How Peter Taylor turned around Bradford City’s season

The contrast could not have been greater. A month to the day since Bradford City departed the field to yet more angry boos in the wake of a dispiriting home loss to Morecambe, jubilant scenes greeted the final whistle at Gigg Lane as the Bantams recorded a fourth win from five. The immediate future looked bleak on October 2, now it appears hugely exciting.

Midway through the second half at Bury, a massive argument between the two benches over a strong home challenge prompted a boisterous chorus of ‘Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army’ from the large travelling support. Compare that to the scenes at full time against Morecambe – part of which were captured live on the excellent Bantams Banter podcast that week, where in the words of Tom or Dom: “Taylor’s being booed, he’s just walked onto the pitch and is being absolutely annihilated.” – and for the City manager to still be employed is an achievement in itself.

After the Morecambe loss City had slumped to 23rd – or a ranking of 91st out of 92 professional teams who play in England. It was a new low point of a 10-year slump which has featured numerous “it can’t get any worse than this” moments. But 31 days later the Bantams have climbed to 10th position – a remarkable recovery after it had appeared the only way we’d be exiting League Two would be via the relegation trapdoor.

And for that Taylor deserves a huge amount of credit. In the wake of the Morecambe loss, tabloid speculation took hold that he had to win the next game or would be dismissed. Taylor and City pulled back from the brink, winning 2-0 at Barnet in a thrilling manner. But even then it seemed Taylor’s future remained right on the knife edge and, as Cheltenham took an early lead at Valley Parade the following Saturday, the end appeared close.

City recovered to win while producing their finest display of the season so far; and though a 3-0 setback at Burton once again raised question marks, victories over Oxford and Bury have firmly pushed away the pressure of the sack. Now to keep going.

Above all else the turnaround has been achieved by placing a greater emphasis on the quality Taylor has available. The less-than-inspiring end of September/early October, which featured defender Luke Oliver up front and seven hours without a goal, saw City play some quite dreadful long ball football. It was back-to-basics, desperate tactics seemingly aimed at grinding out results. It was also horrendous to watch.

At Barnet Taylor went back to 4-4-2 and employed Tom Adeyemi alongside Tommy Doherty, to provide the cultured midfielder with greater support – and City struck two quality goals in the second half to win the game.

Doherty’s early games were relative quiet and unassuming, with the summer signing attracting the kind of criticism gifted players like Nicky Summerbee and Gareth Whalley received for their shortcomings. He looked quality from day one, but struggled to get team mates on the same wavelength and to make the sort of clever off-the-ball running he has the ability to ping a pass to.

In recent weeks it has been a privilege to watch someone of such talent making a big impression, and his performances against Cheltenham and Oxford have drawn comparisons to Whalley. I feel we are very lucky to have such a superb player for this level; he is pivotal to Taylor’s side.

Now that he has settled in and built up fitness, Lee Hendrie is also making a huge difference to City. He scored the crucial second goal against Cheltenham in what was his best all-round performance for City. Hendrie clearly has a clever football brain and the vision to spot things others don’t see. Here until January at least, with each excellent performance the likelihood of another team coming in is growing.

But for now he is not only helping Doherty increase his influence, but setting a superb example to others in helping Taylor evolve the team’s shape. Hendrie is not an out-and-out winger, but a wide midfielder able to tuck inside and help central team mates. His good habits appear to have been taken on board by Leon Osborne, who is growing into his right midfield role, and the shape of the team looks more solid, particuarly when City don’t have the ball.

The third creative player who’s authority has grown is Omar Daley. Deployed up front alongside James Hanson or Jason Price, Daley has revelled in the trust his manager has placed in him and is causing all kinds of problems in a free role. He regularly pops up all over the final third of the park, and this is proving difficult for defenders to pick up.

Balancing out this trio’s flair is the ball winning and athleticism of David Syers or Tom Adeyemi, who carry greater defensive responsibilities. Syers has looked strong going forwards in games, but Taylor is clearly looking for more positional discipline and the more withdrawn style he displayed at Gigg Lane on Tuesday is likely to be more the norm than the attacking midfielder who has already scored four times this season.

With the defence continued to look solid, in keeping with the start to the season where goals against wasn’t a huge problem, City are looking tougher to beat and capable of scoring regularly – particuarly with full backs encouraged to carry the ball forwards. The balance has been achieved, enabling the flair we were beginning to fear would never be a feature of Taylor’s management to become the telling factor.

So City march on; and though there is no guarantee the upturn inform will continue, the manner of recent displays suggests Taylor has found most of the answers to the strong questions been asked of him a few weeks ago, and that he can continue building from here.

Now who thought that would be the case a month ago?

16 words for 16 games

So this is it then. A week after the must-win game at Barnet, Bradford City manager Peter Taylor takes his side into a game he must not lose – or it appears highly likely he will be asked to pack up his desk on Monday morning.

Earlier in the week Taylor publicly called for his two Chairmen to clarify his position in the wake of mounting speculation. Mark Lawn chose to respond with just 16 words, that fell a long way short of backing his man. It’s not only what those 16 words meant, but the hundreds of other words Lawn opted not to use. Taylor will surely be disappointed by the fact his employer turned down the chance to offer his public support.

It has been argued, and perhaps with good reason, that Taylor’s own comments asking for clarity weren’t the cleverest and that in a sense Lawn was backed into a corner. But if the public face of the Board really still believed in his manager, this was the opportunity to dismiss the speculation as false and reaffirm his commitment to the man he offered a contract too just five months ago. He did neither.

So it all comes down to Cheltenham at home. From the outcome of Saturday’s result it seems we are to determine the entire season’s prospects – and the long-term future of who should be charged with steering this ship. And yes, you can argue that all of the other previous poor results will have contributed significantly to any P45s issued next week, but if that’s the case why not just sack him this week? Why wait and let the outcome of one football match determine the next few months and years?

It is simply ludicrous to apparently be in this position. A win this Saturday does not make Taylor any more suitable to do the job than a defeat would prove he isn’t. But this is where short-term thinking gets us.

Taylor, who signed the one-year contract before Northampton last season, has since taken charge of 16 games – winning six, drawing two and losing eight. It’s true that some of the performances have been amongst the worst we’ve ever seen, and no one could argue he’s so far done a good job. But to hand someone a contract and to then be prepared to tear it up after 16 games, and when asked to defend their choice of manager to be only able to find 16 non-committal words of support?

It is pure madness.

But for now the hope is that last week’s encouraging performance against Barnet will have provided the spark City’s campaign desperately needs. There have been some false dawns of late – Gillingham home and Rotherham away – but the  league form guide of won two, drawn two and lost two from the last six matches suggests the club might be slowly turning the corner; particularly when it’s recalled the four prior matches had all ended in defeat.

In order to really get into the groove, it’s hoped there won’t be many changes to Taylor’s team sheet. Jason Price’s arrival on loan and Jame Hanson’s return to fitness mean it’s unlikely Luke Oliver will remain up front, but all eyes will be on whether the back four is also tinkered with. Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien are emerging as the two main contenders for player of the season, but both have been dropped before and could be again if Taylor decides to push Oliver back into the centre of defence.

Oliver Gill, who it’s been suggested has to play every week under the terms of the Man United loan agreement, could be moved to left back again – but it would surely be daft to make any changes at all. Zesh Rehman, an inspirational leader last week, should at least carry on at right back and, with Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt out for sometime, plus Reece Brown rumoured to have returned to Old Trafford due to injury, a run in the team surely awaits. Shane Duff will hope to be fit and selected against his former club. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal.

In midfield a week off seemed to have helped Tommy Doherty’s fitness and form at Barnet last week, and he will be counted on for inspiration again. For much of the season the movement in the attacking third has been poor, which has clearly limited the effectiveness of Doherty to produce incisive passes. At Barnet fellow midfielders Leon Osborne, Tom Adeyemi and Lee Hendrie provided that movement and should all continue. Lee Bullock and David Syers wait on the sidelines.

Omar Daley received words of encouragement for his performance up front last week and will probably partner Price, with Hanson starting from the bench. These sudden extra forward options push Chibuzor Chilaka, Louis Moult and Jake Speight further out of the picture; though the latter will hope a scoring performance in the reserves midweek will be rewarded with a starting spot.

There is a long way to go for Chilaka, Moult and Speight to make a bigger impact at City than we’ve seen from them so far. But the 16 words of Lawn suggest it will probably be another manager trying to get it out of them.

A silence

There was a temptation to simply link to the previous four match reports this website has offered and invite you – dear reader – to mentally flip a few names to make your own Cheltenham report.

It is easily done. A referee who once again begged the question “bent or bloody rubbish?” A City defender sent off for two yellow card offences that even after the argument as to if either offence was actually a foul – today for Steve Williams one was, one was not – were offences repeated across the field without punishment being given (Append:) although whatever one things about the challenge Williams certainly did not foul Richards in the penalty area.

Cheltenham striker Justine Richards and City's Steve Williams

Penalties feature heavily of course. Williams was sent off for a dive which frankly was better than Stephen Leslie’s dive Shrewsbury but was still a dive. Justin Richards – today’s woeful sprawler – is a cheat but at least he is better at it than Leslie is, in that he dive looked more convincing.

Once you have mentally created the match report add the odd comment to the bottom. Add one that blames the Bantams for the run of refereeing decisions and another that manages to aim that blame squarely at manager Stuart McCall. It is the masochist opinion but one that is often heard.

Nevertheless long after I had accepted the machinations of another official who was either unfit to Referee or had decided he wanted a specific result (I know what I think) the Bradford City players – told to spend more time playing and less time sulking about the string of corrupt/useless that blights their games by manager McCall – turned in a performance of credit. Down to ten men with a sending off which was at best a mistake/came courtesy of a bottle of whiskey in the referee’s room the players turned in a performance that took control of of the match.

Indeed the first half lead given by James O’Brien’s tidy finish after visiting keeper Brown had flapped at a corner was the least that City deserved and a chunk of luck for Michael Flynn when he drove from long range or James Hanson when he got into the box after a smart move through a packed midfield would have resulted in a more healthy scoreline.

That that midfield was packed caused problems for the game. With Simon Whaley return to Norwich the previous day and Omar Daley not yet fit enough to start a diamond midfield with Lee Bullock at the base – Bullock pretty much neutered the visitor’s midfield single handedly – Flynn and James O’Brien in the middle and Chris Brandon at the tip. It was a tight middle and robbed of flank players compressed the game into what was often a frustrating to watch mass of football.

Nevertheless the protection to the back four – and latterly back three – offered by the midfield snuffed out the Cheltenham threat comprehensively and the single goal should have been enough to win the game but Referee Craig Pawson and his intervention in the game that was oh too familiar. The game was perverted and rendered – well – boring as Pawson like the previous four officials at Bradford City matches decided he and his decisions would be centre sage. It is football pantomime, and everyone grows out of pantomime.

What does the club do from now? Stuart McCall told his players to focus more on the game and less on the Referee and so they did but the focus of the game – the reason for the result – was another inept/biased performance by an official. Should the club kick up a stink about the way that the last five games have been tipped in one direction or another by this brand of officiating then it seems to exasperate the problem but saying nothing is unnatural and goes against our need to protect our club.

The Bantams plod on though doing enough to win games but having them turned away from victory and as people turned away from Valley Parade trudging home in the snow on Saturday evening there was not a criticism or players or manager but a silence.

Honest

Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on your point of view – I know I saw it in a movie this Christmas – and so as City trundle into 2010 at home to Cheltenham one is given cause to reflect on the utterances that come from Valley Parade and the relationship they have with that most precious of things: The truth.

Lee Clark – manager of Huddersfield Town – has made it clear that he has recalled goalkeeper Simon Eastwood from his time at Valley Parade after what is charitably described as “an up and down” time at City while Stuart McCall suggests that City let the shot stopper go in favour of bringing in a more experienced man. That one club did not want him to stay and the other wanted him to go seems to say enough about the keeper’s time as VP shot stopper.

Eastwood will be replaced in goal – in all likelihood – by Jon McLaughlin who is not the experienced man McCall is seeking but is well fancied by many fans the majority of whom have not seen him play. Blind faith in City players always heartening though and the months put into Eastwood’s development which could have gone into McLaughlin seem to have been waste but sometimes a gamble pays off and other times it does not and Eastwood is set against the success of three other rookies in Scott Neilson, James Hanson and Steve Williams.

Which manager is telling the truth? Perhaps both are, perhaps both are not. Probably both tell half of it. McCall was unsure about keeping Eastwood until he had someone else lined up, Clark wanted him back for fear for his development which is stunted. The truth depends greatly on your point of view it seems.

Stuart McCall’s point of view after the Shrewsbury Town game last week was that it was referee Peter Quinn who won the game for the visitors and not the side from Shropshire. Certainly the vocal comment on Quinn’s performance would suggest that there was a broad agreement with the City boss although other demanded McCall stop using “excuses”

As a position to be in McCall stood on invidious ground. He faced criticism that had City not missed early chances – Simon Whaley’s pinging a shot off the bar being judged in the same way as Gareth Evans’s fluff – then the Referee’s interjections would have been irrelevant (or so the logic goes) and thus McCall is excuse mongering.

How the City gaffer does not point out that appeasing an official for making two such massive errors – errors unsupported by his non-flagging linesman in the most serious case – on the basis that one of the teams had not already scored is avoidance of a much higher order I do not know. When it comes to excuses the “he got two decisions wrong but it was our fault for not having scored” borders on the masochistic.

McCall was not able to be honest after the game – although he tried with his “Shrewsbury have not won that” comment – and nor were BfB our Rochdale honed sense of what will get us sued preventing us from writing the original article that said “Player X and Player Y are cheats, plain and simple.”

I have sympathy for Peter Quinn for that reason. Some of the Shrewsbury Town players were far better at cheating than they were at football and if someone needs to be giving out excuses it should be Paul Simpson for playing those players at all. An honest man would not. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand – or so Dr Who says.

Simon Ramsden is expected to return for City at right back displacing Jonathan Bateson – who had his best game in a City shirt against Shrewsbury – with Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams being reunited as Matthew Clarke starts his suspension. Luke O’Brien continues to play the season red cardless one of which will be high on the impressive Louis Horne’s new year wish list.

Omar Daley is expected to be kept on the bench once more as he returns to fitness with a stacked January of rearranged away trips in mind – Daley’s pace is incredibly effective on the road – giving Scott Neilson the right wing place opposite Simon Whaley who also impressed against Shrewsbury. Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn continue in the middle.

James Hanson and Gareth Evans continue up front with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding injured. Hanson continues to win admirers while Evans struggles to impress all. Personally I can forgive Evans the fluff against Shrewsbury – I recall Benito Carbone doing the same against Southampton – because of the striker’s reaction.

Head up, on to the next chance, honest.

A tale of two dodgy defences

I have to initially confess that a combination of circumstances over the last few years have meant that I haven’t been a regular attendee at City games home or away, and indeed haven’t seen my beloved Bantams in action at all since the season before last. Guilty as charged your honour – I’m a slacker and a slipped fan.

So first, a bit of preamble. My journey of residences in t’South (since migrating from t’North some 10.5 years ago) has taken me from Watford to Reading to Swindon and most recently to the delights of North Somerset, where I’ve been by the seaside for the last 1.5 years and think I’m finally settled.

When the fixture list was published in June, I was determined to look up my local fixtures, clear the appropriate weekends and get my best mate and his missus down here for at least one away day. With due consideration to the “grounds not visited list” and not being enthralled by the idea of Torquay away at the end of January (though I’ll be there), it came to pass that Cheltenham in August was favourite – the girls were to go on a shopping expedition and the boys were to dutifully support the mighty Bantams at Whaddon Road. Pre-season had me looking forward to the day, but after City’s inglorious start to the season, well… I’m sure you can forgive some trepidation when the day finally came around!

A lovely sunny West Country day was on the cards and we set off from Clevedon at around 1245hrs, doing the 50 miles up the M5 in reasonable time and arriving at Cheltenham town centre. The girls were dispatched to shop shop shop, whilst Jamie and I found directions to the ground and set off, with the aim of stopping off in a watering hole on the way. Within moments we’d come across “The Conservatory” where a pint of “Hooky Bitter” was definitely hooky, being like vinegar, and was replaced with a pint of John Smith’s Smooth without a problem (the barman even refunded the 30p difference). After this, we wandered further towards the ground and stumbled across the delightful “Sudeley Arms” – a bit quiet, but a lovely welcome and a cracking serving of “Black Sheep” bitter would see this as a recommended pub if any future visits to Cheltenham are required.

All too soon it was about time to head on up to the ground if we weren’t to miss kick off – with hindsight, we’re glad we didn’t! Whaddon Road, or rather, the Abbey Business Stadium (I hate these sponsored ground name changes) is a compact ground in the middle of a nice-ish residential area, not a bad place to walk through. Away end is covered, but costs £20 to get in and there’s nowhere to smoke at half-time – sheesh.

Took our seats in a sparsely-populated away end (official site confirms only 297 away followers – understandable given the start to the season and the distance involved), just as the teams were coming out. A quick look round saw that Stuart was making some changes – no room for Brandon (apparently ill), Boulding or Thorne in the starting 11.

We’re off and running on time, and before we’ve really settled back down into our seats, Evans collected the ball just inside the Cheltenham half and went off on a storming run to the byline before crossing into the box – the ball was only cleared as far as James O’Brien, who rifled in from the edge of the area. The second minute and City are 1-0 up after not managing to score in 4 games – brilliant.

Oh wait, within 2 minutes, Cheltenham were level – poor defending doesn’t pick up the man coming in at the far post, who’s a little lucky when he almost scuffed his shot and it looped over Eastwood and into the corner of the net.

3 minutes later and City were 2-1 up! Luke O’Brien played the ball through for Evans, who went on another storming run down the left, taking the ball forwards before cutting inside the defenders, making space for himself in front of goal and coolly slotting the ball into the left hand side of the goal. Joy, rapture, sheer brilliance…

….and within 5 more minutes, Cheltenham were level again – a disputed free kick (the referee gave us nothing through the whole game – yet Cheltenham only seemed to have to lose their footing and they got a free kick) about 30 yards out was played into the box and their guy got a free header that flew past Eastwood into the corner of the net. Woeful defending again.

Not long to wait for us to go ahead for the 3rd time though – on 20 minutes, a Luke O’Brien corner was nicely floated into the box and Hanson was rising to put away a glancing header. Lovely stuff, and I wondered where the City that couldn’t score was?

Question was, could we defend this lead for a bit longer? Answer was…..no!Well, we did alright up until 2 minutes before the break when more poor defending saw us not able to clear the ball properly, Cheltenham played the ball into the area and their guy scored with an overhead kick (his arrogant swaggering celebration towards the away end afterwards should’ve been classed as inciting the fans).

Well, at least we went into the break level…I got a text from a mate of mine saying “3-3 at half time, must be great to watch”….ummm, not really – our goals were well taken, but you never got the feeling that we could defend the lead. On the way up when I’d joked to Jamie that if we hadn’t gone, City’d score 5 – that was looking on the cards, but it was looking equally likely that we’d concede 5 too. I texted my mate back to say I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 5-5 at full time.

Anyway, half-time was pie-time, and trying to keep my mind off the nicotine monster growing inside, I wandered up to the tea bar thingy and paid £5.10 for a coffee, a bovril and a meat & taty pie. The pie wasn’t good – the pastry was too flakey and wasn’t really firm enough to restrain the contents when picking the pie up – the filling wasn’t exactly tasty either, some grey mush with potato-looking lumps in. It filled a hole, but then so would a bale of hay….

Time for the 2nd half to start and we wondered what joys this would bring. We didn’t have to wait long to see City take the lead for the 4th time – about 5 minutes actually – a long free kick from Ramsden to the left hand side of the area to Hanson to head across the area for Williams to power home a header from the edge of the 6 yard box. 4-3 to the City – come on!

21 minutes later, City extended the lead to 2 goals by virtue of an own goal – though not before Cheltenham had given us a scare and had a goal ruled out (didn’t see much wrong with it myself – Eastwood not communicating with Williams caused the problem).

We still looked like scoring again, but of course, the game wasn’t done giving us scares yet – in the 89th minute, in lovely sunshine, Cheltenham scored their 4th to give us some more minutes (3 added at the end of each half) of anxiety, ’til finally the referee ended the nervousness with his whistle. We were off back to the “Sudeley Arms” for more nice ale and a chat with the locals – good atmosphere, great people – pop in if we ever have to go back to Cheltenham!

Brief thoughts – Evans was an absolute star. Colbeck does good running the ball out from defence – he’s got some pace and some skill and seems to tie in nicely with Evans and Hanson. I quite liked the look of Flynn too. I have to say though that Eastwood doesn’t appear to have any command of his area, or be able to communicate with the defence

On balance, I think we deserved the win and more probably by a greater margin.

I notice the official website says that it was a “superbly entertaining affair” – perhaps it was if you were a neutral, not so much if you’re a faint-hearted or loose-bowelled City fan! Really a tale of 2 dodgy defences – but no matter, it’s still great to see City on the right side of a scoreline with a 5 on it – oh what fun it is to see City win away.

Recent Posts