The price of success

As the interesting encounter that ended goalless the Notts County fans sung that they were going up and while they are almost certainly correct the health that their club find themselves in at the end that process is debatable.

The debate centres not around the usefulness of the County side – without the risible Lee Hughes in the side the Magpies are an easier team to judge objectively and they have few flaws – but rather the effects of assembling that side.

£20,000 a week gets – in Kasper Schmeichel – a keeper who was capable of pulling of two super saves with the Mancdanian pushing away a Michael Flynn power at goal in the first half and diving headlong to push away Gareth Evans’s inventive attempt from range and angle but Matt Glennon also enjoyed a clean sheet, also made a decent save or two but set back his club a twentieth of the price.

Indeed as City look at next season and how to start looking at a team that can compete under Peter Taylor who most would agree can be trusted to do that then it is worth noting that the cost of Notts County’s keeper for a season is more than the Bantams pay for Valley Parade while Meadow Lane costs the same for a season as the custodian does a week.

County’s side brims with confidence after a mid-season wobble and this is typified in Luke Rodgers – playing today after an eleventh hour reprieve of his red card on Saturday – who played as well as anyone who has visited Valley Parade this season and it is credit to Luke Oliver and Steve Williams who were partnered in the defence for a first time that the lively striker was kept down to a single headed chance which flashed wide.

Chances were thin on the ground, mud was thick and it got the better of Omar Daley who struggled manfully trying the things he tries but having little effect. County’s passing game through midfield never seemed to get going and again that was credit to some excellent work by the Bantams with Adam Bolder and Flynn creating a midfield pairing that showed no ill effect for the loss of suspended Lee Bullock. Perhaps there is a message for Taylor and the Bantams next season that in having these three quality midfielder – and as Bolder settles it becomes clear he offers a similar (and high) quality as Bullock and Flynn – allows the team to play the same dug in performance even when one of the core players is out.

Can City afford to pay three players for two positions? Perhaps not. Certainly County have done that this season and try trundle on to promotion and the uncertain future because of such extravagance.

Taylor’s resource management – should he accept the club’s offer of a contract – needs to be more parsimonious. The eye he has cast over the City squad and assembled loanees seems to have suggested that what was at City on his arrival needs augmentation and not overhaul. Loanees Mark McCammon and Gavin Grant would seem to have failed to impress while Oliver, Bolder and Robbie Threlfall have shown well. Ryan Kendal made but a cameo but certainly the likes of James Hanson, Luke O’Brien, Gareth Evans have all risen to the challenge that Taylor’s new faces suggested.

How to turn results like this – and it was a good result and could have been better with the Bantams always looking within a chance of taking a win – into a promotion campaign is a matter of much discussion, not least of which will be between Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn as the three month manager winds down one season are – perhaps – prepares for another.

Odsal Sporting Village plans over?

The Telegraph & Argus is this morning reporting that a funding crisis has all but ended Bradford Council’s Odsal Sporting Village Plans. The proposed £75 million development was to include facilities for all types of sports, plus a new stadium for the Bradford Bulls and, possibly, Bradford City to play in. A hotel was also mooted.

But the Learning and Skills Council has frozen funding to refurbish Bradford College’s campus, so one of the sporting village’s main funders now has their own unexpected extra costs to meet and cannot support Bradford Council. The gap in funding has left the Council investigating scaled down Osdal revamp plans, with an urgency needed given Bradford Bulls may lose their Super League licence if their stadium stays in its current state for much longer.

It might be premature to write off Odsal as an option for the Bantams – the problems of high rent payments to meet at Valley Parade which led City to even consider moving have not gone away, and a solution of sorts needs to be found. The eventual revamped Odsal project may centre on just producing a new stadium for the Bulls that City could also use; although it seems wrong to move away from supporting other sports who more urgently need top facilities and just build a new rugby ground, when the Bulls could easily move into Valley Parade instead.

What it does show is that City cannot realistically wait around for a realistic vision of Odsal to be agreed and built – history of failed redevelopment plans and the recent obvious vanity of Odsal Sporting Village offer no confidence they will get it right this time. The Council has just short of £20m committed to the village, perhaps some of this money could now be used to purchase Valley Parade for City and the Bulls and use the rest of the budget making Odsal a home for other sports? Perhaps a deal can be struck so City and the Bulls pay rent to the Council, which directly goes to funding the other sporting projects?

With a General Election approaching, it will be interesting to see what political statements are made about the situation over the coming weeks. Bradford has two well-supported and worthwhile professional sporting clubs which help to raise the city’s profile – it’s time to take a firm grasp of reality and work out a solution that best meets everyone’s  interests.

Finding something to play for

Bradford City lose a game under Peter Taylor – and the general outlook is that the season just needs to be seen out, with the focus quickly moved onto getting it right  for the next one. But then Bradford City win a game under Peter Taylor, and the urge to check the League Two table and remaining fixtures becomes strong enough to leave you wondering whether the club could still make the play offs. Then Bradford City lose a game, then win again, then lose again. A constant swapping of hope and realism that you know will probably result in disappointment but you can’t help but wistfully daydream might still end in glorious celebrations.

The Bantams go into this evening’s home game with Notts County back in downbeat mood; and though Saturday’s defeat at Hereford isn’t the final nail in the promotion bid coffin, there aren’t too many left until its firmly closed. Tonight is City’s game in hand and a victory would push them up to 15th and close the gap to the play offs to nine, with nine games to play – back to looking up those remaining fixtures?

Realistically the ghost has been given up by all but some supporters, but the reluctance to fully let go stems from the alternative monotonous reality of a meaningless end to the season.

We have all summer to feel bored and do other things with our weekends, wishing we could go to Valley Parade. And while City going into the final few weeks with nothing to play is a familiar reality, there’s a growing feeling at this time of year that we have make the most of what’s left of the season. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and early May. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and the middle of July.

Which means until it’s no longer mathematically – or at least tediously – possible, our time is wasted contemplating the form guide of League Two’s play off contenders and filling in the excellent BBC predictor as optimistically as possible. If City can win tonight and on Saturday and if Bury can continue to implode and if Northampton collapse and if everyone stops winning and if, if, if.

Stupid. Pointless. But what else is there?

For Taylor at least, making sure the last few games are meaningful is his most realistic goal. Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn has begun initial talks over a longer contract, and the results and performances over the eight games Taylor has been in charge of have provided plenty of reasons to support extending the relationship. After tonight he will be half way through his initial 18-game deal, but with the new contract far from sealed, he can’t allow his players to drop standards in the run-up to the summer break.

Saturday’s defeat has dampened the mood and even lead to a small number of City fans questioning whether another deal should be offered to the interim manager. Every City fan who’s had a go at the BBC predictor over the last few weeks would have calculated a Bantams win from the trip to Hereford. And though the recent defeats at Aldershot and Port Vale could be excused given their higher league positions, losing to a side on a terrible run of form and near the relegation zone is rightly criticised. Just think of Stuart McCall still in charge and imagine the reaction.

A win might have set up a  realistic late promotion push, but instead the changing of a winning side – perhaps motivated by Taylor’s desire to evaluate his players and with a busy week of games in mind – backfired dismally. The likelihood that Hereford’s sinking position meant their players wanted it more must not become regular, with seven of City’s last 10 games against opposition going for promotion or battling to avoid relegation. Taylor has to instill greater desire and work rate; he only has six more games at Valley Parade on his initial deal, he may yet only have six more games at Valley Parade as City manager.

Huge game for visitors Notts County

Notts County certainty rock up to Valley Parade with the kind of butterflies-in-the-stomach and sweating-over-the-league-table outlook absent from City’s run-in. So much has been written about County’s eventful season – on this site and elsewhere – but whatever the rights and mostly wrongs of their approach, the world’s oldest professional football league club have been left with a very capable squad which may end the season lifting the League Two title.

The size of the task for City tonight is huge. County are unbeaten in the league since Tuesday 9 February – eight games ago. Since the JPT penalty shootout defeat at Valley Parade in early October, they have lost only four of the 29 matches they’ve played. If they win their two games in hand they will be within three points of Rochdale, with the Spotland club yet to travel to Meadow Lane. They’ve dominated the headlines, for largely the wrong reasons, all season – but there’s an increasingly strong chance they will attract some positive exposure too, for a short while at least.

For while the outcome of entrusting mysterious owners and their lofty ambitions of Premier League football has so far been self-inflicted damage – the new owners have inherited an initial £6m worth of debts from the publicity-shy Munto Finance and narrowly avoided going into administration last month – if and when those debts do catch up with the club, there will be others angrily demanding justice. Under Munto County signed up a playing squad they couldn’t afford, under new owners County are using a playing squad they can’t afford.

If Notts gain automatic promotion and then fall into administration, how will the club who finishes fourth feel? County are effectively cheating their way to a place in League One and no one in an authoritative position seems to care.

Yet with all this turmoil and high turnover of managers, that County have kept it together on the field is somewhat remarkable. Tonight they are robbed of the services of their top and third highest scorers – lookalikes Lee Hughes and Luke Rodgers – due to suspension. This leaves County relying on strikers Karl Hawley (four goals), Delroy Facey (one goal) and Ade Akinbiyi (no goals) to lead the line, though a potent midfield which includes goalscoring midfielders  Ben Davies (ten goals) and Craig Westcarr (nine goals) carry a clear threat.

Since Steve Cotterill took over as manager, County have five clean sheets from six games and former Bantam captain Graeme Lee has become a key figure of a defence backed up by the reputed £15k-per-week keeper Kasper Schmeichel – rumoured to be entitled to a £200k bonus if Notts are promoted. Kasper is said to have impressed onlookers this season, though his bizarre appeals for a foul when missing a cross that allowed the tiny Chris Brandon to head home an equaliser, smashing up of a corner flag and then punching of a hole in the dressing room wall, during the City-County JPT tie, means few connected with City hold him in such high regard. Expect boos for him tonight.

Bully’s suspension and mis-firing loanees offer Taylor food for thought

Hoping to score past Schmeichel will probably be a strike partnership of James Hanson and Mark McCammon/Ryan Kendall, with midfielder Lee Bullock’s two-game suspension forcing Taylor to contemplate moving Michael Flynn back to the middle of the park alongside Adam Bolder. Another option is the under-used Steve O’Leary or even returning skipper Simon Ramsden in the holding role and Jonathan Bateson continuing at right back.

Robbie Threfall plays at left back after his loan deal was extended, while a weak performance from Luke Oliver at Hereford leaves Taylor with a familiar problem of who to play in the centre of defence. Matt Clarke is quietly winning appreciation from fans. Zesh Rehman is nearing full fitness and might be given another go alongside him, or Steve Williams – star of a two-page article in this month’s Four Four Two magazine – may be recalled.

Out wide Omar Daley was likely left out of the starting line up at Hereford in order to be fresh to start this game in front of the usual mixture of Daley fans and haters arguing it over in the stands. For some reason Daley’s match-winning contribution against Aldershot has attracted a hostile reaction from those who point to his lack of consistency; but, if Taylor can coach higher standards into the Jamaican, City have a superb player who can make a difference. It was sad to see Luke O’Brien dropped at the weekend and he will battle with Gavin Grant and City’s own Dirk Kuyt, Gareth Evans, for the other wide berth. Matt Glennon keeps goal.

Taylor is making City more organised and disciplined, but his reign has so far produced unpredictable results. Tonight should be a great atmosphere as County bring a good following up the M1 in confident and vociferous mood. Tonight City play a team desperate for the three points and uber-confident of getting them. Tonight City’s players have limited motivations and ambitions, and probably could shrug off a defeat as expected.

But tonight should be about those players showing character and demonstrating a willingness to take up the fight of next season leading City towards the type of promotion push County are mounting. Tonight should be about giving everything, because it’s not acceptable to believe there is nothing to play for. And tonight should be about City fans responding to the away atmosphere by outsinging them and supporting their players in winning every tackle and completing every pass.

After all, we’ll be wishing we could do so come the summer.

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