Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

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

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

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

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

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

Is Parkinson a special one?

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

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

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

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

Which raises an interesting question for City fans to consider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parkinson has his thoughts on the bread and butter.

Aaron McLean and the heroes of failure

The collective view of history

There is a view of history which holds that if there had never been a Genghis Khan, a Joseph Stalin, a Pol Pot, then the course of the world would have been drastically different. No Mongol hordes, no Cold War, no pogrom.

This is the individual view of history.

There is a competing view that suggests that those three people, indeed any person of history, is only of history because of the rising and falling of collective events. That if it had not been Genghis Khan then someone else would have been credited for leading the hordes, and history would have remember their name instead. That large groups rather than an individual caused the world to turn.

This is the collective view of history. It is less exciting, but probably more accurate.

From Pol Pot to Pulis

Stoke City’s rise to the place of mid-table in the Premier League is largely down to former manager Tony Pulis, and Pulis puts any success he has had down to a recruitment policy based on character.

When speaking about Ryan Shawcross Pulis commended the defender’s character – which is to say his desire to win football matches – saying that a team was built on players such as Shawcross.

“You can have other players who don’t have that (character),” Pulis added, “but only for eighteen months and then you have to move them on.”

The heroes of failure

Why do Bradford City supporters not curse the name Benito Carbone? Why is Ashley Ward’s time at the club given a light disregard when the memory of Mike Duxbury can cause grown men to froth at the mouth? What is it about Darren Morgan that has some City fans reserving a place in the inner circle of failure which even Aaron McLean – seemingly leaving City this week – need not fear reaching?

And what is this word scapegoat which is applied in defence of McLean? Has his treatment been unfair? What are the mechanics of failure at a club like Bradford City that can lionise one player and condemn another.

And let me start by saying…

When Aaron McLean leaves Bradford City, few will be upset. McLean has done well in the past proving his ability but did not do well at Bradford City. The sort of ability McLean is credited with is rare for Bradford City players over the last decade. Few players have been criticised for want of motivation rather than ability.

More common in the last decade have been the players who have shown a level of effort that defined their abilities. The words “give everything” are used about James Hanson, Gary Jones, and Andrew Davies. Players like Barry Conlon, Matthew Clarke and Lee Crooks were never said to be shirking, just that they were poor footballers.

McLean gets to nestle his name alongside Ashley Ward, Nicky Summerbee and Bobby Petta in the players who idled away their talents rather than had no talent to begin with.

In the worst possible way

Aaron McLean arrived to replace Nahki Wells. Wells enjoyed a meteoric rise at Bradford City. His speed and eye for goal were impressive and he played a role in taking City to Wembley twice in three months. After an early exchange of distaste for his choice of clubs following City it seems that Wells has settled back into his place in the hearts of City fans.

One might speculate that the fact that Wells has joined a Huddersfield side in the year they have achieved next to nothing is his saving grace for City fans. Were Town in the play-offs and Wells the architect of that, then things may be different.

But Wells is not an architect. The type of player he is – they are called “finishers” for a reason – puts him at the necessary end point rather than the engine room of a team. Wells was the end of a team of Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Hanson et al. Those players were the big characters who pushed the team. Wells, Nathan Doyle, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh were (seemingly, and by virtue of their exit) the “eighteen monthers” that Pulis talks about.

Being Phil Parkinson

Losing Gary Jones was inevitable. Phil Parkinson probably joins with the rest of City fans who watch the skipper playing for Notts County and wonders if there was another year in the now 37-year old midfielder, but giving him that extra year is a delay of the inevitable need to replace him.

Losing a player like Gary Jones from your team – be it from age or transfer – matters more than losing a player like Wells because of the type of strong character he is. Bringing in or building a replacement takes time and may not be achieved. Those old enough may remember the attempt to replace the massive presence of Stuart McCall with Iain Banks and wince at the memory. If you are younger, read “Gary Locke” for Banks.

It is Parkinson’s hardest job and while developing Billy Knott may be a long term solution, one suspects the City manager has concluded that he needs to bring a character into the side and is working to that end. At the moment though Parkinson puts out the team he has and that team has some qualities, although is lacking in others.

Who does not love Xaviar Barrau?

Who was the scapegoat in David Wetherall’s relegation side which was the worst team Bradford City have fielded in my lifetime? Who carries the can for those feeble months? Not Wetherall, and not his players. Spencer Weir-Daley’s many misses against Leyton Orient and Omar Daley’s giving up of the ball on the wing are critical memories but on the whole the players are not criticised. Kelly Youga (injured during his time at the club) is fondly remembered. Who does not a place in his heart for Xaviar Barrau?

Wetherall’s side were simply too poor for scapegoats. To single out one player is to allow a club and a culture at a club to be freed from blame. No one points the finger because no one has enough fingers to point.

Likewise relegation from the Premier League is never assigned to a group of players, and the likes of Benito Carbone are heroes of the club. Circumstances dictate that a scapegoat will not be found, at least not on the field.

Parkinson’s team are not so outgunned as those two examples. The are far better than Wetherall’s side for sure, and the rest of League One is – in relative terms to City – not as good as the rest of the Premiership was in 2000.

Phil Parkinson’s team are closer to success. Indeed at the moment City win and lose on the basis (seemingly, but probably not in the opinion of the management) of individual actions. Billy Clarke puts the ball an inch lower and Oldham away is a good point; Christopher Routis heads a ball into the stands against Sheffield United then City get a battling point with ten men and so on.

Just as two years ago Rory McArdle’s determination was the difference between winning and losing against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi-final. When the difference between success and failure is small there is a temptation to assign it to individuals and individual actions.

Stevie Gee

Importantly though one can only justify assigning success to individuals when margins are small. A scapegoat is the player who did not apply the marginal difference. The opposite – a player who applied the individual difference between success and failure – is what he call in football a hero

Watching the career of Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is watching that that theory in action. In European Cup and FA Cup finals (both of which ended 3-3) he has been heroic because he has been the individual difference between success and failure.

Last season his defensive slip against Chelsea – an individual mistake – seemed to cost his team the Premier League title. “If he had not slipped” is said with a misty eye by many, but few ask what would have happened if (now Liverpool’s) Dejan Lovren foul on Daniel Sturridge in November 2013 in a Southampton 1-0 win at Anfield had been given as a penalty.

Scapegoating is arbitrary.

Had Aaron set off in time

Aaron McLean’s first game at Sheffield United for City – a 2-2 draw – had the striker almost score the goal which almost built his confidence and almost put him on a run of goalscoring, and so on.

McLean is in poor form, and plays like a player in poor form, and many people (not me) consider that the problem City face at the moment is the need for a finisher. The logic follows easily that McLean, a finisher, could be difference between wins and defeats.

My view of football is increasingly more inline with Pulis, and it is more inline with the collective view of history. When Nahki Wells was scoring for City it was not because of his abilities so much as because of the team’s abilities (which he was a part of) and had you dropped Aaron McLean in then, McLean would be the “Goal Machine” his name so cruelly rhymes with. If you put Wells into the current City team, he would struggle.

The team struggles because of the recrafting job that is needed on its core following Jones’ departure. and the wider break up of the “History Makers” team that Phil Parkinson built. The eighteen months were up, and now Parkinson starts again. The manager is not back at square one, and the fact that the gap between success and failure seems bridgeable is a frustration, and causes this illusion.

Nahki Wells was a hero of Bradford City’s success.

Aaron McLean, because of his place in our history, is a hero of failure.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so Speight

As Bradford City were struggling and failing to snatch a late winner over Accrington on Tuesday evening, 44 miles away down the M62, Jake Speight was netting his first goal for his temporary employers, Port Vale.

The strike itself was nothing to write home about. With Stockport’s former City keeper Matt Glennon seemingly resigned to conceding five goals for the third time already this season and rushing out of his area with three Vale players charging towards him, Speight was presented with an open goal that you and I could have tapped home. But still a first Football League goal since 2007 was a personal achievement and, with City’s efforts to break down Accrington going unrewarded, it also threw up some question marks over why he was playing over at Edgley Park for a team that was about to go top of the league.

Speight’s loan spell has since been extended until January, with Peter Taylor dropping less than subtle hints that his Valley Parade career may already be over. Talking about the fact Speight was not allowed to be cup-tied, the City manager stated, “That doesn’t help his value in that respect.”

With City suddenly struggling for goals – just one goal in their last three games – and with Louis Moult absent from even bench duty at Wycombe and home to Accrington, one might have assumed the expiration of Speight’s one month loan at Vale would see the striker return to the parent club he only signed for during the summer.

No one needs a reminder of the fuss that occurred back then, but Speight had impressed in early season games and appeared firmly in Taylor’s plans. Since 24 minutes from the bench at Barnet, Speight hasn’t figured and the success of James Hanson/Jason Price partnering Omar Daley lifted the Bantams from a dismal start. But still, Speight’s demotion from first team starter to the bench to shut out on loan has taken place in a considerably short space of time.

It would pointless to speculate on what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but Taylor has seemingly made an early judgment for whatever reason and it appears Speight will be departing permanently come January. Meanwhile City have just four strikers on a permanent contract – Hanson, Daley, Gareth Evans and Chibuzor Chilaka – and is relying on the same loan market that led to Speight taking temporary residence at Vale Park to widen his options.

This might seem an odd set of circumstances, but in many ways Taylor deserves credit for the way it appears he is handling the situation. City paid £25k for Speight’s services during the summer. Not a colossal amount of money in modern football terms, but to Bradford City this is still a significant fee. Since 2001 City have only paid transfer fees for three other players – Willy Topp, Evans and Hanson – and are not in a position to write off such an investment and call on further transfer reserves to replace Speight.

Taylor, responsible for signing him, appears to have made an early decision. Rather than allow Speight to rot in the reserves or make do with 10 minutes from the bench here and there, he has allowed a player not in his plans to appear in the shop window through featuring more regularly for one of the best League Two sides. A few more goals and Vale may want to talk about a permanent transfer, or other clubs may even enter a bidding war. Perhaps after all that has gone on, Taylor will be able to recuperate the full transfer fee he paid for a player who proved a headache from day one.

Yet the danger for Taylor is closer to home. If City continue to struggle for goals and Speight starts appearing on the Vale score sheet more frequently, questions will be loudly asked of the manager’s judgment. One only needs to recall the failed gamble of his predecessor Stuart McCall, in shipping an increasingly poor-performing Barry Conlon on loan to Grimsby in March 2009 and bringing in Accrington’s Paul Mullin as a direct replacement. Conlon was reborn for a brief time at Blundell Park, scoring crucial goals that kept the Mariners in the division. Mullin failed to find the net at all, and City slipped out of the play offs.

But that is a short-term concern, and if Taylor has determined Speight is not the player to ignite City’s promotion chances it is best he is performing well for Vale, so City can potentially receive their money back. The number of injuries to the defence has probably already pushed the playing budget to the limit.

If, as the evidence of the last two games suggests, there isn’t enough quality in Taylor’s squad to mount a play off push, the potential injection of capital from selling a player ruled not good enough or perhaps too disruptive to the squad’s morale (there is no evidence to suggest this is the case) could be gratefully received in January.

Do Bradford City have the worst supporters in football?

Now we can begin to understand why City have such a poor home record? Yes, we have had some awful teams, but the atmosphere they have to play in is cynical and negative. It’s a perfect storm of poor teams with fragile confidence playing in front of the worst fans in the entire Football League. Yes, the worst fans and I mean it with all my heart. We are terrible, we have the numbers, but nothing else: no humour; no passion; no belief.

For a long time Dave Pendleton was the poster boy for Bradford City supporters. Hair thinning and with a twang to his voice that stakes him unmistakeably in the West Riding Dave was the man that was called on when television companies and radio stations requires a City fan. Back in the Premiership days ITV’s On The Ball’s sponsors picked fans to represent clubs and you to go back and watch the video you would see Dave in front of a pub fireplace in his classic 1970s City shirt telling someone off camera to cheer up because this time last year we were at Crewe. He edited the City Gent, got called on to write for The Guardian about the club. If someone from Bradford were to have written Fever Pitch it would have been Dave.

So when Dave Pendleton says that City fans are the worst fans in the entire Football League he is not throwing bricks over the wall at unseen targets. He is talking about his peers, and his peers should take note.

What is the best support?

Dave Pendleton’s comments about City fans being the worst supporters in football provoked an interesting debate and one which – in the days after – caused the long time Bantam fan to muse further. “I would easily be able to find examples of much worse behaviour from supporters of other clubs. The lingering threat of violence, and even seventies style racism, at several well known clubs for example. I made the comment more out of frustration. I want our fans to do better and I know they can be.”

Out of frustration but his comments were certainly recognisable. No matter where one sits at Valley Parade one can hear the sound of negativity most of the time and that negativity is expressed in curious ways. Some time ago I recall hearing an agitated debate between two grown men where one had taken objection to the other launching into vulgarities at City’s then right winger Joe Colbeck. The argument progressed as one might expect it would – one side calling for the other to be less negative or go home, the other defending on his right to have his opinion voiced – but it struck me that very few other places in society would this discussion occur.

Very few other places would a man feel he could stand his ground against someone who had called him for swearing violently at a teenager and almost nowhere else would a foul mouthed tirade be considered in any way supportive. Football supporting – and one uses the phrase loosely – had a different set of considerations. Pendleton pays tribute to the people he worked with on The City Gent, on the work of the Bradford City Supporters Trust, on those who assist in the Bantamspast Museum but – accepting that work – returns to notion “We have an inordinate number of fans who leap rapidly on any error a City player makes. More often than not these same people are the last out of their seats when a goal flies in and almost never urge the team on during a period of City pressure. Sadly, they have become the dominant voice of Valley Parade.”

Many would recognise this characterisation. The experience of watching games at Valley Parade is to be as to enjoy despite the atmosphere and not because of it. Infamously a winning team was booed off the field this season representing a new low in this dominant voice.

Anecdotally this seems to be the core of this growing concept of bad support – the leaping on of errors and reticence to encourage – and from that it may be possible to establish an idea of what might be opposite that. That good support might be a tolerance for failures and a readiness to (vocally) endorse the team with a positivity.

Understand here that we talk not about the individual supporters at Valley Parade – after every game where boos ring out the players wander over to applaud the more favourable fans who have stayed to applaud rather than spitting venom and wandering away – but rather of the idea of a communal voice. The single speaking of a people Legion which, as we will come to in time, may no longer be a relevant consideration.

What’s so bad about feeling good?

Mark Lawn’s car was vandalised leaving the joint Bradford City chairman livid. Over the course of a weekend he mused about how worth it it was keeping the club going with his money and considered withdrawing his loan from the club putting it back into administration.

This story – the threat of administration – is often mentioned by those who criticise Lawn but seldom is the vandalism considered as destructive event as the booing of the team on a Saturday. It has parallels being against those who are part of the club, obviously counter-productive and largely a way for those involved to vent spleen. The difference being that while criticising (and abuse without violence) Lawn is seen as different to the players. Criticising the chairman, the manager, the chief executive of a club is often considered a sign of distinction.

Newcastle United have returned to the Premier League despite a constant criticism of chairman Mike Ashley which is seen as only good sense while Liverpool and Manchester United’s owners are vilified but in all these cases there is a bar (on the whole) in booing the players on match day.

This website does not shy from venturing opinions on the chairmen of the club and considers it very much a part of the remit of the supporter to keep a watchful eye on those who own the club and criticise when called for.

There is distinction drawn between the two strands of criticism. At St James’s Park, Newcastle that distinction is drawn in obvious terms by supporter and writer Andrew Wilkins. “The team are the team and the reason we criticise Ashley is because what he is doing gets in the way of the team doing well. If we were booing that team then we’d be stopping them doing well too.”

Wilkins sees this point that negativity in the stands on match day has a directly negative manifestation on the team as unequivocal. “I take colleagues to St James’ and all they can do is talk about how the fans lift the team. I’ve seen it happen when a player does something and gets encouraged for it and just grows and grows during a game.”

There is little one can do to measure the levels of negativity within various teams and see if those teams correlate with the more successful sides and so one if left with personal experience to inform ones thoughts. The United fan I worked with in Manchester amongst a sea of Blues was so often lampoons as guileless, artificial and almost childish but his team won the league while the City fans floundered around the second tier proclaiming both their affinity to the concept of being “real football fans” and their belief that everything was – pretty much – hopeless at Maine Road .

One has to wonder if the cynicism which is so much a part of the idea of authentic football supporter is not counter-productive in itself and that the wide eyed positive optimism portrayed as plastic consumerist football is not a path to success.

Are there cheerleaders in Soccer? No, unless you count the fans!

The cheerleader is rarely seen at British football although they have appeared. First at Watford in the 1980s – Elton John was credited as getting them in because he had an eye for the ladies which suggests how long ago it was – and then sporadically at almost every club in the game.

They appear – these girls with Pom Poms – and work out a dance or two but somewhere around the onset of the dark nights when Winter starts they seem to disappear never to return. For a while Bradford City’s Bantam Belles started the season well but seemed to fade with the club’s optimism every year.

English football has no love of the Cheerleader (Scottish football has no facility, the weather in Aberdeen not being suited) and their absence is part of a general neglect of anything which could be described as pre-match entertainment. Mascot dramas, Opera singers, player interaction with the crowd; All these things have been tried and sit with the Cheerleader in the part of the history books reserved for the regrettable.

Bradford City is no different to most football clubs in this regard but it does contrast with our neighbours Bradford Bulls. The Bulls transformation from the cloth cap of Northern to the razzmatazz of the Super League was alarming to many but impressively effective and the continued sight of car stickers and t-shirts that testify to the time when the club were the best team in the World having won a pan-Continental challenge as well as four domestic titles.

Pop stars singing on the field, girls with pom poms, Bullman and Bullboy the stories of the atmosphere of Odsal had a near mythic status but those days – like the team’s triumphs in Super League – seem behind them. Bulls fan Phil Parsons sums up the mood saying

“(The Bulls) seemed a bit deflated as of late. Some of this is obviously to do with the results on the pitch but quite a bit of it has been because of things off the pitch as well. A lot of people wanted McNamara to go a lot earlier than he did and this seemed to lead to a lot of discontent among the fans. It was other things as well, for example the pre-match entertainment used to be excellent and a lot of it this year has been pretty poor and it’s just sucked the atmosphere out of Odsal.”

Parsons has signed up for the Bulls Pledge – cheaper season tickets if so many people get on board – but hopes that the club cab use the next season as a new start. “They should make a massive deal of it. Go back to things like having an opera singer singing Nessun Dorma just before kick off, the fireworks and having the teams walk out together, that sort of thing. Odsal used to have the nickname ‘Fortress Odsal’ because it was such an imposing place to come to as an away team and the fans loved it. That’s want I want back from next season.”

The correlation in the minds of both Parsons and Wilkins is clear. Good atmosphere off the field – however it is brought about – brings good results on it or at least contributes. Newcatle United’s players are inspired, Bradford Bull’s opponents are scared but in short that good support brings good football, or at least winning football.

I love a party with a happy atmosphere

If a good atmosphere begets good results then it might be worth considering what good supporters do which aids the players or hinders the opposition. Certainly City’s players and management have talked gravely about the silence of Valley Parade. Nicky Law said the crowd was worth a goal start for the opposition suggesting a reverse of the effect that the Bulls seek while Stuart McCall fumed at the booing of individual players suggesting that it hampered the team as a whole.

Peter Taylor highlighted the effect on the development of the younger players in the team of the players being booed suggesting that they would be less willing to do the things that help them develop into better players for fear of the Valley Parade ire. Joe Colbeck was never the same after he went to Darlington and came back with the confidence of having couple of games of the most purposeful practice without the censure in failure.

So we gather ideas of how good support – which we correlate with the idea that good supporters end up with successful teams – manifests itself. Speaking about match days and about what occurs during match days we emerge with a hypothesis: Good support is the tendency to allow for player’s failure giving those players the scope to both be more adventurous (and responsible) in their play and to learn from that experience (which is especially true for the young players) and to believe that the whole is best served by belief in the collection players.

It is difficult to quantify support outside of the realm of bums on seats and noise generated but anecdotally one finds it hard to recall occasions when the clubs which are known for having better supports who are yoked to success have gone against that hypothesis.

It was rare that Liverpool supporters attacked a player but the treatment of Lucas Leiva in recent seasons strikes a contrast to the story of singing while 3-0 down in Instanbul inspiring the players. The fear in football is that when the fans start to boo a single player that the ten other men worry that after a mistake they will be the next target. Peter Beagrie summed up this feeling in his comment about what constituted genuine courage on the football field – “Doing the same thing the twelfth that has left you on your backside for the last eleven because it is still the right thing to do.”

Manchester United supporters made a fable out of Deigo Forlan’s failure to score allowing the player the room to grow, Newcastle United idolise their number nine in a way that seemed to cause the current incumbent to grow a foot when the shirt went on his back. Even over at Leeds United where they are not know for tolerance they express to their players a belief that the club will do well in any division they are in should they apply themselves correctly.

It might seem trite – almost childish in its simplicity – but the supporters who are best able to suspend any disbelief they have for the duration of a game are those who do best in the longer term. The non-cynical attitude of children is mirrored – at least during games – by the fans of clubs who do well and the problem with children is that they grow up.

So now then

Cynicism is no bad thing and if more of football was cynical then the game would be in better health. If every season a 80 clubs did not plan the season on the idea that they would end up promoted then so many balance sheets would not be bright red.

Cynicism in supporters could can be helpful too. After Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete and Juanjo it was incredible that the levels of cynicism at Valley Parade allowed for another overseas superstar to have his name plastered on a shirt and anyone who showed cynicism probably saved themselves £40.

However when Topp took to the field the suspension of disbelief – the ability to park cynicism – was noticeable for its scarcity at Valley Parade. Nothing really suggested he would be a good player but we all convinced ourselves he would be Pele and so he enjoyed ample chance. Compare that with Barry Conlon who scored more goals in one game that Topp has got in his career and the problem becomes clearer.

This is mental gymnastics. The ability to double-think away from the cynicism that comes with following a club for seasons in which one learns that success is rare is a tough skill to learn and like any skill it is best reinforced when it comes with a positive result. If the double-think of supporting does not lead to results then people are less likely to do it – as with post-Topp City – but Beagrie would testify that it is still the right thing to do.

The supporters who have had the most experience of this working do it more often – Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle United and so on – and one could say that the are the best supporters but one would shy from saying that the opposite are bad fans, or to come full circle “the worst fans in football”.

Just that of all the tools which football fans use to be able to do “good support” City fans use few. Perhaps supporters are not bad just not less good and in a competitive football environment in which all teams compete in the longer term City fans are not worse than many but a few clubs have fans who are better able to use their presence to boost their teams.

To those teams the spoils. The rest of us look disparagingly at the Manchester United supporter and his giddy belief that whichever kid Sir Alex throws in will be the New George Best or the Newcastle United fan who has his team’s number nine tattooed on his thigh they look back at us with sympathy.

For we have more of what they would call cynicism and they have more of what we would call success.

Taylor gets back to being tough with Williams injury

Steve Williams was left out of the squad for the game with Stevenage after breaking one of Peter Taylor’s club rules.

Taylor requires that players report injuries they have and Williams – following his excellent display against Nottingham Forest – did not. The manager’s rod of iron rule saw the defender excluded from the squad. Discipline in the squad – for Taylor – is everything.

Williams returns to the squad for the weekend game with Torquay United with the manager unequivocal in his punishment and the reasons for it. Williams had a day off when he should have been in having treatment on a sore hamstring – Taylor says – and that is unprofessional. Punishment done, Williams back in the squad.

For Taylor WilliamsHamstringGate gives the manager a chance to publicly re-flex his muscles as a disciplinarian following a summer in which it was hard for him to project that image. Gavin Grant might have reported every injury, never turned up late for training and always tracked back but being the manager of a player who is sent to prison for murder – especially the manager who had re-signed the player – painted the gaffer in a poor light.

Add to that Jake Speight’s jailing and – rightly or wrongly – City looked like a team ill disciplined and Taylor out of touch. Swinging the bat at Williams for his transgression in a public way reasserts Taylor as the hard task master – cross him and suffer.

While the public glare might be unfair on Williams once again the ends for Taylor justify his means. Taylor rates the discipline of his squad – which is to say their willingness to do as he tells them rather than to avoid yellow cards – above all. His comments on players reflect this working around the idea that if a player “works hard and does the right things” then he will do well. The right things are laid out by the manager.

Laid out by all managers up and down the leagues – one recalls the famed Ryan Giggs/Lee Sharpe party story – oft ignored by players. When manager Stuart McCall had Matthew Clarke and Barry Conlon out drinking and dealt with it half-heartedly, Taylor will not do the same.

The risk is that Taylor the Taskmaster – as Corporal Capello stands accused of – will squeeze the enjoyment from the squad with restrictions and rules but the manager would counter that enjoyment comes from winning and that is worth the sacrifices. The booing following a hard working victory undermines what Taylor is doing in that regard.

Williams moves on – probably in need of a break on Saturday following a superb display midweek – and Taylor reasserts for him, for the rest of the players and to Bradford City supporters that there is one man you should listen to at Valley Parade, and it is he.

How good is James Hanson?

When a shelf stacker and Guiseley forward put a couple of goals past Bradford (Park Avenue) on new year’s day two years ago one has to wonder if the people at the other Leeds/Bradford game asked the question “How good is James Hanson?”

For sure he had – by all accounts – dominated the Park Avenue defenders but – like Hanson – they were part times and while the Guiseley looked good he did not stride the field like a Colossus. Eventually Mark Ellis had a whisper to Stuart McCall who took him to Bradford City where he became top scorer in his first season.

When watching England beat Hungry on Wednesday night most of the discussion around our sofa was on the young players called up by Fabio Capello and the ramifications of that. There was a contention – by yours truly – that Newcastle United’s much coveted Andy Carroll should have been given a call up. Others thought that (amongst other things on a lively night of discourse) a player could not be judged as good enough for the England side if he had not been proven good enough in the Premier League.

So the question formulated that if Carroll might be considered good enough on the basis of a season not competing against the top class of English football how good could Hanson be?

Rewind to Hanson’s first season at Valley Parade and one recalls on many occasions turning to those around and exclaiming with an amazement that “that guy just does not lose headers!”

Indeed Hanson – when fit and on form – is uncanny in his abilities to rise high, win the ball and feed it accurately to his team mates. Ball winning was a Barry Conlon thing but Barry did not win as often, nor did he head it as accurately, nor did even he put in the effort of James Hanson and when watching last season’s player of the season very few would have put the limits on him that were placed on Conlon.

Conlon – it was said – had to have his best game to be as good as the rest of the side and “good enough” for League Two. Hanson – thus far – has not come up against a League Two defence where he did not enough the balance of play. Long may his superb attitude continue because – at the moment – one doubts that League Two is poising different problems than that game with Park Avenue.

Then came Nottingham Forest a team that – were it not for the randomness of the play-offs – be in the Premier League and the squad to go with it. Hanson – a half time sub – enjoyed as good a return against the twice European Champions as he did against League Two sides, and did in his non-league days. He won more in the air than one would expect against a League Two side, let alone a side who have pretensions for the Premier League.

So how good is James Hanson? Tongue in cheek one might say that if Andy Carroll might wear the three lions then why not give Hanson a call up? If one does not believe that having played in the top flight is essential for England honours – and Steve Bull‘s five in thirteen suggest that a player who has not been at the highest level can offer something to England – then perhaps the national management should be looking at the League Two players who impressively play up when facing a side from a higher division. Scalability in football play is a rare concept.

Returning to the question in hand – and not suggesting that he should be partnered with Wayne Rooney next game – how good is James Hanson?

Certainly he has proved himself able at levels lower than League Two and at League Two itself. His first game against a higher opposition did not curtail his progress so perhaps all one can say is that so far we have yet to see a ceiling on his abilities.

Perhaps though for an answer to the question we need to look not at ourselves, but at the stars. The younger stars of Nottingham Forest that is who were used that night and that manager Billy Davies described as having things come to easy to. Davies’ criticism that a young player has the big car and the nice house too early at his club and as a result they lack the hunger makes a sharp contrast to the two City goalscorers on the evening.

As Davies bemoans the BMWs that his teenagers drive Hanson and fellow goal getter David Syers and men of the match Jon McLaughlin Steve Williams know that a failure will take them back to the days of part time football and a day job. If they ever drive a BMW it is because they have rewarded themselves for a lot of hard work by replacing the broken down Skoda.

There is something utterly refreshing about watching Hanson, Syers, McLauglin and Williams play. When asking how good one of these players can be then the answer is something of a cop out – they can be as good as they want to be.

At present there is a debate on McLaughlin and if he is “good enough” as if this were a binary situation and one which should the player kick back and stop making the effort that has put in him in the position he is in now he would remain at the level he is now.

It is an excellent attitude which has brought them into league football and that same attitude that saw them as the core members of a team which beat Nottingham Forest. Maintain that attitude and it is hard to set a limit on what they can achieve, lose it and they will stop being “good”.

The uncomfortable truth at the heart of football supporting

There was a public clamour to discover the detail of the crime that saw Jake Speight convicted of assault and so the lower end of the tabloid press responded and laid out in grisliness the other side of the story.

Dig out the story if you want. I think – with some personal experience – that stories of domestic assault are are horrible enough without the needless tone of an article like this but obviously The Daily Star’s editors feel that there is a need to egg the pudding describing the victim as “Stunning”.

If the article changes your level of sympathy or empathy for the victim, if it makes you think more about the need to take action against Speight, then you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

And the question asks: Does it matter?

The reaction to the article has been a return of the debate between fans as to whether Speight should be sacked with people believing that there should be no place at the club for someone who behaves as the new signing has done and others attesting to the idea that player’s personal lives are away from the game and that in effect aside from missing a week of training his assault simply does not matter.

Does not matter that is as much as his capacity to score goals and be a part of a winning Bradford City side. It is hard not to have some agreement with this point of view when considering the recent history of this football club. If what matters about Bradford City is not the merciless pursuit of wins then why are we four months down the line from firing Stuart McCall as manager? The club was much nicer with our favourite player in charge.

If the aim of Bradford City is to be a collective of people who you are proud to applaud onto the field and think would probably like to share a beer with you then what was the purpose for anyone of removing the most beloved figure in the club’s history? If we want a Bradford City full of nice guys then why is Wayne Jacobs criticised for being “too nice.”

The past six months have seen a definitive statement made by a section of the supporters and by the club itself that winning football matches is more important than almost any other concern. Should Speight start to score goals then – one is forced to assume – he will win around the people who pushed so hard to see McCall ousted from the club because nothing matters more than winning games.

Indeed some would point to Speight – who has been tried and convicted – having a right to carry on his life and career on the basis of his application and ability rather than his past. You can, dear reader, take a view on that but we need not debate it again on these pages.

Why do we think we know footballers?

The counter opinion is that that Speight should not be allowed to wear a Bradford City shirt because he is to be considered unworthy of such distinction brings us to a more uncomfortable truth and one which sits at the heart of football supporting.

As football supporters the common ideal is that – with the odd exception – were we to meet the footballers we cheer on the field we would probably enjoy their company off it, what is more they would enjoy ours.

In the back of his mind the football supporter has a belief that were he to be in a pub on the Saturday night next to the player he watches on a Saturday afternoon then he could share a thought and talk over the game. Confuse this not with sycophancy – this is not about hero worship – but rather the idea that there would be an automatic magnetism between player and supporters because they were concerned with the same passions: Football, and the club.

Not only that but without evidence to the contrary we assume that the footballer is probably a good bloke. We think he will be someone we find likeable because – after all – we like him. We look at how the game is played by the footballers we like and from that infer a set of characteristics which find admirable.

We decide that James Hanson is a solid, hard working lad with Roy of the Rovers dreams in his head and stars in his eyes now he has been given a chance to play in the big leagues. I’ve never met him but he might be an utterly insufferable man bloated with egotism at his own achievements however I’ve seen his play from that feel I have some connection to him. That I somehow know him.

So when it emerges that the footballer is not what we would have thought he would be we are robbed of our disillusion – even if we have rarely given them serious thought or fantasy – and for some people that perceived betrayal is unforgivable. I’ve never met John Terry and I’m not the sort given to indulging the kind of inference of character I talk about above but some people are and those people found the revelations about him to be almost a personal slight.

How well do you know John Terry?

To some people it was as if Terry had put up a front to them, pretending to be an all round nice guy and good bloke, and that because they knew him through his game when he turned out to be a bit of a shit they we outraged by the duplicity of the man. How dare he pretend to be the thing I want him to be only to prove he is not?

All along John Terry has always been John Terry and while he might not want the world to know about it because of the effect on his lucrative sponsorship deals and his personal privacy it is our inference as football supporters watching him play that has afforded him that status. All along he has been a bit of a git but the fact that he kicked a ball around well created – in the mind of fans – the persona of “JT The Great Guy.”

Confuse this not too with the idea of idols and Gods with feet of clay. This is not a situation where we find a hidden truth where previously we had some knowledge but rather one where we find only a truth where before we had assumption.

Smarter footballers are able to manage their public persona in a way that hides any negative traits in the same way that actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio are able to spend years ensuring that they do as little as possible which anyone might find objectionable in order to allow the public to project onto them some positive characteristics. Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise saw their stars dim when the public started to see too much of their own shapes, taking away the forms they were ale to afford them themselves.

The uncomfortable truth at the heart of football supporting is that the chances are that were we to be given the chance to have that drink with a player then we would probably not like them. We would try talk about the club, about the game and they would have different passions, different interests. They might even find us odd. For various reasons few players are as interested in football as supporters are and – like Benoît Assou-Ekotto who plays for Spurs and represented Cameroon in the World Cup – sees the game just as his day job.

When we are presented with a story like Jake Speight’s assault then it becomes clear that some footballers might be down right objectionable (or they may not be, again I’ve never met Speight so have only mediated and assumed lore to make a judgement on) then this distance between what we would want a player to be and what they actually are is brought into sharp focus.

And so, to personal matters

Some years ago I was out in Leeds in the aftermath of City’s 3-1 win over Portsmouth in which Lee Sharpe had had a rare great game and bumped into the player in The Courthouse. Without going into details let it be known that Sharpe was not enthusing about football or his performance – not that he should be, it was his night out too – and following that night the BfB policy of trying to avoid matters off the pitch fermented.

In the eight years since I have lost track of the number of emails which I’ve received which detail the transgressions of various players as detailed by City fans the majority of whom were some how disgruntled by an encounter with a player.

Recently and most benignly Barry Conlon was “outed” as liking a drink and not really being that bothered about the club as if the man who had at that point had twelve clubs in ten years should be a teetotal dyed in the wool Bantam. Every year one sees a dozen or so players come or go from Valley Parade and to expect them all to care about the club as deeply as a support does is unrealistic to the point of madness. Opinion was divided on Conlon but – from this corner of the web – it was given on the basis of what he did on the field and not an expectation that he should be as interested in Bradford City as a supporter.

Nicky Summerbee was vilified following an exchange with City fans who thought he should care more – or like Omar Daley appear to care more – but to demand the commitment of fans such from hired hands is setting oneself up for a fall. On Summerbee and Daley and all others who seem to not – and indeed probably don’t – care as much as fans then again one looks at the performance on the field rather than judging them against some perceived idea of the player who cares as much as the fan. This is not the fifties, and there is only one Wor Jackie.

When City signed Gavin Grant mails came in talking about the player and repeating things which have since turned up in court and BfB was once again left with questions as to how to talk about a player who was scary in his deviation from what supporters would want him to be. What can one do in that position when talking about football other than just talk about football?

Supporters have expectations of players and it is not for me to say if the expectation that Jake Speight be an model citizen is appropriate enough on a personal basis is a healthy thing or not but I will say that anyone anyone who expects footballers to be in life what they are in the mental fiction we build around them is going to be disappointed. As my brother is so fond of saying “(I) hate everything about football apart from the football.”

At BfB we try to talks about the club on the basis of what happens on the pitch and – even in a case as trying as Jake Speight – we will continue to try to do so.

Knowing what you have at Chesterfield

When Barry Conlon unceremoniously left Valley Parade following a fall out with Stuart McCall many were pleased to see the back of the Irish striker.

Conlon had sniggered – or so it is said – at a dressing down that he was given by the manager and thus when the chance came to push him in the direction of Grimsby Town it was taken. His time at Grimsby seemed to have similar results with some goals but an unimpressed manager who shipped him out.

Barry is at Chesterfield now and has scored seven as the Spireites stumble in a chase for the final play-off place with seventh being surrendered after a 2-0 defeat at Macclesfield last week. One doubts the blunderbuss forward has suddenly started to show the skills of Lionel Messi so when seeing Barry for a second time this season City fans can expect more of the same.

Big forward, a lot of effort, maybe a goal. That was what Conlon produced at Grimsby, that was what he showed at City, it is what he does.

The fact he does it well was illustrated by his replacement Paul Mullin – the Accrington Stanley forward who moved to Morecambe after a stint at Valley Parade – and the chasm in effectiveness between the pair. Barry did the business, Mullin did not and as the Bantams slipped from the play-off picture one had to wonder how many people who criticised him would have bought Barry all the booze he wanted in exchange for a goal or two.

So City are once again in a situation of not knowing what they have until it was gone. Conlon joins a list of players who have been Bantams, were pushed through the door and replaced with players who – well – were very little better. One could pull out any number of examples and argue the toss over most of them from Michael Symes – including the Grimsby boss who tried to swap him for Barry and money – who many look longingly at to Danny Forrest who was considered not good enough by club and many fans but – when watching David Wetherall’s side slip to the wretched 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield with wandering loanees up front – would have been much welcomed.

Players come, players go and the replacements come and then go with the expense of replacing or the unevenness of a constantly changing squad never seeming to be questioned. Barry’s replacement was no better and as he came and left within three months Paul Mullin seemed significantly worse.

Mullin’s replacement – however – is better than both and the exceptional thing about James Hanson – injured today at the end of a great first season – is that he represents a player who has come in and improved the squad. Examples of this over the past decade have been rare.

So perhaps the moral of this story is that if improvement is rare then as Peter Taylor looks to start working on his squad in the summer perhaps it is better to stay with what you know rather than change in the idea that the next free transfer to a league two club will be better. A Barry in the hand is worth any number of Paul Mullins in the bush, but a James Hanson is better than all.

Hanson’s absence as given Gareth Evans the role of chasing direct balls from the back and shaped Peter Taylor’s side’s approach seeing more channel balls and more chasing from the widemen of Leon Osbourn and Gavin Grant and the Bantams boss seems likely to repeat the 433 that has started the previous two wins however the return of Michael Flynn – the five o’clock hero last week – give the gaffer the ability to opt for the 4411 which won at Rochdale with Flynn and Evans up front.

So a three in midfield might see James O’Brien dropped for Flynn to partner Adam Bolder and Lee Bullock while a four would see another goalscorer Luke O’Brien recalled on the left with Grant on the right and Bolder and Bullock in the middle. Stephen O’Leary seems to have seen the boat sail on his chance to stay at the Bantams but James O’Brien seems to be well thought of by Taylor.

The back four seems to pick itself. In the absence of Simon Ramsden Jonathan Bateson plays right back and Robbie Threlfall at left back. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams take central defence.

In goal Jon McLaughlin – who played at Saltergate last season in what was an end of season affair – and suggested himself to many (on what it has to be said was slight evidence) as an able replacement for Rhys Evans. Of course Simon Eastwood was brought in and given the gloves for the start of the next season and McLaughlin had to wait until two weeks ago to get back into the side.

There is something there about knowing what you have.

About The Barry Articles

The Barry Articles – named after the ever divisive figure of City history that is Barry Conlon – are a series of questions asked to people connected to the Bradford City community to stimulate debate and give further breadth of opinion on the site.

We have cast a wide net to find the authors who are writing The Barry Articles – fans, writers, radio people, print journalist and players have been asked if they want to partake – and like the centre forward himself we hope that The Barry Articles will never without something to enjoy.

53 weeks ago – City were on top of the world

It was 53 short weeks ago that Bradford City crushed Aldershot Town on their last visit to Valley Parade. Two goals from the returning-to-form Peter Thorne, a beauty of an effort from the edge of the box by Dean Furman, a tap in for Barry Conlon and a comical own-goal set up by Joe Colbeck. 5-0, City fourth in the league with 11 games to go. The excitement was growing at the prospect of ending the season with the glory of promotion.

As we all know, it ended miserably with the platform that victory had laid on for City proving something of a peak to the second half of the season at least. The next nine of those remaining 11 were winless as the Bantams fell out of the promotion picture, the ending of the season with back-to-back victories thus meaningless. The backwards steps have continued into this season.

City now have a long way to go just to get to where they were after that Spring demolition of the Shots. The up and down nature of results since Peter Taylor took over the reins has at times given hope of a late play off push this time around, but the slip ups and barely decreasing distance from the top seven has all but extinguished such faint chances. After Saturday’s clash with Aldershot is over, there will again be 11 games to go – even a complete reversal of results compared to those nine games at the end of last season probably wouldn’t be enough.

If we could turn the clocks back to the final whistle a year ago and apply hindsight, what warnings would we now offer and to whom? Perhaps the most obvious would seem to be changing Stuart McCall’s u-turn over his threat to quit. As Taylor impresses for the composure and organisation he has brought to the team, the growing temptation is to look back over McCall’s final season and dismiss it a waste of time. If only Taylor had taken over sooner, it can be argued, the club might still be approaching the final section of the season with promotion hopes.

The ‘SOS’ demonstration at the end of the last season might be something we’d go back and urge the organisers to cancel. The holding up of banners in support of McCall has caused widespread debate even during this season, with the number of supporters willing to admit they displayed a sign surprisingly few.

Where I sit in the Midland Road Stand, a previously quiet and pleasant woman suddenly can’t stop ranting, during the last few months, about how poor a manager McCall is/was, and inadvertently slamming those who backed him. Prior to the start of recent homes games she’s repeatedly uttered, “Do you know who I blame for this season? All those supporters who held up signs supporting him at the last home game” out loud to everyone around her, the majority of whom did hold up signs. Sorry lady, it’s all my fault.

But perhaps we’d take a different approach if we could go back, considering where City might be today but for that late season collapse. If City have gone onto earn promotion during those final 11 games a year ago, there would have been no need to reduce the transfer and wage budgets by a third for this campaign – an action which has undoubtedly undermined efforts.

Instead we might warn McCall where it would all go wrong –  to be mindful of defending set pieces at Spotland a few days later, to make sure Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke are behaving while staying in Devon prior to the Exeter game, how tinkering with the team too much leads to the inconsistent form, how a linesman will rob the team at Morecambe, not to sign Paul chuffin Mullin, that certain players cannot be counted on when the chips are down, and why it’s so important he doesn’t let it all get him down too much.

Perhaps most of all we’d warn him not to publicly threaten to quit in the manner he did after losing to Bournemouth, because it seemed to only breed instability and nervousness in the team rather than help it. The decline was already starting and he needed to be more positive in addressing it. The Bournemouth defeat was the third in a row; worrying form – but it needn’t have turned into the disastrous form that would continue another six games.

Mistakes were made, as McCall himself readily admits, and they soon added up to something far bigger. Ultimately City’s failure this season is due to the failure of the one before, and the immediate challenge remains reversing those backward steps. 53 weeks after thrashing Aldershot 5-0, it is now the visitors who harbour the promotion hopes. They, and so many other clubs, have been able to catch up and overtake City over the last 12 months, it’s already going to be a long road back.

But like in any aspect of life – it’s not how many mistakes are made, but how quickly they are learned from. Sometimes it’s a torturous and miserable path, but if the resultant lessons can be applied positively it will be a journey worth taking. If we had not put up our SOS posters and if McCall had departed during the summer, it’s highly unlikely City would be currently employing Taylor. Someone else would have come in and, with the same budget constraints, may have done no better.

The lessons McCall learned from his first two seasons would not have been applied, the new guy may have repeated the City legend’s mistakes of hiring players not up to this level or lacking in desire. However well it can be judged McCall performed this season, there’s little doubt Taylor has inherited a squad to build on rather than start all over again – due to McCall targeting the right kind of players within the budget constraints.

And if the short-term deal works out and Taylor can replicate the kind of success he enjoyed at Hull, the misery of the last 12 months and the refusal of McCall to quit last summer will ultimately have been worth it. Life doesn’t allow you to turn back the clock, mistakes cannot be undone.  City have had 53 weeks of regrets and now more than ever is the time to apply those lessons. Taylor is impressing in both victory and defeat. We know he has the experience, he’s proving he has the knowledge, the main question mark is that of his own appetite – and that of the Chairmen – to make it work.

53 weeks on Taylor has so far used only seven players from the sixteen involved against the Shots last season  – only three of which have started the last four games. Luke O’Brien, Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke have themselves been the subject of healthy debates for much of this season, but all appear to be impressing Taylor. Meanwhile the futures of the other four – Thorne, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Chris Brandon – look decidedly shaky.  Taylor vowed to give everyone a go and would seem to already be making his mind up over who he would offer a City future too and who he’d move on.

Two of his own short-term recruits have yet to really feature but, after a disappointing performance in losing to Port Vale, may now get their chance. Little is known of Luke Oliver, other than his height, but he could make his debut alongside Clarke in the centre of defence. Gavin Grant has arrived on a pay-as-you-play basis and in need of building fitness. With Gareth Evans having a poor game at Vale Park, that fitness might be tested from the start tomorrow. Omar Daley too will be vying for only a fourth start in a year.

Daley is one of the few players not out of contract this summer and Taylor’s ability to judge the Jamaican is hampered by his understandable lack of fitness. So far Taylor has gone for the workrate of Evans and O’Brien on the flanks to start and, if Daley watched AC Milan’s pathetic surrender at Old Trafford this week largely due to widemen not bothering to track back and Manchester United murdering the Italians down the flanks, he will have some idea of what he needs to do to fit in with the new-look City.

Elsewhere Mark McCammon will have arrived for a month at City with greater ambition than swapping one sub bench for another, and Taylor may consider him to start ahead of James Hanson or Michael Flynn, the latter moving back to midfield. The arrival of Adam Bolder sees greater competition in the centre of midfield, with Steve O’Leary still on the fringes, but Taylor would surely be reluctant to leave out either Bolder or the in-form Bullock.

Matt Glennon keeps goal, having been faintly criticised in public by Taylor for not stopping Vale’s winning goal on Tuesday. Glennon’s spell at City has been curious for its lack of incident. He has made some good saves, but nothing too noteworthy. He has also conceded a few goals he might have been expected to save. He has impressed in the command of his penalty area, but the long-term custodian he may not be. Having played only seven games for Bristol Rovers, a third return of Rhys Evans this summer would be widely cheered by fans.

Simon Ramsden and Robbie Threlfall retain the full back slots; Steve Williams may face the axe for Oliver; Jon Bateson, Michael Boulding and Thorne wait impatiently for rare opportunities.

Barry Conlon the short-term hero

There were plenty of notable results across England’s four professional divisions on Saturday – emphatic victories for Chelsea and Norwich, surprise defeats for Man City and Leeds – but while events at Saltergate provide an interesting talking point for Bradford City supporters, they should not come as a shock.

Barry Conlon, signed by Chesterfield on a month’s loan only that morning, marked his debut by netting the winning goal over Torquay United. The crisp strike from the edge of the area was typical of the Irishman – in the sense of starting well at a new club. It is the 14th transfer the Irishman has been the subject of, it is the 13th year of the 31-year-old’s playing career. There’s a reason he doesn’t stay anywhere long.

For Conlon has proved himself to be an effective short-term impact player. His one and three-quarter seasons at Valley Parade characterised by short spells on the sidelines and short spells in the team. It can be argued he wasn’t given a fair run of games in the team, it can be argued he made it impossible for manager Stuart McCall to give him that run.

I was always a fan of Barry, but it was Bury away almost a year ago that my tolerance of his short-comings vastly-reduced. Three days earlier at Luton, he’d come on a sub and made a decent impact in a second half the Bantams dominated. At Gigg Lane he partnered Steve Jones up front, and though the on-loan Burnley was unhelpful in his positioning and link up play, Conlon’s anonymous performance and miss of a sitter in the final stages of the 1-0 defeat summed up his lack of reliability.

It left me looking back over his City career up to then and realising just how inconsistent he generally was. It seemed to be a never-ending cycle. Brought into the team to give it a boost, he would make a good impact and often score. The next game he’d be a definite starter and usually carry on where he left off. But then the week after less effective, then the week after even less so. The hauling off as sub wasn’t far away, the bench his home again the following week. Then the odd cameo appearance before the cycle started all over again.

A perfect example was in late October 2008. Conlon came on as sub in a battling home game with Bury and scored a late winner. The following Saturday against Barnet, he started the game and scored two excellent goals. Then his performances began to drop off in away games at MK Dons and Wycombe. He was then dropped against Rotherham, before returning in the home game against Chesterfield, playing well and scoring from the spot.

When on form it wasn’t just Conlon’s work rate which impressed, he was very effective at holding up the ball and enabling others to get forward. He was had a great shot on him (often unlucky with some great efforts hitting the woodwork) and he showed intelligence in his passing and positioning. His poorer performances were notable in that the work rate was clearly missing. He wouldn’t chase causes as vigorously, he’d try illogical passes to others when he needed to show more endevour in trying the harder things, he’d fluff his lines in front of goal.

It was as if he only played well when he was under pressure or had something to prove – such as why he should be in the starting eleven.

Of course that point to prove led to him becoming a hero when he moved to Grimsby Town on loan towards the end of the season. Scoring in each of his first three appearances, he pulled a struggling outfit away from the relegation trap door.

In doing so, he also made life that bit more uncomfortable for McCall. Having allowed him to leave with rumours of off-the-field indiscipline circulating, Conlon’s on-loan like-for-like replacement Paul Mullin failed to work out. As Barry made the headlines in Cleethorpes, Mullin struggled to make any impact and City’s season continued to implode. Promotion hopes were as good as ended by a 3-0 defeat at Dagenham where Mullin looked dis-interested. At the exact same time, Conlon was smashing home a double which almost virtually sealed the Mariners’ survival.

But this was a few games, not a season. Whether he’d have made a difference to City’s collapse is highly doubtful. Since that double-strike against Barnet on November 1, he’d only managed one goal from open play during his final four months at Valley Parade.

Conlon’s ability to make a short-term impact was only re-affirmed. His capability of doing it long-term a remaining question.

And one still unanswered, for despite a bright start at Grimsby this season after making his move permanent, Conlon’s form faded badly and with the club struggling more than ever, this time he couldn’t be counted on when the chips were down. Two sendings off, more rumours of off-the-field misbehaviour, only one goal – a penalty – since October. When we went to Blundell Park in November, City were up against a mere shadow of the player Conlon could be. The work rate was nil, the passing poor, the finishing hilariously bad.

His manager has put him on the transfer list, with the excellent Cod Almighty stating, “Conlon is a player who might have been genuinely useful to the Mariners had his head been right but has looked less and less interested as Town have sunk deeper into the mire – so fair play to the manager for deciding to get shot.”

So Conlon is on the move again and, with Grimsby drawing 0-0 at home to Cheltenham on the same afternoon Conlon was a goal-scoring hero on his Chesterfield debut, it’s the turn of Mariners manager Neil Woods to feel uncomfortable.

Chesterfield have signed him on loan with a view to making it permanent for the rest of the season. McCall and Woods – not to mention the many other previous managers Conlon has exasperated – would probably advise John Sheridan to reserve judgement for a few weeks.

Mastering the winning habit

There’s a saying connected to self-improvement. It’s about how everything you can confidently do now, at one stage in your life was considered difficult.

As Bradford City’s campaign of personal development progresses from learning to create chances, to scoring goals, to becoming difficult to beat, to the new challenge of turning draws into three points more often, tentative steps were taken at Blundell Park towards elevating the Bantams to credible promotion candidates. And while it will be hoped last night is looked back on as significant come the end of the campaign, like a kid learning to ride a bike with stabilisers, it was a progression aided by support which won’t always be there.

You see Grimsby Town were just that bad.

It’s seemingly become a tradition for City to arrive at Blundell Park with the home side on a wretched run of form; but the lack of confidence, aptitude and intelligence the Mariners possessed last night suggests relegation from the Football League is no less a formality than that of rock-bottom Darlington. In each of the last three trips to Cleethorpes, City manager Stuart McCall has shook hands with three different managers in the opposite dugout. On Monday Grimsby appointed former City forward Neil Woods despite a winless caretaker stint. This removed the possibility of a short-term lift from a new appointment, though perhaps rather late in the day the Town board has grasped the concept of stability.

Stability for City was the return of the previously-successful 4-3-3 formation and more positionally-solid James O’Brien for an off-form Chris Brandon, with the result a well drilled team versed in the job it needed to carry out. Simon Whaley was handed a full debut ahead of a clearly exhausted Scott Neilson and brought an extra dimension to City’s play. Confident in possession at all times and making some clever on and off the ball runs, if James O’Brien’s hard-working performance put Brandon to shame, the more effective manner in which the on-loan Norwich winger drifted around the pitch will have been noted by Stuart too.

With Lee Bullock carrying out another unassuming but valuable role protecting the back four, the platform was set up for City’s forward players to attack inventively and Whaley’s long range effort sneaked past one-time rumoured Bantams target Nick Colgan to put the visitors 1-0 up on 24 minutes. City had knocked the ball around impressively at times, but the goal was the result of a more direct manner after Simon Eastwood’s long kick and Bullock’s flick on. Stuart has previously made no attempt to apologise for his team mixing up their play and this goal provided a strong argument for incorporating such a style.

Grimsby’s resistance was limited, defender Oliver Lancashire’s header from a corner forcing a stunning save from Eastwood the only time the impressive central defensive partnership of Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams was troubled. And the biggest concern at half time was that surely the home side couldn’t play any worse and of the increasing regularity second half leads have been lost by City this season – Burton, Barnet, Northampton, Port Vale and Accrington. Time for those self-help guides.

Yet with so many doubts to plague the mind, the continued assurance of City after the interval saw the predictable early second half Grimsby urgency dampened with ease. Nicky Featherstone shot wide and there were a couple of throw ins into the box to defend, but it didn’t take long for City to be back into the ascendancy and the determination to finish off the game was obvious.

Whaley and James Hanson both went close before a corner was only half cleared and James O’Brien whipped over a troubling cross which Town defender Paul Linwood bizarrely headed across his own goal, presenting Williams with an opportunity to head the ball into an unguarded net from two yards. As every City outfield player rushed over to congratulate the former non-league defender, the sight of Grimsby players’ heads down, not even bothering to berate each other for conceding so poorly, will surely have troubled every Mariners fan.

From there onwards the game was comfortable with City continuing to carry the greater purpose and intent. Gareth Evans, who’s not quite reaching top form at the moment, should have scored a third after been played through one-and-one and shrugging off a defender, but curled his shot wide. Luke O’Brien, also not quite at his best last night, hit the side netting. Hanson then finally wrapped up the evening after racing onto Evans’ through ball and finishing emphatically. It was the top scorer’s seventh of the season and the superb manner he lead the line all night – winning flick ons and also displaying no little skill with the ball at feet – was a contrast to his target man predecessor and now Grimsby’s number ten, Barry Conlon.

It’s at this point I should really add comment about how disgraceful it was that the majority of away fans booed and sang uncomplimentary songs about the Irish striker. Whatever his failing were in a City shirt, effort was not among them and the great moments he provided us City fans should not be discounted. So I should really add comment about it was a disgrace, but…well, to be honest, I have a sense of humour.

The stick he received was hilarious and the comedy was added too by how badly Conlon played. His big chance to silence the barrackers came shortly before half time when the ball flashed across the box towards his right foot. He ended up kicking fresh air. In response the abuse was interrupted by a mickey-taking chant of “Barry! Barry!” Once sung in affection, but as Conlon was subbed in the second half and Hanson scored a minute later, it was clear we’ve all moved on. Sorry Barry, though given the way you smiled towards us after chasing an over-hit ball which went out of play, I figure you have broad shoulders and a sense of humour too.

A late save from Eastwood preserved the clean sheet – important as it was only City’s second on the road this season. But while City have played better and not won this season, the qualities which delivered the three points stand them in good stead for the tougher battles ahead. In hindsight, that City were only 1-0 up at half time was the best thing which could have happened. A chance to face up to previous fears and play through difficult memories of tentative starts to the second half been punished by conceding.

Every player took responsibility in pushing City on, and by the end of the night every individual battle had been emphatically won. With Michael Flynn and James O’Brien driving the team forward and the movement of Whaley and Evans causing problems, the workmanlike performance was not without its flair.

The win elevates City to 10th and the distance to the play offs has been reduced to two points. After a week off which will allow the fitness of returning players to improve, the self-improvement programme of developing a winning habit continues. From a visit to second bottom of the league to a home game against second top, Rochdale.

This time City will have to do it without the stablisers.

City go to Grimsby waiting in the balance

Michael Flynn put into words the season for City when he said “If we had cut out a few mistakes, we would be higher up the table than we are.”

That Gareth Evans – who has put in much to his first three months at Bradford City and more than deserves the break for this – blasted a last minute penalty wide of the post on Saturday allowing two points to squirm away proved Flynn’s protestation. The Bantams are a team inefficient giving away enough goals to counteract the many good things that go on at the other end of the field but with a balance that when upset may tip one way or another.

Certainly Grimsby Town will have an empathy with such problems after sacking Mike Newell some half dozen or so winless games ago and giving one time Bantam striker Neil Woods the chance to take the team, well, not very far. Woods got the job on a full time basis on Monday afternoon underlining the effect of getting rid of Newell which seems to be that the former manager no longer has to turn up to work but still is paid while the new incumbent goes about the role with the same resources. The attempt to tip the balance of Town’s early season displays having either no effect at all, or a counter effect. Certainly the “new manager/new beginning” which is often hoped for simply had not happened at Blundell Park.

Not that any more than the usual would be of the opinion that the way to tip the season towards success would be a manager replacement but rather the manager himself looks for ways to cut out the mistakes starting with a 442 on Saturday that was – well – duller than the usual 433 but did stop the customary two goals a game concessions. Perhaps the return to two wingers was a preparation of sorts for the return of Omar Daley who would have been backin reserve team action this week were it not for a rearranged juniors match at Valley Parade.

The middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and one other has worked well – and provided no little excitement at both ends – this season but a pairing of Bullock and Flynn with Omar Daley on the left and new recruit Simon Whaley on the right could be the shape that the Bantams will take into the Christmas period. All of which is long sighted talking and rather harsh on Scott Neilson who has on the whole been excellent since joining the Bantams. It also assumed that Chris Brandon will not continued to be shoe-horned into the side or – if one rumour is to be believed – will be leaving for Greg Abbott’s Carlisle in the transfer window.

Evans and James Hanson are expected to retain the forward places with Michael Boulding restricted to the bench against the team that list him as a favoured old boy. Boulding performed well coming off the bench on Saturday and might get the nod over Scott Neilson in an attacking three but the hard work of the younger pair has been one of the base blocks of City this season and is not something to change.

The back five of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien in front of Barry Conlon Simon Eastwood is also expected to remain. Ramsden’s return on Saturday showed his quality while Luke O’Brien continues to be an able full back and an attacking force. The middle pairing impress some, but not all, and may have to cope with the attacking prowess of Barry Conlon as the former Bantams hopes to get a start against the club he left last season.

Far for universally loved Barry left City under a cloud of discipline and drink – letting himself down – but in his one and a half years at City his full energy performances showed a way forward that the Bantams have followed – James Hanson and Barry are not dissimilar players although Hanson’s ability to get both headed and kicked balls somewhere near his intended target puts Conlon to shame.

Much of last season was a debate about the merits of Conlon and Omar Daley but in the last three months of the season when one was at Grimsby and the other injured – effectively giving some supporters who used the words “get rid” a little too much for my tastes what they had wanted – the Bantams imploded. The balance upset, tipped the wrong way.

Not repeating this is the task Stuart McCall faces.

Finding out what you are good at

Rather unexpectedly, Bradford City become involved in a cup run.

The 2-2 draw with Port Vale saw the Bantams win on penalties and ended up as one of eight in a competition since 1989’s League Cup all of which seemed unlikely after a first half in which the Bantams seemed to have forgotten any or all of the elements which have made the club enjoyable to watch this season.

After an initial ten minutes against a Vale side who predictably defended deep in which the Bantams showed some fluidity but soon the attempted midfield of Zesh Rehman sitting behind Michael Flynn and Luke Sharry. If the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is for anything it is for blooding young players and it is admirable that Sharry was given a chance but the midfielder did not take the chance with two hands and and with Rehman sitting naturally atop Steve Williams and the recalled Matthew Clarke the midfield triangle became more of a string.

As a result the ball was punted long – punted as opposed to passed – with the ball often going to an out muscled Michael Boulding or Scott Neilson rather than the powerful James Hanson. It was from this that John McCombe gave the visitors the lead with a corner being cleared to Boulding who’s attempt to hold the ball up was lacklustre and so as the Bantams came out the ball pinged back in to the flank and then the centre with McCombe converting.

Micky Adams has Port Vale playing at what they are good at. They sit deep and attack with pace and as City had failed at their endeavours in the first half and Vale had not they deserved the lead. Moreover though Stuart McCall took his team into the dressing room knowing that there was a problem which he set about addressing.

Sharry may not get another 45 minutes to press his case for a contract so it is a shame that he did not grasp this game but his replacement – James O’Brien – floated a corner into the middle which good running by Rehman and a ducked header by Flynn which levelled the game.

Flynn had moved to the forward line to replace Michael Boulding – brought off for Chris Brandon – to give the attack more sticking power against a Vale side who looked to up their muscle with West Yorkshireman Anthony Griffith coming on.

Griffith seems to be a player born without any footballing talent. He can – however – tackle and battle which he does to various degrees giving away a free kick for a foul on James Hanson. Luke O’Brien middled the free kick for Hanson who rose to head in.

Football is sometimes very complex but most other times it is utterly simple. Good delivery to players who are good at heading it. Two goals and that seemed to be that until Robert Taylor his a choice shot across Simon Eastwood and into the the far post to set up another round of penalties after ninety minutes.

Penalties – taken at the Kop end to the eternal credit of someone – started with Marc Richards and Michael Flynn scoring Simon Eastwood saved Louis Dodds, Vale keeper Chris Martin saved from James O’Brien. Eastwood’s on line bouncing gave him the edge over Kris Taylor but Chris Brandon became the only player of sixteen to miss the target.

Lewis Haldane, James Hanson, Tommy Fraser, Luke O’Brien, Robert Taylor and Zesh Rehman scored. Eastwood saved from Adam Yates and Steve Williams won the game.

The credit, the songs, the mobbing of his team mates went to Simon Eastwood who had saved three of eight stop kicks and once again had put the Bantams a step closer to Wembley. Eastwood is the new Barry Conlon. Some get on his back but on nights like tonight – just as Barry would get match winners – he was the difference.

At least we have found something he is good at: saving penalties.

Where we will feel the pain as the cost cut squad is shaped

Seventy minutes into the friendly with Barnsley looking over the City side the shape of the squad for next season post £700,000 cost cut emerged and with it the nature of the squad and season.

Around the field City had replaced first teamers with younger players and Luke Sharry was making a case for being considered a central midfielder rather than a wide man to be back up to Lee Bullock when the thinness of the squad to come became apparent.

Not that you would see this from looking at the front players. Massive kudos to Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne who have both taken pay cuts to stay and form part of a four man team up front with Gareth Evans and James Hanson.

I confess I miss Barry Conlon’s robust style and the idea that Willy Topp might have been good but individually James Hanson and Gareth Evans offer no less than Topp and Conlon – well – is Hanson puts in the energy that Conlon did as his pre-season performances suggest he might then their is no reason why he can not be equally well thought of (assuming one thought well of Conlon that is).

Likewise out wide Joe Colbeck this season is no worse than Joe Colbeck last when he came into the year as a well thought of player of the season aside from the fact that the wide man is on week to week contracts and has had a half year of “atmosphere” at Valley Parade. Colbeck, like Chris Brandon, is an able footballer and Omar Daley (unloved, again, but his importance was shown in his absence) create a threesome of players who should be at the top of the division but starting with one injured City are already down to bare bones and hoping for the impressiveness of young players.

Luke Sharry – as mentioned – could be great back up for Lee Bullock and could be the player he hints at being in reserve games but hoping that Sharry can perform is not the same as dropping in Nicky Law Jnr to cover an injury. At one point last season we had six midfielders out (Colbeck, Daley, Bullock, Furman, McLaren and Brandon) and put together a team that beat MK Dons whereas this season it would be hard to see us being able to withstand such losses.

The hit of cutting costs is felt not as much in the quality of the squad but the strength of it. Good players but one worries if we got injuries and – two seasons in League Two tell us we will get injuries.

Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Matthew Clarke are covered by Simon Ramsden who is covered at right back by Jonathan Bateson. Luke O’Brien faces competition at left back from Louis Horne but both are young players and we are hoping both will transfer potential – to greater and lesser extents – into performances. Good players, little back up.

The signing of Simon Eastwood came with confirmation that he and Jon McLaughlin will be given the chance to fight over the gloves at Notts County and for the first half of the season.

Two inexperienced keepers is worrying – I have seen few good teams without a settled goalkeeper – as is the gap at number four.

City are closer to finding someone to fill the hole only in seeming to have decided that Grant Smith, Joe Keehan and a few others are not “the man”. Last season Dean Furman only signed at the end of August and perhaps in a month we might all be marvelling at John Fleck running riot in midfield.

Perhaps not though. This morning comes news of a bidding war for Leeds United’s Fabian Delph between Spurs and Aston Villa which City would take 12.5% of and as last season’s other big money side Shrewsbury Town sell Grant Holt at a £100,000 loss while Joe Hart – who they get £500,000 for should he play a full England game – so City are in a position of trimming the cloth today but perhaps being affluent tomorrow. Sign up a rookie keeper now and it we are in the top half at Christmas and find ourselves well off go get someone else perhaps.

Last season was budgeted as promotion or Delph leaving – this season it is assumed (sensibly) that neither will occur and the cloth is cut accordingly. Delph may stay until Christmas, until next summer, until he retires and City do well to not push out boats on the strength of his transfer status.

Nevertheless it is probable that at some point City will have over half a million coming in to the club and perhaps the season is shaped by staying in and around contention for as long as possible until that occurs. Should Delph leave at Christmas then the Bantams could move through the league in the last four months just as we did last year – only in the other direction. Similarly is we get that windfall on the last day of the Summer transfer window we are left with a squad and money hanging over us Notts County style for months.

There is a school of thought – which I subscribe to – that money in League Two is largely wasted and the teams rise and fall through spirit and morale.

That and keeping fingers crossed than injuries do not hit as hard this year as last.

It never Rehmans but it pours

The youthful small army that carried the “Zesh Rehman Fan Club” banner will return to Valley Parade to see their hero next term after that Pakistan captain signed a two year deal at Bradford City in a flurry of pen being put to paper.

Rehman joined Stuart McCall’s budget Bantams at the same time as Luke O’Brien, Joe Colbeck and Leon Osborne confirmed they would be staying and the shape of Stuart’s City team for next season emerged looking oddly familiar and increasingly like last season’s side.

Frank Fielding of Blackburn is said to be the number one choice for keeper. Fielding impressed as a loan player when at Wycombe but few would suggest that the problem with last term was Rhys Evans. Jon McLaughlin is on permanent stand by and now that first team squads include seven substitutes he can expect to be on the bench every game at least.

Likewise Simon Ramsden will line up at right back rather than Paul Arnison but the position was not leaky last year and left wingers did not constantly enjoy joy leaving one to wonder what will be different. Rehman and Matthew Clarke will make a good enough back two. I countenance little debate on Clarke’ abilities pointing instead to the fact that City’s back four are not longer bullied by big forwards as proof of that particular pudding.

McCall has a chance to make a difference with left back Luke O’Brien and right winger Joe Colbeck. He has one player doing nothing and another who is young player of the season and his aim must be to get O’Brien to have a better season than Colbeck did in his post-award year and to get Colbeck back onto the form that won him that gong.

It is man management and the City McCall and his management team get or lose for one they gain for the other. With Omar Daley out until Christmas – and it is the opinion of this parish that losing Daley that caused the nosedive last year – getting Joe Colbeck to terrorise defences becomes of paramount importance especially with Peter Thorne signed up for another season.

Thorne’s ability to play two games a week is questionable and so City chase Gareth Evans but at the moment their is a huge Barry Conlon shaped hole in the forward line. Michael Boulding has taken on the air of Ashley Ward with a mythical and specific way of playing that would suit him and probably few others getting the best out of the channel running forward. Boulding moved late in the summer last season, perhaps he will again.

Chris Brandon signed early but is not leaving in the same way. Interest in Brandon is low to none as befits a man who started only four games last season and while the left flank man is one of the expensive exiters do not be surprised to see him line up for the start and many game next year.

As with last season though the middle of the midfield is mutable. The attacking midfielder question of Lee Bullock or Nicky Law Jnr is answered with one signing and the other joining Rotherham United so once again the fundamental question about Stuart McCall’s team is who will be his Stuart McCall?

Since our number four left for Sheffield United anchoring, holding midfielders have come and gone from Valley Parade and few have settled in what is – in the humble opinion of this writer – the most important position on the football field.

Dean Furman is wanted by us and Oldham and Paul McLaren will do well to find another club. Nathan Doyle is no more likely to get games this year at Hull City than he was last and some would have him in on loan.

So we look at Bradford City 2009/2010 and see a gap up front next to Peter Thorne, a question mark over the midfield and a new keeper we are not sure about. Much to be confident about but still issues that need addressing.

So much of the same.

McCall’s next City squad starts to take shape

Pakistan skipper Zesh Rehman has been offered a deal by the Bantams but longest serving player Mark Bower has been freed as Stuart McCall starts building his squad for 2009/2010.

McCall’s side’s failure to make the play offs has led to budget cuts – that is the short and not especially representative version of long story – and as a result four senior players have been freed with Bower joining out on loan Barry Conlon, oft injured Paul Heckingbottom, bit player Keith Gillespie and – surprisingly – Rhys Evans out of Valley Parade with the goalkeeper being rumoured to be interesting League One clubs including Leeds United.

The City boss has also prompted Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding to try find other clubs – something they can do owing to oddly one sided clauses in their contracts – but worries that should they not do the wage budget will be restricted. With times tough for many, if not most, clubs at the moment it is hard to see who will take the players on. Michael Boulding was not short of offers this time twelve months ago but traded from a position of being the leading scorer in League Two, likewise Paul McLaren negotiated with City as the most creative man in League One. Now these players go to a depressed market with a line on the CV that is read as a failure to make the top seven in League Two.

Do not be surprised if we have not seen the last of this trio.

Another trio who McCall would like us to see more of are Nicky Law Jnr, Dean Furman and Steve Jones whom the manager is trying to recapture on loan. Matthew Clarke, Lee Bullock, Luke O’Brien, Joe Colbeck, Leon Osborne Jon McLaughlin, Luke Sharry and Matthew Convey have been offered contracts while Kyle Nix is welcome back to preseason one assumes to await news of an exit for Lee, Boulding or McLaren. McCall will talk with Peter Thorne tomorrow.

All of which leave City with a weakened version of this season’s team should these machinations come off. McLaughlin seems to be fancied to be the new keeper having kept a clean sheet in the final game of last term. At 21 he is young but League Two is – increasingly for City – a learner’s league.

Paul Arnison has a two year deal and one assumes will stick at right back although his unwillingness to relocate from the North East is rumoured to have caused problems for McCall. Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke in the central defensive roles with Luke O’Brien at left back is an inch worse than Graeme Lee partnering either one – Lee came out of the season with more credit than most in this writer’s opinion – but Rehman is a cultured player and one who one could have confidence in. Clarke will continue to have his critics for both not being able to spray a Glenn Hoddle pass – which defender can? – and for his defensive lapses but since he replaced Bower in the side City have stopped being bullied by the usual big men forward lines we face.

Without wanting to delve into the stats of how many six foot two plus players have won headers in City game against Clarke vs Bower anecdotally one would suggest it is obvious that Clarke has plugged that gap. That he has other failings is a problem but in a League where physical prowess – bigness, if you will – is often the route to goal it is that no being bullied which is important rather than Bower’s more intelligent style of defending.

As with Andrew O’Brien before him Bower’s style suits the club less the further down the leagues we are. O’Brien’s man marking is superb on Thierry Henry but wasted in the Championship and Bower’s foot in play could – and would – do a lot at a Barnsley but does not at Valley Parade. One would have confidence that Bower could nick the ball from big men frequently but McCall obviously worries that the long serving defender would spend the rest of his time on his backside having been flattened and getting little sympathy from Referees.

Hearts are heavy though when a player with a service record like Bower’s leaves a club. He has given the lion’s share of his career to Bradford City having signed up on the 13th of May, 1999 four days after promotion and broken into the side a few years later with honest displays. He did his bit in administration and beyond and few City fans would not hope that he can establish himself somewhere else for the five or six years he could have in the game.

Uniting Dean Furman and Lee Bullock would seem to be the key to McCall’s midfield for next season with the City manager keen to see the Rangers midfielder back in the position he dominated last term – he played few games than Paul McLaren but made a more significant impact and was certainly more memorable – but Ibrox boss Walter Smith may have different ideas. Bullock is a useful player who has only shown his effectiveness in short spells while at Valley Parade. Next season McCall seems set to offer the former Hartlepool United midfielder the chance to make the position his own.

However McCall has struggled thus far in his management career to find a player to fill that number four shirt and role which he himself took at Valley Parade. Furman won the place from Paul McLaren whose season could be described as “middling”. McLaren did not take the mantel of senior professional with enough zeal and as a result on occasion looked a peripheral figure – especially when compared to Furman – just as Paul Evans the season before had failed to make the McCall slot his own.

Returning to Hoddle momentarily it is said that when England manager Glenn was frustrated with the players inability to match the magic feats of his own passing and one can only imagine the frustration that McCall – a player who lived by taking games by the scruff on the neck – has watching two players who have no shortage of talent in Evans and McLaren failing to control matches. Is Furman a better passer of a ball than McLaren or a better tackler than Evans? One could argue not but he has more cunning, more guile and it seems a stronger character that allows him to have more of a constant effect over a ninety minutes.

Defensive midfield – Furman’s nominal position and the one McCall had – is perhaps the most crucial role on the field and Furman represents a safe bet for City. We have seen that he will not shirk in the role unlike the previous two candidates who were on the face of it excellent choices for such a position and thus he is a tried and tested option for a job which I would argue the failure to fill correctly has cost us over the previous two season, and probably longer.

It should be noted that Luke Sharry has had a productive season and while not ready for the number four role should be expecting to feature in a dozen or more games next term.

The scenario on the flanks remains as it was this season: Joe Colbeck, perhaps Chris Brandon, Omar Daley when fit, Nicky Law should he return and Steve Jones if he is interested. Returning Colbeck from the jaws is poor form and the critics that wait for such to attack him is of paramount importance for McCall as establishing Omar Daley as a threat on the left was this term. McCall flits between preferring a pair of wide players such as Daley, Jones and Colbeck and wanting one wide and one more tucked in as Chris Brandon or Law offers and one can expect that method of trying to fill the middle of the midfield to continue.

Brandon has been unable to provide much of an indication as to his effectiveness this season and – based on last season – given a choice between him and Law one would take the younger man from Sheffield United. Should Brandon be edged out of Valley Parade – and indications are that the club would be able to keep him – then Kyle Nix would be an able replacement and I for one am surprised that the young Rotheraussie has not been offered a new deal offering the heart and ability the former of which was often lacking last season.

In August Stuart McCall would hope to line up with Joe Colbeck, Dean Furman, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon across the middle and few would suggest that represents a major shift away from this term with improvement inferred from consistency with all four players having spent long periods injured. Allowing whoever is in the number four role to build up a relationship with the defenders to feed the ball in ending the long hoof of the end of last term and with the three midfielders around him who would take the ball is crucial and Furman can be trusted to do that. If he is not retained we re-enter the lucky dip of trying to bring in a cog to be the most important part of our machine. Like good goalscorers – they don’t get given away.

Peter Thorne will talk to Stuart McCall in a conversation about “legs” and if the striker still has them and McCall will hope to move Michael Boulding on to no great distress from I. For all his hard work Boulding failed to build a partnership either with the forward he was alongside or the players supplying him from midfield. Barry Conlon officially left the club and Willy Topp is long gone leaving the City boss looking for three or four strikers for next term.

In this respect McCall is in the hands of the trio of players who may leave. Should Lee, McLaren and Michael Boulding all exit then pressure on his budget would be loosened and the City manager could get to looking for a goal getter or two – one would suggest he tries to find a fast one, a skilful one, a big one and one who can finish again but that is how we entered this year – but should this not happen then the Bantams manager will be left looking at scraps to find a feast. The ramification of Barry Conlon and Matthew Clarke’s fall out with McCall obviously preclude Conlon’s return despite a half dozen goals for Grimsby Town and one wonders if allowing the fighting Irish to leave is not going to haunt the Gaffer as he starts looking for players with passion, strength and a good track record and finds that Barry’s name comes top of the searches.

In such a situation Rory Boulding becomes an option although reports on him are mixed on the little brother while Leon Osborne and Sean Taylforth are no one’s idea of the player to lead you out of League Two. All three could be world beaters but the fact that they are – should Thorne not be retained – all that is in the cupboard for next term shows the problem Stuart McCall will have in building a side for next term.

In the season John Hendrie talked about the need for another striker and McCall tried Chris O’Grady and Paul Mullin in that role but ultimately when cutting the cloth to keep the club in business the side suffers and the forward line would seem to be where City are to take the hit.

So McCall is charged with three summer tasks. He must get the players he has offered new deals to to sign – some are given reduced terms – and will use the carrot of a smaller squad and a guaranteed place in the starting eleven achieve that with the likes of Lee Bullock.

Secondly he must work on ensuring he has the right man for the number four role with Dean Furman being nominated as the prefer choice. Filling this position is or paramount importance.

Finally he must find a set of strikers who want to play for the club and who have the ability but for some reason – probably as with Thorne it would be age – are not at a higher level and do not expect massive wages. Rumour has it David Wetherall is being moved to youth team coach. Wetherall never really got on with Dean Windass…

Stuart’s striker blind spot

Let me say at the outset that although I am a McCall supporter, when his arrival was first rumoured I though it would be an act of lunacy on his part to take the job at the time he did… bottom division, no money, financial knifedge. All he could do would be to ruin his unique legendary status… as has happened.

I haven’t agreed with all his decisions during the season: team selections, substitution policy etc. What is it with professional football? no matter that tactics/personnel can prove to be wrong early on, they must not be changed in a match till the hour mark whatever happens).

Then again, I didn’t agree with everything Paul Jewell did in ’98-99.

Sadly I’ve come to the conclusion that Stuart has a blind spot which has hampered our progress and it’s to do with strikers!

Before the season began everyone was aware that we would be lucky to get 30 games out of Peter Thorne and that Barry Conlon wasn’t an adequate replacement, for all his effort. True, he’s scored more goals this time but, take out the penalties and he doesn’t look nearly so adequate.

Stuart had another chance to put this right when Topp departed but we got Chris O’Grady. 2 coments on him that I heard were “doesn’t even look like a footballer” and “signed him just ‘cos he played well against us once….bad reason!”

Having now seen Paul Mullin I can only say that he doesn’t seem to have anything that Conlon didn’t have. There was talk at the time of Pawel Abbott instead. I remember thinking that he would have been a better bet for us.

Only time will tell how much this striker shortage has cost us. Right now it looks like there is one remaining playoff berth to be had and that we aren’t favourites to get it!

It can still be done but I’ll stick my neck out and say that if we don’t beat Brentford on Saturday it will be all over for us, a draw won’t be good enough.

The worst punishment

Putting aside debates over Stuart McCall’s ability for a moment, everyone should be horrified by the prospect of the Bantams manager leaving this summer. A managerial vacancy in May will mean the play offs have been missed and a resultant punishment no one connected with City will relish – more of the same.

Today’s 1-0 defeat to Port Vale was a bad advert for League Two and sadly something its biggest crowds have had to become used to. Not so long ago visiting teams came with clever game plans that often worked, this season the majority show up with limited aspirations of avoiding defeat. Five across the midfield, time waste as often as possible and, on occasions home players get through, bring them down by any means necessary.That they succeeded owed more to City’s lack of confidence than any better parking of the bus compared to others.

The only goal of the game came four minutes after the break through a neat low finish by David Howland, but the chance came seconds after City had been on the attack and Keith Gillespie, making his full debut, had produced an ill-advised short pass to Dean Furman which had too much power to control and allowed Paul Marshall to break forward. Graeme Lee stood off him too long and, when he did eventually put in a challenge, the ball spun into Howland’s path from which he beat Rhys Evans.

It was the only time Vale troubled City’s goal, though the territorial advantage the Bantams enjoyed didn’t manifest itself into many chances. Lee might have made up for his hesitancy for the goal with three attempts that were cleared off the line, Clarke had a decent half volley attempt which was straight at Valiant keeper Jon Anyon, Furman blazed over and Steve Jones stabbed a few efforts wide – but at no point in the game was momentum built up to the level of heavy pressure.

The biggest concern for Stuart will have been that the final whistle did not herald only the second home defeat of the season, his team looked beaten long before it. Confidence is draining from certain players who, only a matter of weeks ago, were in excellent form. Low confidence for City typically results in a more direct approach and an over-desperation to force a goal which was evident even during the early stages. The lack of composure in hurrying the ball forward rather than passing it around patiently meant possession was quickly gifted back to Vale, who tried their hardest to boot it back in the direction it came.

Stuart has faced the conundrum all season of two central midfielders being out numbered by three opposition and seemed to have found the solution in the boundless energy levels of Furman and Nicky Law, but even the on-loan pair looked jaded and unable to influence the game. Out wide Gillespie and Jones battled hard and caused problems, but the double-marking tactics left them struggling for space and the efforts of Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien to support were undermined by the former’s favouritism of his left foot and the latter’s struggle to handle the counter attack threat from his side.

Up front Paul Mullin made his debut after signing on-loan from Accrington and, though he showed some good touches and battled well, offered nothing Barry Conlon does not on a good day. The hope for Stuart will be that he has higher consistency levels. Michael Boulding looked useful with the ball at feet but finding space is a problem he’s faced at Valley Parade all season. With the ball invariably aimed at Mullin, he was forced to feed off scraps. Stuart introduced Chris Brandon and Lee Bullock from the bench, but neither had any impact.

Fortunately for City, this impact on the league table has been just as slight, with only Rochdale winning and the gap to third still only a mountable six points. Realistically the play offs are the target but the worry is this further dent on confidence will make it even harder for the players to achieve that. Next week’s game at Chester becomes even more must-win and, with The Blues winless in 17 and having fallen into the bottom two for the first time, it will be a pressure game for both sides. Losing is unthinkable and would bring the reality of missing out on the top seven and another season in League Two closer.

That we are even here in the first place owes a little to today’s whistle-happy referee who did as much to ruin the spectacle as Vale’s Marc Richards and his kicking the ball away time-wasting efforts. It’s almost two years ago to the day since Steve Bratt was last officiating at Valley Parade and on that afternoon he stopped a resurgent City effort against Blackpool by ridiculously sending off Steve Schumacher just as the Bantams were completely on top. The score was 1-1 but the game ended 3-1 to the Tangerines with the hapless referee later admitting he was wrong to dismiss Schumacher – in between City were relegated from League One.

Back at the scene of the crime, Bratt played completely into Vale’s hands by continually stopping play and awarding some bizarre free kicks. On at least two occasions City players were fouled, only for Bratt to give the decision the other way. He also displayed ridiculous inconsistencies with the advantage rule, at one stage pulling the game back ten seconds after a Vale foul hadn’t stopped Boulding charging into the area with just a defender and keeper to beat. No wonder the Vale players were so quick to shake his hand at the final whistle.

Stuart was yet to be installed as manager on Bratt’s last visit; as assistant to Neil Warnock, he had just witnessed Sheffield United lost 3-0 at Chelsea. The bright lights of the Premier League quickly became distant after the five successive defeats early into his City managerial career, last season. His immediate task is to make sure that record isn’t equalled next Saturday, as well as restore hope we might escape another year of punishment.

I’ll miss Barry

Barry Conlon has left Bradford City for Grimsby Town – seemingly the fall out of the discipline problems he and Matthew Clarke have had – and probably will not be back and I for one will miss him.

Of course Conlon was not the most talented player who has every pulled on a City shirt but few so obviously battled for the cause as Barry did. The list of players who – had they been able to put the effort in that Conlon did – would have been much better players than they were. Lee Sharpe, Michael Standing, Ashley Ward and on and on.

Barry gave it all and while that was not much what it did was give an example to the likes of Omar Daley that it was that level of effort – and no less – that would be allowable. I see Daley’s change in performances from slacker against Leyton Orient to committed winger this season as very much a lesson of the likes of Conlon.

That Barry had little to give – that Barry on his best day was only ever going to be as good as some players strolling through the game – arguably made that effort more admirable.

I could never understand the criticism of Barry. I reserve my disdain for the likes of Lee Sharpe who could have given more rather than the Conlons who gave all he could.

He carved out his career at City by giving all he could until – one supposes – the disciplinary problems which would seem to have brought about the end of his City career.

A Conlon that does not do give all he can is never going to be worth a place in the side and if Stuart McCall is of the belief that he will not be getting that 100% Barry then he is right to move the player on to Blundell Park.

All of which creates a tragedy of sorts. A man who has to struggle, has to give his all, to achieve what others find easier and slips from that, and is moved on for that slip but leaves a lasting legacy that for Bradford City, and for Stuart McCall.

One must give his all and if he does he will be backed to the hilt. Fall from standard and you are cast down far from grace and glory, or to Grimsby.

McCall – and City – return to Valley Parade amid the clouds for the visit of Port Vale

When last we departed Valley Parade optimism was the order of the day with calculations over how many of the nine points on offer from three away games City would win.

Zero points it turned out, and as a result Stuart McCall’s next step on the field at VP following the two fists punching the air at a 5-0 win is under the clouds of his statement in the week that should the Bantams fail to make the play-offs this season he would leave.

This has been discussed here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here and here, and here and here.

I believe managers are important but that players also have responsibility for performance and while it is ultimately the gaffer who carries the can for three defeats or missing the play-offs it is the players who remain at the club and – because of that – are culpable.

There is an obvious discussion over the future of disciplined pair Barry Conlon and Matthew Clarke with rumours having them leaving the club before deadline day. Conlon and Clarke has struggled for popularity at Valley Parade and these problems are manna for their critics.

Conlon is as he always has been, an example for the players who believe that they can give anything less than everything on the field of play. He is limited in talent but big on heart.

Clarke is more complex with the results of his addition to the team being manifest apart from his performances. Some believe he is a liability, a poor defender, the maker of mistakes yet since his coming into the back four City have stopped being bullied by big fellas at the back and become more solid defensively at Valley Parade.

The sight of Mark Bower, a return for whom is talked about to replace Clarke, bouncing off some six foot three forward who wheels away celebrating a goal after was all too common before Clarke found his way into the side and it is that which plays on the mind when the idea of replacing one with the other comes up.

Naturally Clarke may not be the only reason that City have – for want of a better phrase – added biggness at the back and with Zesh Rehman at the club he may not be the best but for all his problems the practice of playing Graeme Lee in David Wetherall’s role next to a commanding central defender has worked for City and that has been in no small part down to Clarke.

Nevertheless The Lee/Rehman central defence partnership with Paul Arnison and Luke O’Brien along side them seems to be the next logical option. O’Brien’s form has dropped before he was dropped but he and Arnison’s forward motion with the ball is important to City going forward. Wise man say no team’s biggest problem is ever the full backs.

Most problems in football come from – and can be traced to – the central midfield pairing. Certainly Stuart McCall was the solution to any number of problems as a number four and in Dean Furman he has a player who is cut from similar cloth. Is Furman “doing enough”, does he stand and to be counted and take responsibility for the teams performance as a player in that fulcrum role should? He does as best he can but perhaps a partnership with Nicky Law Jnr the pair lack experience.

I would prefer Furman with Paul McLaren in the midfield but in all the talk of McCall leaving no one has suggested he should be replaced by Michael Wood – alas I was hoping they might – and the manager is the manager and has the right to make his decisions.

Certainly though Law is a fine player when things are going well buzzing around impressively and adding to the forward line. When not on top of a game is Law capable of winning the ball back and turning the game back to us? Sometime, but only sometimes.

Perhaps this is why Law has started to feature more on the flank or towards the attacking lie than previously and why Lee Bullock – an able player but one who like Law seems to be at his best when we are at our best and not one who like his manager could take a game by the scruff and turn it around.

The play-off chances – ergo the future of the club – probably hang on which of these four midfielders McCall picks.

The flanks are much of a muchness. Chris Brandon seems set to start on the left hand side for his first kick off at Valley Parade while Joe Colbeck, Keith Gillespie and Steve Jones compete for a single berth on the right flank unless Jones is required for forward duties.

Peter Thorne missed the midweek game with a sore neck and Stuart McCall will hope to have the player fit for Saturday (Thorne will not play) lest Jones or Conlon is ergo Joes or Conlon will be (Conlon leaves) deployed alongside Michael Boulding.

All believe that this is a must win game with an irony that should City get three points and a fistful of goals then the Bantams could end the day back in fourth as with the end of the last game at Valley Parade.

If that is case – and because the possibility of that being the case exists – perhaps we should wonder about our reactions to the bad clouds that circle. If the result of the last fourteen days were to be that we were in the same position now as we were then when optimism was the order of the day then was this self-flagellation necessary and what long term effect will it have had?

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.

Conlon vs Clarke? McCall is the loser in that battle

There is speculation that the breach of club dicipline that saw Barry Conlon and Matthew Clarke dropped from the squad on Saturday was a punch up between the two biggest bruisers the Bantams had and frankly had tickets been sold for that event I can imagine it would be worth watching in that Clash of the Titans way.

This speculation might be filed next to Paul McLaren’s walk out and will never play for City again or Peter Beagrie’s famously broken leg on the 1st of April 1999 – “Which one is it that he hasn’t broke?” – or it might be grounded. I’m not one to speculate without fact on my side and the paid could well have been fleecing the young ‘uns at cards or staying out past curfew but for something will be proof that Stuart McCall lacks the strength to impose discipline.

His most famous moment – to many – is falling off a car drunk. One can see the problems he would have telling players how to behave but perhaps the punishment for the pair – of which McCall says We’ll keep it private but it’s over and done with now. They are both back in the squad. – is that strength being flexed.

Not too far away breeches of club discipline became an issue after the Oldham Athletic players were seen scrapping at Belle Vue Dog Track. John Sheridan paid for the problems with his job although a 6-2 defeat at the weekend would not have helped matters and now he has been replaced by Joe Royle.

McCall and Sheridan were on opposite sides of the camp in the 1980s with the Irishman Leeds United’s favourite midfielder and Stuart City’s. Both are in management at the same time and both have discipline problems to deal with.

Boundry Park provides an interesting test case for City fans. Oldham have fallen out of the play-off zone after looking good for promotion earlier and in Royle they have their totemistic manager – their Paul Jewell – back in charge replacing a young favoured former player. If the potato headed one can lift them into The Championship then those City fans who believe that the Bantams should be making a change in the big chair can point to that and make the point that the same should have happened at Valley Parade. If not then one could argue that there is some proof that changing managers does not equate to changing fortunes.

We watch with interest as we watch the reintegration of Conlon and Clarke back into the City side. Neither have enjoyed universal popularity but both have merits. Conlon never gives up and is an object lesson for the rest of the side – an example if you will – while Clarke’s abilities are evidenced not in singular moments but in a sea change in City’s modus operandi. It used to be that the Bantams were bested by big men bullying Mark Bower and now those days are over. That Clarke has failings in other areas one must balance against those benefits and the idea that Zesh Rehman offers similar, if not better.

Both players will live to fight another day – players always do and John Sheridan is out of work while his brawling players continue to be paid – and so will McCall who in having to wield discipline will be viewed by some as lacking it.

It is not plain which plan is being followed

Note: The following is Paul Firth’s report in the game with Exeter that was mailed on Saturday night but took some time to arrive leaving events to pass it with the news of the reason for Conlon and Clarke’s exclusion. The report makes interesting reading so is included.

Many words have been written on BfB earlier this season on the concept of ‘Plan B’ and, in particular, on whether Stuart McCall has one. At Exeter it was not plain which Plan or, indeed, if anything that might be dignified by the use of a term such as ‘plan’ had been put into action.

The obvious response to the Rochdale defeat was a reshuffling of the team. At kick off it wasn’t easy to work out what the team, as opposed to the eleven players, would be. Maybe this was the plan, to confuse the opponents. It certainly confused me for long enough. The Thorne/Boulding/Conlon debate took another twist with only the middle one of the three surviving. But what looked like a 4-5-1, with Boulding on his own, became a 4-4-1-1, with Nicky Law ‘in the hole’.

Zesh Rehman replaced Matt Clarke, who had been no worse than a few other defenders at Rochdale. But the midfield saw the biggest changes. Out went Joe Colbeck and back came both Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren. About the only description to be given to this section of the team was disjointed.

We all know how effective Law and Furman have been together and that there can be a problem if the opposition have a few more tall players. Disrupting that partnership can be justified, but not so easily. This was not so much a disruption as an earthquake. Furman looked lost. Not only was he without his partner, but he was no longer sure who his partner was. McLaren rarely crossed the half way line. Bullock’s function seemed to be to get on the end of any high ball from the back – and there were far too many of those again – and only Jones, in his spot on the right wing, seemed truly at home.

The bench contained no fewer than two more right wingers in Colbeck and the newly signed Gillespie, together with Brandon, Thorne and Ainge. The absence of a keeper should no longer be a surprise, perhaps, but do we really need two right wingers on the bench? Messrs Conlon and Clarke, sitting in the row behind me in the stand, looked in danger of tripping over their faces so long were they. I don’t think they liked not being in the sixteen.

The Cowshed roof at St James Park (the Exeter version) has an overhang that reminded me of the old Valley Parade stand. The football in 2009 also reminded me of the pre-1985 style. I lost sight of the ball for about a third of the game because either a stanchion obstructed my view or the ball was once more coming out of the sky above. The pitch appeared to be in very fine condition, but perhaps the groundsman had threatened both sides about wearing out his grass.

City without doubt are at their best when they pass the ball at pace along the ground and use the obvious skills of the front six. Instead they competed with the home team in a game of hoof-ball that was unedifying and rarely entertaining. It summed up the quality of the match that the only goal was a complete fluke. Dean Moxey advanced up the left wing, going past Arnison with some ease, despite the attempted hand-off. As Arnison returned for a second attempt Moxey crossed from near the corner. The ball was deflected up in the air over the head of the hapless (and capless) Evans and into the net. Whether the sun shining straight into his face made any difference only Evans will know. The Exeter keeper in the second half was not bare headed.

At half time there had been plenty of good work down City’s right, but the home keeper had had just the one shot to save, a half volley from outside the box hit well enough by Steve Jones, but requiring only a routine stop.

As the teams came out for the second half I couldn’t help thinking of the symbolism in McLaren’s change of shirt. His new top had neither number nor name. In every sense he would now be anonymous, any identity being revealed only when the number 4 came up on the fourth official’s board twenty minutes into the half. Enter Peter Thorne and another change of formation, with Law, Furman and Bullock vying with each other for the midfield area not covered by Jones.

As the second half progressed City had more and more possession in their opponents’ defensive third. Corners and free kicks were apparently endless, but the home keeper had very few saves to make, the best being with his feet following a Jones run and shot. In front of him Taylor and the wonderfully named Troy Archibald-Henville hardly put a foot wrong and dealt so comfortably with the string of high balls that they must have wondered if City’s defenders had been told that Barry Conlon was in the stand.

For a brief moment our saviour looked to be on hand. A long ball from Luke O’Brien found Peter Thorne between the central defenders and he was through into the area. Memories of that goal at Port Vale flashed through the mind, only to be wiped out in the next flash. Perhaps we should just say that there was a difference in pace, Thorne was put under pressure before being able to hit a shot and the move came to nothing.

Dean Furman’s confused day came to a slightly premature end when Joe Colbeck replaced him with five minutes remaining. There was still enough time for the entire team save for Luke O’Brien to go up for a corner and for Zesh Rehman to be yellow carded for an offence that might have brought a red – especially if it had really been an offence.

There had been much huffing and puffing, not to mention too large a portion of high balls. The effort was undeniable, but in truth neither team showed the skill level that would suggest they were capable of promotion. A disappointing result took City out of the play-off places n a day when a win would have done so much more. Messrs Conlon and Clarke were stony faced. Perhaps they shared my thought that, if we have to play so many high balls, it might be best to have someone their size to get under them.

Another bad repeat

Shortly after half time at Spotland, Bradford City’s players found themselves rueing missed opportunities and a two-goal burst from the home side which left them chasing a deficit. As symbolism goes it was a pretty fair analogy of City’s promotion challenge to date – and of the size of the task this defeat leaves them in achieving that goal.

Fortune certainly favoured Rochdale and the three-point advantage they now look down upon City from in 3rd place is less comfortable than this three-goal victory might suggest; but while manager Stuart McCall can point to a woeful refereeing display from Scott Mathieson contributing greatly to his side’s fourth away defeat in five, he will also know much of it was self-inflicted.

Quite how the evening went so wrong is something Stuart will be pondering for the next few days. Having spent the first 20 minutes under the cosh from a vibrant Dale side who passed the ball around with fluency and alternated attacks down both flanks, City were the better team for spells during the rest of the half and could easily have gone in at the interval one or two goals ahead.

Barry Conlon, recalled ahead of Michael Boulding, ably linked up with Peter Thorne and was effective in holding up the ball and allowing others to get forward. Steve Jones carried on where he left off Saturday with some teasing dribbles and dangerous crosses. Nicky Law and Dean Furman, while never able to dominate the middle of the park in the manner they’d succeeded in the last two home games, competed well against the industrious Gary Jones and Clark Keltie.

The best chances fell to Thorne, who twice saw one-on-one opportunities against on-loan Blackburn keeper Frank Fielding blocked. The first one stemmed from good play by Conlon which left City’s top scorer with time and space to do better than the scuffed effort straight at Fielding. The second was a more difficult chance but better attempt, which needed to be pushed wide of the post. Just after half time Graeme Lee’s header from a corner was superbly stopped again by Fielding and, with other half chances created, most of the goal action fell in Rochdale’s penalty area. Rhys Evans did see one headed effort flash wide of his post.

Yet shortly into the second half Rochdale scored after Joe Colbeck, who endured another tough evening, fouled the dangerous Will Buckley and the resultant free kick was nodded home by Rory McArdle. With new purpose to Rochale’s game the tide quickly turned, although it was the dubious help from the officials in adjudging that Conlon’s attempt to clear the ball from a corner included his arm which put them in a stronger position. Adam Le Fondre, twice scourge of City last season, dispatched the resultant spot kick despite Evans getting a hand to it. When an even softer penalty was awarded following Matt Clarke’s challenge in the box – which looked clean from my position – Le Fondre repeated the feat.

But whatever sense of injustice City felt, demonstrated by assistant manager Wayne Jacobs getting sent off from the dug out and Stuart holding a long conversation with Mathieson at full time, it should not disguise another poor response to adversity. A decent performance once again fell apart and the final 35 minutes did not make pretty viewing from a Claret and Amber perspective. Rochdale continued to attack with purpose while desperation became too quickly evident in City’s forward play. Having successfully harried home players into mistakes during the first half, it was now the away team who couldn’t get time on the ball.

A premature panic on the touchline didn’t help either. As soon as Le Fondre struck his first penalty a double substitution was made by Stuart which had little effect. I’ve been told all season that Stuart “never makes his subs early enough” – funny how Todd, Law, Jefferies, Jewell et all were just as bad at this – so maybe this action was applauded by some, but considering City hadn’t done a lot wrong up to then such drastic action seemed a bit much.

Certainly Conlon was unfortunate to be taken off and, though his replacement Boulding was a willing worker, the ball stopped sticking in the final third. Substituting Colbeck was probably the right decision, though some of the abuse he is getting from some fans right now is unfair. Somehow last season’s player of the year has become the “worst player ever” and jumping up to scream when he struggles to keep an attack going is hardly going to help him rediscover confidence that has been lost since returning from a first significant career injury.

Lee Bullock came on, with Law moved out wide and doing a decent job, but the likelihood of City coming back had diminished long before the second penalty. At that point change three had been made after Paul Arnison was rescued from the roasting Buckley was dishing him and Zesh Rehman brought on. With Lee’s form notably dipping, arguments for bringing Rehman into the centre or keeping him at right back and recalling Mark Bower from Luton are being aired. Stuart must be pondering how a defence which has looked so strong at home can be so feeble away.

Something which, with two important away games in Devon and Dorset this next week, urgently must be improved on. Results elsewhere still leave City in a decent position but the team’s failure to deliver extraordinary results rather than just good results may ultimately leave it facing an extended end to the season rather than a top three podium place. There’s been too many poor performances on the road and there was no evidence at Spotland to suggest this would be the last.

Stuart did an excellent job of ensuring his team responded positively to the Barnet and Notts County set backs and the immediate challenge is to do that again. But for City to achieve promotion this season – automatic or via Wembley – his ability to get to the bottom of why it keeps going wrong will need to come through.

McCall will hope City can start the way they finish

In eleven days – and three away games – time the promotion hopes for Bradford City will be much clearer but as a signal of intent and a send off on that decisive Odyssey the Bantams could hardly have been more emphatic.

Indeed it seemed 75 second after kick off when Peter Thorne was wheeling away following the opening goal of the game that the seven days since the defeat at Notts County could have been a lifetime of a span.

Thorne reclaimed his scoring touch darting into a hole that Michael Boulding had made in the defence to get on the end of an excellent low cross from the left by the increasingly useful Steve Jones and pushing the ball past a hapless Nicky Bull who would not get near any of the five goals he picked out of his net this afternoon.

Following on from Thorne’s goal City never wobbled. A minor incident involving Rhys Evans coming out of his goal as City failed to follow stay up centre back Anthony Charles which resulted in a not that threatening snubbed out shot at goal.

This was as much of a chance as the visitors had to get back and within minutes Bull once again picked the ball out of his goal following Dean Furman’s deflected strike which was just return following a corner which saw Matthew Clarke shoved unceremoniously from under the ball in what was an obvious penalty denied.

That it was denied was no surprise with Referee Graham Salisbury in charge. Salisbury had once denied City a goal against Yeovil following a defender pass back and sent off Jermaine Johnson in the same game in what was the wingers last game for the Bantams. Salisbury makes a habit of sending off City players but today restricted himself to ignoring that penalty and allowing Marvin Morgan to get away with the kind of loose arm across the face on Clarke which is exactly the sort of thing that he sends City players off for.

Nevertheless – and to paraphrase Sean Connery – losers moan about the Referee and winner go home with the match ball. Or the prom queen. Dean Furman deserves both for another superb display controlling central midfield. Much of how City do in the forthcoming games at Rochdale, Bournemouth and Exeter will depend on how much Furman can break up play as he did so well at Valley Parade today.

With his club Rangers making people redundant and looking for ways to save a bob or two I would not be at all surprised to see Furman starting SPL games next season – nor do I think he would look out of place – but in the years since Stuart McCall the player left the club and Stuart McCall the manager returned we have (any club would) been crying out for a replacement and in Furman we have one.

My erstwhile colleague Jason sings the praises of Nicky Law Jnr who delivered the perfect corner for Peter Thorne to glide through the air to head in the Bantams third, again Charles – conspicuous with his Afro – stood still as his man reeled away in celebration.

Rochdale’s defeat to Bury at midday had seen the Shakers go third and Rochdale drop to fourth. A 5-0 win would put City fourth and at the start of the day the task was to keep fifth as the Bantams supremacy continued it looked feasible.

A note at this point to the school who had turned up with a banner in support of “Bradford City and Zesh Rehman” and a country flag in tribute to the defender who unfortunately for the kids spent ninety minutes on the bench watching another excellent display by Paul Arnison at right back.

Arnison has not enjoyed universal support from City fans but it seems that when he plays the Bantams have another dimension and the support that Arnison offers to right winger Joe Colbeck is important.

Colbeck is getting back into the swing of things and looked dangerous in the second half rampaging forward getting a reward with two minutes to go putting in another low cross that skimmed past Charles and to sub Barry Conlon who touched the ball past Nicky Bull from seven yards out (Edit: The cross was by Nicky Law Jnr). Target man Barry using his head to stay on side by coming onto a ball which seemed to elude Shots left back Anthony Straker who chewed the linesman out all second half and never was spoken to about it unlike JJ three years ago.

Spoken about but never seen was Chris Brandon who – some two thousand years after signing for City and getting injured – made his début coming on for Michael Boulding seconds after the hard working striker had been unlucky not to add the fourth that Conlon got and would have had the fifth with what would have been his first kick for his home club following Colbeck’s low cross but Rhys Day stuck out a leg and Aldershot’s afternoon was all over, as was the game.

The Bantams up to fourth and on to the road to far off places on the South Coast following a short trip to the team we jumped over in Rochdale. When City return to Valley Parade in two weeks time the reminder of the season will have been shaped.

Realists would say that to expect more than a point away from home is too high an expectation and should City get three from three or less then it would seem that scrapping for play off places is the order of the day.

If we can score at a rate near two points a game – two wins, a win and two draws, one of each even perhaps – then we would be looking at the ability to challenge for the automatic promotion places and the play offs would be fall back.

The criticisms of City’s manager – as with the defeats – seem a long time ago with proposed successor Peter Jackson spending the afternoon watching his Lincoln City get pounded by Grimsby. McCall has got City into a position where the finish to the season defines the season.

Last year the Bantams approached the last months looking to find form and a run, the last promotion side the Bantams had were looking to hold onto faltering form. McCall’s City are well placed and pick up points at a consistent rate on the whole. The season enters end game with the Bantams firmly in the position where should we perform well then we can manufacture our own destiny.

He will hope that the finish the season as we started this game and that the start of that finish is as complete as the finishing today. As a signal of intent this – the tenth home win of the season – is as telling as they come.

What should happen next – Bradford City vs Aldershot Town – League Two 2008/2009

It’s March, which in recent years for City fans has meant either anxiety over surviving relegation or disappointment at having nothing to play for.

It’s been exactly 10 years since credible promotion hopes have lasted this long into a campaign and there’s a sense of excitement at what might lie ahead. City welcome Aldershot to Valley Parade tomorrow and then travel to promotion rivals Rochdale and Exeter a few days later. It’s time for our bums, to quote Sir Alex Ferguson, to start squeaking.

Credit for what the management and players have achieved so far this season is often in limited supply from some quarters, but they have delivered more than other recent City teams in getting this far. Though there is perhaps one mental block that it’s still questionable they’ve overcome this season which will be put to the ultimate test tomorrow – the comfortable home win.

City should win tomorrow, although should is a dangerous word. In our first season out of the Premiership we should have beaten Stockport, Millwall and Sheff Wed at Valley Parade. We should have earned home victories over Gillingham and Walsall in 2002/03, Derby and Rotherham 2003/04, Torquay in 2004/05, Bournemouth in 2005/06, Northampton 2006/07 and Accrington 2007/08 – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When we should win, we invariably slip up and it’s such habits which could be looked back on with regret if promotion is not achieved come May.

City’s home record is much better this season and only Bournemouth have taken maximum points, though that was a game we should have won. There have also been draws with Luton, Barnet, Dagenham and Accrington which the team and us supporters went into confident we should win. Aldershot may have a woeful away record and go into their March with nothing to play for, but they should not be taken lightly as any points dropped by City would undermine whatever’s achieved in Lancashire and Devon next week.

After a much-needed and well deserved win over Macclesfield Tuesday, manager Stuart McCall will have a more confident squad to choose from and is likely to keep it similar. The biggest question lies up front with Peter Thorne rested and now vying for a recall and Stuart debating whether to hold him back for Tuesday. Barry Conlon came in and had his best game for some time while Michael Boulding was much improved after his frankly pathetic showing at Notts County. One may drop to the bench and the other may face that prospect a few days later.

In midfield the partnership of Nicky Law and Dean Furman did more than most to earn the Macclesfield win and both are a joy to watch at present. Furman has revealed his celebration for Tuesday’s winner was dedicated to the injured Omar Daley which is not what you might typically expect from a loan player, it also seems to go against rumours of dressing room unrest which have been circulating.

Steve Jones frustrates me for his less-than-committed attitude and it will take a while to forget the disgraceful manner he left Zesh Rehman to be slaughtered by Myles Weston at Meadow Lane last week. He is popular with some fans and can be excellent when he wants to be, but his style of running down blind alleys and woeful crossing is a little too reminiscent of Ben Murihead 2003 for my liking. He will keep his place on the left with Joe Colbeck continuing to find form and fitness on the right. The flurry of games over the next fortnight make it a good time for Chris Brandon to be almost back as it may prove too much for last season’s player of the season to start them all.

The defence should continue as they were. On Tuesday Graeme Lee appeared to be the target of the boo boys with previous victims Matt Clarke and Paul Arnison passed over, probably due to how well they both played. Such ‘support’ has yet to be directed towards Luke O’Brien, who was much better after a slight wobble of late. Rhys Evans keeps goal and will be proud of a home record that has seen him beaten only once – a deflected free kick – between the sticks at BD8 in nine games.

Aldershot seem to be enjoying the kind of season newly-promoted teams regularly enjoy in starting well before drifting off towards the end. They’ve won one in 11 and none on the road since November, although did cause Gillingham a few problems recently when they drew 4-4 at the Priestfield. They also inflicted City’s first defeat of the season back in August.

Which means there is that usual danger lurking behind thinking City should win tomorrow. We’ll turn up that bit more relaxed, get behind the team that bit less and get frustrated that bit sooner. A home win wouldn’t be earth shattering but, though we’re not used to games meaning something in this way come Spring, we shouldn’t forget that picking up maximum points as often as possible is what’s vital at this stage – whether it’s a fixture we should or shouldn’t win.

Get you boots on John

John Hendrie uses his column in the T&A to say that he believes that Bradford City should sign another forward and that we are – pun coming up – a striker light.

Hendrie is right of course, but utterly wrong at the same time.

City could do with another body up front since the failure of Willy Topp at the club and Omar Daley was – in essence – that extra forward. Now he is injured leaving us with Barry Conlon, Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding we are Hendrie’s “striker light.” So far so bloody obvious.

Considering we play two up front and have one on the bench we would seem to have the required three bodies for the role. An extra one would be good for cover but the point of having cover is that it is deployed when you have injury. Barry Conlon is cover for Willy Topp not working out.

What Hendrie seems to want is for us to have cover for the cover. To follow the route of Darlington who signed a loan player because another loan player was injured.

Hendrie should look what has happened to Darlington, what happened at City in 2002 and 2004, and rather than suggesting the Bantams should be making signings “just in case” give the club some credit for not going after cover two deep for a position at the expense of the budget.

John Hendrie can go write for a Barnsley paper should City hit the skids for a third and final time because we take advice like that and spend more than we have or perhaps he could go write a column on one of his other former clubs like Middlesbrough, or Leeds United.

Unless that is that a forward who can score a hat full of goals, is in good form and can blend into a squad in the last two months can be found but who loans them out? Great strikers – and one assumes that Hendrie means that and not that City need to sign another Chris O’Grady to come keep a place on the bench warm – are rare. Great strikers who go on loan to League Two clubs are hen’s teeth.

Perhaps – and with some irony – going to the administrators at Darlington and easing their financial problems with an offer to loan a costly striker would bare fruit but of course their goals come from a player who does not belong to them and it is wasting funds like that that have got them in the state they are now.

Bradford City do not need another striker rather than to get the three strikers playing better and to ignore the advice of people like Hendrie who – when confronted with a problem – have the solution of throwing money around that clubs like City can ill afford.

I’d rather he offered to get his boots on again. Then at least he would feel the effects of his advice.

I have seen Chris Brandon play

It had been quite a few years since I last took in a reserves game. The only one I actually recall was in approximately 2001 when a strong Manchester United strolled into Valley Parade and a City reserves record attendance of 6,000 witnessed a 3-0 away win. The club cashed in that night (rightly so?!) – charging a fiver a head.

That game could not have been in more constant to what I saw on Tuesday afternoon.

There is something quite strange about attending a game at 2 PM on a Tuesday. My sister (how did I convince her to go to this one?!) and I parked right outside the City club shop at 13.55 with no hassle at all. I spotted one Huddersfield coach a bit further up the road, and just outside the “executive box” entrance I walked past Mr Peter Jackson who was escorting an elderly gentlemen into the stadium. Some other City fans outside enjoyed some friendly banter with the ex City man and now Lincoln City manager (and lest we forget former Huddersfield manager).

It was free entrance for all supporters. In the Sunwin stand foyer, the canteen was open for business and there was a gentleman selling an A4 team sheet with the line-ups on for 10p a pop.

Taking up a seat near the halfway line, about halfway up (similar to my season ticket position in the Midland Road). I noticed that there were about 200 people in attendance. The crowd was a mixture of the retired, a few students, and the majority as it turned out had come from up the road and who loudly cheered every Huddersfield goal.

The majority of the City interest in this game was focused on a first real look at Chris Brandon, a summer acquisition from our local rivals that we faced in this game. “Brando” as he is clearly called by his teammates – derived by being able to hear every sound the players make in this environment – had a positive outing. He shows some excellent touches and close control and seems to be very comfortable with both feet. He wasn’t overused in this game, as most of the game was run in the centre of midfield and his teammates didn’t pass to him as much as you might have expected. As soon as ex City loanee Tom Clarke, who was playing right back against Brandon, was substituted in the second half, Brandon began to have more of an influence on the game. And his performance was capped with an excellently struck free kick from 25 yards out that flew past the Town keeper and into the net.

He nearly added a second late on as he surged into the area but struck just wide, as the goal opened up for him. The encouraging signs from this were that he completed a full 90 minutes and seemed to be fairly fit at the end of it. But in my judgement he looks at least 2 weeks off being fully match fit, allowing him to fully gain match sharpness.

With regards the rest of the City reserve team, five players had played a first team match this season and used this game to gain more match fitness.

Paul Arnison captained the side but was badly caught out for the first goal conceded by letting Joe Skarz get in front of him and got on the end of a cross from the right.

Simon Ainge looked really commanding on occasions in the air, but had a torrid time dealing with the lively Kiegan Parker. Ainge made an absolutely terrible mistake at the end of the first half by hesitating and letting Parker in for a lob – which should have resulted in a routine tip over the bar by Convey – but the young goalkeeper embarrassingly could only palm the ball into the net. Ainge looks some way off making the first team playing centre back – right back would surely suit him more, as his decision making at times is very sketchy.

Lee Bullock had a steady game, and had a few touches of class and influence.

Joe Colbeck threatened in the first half, but faded in the second. Colbeck took a poor penalty at the end of the first half, which was saved low to his right by the Huddersfield keeper.

The biggest disappointment was up front with the Conlon and Rory Boulding partnership. Both players had terrible games, especially Boulding who never got a meaningful shot on goal – and just ran around making bad decisions when in possession of the ball.

I was equally unimpressed with our young prospects Louis Horne and Luke Sharry on this display. Both players look a million miles off making a first team debut. Sharry gets out battled in midfield and his shooting leaves a lot to be desired. Horne seems to only know how to pass the ball back instead of going forward, and was guilty of “foul throwing” twice in one game. Terribly unprofessional.

The strong team that City reserves put out we heavily beaten by a better side who created more chances and were clinical in front of goal.

But putting aside some of the disappointments of the players’ on view – the key to this exercise was to get two of our most dangerous wingers getting more games under their belt. Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon could be the key players that could catapult us out of this league. The more games they play and gain match sharpness the better as we desperately need them both firing on all cylinders for the crucial weeks that lie ahead.

I picked up my ticket to the Notts County away game after the match. Can we put the Underhill disaster behind us and start playing like promotion candidates? A repeat of last season’s trip to Meadow Lane would do just nicely thank you.

The rule of thumb for loan players

Dean Furman’s display against Wycombe Wanderers was as close to being the complete midfield performance as I have seen at Valley Parade since Stuart McCall left for Sheffield United.

Furman was the exception in my rule of thumb – expressed often on this publication – that the club should favour players we own over players we are borrowing. Furman’s future is very much about bedding into the squad at Ibrox rather than staying at Valley Parade although there is little harm in asking if we can borrow him in 2009/2010.

Furman’s midfield partner Nicky Law Jnr I did not exempt from that loan player rule, nor Zesh Rehman, nor Steve Jones. All three were impressive in the Wycombe win, none of them belong to Bradford City.

However unlike Furman all three of those players are contracted to play for the Bantams until the end of the season and are then looking for new deals.

All of which embarrasses the rule of thumb which says that the wanderering loanee has no reason to put in the fabled 110% for City when he will be back at his home club in a month and Valley Parade will be a distant memory.

Remember names like Ian Moore, Kevin Wilson and Mike Newell? No, Neither do I and it is because while they put in some work they lacked the extra mile that the likes of Barry Conlon put in.

Conlon is out of contract with City at the end of the season as is Rhys Evans. Both are looking to impress Stuart McCall and have something on the table for next season and in a way they are in the same position as Jones, Rehman and Law Jnr. Not on loan but with playing for Bradford City and with three months to impress their way into a new deal.

Rehman and Law – as with Furman – are doing as much and putting in as much effort as Conlon (perhaps almost, who puts in more?) and Evans (I would argue that Jones is giving all he can too, although it is less evident owing ot the type of player he is) towards Bradford City winning matches.

Balancing the squad, building inclusion for the loan players and not putting the current squad’s nose out of joint, settling players who lack stability. All man management jobs failure in which shows on the field.

So perhaps the key to a good loan player is length of time they are at the club – I’m a firm believer that the longer someone is bedded into a club the better they will play – and the length they have left on their current contract but I suspect it is in equal parts about finding the right personalities.

It would seem that the current selection are just that and credit to that goes to the management team at Valley Parade.

Getting back on the bike – Bradford City vs Grimsby Town – League Two preview

Those of us at Kenilworth Road on Saturday and at Gigg Lane on Tuesday will fully appreciate the range of emotions which supporting a football team can inflict upon you.

We left Luton ecstatic after an action-packed afternoon of football – one of this writer’s best ever – which threw up the improbable plot twist of Barry Conlon’s late penalty that left us cheering wildly and hugging each other. Minutes earlier we were in despair as it appeared we were on the wrong end of football’s cruellest way of losing – the last minute winner. Barry made the journey home that little bit quicker and the manner of City’s second half performance left plenty of optimism for the rest of the season.

Then came Tuesday.

In recent years we’ve all had to become battled-hardened to the despair of defeat and the frustration when things go wrong – but consolations can be taken when the team was unlucky, the referee let us down or some players still gave us something to cheer. On Tuesday there was nothing as we suffered from the most galling way of watching your team lose – because they simply didn’t show desire, passion or commitment to the cause.

And that’s why Tuesday hurt so much.

It hurt to see players you’ve spent much of the season sticking up for when others have criticised appear unwilling to put their body on the line when the chips were down, such as Paul McLaren. It hurt to see players with unquestionable talent look disinterested, like Omar Daley. It hurt to see players you’d seen do a good job Saturday fail to repeat what was asked of them, like Steve Jones. It hurt, because other than Rhys Evans no-one should have walked off the Gigg Lane pitch with their head held high.

The arguments over what went wrong are wide-ranging and see many accused but unsurprisingly the guy in charge, Stuart McCall, is at the centre of the criticism. How could a man who would never have given anything but 100% when a City player, who if we cut open might just bleed claret and amber, allow such a shambles to happen? What about his coaching staff Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall who, while not without their critics on occasions during their playing career, were never accused of lacking effort? 1,800 City fans packed the away end and backed the players ferociously for 90 minutes, and while that doesn’t mean we deserved to watch a winning team it should at least have been rewarded with a committed one.

But that was Tuesday and just as quickly as the mood turned from euphoria to exasperation it’s to be hoped it can be changed back tomorrow. There is nothing that Stuart and the players can do about what happened at Bury now, but they can at least begin to repair the damage. The recent good run of form of visitors Grimsby – unbeaten in three – may make this less of the home banker it looked a fortnight ago, but just like City’s one win in nine it ignores the bigger picture. This is a bunch of players which have lost 13 of their 26 league games so far, scoring fewer goals than anyone else in the division.

City simply must be targeting three points.

Team selection was a huge bone of contention on Tuesday night and the only thing which can be said with certainty about tomorrow’s team is that it will feature Evans in goal. Luke O’Brien missed Tuesday through illness and should reclaim his left back spot with loan defender Zesh Rehman eyeing up the place of either Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke or Paul Arnison but probably having to settle for a place on the bench for now.

In midfield Joe Colbeck is pushing for his first start since getting injured at Grimsby in October and looked more sharper when introduced on Tuesday than he did Saturday. That should mean Daley, outstanding in the second half at Luton, is switched back to the left and Law moved into the centre with either Dean Furman, McLaren or Lee Bullock alongside. My vote goes to Furman with a message sent to McLaren that one excellent performance should not be followed up by an average one.

Up front Stuart must play one of if not both Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. Thorne was not great at Luton but is never going to recapture his form if he keeps been brought in then dropped again while Boulding, facing an old club, was unlucky to lose his place too. I’ve written several times over the last 18 months that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency and relegation to the bench should be the only reward for such a sub-standard display at Bury. Many fans, and Stuart, have kept faith in the likeable Irishman and he has some making up to do. The fact Jones was hauled off at Bury adds doubts about his loan spell from Burnley been extended when it runs out on February 9, which few City fans would argue for.

Grimsby’s leading marksman only has four goals but we all remember Adam Proudlock’s hat trick at Valley Parade seven years ago. After a slow start to the season former City loanee Mike Newell took over as manager but his influence has been limited and the Mariners are one of a clutch of clubs grateful that Bournemouth and Newell’s former employers Luton aren’t making a better fist of overturning points deductions. A ‘real’ league table would show Grimsby propping up the rest.

In many ways 3pm Saturday cannot come quick enough as we get climb back on board the emotional rollercoaster. No one wants to feel as bad about their team as many of us City fans do right now and such hurt and anger needs heeling. It won’t automatically make everything right again in the world of Bradford City, but a home victory tomorrow would certainly be a good start.

We badly hope to experience that ultimate high of achieving promotion this season, it’s now down to the players to show they want it too.

Flickering faith follows Bury defeat

I am not one of those fans who has pretty much been criticising Stuart McCall all season and becoming more and more vocal and outspoken in recent weeks.

Neither am I writing this because I’ve just seen City undone by yet another sucker goal which could and should have been avoided.

At Bury in the 1-0 defeat however, like a candle when someone opens a nearby door, my confidence flickered briefly. Involuntarily I asked questions of City’s management team! The questions tumbled over each other in my mind.

Apart from the enforced change, why had Stuart changed the starting eleven yet again?

Why, if he was determined to make changes, were Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding warming the bench? Particularly as Barry Conlon and Steve Jones have scored precious few goals from open play (a goal is a goal I know, but, like most supporters I just don’t rate penalties as highly as those from open play or other set pieces). When Thorne and Boulding were fronting the team we were scoring goals (21 between them) and winning matches. Since Peter returned from injury they haven’t play a full match together.

Why, with Conlon being particularly ineffective (as City continued to lump the ball forward into the middle I saw him beat the cental defender and get the ball only twice all match) wasn’t Thorne or Boulding brought on as a direct replacement?

Why, with Lee Bullock still returning to full match fitness and not being at his effective best, wasn’t Dean Furman brought on after the hour?

Why have we stopped playing football? Hoofing the ball into the middle in the hope of Barry getting his head on it is not only terrible to watch, it’s proving to be completely ineffective in matches.

Based on all the chopping and changing in recent matches I do get the distinct impression that Stuart doesn’t know what his best eleven is. Either that or he’s too nice trying to keep everyone happy by giving them all a game or part of one.

The manager has to have a ruthless streak! Deciding on his best starting line up and (injuries and suspensions permitting) sticking to it no matter who in the squad this might upset. Having differing opinions on the best starting line up is a luxury for fans, not for managers!

Stuart, I haven’t lost confidence but, much more baffling team tinkering and performances like last night and this might change. I definitely hope not because if not, that would mean we’d got back to a settled side playing football and winning matches again.

The points adding up as Rehman signs – Bury vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

The Barry Conlon penalty at Luton Town was scant reward for City’s second half endeavours when Stuart McCall unveiled what I’m sure his critics will be calling Plan B.

McCall – sent to the stands for complaining about a decision to award a free kick on an afternoon that saw many a bizarre refereeing decisions – enjoyed the best and worst of times facing criticism for abandoning his FourFourTwo principals for forty-five minutes and then seeing his side utterly dominant in the second half thanks in no small part to the ball winning of Dean Furman.

Furman’s display added to an impressive set of midfielders with Nicky Law spoken of as undroppable, Paul McLaren making significant contributions including the first goal on Saturday and Joe Colbeck returning for the last fifteen minutes adding to the already impressive Omar Daley. McCall struggles to make a best fit of those five names without the additions of Steve Jones, Chris Brandon and Lee Bullock. His selection for the middle is an embarrassment of riches of his own making and should he return to the four in the middle on Tuesday night for the trip go Gigg Lane then one can only guess who will be excluded. For my part Colbeck, Furman, McLaren and Daley would be my four but every City fan will twist that Rubik’s Cube in different ways.

A different sort of puzzle is the reason why the mean defence of City on Saturday suddenly started to leak goals – or a goal rather – a specific cross in and head in which the Bantams have not seemed so venerable to since Gary Shaw and his two and a half minute hat-trick.

What caused the Bantams to go from unit to untied is not known although the presence of Zesh Rehman – a central defender signed on loan from QPR on Monday – in the directors box might not have been the most settling sight for Matthew Clarke to see although in all likelihood the three goals from balls lumped into the box and the absence of Barry Conlon’s clearing head were not unconnected.

Coming out of contract at the end of the year Rehman looks to impress in his loan until the end of the season. The Birmingham born Rehman has played six times for the Pakistani International side and become captain in the 7-0 reversal by Egil Olsen’s Iraq side – if our path since we relegated his Wimbledon side has been winding imagine what road has led the Norwegian to be manager of a nation which in the time since we were in the Premiership tortured its players for poor results.

Rehman – who has played right back but favours the middle has his potential debut at Bury for Bradford City which is interesting in many ways much beyond football, and for that matter politics. Simon Schama would call it the future of the British Empire but – for the moment – we shall call it an interesting signing when one considers how stable the back two have been over the last month.

Mark Bower exits to Luton as Rehman arrives and BfB never favours playing loanees over our own players with one feeling sorry for City’s longest serving player. Rehman’s signing made sense if he plays and does well and makes sense if he adds to the right back berth uncovered since TJ Moncur’s return to Fulham but there is a nervousness that City’s second Asian player and first Pakistani is something of the Beckham of Bradford designed to get bums on seats from the locals of BD8 rather than cheat sheets.

Perhaps it might be nice to do both. Certainly it cannot do much harm and Rehman need only prove as useful as TJ Moncur or Steve Jones to be justified in the context of the season. If he proves to be in the bracket of Nicky Law and Dean Furman then he is available at the end of the season.

One might suspect that City needed not to strengthen at the back but bolstering up front with goals hard to come by over Christmas and January – until the second half on Saturday – but still Peter Thorne struggles to find the net and Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon were left cooling their heels. With chances created will follow goals and considering the options in midfield those chances should be created.

Bury for their part are in reasonable form sneaking to third in the table with the kind of mix of draws and the odd win that City get. The Shakers still possess the highly rated Andy Bishop whom Stuart McCall was impressed by and boss Alan Knill informs all that he has yet to have a firm bid for the player. They sit a point above the Bantams but have a poor record against promotion rivals – recent losses to Shrewsbury and Wycombe and a draw with Darlington – all of which points to an interesting game and a telling one.

Should the Bantams win then we will – at least – slip above Bury and could end the night second while a defeat could leave us tenth but with Rehman’s incoming and Bower departing being – seemingly – the last movement of the transfer window after McCall declared himself happy with striking resources then it would seem that they City manager has the squad in place that he wants – or at least can have at this point – leaving the players to get the results to back up such faith.

City leave with a point and much more for the journey ahead

How to make sense of this one?

Six goals, two red cards and the frustration of a poor referee were shared out between Luton Town and Bradford City on an afternoon of unpredictable twist and turns. City were feeble but also fantastic, woeful and wonderful at the back, slow then scintillating going forward and, though the point gained makes it six draws in eight, the players and management should have taken far more from it than they have from any game so far this season.

Twice the match seemed to have been lost by City. They couldn’t have made a worse start after going behind on three minutes when Asa Hall headed home a corner which had as much to do with clever off-the-ball running from Chris Martin (not that one) as it did poor marking. That had been Luton’s first attack after City started well with Steve Jones, moved up front to partner Peter Thorne with last week’s strike partnership of Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding relegated to the bench, causing problems and Nicky Law and Thorne going close.

The pattern of play continued after the goal with City pressing forward but not threatening enough with their attacks. The best chance fell to Matt Clarke – who never scores and rarely even threatens to – when dismal marking from a corner left him with a free header which he sent well over. Thorne and Jones also had attempts saved but the slow and laboured build up to City’s play and failure of Omar Daley and Jones to make an impact left players unsure at times over what to do. This was emphasised when Graeme Lee attempted a wild shot from distance with almost his entire team in front of him, which flew well over.

But then it kicked off. City were again on the attack when the ball was cleared to Ian Henderson who charged down the flank only to be stopped level with the edge of the area by a superb tackle from Luke O’Brien. Unfortunately a linesman with a perfect view begged to differ and flagged for a free kick which provoked an angry response from City players and led to the referee Trevor Kettle issuing a warning to substitute Mark Bower for yelling at the linesman. O’Brien was booked with the linesman trying to persuade Kettle he was the last man and the resulting free kick was met by Akanni-Sunday Wasiu who tapped home. Not good marking from a defence distracted by the falling out over the decision, but it should also be noted it was poor goalkeeping from Rhys Evans who was upset enough with his first half performance to spend the interval on the pitch practising.

By then his manager had been sent to the stands, not for arguing with Kettle about the decision to award a free kick, as angry as he was about it, but from encroaching out of his technical area in an effort to speak to him. I read and hear lots about the Respect campaign and have tried not to believe, like others, that it’s simply a load of PR buzzwords with no substance; but if officials are confident enough in their decisions why shouldn’t they be prepared to talk them through with those who question them? As City trooped off at half time 2-0 down without having done a lot wrong, concerns about which direction the season was heading were raised. City had done okay, as they have all season, but now they had to find that extra something and show their credentials.

Which they did.

A quick goal was essential and came when a Law corner caused panic and Paul McLaren, former Hatter, was on hand to prod the ball over the line. What followed was near total dominance from the Bantams with Lee forcing a great save from Conrad Logan after a trademark thunderbolt free kick. The pressure told when Law received the ball on the edge of the area and rolled it back to the recalled Dean Furman, who took a touch and then fired home a crisp shot for his first ever senior goal.

There was no letting up as City, well in control, produced wave after wave of attack. Jones came alive up front with some clever runs, Daley was back to his blistering form and left a trail of defenders in his wake as he cut inside and set up attacks and Law, occupying Daley’s usual left wing spot, was a revelation out wide. Free from the defensive responsibilities of playing in the centre, he stretched Luton by taking up some excellent positions to be fed the ball to and had the vision and confidence to set up chances for others. Furman and McLaren were easily winning the midfield battle and Luton were reduced to sporadic attacks on the break, which were mostly mopped up by a much-improved defensive effort superbly led by Lee. The only time Luton got through saw Evans make a brilliant save, the half time training session appeared worthwhile.

And the chances created. Daley went on a magnificent run from inside his own half beating players for fun before shooting just over, Thorne nodded just wide, Law flashed an effort just wide, Furman went for goal again and was just over, sub Conlon headed just over, Jones’ half volley just saved. The only thing that wasn’t just was the scoreline as City deserved to be out of sight.

They also missed two easy chances when first Daley’s brilliant attempt to steal the ball off the full back and quickly cross left Conlon with the sort of chance Harry Redknapp’s missus could have scored and then a great run from Jones saw the on-loan winger get to the byeline before shooting from a difficult angle when pulling the ball back would have left City players queuing up to tap it in. Such profligacy appeared to have come back to bite when, as the 4th official held up the board to reveal how much injury time was to be played, Clarke gave away a stupid free kick on the edge of the area from which Kevin Nicholls whipped the ball onto Hall’s head to send into the far corner. Absolute heartbreak.

As many City fans streamed out of the grotty away end there were still further twists to come. First Luton keeper Logan decided to celebrate his team’s ‘winner’ by running up and gesturing towards City fans before going into a dance routine that was not so much provocative as embarrassing. Cue many fans rushing to the stewards to complain. Personally I have no problem with a player making gestures to us as long as we can do it back, so I’ll take this opportunity, having missed it at the time, to insult and pick on his personal features in a way which will upset him the most – Logan is terrible dancer.

The game restarted. City tried an attack which was cleared and the ball went up to a Luton player, who was offside. Cue a long wait for the free kick to be taken as Kettle lectured a home player and when Arnison finally pumped the ball into the box you stood there believing you’ve seen this sort of moment at the end of the game so often before and ultimately it will end up in Logan’s hands and he’ll probably wiggle his backside at us as he lies on the ground clutching the ball for five minutes. But it squirmed into the area and as Jones went for it he was faintly clipped from behind and rolled over and Kettle pointed to the spot.

Cue massive protests and a sort-of-brawl between both sets of players which ended with Martin receiving a red card. Meanwhile Logan was all over penalty taker Conlon whispering sweet nothings into his ear about how the Irishman was going to miss. Four minutes later Conlon finally got the chance and showed remarkable coolness to convert the penalty and prompt wild scenes of celebration. Don’t let any of Conlon’s critics tell you his 10th goal of the season was “only a penalty.”

The final whistle blew and as we struggled to get out breath back Stuart came over to applaud us and gestured towards the players to signal they deserve our appreciation, which we did. Meanwhile the referee and his officials had to run a gauntlet of abuse from home fans as they leave the pitch and it was distressing to see them try to protect themselves from a shower of objects thrown at them. Some arrests were made and outside there was also trouble. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the 30-point penalty such a response was shameful and any Luton fan who didn’t throw an object but disagrees is just as bad. If the Respect campaign is going to work the FA must not be shy in punishing Luton Town Football Club.

I received a text just before the end of the game from a Leeds fan saying he had sympathy for Luton’s plight and we often hear how it wasn’t the fans fault, so why should they be punished? The actions of a minority of their supporters yesterday, not to mention their behaviour at Valley Parade earlier in the season, leaves me waving them cheerfully goodbye on their route to the Blue Square – and I hope they take their dancing keeper with them.

But the focus of this report is on City and what a fantastic game of football, easily the best since that afternoon at Prenton Park in October 2004. They looked down and out at stages but showed tremendous character to keep coming back – character which needs to be bottled up and used during the second half of the season.

In keeping with the craziness of the afternoon, City have dropped from fourth to seventh while moving a point closer to second and first. There was much which didn’t make sense yesterday, but one thing I do know is that if City can reach the heights of their second half performance for the rest of the campaign they will be celebrating promotion come May.

Why can’t Spurs fans sing about Sol when Huddersfield fans can sing about the fire?

Four men have been charged with singing what is a very offensive song about Sol Campbell after a unified decision by “people in football” that things had gone “too far”.

Harry Redknapp led the charge against Spurs fans – how ironic – and he was right to do so, His comments about not being able to understand the mentality of a Father who sings a racist, homophobic and generally nasty song in front of his son is echoed throughout the land. Almost no one outside of a football ground will understand the reason why such chanting is necessary, as will a good few people inside it.

All of which is right and proper – although gives rise to interesting questions – but why was the line drawn at Sol Campbell and Spurs?

As a Bradford City fan I have this season had to sit in a football ground listening to home fans singing mocking songs about the fire of 1985 on more than one occasion – in fact I can tell you having ill advisedly sat at Huddersfield Town with the collection of supporters who sit on the river bank side closest the away fans delight in it – so why is it that no one has been arrested, cautioned, questioned, accused of behaviour likely to cause affray or any of those other laws which – rightly or wrongly – are being used against the Campbell chanters?

I’m no legal expert so I’m not able to answer that question returning to Redknapp’s bafflement at the mindset of people who would engage in such chanting and adding my own belief that some self-policing in the form of right-minded fans booing the offenders would not go amiss. After all football fans seem capable of booing almost anything else.

It seems that the Campbell chanters are guilty of committing an offence at the wrong place and the wrong time and to be made an example of – they get no sympathy from me – but how much the lessons will be learnt by fans the length of the land, and what those questions are, is debatable.

Will the police be arresting Huddersfield Town supporters in the situation out lined above? Would they have moved in against the Bradford City fans who sang songs about cockle pickers at Morecambe last year? Will they arrest the guy behind me who shouted that Barry Conlon was a useless twat and should be substituted on Saturday? Doing so would have robbed me of the satisfaction of watching him cheer though gritted teeth after he scored.

What chanting is acceptable? David James believes that anything not racist or homophobic is allowed while others would suggest it is anything legal but the morality of grown men screaming swears until faces turn red at kids barely out of their teens troubles me greatly. I would suggest the people singing songs about the fire are worse than those swearing, being racist to or homophobic towards players but I’d say they were all under line of what should be acceptable.

I wonder about football when it has to look for law and browbeating debates on manners to decide whether or not deliberate offence of these kinds are socially acceptable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The finishing, finishing touch – Bradford City 0 Shrewsbury Town 0 – League Two Match Report

Having suggested that City were lucky to beat his side 4-0 Morecambe manager Sammy McIlroy would have come away from Valley Parade after the 0-0 draw with Shrewsbury with the impression that the Bantams are strangers to fortune.

From start to finish the Bantams bested the visitors from Shropshire all over the field coming within an inch of the post from Barry Conlon’s fierce volley from taking three richly deserved points.

Alas Conlon’s volley on the half hour pinged back and Michael Boulding’s tidy sweep over the shoulder of keeper Luke Daniels proved too close to the custodian and was saved as City looked to cut through the Shrews with tidy, fast paced and inventive play.

The midfield central duo of Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr were busy out of possession and commanding in it with Dean Furman benched and only able to watch a pair of middle men working together and working well. Omar Daley’s battle on the left wing with Darren Moss was the clash of the season thus far with Moss struggling to keep pace with Daley and Daley trying to burst past the right back. In the second half Moss and Daley clashed with the right back lucky not to be booked and Daley leaving an arm in on the defender which saw Stuart McCall fling him to the right hand side to cool down ended the fascinating clash.

Steve Jones on the alternative wing was less enthralling and looks something of a one trick pony. He is dangerous for sure but too often playing his own game leaving Paul Arnison with few options.

Arnison was a part of a flawless five man defence which has not conceded in the four games over Christmas. Graeme Lee was outstanding pocketing Grant Holt – who in typical Grant Holt tried to rip that pocket with kicks and studs – and making enough sturdy interceptions to remind one of David Wetherall at his best. Matt Clarke also get mentioned – the days of City being muscled out by big blokes is over – and Rhys Evans has engaged mouth and commands the back four superbly.

Luke O’Brien’s form has seen him inherit the title “Ohbee” from Andy and today should have been rewarded with a penalty for an enterprising surge past Omar Daley and into the box only to be shoved to the floor. Arnison – on the other side of the field – was left holding his face after an untidy jump saw him hit with a flailing arm. Conlon was lunged at after the ball, Boulding was upended. If these tackles has been in midfield they would have been free kicks. Referee Russel J Booth using the Wild West school of officialdom. Anything that keeps the game flowing is allowed and when Holt lunged through a defender then walked away waving a hand dismissively ignoring the Ref’s call over you had to wonder what happened to that whole “Respect” thing.

None of which is to take anything away from the Shrews who played a part in an exciting game but looked second best and but for a slice of that luck that Sammy McIlroy credits us with or the finish of a Peter Thorne – missing injured and seemingly replaceable – the Bantams would have won.

As it is City sit third again at the top of a pile of clubs who will be fighting out for the play offs and without putting too fine a point on it should the Bantams play as we did today and not go up then football is broken – play like this and we will go up – but the worry remains that despite possessing the leading striker in the division last season, one of the better ones this and Barry who never gives up City do not score enough goals – or rather we score them in gluts of fours and not odd ones and that the six home draws could have been wins with a deadlier finisher. Chris O’Grady held the ball after coming ensuring that the remaining fifteen minutes would be played in the Shrews half but is no one’s finisher.

Shrewsbury spent their lottery win on Holt and he was not able to nick the odd goal today. City look at events at Leeds with Delph and prepare a with and without shopping list looking for the thirty goal finisher who would thrive in a team that plays this well.

The finisher who would be the finishing touch.

The first acid test – Bradford City vs Shrewsbury Town preview

Let’s put Sunday’s thumping 4-0 win over Morecambe into perspective – the last time the Bantams won a league game at Valley Parade more convincingly Benito Carbone was playing a starring role and David Wetherall, Wayne Jacobs and Stuart McCall were all important first team players.

The 5-1 thrashing of Gillingham on Friday 14 September was preceded by a rendition of stars and stripes, given it was just days after the 9/11 attacks. The vast majority of the 14,101 at the game that evening would probably have been struggled to competently answer what ‘Administration’ meant and around the pitch were adverts for something called ‘ITV Digital’.

Much has changed – at Valley Parade, in English football and across the wider world itself – and though City have played better on many occasions since, the emphatic success over Morecambe which signalled the end of 2008 deserved more appreciation and credit than it received from some quarters.

I must admit I didn’t enjoy the game as much as I should have, though the reason why was because of the spectators who sit near me. I suddenly seemed to have been lumbered with a ‘McCall out’ bunch of people far more interested in looking for fault on the pitch than offering praise. Another 90 minutes was spent berating everything Paul Arnison and Barry Conlon tried, as though they know what makes a good full back and target man better than the man paid to select them. Without fail the opening few minutes of the second half are spent screaming for a substitution to be made before another bout of criticising Stuart for not been able to change games. Booing when the ball is passed backwards, when minutes earlier they’d complained City play too much direct football. And though I was pleased when most left before the whistle I was also angry that these boo boys – many of who normally stay until the end – couldn’t bring themselves to wait for full time to offer the players and management their applause.

Of course it doesn’t matter, City won easily and the support around the rest of the ground was good I’m sure. The acid test when come in harder games when City won’t be able to dominate in the way many expect and will need the crowd’s support to earn the three points. The first of a series of promotion ‘six-pointer’ games at Valley Parade in 2009 sees Shrewsbury in town tomorrow for a game which, though we have only just passed the half way stage of the season, could prove significant when the table is finalised in May.

The Shrews, who let us not forget spent more money than anyone else during the summer, will arrive without a win on their travels since August 16 but very much in the promotion race because of a formidable home record – City one of their conquests. The majority of manager Paul Simpson’s budget went on Grant Holt and the £170k man has already netted 20 goals – 12 in the league. Other than midfielder Ben Davies, however, the rest of the team have struggled to find the net. They are sure to be provide tough test, though after recent weeks Stuart will probably be pleased to be facing opposition unlikely to keep men behind the ball and play for a draw.

In the home dressing room the evolution of a squad good enough to at least stay in the 3rd automatic promotion spot it currently resides is reaching a crucial phase with the January transfer window opening up. Willy Topp and TJ Moncur have departed, freeing up wages and while Dean Furman – impressive on his return against Morecambe on Sunday – is on board for the rest of the season question marks remain over other loanees Nicky Law and Steve Jones.

The latter seems set to stay for January at least, after which it would be questionable whether he will be needed given Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon should be fit, although rumours linking Omar Daley with a move away may make him worth hanging onto. Another striker is Stuart’s top target and with names like Andy Bishop, Chris O’Grady and Karl Hawley linked, not to mention a certain out of favour Hull forward, it’s a case of watching this space with interest.

For now Conlon and Michael Boulding will lead the line with Peter Thorne rested up to get over another niggling injury. The pair’s understanding was much-improved against Morecambe and, were it another player, Conlon’s delightful through ball to set Boulding on his way to 2-0 would have been drooled over. Like against Morecambe, there may be a third striker with Jones employed further up the park, the 4-3-3 formation working reasonably well but omitting Daley. A switch back to 4-4-2 would see one of Jones, Law, Furman and Paul McLaren moved out of midfield onto the bench to make way for the Jamaican. Such dilemmas will be welcomed by Stuart given the lack of options he had during November and December.

City’s defence has not been breached for 270 minutes of football which, given the amount of criticism they’ve endured from some fans, deserves much credit. Matt Clarke is a great example of why managers don’t simply “get rid” when performances dip, but shouldn’t be relaxing just yet. Graeme Lee has been outstanding lately while Arnison and Luke O’Brien continue to impress. Rhys Evans had little to do against Morecambe because of the form of those ahead of him.

The 23 points City have picked up at home so far this season may not be as impressive as the 28 the Shrews have recorded at New Meadow, but with only one defeat it’s mightily improved on recent seasons. Darlington and Wycombe are also due in the next few weeks and if a decent points haul can be achieved from these fixtures the prospect of promotion will move ever closer.

To do that everyone will need to be on their game and give it everything they’ve got, and that includes those supporters who seemingly want to indulge in petty criticism while ignoring the positives.

What kind of year has it been?

Statistics please me not, dear reader, so I have no record for you of how Bradford City have done this calendar year that ends with the Bantams beating Morecambe 4-0 at Valley Parade with goals by Paul McLaren, Michael Boulding, Nicky Law Jnr and Barry Conlon.

I could not tell you how many games have been won or lost or how many goals have gone in one end or another – I’m all about the mood, people – but I can tell you that the spectre of the common home defeat has been banished in 2008. Last time on this turf City were incapable of breaking down a defensive Chester City side while today the Bantams got the breakthrough that is so often needed against negative sides and went on to win the match.

That crucial first goal came when Barry Conlon jostled in the air with former Town man Danny Adams and all were looking at the Referee save Paul McLaren who wandered nonchalantly – showing a head as cool as the air that Conlon’s hands were still in – into the area with ball to poke past advancing keeper Barry Roche.

McLaren’s role at the back of any attack that had Conlon on the floor was a result of Stuart McCall’s 433 formation which – in turn – was a result of the combination of return to fitness of Dean Furman and the fact that, well, it just suited the opposition so well.

Morecambe’s plan was not unique – the close down City’s defenders and sit deep themselves – but it was countered with confidence from McCall who placed faith in the back four to have the ball played short to draw out the opposition and make gaps where they were none for the last few years in the sides who come to Valley Parade with two lines of defenders. This is a difference between the start of 2008 and the end in that Stuart McCall has devised this plan but the fact that it sees the player accused of “pissing about” is slightly curious. McCall’s teams play some lovely football at times but none of it comes from Rhys Evans putting his laces through it and hoping Barry Conlon can be under it.

Much of that lovely stuff, any plans and the options that saw Stuart capable of playing a three man midfield comes from the midfield’s return to fitness with Furman quickly back into the fray and McLaren now fully up to speed. Combined with Nicky Law – who is certainly worth bringing in if Sheffield United will allow him to leave during the transfer window – the three did not enjoy dominance but created the chances that made this win.

The stats will tell you that City and Morecambe had similar shot counts but as I say I do not do stats because they do not tell the difference between Conlon striking the bar and a throw your cap on it dribbler. Morecambe might be worried about having lost 4-0 and they might curse their luck that they had one cleared off the line at the end of the first half but spawn many great chances they did not and the fact that City’s creation was finished off is another curio of 2008.

Michael Boulding’s run to meet up the end of Barry Conlon’s intelligent take down and through ball deserved the kind of quality finish which the striker provided cooly putting over Roche’s shoulder as if he had the freedom of Valley Parade rather than a couple of bruisers from the Bay breathing down his neck.

On exit of Dean Windass – chased off to the Premiership – City spent 2007 without a scorer worthy or the name. Peter Thorne’s return to fitness has seen him bag an Indian Summer’s worth of goals and Boulding’s first half a season has seen him get ten goals while Barry Conlon had a half dozen. 2008 seems to have been the year when City’s strikers started scoring.

What good is scoring goals though, if your defence is a shambles? City’s defence is a shambles though – it must be cause I read it on the Internet – but it is also three games since we conceded a goal and as a rule we do tend to concede fewer than we score. One thing that has not changed in 2008 is the level of expectation which have gone over the border of ludicrous.

A third goal came from Nicky Law Jnr who drove forward with the ball and lobbed Roche from range and sealed the victory for City. A fourth came when Steve Jones tried to finish off a ball to the back post by Omar Daley – a late sub – and Danny Adams got his hand between ball and goal to lead to a penalty.

One thing that changed in 2008 was the addition of the word “Deliberate” to the handball law (Law 12 – Direct Free Kick). If Adams handled the ball to have a penalty given against him then he did it deliberately – otherwise the Referee should not give an offence against him – so he has to send the player off for deliberately stopping a shot from going into the net with his hands.

Barry Conlon slammed in the penalty and still had time to set up further chances for Daley and Jones erasing what had been a quiet first half for the Irishman and all departed the field in the knowledge of a job well done and probably a year well spent.

Stuart McCall looks at his squad – we have a chance of keeping Nicky Law but little of signing Furman, Steve Jones is not the fourth goalscorer the Bantams are looking for, Luke O’Brien stands up in the first team – and perhaps tinkers in the days leading up to the Shrewsbury game when the transfer window opens but the return of players like Joe Colbeck to fitness will allow the manager more of a palette.

For it was options – options to shape a team on a game by game basis – that brought about a good win at the end of 2008 and a good 2008.

Finding that something extra

The biggest worry for Bradford City manager Stuart McCall is that these are the sort of games promotion-earning sides win.

It’s not always pretty and a fair amount of luck is involved, the home side will play well and carve out some good chances which are either wasted or foiled by excellent defending. All that was missing for the Bantams was a late winner to turn one point into three. Instead a winless run stretches to five games and the chasing pack climbs that little bit closer.

Not that anyone should be panicking. This was a decent performance against a Lincoln side who have improved considerably since the last time they locked horns with City a year ago to the day. A recent come-back win against Accrington prompted manager Peter Jackson to revert to 4-4-2 and they matched City in most departments quickly closing down the ball and knocking it around confidently themselves.

Dany N’Guessan impressed on their right providing Luke O’Brien with a difficult afternoon where the defensive support from Omar Daley – who we’ll come back to – was lacking. The other three of City’s back four were outstanding with Matt Clarke continuing to rediscover form and Graeme Lee getting his head on almost every ball launched into the area. Paul Arnison had surely his best game in a Bantams shirt yet and was hugely impressive in shutting down the threat from Lincoln’s left and getting forward. With Rhys Evans also solid, home chances were limited.

Further up the pitch things were more patchy with Paul McLaren and Nicky Law involved in a hard-fought midfield battle which they just about edged. It doesn’t always look pretty and sometimes the simple ball must be played rather than the defence-splitting 40-yard pass some fans demanded, but both had good shifts. Steve Jones too was a menace on the right and his pace is blistering at times, though his final ball did sometimes disappoint.

As for Daley, it didn’t start well and got worse. We know the Jamaican is better than cutting inside and looking to pass the ball almost every time, instead of charging at the full back and enabling others the opportunity to get into the box. We know he is better than standing half-interested when the ball is been fought over just in front of him and may suddenly land at his feet. We know he is better than falling over easily and rolling on the ground long after the referee has dismissed his appeals for a foul and his team mates are having to deal with a Lincoln breakaway. Jackson had called upon the Premiership experience of Frank Sinclair to tame Daley and the former Chelsea man was the clear winner of a heated battle.

But still Daley was involved in much of City’s best moves. After ten minutes he’d burst thrilling into the area only to be seemingly tripped just as he rose his right leg to shoot, but referee Neil Swarbrick waved away the penalty appeals. Shortly afterwards Michael Boulding broke forward well and was pulled back inside the box, only to receive the same verdict from the Lancashire official. Boulding had done much to keep the scores level at that point having headed a Lincoln effort off the line and later dragging a shot wide. Law took free kick duties after Lee had been forced off for treatment and flashed a curling effort just wide.

In the second half Lincoln spurned two great opportunities with midfielder Lee Frecklington guilty of blasting over with an empty net the easier target and then forcing Evans into a stunning block. Boulding too should have done better after a superb charge forward by Jones saw the on-loan man whip a great cross onto his head. Rob Burch did well to tip his header onto the post, but a little more power from Boulding would surely have resulted in the net bulging.

With both sides looking even Stuart made changes to try and force the winner; Peter Thorne was brought on for a disappointing Barry Conlon and then Dean Furman – back from injury – for Boulding with Daley moved up front. Some of the physical presence was lost, although Daley saw a long range effort superbly tipped over by Burch. Daley was then involved with the game’s moment of controversy moments earlier after latching onto Burch’s weak clearance and charging through, only to be hauled down by a defender who appeared to be the last man but who got away with only a yellow card. Like last week City had a referee keen to let things go – Lee Beevers, who had already been booked in the first half, deserved a yellow card for a nasty high challenge on Jones just after the break – but the hope was, like when City had been on the wrong end of a similar incident against the MK Dons last month – the resulting free kick from Lee would sail in. Instead it smacked against the wall and the chance was wasted, it was that sort of afternoon.

As with last week’s blank against Chester, a goal could easily have come but just as the defence seems to looking stronger the attack isn’t looking as sharp. Boulding was a willing runner, but Conlon needs to show more and was once again caught offside and gave away free kicks too often. It doesn’t currently look a good strike partnership, but then it did earlier in the season. Thorne is certain to start against Morecambe on Sunday – Stuart rotating his strikers with two games in three days – and a return to goalscoring form for City’s top scorer is badly needed.

The problem for Stuart is the lack of options he currently has. Daley was poor but it would have been mad to haul off a player who can be such a threat even when not on top form – a Chris Brandon or Joe Colbeck waiting on the bench and the situation is different. Kyle Nix can play out wide but doesn’t have the pace which is needed on the break in tight away games such as this. It will also be interesting to see if Stuart succeeds with his plan to capture a fourth striker and what sort of different option they will present. Jones can play up front and, with him playing so well right now, a permanent move could give the City boss those additional options. Such thoughts will occupy his mind with the January transfer window due to re-open next week.

For some supporters, debates about his own capabilities seem to be all the rage. Astonishingly the final whistle was met with a smattering of boos from some City fans and I had the ‘pleasure’ of listening to one supporter rant that “he has to go”. Go online and you’ll find some fans argue we should sack him and appoint Jackson. No, there’s no punchline to follow – they are being serious. No doubt such arguments will continue but it should be remembered it’s very much a minority making a disproportionate amount of noise.

This was a disappointing result and slightly disappointing performance, but the game itself was great to watch and the atmosphere largely fantastic. I’m tired of people spoiling games by booing and screaming abuse and I’m tired of these people having more of a say over how this club should progress than they deserve.

The half way point of the season will be reached after Sunday’s game and City should end 2008 in a great position to make 2009 its year. Finding that extra is the immediate challenge and Stuart will look for the answers in January – from both the transfer market and the treatment room.

Barry signs up and the boos go quieter

“More hoof ball to look forward to!”, “I’m amazed we kept him for his hold up play”, “Waste of money and results won’t improve due to his presence”, “My nose runs faster than he does”, “What sickens me too, is the fact that some of my hard earned money goes towards his wage bill”, “That’s all I hope for, an injury that would rule him out for the rest of the season.” Just some of the early comments posted by Bradford City fans on the Telegraph & Argus’ website after Barry Conlon revealed he was ready to sign the new contract offered to him for the rest of the season.

Barry is the type of player who will never be universally liked at this club. He can look ungainly, miss easy chances and launching balls up to him to win and hold up is never going to result in a 100% successful ratio. Yet it is to Conlon’s credit that the number of people who think he’s not good enough to play for this football club has drastically decreased; not just during the last few weeks when he has enjoyed his best run of form and goals in a City shirt, but since the day his signing was announced to underwhelmed supporters.

Barry was Stuart’s first signing as manager and as he and Peter Thorne drove up to the club they reflected on the more illustrious names of Carbone, Petrescu and Collymore who were signing Bradford City-headed contracts not so long ago. Conlon was known to some City fans, a preverbal lower league player with as many clubs as hot dinners; he’d played at Valley Parade for Barnsley in October 2004 and his goals could be seen on local news when York City were in the Football League. A quick glance at his career record hinted that another Non Scoring Forward (NSF) was on board to frustrate us all and, when he woefully missed a headed chance in a debut friendly appearance at Harrogate it was already enough for some to question Stuart’s judgement.

There was nothing in those first two months of competitive action to suggest anything different. He missed a penalty on his debut and, though he started the first few games, he looked slow and clumsy. Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu was looking better alongside him and there was Thorne recovering from injury. A promotion challenge would not be achieved with the number 9 in the starting eleven it was felt.

Then he started at Morecambe during that dreadful autumn run of form and looked outstanding, holding the ball up effectively and bringing others into play. He carried that on in the next match against Darlington, though easy chances were spurned. He was less impressive at Grimsby the following week but still kept his place for the Brentford game. When he missed two easy chances in a matter of minutes, with City trailing 2-0, the boos rang down and Stuart took the sensible option of quickly subbing him. The team improved without him over the next few weeks and other League Two clubs came in offering loan deals. He was allowed to go, but opted to fight for his place.

There have been others at City with apparently more skill and ability who have not possessed such mental strength to cope with problems, but Conlon showed he carried bucket loads of it with a stoppage time winner against Lincoln on Boxing Day – his first City goal from open play – and then a good run in the team where his partnership with Thorne blossomed. During away games at least, Conlon was a cult hero with “Barry Barry” regularly chanted. Others kept their arms folded, frowned and thought it was all a joke to show him any support. A missed penalty at home to Dagenham, despite the fact he’d scored his last three spot kicks, meant the knives were out and he was on borrowed time.

But Stuart kept him on during the summer and though his popularity sunk to new depths when he was harshly singled out as scapegoat for the Huddersfield debacle (he was terrible that night, in fairness) some took to booing him when he came on as sub. That manifested itself most publicly at home to Luton when he came on at 0-0, yet with his first touch he’d put the ball in the net and another upturn in form followed. This time, the goals came too and Conlon took the mantle as the main man for scoring during autumn as City kept pace with the early runners. With Michael Boulding also on board, competition for places is fierce, but there never seemed any doubt Conlon would be offered another six months – and an increasingly number of people feel he deserves it.

Conlon is not going to go down as an all-time City great and there will be some who will stubbornly hold onto their views that he is ‘garbage’ long after he’s departed, but the fact he’s won over so many – including his manager – is testament to work rate and commitment. Imagine if other recent players at Valley Parade, with twice the ability, had possessed such desire to play for this club, would we be in League Two right now? Barry said on signing until the summer, “There were a few sniffs here and there but it was Bradford City all the way for me. I had no doubts at all. I just feel at home. I love being around the place, the lads are a great bunch and there’s no way I wanted to leave.”

The biggest question with Barry has always been his consistency. If he could sustain the sort of form he showed in October and November over a full season he would have played at a higher level for longer. It’s partly because of this that he has only been offered short-term deals and, if City gain promotion this season, he is likely to become surplus to requirements. Nevertheless he will find no shortage of clubs willing to take him on, with a lot of their fans no doubt taking an instant disliking to him and dubbing him a “pub footballer.” Yet when he does eventually go he will leave with the best wishes of a significant proportion of City fans because he gave everything he had and proven a lot of us wrong.

A bad day at the office

Straight after witnessing Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Dagenham a fortnight ago I watched Manchester United overcome Sunderland 1-0 on Setanta. After Nemanja Vidic struck a 94th minute winner for the Champions, the co-commentator described it as a “victory for football”. I thought it was perhaps a harsh statement to make after Sunderland had done its best to gain an unlikely point by setting out the stall to defend for it.

As the ball fell to Graeme Lee six yards out from goal in the 4th minute of stoppage time yesterday, I was ready to utter similar thoughts if the back of the net had been found. Instead Chester keeper Jon Darby was the unjustified hero by making a miracle block with his legs to keep the score 0-0. No one exemplified the visitors’ negative, time-wasting style more than a man who took an age pondering and taking his goal kicks. His save was less a victory for football, more one for pushing 12,000 supporters to the limit.

Of course Chester, like Sunderland, is entitled to take whatever approach it likes. The Bantams may not be Man United but is the biggest club in the division and currently sits joint second in it. For a side who’s start to the season was bad enough to prompt a managerial change and who will end it grateful that Football League punishments administered to others left it largely free of relegation troubles, this draw will be considered a bright spot. At the final whistle cheers could be heard from their hearty followers and some players punched the air in delight. Home fans booed off their team but if this was bad at least we’ve not stooped to such depths as considering a 0-0 away draw to be a proud achievement.

But after many of us have let out our frustrations to friends or online over the weekend and we begin to calm down, it should be agreed that booing our players off was grossly unfair. Yes, City did not play brilliantly. They lacked the guile and craftiness to break down a side who, it should be noted, defended extremely well. They didn’t make Darby work hard enough and, just occasionally, the level of desire from some was questionable. Yet they huffed and puffed and battled to the end and though it leaves some question marks over their ability to gain promotion this season, they are hardly major ones.

City began the match with a good tempo and took the game to the visitors. Paul McLaren and Nicky Law were busy in the middle, Steve Jones was a threat with his pace on the right. Luke O’Brien was again in confident mood, tackling well and effectively getting forward. City varied the approach between working the ball out wide for crossing opportunities and balls up to Barry Conlon – preferred to Peter Thorne – to flick onto others. With a new contract waiting to be signed, Conlon might consider he’s achieved much this season. However he endured a frustrating afternoon where his partnership with Michael Boulding didn’t quite click, to serve as a reminder why short-term deals are being offered instead of longer ones.

Omar Daley too was off the pace, though having only just returned from injury there is perhaps a degree of explanation. Twice in the opening 20 minutes he received the ball in excellent positions to set up attacks, but twice his pass was uncharacteristically poor and the move broke down. A familiar theme for the day.

As the first half progressed it became more obvious the visitors liked the fact it was 0-0. They took their time over every throw-in and goal kick and, on a few occasions, kicked the ball away when play was stopped to slow things down further. All of this was aimed at hindering City’s ability to build up attacking momentum and keep the game scrappy. Kevin Ellison went close three times, but two of them were wildly-ambitious long range efforts from just inside the Bantams’ half. It was notable that for both he was the furthest Chester player forward and, when City attacked, a sea of blue-and-white shirts stood between them and Danby.

Ellison did create one major scare when the ball was played through to him out wide with O’Brien caught up the pitch. The balding wideman had a clear route to goal and set off with great pace, but just as he was about to fire the ball past Rhys Evans he was superbly tackled by Matt Clarke. It was a brilliant recovery from the much-maligned defender and, for all the merits of dropping him for Mark Bower which others talk up, no other City defender has the pace to have got back like that. Clarke may have struggled with the conditions at times – he was not the only one – and still needs to watch his concentration, but this was a performance more like the Clarke of early season. Something to build on.

The second half continued much like the first with City probing but struggling to break down a spirited Chester rearguard. There are comparisons to be made to how Luton played at Valley Parade in October. Stuart again tried to combat it by getting Evans to take short goal kicks to the back four, who had plenty of space, in an effort to encourage Chester forwards to push out and close them down, resulting in space being created further up the park. It worked to a certain degree but was often wasted by long balls towards Conlon instead of passing into midfield. Predictable and, with the Irishman not at his best, defendable. However as the game progressed Chester forwards began to close down the defenders on goal kicks more often and the chance to take advantage was there.

But there lied City’s biggest failing of the afternoon. The ball was often worked well out wide to Jones and Law – Daley taking a more central attacking role in an effort to break the deadlock – but wasn’t crossed in quickly enough and they were quickly closed down. On occasions crosses were made there was a lack of City players in the penalty area to aim for. Perhaps understandable with the threat of a Chester break, but more of a gamble could have paid off especially as visitors’ clearances became more panicky in the closing stages. Late surges into the box are very much Lee Bullock’s game.

Stuart too could have gambled by throwing on another striker with top scorer Thorne sat in the dugout and fans chanting his name. However it’s worth noting that creating chances – not putting them away – was the issue and Thorne’s strength is the latter. Stuart McCall also revealed Thorne wasn’t fully fit and didn’t want to risk him.

Some chances were created, with shots by Jones and Daley blocked by Darnby. At the end there was a scramble in the penalty area, with City players stabbing the ball towards goal and Chester players desperately throwing themselves in front of it. Unkind it may be, but a comparison with a non-league club defending for their lives in an FA Cup tie could easily be drawn. They held out and City at least climb to 4th despite clearly dropping two points. Chester won’t be the last to take such a negative approach and it’s something which needs to be overcome.

On another day City could have easily won and, as Stuart said after the game, claims players didn’t try enough are “a load of tosh”. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was how much the frustration got the better of the crowd. What a contrast to Bury at home, who themselves played for a draw and kept men behind the ball. On that night everyone stayed behind the team and helped them overcome the Shakers’ resistance.

When reflecting on a disappointing performance, it’s perhaps worth questioning whether we should have been booing ourselves.

The decision on City comes at Christmas – Bradford City vs Chester City Preview

Recall this time last year – dear reader – and remember the questions about Stuart McCall and his team which had broken out of a losing run that would put Paul Ince to shame but were a long way from impressing with a scrappy team culled together from free transfers and loan players showing few signs of becoming a capable side.

Peter Thorne was a malingerer, Willy Topp the great hope and Joe Colbeck a guy you send out on loan. How times have changed and how last year’s festive period changed them.

The Boxing Day 2-1 win over Lincoln City – Barry Conlon scuffing the winner in the last minute – built on a good performance in the rain at Chesterfield – and showed a City team with Omar Daley starting to find form and Colbeck energised that could compete with the spirited teams in the division.

A Referee cost City in the 3-1 defeat to Hereford but the impressive display cemented the feeling that City could now start a run for bigger and better things which has continued to this day. In the last 365 days the Bantams have not been as lowly as we were at the start of December 2007.

So a year on and the Bantams – unarguably in a better position – face similar questions and have a similar need for a thrust of improvement although while twelve months ago the impetuous was to move away from mid-table and relegation to flirtatious play-off lower reaches now it is impressed upon Stuart McCall and his charges that with more than the play-off team what is Bradford City will be a promotion side.

Such comments are – in the opinion of this writer – unduly harsh on a Bantams side that has suffered at the hands of footballing fatalism more than most this season. Not a team in the land could survive the loss of the entire midfield and two replacements: Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Dean Furman, Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck have been simultaneously out of action; without a dip in results and while some suggest that Stuart McCall’s inability to have his team hang into the top three places on a weekly basis is a criticism of the manager I would suggest that it is credit to him.

The injury situation at City should have crippled the team – Steve Jones, Nicky Law Jnr, Tom Clarke and Kyle Nix is no one’s dream midfield – but each week the Gaffer has sent out a team that while bettered was never battered and the kind of excuses that formed under the likes of Jim Jefferies were never allowed to take route. McCall’s nemesis spent much of the Premiership talking about injuries to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien yet Stuart’s red cross list has been worse and concentrated in an area of the field position but never been allowed to become a self-perpetuating reason for defeat.

The jury – one could say – is out on McCall but one suspects in modern football the jury never returns – or only does so retroactively as it did on Paul Jewell who like McCall build a side with character that competed but was criticised for being commensurate rather than dominant. I would suggest that the improvement of the last year suggests that McCall is performing well and that if someone were to try ascribe this to the injection of funds in the summer as a suggestion that anyone could perform as well give the cash I would point them to 17th place Manchester City. Resources are only useful once marshal and marshalling of resources are perhaps best seen in the fullness of a season – injuries and all.

The midfield of woe is returning to fitness with Lee Bullock and Dean Furman both playing forty five minutes in the reserves. Both are looking at this weekend’s game with Chester as a way back before the Christmas break and one may suspect that McCall will give them the same type of “a half each” run out for the first team as they received on Tuesday afternoon for the stiffs. Doing so would allow Paul McLaren to retain his place and let Nicky Law Jnr shift right to the flank which he delivered such a sweet ball to Michael Boulding from last time at Valley Parade. Omar Daley’s return on the left last week at Brentford shows how important he has become to the team – a contrast to fifteen months ago and a change he credits McCall with.

McCall though credits Daley, Colbeck and his attacking three of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon as being his entertainers and driving his City team on this term. He looks for another forward in the transfer window – reports that he was interested in Chesterfield’s out of contract Jamie Ward would seem to be wishful now Jewell’s Derby are interested – and sees strong attacking as the way forward. Thorne and Boulding are expected to start against Chester.

With this Keegan-esque mindset the defence that causes problems to some would seem to be less of an issue to the manager. Paul Arnison’s long awaited return for TJ Moncur should see the more attacking – or at least better crossing – full back in opposite Luke O’Brien who continues to perform well at left back. Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke – along with keeper Rhys Evans – will look on the McCall’s philosophy with the attitude that they aim if not for clean sheets then for one fewer concession than the other team and while statistics suggest that they could improve the Dagenham game showed that while it conceded in a mistake the back line did not buckle under the pressure.

Pressure that is not expected to be as great against a Chester City side who have scored only nine on the road this season and will no doubt end the season thankful of the deductions other clubs have suffered. A win over Chester precedes another Boxing Day game with Lincoln, a home tie with Morecambe and the visit of Shrewsbury. All tough in their own ways but all winnable for the Bantams who recall players to fitness and look to the sturdy first half of the season to set up a run for promotion in the second.

The decision on City – and most probably on Stuart McCall the manager – comes this Christmas.

The mid-point report questions the defence

As we approach the mid point of our season and the turn of the year heralding the opening of the transfer window, it might be a good idea to look at the story so far…..

Things are beginning to sort themselves out just a little bit. The top 10 teams are, well, the top 10 teams.

Wycombe are clear with a game in hand but the chasing bunch are pretty fluid. City are established in the top seven, which is good, but not in the top 3, which is not so good.

Stuart’s determination to bring in a first team striker is great news. A replacement for Willy Topp who, even his biggest fans should admit, wasn’t going to be a regular first team frontman this season.

We should get a player who is not just competition for Thorne, Boulding and Conlon but could fit seamlessly into the side if one or more of them is injured.

The goals should then keep flowing.

In midfield we should finally have everybody fit. competition right across the park can only be a good thing and, when you throw Furman (and possibly Law) into the mix as well, it will be really intriguing to see who become the regulars. Each fan probably names a different midfield four.

Now to the back four. Their school report would read “must try harder” as, a quick look at the top seven’s goals against reveals. We’ve conceded quite few more than the rest and this has definitely cost us points… games drawn we should have won and defeats which should have been draws.

To me personally this is the most mystifying fact – that the defence isn’t as solid as it should be. Our assistant manager Wayne Jacobs is a former premiership experienced fullback and our chief coach David Wetherall a Premiership experienced central defender. Between them they should have been able to sort out the current back four or, if they thought any player/players weren’t up to the task we should have got someone else in by now probably on loan at first to have a look at them.

Just a quick word about the keeper Rhys Evans. He is solid if not spectacular he’s made few mistakes and pulled off some great stops. while I had my doubts when he came in he’s certainly got me convinced.

To sum up, I can’t do better than echo John Hendrie’s comment of a few weeks ago that City are currently a top seven side but if we can tighten up the defence on a permanent basis a top three berth is there for the taking.

Just a quick word to those few people I’ve already heard in their darker moments saying “Well, I’d settle for the playoffs”. What rubbish! No team in the top half should be settling for a playoff position now or any time soon!

Only if – perish the thought! – it eventually becomes mathematically impossible to finish in the top 3 should any fan be even talking about the playoffs and the lottery they entail.

Reduced choices – Bradford City vs Dagenham and Redbridge – League Two 2008/2009 preview

There may not have been any further injuries to emerge from last weekend’s FA Cup defeat to Leyton Orient, but Bradford City manager Stuart McCall has still found himself with two less players to choose from for tomorrow’s important league encounter.

Willy Topp and Tom Clarke have both departed Valley Parade during the week and, while each leave with most fans best wishes, it’s the latter one which causes the most immediate concern. Clarke looked an excellent proposition in the middle of the park and has been growing in confidence after a long spell out injured, but was recalled back to Huddersfield in time to face Walsall. He was initially signed to provide defensive cover, but leaves having successfully performed a role in the team it previously did without.

There’s been much debate at City in recent years about the merits of using a holding midfielder and, for much of this season, Stuart’s preferred to line up minus one. Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren started the season in the centre, largely sharing the defensive and attacking responsibilities. That continued when Dean Furman and then Nicky Law came in when injuries struck. After McLaren limped off at Rotherham, Clarke was brought in and the effect was a more balanced looking midfield and licence for Law to roam further forward.

It won’t work in every game, but the benefits of having a defensive midfielder on the books was shown in Clarke’s excellent showings against Chesterfield and Leyton Orient. Compare the more solid platform provided with the home games against Gillingham and Barnet, where the lack of protection provided by those in front of the back four played a huge part in the amount of pressure City wase put under. Clarke maybe gone but, with a new manager with new ideas set to take charge at the Galpharm, Stuart might be keeping tabs on how much he figures during the next few weeks with the January transfer window approaching.

Until then City will go back to a central midfield pairing sharing the roles. McLaren is expected to be fit enough to return and, though question marks over his start with City remain, his calm passing and dead ball skills will be welcomed back. Law will be reined in slightly but still expected to put his high energy levels to good use in the final third. They will sit between two widemen with much to prove. For a spell on Saturday Kyle Nix sparked City and it’s to be hoped he can recapture last season’s form as we wait for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon to regain fitness. Steve Jones makes his home league debut having impressed in patches against Orient. More will be expected of him as he finds his feet.

Up front the competition for places is fierce with Barry Conlon expected to be fit enough and Michael Boulding looking more like a player worth all that effort pursuing during the summer. Peter Thorne has been benched partly because of fitness but also partly on merit. It’s fair to say that the early season spark has been absent from his game recently, but it’s testament to the relative ability of City’s squad that, unlike two years ago when an out of form Dean Windass was still too good to be dropped, Thorne is kicking his heels on the bench. How it can be argued Topp deserved a run in the side at the expense of two of these three is beyond me.

Defensive failings still occupy many minds and last weekend’s showing was only marginally improved. There are calls for Mark Bower to return at the expense of Matt Clarke – who actually played okay last week. I can see the argument, but when some fans go to the extremes of listing Bower as our best defender and slate Stuart for ignoring him one is left wondering why it’s been so quickly forgotten that a year ago many were demanding Bower be dropped for Clarke. Lee will certainly start alongside one of them, with TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien taking the full back roles in front of Rhys Evans.

Valley Parade is joint top with the New Meadow in League Two in terms of how many goals have been scored this season – and a visit from League Two’s top scorers is unlikely to slow that. England C international Paul Benson has led Dagenham’s surprise promotion challenge with 10 goals, though strike partner Ben Strevens isn’t far behind on eight. Twice they’ve hit someone for six but they’ve lost almost as often as they’ve won. Last year they triumphed at Valley Parade on route to avoiding relegation.

It will mean another tough afternoon for a back four which has lost some of its protection, though for much of this season Stuart has chosen attack as the best form of defence.

Topp exits Valley Parade

Willy Topp was not the player we thought he was when he signed. Being fair he was never going to be.

Aside from the obvious difference when he arrived he changed his name from Billy because, well, because he though Willy Topp and Dick Head were a little too close together the Chilean who promised goals delivered none.

Topp was to be the new Robbie Blake. He was to be the tricks and the flicks that lifted Stuart McCall’s first generation of Bradford City out of League Two. One good turn against Shrewsbury Town deserved another but did not get one and an impressive goal in the reserves apart Topp hardly even registered on the Bantams radar.

Nevertheless he figured in the minds of many. Topp should be given a chance – we heard and in some cases said – but reports of injuries, returns to his homeland for rumoured curious reasons and poor training seemed to add up to one thing. When put in the squad at Bradford City Topp could not match the efforts of others.

In many ways Topp should be where Barry Conlon is now – Topp started the season as City’s cult hero and Conlon as a boo figure – but the application of the Irishman on the field puts his rival into the shade.

Stuart McCall watches Barry and Billy, Leon Osbourne and The Bouldings and Peter Thorne every day in training and the Chilean has started to figure bottom of that list. Without wanting to suggest a blind faith in McCall’s judgement one has to assume the Topp offered nothing in excess even of the younger players in the squad like Rory Boulding who figured above the Chile man on the bench on Saturday.

Other suggest that Topp was hamstrung by a manager unwilling to try out a formation that would suit him supposing that a 433 would have benefited Topp allowing him more room to show off his skills and this may be true but at what cost to the rest of the squad? Chris Kamara played a team to fit in Chris Waddle but faced relegation until the star man left and he was replaced with more down to Earth football. All of which assumes that if unleashed with a formation change Topp would have been worth the effort. His impressive flashes numbered fewer than those that Kyle Nix produced last season.

On Topp’s exit City are second in League Two and nothing has suggested that that extra place could be earned by bending the team to fit in the Chilean. On the contrary the moral of City’s season to date has been the triumph of effort, believe and the rewards of doing the right things most often rather than hopefully employed low percentage solutions.

In a way that is the lesson that Topp gives us as he leaves. While eyes look at Billy with hope and optimism Michael Boulding – who’s arrival at City was met in places with a grimace rather than the smile of Toppy – was scoring goals and running himself into the ground and has a half dozen goals to his name.

It is impossible to form an argument that Topp should feature above Michael Boulding, Conlon or Thorne and in the end – distressingly – all the man from South America offers is tricks and mirrors while three strikers deliver goals.

Topp may go on to great things – few will wish him bad on the way out – but City have learnt another lesson on going for solid, consistent ability rather than unknown and perhaps talent.

Of course there will persist in the mind the Topp – when “given a chance” – would have been as sublime as Benito Carbone or Peter Beagrie but the reality is the player sitting on his hands while others strive and succeed.

Willy Topp joins a list with Jorge Cadete and Bruno Rodriguez. The players who we thought were going to be.

Overcoming the margins – Bradford City vs Leyton Orient – FA Cup 2nd Round preview

We remember Ben Murihead stupidly running down a blind alley with 10 minutes to go, losing possession and Barnsley racing up the other end to crucially equalise. We remember Jermaine Johnson’s incredible dribble from his own half before shooting wide when reaching the penalty area, then a Nathan Doyle own goal gifting Millwall an undeserved win. We remember David Wetherall hitting the crossbar with a header before, erm, Tranmere proceeded to play us off the park and win 3-0.

The previous three Bradford City seasons have featured progress past the First Round of the FA Cup, before each time falling at the Second. We’ve allowed ourselves to dream of City’s name being included in that illusive 3rd Round Draw with the opportunity of a lucrative tie. On Saturday we dream again that this could our year as Leyton Orient rock up to Valley Parade – will it be fourth time lucky?

The so-called “magic of the FA Cup” will be duly hyped all weekend and City could, by some stretch of the imagination, be considered one of the giant killers of the last round after the impressive win at MK Dons – a result which looks more impressive each week as the Buckinghamshire club climb League One.

It’s doubtful whether the magic really will touch Bradford this weekend though, the stadium will be barely a fifth full and there’s a convincing argument that, unlike the last three seasons, an FA Cup run is an unnecessary distraction. Nevertheless as memories of recent disappointments remind us of the often thin line between success and failure it’s worth noting that City have twice this week been on the right side of such margins – Rhys Evans’ wonder save at Rotherham and Jack Lester’s miss at 2-2 on Tuesday – and it’s the sign of a good side when they’re the ones regularly benefiting from such fortune.

A good side. Worth emphasising to some of our supporters who still can’t manage to do anything but criticise and moan. Tuesday’s comeback win against Chesterfield was a fantastic game of football – arguably the most entertaining of our season so far. Yet still all some can do is focus on the disappointing first 25 minutes, pick on a couple of players who didn’t reach the heights of others and, perhaps most stupidly of all, moan that City we’re hanging on during the final 10 minutes. Let’s imagine our team had fallen 3-2 behind and had a man sent off with 10 minutes to go, wouldn’t we still expect our players to force pressure in the closing stages? Why shouldn’t Chesterfield fans expect any less of their side?

We witness an injury hit City side show tremendous character and commitment to recover from an awful start and win against an impressive visiting side, why can’t we enjoy it? All some people can do is look for negatives; there’s been some over-the-top moaning about Matt Clarke (who apparently was booed by some ‘fans’ in the Kop whenever he touched the ball on Tuesday), the medical experts amongst us have managed to blame Omar Daley’s injury on Stuart McCall and there’s a certain balding Irish striker who some attempted to argue was one of our worst players. I am staggered how any City supporter could have left Valley Parade on Tuesday feeling unhappy. As Alan Hansen would say, “it’s unbelievable.”

Of course there were things which didn’t go so well and Stuart will look to address these on Saturday. I’m full of admiration for the way he stuck to his guns with the line up on Tuesday. At 2-0 the diamond formation he’d employed did not look a clever decision but, rather than panic, he got the players doing the right things and the improvement was vast. It won’t work every game and may not be used tomorrow with no Daley, but Stuart has a lot more faith in his team than many of us supporters do and surely it’s time more of us got behind them, particuarly when they’re struggling.

Stuart is unlikely to make many changes for this tie. Nicky Law and Tom Clarke have both had their loan spells extended and both arguably enjoyed their best games in Claret and Amber so far on Tuesday. They will make up the centre of the midfield with new loan arrival Steve Jones, taking Daley’s place, on the right. Kyle Nix, who did reasonably well Tuesday considering it was his first game back from injury, will push his claims for a regular spot on the left.

The back five will be unchanged with Matt Clarke still causing concern but Graeme Lee winning fans over. At 2-0 down and in real trouble on Tuesday, strong leadership was needed and Lee stepped up to the mark in more ways than just his impressive free kick. TJ Moncur must improve on his recent showings while Luke O’Brien will reflect that it was a year ago this weekend he made his debut and how far he has come. Rhys Evans keeps goal.

Up front Stuart has a real dilemma. At last Valley Parade got to see what a talent Michael Boulding can be and it would be difficult to rest him with confidence improving. Same with Barry Conlon, who’s popularity is surpassing the ‘cult hero’ status of last season into genuine ‘fans favourite’. That could mean Peter Thorne is left out again, which might not be a bad thing with a busy Christmas coming and injury niggles. FA Cup rules allow Stuart to name seven substitutes, which will give some fringe players a chance – will Willy Topp be one of them?

Of course the last time Leyton Orient were in town they cruelly smashed our hopes of avoiding the drop with a two-goal burst which had people around me crying and the boo boys curiously gloating. That day City battered Orient and wasted a hatful of chances to be out of sight by half time.

It’s those margins of success and failure that good teams invariably benefit from and poor sides are left cursing about. If City are the beneficiaries on Saturday we supporters just might start to believe in magic again.

Battling back

City produced a fine comeback from 2-0 down to grab all three points and ascend into 2nd place in League Two.

It was a game full of incident and open play, and City’s superb resolve and spirit was highly commendable against dangerous attacking opposition.

McCall sprung a surprise in naming the starting eleven by leaving top scorer Peter Thorne on the bench. His troublesome back problems that have developed over the last few weeks is likely to be the reasoning behind not risking him from the start. With so many injuries to contend with, McCall tinkered with a diamond formation in the first half, with Tom Clarke playing the anchor role in midfield protecting the back four, and Omar Daley getting a free role to roam with menace.

Things could not have got off to a worse start when a long throw into the area was not dealt with, and Jack Lester rifled in a left foot strike beyond Rhys Evans to put Chesterfield ahead.

The game opened up and City had two good chances to level via Omar Daley – in particular when he seemed to have got clean through and just before he was about to shoot, an excellent last ditch challenge was produced by Chesterfield defender Downes, to deny the pacy Jamaican.

Things went from bad to worse when Chesterfield doubled their advantage on 23. A loose ball floated around the penalty area that City failed to clear and it was left to Darren Currie to produce a rasping left foot strike that took a deflection and flew into the roof of the net, prompting jubilant celebrations from the scorer.

To their credit, City never let their heads drop and really began to play with more purpose despite being 2-0 down. There was some nice interplay and with Michael Boulding a willing runner all night, City began asking questions of Robert Page’s Chesterfield backline. When Barry Conlon was fouled just outside the box, the resultant free kick was left to skipper Graeme Lee who smashed the ball directly into the net with a thunderbolt that threw City a lifeline.

And just before halftime a short corner produced a left wing cross that was headed firmly down by Boulding that drew City level.

The second half began with City in the ascendancy and should have taken the lead twice through Boulding. First, he was unlucky to see his strike bounce wide following an excellent cross from the left from O’Brien. Then he really should have scored when one on one with Page, but he dragged his shot wide of the target.

Chesterfield were still having a fair amount of attacking play though, and Jack Lester missed a very presentable chance when clean through on goal to the left of the box. But Evans did a brilliant job, making himself big, and only providing Lester with an acute angle left to shoot which he sliced into the side netting.

The penalty that was awarded in City’s favour that won them the game seemed to be a fairly harsh one from my viewpoint. Nicky Law did brilliantly to take on his man and dribble inside the box, but seemed to go to ground too easily (I haven’t seen the replay yet) and initially I thought Law was going to be booked for diving. But the referee pointed to the spot, and served as some compensation for the terrible offside decisions that were given against us attacking wise.

Battling Barry Conlon grabbed the ball and confidently stepped up to take the penalty (I must admit I wanted either Boulding or Thorne to take it!). What followed was an audacious chip (Dwight Yorke style in his heyday) that went straight down the middle for the Burly Irishman’s 100th League Goal highlighted by his flash of his undershirt in the goal celebration, which was rewarded with a booking.

City held on for the last 20 minutes against ten men (Goodall was sent off for a second bookable – his foul on Law inside the penalty area) largely thanks to an excellent save from Evans from a Jamie Ward effort, and TJ Moncur made a vital interception at the back at the death – nipping the ball away from Lester with the goal gaping inside the area.

Whilst they made it very hard for themselves, its hard to find anything to criticise about City’s under strength side tonight. Yes they started slowly – but their battling back from adversion is promotion form (demonstrated also away at Accrington to grab all three points).

Boulding had a productive night and never stopped running. Tom Clarke produced an effective display protecting his back four, as was his brief. And Lee really is producing “Captain Fantastic” performances consistently now – a really worthy replacement for David Wetherall. His strikes from set pieces are now something of a secret weapon ( 30 yards out against Bury, The winner away at MK Dons in the FA Cup and now tonight).

My only grip about tonight were my fellow supporters in the Midland Road stand. With 2 – 3 minutes remaining there was an exodus of people making their way to the exit. Having just seen their team produce a stunning comeback against a very strong side, surely the team are worthy of a standing ovation. Or at least a round of a applause from the over 11,000 home fans? No, some people want to leave early to “ miss the traffic”. It’s pathetic.

You either commit to supporting the team or you are simply a spectator with no heart in caring about the team when they deserve some support or a pat on the back. People would be quick to boo the entire game if the team lost but to not reward a winning team who have dug really deep to deliver an excellent result is really not on.

At the rate that people were leaving the ground before the final whistle it was like we had lost 4-0.
Anyway, well done to Stuart and the lads. Our position in the table is very encouraging. And what is more encouraging is that I don’t think we have even hit top gear yet. From the way things look tonight, a top three finish is very achievable by this team, who like to do things the hard way.

Part two of four – Bradford City vs Chesterfield – League Two preview

There’s little doubt this is an important week in Bradford City’s season.

On Saturday it began with the low-thrills win at Rotherham and tonight’s game is a great opportunity to increase pressure on those near the top and move further clear from the chasing pack, which includes visitors Chesterfield. Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Leyton Orient carries the possibility of a lucrative 3rd round tie for the winners, while events in the days before it will also be far from insignificant.

Thursday is deadline day for loan deals until January and, with five league games in December, manager Stuart McCall has much to do to ensure he has sufficient options. After tonight, Tom Clarke and Nicky Law’s loan deals expire and, while Stuart appears keen to retain them both, it appears likely only Law will be allowed to extend his stay. With Huddersfield caretaker manager Gerry Murphy keen to give those players who he nurtured through Town’s youth academy the opportunity, Clarke is expected back at the Galpharm.

Murphy’s philosophy may lead to his on-loan option Steve Jones making the opposite journey on the M62 and former Leeds winger Seb Carole remains a possibility Clearly a right-sided midfielder is badly needed by Thursday, even if it’s just the retention of Law. Stuart may be running up a large phone bill over the next couple of days in pursuit of targets.

Clarke and Law will feature from the start tonight as City look to continue in the manner they finished at the Don Valley on Saturday. Paul McLaren’s injury isn’t expected to be serious enough to see him missing for long, but in his absence Clarke’s more defensive-minded approach should allow Law to get forward more regularly in the way he did for the final half hour on Saturday.

On the flanks Kyle Nix is back in contention after injury and made a 10-minute cameo on Saturday. He may replace Leon Osborne, who Stuart revealed was disappointed in his own performance at Rotherham. The youngster has apparently been playing well in the reserves and will look to inspiration from the likes of Luke O’Brien and Joe Colbeck as he tries to cross that psychological barrier of doing it in the first team. Whether he is ready for the test of a five-figure Valley Parade crowd remains to be seen.

Omar Daley will remain on the right wing. Many fans on Saturday were frustrated to see the Jamaican switched over from his usual spot on the left and it was fair to say he was less effective. Stuart might allow himself to feel a little smug after persisting with Daley on the left last season and receiving criticism from some supporters for playing him ‘out of position’.

What is clear is the service to City’s forwards needs to improve. Stuart may wish to chop about after Saturday and recall Barry Conlon after his introduction indirectly saw the team score two quick-fire goals. Michael Boulding would be favourite to be left out with Peter Thorne possibly taking his turn for a rest on Saturday.

At the back Rhys Evans and O’Brien will be in high spirits while Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee will be hoping for their first back-to-back clean sheets since August. TJ Moncur will be looking to get forward in the same effective manner as O’Brien, though has the added defensive responsibility of playing behind Daley.

The last time Chesterfield were at Valley Parade their supporters taunted their manager Lee Richardson with the chant “you don’t know what you’re doing”. The former Halifax and Huddersfield midfielder is still in charge, with his team unbeaten in seven and climbing the table after a slow start. Having been injured for both meetings last season, Jack Lester (35 goals for The Spireites from 53 appearances) will line up against City and scored for Nottingham Forest on his last visit to Valley Parade. Jamie Ward, who had a superb game on that horrible afternoon 19 months ago is winning plaudits and attracting attention.

He will be with Chesterfield until January at least but who will be lining up for the Bantams over the same period isn’t fully clear. We wait for Chris Brandon, Colbeck, Lee Bullock, Dean Furman and now McLaren to return from injury and, while it leaves a larger reliance on loan players than Stuart would probably like in the short-term, it’s nothing on the situation two seasons ago where so much of Colin Todd’s long-term plans depended on them.

If it’s to be good bye from Clarke and Law tonight, let’s hope it ends in the same way their loan periods started.

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.

More of the same from less – Wycombe Wanderers vs Bradford City preview

Dean Furman is still injured and Paul McLaren is still carrying a knock. Joe Colbeck and Lee Bullock still cannot run about and Chris Brandon is not coming back until next year. The Bantams are still as threadbare as they were going into the game with MK Dons last weekend but after that win the City have hope.

Hope that is that Stuart McCall’s side which he this week declared he was happy with the progress of is more than just the eleven players on the field and that there is strength in the squad.

Barry Conlon showed that strength coming off the bench and scoring goals and being part of last week’s winning side but the Irishman is expected to step down for a biting at the bit Peter Thorne. Michael Boulding’s intelligent play and pace away from home rather than Conlon’s battering ram approach will be favoured alongside.

At the back Matthew Clarke’s return to the team and to form seems set to leave his Huddersfield name sake Tom cooling his heels with Graeme Lee partnering him at the back. TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien are expected to continue at full back with Rhys Evans behind them.

The midfield continues to be a black hole of injury. Omar Daley has continued good form on his return on the right hand side and Leon Osbourn did enough on the left to suggest his continued presence in the side. Certainly Stuart McCall seems more impressed with the youngster’s attitude than he is with Willy Topp’s. Topp – an option in midfield – seems to be a long way from the side.

Wycombe go into the game having led League Two but now on a dip in much the same way City were. They have drawn four of their last five fixtures and have needed 90th and 98th minute goals to maintain the stream of points. They are – for sure – a good side but City’s one defeat in seven suggests that we are too and that this is a game between teams who will be battling for the chance of automatic promotion and the championship rather than play-off places.

Where we want to be – MK Dons v Bradford City – FA Cup 1st Round preview

The chances are that those of us at Stadium MK this Saturday will witness a City defeat – but I hope to still make the 162-mile journey home feeling happy.

I will be happy if I see commitment from those who don Claret and Amber for this FA Cup 1st Round tie. Injuries, in midfield in particular, are severely limiting Stuart McCall’s options. There are already plenty of excuses which can be made if defeat occurs, but if those who are fit to play show anything less than full commitment towards the cause of City’s name appearing in Sunday’s 2nd Round draw those excuses will lose credibility.

I will be happy if Stuart is able to learn something from the game. Those injuries allow others their opportunity and, with seven substitutes allowed in the FA Cup, there will be plenty queuing up to take it. Injuries to Dean Furman and Kyle Nix – added to Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon – open up a hole in midfield. Stuart may move Nicky Law across to partner Paul McClaren in the centre, which should leave Leon Osborne or Willy Topp battling to take the vacant right midfield role.

Osborne made his debut for City against Millwall in May 2007, but got off on the wrong foot with Stuart that summer which hindered progress. Topp’s contribution this season has been two appearances from the bench. He played reasonably well out wide during pre-season, through Stuart may wish to bring him in up front tomorrow.

If Law is kept on the right, Luke Sharry could make his much-anticipated debut for City having impressed in pre-season and for the reserves this season. At the back Huddersfield’s refusal to let Tom Clarke play should mean a return for the other Clarke; though Paul Arnison could be recalled and TJ Moncur moved to the centre to partner Graeme Lee. Luke O’Brien, who made his senior debut in the FA Cup this season, will hope to recapture his promising form at left back, with Rhys Evans keeping goal.

Up front it seems unlikely Peter Thorne will be risked into action, with City’s top scorer seemingly picking up as many niggling injuries as goals. The in-form Barry Conlon should partner Michael Boulding, although don’t rule out the 4-3-3 formation adopted against Leeds in the Johnstones Paint Trophy which would see Boulding and Omar Daley assume the wide forward roles. Otherwise the latter will return from suspension in his familiar left wing role.

The MK Dons are far from unfamiliar opposition and it’s barely six months since they sealed the League Two title with victory at Valley Parade. Currently 4th in League One, they are nicely set up to achieve Julian Rhodes’ ambition for City of back-to-back promotions.

And that’s where the real happiness could be gained, even if City make it a hat trick of first round cup exits this season. They are not there yet, but we hope this City side can be as good as last year’s MK Dons and follow their path towards the Championship. That doesn’t mean we’ll be good enough to win, particularly with significant injuries, but we want to at least see our team compete with them.

There were many impressive facets to the MK Dons side which beat us at home April, right up there was their resilience. We travel South in the hope of an upset, but even if the best our patched-up side can achieve is to run the Dons close it would speak volumes of the character and strength of this squad. There’s no excuse for the players who’ll get a rare opportunity to show anything less than their all, but that should go for the remaining regulars too.

Too much ying for City’s yang

If there was one positive for us Bradford City fans to take as we exited Valley Parade at full time it was that it’s unlikely we’ll witness as wretched a second half performance from our team all season.

Going in at half time in a far from commanding 3-2 lead, the players appeared unsure whether to keep attacking or see out the game and failed to do either with any conviction. And although it’s questionable whether Albert Anomah’s 75th minute prodded equaliser crossed the line, there was no disputing how deserved it was – or how fortunate City were that the two points lost didn’t become three.

This was an afternoon in which much of what’s good about City this season was on display, but was undermined by much of what’s not good. Three times they took the lead in the first half and each time it was well taken. First Barry Conlon nodded the Bantams ahead after 10 minutes following a fine team move out of defence which resulted in Peter Thorne’s clever lay off been crossed into the box by TJ Moncur. Paul McLaren’s superb free kick delivery on the half hour was aching to be nodded home and Thorne did just that to put City back in front. Conlon then got his second – and sixth of the season – after finishing well from Moncur’s pass for 3-2. Recalled to the starting line up after his midweek heroics, the Irishman had an excellent afternoon and has now moved ahead of Michael Boulding in the goalscoring charts.

Yet in between those three goals were two soft ones at the other end to grimace about. Conlon’s opener was cancelled out after a woeful Moncur back pass sold Rhys Evans short, but even then the City goalkeeper should have made a better fist of clearing the ball instead of dallying and allowing John O’Flynn to roll the ball into the net. After Thorne’s header for 2-1, Anomah beat Luke O’Brien on the byeline and got a shot in which Evans did well to save, only for slow defending to allow Nicky Nicolau the space to slam the ball home. Conlon then struck again to re-establish a lead City’s first half efforts deserved.

A half which heavily featured attacking football from both sides. Manager Stuart McCall, without the suspended Omar Daley, moved Boulding out wide and brought in Conlon; but while Boulding had enjoyed an excellent game on the left wing at Grimsby eight days ago he was a huge disappointment. Whether he was unhappy to be switched or there’s some anxiety at playing in front of a large demanding crowd which is hindering, he failed to produce what was expected. Worse he was woeful at tracking back and helping out O’Brien; the latter too often left exposed against the threat of Anomah, who thankfully couldn’t cross as well as he could dribble.

Going forward Boulding was little better and, with Nicky Law playing in fits and starts, City played without the wide threat which has helped them to stretch and win games this season. Stuart must have recognised this and no one would have blamed him had he brought Kyle Nix or Leon Osborne on at half time, but instead he persisted with a line up which wasn’t functioning properly.

Barnet came out strong in the second half and their threat never went away. With pace on the flanks and a midfield not afraid to put a boot in, it became more and more one-way traffic as City struggled to keep them at bay. Rare home attacks carried a threat – Law and Conlon both going close – but the visitors enjoyed far more of the ball and posed too many questions of a fragile backline.

And herein lies the problem with City at the moment. There’s no doubting the attacking quality within the ranks, shown here despite the absence of key players, but when they do go in front there is some uncertainty over what to do next. Once again we see too many long balls launched in the hope the strikers can hold the ball up, but the offside flag or strong, and sometimes questionable, Barnet challenges limited this effectiveness. Stuart seems to want City to pass the ball about from the back and this often works well, but when the nerves are prevalent or the lead is slender ‘hit and hope’ seems to be favoured. To Barnet’s credit they must have noted this and sought to apply pressure on City from high up the pitch.

In such situations it’s as if City have one less player in midfield and the ability to slow the game down, keep passing the ball around and take the sting out of Barnet’s attacking momentum seems to be beyond the players. They will often work really hard to win the ball back, only to lose it cheaply seconds later. It meant the defence was overworked and the equaliser seemed inevitable.

The sight of Dean Furman having to limp off the field was distressing, given he was the only member of City’s midfield successfully doing the right things. His injury might have meant Stuart decided to keep Boulding on when his ineffectiveness should have been rewarded with an early exit from play, but three minutes later City were kicking off again and seemingly lacking the belief and composure to get back in front.

The performance of the backline is clearly a huge concern. Graeme Lee has looked much more the player of early season during the last two games, but he needs to be more commanding of the troops around him. Tom Clarke is a decent player but struggled as the game went on and it was O’Brien’s toughest afternoon to date, not helped by that lack of support in front. Moncur considers himself a right back, but the doubts are still there. Much of the recent defensive shortcomings have been blamed on Matt Clarke, but I believe he hasn’t been as bad as others make out.

Not that City particularly missed him, but there is someone sat in the same dugout who it can be argued they are. David Wetherall was always going to be a tough act to follow after retiring last season, but it’s the way Stuart is now trying to get City to defend which is perhaps causing teething problems. Wetherall’s lack of pace meant City had to defend deeper and the back four are now trying to play a higher defensive line. This is working reasonably well – though defenders need to be more decisive in possession when opposition forwards are pressing them – but was seemingly abandoned in the second half due to the midfield’s lack of control. The pressure grew, but the more forward players didn’t drop further back with the defence and huge gaps emerged which Barnet were able to exploit.

After Barnet’s equaliser there only looked to be one winner as the impressive visitors continued to attack. At least the defence did well to prevent a late winner with some excellent headers and blocks, how frustrating for them it must be to see the ball come back towards them so quickly after.

The full time whistle was met with boos, but it’s questionable how this sort of reaction helps anyone. There still remains a lot to be positive about when assessing City’s chances this season and the problems afflicting it can be sorted in time. Some fans said that last season City would have lost the sort of game they won against Bury midweek, well that’s true about this game too.

An unexpected late Halloween horror show at the back to endure, but the ability to keep producing fireworks at the other end has left City in an excellent position in the league. Those shortcomings will need to be banished in order to stay there.

Barry Conlon – What every League Two club wants for Christmas

News that Kyle Nix’s contract is up soon focuses the mind on the more significant of the City players who have deals that expire on the 31st of December with Barry Conlon two months from being a free agent.

Conlon signed for six months in the Summer and – after much talked about rocky patches – has seen his stock shoot up as both cult hero and useful member of the squad. At the moment his being in the sixteen is bringing City points.

So it would be little wonder if one of our rivals looked at the situation and decided that having seen their forwards bullied by the likes of Matt Clarke and Efe Sodje for a half a season they need the burly target play that Barry brings. We know this because far too often City have been in this situation of needing a big fella up front as an option at least.

It seems unlikely the Bantams will offer Conlon anything other than another six months leaving the player open to the enterprising club who can give him a year and a half. In League Two that represents the difference between being a professional footballer and having to get a proper job in July.

Should Stuart McCall reward Barry with eighteen months? Perhaps although with the plan for April 2010 being battling for promotion to the Championship it would be elevating the player beyond where most would pitch his ability level.

It certainly seems that Barry has to be at 100% every game to be at the same level as the rest of the squad and with his role mostly as battering ram for big defences and mostly done in fits and (not that many) starts he is able to do that.

Should Conlon leave in the transfer window then McCall would be left looking for someone else who can bring the ebullience from the bench but understands his place in the pecking order at the club, who can play the target man role with proven effectiveness and who is ready to scrap for the cause.

In other words should City be looking for the best guy to take the place in the squad that Conlon fills the best name on offer is Conlon himself.

So for McCall fingers must be crossed that no one else has been impressed enough to put that 18 month deal in front of the number nine that would lure him away.

Whatever happened to Plan B?

When Barry Conlon checked back to see it the header that gave City a 1-0 win over Bury we all checked back a month or so to when City were in trouble.

Back then Barry was getting booed and City were on the way out of the promotion picture. The reason for this was Stuart McCall who was tactically naive or he lacked a plan B or both.

The jungle drums that beat were against him but sound distant now. McCall was never the hapless legend afforded a job above his talents that his detractors would have him portrayed but neither does he have a Midas touch either. Sometimes he gets things right and sometimes he does not and it seems that the former out weigh the latter.

McCall suffers as all managers do from the wisdom of crowds where broad judgements are given to fine situations. It is very much a tool in the modern arsenal of a manager to be able to filter the signal from the massive noise that pervades every decision one makes.

McCall’s continued use of Conlon shows this skill is growing in the City boss. The manager wants Barry in the squad but not the side and while backing him to beat boos and be useful he is careful not to overplay his importance at the expense of his plans for Michael Boulding.

McCall does the same with TJ Moncur who’s presence in the side over Paul Arnison is a mystery to me but not to the manager who ultimately is charged with maintaining cold judgement when all around are dealing in hyperbole.

The calls for Barry to start will increase but Stuart must keep his own council on the hard working, prolific Boulding despite the noises around him and the emotion of Conlon, Willy Topp et al.

Perhaps one day McCall will join a club where if need not worry about damaging his legend status – his comments at City have shown on occasion an impressive willingness to wield the power he has – and his relationship with supporters will differ.

Then he may be aggressive as well full throated in his defence of a Conlon but for now he has the lesson of filtering out all except performance and the justification that comes with winning.

Now the manager faces a different set of tests with Joe Colbeck out for two months and the continued motivation of Omar Daley now paramount but those tasks begin from second in the division.

Plan B? Tactics? Barry Conlon? Everything becomes right with a win.

Where the pieces fall

The ball would not drop.

It held in mid-air like the frost had clung to Bradford’s trees this first Winter morning and took time to come down to the crisp grass of Valley Parade.

Later it would fall to Barry Conlon – of course to Barry Conlon – who would stand straight and head past Wayne Brown.  Allowing Conlon to head past him was the only one thing the man in the Bury goal did wrong all evening but a half hour before that moment it would be Michael Boulding trying to take down a looped cross from Peter Thorne and – when on his own in the middle of the penalty area – control and convert the chance.

The chance had come when Brown had sprinted back to his line to scoop away a back pass by David Buchanan which had seemed to be going into the visitors goal. Boulding’s pressure had forced the error but that would be no consolation as the ball steadfastly refused to sit up to be struck hanging in the air from Thorne’s cross.

Wins, promotions are made of such things.

This phrase seems to be commonly uttered at Valley Parade of late as the Bantams slump – the dire Bantams of Darlington eight days ago – nestle in to second place in the table with 14 games gone. If promotions are made of late goals and of the late goals that Conlon seems to have more of a hand in then they are also made of characterful performances where the Bantams ground out that rarest of things – a home win against an opposition who would have been happy with a point.

Happy and deserved. Bury were a desent side who came to Valley Parade with a game plan to anchor the midfield and hit on the break.  After a half where City edged the game once the mismash of players had started to build an understanding of each other the Bantams began to convert possession into chances.

Nicky Law Jnr came in on the right wing for the injured Joe Colbeck and offered little going forward but his attitude and approach was typical of a City performance which ensured that despite some interesting probing by The Shakers the defensive line remained solid and from that came the win.

Bit by bit in a first half City took more and more control of possession in the game. Tom Clarke – in for Matt Clarke – looked to have a head beyond his years and put not a foot wrong. As the game wore on into the second half Luke O’Brien would become more and more important as a distribution outlet and as a capable defender. His current form would keep Paul Heckingbottom out of the side.

From Boulding’s chance onwards City mounted attack on attack save sporadic meanders forward by the visitors with Dean Furman’s deep role allowing him to control the passage of possession and Paul McLaren probing forward. Law’s right wing role did not offer the outlet of Colbeck and City struggled to breakdown Bury but with the lion’s share of the ball the game was the Bantams to win.

A free kick for an arm in Furman’s face dummied by McLaren and struck with hitherto unpredicted venom by Graeme Lee and the ball pinged up into the air looping down to the waiting head of Conlon who after scoring joined the rest of Valley Parade in expecting referee Mr Friend to be anything but but tellingly as his central defenders were booked for complaining Wayne Brown said nothing.

The goalkeeper twice watching how the pieces fell in front of him. Two similar situations, two different outcomes.

Colbeck’s injury could keep him out for months, Daley is suspended for Saturday and Peter Thorne took a whack and could join Mark Bower, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon on the sidelines. Like all managers Stuart McCall’s test is to make the best of the pieces that fall to him and second after fourteen games he would seem to be making a good fist of that.

Didn’t you used to be us? – Bradford City vs Bury – League Two Preview

When this Bradford City vs Bury fixture crept onto the horizon a few weeks ago it seemed very much like the Bantams would be looking at getting something from a tricky visit from one of the top three as they struggled to stay in the play-off places.

The game will no doubt still be tricky but with Bury losing 2-1 at home at the weekend to Luton the Bantams are a point and three places above the Shakers with Shrewsbury and Darlington sandwiched in-between.

All four play-off teams have seem – at times – to be about to become the team to beat in League Two. City are last month’s Brentford, Bury are last week’s.

The visitors are looking to get back to the winning ways The Bantams found on Friday at Grimsby and Stuart McCall will be hoping his players dig in for the same kind of battle bested at Blundell Park.

McCall has brought Nicky Law Jnr back to the club on loan as the effects of five games in two weeks begin to pile up. Joe Colbeck joins Mark Bower, Paul Heckingbottom and Lee Bullock on the injured list and two suspensions – Omar Daley and Matthew Clarke. Daley’s suspension will kick in on Friday leaving both (we think) and he is free to play tonight. Clarke M does not play.

Clarke M and his place in the back four alongside Graeme Lee will be taken by TJ Moncur with Paul Arnison or Tom Clarke coming in at right back and the oft impressive Luke O’Brien on the left. Rhys Evans will stay in-between the sticks because not only is he the only goalkeeper at the club he also played a blinder at Grimsby.

Daley’s last game before suspension could see him switch to right to cover Colbeck with Kyle Nix coming in on the left although speculation and wishful thinking on the part of some have Willy Topp on the right and Daley left on the left. Topp impressed in that role in pre-season.

Others put Topp up front alongside Peter Thorne with Michael Boulding switching out wide left while some think that will happen but see Barry Conlon in rather than the man from Chile.

Paul McLaren and Dean Furman will no doubt see off the challenge from Law Jnr for the middle midfield berths with both playing excellently going forward and Law having never suggested that he is the man to plug any defensive gaps in the midfield.

At close of play some things will have become clear for both these teams: How much will City miss Colbeck who’s importance in the side seemingly grows with every game? Can Bury break the losing run by playing away from Gigg Lane? Have the Bantams put the bad patch to bed or just played a bad Grimsby? Will Willy Topp play? If he does, will he be any good? All these questions, and more, will be answered…

However come nine thirty on Tuesday night we will be no clearer in knowing if either of these teams is to be promoted. Wins in League Two jump you over this week’s losers but the pattern of the season is frequency of movement bubbling under the top.

Stuart is gone for his tea

Real football isn’t Championship Manager I keep reading but if it was what would Stuart McCall be doing after last night’s defeat 2-1 to Darlington?

He might say it was unfair that the home team got a later goal when their tiny midfielder out jumped Matt Clarke. “As if that would happen!”

He would probably say the same out Kevin Austin’s free kick five minutes from time that looped over Rhys Evans but maybe he should take a look at Evans who made a couple of great saves but was beaten too easily by this free kick.

He might do that thing where you clear all the players and pick your best eleven again but if he did would he include Barry Conlon who was booed by the home fans because he was playing so well cleaning everything out at the back.

He might wonder why his team has started letting in two goals a game in the last six games and look to the game before this bad run started. The difference is in the full backs. Luke O’Brien is coming on well but TJ Moncur and the way he ignores Joe Colbeck in front of him is huge problem.

The pressure on the ball on the flanks has been lessened as has the amount of possession City enjoy in a game and much of this is down to the full back positions and how those who play them play the game.

Dean Furman almost had another impressive game alongside Paul McLaren who looked good but it was Furman who was caught in possession allowing the home side a second goal as he looked for a perfect pass rather than doing the simple ball.

City did some simple things well for most of the game but were caught out trying to ease out a draw and now go to Grimsby down on luck and looking for a win at a team that haven’t got three points all season. Stuart has been watching players who know better and who has has seen play better make mistakes in the last few games and that is depressing. Darlington was different and most of the defensive mistakes of the past few games were ironed out for most of the game but still at the end the Bantams resistance was undone by errors.

How will Stuart approach the game on Friday? How will he turn things around? If life were like Championship Manager he’d probably turn it off and go for his tea instead.

You can be free only if I am free

And so, Barryboogate has morphed into Ashleyboogate. This allows the Football Association to describe as ‘crazy’ the section of England fans who made their feelings plain about who was to blame for the Kazakhstan goal. It also brings a comment from the Football Supporters’ Federation that ‘People have paid their money and have every right to express their opinion.’

Well, yes, it’s a free country, isn’t it? Well, up to a point, do I hear you say? OK, I’ll say it for you. It’s a free country up to a point. The question often gets asked ‘But when do we reach the point when we’re not free any more?’

Some answers are easier than others. I’m not free to assault you or steal your money. I’m not free to spread malicious lies about your character. I’m not free to make racist or homophobic comments about you. And that list of crimes or legally recognised civil wrongs could and does fill a very thick book or two.

But what happens if you want to express an otherwise permissible opinion, about the abilities of a professional footballer or a manager or even a work colleague, but you use intemperate language? By ‘intemperate’ in this context I mean abusive or threatening or simply foul-mouthed. The answer is, at least as far as Bradford City is concerned, you will not be allowed to use such language.

The club message board has been suspended since Wednesday. The club ‘always welcomes criticism’, it says, and has ‘resolved the problem with regards to racism and unacceptable language’. Well, maybe it hasn’t. Or maybe it is the subject matter rather than the language that counts. The message board has been suspended because it has ‘recently seen unwarranted verbal attacks on players, staff and supporters which [the club] will not tolerate’.

I don’t read the message board every day, so I’ve missed the ‘verbal attacks’ in question. It surely is no coincidence, however, that they follow within days of Barryboogate. The manager made his feelings perfectly plain in his after-match interview. I don’t always agree with him, but on this one I’m with him 100%. To me as a supporter of Bradford City it doesn’t matter what opinion you have of one of your own players, you are foolish if you boo him and expect him to perform better as a result. If you boo him before he has kicked a ball, then maybe you are ‘crazy’.

But being ‘crazy’ is no reason for shutting down such a well used channel of communication. Being insulting or abusive certainly is a justification. You could even argue that the club is under a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent such language being used. So, not only does the manager have my 100% backing on this one, but so does the moderator of the message board.

Football has always been about opinions. The vastly knowledgeable Jimmy Sirrel, who died recently, once told an after-match press conference ‘You know the score. You can read the league table. The rest is all opinion.’ It’s all down to how those opinions are expressed.

There are people in all walks of life, far beyond football, who believe that there are only their own opinions. Everything else is wrong. At least they won’t start a fight in an empty room, but they may find themselves in that empty room rather more often than those who are prepared to listen to other opinions.

Most people with strong opinions listen to the other side and may well rarely change their mind. But at least they recognise the other side exists and respect their right to exist. I guess that’s what Bradford City mean when they say they ‘always welcomed criticism’.

But when an opinion can be expressed or challenged only in abusive or threatening terms, especially in a medium open to all ages to read, maybe it is time to draw that line and say ‘You are not free to say that in this place’. No, there are no ‘maybes’ about it. It was time to end the opportunity to be abusive. The minority of those who misused the message board may not have caused the physical damage that the other minority (or is it the same minority?) did on the coaches to Leeds, but both sets damaged the name of Bradford City and of football supporters. They took us one step nearer to the atmosphere in and around football grounds back in the 1980’s, a time when fewer and fewer people came to watch games. The vast majority of us must say ‘No more steps in that direction’.

The end of the curse of October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barryboogate just leaves me confused

I’m not normally the level headed one but as all the dust settles on the weekend and BarryBooGate I find myself with the calm voice for once.

I loathe the people who boo Barry. They are miserable people and I’d rather push my face over a cheese grater than knock about with someone that quick to criticise a bloke who seems so bloody likeable but that is them.

I guess you can see their point in booing Barry cause if they want to find the guy who is least able to kick a football in she squad they have probably got it bang on. Me, if I was the type who got his porks letting it out at the football, I’d probably be more likely to boo someone like Michael Standing who could play well if he could be bothered.

I guess I’d think that no matter how much you shout at Barry he is never going to be able to kick a ball better but shouting at Standing might have made him get his finger out. Personally I’d like shouting at people who shout at players to try get them to close their mouths. I get really tired of people wanting to defend their right to spout garbage. Have you noticed that people who talk sense never bleat on about freedom of speech? They just speak.

But that is not the point the point is this.

Booing Barry is nothing compared to the grumbling and the booing that we got against Exeter and Bournemouth as well as Luton. I’m a big one for saying that everyone should get behind the boys and all and most of the time I get that people are not going to go crazy when the team is not winning but we got booed off at half time against Exeter and at full time we were top of the league.

I mean it might just be me but there is something wrong with this picture.

I hate booing at football. I don’t think it makes players play any better and if anything it makes them play worse but I’m proper puzzled at the trend to boo players when they are doing well.

Forty five minutes from the top of the league is doing well. In the play off places is doing well. To be honest in terms of this club over the last ten years not being relegated is doing well. I just don’t understand.

I guess if you were the type that thought a good boo made people play better then you might be thinking you were doing everyone a favour but I don’t think if you talked to any of the players they would agree. In fact I think if you went up to Barry Conlon and said “I booed you cause I thought you would play better” he would say “Well I guess it did cause I scored” but be thinking about how good it would feel to smack you about the head.

I hate booking at football cause I think it is kicking guys when they are down but this kicking of the guys when they are up is beyond hating and is just confusing.

There is no article here

There is an article to be written but we all know what it is so I’m not sure there is any point in writing it.

It is the article that starts off talking about how Stuart McCall is offended by the booing of Barry Conlon on Saturday. It talks about how McCall mentions his childhood as a Leeds fan when referencing Terry Yorath getting booed at Elland Road and notes that some damage must be done if the City manager is starting to reveal that side of his past.

It talks about how McCall should be supported in bringing on the players he wants to. It asks what support is if it is not cheering for the team at nil-nil on a Saturday with ten minutes to go? You could ask what is the point of having a manager if the fan’s want to veto who gets to play and who doesn’t. If you wanted to link that to Kevin Keegan resigning you could.

This article – if you want to write it – can talk about a comment on the T&A website that tries to justify the booing of Conlon by saying that McCall should have been bringing on Willy Topp or Rory Boulding ignoring the fact that Conlon scored. It could mock that person or insult him. Both would be appropriate.

The article that needs writing will talk about what some fans hope to gain by booing a player who gives everything he can to the cause. It will say that Barry is not the most talented player but no one puts in more effort and that booing the players who put in effort is counter-productive. It could then say that booing plays who try causes players not to try.

This article would expand to ask about the nature of support and ask if it is important to the modern footballer? If booing has become so common that players now ignore it or expect it? If fans are now considered to be mindless and not worthy of paying attention to because of this sort of booing.

If you want to write the article you could try expand it into talking about a football culture that is so sick that the expectations set are unachievable at every level or a society that is so self obsessed that people believe that they can get into a large enough mob then they should be allowed to make every single decision there is to make and who demand that their voice be heard no matter what they are saying.

You could try appeal to reason and construct arguments why the negativity around Conlon and the mis-judged comments about McCall and his staff and their abilities are bad for the club and thus bad for the people saying them as well as the one’s listening but they have never listened to that kind of argument in the past and write it off as spin or as naivety without the shame of admitting that the previous times they have had their say has lead us to this point.

When you do write the article prepare for people suggesting that you are trying to paper over the cracks of McCall and Conlon’s lack of abilities and try not to laugh at them when they say this despite the fact that a few weeks ago we were top of the division because they really do mean it. You could mention the way that Championship Manager has made everyone think that being a football manager is as easy as looking at numbers and picking the highest but again do not expect to be believed should you counter that point dispite the blindingly obvious nature of your claim.

After that you could point out the logic of that or you could conclude you are wasting your time in doing so and that these people are concerned with themselves first and the attention they can get and Bradford City second.

Or you could take another tack and say that you thought that the people who booed Barry Conlon on Saturday, City in general and who use message boards and forums to agitate are beneath contempt. You could rail against them in the name of good sense and site the work done to keep the club going over two administrations and you could ignore the ad hominim attacks you would get for it and the lies that they would say about you and carry on screaming to anyone who would listen about how obviously damaging the actions of these people were.

You could do any of these things – and God knows at BfB we have made all these comments over the past nine and a half years – and probably it would do no good at all. Good people like Wayne, Steve and the people who sang Barry’s name and cheer City on would listen to what you said and be heartened but the people who you wanted to reach would not care.

You would have to conclude your article and you could issue a rallying cry to those who find the booing as destructive and pointless as you do but what is the point?

Our legend, our manager, the guy that is here to turn our club around is saying clearly that booing is achieves nothing apart from attacking our club. If Stuart McCall cannot get stop some people from ripping this club apart then what chance has anyone else got?

From jeers to cheers to where?

The frustration was clear at the final whistle when rain lashed Valley Parade and the players as they trooped away seemed to realise that two points had been lost.

Stuart McCall saluted the crowd but seemed heavy shouldered as if he recognised that the late goal that gave the visits what they wanted – a draw – was as avoidable as it was annoying.

Avoidable because a ten men City side had allowed Luton Town to score an easy equaliser when Michael Spillane headed in Ed Asafu-Adjaye’s cross under no pressure in the middle of the penalty area. That City had dropped back to a 441 to try soak up pressure showed some inexperience in analysis of the way the game would flow following the Bantams taking the lead with reduced numbers but regardless of how McCall told them to play the way the players dropped off and allowed the cross to come and the goal to go in was disappointing in a game so hard won.

The first half was marked with a strong wind that pushed the visitors into attack for the opening twenty minutes but resulted in little in the way of good play. Former Bantam Lewis Emanuel picked up the ball to take a corner and was booed by the Kop for a few seconds until those boos were drown out by recognition and applause.

Emanuel had left City for bigger and better but it turns out that Luton were – according to the FA – cheating and making illegal payments. I mention this cause I remember them beating the Bantams in the FA Cup one year and as a victim of their misconduct I find it hard to amass the sympathy that others seem to have for the Hatters.

The tide of the first half changed as – aside for a booking for Paul Heckingbottom for fouling the excellent Claude Gnakpa – the game moved into the Luton half to stay. The nervousness of the is most apparent in games were City are on top. The Bantams tried to work the ball out of the back – I assume they did this because the wind would render long balls fruitless, because the returning Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding are not target men and (to be honest) long ball football is moronic and we hated John Docherty for doing it so why would we want Stuart McCall’s side to? – but such efforts were greeted with grunts to get rid of the ball.

Paul McLaren lead the Bantams in frustration as he looked for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Michael Boulding to come deeper to look to take the ball from him but often had to dally in possession. Those three players need to begin to make themselves targets more than they are now because at the moment too many City players are waiting for things to happen.

Which is not to say that Daley and co played badly just that they wanted for play to start and engaged in the second phase rather than drifting into the Luton midfield to start it. Daley’s running was impressive and threatened often.

Nevertheless at half time honours were even but possession not and sure enough the Bantams started the second half taking the game to Luton who had withdrawn Emanuel and resolved to make sure that they would have more defensive resolve. Typical of this was Paul McLaren in midfield looking for City players and seeing ten Luton players in the cone from him to the edges of the penalty area.

City this year – as with previous years and to be honest most of football – found such resistance hard to breakdown. Peter Thorne saw a header clawed away by Conrad Logan but the rain and darkness started to come in and it seemed the Bantams would struggle breakdown the back line and this assumption seemed to be fact when Paul Heckingbottom – lunging in on Gnakpa who muscled him off – was sent off for a second bookable offence.

It was not odd that Mr G. Laws – who we know like to invent his own rules – decided to punish the two bookable offences which Heckingbottom will have few complaints about but it was curious as to why those two bookable offences would be punished when others were ignored. The officiousness that saw him book Heckingbottom twice was absent when he allowed Rossi Jarvis to go with a warning for kicking McLaren or only booked Chris Martin for diving after the Luton striker had shouted complaints at him.

It says much about Referees and respect that they will only book you for diving if you shout at them and it says much about how Mr Laws referees that he allowed Asa Hall to swing a leg, miss the ball and fully make contact with Omar Daley as the City winger struggled to control the ball in the box. It was a soft penalty to give away but it was a penalty but Laws being Laws he seeks some kind of romantic reasons to give decisions rather than observing the events on the field and giving the decisions as appropriate.

Laws escaped without the booing that some City fans reserve for our own players. I observe that Barry Conlon is booed as he stands at the side of the field and when he comes on for Michael Boulding there is a mixed reception for this player who – in my estimation – gives all he has in his tank every time he pulls on a claret and amber shirt. He is not the most talented player in the squad but he gives the most effort and – I believe – when you boo Barry you give licence to other players to put in 90%.

Nonetheless his first name was still being sung by his advocates as a bouncing ball caused confusion in the box and Conlon was on hand to put in from the six yard box. He celebrated having turned the jeers into cheers and we celebrated what should have been a hard won win – all of use – even the ones who booed him onto the field. It is what we call a brassneck around here and I think they should be made to formally apologise to Barry at half time next week but no one listens to me.

That should have been that but with ten minutes of winding the clock down McCall got it wrong putting on Luke O’Brien for Peter Thorne but one doubts that McCall told the likes of Dean Furman and McLaren to sit off and let the visitors play which we did and the goal resulted.

The goal – headed into the back of the net from about ten yards – the ball nestled behind Rhys Evans and the visitors doing cartwheels and cheering in front of their own fans. The ball in the back of the net and them enjoying this draw they had come for and got. The ball being returned not by an eager striker trying to get the game restarted to try win it but by City. Them celebrating getting the point that moves them to minus eighteen and leaves us in sixth but not trying to win the game.

They never wanted to win the game. I mention this because this Luton Town address the football community as if they are wronged. They want your sympathy and complain about being punished for the massive misdemeanours and for exiting administration without a CVA. They want your sympathy and they come to your ground with the express aim of getting a draw and dragging out a dull afternoon of football where they try stop any football being played. I would not miss them.

Luton’s fate though is decided elsewhere while City’s is still up in the air. Three games without a win the Bantams go to Accrington Stanley next week with the team slipping the wrong way. The players seem to lack a freshness and labour over games. We are a team who need an early goal break to get in the habit of being in front again.

The quality is obvious but the belief starts to slip and McCall has to find a way to inject the freshness back into the side who seem to spend all game worrying about not having scored yet. Everything is being over cooked, passes over thought out, runs fretted over.

We are stuck in third gear and to find the spark to shift up because results like this are causing confidence to ebb.

Beating failure – Bradford City vs Luton Town – League Two preview

Come 5pm Saturday Bradford City’s promotion hopes will have either been strengthened or weakened – but one thing they certainly won’t be is over.

Two successive defeats is disappointing and three would be considered “unacceptable”, but with City’s home vulnerability resurfacing that is entirely possible as would-be-11th-but-for-crazy-points-deduction Luton come to town. After a week in which talk of failure has emanated from some quarters – preceding any actual failure itself – it’s worth reflecting on what it would look like. A home defeat would probably push City out of the play off positions; but, at worst, City would be six points behind the leaders, with 37 games to go.

It’s said by some that the fear of failure led to Stuart McCall playing 4-5-1 at Shrewsbury last weekend and, largely ignoring three key injuries and an appalling referee display, the City manager’s perceived negativity has resulted in some of the strongest criticism towards him yet. Whether or not the system worked in the way he intended; Stuart will obviously be moving back to 4-4-2 for this one.

Top scorer Peter Thorne, who’s absence in defeat has further highlighted his importance, is expected to be fit enough to lead the attack alongside Michael Boulding. Barry Conlon will be back on the bench having been made scapegoat by some for last week’s failings. Some of the criticism is unjustified but it’s hard to argue that the Irishman has done enough, when given the opportunity, to warrant a contact beyond January and it’s up to him to prove his worth. Willy Topp, fresh from a wonder goal in the reserves and closer to fitness, is also likely to be among the subs.

Lee Bullock’s injury will allow the promising Dean Furman to keep his place and Stuart may look for him to share more of the defensive responsibilities with partner Paul McLaren than Bullock has been. Former Hatter McLaren joined City in the summer having topped the League One assist chart the previous season, but the more withdrawn role he’s playing has lessened his impact going forward. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley will be patrolling out wide, with some disappointment this week that they won’t be pushed as hard to keep up their excellent form as they might.

At the back Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke will be looking to rediscover their early season swagger and, unless Paul Arnison makes a miraculous recovery, Simon Ainge will get a chance at right back. The 20-year-old made his City debut two years ago but has had few opportunities to push on, his last one ending in failure. Stuart’s decision to give youth a chance instead of making yet another loan signing is applauded on this site and Ainge will aim to make it a quiet afternoon for keeper Rhys Evans.

For Luton, former Bantam Lewis Emmanuel makes a second return to Valley Parade since leaving two years ago. Briefly it seemed he’d gone onto better things in the Championship but, despite having trials at Birmingham and Southend during the summer, Lewis has fallen with the troubled Hatters and could feasibly be playing non-league football next year. It’s to be hoped Don Hutchinson won’t carry the influence his fellow ex-Premiership star Darren Anderton managed two weeks ago, while ex-Chelsea striker Sam Parkin will need to be watched.

Yet the biggest threat of failure will arguably come not from the visitors, but in the stands. Considering we were topping the division two weeks ago, the criticisms levelled at City by many supporters this week have been unnecessarily high. Conversations before this match are likely to contain the phrase “we’d better win today” and, judging on past form, the chances of supporters getting behind the team if they don’t start well are highly slim.

A delve into City’s recent history adds further reason to fear such failure. During the past two seasons, promotion hopes looked credible going into the middle of September – and were all but extinguished when October was over. It’s easy to pin point the respective defeats to Huddersfield and Hereford as the moment things went wrong, but defeats are always going to happen and it was the later ones at home to Brighton and Accrington which really tipped the balance towards another season of failure. During both these games the crowd quickly turned on the team and worked against it – and a similar reaction if things aren’t initially going to plan on Saturday could prove similarly damaging.

Earlier this week one fan wrote they were sick of hearing the management and chairmen falsely building up our promotion hopes each summer, as though pre-season optimism has nothing to do with us supporters. Well promotion this season is my dream, promotion this season is your dream, promotion this season is Stuart McCall’s dream, promotion this season is Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn’s dream, promotion this season is even Barry Conlon’s dream.

If we all channel our efforts in the same direction, accepting we succeed and fail together, the chances of us all achieving those ambitions will surely be greater. So, should City fall behind on Saturday, how are you going to react?

We can all agree on one thing

So what plan is this?

This week all we’ve talked is is Plan Bs and tactics and about fans and other fans and in about ten minutes everything that had been talked about had come to a head.

I was worried that Stuart McCall had listened to the moaners and because he had no Peter Thorne who I guess is injured went for a packed midfield with Dean Furman in it and Barry Conlon leading the line with Michael Boulding on the bench. It was Stuart doing something to counter a team that had scored seven at home I hoped and not Stuart trying to prove that he did know his tactical arse from his elbow.

Barry Conlon is more loved away from home where you get to watch him chasing balls all afternoon long trying to make feasts of scraps. I’m not saying that everyone who goes away loves Barry but they seem to appricaite him a bit more than the VP crowd who look at goal tallies more than effort. When you’ve come all this way as most of us do week in week out then you like the fact that someone is going to run around.

The Barry buzz was still going and people were still talking about it when Shrewsbury scored although after that the week was totally forgotten. The ball came in and Rhys Evans seemed to punch it but as he did Graeme Lee and TJ Moncur went up for it and both went down after having smashed heads against each other. The referee was the same guy who allowed Oldham to carry on when Steve Schumacher was poleaxed three years ago and the result was the same as Shrewbury’s Ben Davies whacked the ball in.

Great game this football. Davies was wheeling away cheering while our guys were on the floor injured. Moncur stood up and went down again and people said he had a fit but soon he was off for Kyle Nix and Lee Bullock was at right back.

So no leading forward, goals going in when players are fitting, a lot of possession for the start of the game and a good shot by Furman that troubled the keeper. I have to wonder what non-niave tactics should Macca use now and what the Hell plan letter are we supposed to be on now?

The game settled into a pattern but the City players and fans seemed a bit quiet and someone aid that Moncur was off to hospital and it didn’t look good but we hd no idea what that meant. Grant Holt buzzed through and had a shot that dribbled wide. By half time Nix and Paul McLaren were dipping crosses around the keeper and just as half time was supposed to come City were on top but we played minutes added on my J. Singh to allow Shrewsbury to score while our player was down. Omar Daley had one cleared off the line and we were still playing at four when everyone else was kicking off and at half time we had been robbed cause while I’m sure that we will hear that Davies didn’t know about the injury and that Singh should have blown his whistle again but seems to be getting closer and close to his aim of seeing a goal scored when their are dead bodies on the field. We felt robbed by someone and maybe the Stockport manager can tell us who.

And down was the word. Everyone was down but everyone was together in being a bit worried about TJ Moncur and less about what was going on on the field. Even in the second half when Joe Colbeck slammed his custom right foot blast from the wing across the keeper which went over and Lee and Grant Holt battled away. Bullock moved back to right back but came off injured agian with Michael Boulding coming on and went up front with three at the back or was it four and this was Plan D or perhaps it was Little PLan Zee and after that comes Vroom? Boulding joined the forward line and we all wondered who was going to be left to play Luton next week but this week seemed lost with Shrewsbury basically keeping the ball from us and Paul McLaren ending up at right back.

The game got scrappy with an stupidly named midfielder going close for them and the much tidier Kyle Nix having a shot for us but from that scrappiness City started to get something together and started to control the ball a bit better. By the time five o’clock came City were giving as good as we got from the team that will use today as some kind of indication that they are more promotion bound than us but to be honest the difference between the teams came when we had two down and as it happened one badly hurt and I guess we will never know if the home team would have got a goal against City without the injuries but the rest of the game where Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke pocked Grant Holt while the rest of the plan, the tactics, the sodding game was in chaos says to me that they would not.

But like the guy said if you moan about a Ref they come back to haunt you and you have to wonder what sort of stink City kicked up about J. Singh last time and how much that played on today. Barry lashed one wide in stoppage time before they took a second goal while we were trying for an equaliser and that was that.

But in a week about plans this was City without one. It was freak football and the most important man on the field was an Referee who I think we can all agree at BfB and on the OMB and on the terraces at VP and in the hushed tones around pubs in Bradford should not be allowed to Referee football matches because of his dangerous policy of letting games carry on when players are hurt.

Probably won’t agree for the same reasons though.

The overlooked Kyle Nix

Sitting from my seat up high in the Kop I look down and right and can’t understand why Kyle Nix is on his on seat the bench. I accept that a winning formula shouldn’t be changed and so far this season Bullock and McLaren have done a fine job but at the same time I wonder what has Nix done wrong?

To me, at this level anyway, Kyle seems to be almost the complete central midfielder. If you ask yourself the qualities you look for in this position high on the list would be; passing ability, bite in the tackle, work rate, composure on the ball, and a knack for finding the net. Then ask yourself who ticks these boxes? Kyle certainly has a ferocious tackle, he is judging on pre season tests in the top three fittest squad members and last season he got himself more goals than most.

Still, however, he gets overlooked.

He is versatile and the reason he got so many games last season was his ability to ‘do a job on the left’ but although he is no slouch I don’t think he has enough pace to be a winger. The fact he can play left side has probably worked against him being able no nail down a first team spot in the middle. It meant that he was always first port of call to fill in should one of the winger become injured, even if he’d been having a run of games in the middle before that. He got the majority of his goals while being played down the middle because he seemed to be able to ghost into the box unmarked, much like a young Paul Scholes would of done.

McCall has his reasons, the big factor appearing to be his size. McCall has said that he likes to play big men in there so we don’t get outfought. You certainly can’t argue that Nix is a bit on the small side, but he’s not scared of being kicked or, for that matter, kicking anyone!

Towards the end of games when we need a creative spark Nix continues to be overlooked. Even against Leeds, he was the one who got us the goal, although if it did get credited to Conlon who didn’t know much about it. Then he is taken off despite being the one who is threatening them the most and was probably our man of the match on that night.

Constantly Kyle Nix comes into the side does a good job and then someone comes back and he’s straight back out. Dean Furman has come into the squad on loan and has done well, but what has he done to be thought of above Nix? Then we still have Chris Brandon to come back and that makes me worry Kyle will be pushed even further down the pecking order and the player is likely to become increasingly frustrated with life at the club.

Understand I’m not saying he deserves a place in the starting eleven but I have much more confidence seeing him coming off the bench and unlocking the defence for Boulding or Thorne, than big Baz coming on and taking the place of one of these two prolific scorers.

McLaren is 31, Brandon is 32, Dean Furman is only on loan, while Nix is just 22. A young, talented player with a future, but soon he will be wanting first team football and Bradford’s loss would certainly be another side’s gain.

The back up waiting for the call

Reserve team manager David Wetherall’s pre-match team talk would have played heavily on it.

Barely 48 hours since the first team had suffered its first significant setback of the season; this was an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim. Manager Stuart McCall, watching in the stand, has repeatedly talked about how the strength of his squad means those in the team have to maintain standards or lose their spot and, while a radical revamp is not expected nor encouraged, this performance may help lead to that theory being tested ahead of Shrewsbury.

Despite the game ending in a 1-0 defeat, it was a decent performance by City’s second string against a youthful Leeds side; with chances and territorial advantage stacking up in favour of the home side. After his decent substitute cameo against Bournemouth, Barry Conlon continued where he left off impressing with his hold up play and passing. Strike partner Rory Boulding matched his work rate and was at the heart of City’s two best first half chances. The best of which resulted from his excellent hold up play which allowed Blackburn trialist David Ryan – who showed promise, if a little rawness – to cross the ball and Sean Taylforth to strike an effort against the post after Leeds keeper Alan Martin had fumbled. Minutes before Boulding had cleverly flicked the ball into Conlon’s path, who fired over.

That chance had also been created by Luke Sharry, who had a promising game in the centre of midfield. Tenacious in the tackle and strong going forward, the 18-year-old was at the heart of much of City’s best play. He consistently sprayed passes across the pitch to spark attacks and his only weakness was his failure to play the simple ball when the opportunity allowed. The fact Dean Furman did not figure suggests the on-loan Rangers midfielder features in Stuart’s thinking for Saturday, but a first team debut for Sharry cannot be far away.

In the second half Willy Topp replaced Conlon and impressed on his return from injury. As with his first team appearances to date, the Chilean can be guilty of taking too much time on the ball and causing moves to break down through lack of awareness; but his touch and dribbling skills excite and it’s to be hoped he can finally get over the little niggles which have blighted his City career and make an impact in League Two.

The chances still mainly went City’s way, with a glorious pass to Luke O’Brien by Sharry allowing the left-back to charge forward and cross for Topp, who couldn’t plant his header beyond Martin. Kyle Nix looked industrious as ever, alongside Sharry, though Taylforth and Leon Osborne will not be threatening Colbeck and Daley’s places in the team on this showing.

Neither will goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, who inexplicably fumbled Sam Jones’ long range shot into his own net for the game’s only goal. The former Harrogate Town player will be hoping Stuart wasn’t paying attention at that point, particularly as he had little else to do to all evening as he tries to convince that he could be called upon if Rhys Evans gets injured.

City continued to apply pressure and Boulding forced a great save from Martin when through on goal, but the visitors defended well. Perhaps it wasn’t as strong a performance as many of the players would have liked to have put in, but when it’s Stuart’s turn to deliver his next team talk he may be warning a few to watch their back.

Flying colours

In the end the result disguised the fact it had been Bradford City’s biggest test of the season.

Going in at half time a goal behind having collectively played average, supporters unrecognising and undermining efforts, a disgruntled manager to face and the first questions over their ability to muster a promotion challenge – the players had much to prove.

An hour later they were leaving the pitch to wholehearted applause after a second half performance Stuart McCall would label “awesome”. Quickly finding an equaliser and not looking back, the players found a previously unused high gear to notch three more goals through some devastating attacking football.

All of which leaves City sitting top of the league and, while it may be early days, coming 11 years to the day of the last time a divisional summit was reached after August – a 2-2 draw against Middlesbrough in the old Division One – shows it’s a rare enough occurence to enjoy. Now the challenge is to stay there.

If the second half blitz provided plenty of evidence to believe this could finally be City’s season, the doubts cast during a disappointing first half performance shouldn’t be discounted. Home games against so-called lesser sides have proved City’s Achilles Heel to often in recent years. Usually on the back of a decent away win, the expectation is more over how many goals will be scored than merely whether the game would be won.

Newly promoted sides can be dangerous to play early season, as City discovered a fortnight ago, but Exeter appeared content to keep men behind the ball and attack on the break. The initiative was there to be taken but, as chances were created and a feeling a goal would inevitably arrive grew, the warning signs which have formed part of so many home failings in recent years were again neglected. Grecians strikers Marcus Stewart and Adam Stansfield provided Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke with some uncomfortable moments, with one slip from Lee resulted in City’s crossbar rattling and Rhys Evans earlier been forced into an excellent tip over.

The Bantams had chances too, with an Omar Daley rocket from distance been touched onto the bar by keeper Paul Jones, but when the visitors went in front it was far from the shock it might have been considered at 3pm. Midfielder Matt Gill fired home via a post after Clarke woefully sliced a clearance into his path. It’s not the first time the former Darlington centre half has cost City a goal through poor distribution, but his steady second half recovery offered a reminder of the qualities which make him a firm fixture in the side. A mistake can be forgiven, if it’s not repeated.

Up until this point the game had been played out to a rather muted atmosphere, save from the Bradford End, but in response to going behind the volume dramatically increased from the home crowd. Not, sadly, in support of their team, but to complain and boo. Firstly a loud crash could be heard as hundreds of City fans seemingly threw their toys out of the pram in unison, then it was the players turn to take cover.

The eight minutes between Exeter scoring and the half time whistle were easily City’s worst, and it can be no coincidence it occurred with many City fans vocally criticising everything they did. I don’t understand the thought process which concludes everything must suddenly be bad just because we’d fallen behind. As City attacked in Exeter’s box one fan near me loudly screamed they were not capable of scoring so what was the point. “Stop playing long ball!” yelled another. Two minutes later City knocked the ball around patiently just inside Exeter’s half and the same person demanded the ball be “put into the box.”

At half time his assessment was that City had been “rubbish” but this was simply not true. Faint booing could be heard and I pondered how our old home failings emanate from more than just our players and wish we’d provide them support when they need it most. Still a mistake can be forgiven if it’s not repeated, right?

So the test was set up, and passed with flying colours. Stuart later revealed that at half time he’d told Joe Colbeck to up his game and spark the rest of the team into life and, while it’s testament to last season’s Player of the Year that such expectations can be placed on him, the fact he delivered in such style shows it’s not just Daley we should be worried about receiving bids for come January. Colbeck ignited by picking up the ball on half way and charging forward, beating three covering defenders and firing in a shot across goal which was tipped out of Thorne’s reach by Jones. Next time the former Leyton Orient keeper would not be so lucky.

Minutes later the ball was worked to Colbeck, who unleashed a stunning shot from distance that Jones could only palm into Thorne’s path. City’s top scorer athletically shifted his body into a position to tap in the rebound and City were level. As the home fans roared in a mixture of approval and relief I thought back to the words I’d heard just as Colbeck’s shot flew towards goal from someone nearby, “What are you doing shooting from there?”

Four minutes later City went in front after another well-worked attack. Paul Arnison was invited to cross and his beautiful delivery was met by Michael Boulding at the far post, who headed home. Finally Exeter had to commit more players forward and they continued to pose awkward questions at City’s defence, though the likelihood of more City goals was always there.

The killer third arrived after Daley’s great close control and clever pass set Colbeck away and, though his low shot across the keeper looked to be drifting narrowly wide of the opposite post, Thorne prodded the ball across the line to make sure. Not the greatest of his eight goals this season, but the kind of poaching which leaves him on course to smash the 20-goal barrier by Christmas should he steer clear of injuries.

Daley’s contribution should not be devalued and he laid on the fourth after another lighting burst forward – was I the only one who felt a bit sorry for Exeter full back Steve Tully in facing the in-form Jamaican? – and clever setting up of Boulding to fire home his second. There could have been more with Boulding and substitute Barry Conlon going close before the end. If the home side had ended the first half desperate for the whistle, it was now the visitors anxious to be put out of their misery.

So top with only 40 games to hold out. The squad’s ability to cope with injuries and suspensions has yet to be proved, but as a settled side continues to grow so to do the expectations of what it can achieve. Few teams in this division will cope with City’s attack on this form and it should be noted that worse sides than Exeter are still due at Valley Parade.

Another test passed but, increasingly, it’s the rest of the division who’ll be considering the Bantams their biggest.

City take the pride, but could have left with more from Leeds

The new season may be less than a month old, but for Bradford City it has already featured defeats from its two biggest rivals. Unlike the 4-0 humiliation at Huddersfield in the Carling Cup, Tuesday’s narrow defeat saw the Bantams leave the field with pride. Yet for how well merited the standing ovation 4,000+ City fans awarded their team at the end was, the feeling that it was an opportunity not fully taken remained.

It was a night of agonising what ifs and if onlys. The penalty decision that set Leeds on their way seemed harsh, there was the controversy of the disallowed equaliser by Omar Daley which captain Graeme Lee held an animated conversation with the referee about at half time. Barry Conlon’s miss, which was punished two minutes later by a momentary lapse in concentration for the second goal, and a few chances in the second half where the ball just didn’t fall in the box in a way City players could profit from. Leeds were deserving of their victory and, if they weren’t necessarily a class above in terms of their play, that extra professionalism and concentration to take advantage of the luck which came their way was evident.

It was no surprise to see both managers make changes with the league in mind, or for City to line up in a 4-5-1 formation. The collapse at Huddersfield has clearly been weighing on Stuart’s mind since the draw for this game was made and he set about at least avoiding a repeat. City packed the midfield and denied Leeds space but going forward there was a lack of support for lone striker Barry Conlon, who had an average game at best. City needed to have more runners from midfield and would arguably have been more effective had Lee Bullock started, as late surges into the box are more his game.

Defensively City were shaky on occasions, with Mark Bower and TJ Moncur not having the best of first starts of the season. Rhys Evans also had a disappointing first half where he flapped and panicked too often; had this been Donovan Ricketts the abuse would have been reigning down from City fans behind his goal. Joe Colbeck was praised by Gary McAllister after the game but, given he was up against a 16-year-old left back starting only his second game, he might have hoped to make a bigger impact. Daley and Lee were probably City’s best players but Dean Furman and Kyle Nix also did well, if the latter giving the ball away a bit too much.

At half time we were unfortunate to be 2-0 behind but, until a goal was pulled back, the second half was a frustrating affair as the game became too easy for Leeds. It’s questionable why an attacking change wasn’t made sooner so City could force more pressure and Stuart’s thoughts were probably influenced by that horrible night at Huddersfield, but for a while it seemed City’s ambition didn’t stretch beyond walking off the field only losing 2-0.

I can understand the decision to rest Thorne, but if there was no intention to even give him 10 minutes on the field why include him on the bench? Rory Boulding was kicking his heels somewhere and the wait for changes to be made was frustrating. Belatedly Lee Bullock and Michael Boulding came on, but only after the heavy pressure that pulling a goal back sparked had died down and Leeds were firmly in control again.

Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference; but as I stood there surrounded by fellow supporters looking nervously on while singing our hearts out, desperate for a late equaliser that would have sparked scenes of celebration probably not matched since the Liverpool game eight years ago, it was hard to escape the feeling that the belief it could happen was not shared on the bench.

There was a lot to be proud of – the atmosphere from the City fans (I’ve a croaky voice today), the commitment and resilience from the players, receiving a text from a Leeds fan in the home end expressing how worried he was with ten minutes to go and the excitment the match produced.

Stuart certainly deserves credit for the way he lined up City and the performance was very encouraging but, with a bit more positivity, we could have been walking out of Elland Road (after a 25 minute delay) with more than just our heads held high.

Keeping back the kitchen sink

City proved more than a match for local rivals Leeds in this entertaining JPT clash at Elland Road.

Bradford did much of the early pressing, with Omar Daley’s blistering pace proving a real threat. In one attack he dribbled down the left, cut inside and released a powerful shot that went into the side netting.

But Leeds took the lead via Robinson’s highly controversial penalty. With the ball heading into the box, Paul McClaren was adjudged to have handled by the linesman – a very poor decision right in front of the sizeable City contingent. McClaren clearly chested the ball down quickly having collected the ball from some height, but no contact was made with his hand ( we had a view from only a couple of yards away, nearly at ground level).

But minutes later, City seemed to have levelled. A scramble inside the Leeds box resulted in Colbeck thrashing home from close range, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

With the half drawing to an end, Robinson smashed the City bar with a thunderous effort from 20 yards which was quickly knocked out by Heckingbottom. From the resultant corner, substitute Becchio was disappointingly allowed to head home directly from the cross, with Lee and Conlon seemingly to get in each others way when trying to mark the striker. It was poor defending from a set piece.

Thankfully though, City refused to lie down in the second half. Despite a couple of hairy moments where Leeds went close, including hitting the post from a Richardson effort, City more than held their own. Colbeck and Daley both had excellent games, and they forced a number of second half corners with their good wing play.

And real hope was in the air when a goal was pulled back by Barry Conlon. Daley brilliant weaved his way around the Leeds defence, and cut the ball back to Kyle Nix. His cross cum shot was diverted into the back of the net by Conlon to the jubilation of the Bradford faithful.

At this point, we had Leeds worried. All the play was with the away side, as we tried to force penalties.

But there was an air of disappointment in the air when it became apparent that McCall was not willing to bring on another striker to really force the issue. Tactics from the start were to play Barry Conlon in a lone striker role , with the midfield packed out with five. Surely with 20 minutes to go we could have brought on Boulding (M) or Thorne to add some real threat?

But Stuart only decided to bring on Lee Bullock with 5 minutes to go for Dean Furman (who had a promising full debut) and Micheal Boulding was given 60 seconds to make an impact. Why couldn’t we have really thrown the kitchen sink at Leeds in the final stages to make it interesting? Chances are we might have conceded if it didn’t work out, but at least we would have had more of a chance of levelling things up and forcing penalties which could have lead to a famous victory on enemy territory…

But don’t let those thoughts put a dampener on what was an excellent and very credible City performance. We more than matched the best squad in League One for the full 90 minutes, and really had them under the cosh at one stage. Despite us being 2-0 down at the break, we actually had the better of the play in the first half. And in the second, we made them nervous and really had a good go. It was a night to be proud of the team – and more encouraging signs for the rest of the season.

As we were kept inside the ground for 25 minutes after the final whistle had gone, there was plenty of time for reflection on our start to the season. If we continue playing the way we did in this match, there is no doubt that a top three finish will surely be ours.

The stats show that we have lost two games in a row – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We battled gamely in both the defeats and have shown real signs that we have the spirit to not lie down in games, which is crucially important.

A trip to Vale Park on Saturday awaits for City – and three points there could really set us on our way to keeping up with the leading pack, with two very winnable home games to follow.

Our last trip to Port Vale resulted in us winning 1-0 with Steve Claridge getting the winner. This time we will be pitting our wits against a Port Vale side with ex City man Lee Sinnott in their managerial hotseat.

Lets hope we can perform on Saturday in the same courageous way we did tonight at Elland Road, and concentrate on get our promotion push back on track.

Leeds United vs Bradford City – Johnstone’s Paint Trophy First Round 2008/2009 preview

If Bradford City’s 2008/2009 campaign were a film, tonight’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy First Round trip to Leeds United would represent little more than an early sub-plot for added interest while the main one takes shape.

Sure, it could provide an exciting action sequence or two and it may include moments that are remembered long after the closing credits are run next May; but, regardless of the outcome, it’s not what this season is all about – nor will it define it.

Nevertheless the Bantams make the 9.5 mile journey to the other side of Pudsey with some expectation. The League Cup embarrassment at Huddersfield showed that, so far, manager Stuart McCall has been unable to better the efforts of previous managers when it comes to cup competitions, but this trophy is one which joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes said City should be taking seriously during the summer.

The often-maligned competition has rarely been kind to City, especially since the club returned to England’s bottom two tiers in 2004. During the first season back there was the home defeat to then non-league Accrington and while the area Quarter Finals were reached the following year – helped by a first round bye – progress came to a crashing halt at another non-league club, Kidderminster, with manager Colin Todd and player Lee Crooks having a bust-up after the latter got sent off only six minutes in.

The last two seasons have seen first round exits and controversy, first by Scunthorpe in 2006-07 when they went against rules and fielded a largely reserve side – a league encounter at Valley Parade five days later in manager Brian Laws thoughts – and last season when Stuart did the same at holders Doncaster and City were duly thrashed. Both Scunthorpe and City received fines for doing so, with Stuart paying ours out of his own pocket.

Such restrictions on team selection may not be welcomed by former Scotland team-mates Gary McAllister and Stuart this evening, but they should at least ensure both sides take the tie reasonably seriously. The disappointing news that Matt Clarke will be out for a month means Mark Bower will make his first start of the season, while the sight of Graeme Lee playing out the second half at Aldershot with a head bandage may mean TJ Moncur is drafted in. Barry Conlon is also expected to start, confidence lifted by his five-goal haul in the reserves last week. Peter Thorne will probably be rested and Stuart may look to find room for on-loan Dean Furman in the centre of midfield.

Leeds, who’s slow start to this season is in contrast to their flying one to the last, may also make changes; though it should be noted McAllister is making noises about this tie’s importance. On Saturday they drew 2-2 with Bristol Rovers meaning they have collected only 19 points from a possible 42 at Elland Road in 2008 so far.

The City-Leeds rivalry is a curious one given its apparent one-sidedness, with Leeds supporters I speak to, at least, usually at great pains to point out how indifferent they feel towards us. Indeed we are often accused of being ‘jealous’ – though why we would be envious of a club often dragged down by sections of their support, have a Chairman who is no friend to football fans, were voted the most hated club in the country and who’s financial mismanagement has arguably been worse than ours is beyond me. What Leeds should be proud of is the passion and level of their support and, for all the success of the season ticket initiatives at Valley Parade, we certainly wouldn’t mind a few more bums on seats to rival them.

Whether they care about us or not, it’s likely there will still be a sizeable home support and why not? Derbies are a great feature of football and playing their neighbours is arguably still a more interesting proposition than some of the clubs Leeds face in League One and even the Championship, should they return. It’s a tin-pot competition that means little to anyone but the winners, yet tonight’s game is of far more interest to both clubs than if City were travelling to Hartlepool and Leeds were at home to Lincoln.

For us City fans it’s a chance to avenge the previous meeting and gain our first victory over Leeds for 22 years. It might not matter as much to them, but a few thousand City fans will be situated in the South Stand, hopefully chanting non-stop. A victory would be talked about for years and may just irritate those Leeds fans, who would have to put up with our gloating, enough to look forward to the next derby with more relish.

Tonight may be a short lived sub-plot and, in our heads, we’d swap victory for three points on Saturday; but it’s still one for us City fans to relish and create a white-hot atmosphere to spur on our players in their efforts to take bragging rights.

Let’s-make-some-noise…

Fourteen days of difference between Bradford City and Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town line up for a League Cup second round game against Sheffield United looking at a break from the league to give them the same kind of boost they had when they beat Bradford City 4-0 two weeks ago.

In the two matches after that, Town have recorded a single point and go into the game against the Championship side on the back of a 3-1 home defeat to MK Dons after which Stan Ternant admitted he had “picked the wrong team“. This, coupled with the single point on the opening day leaves Town – retroactively many people’s favourites for promotion – struggling with two points.

Meanwhile, back at Valley Parade, not a goal has passed Rhys Evans since the fourth strike from Huddersfield and two Bantam goals in each game have put City in a commanding position in League Two’s embryonic table.

All of which contrasts sharply with the mood and the nerves after the Town defeat. The thought now that City might not have enough in the locker for a promotion campaign – “Its not nice watching your team getting beat, but i am sure you will get plenty of practice this season (sic)” as one Town fan who commented to BfB said – has been put to bed by Saturday’s impressive win over Rochdale.

Much is talked about Stuart McCall’s abilities as a manager but this is – on the whole – in the context of his recruitment abilities and the results his teams get which to date have been mixed but the first gold star in the golden haired manager’s portfolio comes from his minimise-and-move-on that followed the thrashing at Legoland. “It happened”, McCall’s manner said after, “Get over it.”

So City’s midweek is taken up watching Barry Conlon put five past Grimsby’s kids and casting an eye over the newboy from Brazil Italo Maciel while Town line up against McCall’s former side looking for a victory but knowing that the league form must take precedence. A slow start can be navigated around – City won promotion after two points in seven games in 1998/99 – but the League Cup is an unwelcome distraction from getting the campaign on track.

The gulf that separated the teams fifteen days ago could – at the weekend should Millwall and Hereford win and Aldershot Town lose – be reduced to a single space spanning from the bottom of one division to the top of another.

Now who would have thought that fourteen days ago?

Why a positive start on the field needs to be reflected better in the stands

Aside from the Huddersfield Carling Cup debacle, it’s been a very encouraging start to the season for Bradford City. Maximum points collected and only one goal conceded in the league leaves the Bantams among the early pace setters. There’s still a long, long way to go and no one, not least manager Stuart McCall, will be getting carried away; nevertheless a good start is better than a slow one and already high standards have been set for the team to maintain over the coming months.

For us supporters, it’s clear the squad Stuart has assembled for this campaign is stronger than the last. Injuries and suspensions have yet to significantly affect plans, but there is confidence with what is in reserve to cover such occurrences.  The test of how the team reacts to a set back has been met once and is probably the only positive to take from the Huddersfield thrashing. It’s a long season, but confidence this can be our year looks justified so far.

Most City fans seem to be positive about our chances, but the feeling of excitement at the prospect of a memorable season isn’t fully there yet. Perhaps stuck in familiar behaviour patterns or too eager to fear the worse, there’s still a degree of negativity around Valley Parade.

Despite some promising team performances so far this season there remains doubts about certain players, not over some of the new faces who are still unfamiliar, but two of those who have never won over the Valley Parade faithful. One of them is Jamaican winger Omar Daley, who seems to remain a figure of hate for some fans. Daley has made a very encouraging start to the season and been a real threat in the games so far. When on the ball running at defenders there aren’t many more exciting sights, but all too quickly the boos will come his way when things go wrong.

With open-mouthed wonderment, I watched fans around me scream abuse at Daley on the opening day of the season against Notts County. City were 2-1 up but hanging on against some strong County pressure with the game in it’s closing stages. In some people’s eyes, the team’s struggle was all Daley’s fault and he suffered some fearsome abuse about not tackling, not passing, passing when he should have run and crossing when he shouldn’t have. A normally mild-mannered man who sits near me was on his feet screaming so much his face turned a shade of purple. It seemed totally unjustified given Daley was defending reasonably well and had put in a decent, hard working performance.

Towards the end of last week Daley was interviewed in the T&A, which gave his detractors another opportunity to abuse him. Daley was quoted saying, “Defending is not a problem for me but you don’t expect me to make a 60-yard run to attack and then make a 30-yard run to defend. I think I’m doing much better in defence than last season and I’m trying to concentrate and hopefully bring an end product to my game.” Underneath the story came angry comments from fans, ignoring the beginning and end to the quote, stating is was a disgrace Omar said he should be above making a 30-yard run back to defend.

To me at least, what City’s number 7 said made perfect sense. He is in the team to attack and set up chances, he will defend when he needs to but he’s playing in front of a full back who’s primary job it is to defend. Why is Paul Arnsion not expected to race forward 60 yards and dribble past three defenders in the process? Should Daley charge back in the manner people expect and City win possession, he will not be in a position up the field to be fed the ball and then charge forward on the break in the manner he has so far this campaign.

Such attacks reveal just how unrealistic the expectations are of Daley. He is expected to charge at defenders and never lose possession (meanwhile City’s full backs are expected to always win the ball when opposition wingers run at them). He should always play a good pass, but never backwards. He should race to the byeline and whip in a delicious cross, then charge back to the other corner flag and prevent a goal. I wish Omar could do all those things and more, but I know we’d be saying goodbye to him pretty soon as such an ability level is far greater than League Two.

I must admit to being seething with anger when I hear the abuse Omar is subjected to by fans. He’s made a great start to the season and the challenge is for him to keep it up until May. He’ll have bad games and hopefully have better ones than he’s enjoyed so far, but when on form he’s an asset to this club and doesn’t deserve the abuse he’s receiving.

He has his faults; aside from the obvious his decision making needs to be better in the final third of the pitch, his brain needs to somehow keep up with his legs better,  his temperament can be questionable and he needs to be tougher mentally when things go against him. But this can be improved on and as Stuart selects Joe Colbeck on the other wing – a player vastly improved over the last 12 months – he can be confident that by continuing to develop Daley he can produce a more effective team player.

It seems a section of City’s support has already judged Daley from his poor second-half of last season form and have no time for him now. Looking through the City squad, Daley would rank at the top end of players who let their emotions get the better of him, so barracking him when he struggles is the worst thing we can do. No one should be blinded to his short-comings and three good performances don’t make him a star, but if we supporters can get behind him better he could enjoy a great future with this club.

Rivaling Daley in the abuse stakes is Barry Conlon. At Macclesfield a week last Saturday, some fans chose to boo him as he warmed up on the touchline nearby. When a chant of “Barry, Barry” was started up by some fans, other people became very angry towards them. There are reports that Conlon was booed in some parts of the ground when coming on as sub against Rochdale, while the various City-related message boards wouldn’t make pleasant reading for his family.

Is such abuse justified? The recent criticism has stemmed from Conlon’s poor performance against Huddersfield, yet he was in good company that night among those wearing Claret and Amber. If Omar Daley is criticised for having ability but not showing enough effort, it seems Conlon is criticised for opposite reasons. His detractors argue that all he does is try, but when on form there is so much more to his game. Thinking back to last season some of his best games – Morecambe, Bury and Darlington – all came away from Valley Parade. The majority of City fans have arguably not seen him at his best, with his lack of consistency his biggest failing. He certainly isn’t the most composed in front of goal, but on form he is an excellent target man at this level.

One supporter added to a message board a countdown of how many days Conlon’s contract had left to run, as though life couldn’t possibly be filled with happiness until the day comes to wave him off. It’s quite possible Conlon will be looking for new employment come January and it will probably be justified, but it’s not a forgone conlclusion. Unless Willy Topp or Rory Boulding prove themselves as back up strikers, and/or another forward is signed, it’s likely Conlon will find a six month contract extension in his Christmas stocking.

Such a scenario will no doubt agast some. It’s obvious Conlon has shortcomings and in an ideal world a better replacement will be brought in, but if Conlon can prove himself an adequete back up to Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding over the next few months Stuart may be foolish to cut ties. The five-goal haul in the reserves this week will no doubt help his confidence, but it’s the reception he gets from supporters everytime he plays in the first team which will really matter.

I’m not Conlon’s biggest fan, but I can at least see qualities he brings beyond mere effort. Booing him isn’t going to help him display them more frequently and while he is likely to leave sooner rather than later, why can’t we get off his back in the meantime?

City are no different to clubs up and down the land in that there is always some negativity amongst supporters; but the danger, as we’ve seen in the recent past, is it can undermine the players efforts on the field and hold the club back. No one is asking for blind support and to get behind the players no matter what, but there is a big difference between fair-minded criticism and over the top abuse and to much of the latter is heading in the direction of Daley and Conlon and it’s highly questionable what good it is doing.

Given the lack of success over the past decade, it’s inevitable that most City fans think of the 1998/99 promotion team when they think of the last good City team. Certainly that season players were not exempt from abuse and some, such as our current assistant manager, needed to be tough mentally to block it out. What should also be taken from that team was how well organised it was, with everyone knowing their own role and ensuring they do it. The need for strength and depth was also obvious and while Gordon Watson’s contribution to the promotion was less than Lee Mills and Robbie Blake his goals were no less significant when they came.

Omar Daley is currently in the team and doing his own role, which includes tracking back and helping the defence when needed, very well so far. Conlon was always going to be a back up striker this season and we hope he can make an impact coming off the bench and when starting when others are injured. Just like the rest of the squad, they deserve to receive more support from the stands.

The objectives this season of both players will be similar to us supporters and if we all channel our efforts in the same direction we can all achieve something very special this season.

Living up to the hype…

City’s highly impressive start to the league season continued as they maintained their 100% record to cast aside last season’s playoff finalists Rochdale.

This was the sort of clinical win that really gives us justified hope that City are real contenders this season.

Rochdale proved to be very sticky opponents. In fact they dominated much of the play in terms of possession and threatening attacks. But they critically lacked the killer instinct in front of goal, with £60,000 ex Halifax striker Jon Shaw really disappointing, and justifying Stuart’s unwillingness to part with any funds to secure his signature.

A quick glance at the statistics from the game shows that Rochdale had plenty of shots at goal, but failed to get even one of them on target.

Omar Daley had a good early chance as he took possession of the ball with plenty of space on the left hand side of the penalty area, cut inside to the centre, skipped past a defensive challenge, but blasted straight at Dale keeper Russell. But if truth be told, Rochdale had much the better of the early exchanges.

Their build up play was excellent attacking the Kop , and forced City into one or two hairy moments the back. Too often did Arnison allow crosses to come in from the left hand side and threateningly cross across goal. But Dale failed to deliver the goal that their possession and build up play probably deserved.

City edged in front on 20 when Daley released Peter Thorne on the right hand side of the box. The veteran striker then whipped in a perfectly executed pinpoint cross right onto the head of Micheal Boulding, who headed firmly down to celebrate his first Bradford goal.

Unperturbed by conceding, Rochdale continued to press for the following 15 minutes, but again lacked cutting edge. And they were stunned when Paul McClaren whipped in a brilliant free kick from the left that was nodded in perfectly at the back post by an unmarked Peter Thorne who doubled City’s advantage with a header from close range. The irrepressible Thorne has had a stunning start to the season and is already establishing himself as a legend among the City faithful.

There was still much work to do in the second half, and City did it extremely well defensively. Clarke and Lee grew in stature in the second half, and both Heckingbottom and Arnison carrying out their defensive duties admirably. Heckingbottom in particular had an excellent game – and nearly scored a collectors item goal with a brilliant run in the first half!

Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley didn’t have their most productive games offensively, but in the second half, both showed a desire and willingness to track back defensively to help out their full backs. Their effort did not go unnoticed.

Lee Bullock didn’t really get involved enough for my liking – he had very much an “Eddie Johnson type” game. McClaren seemed to stroll through the game in a pedestrian like fashion without really impressing (apart from the excellent free kick) before going off with a knock.

In a rare second half counter attack, Micheal Boulding raced clear with intent. With Conlon lurking at the back post, Boulding ignored the big Irishman and struck a brilliant low left foot shot that beat the keeper, hit the inside of the post, and rolled across the goal line out for a goal kick. Desperately unlucky was the impressive Boulding , who was always willing to run beyond the defensive back four and produced numerous excellent flicks for Thorne to feed on. Their newly formed striking partnership is looking extremely promising.

With time ticking on , McCall basically extinguished any chance of City scoring again by leaving Barry Conlon on his own up front. TJ Moncur came on as part of a five man midfield that was the kill the game off as a contest. Not even the player that outdid City twice last season – Adam Le Fondre, could change the course of the game. He was unlucky late on with a strike that bounced off the cross bar.

But in truth, on reflection over the 90 minutes, City were comfortable and had quite convincingly cast aside the much fancied Rochdale.

They say the makings of a successful team is how they react to defeat. That hellish rainy night at Legoland has not impacted our team and what we are setting out to do in the league. We have followed up that crushing defeat with 2 wins, 4 goals and 2 clean sheets. And even in the game against Huddersfield, we more than held our own for 60 minutes.

The way the team have battled back at Macclesfield, and now against a very good Rochdale team proves that we really are worthy of the League Two hype this year. We have been excellent in every department, and if we can keep that up consistently this season, there is no doubt we will end up as Champions. Inside of sulking about losing to our local rivals we have put on two excellent displays.

Can we keep it up? I think so. City are the real deal this time round and, given the evidence of our nearly fully fit team so far, you would be foolish to bet on them finishing outside the top three.

The important and exciting thing this season is that every position seems to be covered squad wise so that even if injuries become a factor, we have good players who can step in. If Thorne or Boulding are injured, Topp, Boulding (R) or Conlon (or maybe not?!) can step up. If Omar Daley is showing inconsistent form, Joe Colbeck can step in on the right. If Lee Bullock is out injured again, the hungry Luke Sharry wlll want to grab a first team opportunity with both hands. If Matt Clarke’s decision making is called into question at the back, Mark Bower will slot in bringing his experience at the club to the forefront.

These are the type of advantages and options that we have not had since 1999.

This is our season.

It has to be.

Bragging rights and how to claim them

…and then the kick off and things started well for the Bantams with a fluidity of play that was inherited in possession from Saturday seeing the midfield pair of Lee Bullock and Paul MaLaren compete and then get the better of the centre of the park giving City ball.

The strike pair of Boulding and Conlon offered the midfield few outlets with Boulding too little a target and Conlon dropping off to take the ball into feet too close to the Town middle.

When it worked for City the pair linked with the big man finding the tricky feet of the little one and the nearest either side came to a break through came when Boulding got into the box and fired a rebound into the side netting. It did not work well very often.

That the League One team were restricted was in a large part down to Graeme Lee who for fifty odd minutes was the best player on the field by some distance. Fifty minutes in and Lee had is post concession hands on knees when a cross from the left had been tucked home by Jon Worthington.

Worthington headed home running between Lee and Matthew Clarke after Paul Arnison had been double teamed without Omar Daley’s help at the back. Daley had his other sort of game tonight following Saturday’s excellence and Joe Colbeck returns at the weekend.

City’s reaction to going a goal down was poor. Huddersfield’s realisation that getting tighter to the two midfielders would reduce up to hopeful balls to a struggling Conlon and an ineffective Boulding blunted City and from then on every time the Bantams gave the ball away there was danger.

One doubts Huddersfield will be as clinical and cutting as they were again all season but the magnitude of the scoreline had more to do with them enjoying the sort of game where players like Robbie Williams who have been blasting free kicks wildly for 12 months bend them top corner but when a team gives the ball away as often as City did they are asking to be punished and so it happened.

Composure was lacking and heads went down. The parity of performance, let alone score, of half time was hard to recall.

Peter Thorne came on but he finishes moves made by others and by that time such inventiveness was lost leaving Stuart McCall wondering where it all went wrong and more importantly how to put it all right again.

Football is a game of simple things the most basic of which is the need to keep the ball.

So bragging rights to Huddersfield fans or rather some of them. No, not the missing 7,500 who stayed at home but those who were replied to the customary chant from Bradford to our neighbours of “Have you seen the Premier League?” with the grotesque “Bradford bastards burning down.”

Sing it, don’t stop the guy next to you singing it. Don’t jeer the people who do sing it. If you fall into any of those camps you’ve got no right to claim any brag to anyone.

Huddersfield Town vs Bradford City – League Cup First Round 2008/2009 preview

Having won on the first day of the season Bradford City go into the first local derby in sixteen months with tails high and a wound to heal.

The last visit to City’s least favourite rivals at the end of the 2006/2007 was one of the low lights not only of that season but of the fall from the Premiership which we hope to have now turned around as Huddersfield recorded a simple 2-0 win against a lifeless City side under David Wetherall’s management.

A season and a bit later and investment and management sees City looking upwards for the first time and Stuart McCall getting an early chance to measure himself against a team from a higher division,

McCall faces a Huddersfield side managed by a former assistant boss from Valley Parade whom he played under – Stan Ternant – who thanked goalkeeper Matt Glennon for a last minute save that stopped the lead they had taken through Andy Booth from being turned around to defeat in the 1-1 draw with Stockport at the weekend.

As with McCall’s City Ternant has stacked experience in his side with the likes of David Unsworth, Chris Lucketti and Luke Beckett – almost a Bantam joining Booth and Danny Cadamarteri who was a Bantam and a really wretched one at that. Added to that are a selection of youngsters who have come through Town’s set up and one could expect that as a higher league team they may be tempted to give some squad players a run out.

Former Town boss Bill Shankley said that were Everton playing in the back garden he would close the curtains but knew that winning the Merseyside derby gave his Liverpool team important bragging rights and such factors may change the teams put out.

McCall is expected to give the majority of the side that started at the weekend in the win over Notts County but may be tempted to give Michael Boulding a first start over Peter Thorne who suffered cramp after his two goal haul. Either that or Willy Topp will be given a chance to emulate his hero Edinho – well, my hero – and score at Town’s ground. Barry Conlon is likely to retain his place.

Chris Brandon is missing for a return to the club he has just left and Joe Colbeck misses the final game of his suspension leaving Omar Daley free try continue his impressive start. Kyle Nix on the left with Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock in the middle although McLaren’s tender ankle may give Luke Sharry a start.

Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke make up three of the back four the other is right back Paul Arnison who splits opinion for reasons that pass my understanding. Playing behind Omar Daley is a hard enough job for any full back with the winger far too often allowing a man to go past and double up on the full back. Not only did Arnison’s direction keep Daley closer than any full back has previously managed but he got forward and supported Daley to boot.

Add to that his assist on the first goal and one wonders just what a full back has to do at Valley Parade be considered to have performed. Stephen Wright, Gunnar Halle, Gus Ulhenbeek, Darren Holloway and Darren Williams have all been been pillared at points yet Simon Francis and Nathan Doyle were loved. Similarly Heckingbottom is criticised for things that Andrew Taylor and Luke O’Brien are not. It would seem that the forgiveble players – loanees and young lads – play as full backs do and are excused and full time seniors are never forgiven should a single winger go past them.

Rhys Evans keeps goal and Stuart McCall bites his nails on the touchline. This is a chance for the Bantams to notch a scalp on what we are hoping is the way back, to win bragging rights and to build the morale that can keep the league performance ticking over.

One down…

It sits with a deceptive confidence this crown of would be kings on the head for Bradford City. It shifts with unease for all.

City’s 2-1 win over Notts County could be the template for the season. The Bantams were worthy winners but by a yard and not a mile and at times nerves were evident in the stands and the players fell out of a rhythm they had used to control much of the game.

When in control too City looked ebullient and passed the ball around from player to player with a calm ease personified by new number four Paul McLaren who had the touch to take a second more on the ball than many other on the field and looked unhurried as he and Lee Bullock won the midfield battle for their first afternoon as a league partnership.

Last season we talked much about Stuart McCall’s attempts to find someone to play in the position and the style he still casts a long shadow over and in McLaren he has someone who can set the pace for the team and create the passing flow that the manager did ten and twenty years ago.

Yet McLaren and Bullock’s control in the game faded and City were left with a scoreline and an afternoon that was closer than the build up to the game would have suggested. On the walk to Valley Parade the atmosphere suggested that City would only need to turn up to win. This is never the case.

Every win has to be earned and this one was. The Bantams put pressure on once the game had settled into a patten and when Lee Bullock was freed past the defence by some excellent work on the right and unceremoniously bundled to the floor it was clear that City possessed the abilities that pre-season suggested and that the quality of Refereeing was not going to have increased in line with City.

As the FA start their “Respect (The Ref)” campaign they send to Valley Parade Mr Darren Drysdale of the five game ban for Dean Windass two seasons ago when the City striker shouted at him in the car park highlighting the problems of the campaign that tries to have respect given in reply to unreachableness, highhandedness and arrogance that marked today’s display and Drysdale’s interaction with Bradford City.

City’s pressure told when Paul Arnison – who enjoyed a great debut coming forward to support Omar Daley superbly – whipped a cross in for Peter Thorne to head in while running onto from inside the box leaving keeper Kevin Pilkinton flat footed and continuing his policy of filling his boots against the club he got a hat-trick against last time they were at Valley Parade.

However for all City’s slick passing County were not snuffed out with Delroy Facey – a late signing who had interested City – troublesome and Jamie Forester looking able. Quick reactions from Rhys Evans saw him sprinting off his line and clearing a ball out at the corner of the box. Evans spends most of his time as a goalkeeper shouting at his defenders and in that way he will do for me.

Also doing for me is Omar Daley who put in one of his best performances in a City shirt. He tried – and for all but a four minute sulking spell when someone had tugged his shorts succeeded in – integrating himself in the side McCall had built tracking back to match the pace of lively winger Myles Weston and unplayable when going forward.

In the first half his mazy dribbles had end points with short passes or – ten minutes from the whistle – cutting onto his left on the edge of the box and lashed a low drive which Pilkington pushed wide. Barry Conlon put the scramble from the resultant corner into the side netting and City could have had two before the break.

After the break Conlon was in his own box playing away the danger of a visiting corner to Omar Daley some thirty five yards from his own goal. Daley went forward with his ranging stride used directly to take him past player and player. A defender lashed out a tackle that Daley skipped and Peter Thorne begged for a pass when the two City players faced only one defender whom Daley took the ball around leaving him one on one and a second later flat on his back when his shot had been saved by Pilkington’s foot from point blank range.

At that point I noticed I had not taken a breath since Conlon played the ball. Exhale and watch Daley rise to his feet and I do too. To applaud. Breathless football. Brilliant football.

The corner that comes from Daley’s short is cleared by Adam Nowland high, high and bizarrely backwards to Peter Thorne in the six yard box who executes an overhead kick into the far corner of Pilkington’s goal leaving red faces for the Magpies and defender Michael Johnson screaming for the offside that would have been the case had the return not been a piece of Steve Hodge style silliness.

All of which seemed to wake up the visitors – losing is one thing but beating yourself another – and gave them the zest to attack City’s flanks having had no joy going through McLaren and Bullock and while Kyle Nix had a quieter second half than his tricksy first he and Paul Heckingbottom stood strong. The right flank was unlocked though when Arnison left too much of a gap between him and Daley and Weston beat him delivering a pass to Richard Butcher in the box who finished well.

From then an even contest. City brought on the pace of TJ Moncur for Arnison to plug the right hand side and with ten minutes to go took Conlon off – Barry’s name was sung and he was applauded by all – and brought Michael Boulding on for his debut. Boulding got free. He took the ball into the box and lashed it across goal in a way that suggested talent and hinted at tunnel vision.

The contest though was won by the solid abilities of Matthew Clarke and the ultra-impressive Graeme Lee. Clarke’s play was reminiscent of Stuart McCall’s team mate Darren Moore who City had tried to sign in the summer instead opting for the new skipper Lee who commanded the box, cleared everything out, tackled superbly and kept the back four in line. Of all the new signings it is Lee who most impressive and he who could be the foundation of a promotion bid.

It sits with a deceptive confidence this crown of would be kings on the head for Bradford City but there – for the first time is some time – is where it sits.

What if it all goes right? Pre-season 2008/2009 [I]

Take an average of the odds you can get on Bradford City being in League Two and the Bantams are 2/1 to go up. To put that in context the bookies think that City are more likely to go up than Manchester United are to win the Premiership.

We are dealing with that level of expectation. We have that level of assured thinking around City as Stuart McCall – in second full year as the manager at Valley Parade – awaits the results of a summer rebuilding which has seen new, impressive signings come in and talk of double promotions heard.

The signing of Michael Boulding seemed to top off the rebuilding. His rejection of League One Cheltenham to come to Valley Parade was probably as geographical as it was ambition based for the player but for the club it showed the intention. To get a group of players of League One standard and trust in gravity to take us up.

Boulding is expected to partner Peter Thorne in City’s first string eleven. Thorne’s 14 goals in 31(+2) games did much to raise both City’s league finish last year and the expectations for this and the thoughtful forward seems a good foil for the speedy, tricky Boulding.

In back up Barry Conlon is able and willing and Willy Topp is promising much after flashes of skillful and smart play. If everything goes to plan then the main two strikers will be kept fresh by the others – Rory Boulding and Omar Daley also qualify – and will be notching 20+ plus each.

Much of this depends on the midfield and Paul McLaren especially who is tagged as some as the signing of the season in this league and it is started to be taken as read that he will end the year with the most assists – Thorne’s head or sharp one touch finishes and Michael Boulding’s runs being his prime routes – and be the force that takes City to promotion.

In an ideal world McLaren is what we dare to dream he is. A player with the foot in defensive abilities of Stuart McCall who passes like Peter Beagrie but no one is that good even when scaled down to League Two levels.

McLaren’s partner in the midfield will be found from Lee Bullock, Kyle Nix, and Luke Sharry and should things be going to plan the three of them will battle it out until one emerges as a perfect partner. Bullock is likely to be the first starter but both the youngsters are showing well.

Bullock was highly thought of at Hartlepool for his attacking abilities while at Bradford – well, at BfB – Nix is a favourite for his skillful and energetic displays. Sharry – young that he is – roared into pre-season and looks set for a place in the squad. He has power and a calm head.

Youngster showing well was a description of Joe Colbeck until he became player of the season and the great hope of Valley Parade. If everything goes right Colbeck will pick up where he left off at the end of last season and start giving the drive that he did at the start of 2008. He has what every young player needs – quality around him – and can find more outlets for his passing and better players to work close interplay with.

Chris Brandon is expected to be the first choice for the left wing. Huddersfield Town supporters called him a nearly man – “nearly scored with that shot, nearly did something great” – and perhaps the extra push he would need to be the exact man will come from his passion for the club. He is a City fan playing – at last – for his club.

Not playing for his club would seem to be Mark Bower who looks like he may lose out to Matthew Clarke in the contest to play alongside new skipper Graeme Lee. If we are getting promoted the two from three will develop a partnership. League Two is a division of big forwards and in Clarke and Lee we have two superb players in the air. Bower is better in possession and marks well. Clarke his a mountain of power and Lee is collected while strong.

Pauls Heckingbottom and Arnison have a remit to get down the flanks. In a great season these two will be passing their wingers often and notching assists.

Also, in a great season Rhys Evans – a late signing to the cause – will have little to do.

Finally the manager Stuart McCall use the tools of his squad to maintain constiency of the majority of the eleven while dropping in approriate changes where needed. Certainly more than any City manager since Paul Jewell his squad is their to be picked rather than having the eleven players pick themselves.

Who will be the happier?

Owen Coyle and Stuart McCall paths crossed as players during their days North of the border but the Irish player born in Scotland and the Scot born in Yorkshire never ended up on the same side and so as they faced each other as managers it is no surprise that one ended up happier than the other.

However – considering the result – one would be very surprised if it was Coyle who was more pleased as McCall watched his Bradford City team that is surely too good for League Two more than match a Championship side who have spent big in the Summer.

Spent big on Martin Patterson – £1.3m from Scunthorpe – who along with Robbie Blake were head and shoulders the best thing about the Burnley side which struggled to keep up with City in the opening exchanges.

The Bantams were approaching race trim. Rhys Evans is still a question mark in goal – his ability with crosses is the question and both visitor goals on the hour and in the last minute came when crosses got into the box and were not cut out – but the back four of Paul Arnison, an outstanding Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Paul Heckingbottom coped well with the troublesome two up front for the men from over the hills. Willy Topp – playing a full ninety minutes – and Omar Daley troubled the full backs and the middle pairing of Paul McLaren and young Luke Sharry – not looking out of place – started brightly.

However – and shamefully – rather than competing with City in the spirit of warming up for league games – Burnley resorted to physical play with Remco van der Schaaf putting in the type of tackles that would get cards in games and resulted in him being compulsorily substituted after thirty-five minutes.

Referees are told to take pre-season games as if they were full matches so where Mr G. Laws got this rule from is anyone’s guess but the validity of the game from that point on was highly dubious. In a league game Burnley would not have been able to use soft reffing to stop City’s playmaker with fouls and one doubts anyone can be proud of the Clarets for that sort of play or for the persistent handballs in the second half that killed off chances which would have gone punished in the season proper.

So City scored before half time through Barry Conlon after he coolly chipped in when capitalising on a mistake and did enough to suggest that we were far closer to the Championship level than we last season – or that Burnley are closer to League Two – and the result mattered even less than usual with the favours that were given to the team from the league higher.

McCall has Chris Brandon, Lee Bullock, Joe Colbeck and Michael Boulding to come back into this side and in McLaren he has a player so good that he has literally put his shirt on him. Ten days until the start of the season for both these clubs and McCall will be happier of the two managers.

Burnley might have had the win thanks to the favours but they were matched by the Bantams and if it turns out that both sides are League One quality then 2009/2010 could very well see this fixture played in that division.

Bump

City’s 4-0 defeat to Motherwell brought us all down to Earth. The signings and a win over Bradford Park Avenue seemed to have got City fans thinking that League Two was in the bag. A trip to a UEFA cup team saw to that and over the weekend Shrewsbury over took us at the favourites to win the league.

I liked that rush when Michael Boulding signed and I still feel it now. I’ve looked at the eleven and the sixteen that City can put out next season and the bumps of ability around the squad are impressive.

Take the midfield situation and the players like McLaren and Brandon are in and the likes of Phelan and Eddie Johnson making do are out. Tom Penford was snapped up by non-league clubs wanting to punch above their weight when he left us but we have snapped up players for League Two clubs looking to punch above.

Players like Graeme Lee who would be the most impressive name on someone else’s team are now in our team and we have a collection of these guys. You would have looked and worried cause some visitor had former Premiership players like Boulding or multi-million guys like Peter Thorne. We have a fist full of these guys. We have the best team in League Two next season.

But having the best team and playing the best football are two different things and on Wednesday night we get to see how these Bantams play against Burnley.

Rhys Evans seems to be Stuart’s first call as keeper but I’m not convinced. This is the weakness in the side as every other position fills up.

Paul Arnison at right back with Milton Turner as back up if the Guisley man can be signed. Paul Heckingbottom at left back. Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke in the middle which is strange cause I would never have thought Mark Bower should be dropped. Clarke is just too impressive and the sort of big man we need.

Joe Colbeck is sitting out the first two games but Omar Daley can and will fill in. Paul McLaren seems a shoe-in for the starting line up with Lee Bullock or Kyle Nix alongside him. I’ve not been impressed with Bullock much but McCall is and those two could be his starting midfield. Nix might be needed on the left with Chris Brandon injured.

Michael Boulding is injured too but Peter Thorne and Willy Topp will be up top on day one and if not then Barry Conlon is scoring freely in pre-season.

The way the names trip off the tongue. The way they fill the starting eleven with quality like Bower, Nix or Topp to spare. That is the indication of the quality Stuart has.

Someone once told me (It was me – Ed.) that to get promoted you get a bunch of players together who are too good for the league you are in and let gravity take you up. Gravity bounced City off the floor of football. Time for the bump back to begin.

Brilliant McCall bounces City into the season to savour

Michael Boulding has signed for City. Graeme Lee has signed for City. Paul McLaren has signed for City. Chris Brandon has signed for City. Paul Arnison has signed for City.

If the Bantams had signed two of these five players then people would have been talking about us as promotion contenders. If we had signed three of them people would be saying we were making moves but we have brought in over the summer five players of massive quality.

Five players who can play in the league above. Five players who most teams in the bottom two divisions would want in their sides.

You can argue about Arnison but he played in the play offs for the Championship last season. Boulding went out of the league but still was wanted by League One where McLaren was the top dog for assists. Lee has turned heads with his signing although Moore would have been more impressive and Brandon started the ball rolling.

Add these to Joe Colbeck ripping teams apart, to Lee Bullock who is league one quality, to Billy Topp and suddenly City have a team that can and I think will murder the rest of this league.

What Stuart has this season that he didn’t have last one is options. He can use Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding but who can say that Barry and Billy would get less goals? He can put Omar Daley down the left or he can use Kyle Nix or Chris Brandon to be tighter. In those last ten minutes that make the difference between teams that go up and those who don’t options to exploit the weaknesses of the opposition win you games.

The squad City have is packed with players who would have been the most impressive guy on most team sheets. Guys like Boulding and Lee who would have raised eyebrows separately are together in a kind of League Two all-stars picking the best of what was on offer.

And making a season to savour.

How much would you pay to make the difference?

City have got Abel Thermeus on trial and will take the French/Haitian striker back to Fir Park where they called him The Flask and have a Bebo group about his “shiteness”.

Michael Boulding is going to join Cheltenham as long as they take his brother – the Chelt manager is getting it in the neck for agreeing to that – and I for one am glad that Stuart McCall is not taking City into the kind of bizarre deal that used to blight Melchester Rovers. “He will sign for us Roy but we have to sign his brother…”, “No Blackie, we could offer that chance to one of our youngsters who has earned it!”

Hard to argue with Racey and hard too look the parents of all the kids who you have promised a route to the first team if they sign for City when you give away squad shirts to someone’s brother. What do you say when Michael tells you that he things Thorney is feeling it in the legs and perhaps a younger player?

Nevertheless Stuart McCall has confirmed that City are no longer interested in Boulding and the talks for Luke Beckett are still “on hold” and seemingly declared dead as the Bantams put in an enquiry for Leeds United’s Anthony Elding.

Elding – a player tracked before – is a pint sized goal machine putting in a strike every other game when he is on form and Crewe are believed to have bid £150,000 for him which the player rather than the club knocked back. He scores goals at this level and were he available for the free transfers that has brought Paul McLaren or Graeme Lee to Valley Parade he would be a great recruitment.

But £150,000? That would be City’s biggest signing not since Andrew Todd (who – memory serves – cost £110,000 although I could be wrong on this and the next fact) but since £1.7m was paid for Stan Collymore. It is serious cash for a club at this level.

Nevertheless McCall’s summer has been about bringing in a striker – Beckett was the first transfer move – and his missed targets are all front men. Peter Thorne can get goals for sure but is has been clear from day one that he does not believe that Willy Topp and Barry Conlon would be able to mount a promotion challenge without an additional twenty goal a season man.

He has looked for proven goalscorers and gone to the lengths of the Boulding nonsense and the breadth of offering money for Beckett to get his man. McLaren’s wages and Lee’s signing on fee. Brandon’s recruitment and Arnison’s arrival. These things are for nothing if the ball does not go into the net at the right end at lot next year and Stuart wants someone proven to do that.

The £150,000 for one player is a chunk at this level but spread over the recruitment of the summer making all those signings worthwhile it could be a the snip of this or many seasons.

What we learn from pre-season

It was once said of a group of young footballers who went on to big things that “you won’t win anything with kids” and perhaps as Stuart McCall prepares his team for the start of what is expected to be a promotion season this motto has been taken to heart with the City boss arriving at Farsley Celtic with a collection of major signings who were all aged around thirty. McCall is not going to stand accused of trying to make youngsters do men’s jobs.

However if they warn that inexperience will not beget results then lifelessness is an even bigger ailment and it was that which was Bradford City’s undoing tonight.

We should remember that one should not read too much into pre-season – City ended with game with David Wetherall, Wayne Jacobs and Physio Adam Cook on the field – but the approach to a game at Farsley Celtic could be a telling factor. Paul McLaren arrived at Valley Parade to gasps and delight but he and Lee Bullock at the heart of the Bantams first half midfield put in little application. Throstle’s Nest is not a million miles from Christie Park or many other League Two grounds and every game in claret and amber is important.

That the Bantams trailed 3-0 at half time was an indication as to how little McLaren and Bullock had got stuck in and the turnaround in the second half was entirely down to the hustle brought to the game by Kyle Nix and the impressive Luke Sharry. If one was to read anything into pre-season games then it would be that Craig Bentham and Tom Penford might be at Celtic because of the abilities of Sharry who is very much one to watch.

Certainly if City are to get anywhere they are going to need more application in winning the ball than McLaren or Bullock showed and one worries that that pairing could be another Steven Schmacher and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson.

Also a problem – in the first half at least – was defensive struggling by young pair Adrian Bellamy and Luke O’Brien who were at fault for a goal each as they dallied on the ball rather that putting the David Wetherall boot through it.

The other goal came from one of those offside decisions which drive you nuts. Paul Arnison had half a good debut having to do much to cover Bellamy next to him and Kory Nix – brother of Kyle – in front both missing. Kory Nix started well tucking in and taking the ball but after a half hour went missing up front although this came after a distressingly high kick to his chest from a defender that shook the new Australian.

Up front Peter Thorne hit the post with a header and Willy Topp looked lively until he was moved to the right wing second half although it was from the right that the cross that saw Barry Conlon fouled to win and score a penalty that got City’s goal came.

Conlon was partnered by Michael Boulding’s brother Rory who played the second half. Shoudl he sign then Michael Boulding, as with Graeme Lee and Chris Brandon, had to slot into this team and one can be sure that at no point did the eleven on the field resemble those who will start the season.

However regardless of the players on the field should anyone in claret and amber turn up without putting effort in then we will not win. It is pre-season and not much can be read into it but that much I know and can guarantee.

“You won’t win anything without effort.”

Back to the tough work as pre-season begins

Bradford City’s players returned to pre-season at the start of one of the more pressured period in the clubs history.

Under the stewardship of the club’s definitive player Stuart McCall the squad are expected to win promotion – and perhaps the odd cup – and the challenge for the same the season after.

A club that has won promotion eight time in 105 years wants to start bursting up the divisions. The feeling is the club play below their weight and the expectation on these players is that they can put an end to this underachievement.

So tasked with this Stuart McCall takes his inspiration from the best Bradford City manager there has been and like Paul Jewell he assembles a squad of senior professionals and exciting younger players.

Most of his recruits in the summer have been over or touching 30. Chris Brandon, Graeme Lee and Paul Arnison are – it is said – to be joined almost certainly Paul McLaren and perhaps also Michael Boulding joining the likes of Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock as senior players already doing laps of Applely Bridge. These are McCall’s McCalls, his Beagries, his Windasses.

Added to them is a small crop of younger players – Kyle Nix, Willy Topp and Joe Colbeck leading them – who look to be the legs and trickery of the experience.

Brandon is expected to take a left flank role opposite Colbeck and with McLaren and Bullock between them feeding the ball forward for two of Thorne, Boulding, Topp, Barry Conlon or Omar Daley. Behind them Arnison, Lee, Bower and Heckingbottom have over 1,075 career games between them. Add McLaren, Bullock, Brandon and Thorne to those and you have eight players with ust under 2,500 league games under their belts.

McCall believes that experience will get the club to achieve. He has staked his reputation on it.

For City fans are fickle from old and forgive little. The word when Stuart signed was the fear and the fear was the McCall would tarnish his position as the club’s hero on his return. Indeed twelve months into his spell in the big chair at Valley Parade criticism of McCall is audible and a recent ad hoc poll of supporters on their favourite player saw the usual winner’s place less firmly held.

Nevertheless McCall answered the call as heroes must do and now attempts his great feat – his Knight’s return – with polar opposites of cementing his place in the pantheon of players who have led on and off the field for the same club or fading away to be a memory of a player who once pounded the streets around Applely Bridge.

McCall’s Signings Start at Huddersfield Now Beckett Agrees Terms

The word is that Luke Beckett has agreed terms with City and is our second capture from those strange lot down the road in two days as Stuart McCall starts making a City team that can go up two divisions.

31 year old Beckett has been on his holidays with a contract in his back pocket that will run a year with another year if either side thinks things have gone well which usually means he is being paid a fair price and shows City’s aims this season. Promotion or rip it up and start again.

Beckett joins Chris Brandon in making the short but glorious trip from Huddersfield and as with Brandon he has been linked with City before with Colin Todd opting to sign Eddie Johnson rather than Beckett two years ago.

Beckett’s role in the team can be summed up as Barry Conlon with goals and we can expect to see him partnering Peter Thorne up front next season with Conlon and Billy Topp fighting for positions. As Conlon showed this year this is a league where scrapping is needed and Topp might have to wait 12 months until League One before he starts to be a regular.

Brandon is a hard working midfielder but he is not Stuart McCall’s new Stuart McCall so he has to be balanced with another box-to-box midfielder like which might be Lee Bullock but Hartlepool fans consider Bullock an attacking midfielder. Brandon could join the midfield on the left flank tucked in to balance out Joe Colbeck as a flying winger on the other side but perhaps Stuart will go with Bullock and Brandon with Kyle Nix on the left and Colbeck on the right.

It seems that as Stuart starts his signings City are getting options and perhaps the gaffer is going to go for four quality forwards, six quality midfielder and let the pieces fall into place rather than fixing his team in his mind in June as he has had to last year because of having too few quality players.

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.

What It All Comes Down To – Wycombe Beat City in the Final Game of the Season

The first thing to say about this game is that it is proof that City should have got out of this league at the first attempt.

Well perhaps not should have but could have. Wycombe Wanderers are in the play offs but they are no one’s idea of a good football team and if they do go through the play offs I wouldn’t expect them to last a season in League One.

If only… is the theme of the day.

If only City had not had had that really poor spell in October. If only Stuart McCall had got to grips with managing earlier. If only Mark Lawn and McCall had been installed before Darlington had signed nine players. If only…

Delroy Facey’s goal in the first five minutes was a big if only. If City are to move on then this venerable naivety needs to be stamped out by McCall. Leon Knight got a second and City were not that the races. A penalty came when Diddy David Brown was thrown to the ground and Luke Medley scored but next season if City don’t want another season of If Onlys then we need to make sure that when we come to places like this that we put up more of a solid defence. Teams that go places don’t concede in the first five minutes.

But this is end of the season and who cares? We have been in preparation for next year for a while now and this was the Bantams more of less on the beach for the summer.

Eddie Johnson already is away somewhere now we have released him. I’m going to miss the idea that Eddie Johnson more than watching him. I always got the feeling watching Eddie that he was at 80% and that he had no idea how to unlock the other 20% and nor did Colin Todd or Stuart McCall. It was probably because he had come through Man United. Had he been Eddie Johnson signed from Farsley he would have been “could be good”.

Next season McCall has to bring in a good quality of player if the likes of Eddie Johnson get turfed out. He needs two new keepers and I liked Scott Loach but I won’t miss him if he goes for good. He flaps at crosses too much and I don’t like loan players. I like Ben Starosta and I hope he can sign for us next year but if he can’t then I don’t see Simon Francis’s name on the team sheet as often at Southend as I should do…

Mark Bower and Matt Clarke at central defense? Ok then. Paul Heckingbottom? Sure. He is good enough if the players around him are good enough and no one ever didn’t go anywhere because of the full backs. Stephen Wright after all.

Joe Colbeck on the right hand side and Lee Bullock in the middle are not a midfield. Stuart needs to pull out some impressive signings here. He needs to find a Peter Beagrie to supply crosses and he needs a Stuart McCall to win the ball and without wanting to put too much stress on the Gaffer that is the most important position on the field. Whoever he get there needs to work out a Hell of a lot better than Paul Evans.

But if McCall can get a McCall and a Beagrie in then the sky is the limit cause City have an attack that no one else in the league can match. Peter Thorne is smart and finishes brilliant, Barry Conlon has the effort, Willy Topp the skills and Omar Daley who is more of a striker than a winger cause strikers should be greedy has the pace to beat anyone in the league. Something to beat any defence in League Two next season.

So it call comes down to if Stuart McCall can find a Stuart McCall…

The Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to lead to ridicule from some, while others will question my sanity; but it’s been bothering me for some time and I think I’ll at least feel better for saying it.

I’ve really enjoyed this season.

There, I’ve admitted it. Chuckles from some, accusations I’m some sort of clap-happy supporter willing to embrace mediocrity from others; but I’ll go even further and say I’ve not enjoyed a season this much since the first Premiership campaign eight years ago.

I know that many people, not least Stuart McCall, continue to refer to this season as ‘disappointing’ and finishing 9th or 10th after such high pre-season promotion expectations isn’t good enough. I accept the team have ultimately failed and that another year in the basement league is a sad state of affairs. I understand all of this, yet I can’t bring myself to feel as miserable about it as others appear to be.

So what have I enjoyed? Well certainly not the numerous disappointing home defeats. The Mansfield debacle can be summed up by the pathetic winning goal conceded, the Bury performance was that of a team over-confident from a six game unbeaten run and watching Rochdale run rings around us for the opening 45 minutes left me embarrassed to celebrate Peter Thorne’s underserved equaliser. Since relegation from the Premiership we’ve seen so many lame home defeats which, while the opposition has consistently changed, have felt remarkably similar.

I’ve not enjoyed it that we couldn’t make a better fist of challenging for promotion. Many have pointed out that Stuart had the fourth biggest wage budget at the start of the season and should have done more with it, but it’s obvious his lack of knowledge of League Two when taking over set us back. Having only six senior professionals on the books to start with meant a lot of strengthening was required, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t be repeated this summer.

Of course the biggest reason City haven’t mounted a meaningful promotion challenge was that woeful eight game winless run in autumn. With the pain of the previous season’s relegation not fully healed, it was particularly depressing to see City struggle so badly. This run of form included the 3-0 Accrington shocker and the memory of Eddie Johnson carelessly giving the ball to a blue shirt to score inside two minutes that evening is still vivid.

For real heartbreak though, the 2-1 defeat at Morecambe a week later takes some beating. We should have won, but the careless efforts of certain players that night cost us with the Morecambe winner coming in injury time. Five defeats in a row, the journey home that night was almost unbearable and is undoubtedly one of the most painful moments of my time supporting Bradford City.

But for all those disappointing moments, the number of brilliant ones has been greater for me. From the moment Stuart walked to the Valley Parade dug out for the first time, on the opening day of the season, to a rapturous reception against Macclesfield, you felt we were in for a special season. It may not have worked out that way but, the huge crowd that day, repeated at the other 22 home games, has been. One day I’ll stop staring at the Kop to my right, when at games, and not be thrilled by how full it looks. If next year’s season ticket offer comes off and it’s even fuller, it’ll be a nice sight to get used to.

The largest crowds in the division haven’t always resulted in a good atmosphere, but there have still been some hairs-on-the-back-of-neck moments. Apart from the Barnet game a few weeks ago, the Tuesday night kick offs have all felt special. The superb atmosphere in the Kop while City surrendered to Accrington should have brought shame on the players, and the atmosphere for the midweek wins over Chester, Shrewsbury and Rotherham was also fantastic. It was great to end the home season against the MK Dons, with plenty of noise emanating from both ends.

And it’s the atmosphere on the road which is ultimately why I’ve enjoyed this season so much, with performances undoubtedly better than at home. It’s been great fun travelling the country to visit the various League Two grounds and the chanting from our fans during the games has often been non-stop, from the moment the players came out to warm up until the final whistle, regardless of the result. If the evidence of visiting supporters to Valley Parade is anything to go by, our fanatical away support must stand out compared to most other League Two clubs.

This has helped produce many special moments, such as the second half at Darlington where City played their promotion-chasing opponents off the park and we celebrated each goal wildly; chanting non-stop through the half time break at Stockport, despite being fully exposed to the strong wind and rain; Scott Loach’s miraculous double block from a penalty against Macclesfield; the comeback at Notts County; Wetherall Day at Rotherham. I’m sure those who were there won’t forget Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu’s 95th minute penalty equaliser at Grimsby, which prompted manic celebrations that spilled onto the pitch and saw Stuart run over to us and appeal for calm. It was one of those moments supporting your team where you completely lose it and temporarily forget where you are.

Quality football might not have been in as regular supply as we’d have liked, but there have been some great moments to enjoy. Luke Medley’s first touch in professional football; Omar Daley’s performance at Accrington; Willy Topp’s promising debut against Shrewsbury; the transformation of Joe Colbeck; Peter Thorne’s hat trick at Notts County and brilliant goal in the Meadow Lane meeting; Barry Conlon’s penalties (until he missed); the emergence of Matt Clarke into a solid defender; the superb second half of season form from David Wetherall that leaves you wondering why he is calling it a day.

My ultimate highlights of the season both centre around Lincoln City though. The Boxing Day Valley Parade game was an emotional afternoon carried out superbly by both clubs and sets of supporters. Barry Conlon’s late winner may have been comical, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went crazy when I realised the keeper had improbably allowed it in. Emotions also ran high at the Sincil Bank meeting in September and the atmosphere in the away stand that evening makes it one of my all-time favourite away games. The singing was non-stop, so passionate and so enthusiastic. It might have become the norm since, but that evening was particularly special.

The 2-1 victory that night lifted City to 9th at the time and the final league table will suggest little progress has since been made; yet the potential of what City can achieve remains and there will be strong optimism it can followed through next season. It often appears to be the case we spend the summer believing it’s going to be our year, but in Stuart we can be confident we have a manager quickly learning and with a huge passion to lead this club to glory in 12 months time.

A better season hopefully awaits, but I hope I’m not the only supporter who’ll take fond memories from this one.

Not fit to referee

I shall be clear, dear reader, from the offset.

Joe Colbeck deserved the red card after 37 minutes for a violent tackle on Dean Lewington which saw the 2-0 down City’s performance against the Champions of League Two but aside from ordering the Bantams player of the season off the field Karl Evans put in a shameful, disgraceful, unfit for purpose refereeing display.

All of which stops the match report I would like to have written about City’s man of the hour and about the prospects for next season and forces me to write once more about the appalling state of officials.

First things first though this afternoon – the final home game of the season – saw David Wetherall’s last match at Valley Parade and the penultimate of his career. Wetherall led City’s players in the minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the fire of 1985 and as he did my mind drifted back to May 2000 when Wetherall’s header kept City in the top flight and relegated our opponents the Dons. I recall that on that day the Liverpool supporters observed the silence with not a decibel before joining the Bantams fans in roaring through a pulsating game of football. The visitors today paid similar respects and held a banner to commemorate. They are much criticised – these Milton Keynes Dons – but as supporters they did themselves credit today.

Paul Ince’s team deserve some credit too and obviously can play a bit. They go up as champions largely on the strength of the away form that make this the eighteenth win on the road of the season but the Dons win at all costs attitude is best summed up with a casual phrase thrown around in the second half. “Paul Ince will make a good Arsenal manager one day.”

The Dons took a lead early on with after City had started the brighter and Barry Conlon should have given City the lead but Willy Gurrett loomed large the in the goal after good work had put the Irishman through and Conlon hit the ball wide. The Dons lead came from a ball crossed from the left – Darren Williams did not have a good game and left Colbeck out wide to cope with Lloyd Dyer – which travelled too far untouched by Bantams to be not considered a mistake by the back four when Jude Stirling headed home. Ince fielded a 352 which was effective while the Bantams soft pedalled.

Dyer scored the Dons second after powerfully converting a long throw which bounced over Wetherall’s head and it would be tempted to chalk that goal off as being a mistake by the man who is a little too long in the tooth but Williams once again allowed Dyer free reign to come in from the flank and Eddie Johnson simply watched the winger run past him to score. Johnson seems set to be a good twelfth man for the Bantams should he stay but one suspects that promotions are not made of displays as he puts in all too often. His inclusion at the expense of Tom Penford seemed unjust and up until the sending of off Colbeck which was to follow Johnson did not show enough desire. Not enough by half and he was not alone in that.

Colbeck’s sending off on 37 minutes was just. He trolled into Lewington who he had tormented with his pace earlier in the game as he steamed in anger. That Colbeck’s fury was caused by Dons skipper Keith Andrews elbowing him in the face in the pattern of play that preceded it is no excuse just as those managers who moaned that Dean Windass had squeezed testicles or niggled their players before retaliation had followed. The likes of Cheltenham’s John Finnegan painted themselves as wronged heroes following retaliation against Windass and were allowed to do but to be they were over angry and needed to allow the referee to take control rather than giving out what justice they saw fit as should Colbeck. That Karl Evans was a pathetic referee is not a reason why you should be allowed to take your anger out on another player so violently and Colbeck blotted and impressive copybook.

Nevertheless a strange fury surrounded the deserved red card and City to a man increased the levels of performance. Wronged – supposedly – the Bantams roared into the Dons and began to create sustained spells of pressure with Kyle Nix prompting in the midfield and Barry Conlon making himself a nuisance up front. Omar Daley’s dazzling run and left footed finish gave City a glimmer of hope at half time and the half ended in farce. A visitors corner ended up in disgusting two footed smash tackle on Kyle Nix by Jordan Hadfield which was much worse than the attack that had seen Colbeck sent off and went unpunished as Evans called a halt to the first half with former Bantam Aaron Wilbraham holding Scott Loach in a headlock and trying to shake him to retrieve the ball.

Colbeck deserved sending off. Football has no room for retribution being taken out in that way but it has no room for players grabbing each other in headlocks – the thin end of a wedge that ends with violence – and it certainly has no room for the type of two footed lunge that sent Nix spinning from Hadfield. The Bantams went in at half time 2-1 down to a chorus of boos for Referee Evans who would come out to perform so much worse in the second half with the words “You’re not fit to referee” ringing in his ears and such a phrase is true. Referees have a duty of care to the players written into the rules of the game in in ducking the decision to punish Hadfield or Wilbraham Evans hid from that responsibility. I would not like to have been a player on the field in such a lawless environment.

Evans made a litter of mistakes small and large in the second half missing the most obvious corner seen in football, allowing a waist high wrestling move on Darren Williams when he came through, giving a random set of decisions against Barry Conlon and Dons man Danny Swailes as the tussled all afternoon and at one point allowing Wilbraham to sneak back onto the field of play after going behind the touchline and rob Loach of the ball which he pinged off the bar of an open goal.

Your average football fan can be forgiven for not knowing that player who leave the field – go over the white line – have to ask permission to come back onto the field and that it is only a convince to allow them not to return to the pitch at the halfway line (as substitutes do) but Karl Evans is paid to know the rules of football and rather than stopping play and booked Wilbraham he allowed play to continue. It is Law 12.6 if you want to grab your copy of the rules and check it out and it is right above the rule that he used to send Colbeck off.

What can you say about a situation where the Referee knows or applies on the rules he decides at that time? I hope he is just a pathetic referee rather than a bent one but I can not accept that he is neither.

The frustration with Evans’s display was matched by that of City’s knocking on but never breaking through the MK Dons defence – David Wetherall’s header wide went in in a more romantic world – and in the end a ten man Bradford City were better than the eleven of the champions. Paul Ince had four months at StockportMacclesfield (an impressive five months) before he started at the Dons and one cannot help but wonder if after four months of learning at City Stuart McCall had have been able to start the season at the beginning of January would the Bantams be in the position that Ince’s men are?

McCall has got a City team that try play a bit, that can play a bit, that are naive in places but very exciting to watch. The team needs a tweak here and there but not wholesale change and one hopes that Colbeck will have put off potential suitors today and that should he start for the year long loan that seems to hang on Watford getting promoted then Scott Loach does not have to many games as he did today but the Bantams should be considered serious promotion contender next season.

This season though is full of what ifs. What if Peter Thorne had been fit at the start of the season? What if Joe Colbeck had found such scintillating form earlier? What if that run of not winning all through Autumn had not come? What if? The Dons take the championship but one cannot help but be reminded and paraphase of the famed comment of John Bradford – there, but for the grace of God, goes Bradford City.

The grace of God and a better referees maybe.

The Warm Up

This week Bradford City released details of next season’s friendlies, though for the past month it’s felt as though pre-season for the 2008-09 campaign has already begun.

With little to play for but pride, recent games have lacked intensity and significance, tempo has slowed and goals haven’t been cheered quite as feverishly. The management’s focus is more on which areas of the team require strengthening and players are campaigning to be part of those plans. The ambition when we line up against Guiseley and Burnley in July will be similar to Saturday, it’s now all about the big kick off in August.

That the season petered into little more is down to the failings of the current crop of players, many of whom are still battling to convince manager Stuart McCall they shouldn’t be shown the door in two weeks time. Since the Mansfield debacle in March there’s been a notable improvement in effort and attitude, but it’s the consistency question mark which remains. Seven of the 14 players involved in Saturday’s come back win over Grimsby, the third home success in four, are still waiting to hear about their immediate future and a further five will feel they still have to convince that they should be regulars next year.

The first half performance will have done them few favours. A bright start soon turned into a poor one as the visitors, also lacking in promotion or relegation concerns, took an early lead. There was little on when the recalled Omar Daley knocked the ball back to Darren Williams, but the right back was quickly closed down by Nathan Jarman and lost possession. Ciran Toner was then able to charge towards the area and cross low for Peter Till to tap home.

In reaching the ball first, the Grimsby midfielder injured himself by colliding with Luke O’Brien and departed on a stretcher as Daley and Williams argued over who was to blame for conceding the soft goal. Daley’s pass hadn’t been the wisest choice, but Williams had time to clear and will be hoping Stuart doesn’t decide his future on this performance.

The goal knocked City’s confidence and Grimsby began passing the ball around confidently. Very little happened though, in truth, and City’s disjointed efforts were just as threatening as the more cohesive Mariners. Midfield was the area where City struggled with Tom Penford particularly disappointing. Penford is arguably the best passer at the club but was too often guilty of looking for the killer pass which would often be too optimistic and be cut out by blue shirts. This was typical of the whole team who seemed desperate to get a shot on goal after a few passes, when patiently playing simple passes and waiting for openings would have been more effective.

Eddie Johnson was back up front and showed some nice touches, but lacks the physical presence Peter Thorne needs in a strike partner. Daley and Joe Colbeck both had their moments while Kyle Nix was heavily involved in play, with things not always going right. The visible frustration the young midfielder displayed in front of the Kop after a Daley shot flew wide showed just how desperate to remain at City he appears to be.

There could and should have been more goals in the first half. A Grimsby defender handled the ball just inside the area from one attack, which triggered the linesman to raise his flag for a penalty then quickly change his mind. Nick Hegarty looked to have added a second when his low shot creeped towards the bottom corner, but Ryan Bennett’s decision to make sure it did meant the goal was ruled out for offside. Daley also charged through on goal, only for the flag to go up late. City improved in the final 10 minutes but couldn’t find the breakthrough, the half time boos felt a little harsh.

The second half saw progressive improvement as City laboured and finally drew level. Thorne had headed a chance just wide but soon grabbed his 15th goal of the season after latching onto a weak backpass and taking the ball round keeper Phil Barnes, before firing home the equaliser past the defender on the line. Stuart, who after the game praised Colbeck for pressurising the defender into making the poor backpass, should be keeping Thorne in bubble wrap during the close season so the 35-year-old is fit and firing from day one.

Stuart had been about to introduce Conlon for the struggling Penford, but delayed the change a few minutes as the initiative became firmly with City. Conlon made a big difference when he did come on, as did moving Johnson back into midfield. Stuart’s decision to try Johnson up front during the last few games has prompted much debate over his best position but he continues to look far more effective in the centre than battling up front. Meanwhile Conlon became much more involved than Johnson had been and his presence triggered more regular attacks.

The real star of the show was Nix though. It seemed everything good about the second half involved the Australian-born midfielder, who showed great energy levels. For every corner and free kick he was straight to the ball to get City going and also set up plenty of attacking moves that he would later get involved in again as the ball was knocked around. Nix has his faults, notably lack of pace, but has looked very impressive since switching to the centre. Whether he would be a regular next season is still uncertain but his fantastic dribble from deep and delicate chip attempt at Barnes, which the Grimsby keeper just tipped over, was a convincing case. He will surely be rewarded with a new deal.

Something which looks less likely for the two other subs Alex Rhodes and Luke Medley. The latter made a bigger impact after coming on for Thorne with seven minutes to go and played a part in the defining moment of the game. Half way through injury time, his pass into the area was chested down by Johnson and left for the on rushing Colbeck, who unleashed a superb powerful drive that flew past Barnes. The young winger has enjoyed a strong second half to the season which has featured a handful of goals; finally he’s now scored one at Valley Parade.

The half time boos were replaced by warm applause at the end, and while myself and the wife’s experience of a group of aggressive Grimsby supporters walking back to the car suggests they considered themselves unfortunate to have lost, the reality is that Scott Loach, rumoured to be staying at City on a season-long loan, had little to do in the second half.

If this run of one defeat from eight can be stretched a further two games it will have been an excellent end to the campaign. The Champions-elect, MK Dons, come to Valley Parade next Saturday and will offer a clear marker of how far the current squad are from the best at this level than the league table, distorted by that wretched autumn form, appears to show. In reality for City though, it’s just another warm up game for the next campaign.

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.

Bazilliant

So this is where City need to be.

A trip to fourth placed Darlington, who harbour strong ambitions of automatic promotion, was an excellent opportunity for manager Stuart McCall to measure how much work is needed to improve his existing squad with the aim of being up there next year. At 3.45pm it looked as though City were someway off as they went in at half time fortunate to only be a goal behind, yet an hour later those players were heading to the changing rooms as deserved victors following an enthralling second half turnaround. It will have left Stuart with some unexpected questions to chew over, not least why aren’t City in Darlington’s position?

The closing stages of this superb win saw away fans chanting songs about going to Wembley. For the first time since September City are in the top half of the table and, with two games in hand on seventh placed Chesterfield, there’s suddenly renewed hope of making the Play Offs. This was City’s first league visit to Darlington’s impressive new stadium and the three points they’ve taken home from it mean there remains a slight chance we could be returning to it in May as part of an extended end to the season.

Not that this looked remotely possible at half time. Trailing automatic promotion rivals Hereford United, who weren’t playing this weekend, by a point; this was an important game for the home side who started the game brightly and took a tenth minute lead. A corner was swung into the City box and the ball seemed to strike Barry Conlon’s arm which prompted referee Darren Drysdale, he of chatting to Dean Windass in the car park fame, to point to the spot.

It appeared as though the Irish striker, recalled in place of Billy Topp who curiously didn’t even make the bench, had his arms by his side and contact seemed accidental at best. Clark Keltie sent Scott Loach the wrong way with the penalty to put Darlington into a lead that, against the best home record in the division, would be difficult for the visitors to turn around.

Conlon could feel hard done by but it didn’t stop a lot of City fans singing some less than complementary songs about him. For the rest of the half little went right for him as City struggled to forge any meaningful efforts on goal other than a bad miss from David Wetherall. The home side were in control and passed the ball around well on an awful playing surface. City largely defended reasonably and Loach saw most efforts on goal go wide of his post, although the on-loan keeper has begun displaying worryingly Donovan Ricketts-esqe difficulties with crosses which won’t impress the many rumoured Premiership scouts watching his every move.

Half time was a welcome relief and, after such a disappointing first half display, the future of many out of contract City players was looking more bleak. With a small minority of City fans seemingly having already written off Stuart’s abilities as a manager, no doubt there were mutterings of discontent around the watching City cyberworld and in the huge half time pie queue. Let’s give him credit where it’s due though, whatever he said to the players at half time to inspire such a turnaround must have being masterful.

City started the second half with much more urgency and began knocking the ball around better. Kyle Nix and Tom Penford, who both particularly struggled during the first half, began to have more of an influence. I discovered shortly after half time that Nix’s sister was apparently sat just behind me and I can only hope she didn’t hear my quiet mutterings of discontent regarding his first half efforts. I certainly enjoyed hearing her scream hysterically whenever Nix got a sight on goal!

The equaliser came within four minutes of the restart. A long ball was launched towards Conlon, who displayed some superb close control to bring the ball down and play it into the path of Peter Thorne on the edge of the box. City’s top scorer took it to the byline before crossing for Penford to coolly finish for his first ever City goal. Just eight days ago Penford’s name was surely pencilled in on the list of players to be released this summer; now, after three brilliant performances, Stuart will be reaching for the eraser and sanctioning a new contract.

The initiative was now with City and Thorne should have scored when presented with a one-on-one chance against home keeper David Stockdale, who saved well with his knees. It could have proved a costly miss, but soon after a deserved second goal followed. A free kick was floated into the box and Conlon rose at the back post to send a powerful looping header into the far corner. This was Conlon’s seventh goal of the season and he’s now scored more goals from open play than penalties. His detractors have so far being able to point to poor goalkeeping and a lack of the offside flag for his previous goals, but there should be no attempts to belittle this brilliant header. Chants aimed at Conlon continued, but they were now much more positive.

It must have been especially hard to take for the home fans to see their former player strike such a potent blow to their promotion prospects. What they needed was a strong response and manager Dave Penney brought on Michael Cummins who inspired a fight back. City were forced under some heavy pressure and Loach made a couple of decent saves. The most miraculous escape came when Penford sliced a clearance against the City bar.

There were over 10 minutes left to hold out so the delirium of another City goal eased the pressure. Conlon again played a significant role after another ball was launched up to him and his hold up play caused panic in the home defence. The loose ball fell to Joe Colbeck who ran through and coolly slotted home.

The young City winger spent six weeks on loan at Darlington earlier in the season, of course, and his spell away from the glare of Valley Parade was clearly beneficial. He’s returned a more confident and effective player but, back at the club who did so much for his career, the fear was the still relatively inexperienced winger might try too hard to impress and make bad decisions in possession. There was nothing to worry about as the 21-year-old performed with great composure; something lacking in Darlington striker Richie Foran when he produced a ridiculous two-footed lunge on him. A red card was the only option and the game was won.

Realistically City will need to win almost all seven remaining games if they are to gatecrash the Play Offs. Given we’ve so far failed to win more than two league games on the bounce it may prove beyond this current squad, but any player with ambitions to still be around next season should now view this as a great opportunity to show they can produce consistent, promotion standard form between now and the final game at Wycombe. If the team can keep up their recent improved efforts, who knows what it could lead to?

Tuesday night’s trip to Spotland certainly looks very interesting. Rochdale also have games in hand and look a better bet for the Play Offs. It’s another opportunity to measure where City need to be.

Soon to be someone else’s day

As he walked off the Millmoor pitch at the final whistle with away fans loudly chanting his name, David Wetherall could be forgiven if it began to hit home.

With a backdrop of appreciative supporters using the day to pay tribute to City’s retiring skipper, this derby draw may have all but ensured there will only be nine games left of his distinguished career. He applauded fans back while trooping off, visibly touched by the fantastic reception, but probably also feeling a tinge of sadness from knowing his days as leader on the pitch are almost over. Soon he’ll be helping shape City’s future in a different way as a member of the coaching team.

That the final furlong of Wetherall’s career is taking place with apparently little to play for is a source of much debate. No one would want to swap places with Rotherham at the moment, but it must be nice to be in a position to have 10 points deducted and still be in with a good shout of promotion. While the points penalty the Millers have suffered from returning into administration may have improved City’s remote play off hopes, there is little evidence to suggest the sort of run that could end in a top seven position is achievable from the current squad. The majority soon to be out of contract, the biggest remaining question is how big the summer rebuilding job will need to be.

On Saturday’s evidence City aren’t as far off as was feared in the wake of the previous week’s Mansfield debacle. Up against a decent outfit determined not to let off the field worries affect their game, the Bantams put in as good a 90-minute away performance as they have managed all season. Omar Daley was recalled to partner Barry Conlon, presumably with the view that two games in three days would be asking too much of the benched Peter Thorne. Tom Penford and Kyle Nix were also brought in and made a huge difference to a midfield which had been badly out fought against Mansfield. With Eddie Johnson enjoying one of his better days, City pressed from kick off and played some decent football.

They should have been in front during the first 45 minutes. From a dangerous free kick, Johnson was left with a free header but could only manage a tame effort which was comfortably saved. Soon after a scramble in the penalty area left Conlon one on one with Andy Warrington, yet incredibly he hit the ball straight at the Millers keeper with the goal gaping. Rotherham also had their chances with Chris O’Grady having a goal disallowed and a decent penalty shout turned away, but on possession and chances City should have gone in leading at the break.

Fortunately they put that right within three minutes of the restart. Joe Colbeck, once again in impressive form, charged at the full back before playing a ball into Penford, who cleverly returned it into the young winger’s path to fire home via the post. There have been calls for Stuart to start putting kids in the team with an eye for next season and seeing two of the more ‘mature’ youngsters combine brilliantly for the goal should act as inspiration to any young Bantams who get their opportunity before the season ends. City continued to attack with purpose and Nix missed a glorious chance to add a second. Daley’s run and low cross left the Australian-born winger with a seemingly empty net to slide the ball into, but somehow he only diverted it into Warrington’s arms.

Rotherham pressed, but City largely looked comfortable and it came as a surprise when O’Grady headed the equaliser from a free kick. It was a bad moment for Mark Bower, making his first start since before Christmas, who hesitated when it appeared he could have headed the ball clear before it reached O’Grady, though he might have expected Scott Loach to come out and catch it. It was the only blot of an otherwise solid return for the club’s longest serving player. Clearly it’s been a disappointing season for Bower, who lost his place due to poor form last November, but his days at Valley Parade are far from numbered and, with his senior partner hanging up the boots, it seems likely he will become a more regular part of next year’s backline.

The goal didn’t appear to upset City’s approach and Nix wasted another glorious chance, shooting over when cleverly put through. Then, with 20 minutes to go, the initiative was handed to Rotherham as City were reduced to ten men. Daley went in for a challenge with Graham Coughlan before appearing to kick out at the home defender. It was difficult to see from the away end, but the Jamaican also seemed to push the referee just before he was shown the red card and left the pitch to a mixture of chanting and boos from City fans. Daley had enjoyed a reasonably effective game back in the striker’s role, often stretching the home defence superbly by drifting out wide, but his actions left his team with little option but to hang on for a point.

It meant the outcome rested on City’s defence who worked hard in withstanding frequent home pressure. Loach was the busier keeper but only had a few comfortable saves and catches to make as the Millers were frustrated. Thorne replaced Conlon but the rest of the team were unable to support him adequately. The final whistle came as a relief.

A draw does little to help either team’s play off chances, even if City’s remain decidedly distant. On their day this team has shown it’s as good as most in this division, but stronger leadership and better consistency is required to get City truly among the front runners in 2008-09. As next season’s squad is built from retained players and new signings, it will need to include a replacement for the one player who has embodied both these qualities more than anyone in recent years.

Something which Wetherall will no doubt be influencing in his new role. Until then, he’ll be one player at least making the most of the nine remaining games. He’s being part of City’s backline for so long and we’ll miss him performing on the field. So to, I’m sure, will he.

Start Making Sense

My Mum used to say to me that there was nothing worse than a bad loser and Stuart McCall proves her right.

Stuart McCall is a bad loser. He doesn’t get all childish though which is pretty much what Mrs Harris was on about but watching him react as City beat Chester 1-0 in some horrible conditions at The Deva Stadium you can see that the City boss does not want to get good at going home with no points.

He probably doesn’t want to get used to finding out that some morons (and I mean morons cause whatever it says next to the word moron in a dictionary it should not just say “person that wants your Legend manager sacked after five months for nothing”) are saying that he should be sacked. I’d love to say to everyone of those people that they should say the same to McCall’s face but I doubt they really care about City that much to back up their words with anything. I wouldn’t much care if those people took their £150 a year and did something else on a Saturday if that is what they call getting behind the boys.

There were not many to get behind the boys at Chester and it was not surprising considering the foul weather and some foul displays recently but those who did make up the City mob in this tiny crowd of a thousand and a half did us proud.

And so did the players.

Chester had lost seven home games on the bounce and Stuart saw this is a chance to bin the 451 formation we saw at Stockport on Saturday and go back for a 442. Joe Colbeck gets better and better on the right wing and the combination of Paul Evans and Eddie Johnson worked hard in the middle despite the sort of conditions that make football impossible. The wind took any ball over knee height and fired it around the grass that was skiddy and muddy. Kyle Nix controlled the ball well and that set the scene for the rest of the Bantams play. There was not a whole lot of football played but the best stuff came from the Bantams.

City took control of the game early on and a few times Peter Thorne was caught off side when a sharper eye on the defensive line could have had him adding to his goal tally. Barry Conlon never looks morelikely to score than Thorne but did eventually when Colbeck put the ball over to him for him to finish off well.

From then on City were defending but not defending much. Kevin Ellison looks like a player who deserves better than Chester and his chance five minutes from the end would have gone in if it were not for Scott Loach who was being watched by scouts from Liverpool FC tonight. Looks like we might need a new keeper next term.

Will we need new strikers? We all want Peter Thorne to stay and Barry has a lot of fans because he tries so hard. He could have had a second when he did some kind of windswept overhead kick that hit the bar but the one goal was enough to win.

And winning seemed good for Stuart. He punched the air with two fists and you could see his smile. Lets hope he never gets used to losing and lets hope that the proper Bradford City fans who think about the club rather than just like the sound of their own voices never get listened to when they talk such rubbish as they have this week.

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.

Avoiding the Brown Stuff

On occasions this season, it’s been difficult not to arrogantly believe that we’re better than this.

I refer not only to playing in the basic surroundings of opponents like Macclesfield Town, who’s tiny and unremarkable stadium is a different league to our Valley Parade home, but of the quality and manner of football we play. It’s not that we don’t produce pleasing on-the-eye passing that belongs in a higher level than League Two, the first half of the midweek Shrewsbury home win a perfect illustration, but on other occasions we can be reduced to playing the limited kick and rush style that England’s bottom professional division is reputed for.

Saturday’s fortuitous victory over Macclesfield was certainly a performance more about hope than confidence, haste rather than control, fluster rather than fluency. It‘s very easy to be critical of so many elements of the performance and most things Stuart will have learned from a cold February afternoon will probably be negatives.

Had City lost, and they could so easily have, the journey home for us 900 away fans would have been largely spent complaining and telling each other how the season is over. Yet for all the criticism City’s performance might justifiably warrant, the fact is we won. As the final whistle blew the players were warmly applauded from the pitch and I couldn’t help but have a mischievous grin thinking of how the victory had been earned.

How many times in recent years, particularly last season, have away teams rolled up to Valley Parade and undeservedly won? As our season went so badly wrong this time last year, I would often read through the Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match reports and look at the stats. City would invariably have had more shots and corners and I knew we had deserved to win, but the only statistic that would alter the league table was the final score. We can acknowledge some familiarity in thinking how Macclesfield fans would have gone home cursing their side’s luck and bemoaning the lack of firepower.

On Saturday that lack of firepower could be squarely blamed on former City striker Michael Symes. The on-loan Shrewsbury man would have been keen to show us the talent we rarely glimpsed during his two year Valley Parade stay, yet the hat trick of chances he squandered in quick succession midway through the second half could all be characterised by the weakness of the attempt on goal. Each time Symes had the time and space to do better and each time Scott Loach was able to make a comfortable save. When Symes burst through again and sent over a low cross that should have been a tap in, he misjudged the situation and the ball rolled harmlessly across the goal.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else.

All this came during a strong period of home dominance following an uninspiring first 60 minutes from both sides. City never seemed to be able to get going and force a spell of pressure, other than the occasional flurry of corners. Macclesfield played a high defensive line which largely succeeded in stopping City getting forward. When we would win the ball and attack, too often we would lose the ball just inside the Macclesfield half.

Part of this was down to the unnecessary level of urgency when we have possession which is regularly seen away from home. It’s as if we must be on the attack instantly as long passes are launched forward hopefully or balls released for our wingers that they have little chance of reaching. We usually seem to be able to play in a much calmer way at home and you wish City would try to execute their tempo on the match. Surely it’s better for us to be passing the ball around in our own half, rather than letting the opposition do so?

A lack of a target man also didn’t help. We badly needed the ball to stick when our forwards received it but this is less Peter Thorne’s and certainly Willy Topp’s game. The latter produced some good touches and looked a threat, but ultimately we’ll need more from him as he learns the English game. In hindsight Barry Conlon might have been a better option to start the game.

Without a target man, we could still have succeeded with wingers stretching the game and running at the home defenders so they drop back. Joe Colbeck’s display, easily his worst in recent weeks, ensured that the suspended Omar Daley was missed. It’s not Kyle Nix’s game to beat opposition full backs for pace and it all meant that City’s attacks were sporadic and limited. Topp had the best chance when he forced a mistake and had a run on goal, only to be crudely chopped down on the edge of the area. A couple of headers from corners were cleared off the line but the first two thirds of the game had 0-0 written all over it.

Cue Macclesfield’s sudden onslaught which left City hanging on and pushing their luck. Remarkably, in the middle of this heavy period of pressure it was the Bantams who scored. Again it was a long hopeful ball up the field which substitute David Brown, on for Topp, willingly chased. Macclesfield keeper Jonny Brain ran out to clear but complexly missed the ball, leaving a grateful Brown to fire it into the open net. It might not quite have been the way he dreamt it last night, but new signing Brown could not have asked for a better start from his first six minutes of professional football. The young striker impressed with his pace and was a nuisance to the opposition. He’s certainly a small lad and won’t win many headers; watching him play alongside fellow substitute Conlon looked the ultimate little and large partnership.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else. Macclesfield continue to apply heavy pressure after the goal and Matt Clarke, who’s not looked as solid the last four games, got away with a bad miskick in front of goal. From another attack Loach produced a superb reaction block from a low shot only for Macclesfield to be given the ultimate opportunity to score after Colbeck fouled Danny Thomas in the area as the ball ran loose.

Loach might have only been playing his fifth ever senior game, but he’d been here before saving a penalty at Macclesfield while on loan at Morecambe. He made history repeat itself by getting down low to push away Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield’s penalty and, even more impressively, reacted to block Neil Ashton’s powerful rebound attempt. Cue wild celebrations on the terrace behind and City players rushing over to congratulate their new team mate. A week ago none of us had heard of Loach, but after another good save we were chanting his name.

Those saves spelled the end to heavy pressure and, despite one late scare where City scrambled the ball off the line, we held out with David Wetherall once again outstanding. Conlon and Colbeck, who curiously improved after giving away the penalty, both went close to adding a second. A lucky win no doubt, which ended with Loach hugging fans at the front of the stand, but it was a game that City would probably have lost earlier in the season and this alone can be judged as progress.

Suddenly the table makes far better reading; City are 10 points from the play offs and still have a couple of games in hand over most teams, there was even an optimistic chant about City going up this season. Recent form has been excellent and, with four of the next five games at home, sandwiched between a trip to struggling Notts County, there’s a great opportunity to push on.

So I now look forward to reading Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match report and noting that the shot count will not be in our favour, but that the scoreline appearing at the top of the page is all that matters. We’ll need to be better than our efforts at Moss Rose but, if we’re celebrating any achievements come May, it’s winning games like this which will have provided the platform.

Probably Something Like Big Willy Style

He is a stocky character – this Barry Conlon – and his has broad shoulders.

Those broad shoulders carried a lot of weight after his signing from Mansfield at the start of this City’s supposed promotion season and when his “fight in an empty room” style of bustling forward play lacked it’s foil in the then injured Peter Thorne he needed those shoulders to carry the criticism he was loaded with.

He worked hard – this Barry Conlon – after missing a penalty on his debut and his reward is ours. His name is sung loud after he – this Barry Conlon – shoulders the responsibility of a penalty that made sure a game that should have been sure five minutes from time.

This Barry Conlon chips low his penalty given after Darren Kempson had stopped David Wetherall scoring and the win is as sealed as it is deserved. This Barry Conlon hears his name sung loud.

That Conlon’s spot kick had to make the game sure was a criminal offence of a decision by the latest in a long line of appalling officials with a linesman allowing a goal for Marc Pugh after his headed was rather randomly powered into the hands of City’s latest on loan goalkeeper Scott Loach but Paul Heckingbottom. The ball was nothing less than a foot on the right side of the line and moving forward.

That the appalling and newest “worst decision ever” was made pulled the blinkers over an excellent save from Loach who has joined from Watford to replace QPR bound Donovan Ricketts. Loach performed well in goal for sure but his mouth open fearless style that saw the 19 year old shouting the sort of instructions that mad Gary Walsh a better keeper than Matt Clarke was more noticeable. He signed as many autographs as he could after the game too. Good kid.

Ricketts is no doubt getting his feet under the table in West London – good luck and thanks for the memories to him – although had he been at Valley Parade he might have wondered how the Referee could see troublesome striker Guy Madjo “make a gesture” to the home supporters and not be called to book on it. Ricketts might have wondered why he was sent off for such an offence at Southend and Madjo was not. He might wonder if Madjo had the same provocation. He might wonder many things and he will probably hope that at his new club the rules are applied more even handily.

In the end that is all I, dear reader, want from officials. Evenhandedness.

Peter Thorne played for QPR – they paid £2,990,000 for for him than they have Ricketts – and it is not hard to see why people thought highly of the striker who from the tail end of his career looks like he should have made more of himself. Sharp, he was, as he finished off a deflection following a pacey run up the field from Omar Daley as City pushed out from a corner which came too soon after a former Bantam Dave Hibbert’s header that put the visitors back into the game after half time.

Hibbert took his header well looping it past Loach but Matthew Clarke will hope to make his aerial clearances more decisive in future. City’s upturn in performances – all but undefeated since Christmas – coincides with Clarke displacing Mark Bower in the side. In the last month City have grown in confidence and now the side can assimilate changes and maintain direction. Tom Penford arrived in the place of Paul Evans in McCall’s holding role and performed well all evening.

City’s upturn also has much to do with Stuart McCall getting the best out of Omar Daley who has moved from central figure to a more suitability less involved player in the Bantams side. McCall has given Daley a remit of using pace and sticking to the flank and then the solo Reggae boy cut past the left back and across the box firing a shot that took a huge deflection to go in from it struck one that Omar is play finisher and not playmaker.

Playmaker.

Let the word float in the air. Think about what it means. Savour it like wine around the mouth. The playmaker.

Seven minutes in and it is the strength of the man, the turn that left three – four maybe – blue shirted defenders chasing shadows. Willy Topp skipped to the box and found Kyle Nix to allow the Aussie to finish superbly and while Nix deserves every plaudit thrown his way it was Topp’s show.

This Willy Topp – who played 55 minutes before being replaced by Barry Conlon as the Chilean builds match fitness – has a clutch of attributes that picked him out at this level. His touch is superb giving him time and space which he uses well so far and his strength is impressive. This Willy Topp knows how to use his body to keep the ball and when he has it he knows what to do with the ball.

And he wants to make play and he has he scope to be the most exciting player at Valley Parade since Benito Carbone and he can go far – further probably than Bradford City and he can hear his name sung loud as long as he follows the example of the balding Irishman with the broad shoulders.

Pegged Back At Bury

Despite leading twice, City were pegged back by a late equaliser that denied them a third straight win.

City started the game much the brighter, forcing numerous early corners and creating a couple of half chances. Barry Conlon had an excellent first half – really rising to the challenge of this game in testing conditions. He held the ball up brilliantly and was a real presence up front.

Neither team really stamped their authority on the game until a key moment late in the first half. Omar Daley picked up possession on the right, darted forward, and whipped in an extremely dangerous ball, which looked destined to pick out Peter Thorne at the far post – but it was stopped from reaching its target by a blatant handball by a Bury defender inside the penalty area.

The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. There seemed to be some debate about who was going to take the penalty, with Thorne and Conlon both eyeing it up. But it was Conlon who stepped up and drilled the ball straight down the middle, and whilst the keeper got a touch with his legs, it wasn’t enough to stop it nesting into the back of the net, much to the jubilation of the City fans behind the goal.

The second half got underway with City looking comfortable. The pressure was very much on Bury to come out and start showing the form that they did last week in beating Championship side Norwich.

There were no real signs of being City’s lead being under threat, until a shocking mistake by Matt Clarke. He released a kamikaze backpass that immediately forced Wetherall and himself to backtrack rapidly, but Bury striker Andy Bishop capitalized by outpacing them both and slotting the ball past Donavan Ricketts. This type of mistake from Clarke was so uncharacteristic of his recent City form, and it was clear to see he was devastated in the immediate aftermath of Bury scoring.

Unfortunately for Clarke, that goal really changed the game, as City went from being comfortable, to having to really pull out all the stops in an effort to grab the three points.

The game faded away midway through the second half. Both teams showed no real signs of having enough to grab a late winner.

But on 80 minutes, City broke with Colbeck feeding Daley, who seemed to hesitate, before releasing a brilliant pass that picked out substitute Kyle Nix. Nix took a touch, which seemed to have taken him too far wide, but he unleashed a deadly low strike with his left foot which he planted at the keepers far post. Celebrations in the away end were euphoric as it seemed certain that we could hang on to pick up a precious three points.

A special mention needs to be made for Omar Daley’s contribution tonight. He was my man of the match with his assists for both goals and whilst he wasn’t always at his scintillating best, he backtracked and helped out the defense on numerous occasions. His workrate was a breath of fresh air. There was one instance (halfway through the second half) where he had just ran half the pitch during a run on the attack on the left wing, and when Bury broke on the counter attack, he cover the full length of the pitch to come back to help Heckingbottom defensively. Maybe with his new contract, this is hopefully a sign of things to come?

But an away victory tonight wasn’t to be. City never looked convincing or confident enough in the last 10 minutes to see the game through. And when 18 year old midfielder Dale Stephens unleashed a stunning strike from 25 yards that gave Ricketts no chance, the game seemed destined to finish as a draw.

And in typical City fashion, after Bury equalized, we had to endure more nervy defending and it even looked like Bury could snatch a late winner, as they finished the stronger.

But the referee blew his whistle with honours even. And once again, City succumbed to a late goal. Its seems to be a trend this season that the team don’t quite have enough conviction to “ shut up shop” with 10, 15 or even 20 minutes to go. We can think back to Barnet away (conceded a late winner that cost us a point) , Morecambe away ( a point thrown away, that should have been 3) , MK Dons away ( 2 late goals conceded) , Stockport at home ( late goal that cost us a win). This type of play is especially hard to accept given the number of experienced campaigners in the team – but I don’t necessarily think they are 100% to blame. It is more of a team mentality , that we sit back and invite pressure, and away from home teams come at us, and we don’t know how to cope without panicking.

We have a good enough footbaling side in this division to have to talent to play the ball to feet to get ourselves out of trouble when we are under pressure. But too often this season, we have resorted to playing it “long”, Wimbledon style. And that doesn’t just apply to defending, we often attack in the same way. And how often to these high balls up the pitch result in success? Hardly ever. Yet, the management team insist on playing this way. Most probably because they think that it could be the only way that we can play to get out of this division.

But I personally, wholeheartedly disagree. We have enough players that are decent with ball to feet, running a passing game, that would surely be more effective, as playing flowing football generates confidence and allows us to confidently pass our selves out of trouble when pressure mounts on us – especially away from home.

Bantams In Partnerships

Football teams play good football when partnerships work together. Teams may be made up of individuals but that’s no good if they’re not working together. In the past we have had the SAS (Sutton and Shearer), Cole and Yorke, Bruce and Pallister etc. These have all been great partnerships – and all for successful teams.

Even at City we have known a few good ones. Mills and Blake and Jacobs and Beagrie are ones that stand out for myself. We’ve had the odd great individual, such as Windass and Carbone but, without a partner for them, the team suffered. And this is what gives me great optimism for the current City side.

Watching us play this season has been frustrating. We have the players who have the ability to do well, they just haven’t delivered on the pitch. There are many reasons being given as to why, but I think the most obvious reason is “lack of partnerships”, and especially ones that work. Watching the City side on Saturday against a poor Notts County I saw a side that was littered with partnerships.

First of all, at the back you have the captain Wetherall and Matt Clarke. Wethers looked rusty at the beginning of the season and Clarke wasn’t even in the side, but now, Wethers is back to his best and Clarke has become one of the vital members of the side – who can imagine the defence without him? They are solid.

On the left side you have Heckingbottom and Daley. Heckingbottom has been on and off this season, although mainly on, and the last few matches have seen good performances from him. Daley is you’re Marmite – you either love him or hate him. He frustrates at times, but against County got forward, got back and the inter-play between the two was good.

On the right it’s much the same story. Colbeck, having come back from Darlington, looks like the player from two seasons ago. Things may not go right all the time, but some great runs and crosses have seen him become the right winger for us. Backing him up is Williams. A bit like Wethers he started slowly, but is getting better all the time. His link up play with Colbeck is good and gets forward to support Colbeck, just as Heckingbottom does with Daley.

Up front, after nearly 30 games, Stuart seems to have stumbled on what most fans have wanted to try for a while – Conlon and Thorne. Fans favourite Conlon may not be scoring, but does the “donkey” work to great effect. Make no mistake though, Conlon is no donkey. He has a great touch, good vision and puts 100% effort in. Just a bit more composure in front of the net and goals will come. Composure is something his strike partner Thorne has in abundance. Injury has meant a delayed start to his City career but, now he’s with someone who can hold the ball and take the hits, Thorne is reaping the rewards. His hat-trick on Saturday showed that if you set him up, he’ll take the chances. Together they are making defending hard work for the opposition.

You may now expect me to go on about the partnership in the middle, however, as we’re 17th in the league everything cannot be rosy and this is the case in the middle. Although the Bullock/Evans partnership is in its infancy (like the Thorne/Conlon), it hasn’t been as effective. Bullock comes across as a decent player. On Saturday he didn’t seem to be involved much, but when he was he did everything well – certainly good to have in the side and a much needed spoil for his partner in midfield. Evans, however, has a question mark over him. Yes, we all know he does have a good touch, good passing ability and a great shot – but that’s not much good if it isn’t working. If Evans can get it right then the partnership in midfield could prove to be the best of the lot. If it doesn’t, Kyle Nix – my favourite of the season so far – stands on the sidelines waiting. He may be a left winger, but has shown can cut it in midfield and is dangerous going forward.

So, all in all, the City side is nearly there. We have a great square of partnerships around the pitch, we just need the centre one. If that can be built on, then 2008 could be more than we hoped for than at the beginning of December.

Pistol Pete Shoots Down County

City continued their great start to 2008 with this convincing victory against lowly Notts County.

This was a home team display that has been unseen by the Valley Parade crowd in many, many years, but this performance aspires confidence that City are on the right track.

Matt Clarke was once again in dominant form, putting opposing striker Hector Sam in his pocket from first minute to last. This type of performance has been typical of the lanky defender in recent months – indeed he is fast becoming City’s best, and most consistent player – nothing less than he deserves after waiting patiently for an extended run in the side.

Bradford started the game in a confident mood, winning numerous corners and threatening the County goal. There were one or two edgy moments in the first half defensively, but it quickly became apparent that County did not offer much going forward.

When City got their noses in front midway through the first half, the result was never really in much doubt. David Wetherall and Lee Bullock both did brilliantly to keep the ball alive from a set play, and Peter Thorne was on hand to tap in from 8 yards in predatory fashion. City have had a tendancy to not make territorial advantage convert to goals at home this season, ala Darlington and Wycombe, and there was a really sense of relief that Thorne had broken the deadline before half time with his close range finish.

The first ten minutes of the second half were slightly edgy, as County offered a few more ideas in attack, and City stood off. But that pressure was certainly not typical of the rest of the match, as County seemed to massively lack confidence that they could score, and they most certainly lacked ability throughout the side.

When Thorne crashed home a sweet second from an Evans corner on the volley, the game was over.

And the script was written for Thorne to round off his excellent display by finishing off his hattrick with aplomb. He was played in on the break by Colbeck on the right, and Thorne confidently buried the ball in the bottom corner of the keepers near post. It was a fitting end to the game for Thorne – who is most certainly showing signs of the form he promised, and his ability being a cut and class above this level. We have seen him excellently hold the ball up, and play some nice passes in bringing others into play with his back to goal, and now he is delivering the goals to go with his excellent all round play.

And Thorne’s excellent display was mirrored by the rest of the team. Omar Daley showed some exciting bursts forward and crucially battled away defensively in a way that was reminiscent of Jamie Lawrence in his Valley Parade heyday. Darren Williams is looking assured at right back, and veteran’s Wetherall and Heckingbottom seem to be delivering performances of late that represent a solid defensive unit.

Barry Conlon’s performances create much debate within the City support and it is clear to see why. He is absolutely woeful in front of goal – to non league standards, and that form continued in this game. But, he does bring something to the team, and seems to compliment Thorne quite well, as he can control the ball when it is played up to him. His willingness to battle has endeared him to some of the City support, but surely a striker that finishes as poorly as Conlon cannot be part of a successful team? That aspect is for Mr McCall to debate. I ,for one, would have been interested to see Willy Topp partnered with Thorne up front for the last 20 minutes against County, with the game all but won.

And so, to the rest of the season. Team displays like this create confidence. And now that we seem to have settled into this division, the length of a run we can go on between now and the end of the season will determine whether we can challenge or not. Our early season woes may have cost us, but collecting a number of wins on the bounce will certainly give us a chance – and more importantly, hope , that the season may not be over for us just yet.

The future is Ginger, Claret and Amber

Lied to us, smokescreen, disgraceful – some of the more polite terms used by a minority of City fans in the build up to Saturday’s game with Notts County. The reasons for their anger include an apparent lack of transfer activity in the January window and a belief that City have given up on the season already.

There’s a long way to go, both for the current transfer window and the season, but already some of our more excitable supporters are calling for heads to roll. Apparently Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn are lying to us supporters and Stuart isn’t much better. There are demands from some supporters for a fans forum so these people can express their anger face to face.

All of this was before City demolished a poor Notts County team to record their biggest home win since April 2005. There’s a feeling of frustration from a section of support about the way this season is turning out, but you wish that those who complain so quickly and readily would think a bit more before directing their abuse at individuals who deserve better. After all, are things really that bad at Valley Parade at the moment?

For the first time in years we are debt free and this means there is some money to spend on new players, although who we need to bring in is a matter of debate. Expectations have been raised following comments made by Mark Lawn on 23 October about bringing in players who have been at City before and proved popular with fans. Crucially he said that he wanted to bring these players in, rather than saying deals were already lined up. Yet over the last few months these comments have been exaggerated so that they now look like broken promises.

Whether any former City players do arrive before the window shuts remains to be seen, but it hasn’t stopped some fans already slagging off our joint-chairman. Who these former players are and whether Stuart wants them is another question. Some fans are calling for Nathan Doyle to return, for example, but with Darren Williams enjoying a good season and a limited budget available, is a right back a priority?

It may only be one game, but looking at the team that comprehensively demolished Notts County on Saturday left me wondering just how desperate we are for new signings. All over the pitch City were too good against an admittedly weak side, perhaps the worst team to play at Valley Parade so far this season. Right from kick off we took the game to the visitors and carved out some decent opportunities. Omar Daley might have had a hat trick inside the opening half hour with only the heroics of County goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington keeping the score level.

The breakthrough arrived 10 minutes before half time from a scrambled corner. Matt Clarke headed Paul Evans’ delivery goalwards only for it to be cleared off the line. Lee Bullock, making his home debut, headed the ball back into the danger area and Peter Thorne tapped home. Barry Conlon, impressing alongside Thorne up front, might have got a second when put through on goal just before the break, but a combination of a weak effort and good goalkeeping denied the Irish striker. A standing ovation was the least the players deserved at the break.

A second goal was always going to be enough to kill off the game and duly arrived early in the second half. Again Paul Evans was behind the goal with a clever corner move. His low cross was met by Thorne just inside the area and his low shot flew into the bottom far corner. Joe Colbeck, Evans and Conlon had other opportunities before Thorne hit a sweet third from the edge of the box after been cleverly set up by Colbeck.

That was how the win came about, but the efforts of all the players involved deserve huge credit. Defensively we were strong and are reaping the benefits from a settled defensive line. In Clarke and Wetherall have two strong competitors in the centre. Clarke was probably my man of the match and, apart from one mistake just after half time, he won everything against a tricky opponent in Hector Sam. His performance brought back memories of Darren Moore for me and Stuart would be well advised to offer him a new contract before it runs out in the summer.

Up front Conlon and Thorne are showing signs of forging a fruitful partnership. Conlon is capable of being terrific and woeful, usually within the space of a few seconds! Yet his hold up play and battling qualities are making a real difference and winning over supporters. Barry needs to continue showing this consistency over a number of games. He’s never going to score a hatful and his finishing can be woeful. I do fear he will one day miss a really easy chance in a crucial game for us, but for now Conlon is a worthy name on the teamsheet.

Now fully fit and enjoying a run of games, Thorne is looking an excellent player at this level. A hat trick certainly won’t harm his confidence and he is on track to be the first City player, other than Dean Windass, to reach double figures in a season since Andy Gray and Claus Jorgenson in 2002/03. With Willy Topp an unused substitute and Stuart believing Daley’s best position to be striker, another forward is unlikely to be on Stuart’s January shopping list.

Midfield was perhaps not at its best, though recent signing Bullock is a decent addition if not quite hitting the heights of his performance at Accrington. Evans received plenty of criticism and his passing was at times awry. Yet he had a hand in all three goals and his quality, when he gets it right, is invaluable. Eddie Johnson will soon be available again leaving Stuart with plenty of choice in the middle. The two wingers, Colbeck and Daley, were quiet on occasions, but both contributed to the easy win.

And that’s the encouraging thing at this moment. For all the talk of needing new faces, the efforts of the current players is very high. There’s no slackers and under achievers, currently in the team anyway. Listening to the comments of Thorne on the radio after the game, and January signings Bullock and Paul Heckingbottom, reveal there is a strong desire for our squad of players to perform and be successful for this club. There may be failings at times, but effort is not among them. Daley spent the first half of the season thinking he was above tracking back and defending, but now works as hard as anyone.

Had the season begun on November 6 City would currently be 11th in the division, four points off the play offs with two games in hand. It shows that the efforts of the players since that important win over Chester have been much improved and what possibilities there could be for City had they not underperformed so badly in September/October.

Things may now be slowly coming together for City and, while a couple of new signings would be nice before the window shuts, there is no need to consider the current situation a disgrace and demand changes at the top. With 12,500 season ticket holders, the end to bad debts and return of Stuart, something very special began during the summer. Belatedly, it now looks as though it’s beginning to extend onto the pitch.

League Two (since 6.11.07)
(P GD PTS)
1 MK Dons 12 13 28
2 Rotherham 11 12 25
3 Morecambe 11 7 24
4 Stockport 12 9 23
5 Hereford 10 5 21
6 Wycombe 12 3 21
7 Grimsby Town 12 2 22
8 Rochdale 10 6 20
9 Darlington 9 17 19
10 Chesterfield 11 4 19
11 Bradford City 10 7 18
12 Shrewsbury 12 6 18
13 Peterborough 11 3 18
14 Brentford 12 -6 16
15 Accrington 12 -8 14
16 Lincoln City 12 -5 13
17 Macclesfield 12 -7 12
18 Barnet 12 -9 9
19 Chester City 11 -8 8
20 Dagenham & Red 11 -9 8
21 Mansfield Town 10 -8 7
22 Notts County 11 -8 6
23 Wrexham 12 -13 6
24 Bury 10 -9 4

Transfer Widow

My girlfriend probably things I am having an affair. Every morning I furtively close my hands around the screen of my trusted N95 and sneak a peek at some covert information, these modern days such actions are tantamount to having lipstick on one’s collar in the list of telltale signs of infidelity.

Every morning I gaze longingly at every loving word crafted to speak of outlandish possibility and I know that such things will never come to pass but we can all dream. Every morning I covertly check out the BBC’s transfer gossip and rumours page.

Sitting all year round the scrapings of tabloid and broadsheet fantasy goes into a kind of meltdown every January when the transfer window opens and a parade of names are stapled to clubs in a cavalcade of would be transfer.

Most concern players few – if any – have heard of joining clubs that simply do not need them. Today we learn with lusty glory that Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is set to spend £7m on Slovakia international defender Martin Skrtel. – or so the Beeb tells us that the Telegraph tells us – and we raise an eyebrow and ponder if the Anfield club’s failure to mount a serious challenge for the title is really for the want of a player who costs less than Newcastle United paid for Jean-Alan Boumsong.

“Failure to mount a serious challenge” is a phrase that haunts Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side troublingly. Clearly The Reds are not winning the thing this year but to suggest that they have not mount a challenge is akin to suggesting that Scott and Oates were just having a wander in the snow just because they were beaten to the Pole.

The vowel light Skrtel may be Kendal Mint Cake to Benitez and our job is in the observation. In likelihood Skrtel will not be heard of again being swooped to play for Bryern Munich, Rapid Vienna or Fulham’s Reserves but for a day we can all imagine him wandering down the wing in Red. It is the pornography of the Subutteo generation.

Of course the Mighty Bradford City have not featured in this procession of names and clubs for sometime but this is no bad thing and not something one would complain about although Big Sam will save his job by pairing Michael Owen with Bradford’s Barry Conlon is probably as realistic to us Skrtel’s move to Anfield is to supporters of his – nameless – club.

Realism is not the point. Distraction is.

Football – as previously mentioned once or twice – had gone to Hell in a handcart at anything other than the top level and like the trappings of the French Lord’s of old the purpose of the big name club transfer gossip is to distraction joyless citizenry from the dullness of their every day existence. Never mind the fact your club cannot afford to have the stadium roof fixed – Manchester United are thinking of buying a Belgian who’s agent will take a cut the size of Luton Town’s much talked about debt.

It is football supporting as Hello Magazine reading – a glimpse at how some live with the far flung hope that you might one day move there yourself. Queens Park Rangers suggest that one day it will I guess, and I suppose one day we did too.

So furtively I look at my mobile phone to read this list of pipe dreams and I should be as offended as I am when I see those documentaries on the lavish fineries of Royalty I pay for but have no access to but for some reason I’m not.

So rest assured should you be worried Ria it is not an affair but with lusty eyes trained on what I want but can’t have it is – at least – flirting.

New Year, same old City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Nix of time

For as long as I have been going to watch Bradford City, there have been two basic types of player adorning Claret and Amber.

The first type is the hard working and committed footballer. Always giving 100% to the cause and battling to the end. They may not be the most talented often possessing limited skill, but when the chips are down they can always be counted on to give their all.

Then there’s the second, more skilful type of player. On their day they have the ability to decide a match with the quality to do things that others cannot. They can have you on the edge of your seat, but unfortunately are invariably less consistent and liable to underperform in some games. They frustrate as often as they excite and can’t be trusted to always try their hardest. Are they as committed to the cause as the other type of player? And why do they seem to think they’re above tracking back?

The fortuitous Boxing Day win over Lincoln was ground out by a mixture of both types of players and showed that, as much as most of would prefer to have 11 players sweating Claret and Amber blood to the cause, not selecting players who can produce those moments of brilliance will only get us so far.

Omar Daley is undoubtedly the second type of Valley Parade player. It’s just short of a year since he joined from Charleston Battery and received the huge build up before his debut, but the Jamaican winger has so far flattered to deceive. We know he has the ability to be a match winner for us, but it’s not seen often enough. Daley was largely disappointing during the second half of last season and his miss in that vital game against Leyton Orient still makes me feel angry. He has improved this season, particularly of late, but his inconsistency leaves some fans wishing we could replace him with someone who will always give their all.

Against Lincoln Daley was both typically brilliant and typically terrible. Not everything he tries is going to work and it is frustrating when he loses the ball, but he’s often behind our best attacking moves. He stretched the Lincoln defence and regularly beat defenders; but also largely knew when to pass the ball and bring others into play, even if the ball doesn’t always reach its target.

Midway through the second half Daley had a fantastic opportunity when he broke clear and had two players to square the ball to in the penalty area, but his pass found neither player and the ball was cleared. Then as the match moved to injury time, Daley had an opportunity to charge forward again after been brilliantly found by Joe Colbeck. Again he was running at a back peddling defence and again there were City players rushing to get into the area. On this occasion Daley took his time, slowed down the ball before beating and twisting the defender one way and then the other. With others now in better positions, he delivered an excellent ball across the area which substitute Barry Conlon was able to bundle home at the far post.

It was this piece of brilliance that made the difference and earned City the unlikely win. On an afternoon of high emotion which saw unforgettable scenes before kick off, it was a fantastic way to end the day. Over the last few weeks results and performances have improved, but there have been too many draws and progress up the league table has been slow. Once again it seemed that City’s huff and puff wasn’t going to be enough after Lincoln’s Lenell John-Lewis had cancelled out Peter Thorne’s early opener. Passing moves broke down too easily and corners and free kicks were wasted, service to the front two was again not great and a winning goal seemed beyond City. Cue the moment of brilliance.

More of the hard working but limited players are Joe Colbeck and Kyle Nix, who also both played equally significant roles in earning the victory. Making his first Valley Parade start for three months, Joe got off to a flyer wonderfully setting up Peter Thorne to fire home the opening goal in less than a minute. Ask supporters around the stadium for their views on Joe and you’re likely to receive largely negative responses. Joe is certainly a confidence player and has struggled in front of the Valley Parade glare in the last 18 months, but I don’t think he can ever be criticised for effort.

Joe began this game in flying form although predictably struggled with his final ball. Watching him perform by the Midland Road stand during the second half, it was noticeable how aware Joe seems to be of the crowd. You can seem him glance up when he’s receiving criticism and it seems to affect his game. I believe Joe can become a very good footballer for this club, but he needs to find that mental steel to block out the reaction of the crowd.

Joe’s return to the team has enabled Nix to move into the centre of midfield where he looks a better player. The former Sheffield United midfielder is not the quickest and struggles to beat full backs for pace when whipping in crosses on the wing, but his work rate and ball winning ability is admirable. Moved into the centre, his battling abilities were hugely effective and his passing also really caught the eye. Nix will soon be out of contract at City but there seems to be no question he will earn a more permanent deal. The centre of midfield has been a problem area all season but Nix’s recent performances mean Stuart might prefer to concentrate on improving other areas of the team when he can make new signings in January.

City’s flying start to the game allowed some comfort against an industrious Lincoln side who performed much worse than the Sincil Bank meeting earlier in the season. They did put some pressure on City and forced Donovan Ricketts into two fantastic saves, but City could and should have grabbed a second with only the final ball or weak finishing spoiling some decent moves. It was no surprise that Lincoln came out strongly in the second half but, disappointingly, we conceded a soft equaliser within five minutes, although otherwise our defence was excellent with Matt Clarke comfortably slotting back.

City struggled to pass with any fluidity and lacked quality in the final third, Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu was hugely disappointing and it wasn’t until he went off and Daley moved up front that we can began to threaten again. Thorne was then replaced with Conlon and, with the 11 players left on the field having managed just six goals between them all season, a winner looked improbable. At least until Daley set up Conlon.

There’s no prizes for guessing which type of player Conlon is considered and it was fantastic for the hard working striker to finally net a goal for City from open play, but it was the delivery of a skilful but not always fully committed player that made it happen. If only Daley could produce like this more often because he is the type of player who makes the difference, but I know that in a few weeks time he will be causing me to tear out my hair in frustration as he disappoints once more. On those occasions it will be down to ever dependable players such as Nix to help City earn something. We certainly can’t manage without this type of player, but also need match winners like Daley to deliver.

Ultimately; the more good days than bad he enjoys, the higher up the league City will climb.

Looking for Effort from Stuart McCall

At 3-0 down and on the way out of the FA Cup nothing seems good.

Stuart McCall had seen his Bradford City team come second best in almost every department to a Tranmere Rovers side managed by Ronnie Moore – a man who further from McCall in the affections of City fans it is hard to imagine – and doing well in the division above.

That thought is mulled around the mind for a while. The visitors are a good distance apart in the league table than City for a reason and those reasons are easily apparent and not only in moments when the loathsome Chris Greenacre is isolated with David Wetherall and exposes the older man’s lack of pace cruelly.

For it is not just the physical aspects of the game in which Rovers obviously superior – and more handsomely rewarded – squad best City in.

Moore’s team is drilled on hard work, learned in the fussless big man/small man pairing up front and in Ian Goodison have a rock of a defender cleaning out all with efficiency.

Contrast this with fellow Jamaican Omar Daley who madly tries to run the ball away from goal at forty yards only to be – once again – easily robbed. Within seconds and without attention from City’s right winger who believes winning the ball is something that the other players do Tranmere had fired into a lead that while threatened by Wetherall hitting the bar and Peter Thorne having a shot cleaned off the line was never overhauled.

Hard to imagine what Moore would make of a player like Daley who seems wear lack of effort like a badge. Hard to imagine what Paul Jewell would make of him but fairly easy to picture the reaction of Jewell’s skipper at City. Why, one is forced to wonder, does McCall allow just a lack of effort to become endemic in his own team? The apathy of Daley is mirrored in GNN and results in heads sinking down and only a handful of players worthy of a place in a ten next to Stuart let alone picked by him.

Stuart has let the bar go so low for effort in his Bradford City team that anyone with the bit between their teeth or the whips of a forceful manager at their backs will who with ease.

Give me the effort of Joe Colbeck, Barry Conlon, and Craig Bentham et al any day for it is not the battles we lose that are a problem at Bradford City – Tranmere deserved the win on their own merits – it is the inability to suit up for the good fight.

Watching the effort put in by Paul Evans go unrewarded as games are lost to malaise as typified by Daley’s could not care less performance, by GNN’s comments about wanting to sign for the club because his own contract at Gillingham is finishing rather than for our club’s benefit, by the sudden increase in minor injuries and illness at the club.

I think of Stuart McCall the player and doubt he would stand alongside it, I look to Stuart McCall the manager and hope that he does not stand for it.

Rubbish

If you want to read about which players were to blame for yesterday’s defeat and who we should ‘get rid’, you’d be better advised reading the numerous City message boards instead of this. Most of these will be filled with views of who is the biggest disgrace, which players aren’t fit to wear the shirt and how it’s also Stuart and the Board’s fault. A lot of these opinions will be hysterical rubbish, but are likely to satisfy the need of the many fans who consider everything disgusting.

They’re right of course; Saturday was indeed disgusting. I left Valley Parade feeling appalled and pessimistic about the future. However, it wasn’t the performance and attitude of the players that left me feeling angry – it was those in the stands.

What happened? To date the efforts of supporters has been largely fantastic, but on Saturday I felt it was us who didn’t turn up. From the moment the teams came onto the field and Donovan Ricketts, back in the team after his four game ‘rest’, failed to receive a good reception, the atmosphere felt odd. The game kicked off but there was no chanting, no cheering and little support offered towards the players. The place felt flat and at one stage I could hear the players shouting at each other on the pitch – I sit close to the back of the Midland Road stand and I’m half deaf! In a ground with 13,000+ supporters that simply isn’t good enough.

I’m sure you’re backing will be fantastic again. I can’t ask for any more than that – Stuart McCall’s programme notes

The fans in the Kop have been fantastic this season, but only seem to find their voice when the players kick off towards them in the second half. Why don’t you start chanting from kick off? The support in the Midland Road stand was even more pathetic, save for a handful of fans in C block attempting to start chants. As fans, we expect the players to show 100% effort and commitment for the cause – yet we can’t even be bothered to sing a few chants.

No one was getting behind the team, who after a slow start began to get on top and created some decent chances. Everyone appeared more happy to moan and find fault with the team’s efforts, no matter how tedious their complaints were. After a few good passing moves into the Brentford area didn’t quite result in a goal, City played a long ball which went through to the Brentford keeper. “You see!” said one fan a few rows in front of me, “all we do is launch long balls up, we’re so predictable!” Yes, of course that’s all we do.

I wouldn’t argue City were fantastic in the first half, but we were the better side and desperately unlucky not to take the lead. Then Brentford scored with a wonder strike. At half time the boos came down from all three stands, undeserved in my view. Walking around the concourse with steam coming out of my ears, one fan decided to helpfully tell me that City were going to be relegated this season. Thanks for this insightful knowledge, now I know not to bother with the rest of the season. Maybe we should tell the players and management this so they can give up on the season as well?

In the second half City came out all guns blazing and fans finally started getting behind the team. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu hit the bar with a header and Barry Conlon wasted the rebound. When Conlon missed another easy chance minutes later, the boos started again. At one stage there was the ridiculous situation of Conlon being booed while in possession, as it appeared he was about to lose it. The Irish striker then did well to keep the ball and play it to another City player, the silence from these fans was deafening! Where’s the “good play Conlon, come on City!”?

They were soon booing him again when he was subbed though, which I thought was completely unfair. Conlon was guilty of missing some excellent chances and didn’t play well, but he gave everything and hardly meant to miss.

After Brentford scored the second, again against the run of play which most fans chose to ignore, we had more boos and anger. A friend in the main stand told me that a couple of fans in the Kop threw their season tickets onto the pitch in disgust. At the final whistle, despite City almost coming back after Mark Bower scored, there were more boos from the fans who hadn’t already left. Some stayed back to wait until the players had shaken hands with the Brentford players and began walking over to applaud the fans, so they could boo the team again. The players just turned away and walked off and who can blame them?

Let’s put this into perspective. I think City were very unfortunate to lose this game. It wasn’t a great performance, but they were on top for large spells and created some excellent chances. The ball just wouldn’t go in, while Brentford created two chances and scored them both. The only time I thought the players were poor was in their response to going 2-0 behind. Their heads dropped and they looked beaten, despite there been 30 minutes still to play. But as supporters had given up – on both the game and the season – who can blame them?

I’ve seen worse performances from City this season and to receive such a high level of abuse was unjustified. We’re on a really poor run of form and confidence is low. Understandably we’re all really frustrated, we expected to be around 4th in the league – not 4th bottom! But for how bad our recent form is I really don’t believe we should write off the season like this. There’s a long way to go and I still think we can sneak a play off spot this season.

Fans demanding we get rid of certain players are being simplistic. Should City really throw money away cancelling contracts of players not performing? Where do they think this money will come from? More than likely it would be from whatever transfer budget Stuart has for improving the ability of the playing squad. We can demand some of the younger players come in, but would they have the mental strength to cope with the boos from 13,000 people? It could destroy them.

I continue to be both astounded and humbled by the level of support both at home and away and I can only hope your patience is rewarded eventually – Julian Rhodes’ programme notes.

The simple fact is that, until January, we have to persist with the playing squad we have. Of course changes have to be made for Tuesday and Stuart will do so – a recall for Paul Evans is surely a must. This current squad can do much better than present form and we should get behind them in attempting to do so. There’s no magic wand to make it all better, they need to keep working hard and give their all and eventually our luck will turn.

As fans, we have a huge role to play. I really think that the reaction and atmosphere on Saturday harmed the team far greater than Conlon’s misses. It felt like the day the fans wrote off for the season but this shouldn’t be the case. On Tuesday we should be getting behind the players from the first whistle to the last. Players will make mistakes and there are times we all groan but, if we stick with them and save the moaning until half time or the pub after, our support can make the difference.

We’re all sick of losing and being where we are in the league, but everyone needs to take responsibility in turning the situation around. That especially includes us supporters.

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.

Point Made

It was not feeling miserable when leaving, that was the best part about Saturday.

After four weekends where City have lost, not to mention the midweek Accrington debacle, that empty feeling that stays with you most of the week and leaves you not wanting to think about football had become all too familiar. I walked down Midland Road after the game feeling a little disappointed that City had failed to turn their superiority into a win and felt worried about the lack of goals and decent service running through the team, but I also left feeling much more positive about City’s prospects for the season and had renewed belief that happier times were not that far around the corner.

A lot of people came out of Saturday with credit. Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs have clearly worked hard on the training ground at lifting sagging spirits and raising confidence. Stuart has recently commented that it’s going to take a while to build a team that he is happy with, but the one assembled so far competed much better to belatedly demonstrate that fourth bottom of the entire Football League was a false position.

There wasn’t much different about the way the team lined up against Darlington than in previous games and Stuart resisted the urge to make wholesome changes. He was rewarded by those he kept faith with and seems to have a clear vision of how he wants his team to play. The sight of a second place team clearly time wasting and settling for a draw in the closing stages showed just how effective that play had been.

Credit also to the supporters who got behind the team. I was partly dreading Saturday’s game for fear of another defeat, I also feared the reaction of supporters to another loss. After the first 20 minutes there was barely a moan to be heard among supporters, apart from at the officials anyway, as everyone seemed to recognise that the 11 in claret and amber shirts were giving their all. The atmosphere felt a bit flat in the first half, but those in the Kop again got suitably behind the players as they attacked towards them in the second.

Having the biggest crowds in the division can be an effective weapon, but it can also be a hindrance. 12,000 moaning and complaining is a lot louder than 7,000 and we’ve already seen certain players disappear into their shells when the grumbles get louder. It’s hard to stay positive at times, but it was heartening that the crowd really got behind the players and encouraged them to keep going forward. It’s extremely rare for a 0-0 draw to be recognised with a standing ovation and it seemed clear the players really appreciated the support, by the way they held back to applaud the three stands. I don’t think they could have got off the pitch quicker at the final whistle against Accrington!

But credit most of all should go to the players. Their performances and general attitude have been openly questioned in recent weeks and deservedly so. We all know they can do better than five defeats in a row, but the criticism must have hurt. Only a year ago a couple of defeats became a crisis and performances got worse, as those paid to represent City struggled and failed to handle the pressure. Stuart spoke before the Darlo match of expecting no one to hide and every player responded well. It was hard to find fault with anyone’s performance, if only one of the numerous chances created could have been put away.

I arrived at Valley Parade expecting little, I certainly didn’t imagine I would witness City’s best home performance of the season so far. To an uninformed observer, it would have been easy to be confused over which team sat second in the league and which was near the bottom. The quality of the final ball still leaves a lot to be desired and I can’t remember a City side who have ever put in so many awful corners, but we weren’t far away from giving Darlo a real spanking.

Perhaps the most heartening thing about the display was the work rate from everyone, something lacking in recent weeks. Omar Daley has excited and then frustrated all too often, but has barely tracked back into his own half during the last few defeats. On Saturday he was helping his defence and getting up and down the pitch really well. We know he has plenty of skill and pace, but it’s the end product and desire to work hard when City don’t have the ball that’s been lacking.

Omar was often back in the City penalty area on Saturday helping out Darren Williams, who was outstanding, while he also looked a threat going forward. On the other winger Kyle Nix looks a really impressive player and a winger who can also tackle. He’s not the quickest, especially compared to Daley, but his dribbling is excellent and he showed a cool head to work the ball into good positions and find a team mate.

Up front, Barry Conlon has looked a different player the last two games. Yes he should have scored at least twice and he does seem to hesitate when a chance comes his way, but as a target man holding up the ball he was phenomenal. Players could clear the ball up to him, when under pressure, and the ball would stick there. He helped lay on some excellent chances and also has a reasonable first touch.

It’s hard to imagine Conlon reaching double figures for us this season, but if he can get a goal from open play his confidence will surely go up another notch. The challenge for Conlon is to maintain and perhaps better his last two performances. Should he keep it up, he will be a regular name on the team sheet regardless of how often he finds the net.

Defensively City were much better and, while Mark Bower and David Wetherall have performed much better the last three games, the protection the whole midfield gave them also helped. Watching recent games, to me it has felt too many forward players were expecting the defence to win the ball back and waited up field for a pass. Against Morecambe we often appeared outnumbered when the home side attacked so it was good to see Nicky Law and Eddie Johnson working hard in both boxes. Paul Heckingbottom also bounced back well after a series of poor displays.

Ultimately it’s down to the players to turn around the slump and get City into winning ways. Saturday was a great start and hopefully confidence and belief will have returned. The performance was heartening and we should have won, but it’s important the result becomes something to build on rather than a high point. It’s worth noting that Saturday’s failure to find the breakthrough means it’s over 300 minutes since City last scored at Valley Parade.

On Saturday City travel to face a Grimsby side which has lost four on the bounce and so won’t be feeling too confident themselves. It’s important City stand up to the challenge and come away with something. After our own dismal run it’s fair to say that our players will know how Grimsby will be feeling right now – and also know why we shouldn’t underestimate them. Hopefully Darlo will be the turning point but, for how well City’s players performed against the high flying Quakers, it’s a level of performance and effort required every week.

So we left Valley Parade much happier than we arrived, with more confidence about our season and the hope that the slide has been arrested. After four Saturday’s in a row feeling miserable, let’s hope we’ve had our quota for a while and can enjoy the rest of our weekend once more. Surely it’s time the footballing gods started sharing out the misery, starting with that lot t’other side of Pudsey.

Frustrating Revelations

Despite dominating the game and play for the most part, City were forced to settle for a point in this frustrating encounter at Valley Parade.

A point against a team placed second at the start of play today looks like a half decent result – But the overwhelming feeling of the home support walking away from the ground was a feeling of two points dropped rather than one gained.

That said , many positives have come out of today’s game. City looked very assured and comfortable in defence for the first time since the Peterborough game, with Mark Bower particularly outstanding in a whole hearted performance. Rhys Evans, on his home debut, looked commanding from set pieces and corners but was never properly tested by a very disappointing Darlington side.

A revelation today was young Nicky Law. He gave an accomplished performance throughout – doing the simple things well, getting stuck in and hardly misplacing one pass throughout the 90 minutes. He was tenacious defensively and was clearly thinking through every attacking move he initiated – reading the game brilliantly.

If Darlington are a benchmark in this division, then City must think they have a chance of getting into the playoffs despite recent turbulent results. They offered hardly a scare going forward, whereas City carved out numerous very presentable opportunities. The best of which fell to Barry Conlon in the first half, when Kyle’s Nixs’ clever cross floated across to the big Irishman who was totally unmarked on the right hand side of the box, but he drifted his header wide of the target.

Conlon did not do anything in this match to persuade his growing army of critics at Bradford that he can do a job at the club. He shows some OK basic control when the ball is played up to him, but he wins hardly anything in the air (despite his large presence) and never seems to have the cutting edge in front of goal.

Prowess in front of goal was the key missing link in this performance and highlighted City’s lack of a regular goalscorer. Pre season hopes of a 20 goal a season striker in this league were pinned on Peter Thorne, who is yet to find the mark or his form, and we must be concerned about his proneness to injury given his history over the last two years. And with the Willy Topp deal appearing to have gone sour, a City striker needs to step up their game and become a consistent goal scorer week in week out, or any playoff hopes this season will certainly be banished. Ndumbu-Nsungu is an exciting front man, with bags of ability when he gets the ball to feet, but it was fully evident against Darlington that he needs a strike partner who is going to smash away the goals consistently so the pressure is taken off of him, allowing him to create and put in all the effort that is guaranteed with him chasing down channels and putting defenders under pressure.

In the final stages of the game, City nearly won the match with a freak goal, when a routine, wayward cross from the left was astonishingly dropped by the Darlington keeper, and just as it looked it was certain that the ball would drop in, it drifted wide and out for a corner. Such is our luck at the moment – had we been on a winning streak, it would have been the goal that won it for us 1-0.

But the attitude and commitment from all the players in this game was something to be proud of, and the appreciation for the players was shown by the home crowd after the final whistle. The performance was excellent, and a neutral watching the game would have been shocked to learn of our lowly position in the table compared to Darlington.

The next three games are huge for us. All very winnable, and the most optimistic fan will hope for 9 points out of the games which will really get us back on track. Losing five in a row really hurt (especially the Accrington game) but this performance has given us renewed hope.

A regular goal scorer in this team will get us shooting up the table and I really do not believe we need to worry about any other teams in this league. Macclesfield, Wrexham, Wycombe, Peterborough and Darlington have all come to Valley Parade and looked nothing short of poor. Sorting out our home form, and winning every match where the opposition has nothing to offer will turn the table on its head so that we are looking up from the right end of League Two.

Boo

Two things. Thing number one: Very little could not have been better about Bradford City’s 1-0 defeat at home to Wycombe Wanderers.

The refereeing was appalling – if the standard set with Omar Daley’s fifth minute booking had held through the game then the match would have ended with eighteen players on the field – as was City’s defending for the goal of the game although anyone looking to blame Donovan Ricketts is very generous to the back four that dropped so far back into the six yard box that the keeper was amongst them rather than behind them.

Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu’s header in the opening minutes from Tom Harban’s cross should have been better executed – free headers in the six yard box are not to be wasted – as should Omar Daley’s dribble and shot although Stuart McCall was rightly incensed by the Referee’s refusal to give a corner as the man in black seemed set to give Daley nothing all day long.

The creativity City showed was poor. If City have played well then Eddie Johnson has completed many passes. If we have been bad then Johnson gets the ball in midfield and the likes of Daley, Ndumbu-Nsungu, Peter Thorne and Kyle Nix are all hidden or have run off behind defenders as if the ball cold be spirited to them rather than passed over a short distance well. If Johnson is looking to make killer balls to find a man – and he was forced to – then the forward players are not making themselves targets well enough.

City failed to test the Wycombe keeper seriously until a Paul Heckingbottom free kick late on although two or three good shouts for penalties were obviously turned down cause – well – they always are aren’t they? Searching for penalties is always the sign of a bad display.

It was a bad display. Very little that could not have been improved on in some way.

Thing two: Very little that would not be better without the stream of barracking and booing that has plagued City for years and still does. Half time and the Bantams are booed and those who do applaud effort are barracked, Donovan Ricketts is ironically cheered for fielding the ball, Barry Conlon is booed when he comes on although why I have no idea, full time and City are booed once more and while the performance was not good it is hard to see that being rectified with jeering.

It is just this simple. This is the last chance for Bradford City. Mark Lawn, Stuart McCall et al. Last chance. If we do not make a go of this then the club – which having seen the books myself I can guarantee you has been dangerously close to closing about a half dozen times in the last three or four years – will go out of existence.

Atmosphere? Getting behind the team? Trying to raise the players? These are not options any more if we want a club. Everyone has a right to an opinion I’m told as a justification for the kind of barracking that has plagued City for years now and if that is true then this is mine. This club is on it’s knees and rather than trying to help us get back up there is a not insignificant section of the Valley Parade “support” who want to hack those knees away.

Very little at Valley Parade would not be improved if those people found something else to do with their Saturdays.