Neilson joins Cambridge United on loan

Former Cambridge City winger Scott Neilson has joined Cambridge United on loan as Peter Taylor continues to make changes to the City squad.

Taylor has brought in Gavin Grant which seems to make Neilson – who Sven Goran Erikkson enquired about earlier in the season – cost City £7,500 earlier this season and replace Joe Colbeck in the side.

The merits of fielding loan players rather than those contracted to City in the long term have been debated before but it seems that with our players going out on loan and the likes of Luke Oliver, Mark McCammon, Robbie Threlfall and Grant all in the City squad it would seem that the approach of not giving experience to another club’s players over our own has changed with the change of manager.

Neilson will be at Cambridge United for a month.

14 games to make a judgement on Peter Taylor

It was always a long shot, but Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat to Aldershot has probably closed the door on any distant hopes of Bradford City making a late play off charge this season.

The league table finds City lying in 16th position on 40 points – 14 points off seventh-placed Notts County, having played two more games. More comparably, City are 15 points off sixth-placed Shrewsbury with two games in hand. Still catch-able, but the kind of form required to overtake the Shrews looks well beyond this City team.

With 14 games to go, the remainder of the season has a somewhat hollow appeal. But with the managerial situation needing resolving before the planning for next season can truly begin and with so many players out of contract in May, there is still plenty to be play for. Defining what that is – and the subsequent expectations – is a matter for strong consideration from the returning-from-holiday Mark Lawn and his joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes.

Four games into his initial contract, the honeymoon period feelings of goodwill continue to be directed towards Peter Taylor. After the win over Darlington there were calls for interim manager to be handed a long-term contract straightaway, for fear of another club snapping him up. That will certainly remain a concern when the short-term deal moves towards its conclusion, but it’s foolish to award a contract on the basis of two wins – no matter how impressive defeating leaders Rochdale was.

I agree Taylor should be given a longer deal, but that should have happened when he was originally recruited. Instead the club has gone the route of assessing a short-term tenure, so judgement has to remain reserved. It’s surely impossible to evaluate him over the short period of time so far, and the danger with some of the praise he’s receiving is that it contains an air of falseness that undermines credibility.

Or to look at it another way, imagine if Stuart McCall had still been in charge for those four games and made the same decisions and same comments? After the Accrington defeat Taylor was asked about the 1,800-strong away support in a post-match interview. He was quoted saying we supporters were “too hard on the players”.

Barely a year ago McCall mentioned the huge travelling support for an away game at Rochdale might have caused the players to feel nervous, which attracted incredulity from some fans that was twisted into McCall “blaming the fans for defeat” – incredulity which was repeatedly brought up right up until his resignation. Taylor’s criticism of the Accrington away support – albeit a very valid one – has attracted no attention.

Stuart was also consistently derided for being too respectful and full of praise to opposition teams ahead of matches, which some ignorantly claimed de-motivated his own players. After the 3-0 defeat to Rochdale in December, there was anger ahead of McCall’s pre-match thoughts on a trip to Darlington with threats, “he’d better not go on about how good Darlington are.” Ahead of Saturday’s home match with the Quakers, Taylor was declaring the bottom club would provide a tough game, no supporter battered an eyelid.

The Darlo game itself was also a differing indicator of acceptability. It was remarkably similar to the 1-0 win achieved in the North East last December, right down to timing of the only goal (23rd minute in the away game, 26th minute last Saturday). In the first halves of both games, City were dominant and should have scored plenty, but the failure to score a second goal prompted nerves in the second halves on both occasions, and in the end City were relieved to hear the final whistles.

The general performance was better in the Valley Parade encounter, but the acceptability of the afternoon was a huge contrast to the disappointed reaction after winning narrowly at the doomed club before Christmas.

Expectations have clearly dropped.

Then there’s the tactics and line ups. Under the final few weeks of McCall, there was the usual annoyance all managers seem to receive for playing people ‘out of position’. Yet Taylor’s decision to move left back Luke O’Brien to left wing and striker Gareth Evans to right wing attracts no criticism – had McCall tried the same thing, there’s little doubt he’d have been slated.

At Rochdale midfielder Michael Flynn was played up front and the decision was applauded if not praised (well it was Wayne Jacobs’ idea and a section of fans want him gone), when McCall played Flynn up front against Bournemouth he was labelled tactically clueless.

Which is not to suggest Taylor isn’t doing a good job, but that the well-meaning praise in support of him lacks substance and the goodwill has yet to be tested by the inevitable occurrence of a run of bad results. Right now the manager can do little wrong and any failings are directed to the players, but this will not last and the question of whether we can objectively rule if Taylor is the man to take the club forwards – seen as we’ve decided to take the probationary approach – is one that cannot yet be answered.

Yet Taylor is clearly impressing so far in the quiet-but-determined manner he’s going about the role. After using only two loan players under McCall, there are now four short-term players on the books, as Taylor attempts to stamp his own shape on the team. Meanwhile rumours rage about the future of Chris Brandon, who it seems clear will be leaving the club soon, and Scott Neilson is set to go out on loan.

Having overseen a debut game in charge that saw an unconfident City knocking the ball too direct and having nothing to offer on the flanks, he’s pushed O’Brien and Evans into unfamiliar roles that is bringing a degree of success and greater overall balance. Despite having some excellent striking pedigree to call upon from the sidelines in Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding, Taylor has brought in Mark McCammon in the belief he’s a more effective worker to match James Hanson.

Perhaps under McCall life was too comfortable for some players, though this may be more to do with injuries and lack of depth than a manager giving them an easy ride, but there is suddenly greater competition for places and those in the starting eleven have every reason to look over their shoulders. Some players will have had their nose slightly put out of joint by Taylor’s approach and selections, but the experienced man has publicly offered only praise for everyone and done nothing to belittle the previous regime.

But what is the target for the rest of the season, by which a reasonable and fair judgement can be made over whether he should be given a longer deal? A top half finish would seem a realistic objective. The number of winter postponements gives the league table a distorted look, but the gap is bridgeable over the remaining 14 games. An improvement in position and results from what McCall had achieved would build Taylor a strong case for being handed a longer deal.

Perhaps looking more ambitiously though is matching the points total achieved last season – 67. In what was a more competitive season with a smaller gulf in quality between top and bottom, that tally took City just short of a play off spot. This season the same total wouldn’t take the club as close, but it would send a powerful message.

For Taylor would have been able to steer City to matching the points tally of the year before, from working with a squad that cost a third less. It would represent a hugely compelling case for what he could do over a full season, with what is sure to still be limited resources.

To achieve this City would need to gain 27 points from the remaining 42 available – nine wins from the last 14 games. It’s a huge ask, especially considering City have won only ten games this season; but the closer he can finish to it, the greater the optimism for the following season would be – with Taylor at the helm.

Ultimately the goodwill currently directed towards Taylor is a positive thing and it is within everyone’s interests the short term trial works out. The potential for the club to be rudderless with a managerial vacancy this summer is both real and worrying, where all Taylor would have achieved is sign some loan players that denied City youngsters a chance.

The parallels of McCall’s first season, which lacked preparation, is one which could be made if a new guy has to start from scratch with just six players to choose from. Taylor is in a position to fully evaluate the squad before doing things his way this summer, the hope is the trial goes well enough for him to get that chance.

For a club which has nothing to play for this season, there’s an awful lot riding on these last 14 games

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