Blurring the line as Jackson steps closer to being City manager

If Peter Jackson becomes a wildly successful Bradford City manager – and that “if” is very close to being a “when” in terms of Jackson taking over as boss – then he might look back on this win over Rotherham United in years to come and reflect on the margins that gave him the job.

Reportedly needing to impress in his three games Jackson’s side but in a good performance at Gillingham but lost 2-0 and – it seemed – that despite a 1-1 draw being creditable against a Rotherham United side who are chasing promotion the former City skipper was going to be left with the entirely unimpressive one point from six to press his cause for a full time job.

Before though we celebrate Tom Ademeyi’s blockbusting strike in the 91st minute which gave City a victory that both moved Jackson closer to the job and the Bantams closer to League Two football next season it is worth reflecting on what was another enjoyable game of football.

The frequency of the hiring and firing at Bradford City has robbed the process of any excitement – I’m not giddy with excitement about Peter Jackson’s arrival – but I have a way that I like to see football played and Jackson’s side played that.

I enjoy watching a team that puts a solid midfield at the heart of the game and in Michael Flynn and Jon Worthington – who put in the performance of the season in a strong, thoughtful central midfield role – Jackson bound together a well balanced and well matched pair. I like big man/mobile man partnerships up front and at the back and Jackson’s use of Steve Williams and Luke Oliver at one end and James Hanson and Jake Speight at the other was very much that.

I personally like players to try recycle turned over possession into chances – although that is often something that results in self inflicted mistakes – but Jackson has drilled his side that every interception is a chance to hit a fact ball up to the channels and to stretch the opposition. It is football at a high tempo and a huge improvement in the level of enjoyment. Lets not worry – for now – about how long a manager can put out an enjoyable team if it does not win.

Because Jackson’s team did win tonight and did deserve to win after a display of spirit and verve that asked questions of Ronnie Moore’s side who – without Adam Le Fondre – seemed unimaginative and stolid.

Indeed the visitor’s goal – when it equalised just before half time – came from a piece of objectionable defending by Scott Dobie who seemed to be happy to stand on the left wing and watch a full back run past him and – after doubling up on Luke O’Brien – cross for Marcus Marshall to head in from close range.

It was a self inflicted wound and one which seemed in keeping with Dobie’s time at the club which has seen him take the substance of fog. His early withdrawal should – unless he is prepared to do a lot more in terms of basic effort on the field – be the last we see of him at Valley Parade. Seldom has a player been less impressive in his work rate when compared to his team mates.

For that defensive nonsense undid a fine first half display in which City had asked the visitors a series of probing questions attacking with vigour, moving the ball around well. The first goal of the game came when Lewis Hunt raided forward from right back passing Gareth Evans and combining well with the right hand wide man to steal into the box and poke in from a tight angle.

It was a nice goal to watch, and probably a better one to watch from the pitch. All over the field that added ease that came from playing a 442 seemed to relax the players. Hunt could never have come so far forward in Taylor’s sides without a player to cover him nor would he have been thanked for doing it. With the exception of Dobie not one player on the field did not seem improved by the switch in approach.

Better to watch, and just plain better, Jackson was able to work out any demons lingering from the concession at half time and sent his City side out to a battle with the Millers in the second forty five minutes. City’s best chances fell to Dobie and Jake Speight – both were spurned – while the Miller pinged a free kick off the bar.

Speight’s performance – which at one point saw him divert a shot from sub David Syers which might have been going in, into the goal to be ruled out as a result for being offside – was a curious one. A bundle of running the player chased down everything Rotherham defending into rapid turnovers and pressuring everything however – it seemed – that he would not score given the entire evening and a ball to himself.

Scoring though comes with confidence, and Speight can take some from a robust display tonight as indeed can nearly all the players. Luke Oliver’s Moore-esque chip over the backline will live long in the memory as the defender carved open the visitor’s defence.

Bobby Moore that it, not Ronnie, who fumed at the final whistle having seen his promotion chasers falter in the hunt. No doubt the Millers have made a much better fist at the division which City were favourites to win but Moore’s side seemed to have little more of a game plan than to win what free kicks they could around the box and see what would fall from that. Without even mentioning the merit of the free kicks they won the visitors seemed limited in what they could do on the night.

They will feel they had a draw – after ninety minutes they did – but then Tom Ademeyi burst from the midfield and hit a string shot that beat Andy Warrington all ends up, cannoned off the bar and came down bouncing in front of the line and away from goal – or so it seemed to me – only for the linesman to flag immediately for a goal.

There was a ten second strangeness as City wondered if the ball had gone in, Rotherham insisted it had not, and the Referee pondered. His mind made up he created a bizarre delayed reaction celebration from Ademeyi who ran to Jackson.

After ten glorious years of marching City back to the Premiership Jackson might reflect on that moment. Not so much the margins between success and failure more what it takes the blur that line.

Bradford City are to beat Rotherham United tonight

On attending a game, and when asked the question “Who will win today?” veteran commentator Barry Davies used to retort that if he had known that piece of information he would have no need to be at the match.

Indeed it was a point of some conviction for the Valley voiced microphone man that the joy of football – the thing that made it worth watching – was the competition within a single game. If Davies could have predicted the result of matches with accuracy he would have lost interest and I echo his thoughts.

In May 1981 it will be thirty years since I went to my first Bradford City game – a 1-0 reversal to Hereford United – and in the years between then and now the only thing I’ve been convinced by when it comes to predictions is that they play out over the long term and not that short.

I can predict, dear reader, that over the course of two or three seasons any given team will win over half the home games it plays, and that when that team goes away it will win less often, but these predictions (which, in truth, are more statements of eventualities) are possible because of the length of time of the sample. Given two or three years anomalies are ironed out and the data can be made lore and conclusions drawn.

A glance over the win ratios of the various names suggested as the next Bradford City manager reveal that the difference between the good and the rest is often within a deviation of around 10%. A good win percentage is 45%, a poor one 35% but most managers are in the middle. Roy McFarland – whom wikipedia tells us is the most successful City manager – has too small a sample for this statistic to be meaningful and an indicator of ability as noted by Paul Jewell’s lowly figure as a result of the season in the Premiership which saw view victories but a great result.

The object point being that it is only over time that conclusions based on statistical data – results in other words – can be drawn.

Which brings us to Peter Jackson – one game into what is rumoured to be three in which the former skipper can prove himself the man for the full time manager’s job – and his claim for the role which man press his claim for.

Jackson’s first time out as City manager saw an improvement of sorts. Losing while playing well (or at least excitingly) is better than losing while playing negative football or at least it is said to be although those who took Stuart McCall to task on the idea that emotion (rather than pure results) might be important are no doubt sharpening whatever implements one sharpens when one wants to cut a manager away from a club.

Having had one of his three games Jackson is looking back on Saturday as a good start and something to build on. Certainly he will have learnt much about his charges at Valley Parade from the ninety minutes although if he had said on day one that they team was not winning because a player very like (or very actually) Jon Worthington was not anchoring the midfield then for all the jibes that might of produced he would probably have been right.

Shod of a holding midfielder for most of the season Worthington’s exit to injury on Saturday weakened City’s centre and the Bantams boss will hope that he can call upon the player’s services in Tuesday night’s visit of Rotherham United. Worthington and Flynn – as a midfield – seems to have a good balance and the fact that Jackson picked that on his first day in the job saw me warm to him immeasurably. Indeed it is fair to say that from the days of often odd choices of players under Peter Taylor Peter Jackson’s first team – a 442 with a big man and a crunching midfielder – was very much template I would use.

(I make no apologies, by the way, for waiting for Jackson to do something other than walk through the front door to begin to comment on him in a positive way. At the start of the season The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled down to Valley Parade for daring to suggest that Peter Taylor’s team might finish 8th. Demanding a huge positive reaction to the appointment of a paid caretaker manager sits alongside those early season antics in demanding fealty.)

The template perhaps but just as Taylor had struggled to assemble a squad to play his way so Jackson is left with the team bent out of shape. If when Kevin Ellison was swapped for Omar Daley between these two clubs a few weeks ago it suited Taylor it does not suit Jackson, and rumours have already started that City are looking at ways to undo the deal.

Not that either player will take a part in this match leaving Jackson looking at who he can deploy on the left hand side of midfield. James Hanson will start up front and Jake Speight may get the nod alongside him although Scott Dobie is pressing for a place if only because of Speight’s showing on Saturday. The loser of that could end up on the left wing. Failing that Leon Osborne, Tom Ademyei and David Syers might all want to play on the flank.

Gareth Evans will be on the right – I long to see Evans though the middle once more – with Worthington and Flynn in the middle. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien seems to pick itself although O’Brien may be called to go forward. Lenny Pidgeley will – no doubt – remain in goal although Jackson might fancy giving Jon McLaughlin a game.

All of which details a team which will beat Rotherham United, of that there can be little doubt. It may seem a curious and bold claim but were I to engage in the relatively pointless process of prediction it is one I would make but make without confidence. Predicting the outcome of single matches is guess work, predicting the patterns over long periods is more possible.

Understanding that begs the question as to how – for the second time in a year – Bradford City are left looking at such short term indicators as if they dictate a long term significance.

There will be a moment in the game tonight where a bobble of a ball robs a chance which robs a victory, or brings a defeat perhaps, and that will dictate (so rumour has it) if Peter Jackson or John Hughes becomes out manager.

If one can make a long term judgement on the basis of such a twist then – unlike Barry Davies and myself – perhaps one can find out if Bradford City to beat Rotherham United tonight.

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