizarrely booked for a harmless trip on a home player on the quarter hour mark, but a number of stronger challenges from both sides then went unpunished by way of a card until Wayne Curtis’ awful lunge tackle on 72 minutes. It was a night of refereeing inconsistencies.
When the whistle wasn’t in Attwell’s mouth, both sides produced some decent football, with the shot and corner count backing up the feeling the Bantams had the better of the game. Phil Jevons rattled the bar early on and their two wingers posed some tough questions of Jonathan Bateson – caught out a little to often but continuing to look dangerous when attacking – and Luke O’Brien. With former Bantam Paul Mullin always a threat in the air and others hungry to latch onto his knock downs, it was a testing night for Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams, who both looked largely assured.
City’s midfield three continued to look effective and managed to control the middle of the park for lengthy periods. Bullock’s performance is especially commendable given the early caution left him walking a thin line, while Michael Flynn bossed proceedings and was the engine behind many attacks. It was in the final third of the field that City were not at their sharpest, with many promising moves spoiled by a poor final pass or a lack of conviction to shoot early which afforded home defenders the time to close down space. James Hanson was not as effective as he can be, but still won more than his share of headers. Evans battled hard and saw a cross-shot bounce off the bar.
After Morecambe had again come quickly out the blocks after the interval, City began to assume control with territorial advantage and corners and free kicks piling up. Scott Neilsen continues to impress and was a useful outlet for quickly turning defence into attack, with some teasing runs threatening to leave defenders tied in knots. The best chance came after a James O’Brien corner was met well by Evans, but his header was fired straight at Roche to make a point blank save he knew little about.
And after Evans and Roche’s clash which saw the Bantams reduced to ten men with a quarter of an hour to play, Roche piled further frustration on City with two brilliant saves to keep out efforts from Luke O’Brien – following an excellent surge forward – and Neilsen, the latter should probably have scored. With his every touched booed by away supporters, the subsequent repeated announcements Roche was the sponsor’s man of the match came across as a somewhat pathetic attempt by Morecambe to ‘send us home in a tantrum‘.
As four minutes of injury time was indicated, painful memories of previous late agony at Christie Park came flooding back; but Simon Eastwood was on hand to make a solid tip over from Mullin’s header to earn a first away clean sheet of the season. It also meant no one had been able to break the deadlock and thus make the morning headlines.
Stuart Attwell will be delighted.
Not the greatest number in football but one which welcomed with the ferocity of Chris Brandon’s powerful lash into the back of the net for the third goal in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Chesterfield.
Welcomed because after seven games – six in the league – in which City have not lost he goal difference which took such a battering on the opening day of the season at Notts County has been repaired.
Zero. Even. Balanced and while leaders Bournemouth and the aforementioned County are both in double figures the nice round nought confirms the recovery the Bantams have made both in terms of results and in confidence. The Bantams go to Morecambe in the same confident mood which marked the trip to Meadow Lane in August.
City have faired poorly in the two league trips to Christie Park losing both games 2-1 despite taking the lead in both games. The Shrimpers were in the non-league when the Bantams were in the Premiership, it is not hard to see why they dig deep.
At the moment though there is hope that City will be able to dig deeper which says much about the character the Bantams have shown in the last dozen games. Chesterfield summed up the Bantams so far – not massively better but consistently so and ready to battle for victory.
Michael Flynn typifies that battle answering the call from early in the season that while Stuart McCall can pick a nominal captain the onus is on the players to show leadership – claim the armband as it were – and the midfielder who scored impressively on Saturday has risen to that challenge. Forget who has the armband, leadership is leadership and Flynn is part of a group of players ready to stand up and be counted.
Flynn’s midfield partnership with Lee Bullock – who he paid tribute to in the press following Saturday’s win – and James O’Brien has been the driving force behind this impressive run. It is a midfield of out muscling and then using the ball and it works well. Scott Neilson – further out right and joining Gareth Evans and James Hanson in the forward line – provides a speedy and useful outlet while the two forwards provide constant motion.
Jonathan Bateson stepped in for Simon Ramsden on Saturday and did little wrong while Luke O’Brien battled to a great display. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams combine strength with pick pocket defending and while the triangle with Simon Eastwood is far from impregnable it has the same confidence that runs through the side and is markedly different from last season’s heads down pair of Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke who after conceding a single goal seemed to suck the ball into repeated danger.
Morecambe sit 18th – credit for a small club punching above its weight and not running into trouble with the tax man – and got a creditable draw with Dagenham and Redbridge at the weekend. The Shrimpers are also on a seven game unbeaten run with the only win in that set of draws being the 2-1 win over Notts County which got into the papers.
That is the only win they have had in League Two this season. Better than zero.
Sheridan – Shez to Leeds fans of a certain age – was fuming with a Referee who blew for a foul on Luke O’Brien when Wade Small was clean through and booked Jack Lester who did nothing to warrant it clash with Lee Bullock. Further his Chesterfield side were the better team at Valley Parade – despite the scoreline – for most of the game.
It is hard to reconcile Sheridan’s views with the ninety minutes we saw on Saturday even with the partisanship that comes from backing one side or the other. Most combinations of logic and football would say that three goals evenly spaced out and none conceded could be nothing other than a deserved win. Sheridan has his own thoughts on how he should react to the defeat just as Micky Adams – who has transfer listed the entire Port Vale squad – has his but perhaps it is worth looking at those contrasting approaches.
Adams – who saw his team lose at Notts County by a much smaller margin than the Bantams did (although both saw frankly ludicrous dives by Luke Rodgers rewarded with penalties) – has decided that a line needs to be drawn between the squad and himself perhaps worried about tarnish to what was once a great reputation in management rather than just a fit of pique motivated by sour grapes.
Let it be known from now on that Adams is not to be responsible for Port Vale’s performances – at least until a dressing room clear out has been completed – and that the team are on their own if they want to defend themselves against any criticism thrown their way.
Of course in practice while the entire Port Vale squad are for sale none of them can be sold until after Christmas – transfer windows being what they are – and one can be sure that a good few of the squad would not be allowed to leave anyway, James Lawrie for example has attracted interest form Arsenal and Fulham and is not being binned by Adams. It is a big statement but an unrealistic one.
Nevertheless in the here and now Adams has made his big statement.
Sheridan takes a contrasting approach pre-emptively defending his players from any criticism with a controlled mix of “we wuz robbed” and “we didn’t deserve to lose”. None of which is to criticise the protective shield he has thrown around his team just to suggest that it need not be seen as a reflection of the result or the pattern of the game any more than Adams’s distancing should be looked on as a realistic plan.
The impression of a team beaten convincingly is diluted by Sheridan’s comments while no one talks about Jack Lester’s fairly violent over the ball on Lee Bullock because it is excused as a Refereeing mistake. It might not be truthful as you, I, a Chesterfield fan at the game, player or manager sees it but it does mitigate criticism amongst supporters controlling which is increasingly important in the manager’s arsenal of abilities.
The Chesterfield boss knows that his words will reach Saltergate and the supporters who did not travel to Bradford before his team bus gets back and those words will start to create a reality around the game on message boards and forums separate and more favourable for the manager.
In Burslam they here that Micky Adams is not happy and it assuages any anger there, in Chesterfield any criticism is tempered by Sheridan’s view of the reality of the afternoon. Far from being sour grapes Sheridan comes out as a manager smart enough to realise that in absence of a win the perception of the game amongst his supporters – especially those who stayed at home – is the next most important thing.
Would Stuart McCall have transfer listed the entire squad after the 4-1 defeat at Barnet last year? Would he have come back from Morecambe when Peter Thorne had a goal chalked off and a linesman raised and lowered his flag insisting we were robbed? (we were, by the way)
Probably not. McCall’s public face is an honest and emotional one and his public relations and – for want of a better phrase – supporter expectation management skills are poor. Adams and Sheridan – I would guess – would thrash the City boss at Poker.
Strange though that so much of football management is about how performances are perceived rather than anything rooted strictly in reality. Adams says performances are at a low that he will not stand, Sheridan that his team deserved better and probably neither are true but also untrue are the extreme opinions that pepper message board and forums at 4:50 on a match day and it is the smart management of these that Sheridan is concerned with.
Bradford City 3 Chesterfield 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
Seven games, five win and two draws and it seems a long time since the Bantams left the two games in the opening four days in Nottingham looking at the season to come with desperation, a desperation further vanished following the 3-0 win over Chesterfield at Valley Parade.
In those days there was talk about Stuart McCall The Player and Stuart McCall The Manager – a distinction between the two – and there was questions about the latter’s selection of captain, captaincy changed by exclusion and injury to Peter Thorne that saw Zesh Rehman take over the armband and culminates today in the sort of display which Stuart McCall The Captain would have been proud.
The Bantams’ win came from a solid and constant display of superiority over the visitors minute by minute being better by increments, grinding down John Sheridan’s Chesterfield with the better performers in claret geeing and improving those around them.
James Hanson will have better games, so will Luke O’Brien but those two players can take huge credit from the way that even in tough situations – and Hanson was up against a fine defender in Robert Page – neither hid from the ball or the game. Players made their mistakes in public, recovered in public and were encouraged and supported by their team mates in public.
All of which is tribute to Zesh Rehman, captain today, who put in one of his best performances for the club and one of the City defensive displays of sometime making a useful Chesterfield side look ordinary. Rehman and Williams marshalled Wade Small, Donal McDermott and towards the end of the game Jack Lester using the Zesh’s power in the air and Williams’s ability to nip in and emerge with the ball to end the game in control of a good set of forwards.
Credit too to the midfield three of James O’Brien, Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn who used the advantage of numbers and an abundance of confidence to win a midfield battle against an impressive Derek Niven who deserves credit for running his legs down to the knees trying to win back control from a City side who were capable of switching from the directness of a ball to Hanson or Gareth Evans to the patient possession.
It was an early, direct ball to an isolated Michael Flynn – lost up field and oddly alone – who meandered into the box and with the away defence expecting a cross bent the ball into the far side of the goal past Keighley born keeper Tommy Lee.
Perhaps there is a way to measure the togetherness of a team – lacking last year but in evidence this – that comes when looking at goal celebrations. Flynn slid on his knees in a cover version of Emmanuel Adebayor enjoying the moment, his team mates enjoying it too.
From then on the game was City’s to lose and Chesterfield enjoyed a spell of fifteen minutes around half time when they tested the Bantams. Lee Bullock deserves credit for his work in this period. Bullock arrived at City as an attacking midfielder but since his move into a containing role he has been a revelation and was my man of the match.
Chesterfield’s best chance caused their defeat. McDermott had a chance which Simon Eastwood did superbly to save from Niven and Darren Currie airshotted. Eight seconds later Scott Neilson was sweeping the ball in for the Bantams’ second goal after Gareth Evans had won an aerial ball, taken it into the box and dragged a shot that was pushed out and popped in.
The celebration. An eye on Zesh Rehman charging back to congratulate Eastwood’s save, Steve Williams joining in. Credit for all, credit deserved.
A third goal came when Chris Brandon – off the bench after a great display by James O’Brien – lashed in a lose ball in the box after Lee had committed himself making a save from Neilson. Another sub – Michael Boulding – could have rounded the keeper for a fourth while Luke Sharry’s cameo saw him set up Neilson who pinged the ball off the post. Four would have flattered and this was a game about taking advantage of being a little better and not thrashing the opposition.
Not ill deserved would have been a red card for Jack Lester who put feet and arm over the ball in a vicious foul on Lee Bullock. Most of the City squad piled in to a push and shove brawl with the game won and no need for further cards.
I guess they just felt the need to show togetherness. Nine games into the season and the table starts to look both relevant and interesting. City nicely positioned, trips of Morecambe and Northampton on the road to come. This season – and City – is up and running.
Oldham Athletic at the end of last season made a decision. It was a decision that some would have had City make and they made it in a similar situation. Morale was bad in the squad and the promotion bid faltered so they sacked the manager and the rest is history.
Well, not that historic really. Joe Royle took Oldham to nowhere – he was replaced by Dave Penny who seems to be doing the same at the end of the season – which is, in the scheme of things, where City finished. John Sheridan – fired from Oldham – ended up at Chesterfield and brings his team to Valley Parade performing – well – about as well as Stuart McCall’s Bradford City.
All of which is to reopen such a debate but just to underline that things do not turn out the way many might hope for or expect.
Few better examples than this could be seen than the career of Graeme Lee since City’s last game with Chesterfield on the final day of last season which was the Bantam’s skipper’s last game for the club. Lee went to Notts County, got injured, got replaced by Sol Campbell who cameoed and left after a single game and now looks to come back into the side. Should either team win on Saturday and the beleaguered County lose at home to Port Vale then they would climb above the Sven Men.
So things do not work out how one might expect and the six game without a defeat run the Bantams are on was not expected after the early season encounter with with County.
The run is typified by the effort put in by strike partnership James Hanson and Gareth Evans who continue to work tirelessly keeping Michael Boulding on the bench and scoring with an impressive frequency. The energy but in up front is mirrored by the hard work of the main midfield two of Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock who are expected to be partnered with James O’Brien although McCall has used Chris Brandon in home games.
Scott Neilson is expected to continue on the right with Jon Bateson behind him replacing the injured Simon Ramsden while Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams continue in the middle. Luke O’Brien is left back and Simon Eastwood plays in goal.
Bradford City reserves 2 Huddersfield Town reserves 3 At Valley Parade in Reserve League East, 2009/2010
It’s not just the legions of empty seats that invoke feelings of eeriness and suspicion during reserve team fixtures. For the Bradford City and Huddersfield Town players involved in tonight’s West Yorkshire derby reserve match, the wide range of people stood watching by the side offered different reasons for their attention.
Impressing the two reserve team managers in the dug out might be the obvious priority, but to the wily this was secondary to catching the attention of the more senior personnel watching from further afar. For Town, that was manager Lee Clark and assistant Terry McDermott, who plonked themselves amongst the spare crowd nine rows back, with a clear focus on events in front. Then there was the various parents who were clearly present, trying to keep warm and concentrating more on their lad impressing than which team would triumph. Finally, and perhaps most hidden of all, were scouts and the like eyeing up potential signings for their club. A certain Darlington Assistant Manager by the name of Dean Windass was sat in the Valley Parade media section for the first half, leaving one to mischievously contemplate whether the player he might be checking out with a view to his boss Colin Todd signing on loan might be Matt Clarke. Imagine Mark Bower’s reaction if the former Quaker defender, brought to Valley Parade by Todd, was to steal his place again!
But if those in the stands and in the dug out had differing focuses to their watching briefs, the agendas of those on the pitch are rarely collectively on their team triumphing. This was a typical Bradford City reserve outfit that can broadly be broken into four groups. There was the trialists, who usually capture the media attention. Tonight Tomi Ameobi played his third reserve game for the Bantams in his bid to earn a contract. Displaying a good show of strength and decent turn of pace, he impressed in small doses but failed to do enough to suggest he’d climb in front of City’s five strikers and play a first team role.
Also making a third trialist appearance was Clive Moyo-Modise, who had previously played for Rochdale and was close to signing for Stockport over the summer. The London-born winger demonstrated some nice skills to beat players, but his final pass was lacking. He kept losing the ball in promising positions and such a performance in a typical City first team game would attract vicious abuse from supporters. Those empty seats can be a forgiving bunch.
Of more interest is another group – those knocking on the door of the first team. Leon Osborne has made three substitute appearances for the first team this season and, with a lack of regular wingers at the club, may continue to receive chances before Omar Daley’s return. In the second half especially tonight, Osborne looked a menace playing down the left flank and a series of threatening crosses deserved more than to fly past some timid attempts of others in getting on the end.
Luke Sharry is a player I’ve enjoyed watching in reserve and pre-season friendly games. Tonight he again suggested he could take control of the midfield for spells, cleverly using the ball and reguarly picking out the right pass. His best moment came when he robbed a Huddersfield midfielder and played the ball to Ameobi, before finding space to receive back possession and hitting a long range lob which bounced off the cross bar. Something is perhaps still lacking in his game and that may be gathered by the experience of going out on loan, but the day when Luke finally gets to play a first team game at Valley Parade can’t be too distant and, if and when it happens, it won’t just be his parents full of pride.
Jon McLaughlin is also being talked up for the first team with Simon Eastwood continuing to worry. Tonight he made some decent saves and couldn’t really be blamed for the three goals that flew into his net, but he still falls short of presenting a strong enough case for taking the first term jersey other than the fact he’s not Eastwood. With the on-loan Town keeper scheduled to return to Town in January, his chance may soon come.
But if Leon, Luke and Jon are on the way up, the third group would consider themselves on the way down. Not too long ago Michael Boulding and Clarke were first teamers, but having lost their place they face a battle to impress that stretches beyond playing well in a reserve match. Tonight Boulding and Clarke were judged as much for their attitude as their ability to score or keep out goals. Boulding appeared disinterested at first, but the spark which makes him a good player was reclaimed as the first half wore on and he cancelled out James Berrett’s opener for Huddersfield with a shot that deflected past Matt Glennon. Withdrawn at half time, he will hope to continue where he left off if given the chance to come off the bench against Chesterfield on Saturday – opponents he scored twice past last season.
Clarke also impressed with the way he leaded the back four, barking instructions constantly and notably offering advice to central defensive partner Louis Horne. In the second half an upset Clarke got into an argument with McLaughlin over the keeper’s lack of dominance in his area, invoking memories of the numerous spats Clarke had with Rhys Evans last season.
Which leaves the final group of players – the younger ones, who competed keener than most throughout. 1st year apprentice Alex Flett took Stuart’s coverted number 4 shirt and put in the kind of all action display that suggests he can one day follow in his manager’s footsteps. At left back, Andrew Villermann got forward effectively and stood up well to the dangerous Lionel Ainsworth. With Luke O’Brien the only left back on the books, the scenario of Villermann or Horne getting a first team game before the season is out is far from unlikely. Phil Cutler also looked confident at right back.
Huddersfield took the lead three times – Rory Boulding bundling home City’s second equaliser following a corner after Berrett’s second – with Ameobi having the decisive touch at the wrong end after poking a Town free kick into his own net. Yet Huddersfield fielded a strong team which included the tough tackling Jim Goodwin and Gary Roberts, who had ran riot against City’s first team in the League Cup tie last year. Midway through the first half Town reserve team manager Paul Stephenson barked instructions at his players, before looking over to Clark in an obvious attempt to seek approval. That’s the suspicion of reserve games, who exactly is trying to impress who?
For City’s four groups of players, their level of success differed.
Those who regularly visit BfB will know of the scribblings of Paul Firth. Not all visitors may know that Paul, as well as being a life-long Bradford City fan, is a retired judge. However, like all judges (or is it like all City fans?), it turns out he is slightly crazy.
He must be ancient to be a retired judge. That goes without saying. So, at his advanced age, madness has taken the form of entering a 10k run. He tells me he has never run that far in his life, has not run with others since he was a schoolboy and doesn’t even know his way round Salford, where this run is to take place on Sunday 27th September.
He has, however, been doing a spot of training around the streets where he lives and, while still not quite getting to 10k, has reached the dizzy lengths of 8 and a bit k in 52 minutes. If he can keep this pace up for a bit longer, he calculates that it will be touch and go whether a 10k run can be completed in an hour.
He is, it probably goes without saying, looking for a spot of sponsorship for his run. It is probably equally predictable that Paul wants to raise a few quid for the Burns Research Unit, especially since sales of his book, ‘Four Minutes to Hell’, have already realised over £2000 for the Unit. (Copies are still available from Paul himself.)
Paul needs an incentive both to complete the 10k and to do so in no more than an hour, which may not seem to be a great target, but at his age….
With that in mind, he expects nothing if he fails to complete the course. He would, however, ask for donations small and large in the event that he completes 10k in an hour or less. He will, apparently, be wearing a ‘timing chip’ provided by the race organisers, so all rests on that piece of technology. If he completes the course, but takes more than an hour to do so, he will only ask for half of any promised sponsorship.
So there you have it. Can you help the Burn Research Unit via the idiocy of someone who ought to know better? If so, please make your offer by going to www.justgiving.com/Paul-Firth. Donations made through that route also provide an extra bit of money for the Burns Unit via the tax man. If you don’t want to use that route, BfB may provide alternatives.
The results of Paul’s efforts will be reported as soon as he recovers, with perhaps a paragraph or two on BfB. Paul has asked me in advance to thank all who feel able to support the cause in any way.
Barnet 2 Bradford City 2 At Underhill in League Two, 2009/2010
“I’m absolutely delighted by the performance, but disappointed by the result.”
McCall’s post match thoughts seemed to speak for 500 strong travelling support coming away from Underhill, after giving their (we’re now not ashamed to call these players ours) boys a hearty, and deserved ovation after a game that could, and should have been won. The reason we didn’t leave with three points was due to a lack of a ruthless streak in all twelve of our players.
Before I go any further I should probably point out that due to living at the wrong end of the country for a year this was only my second City game this season, the first was Notts County away.
The difference between the two experiences could not be more pronounced. Suddenly we are in possession of players who refuse to recognise a lost cause, hurrying uncomfortable defenders into mistakes. A captain who personally tells his players what he wants from each of them individually before the match. And arguably most importantly, a group of supporters who burst into spontaneous applause to show their appreciation to the City players whenever they are anywhere near.
The game itself should have been over after half an hour. City created chance after chance, taking full advantage of the famous Underhill slope. In a refreshingly honest post-match interview Barnet manager Ian Hendon called it “Men against boys”. McCall’s away system, in which the only constant seems to be the back four and Lee Bullock in the holding role, gives City an advantage as each player seems to be able to easily fill in for each other, which gives us the attacking fluidity that brings to mind Manchester United in the past few years, or Brazil in a World Cup. That’s right, I just compared us to Brazil.
The first goal came from a driving run from Michael Flynn that he constantly seems capable of, leaving the Barnet defenders helpless and squaring for James Hanson to tap in.
By this point Hanson’s goal could have made it three nil. Within the first ten minutes James Hanson found himself with a free header from a James O’Brien corner, which caused problems all game for the flapping Barnet keeper and Manuel Almunia look-alike, Jake Cole. Just before that, Scott Neilson had a golden opportunity to score, but his shot was deflected wide.
Just before the half time break, the never tiring Gareth Evans pulled the ball back from the by-line for Flynn, who looked for all the world like he was going to give City a deserved two nil lead at the break until Barnet defender came from nowhere with a crucial block.
The point is that if we are looking at promotion, then we have to be looking to be putting away most if not all of these chances or we’ll just get punished. As inevitably happened in the second half of this game as Barnet eventually got back into the game.
Barnet’s two equalisers both came from unmarked headers. And both showed how little confidence Williams and Rehman have in their goalkeeper. Simon Eastwood is also lacking in a ruthless streak. While he looks a very technically able player, he just needs to make a decision and trust himself with it. Although there is no excuse for Rehman leaving John O’Flynn unmarked to head in Barnet’s first equaliser, Eastwood was caught in no-mans land, unable to decide whether to stay on his line or go and get the ball. He eventually helplessly, watched the ball loop over is head into the goal. There were a few more Eastwood moments, most notably Rehman saving his goalkeeper by heading off the line. Either Eastwood convinces the two centre-backs to trust him with some confident goalkeeping and communication, or he has to be replaced.
Barnet’s second goal was a result of a magnificent, slaloming run and cross from Albert Adomah, chief tormentor in last years 4-1 reverse. As good as it was, you could only feel that a more experienced, nasty team wouldn’t have even let him get started. Lee Bullock, otherwise impressive in his holding role in front of the back four, should have brought Adomah down, given City a chance to regroup and taken a booking for his team.
The second half wasn’t all negative, in fact is was a very enjoyable end-to-end encounter. In the end, any team could have won it. City regained the lead after Rehman showed the attackers how its done by smashing one into the top corner after another O’Brien corner. James Hanson had the chance to put the game to bed, but the ball was caught between his feet after a promising performance from Jonathan Bateson was capped by a full-length charge up the pitch on the counter attack to put Hanson in. Bateson looks more than able to step into the big shoes of Simon Ramsden who he replaced after Ramsden came off injured.
Both teams could have won it at the death, Mark Hughes embarrassingly shanked one wide for Barnet when he really should have hit the target. Just before, Neilson managed to find a final bit of energy to burst into the Barnet box only to fire straight at the keeper.
Even taking only a point back home, the future looks bright to me at City. McCall looks to have learnt from mistakes made in the first two years of his tenure. And this team can only improve, especially with the support they are receiving from our notoriously negative fans. If we can find this ruthless streak then a League 2 team will soon be on the receiving end of good old-fashioned mauling.
Take apart the falling apart at the end of last season and one can find a plethora of points when in retrospect it is obvious that the writing – such as it was – was on the wall.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark it did not say although it might have done had the effect not been ruined by replacing the Kingdom with the London region of Barnet.
Rotten is was though and the 4-1 reversal that saw 100 year old striker Paul Furlong become a sprightly tormentor and Albert Adomah tear a hole in the curtain of City’s defence.
That was then, this is now and much change has been made since. The general consensus on the Bantams this term to even the brightest days of last is that they are more enjoyable to watch by virtue of the level of effort put in by the players being higher. It is rare to go through a City game at the moment without the words “He puts it in cause he knows what it is like to work at the Co-op/as a plumber/cutting hair and he does not want to go back.” Certainly watching the energy of the over forty Furlong playing every game as if it were his last last season showed that it is not only former non-league players who can have that desire.
Nevertheless it is a given that City did not have it then but do now, and this is to be celebrated rightfully although there was talk in the week as to who came up with the idea of bringing the likes of Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding in the first place.
Considering the money came from joint chairman Mark Lawn’s loan to the club which suggests a logical train of thought that when he brought this pile of cash to the club it was with the express idea of bringing in bigger names which Stuart McCall duly – and gleefully – did. Cash is tight no so who had the idea to find cheaper replacements? File under “Specialist subject: The bleeding obvious“.
So the band of hearty, if cheaper replacements are more enjoyable to watch and if Gareth Evans cost the same as Willy Topp – and we are lead to believe that he did – it is not so much the strategy of recruitment that has brought benefits but the quality.
Quality not having previously been associated with Simon Eastwood until the faffing keeper seemed to be reborn at Shrewsbury with a sterling performance that he took into the game with Burton Albion making two fine one-on-one saves that put supporters of a certain age in mind of the legend of Paul Tomlinson. Tomlinson – who played more between the sticks than any keeper in City history – seemed so good when faces one-on-one with a striker that one felt a little disappointed if a goal resulted from such an attack.
Blame that has been heaped onto Eastwood has roved to Zesh Rehman somewhat unfairly. Odd how often City and Geo-Political machinations align – read Peanut Farmer Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that Obama’s critics are racist – and certainly similar has been said around Zesh at the moment.
For my money Zesh could improve but he is taking on responsibilities for leading the defence and I would rather a player be seen to err in what he does rather than not make a mistake because he does not involve himself in play.
Steve Williams – who will partner Rehman at Barnet – has played hardly a dozen games as a professional footballer and looks accomplished in a way that one could have only hoped for. Simon Ramsden – another recruit – also looks a cut above last season’s new faces despite being “a cost cutting replacement”. Ramsden and Luke O’Brien are the full backs as City settle into a solid and predictable back five.
Predictability is not something one could accuse Chris Brandon’s play of and the lively midfielder still lurches between seemingly like an essential name on the teamsheet and provoking a desire to cast him far from Valley Parade. Ostensibly he is City’s playmaker but sometimes the phrase luxury player seems to fit him more. Without him slotting onto the left City are less inventive with the ball, with him we are less robust in winning it back which is a role that Lee Bullock has warmed to very well. Bullock’s trio with Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary was broken up by the latter’s injury – a shame – and Brandon is not able to fill the slot next to the fiery number four so Stuart McCall deploys him opposite Scott Neilson on the flank or brings in James O’Brien.
Last week’s experience in the 1-1 draw with Burton Albion saw City fail to have a strangle hold on the midfield which a trio in the middle rather than two flank players could have given us and one could assume that away from home ball winning would be more important – leading to a suggestion that Brandon should be benched – but with the onus on the home side to attack more a more inventive player could make the most of possession when it comes.
Gosh managing a football club is hard.
Much easier is the forward line which has Peter Thorne out injured and Michael Boulding waiting for the right alignment of planets that would create suitable conditions when he might play well leaving Gareth Evans and James Hanson to lead the line with the possibility of Hanson dropping into the left hand side to allow Brandon to tuck in and perhaps curing both problems creating a robust midfield, having the inventive playmaker in and keeping the hearty players in.
Perhaps that football management is not that tough after all. Then again perhaps one day I’ll be made King of a Scandinavian country.
Where the blame lies as City supporters are warned about flying footballs and Arsenal fans throw objects at their former player
Ahead of kick off on Saturday, Bradford City and Burton Albion supporters were warned, via the PA system, of the possibility of footballs flying into the crowd while the players warmed up. As a supporter who has attended matches for many years, such a message sounded ridiculous.
A number of years ago I remember a stray football smashing someone’s cup of coffee out of their hands a few yards behind me in the old standing Kop, with the contents spraying all over the poor individual. Gary Walsh came over to apologise, and the supporter simply shrugged his shoulders and wiped himself down. Being struck by a football at full force is not a pleasant experience, but this person did not call the first injury claims phone number he could recite from a daytime TV advert, he did not rush over to a steward to complain about the wayward shooting of Robert Steiner, he didn’t even try to claim back the cost of the coffee. As the warning of the dangers of flying footballs was broadcast around Valley Parade on Saturday, my worry was that in a few years we’ll be watching our football from behind some form of plastic screen.
Like with so many other aspects of the growing Health and Safety culture in the UK, a look at the reasons behind why a person attending a football match would need to be warned footballs will be used prompts the real despair. In the matchday programme there was notice about another seemingly ludicrous Health and Safety measure introduced at Valley Parade, that under 2s are to be banned. Apparently this is “following incidents of small children being hurt at other grounds and legal action being taken against those clubs.”. Just as Lenny the City Gent is no longer allowed to throw sweets, seemingly behind every new Health & Safety rule was a victim with a questionable but probably legal case for compensation.
But as long as there’s a claim where there’s blame, such regulations will continue to be forced upon us. In the grander scheme of things forcing Lenny to cover up his belly and stating the blindingly obvious over the public address system is minor, when you hear of people suing charities for small injuries they may have picked up attending one of their events – increasing such organisations costs and even forcing them to cancel fundraising efforts. Personal responsibility appears to be someone else’s responsibility, no matter how badly you behave.
Over at Eastlands on Saturday, there was an incident not too dissimilar when Man City striker Emmanuel Adebayor choose to sprint the full length of the pitch to celebrate a goal against his former club, Arsenal, in front of his former fans. This caused many away supporters to react angrily, throwing all manner of objects in the direction of the Ivory Coast striker and barging over fellow supporters to get to the front of the visitors section to vent their fury. There are reports that a steward was knocked unconscious for a few seconds as a result, while nearby photographers had to be moved on as their chairs were flung onto the pitch. Some witnesses claim Arsenal fans had been singing some tasteless and offensive things about Adebayor’s family, only two weeks earlier Man United fans had been criticised for similar chants at Arsene Wenger.
Let’s be clear, Adebayor’s actions were highly stupid and the huge media fury directed towards the striker is justified; but do his actions excuse supporters from crossing the line past understandable vocal outrage to the sort of behaviour which, normally, would be considered criminal? In this instance, where’s there’s blame, there’s apparently an excuse to act like a mindless idiot.
This occasion bared similarities with Luton keeper Conrad Logan racing over to dance in front of City supporters after his side had struck what looked to be a late winner in the Kenilworth Road League Two clash last January. Logan received a bucket load of verbal abuse, but despite the despair everyone was feeling at apparently having lost the game, I don’t recall a single object been thrown or of any attempts to get onto the pitch to confront the dim-witted keeper. Certainly nothing on the scale the referee Trevor Kettle was to be subjected to from Luton fans as he walked off the field a few minutes later, having awarded a City a highly contentious penalty in stoppage time which denied them the victory.
On Saturday a seemingly routine moment of a Burton corner was performed while well-known City supporter ‘Charlie’ marched towards the set piece taker to complain at him. Had he done anything stronger than shout abuse, he would deservedly have been kicked out the ground. There is a limit to supporting your football team which most decent people, Charlie included, simply won’t go beyond. Those Arsenal supporters who threw objects or pushed fellow fans out of the way after Adebayor’s actions went past it. The consequences are that the rest of us supporters may one day face new restrictions which are as ludicrous as issued warnings over flying footballs. Plastic screens are used in other countries, after all.
But as the media expresses its outrage, one has to point the finger of blame back at it too. While Arsenal fans have strong reasons for hating their former striker, the modern day over-hyped Premier League, which sees rivalries magnified and hatred encouraged, plays its part in fanning such flames. In the days before the Arsenal v Man City match, the media were stoking up the fact Adebayor was facing his old club and continued to paint him in such a way as to encourage even more hatred from those who used to support him. If the return fixture wasn’t scheduled to be live on Sky, you can comfortably bet it will be now, hyped up non-stop beforehand so the spectacle of 60,000+ people screaming abuse at their former hero can be considered ‘entertainment’.
Just like the Manchester United supporter who arranged to have an offensive message about the number of Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough on the back of his shirt, such hatred in football is unnecessary, unhealthy and counter-productive. Instead of worrying about footballs hitting spectators, the games authorities should look at diffusing this growing problem, even if it involves taking on the media paymasters who they have become enslaved to.
Meanwhile we football supporters need to remember that this game has its limits and start taking responsibility for our own behaviour.
Bradford City 1 Burton Albion 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
It is the smallest of particulars which offer the strongest arguments for Bradford City’s early season promise growing into more.
As visitors Burton Albion attacked, the work rate exhibited by the Bantams in winning the ball back ran through all10 outfield players. Following a period of heavy pressure, witness Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock – two of a young squad’s elder statesmen – speaking to each of their team mates to offer encouragement and pointers on organisation. When an attacking move was seemingly ended by an over-hit cross, notice Scott Neilsen charging across to try and keep in a ball that would, in the recent past, have been allowed to roll out. Watch not just who has the ball, or who is nearest to winning back the ball. Watch around the pitch at all the little things going on, they’re adding up.
Whatever this team might be lacking, endeavour isn’t in short supply. City were not at their best against a very impressive Burton side, with the draw that Brewers full back Paul Boertien’s 74th minute effort confirmed the fairest outcome. The guile and smoothness of the previous four-game winning run was absent at times, but for determination and effort it was hard to fault any player. For the moment at least, the spirit and the heart is there and the early indications are it can lift this team a long way.
But it is also the smaller elements of the home side’s actions which undermine objectives. Despite taking a first half lead when Gareth Evans capitalised on a defensive mix up to slot the ball into an empty net, City struggled to grasp control of the game. Burton too were full of endeavour and neglected to allow City any more time on the ball than they were consented.
With Burton growing particularly strong towards the end of the first half, uncertainty in a defence which has now been breached 16 times was clear. Individually each member of the back four seems to be performing reasonably competently, but unlike other areas of the team isn’t as cohesively together. The ball was often cleared in panicky fashion, with a lack of direction occasionally resulting in it coming straight back after bouncing off players close by. Brewers’ midfielder John McGrath almost took advantage after ghosting unchecked into the penalty area, only to force a brilliant save from Simon Eastwood. Minutes later Eastwood made another smart stop and Bullock was on hand to make a superb last ditch tackle to prevent the rebound being tapped home, crashing into a post for his troubles.
Burton’s improvement continued into the second half, with another of those little things manager Stuart McCall will be coaching his players to improve upon keeping them in the game. City had chances to go 2-0 up, but bad decision making prevented them from being taken. Evans had the best opportunity when a break away left numerical advantage in the final third, but elected to shoot from an ambitious way out with Neilsen, free from a marker and to make a clear run on goal, over to his right. Flynn might also have scored from distance when a chipped effort flew just over, after the far-from-convincing Burton keeper Artur Krysiak had struggled to throw the ball to a team mate. Another Krysiak spill almost allowed Evans in again, but the Polish keeper recovered enough to deflect the ball behind for a corner.
On other occasions City attacked well and knocked the ball around in a variety of ways, only for the wrong option to be taken at a critical moment. Stronger fluency will surely be obtained in time, though it was a surprise the more direct route of knocking balls to the hard working Evans and James Hanson wasn’t more regularly attempted after the interval.
For possession began to be too cheaply surrendered and the pressure from Burton grew. Just as it seemed a storm had been weathered, Boertien was to strike. The goal owed much to substitute Richard Walker, who held off Zesh Rehman in the penalty area and fashioned space for Boertien to run onto. There was a hint of a deflection in his shot as it flew past Eastwood’s outstretched arm. The fact Neilsen had failed to spot Boertien’s late run into the box will not have gone unnoticed by Stuart, either.
Manager Stuart McCall reacted by throwing on Michael Boulding and switching to a more gung ho 4-3-3 formation. Leon Osborne had already come on for Chris Brandon and the 19-year-old, who’s 17 minutes of action was one minute more than his total first team football on the Valley Parade pitch to date, was encouraged to carry the ball forward from out wide. Despite plenty of pressure, Krysiak was barely tested.
In an end-to-end final quarter, Burton came closest to scoring with the more open approach from City resulting in gaps at the back; which might have been punished but for one chance being wastefully fired over and a teasing low cross proving inches too far in front of a queue of yellow shirts. This particular chance had been engineered despite visiting defender Guy Branston lying injured in his own penalty area, but when City won back the ball and began to charge forward on the break, the referee farcically stopped the game so he could receive treatment.
City’s players complained to the referee in the manner they had largely presented themselves in all afternoon – as a team. It’s more than just an obvious spirit to put bodies on the line for the cause, when City have to defend everybody, from Hanson and Evans charging back to exhibit pressure, takes responsibility for gaining the ball back. When on the attack Neilsen and Brandon are adopting less traditional winger roles, tucking inside more and getting involved in the centre of the park. This is helping City to keep the ball in numbers, with short, quick and incisive passing. It also affords Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien the freedom to get forward down the flanks and, though both full backs’ final ball wasn’t good enough on the day, such a style of team attacking will continue to cause uncertainty for opposition defences typically set up to mark certain players.
These small weapons in City’s armoury weren’t clinical enough to earn the three points on the day, but if small improvements can be implemented into the way this team performs, the prospects for big celebrations next May will continue to grow.
“Well that’s the Summer sorted” I said to the wife with the prospect of the four yearly month off work after England’s 5-1 win secured a place in the World Cup Finals next June.
England’s progression has been remarkable for the rapidity of the turn around from two years ago and the infamous Wally With The Brolly to Wednesday night’s Italian elan and The Man With The Plan.
The management style between the two evenings marks a contrast more than the players involved who by in large are the same bunch and one must be wary to not undersell Cappello’s perfectionist approach but attitude divides the England of two years ago and the team from last night.
Attitude and confidence that started to grow not at Wembley where tabloid journalists unimpressed with the England manager’s aloofness ho-hummed about the appointment but in Croatia when a 4-1 win spoke eloquently for the manager and his players.
It has taken two, four, maybe seven years and Seaman’s swipe in the saucy Swede‘s side to turn opinions around on England but turned they have been and that more even than getting Frank Lampard Jnr and Steve Gerrard into the same side is Cappello’s achievement.
One recalls April 2002 in the months after another 5-1 England win a newspaper story breaking and copy about “the ice cool Swede” who can do no wrong being rewritten. The rise and fall of Roman Empires has precedent.
Far away in a field in Cheltenham not years but weeks ago – club football’s inexorable pace is it’s main difference to the International game – a team ran onto the field with confidence at a lowest ebb to a point where few could see it scoring and not conceding many.
That was Bradford City three weeks ago and four wins ago and while Stuart McCall never sheltered under an umbrella he was a long way from Fabio. Following a 2-1 win at Shrewsbury in which all say that City rode their luck massively the Bantams manager seems to have a turned the same bunch of players into a winning machine that is protected even by fortune.
Four wins on McCall and all – including his supporters in the now muted argument over his abilities – would do well to recall Sir Bobby Robson’s epitaph raised on opening day. You are never as bad or as good as you think you are.
City play with confidence though and McCall has been quick to underline the importance of that throughout his team and especially in young keeper “There’s only one” Simon Eastwood who has begun to rise to his reputation with a string of excellent saves at Shrewsbury despite a heavy whack on the shin that threatens to keep him out and sees Jon McLaughin ready to take the gloves up.
McCall’s faith in Eastwood is being rewarded while his confidence in bringing in Simon Ramsden is reaping benefits with some dubbing the right back brought from Rochdale as Stuart’s Best Signing. He provides a high watermark and good example for Luke O’Brien to follow as the young left back learns about second season and the transition from prospect to player.
Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are not an unbreakable partnership but are roughly building an understanding.
McCall had – like Cappello – a nominal and a practical formation with a list of players as read out being more of a rough starting point rather than a rigid tactic.
So the midfield will probably read Neilson, J O’Brien, Bullock, Flynn but the make up will see Lee Bullock falling back into a more central, protecting role with James O’Brien and Michael Flynn tasked with traditional box to box play leaving the line up a tad one sided with Flynn tight on the left compared to the width on offer from Scott Neilson who makes his first start at home in the Bantams first game at Valley Parade since the departure of Joe Colbeck.
Steven Gerrard said of Fabio’s England that the players enjoyed the experience more now than they did previously when the crowd was on some player’s backs and so one wonders what the effect of not having Colbeck will be.
I believe the player is talented but the disruptive influence he had by virtue of the schism of opinion was clear for all. That removed will the 11,000 at Valley Parade be more of one voice? It eludes me why any City fan wanted Colbeck to fail but it seems sure that none would want the same for his replacement Neilson and perhaps that positivism will make itself felt on the field.
Neilson is part of a group at City that includes Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Luke O’Brien and Steve Williams who can best be dubbed “the want-to-do-well boys” who see their not inconsiderable work put in rewarded by a matching of longing of supporters. These are young players who have won hearts and minds in a way Colbeck, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest and Craig Bentham did not and rather than question why this is the case let us celebrate the fact it is.
Evans and Hanson will start with Peter Thorne injured and Michael Boulding in a similar state although closer to fitness. Boulding is the picture book opposite to the want to win boys seemingly having talent over effort that see him sidelined and Evans in his role. Hanson leads the line and never loses a header for the want of effort.
Burton Albion are new to the league but not to City who had Gary Robson’s arse to thank for an early rounds of the FA Cup win back in 1996. They were managed by Nigel Clough for nearly a decade before Son of Brain went to Derby County and as such represent a team which has benefited from patience in a manager who has built a structure which new gaffer Paul Pechisolido reaps the rewards from with a good start that includes a 1-1 at Notts County.
Sitting above City a fifth win on the spin for the Bantams would see the clubs flip positions but early season renders that meaningless and McCall and all will be more concerned with rebuilding the hard fought for good home record if six months of last season.
Home form brings confidence and running that confidence through the season is of paramount importance should a promotion bid be staged.
Run that confidence into the summer and who knows what could happen.
So far it’s been a season of two halves. For good or ill, forget about the cup games and concentrate on the league. Everything changed exactly half way through our six game season. I can remember the very moment I brought about the change.
We’d got to Whaddon Road early and I was passing the time with one of the stewards at the away end. He knew we hadn’t scored in any of our previous games and, once it became clear that Thorne and Boulding weren’t going to start, I told him with great confidence that we were obviously playing for a nil-nil. And there it was; everything changed from that moment.
Actually, it did change right from the kick-off at Cheltenham. City were quite literally a different side. James Hanson, previously a giraffe stuck on the left wing, reminiscent of Ian Mellor or even Stix himself, became a central striker. James O’Brien came in from the bench and Gareth Evans got a second start, very much as the experienced man up front, despite his years. But the main differences were in the approach to the game brought about by the change in personnel.
Suddenly City had energy that hadn’t been seen in a very long time indeed. City had players who just wanted that ball. OK, so from time to time they lost it. Even Arsenal, masters at keeping possession, lose the ball quite often in a game. But when Michael Flynn and the others lost it, they wanted it back straightaway. Not in a few seconds; not when the opposition gave it away; they wanted to win it back the moment they’d lost it. There was no standing around feeling apologetic.
And so it has been ever since, typified at Shrewsbury, where Flynn’s example has clearly rubbed off. Some of these opposing defences had better get the hang of being perpetually harassed by Evans and Hanson. There is no longer any such thing as an easy stretch of possession either for defences or midfielders. Opposing forwards can expect to see bodies flying across the path of any attempt at goal. Bradford City are a team of battlers. They challenge everybody for everything. They scrap all the time. And if one or two sets of legs get a bit weary, there are still some more battlers to come.
But there’s another point that needs to be made. Even since the sea change that brought the first goals and the first win, the cry still kept being repeated with less and less justification that there’s a reduced budget and that these players aren’t as good as some of those who were at Valley Parade last season. The response must now be short and not very sweet. Stop it. Shut up about the drop in quality of individual players. Talk instead about the rise in quality of the team.
Let us remember, this is the fourth division. After 25 years in higher divisions, this is our third season here, so we should be used to it by now. We do not expect the most technically gifted players to appear either in our team or our opponents’. They are playing in another division, possibly in another country. We are what we are; our expectations should match our position. We may not want to start from here, but we have no choice in the matter. We are indeed here, trying to be a good fourth division team, trying to be higher.
Bradford City have faced the player-team dichotomy before and the current manager surely remembers it well, since he was captain last time this happened. As one season followed another, City brought in better players and created a worse team. That better team, made up of less gifted individuals, had kept City in the Premiership.
The only difference this time around is that we’re doing it the other way about. It looks remarkably like we finally have a better team, regardless of the individual players. And, just like team spirit went a long way to preserving that Premiership status ten years ago, so it can go a long way to achieving promotion from the lower divisions. Again, the manager might have to cast his mind back a bit further, but he will surely remember the effort that Bradford City players put in for each other back in 1982, when he was only watching from the sidelines, and 1985 and 1988, when he was right in the middle of it all.
Work rate, hunger, the will to win; call it what you want. It goes a long, long way toward achieving something in this division. Even then, without sufficient ability nothing will be achieved. Maybe, for the first time in a number of years, Bradford City has returned to the right blend of youth and experience, enough ability and enough hunger, a recipe capable of producing something tasty.
Six games into a new season is far too early for predictions, but not too soon to spot signs. Then again, as the Cheltenham steward pointed out nine goals later, some of us are not especially accurate with our predictions. With a mere forty games to go, I’m not going to guess the future. But I do hope I see more of the recent past and that the team gets the recognition it deserves.
Shrewsbury Town 1 Bradford City 2 At The New Meadow in League Two, 2009/2010
The six minutes of injury time at the end of the second half seemed to last forever but when the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the game there was much relief in the away end where about 500 Bradford City supporters had cheered their team on to their fourth consecutive victory. The players and management team approached the City faithful and responded to the applauds from their supporters at the end of the game. Michael Flynn, scorer of City’s second goal even had a kiss for his good lady (I assume it was his wife) who was in the away end.
The key characteristic to this fine 2-1 win was the togetherness shown by the City team. This was especially displayed by substitute goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin who put his arm around current first choice keeper Simon Eastwood as he walked off at half time following a nasty collision with ex-Brentford striker Nathan Elder. Indeed there were chants of “there’s only one Simon Eastwood” from the away supporters which has certainly not been heard at Valley Parade yet following his loan move from Huddersfield Town. However, Eastwood produced a couple of excellent saves in the first half including one in the opening few minutes from an Elder header, when the home team started strongly.
City scored with virtually their first attack of the game on the quarter hour mark and it owed alot to the impressive Flynn who out fought Shrewsbury captain and ex-Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday player Graham Coughlan to the ball. Flynn having won the ball crossed from the right and Gareth Evans was there to produce a clinical finish to put Bradford one up. This goal seemed to settle the Bradford players down with Jamie O’Brien and Lee Bullock playing well in midfield. With about ten minutes of the first half remaining, City doubled their lead thanks to a wonder strike from Flynn. He was about 25 yards out when he unleashed a long range shot which gave the Shrewsbury goalkeeper, Phillips who was making his home debut, no chance with a goal that would have been shown a dozen times on Match of the Day if it had been scored in the top flight. This goal will hopefully banish those memories of the saved penalty kick in the Lincoln home game.
City went in at half time 2-0 up and although we had played some good football, we were probably fortunate to be two goals up. Like the first half, Shrewsbury started the second half stronger although Flynn produced another long range effort which Phillips was equal to this time and tipped the ball over for a corner. Shrewsbury continued to press forward and hit the woodwork. However, just when you thought that it could be City’s day, up popped ex-City loanee striker Hibbert who scored with a glancing header to reduce the arrears. At this point, there were mutterings in the away end and you thought that City might throw away a two goal lead. However, the defence stood firm with Rehman, who was injured in a clash of heads with Hibbert, continuing to develop his partnership with Steve Williams. The former non-league player is getting better with every game that he plays and although it is still very early on in his City career, Williams is looking very assured in his play and reminds me of Dean Richards.
As the game progressed in to the final stages, Simpson saw his shot hit the woodwork as the City goal led a charmed life. However, it would have been harsh on the Bradford players who showed plenty of determination and periods of neat passing to come away with only a point. We’re only six games into this season but who would have predicted that a City team without Thorne, Michael Boulding and Brandon would come away from the New Meadow with three points?
The Bradford City management team deserve a lot of credit for spotting the potential in players such as Ramsden, Williams, Neilson, Flynn, Jamie O’Brien, Hanson and Evans. I’m not getting carried away, indeed I predicted a mid-table finish for us this season before a ball had been kicked, but it’s so good to see these young and hungry players starting to form a strong unit.
In September 1959, thanks to parents who bought me boots (and they were boots!) and to teachers who gave up a Saturday morning, I played my first competitive game of football for the under 11s of Harehills Junior School. I can’t remember the opposition or the result but I do remember pulling on a real football jersey – blue and red quarters. I also remember that after the game we were all given concessionary tickets to watch the rather unfashionable professionals in blue and old gold across the other side of the city. Although I didn’t know it then, I was hooked! Football would remain a constant despite all life’s other changes.
Now, in September2009, I am once again eligible for some concessions yet still watching and still playing –albeit friendly 5-a-side – every Sunday morning.
During the intervening years I have experienced ecstatic highs and depressing lows with the two clubs I have supported at different stages of my life. Success at Wembley with both never tempted me to quit whilst ahead, humiliating defeats with both never led me to give up in despair and regular acquaintances with psychotic full backs never made me want to stop playing. I love the game. I have got so much out of it and in some small way put a little bit back.
For many years I, like so many other teachers, was involved in running school football teams at my south Bradford school. Success in hard fought derbies against the likes of Buttershaw, Priestman and Woodroyd was rewarded by “Champions League” knockout stages that involved travel to such exotic locations as Swain House, Belmont and Thornbury. Finals, if you made it, were held at superstadia such as King George fields, Manningham Mills or even….Valley Parade!
But pressures on management are nothing new. School teams were, by their very nature, made up of those in the school. No oil-rich headteachers could attract stars from other schools with the prospect of higher grades and inflated reports. Agents, sorry, parents, did not tout their offspring around to find the team capable of taking their sons “to the next level.” The only hope of strengthening your squad was if someone moved into the area bringing an addition to the school that filled the gap on the left that had always been a problem – which was where I put a young Ian Ormondroyd when he arrived one term!
However the biggest pressure came through the organisation. Because the teams were age-based it meant a new team every year. Whatever success had been achieved the previous year counted for nothing as players were now ineligible for that league as they were a year older. Achievement fluctuated. Highs and lows were experienced. But few managers were sacked because of bad results and the kids were always keen for the next game. Now school football seems to have gone. Maybe better things such as academies, football in the community and local youth teams have replaced them but for those of a certain age school football will be fondly remembered despite all the changes.
So what has all this to do with Bradford City and BfB? Well a glance at the team sheets for September 08 and September 09 have the marked changes in personnel that school teams would show. The change is almost wholesale. Pay packets, personalities and petulance have combined to rid us of much of last September’s team. Luke O’Brian, last year’s youngster, is now the only regular from the last campaign likely to command a regular spot this season. Replacements are like the new school team, mostly inexperienced at this level. Some have played but for “smaller” sides but few have had the set up that Valley Parade has to offer in terms of both facilities and support. And this is the key to how the season might unfold.
For the first time in a while we have the opportunity afforded to few league clubs – the chance to watch a team grow – and what happens…some “fans” are on their backs already. What do they come to City for? What do they come to football for? Does a T.V. diet of Premiership and European leagues raise expectations to an unrealistic level? Is Flynn expected to be Fabregas, Bullock, Ballack or Neillson, Nani? Even superstars make mistakes but rarely face the vitriol poured out by some of our “fourth division fans” who expect perfect passing and first touch control every time.
Recent postings and comments on this site (my own included) have tried to focus on positive support, vocal encouragement and, when necessary, quiet understanding. The boo boys must not hold sway. Personally I am more interested than ever because of the “new” team. There is a sense of excitement, unpredictability and, dare I whisper it so soon, the faint prospect of success – all the things I come to football for.
There is also the challenge of managing a new team. I really can’t believe the criticism levelled at Stuart McCall at the start of this season. Having written in support of him staying just a few months ago I see no reason to change my mind. What I do see is enthusiasm, cooperation on the field and all round effort. Give the manager credit where it is due. The failings of last season in these areas have been addressed quickly this season. Lessons have been learned. Players’ efforts can easily be seen, manager’s efforts are often harder to spot – especially for those blinkered to them in the first place. But for those prepared to look there is a lot of good to see in what has happened this season – and that was just in August!
So, apologies if I am sentimental, excuse the nostalgia if you will ,but please join me in celebrating my 50 years in football by showing pride in those who wear the current City shirt (jersey?) and giving due credit to all involved in making V.P. the place we want to go to enjoy our football. Here’s to the future!
If the end of last season started with the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale’s Spotland then the end of City’s promising start came at Shrewsbury’s New Meadow when the Bantams lost 2-0.
The Rochdale ghost was buried in the week when Stuart McCall’s men came back from behind to take victory with a goal from Scott Neilson that took enough of a deflection to be chalked up to luck.
Not that Dale boss Keith Hill would agree with that railing against the referee on the evening as not being fit to officiate. Odd that last season’s man in the middle who seemed to want to gift the game to the home side did not incur Hill’s wrath. That kind of myopia would fit right in at Rotherham if – should rumours be believed – Hill replaces Barnsley bound Mark Robbins.
At Shrewsbury last season Referee Jarnail Singh practically proved he was not up to refereeing by once again allowing goals to be scored while players were down with serious head injuries and the sight of TJ Moncur staggering away collapsing with the home side celebrating is the enduring one. Moncur and Lee Bullock were invalided away from right back that day.
Bullock’s return to the City team this season owes a deal to the injury to Stephen O’Leary who continues to miss games with a toe problem following his impressive debut against Port Vale.
Bullock is far from universally loved by City fans and in this post-Joe Colbeck era we enter is the next player to split fans.
Personally I’m conflicted internally on him not especially enjoying watching him in the way I enjoy the robustness of Michael Flynn but noticing the correlation between his name on the teamsheet and City winning. Call it the inverse Nicky Law effect.
Bullock and Flynn are likely to be rejoined by Steve O’Brien in the midfield following the youngsters benching in the week while those tight three midfielders will notice little difference on the right with the aforementioned Colbeck gone but replacement Scott Neilson impressing and exciting in his opening one hundred minutes for City.
Peter Thorne was robbed of the chance to impress by a hamstring injury on Tuesday night but he would have likely stepped down for James Hanson and Gareth Evans to continue a fruitful partnership.
At the back the four of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien will return in front of Simon Eastwood.
That Rehman missed the midweek game was officially put down to a thigh strain although in all likelihood he was being given recovery time being in that twilight zone between injured and fit. As City’s squad shrinks the prospect of the player carrying injuries into games emerges. A week of rest becomes a rare thing and a player’s season becomes defined by how they deal with niggling injuries that would be rested at a higher level but are played through in League Two.
The counter to that resting is the benefits of confidence coming from playing games and it is that which Stuart McCall believes will get the best out of keeper Eastwood.
Eastwood had a ropey start to his City career but the start is coming to an end and the Huddersfield loanee is improving.
As are City. A win at Shrewsbury would be an impressive return – the home side have not yet lost a half dozen games at this stadium – but would be a fourth win in a row and set up parallels with Colin Todd’s side that collected fifteen points out of fifteen four years ago. A draw would no doubt be welcomed by the management keen to show the ability to be pragmatic away from home as a table begins to form and City begin to nestle into it.
Rochdale 1 Bradford City 2 At Spotland in Johnstone's Paint Trohpy, 2009/10
Whatever direction Bradford City was heading towards following the home defeat to Lincoln City two weeks ago, the corner has seemingly been turned.
After starting the season with three defeats, one point and no goals, it’s now three consecutive wins, nine goals and a progression beyond the first round of the Football League Trophy for the first time since the club was awarded a bye to pass it in 2005. The gloom is fading away and quiet optimism is becoming louder.
Tonight was the first time Stuart McCall’s team has managed to convert a losing position into victory since a 2-0 Chesterfield lead was overturned at Valley Parade 10 months ago. As the players raced over to congratulate Scott Neilsen’s winning strike in front of 300+ City supporters, the spirit in evidence was a welcome contrast to the referee-influenced collapse at this ground last season which was to trigger the beginning of the end to City’s promotion push. On a night where the sponsors were all about paint, an attractive picture of City’s prospects for the campaign was completed by the final whistle.
In the second half especially, City were excellent tonight. Since the relegation to League Two in 2007, envious eyes have been cast towards the Lancashire hosts and the attractive, effective manner Keith Hill lines up a team which has achieved consecutive top seven finishes. With the support of a well-trained ball boy team ensuring throw ins could be hurriedly taken, it was quick-fire, incisive passing in and around City’s penalty area with the skillful Will Buckley, Adam Rundle and Chris Dagnall leading the threat. Yet City were able to respond with some of their best attacking football of the season.
Limited chances were created by both sides during the first half; save for a rattling of the cross bar at both ends with the impressive Luke O’Brien’s miscued cross deceiving the less than impressive Dale keeper Kenny Arthur and coming back off the woodwork and Dagnall being brilliantly cued up at the other end but smacking a well struck shot off Simon Eastwood’s bar. Neither side were able to take control, but each had spells of dominance where the final ball was narrowly lacking.
An early impressive feature about Stuart’s team this season is the movement on and off the ball and, when on the attack, Neilsen, Chris Brandon, Michael Flynn and Gareth Evans were particularly effective at popping up all over the final third and dragging markers out of position in the process. A high level of work rate, a missing ingredient in the second half of last season, was evident too. A good visiting attacking move saw a low cross only narrowly avoid the onrushing Evans, but instead of allowing the ball to simply roll behind, Brandon willingly chased what looked a lost cause and was rewarded by the ball bouncing off the corner flag onto his feet, to allow him to force a corner. Little things such as this were witnessed across the park in this game and recent matches, and so far appear to be making up for any loss of quality the summer’s departing players took with them.
City especially began to get on top in the second half with Steve Williams and Flynn going close, and it came as a surprise when Dale defender Craig Dawson smashed the home side into the lead after a free kick wasn’t adequately cleared. This provided another test for City, with memories of the poor responses to going behind in games last season still raw. Rochdale threatened to finish off the game for a five minute spell and City had to thank Eastwood for one especially brilliant one-on-one save to deny substitute Scott Spencer. In fact the on-loan Huddersfield keeper enjoyed a largely encouraging evening, making a number of excellent saves at crucial times and only causing the briefest of flutters when he miscued a clearance. Even then, it was a moment later overshadowed by the number of times Arthur did the same.
Eastwood’s save would prove crucial, as City regained composure and began to threaten again with Neilsen and Brandon going close. The deserved equaliser came through Flynn’s powerfully struck free kick which Arthur was unable to keep out. With an early injury to Peter Thorne, Flynn had taken the captain’s armband and delivered a strong audition for the job full time by the manner he notably kept geeing up his team mates and leading by example. Special mention should also go to the oft-maligned Lee Bullock alongside him. Bullock by his nature is quiet, unassuming and easy to criticise. His discipline in holding his position allowed others to make those clever runs and, though the former Cardiff midfielder is rarely going to produce match-winning cross field passes, he equally rarely gives the ball away. A player appreciated by the manager and team mates, if not all supporters.
By now City were in the ascendancy and it was Neilsen who was to strike the winner on his full debut. Rochdale had been on the attack, but when possession was gained it was quickly played up to the young winger, who charged at Dale’s back-peddling defence and used the support of Jonathan Bateson to create space for a shot which deflected off a defender and looped over the despairing Arthur into the top of the goal. On the day Joe Colbeck was sold to Oldham, Neilsen’s all-round performance indicated his is capable of nailing down a first team jersey.
The response from Rochdale was limited and City continued to look the more likelier to score with Evans deserving a goal for a performance full of effort, but finding Arthur equal to his long range effort, and James Hanson, who had replaced Thorne, also going close. Leon Osborne, who had come on for Brandon at 1-0 down, caused problems on the left against Dale’s struggling right back Matthew Flynn.
But on a night of strong performances from City, it was the back four which perhaps deserve the most credit. Bateson’s debut at Forest had been one to forget after his disgraceful lunge on Nathan Tyson resulted in a red card, but he began to redeem himself with a strong showing at right back which included getting forward well. In the centre, Williams continues to look anything but a hairdresser and the man of the match was probably returning Dale defender Simon Ramsden, switched over from the right back to play alongside Williams and seemingly unbeatable in the air and on the ground.
All of which leaves Stuart with new defensive options to mull over ahead of a return to league matters at Shrewsbury on Saturday. Such a trip would have seemed daunting two weeks ago, but can now be taken with increased confidence. City might lose and with it some of the gloom would return, but the excitement in watching this team develop and grow in stature will continue to be felt regardless. Increasingly I feel proud to be a Bradford City supporter and proud to support the young players who wear our colours. Three wins in a row isn’t a time for getting carried away, but the early building blocks are taking shape and beginning to make sense.
The only thing which hasn’t really changed in the two weeks since defeat to Lincoln is the reality it’s going to be a long season; but with the right direction seemingly found, it increasingly feels like a long season to relish.
Young player leaves for club in higher division who pay money for his services is the Dog Bites Man of lower league football but Joe Colbeck’s exit to join Oldham Athletic on transfer deadline day bring to an end one of the more confusing and complex careers at City that was far from an ordinary story.
To some Colbeck was an exciting right winger who over his five years in the City side had charged at left backs making City play well and being missed chronically when injured. To others he was too be jeered and sworn at in a way that was genuinely shocking. Some said that he would never made a footballer, other than he was the best footballer we had.
Within view of where I sit at Valley Parade I can see one guy who would have JC as the first name on his team sheet coming to blows about his abilities at times and another who considers the Leeds born winger so offensive that he will swear in front of his own children at City’s former number seven.
The background for Colbeck’s duality fades into insignificance as he leaves but it had something to do with a red card against Oldham Athletic for crossing a ball that had gone over the touchline and to down with driving, powerful runs that opened up defences. Colbeck is equally capable of exciting forward play as he is of terrible challenges which were often not just badly timed. His foul on Dean Lewington resulted in a much deserved red card but the season before he was lauded as players of the season.
A contradiction of appreciation then with some upset at his unwillingness to sign a new deal in the summer after a final game of the season where fans were singing “You’re not fit to wear the shirt“. It is not hard to see why he looked for an escape route from Valley Parade especially – as is obvious from the move up a division – he could be considered in the bracket with fellow Oldham man Dean Furman as being “too good for us”.
Even those who were against him should worry about how Colbeck was dogged by a group of fans who created an atmosphere in which the exit of someone who enough people thought was good enough to be player of the season wanted out. Forget one’s personal opinion on Colbeck and ask yourself if it is right that one group of supporters continue a campaign to unsettle a player to a level where they become disproportionately loud so as to no doubt be the dominant memory the player will have of the club? As with the Save Our Stuart McCall debate at the end of last season once the discussion has been had and points made is it not right that players (or managers) are allowed to get on with things?
For my part I shall remember Colbeck for performances like Saturday where he was not massively effectual but he constantly got involved in the game. I’ll save my ire for players who hide from the ball and one could never accuse Colbeck of that. I’ll miss him, I will not miss the divisiveness and I worry that a dangerous precedent is set where those who grumble most are being allowed to set the tone.
Nevertheless Scott Neilson scored one and made the other in City’s first game post-Colbeck and we can all get behind the new right winger. It is just a shame that Valley Parade could not do the same for a player recognised as talented such as Colbeck.
The first home win of the season came in a strange silence as City fans walked away from Valley Parade.
The performance was not great but the result was and perhaps because of that there was little to talk about. Two goals in both stoppage times saw City taking three points so there was nothing to complain about which perhaps accounts for the silence. As my Nan never said “If you can’t say something nasty about something, then don’t say anything at all.”
The win was City’s second in a week and start to turn around the season which has Chris Brandon sums up as “The first game obviously left a horrible feeling but, apart from that, we hadn’t played that badly.”
Zesh Rehman has his ideas on what – or who – has kept heads high at City paying tribute to former non-league pair James Hanson and Steve Williams saying “They are both new to professional football and they have been brilliant, their attitude is outstanding, spot on.”
The man with the City armband continues “We’ve said to them, ‘What would you have been doing on a match day?’ One of them would have been cutting hair and the other was working in a Co-op. It reminds you of how lucky you are to be involved in professional football and being able to play in front of big crowds.
All of which contrasts with last season’s side which declined so sharply and markedly with games like the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale in the league.
Tonight City return to Rochdale in the Johnson’s Paint Trophy hinting at fielding a weaker side which – ironically – drops the bloke from the Co-op in favour of Michael Boulding. Boulding and Peter Thorne are expected to partner up front and one looks at the depth of the City side and tries to form an eleven of similar one for one replacement.
Jon McLaughlin might get the gloves in the place of Simon Eastwood – The T&A put Eastwood’s drop on Saturday down to a foul the Referee was about to blow for – while Matthew Clarke might get a chance to return at the back.
Clarke is officially injured and out of the side but it is hard to see him claiming Steve Williams’s spot in the team. Louis Horne and Jon Bateson could come in at full backs but former Rochdale man Simon Ramsden is the only option to switch into the other central defensive position.
Scott Neilson’s debut on Saturday impressed in that he continued to do as Joe Colbeck does – trouble full backs – and he will no doubt start. Chris Brandon can come into the middle with Stephen O’Leary – assuming O’Leary’s toe injury does not break down once more as it did in the warm up on Saturday – or Luke Sharry could press his case for a longer contract. Rory Boulding or Leon Osborne could slot in on the left.
Ultimately though City never come close to troubling the later stages of this Associate Members Trophy and the number of those players mentioned above will reveal how seriously the competition is being taken at Valley Parade – normally it is “not very” – and perhaps Rochdale will be the same with the result being a game where at least one side plays a weakened side and thus probably not worth breaking the silence about.