Peter Taylor – outstanding appointment, outstanding failure

There’s a fairly average Ben Stiller film I watched a few years ago – The Heartbreak Kid – where our hero meets and falls head over heels in love with a beautiful woman, leading them to get married in a matter of weeks. She seems perfect, but just as soon as they set off on their honeymoon she suddenly becomes irritating, and then more and more annoying, before finally a full-on nightmare. Stiller’s character realises he’s made a terrible mistake, because his new bride has turned out not to be the person he thought she was.

In many ways that film sums up how I feel about outgoing Bradford City manager Peter Taylor and the disaster his appointment can ultimately be judged as. When he took over from Stuart McCall a year ago he seemed the perfect person to lift the club out of a nine-year slumber of under-achievement. Among supporters there’d been a fierce and painful falling out over the driving away of McCall, and Taylor was the outstanding appointment who could unite us all.

And as the three-month trial went by, we quickly warmed to his methods and driven style in managing the club. There was that red hot night of passion at Rochdale – one of the best City experiences of recent years – and other joyous wins over Rotherham, Aldershot, Morecambe and Northampton. Many fans, particularly those who advocated a change of manager when McCall’s City had struggled, were falling over themselves to praise Taylor’s every little action. The calls for a permanent contract were loud and widespread. He told us he had got the ‘Bradford Bug’. By the end of the season Bradford City and Peter Taylor were getting hitched.

Which is when the minor irritations seemed to begin, moving onto increasing annoyance and then this nightmare that is unlikely to end the minute he walks out of our lives at 5pm Saturday. Pre-season was a bit odd, with all those strange friendlies down south and Jake Speight. The season began badly, with Taylor out-thought by Shrewsbury’s Graham Turner on day one setting the scene for the campaign ahead. You could look back at August and our tag of ‘promotion favourites’ and laugh about it now, if it wasn’t so serious.

Before the season began Taylor attempted to rein in expectations, arguing loudly that he did not have the large playing budget many were claiming. Privately Julian Rhodes was telling people that “players like Tommy Doherty don’t come cheap”, and though it was clear his resources to plot a promotion bid were not as strong as they had been two years earlier under McCall, they still stacked up very favourably compared to most of City’s League Two opponents. And they would also have been more than the budget Taylor used to deliver Wycombe’s promotion that same season.

As the Bantams were bested by Shrewsbury, the mutterings of complaint about Taylor became audible. When only two of the next eight league games delivered victory, the volume got steadily louder. A 1-0 loss to Morecambe in early October left City second bottom of the division and national media speculation suggested Taylor was one game away from the sack. The response was an important 2-0 success at Barnet, which triggered a run of four wins from five that placed City on the edge of the play offs. Form would be inconsistent in the run up to and over Christmas, but when a 1-0 win over Bury was followed by Taylor turning down the assistant manager’s job at Newcastle, his popularity was arguably at its highest level all season.

Then it all went very wrong.

Barnet at home, disastrous. Oxford away, feeble. Aldershot away, uninspiring. Crewe away, beaten by 10 men. Chesterfield away, credible win chucked away deep in stoppage time. Lincoln home, bloody hell. Wycombe home, salvation? Port Vale away and Chesterfield home, final nails in the coffin. From promotion dreams to relegation fears in just seven weeks – this wasn’t underachieving, it was outstanding failure.

There was some irony in the fact that, in Taylor’s final game in charge before his departure was agreed, league leaders Chesterfield triumphed 1-0 through a graceless and ugly performance. Everyone knew about Taylor’s reputation for dour football before he joined, but we were seemingly ready to accept less excitement if it would guarantee success. That theory was put to the test in the first home game of the season, when an uninspiring 1-0 win over Stevenage was greeted by boos. If Taylor’s ways proved a difficult watch in victory, the numerous defeats made for incredibly painful viewing.

When we thought of the pragmatic approach Taylor would bring to City, we could picture us winning in that same ordinary manner that Chesterfield achieved on Tuesday. Yet his style has often proved far worse than any of us would have expected.

At times he has tried to get City playing attractive football – the four wins from five in October saw an exciting 4-4-2 formation score lots of goals with Omar Daley in a free role. Yet when the next few games narrowly went against City, Taylor retreated to his more typical conservative nature and it was again dispiriting to watch. A year ago City were failing but entertaining, now they were failing and utterly miserable to watch.

The Chesterfield game itself summed up everything that was so wrong. Taylor’s tactics weren’t working week in week out, but despite showing the capability to make positive changes during matches he remained unable to find the balance in midfield and to shake off his conservative tendencies. Taylor admitted after the 1-0 defeat that he hadn’t wanted his players to play in the manner they did during the first half, but he must take responsibility for the ridiculous approach of City keeping seven men in their own half and continually aiming long balls for three isolated strikers, stood in a line.

Why has it gone so wrong? Difficult to judge and there are lots of reasons – many beyond his control. But to me the inconsistency in his team selection, formations and tactics is the major contribution to this season’s dismal showing. Back in the summer Taylor talked of his want to have two players for every position, and this approach has led to 35 different players being used and eight different captains. Some players weren’t given the opportunities they deserved, others continued to get away with poor performances. Some players were slated in the media on numerous occasions, others were only ever praised.

I believe that Taylor stands guilty of over-managing the team. Rather than picking his best side and letting them show their abilities, he has continually changed strategy and tactics in the belief that his tinkering is more likely to influence the result than good players playing well. Instead of selecting a team where players can play to their strengths, he has built systems and then shoved willing workers into unfamiliar roles. Instead of believing in his own players’ capabilities, he has sought to over-influence how they perform when they cross the white line.

This is not a great Bradford City team, but it is one with the capability to perform much better if the manager would simply let them go out and get on with it.

So just like Ben Stiller, the only decision left was when to issue divorce proceedings. This time there is no great split among supporters over the manager leaving; some will have stayed supportive Taylor, but those who did were either unwilling to publicly speak up for him or sick of bothering to try as this club gets through manager-after-manager. Whatever, it’s hard to recall a City manager so unpopular. He’ll receive some applause for his efforts from our decent supporters on Saturday, but no one will be calling for an encore.

And who’d have thought that when we were falling head over heels for him 12 months ago?

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