Issue The question we all struggle to answer

As told by Jason Mckeown

In the immediate aftermath of Bradford City’s underwhelming draw with Northampton Town last Saturday, Pulse Sport’s Tim Thornton asking of interim manager Peter Jackson if he could explain why his team had performed so poorly prompted the response: “erm, no, not really”. After a season of under-achievement Jackson’s predecessor, Peter Taylor, might have broke into a wry smile had he been listening; but given Jackson is effectively undertaking a practical interview for the permanent job, his answer was far from reassuring.

Whether Mark Lawn was listening is a moot point, but this week the joint-Chairman has publicly uttered lukewarm comments about the job Jackson has done so far which suggests his full time appointment is not the formality it was beginning to appear two weeks ago. Not only did Lawn criticise the team’s display against Northampton, but the performance in beating Morecambe at the Globe Arena the week before.

Lawn told the Telegraph & Argus, “The results…have been steady so far without setting the world alight…We were flat on Saturday and need more out of them than that.” Above all else, that last comment can be assumed to be directed solely at Jackson. The message that the bar needs lifting much higher.

It’s a strange assessment period for Jackson. While five other managerial hopefuls brush up their interview skills or wait for a call, Jackson’s chances of getting the job are poised so finely on the results each week. The wins over Rotherham and Morecambe prompted loud calls for him to win the recruitment battle, but after Northampton the support towards him has become more muted.

As it stands, tomorrow could be his last game in charge – though it seems highly likely he will be given another month in charge at least. While the fate of other candidates may lie in the ability to answer the right questions, Jackson must place his in the players he inherited.

What more can he do? Well blooding youngsters is one election strategy that could win him extra votes. After plenty of youth players impressed while playing for the reserves in midweek, it seems probable that Jackson will award at least one senior debut from the bench on Saturday; with a couple at least poised to make the matchday 18. Leading the case is midweek scorer Darren Stephenson, who has been publicly praised by Jackson, while the much-hyped Dominic Rowe is also in contention.

With the Northampton draw firmly quashing talk of a late of play off charge, City’s final 10 games have largely become meaningless. It’s therefore an ideal opportunity to introduce youngsters into the first team and few people would view Jackson in anything but a positive light for doing so, unless results were adversely affected. If Stephenson, Rowe or Adam Robinson were to have an impact, Jackson – who had a fine record of introducing youngsters at Huddersfield – would find his stock would considerably climb. It is a gamble of sorts, but one suspects it is one Jackson needs to take if he wishes to remain the front-runner.

Expect the starting eleven at least to be full of senior players tomorrow. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal despite Lenny Pidgley’s return to fitness, but the back four will see changes with Luke Oliver suffering a rare injury. Last week his early departure prompted a reshuffle that saw David Syers play right back and struggle to adapt. Lee Bullock’s impressive performance as centre back for the reserves offers Jackson the opportunity to partner the midfielder with Steve Williams and keep Lewis Hunt at right back, with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In midfield an injury to Kevin Ellison and the suspension of Jon Worthington throws open opportunities for others. Syers will want to play in the centre alongside an off-colour Michael Flynn, while Tom Adeyemi, Leon Osborne and Scott Dobie will be in contention for Ellison’s wide midfield position. Gareth Evans, who continues to polarise opinion, is perhaps the only certain midfield starter. Had Worthington been available, one wonders whether Jackson would have been forced to leave out Flynn as he struggles to find form following a long lay-off.

Up front will be James Hanson and Jake Speight. On paper it is a little and large partnership that offers great potential, but the lack of understanding between the pair last week was troubling and must improve. Despite scoring City’s last two goals, question marks remain over their ability to find the net regularly and Dobie and Stephenson will be pushing to provide competition.

Shrewsbury – thrashed 5-0 in their last away match, rock up to Valley Parade firmly in the thick of the promotion battle. On the opening day Graham Turner’s out-thinking of Taylor set the tone for a dreadful Bantams campaign which has led us to yet another meaningless run-in and managerial head-hunting. The thinking that these times are opportune moments to plan early for next season and ensure the team hits the ground running was quickly undermined on that warm August afternoon at the New Meadow, though no one there to endure it could have imagined this season would have gone this bad.

An outstanding manager with a superb track record, a strong playing budget that saw some quality arrivals during the summer, a weaker-looking division that the bookies predicted the Bantams would be masters of. Jackson struggling to explain last week’s under-performance is something we should all be able to relate to – all season long it seems we’ve been equally lost for words.