Unfamiliar familiarity – Rotherham United v Bradford City – League Two preview

This is the seventh season out of eight to feature Rotherham away on Bradford City’s fixture list, though there will be nothing familiar about Saturday’s trip.

The financial difficulties which the Millers have struggled to overcome during the last few years has resulted in a temporary move to Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium. With a running track around the pitch and the stands – of which for only one side is there a roof – positioned well back, it will certainly be a contrast from the intimacy of Millmoor.

For Rotherham the move was born out of necessity as Millmoor’s landlord, former Chairman Ken Booth, demanded too much rent and not enough access to its facilities for it to be financially viable. Attendances have slightly dipped through the six-mile relocation, though with only two home defeats so far it’s clear the players have adapted to new surroundings quickly.

For us Bradford City supporters, it should be a case of being thankful for our lot. Clearly the Bantams have suffered from financial troubles in recent years and the two relegations since leaving the Premier League can be blamed on it to varying degrees. Yet both City’s spells in administration came before the sort of point deductions which have been inflicted on Rotherham for three consecutive seasons. As for a former chairman owning the ground and the struggle to make rent payments, a move to Odsal looked a possibility back in February 2004.

Which goes to show that, if there can be positives to take from what this club went through, it’s the timing of it. Pity the marketing men at Rotherham, who this summer had to work out how to sell season tickets for a club which had moved to a nearby city, which wasn’t fully guaranteed to be allowed to continue by the Football League and who even then started with a 17 point deduction. The self-righteous whining from Leeds United supporters last season has ensured many of us hold little sympathy for clubs who break the rules by getting in such debt, but things could have been much worse for us during those dark days and at the time that didn’t seem possible.

For City at least, such difficult times are now part of the history books and they approach the only proper League Two Yorkshire Derby of the season with strong promotion aspirations. Last week’s defeat to Wycombe may have tempered confidence among supporters, but manager Stuart McCall will know the true quality of a good side is how it responds to set backs. So far this season the players have made a good fist of it.

The team is likely to be similar after Stuart’s attempts to bring in a right winger on loan drew a blank. Rhys Evans keeps goal behind a back four slowly recapturing its early season solidness. Paul Heckingbottom came through the reserves unscathed midweek and Stuart may consider giving Luke O’Brien a breather. TJ Moncur seems to be comfortably first choice ahead of Paul Arnison on the right and Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke continue in the centre.

The other Clarke will continue in midfield. City’s line ups this season have largely not featured an out and out holding midfielder and the hope has to be that Paul McClaren, alongside Tom, can get forward more than he has been afforded to. Lee Bullock is close to a return to fitness and McClaren may be aware he needs to show more in order to keep his starting place. Nicky Law will play on the right with Omar Daley likely to provide the team’s main source of attacking inspiration from the left.

Up front Michael Boulding will be hoping to get the nod over Barry Conlon, with the latter still sweating over a new contract offer in the new year. There are some concerns over Peter Thorne’s recent performances, but there’s no one you’d rather have on the end of any decent chances the rest of the team can create during the game.

Rotherham are not without their problems having lost experienced keeper Andy Warrington to injury and with only Steven Cann, who played his first senior game midweek and was on the end of a 3-0 defeat, to call upon between the sticks. Manager Mark Robins too has been left frustrated by the loan market and, unless any late attempts prove successful, it will be a big day for the 20-year-old South African. They also have their own Omar, who is perhaps more Willy Topp.

One familiar face will be Alex Rhodes, who joined the Millers from City during the summer. The winger was an excellent proposition on his day, as Rotherham themselves know only too well, but lacked consistency. Had Stuart kept him on it’s likely he’d have barely figured for City this season up until Joe Colbeck’s injury, so his regularity for Rotherham suggests City would be finishing above them even if they’d not suffered that heavy points deduction.

Like City, Rotherham will be aiming to put their financial troubles behind them but the impact which the credit crunch has had on so many parts of UK life has yet to be realised in football. With the UK heading for recession tough times may be ahead and typically its lower league clubs who will suffer.

If United had trouble with season tickets this season what about the next, when people’s spending will become even tighter? This week Rotherham announced half-year season ticket prices which are still more expensive than it cost for a full City season ticket. If levels of support are to be maintained in 2009/10 season clubs are going to have to consider the sort of innovate pricing approach which has succeeded at Valley Parade, though that might be difficult for clubs like Rotherham to implement with money in short supply.

If City can march onto promotion this season they should have few problems retaining their support should they keep similar prices, which would once again leave us pleased with our timing and thankful for our lot.

BfB’s Top Five Review of 2007/2008

www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk Player of the Season

  1. Peter Thorne
    The If Only… Had Peter Thorne been fit all season and the Bantams been scoring and winning then who knows what the result of Stuart McCall’s first season would have been? He is the predatory poacher we missed without Dean Windass and as soon as he returned to full fitness with his intelligent play and able striking abilities City started to win. More please.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Plucked from the season string at Sheffield United Nix has everything that a young player should have. He plays with equal measures of heart and skill and is a joy to watch with his vivacious and effective style. The finish on the end of Willy Topp’s turn aganist Shrewsbury lives long in the memory.
  3. Joe Colbeck
    To say opinion was divided on Colbeck last season is an understatement with blows almost being exchanged over the winger who after returning from a loan Darlington ripped up League Two. Getting that form out of Joe Colbeck again next season is key to City’s promotion push. Keeping him long term may prove difficult.
  4. Barry Conlon
    How many players turn around the Valley Parade crowd from the angry mob to the appreciative whole who may have debated his abilities but saluted his commitment and effort. If anyone has ever deserved a contract extension it is Barry Conlon.
  5. David Wetherall
    The sentimental vote? Perhaps but David Wetherall organised a back four as well as he ever has done. The legs might have struggled but the brain was in full effect and it is that brain that will be behind the Bantams next year.

BfB poled eight contributors to get these results. The follow top fives are written by (one of) Jason, Roland, Michael, Omar and Paul.

The five best results and performances of the season

  1. City 3 Rotherham 2
    Oh what a Tuesday night. We proved in this game that we can actually play well against a very decent side.
  2. Darlington 1 City 3
    Stunning away victory against a promotion chasing team
  3. City 3 Notts County 0
    One of the most comprehensive victories we have seen in some years.
  4. City 4 Shrewsbury 2
    Another excellent Tuesday night, with Mr Willy Topp annoucing his arrival in Bradford with his first start, and setting up Nixy for the first goal.
  5. Dagenham and Redbridge 1 City 4
    Superb away victory – what a reward for those of us who made the trip down to London down. Nicky Law Jnr made sure of the points with an excellent late brace

Five moments when we thought we might be going up…

  1. Beating high-flying Peterborough at Valley Parade in September to go seventh.
  2. Stoppage time at Bury in January, City are 2-1 up and they have a harmless looking throw in…
  3. Luckily beating Macclesfield when they dominated second half. “Sign of a good team playing rubbish and winning,” we thought. If only…
  4. Billy Topp beautifully setting up Kyle Nix to score, six minutes into his full debut.
  5. When Joe Colbeck broke through to net the third goal at Darlington.

…and five moments when we knew we weren’t.

  1. Watching Accrington play us off the park at Valley Parade in October.
  2. Being the better side at home to Brentford but watching the Bees have two shots and score two goals.
  3. Half time at home to Rochdale, somehow it was 1-1 but the opposition were on another level.
  4. Barry Conlon’s penalty miss against Dagenham.
  5. Must-win game at Rochdale in April, 1-0 down inside 24 seconds.

Top five that the gaffer got in – McCall’s best signings

  1. Barry Conlon
    The example for everyone. Put in effort, get rewarded.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Skillful, talented, young. Fingers crossed we keep hold of him.
  3. Peter Thorne
    Showed class.
  4. Ben Starosta
    Looks like the sort of full back who can defend well and then add to the attack.
  5. Scott Loach
    They say that he will be England keeper one day. A way to go but impressive so far.

No Thanks – Five disappointing signings McCall made

  1. Paul Evans
    What gives Evo?
  2. Alex Rhodes
    Caught in the act of making Omar Daley look like a winger who tracks back.
  3. Willy Topp
    So much fanfare, so much wait ’til next season.
  4. Darren Williams
    Good, but like having Darren Holloway back.
  5. Nathan Joynes
    Barnsley said he was great, he was not.

We will miss you – Five players who impressed but have gone

  1. David Wetherall
    A legend.
  2. Donovan Ricketts
    Capable of making blinding saves.
  3. Tom Penford
    A favourite of this parish
  4. Nicky Law Jnr
    Who looked like a very good player. Better than his Dad for sure.
  5. Eddie Johnson
    Because the lad deserves credit for effort.

That went well – Five great things about 2007/2008

  1. The atmosphere, and home performances, at Valley Parade improved thanks to proper priced tickets.
  2. Stuart McCall back is great. Having him answer critics in the second half of the season is better.
  3. Barry Conlon turned around the fans with some gutsy displays proving that it is possible to turn around the fans with gutsy displays…
  4. …and nowhere was this better seen than Joe Colbeck who tore down the right wing brilliantly for four months.
  5. We broke even for the first time since the Premiership. Now that is progress.

Next year – Five things to get excited about

  1. Stuart McCall is up to speed.
  2. 20,000 supporters in Valley Parade? Would be great if it came off.
  3. Willy Topp is resting in Chile as we speak and raring to go at League Two next season.
  4. Should Joe Colbeck continue his form from the end of this term then expect dewy eyed thirty somethings to compare him to John Hendrie with every other breath.
  5. Promotion. You know its gonna happen someday.

A Time for Reflection

This game was never going to get the pulse racing. Evidently, It was a fixture that failed to inspire a large number of City season ticket holders – with Liverpool playing Chelsea in the Champions League viewed from a warm living room sofa the choice made by many.

With both sides safe from the perils of the relegation zone, and no chance of getting into the playoffs, City and Barnet predictably played out a 1-1 stalemate.

Barnet in truth were the better side and carved out the better chances, three of which brought the best out of Scott Loach. They took the lead in the first half when a thunderous effort from Barnet midfielder Thomas smacked off the crossbar. The rebound fell to the lively Birchall who reacted first to the rebound before beating Loach at his near post. Later in the half, Barnet should have doubled their lead, but Loach stood up brilliantly to block a one on one effort.

Whilst City did command much of the possession, not much of it was put to good use. The game took on the role of being an exhibition type match as the players went through the motions. Nevertheless, it was still a relief when Eddie Johnson nodded down Joe Colbeck’s accurate corner to grab us a point in the second half.

The main purpose of this game was most certainly to be to run the rule over those players “fighting” for a new contract at Bradford. With midtable obscurity the destination for both sides, it did seem like a good night to reflect on the current squad. It was time to reflect. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, you can be sure we will see plenty of new faces arrive at the club before August. My views on our current crop of players might not be shared by all, but having seen a large percentage games home and away I felt the need to want to share these with fellow BfB readers:

1 Scott Loach (Goalkeeper)
His form for us has raised eyebrows in the Premiership. Whilst there is no doubt Loach is an accomplished keeper, he is still someway off being a Premiership regular, but is no doubt one with a bright future in the game

2008/2009 City prospects
We would love to see him back next season, but seeing him back here next season is highly unlikely to say the least. We will have to go shopping in the summer to purchase a reliable, experienced new No 1.

2 Darren Williams (Right Back)
Williams has not done a lot wrong this season. He has generally been quite solid defensively, and will feel slightly aggrieved to have lost his place in the starting line up to Ben Starosta. Stuart feel’s that Starosta offers more attacking options down the right than the more defensive minded Williams.

2008/2009 City prospects
Williams only has a one year deal, but I feel he is worth another one for his defensive capabilities. McCall may decide to sign another right back permanently to provide competition again in this position.

3 Paul Heckingbottom (Left Back)
Heckingbottom’s return to Valley Parade has gone well. He hasn’t had any competition for his place, but luckily he is enough of a professional to not get complacent and let his performances drop. He has been excellent defensively and is always fully committed to the cause. A model professional.

2008/2009 City prospects
More of the same. He is a good left back at this level.

4 Paul Evans (Central Midfield)
Evans’ return to the club has certainly not gone as planned. After an ok start, he has turned in some quite awful performances in recent months and is surely going to be given his P45 in the summer. His usually reliable passing game has gone to pot, seemingly he is now better at passing to the opposition than to his team mates.

2008/2009 City prospects
Free Transfer

5 David Wetherall (Central Defender)
It pains me to say that I am actually relieved that big Dave wont be part of our back four next year. There is no doubt his loyalty to this club is commendable, but too many painful memories of our badly organized defense since the turn of the century have overshadowed our towering defender’s ability. He has always been dominant aerially – but this season his decision making, for once, has been called into question, as well as his lace of pace becoming more of an issue as the seasons have gone on.

2008/2009 City prospects
Another fans favourite taking up a coaching position within the club.

6 Mark Bower (Central Defender)
Well its been over 10 years now and Mark is still with us. He is a much better player than he was when he was signed up back in 1998, and his consistent displays have earned him respect. He was dropped for Matt Clarke earlier in the season, but overall I think Bower has had an average campaign. He really needs to push on next season to ensure our defense doesn’t leak those extremely costly late goals.

2008/2009 City prospects
A regular at the back , but really needs to step up to the plate in Wetherall’s absence, lead and organize.

7 Omar Daley (Right Winger/Forward)
Very much a footballing enigma, Omar Daley still has a lot to prove. Signing him up long term earlier in the season is very much a protection on our asset who possesses the highly desirable attribute in the modern game – blistering pace. However, Omar very frequently flatters to deceive. Either by making the wrong decision in the final third, or lacking the ability to finish a flowing burst forward with a deadly finish. I remember when I first saw Omar Daley play – back in 2003 when we visited Reading and he lined up for the opposition. His skill was there for all to see, but his finishing and decision making was abysmal, and he was substituted by their manager at the time Alan Pardew. And now, in 2008, he almost seems like the same player. There is no doubting however, that on his day, he can win us matches in this division. Lets hope he can finally have the season of his career next time round.

2008/2009 City prospects
Daley will continue to delight us, and make us cry. Some finishing practice in the summer would be advised if he has ambitions of being our number one threat next season.

8 Eddie Johnson (Central Midfield/Forward)
Johnson may well have done enough in the last month to earn himself a new contract. I don’t think he is good enough as a midfielder to command a regular first team spot as he quite often drifts out of games without you even knowing he is on the pitch.

2008/2009 City prospects
Will probably get a new one year deal. Should be used as a utility squad player.

9 Barry Conlon (Striker)
Conlon has divided opinion amongst fans from Barnsley to Plymouth. He is like marmite – you either love him or hate him. Whilst I appreciate the effort he occasionally puts in to the cause, the guy cannot finish. We have a number 9 who cant finish. Some of his finishing is so woeful it would make Ade Akinibiyi wince. Yet I have the feeling that somehow Stuart rates this guy and will hand him a new deal. I , for one, am praying that wont happen.

2008/2009 City prospects
Offer of a contract is 50/50. I wouldn’t offer him anything more than a lift to the nearest airport.

10 Peter Thorne (Striker)
Thoroughly deserved his new deal. The class act of the side. He looks after himself, is intelligent and a keen eye for goal. His goal record speaks for itself. His all round play is also admirable and shows why has managed to play at a higher level for so long.

2008/2009 City prospects
If we can keep him fit, look for 20 league goals from Thorne next season.

11 Alex Rhodes (Winger)
Rhodes has showed glimpses of good form this season, but I fear his inconsistency will prove to be too costly.

2008/2009 City prospects
No contract offered

12 Matthew Clarke (Central Defender)
Excellent form at times this season. Makes the occasional rash decision, and thus needs to work on refining his approach slightly. Will really look for him to sharpen up his act next year and dominant League Two strikers next season.

2008/2009 City prospects
A regular at the back

15 Joe Colbeck (Winger/Midfielder)
It quite often crossed my mind in the first half of this season that Colbeck would never make it at City. Yet, he has surprised me. I used to hate him. Absolutely hate him. I thought he would go the way of Danny Forrest and Joe Brown. But his loan spell at Darlo did him the world of good. He is now performing more consistently (especially away from home!). He battles. He whips in a good cross. Add more consistency and more of a footballing brain to his play and he can really help us next year.

2008/2009 City prospects
Expect some good things from Colbeck next year – he needs to prove that he can perform in front of the Valley Parade crowd.

18 Tom Penford (Midfielder)
I feel he has done enough to earn a contract. If he can be a bit more attacking minded he will have the makings of a good player.

2008/2009 City prospects
Will get a contract. Needs to stamp his authority on the team next year and chip in with some more goals.

20 Scott Pheland (Midfielder)
Not good enough. Not strong enough for this league (or any other)

2008/2009 City prospects
Free transfer

22 Kyle Nix (Midfielder)
Decent player. Needs to figure out his best position, stick to it and make it his own or he will only be a bit part player. Always battles for the cause.

2008/2009 City prospects
Worth a one year deal. He will hope to nail down a regular spot in the team next year, but may have his work cut out if Stuart brings in alternatives.

23 Willy Topp (Striker)
We certainly haven’t seen the best of him yet. I fear he may not be the right kind of player for this division. Shows some nice touches and skill but not shown us an end product yet.

2008/2009 City prospects
Make or break season for our 35k investment. He has had time now to settle in.

25 Luke Medley (Striker)
His wonder strike against Wrexham gave us hope. But he has something very much “non-league” about his play. His failure to make it at Cambridge City speaks volumes. The occasionally glimpse of desire, ala Grimsby away, isn’t good enough of the course of a whole season

2008/2009 City prospects
No contract offered.

32 Lee Bullock (Midfielder)
Solid defensive midfielder. Decent player in this league.

2008/2009 City prospects
Should nail down a regular place in the centre of the park

36 David Brown (Striker)
Predators goal against Macclesfield. His ability on the training ground will determine whether Stuart wants to keep this youngster.

2008/2009 City prospects
50/50 on a new contract, but I would probably release him due to his lack of physical presence.

Just not good enough

This weekend was the first anniversary of one of the more painful moments in Bradford City’s recent history. It was this time last year that nearly 4,000 of us travelled to the Galpharm Stadium for an incredibly important local derby against Huddersfield Town. With the battle against relegation becoming increasingly desperate, a good result was vital.

We were ‘rewarded’ with a feeble and pathetic performance, going down 2-0 to a mediocre Town side. Falling behind inside two minutes, there was just one woeful effort from Steven Schumacher which could be counted as a City shot on goal. The players showed a shocking lack of commitment and, considering it was a derby and we were fighting for our lives, it was unforgiveable.

12 months on and, while the bigger picture has undoubtedly got worse, thankfully we’ve not seen a performance as poor from City since. There will no chewing of the nails and worrying about relegation during the final 12 matches of this campaign, although Saturday’s defeat to Stockport has ensured we won’t be feeling any butterflies at the prospect of promotion either. And as the season drifts away it might be worth showing the current players the video nasty of that Town defeat to help them contemplate whether they’re currently doing enough to remain a City player beyond this summer.

If the players were to look in the mirror and ask that question following the Edgeley Park defeat, the majority of responses are unlikely to be positive. Yes Stockport showed they were a decent side and the conditions were difficult to play in; but with 700 or so City fans singing non-stop to spur you on, even through the half time break, and the knowledge that a new contract this summer is far from certain for many of them, you’d expect them to show a lot more than this. Stockport now lie sixth in the division, a place where we’d expect City to at least be this time next year. It was an opportunity for the players to demonstrate they are good enough to reach this standard by competing against a side with a decent chance of playing League One football next season. Sadly too many fell short.

Omar Daley and Kyle Nix were punished for bad performances the previous week by losing their spots to Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans as Stuart lined City up in the 4-5-1 formation which has caused heated debate amongst supporters this season. Whilst criticisms about its negativity may be valid, this tactic relies on runners from midfield supporting lone striker Peter Thorne. Unfortunately City failed to find any rhythm going forward and, considering we had five in midfield, it was concerning how easy Stockport passed the ball through us as they enjoyed territorial advantage.

Joe Colbeck and Alex Rhodes were too isolated, though at least Colbeck showed willingness to come central for the ball and worked hard defending. The same can’t be said of Rhodes, one player desperate for a new deal this summer. Rhodes recently returned to the side with two impressive performances against Notts County and Rotherham, but we need more than two good games followed by two below average efforts and Rhodes has a lot to do in the final weeks to convince he should be part of next season’s plans.

Stockport, with Shaleum Logan and Liam Dickinson looking lively, dominated the first half and only Scott Loach prevented them going in front with a string of impressive saves. Defensively City played reasonably well with Darren Williams, recalled after Ben Starosta was ruled out through illness, looking solid on his return. There were some impressive blocks and defensive headers which showed commitment was not a quality lacking at the back at least. A couple of wild shots from distance were the only attacking response from City and the half time whistle was a relief.

Many of City’s away games this season have featured dull first halves, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when we took the lead seven minutes into the second. A long ball forward was cleverly controlled by Thorne, who then did well to lay it into the path of Colbeck. The in-form winger charged into the area before been tripped by County keeper John Ruddy, leaving the referee with no choice but to award a penalty. With Barry Conlon on the bench and most City fans desperate for Thorne to take over duties, City’s top scorer looked nervous as he placed the ball on the spot. He duly despatched his 11th goal of the season to set up the platform for a fortuitous win.

Yet City still couldn’t get going and continued to invite County to apply heavy pressure. Loach made a string of impressive saves and Stuart brought on Daley for the ineffective Rhodes. The Jamaican has previously shown he’s a useful player to give the ball to when City are in a narrow winning position and the opposition are throwing players forward, unfortunately the defensive side to his game is still inadequate. Daley half-heartedly tracked back but failed to deny Logan space and his low cross was fired home by Anthony Dickinson.

Ten minutes later County edged in front through Michael Rose’s superb free kick from the edge of the box. It was rough on Loach, who seconds earlier had made his best save of the afternoon by denying Dickinson when through one-on-one, yet no more than his team mates deserved. Surely City now had to start forcing some pressure to get back into the game? Yet attacks in the final stages remained sporadic. Colbeck, who put in another decent performance, sent over a superb cross after Daley’s charged down shot had fallen to him and David Wetherall, thrown up front in desperation, had a free header and the whole goal to aim at. Incredibly he put it wide.

As we trooped out of the ground while listening to the odd City fan muttering that Stuart “hasn’t got a clue”, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of County. The final whistle was greeted with huge cheers from home fans and their players and manager Jim Gannon savoured the moment by staying on the pitch for a few minutes to soak up the applause of an important win. I wasn’t just envious that they can still dream of an extended end to the season, but of the spirit around the place which was evident. They had some decent players and their determination in battling on even after they had fallen behind impressed. They kept playing the right way and were ultimately rewarded. It’s a spirit which is sadly missing with City at the moment.

It’s easy and predictable to blame all of this on Stuart, but where’s the personal responsibility from those paid to play for Bradford City? The reality is that Stuart is stuck with this bunch of players until the summer, only then can he bring in better players. Sounding characteristically downbeat in defeat, an honest Stuart took responsibility for the tactical switch of bringing on Daley which failed to work. It’s another hard lesson to take on board; but if Stuart is going to make mistakes he’d be as well to do so now and learn from them for next season, which is surely the time to judge him. The manager left no doubt he will be making changes for next season and those players who wish to remain part of his plans will need to prove themselves in these final 12 games.

Not just prove they are committed, but that they have the ability to take this club forward. As Barry Conlon came on with ten minutes remaining to be met with a chorus of boos from some fans in the away end, there was a timely reminder that 100% commitment, woefully missing a year ago at the Galpharm, is only the minimum requirement. There are big question marks hanging over whether a number of current players are good enough to help City to a better shot at promotion next year, they’d be advised not to start dreaming of their summer holidays yet.

Seething and Learning

The question before us, Dear Reader, is one of motivation as Bradford City lost 2-0 at Valley Parade to Dag and Red after a week of two impressive wins seemed to set up the play off charge for the Bantams.

80 minutes gone when Ben Strevens finished off a tidy move for the visitors taking advantage of Stuart McCall’s laudable efforts to play a fullbackless 3412 to try get back on level terms those play off ambitions seemed lost. In fact they probably were before kick off but confidence after wins and good performances can be as much an enemy at the start of a football match as the habitual losing pattern McCall found his team in earlier in the season.

With two fine wins this week on the back of a run stretching back to Boxing Day which has seem good results and good performances Valley Parade turned up expecting and hands were sat on – football supporters have this way of flipping between an attitude of dark pessimism and massive expectation at the recording of two wins – but more crucially the equivalent performances were put in on the field.

Bradford City emerged from the dressing room in the mistaken believe that the win would flow in following previous results and that – in essence – they did not have to put in the effort to claim victory. This game was lost in the dressing room at 14:59.

Bill Shankly would tell all is Liverpool sides of the 1970s were first tasked in a season with avoiding relegation understanding that every game in football had to be won over the course of 90 minutes and that domination in football comes from an ability to not assume those victories against any opposition.

There is a line between confident and arrogant; between thinking and expecting; and City were too far the wrong side of that line. Alex Rhodes is an easy to pick out offender as he hung on the last man waiting for the perfect pass that would free him for attacking play rather than playing with the endeavour that saw him achieve in recent games. Omar Daley showed the same entirely forgetting that it was his harrying and chasing that brought about his goal against Rotherham last week. Joe Colbeck could hold his head up and say that he put in the same effort to try get this win as he did previous but no doubts anyone else could.

The same cannot be said for Dag & Red who at one point had Scott Griffiths block three shots in a minute – one with his face – and showed the sort of work rate that deserved a victory. It is simple to say but very true: They wanted it more.

All of which sounds damning and the margin of error today was slight – Barry Conlon’s missed penalty at 1-0 could have seen City back in the game and go on to win – but this ability to keep a team focused while winning is one of the most difficult things in football and something that even the best managers the game has seen have to learn and get wrong.

The balance McCall must build is on the one hand he must let confidence grow and let his players think they are winning games because of their excellence and on the other hand he must break them down and remind them that they cannot expect to beat anyone without putting in the effort. It is a conversation that goes “You are the best footballers in the world and can beat anyone but if you don’t run yourselves around then you can’t beat anyone” and if I knew a good way of putting that to a bunch of men then I would be doing it and not writing about doing it.

So McCall faces the inconstancy of over confidence and looks to learn what he can as he did that caused by the lack of confidence earlier in the season. One thing that his rookie year in League Two will have done is provide a lot of learning experiences for the ginger one but it should be noted at this point with a quarter of the season to go that League Two in 2007/2008 is freakish.

Today of the twelve games played five were home wins and five away victories which continues that balance as being seventeen more away wins than home wins this season. It is a season in which – for whatever reason – it is more common that the away side picks up the victory than the home side does. To put that in context in the 120 years of English League Football over all divisions ever run it has never been the case that a season has finished with more away wins than home. Never happened before.

City and McCall’s problems are far more common. Over confidence, players putting in 75% thinking they can stroll to wins, feet off the ground and people not thinking that winning game three on a run requires less effort than winning game one did. Something to work on before any side is able to mount a promotion campaign.

Exhilarating

Bradford’s exhilarating first half attacking display was enough to see off Rotherham in this Yorkshire derby clash at Valley Parade.

In one of the most entertaining game seen at home for some years, Rotherham proved to be more than capable opponents as they threatened regularly in the first half. But it was City who got the early breakthrough.

Omar Daley’s persistence in pressurizing Rotherham right back Dale Tonge paid off as he robbed him and found space down the left channel. With a clear break, Peter Thorne was screaming for it at the back stick, but Daley continued to dribble into the box, beat another man, before planting a strike into the bottom corner. It looked like Daley was going to overcook and waste the move, but his determination was rewarded with the opening goal.

Before we had time to recover from the jubilation of getting our noses in front, City doubled their lead with some incisive attacking play.

Joe Colbeck burst down the right and whipped in a fantastic cross which Alex Rhodes got on the end of and side footed in City’s second. Rhodes was alert to the situation as soon as Colbeck regained Bradford possession and sprinted into the box to make sure he got there to finish off the move.

At 2-0, all seemed well, but Rotherham had always threatened, and were always going to score in this game. Early on one of their front men hit the inside of the post before the ball somehow bounced out past the back of Scott Loach and miraculously out for a goal kick.

And it was no surprise when they got back into the game on the half hour, with a long ball played up to Taylor, who controlled well in the box, and slipped the ball under Loach to fire up the contest again.

With the half drawing to a close, City brilliantly regained their two goal cushion. Joe Colbeck was once again the architect, whipping in a superb looping cross which Lee Bullock headed home for his first goal for the club.

And Bradford came out in the second half with a good attitude – to protect the lead and hit Rotherham on the break once they came out to try and come back into the game. And the players seemed to possess a steely determination to not relinquish the lead, and for the most part were quite comfortable.

This determination was opitimised by Colbeck, who seemed to have endless energy, and tracked back to do his defensive work admirably. In fact it was the best game I have ever seen Colbeck play – he produced quality when it mattered, and battled it out until the final whistle. I have been one of his fiercest critics every since he made his first team debut at the club – but this type of performance on a consistent basis is sure to win me over for good.

The second half was a lot less exciting. Rotherham continued to threaten, but never looked overly confident of completing a miraculous turnaround. The onloan Moncur produced a particularly good display and showed he has an eye for a good long accurate pass to feet. Wetherall coped with absolutely everything aerially, as ever.

But inevitably, as with is to often with City these days, the Millers scored a late goal with five minutes remaining which ensured a very nervy finish to the game. Those nerves would have been avoided had the in-form Peter Thorne stuck away the most simple of chances.

Colbeck had beaten the last line of defense and rolled a fantastic ball square across the byline that landed at the feet of Thorne. From 4 yards out, the veteran hitman blasted over when it looked harder to miss than score.

But Thorne’s blushes and miss did not prove to be critical – as the City defense held firm for the full four minutes of injury time – which I have no idea how the officials came to decide on that number of minutes.

This victory was a real triumph. We had beaten one of the best teams in the division, and furthermore we had done it in style. With the new season ticket offer being rolled out, if any further proof was needed that Stuart McCall’s team are headed in the right direction, tonight was the night.

We may have missed the playoff boat now (the optimists among us still believe) , but this display really showed what we are capable of when we get out act together. We have proved we can get decent results away from home – and next season home displays like this will surely give us enough points to mount a serious promotion challenge next season.

To Live And Die With Stuart

After Saturday’s game, I distinctly remembered a comment from a friend that was made before a ball had been kicked this season, which I took as a joke at the time. “How long or how bad a run would it take for City fans to start calling for Stuart’s head?”.

Well now, after six defeats in eight, and lying forth bottom in League Two at the start of November, the fingers are already pointing – and yes, our Stuart is not even exempt from being blamed by some supporters.

It has widely been discussed that we have tried all kinds of managers with different attributes and reputations since it was apparent that we were about to fall out of the Premiership in early 2001. All have resoundingly failed and the task of getting City back on track was handed to one of our heroes this summer amidst widespread euphoria within the club.

In his playing career, everywhere that Stuart went, success came instantly, and many thought that this trend would continue managing his beloved hometown club. But the story so far this season has been difficult to say the least.

Perhaps Stuart set expectations too high when he was appointed. But I was absolutely delighted to hear the optimism of “If we don’t bounce back into League One straight away, I will view myself as a failure”. Getting spirits, expectations and morale up within a football is essential if you want to become a winning team – and more than 12,000 people put their hands in their pockets to see if Stuart could come up with a winning formula and create a team capable of challenging this season.

But the reality has been hard to bear so far. Our dreadful home form has continued in the same vain as in recent years, and when we do play well, we can’t finish teams off and/or put the ball in the back of the net. A glance at the League table makes worrying reading indeed and after Saturday’s performance most fans feel like we don’t have a chance of being at the business end of the league this season and that we should concentrate on avoiding relegation.

So, who is to blame for our start to the season? To be honest with you, I would hesitate to single out even one person. Everything at the club seems to be set for a successful season. The support at all matches is there without question. Yes, on Saturday, supporters were not behind the team as much as they should have been, but I view that very much as a one off.

Stuart was everyone’s first choice as manager, and supporters questioning his appointment or ability as a manager are nothing short of foolish. He wants to bring success to this club so badly and I am sure he will have turned down more money offered by other clubs during the summer to come “home”. His signings have been positive. Thorne was his big signing, and there is still hope he will come good. Conlon scored 12 goals in this league last season ( so his credentials appeared to check out, despite his poor performances that he has gone on to have), Heckingbottom and Evans were welcomed back, and Alex Rhodes and Kyle Nix look decent players.

We must not forget that this is Stuart’s first shot at management. He does need time to work out how to get promoted out of this league, as he has never been involved in lower league football before. He needs time to work out his best formation and style of play. He needs to work out every single strength and weakness of all his players. All these things cannot just magically happen when you come into a club that has been in free fall in the last seven years.

I believe that we need to stick with Stuart for literally as long as it takes for him to get it right. For all we know, we still might have a shot at the playoffs this season ( which is getting less and less likely the more games we see this year!). But even if it takes years to get this club up the leagues, Stuart is the man for this job. He wears his heart on his sleeve and will never quit until he gets success. That has what he has done throughout his career and it is what you are guaranteed with Stuart McCall.

There may come a time in the future where Stuart has taken us as far as he can, or as a result of his success, he gets poached by another club. But as we stand today, let’s unite behind our all time favourite player. He will turn our fortunes around sooner or later, and the more we support him, the more determined he will be to get us back on track. Negativity is bound to go hand in hand with bad results, but we have 32 games left to play this season and the teams in this league are nothing to worry about if we get our form sorted out.

Lets support Stuart and the team tomorrow night like I know we can. Lets get them believing in themselves again. If we turn against our messier, like some supporters have been doing, we will never get this club back to where we should/want to be. If we continue with negative attitudes, those demons will shoot us down until Bradford City FC is no more.

Something to cheer

Football, least we forget, is all about goals.

A miserable afternoon of failed effort and frustration can be wiped away by the sight of the ball crossing the white line. The result that appears in the following day’s newspaper is all that matters and all of us would gladly swap a good performance for a good result.

So when City equalised with the final kick of the ball at Blundell Park on Saturday, the disappointment of what had gone on before was eclipsed by wild celebrations and a pitch invasion so enthusiastic City manager Stuart McCall had to run over to the away stand and appeal for calm.

Were such celebrations justified? The build up to this fixture included whispers of ‘six pointer’ and ‘must win’ for two sides desperately short on form. Imagining the game would end as 1-1 draw before kick off would have certainly felt disappointing to the 1,000+ City fans who journeyed to Cleethorpes. On Saturday evening I met with friends, plus received text messages from others, who supported different teams and all seemed to be of the opinion that ‘only’ drawing with Grimsby was a poor result. “Can Bradford sink any lower?” was one text message I received. Well yes and no was my reply. Of course it can get worse than this, but it probably won’t.

From the moment former City striker Isaiah Rankin’s outstretched foot collided into City goalkeeper Rhys Evans’ shoulder, as the two players contested a low cross, it was easy to imagine a sixth defeat in seven was on the cards. Evans was left in a lot of pain and, although he tried to play on, had to come off shortly afterwards. With Donovan Ricketts sat in the stands rather than sat on the bench, City had to see out the remaining 70 minutes without a recognised goalkeeper.

Mark Bower was elected back up keeper and swapped centre back duties with Matt Clarke, who made an impressive first league appearance of the season, replacing the injured Evans. It was easy to be fearful of conceding every time Grimsby poured forward but, curiously, City actually began defending better, as though they knew they had to protect Mark Bower’s goal at all costs.

The half time mutterings from some fans were of disapproval at Stuart’s decision not to include a keeper on the bench, although no one knew at the time that Ricketts was in fact injured, which was why Stuart didn’t include him in the 16. To be fair to Bower, he didn’t put a foot wrong in goal and even produced an excellent tip over from a second half free kick.

The goal that he did concede was easily preventable though. Matt Clarke picked up a loose ball in the area and appeared to ignore the calls of Bower charging up behind to leave it for him to collect. Even then this would have been okay had Clarke’s clearance not been so woeful. The ball went straight to Grimsby’s Shaleum Logan and the on-loan Man City full back produced a delicate lob over the back peddling Bower which flew into the net.

The dreaded moment had happened, although in some ways it felt like a positive. I’d personally felt sick to the stomach every time Grimsby poured forward for fear of our non-keeper conceding a soft goal. Now that had happened and it was up to City to come back.

The next fifteen minutes saw heavy pressure from City with Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu looking a real threat and twice going close. Kyle Nix and Paul Heckingbottom also had chances, before City seemed to run out of ideas and Grimsby got on top again. It appeared as though the game was lost with City’s season-long difficulty of finding the back of the net continuing.

Two substitutions changed that tide with Alex Rhodes impressing after replacing Nix. He whipped in some of the best crosses of the game, although no one was able to get on the end. Barry Conlon, with two previous brilliant performances, was a major disappointment. He failed to hold up the ball adequately and couldn’t seem to get in the game. Conlon was hauled off to a mixture of jeers from some fans and cheers from others. Supporters’ views of our big number nine clearly remain mixed and those who don’t rate him were given more ammunition after this performance. It’s becoming clear that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency.

Conlon was replaced with Luke Medley who, like Clarke and Rhodes, proved an effective substitute. He was a handful and soon had the ball in the back of the net after a Grimsby defender and goalkeeper Barnes collision left him with a tap in, only for the referee Dave Foster to controversially rule it out. It was the latest in a string of decisions City failed to get from Foster but then, perhaps conscious he was wrong to disallow the goal; he appeared to start favouring City.

As the game moved towards stoppage time and City looked beaten Medley chased a through ball which Barnes came out to collect in his hands, but just stepped over the penalty box line in doing so. A free kick and, after a pause, a red card; neither team were going to end the day with the keeper they started with.

The free kick was well saved by sub keeper Gary Montgomery before Wetherall headed the rebound over and it appeared the game was lost. Then Medley chased another lost cause, managed to win the ball and ran through to the penalty area. He was blocked by Justin Whittle and the referee blew for a penalty. Fans were already running on the pitch in celebration. The tension was huge, but Ndumbu-Nsungu kept his cool to fire home the spot and cue the wild celebrations which again spilled onto the pitch.

Unlike others I didn’t really believe this game to be a six pointer. City might be low down the league at present, but I believe we’ll soon be climbing up regardless of if we had have lost on Saturday. With the backdrop of no goalkeeper, a point was something we would all have probably settled for after 25 minutes and it was just a relief to see that the efforts of the players, most of who played below their best, was rewarded with something. Defeat would have left us back to square one after the promising Darlington draw last week.

So while wild celebrations for a point at Grimsby might seem unusual to some, it was perfectly understandable to every one of us present who had suffered a tortuous 92 minutes where every time the home side came forward you felt they would score, where you wished Ricketts had been available, where it looked like City were going to fall short yet again and where we were facing a long journey home debating and pondering what’s gone wrong.

Before that, six games of nothing to cheer. The performance against Darlington felt good, but it wasn’t a cause for celebration. The only thing good since Bower’s winner against Peterborough, our last win, was when Bower again scored against Morecambe and we thought we were heading for a win. That feeling lasted less than half an hour and soon after we were feeling even more pain.

So while I can’t speak for everyone there, I personally celebrated wildly because every time I’ve been to watch City lately there’s been little to cheer and I was at last able to let out some of that frustration. This was for getting stuffed by Accrington, for losing late on against MK Dons and Morecambe, for watching City slump from play offs to relegation candidates and, in the process, become something of a laughing stock.

This season has seen a magnificent level of support from City fans and the huge numbers at Valley Parade and on the road is far more deserving of the performances and results we’ve been watching of late. We’ve been desperate for something to cheer and we deserve something to cheer.

Football is about goals and, while a 93rd minute equaliser against Grimsby Town might not sound much, it felt fantastic just to be celebrating something.

The pain goes on

I’m seriously considering returning my Morecambe ticket to the Shrimpers’ ticket office and making a formal complaint. The stub included details of what stand I would be in and which turnstile to go through, but it should also have included the word ‘WARNING’ in big red letters followed by a disclaimer about the risk of extreme stress I could suffer by entering their ground.

If I’d have been warned of the impending misery I would experience at Christie Park last Friday I might have thought twice before purchasing our tickets before the Accrington game. Last minute defeats are surely the cruellest and most painful. Suddenly an hour and a half journey home felt long and daunting. Christie Park is set up so that we had to walk around the whole stadium to get back to our car, so we had to wade our way through a sea of happy home supporters enjoying another great moment in their rise to professional football. And as we drove home through the Lancaster traffic, it was impossible to think of anything other than the failings of our players.

Five defeats in a row; less than a month after City defeated much fancied Peterborough, who saw that coming? An encouraging start to the season has turned into a complete nightmare as the Bantams sink to new depths. It seems ludicrous to think that City might be battling against relegation to non-league obscurity this season, but it feels more of a possibility with each passing defeat. The pressure is building and already some of our more impatient fans are openly questioning Stuart McCall. I want to believe that City are better than this and that promotion this season is not a forlorn hope, but at the moment all I have to go on is blind faith.

The return of Stuart to City as manager seemed to herald a change in fortune…yet so far it hasn’t happened and Stuart is probably still realising the size of the task he has in turning this club around.

The doom and gloom most of us seem to be feeling right now is partly contributed by recent history. Personally I’m sick of it, absolutely sick of City losing all of the time. Last season we saw City plummet from early play off contenders to relegation and there was just a handful of wins to celebrate during that period. We’ve watched City get relegated three times in seven years – and every other season has involved some, albeit often brief, relegation concerns.

Part of the pain with Morecambe’s last minute winner was the familiarity of the feeling that engulfed me. I’ve seen City concede late winners too often during the last few years. As soon as the ball crossed the line I knew that the feeling of misery inside would rise and quickly get worse within the next few minutes, and then stay with me all night.

I dreaded waking up the following morning and feeling the pain all over again when I remembered the match. I also knew that the gloom wouldn’t go away until well into the week and, when it did, it would be replaced by foolish optimism that City would win next weekend and we would all be celebrating again. Yet again my weekend will be ruined by raised hopes being crushed.

The stress and misery is part of being a football fan and I accept that, but why can’t we have a season where we win more than we lose? Why can’t we have players who do their job properly and excite us with brilliant football? I occasionally fantasise about a safe, boring midtable season with little stress. The night before travelling to Morecambe I met up with a Burnley supporting friend who ridiculed me mercilessly about City’s recent efforts. How I wish we could be Burnley, always finishing mid table with no promotion or relegation concerns. Great, now I’m jealous of a Dingles fan!

Our party travelling to Morecambe was unexpectedly boosted by two extra people, one who stopped going to watch City during the Todd reign and another who had not been since the Premiership adventure. As we drove home I thought about what they had both missed since giving up on City. What truly great moments has there been? The occasional memorable victory, but that’s it. No promotion challenges, no cup runs; continuing survival has been the only thing we’ve been able to get excited about.

The return of Stuart to City as manager seemed to herald a change in fortune, especially with new investment and phenomenal season ticket sales quickly following. Yet so far it hasn’t happened and Stuart is probably still realising the size of the task he has in turning this club around.

With just six senior players when he took over, Stuart had to bring in a near full squad of new players. It’s becoming painfully clear that certain members of the existing squad aren’t good enough to challenge for promotion or play for the best supported club in the division; whether it be for their ability or attitude. Stuart has spoken of bringing in new blood but, while there is some money to spend, it will need to be loan players until January. By and large, we’re stuck with the present lot until then.

The biggest disappointment of the Morecambe defeat was the lack of passion shown from some players. The home side chased and harried every ball and won nearly all the 50/50s. Their players gave everything to the cause and dominated the second half. In contrast some of our players seemed to believe they didn’t need to work hard as others in the team would win the ball back and do the ugly bits. Both Alex Rhodes and Omar Daley were guilty of failing to track back and help the defence, which was badly under the cosh for long spells in the second half. They also failed to adequately support Eddie Johnson and Nicky Law as City weakly lost the midfield battle.

Debates about midfield balances take place at all levels, look at England, but City’s felt wrong against Morecambe without a ball winner included. Both Law and Johnson appear more comfortable going forward rather than tackling. Paul Evans is badly missing and Scott Phelan has struggled to date. Craig Bentham has yet to be given a chance and, in hindsight, Stuart must have wished he’d included a more defensive Phelan or Bentham in his team at Christie Park. I’ve heard a few City fans say, “We need a team of Stuarts.” Well just one against Morecambe would have been nice!

Playing two wingers away from home can be a risk, especially when they defend like Daley and Rhodes. Neither were much better going forward either and I felt sorry for Barry Conlon and Guylian Nsumbu-Nsungu. Both got into good positions but were often ignored by Daley in particular, who usually elected to shoot instead. City improved when Kyle Nix came on, but the winger situation must be causing Stuart to tear his hair out. Daley has moved from been the big hope last year to key player this season, but his performances haven’t really improved.

The lack of pace in the defence is a concern and led to Morecambe’s winner, our strikers aren’t getting great service and the right formula for our midfield has yet to be found. With second place Darlington due at Valley Parade on Saturday it may get worse before it gets better. It’s still early days in the season and too soon to write off City completely, but things can’t go on as they are and we can only trust Stuart and Wayne to get it right.

Hopefully better days are around the corner. Hopefully the pain and misery which has become too familiar for us City supporters will be less frequent. Hopefully I will soon be able to bring myself to look at the league table for more than five seconds, because City will have climbed it. Hopefully when I go to buy my Grimsby tickets they will have thought to remember the appropriate health warning.

Welcome To The Wild, Wild West

After eight minutes Francis Green of Macclesfield – obviously not having been shoved a copy of the mythic script that goes with events such as Stuart McCall’s first game as Bradford City boss – screwed a long range low drive past Donovan Ricketts for the opening goal of the season at Valley Parade which would ultimately end in the Bantams 14th – but least disheartening – consecutive home game without a win.

That the Bantams rarely looked like conceding to a Macclesfield Town side that opened with first day endeavour and ended with the kind of two lines of four and willingness to shed blood for the cause – not their blood of course but blood nevertheless – said much about City’s task this season. A lesson in what is in front of the Bantams in more says that one.

City had the lion’s share of the ball, the game and the chance. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – GNN if you will – equalised for McCall’s side after Barry Conlon had seen his penalty saved just before the half time whistle blew. GNN was booked for his shirt off celebrations following his rebound pounce which – while technically correct – baffled many including no doubt Carl Regan who had given away said penalty for a two footed tackle on GNN eight yards from goal when the Congolese player had nothing but the keeper to beat. Regan got the ball but the two footed lunge has long been outlawed in football in the same way that the head tackle – while a very effective way of making sure man and ball are separated in Rugby League – is strictly forbidden.

Eight yards out, GNN clean through. The rules of football make it very clear that just as GNN must be booked for removing shirt in celebration Regan must be sent off. Welcome – one and all – to League Two: The Wild West of football.

Remember the John Ford movies where Sheriff Gary Cooper or John Wayne on a better day would dish out justice not on the basis of law and what was written as write and wrong but more on the grounds of what would keep the peace of the town. Referee Graham Horwood wore no star badge but as with officials at this level behaved in the same way. Luke Dimech handled clearly in the penalty area before the goal but he probably didn’t mean it so play was waved on. Gareth Evans and Terry Dunfield spent much of the second half trying to break Donovan Ricketts in half but this is League Two yeah? The peace was kept with smatterings of yellow cards but consistency was never considered above the dramatic flourish for effect no matter how many times David “Premiership” Wetherall bounced a ball off a visitor who on refusing to retreat or standing over a free kick is mandated for a booking Horwood was having none of it because this is League Two and we have our own way of doing things down here.

Green’s goal aside City have a way of doing things which was mostly pleasing. McCall is building a team with a directness about it and that team plays off the excellence of is avatar Paul Evans who was everything that the number four shirt at Bradford City should be today: Passionate and able to raise his team mates around him, skilful and able to play a generous ball, strong on pitch and on the ball. Evans is this team’s Stuart McCall with bending free kicks two of which came out of the locker today and both could have resulted in goals and it is a pleasure to watch him play once more.

City’s thirteen today featured not one bad performance. Barry Conlon holds a ball up with power and while he looked less likely to trouble the net that Lee Mills a player in his style has been missing for sometime. Alex Rhodes on the left wing is still getting up to speed – or so we are told – but is a great find thus far with a less speedy more skilful display. He is more Beagrie than Muirhead and all the better for it. Omar Daley tried – nice work their Stuart – and Eddie Johnson received a half time rocket and got more involved after the break. The back four were not at fault all day and Donovan Ricketts had little to do which was a good job considering the ear snappingly horrible sound of him falling and needing his foot strapping up – an injury rather shamefully exploited by some nasty tackling by Macclesfield player. Invaliding goalkeepers out of the game should not be a part of football at any level but Ricketts continued with few tests on his agility.

All that was lacking was the second goal for the Bantams despite Conlon’s smart play feeding Daley who dragged his shot wide. More clear cut chances would have sealed a win no doubt but such things will come and on the day when the Bantams walked into what was in many ways the last chance saloon – this McCall/Cheap Season Tickets/Mark Lawn thing has to work or what it the future for the club – they emerged on the road to gold.

The path to that gold may depend rather too much on the random peace keeping of the Sheriffs.

Graduation Day

I think I remember how this works. Many things happen during a Summer and this Summer was more eventful than most but on a weekend in August everything that is shaken up returns into place and – on a sun soaked afternoon as the clock ticks over to three – football in all its would be egalitarian glory returns.

For minutes everyone is equal – nice to see the Premiership kick off on the same day once more – and until the first goal is scored in the country no one is ahead and no one is behind. Except for Leeds United. My Nan Margaret Gunn used to say that one should be nice to people on the way up because one would meet them on the way down. That is pretty much all one can say about Leeds.

Within minutes some unlucky group of supporters are going to watching their custodian pulling the ball out of the back of the net. Within forty five and when the expectant 12,000 at Valley Parade are looking for probably rare pies someone will be three down and they will be beginning a bad season. With hope that will not be Bradford City.

Football is watching Bradford City this season. The £138 season ticket and return of Stuart McCall has suggested a new paradigm in football. Give them something to watch and do not stop them from coming to watch it. In a very real way a small revolution is happening at Valley Parade tomorrow and who knows where it will end? Football pricing in line with a trip to the cinema. Mr Rhodes, you deserve the best of things.

One suspects though that Mr Rhodes and his new partner Mark Lawn would settle for a win – any win – but if the footballing Gods smile then a good win. Stuart McCall’s return is invigorating and both he and Wayne Jacobs have proved something at assistant level. It is graduation day.

McCall’s first team for his first game in the big chair at home to Macclesfield Town will feature the heart of the defence of last season. Donovan Ricketts behind David Wetherall and Mark Bower could be the best three in the league. Paul Heckingbottom makes his second debut at left back and Darren Williams plays on the right. A defence that picks itself week in week out is the basis of the best teams.

Paul Evans – still without contract – is expected to be signed up in time to take the number four shirt and the McCall position breaking up play and moving the ball on. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley scrap over the right wing – what the former lacks in class the latter lacks in effort – and Alex Rhodes is expected to make a debut on the left not long after signing from Brentford as McCall opts for a 442. A host of players would partner Evans in the middle but expect Eddie Johnson to get the nod.

Barry Colon takes one slot up front but Peter Thorne’s injury prevents McCall from giving a first outing to his pairing. Gillingham’s Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – signed on loan yesterday – is expected to add pace and power to the forward line.

Three o’clock. Turn up, cheer, see a win. I’m not sure is how it has been working for a good few years now but this is graduation day and things can change.

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