If Parkinson is the Special One if City only get one point?

As time ticked out on Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Walsall at Valley Parade Andy Halliday – playing right wing – stood defensively containing the visitors left back preventing him from playing the ball forward.

Play the ball forward – or beat Halliday with the ball – and the Saddlers would have a chance to create a chance. And from a chance they could turn the point time would give them into three. And that could not happen.

Likewise had Halliday tried to win the ball then City could have fashioned a chance to do the same but to do so risked losing position on the field.

As it was Halliday kept his man on the flank and the clock ran down.

Is Parkinson a special one?

Have no doubt, dear reader, that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side against Walsall will not have returned to the dressing room to an angry manager. Parkinson will not have blistered the walls with shouting nor will he have been furious at chances missed. In fact the 1-1 with Walsall is exactly how Parkinson would want his Bradford City team to play.

Of course he would have wanted more goals to be scored and fewer conceded. He would have wanted Francois Zoko to make more of the chance that fell his way in the second half, would have wanted Billy Knott to have confidence with his right foot when given the option to shoot with that, would have wanted Rory McArdle to not lose his location and head the ball cleanly seven yards the wrong side of the goal post. He would have wanted all those things.

And he would have wanted Billy Clarke to have run back to replace Andy Halliday when Halliday gave the left hand side of the Walsall attack too much space that allowed Anthony Forde to cross and Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila to head in after slipping away from the otherwise excellent Gary McKenzie on his début. We all wanted those things.

But we have learnt Parkinson’s method over the last 3 years, 177 days of his time at Bradford City and nothing suggests that he would unbalance his team to try take all three points when he had one. The failures that prevented City winning were in execution for Parkinson, but not in the planning.

Which raises an interesting question for City fans to consider.

At 2-1 down to Chelsea Phil Parkinson did not send his Bradford City team to play an all-out attack, nor did he at 1-0 down to Leeds, but those wins came from a combination of maintaining City’s position in the game (which is to say, not conceding more) and taking chances that presented themselves.

One can – and I have – criticise that approach as not doing enough to commit to winning a game against opposition who aimed to draw at Valley Parade but one cannot deny that the overall approach for games does not differ between matches.

Stuart McCall – for example – was fond of changing his team with the ebb and flow of the game. Chris Kamara was too. I would suggest that both McCall and Kamara would have looked at the Walsall equaliser as a signal to make attacking moves, bring on strikers and generally try to create a win.

And I found both managers created very exciting teams to watch. One recalls McCall’s City 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley only to win 3-2 following the introduction of Barry Conlon. Barry came on and caused chaos on the pitch that City benefited from massively.

One recalls the game at Addams Park Wycombe under Kamara were City went two down early on and Kamara brought on Carl Shutt to create a 253 which made for a massively unbalanced game which ended up as a cricket score in favour of Wycombe. At two down, Kamara thought, City were not going to win the game anyway so why not throw in some chaos and see what happens.

Parkinson is not a manager who enjoys adding chaos into games.

McCall or Kamara might have thrown another striker on at Chelsea, or today, and it might have worked. For Parkinson though staying in the game and working hard has worked.

But it has only worked at Bradford City and Colchester United. Supporters of Hull City and Charlton Athletic found Parkinson intractable and unadventurous and were largely glad when he left their clubs because of his tactics and approaches. At Valley Parade today he defended a 1-1 draw, and one doubts he would apologise for it.

If one is happy with Parkinson’s games at Chelsea, and at home to Leeds and Sunderland, then one is happy with the approach that created it then perhaps one just has curse bad luck today and regret that ill-fortune did not favour City today while accepting that other days it does.

Parkinson’s football is the application of pressure towards steady progress. To want him to be different is to want another manager.

Seven

The frustrations of the afternoon were obvious to all. With injuries to James Hanson, Filipe Morais, and Andrew Davies Phil Parkinson reverted to his 442 deploying Halliday on the right, Mark Yeates on the left and Billy Knott with Gary Liddle in midfield behind Jon Stead with Clarke playing removed from the front man. The result was a less pressing midfield that contained the game more.

Indeed Walsall seldom attacked through the middle and Liddle and Knott will reflect on a successful afternoon but Yeates was out of sorts on the flank and not involved enough to pick up the tempo of the game. Halliday was manful on the right. He was seven out of ten. Again.

The result was not so much a lack of creativity – chances came – as it was a misshape on the creativity. Stead held the ball up by fewer players ran past the forward line from midfield than had in previous games leaving him to pop the ball out from between his feet to anyone who might be near.

The supply from the flanks was sporadic. At one point Stephen Darby beat six men on a mazy dribble which was impressive but underlined the problem the players were finding. Without the reliable diagonal ball to to Hanson from McArdle City were less predictable but by virtue of that easier to play against. The paths to goal were improvised and Walsall’s backline stopped what they could. Dean Smith is a good manager and had his side well drilled.

But Smith, like Parkinson, hoped that what was created would tip the game his way but would rather not have lost. Walsall have not lost in eight away games and have their own trip to Wembley to plan for. City take up sixth place in League One.

It should have been a good day all round, but we have got used to better days than this. They are not long the days of milk and honey.

Parkinson has his thoughts on the bread and butter.

Jackson veers between Kamara and Jewell

When the opening weeks of the season were put together by “the fixture computer” – which is to say some ludicrously complex set theory and a few blokes making sure that Hartlepool United get as long a trip away on Boxing day as possible – few people looked at the Bantams’ opening four games with any relish at all.

Aldershot Town looked like they could be tough – they were – and Leeds United away promised little. Following them up with trips on the road to Oxford United and Accrington Stanley and there was a sense that in these opening two weeks it would become apparent if the instant team alchemy which football managers dream of had taken place.

It had not.

Brighton and Hove Albion – now resplendent in a new stadium – and Chesterfield – then resplendent in a new stadium – both seemed to be touched by that alchemy last season with neither favourites for their divisions but both teams clicked quickly and they romped to titles. For everyone else it seemed there was but hard work.

And so there is for Bradford City. As everyone at the club and many in the stands talked about how this season the club would be starting to build long term and to create its own future rather than going all out for promotion. However an unhealthy – but not entirely unforgivable – hope that that future might start with a lightning strike of a team coming together instantly.

The 1-0 reversal at Accrington Stanley confirmed that City have – as was commented within my ear shot on Tuesday night – a long way to go. Having started that “long way” four matches ago that is hardly surprising and is sobering. Those looking at the Stanley team which finished fifth and lost a half dozen players miss the point of what the Bantams – and other clubs – try to build.

A half dozen players leave Stanley but the structures which have had the club progress to the level it enjoys remain, the culture remains, the team spirit remains. In short there is stability which enables Accrington to continue plodding along. This is very much the sort of thing that Bradford City are trying to build.

Bradford City and Archie Christie who arrived at Valley Parade from Dagenham & Redbridge in the Summer as the Bantams interviewed Daggers boss John Still and his backroom team before deciding that Still was the goods in the window and Christie the merchandise out back.

Christie’s plans are the dose of sense which has been missing from Valley Parade for over a decade. The Scot sees City as – perhaps – a better location to repeat what he had done in Dagenham on a bigger scale. The Daggers – fresh from League One – have come far with Still and company at the helm but getting it right at Valley Parade promises more than being a dot on the map of London football.

So Christie builds his development squad with the aim of bringing through three or four players a season who are good enough to press into the City squad. Logic suggests that might have to wait a two or three years to judge such long term plans rather than – as some seem Hell bent on doing – writing them off after that many weeks.

Christie’s work behind the scenes aims to create a stability for City to aid the manager who has struggled in his start to the season. Jackson – the man of Jose Mourinho action at Huddersfield Town – seems a reduced figure in the City dug out at the moment. What – when looking at in the Town dugout – seemed like calculated master strokes (Paul Barnes’ entry in 1998 which turned a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 jumps to mind) when viewed in the home dug out seem to be random flailings.

Having played a tight passing game in pre-season Jackson’s side too often favour a long punt to James Hanson and while the switches in formation are more noticeable it seems as if Jackson has yet to decide a shape for his midfield.

Consider – if you will – Chris Mitchell who for all the talk of his only being in the team for set plays spend an hour of Tuesday night making sure that when a blue shirt came forward he was standing between ball and goal. He delayed, he stood up, he made sure that Stanley would not get through and all to the tune of people talking about how he should tackle more, even when doing so and failing would have left a bus sized hole in the midfield.

And so it was when Jackson went to a midfield that more evenly distributed the weight between Michael Flynn and Richie Jones rather than had Flynn forward and Mitchell back that Stanley wandered through the middle of the Bantams to get the goal which won the game.

It is hard to find anyone who could say that Mitchell has played well but taking him out of the position he was in brought problems and a pragmatist such as Jewell would see that as justification to have him in the side while the Chris Kamaras – given to flights of fancy – would think that another player who could add more going forward might be trusted to that role on the hope that both could be done. It was such a fancy which Jackson gambled, and lost, on on Tuesday night.

So Jackson flits between: a defensive midfielder behind three more attacking players, a tight three midfield with one winger and the unit of five which worked well at Elland Road; but so far he struggles to maintain a shape in a way which gains the upper hand in games. The first half against Leeds and Jackson had everything going right, when Leeds changed he seemed inactive.

On Tuesday night with scores level Naille Rodney came on for Ross Hannah to play a withdrawn role and the midfield to press on which seemed to leave City with far too many players drifting between the Stanley midfield and defensive lines and no one grabbing the ball. Bit by bit Jackson drifts towards Kamara and his hit and miss deployments of players and tactics and one worries that – like Kamara – it might be possible that Jackson finds the right combination at times and then moves away from it not knowing what is good.

In that one recalls the dogmatic Paul Jewell who stuck with the team he wanted to play after it had returned two points from twenty one in 1998. Jewell had an idea of how he wanted his team to play, and who he wanted in that team, and the same at the moment (and at the time) can not be said about Jackson.

So the City manager goes into the game with injuries ruling out David Syers, Lee Bullock and Simon Ramsden but with pressure to make changes to a team which has but one of the five points Jackson might have targeted.

Jackson is under pressure to drop James Hanson for reasons much discussed but doing so would strike one as popularist rather than practical – especially considering the team’s tendency to hit the ball long. Mark Stewart played no part against Accrington a week after looking superb against Leeds United but Naille Rodney – willing worker – has staked a claim and may get the chance. Ross Hannah was praised for his rewardless efforts on Tuesday but one doubts that he will be selected against Dagenham. Perhaps Jackson will use a 433 having tried it against Carlisle United in pre-season.

The midfield could see Jack Compton on the left and Michael Bryan on the right with Michael Flynn and Chris Mitchell in the middle but Richie Jones looks like a capable player waiting to find a role to fill and should Jackson not want a defensive minded midfielder then he may slot in next to Flynn. Bryan started Accrington well but faded.

At the back Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall are making good at full back – Luke O’Brien’s continued absence is the stuff of conjecture but it seems that Threlfall has made good his chance and is playing well which is more than can be said for Guy Branston who has struggled to put in consistent ninety minute performances since arriving. He is partnered by Luke Oliver who played a superb game at Stanley and if Steve Williams does return to fitness then dropping Oliver would be a very tough decision, although one Jackson would make if he had a clear back two in his mind the excluded the former Wycombe man.

Martin Hansen continues in goal. He shouted on Tuesday night, a couple of times, and that is an improvement and something the keeper can work on. A young lad Hansen has years of improvement in front of him and should not chuck his gloves over just because he has let in a few goals.

Nor should the rest of us.

Managing the Expectation of Progress

If the trip over the Peninnes to Accrington was to provide City with the barometer test of their season so far it left a prediction of high pressure and potential storms ahead.

Whilst the pre-season emphasis has been on development, consolidation and forward thinking, the general mood of the City fans stood on the terraces prior to kick-off at the Crown Ground, was that of the familiar expectation of a result from a youthful looking Bantams team that featured Ross Hannah, new winger Michael Bryan and a 442 shape, with Mark Stewart and Ritchie Jones making way.

An undertone of negativity seemed to be present in the away as even before a ball was kicked some ‘supporters’ could be heard slating the likes of James Hanson and Mark Stewart for previous performances deemed ‘not good enough’, citing lack of work ethic and ability as the main downfalls. Hanson in particular seemed to attract particularly virile remarks, which set the tone for a testing night for the Bantams.

Both sides went into the match having collected just one point from their first three games and the slight nerves that come with a slow start to the season were evident in both defences early on.

The first defence to flinch was the home side’s, when in the 2nd minute City were almost allowed to grab the initiative when Stanley keeper Sean Murdoch played a sloppy pass out of defence which James Hanson intercepted and laid off to Hannah who cleverly lofted the ball over the onrushing keeper into the net. Unfortunately for City the linesman had already raised the offside flag against Hannah to save Murdoch’s blushes.

Later in the half it was Guy Branston left feeling fortunate when he switched off to allow Stanley winger, Nat Taylor, to sneak into the box unnoticed, only for Luke Oliver to clear his dangerous cut back.

Oliver’s display was excellent throughout the night, both aerially and on the ground, and the fact that he stood out as City’s man-of-the-match, says much about the midfield and forward threat posed by the Bantams in the match.

The majority of City’s attacks in the first half were to aim for James Hanson and hope that Ross Hannah took advantage of any flick-ons and despite early sharpness from Hannah, his confidence took a knock after being flagged up as offside on several occasions. This lead to the strike force drifting further apart as the half went on, leaving both strikers isolated and in need of support.

With a lack of chances the City fans took their frustration out on the linesman and he received a chorus of boos as the teams walked off at half time and when remerging for the second half.

With the exception of Oliver, both defences experienced a shaky opening 45 minutes and it seemed that a defensive mistake would be the decisive factor in the game in the second half.

A factor that was proved correct when in the 77th minute new Accy loan signing, Wes Fletcher, poked the ball under the onrushing Martin Hansen to trickle home the winning goal for the home side. The mistake in this case was made by Branston, who allowed Stanley sub Ian Craney to turn him too easily and provide the assist.

As the second half progressed the strain on City’s midfield seemed to increase with Scottish recruit Chris Mitchell struggling to have an impact; the play passed him by all too often and left the lively Flynn, who again looked solid, over stretched and in need of support to win the midfield battle.

Even when Ritchie Jones was introduced in the 64th minute and Mitchell pushed out to the right, it seemed that City seemed to lack the energy and industry of David Syers, who will be missed over the next three months.

City went in search of an equaliser and Nialle Rodney looked lively after replacing Hannah, but all too often when the ball was rushed forward a lack of passing composure caused play to break down.

And despite a few promising runs and crosses late on in the game from Jack Compton, City failed to register a single shot on target.

On balance, Accy just about deserved the points and displayed a confidence when passing the ball through the midfield that City seemed to be lacking, choosing instead to rush the ball forward and hoping for the best.

As the players trudged off the pitch following the full-time whistle, the object of pre-match hostility, Hanson, seemed to bear most of the brunt from some fans, but to most it seemed that the expectations were those that Lionel Messi would struggle to fulfil. The perception is that because of Hanson’s size he is expected to chase down and over power all those that stand in his way, even though for the majority of these ‘causes’ Usain Bolt would struggle to catch up with them!

For Hanson his expectations for the season have been set, and as the most experienced striker at the club and at this level, it may be a burden that he will need assistance with from a more experienced forward if we are to see the best of him and City this campaign.

Hanson’s plight seems to reflect that of the club’s in general, we are told that we want to see the development of the team and an improvement on last season would be deemed a success, but the high expectation levels of the past few years seem to be proving a hard habit to kick for some supporters, which only leads to added pressure on inexperienced shoulders.

The success of the season will depend on how Peter Jackson and the club go about managing these expectation levels, and it is hard to predict anything other than stormier times ahead, if the confidence of the Bantam’s fledgling side takes too many more knocks.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

For those seeking a barometer on events at Bradford City’s the club’s trips to Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground provide just that.

The first meeting between the teams in modern times saw Joe Colbeck – fresh from his return from loan at Darlington – the hero as City ran out 2-0 winners and Omar Daley tore the home side in two. The hard work of striker Barry Conlon brought praise that visit and there was a sense that four months into his time at the club it seemed that Stuart McCall was starting to get the basis of team together.

Three years ago City were outplayed for eighty minutes and then Stuart McCall brought on Barry Conlon and one might riot some how managed to be the catalyst for a stunning turn around that saw City leave Stanley boss John Coleman with a ruined wedding anniversary and City fans happy.

Happy for a time though because it was though that – eventually – City could do better than Conlon and his manager Stuart McCall and so the change was made to Peter Taylor who with huge fanfare took his City team for their first game.

You might remember the wet ground, the late arriving and early departing Mark Lawn with a vandalised car, and the performance that set the tone for Taylor time at Valley Parade. There was a sense of optimism in the air that day that – probably because the display was away from home and followed not long after by a great 3-1 win at Rochdale – which went undented. Recall, if you will, the people who said that Taylor was going to sort out the mess that Stuart McCall had caused. Try not to look at the top of the Scottish Premier Division.

The optimism of Taylor’s arrival was in marked contrast to last season’s trip to The Crown Ground where City were so badly second best that manager Peter Jackson could find not an iota of optimism. Having taken up a team of the Disunited from Taylor Jackson – following Accrington – could not see how the club would claim another point in the season. At that point Peter Jackson thought Bradford City would go out of the Football League.

So Bradford City go West for the fifth time with Jackson having nailed together a team he has more faith in and which built around the optimism which was in such short supply in April’s visit. A team for which improvement is the aim and the assumption that enough improvement will drive promotion. Seeking a first win of the season following Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Oxford and on the last of three trips away from home that started at Leeds the tone for the return to Valley Parade for three back to back home games will be taken from this barometer test.

A device to measure pressure City’s barometer readings have been troubling for some years. This summer – for the first time since relegation from the Premier League – there seems to be a realism in the club’s aims and that has brought with it a sense of optimism that the club is going in the right direction.

There is a question as to how long optimism can be maintained without victories and – along with that – the merits of optimism. Paul Jewell’s side famously gathered two points of the first twenty-one and got promotion at Wolves with many expecting them to fall at the last hurdle. Any optimism garnered on the last four trips to Accrington have done nothing to stop the club going backwards, often by a route of its own choice.

As long as there is progress in the players then – perhaps – there should be an optimism to match.

Jackson goes into the game with Martin Hansen in goal – there is a rumour that the Liverpool loanee is undroppable in his time at City although there is always that rumour about loan players. Jon McLaughlin is working his way through his interrupted pre-season and once again is being viewed as an answer to all problems. Never wanting to disrespect a player who I believe is a good and serviceable goalkeeper worthy of his place in the squad and team but never has a player sat on the bench performing so well. On the bench he is the human traffic light always on red, the unbeatable keeper, the greatest custodian in the club has had.

Three of City’s back four have been unchanged all season – the other position has rotated to three different names. Liam Moore, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall are constant, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams and Lee Bullock have changed. Oliver is expected to retain his place having played his part in the build up to Ross Hannah’s equaliser on Saturday. There was speculation that Oliver pushed Duberry, or at least that is what Duberry said, or was told to say by someone at the club, and he is sticking to but he is not doing twenty months for that, no way…

The midfield presents Jackson with options having favoured a five at Leeds and Oxford with Chris Mitchell at the base of Michael Flynn and Richie Jones with Mark Stewart and Jack Compton on the flanks but the improvement seen with Michael Bryan and a 442 might prompt a change in shape that sees one of Flynn and Jones benched. Jones brings a hamstring niggle into the game and perhaps that will see him sitting the match out.

Stewart – a player still finding his feet but showing some nice feet when he does – would then press forward alongside James Hanson who once again showed the limits of his abilities as the only player detailed to attack on Saturday. Given the thankless task as the only pink shirt in the other half at the Kassam Stadium Hanson has an unfruitful afternoon and sure enough garnered criticism for his play in isolation. Conlon used to suffer criticism too, but his replacement was Stanley legend Paul Mullin and soon Barry was missed. An object lesson if ever there was one.

All of which is expected to leave Naille Rodney and Ross Hannah on the bench – impact substitutes in a Conloin stylee perhaps – but gives Peter Jackson the sort of selection problems which Taylor could have only dreamed of where his has a choice of players who all seem to be keen to show how they are improving.

To show a twitch on the barometer, and perhaps a reduction in pressure.

2011/2012 IV/IV: The teams

Following last season’s disappointment a new air of optimism currently surrounds the much changed, younger City squad compiled by Peter Jackson, but what can we expect from those who the Bantams will line up against in the new season?

With the loss of Bury, Chesterfield, Stockport and Lincoln from League 2 last time out, the division this year has taken on a very Southern feel with the addition to the League of Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon, Crawley Town, Swindon and Dagenham & Redbridge. It seems that away day dedication will be pushed even further this year, with City set to clock up the miles – where are the Peter Taylor over night stays when you need them!?

The Favourites

For the first time since City were relegated to League 2 they have not been tipped for automatic promotion, that acclaim has gone to the league’s big spending new boys Crawley Town. Following last season’s romp to the Conference title and lucrative FA Cup run, only ended by the champions of England, Crawley have flexed their financial muscles once again signing the likes of Wes Thomas (Cheltenham) and Tyrone Barnett (Macclesfield) on huge salaries. Although popularity amongst other teams and fans will be in short supply, this is unlikely to phase Steve Evans who appears to have unlimited funds to see that the Red Devils make it back to back promotions. And with the likes of Dagenham and Stevenage proving that it is not impossible to make that immediate leap, it is unsurprising that the club have been highly backed at the bookies. Former Bantam Scott Nielson is still on the books and will no doubt be on the end of a ‘warm’ welcome when returning to VP, following comments he made after his City exit.

Hot on the promotional heels of Crawley are fellow league new boys Swindon Town. Over the summer they have introduced some Italian flair on the touchline following the appointment of Paolo Di Canio. Expect much gesticulation and passion when the Bantams meet The Robins in the final game of the season (and that’s just from Jackson!). In the close season Di Canio has signed the relatively unknown Oliver Risser and appointed him the club’s captain as well as several established League 1 players. Also don’t be surprised if a few hot prospects from the Premier League turn up on loan over the coming weeks – I’m sure Paolo will still have Mr. Redknapp’s phone number!

Former Torquay boss Paul Buckle will be hoping that he can use his League 2 experience to guide league newcomers Bristol Rovers back into League 1 at the first attempt. Signing the likes of Chris Zebroski (you may remember him drop kicking Matt Clarke in the face!) and Joe Ayinsah (Charlton), expect attacking football from The Pirates who visit VP in September.

As well as the new boys, League 2’s bridesmaids Shrewsbury Town have also been tipped to go well again this year. Following play-off disappointment for the past three seasons “Salop” will be hoping they can go one better and achieve automatic promotion this year. In the close season Graham Turner has signed proven League 2 players such as: Marvin Morgan (Aldershot); Andy Gornell and Joe Jacobson (Accrington) and will be hoping that these will provide the extra ammunition to get The Shrews over the line.

“Local” Rivals

With the loss of so many Northern teams from the division, local rivalries are few and far between for the Bantams this year. Nearest geographically are Rotherham United, who despite the loss of player maker Nicky Law to McGod’s Motherwell, will be hoping for a strong season under relatively new boss Andy Scott. Scott’s first priority will be to keep hold of the much coveted Adam Le Fondre, whilst quickly hoping he can get the best out of hard-working City reject Gareth Evans (‘The goal is that way Gareth…’). The Millers will be trying to make sure that they don’t fall away as they have in previous years despite promising starts. City host Rotherham in November, with the away leg early in the New Year.

One time City managerial target John Coleman, will be hoping that Accrington Stanley will be able to maintain their strong form of last year despite losing their best players to other teams (Ryan, McConville, Gornell). Coleman will have to manage once again on a shoe-string budget and has so far snapped up the likes of defender Danny Coid (Blackpool) and young striker Kurtis Guthrie, whilst former Bantam Rory Boulding still features in the squad. Expect Stanley to finish mid-table this year as the loss of quality players will surely take its toll.

Morecambe (Bradford-on-sea) are entering the new campaign with a rallying cry in the hope to recapture the ‘fortress’ mentality of Christie Park at their new home ‘The Globe Arena’ (incidentally it’s not an arena, it has 3 sides!). Shrimps boss Jim Bentley will be hoping the combative style of former Bantam loanee Kevin Ellison will help them improve on a disappointing 20th position, achieved last time out. A big City following will once again will flock to Morecambe in early September, with the return fixture at VP in mid-January.

Conference Call

Gary Simpson’s Macclesfield Town have been made favourites for relegation to the Conference this year. Despite a comfortable 15th place finish last season The Silkmen are tipped to struggle, with bookmakers offering them at 2/1 to drop into non-league. The Moss Rose outfit will be hoping that new signings Waide Fairhust (Doncaster), former Bantam Jonathan Bateson (Accrington), along with others like the quick forward Emile Sinclair, will be enough to steer them clear of trouble.

Second favourites to face the drop are Cheltenham Town, following their disappointing second half to last season, which left them with a 17th place finish – one place above the Bantams. This is not a sentiment shared by the Robins new signing Sido Jombati, who claims the club should be aiming for promotion. Cheltenham have invested mainly in non-league players, much the same as City, with the hope of bringing success to Whaddon Road next season.

Once again Barnet have been backed to struggle this term, despite retaining the majority of their top performers from last year. Lawrie Sanchez continues as boss as the Bees aim to gain compensation for the move of last year’s demi-saviour, Martin Allen, to Notts County. With plenty of forward options in the form of Izale McLeod, Sam Deering, Steve Kabba and Mark Marshall (remember him embarrassing City last year?), Barnet will be hoping that they can sort out their defence which saw them leak 77 goals last season.

Hereford United will be hoping to make things a little more comfortable this year following their close shave for survival last season. Former ‘physio’ boss, Jamie Pitman, has signed the likes of Delroy Facey (Lincoln) and Stefan Stam (Yeovil) in the hope of playing attacking, entertaining football next term. The Bantams travel to Edgar Street in late October, with the Bulls coming to VP in February.

League Newcomers

Cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle will face a race against time to assemble a squad before the big kick-off on the 6th of August. With the likely take over by Peter Risdale not yet finalised and the club selling off the ground and its land to a third party: ‘Bishop International’ (sound familiar!?) it will be a success just to put a team out for the Pilgrims next season. Already potential signings have swerved away from the financially stricken club, Antony Elding (Rochdale) opted to sign for non-league Grimsby despite initially agreeing to sign for Plymouth. Survival will have to be their first priority and it is hoped that with the re-signing of influential defender Stephane Zubar, others will follow to sign up for Peter Reid’s cause.

The Crazy Gang return to Valley Parade next season and it is expected that they will bring more than 53 fans when they visit Bradford in late-September. Following five promotions in nine years, since their formation in 2002, AFC Wimbledon will take their place in the football league once again. They will start the campaign without last season’s top goalscorer Danny Kedwell, who has signed for Gillingham, but have retained the services of their player of the season Sam Hatton. Boss Terry Brown has signed up several new recruits: Jack Midson (Oxford); Mat Mitchell-King (Crewe); Chris Bush (Brentford) and Charles Ademeno (Grimsby) in hope of maintaining the club’s position in League 2 next year.

John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge return to League 2 following only one season in League 1. The one-time City managerial target has managed to maintain the majority of his squad, but has lost key man, and former Bantams’ target, Ramon Vincelot to Championship new-boys Brighton. The Daggers are expected to finish mid-table this time out and will face the Bantams at VP in August, with the return fixture at Victoria Road in March.

Familiar Faces

Burton Albion boss Paul Peschisolido has signed several attacking options over the close season with the intention of pushing the Brewers further up the table than their 19th place finish last season. The Nottinghamshire club will be hoping to avoid the fixture congestion that plagued them last year. New signing Justin Richards (Port Vale) should be the main attacking threat and City play Albion away in October, with the home fixture in January.

Dario Gradi will take charge of Crewe for his 26th season at the helm. With the loss of Clayton Donaldson over the summer, Alex striker Shaun Miller will be hoping to fill the former Bradford youngster’s boots and build on his own 19 goal haul last season. Crewe have been internally backing themselves for promotion this year and will aim to get there playing attractive, technical football, the likes of which the Bantams experienced on the last day of the season.

Gary Johnson’s Northampton Town will once again carry high expectations into the coming season, with their expectant fans insisting that they improve on their disappointing 16th place last season. With a glut of new signings, including big striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, the Cobblers will enter the 2011/2012 season with aspirations of reaching the play-offs. City face Northampton at VP in late October and travel to the Sixfields Stadium in April.

Former City man Chris Wilder will be entering the new season in the hope that his Oxford United team can build on their promising first season back in the football league. Ex-City flop Paul McLaren will take his place for the U’s next season and will hope for more consistency in League 2 this time out. Experience seems to be the order of the day for Wilder who has also recruited former Leeds player Michael Dubbery and ex-Bury goal keeper Wayne Brown.

In a repeat of last season, Micky Adams will lead out Port Vale and will want to finish the job he started before leaving for a forgettable stay at boyhood club Sheffield United. Marc Richards remains the main danger man for the Stoke club and will hope that he can find sufficient support from new signings Gary Roberts (scorer for Rotherham from halfway at VP) and fellow striker Louis Dodds. Vale face the Bantams at Vale Park in September and at VP on Valentine’s day.

On the Buses…(or coaches)

Industrious Aldershot will be hoping to build on their solid 14th place finish last time out. The Bantams play host to the Shots on the opening day and will have to be wary of the goal-threat of defender Antony Charles who had success against the Bantams last year. Dean Holdsworth will be hoping that the recent loan deal for Reading’s attacking midfielder Jake Taylor will help get the Shots off to a flier… obviously after losing to City!

Gillingham have made several signings over the summer and diminutive boss Andy Hessenthaler will be hoping that by signing non-league success stories like Danny Ked well (AFC Wimbledon) will be enough to push the Gills one step further than their play-off spot last year. Hot striking prospect Adam Birchall, signed from Hessenthaler’s former club Dover, is already facing a 6 month lay off with knee ligament damage, which will leave the Priestfield club on the look out for another ‘Cody MacDonald’ type player from the loan market.

Southend will enter the new season hoping to gain the consistency that saw the play-offs elude them last year. Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock has made several signings to complement last seasons top performers Antony Grant and Barry Corr. City will once again travel to Roots Hall on a Friday night (Decemeber) and will host the Essex club, again on a Friday night, in April.

Torquay boss Martin Ling will want his side to go one better this year to soar into League 1. In order to replace target man Chris Zebroski the Gulls have signed former Morecambe hitman Rene Howe, and have strengthened their midfield with the signing of left-sided trickster Ian Morris (Scunthorpe). City travel to the English Riviera in mid-February (Brrrr…) and host the Gulls at VP in early October.

Why I’m fed up of this player-bashing culture

Like an experienced performer trying to win over a sceptical audience, Peter Jackson seems to appreciate the value of pulling out a crowd pleaser every now and then. And his announcement earlier this week that Bradford City players will next season have to wash their own kit predictably prompted roars of approval from far and wide.

There’s nothing, it seems at the moment, that can prompt wider agreement and glee among Bradford City supporters than the barracking of our useless, under-achieving players.

Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Jackson played to the gallery with this delightful soundbite: “They have to take more responsibility in themselves and in the club.” Who wouldn’t cheer in agreement at such sentiments? And who, with passionate managers back in vogue following the much-derided impassive style of Peter Taylor, wouldn’t want to hand Jackson the City job for next season?

The T&A has continued that theme this week, somewhat oddly gloating about the fact none of the players (or ‘flops’ as they dubbed them in their headline) available for transfer have yet been the subject of interest from other clubs. Try reading some of the reader comments that appear below the story, if you can stomach it, and feel the vitriol aimed at the players. “I hope most of them end up working in a call centre”, “Would you want any of this shower of sh1te?” and the hilarious “Ive heard the dry cleaners at wibsey are considering signing half of them.” Ouch.

The message is reverberating very loudly: last season’s failings were largely down to the players, collectively they are a disgrace and have brought shame upon the club. “Love the club, hate the team” was sung at Southend just over a month ago, and this sentiment has been continued at subsequent matches, on message boards and via the local media ever since.

But when do we get past this? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the anger and disappointment with the efforts of the players last season. As a group of professionals, they should have delivered a much stronger performance than 18th in League Two. Of the players still contracted to the club – forced to endure this non-stop barracking and taunts from Jackson that “I bet some of them don’t even know how to use a washing machine” – there are a few I’d prefer we got rid of.

Yet unless everyone is miraculously sold, it looks highly likely that the players we continue to bash will be expected to be the cornerstone of next season’s efforts on the pitch. So when do we stop these attacks and start to support them again? And in the long-run, what damage might this climate of hating the team cause?

The washing your own kit idea by Jackson is ultimately pretty silly and as big a gimmick as last season’s talk of Taylor demanding the players wore suits before the match. As Mark Lawn told this site in January, Blackpool players currently wash their own kit. But the implication that Blackpool’s over-performance of the past two seasons is down to their players knowing how to use a washing machine, rather than their abilities and collective team spirit, not to mention the inspirational management of Ian Holloway, makes little sense. Tomorrow Blackpool’s players take their self-washed kits to Old Trafford for the biggest game of their lives, and perhaps their focus will have been better served solely on achieving an improbable victory rather than the additional worry of getting rid of stubborn grass stains.

Back at City though, one is left to query whether the washing own kit punishment is fitting to everyone who will be asked to perform it. Does David Syers deserve to have to wash his own kit? What about Luke O’Brien or other youngsters on the verge of the first team? How about potential summer targets, will they be keen to choose City over other suitors if they hear of a culture where under-performance is rewarded by petty punishments? What has Ross Hannah done to deserve being penalised for other people’s failings?

Personally I don’t think having to wash your own kit will make much difference to the players’ efforts in the same way looking smart before the match had no bearing on the league table last season, but the thinking and reasoning behind it does concern me. Football supporters up and down the country seem keen to treat players like school children, getting upset if they go drinking five days before a match or demanding they are punished with extra training or a placing on the transfer list for poor performance. I don’t know about you, but being treated in this way wouldn’t motivate me to do better.

Instead of building and maintaining a culture of fear of retribution, shouldn’t we try looking at how we can encourage players to perform better in a more positive manner? What is stopping players with proven track records from displaying their ability when they cross the white line at Valley Parade? How can we build their confidence and belief? Instead of wailing about how disgraceful they are when they make mistakes, how can we work as one to achieve our aspirations?

Everyone knows there is a booing culture at Valley Parade. And that fear of failure, that mindset of punishing mistakes – by booing them on Saturday or demanding they wash their own kit during the week – seems to lead to the same result. Players hide away from taking responsibility, hide away from attempting the more difficult things, hide away from the risk of falling into the firing line.

The infamous backpass by Tommy Doherty against Port Vale in September sums up much of the past decade. His team mates were looking to him to take on too much responsibility – he shouldn’t have been passed the ball in such a dangerous area in the first place – and when he made that mistake we booed him. Forget how the Doc felt that day, what were his team mates supposed to think?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Look at Accrington Stanley. Anyone who was there for our 3-0 defeat last month can’t fail to have been impressed by their attractive style of football, and also how the supporters backed them positively throughout. On a number of occasions their passing moves broke down through individual mistakes, or the build up approach seemed very slow. None of the Accrington fans booed mistakes, or screamed “forward” impatiently like we do at Valley Parade. The league table shows what a difference it can make, so why can’t we be more like that?

Above all else, I hope this player bashing culture ends sooner than later. I don’t support Bradford City so I can flaunt my outrage over how players can have the contempt to fail to achieve my expectations. I go to cheer on a group of players who may not be the best in the world but who are our own, playing and trying to succeed for my club. Sure we have duffers and languorous players every now and then, but in general I don’t enjoy hating people and I don’t view the fact I pay good money to cheer on my team as a right to bawl at them if they let me down.

So let’s get behind Jon McLaughlin, Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Michael Flynn, Luke Oliver, Jake Speight, Steve Williams, Leon Osborne, Lewis Hunt, James Hanson, Luke Dean, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threfall, Syers and Hannah. If they all remain the nucleus of our squad next season, it’s time to stop punishing them for past failures and work with them to put right past wrongs. We all have a role to play in making that happen, instead of keeping up this sulking viewpoint that we have been wronged.

And if these players ever read this, I just about know how to operate a washing machine. So give us a shout if you need a hand.

Travelling more in expectation than hope

Thirty years ago if you were a member of St Anthony’s Primary School football team – or the brother of a member who’s Dad drove kids to games – then as a reward for a season of not much return you were given the chance to go watch Bradford City’s last game of the 1980/81 season as the Bantams took on Hereford United.

That was my introduction to Bradford City, and there is a certain symmetry to this afternoon’s entertainment as the Bantams travel to Edgar Street to meet Hereford United. The first game was a scrappy end of season affair – although at the time an impressive watch – where the visitors nicked a 1-0 win. Today a point for both teams would have secured League football for both next season and unsurprisingly a point each was the return.

Unsurprisingly because the home side set out to secure such a return trying to retain possession as far back the field as they could for as long as they could seldom venturing into the Bantams penalty area.

The illusion was a strange one. It seemed like City were penning in Hereford and certainly the Bantams were enjoying playing with a sense of freedom that allowed the likes of David Syers – playing central midfield well – and Gareth Evans to lash at goal following James Hanson’s early attempt which threatened to derail the Bull’s afternoon.

The Bulls afternoon though was taking place miles away at the Crown Ground, Accrington where Barnet played Stanley. The machinations of that game seemed to tilt to this. Barnet level at 1-1 and there was a nervousness in the home side’s play but that nervousness lifted as Accrington took a lead which proved decisive.

That took until the second half and after the first forty five minutes the scorelessness seemed like a fog never to lift. The Bantams were unthreatened – Joe Colbeck was given the reception by the visiting fans one would expect but that seemed to serve to suggest he was more dangerous than he was and while no one especially enjoys hearing themselves abuse the look on Colbeck’s face as he banged a cross into the middle which was attacked by nobody looked more like distraction than upset.

If a winger putting in crosses for no one makes a wonderfully illustrative example of the game then City’s striker with no crosses seems to make another. James Hanson – at times – seems to never lose a ball in the air and one wonders what he could have done with the type of accurate crossing that Colbeck could do, and that the likes of Nick Summerbee and Peter Beagrie did.

Colbeck’s time at City – and his time since he left and the schadenfreude some City fans seemed to follow it with – sends my mind back sprawling to that first game on the 15th of May 1981 and how football has changed since then. Thirty years allows a guy the chance to reflect and that reflection is in the level of hope which used to be the currency and how that has been replaced with an unsavoury expectation.

Reading articles about the Bantams last decade you often read the phrase “ten years of failure” and while this is true from the prevalent point of view that anything other than promotion is failure but watching this last decade they were no different to many of the two which proceeded it.

Consider – if you will – the 1996/97 season of Chris Waddle and Edinho where relegation was avoided on the final day of the season. What we had that year was built on the next. That season of struggle Chris Kamara signed players like Robbie Blake and Jon Dreyer who were on the pitch two years later at Wolves when the Bantams were promoted to the Premiership.

No one ever said that finishing 21st was a roaring success that season but no one ever lambasted all involved as failures either and after that season lessons were learnt that drew a line directly to the successes which followed.

At some point after that failure started to describe anything which not success – this is semantics – and the rhetoric is that the club and supporters demand the best and should have high aims lest they achieve nothing but the practical upshot of throwing the word failure at anything which has not been promotion over the last decade is that Bradford City systematically rip the club apart over the course of every summer, throw things in the air and see where they land.

Failure – finding it wherever it can be hinted at – is the obsession of the current football mindset from top to bottom to such an extent that progress along the path to success is talked of as being it. Those who run football clubs need to be strong and need to stress that if the right things are being done then those things will not be changed because they have not come to fruition yet.

Are Bradford City at present on this path? You will judge for yourself on that, dear reader, just as you will also have a view on the merits and effectiveness of addressing the “failures” of Colin Todd, or Stuart McCall, and how the attempts to deal with those so called “failures” have brought us to the position we are in now.

Would City have been any worse if Colbeck – squarely presented as a problem and the cause of failure – had remained at the club? Would the last few years have been so different had Danny Forrest been up front? Has the season on season change of right backs produced a player more effective than Gareth Edds or has it just given us a series of different players?

Different players who have the same problems and ultimately exit in the same way and we – as a club and as supporters – relinquish our responsibly for the impact of that. The justification for replacing players is that those players seldom go on to a higher level following their time at the club as if the confidence lost, the access to a better standard of coaching lost, the experience of playing league football lost has no impact on the (lack of) progression of those players.

Joe Colbeck wanders up and down the Hereford United wing on one side, Gareth Evans on the City wing on the other, both look like players who seem on the edge of dropping out of professional football not because they are not useful, or skilled, or have potential but just to appease a desire to smash up what is there in the name of not tolerating failure but with the effect of not allowing building.

I think back to Robbie Blake and his goal at Wolves in another final away game of the season and how many times – had the current attitude in football been the way of thinking then – he would have been bounced out of Valley Parade rather than being allowed to be a part of a team which matured.

In thirty years between two games with Hereford United expectation has overcome hope. Everything about Bradford City is about the expectation that better can be demanded. It used to be that better was hoped for, but if that hope failed then it was renewed over the summer. This is only important because in the times of hope, rather than expectations, things improved more often.

What do we have in the summer? Hope or expectation? Or neither?

Peter Jackson took his Bradford City team to Hereford United looking for a point to keep League Two status secure – a modest return – and Hereford’s Jamie Pitman had the same aim which once results started to fall into place bound the teams to a defensive display a little less. Both ended the day safe from relegation with Barnet’s defeat seeing them battle Lincoln City to stay in the division. Stockport County were relegated.

Ultimately – at Edgar Street – James Hanson proved too much of a handful for home defender Stefan Stam and after he was fouled Jake Speight scored a penalty with ten minutes on the clock. Stuart Fleetwood equalised a few minutes later with a great free kick. That shot was the home side’s only attempt on target of the afternoon but it was the draw that everyone seemed happy with.

For the summer though who can tell. Over the last thirty years – and specifically the last decade or so – football’s expectation level has outstripped its ability to bring enjoyment in a great many ways. Supporting was its own reward, but now all rewards are delayed until there is a manifestation of success. Goals are cheered, wins are welcomed, promotions are celebrated but anything other than those things – and including the build up to those things – are drawn out grimly.

Football League safety is assure and the summer yawns out ahead with its own troubles and with that the idea that the unifying mood in August will be one of hope seems very, very far away and utterly old fashioned.

Another chance to end the season that did not start

Watching Nottingham Forest sneak into sixth place in the Championship at the expense of Leeds United it was remarked that one might not have predicted Forest would do so well after their defeat to Bradford City in the second game of the season.

That evening David Syers’ debut goal and an extra time strike from James Hanson gave City a 2-1 win and seemed to kick start a season which promised much. That early indication was as close as the club got to the season starting in earnest and some eight months on as City fans watch a team struggle with relegation one feels a little robbed of a year of football.

Not that we expected much from the season – Mark Lawn and the rest of the Valley Parade board did to such an extent where The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled over the coals for predicting that the Bantams would be finish a place outside the play offs. Mike was – it seems – right that we would not be in the top seven.

One might wonder though what impact the predictions and preferences of supporters have on a football club. There was a school of thought – helped by the financial mechanics of the bookmaking industry – that City would be favourites this season which went alongside the predictions for Harrison (and from myself, for I was no more confident) and all these are set against a near constant stream of negativity which is tied to the club like a stone around the leg of a drowning man.

On that subject one can only look in envy at groups of supporters who realise the impact they can have on their team. City fans – it seems – have long since made a choice that the players are very much on their own and as the Bantams look for three points to end the season without relegation they do so alone.

Luke Oliver – a target for abuse regardless of his performances – sneered at City fans singing to him and his team mates that they were not fit to wear the shirt over at Accrington and will have gone into the dressing room to hear Peter Jackson agreeing but nothing in the club invites Oliver or his team mates passions.

One year contracts that make sure your future and the club’s are not tied together, abuse from supporters on the days you flog your guts out, and talk of the club not even starting next season.

For sure any professional pride you have might mean you want to win, but on the days when your opposition have the same professional pride and a crowd who want them to do well, who encourage them and who try lift them, playing for a manager who lives and breaths the club then one wonders what we want the mercenaries who we gather together every summer to care about?

Assuming the current crop of players – those who are “encouraged on” by being told they represent the worst Bradford City team in forty years – can steal three points in the next three games then the club – assuming that it can struggle into next season without the self inflicted wounds of administration – then let they be the last who are so poorly assembled.

My belief is that players are much of a muchness at this level and that the current set will be replaced by players no better, no worse, but that it is up to a club, a manager and a set of supporters to build those players into a team. The club can offer contracts of a length and a stability that encourage the players to realise that their futures are tied to the team’s performance, the manager can instil belief and desire in those players, and that supporters can – for once – decide to swallow the scream of abuse which vents their own frustration but creates or furthers the cauldron of negativity which Bradford City has become.

Or not, and we can try carry on like this.

Jon McLaughlin seems ready to return for Lenny Pidgeley in goal for the Bantams as we look to record a win over Aldershot which could end relegation fears. A defeat for Barnet at home to Oxford United and a win for the Bantams would see City safe mathematically.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Luke Oliver paired with either Lee Bullock or Steve Williams should Williams have recovered from illness. Luke O’Brien will hope for a recall at left back over Robbie Threlfall.

Tommy Doherty is – we are told – fit to play but not being selected. Mark Lawn spoke about only wanting to sign players who wanted to play for Bradford City and it seems that Doherty was certainly amongst the those covered in that criticism. Not that the criticism is especially valid. Most players we approach would want to play for the club but the trick is making sure that they still want to play for Bradford City after a few months.

Instead Jon Worthington and Michael Flynn make up City’s midfield. Flynn’s efforts are seemingly the target of criticism themselves by some supporters with the idea being that since he has returned from injury he has “struggled for form” or “been rubbish” depending on your vernacular. Dropping the players who put in effort, in an attempt to get more effort, is no solution I could subscribe to.

Kevin Ellison is fit to return but will most likely be kept to the bench as David Syers and Omar Daley take the wings although there is an idea that Peter Jackson will use Daley as a second striker alongside James Hanson with Jake Speight dropping to the bench alongside Gareth Evans.

With undoubted ability – recall Northampton last season – and a willingness to work hard on many, many occasions Gareth Evans cuts a forlorn figure which perfectly represents the Bantams lack progress.

Seldom does one see a football who has so obviously had all the joy of playing football squeezed out of him.

Now we ask players like him to squeeze out just one more win, before sending them away and replacing them with the next set of hopefully to be crushed on the broken wheels that make no progress.

United 3 Disunited 0

Viewed through the singular picture of the four league meetings at the Crown Ground between the two clubs since 2007, the rise of Accrington and the demise of Bradford City could not be more evident.

After the Bantams outplayed their hosts in January 2008 to triumph 2-0 and were lucky to grab a memorable 3-2 win in October the next season, Stanley achieved a deserved 2-0 victory in February 2010 and today completely outplayed their West Yorkshire counterparts in delivering a 3-0 scoreline that flattered only the visitors. Most worrying of all is how much further in opposite directions the clubs may yet go: could we end this season two divisions apart?

Towards Accrington there can only be warm appreciation and envy for what they are on the brink of achieving. That cute little club we defeated 2-0 some 39 months ago has slowly grown and grown; moving up 5th place today after crushing the Bantams. They could even yet seal automatic promotion; an incredible achievement for a club which pulls in the second-lowest average attendances in the division.

But then, from the outside, Accrington appears to be so united. As the players walked out onto the field at kick off, the hardcore Stanley Ultra supporters behind the goal unfurled homemade banners with the word ‘Believe’. They provided a passionate level of backing towards their players during the subsequent 90 minutes which – in volume and originality – defied their lowly numbers. The quality of atmosphere deserves to put 99% of fans of professional football clubs in this country – including us – to shame.

The players, superbly drilled and confident, responded to their fans with an energetic display that City simply couldn’t live with. On a dreadful playing surface, they passed the ball around with an urgency and skill that was a joy to watch. Under John Coleman – who in his 12 years in charge has improved Stanley’s league position every season – they are creative but organised. However the most telling difference between the two sides was the reaction to making mistakes.

Accrington ain’t Brazil, and their attempts to pass the ball around quickly on several occasions ended with the ball flying out of play or going to the wrong man. But not once could you hear groans from home fans – just positive support to get going again. Coasting in the second half, a mistake that allowed Omar Daley to shoot wildly wide saw an argument between two Accrington players spill over into the beginnings of a fight that saw others step in to defuse. They were 3-0 up, for goodness sake.

Such levels of passion and determination were woefully lacking in City. Whatever Stanley have been getting right, the Bantams it seems have been getting it wrong. Peter Jackson paused from walking down the touchline just before kick off to hug and shake the hands of City supporters in the main stand; like a politician canvassing for votes, all to aware of the spotlight upon him. While Coleman builds on at Accrington, City’s last three visits to the Crown Ground have seen a different manager in charge.

Who knows what Jackson’s chances are of getting the City job anymore? Results have become worse than they were under Peter Taylor and, as sympathetic as we can be over how difficult the job is with the players he’s inherited, Jackson must assume some responsibility for six defeats in eight.

Not that his players did much to help him. It took nine minutes for Accrington’s promising start to be rewarded by a goal, with Luke Joyce being allowed to run and curl a superb effort into the far corner. Seven minutes later Andrew Proctor was played through on goal and finished emphatically past Lenny Pidgley. While Accrington fans continued their positive chanting, the City following – easily the lowest in numbers of the four trips to the Crown Ground – was turning on their team.

The Bantams did at least begin to put up some fight and threatened to pull a goal back. First James Hanson prodded a tame effort at home keeper Alex Cisak; then a hard-working Omar Daley went on a jinxing run and saw his cross shot beaten out; next Robbie Threlfall free kick went narrowly over and then, after David Syers’ shot was blocked, Lewis Hunt’s long-range volley was well tipped over by Cisak.

Yet every time Accrington went forward they threatened to overrun a City defence which has been woefully inadequate all season. The third goal came after a long throw in was flicked on by Luke Oliver, and Sean McConville got free of his marker to head the ball into an empty net with Pidgely badly positioned. At least the referee put us out of our misery by blowing for half time shortly after, though the ugly barracking the players received as they filed to the dressing room by the away end was as miserable as anything we’d endured on the field.

Behind the back of our stand, an amateur football match was taking place on a different pitch during the first half and many City fans gave up on watching their team to view this one instead. As amusing as it was for a huge cheer to go up when the team in orange scored – their players raced over in celebration and waved at us – the contrast in the nature of support compared to Accrington fans hardly reflected well on us City supporters, no matter how trying the circumstances. The Accrington Ultras, observing our cheers for another match, chanted “S**t support” and it was difficult to argue.

The second half at least saw the damage restricted in scoreline, though it would be beyond even this writer’s optimistic nature to argue a degree of pride was restored. Lee Bullock came on for the ill Steve Williams; later on Chib Chilaka replaced Hanson but failed to make any impact. Daley’s effort that prompted the two Accrington players to fall out aside, there were no serious attempts on goal from City. Accrington had chances to make it four or even five nil and didn’t let up all afternoon.

We could put this debacle down to players not caring about the club. We can bemoan the manager as not being good enough. We can take solace in the fact many of these underachieving professionals won’t be at the club much longer. But in many ways this is failing to grasp hold of the problem and will most likely lead to repeats of these failures.

Sure some of the players were found wanting in their effort levels today, but not all of them. And the fear is that we didn’t just lose 3-0 because our players didn’t match Accrington for effort, but that we lost 3-0 because the ability of our players is that far behind.

Barnet’s surprise win over Gillingham is troubling, and for City the priority is to get that one more victory from the last three games needed to ensure survival. But after the dust settles and thoughts turn to next season it would be nonsense – even before we contemplate potential point deductions – to expect a promotion push.

This club is so far behind where we think we should be, and there will be no quick fixes. Right now it seems there are too many divides between the Board/Management/Players/Supporters and somehow we need to truly pull together and rebuild ourselves into a united club we can be proud of.

Someone like Accrington. Walking back to the car, my friend wearing a City shirt, we received non-stop taunts of 3-0 from young kids, while their parents talked excitedly about the play offs. Meanwhile The Accrington Ultras were still in full voice, marching out the home end playing the drum and chanting about their love for Stanley.

It all looked like a lot of fun. Perhaps one day we can fall back in love with our club too.

Lawn returns to Accrington and revisits the idea of putting Bradford City into administration

The last time Mark Lawn went to Accrington Stanley he left with his car vandalised and spent the weekend threatening to wind Bradford City up by withdrawing the loan he has made to the club. This time as Lawn heads for the Crown Ground he talks about moving City away from Valley Parade.

Speaking to the T&A Lawn confirmed what BfB reported yesterday that the club had opened talks with the Football League about what they were calling a last-ditch scenario of leaving VP to move to Odsal. One would assume that this would mean refusing to pay the Landlords of Valley Parade and the clubs offices and being open to and expecting either to both to pursue the club for being in breach leading to the club seeking a third spell in administration for protection from the creditors.

The phrase “administration as a formality” has been used before at Valley Parade by Julian Rhodes in 2004 as he looked to et the club from Gordon Gibb who voted in the CVA for Bradford City to die rather than end up in the hands of his former boardroom rival. That time City came as close as can be to going out of business as could be imagined – Ashley Ward made the casting vote – so I treat the idea of a strategic administration with scepticism.

As should Julian Rhodes. My understanding of the Football League rules about who can and cannot be involved in running a football club have it that having been involved in “multiple insolvency” evenings he would not be involved in the business of Bradford City 2011 in an official capacity.

He could buy a season ticket though – many of us have – but where that season ticket will see us sit is something which should what Mark Lawn is talking about come about will change. One wonders what consideration has been taken over this from Bradford City. Fans who are happy enough to go to Odsal might not be happy to move from seats they have occupied for over a decade and will but upset but there are supporters who do not want to go to Odsal and will be knocking on the door of Valley Parade demanding their money back.

How many of the Bradford City supporters who have season tickets now will still follow the club to Odsal? We might guess at a percentage and we might curse those who do not want to but unless someone has a figure as to how the impact of moving on supporters then should this move be considered? Has anyone at Valley Parade taken the temperature of supporters about moving from Valley Parade? Does anyone know what the supporters want?

What about the club’s business partners? Our understanding of the deal which sees Nike replace Surridge as the club’s shirt supplier will see Nike take over the club shop which is a part of the offices which City are talking about defaulting on the rent of. How secure is this deal? How transferable? Has the most iconic brand on the planet been told it will be backing a club with a level of support which no one – at the moment – could even have an educated guess at?

What about other businesses which have backed City? Are they going to be left out of pocket again by administration? Have they been warned?

Ross Hannah and Michael Rankine are non-league strikers rumoured to be in talks with City. Back in 2002 Nicky Law had agreed a deal to sign Thomas Hitzlsperger and – from Grimsby – Michael Boulding but those deals died in administration. If Hannah or Rankine were to pick up the T&A today what confidence could they have in those deals coming to fruition (let alone that the man they are talking to at the club will be there next season).

What about Mark Lawn’s loans? If City go into administration and then Lawn becomes a creditor. £2m worth of loans represents a significant vote for whatever is on the table in terms of a CVA but after a CVA has been accepted those loans are gone. Is Lawn prepared to write off the loan he considered withdrawing fifteen months ago as he drove away from Accrington?

One would love to suggest that Lawn is bluffing or that he is firing shots across Gordon Gibb’s bow to try get him to the negotiation table and see City emerge with the best deal but one cannot guarantee that. The club are talking to the Football League about how to make leaving Valley Parade work. It might not be the idea that you or I, dear reader, would have chosen but it seems to the the prevalent idea.

The diary of not watching football

Roger Owen took a break from writing what will no doubt be lengthy programme notes on the Referee who last took charge of a City home game – more on that later – to tell City fans and those who would come up from Hereford for the game at the weekend that the club are doing everything they can to get the game on.

Indeed Owen’s notes to the website are full of the sort of information which pre-empts the demands of football fans after a game is called off. When looking at the clear piece of driveway in BD14 which my car is parked on I could suggest that it should be easy to host a football match and it would, but the approaching roads.

So Owen strikes a note of justified caution, but hopes to get a game on. Back in December 2003 when City’s game with Crystal Palace at Valley Parade was called off the club nearly went out of business not for the want of a long term strategy or plan but for the need of short term cash flow. Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb had to find around half a million pounds to pay the wages and it is said by those who say such a thing that the demands one placed on the other was the fracture of that relationship.

Fractured relationships seem to be the order of the day at Valley Parade. Zesh Rehman and Peter Taylor have seen their relationship fractured and it would be remiss of me at this point to not recall a comment made at the start of the season about the pair.

The judgement of Taylor’s job at Bradford City would be in what he could get out Zesh Rehman – so I said – because in the player City have a footballer with enough talent to convince many to sign him (an a talent which has been demonstrated at City any number of times) but and approach and attitude which wavers.

“An inconstant performer” would seem to sum it up and should Taylor get a player like Zesh Rehman playing more good games than bad then – using Rehman as a sample of the squad – City would no doubt be doing very well.

We are not and Taylor seems set to wash his hands of the player seemingly ready to say that he is not able to get the performances out of him which other managers have. That is a disappointment for all, and a worrying thing from a manager.

Taylor’s relationship with Jake Speight – currently on loan at Port Vale – showed signs of cracks when the player went to prison and when he criticised Taylor’s methods for not including enough fitness training.

Speight was not – unlike Rehman – transfer listed for his outburst which seemed more critical than Rehman’s which was questioning. However letting it be known that player who is on loan is not wanted is no way to run a business and perhaps if the veneer of a business front was wiped away the striker would be just as on his way out as the defender.

These thoughts play in the mind in the weeks after abandoned games. City’s trip to Aldershot was shelved and the club had a blank week owing to an early FA Cup exit leaving Accrington Stanley at home as the last time the Bantams took to the field.

BfB has it from “a good source” (which is not Wikileaks, or Wookieeleaks, and is worth trusting) that following that game Referee Tony Bates rang John Coleman that Accrington Stanley manager and apologised for costing his club the game. On an evening of elbows, pitch invasions and an official who could not bring himself to give the decisions laid out in the laws of the game Mr Bates feels that he should talk for sure but not to apologise to us paying supporters who watched him make a mockery or a match but to the manager who (one assumes) was behind that pantomime football.

Which sums the arrogance of Referees up to a tee. Supporters are but cattle, and are treated with a lack of respect which means that we are not even afforded the decency of an apology after the official feels he has put in a poor performance although apologies are offered even if those apologies would provoke incredulity.

Nevertheless Roger Owen is not known to keep his attitudes about officials and Bradford City to himself – we all recall his reaction to the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United – and so one can assume that he has spent the last three weeks preparing his thoughts. Certainly it would be interesting to know what City think of the fact that had Mr Bates had not felt he erred that night that the Bantams would have lost the game.

Losing games slipped back into City’s habits, especially at home. Peter Taylor’s side have lost four at home which is twice the number Stuart McCall’s side which finished 9th two season ago ended the season on and a look at last year’s table suggests that over a half dozen home defeats is probative to promotion, to say nothing of season ticket sales.

Taylor’s cause is not helped by a significant injury list which the manager hopes will ease when Shane Duff and Lewis Hunt return to fitness for the Christmas period.

Hunty should be joining in at the end of the week. To me, he’s going to be a couple of weeks after that, which is good news.

“Hunty.” One recalls Roger Owen paying for suits and making a big play of increased professionalism at Valley Parade and I’m not sure how that fits in with one playing being transfer listed for saying he thinks he should be in the side over a player that the manager refers to by nickname. “Hunty”, still, could have been worse.

Should the game go ahead then City are expected to field Lenny Pidgeley in goal. Richard Eckersley at right back, Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver at centreback, Luke O’Brien at left back. Tommy Doherty and David Syers in the midfield with Lee Hendrie on the left and perhaps Leon Osbourne on the right although Omar Daley is at times deployed there. Daley or Jason Price in the forward line with James Hanson.

A good laugh about bad refs

Having watched a Referee try restart a football match unaware that a player was receiving treatment in the penalty area on Tuesday night I had some sympathy for Anthony Bates, the man in black as City played Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night.

Bates might have got some calls wrong on the evening and lacked an authority, but his job was made a much harder by what seemed to be a campaign of gamesmanship by the visiting team. That the Accrington staff were sneaking onto the field to delay the game is something that Bates should have dealt with, but the fault lays more with the Physiotherapist in question then the man who could not curtail his actions. Bates might not have showered himself in glory, but his job was made harder and we should all recognise that.

Nevertheless, and utterly predictably, BfB was contacted by a Referee from Bradford complaining about what he saw as (para) “another one dimensional article having a go at Referees.” And there was me thinking my articles were one dimensional defences of Stuart McCall, another dimension and I might have started looking at things from multiple angles.

(A note here on comments. If a comment starts with the name of the writer and then goes on to talk directly to the writer it is treated as an email and not a comment for the public to read. The writer may choose to reply by mail or may not. Comments for publication need to be relevant to the readers, not just the writer.)

Joking aside the Referee in question got in touch with BfB and gave some “corrections” to my opinions – often dealings with referees send my mind back to being at school – on the basis of the BBC highlights he had seen. Watching the BBC clips made it clear – I was told – that I “haven’t a clue.”

I paused for a moment to consider the idea who would say that having watched a football match live your view on it would be less valid than someone who watched the highlights.

Opinions are great, especially those that come from experts, but frequently the tone of communications from Referees is troublingly authoritarian. The phrase “I’m a Referee and this is what happened…” features often as if those of us who have spent decades watching the game were incapable of making a judgement on incidents. There is a high-handedness in Refereeing which does them, and the rest of football, no favours at all.

Scotland, where the Referees roam wild

This weekend the SPL games are – it is hoped – to be refereed by guest officials from foreign leagues after the home Refs declared a strike in a demand for more respect. The Scots situation is unique in world of football – any other place where such raw religious fundamentalism is allowed to go unchecked is usually associated with a deadly numeric – but as Celtic manager Neil Lennon turned on the officials after the now infamous game with Dundee United he did so in full knowledge that as the manager of one of the teams involved he would not be invited to any sort of dialogue with the man in the middle.

Of course one might wonder how much managers would welcome increased contact with Referees, and how they would respond to it. A Premier League experiment with increasing officials communication back in 2003 reached a point where after a game with Manchester United the then Southampton boss Gordon Strachan accused the Referee of being too scared to show his face.

Strachan’s reach neatly deflected some attention away from his team’s defeat for sure but the damage done in the press seemed to end the experiment. These days referees are making their decision in a sea of analysis and their voice is unrepresented in that conversation.

Respect the rules I lay down, the system say, and question nothing. Default respect without communication is something that some can give and other cannot, I know I am in the latter group.

The structure of football demands respect for the Referee and largely is right to do so but seemingly there is a need for this respect to be granted and never earned. The Referee wants your respect but he will not address you in the same manner.

All of which is a great shame. Referees are experts and they have interesting and fascinating opinions on football and they are people with emotions who want to do a good job. Yet the FA would rather we did not know this. The Referee is famously silent after a game and the report which he submits on that match is not available to the paying public.

Anthony Bates was no doubt not happy with his performance and furious with the gamesmanship which made it harder for him, but having watched the game one would not know it. I would like to read his views on the handball, on the elbow, on the pitch invasions; but in the most autocratic way the game offers I am not able to.

As a supporter I’m expected to pay my money, accept the Refereeing I get and shut up about it. And so are you.

I believe that it would advance the cause of Refereeing to allow the man in black to have his say. To humanise the guy with the whistle who might say after a game that yes, he has seen something again and thinks he got it wrong but he made his decision at the time and while people might not agree then at least they would understand.

We shall not, dear reader, at this point talk about the less then glorious history of bias in refereeing which is proven – only four years ago Juventus were relegated for fixing games using “favourable referees” – and concentrate on the officials trying to do a good job in difficult circumstances. I would love to read Bates’s views on the Accrington antics, but I’m not going to get to, so I give him the benefit of the doubt and say that his job was made harder. For all I know he might have thought that there was nothing going wrong.

The high-handedness though continues.

There was no complaint from the defence and City scored. Move on! I realise that ref baiting is a national if not world sport, but your reports are becoming unnecessarily one dimensional Michael – A Referee Speaks.

Moving aside from the fact that there was complaint from the defence – although that did not show up on the highlights – and to the idea that Referees feel that they are part of a jokey “national sport” as if the mistakes they make are only highlighted as a part of a comedic campaign and because the losing team is upset at the result. It is not the case that the only reason that Sir Bobby Robson’s England were upset about the Maradona handball is because they did not win the game.

It is judged to be a good laugh and “part of football” that the quality of refereeing is often so low that supporters are left complaining about games being ruined is not a reason to continue it.

Over the ten years of BfB the same theme has come from Referees both in my postbag and in the wider press that any complaints are the result of disgruntlement on behalf of fans and that moaning about officials is something which as part of the “fabric of football” is some how enjoyable. It is not, bad refereeing is like a poor pitch, it gets in the way of the game and should be rolled out.

So now then

It is the “Move on!” comment though which strikes me as insidious. Anthony Bates allowed a situation where gamesmanship ruined a football match and rather than recognising that we are to “move on”? Ignore the faults, protect the weak Referees and, in doing so, harm the game.

Protectionism that keeps weak referees close and protects them, stopping them from improving and inflicting them on paying football supporters later is disgraceful and people involved in carrying it on should be ashamed.

There is no good laugh about bad referees.

Bradford City and Brazil

In 107 years Bradford City have won one major trophy and have spent 16 years in the top division. For a brief period in the years leading up to the Great War City did establish themselves as one of the leading sides in the country, but following the tragedy of the war a place among the top five proved to be unsustainable. As Accrington Stanley passed the ball around neatly during Tuesday nights match I pondered what it was all about – i.e. the point of having a football club that will probably never repeat its all too brief moment in the sun.

If we take it as read that City, barring an unlikely and unforeseeable set of circumstances, are highly unlikely to win another major trophy, then what is our aim as a football club? The consensus view appears to be a place in the Championship. If, and it’s a big if given our current position, we achieved Championship status what then? Would our supporters, and chairmen, be content once the novelty wore off? Of course not, the bar would be raised, we would yearn for a season or two in the Premier League to grab the enormous cash windfall. Is that what it is all about – money?

Back to reality. As Accrington Stanley passed the ball neatly about some City supporters screamed at our players to ‘get stuck in’. When we had the ball, if more than two passes were exchanged, particularly in defence, the players were abused ‘stop fucking about’, ‘get it forward’. In an opposite, but parallel, universe, Accrington Stanley, putting aside their later time wasting antics, seem to be a club enjoying themselves. Their Ultras sing merrily away throughout games and it seems a happy ship. Perhaps they are content to be playing in the Football League and are celebrating that fact every Saturday. It’s an attitude far removed from some of our supporters to whom the word enjoyment is an alien concept.

If we accept that City are unlikely to win anything of importance in the world of football should we move our eyes to something else? Should the club reposition itself to become one committed to attractive attacking football, whatever the consequences? By that I do not mean the relentless passing style of Spain, which at times was frankly boring, as it was often passing merely to retain possession. I mean a commitment to pace and first time passing used to attack teams.

I once spoke to Julian Rhodes about such an approach and told him about the Middlesbrough supporter Simon Clifford who was achieving incredible results with his fledgling Futebol de Salão Brazilian style football coaching. Small scale training methods with heavier than usual balls was beginning to produce players with high levels of ball skills and his boys teams had beaten domestic and even one international team. Unfortunately, Julian had the very survival of Bradford City on his mind when I mentioned Futebol de Salão.

My point wasn’t, and isn’t, about which method City adopt, it is about a vibrant club that dares to be different. I wince at the mention of percentage balls and working the channels. It smacks, to me at least, of joyless professionalism. The Charles Hughes school of direct football. Is our future effectively gambling on the one in a million chance of City finding success, or do we accept that our dreams are false and follow another path?

It might not bring success any closer, but at least it could remind us that professional football is supposed to be entertainment and we are allowed to enjoy it.

That red card, this red card and the enemies of football

If one were Referee Anthony Bates one might probably like to forget this cold night in Bradford and one would do well to hope that other did so too.

Indeed in a 1-1 draw that saw little in the way of impressive football and much that stood in the way of it one might have looked at the much talked about advertisements for season tickets which were plastered around the ground and wondered if any sale of what was on show on this evening might have been a hard sell.

Accrington Stanley’s commitment to the unlaudable aim of getting a point from the game was initially laudable and in a packed midfield they did much to frustrate a City team which was hampered by a poor selection of players by Peter Taylor.

Omar Daley exited the side to allow Jason Price and James Hanson to lead the line but without Daley dropping between the lines, and with Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne too far on the flanks to provide outlets for the midfield, the Bantams were troublesomely squared off. The midfield central two survived an uneven first half by Tom Adeyemi but whenever he or Tommy Doherty looked for an outlet the attacking unit were unjoined, and thus ineffective.

Adeyemi’s unevenness, and the character he showed to recover from some poor spells, should have been truncated after 21 minutes when Accrington’s first serious (or frivolous) attack when lone striker Terry Gornell picked up a loose ball and tried to flick it around the City midfielder only to see the top of Adeyemi’s arm sweep the ball away.

It was a penalty – scored by – Phil Edwards but for Anthony Bates to award a penalty for handball he had to have decided that Adeyemi’s offence was deliberate the rules of the game making it clear that only deliberate action is to be considered handball and thus the City man had denied a goalscoring opportunity and should have been sent off.

Bates gave the penalty as a statement that the offence was deliberate, then failed to send the player off saying that the offence was not.

That Accrington Stanley enjoyed the better of the next fifteen or twenty minutes in which they mustered four shots at Lenny Pidgeley’s goal perhaps suggests that at the time they should have been attacking City’s ten men and perhaps manager John Coleman will be fuming over that decision which may very well has cost his side a win.

Peter Taylor decided that his team needed to step up to earn a win and slipped Daley on for Osborne with instant results. Daley made a nuisance of himself and Accrington struggled to cope with a now three man forward line. A well worked ball into the box saw Jason Price leap and take an elbow to the face but as the ball bounced towards one time City keeper (and narrowboat owner) Ian Dunbavin James Hanson stuck his foot in where the ball bounced and after a keeper striker smash the ball fell to Price who tidied the ball into the goal.

Penalty? Foul on the keeper? Nothing? Something? Anthony Bates might want to skip over that minute of football and just note, as we do, that Jason Price equalised for Bradford City.

The Bantams on top now and a Richard Eckersley ball over the top bounced for James Hanson who took the ball into his body and was pulled down by the last defender Kevin Long and once again Bates was left having given a decision which mandated a specific punishment – Long having committed a foul that denied a clear goalscoring opportunity – but opted to give a yellow card.

So City, on top of the game, should have been facing ten men but for the non-decisions and Law ignoring of Bates. Taylor’s switch had given City the edge and caused problems which took Accrington twenty-five minutes until they threw on Luke Joyce to plug the danger from. One might be tempted to suggest that two wrongs made a right but these wrongs were not errors of judgement or mistakes – this was not a Ref seeing one thing and it turning out later he was wrong – it was him seeing offences and then ignoring the mandated punishments.

But as the blood boiled at Bates one could not help but feel some sympathy for him at the end and trudging away from the draw into the kelt of Bradford that sympathy stretched to whomever had blighted my sight with the so horrible season ticket advertisements.

As City pushed for a winner there was – seemingly – a campaign of gamesmanship involving the Accrington Stanley players going over too easily and staying down, and involved Accrington Stanley Physio invading the field without Bates’ permission, staying on the field too long, using no urgency to leave it.

This reached a nadir when as O’Brien looked to take a free kick Anthony Bates’ attention was draw to the fact that Accrington’s Physio had been on the field – again without permission – for sometime and delayed the restart for minutes giving a defender treatment. The momentum lost and the game dragged out without much interest.

Playing for a draw might be dull, but using gamesmanship to drag it out harms football and people who do it in the way it seemed Accrington’s staff were – are the enemies of football. Supporters, and anyone who had come to watch a football match, needed referee Anthony Bates to stamp his authority on the evening. They needed him to send the Physio away from the bench (Yes, he can do that) for entering the field of play without permission but what other tools does he have in his arsenal to cope with such obvious gamesmanship?

What control does the Referee have over a team which goes from playing for a draw to simply trying to avoid playing at all? What authority would he, or could he, take?

Sadly Bates, however, seemed to be determined that he would show no authority at all.

Just what The Doc called for – Tommy returns

Tomorrow evening Bradford meet the side directly above them in the table albeit only on goal difference. The players, manager and fans alike though will still be wondering how they don’t have a 3 point advantage going into this game over their opposition following their impressive defeat to Macclesfield on Saturday. Had Bradford managed a second half turn around they would be sat 2 points behind Torquay in the last playoff spot and as Torquay face a tricky trip to Wycombe tomorrow evening you would be fairly confident that come Wednesday Bradford would find themselves at least level on points with the play off positions.

However, we can’t have another season talking about if only and the current table doesn’t read as horribly as it did earlier on in the season despite two defeats on the spin. Both defeats have seen encouraging performances from City and recent displays have certainly cheered the Bradford faithful up.

What of Accrington Stanley though? Who are they? Or has that joke become a bit old now. There are certainly a couple of faces that Bradford fans won’t need any introduction to. Jon Bateson and Rory Boulding. Just in case the latter passed anyone by he was signed as part of a deal to convince his brother Michael to join us and he spent a couple of years playing reserve team football without ever being in any danger of threatening a regular place in the first team. In fact should he play tomorrow he may complete more minutes on the Valley Parade pitch than his two years as a player here. Jon on the other hand was well thought of by the fans here and many were sad to see him leave. He was unfortunate to be back up to Mr. Consistency, Simon Ramsden and although he always proved a very capable understudy when called upon the level of performance from Simon Ramsden would always see him reinstated immediately after injury or suspension.

In fact Jon may be slightly disappointed that he isn’t still around because the long term injury to Ramsden would have seen him feature regularly in the campaign this year and I believe he would have impressed more than Lewis Hunt earlier on this season. Once again both Ramsden and Hunt are missing and following Richard Eckersley’s man of the match performance on Saturday he will maintain his place at right back. He will most likely remain in an unchanged defence with Rob Kiernan, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien alongside him. The four weren’t tested much on Saturday by Macclesfield but a lack of experience is a worry and the awkward playing style of Oliver regularly sends a shiver up my spine. Although I may be being harsh because I can’t really find fault in his performance from Saturday and in fact was impressed on a number of occasions with his passing and tackling, I still feel the sooner Williams and Duff return the better. O’Brien on the left hand side looks to have regained the form that won him player of the season two years ago and will continue to keep Threlfall out of the side despite his return from injury.

The midfield is likely to see only one change as ‘The Doc’ returns from suspension. Taylor believes if Tommy Doherty was an athlete then he would be in the Premier League. If that’s the case then we as Bradford fans should thank God that he’s not an athlete. So thanks Stuart! He will replace Lee Bullock in the middle of the park. The fact that the Taylor now picks one over the other confirms for me what I believed was the problem for much of the early part of the season. A team requires a balance and if you have one midfielder lacking in mobility then you need another to do his running for him. The only possible solution was to drop Bullock and replace him with someone younger and more able to get round the pitch, not only did Bullocks lack of athleticism inhibit the team to put more pressure on the opposition but also The Doc’s ability to dictate play from the middle of the park. Having Bullock alongside him gave him one less option to find in front of him when he looked to play the killer pass. I’m not saying that Bullock is a poor player but just that The Doc is far superior and having the likes of Dave Syers or Tom Adeyemi alongside him allows him to dictate play from a deep position and showcase his undoubted abilities such as his incredible eye for a pass. Tomorrow the role of The Doc’s assisting nurse will fall to the increasingly impressive Syers with Adeyemi once again taking position on the right and Lee Hendrie on the left in a narrow midfield. Syers has an engine the likes of which I have never seen in my time watching Bradford City, I am not fortunate enough to be old enough to have witnessed Stuart in his first spell at the club but the way I imagine him is similar to the way Dave Syers plays for us now. Perhaps after all the promising auditions of Tom Kearney, Steve Schumacher and company we have finally found someone who won’t be ‘the next Stuart’ but rather someone to be as successful and impressive as Stuart was in his time here.

A front two will consist of Omar Daley alongside one of Taylor two big men, James Hanson and Jason Price. Price is available after today extending his loan deal until January 3rd, but the decision on which of the two gets the nod will depend on whether Taylor thinks Hanson is ready for another start in a matter of days after claiming he wasn’t fit enough for 90 minutes against Macclesfield. Should Hanson be considered fit enough then it is unlikely he will be replaced but Jason Price is a more than capable replacement if needed.

This game could prove to be a huge point in Bradford’s season after they struggled for confidence in the early part of the season it will be interesting to see how they react to two undeserved losses on the trot. If a performance anywhere near the level of the second half on Saturday is reproduced then there can only be one winner and once again Bradford will find themselves within touching distance of the play offs.

No Doc in the house this Saturday

Tommy Doherty’s sending off at Wycombe will see the cultured midfielder miss the next league match. With the treatment room containing too many defenders and strikers’ James Hanson and Louis Moult sitting out Saturday’s defeat, the last thing Peter Taylor needed was problems in the middle of the park. Resources are stretched, but City can’t allow a lengthening absentee list to adversely effect results.

Exactly a year ago Stuart McCall’s Bantams side were recovering from a slow start, but still struggling to close the gap on the promotion pace-setters. Taylor’s City are now remarkably in almost exactly the same position. After 16 games, City are two points worse off than last season, but the gap to the play offs – four points – is identical. McCall was unable to reduce that disparity as autumn rolled into winter, picking up only seven points from a possible 15 in the run-up to Christmas. Over this same period, Taylor will hope to avoid a similar stuttering of form.

The upwards momentum which led to four wins from five games has been slowed somewhat by the two defeats down south, but two home games in quick succession offer a great opportunity to close in on the front-runners. With ground excellently made up over the past month, a realistic aim between now and Christmas is surely to break into the top seven positions.

With each victory to make up for the season’s poor start, the climbing of the table towards a position closer to where the club expects to be has restored degrees of optimism. But when a defeat sees City slide back down the league like on Saturday, success can again seem a dispiriting long way away. Typically when a team makes a strong start it can afford a few dodgy results and still maintain its high position; for others to catch up and overtake them, it usually takes promotion form.

The four wins from five was a good start and places City third in the form table, but realistically the Bantams need to keep going on runs of successive wins if they are to at least make the play offs come May. The Wycombe setback now put to bed, it’s crucial the winning habit is quickly rediscovered and maintained over the coming weeks.

The coming of two home games over a Saturday and Tuesday – like we now have with Macclesfield and Accrington due in town – usually prompts much anticipation and expectation towards picking up wins, but City’s record of converting such fixture sequences into maximum points is poor. The best sequence in recent times was a 1-0 victory over Morecambe and 1-1 draw with Barnet at the end of the 2007/08 campaign. Usually City endure defeats and draws, the last time a Saturday Valley Parade win was followed by a Tuesday home success was the Crewe and Crystal Palace victories in January 1999. Four months later City were promoted.

So while these two quick-fire home games look a great opportunity to grab two wins in quick succession, history suggests it will be a tough task. That said Macclesfield haven’t won away for almost two months, while Accrington sit at the bottom of the form guide having failed to win their last seven games. For any team with promotion ambitions, these two games are opportunities which cannot be passed up.

But City will have to negotiate the Macclesfield game without Doherty, and his increasing influence during recent weeks leaves a big hole for Taylor to fill. There are options on the sidelines at least, but all may involve a slight element of compromise to the team’s overall set up.

For Doherty is relied upon as the tempo-setter of the side, and City don’t have anyone with quite the same vision and passing ability to compensate – at least not with Michael Flynn still injured. Lee Hendrie could be moved to a central role as the next best thing, with Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans or even Luke O’Brien asked to play wide left.

Alternatively Osborne or Evans could play wide right so Tom Adeyemi moves to the centre with David Syers. That would leave a very inexperienced central midfield pair; so quickly building an understanding over who would take up the more offensive and defensive side of the partnership would be crucial, otherwise the opposition might overrun them. The duo performed well together when City were reduced to ten men on Saturday.

Finally there is the forgotten Lee Bullock, who has not started a game since the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy loss to his former club Hartlepool. Last season Bullock was converted to defensive midfielder and showed his best form since joining in January 2008; but he has struggled to hit such heights this season. A recall could free up Syers to play a more forward role and to be asked to dictate the tempo rather like Doherty, though this could be a big ask of a player who has still only made nine starts in professional football.

Such considerations will occupy Taylor’s mind for much of this week, but he at least will be thankful to have a range of options to cover for the loss of Doherty. As Doherty benefits from an unscheduled break, the challenge to the players is to ensure he isn’t badly missed.

The clip show

Don’t you just hate it when a sitcom resorts to doing a clips episode? A tedious plot which somehow requires the main characters to spend half an hour looking back on the funniest moments of the past, so the majority of the episode is just about re-living past highlights. It suggests laziness – or a lack of ideas – on the writers’ part. And it should be redundant in these days of DVD boxsets.

Well we at BfB are not lazy – or at least not being any more lazy than we usually are – and we’d like to think we’ve still got plenty of ideas; but with recent events feeling something like Groundhog Day, a step into the archives is an interesting way of placing some perspective on our current woes.

So here goes

Let’s begin in April 2009 and an article written by former BCST man and much-valued BfB contributor Richard Wardell. With Stuart McCall on the brink of leaving as a promotion bid collapsed, Richard argued against those calling for Dave Penny to be installed as manager by offering a vision of the future.

It was a warm Tuesday evening in late September 2009 and as the City supporters trudged away from Valley Parade, there was much talk about whether the appointment of Dave Penney in the summer had been the right move by Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn following Stuart McCall’s exitNow that Penney and City had suffered their third consecutive home defeat, this time to league newcomers Burton Albion which left them in the bottom half of Division 4, many City supporters were questioning Penney’s appointment.

What’s so astonishing about these words is how close to the truth they are now, in September 2010. Replace Burton with Port Vale and Penny with Taylor, and the words pretty much describe the current reality. So far the decision to replace McCall has not worked out in the way some fans argued it would, and that has to register with people who are already beginning to tell the rest of us that Taylor’s removal is now the answer.

Taylor arrived last February to widespread acclaim. Everyone was pleased he was to become our manager this season, including a minority who are now slating Lawn and Rhodes for appointing him.

Let’s go to the Official Message Board – so often the platform for supporters’ views the club pays a lot of attention – to remind ourselves. A poll of who should be next manager saw Taylor come out on top with 53% of the votes, with the second highest votes coming for Martin Allen with 22%. 116  supporters voted, a decent representative of City fans. The day Taylor was confirmed to widespread joy, one fan commented, “I would love Taylor to bring [Tommy Doherty] into strengthen the midfield!”

The point of digging up such old comments and poll results is to highlight how everyone has a responsibility in the views they air. The changing of managers allows every one of us the chance to put ourselves in the position of the owners and decide who we’d like to see installed in the dugout. The fact the majority of fans clearly voted for Taylor in February – and voted he remained when a new contract was discussed last April – means we must take some responsibility for his appointment.

It’s therefore deeply wrong to so readily drop that support and pretend you never wanted him – and to blame Lawn and Rhodes for making a decision you had called for. And if supporters are going to ignore their old views or pretend they never aired them, how are there opinions now in anyway credible? Like Lawn and Rhodes, we need to be giving the manager support during this difficult time, because the majority of us appointed him believing he was the man for the job.

There’s also a big question mark about where calls for Taylor lead us. The club have only been prepared to back him for a short time, how long will the next guy get? Suddenly the club is not been run on the basis of a long-term plan, but on the form guide. It’s a highly unlikely-route to success that will only succeed in ensuring an increasingly regular vacancy is unattractive to sane managers.

Or as Michael excellently put last February:

For as long as BfB has been going I’ve been hoping that the correlation between often changing managers and a lack of success might be grasped by all at, and who watch from the stands at, Valley Parade. Alas it seems not to have been and the virtues of sticking with a manager – any manager – and allowing them to build a club and a dynasty rather than a single team are lost.

Taylor, with his training ground demands, perhaps represented one last chance to allow long-term thinking to work. An alternative strategy has yet to be aired – or perhaps even considered – by anyone.

An increasing criticism of Taylor in recent days has been his TV commitments. Over the last fortnight Taylor has appeared on the BBC, Sky and ESPN – usually offering punditry on the England national team. The complainers argue he does not have his mind on the City job and is failing to manage the players – he should after all have them in for 25 hours a day training. But if City were winning no one would bat an eyelid over his TV work.

So the question is does it make a difference? Let’s go back to Taylor’s track record for our next clip. To May 2005, when Hull were celebrating a second successive promotion. Or to May 2006, when Hull were celebrating staying up in the Championship. Taylor was the manager who oversaw this memorable chapter in the club’s history – but that wasn’t all he did. He was also England U21 manager.

That’s right, Taylor managed two football teams at the same time, and was hugely successful in the club one. Suddenly spending an evening in a Sky TV studio doesn’t quite seem so disgraceful, does it?

Let’s fast forward a little bit, back to McCall as manager. We all dreamed his appointment would lead to instant glory, but only three months into the job there was a crisis as City suffered eight winless matches and fell to fourth bottom of the Football League. Eventually results improved, and although the damage to City’s promotion bid was already done for that season at least, the turnaround in form was impressive. City finished 9th, thinking “if only” about that poor autumn run of form.

There are obvious similarities to the current poor run of form Taylor is trying to turn around. Let’s recall how bad it was in the autumn of 2007:

Ultimately, too many had an off night. What we were left was a displayed blighted by defensive howlers, woeful passing and players with heads down. Free kicks, corners and crosses were truly appalling. On a night full of frustration, the…final 20 minutes were perhaps the most telling. During these periods, the players had clearly given up, were shying away from touching the ball and were just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle. As supporters we can forgive players having an off night, they’re only human. But when we see players clearly not trying and giving up so feebly, it really hurts.

That was describing the infamous 3-0 defeat to Accrington, but it could equally have been an account of the recent 2-0 defeat to Southend. The point of looking back on this miserable time is that we know City were able to turn it around, just like they can this time. And unlike in 2007, if the turnaround can occur soon there will be much more of the season left to climb up the league. Back in 2007 the players looked hopeless and you couldn’t see us scoring a goal, but hard work and determination saw them eventually turn it around and show how good they were.

The current crop of players are capable of doing the same.

Finally let’s look back to the even more recent past – Taylor’s arrival. That too coincided with a shocking performance against Accrington, and as the club’s poor form under McCall continued it was difficult to see where the next win would come from. The fact City’s next match was away at leaders Rochdale meant we all certainly knew it wouldn’t be anytime soon. How wrong we were.

The players were brilliant that night – so too were the fans. Non-stop chanting that began well before kick off and only ended when we’d finished applauding Taylor and his players off the pitch. It was a reaction to the dismal form and the woeful atmosphere, which had been especially dreadful at Accrington. And it clearly made a difference to the players.

So I’d like to end by looking back on my own words ahead of traveling to that ‘inevitable’ defeat because I think they are as prevalent now as they were then.

Yet again City are drifting and, as familiarly depressing as this is, now should be the time to do something about it. Those of us going tonight should loudly back the team like we haven’t done all season. We should be chanting at 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, whatever. We should be leading the fight for our cause – even if we’re not sure what the cause is.

This is our football club, and we’re allowing it to fall into further decline by standing their muted at Accrington and booing the players. They didn’t deserve their bus ride home on Saturday, but if someone’s going to inject some passion into their boots and make them remember what an important cause playing for Bradford City is, well it’s got to be us.

So tonight we sing, tonight we support our team in defiance…Tonight we sing about how we’re City till we die, before the club itself really does.

See you at Stockport.

League Two 2009/10 review – Rochdale, Notts County and Bournemouth’s scrap for promotion and the moral high ground

Even during Keith Hill’s finest hour, the Rochdale manager couldn’t resist taking a swipe.

As Dale celebrated sealing their first promotion since 1969 by defeating Northampton in mid-April, Hill looked ahead to his side’s up-coming Tuesday night visit to title rivals Notts County – which represented their last realistic chance to overturn the Magpies leadership – and declared, “If we can’t catch them, I’m sure the tax man will.”

The Meadow Lane club’s own promotion celebrations had been somewhat tempered by their Board having to fight back against critics’ claiming County had cheated their way to promotion, and Hill received an angry reception from Magpies fans during his team’s subsequent 1-0 loss. But as County attempted to defer the blame for signing players on wages they couldn’t afford onto the previous Munto Finance regime, Hill had a point.

Rochdale’s promotion was more than just the triumph of a small club finally experiencing their day in the sun; Chairman Chris Dunphy and Hill believe it was an achievement for doing things properly. League Two has long being a home to basket case clubs on the brink of financial ruin, often playing up to the nation’s media to attract sympathy about the unbalanced nature of English football. But for clubs who are more prudent in managing budgets and paying the bills, such tales of woe are becoming increasingly wearisome.

For Rochdale there is some gleeful irony in swapping divisions with neighbours Stockport this summer. In Hill’s first full season in charge at Spotland the two clubs reached the League Two play off final, with Stockport triumphing at Wembley. Less than 12 months later, Stockport entered administration after over-stretching themselves financially in recent years. Given that over-stretching had led to promotion at Dale’s expense, the perceived injustice was easy to understand.

Not that Dunphy and Hill are alone in feeling angry. Earlier in the season Macclesfield chairman Mike Rance, who’s club get by on the smallest gates in the division, talked about the unlevel playing field which sees others overspend to the detriment of the Cheshire club’s chances. “Last year, in August, Darlington came here and beat us heavily with a team we couldn’t afford, turns out they couldn’t either.” he told the BBC’s Football League Show. “And this year Notts County came here first game of the season with Sven and beat us heavily with a team we couldn’t afford, clearly they couldn’t either.

“Until the game sorts that out then it’s not going to have any integrity. I think it’s very important we play on a level playing field and some sides just don’t, and we find that disappointing.”

Though no League Two club has gone into administration this season, the emergence of other clubs from difficult times to enjoy some success has left others feeling bitter. While the media has heaped praise on the rebirth of Bournemouth, Rotherham and Accrington, Dunphy and Hill kept up their indignation which had previously led to them calling for clubs who go into administration to booted out the Football League.

Rotherham may have lost their stadium and failed to pay all their creditors during three consecutive seasons of points deductions, but this campaign put financial problems behind them and spent relatively big. This included signing Dale’s star striker Adam le Fondre for an undisclosed fee. Hill’s thoughts on this matter were kept private, but ahead of a trip to Bournemouth last October he hit out at the South-coast club over how unfair he felt it would be if they were promoted. The attack failed to spur on Bournemouth, who lost the game 4-0, though ultimately they did finish above Rochdale.

Meanwhile Accrington faced a winding up order last autumn and had to rely on their local community to donate money into collection buckets. Two months after that crisis was averted, relegation-bound Grimsby reportedly had a six-figure transfer bid for Stanley’s top scorer Michael Symes turned down. It’s hoped the nine-year-old girl who emptied her savings into a bucket to help Accrington last autumn understands the reasoning of “faint play off hopes”.

But while Notts County have pulled back from the brink of administration earlier this year, the wolves may still be at the door. Rumours of having to soon go into administration keep cropping up, and at best County will surely need to ship out their high earners who will still command a wage bill too large for League One. Tough times may lie ahead; Sven’s ‘project’ was yesterday’s dream.

And though Rochdale – who themselves may not be whiter than white – ultimately triumphed alongside in-debt County and Bournemouth, in time others who did not gain promotion this season may eventually look back on Nott’s triumph and begin to feel aggrieved, should the Magpies go on to enter administration.

Dale have shown that more conservative principles of balancing the books and slowly building can eventually succeed; but for more to be encouraged to follow their lead, there must be greater deterrents from taking shortcuts and gambling on success.

Before Darlington City consider what is a good footballer?

After last Saturday’s game at Accrington Stanley Bradford City’s players were “simply not good enough” and Peter Taylor had to get rid of them. After the win at Rochdale on Tuesday night they were “brilliant and capable” and had beaten a team five points top of the league.

This weekend the same players face moribund Darlington. So which is the real reflection of the current set of Bradford City players?

The season has seen them wend a way to the lower mid-table for sure but also create a club record of games unbeaten. Rochdale made them looked hapless, they returned the favour and beat them when Dale’s lads were brimming with confidence. How good, or how bad, are the City players?

Certainly following the game Peter Taylor was clear about what he thought had transformed the team saying that the return to a 442 on Tuesday night with Michael Flynn up front alongside James Hanson – a function Taylor credits Wayne Jacobs for passing on to him – and an evening of hard work.

Said Taylor

There were so many good things but most importantly they realised that they got the result through hard work and togetherness.

So if the players are together and work hard then they are “good” divided – as they were following the departure of Stuart McCall and the communal lip out sulk – they are “bad”. So are they good or bad?

Perhaps the question is framed wrong.

The terms of good and bad in football have always been around but have come into a sharper focus in the digital era where games like Championship Manager and FIFA demand that players be rated and assessed. If you, dear reader, ever played one of the LMA series of management games you did so (in some years) with a Bradford City team assessed and rated by yours truly.

I recall opening the spreadsheet and being given a range – Bradford City players could not be rated over 59% or under 44% – and were scored in categories like shooting and passing. I wondered how one rated players like Bobby Petta in those stats. For sure the man could hit a ball, but only when he could be bothered and why award him the higher fifties because he once leathered a ball in against Huddersfield when Steven Schumacher scored more – albeit less impressive – goals?

The question asked in that instance really was one of “good” and “bad” but that is the world of clicks and buttons and the reality of football offers more depth. Robbie Blake – for example – was considered for long periods of his career a player who would be good enough for the Premiership if only he had the pace suggesting that his abilities would be spread between percentages, if they could be encoded at all.

The way that the good people at Codemasters created their game allowed an even spread of abilities up and down the game. There were as many players with the ability levels suited for the Premiership as for the League Two – linear distribution – and as City slipped down the leagues having risen up in double quick time the previous decade it struck me that that notion was wrong.

As the skill level of players at, and visiting, Valley Parade decreased from the days of Paul Scholes volleying in a David Beckham corner it became clear that there was a level of ability which rose and fell up and down the leagues but that as we fell down the leagues this quality did not drop off to the same extent. The difference between the second and third tiers of football were not as great as the drop between the top of the top flight and the clubs at the bottom.

The exponential growth of players able to play at a level as one descends the league means that while only one English footballer might have the abilities of David Beckham and ten are good enough for the Champions but a hundred Englishmen are good enough for the Premiership on the whole and thousand able to play at the next level down which encompasses an area I’d say is roughly the half way down the top of the Championship to the middle of League Two.

It is crude analysis for sure but it explains how a Paul Jewell or a Peter Taylor can take clubs like Wigan and Hull and take them through the leagues to the edge of the Premiership play-offs. The players who were idling either at those clubs or to be bought up from rivals of a similar standing did not improve in natural ability – the did not become “good” having been “bad” but they certainly improved.

Improvement that is put down to coaching and to motivation. The latter being shown in Paul Jewell’s ability to build a mental toughness in his players in which they believed they were capable of beating any team at any level and the former being in team drilling and understanding of the roles and responsibilities on the field and the pattens built up.

The average player in League One when promoted would be expected to get on in the division above, when relegated to be able to play in the one below. The same group of players who seem hopeless at one point can seem brilliant at others when they have the right approach to the game and to each other.

Which brings us back to Bradford City and the difference of three days between Accrington and Rochdale. Assuming the players have not simply “become good” over the space of three days and that Taylor requires more than a couple of sleeps to have the players won over to his tactical approach or his mental position how have the Bantams improved?

Probably the change has much to do with the depressed mood at the club that came as a result of sacking Stuart McCall being superseded as a worry by the idea that if a team cannot complete with Accrington then it is likely that that club would be relegated. The players had a sulk, they were upset, but professional pride – or perhaps the mental toughness they have – kicked in and they raised the game in keeping with the raised noise from the away end.

Add to that Taylor looked at simple basics of the team and noted that – since Paul McLaren left – we have had no quality delivery. That problem has been fixed by loanee Robbie Threlfall. Threlfall’s delivery played a part in all three goals against Rochdale. A small practical fix which allowed Luke O’Brien to move forward to balance the left flank and set City for victory.

Threlfall makes his Valley Parade début against a Darlingtonnnn side managed by Steve Staunton who was himself a Liverpool left back loaned to City and is set to be joined as a temporary transfer at the club by Gillingham’s Mark McCammon,physicalcal striker.

McCammon seems likely to partner James Hanson up front as the club praised The City Gent for raising £5,000 to pay two thirds of the transfer fee for the player. The last two weeks has seen much debate over the club and the owners of that club and acknowledgement is given to the joint chairmen for the investment they have made but The City Gent’s – in effect – buying a player is another of many examples of the supporters of Bradford City funding the business of Bradford City and when calls are made to the joint chairmen for clarity it is done in the knowledge that frankly amazing actions such as Jeremy White’s fund raising is done by people who should be considered more than consumers of the Bradford City product.

The McCammon/Hanson combination sees Peter Taylor go about the business of making the no nonsense attack that his Wycombe side had and will allow Michael Flynn to slot back alongside Lee Bullock in the midfield alongside O’Brien on the left and Gareth Evans on the right although a return for Omar Daley or the inclusion of Scott Neilson is possible, but would be harsh on Evans who is returning to form.

The back four of Simon Ramsden, Matthew Clarke, Steve Williams and Threlfall will continue in front of Matt Glennon.

Good players, to a man.

Taylor hopes to start as low as City go

The game with Accrington Stanley is under threat as the pitch at The Crown Ground cuts up under wintery conditions leaving Bradford City fans with wondering if they shall see the debut of new manager Peter Taylor.

Taylor’s arrival sees City on the road at Accrington and Rochdale on Tuesday night before his home bow at Valley Parade when Darlington arrive on Saturday leaving the City interim manager a couple of matches to see his new charges in action before unveiling his albeit short term revolution.

In the week when Notts County started to make players available for loan having once again proved the idea that budget does not make a successful team Taylor gets to grips with a Bantams squad the quality of which seems to have become oft debated in the two weeks since Stuart McCall left the club.

Some say the squad is good enough for the play-offs and that McCall held it back, others that the squad is all but useless. If County’s season proves anything it is that having the “best” players does not make the “best” team. We face them on Tuesday night.

I would suggest that the most useful piece of experience the new City manager has when it comes to dealing with the Bantams squad came not when taking clubs to promotion but when he was in charge of England’s under 21 side.

Taylor gets the players he is given and save the odd obvious talent most of them are no better or no worse than the players they come up against on a weekly basis. The England u21s of Taylor and the likes of Keiron Dyer were no better, no worse than those of France or Italy or Spain and the majority of the players in all those squads could have been interchanged with no real benefit.

The same is true of the City squad. The majority of the players are typical “Lower League players” who when trained, motivated and given the correct environment could be good enough for any team up to the bottom half of the Championship if not higher. It is getting improved performances from those players – rather than bringing in obvious talent – which defines how well the Bradford City manager does.

Taylor starts with a blank slate although one would no doubt note that many of the names line up in the same places they had previously.

Matt Glennon will play in goal and with the new manager well versed in League Two football one can expect him to have either Zesh Rehman or Matt Clarke at the back to provide physical power alongside a player who can clean up behind like Simon Ramsden or Steve Williams. Ramsden, if not in the middle, will be right back which otherwise would go to Jonathan Bateson. Luke O’Brien at left back. So far, so familiar.

Taylor is known as a tactical pragmatist and one could only guess if he will field the 442 he used at many clubs or the 433 that Mark Lawn is suggesting he should – one hopes that Taylor can have a word in the chairman’s ear that it is inappropriate for chairman to pre-empt tactics.

Taylor likes a target man and so James Hanson will probably feature while a fit again Peter Thorne would make a good partner. Michael Boulding, Gareth Evans or Omar Daley could be added if Taylor wants a three up front.

The new City manager is known to favour a firm midfield but will almost certainly use Stuart McCall’s pairing of Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn. In a three the likes of Chris Brandon, Omar Daley and Scott Neilson have proved themselves to be too weak for a dogged midfield although all three could be used in a four. James O’Brien (longer term) and Stephen O’Leary might hope to add the steel to Taylor’s middle three but expect the Bantams boss to look at that position for strengthening first.

Accrington Stanley’s John Coleman was quick to distance himself from the then vacant (and soon to be vacant again) Bradford City job. Coleman has taken Stanley up to the middle of League Two which is a huge achievement but having taken eleven years to do it one could not imagine a less apt choice for City manager in these times of seeming short-term thinking.

Coleman’s side took a 1-1 draw from Valley Parade earlier in the season and pushed for the play-offs but such a challenge has since fallen off and one might consider that Coleman truly has taken The Reds as far as it is possible.

Peter Taylor, starting life as Bradford City manager, hopes that he has picked up City as low as we can go. One hopes that he is correct in this and many things.

Xanadu (after Coleridge)

As the colourful barge made its stately progress along the dappled waters of the azure canal, sunlight glinted on the gilded decorations that adorned it and the scent of the exotic drifted up from the fertile greenery of the spice trail below. Entering the Citadel through the West gate, I marvelled at the myriad sights and sounds of the great marketplace. Intricately woven fabrics in vibrant colours formed a dazzling backdrop to the stalls offering wares from the four corners of the known world.

Purchases made, I proceeded across the Citadel to the gently eddying shores of the central lake, settled on a sumptuous divan and sipped on a sherbet as the sun played though the fountains forming jewelled rainbows on the sand. Music from a damsel with a dulcimer drifted on the warm breeze that soothed my brow as I waited with others to join the caravan heading for the pleasure dome in the snowy hills…….of Odsal!

A knocking at the door woke me from my reverie and my visitor (not from Porlock) reminded me it was match day. The dream was broken and by the time I could regain my thoughts I feared the vision would be lost.

I needn’t have worried. It seems that the image of the future of the city of Bradford, those computer-generated drawings that promise so much, are safely stored and awaiting the magic moment that will bring them to life. But to some, the future of Bradford City this season also lies in drawing.

Comments overheard on the way out after last Saturday’s game included “That was a must-win game”, “Our season’s over” and “We’re drawing games we should be winning.” Whilst I agree with the final remark, the first two are as way off the mark as some of the plans for the city that remain on the drawing board.

Some games are “must-win”- the Wembley play-off final and David Weatherall’s winner in the end of season game against Liverpool both fall into that category. But to say that our season is over by mid November is pessimism beyond belief..

At this stage we have drawn eight league games but we have only lost * and we remain in contact with the play off spots at least. It’s true that turning our home draws into wins would put right where we want to be, but waht’s done is done and we remain I mid-table. This said, not once in any of the games I have seen – and some that I have heard on the radio – have I felt that City were prepared to settle for drawing. The team is set up to win, creates enough chances to win (and win well in most games) but just haven’t quite made it in the games we have drawn.

The reasons for this include amazingly poor refereeing, an unfortunately long injury list and extremely difficult playing conditions. Some would also say that the manager’s tactics and formations have contributed but, more than ever, this season I feel that Stuart is seeing and making the changes needed as well as coping remarkably well with the changes that a depleted squad has forced upon him.

A point against Bournemouth seemed to satisfy most of the crowd, given the circumstances and the opposition, but could have been all three. A point against Accrington Stanley seemed to satisfy very few, given the circumstances and the opposition, but again could and should have been all three again. But a “must-win game” in mid-November? I don’t think so.

City have “got into the habit” of drawing games. Drawing in Johnstone’s Paint could still bring very interesting outcomes. (Why do I think of Rolf Harris when I write that?) But football matches don’t always have winners. Drawing is an inevitable part of the process. Drawing at home is just as likely as drawing away and in both cases the outcome is just one point.

Now this might seem like stating the blindingly obvious but it’s the reaction to the drawing that puzzles me. Winning, even winning badly if there is such a thing, tends to send people home happy – just ask the French! Losing can still give you a feel good factor as we have seen this season. But drawing seems to bring out the negatives in far too many. Whether it’s a dramatic fight-back to rescue a point or the inability to finish off a team that is hanging on, the eventual reaction is one of two points lost or even thrown away.

Saturday’s inability to accept the gift horse offered should not dampen spirits as much as the weather. Bad days happen. But to say the season is over at this stage is just plain crazy as history has shown us only too well. Drawing may be disappointing but – pardon the pun – it is important to see the bigger picture. The current Bradford City is a work in progress and I firmly believe it will produce a result we will be happy with.

Rolf Harris (that man again) delighted in asking his audiences, “Can you tell what it is yet?” long before the picture became clear. City’s drawing is worthy if the same question. And whilst the outcome may not be as assured as Rolf’s, it is still more enjoyable to watch it develop than to dismiss it before it is finished.

So, as we crawl along Canal Road in the rain, past the Polluted Water signs and the galvanising works, buy sweets from a car boot and take in the scent of burgers and coffee that drift down Midland Road, I accept the reality of the city rather than the computer – drawn dream and I know I will be back at the real pleasure dome… just as long as they don’t move it to Odsal!

As for Coleridge, the images he captured from his interrupted dream became a classic poem – only to be revised almost two hundred years later by that well-known team of architects, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch.

As for me, if the opening references seem somewhat obscure, contrived and more suited to a B.A. than a BfB. I apologise. But for those interested, join me next time when my subject will be “Man of the Match: L.S.Lowry and the early work of Status Quo.”

Enjoy the games – that’s what they’re for.

Too many bad days

The rain tipped down at Valley Parade, it never stopped. It was always going to be a hard game, not a pretty game and a series of bad days saw to it that it was not a good game.

Stuart McCall’s selection of a 442 pulling Scott Neilson into a right wing role opposite Chris Brandon on the left was the City manager’s bad day. All formations have a tendency to veer back to a 442 given time and it seemed that the City boss thought that he could plug the odd hole at the back with two lines of two rather than the 433 he moved back to after Accrington Stanley equalised in this game.

Accrington’s equaliser came from Michael Symes, a former City player who had more than his share of bad days while a Bantams and his goal aside looked not at all impressive. Symes will have empathy with Gareth Evans who missed a penalty in the dying minutes smacking a child behind the goal with the ball rather than ending the game in glory. Symes had done the same thing at the opening of his City career.

Not that that should have been an end to the glory for Evans who lashed a ball chested – or one assumes the officials must have judged handled – down by Michael Boulding. Evans and is strike partner James Hanson struggled on a blustery day but both kept going giving the Bantams a plethora of late chances to win the game. The last half hour should convince McCall to stick with his 433 formation if only because the game was far more entertaining after that point.

The Bantams had taken the lead when Michael Flynn – who had what was for him a poor game – had centred the ball and Phil Edwards put in his own net. Nothing else Flynn did seemed to come off but the mark of the man – and the City team – was that even when playing poorly the players kept playing.

Flynn, Luke O’Brien, Neilson, Evans, Brandon and James Hanson. None of them enjoyed great games but all of them played hard and ensured that personal negatives would not be carried over and contributed to a positive team performance. There are dozens of City players in the ten years since the slide from the Premiership who could not say the same and when they put in poor performances they let the team suffer.

The subject of the fall from the Premiership was recalled by the visiting Accrington fans in a song “Premier League, you fucked it up” or at least I assume that was what it was because it might have been the sound of the Stanley fans with buckets trying to raise money to keep their club going. I would rather than the sang the word “thank you” over and over as credit to people who came to their aid when they needed it so recently rather than behaved so gracelessly. Accrington Stanley had bad days, everyone rallied round, but those supporters made you wonder why?

Hanson toiled unsuccessfully although he would point to a head at goal which was pushed away by Andrew Proctor – a player who had already been booked – to give a penalty. Proctor seemed to hide in the box but he seemed to be no danger of a red card. Indeed he had got into a pushing match with Chris Brandon that could have resulted in a second yellow card but probably the fact that Referee had booked before probably saved him a card.

It did not – however – do his team any harm. Brandon had held onto the ball to complain about an obvious yet not given penalty when Steve Williams’s shirt was pulled a yard or so away from him in the box. Within seconds of Proctor not being booked Lee Bullock was, for something he said to the referee, following Symes’s goal.

It seemed to be a common tactic for a Referee to struggled all game. He dodged decisions – the penalty was given by his linesman – and ducked his responsibilities fudging calls so he was not required to use his red card but of the seven bookings that he issued five of them were to players for “dissent” – for which read “questioning the Referee’s decisions.”

No one has an idea as to why the goal Evans struck which was ruled out was ruled out but some mentioned handball by Boulding. A question of handball by a player who set up a goal? Really? This week in which a Referee was “100% certain” that Thierry Henry did not do the same.

I am tired of high handed Referees who cannot control a football match dealing with any questions with yellow cards. Stuart McCall, Michael Flynn, Gareth Evans and others had bad days but they did not have cards to silence critics. They applied themselves and deal with the results.

As Referee Steve Cook pointed to his watch a minute into injury time to tell new signing Simon Whaley that the three minutes to be added were under a stopped watch and then blew the whistle some fifteen seconds after the restart one could not say the same about the official. No control over the game save the threat of sending off, more bothered about telling off the players for talking out of turn like naughty school boys that trying to be a part of the game.

It was a poor game in poor conditions in a poor league with some players putting in poor performances but it deserved a better referee than that and it is hard to imagine it having a worse one.

Accrington nearly don’t come to Valley Parade but the happy ending becomes more predictable

The heavy rain of the past few days must place Bradford City’s home fixture with Accrington Stanley in a modicum of doubt, but then the prospect of Saturday 21 November being a blank Saturday for the Bantams seemed very real a few weeks back.

Accrington, the club that wouldn’t die, almost died. Given six weeks to pay a six-figure tax bill, the collection buckets were rattling around the Crown Ground earlier this season as part of rescue efforts which brought out the best in its North West neighbours. Yet not enough money was raised and its claimed officials arrived at the club’s High Court hearing with no plan B and left with the gratitude of a local businessman stepping in to make up the shortfall. Accrington live on, and the prospect of early season results been invalidated – to the joy of those Stanley beat and the despair of those they lost to – and of a 23-team division with only one relegation spot was ended.

As Southend prepare to take on the national media’s attention as club basket case, that Accrington survived may have caused some to indifferently shrug their shoulders and consider how, for every League club that it’s reported is on the brink of financial oblivion, something always turns up and their survival is assured. And while everyone enjoys a happy ending, the reputed predictability is breeding subsequent hostility from some, just ask Darlington. Poor old Accrington, struggling to get by. Hang on, didn’t they spend £85,000 on one player (admittedly later sold for a profit) 18 months ago?

Last Saturday Bournemouth were in town with the strong criticisms of Rochdale Manager Keith Hill still echoing. Ahead of Dale’s 4-0 success at Dean Court, Hill had stated, “They overspend and it is to the detriment to clubs like ours and it is happening too often now…i’m sick of it continually happening.” Having been stuck in the basement league since 1974 and with a largely untroubled recent financial history, Hill and Chairman Chris Dunphy are clearly aggrieved at how their efforts to live within means see them lose out to others who gamble more recklessly with their future. One wonders if Hill’s pre-Bournemouth mood was influenced by his team’s home defeat to Accrington the week before.

For as Accrington seek to climb back onto a more stable financial future after the local community helped to prop it up, what’s the most morally appropriate way to progress? There were stories of a nine-year-old Accrington girl emptying the contents of her piggy bank into a collection bucket last September, would it be right for the club to spend money during the January transfer window? And if not then, when? Hill’s views on Rotherham United, with two recent spells in administration, purchasing his star striker Adam Le Fondre earlier this season probably aren’t printable.

Rochdale and their supporters don’t seem to care much for Bradford City, but the Spotland club may have a small degree of respect for the way joint Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn cut the cloth accordingly over the summer after pushing the boat out a year earlier in the quest for promotion. City were the first club to fall into administration following the ITV Digital collapse, but while many others who followed were quickly able to brush off mistakes and get busy in the transfer market again, the self-inflicted scars continue to cause pain for the Bantams. Plenty of people lost out due to the infamous six weeks of madness, but Bradford City and its supporters remain high on that list too. Those financial woes may largely be a thing of the past, but the lesson has not been forgotten.

The conservative but sensible actions of the City Board has seen Manager Stuart McCall’s playing budget reduce by a third  but, though its widely agreed he’s used it admirably, regrettably it appears a small minority of supporters don’t appreciate the ramifications. City’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth, joint leaders no less, should have generated a greater mood of approval if not satisfaction, but the injury list which hindered efforts was brushed off by some to make way for criticism.

Theres nothing like managers playing people out of position to trigger red rage from a certain breed of football fan, and the circumstances which saw Zesh Rehman in midfield and Michael Flynn up front were slammed in a manner which deliberately ignored the bigger picture. A reduced budget means Stuart simply can’t retain the strength in depth and the same level of quality, so the length of the injury list is likely to prove a more telling factor this season. And when it does, players will be asked to take on unfamiliar roles and performances are going to suffer to a degree. A negative perhaps, but one which has to be tackled positively.

The injury situation clears up slightly this week with James Hanson returning to partner Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson up front, which will allow Flynn to return to the attacking midfield position he is performing so effectively alongside Lee Bullock and either Chris Brandon or James O’Brien. Just one player’s return it able to make that much of a difference, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that competition for places continues to be undermined by the unavailability of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding, Steve O’Leary, Omar Daley and Leon Osborne. No longer down to the bare bones, but Stuart is hardly flush with options. A loan signing has been suggested, at the time of writing there are no few faces.

At the back the big question concerns whether skipper Zesh Rehman will reclaim his place in the back four or whether Matt Clarke – impressive in the last two games – will retain the role. Rehman has struggled for form of late and Clarke’s general solidness alongside Steve Williams may give him the nod in the way he took Mark Bower’s place in the team two seasons ago after the former defender also vacated the back four to help another area of the team.

At right back Simon Ramsden should also be fit enough for a return, ahead of Jonathan Bateson. The former Blackburn youth player has struggled with his distribution of late, though continues to display a great attitude and a confidence to get forward.  Luke O’Brien is left back – and there are a couple of interesting talking points concerning last season’s player of the year. The first is that O’Brien has been asked to take on more responsibility, as part of the new-look 4-3-3 formation, with strong encouragement to bring the ball forward more.

The other talking point is how, in recent games, the lack of cover afforded to the 21-year-old from midfielders in front  has been targeted by opposition managers. At Macclesfield, for example, Emile Sinclair was instructed to use the space in front of O’Brien to cause problems. It’s for this reason the selection of James O’Brien to play in front of him, rather than Brandon who likes to drift around the pitch, is widely preferred by fans.

Simon Eastwood keeps goal and has shown improvement of late. He will need to be wary of a reasonably strong Accrington line up that will include former City striker Michael Symes. An away win would see Stanley climb above City and give rise to promotion hopes, but such success may not be considered the fairy tale stuff it would have before the tax bill reminder came through the door.

As City try to achieve more from less this season, it could be argued a Bantams’ promotion would be more romantic than a club who’s name is often-proclaimed the most romantic in football.

One Michael Symes

It was in an 8-1 win where I became unimpressed with Michael Symes.

The forward – who returns to Valley Parade on Saturday and has talked about the frustrations he felt at City under Colin Todd who “messed with his head” – was paired in the forward line with Dean Windass in the opening match of pre-season at Farsley Celtic.

Symes scored one, Liam Flynn scored one, Windass got six.

That was impressive about Windass’s doubt hat-trick was the simplicity of the goals he scored. Each one he controlled the ball taking a touch to give him time, aimed for an area of the goal where the keeper was not and placed the ball. He did the same in the Premiership against David Seaman once. Dean was impressive like that.

Symes – on the other hand – fumbled and flustered during the game scrambling home his goal not never showing the composure that hinted he would be the partner for Windass we sought so badly. It is interesting to note that any number of players claim that Colin Todd should have partnered them with Windass during their times at City – Steve Claridge was very vocal on the subject – but for all the talk of Symes, Claridge, Joe Brown who was preferred to Symes at times it was Andy Cooke who did the most to earn the chance.

One wonders what Cooke – who retired in 2008 – thinks of the players so ready to suggest that they deserved his place in the side. Cooke work rate was there for all to see at Valley Parade and his rare goals were celebrated with an added gusto. Symes, on the other hand, was taken off in a game on New Years Day after 38 minutes once cause – well – he just did not look sufficiently interested.

Symes wanted to start games – who wouldn’t? – but as with the talk of Rory Boulding this week did he do enough to merit the chance over Brown or Cooke?

None of which is to suggest that the Stanley man – who the fans rate so high as to suggest he will be sold in the transfer window to balance the books – has not learnt from his experiences at Valley Parade or that his insights are not relevant and interesting just that as City slid down the leagues we left behind us a trail of players who are all too ready to suggest that if things had been done differently – normally including them – that slide could have been halted. This attitude reached its apotheosis at the end of last season when quality players spend three months looking at year other with blame rather than take on responsibility.

Responsibility for performance being one of the key parts of the current City team which while it idles in mid-table is considerably more enjoyable to watch than the teams that Symes featured in.

It is a difference worth appreciating.

Watch the videos to see where Bradford City went right

I missed the Christmas games through illness and I was never likely to be able to make the Brentford trip. So at kick-off against Accrington I hadn’t seen City score a goal since Dagenham. I thought that was one of the best footballing goals we’d scored all season. And the Accrington goal was of similar quality.

I said after the Dagenham game that, despite all the possession and chances our opponents had, they could never have scored the goal that Michael Boulding finished off.

They were just not a good enough footballing side. Accrington were not as good as Dagenham, by a distance. I don’t think they would claim to be the best footballing side in this league. I hope I’m not doing them an injustice and, if they feel aggrieved, then I’m sorry.

But yet again City failed to win at home against a team that, whether you look at their style of play, their technical ability, their league record or any other reliable guide, ought to be beaten by serious promotion candidates. That Accrington joined the long list of teams who have come away from Valley Parade this season with a point (or three points in AFC Bournemouth’s case) was attributed after the game by our manager to too many players having an off day at the same time. I wondered if this collective ‘off day’ explained why I considered going home at half time, when I would have at least made it on time to meet my wife’s 5.35 arrival at Liverpool airport.

Within a few minutes of the restart I was glad I’d stayed, because this time it was Conlon’s turn to finish off another fine example of what City do better than virtually every team in this league. Another sweeping move, end to end, side to side, at pace, ball on the ground, with Nicky Law an essential component, brought the equaliser that should have given City every reason to say ‘That’s how you beat time-wasting, defensive-minded teams on your own pitch.’

Instead of repeating the medicine, City looked more and more like they’d found the cure and didn’t need to apply another dose. Possession was given away – and I do mean given – far too easily yet again. Any complaint about the wind making things difficult would most easily have been answered by looking at the goal we’d scored. The ball never got high enough for the wind to play any part in that brief glimpse of football worthy of a higher league.

Not for the first time this season, such excitement as there was came not from the players, but the referee and his assistants. I don’t go in for the ‘corruption’ theory of referees; I’m prepared to allow for the ‘bias’ theory, although most of the time I reckon it’s subconscious, at worst an unnecessary resolve not to be swayed by the unaccustomed size of the home crowd; as in many other areas of life, I prefer the cock-up theory to the conspiracy. That I can recall half a dozen quite dreadful decisions, going against both sides in fairly equal measure, supports my view that referees no longer understand the game. Sadly, that I can recall these crass mistakes rather than some moments of excitement from the team leaves me thinking about what is going wrong.

In the end I shot off as quickly as I could after the final whistle to make that airport pick-up. When Herself asked how the game had gone, she soon wished she hadn’t bothered. The depression that usually fades during the 75 mile trip back home hadn’t dimmed enough for me to create the façade of cheerfulness. Her account of a severely windswept landing couldn’t match the disappointment of wondering yet again what our promotion prospects really are if we don’t work hard against teams that are working hard; if we give away the ball and don’t fight hard enough to get it back; and if we don’t learn, not just from our mistakes, but from our achievements.

Yes, watch the videos to see where it went wrong. See how that wall disintegrated; see how often we pumped the ball up from back to front; see how little impact our wingers had; and see how many loose balls went to a hard-working opposition. But watch those goals against Dagenham and Accrington to see where it went right. See how, when we pass the ball along the ground, at pace and using the width of the pitch, we can outplay any team in this league and score quality goals. Remind ourselves what we achieved early in the season when our wide players frightened the opposition by running at them with the ball at their feet – and let’s hope that Joe Colbeck can return soon and reproduce the work rate and form he was in before his injury.

If we want to be convincing when we talk about a team worthy of promotion, let’s point to the best football we play and keep playing like that. No team plays like that for all ninety minutes, but, even when too many players are having an ‘off day’, the team will be forgiven if they display the one commodity that ought to be seen even in the fourth division – commitment. At our best, we are truly better than this league. When we’re not at our best, we need to work hard just to match most of our opponents. And no matter how good we may be at times, that work ethic should always be obvious, if only because a crowd loves a trier. A trier with ability is even more appreciated. Just ask Joe Colbeck. Equally, even the most able players will suffer the wrath of the crowd if they appear not to be working hard. No names, no pack drill, eh?

McCall needs to find the belief in basics

Bradford City circa 1999 had a trait rare in the club’s history and rare in football – they could win ugly.

Winning ugly – which is to say ended up with the three points in the sort of games that City are taking one from – is often the key to success. Manchester United did it on Saturday, Liverpool did not on Monday and on such differences are championships won.

The thirty-eight game Premiership with its longer rest periods and more significant – or perhaps just more well known – opponents is different from the cut and thrust of the lower leagues and in League Two the elusive crucial goal that makes the difference is less likely to come from a pre-knowledge of the opponents weakness or a tactical master stroke and more likely to be ground out by a consistency of high performance. In League Two the team that prospers is the team that plays well week in week out, that does the same things well week in week out, that can be relied upon week in week out.

In other words a team unlike City’s weak last half hour showing at the weekend which did little other than allow Accrington Stanley to glide through the second half of the second half relatively untroubled. While the Bantams were enjoying the lion’s share of the possession there seemed to be a feeling that other than shoving the ball in the direction of Omar Daley on the half way line there was not much of an understanding of what to do to cause the visitors problems.

All of which is troubling. This Bantams team are far from clueless and have – in the opening third of the season – known exactly how to win games. Recall the start of the season and the danger that came from cross after cross by Paul Arnison, Joe Colbeck, Daley, Paul McLaren and Paul Heckingbottom and then the gaps in the middle that could be exploited by Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock as opponents strengthened on the flanks through fear and suddenly what City are doing wrong now becomes all too apparent.

The Bantams have become one dimensional. Perhaps it is the battle of Barry Conlon which has led the players to believe that a long ball is not a wasted ball or perhaps it is the loss of Colbeck and – for a strange time – Arnison which has altered the way the Bantams perceive their abilities to bang the ball over but at the moment when the ball goes wide – and it does because the middle of every visiting side is thick with players – the results are all too predictable. Both Daley and Steve Jones favour running at players and low crosses and the best way for the opposition to defend this is to pile yet more men into the middle keeping full backs tight to the edge of the box.

Contrast this to Colbeck and Arnison both capable of whipping a ball in and a full back and winger having to go wide and stay wide to try stop them and one can see why Thorne and Boulding are finding goals hard to come by in the box – it is because space is hard to come by. This is not to say that City should only be crossing high but rather that we have allowed our entire arsenal to be reduced to a single trick of trying to beat men on the flanks and while that has worked with devastating effect it is too infrequent.

Stuart McCall has a level of basics that he needs to steer his City side back towards but his path is beset with bad advice and the chance to make poor decisions. Talk brews about Paul McLaren’s abilities but – as with Arnison – the best judge of the City number four is to look at the results since his return City have only a single loss – the last minute travesty at Brentford – and a tightening up at the back that as City’s most defensive minded midfielder he takes some credit for. The same could be said of Paul Arnison. Arnison has never been popular at City but simple facts show that the defence concedes fewer goals with him in it.

McCall must look to the basics of his team and what works well when done well because that is the way to win ugly in League Two. City need to get back to establish patterns – patterns of being able to cross from different angles in full-backs and wingers and to exploit the space that creates when defences are stretched – and settle on a group of players who can do that with consistency and belief.

City stumble as fingers are pointed – Bradford City 1 Accrington Stanley 1 Match Report

City stumbled through their 7th home draw of the season against lowly Accrington Stanley.

It was the kind of game and result that we have seen too often this season at Valley Parade and we all know might well prove very costly when the promotion run winds up at the end of the season.

Stanley took an early lead on 5 minutes when a free kick was awarded dead centre, 20 yards from goal. The City wall seemed to move out of the way of the ball that Ryan stuck thumping straight through and beyond Rhys Evans to put visitors ahead.

Then the referee and his officiating team proceeded in trying to ruin the game. City had at least three decent penalty shouts in the first half, all strongly turned away by Mr David Webb. The one that holds most strongly in the memory was approaching half time when the ball was drifting towards Boulding and a blatant left hand was stuck out by a Stanley defender to stop the course of the ball – and with Mr Webb 10 yards away he failed to see what 12,000 others did and waived play on which resulted in Boulding being denied by a save from close range.

Just to prove further his inept decision making skills (demonstrated at home to Bournemouth earlier this season) – Stanley were also victims early in the second half. A strong run by Paul Mulin looked to have him racing clear one on one with Evans. Matt Clarke shot back and made a very heavy challenge on Mulin to deny him a shot. It was such a strong challenge it was a borderline penalty – but Clarke did get the ball – it was an excellent tackle. But this good piece of play was interrupted by Webb who proceeded to book Mulin, seemingly for diving or simulation. Utterly astonishing. I have never felt the need to write to the FA regarding the standards of officiating (and that really is saying something given the standard seen at Valley Parade over the last decade) but Mr Webb’s performance on Saturday was so incomprehensible that I will be spending Sunday night drawing up a letter of complaint that I am sure would be backed by 12,000 others.

City drew level early in the second half thanks to an exciting and very strong run by Nicky Law who crossed from the right to leave Barry Conlon with a tap in at the far post to restore parity.

The equaliser should have proved the catalyst to set up a City victory – but, in truth, Stanley keeper was not tested nearly enough as the game drew to a disappointing close.

Not many City players came out of this game with much credit. Conlon did well to convert his chance, but was too often beaten aerially and failed to have much of an impact. The defence held fairly firm and they passed the ball among each other pretty well.

The midfield was full of also rans, Nicky Law withstanding. Steve Jones is an experienced pro who has good pace but fails to deliver an end product, cross or shot. Omar Daley played ok in patches, but wasn’t always the inspiration that we needed him to be. Paul McLaren seemed to take quite a few steps back in terms of performance level – after a few good games recently. He just didn’t influence the game. And one of his main strengths – set pieces – seem to be left to Nicky Law which I really cannot understand. If McLaren is not going to take dead balls then why is he in the team?

The signing and player that annoys me most at the moment is Chris O’Grady. Was he a panic buy? I cannot see what Stuart sees in him. Admittedly, I have only seen him in action for 30 minutes in a City shirt. But I have watched him closely in the warm up’s twice and he just doesn’t seem like he has anything special or talented to offer whatsoever. McCall revealed afterwards that O’Grady didn’t train on Friday due to illness. Then why play him on Saturday? He came on to absolutely no affect with enough time on the pitch to make an impact. Is he capable of making an impact? I really don’t think so.

The idea of a loan signing is to improve on the squad that we currently have but I honestly would rather give young Rory Boulding or Leon Osbourne a run out instead of this mis-fit. And stories about him not wanting to take a wage deferral during his at Rotherham really leaves a sour taste in the mouth – give someone else a chance. I am not one to ever jump on Stuart’s back over any signing – I have liked the vast majority of players he has brought and has faith in – but O’Grady playing and being given a chance at Bradford City really doesn’t make sense to me.

A glance at the other results from League Two on the day show all have slipped up apart from Darlington. It would have been a perfect time to grab three points and move up into equal second place. The rest of the promotion contenders in this League are all stuttering – all failing to break from the pack (with the slight exception of Wycombe) , which has ensured that the top three is still a realistic target.

However, many more displays at home like this and we surely cannot expect to stay where we are.

Hopes now are pinned on the return of the influential Colbeck and the long anticipated debut of the possibly crucial Chris Brandon. What is for sure is that we do need something extra in this team to ensure promotion this season. The key to any successful promotion push is winning your home games, especially those against “lesser opposition” – something that this current City team is not delivering on.

Fingers of blame are pointed at McCall and his management team, which does morale no good, but the frustrations are understandable. Stuart will be and should only be judged in May but in the next few crucial months lets hope he can find within his team that little bit extra that make ambitious and talented teams successful in the long run at winning games and grinding out three points when they are needed most.

The midfield cup runneth over – Bradford City vs Accrington Stanley – League Two Preview

Stuart McCall must look back to the start of December and find it hard to recall how he struggled when Tom Clarke was recalled by Huddersfield Town to find midfielders for his Bradford City team that bobbed along in the promotion hunt – never falling below the play-off, never being able to cement a top three place – with injuries and suspensions robbing him of that favoured phrase of the commentary “six first team midfielders”.

With the return of Joe Colbeck to the training squad – if not to the team – and Lee Bullock to contention then McCall could field a six man middle should he wish. Certainly with great form from Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr the central two positions are covered and Bullock – along with Dean Furman – are sidelined. Steve Jones has not played since extending his loan deal at the club and is likely to start on the right hand side with Colbeck looking for a gap to return.

Omar Daley is set for the left side of midfield and behind him is Luke O’Brien who is not only becoming talked about as a player of the season candidate but is also developing a good relationship with Daley in front of him.

On the opposite side Paul Arnison will look forward to playing with the more thorough Colbeck than the attacking minded Jones while Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Rhys Evans stand on a record of four consecutive clean sheets.

Looking to continue the last ten minutes at Accrington are the perm two from three of City’s strike force with Peter Thorne fit once more and Barry Conlon expected to step down. Michael Boulding will play alongside. Stuart McCall talked this week about the need to keep the number of strikers at the club down to a reasonable level and playing two up front leaves – in my estimation – five slots for players so as to avoid the demotivation of being too far from the first team. The main three City strikers are augmented by Chris O’Grady and Rory Boulding and it would seem that – unless he has an eye on a replacement for the loanee O’Grady – McCall has as many forwards as he wants.

He certainly has the firepower from those forwards should they be fed as evidenced by the last ten minutes at Accrington when Conlon, Thorne and M Boulding all added their names to the scoresheet to turn around the thought lost game. The onus is on the midfield – so full of options – to create chances.

The P comes before R

As the weekend’s game between City and Accrington comes closer into focus, a term likely to crop up on several occasions will be revenge.

Revenge for Stanley, who in October suffered from the most painful way of losing after what would have been an excellent victory over the Bantams was snatched from their grasp during the final minutes. Out fought and out thought, City came back from 2-0 down to win improbably after 88th and 89th minute strikes from Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne completed a comeback begun by Michael Boulding. It left home manager John Coleman cancelling a planned anniversary meal out with his wife and keeper Kenny Arthur revealing in a national football magazine earlier this month that it was, “an all-time low, the biggest kick in the teeth ever and I felt for a while I can’t do this anymore.”

Revenge too for City, who the October before went down 3-0 at home to Accrington in arguably the most depressing and dismal defeat of its modern history. It was 1-0 inside two minutes, 2-0 after 30 and 3-0 just past the interval. City were chasing shadows on route to a third loss of a five game sequence. The pain may have been far worse at Morecambe – the fifth defeat – a week later, but been humiliated at home by a team who not long ago were scrapping around in non-league obscurity was something of a fitting way for a club which had recently been part of the Premiership elite to hit rock bottom. Things didn’t get worse, though it’s admittedly difficult to imagine how they could have, but that autumn evening has retained a haunting presence as the club looks to go forward. In it’s own way, it’s a game as unlikely to be forgotten as beating Liverpool 1-0 to stay in the Premiership.

And in many ways that’s for the best. The manner in which the club had slumped since beating the Reds has largely been down to mismanagement of finances and the near-impossible struggle for stability, but its affects have included an ever-quickening decline in standards. Over recent years so many teams who shouldn’t be winning at Valley Parade have done precisely that and any aspirations of reversing the club’s fortunes has been undermined by weak and avoidable defeats. The Accrington embarrassment wasn’t a surprise, it was just another dismal episode for a club which has on occasions hidden behind the excuse of poor finances to deflect underachievement.

The next time City played at Valley Parade they drew 0-0 with Darlington and though there have been some disappointing home defeats since, the path of recovery finally began. Promotion may have proved beyond the club last season but building blocks were put in place. During this campaign we fear visiting teams will keep men behind the ball, time-waste even during the first half and cheer at earning a draw, but only one visiting team has so far executed a game plan which worked well enough to take the three points after 13 home games. Problems remain of course and some opposition sides, such as Barnet and Dagenham, have enjoyed too much of the game; but even when not at their best this City side has on many occasions demonstrated strong character and resilience to dig something from the game – just ask Accrington.

For this and much more manager Stuart McCall deserves credit for he has been able to shrug off the mediocre mentality and drive up standards at the club. A new contract offer is his just reward and though his desire to postpone such talks until later may leave some worried, his desire to put all his available energy into delivering promotion should not. News of Stuart’s new deal has predictably triggered another round of some fans complaining that his coaching staff are too inexperienced. The argument goes along the lines of Stuart needing an experienced number two for the decisions he isn’t strong enough to make, which is not so much naive but idiotic. If Stuart isn’t able to make tough decisions then Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes would be advised to tear up any contract offer they have begun drafting. They won’t need to because it’s not the case of course, just as much as to believe Stuart would tolerate weak coaching staff when so much of his energy and effort is being consumed by the goal of delivering promotion.

A quick glance at City’s starting line up from that October night shows just two are still first team regulars, which gives a strong indication of progress, but it won’t be the R word on Stuart’s mind come Saturday. City could thump Accrington 3-0, they could thump Accrington 10-0 for that matter, but any vengeance would feel hollow and short-lived, and anyway we need the three points to stay in the automatic promotion places and that’s what really matters.

Why Accrington Stanley need to learn lessons off the pitch as well as on it

I’m sure there will have been one or two supporters who left early on Saturday, now kicking themselves after missing such a stunning fightback – I was nearly one of them.

I didn’t want to leave early because I had no faith in the team’s ability to come back, though admittedly I certainly couldn’t see it, but because of the way I’d seen fellow ‘supporters’ treat my wife, each other and Accrington’s Kenny Arthur. With wholly inadequate stewarding, I feared for the safety of myself and others and that no game of football was worth this.

Let me start by explaining that my wife, Rachel, is quite a short person. Not that it’s a problem, but she can suffer when we go to the cinema and a tall person sits in front – and while sitting at the football is rarely an issue, standing on a terrace where the view is never as great is. So I was desperate to ensure she got as good a view as possible.

So we arrived early, went right to the front and stood by one of the crash barriers to the right of the goal. She had an unopposed view of the pitch, save for the gangway in front which fans have to use to enter and exit the stand. All seemed fine until, just after the game kicked off, a group of middle-aged men arrived and decided to stand directly in front of her, on the gangway, and pay little attention to anyone’s feelings behind them.

I watched with amazement as a steward stood nearby and did nothing. What’s worse more of their gang were joining them, having stopped off at the food hut. They ate with their backs to the game, a lovely view for my wife well worth paying £13 for.

Belatedly more stewards arrived to ask them to move, but then the problems really began. Their requests were not just refused, but responded to with loud bursts of swearing and threats. They kept trying to reason with them but there were more and more fans still arriving on the gangway and a lack of places for them to go and stand, even if they’d agreed to move. It became apparent that the stand was overcrowded and later there would be reports some fans with tickets were locked out. Given there seemed to be only ten stewards to marshall the crowd (no police), it was a worrying situation.

One of the most aggressive members of this group was eventually persuaded to comply, so suddenly leapt underneath the crash barrier and shoved my wife out of the way. With steam coming out of my ears I confronted him about his actions, to which he at least apologised. Two minutes later he was back on the gangway with his mates, with the stewards having given up and left.

So the game going on ahead was one Rachel could not see, instead she got to witness some of the most appalling behaviour I’ve ever seen at a City game. Instead of watching the match they continued abusing the steward nearby and making threats to charge onto the pitch. Occasionally they looked at matters on the pitch, one asking “what colour are we playing in?” The game was at least 20 minutes old.

Suddenly Accrington were 1-0 up and the focus of this group of supporters turned to home keeper Arthur. As he walked back towards his goal they hurled abuse in his direction for no obvious reason, to which he just kept his head down and ignored. As he went towards his towel inside the goal he was spat at by one of this group, which provoked an angry reaction from supporters around me.

A steward confronted one of the group, but it was the wrong person, so four or five of us began shouting to the steward and pointing towards the culprit. We were ignored, the steward choosing to scuttle off instead. This group remained definite and seemed to believe they were the innocent victims. “You couldn’t organise a p*** up in a brothel!” was one angry shout (note, that is what they shouted). I’ve heard some people say we didn’t deserve to go 1-0 down when we did and I have no idea if that’s true, as the game was not in my focus, but after this guy’s actions the only fitting punishment was for his football team to be losing.

So what would you do in this situation, your wife in an uncomfortable position with a large group of drunken men shouting horrible abuse and acting in a disgusting manner? I asked if she wanted us to leave and she said no, so I wandered to find us a better spot to move to at half time. In between it had become clear a couple were part of this group with a son, who looked no more than 6-years-old, left to his own devices and stood near us. When someone behind accidentally caused him to spill some of his drink, they received a volley of swearing and abuse from this kid. Judging by the language of his parents, it was easy to see where he gets it from.

So we moved at half time and I was partly cheered up to know that the supporter who spat at Arthur had belatedly been identified and ejected from the ground. We were now in the stand alongside the pitch with a decent, if limited view, and the conversation around us was on what it should be – a football match. There was lots of moaning, but constructive criticism which the players deserved for their lacklustre efforts, and when things did go right I was cheering with them and had I stayed where we were I don’t think I’d have been able to celebrate anything.

The behaviour of these City fans was despicable, showing no respect for Accrington officials or their fellow supporters. Those who had to endure their behaviour will have been left with a negative impression of Bradford City Football Club and that is the most depressing aspect.

Yet what really upset me was the action, or lack of it, from Accrington Stanley. As stewards they are supposed to look after our interests and our safety, but it was obvious they did not have the confidence or ability to manage a huge crowd. There was so few of them and one has to wonder what sort of away following Stanley had anticipated. Clearly it’s a friendly club and last season’s trip was one of my favourite away days out. I’d come across pleasant members of staff all willing to help and welcome us as we parked up, walked to a pub and then entered the ground. The stewards were probably nice people too, but in my opinion not good enough to do the job they were required to do.

In this day and age it is not good enough for a football match to be so badly managed and for paying punters to fear for their safety. This club has ambitions to build a fanbase and climb up the leagues, but if it’s going to succeed it needs a more professional attitude off the pitch as well as on it.

But at least we’d moved away from where the problems were and the afternoon took that unexpected turn for the better. Peter Thorne’s winner was one of those rare moments of unconfined delirium you only get to experience once every three or four years, but which reminds you why football is such a fantastic sport. So I lost the plot and jumped about like a madman, with my equally excited wife celebrating wildly and hugging me back.

The goal was sweet in so many ways – not least because I knew the coward who spat at Accrington’s keeper had missed it.

The end of the curse of October

At twenty five to five this report was going to be very different. At twenty five to five the report was going to centre around Bradford City and the October curse but at quarter to five Peter Thorne completed an amazing come back and the report had been turned on its head.

Our record in October over recent seasons has not been good last year we played 5, lost 3 and drew two. The year before played 4, lost 3, drew 1. Going into the last ten minutes today with confidence obviously low it looked as though this year would read played 2, lost 1, drawn 1. However thanks to an inspired performance from the player, who was the focus of what is becoming known as ‘boogate’, defeat was avoided and Bradford are sitting pretty in the automatic promotion spots.

Bradford set up like they do for all home games in a 442, Nix predictably came in for Omar Daley who was on duty with Jamaica, Luke O’Brien replaced the suspended Paul Heckingbottom, and TJ Moncur returned to the side in place of Ainge despite him doing a more than capable job against Luton. For much of the first half Bradford dominated possession without creating much but were more than comfortable with an Accrington side who didn’t look in any danger of breaking the deadlock. The Bradford fans locked out of the ground despite having tickets weren’t missing much of a spectacle.

On the same day that Lampard and Gerrard were being reunited for England and consequently sparking the usual debate of whether they can play together, Bradford seemed to be suffering from the same problem with their two talented central midfielders, MacLaren and Furman. Where as Lampard and Gerrard both like to push on and get up with the strikers leaving a hole behind them in front of the defence, MacLaren and Thurman both like to lie deep in the midfield leaving a gap just behind the strikers. Consequently any ball knocked down from Bradford’s front two was not contested and simply picked up by the Accrington players, who would soon easily give possession back to Bradford. It seemed as though this pattern would continue until changes were made.

Then 20 minutes into the game Accrington won a corner and a few nerves seemed to enter the Bradford players as they shakily defended the corner and eventually scrambled it out for a second corner. Again the corner wasn’t dealt with in the most sure manner and as the ball went out for a third corner an air of tension seemed to be gripping the strong Bradford following. The third corner saw Bradford punished by a move they themselves have used to good effect as the corner got sprayed to the edge of the box which was dummied by one and placed into the bottom corner past Rhys Evans by the onrushing James Ryan. Out of nowhere Bradford found themselves a goal down having once again been punished for the slack marking which has been evident over recent weeks.

Fortunately this seemed to spark life into the men wearing claret and amber and the tempo of the game picked up as they began to turn the screw. Minutes later Nix brilliantly switched the ball from left to right in a well worked move that found its way to Thorne on the edge of the box but City’s red hot striker just pulled the ball wide of the post with the chance that nine times out of ten he would have nestled in the bottom corner.

It was the Bradford youngsters who seemed to be stepping up to the plate, Furman was battling away and still keeping composure with the ball at his feet, while Luke O’Brien was bombing on from full back to give Nix the over lap and create the extra attacking threat. This threat was probably more effective due to absence of Daley purely because any full back would struggle to catch the Bradford speed merchant never mind overlap him.

City continued to look for the equaliser as the first half wore on and were extremely unfortunate to have a goal ruled out for offside just after the half hour mark. A lovely weighted free kick found its way to Graeme Lee and Lee cleverly nodded the ball down to Thorne who did find the net on this occasion only to see the linesman flagging. Somehow he had seen Lee to be offside when the free kick was taken.

As the half wore on frustrations began to show and Colbeck was booked for dissent by the referee, Mr. Jones, who was handling the game very well. It was the referee giving another free kick Bradford’s way that led to the best and final chance of the first half. A Colbeck free kick caught a deflection off the wall onto the bar and the rebound fell to Michael Boulding with an open goal gaping. However, the ball bounced away from the player who couldn’t get his head far enough around the ball to direct it into the net.

The mood at half time was neither upbeat nor low, although some were annoyed the Accrington catering staff were unable to cope with the big crowd and although it has been denied that Windass will return rumours may reappear because someone had eaten all the pies! After the break the players returned to positive reception as the crowd certainly didn’t think this game was beyond Bradford yet.

Unfortunately this mood lasted no more than 5 minutes as Terry Gornell playing in only his third game on loan from Tranmere slipped all too easily in between Bradfords two centre halves and an exquisitely played through ball found him one on one with Evans and the youngster slipped the ball between the former Chelsea keepers legs. Now Bradford found themselves with a mountain to climb.

The goal seemed to zap the confidence from the players and the effort seemed to have gone too. I was soon worrying about what I would be able to put in this report as for the next half hour nothing appeared to happen. Gornell still worried the City defence with his movement but Bradford could no longer seem to put anything together themselves. Numerous times Rhys Evans rolled the ball to the disappointing TJ Moncur who proceeded to just lump the ball back to Accrington side. This seemed to happen with almost every possession Bradford had and made the exclusion of Ainge seem even more unfair.

After the game McCall would say in an interview about how he worried about the lack of leadership on the field and this was certainly evident as the 11 players went completely quiet with no communication apparent. With around 20 minutes left McCall resorted to his much criticised ‘plan b’. Barry Conlon had warmed up and stripped off and everyone waited to see what reaction the travelling Bradford contingent would give the big striker. I admit that I have been one of Barry’s biggest critics in the time he’s been with the club but would never go to the extent of booing him. I have never seen what he offers and have even labelled him lazy despite the majority appearing to think he gives 110%. I have often thought he doesn’t compete for headers and falls over to easy for a big lad.

My disappointment was further enhanced by the fact the player he was replacing, Kyle Nix, is a player who’s cause I have championed on many occasions and a player I feel always likely to get a goal when played down the middle. To be fair Nix had not had his best game off he came with Boulding taking his place out wide. The 442 was retained but the wingers were pushed further forward as Stuart tried to find a way back into the game.

For his first ten minutes on the field of this game Barry did nothing to change my negative view of him, that however was soon to change. With ten minutes to go and Bradford looking like making it 1 point from 12 another long punt was launched up the field. A punt which before would of been won by the Accrington defence was brought down by ‘Big Baz’ and neatly laid off into Boulding’s path who struck it first time into the underside of the bar and down into the net. Suddenly Bradford felt they may get a point after all and no more so than Barry who was all over the place. Winning the ball in his own half and spraying perfectly into the channels, winning balls in the opponents half and knocking it to players wearing claret and amber. Something the rest of the side had struggled with for much of the second half.

Two minutes from the end Conlon found the ball coming his direction inside the box and for once his leap saw him rise above everyone else and he directed a header into the back of the net. For the second game in a row he had come off the bench to score and if he wants to stop the boo boys then he can do no more than find the net regularly.

Accrington were on the rocks and Bradford were now wanting blood. Less than 60 seconds from the restart they worked their way into the Accrington half and Bradford fans had barely had time to catch their breath before the ball was slid into prolific Peter Thorne’s path and there was no doubt about where the ball would finish. Thorne thumped the ball home to complete an amazing Bradford comeback that had been unthinkable just ten minutes before. The relief and joy was evident in the stands as the fans went wild and some idiots even charged onto the pitch, hopefully no repercussions will follow for the club from these actions.

The shocked Accrington players threw men forward in vain even keeper Kenny Arthur appearing in the Bradford box for a late corner but City hung on and the three points ended up somehow crossing the border from Lancashire to see Bradford climb back into the 3 automatic promotion places. However the result certainly did not tell the whole story and it was obvious from Stuart’s face at the final whistle that he was less than impressed with the overall display. Still it is about time the gloom merchants at Bradford began to look on the bright side and we go into the Gillingham game only a win away from top spot and the curse of October ended.

How do we get it all back? – Accrington Stanley vs Bradford City Preview

So how do we get back to winning ways?

Well why don’t we put Paul Arnison back in the team. He has been out for two and a half games and in that time City have been in the lead for about five minutes when we drew with Luton last week and have lacked a bit of something going down the right. Of course the people who had a pop at Barry Conlon had been warming up for a go at the right back. I wonder if they will put the not winning together with him not playing?

Joe Colbeck has missed him and the help he gives coming forward for crosses and you can bet that Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding have missed the supply and with all three playing on Saturday along with Arnison the team will welcome him back.

At the back Arnison joins up with Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee who need to get back to the commanding ways of early season. Those two had been clearing out everything in the air so that Luton goal will have been a blow. Paul Heckingbottom will miss having been sent off last week so Luke O’Brien is expected to start at left back.

Paul McLaren and Dean Furman might find laying deeper away from home a bit more rewarding than trying to batter down the door of Luton last week and both play in the middle. Both strikers are expected to play and rightly so. When they stop putting away chances we will have a problem but at the moment they are not getting enough.

Omar Daley has been providing a good few chances but he misses Saturday suspended as well. Willy Topp is on stand by to replace him on the left hand side after returning to the reserves and showing readiness. If every a player needed a goal…

Kyle Nix is also an option. Nix looked very good very often last season and some people are calling for him to be put into the team. This could be his time. Certainly McCall seems to be favouring him.

If ever a team needed a goal. An early one please cause the only thing wrong with City is big defences and a lack of confidence and goals do wonders for that. Is that the only thing that City need to get back to winning?

It is Stuart McCall needing some more of that tactics stuff? Does he need to do a 433 with Willy Topp hanging back behind the strikers to create and Colbeck tucked in? I doubt it cause wingers have got us to where we are now and where we are now is not that bad.

Maybe it is getting rid of Barry? How do you get rid of a player? Why would you? Anyone who thinks like that probably won’t be there tomorrow.

Because that is the thing about City on the road. They moaning, the booing, the general “I dont wanna be next to these idiots”ness of home games is gone and it is people who put into watching City and get something out of it.

Maybe that is how City will get back to winning ways. A good hearted away support making loads of noise and getting behind the boys to a win that we can take back to miserable old Valley Parade where you get booed for drawing but bring the confidence too and win there too.

Funny how these days the away form has to prop up the home.

The rest of League Two – Preseason 2008/2009 [II]

The numerous season preview supplements produced at this time of year act as a reminder, if it were needed, that the hopes and expectations we City supporters have for the coming season are not dissimilar to the majority of League Two fans.

Much has been made locally about how last season’s promotion of the MK Dons and Peterborough has left a more levelled playing field, but we aren’t the only ones thinking such sentiments. Some clubs will look to Hereford’s unexpected promotion last season and be confident they can emulate it, others may be hoping it’s emerging young talent can push them forward in the manner of Stockport and Rochdale, while others are upping the wage budget in a bid to go for it. League Two may look weaker without the presence of the Dons and the Posh, but it’s likely to be just as competitive.

When considering who might be in the promotion shake up it’s typical to start with the clubs who have spent money, those who lost out in last year’s plays offs and those relegated into the division last season. The club record £170,000 that Shrewsbury Town has spent on Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else’s summer recruitment. Last season was one of underachievement for the 2007 Play Off Finalists but manager Paul Simpson will begin his first full season with expectations not much lower than at Valley Parade.

Holt made his name at last season’s play off finalists Rochdale, who are likelier to be up there come May. Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland and their counter attacking approach impressed last season. Arguably lacking a decent striker, the Dale will hope Halifax’s Jon Shaw can make the step up; especially as midfield playmaker David Perkins, twice the thorn in the side of City last season, has left.

Wycombe Wanderers parted company with manager Paul Lambert at the end of last season and welcome Peter Taylor – with more than a point to prove following a difficult couple of years. They will probably do better than the other semi-finalists of last season, Darlington, who have lost star players David Stockdale and, while not confirmed yet, Tommy Wright. Dave Penney spent big last summer but doesn’t appear to have significant funds this time around.

Elsewhere big things are expected of Lincoln City, who prospered last year under Peter Jackson before his time off through illness. New keeper Rob Burch was sought after by others, including City, while Frank Sinclair could prove a clever buy if he still has the legs. Chesterfield fans seem to dislike their manager Lee Richardson but have one of the best strikers in the division in Jack Lester, Alan Knill will be looking to continue his rejuvenation of Bury and they could be dark horses, while Grimsby has strengthened defensively and will hope young striker Danny North can fulfill his potential.

It’s a sad state of the continuing financial problems many clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League are suffering from that this year’s League Two relegation battle could be determined by point deductions. Three seasons ago Luton finished 10th in the Championship, but the odds are heavily stacked in favour of a third successive relegation and drop into non-league following the 30 points taken off them. Play off form will be needed just to stay up and, with the club still in a mess, that seems unrealistic.

Bournemouth and Rotherham’s hopes of merely beginning this season are still in the balance and respective 15 and 17 point deductions look like a best scenario. That may allow other clubs to breath easier but Chester City, another club with money problems, won’t be counting their chickens as they remember how last season’s dramatic collapse in form almost cost them their league status. Some of the division’s smaller clubs, such as Macclesfield, Accrington and Dagenham, will also be targeting the 50 point mark rather than any loftier ambitions.

Gillingham’s recent financial difficulties make it difficult to imagine they can achieve much beyond midtable but Port Vale, under former City defender Lee Sinnott, will be a better bet for an instant return to League One. The league’s new boys, Aldershot and Exeter, arrive with romantic stories of rebirth and should both be good enough for midtable, where they will surely be joined by Notts County, Barnet, Brentford and Morecambe.

The quality of League Two is derided by some, while others trumpet it as featuring real football and real fans. Last season many clubs enjoyed better form on the road but the ones who did make it to the division above were strong at home, too. This season’s League Two promises to be unpredictable, ugly and beautiful; and those successful in realising their pre-season expectations next Spring will probably be all three.

New Year, same old City

Being of a more cynical nature, I find the hopes and promises made which coincide with the turn of the year bemusing. Vowing to stop smoking or start exercising is commendable, but expecting things to suddenly change just because we start using a new calendar is unrealistic. It’s traditional for the last City matchday programme of the year to be filled with contributions about how we should hope that the year ahead will be better for City and, of course, that the home form will improve; but not everyone’s life can change for better or worse on the same day. It may happen at any point during the year ahead, but January 1 and what this signifies isn’t on January 1 for all of us.

For City, New Years Day was really Saturday 11 August and events since will dictate what sort of year 2008 will be. According to an ever honest Stuart McCall after Saturday’s defeat to Hereford, it’s unlikely to include a trip to Wembley. This is due to the efforts of the first half of the campaign, or since City’s New Years Day. Results over the last couple of months have been largely decent, but it’s the infamous five successive defeats of September/October that have cost us and may predetermine what sort of a year 2008 is for City.

In my heart, I’m quite angry at hearing Stuart effectively write off the season with five months to go. Stuart’s post match interviews are notoriously honest but, when I think back to Stuart the player performing heroics, I don’t recall him ever giving up. In my head though, I grudgingly know that Stuart is correct in stating it’s highly unlikely City can make the play offs and is looking to the future. After years of treading water, City have the stability to build again and we need to be patient. Stuart the player had a brilliant football brain and it is his judgement that we now trust in carrying out that rebuilding.

As if to emphasise that the turn of the year doesn’t instantly herald change, City’s opening 45 minutes of 2008, at Accrington, were as average and frustrating as ever. We have the basis of a decent side, particularly at the back, but going forward we often fail to attack with purpose and provide our forwards with decent service.

Midway through the half City worked the ball into the penalty area but the home defence cleared. We picked up the loose ball and worked it back to Darren Williams, who then booted the ball aimlessly up the pitch and through to the keeper. Why is it that, the further we go up the pitch, the more the ball is treated like a hot potato? It’s as if the players are wary that, after stringing together four passes, they must be looking to test the keeper. Donovan Ricketts made a couple of easy saves in the mud, Peter Thorne and Paul Evans went close, the referee Barry Knight went off injured and that was the first half.

Straight after the break City took the lead. If the scorer was notable, Matt Clarke’s first in a City shirt, so to was how it came about. All season our set plays have been shocking but, when Stanley keeper Ian Dubavin weakly punched Evan’s corner kick, Joe Colbeck cleverly lobbed the ball back and David Wetherall headed it into Clarke’s path to stab home.

The goal lifted everyone’s spirits and from there City took control. With new signing Lee Bullock adding much-needed presence in the middle and catching the eye with some decent passes, City pressed forward at will. Two decent penalty appeals were rejected while Omar Daley should have done better after a brilliant mazy dribble left him with just the keeper to beat. Daley tried to be too clever and only succeeded blasting over. Barry Conlon, who received brilliant Andy Cooke-esqe backing from us fans all game, was played through one on one with the keeper and produced the tamest of shots which was easily blocked. As Accrington pushed forward towards the end, the fear was that City would pay for their wastefulness.

Then in the second minute of injury time, Daley broke away after City cleared an Accrington corner. With everyone in the City half, Daley was left with just the keeper to beat, he tried to take it around only for Dubavin to block, but Colbeck was on hand to gather up the loose ball and coolly slot the ball home. Cue wild celebrations behind the goal.

Colbeck walked off the pitch at full time still receiving congratulatory hugs from team mates and had City fans chanting his name. Since returning from the loan spell at Darlington he is looking a much more confident player. He was excellent all afternoon and his crossing caught the eye. In this sort of form Colbeck can have a big future at City and Stuart will no doubt be telling him to keep it up and not to get carried away.

City’s star performer was on the opposite wing though. Daley has begun performing much more effectively in recent weeks and he was in scintillating form against Accrington. I don’t get to every game, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play so well for City. He terrorised the Stanley full back and, crucially, is aware of what’s going on around him and doesn’t just run the ball down blind alleys. His work rate was equally outstanding and he helped the defence out on numerous occasions. I think we are belatedly seeing what a good player the Jamaican international is.

Indeed the second half performance left me thinking we’re a decent side at this level. There are areas to improve on, but the main failing in general this season is lack of consistency. If City could play like they did in the second half every week the play offs would still be a possibility. The problem is they probably won’t; I think well enough to enjoy a better second half of the season but, as Stuart said, the teams currently in the play offs are a long way ahead in terms of points.

In the programme, Accrington manager John Colman wrote that he thinks Stanley can make the play offs this season, so to see City easily beat such a poor side who believe they can go up is frustrating. If only City could have started the season better we could now be looking forward to 2008 with more relish. Instead the rest of the season will seemingly be about building for the next one and ensuring that, for City’s next New Year’s Day in August, we hit the ground running.

Recent Posts