Issue The usual answers to the usual questions

As told by Jason Mckeown

If there’s one recurring theme over the past decade of utter Bradford City failure, it is the futility of sacking managers. So often, it seems, a change of who occupies the dugout has been presented as the only solution to chronic under-achievement, but never has this course of action worked out in the way it was hoped. And as Peter Jackson struggles to revive the Bantams after taking over from Peter Taylor six games ago, it seems that once again the supposed remedy hasn’t cured the problem.

Jackson’s record now reads won 2, drawn 1 and lost 3. The 38% win ratio is exactly the same as Taylor delivered over 32 games. The league position remains unaltered, and is unlikely to improve enough over the final eight games to avoid a worst league finish since 1966. The cold hard facts are that removing Taylor as manager has not improved City’s fortunes in the short-term.

Of course that doesn’t mean Taylor was doing a decent job after all. He was the one who badly utilised an increased summer budget and who must assume a huge amount of responsibility for such a dreadful campaign. But the players clearly must shoulder much of the blame too, and Jackson’s failure to revive them – other than an initial short-term boost – shows that the idea under-performers could quickly become over-achievers simply by switching around who selects the formation is flawed.

Or put it another way – changing managers mid-season generally doesn’t work.

Any time this viewpoint is expressed, a counter-argument inevitably arises that points to examples of other clubs who have been transformed by giving their unpopular manager the boot. The latest one to use could be Martin Allen, who since taking over at seemingly relegation-doomed Barnet has achieved a very good come-from-2-0-behind draw against the leaders and incredibly vital win at Burton.

Indeed listening to Allen’s Burton post match assessment offered some fascinating insights. Allen has decreed that the players should simply enjoy the rest of the season, forget worrying about what they eat and the tactics of the opposition as they will simply play five-a-side in training every day. Such a dramatic change in approach has clearly worked so far, but whether Barnet stay up or go down one doubts the players will begin next season eating pies and neglecting the tactics.

It is a short-term trick because Barnet need a short-term miracle. Inspirational management perhaps, but hardly a model for other clubs to copy unless in a similarly hopeless position.

Allen’s Barnet revival is still the exception rather than the norm, and for a section of City support and members of the Boardroom to believe the Bantam’s fortunes can be altered by sacking whoever the latest unpopular manager happens to be, mid-season, after so many repeated failures remains a bone of contention. I write this as someone who had lost support for Taylor – though was not in a rush for him to leave mid-season like others. I believe Taylor would probably have turned things around had he remained, albeit no where near enough to mount a late play off charge and to be deserving of a new contract.

So what to make of Jackson? It seems unfair to dismiss his chances on the basis he has done no better than Taylor with the same set of players, because of the repeated failure of changing managers mid-season. Put Jackson in charge last summer with Taylor’s budget and a fairer comparison could be made. That is implausible of course, and Jackson looks set to be overlooked in favour of someone else who in time we hope will be a success, but over this recent six-game period is unlikely to have done any better.

City have put off putting season tickets on sale until the managerial appointment is belatedly made, and it appears the Board is looking to generate the type of feel-good atmosphere a new manager usually triggers in order to convince those yet to renew to sign up for next season. Unless Jackson can win two of the next three games between now and the big decision – starting tonight at Macclesfield – it seems highly likely someone else will get the job, as Jackson cannot provide that feel-good boost.

Is season ticket sales a fair consideration when choosing the next manager? Probably not, and it is worth recalling the negative reaction to Paul Jewell being appointed permanent manager after an underwhelming end to the season in a caretaker capacity, back in 1998. Then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond was able to observe up close the qualities in Jewell that would become so prevalent to the rest of us that following season, after he was able to build the team he wanted rather than being stuck with a squad inherited from his predecessor mid-season.

Yet the short-term impact was a reduction in season ticket sales. Richmond remarked a year later on the decision to appoint Jewell, “We lost a couple of thousand season ticket holders…my mailbag was horrendous that summer.”

With such limited investment for next season, it’s a fact of life that the modern day Bradford City has to consider season ticket sales when deciding who to appoint. A poor return from the next three games, and it would take a very brave Board to appoint Jackson as manager next season. The loss of season ticket holders could prove even worse than in 1998.

So Jackson needs a result tonight and, after Barnet’s win over Burton, so do City. Avoiding relegation seemed all but assured after the Morecambe win, but one or two more wins are needed from the last eight matches to ensure there is no shocking ending to this disastrous season. City have two games in hand, starting tonight, but Burton’s failure to make the most of their games in hand following a winter of numerous postponements is a stark lesson of the dangers on relying upon them. When City’s home game against Burton was called off in January, Burton were considered play off candidates. Instead they face a nervous end to the campaign which City themselves hope to avoid.

Expect some changes tonight, with Luke Oliver set to return at the back and Lewis Hunt pushed to right back. Hunt has impressed greatly in the centre, but a back two of he and out-of-form Steve Williams is hardly the strongest and the commanding presence of Oliver should help a defence which has looked marginally better with him in it all season. Luke O’Brien continues at left back with Jon McLaughlin in goal.

In midfield it seemed Jackson had found a greater balance a few weeks ago as the previously overlooked Jon Worthington impressed, and the fact the last two games have ended in defeat with Worthington not involved is hardly a coincidence. Expect him back tonight alongside Tom Adeyemi or David Syers, with Michael Flynn probably dropped to the bench. Gareth Evans finds favour as a wideman but struggles for his best form, while Leon Osborne or repeated underachiever Scott Dobie will be wide left.

Up front James Hanson has had a disappointing second season and a growing minority of critics have, as usual, displayed goldfish memories in forgetting how good he can be. Who he will partner tonight is unclear, with Dobie, Jake Speight and Chib Chilaka vying for an opportunity.

The sight of Oliver up front in the closing stages on Saturday underlines how their are no new answers to the club’s predicament. Jackson must make the most of what he has, in order to earn the opportunity to show what he could really do.