Finding new meanings on predictably unpredictable days like these

Peter Taylor’s contract talks hinge on having the resources to make Bradford City a more organised, methodical and professional outfit both on and off the field – but until the future is truly resolved, old habits die hard.

Valley Parade has been home to farce and blunder for several years, and the comedy of errors which saw the Bantams blow 2-0 and 3-2 leads this afternoon prompted the sort of groans and boos from the crowd that are as seemingly traditional as a Billy Pearce pantomime up the road.

With the fourth official about to indicate four minutes of injury time and City’s defence having just snuffed out a dangerous Dagenham attack, Adam Bolder and Robbie Threlfall casually knocked the ball back and forth by the edge of their own penalty area in almost comical fashion. Before supporters’ could scream “it’s behind you”, Bolder was predictability robbed of possession by the Dagger’s sub John Nurse, and the resulting cross spectacularly headed by Luke Oliver into his own net.

Two points criminally dropped, and that after City had already allowed a seemingly comfortable two-goal cushion to be wiped out – Oliver’s partner Steve Williams also netting an own goal to make it 2-2. Taylor has sufficiently impressed enough during his short trial for results to now almost become irrelevant in the longer contract negotiations, but the late relinquishing of control of the game offered another wearisome reminder of the amount of assembly his squad requires.

All of which diverted the focus from what should have been an afternoon about James Hanson. City’s top scorer scored twice in one game for the first time to take his season’s tally to 14 goals. After a mid-season dip, the 22-year-old has netted five in eight games. Should he manage another four in the final eight matches, he’ll have scored more goals in a season than any City player since Dean Windass in the 2005-06 season. A remarkable achievement for a player Stuart McCall signed from non-league Guiseley as a back-up striker last summer.

Hanson got the afternoon rolling with a close range header from Threlfall’s corner in the second minute to put City into a lead they looked comfortable holding on to for much of the afternoon. Dagenham, who arrived with realistic play off aspirations, looked surprisingly lacklustre and barely threatened but for the long throws and dribbling skills of Danny Green. It was a typical route one approach from the London outfit, which with Hanson’s defensive support on set pieces was largely neutralised.

The first half chances almost completely fell City’s way. Omar Daley, back on form after a tough Tuesday evening against Notts County, was a menace on the right and from one counter attack forced a great save from Tony Roberts. Soon after the Jamaican was leading defenders a merry dance in the penalty area, but took too long to shoot and saw his effort blocked. Gareth Evans, continuing up front, had two efforts at goal which caused Roberts concern. Soon after half time Hanson struck the post with a towering header from Daley’s cross and the on-form Luke O’Brien’s long range effort was unconvincingly half-blocked by Roberts and almost sneaked in.

But the momentum was shifting and the disruption caused by changes to City’s midfield helped Dagenham to gain control. First Daley, trying to bring the ball forwards on the counter attack, pulled up in obvious pain and a suspected hamstring injury that saw him hobble off to the changing room and out of service for at least a fortnight. Then the all-action running of Michael Flynn, another player back on form after an early-year dip, was surprisingly withdrawn for the more static Steve O’Leary.

At first this didn’t matter, as seconds after O’Leary came on City were celebrating when Hanson again got on the end of a Threlfall dead-ball and expertly planted a header into the bottom corner. But the obvious sighs of relief caused from seemingly putting the game out of sight proved costly when Nurse fired home from an angle following good work from an otherwise subdued Paul Benson just two minutes later.

Dagenham suddenly exploded into life.

Josh Scott wasted a glorious chance to level, but soon after Nurse cleverly peeled away from Williams from a free kick, which gave him space to head the ball into the net via the City defender’s thigh. Dagenham were swarming all over City, who couldn’t seem to keep hold of possession and regain control of the midfield, with O’Leary looking rusty and Bolder afforded little time. Aside from a big penalty appeal when substitute Ryan Kendall – who replaced Daley – hit a low cross towards Hanson that seemed to hit the hand of a grounded visiting defender, the pressure was mainly on Glennon’s goal.

But then Kendall, who’d struggled to time his runs and get close enough to Hanson to read his flick ons, suddenly got both right and was played in by his partner to lob the ball beautifully over Roberts, putting City back in front and triggering wild celebrations that, at the front of the Kop,  spilled onto the pitch. When Dagenham had made it 2-2, the celebrations at the other end by eccentric old-timer Roberts caused outrage. Roberts pulled up his shorts comically and began pretending to fire a bow and arrow. While no one enjoys seeing opposition players celebrate, the humour failure of those with a close-up view in the Kop was disappointing. Still at least we had our panto villain.

Meanwhile the referee was booking Kendall for taking his shirt off and the young striker, borrowed from Hull, was finally impressing by sitting on the shoulder of the last man and making darting runs, just as the mutterings of “he’s not up to this level” were starting to become audible. And City should have seen the game out, and looked set to see the game out, before the madness of City’s comedy duo gifted the equaliser and prompted more Roberts’ celebrations. Dagenham might even have won it 4-3, but Benson headed a presentable opportunity over.

This unpredictable ending was untypical of Taylor’s reign so far, and as his influence continues to grow it is unlikely to be witnessed too often. Composure gave way to panic, confidence replaced by fluster. City’s previously compact and on-form midfield meant the long balls towards a fragile backline were less threatening and at times Dagenham couldn’t get near Bolder and Flynn. But the changes saw City lose their authority leaving lessons to learn and conundrums to solve.

Oliver and Williams had impressed as a centre half pairing on Tuesday, but both suffer from lapses in concentration and after the game Taylor revealed he’s ordered them to improve their communication. Matt Clarke was again left out of the 18-man squad while Zesh Rehman began to redeem himself with an improved performance at right back. All season long the question of what is City’s best back four has gone unanswered. Consistency in all but the injured Simon Ramsden is lacking.

Daley’s absence should now open the door for Scott Neilson – who’s one-month loan at Cambridge United is due to expire – to be tried out by Taylor during the next few weeks. Lee Bullock’s calming presence was missed during the latter stages, and if Taylor can sign up Bolder, Bullock and Flynn for next season the Bantams should be very strong in the middle of the park. Luke O’Brien’s recent form is so good it now poses the question over whether he could be considered first choice left winger for a full campaign, should Threlfall’s loan move be made permanent.

Hanson may be on a two-year contract, but an improved deal might be worth proposing to him with the likelihood of higher league interest this summer. A deciding factor of a successful promotion campaign next season may be finding a strike partner who can score as regularly. Despite the excellent goal, Kendall needs to show more to demonstrate his worthiness of a permanent offer. Evans may be lacking goals, but offers the versatility and work rate Taylor will continue to rely on.

With the contract negotiations expected to be concluded positively within three weeks, Taylor’s blueprint can be properly implemented and the future of players permanent and temporary can start to be resolved. That the plans are based around greater organisation and more conservative tactics might suggest an end to unpredictability and excitement that days like these exemplify.

But after years of failure – for City, the meanings of ‘unpredictability’ and ‘excitement’ could be redefined as actually succeeding.

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