Parkinson’s success is seen in the shifting of the Overton Window when Bradford City beat Doncaster Rovers 3-0

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary MacKenzie, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Mark Yeates | James Hanson, Billy Clarke | Tony McMahon, Jon Stead, Matty Dolan

The Overton window in politics

In political theory, the Overton window is the range of ideas the public will accept. According to the theory, an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within that window. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.Overton Window, Joseph P. Overton

It is commonly held, and held for good reason, that the current and previous incarnation of The Labour Party (Miliband and Blair) are substantially to the right of the 1970s (Wilson) party and that the current Conservative policies are also massively to the right of where they could have been in the same decade. 1971’s Industry Relations Act from Ted Heath would put him left of current Labour thinking.

The Overton window is defined – broadly speaking – by the left and right of what the public will accept and so the two parties stand glaring across it. The window was dragged significantly to the right under Thatcher and so Heath would be out of step with modern Tories just as Blair would be out of step in the 1970s Labour movement. The left and right are relative to a centre which is defined by the greater populous.

James Hanson, predictable

Which seems to have very little to do with a Friday night in Doncaster and Bradford City wandering into the dressing room at half time scoreless against a Rovers side who – like Chesterfield on Tuesday night – looked very similar to the Bantams in approach and effort.

First half blows had been exchanged – weakly perhaps – and once again City seemed to be playing a game on a knife edge. Gary MacKenzie’s slip on Tuesday night had decided the Chesterfield game in the visitors favour and something similar would decide this game, or so it seemed.

Which was the frame of reference that a grumble about the predictability of City’s approach of hitting the ball to James Hanson came about. The speaker thought City needed to “get rid” of the man 442 had called the 45th best player outside the Premier League and one could waste ink on the denotation of this rather than its connotation: that City needed something to tip the knife edge in their favour.

Hanson was policed all evening by a Doncaster Rovers backline who know the striker’s threat and did what they could to respond to it. After forty five minutes they would have been pleased with their attentions – not so after ninety – but the instinct of City fans that the Bantams needed to add something less predictable alongside the thrust of James Hanson was telling.

At this stage of the season four years ago there was (needless, in my opinion) talk of City falling out of the League because of Peter Taylor’s management and Peter Jackson’s arrival was seen as something of a saving grace. Taylor’s team were never in danger of relegation and so any credit to Jackson for “saving” a club that was not in trouble is – in my opinion – misplaced but he is given that credit in wider public opinion.

The Overton window in football

Manchester City almost finished in the UEFA Cup places in 2005. At the time it was high drama in the Premier League. David James – goalkeeper – went up field to try seal this amazing achievement for the Blue side of Manchester but it was not to be. In the end Manchester City reflected on a good season but finished 8th.

A similar finish for Manchester City now would be cause for alarm. The ownership of the club – through Khaldoon Al Mubarak – has changed what the populous believe Manchester City should be achieving significantly. When winning the Premier League last season the reaction was muted – or so it seemed – because of failures in the Champions League.

The Overton window in football for Manchester City has shifted as a result of the massive investment in the club.

The same can be said for Chelsea who played league games at Valley Parade in the 1980s but now measure their success by European Trophies and Premier Leagues. It can be said to have shifted down for Newcastle United who go into a derby game with Sunderland hoping for local bragging rights and a secure Premier League finish as a return for a club that twenty years ago believed they would win the League. Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club has – in the minds of fans and the rest of football – made sure that ambitions should be limited and so they are limited to a window of achievement which is shifted downwards since the Keegan era.

It can be said for Blackpool who – when the North of England used to holiday there in the 1950s – were a team capable of winning trophies but as overseas holidays took business the Overton window for football slide down and down to a point where the team who had the Greatest Footballer ever (some say, Matthews himself thought Tom Finney was better) are now amazed to have had a year in the top division.

Four years ago the Overton window in football at Bradford City had shifted down to a point where relegation from the Football League was feared and the idea of promotion from League Two was considered to be all but unreachable. “My main aim next season is to play attractive football, but winning football as well” said Jackson, “I can build for the future.”

Something changed

What words were said at half time by Phil Parkinson at Doncaster Rovers we will not know but the outcome was incredible. In the second half the Bantams were yards ahead of the side that has matched them stride for stride in the opening forty five minutes. Gary McKenzie’s opener came from a scramble on the far post following a corner, and a cross in, but it was the result of pressure following half time that did not relent.

Hanson, tireless, chased down defenders all evening and in the centre of midfield Billy Knott and Gary Liddle stopped the home side having time on the ball. Indeed Knott – coming up against one time favourite of this Parish Dean Furman – can be pleased with his best performance in a two man midfield for City so far. His tendency to go missing went missing and Knott manifested his progress over the season in the display. Liddle battled through and Filipe Morais’ control of possession in the home side’s half showed what had been missing in recent weeks.

Hanson ran defenders down and made room for Billy Clarke to add a second. Tony McMahon got a third – his first for the club – filling in at left wing for Mark Yeates who felt his shoulder pop out ungraciously in front of the visiting supporters. McMahon seems ready to play anywhere for City just to be at City and that attitude is probably worth noting.

McMahon’s goal – picking up on a slip by Reece Wabara – completed a fine enough evening that Phil Parkinson walked the length of the away supporters to give thanks to those who had come down from Bradford. The scenes seemed as unlikely an hour previous as they would have done four years ago.

Which is Parkinson’s success at Bradford City and one which is not dependent on promotion being achieved this year although this result increases the chances of that. The shift in the Overton window in football upwards for Bradford City has it that City should be thinking in terms of a Championship side and thinking about how to win games against teams like Doncaster Rovers who have just exited that level. How can we win the game on the knife edge to chase a place in the Championship? It was not a question we asked four years ago.

And while Manchester City and Chelsea are foremost in clubs who have shifted their windows up through investment – and clubs like AFC Bournemouth, Hull City and others have had smaller investments and smaller shifts – most of the time when the Overton window for football shifts it is because of money coming in or (Blackpool, Newcastle United, Leeds United, Portsmouth) going out in City’s case it has been achieved on the field, with the same scale of resources, and no sudden injections of funds. In fact City have paid back investment in the last four years.

Which is truly remarkable. With the same resources (less, arguably) which were considered only good enough for playing “good football” at the bottom of League Two Phil Parkinson is measured against Bradford City’s ability to be promoted to The Championship.

Now that is success.

Who is the best side you’ve seen at Valley Parade this season and who deserves promotion?

Notts County and Rochdale were both promoted over the week and with the former having blasted five past City on the first day and Rochdale impressing at Valley Parade few City fans would say that either does does not deserve promotion but with League Two offering three automatic promotion spots one wonders who deserves to be in League One next season and so The Barry Articles asks…

“County and Dale aside – who is the best side you’ve seen at Valley Parade this season and who deserves promotion?”

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

I’m not one of those people who endlessly bang on about how League Two is a poor division. Of course it is short on quality compared to the upper echelons of English football, but personally I still enjoy lower league football. There’s a fantastic competitive nature to every fixture and no team gives you an easy ride. It’s a scrap, which can get ugly at times, but it’s an enjoyable scrap.

That said, apart from Notts County and Rochdale I’ve not been impressed by any visitors to Valley Parade this season. Rotherham arguably stand out for their over-physical approach that so often teams at the top earn success from, think back to the MK Dons two years ago. However their 4-2 December success on our turf was aided greatly by referee Lee Probert. Burton and Crewe looked good sides on the day, but aren’t in the promotion shake up. Port Vale impressed in the Valley Parade JPT encounter if not the league game, Bournemouth were solid if unspectacular and Dagenham brilliant for the last half an hour of the recent 3-3 draw.

From the away games I’ve attended, it’s been a similar story of teams looking decent but not amazing. Notts Forest in the League Cup tie were terrific, I do hope they go up into the Premier League.

In terms of who deserves to be promoted with County and Dale, Bournemouth are certainly good value for third. Eddie Howe is clearly an outstanding manager who deserves to go far. The race for the play offs is too close to call, and my preferences for who goes up from and who comes down to our league is always centred on having more nearby northern teams, for easier away travel, the following season. This year I also want everyone who cheated us in league games to get their just desserts and slip up; so I guess overall I’d like to see Aldershot promoted on the basis they’ve not upset me and it’s a bloomin’ long journey to their ground – with Rotherham, Bury, Morecambe and Shrewsbury enduring miserable failures.

Dave Pendleton Bantamspast Curator & Former City Gent Editor

It’s difficult to judge who deserves to make the final promotion spot. We only get to see most teams in the flesh once at VP – and some twice if we go away. Bournemouth look fairly safe in third place and, given their travails, one hopes they cling on for promotion. Directly behind them are Rotherham. I did wonder whether this entire question was another excuse to have a laugh at Rotherham’s expense? Something I’m only too happy to do.

Our old friend Ronnie Moore, someone we love to hate ever since he City should be thrown out of the League for going into administration. Of course, since then his beloved Rotherham went into administration and lost their ground. I should feel for the Millers given their predicament, but the season after a points deduction they suddenly have cash to throw about, whereas many clubs who suffer administration take years to recover. They might have got lucky, or there might be a hint of a downmarket Leicester or Leeds about them – I often wonder what Julian Rhodes makes of these scenarios.

The other contenders are former FA Cup winners Bury, Aldershot, Dagenham & Redbridge and Chesterfield. We are more in the territory of play off winners here. I’d like to see Aldershot do well, as a reformed club they were in the equivalent of the Northern Premier when we were in the Premier League, now they are poised to pass us. That probably says more about Bradford City than it does Aldershot Town, but good luck to the Shots, I hope they do it. Chesterfield were, last time I checked, still owned by their supporters, so again, I tip my moral hat to them. In truth though, I’m more likely to support southern teams in the play-off race, simply to save on travel costs next season. Good luck to all involved, just wish it was us sweating on the final games.

Michael Wood BfB Editor

Many of the things that I’d like to see Bradford City follow have been forced on AFC Bournemouth and manager Eddie Howe who has taken the curses forced on the club by administration and money issues – however deserved they may be – and made them into boons.

Howe’s side are hardly allowed to sign players but they use that to make a tight squad. They cannot bring in a senior professional to replace the experience of Steve Fletcher so they ask him to stay and are rewarded with a good few goals and a good head. They are forced to blood young players like Joshua McQuoid, Danny Hollands and Brett Pitman who have grown into a very capable bunch.

It goes without saying that in this situation they have been cherished the stability they could. Manager Eddie Howe has been at the club since 1994 – save an unsuccessful sojourn to Portsmouth from which he returned smartly. Things have had to stay the same – and in staying the same they have improved.

The triumph of Howe and The Cherries this year is not to be the best team in the division but to be the best team they could be – so much more than the sum of the parts – and a stark contrast in a league which has seen teams like Shrewsbury, Bradford City and even considering they paid Sol Campbell £400,000 while struggling in mid-table Notts County spend big and achieve little.

That game, this game

City’s game at AFC Bournemouth ended 1-0 to the home side who march on towards promotion while City – well – City just march.

The Bantams are directionless in a season which is over to the greater extent – certainly no one connected with BfB desired a trip to the South Coast for what was effectively a dead rubber and so no match report is offered for the game, although perhaps we can reflect on a truism of football: that games are must often won by the team that wants to win them the most.

Certainly when Brett Pitman put in his 41st minute goal at Dean Court and the Bantams only riposte was a Gareth Evans ping off the bar then it became somewhat obvious that the Cherries were going to get the win because they put in the effort to do it. Which is not to accuse the Bantams of having put in a less than 100% effort just that time and time again effort is one thing, motivation another.

Recall, if you will, City’s trip to Wolverhampton on the last day of the 1999 season. Had that game occurred in the meat of the season then few would have expected that even in those glorious 9 months we would have secured a win – a similar success at Portsmouth was considered one of the outstanding results of the year – but because the Bantams needed to win, we did.

Likewise when City played Portsmouth in the previous season in a game Pompey needed to win of avoid relegation which would eventually befall Manchester City so the South Coast side were victors. Bradford City beat promotion chasing Charlton and QPR in the last four days of the season ending May 1997 seemed a remote possibility but happened.

The team that needs to win most often wins and so it was yesterday. Tomorrow the Bantams entertain Macclesfield Town – a club who saw their season horribly interrupted by the death of manager Keith Alexander – who sit below the Bantams in League Two. There is little requirement for either side to win the game with only lower mid-table positions to play for and so Peter Taylor is charged with trying to motivate a squad that has little to play for.

Little to play for a fewer players to play with. James Hanson and Ryan Kendall both limped away from Saturday’s trip to the South Coast and join Omar Daley and Michael Flynn as potential strikers all – prospectively – out of contention. The merits of paying Michael Boulding and – especially – Peter Thorne to stay at home comes into sharp focus if Gavin Grant – a player who is not paid at all – is to start up front for City.

Playing against his former club Gareth Evans should also take a forward role assuming these injuries continue with Leon Osborne – or perhaps Luke Sharry – taking the right hand side. Lee Bullock and Adam Bolder play central, Luke O’Brien left.

Zesh Rehman got a plus point on Saturday with an off the line clearance and continues at right back in the absence of Simon Ramsden with Luke Oliver and Steve Williams in the middle and Robbie Threlfall at left back. Matt Glennon in goal.

The articles of association football club Bournemouth

The story is that in 1972 – Britain having ditched the hour shifts of summer time and gone decimal – some of the directors at Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic F.C. decided that the modernity that swept the land needed to encompass the football club on the South Coast of England.

So taking a lead from the naming conventions of the continent and the playing strip of AC Milan the club – which had just been promoted to the third tier – was renamed AFC Bournemouth and nothing was ever to be the same again, so the story goes.

Of course things were the same. AFC Bournemouth, Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic F.C. and further back Boscombe F.C. have similar league histories going up sometimes, going down sometimes but generally doing well for themselves as a steadfast member of the bottom half of English football.

Perhaps there was an idea that the AFC element would alter that patten – that following a more exciting European model – might move Bournemouth on in the world. It was a plan and in retrospect it seems like a far fetched one – but it is a plan to take the club forward never the less.

Planning is the talk of Valley Parade at the moment. It is said that after a meeting this week with Peter Taylor and the trio of the boardroom Mark Lawn, Roger Owen and David Baldwin that the interim manager is pleased with the plans that the club have hastily put in place at his behest and a gambling man would bet on the manager remaining in charge next season.

The club’s planning over the previous decade and a half has been – in places – dreadful from the days of signing Dan Petrescu and Benito Carbone and having them change in one place and train in another to the wandering blindly into giving up the club’s biggest asset in Valley Parade to the current, much discussed situation.

Let us not rehash these problems, dear reader, but concur that they exist and consider how they could be circumnavigated.

Having spend much of yesterday in and around Fanny’s Ale House in Saltaire within a stone’s throw of the buildings of Shipley College I recalled the Business 101 class I took back when The Doc was still City boss – which was rather grandly called The Organisation In Its Environment – and the lesson that said that businesses were guided by a set of principals.

The businesses – as a rule – were plc’s of which the Bantams are not but the principals which took the similarly grand name of Articles and Memoranda Of Association were in place to define to any and all what that business was about.

They divide into two sets being Articles – the aims of a company – and the Memoranda – which are the objectives. In short what the company is trying to do, and how it is trying to do it.

Aim: “Bradford City aim to offer season tickets to supporters at affordable prices”. Objective: “The club will ensure that season tickets price going to games in line with similar activities such as a trip to the cinema”.

One has to wonder if such a constitution exists at Valley Parade – they may do – and if such a constitution could be made public. A set of principals that tell supporters exactly what they are supporting and tell those involved in the club at all levels what they are signing up for.

If Peter Taylor does sign up to be City manager next season them signing players from the current set up will occupy him. Of the team that is expected to take the field at Dean Court tomorrow a half dozen of them are contracted to stay at the club and the rest are looking to impress.

Matt Glennon and reserve man Jon McLaughlin are both out of contract and one doubts that the senior man has done enough to ink his name on a contract. New manager’s often mean new goalkeepers.

Zesh Rehman is contracted to be around next season, Simon Ramsden has no deal but most would keep the latter – who returns to fitness – and release the former. The topper most of the achievements Taylor could have is to get Rehman playing like a player capable of operating at a higher level once more.

Taylor is said to be a massive fan of Steve Williams and one can see him being around next season and the same could be said for the massive Luke Oliver who seems to have stepped in front of Matthew Clarke who – it seems – is playing through his last days at Valley Parade.

Robbie Threlfall has no deal at Liverpool and one suspects no future there – when was the last time The Reds brought through a local lad? – although his performances have suggested that he is worth a deal from the Bantams if no one else offers him anything.

Ten years ago a player coming out of one of the top clubs would cost anyone interested £500,000 n the assumption that the Liverpools and Manchester Uniteds only took the best rather than the current situation where they take – well – whomever they can get their hands on. Now they are simply lads like those who City release and are looking for contracts at whatever level they can get one.

Not that Louis Horne or Luke O’Brien will be looking for deals. They both seem set to stay with City next season with O’Brien growing into his left wing role he will continue in tomorrow. The right hand side has Omar Daley and Scott Neilson with one injured and the other out on loan. Gareth Evans – another who is staying – will take the right hand side with Gavin Grant looking to get a chance to impress following his return from injury.

The middle two perm from the three of Lee Bullock, Adam Bolder and Michael Flynn with the latter moving up front to cover the repositioned Evans and Taylor no doubt wanting all three around next season. Certainly the ability to not have to change central midfield tactics with Bullock’s now spent suspension has been a boon and if all three can stay then Taylor has more of a chance to keep continuity in that area of the field.

James Hanson could hardly have had a better season seeing off Michael and Rory Boulding to establish himself as City’s leading striker and there seems to be more chance of his being snapped up from above than leaving to someone below. Ryan Kendall is looking for a club next term but even with his goal scoring antics last week he is to stay on the bench to allow Flynn to join the attack.

Rounding up the others Jonathan Bateson, Jamie O’Brien, Leon Osborne, Luke Sharry and Stephen O’Leary are all looking very much like they will struggle to get new deals partly through a lack of chances in the case of the injured O’Leary and O’Brien and partly through a failure to gasp those chances. The tragedy of the season is Luke Sharry’s first half against Port Vale where a promising player failed to take his chance with two hands while Leon Osborne has never had the impact to suggest he will have a future with the club.

Nevertheless as the club winds down the season going neither up nor down then all these players may get a chance to impress. It is ironic that as the Bantams weigh up who will get a deal and who will not their opponents AFC Bournemouth have had to rely on exactly that sort of player and sit third battling for a play off place with Notts County and Rotherham – teams adapt at spending other people’s money – with any plan they ever had to progress thrown out of the window.

Eddie Howe spins gold from what he has, but he has nice training pitches.

Update Since writing Bradford City – and me – have had various injuries. Simon Ramsden is definitely out giving Zesh Rehman the right back role. Gareth Evans has an injured foot that will allow the right hand side to go to the aforementioned Sharry perhaps and hopefully the youngster can make the impression he hints at. Gavin Grant could also feature.

Ryan Kendall will almost certainly get a game with Michael Flynn’s injury ruling him out while Matthew Clarke has a calf injury that ensures that the Williams/Oliver partnership can play again unless Rehman moves inside and Bateson can feature at right back.

I have a bad knee and am limping around the house getting on Mrs Wood’s nerves and wincing every time I walk. I have no idea where the knee tweak came but I have not suffered a heavy tackle or ran for a ball and as I hobble around the house I reflect on the idea that at times players are expected to get on with the game when they are feeling as I do, or worse.

This leads me to recall this story about former Arsenal man Perry Groves who when playing in a reserve game at Luton Town was hacked fairly viciously as he stormed down the left wing. Groves lay on the floor in front of the fistful of Lutoners who attend second string matches one of whom shouted “Get up off the floor you ginger puff” in the direction of Groves.

Groves, his leg being magic sponge, gingerly rose to his feet in time and turned to the stand to tell the supporter a cold hard fact.

“Mate,” said Groves, “That really hurt.”

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.

Money changes everything as AFC Bournemouth come to Valley Parade riding high

Often unable to field a squad of eighteen, crippled by financial problems and with a manager just out of his twenties it is something amazing that AFC Bournemouth are top of the league.

Eddie Howe’s side sit ahead of the likes of Rotherham United and Notts County and while they were panned 4-0 by Rochdale last league game out they lead League Two with supporters and an increasingly excited media looking at Dean Court with admiration talking about the spirit the young manager has built.

The Cherries recorded an impressive win at Valley Parade last season when the Bantams were confident that they expensively assembled squad would roll over the visitors and perhaps it is that spirit carried on that drives Bournemouth.

Perhaps it is the mentality that saw the club escape from a seventeen point deduction gives them the self-belief that puts them top. The theory has it that football matches are won – on the whole – by the team that needs to win most and AFC Bournemouth want to win when they roll up to Northampton, Crewe of Hereford because they are used to needing to win.

Rotherham United and especially Notts County need to win for different reasons. These big money clubs in League Two are a new phenomenon but one which is increasingly reoccurant. Peterborough United where one a couple of seasons ago and Shrewsbury and City were – one supposes – last year. City’s experience was that when the winning mentality slipped away and the change that an injection of cash had made was negligible. Money changed everything, but it changed back.

City face AFC Bournemouth in middling form following a 2-2 penalties win on Tuesday night and a 2-1 reversal at Notts County the match before with a wasted two points in a 2-2 at Macclesfield being the last league game out and a 1-0 win over Hereford being the last league match at VP and the last clean sheet. City’s habit of conceding two a game is making winning hard.

So the news that Simon Ramsden is returning to fitness is heartening. The abilities of Jonathan Bateson were well showcased in the week when he slotted in nicely at right back compared to fellow youngster the unfortunate Luke Sharry who meandered the field for forty five minutes before exiting. Bateson will step down when Ramsden returns but having only been in training for a day the impressive signing from Rochdale is expected to be on the bench.

Similarly Gareth Evans is expected to make a place on the bench following his heel injury last week with Michael Boulding – also pulled off a half time (“Blimey, at Mansfield we only used to a half an orange.”) after a poor forty five minutes. To see why Boulding blows so hot and cold one need think back to Mansfield’s 2-1 win at Valley Parade two years ago in which Boulding stormed from forty yards with pace to get behind David Wetherall and Mark Bower who – as always – defended high up the field.

Watching Boulding struggle against a Port Vale side that played two lines of four and compressed the defensive areas Boulding could not use his pace to get in behind the back four because there was no space behind the back four. Boulding always stuggles in these situations but when one looks at his best displays for City – the two at Gillingham last year – he has room to run into.

AFC Bournemouth – riding high and confident – might be more liable to leave that room than Port Vale were and perhaps forty five minutes for Boulding before Evans’s return is a wise idea.

Elsewhere Lee Bullock returns from suspension and will return to the midfield alongside Michael Flynn and James O’Brien who put in a superb display for his forty five on Tuesday night with his two deliveries from set plays getting the Bantams back into the game. O’Brien’s display on Tuesday seems to have cemented his place in the City side alongside Bullock and Flynn. The emergence of a solid and trustable midfielder set up is something manager Stuart McCall was not able to do last season.

Scott Neilson links up between midfield and the attack of Boulding and James Hanson who scored his sixth goal for the Bantams this week and is the leading scorer.

At the back Ramsden or Bateson feature alongside Zesh Rehman – back in the back four after midfield duties – and Steve Williams with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In goal Simon Eastwood who is back to heroic status after his three penalty saves on Tuesday night. Eastwood had high tribute paid to him by Williams in the week who called him “shot stopper number one”. Williams is a right of course and perhaps the confidence of the visitors will see them punting shots at the reflexes of Simon all afternoon and forego the cross which causes the problems.

We should be so lucky.

The blank space

Last week we saw freedom of speech taken to an extreme and it is it is an odd week where people are asking each other “did you see Question Time last night?”

Nevertheless the rights and wrongs of politics aside we can – on the whole – agree that free speech is to be welcomed and that attempts to stop someone saying something because you do not like what they are saying is not.

So there is something worrying in the news that David Conn and the newspaper he writes for The Guardian are no longer welcome at Elland Road because of Conn’s revealing articles about the ownership of the club who went down 2-1 to Millwall.

Conn’s writing had untangled a web of financial strands around the Leeds United chairman Ken Bates and the administration they went through which he emerged as owner of a debt free club following. The complexities are near mind boggling and commenting on them directly would be a presumption that I understood the detail but one thing becomes very clear when looking at stories of Cayman Islands-registered Forward Sports Fund and Guernsey accountants that the world of Leeds United administration is very different to that of Bradford City’s.

Likewise Bradford City’s two administrations were different from each other and both were different to Leicester City’s infamous debt shuffle which is a million miles away from what happened to AFC Bournemouth which was nothing like the Rotherham United into and out while still spending money which could never be afforded at Darlington.

Every administration is different, has different causes, ends in different results. When Bradford City struggled to stay afloat it was said at a supporters fund raiser that it might take the Bantams twenty years to recover from the woes but recover we would. I am of the belief that that statement was in essence true and that last season’s finishing a place higher than the previous season was a significant – if slight – sign of that recovery.

Other administrations see clubs like Rotherham United pleading poverty one year and then the next making offers to players like Nicky Law Jnr and Adam le Fondre whose former chairman Chris Dunphy has a thing or two to say about good governance in the game but oddly allowed a club that did seek protection from creditors to take le Fondre for an “undisclosed fee“. The people who had debts written off in South Yorkshire would probably be keen to know how much cash The Millers were able to find this year that was not there last.

The ownership of Leeds United is unclear but Conn’s articles would seem to suggest that the ownership is structured in a way that preferred Bates in the process and thus is not only illegal but would also be against the promises made by Bates and Leeds to the Football League. The punishments for the legal side of things – should Conn be accurate – one can only guess at and the football sanctions are rumoured to be as stiff as given out to any club in my memory with the Elland Road side facing a two division relegation should it be found that Conn’s conclusions are accurate.

The reaction of Bates to these allegations is troubling for Leeds United supporters as he attempts – one assumes – to give a lesson to those journalists who would dig too deep into his dealings that they will no longer be allowed to carry coverage on his team. Leeds are big business and newspapers – especially regional newspapers who struggle to keep going – can hardly afford to upset the local football side and Bates is infamous for enforcing a hegemony in the local media.

Of course Bates has a right to allow whomever he wants into Elland Road – as Conn attests he owns the League One club – but one doubts that will assuage any worries Leeds United supporters might have at the thought of getting promoted this year only to step backwards and be forced to find a new owner during a financial crisis. They would do well to follow the example of the Liverpool supporters who demand answers from their owners rather than doing as the Notts County fans do as some happily ignore things off the field and the muddiness of that club’s ownership.

Every administration is different, this is a point that is maybe lost on some, but in footballs age of rapid change of ownership the constant which is bought and sold is the good will of supporters. In our administration that was manifested by the half a million pounds raised because there was no other money to keep the club going but in but other clubs cases less scrupulous people – yes less scrupulous even than Gordon Gibb – have become involved and as a result supporters have suffered.

So The Guardian resisted the proposed riposte of leaving a large blank square in the sports pages to highlight the “ban” they are facing but when chairmen start stopping a newspaper from investigative reporting – and when such a ban is allowed to pass without comment from the rest of the media on the whole – then alarm bells need to ring for supporters.

Supporters should want the questions that need to be asked to be asked by the likes of David Conn and that every newspaper does not boycott Elland Road in protest is shame on them. The right for supporters to have their serious questions answered when asked by the highest quality of journalists is something that needs to be protected and when it is attacked by one is should be defended by all.

Happiness will be revenge as Notts County face City again

The long hard slog against relegation” predicted after the 5-0 defeat at Notts County at the start of the season does not seem to be happening as City continue merrily along a middling path in League Two eight games without defeat performing but three points worse than the big spending visitors.

Not that would have been surprising after twenty five minutes of the first day of the season when the Bantams and County traded blows – an hour later the idea that ten games on and the difference between the sides would have been that opening day win would have been more surprising but League Two football is full of contradictions such as the fact that a former barber from Bamber Bridge makes a better signing than Sol Campbell.

City’s unbeaten run goes back eight games and includes the opening match in this the oft renamed Associate Members Trophy against Rochdale and will continue regardless of the result at Valley Parade where a defeat would simply see that game at Spotland expunged from what would be a seven game winning league stint. That is the context the game is set in.

So as Ian McPartland reads in the national papers that David Platt is about to take his job – Platt is a friend of Sven but a former Forest boss and one wonders how well that would go down with the locals who seem to matter not one bit in the saga of football’s tedious rich – while Stuart McCall reads little about his position making a welcome change from the last eight months.

Not that one should suggest that McCall has proved his critics wrong – one doubts that will ever happen with every football manager from Sir Alex down having a steady stream of criticism as background noise – but that he has crafted a team which he seems to enjoy managing as much as the supporters seem to enjoy watching them.

The City manager has undergone something of a change over the last three months having ended last season a near broken man scampering around the touchline kicking every ball to his more passive approach now where he seems to trust his young, eager charges to kick some of the balls themselves. Win or lose, perhaps he thinks, at least I can enjoy watching them without the feeling that some of them want to be somewhere else.

As was said last week by Scott Neilson it takes only one bad apple to spoil the mood of the dressing room barrel and we look West and think how it is not going great at Tranmere Rovers at the moment.

City go into the game carry suspensions and nursing illness and injury that robs the team of strikers and midfielders who pretend to be strikers. Lee Bullock will rest a bad toe following his hard working turn as target man replacing the suspended Gareth Evans and the poorly James Hanson who could return but with the rest of Bradford sniffing and sneezing for a week each one suspects he might be on his sick bed a while longer.

Michael Boulding – who scored on Saturday – is perhaps at his most useful in a game against a team like County who are expected to attack and will not sit deep allowing the striker’s pace to count. Boulding reunites with Peter Thorne – back from injury – for the first time since the opening day.

The midfield will see Scott Neilson out wide with Michael Flynn, James O’Brien and Simon Ramsden continuing although the competition being what it is – and his last appearance at Valley Parade being promising – Luke Sharry might get a call to play. Likewise at the back Lewis Horne is knocking on the door of place in the side and keeping Luke O’Brien’s form up. Only two of the back four of the opening day of the season remain in place with Steve Williams having replaced Matthew Clarke alongside Zesh Rehman and Jonathan Bateson being in the right back slot. Simon Eastwood continues in goal although of course changes could be made.

For County one wonders which team they will field. They have a plethora of players of high ability and low morals. One can read this article and compare and contrast with the revolting Lee Hughes but also spare a different type of disdain for Luke Rodgers who seems to want to carve out a niche as League Two’s Didier Drogba combining ability with an utter disregard for the rules and a willingness to dive at any opportunity. One wonders why if County are as good as they can be – and make no mistake they can play with Ricky Ravenhill and Ben Davies a fine midfield – then why do they have to cheat so much? Even the opening day of the season saw Rodgers throw himself to the ground to “win” a penalty.

The Bantams go into the game looking for a kind of revenge for the opening day defeat but in the eight games in which County fans have seen Sol Campbell’s arrival and departure and results which do not match up to the thirteen men of AFC Bournemouth despite the one week of Sol costing more than the entire Cherries team. As City fans saw last year such a team can do as expected, they can be efficient, they can bring satisfaction but enjoyment is harder to muster.

Since that week in Nottingham the Bantams have been – well – fun to watch with men honest and true putting in hard work. I for one will take happiness over revenge any day.

The league could shake this week as administration Thursday nears

One could hardly have guessed it this morning reading a collection of newspaper headlines about Christiano Ronaldo will leave England because of a lack of protection from Referees and how one side of Manchester are being told they should pay £30m for a player who could not find the net on the other side that around a tenth of the professional clubs in the country are battling with the decision as to whether they should go into administration by Thursday.

Thursday – the third in March – is football’s deadline for having ten point penalties given to the current season’s total rather than next. The problems of exiting administration are such a fifteen point penalty on exiting without the CVA that City twice had in place is practically guaranteed should you be looking a wiping out debts for the start of next season and not be under administration by Thursday then a club would start the year on minus fifteen and not minus twenty-five and as AFC Bournemouth and Rotherham have proved – that is not a killer blow.

My thoughts on punishment for clubs entering and exiting administration differ from other but mostly these articles and the debate on the subject assume that the fifteen point penalty – which is discretionary – will be levied and not the punishment which Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy would unilaterally dish out which would be expulsion from the league.

The wording of the League’s rules is always hard to come by but to paraphrase would be to say that a club that exits administration without a CVA in place is expelled from the League unless there are exceptional circumstances which in the cases of Leeds United, Rotherham United, Luton Town and AFC Bournemouth there have been. If a circumstance happens every time it is not “exceptional”. The Football League were probably acting within the interests of protectionism in ensuring that they do not lose those four clubs and that is probably no bad thing.

That they continue to do so depends on how much sympathy the likes of Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy can drum up in his well meaning if scattershot campaign for good governance in football. If football becomes populated with enough Dunphys then the next vote on is a club can exit without CVA and retain a place in the League will be to the negative and someone will be cast down to the lowest of the low level of the football pyramid.

Bradford City’s governance is managed by virtue of a chunk of cash put in by Mark Lawn who hopes that attendances can be retained for future season. That we have not brought in player x or player y down to an unwillingness to go back down the route of unrealistic debt and something that we should all be happy about as City fans.

What must Chris Dunphy feel about Brentford – £10m in debt and hoping for promotion to pay the bills – running away with the League Two? Probably the same as I feel but Chris Dunphy gets a vote he could mobilise against them if they end up in the poor house. Would Chris Dunphy vote that Luton, that Rotherham, that Leeds should have been thrown out of the Football League and effectively ended as football clubs?

This is the judgement the reportedly ten clubs who are considering entering administration in the next two days are making. Will they be added to the list of exceptions or will the hand become the wrist and will one, two, five, ten clubs not be making it to next season?

And if they do will they be taking ten point penalties that mean the table on Friday will differ drastically from that on Wednesday?

A remarkable change is required

In recent seasons visits to Bournemouth have always brought the welcome sight of a wonderfully green, flat pitch and the less welcome prospect of facing a club in financial turmoil. The Dean Court pitch was as good as ever, although City decided not to make best use of it. You can have the worst pitch in the world and it won’t matter if the ball is in the air all the time.

The Bournemouth players had been paid just 40% of their February wages. Their talisman, Steve Fletcher was not fit to play, we were assured by the stewards. The game and the club had survived only because one would-be investor had stumped up £33,000 last week to stave off a winding up order and a deal had been done to keep the landlord’s bailiffs at bay for a little longer.

Out of adversity came spirit, something City cannot lay claim to in many matches this season. All the spirit was with the home team, as was most of the passing on that excellent surface. Perhaps another set of changes unsettled the visitors; certainly the loss of Peter Thorne to another injury limited the attacking options; and even his most ardent detractors must be wishing we could have Omar Daley back. Whatever the causes, this was a dismal night for the travelling faithful.

The two bad boys from last week were reinstated, with Zesh Rehman moving from central defence to left back to replace Luke O’Brien. Chris Brandon started his first league game and, with Brandon on the left, Steve Jones on the right and the Law-Furman axis reinstated, the midfield looked far more balanced and solid than at Exeter. The image lasted for all of four minutes, the time it took the apparently injured Fletcher to use the space given to him in the penalty area to fire across Rhys Evans and just inside the far post. If only City had ‘injured’ players who worked that hard.

By far the high point of the game for the travelling supporters was a Nicky Law free kick from just to the right of the penalty area. Matt Clarke rose highest in a crowded box and the 1-1 scoreline gave us all hope that the worst was over. That hope lasted almost a quarter of an hour before Fletcher ran on to an excellent through ball into the box to leave Evans helpless once more.

The visiting fans had barely had time to digest that goal when Lee and Clarke tackled each other just inside their own half. The ball broke loose to Goulding, who ran through unchallenged to place the ball yet again beyond the unfortunate Evans. In little over a minute virtually all hope had been extinguished and half time could not come soon enough. The away dressing room must have very little paint left on the walls.

Whatever was said at half time, it failed to prevent an almost immediate repetition. This time Lee needed no assistance from Clarke in placing his soft header straight into Goulding’s path. The rest was a carbon copy of the third goal and the game was over as a contest.

It shouldn’t have been over, of course, because there were still 40 minutes to play, but City showed few signs of getting even one goal back. Bournemouth finally were deprived of the services of Fletcher through injury in the 65th minute and effectively declared in the 79th minute when they took off Goulding. These two, one big and muscular, the other quick and skilful, had plagued the City defence all night. There was no comparison with the ineffectual play at the other end of the pitch, where Conlon won less than his share of headers and Boulding was comfortably contained by bigger and stronger defenders.

Keith Gillespie replaced Brandon in the 63rd minute to make his City debut and his first touch was a cross that flew inches in front of the diving Boulding and out to safety. Gillespie showed his keenness and some quality touches, without getting the opportunity to create a real goal scoring chance.

Jalal in the home goal was kept busy for the last twenty minutes only by his amused responses to the away fans’ chants of ‘Keeper, Keeper, give us a wave’. This by-play at least brought an end to the cries of ‘One Mark Bower’ and the fleeting ‘What a waste of money.’ Ten minutes from the end the team bus could be seen behind the open end of the ground leaving its parking spot. It was irresistible to wonder if the penalty for this inept display was to make the players walk home.

In the last few minutes Matt Clarke lightened up the night by playing left wing. One cross caused some havoc in the home defence and then a run into the box brought a late corner, which, like so much else, produced no real threat. At the final whistle there was a brief, uninspired booing, followed by a rather longer appreciation of the home team’s chances of staying up, which have been much assisted by their 7-2 aggregate wins over a team that now looks as though it doesn’t know where its next victory will come from. The gap to automatic promotion may still be only five points. So many of the other top sides have to play each other in the run in. Third place may yet be achievable with a historically low points total. All is far from lost, but a remarkable change will be required even to make certain of a play off place.

Deflecting viewpoints – Bournemouth v Bradford City – League Two preview

Deflections are habitually described as wicked, and the one which Dean Moxley’s cross took off Paul Arnison to loop over Rhys Evans for Exeter’s winner on Saturday was heinous in its contribution towards City’s promotion hopes.

City spent the remaining 70 minutes trying to neutralise its implication but in the end it was late drama 250 miles to the East, in Kent, which had the most telling affect. Grant Holt’s late equaliser may have pushed his Shrewsbury side above City, but the two points it cost Gillingham means automatic promotion remains a reachable three points away. Victory at Bournemouth tonight could shorten that gap to mere goal difference and deflect a season in danger of going either way back in the right direction.

Recent form is not good enough, no one would argue. Defeat at Exeter was City’s fourth in a row on the road and fourth in six full stop. It’s a measure of inconsistencies with City’s promotion rivals – Brentford apart – that a one point deficit City had after drawing at home to Darlington last month has only increased by two during a period of some of the Bantams’ worst performances of the campaign.

Much has been made online about the latest defeat with the extreme calls of Stuart McCall to be sacked aired by some. Normally I’d try to argue this is ridiculous but there seems little point, not least because their cries are not going to be acted upon by those who get to decide. Furthermore I – as, I would guess, are many others who defend Stuart – am tired of receiving the lazy and patronising put-down of wearing ‘rose-tinted glasses’ when I do.

There’s no room for debate with some supporters, if you disagree Stuart should be booted out it’s not because you rationally believe he’s doing a decent job, you are stupid; or blind and own prescribed magic spectacles – I forget which.

Back in the South, the City squad have remained from Saturday and one hopes the unusually long period of time spent together as a group will have benefited team morale and increased focus ahead of a vital encounter with Bournemouth. Stuart took a squad of 20 to Devon last week before facing a disciplinary problem with Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke, which hampered selection.

Reaction to Conlon and Clarke’s misdemeanours is like opinions on the best way to punish children – everyone has a view but no one ever agrees. Details are unclear, but it would seem Stuart chose to keep them grounded in the stand and stop their pocket money for at least a week. Some criticise him for cutting his nose to spite his face by leaving them out, others argue the pair should never play for the club again. Both players are expected to be back in consideration again with Stuart’s reluctance to publicly criticise them hopefully being rewarded with a determination from both to make amends.

Conlon’s absence and another little injury to Peter Thorne left Stuart selecting Nicky Law up front with Michael Boulding at St James Park. Stuart is often accused of playing Law ‘out of position’, though these critics seem to ignore the fact Law’s career at Sheffield United has so far involved playing out wide or up front. A central midfield partnership with Dean Furman results in Law ultimately ‘out of position’. Some might call it clever management by Stuart to get such great performances out of him in the centre this season. They will probably be the same folk wearing rose-tinted glasses, though.

Law should return to the midfield but perhaps on the wing with Lee Bullock or Paul McLaren partnering Furman in the centre and Steve Jones on the right. The club’s failure to get returning injured players looking anything better than rusty is troubling, though Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon may be considered for starts. As will Keith Gillespie.

Up front Thorne is definitely out so Conlon should partner the hit and miss Boulding. Stuart’s failure to bring in a fourth striker is been debated by some. Tellingly up to five clubs are reported to be on the verge of administration with talk of one League Two club being unable to complete its fixtures. That won’t be City, but the still tight finances mean the luxury of signing the mythical fourth striker who’d score lots of goals probably isn’t available.

Jones is the nearest to a replacement we had for Willy Topp in terms of space on the wage bill, and may play more regularly in the striker berth if other wingers can start matching his form out wide. Gillespie was clearly only brought in because of Omar Daley’s injury and whether he is on anything more than a pay-as-you-play deal is suspectable.

At the back Clarke will be expected to return with Zesh Rehman either switched to right back for Arnison or relegated back to the bench. Luke O’Brien and Graeme Lee will hope to better recent efforts with Evans keeping goal.

Bournemouth’s recent form is amongst the best in the league and stronger than most promotion-chasing clubs. From a seemingly hopeless position, their third manager of the season, Eddie Howe, has reinvigorated belief and ten undefeated matches from 12 has propelled the Cherries out of the bottom two. They are also the only club to win at Valley Parade so far this season and present a tough prospect for City to end their away woes against.

Defeat would prompt an even angrier reaction from fans and a win would largely bring calm. Whichever there will be eight games left to play and nothing to suggest the up-and-down nature of the first 38 will cease. This is going to be the most exciting end to a season in ages and as much as they may leave us sleepness and distraught on occasions they should also bring excitment and joy.

Spectacles optional.

Changing teams – AFC Bournemouth vs Bradford City preview

This game has been called off because of a frozen pitch.

A pitch inspection at 12:00 today will tell Stuart McCall, Bradford City’s players and the supporters if a trip to AFC Bournemouth will be needed this weekend and while weather on the South Coast is questionable City’s desire to put right the only home defeat of the season is not.

The Bantams were bested by Darren Anderton’s inspired display for the Cherries as they had new manager Jimmy Quinn installed. Since that day both Quinn and Anderton have left the club and with them seems to have gone the form that saw them win 3-1 that day. They have suffered three defeats in the last three games and previous to that were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blyth Spartans. Struggling with a deduction it is hard to see where the points will come from to keep them in the Football League.

All of which is demoralising and something that – when the game is played – City will hope ot take advantage of. The Bantams are looking more in race trim of late but with a 4-0 and three no score draws in the last four are obviously struggling to find the net. News that Peter Thorne is back in training is heartening as is the word that Joe Colbeck will play a reserve friendly game next week. Thorne’s finishing is always welcome but the added thrust from the flank that Colbeck added in games like the 4-1 defeat of Exeter has been missed and should the trip South be called off then Colbeck’s presence in the rearranged game could be significant. Certainly the team are more dangerous with the young winger in than with Steve Jones whom McCall is said to be signing from Burnley once his loan deal expires.

Thorne is not expected to return to the starting eleven – the hard pitch and a bad back being a poor combination – leaving Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding up front. Omar Daley and Steve Jones take the flanks alongside Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr with Dean Furman cooling his heels. One must feel sorry for the impressive Furman who has much to suggest him for a place in the side however the form of McLaren and especially Law is such that McCall has to stick with them.

Also impressive in the run of four games without conceding is Matthew Clarke who continues to be underrated as a presence in the City side and has given the Bantams a commanding edge. Also underrated is Graeme Lee’s organsational abilities which while never getting to the level of the Master – Noel Blake – are certainly better than the majority of defenders who have worn claret and amber including the man who preceded him as skipper and central defender David Wetherall. Paul Arnison is rated by fewer than he should be put clean sheet for defensive players should be impressive and he will look forward to the return of Colbeck and renewing the combination they had developed. Luke O’Brien has come on a million miles from the day he was skinned by Gareth Grant at Farsley Celtic and is being talked about as a player of the season.

No one’s player of the season is Rhys Evans but in the last month the goalkeeper has found his bit shouting voice – something Gary Walsh had over Matt Clarke and the reason the former was a better keeper than the latter – and the defence looks all the better for it.

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