How Football is ploughing fields without planting seeds

An away trip through South Yorkshire

Chesterfield away is a classic of the genre. A one goal victory that came when Bradford City ground the ambition out of the home side leaving only struggle.

Every pass forward was marshalled and pushed away by an imperious defensive line. Every easy clearance was made hard by strikers and midfielders who chased down what would have been the routine were it not for the attitude that manager Phil Parkinson has drummed into his team.

The goal came when Tony McMahon finished off a mazy run and low cross by Billy Clarke. Clarke enjoyed his best game in claret and amber and tormented the Chesterfield backline dropping into the hole between James Hanson and the midfield and exploiting it.

Chesterfield’s response – to bring on the aging Richie Humphrey – showed a team stepping back on their home turf. McMahon’s goal finished off the home team.

Parkinson would say after the game that City could have had four – indeed the post was pinged a number of times – but really the City manager oversells his policies. A one goal away win excites Parkinson – and excites me – because of the grind that has seen wins come Scunthorpe United, Rochdale, Doncaster Rovers, Oldham Athletic.

Those days are Parkinson at his best.

Playing away to teams that want to win mirrors the visits of Sunderland, or Arsenal, or Aston Villa, or the trip to Chelsea. When the opposition commits to victory Parkinson uses Hanson the battering ram occupying multiple defenders, and soaks up pressure with a mean back four.

The City manager’s problems come at home when teams sit back and defend the Bantams attack which is sporadic as shown by the third fewest goals scored total in League One. When City are forced to make the play in a game then games slip away from Parkinson.

Or sometimes things do not work.

An away trip to South Yorkshire

Text message before the game with Sheffield United: “Upper or lower?”

Reply: “Neither.”

Going to a football match should not cost more than going to the cinema. I’ve said this in the past and I believe it.

I think that Bradford City’s home pricing is a rare oasis of sense in a madness of a game in which this generation sells the game from the next and does so with a great deal of support from those getting fleeced.

Bradford City’s away pricing – and walk up pricing – is equally toxic to the game as a whole. Last time I checked it cost £25 to go to Valley Parade as an away fan. It cost £22 at Chesterfield, it cost similar at Walsall, it cost similar at Doncaster, or at Scunthorpe and so on.

The impact of this aggressive pricing that makes following football a thing that only some can afford is obvious to anyone who sees the aging supporter group and the gentrification which seems to come with it.

£27 to get into Sheffield United is certainly something I can afford but it is not something I will pay. It is a few pounds more than other games and those few pounds are hardly significant to me but I will not pay it.

And I do not know when the hand becomes the wrist nor do I feel like I’ve created a hard and fast rule never to be broken but I would not support this part of football’s attempts to gouge out of my pocket because they assume that because I can pay it they should sell to me, aged 42, for a price that me, aged 21, would never have been able to pay.

The combination of the two

If you enjoy a team that puts in a performance that is part frustration, part opportunism then you would have enjoyed the Chesterfield game.

I would argue that Chesterfield, or Scunthorpe, or Doncaster, or Oldham were little different to the game with Chelsea that defines 2015 for Bradford City: Minimise chances coming at your goal and maximise what one has at the other end.

But I cannot say with all honesty that all people would enjoy all or any of those games. I am cut from a cloth were I am more impressed with hard work and honesty on a field than I am by rabona kicks and 45 man massing moves.

I enjoy seeing a team with limitations which overcome those limitations, some of the time, and the processional football of the Champions League leaves me cold. I’ve no interest in football where the players who walk onto the field against Barcelona believe they are beaten before kick off.

Winning away at Chesterfield from few chances but battling to make sure that the team does not concede a chance let alone a goal is a good Saturday afternoon for me but probably only because of the narrative it creates.

It is enjoyable to watch my team Bradford City attempting to overcome limitations because I know those limitations. There is an overarching story of the emergence of Rory McArdle from understudy to as rock of defence, or about Tony McMahon finding a role having floated anchorless at the start of the season.

(There is also a story about James Hanson being not good enough for a transfer to a professional club, not good enough for the bottom of League Two, not good for the middle of League Two, not good enough for a League Cup semi-final, not good enough for a play-off second leg, not good enough for League One, not good enough for a team chasing the League One play-offs. One day he will not be good enough and I’m sure the phrase “we told you so” will be used regardless of all the times naysayers were proven wrong. Watching Hanson over the last few years is a lesson in the narrative of football.)

These things are seen over the course of months, and years, and not in isolation. Football, for me, is never viewed in isolation. I find the idea of turning on Sky Sports to watch any old game as mystifying as opening a book at a random page, reading twenty pages, and then putting it back on the shelf.

To watch the unfolding narrative of a team one needs to be able to watch often and prices over £20 are no aid to that for me but would have been a substantial problem to me twenty years ago. Is Sheffield United vs Bradford City £27 worth of entertainment when – if one considers it – one could take a friend to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX and still have change for popcorn?

I can’t remember a worst time

Sheffield United away is not Chesterfield. Without a game owing to waterlogging and without the regular training pitches owing to flooding reports return that City lack sharpness and are easily beaten. Football is a multi-polar world and games are hard enough when preparations are ideal.

The supporters – both Bradford City and Sheffield United – are subject to some racist chanting from Sheffield United fans and some chanting that is unpleasant. This will be passed onto The FA – who are perhaps the least able and qualified body in the Universe on this subject – but probably not to the Police.

The FA never seem to tire of their role as prosecutors of – some might say persecutors of – those whom the Law of the Land can find no case against claiming their lower standard of evidence as somehow better than the one that is required by any court which could not be prefixed with the term Kangaroo.

I would not want to have The Racists of Sheffield who were at Bramall Lane to be convicted for what they said or what they think. I’m happy to just consider them to be a collective of idiots and be done with it.

But I did not pay £27 so what can I say?

The focus

To suggest that football needs to understand better its audience is to allow the game – the collective of clubs and organisers – leniency on the charge that they understand full well that they increasingly greying men who populate matches are the ones who will dig deepest for tickets and that they exploit that.

The people who run football always need more money and they know that people aged 35+ in good jobs with good incomes will fund their extravagant demands for more wages paid, more promotions pushes, more mistakes and managerial pay-offs.

These people are the focus of football’s attention. In twenty/thirty years time when those people have retired to Saturday afternoons in more comfortable surroundings there will be no generation to replace them because that attention is so narrowly focused.

Oddly enough because of the odd combination of Wembley twice and season ticket pricing Bradford City are one of the clubs who have some protection against this – there is a healthy group of younger City fans who have been allowed a stake in the support – but mingle with the home fans at an away game and appreciate the difference.

Football is ploughing fields without planting seeds.

The longview

Sheffield United away is I am told a bad performance in isolation but not out of keeping with how Bradford City perform. When taken over a longer period City are averaging a point and a half a game away from home, as well as the odd Chelsea if you will.

Often the game plan of Chesterfield works but when it does not the result is as it was in South Yorkshire. Since Phil Parkinson arrived his plans have had a shifting impact on the mentality of the club.

When he arrived the club was congratulating itself for avoiding relegation out of the Football League under the hapless Peter Jackson. Now there is a consideration that the club is not ideally placed to reach the second tier of English football.

But I – and perhaps you – only know this having been fortunate enough to be able to afford to follow the club from that period to this.

I do not see how that will be possible for the coming generations of football.

Phil Parkinson against the forces of wilful blindness

It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore – Margaret Heffernan, Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious

Two absolute legends gone in the space of a few days. I wish them nothing but the best – Mark Hainsworth ?aka @bcafcmark, Twitter

If Andrew Davies’ exit to Ross County this week was unexpected Jon Stead’s signed for League Two Notts County rather than Bradford City was confirmation for Bradford City supporters.

No one was sure what Stead’s move did confirm – that the club had less money that it seemed of should have to to be the prime concern – but Mark Hainsworth’s tweet recalls the way that City fans took Stead to their hearts after the win over Chelsea.

The fact that Stead had seemed to be Mr Huddersfield Town for a long part of his career hardly seemed to matter. Indeed as Stead put Chelsea to the sword he was technically a Huddersfield Town player and that alone seemed to be enough of a factor to ensure that Simon Eastwood’s career at Bradford City never got out of the blocks when he joined on loan from the team to the West.

City fans fell in love with Jon Stead and as Heffernan says it is not only true that love is blind it is staggering how much evidence we are prepared to ignore in that blindness.

Wilful blindness

Wilful blindness is a legal term applied to a situation in which a person deliberately avoids knowing information to avoid being liable for knowing it. In short it is why if someone gives you a £1,000 to carry a suitcase through HM Customs you are liable what the contents of the suitcase are.

Wilful blindness is carrying the case without opening the case because you know what you would find if you opened the case. It is when you avoid knowing pertinent information to avoid liability.

It is a dangerous trait to employ in football where liability is not decided so much as detected. If a Chairman retains the services of a manager being wilfully blind to the mistakes he is making results quickly remove that blindness. A manager can more easily be guilty of it. Playing a favourite player despite his failings is masked by the other players on the field but even that is eventually found out.

Do I not like that

Overall, people are about twice as likely to seek information that supports their own point of view as they are to consider an opposing idea – Heffernan

When Graham Taylor removed Gary Lineker in the final twenty minutes of his final game for England in 1992 the nation went into uproar at the way the England manager had cruelly ended the career of one of the finest strikers in the side’s history and sabotaged chances of progressing in Euro 92.

A sober remembering of the game – a 2-1 defeat – recalls that Lineker was playing poorly and the Silver Haired Goal Hanger admits so himself. That Taylor replaced Lineker with the monumentally average Alan Smith rather than – for example – fresh faced Alan Shearer was a whole different mistake but in removing Lineker Taylor worked against the wilful blindness of a country who were perfectly prepared to ignore The Static Crisp Salesman’s ineffectiveness which saw him not score in Euro 92, or in the run up to Euro 92.

It would be too much to suggest that Taylor was struck by inspiration when he ignored this common wilful blindness but there was something iconoclastic about his actions, even if they were fruitless.

Which Jon Stead?

The Jon Stead against Chelsea was a rare sight at Bradford City but it was an impressive one. Stead’s performance was inspirational and at the end of the season it was mentioned as the best single display by a player all year. It is impossible when thinking of Jon Stead not to think of that day.

But there were games against Chesterfield and Preston North End as City’s season fizzled out which were also a part of Jon Stead. His play was frustrating and he was easily marshalled by the more impressive defenders of League One like Ian Evatt and Paul Huntington.

Without knowing what he was offered by Bradford City – or by Notts County – to make him one of City’s highest paid players as was suggested would be to be wilfully blind to those games where Jon Stead was – well – not very good. Not very good or at least not very useful to the aims of scoring goals which has to factor into Phil Parkinson’s thinking.

Like Graham Taylor in 1992 dealing with Gary Lineker Parkinson does not have the luxury of looking at Stead with optimism and ignoring the information he does not want to be the case. If he spends his budget on a player on the hope that the high watermark of his performances will be the common and constant watermark then he will fail ass a manager.

He has to open the suitcase because he is liable for what is in it. Signing Jon Stead is an exercise in wilful blindness.

Yes, but which Jon Stead?

It would seem that Steve Davies has joined City to replace Stead and the standard that Davies will be held against is not the Stead of those games where he wandered, or looked disinterested, but the Chelsea and the Sunderland matches where he was at his best.

When Davies has failed to score on some boggy pitch in Bury he will be compared unfavourably with Jon Stead, but not with the real Jon Stead, but on the one we create out of the parts we want to remember.

But Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies played three season for Bradford City and played twenty eight league games in each. I think he was City’s best player last year and I would rather he was still at the club and not wandering the Highlands of Scotland.

If Phil Parkinson’s job on Jon Stead is to not be blind, is the same true of Davies? After all while I can say that the team was measurably better with Davies in the side I can bring to mind mistakes he made that cost games.

Likewise while talking about how the defender can play twenty eight games a season I ignore the fact that in his first season it was suspension and not injury that cost him matches, and that in the second half of last season injury compounded injury.

I think that he is worth a new contract but I am wilfully blind myself in this matter. I’m partial to Davies. He is my sort of player and I do not find myself wanting to think on his faults now he has gone.

But think on them we should else we ignore the obvious and create too high a standard for the next set of Bradford City players.

The end of a season which asked more questions than it answered

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Gary Liddle, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Tony McMahon, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Matty Dolan

One could be excused for not knowing that Bradford City’s season finishes on Saturday at Crewe Alexandra such as the finality of the last home game of the season with Barnsley that saw the Bantams win by a single, excellent Jon Stead goal.

Stead hit a volley across the Tykes keeper Adam Davies and into the far side of the goal after a well floated Billy Knott cross had found the striker running deep in the penalty area. It was the type of moment of excellence that City’s season has produced sporadically and that suggested that the year that was could have been more.

Indeed next Saturday when 2014/2015 has ended and assuming a set of results The Bantams could finish the year a single place outside the play-off.

Seventh would underline the improvement of the year – Phil Parkinson will once again have improved on last year – but continues the theme of the taunting of what might have been for this team. On the final day of the season that saw City produce (some argued) that greatest shock result in history The Bantams will be playing for the chance to allow Notts County the chance to avoid relegation.

Notts County – home of Gary Jones and Garry Thompson, formerly of this Parish – played a small part in City’s season refusing to move a home game in the run up to the Reading FA Cup Quarter Final. The result was a knackered City being outplayed on the BBC which seemed to deflate the rest of the season.

Jones and Thompson and a host of other players who have been a part of City in the last four years were obviously absent from the post-game meander around the field. It was not so much a lap of honour or appreciation so much as an acknowledgement of the end of a chapter for Bradford City.

After four years of Phil Parkinson the manager had taken City to a point where the club had reached a ceiling of sorts and – with rumours of investment – contemplated which parts of its soul would be exchanged for a chance to crack that ceiling.

56

There is little to say about the observance of the minute’s silence, the singing of remembrance songs, the wearing of remembrance hoodies, the fact Roy Hodgson and FA Chairman Greg Dyke laid a wreath and so on which is apt to say in relation to the memorials for the fixty six supporters who died at Valley Parade in the fire of 1985 and who are commemorated at the final home game of the season.

People express their grief in different ways and I have spoken to a number of people who have an unease at the commercialisation and branding that has recently grown up around the tragedy as I have people who find the commemorations moving. Again People express their grief in different ways.

Martin Fletcher, for example, has channelled his grief and need for answers into a set of questions which make up a part of his work “56: The Story of the Bradford City Fire” and Fletcher has been criticised – and abused 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – for doing this. I’m not here to suggest that Fletcher is right or wrong although I am sure that he has the right to ask questions, and that asking question is the right thing.

On Saturday every ground in the country stood silent for a minute to remember for the victims of the fire of 1985. The England manager and the Head of the FA visited Valley Parade to pay respects. It was a national football event. It was the recognition which some people maintain the fire of 1985 has never had in the English football community.

Succinctly

Succinctly: It is time for the Bradford City community to step back and allow the bereaved families and friends to remember the individuals who died as they see fit.

We talk about “The Fifty Six” but to the wife that lost a husband, the son that lost a father, there is no fifty six. There is one or two or three or four with memories which need to be kept, graves that need to be tended, and years that never happened, and lives that were not lived.

We – the Bradford City community – are not involved in that and we need to recognise that.

Individuals who support Bradford City are, and often groups of individuals who support City are, and those people will go on tending graves, feeling loss, and being haunted on empty Tuesday afternoons in September regardless of the ribbon shown into the shirt or the silence at Goodison Park.

We need to recognise that.

Money

Driving away from Valley Parade on Sunbridge Road a Rolls Royce belonging the the Dorchester Hotel overtook us. The imminence of money is all around Valley Parade. Gianni Paladini, Bernie Ecclestone, Latish Mittal are reported to be in talks to buy Bradford City and to invest millions into the club starting with an eight figure sum just to buy League One players.

One side says that the deal is a long way off but other sources say that it is all but signed save creating a name plate for the honorary title that Mr Lawn will retain at the club.

Why buy Bradford City?

A list of clubs owned by people willing to sell which have shown the ability to fill Wembley Stadium is not a long one. It includes QPR – who the people who are trying to buy Bradford City own/previously owned – and a few other clubs.

There are worries about what new owners would do at the club. The worries seem to take two forms. That they might ruin the supporter base with expensive season ticket prices and that they might ruin the playing side by sacking Phil Parkinson.

On the second point it is probably worth remembering how insecure Parkinson’s job is under the current regime.

Earlier this season it seemed from the outside that Parkinson had to be dragged into apologising to board member Roger Owen after complaining about the state of the pitch. Parkinson had believed – with good reason – that the pitch was Owen’s responsibility and criticised that.

At one point I heard – and there is no guarantee of the veracity of this comment – that Parkinson had been told to apologise on pain of being held (and sacked) in breach of contract. He went home with this in mind but cooler heads prevailed and he humiliated himself with an apology the next day.

I repeat the no guarantee about this information just as there is no guarantee that the other times the the board have considered sacking Parkinson were accurate. Former players have been asked if they would be able to become Interim Managers, or so they say in private, but they could be lying.

Without winning

Bradford City’s have had spells under Parkinson where wins have been impossible to come by. When City went twelve games without winning in 2014 there was no full throated support from the boardroom to dispell the rumours that clouded Parkinson’s future.

There was uncertainty at a boardroom level – at least perceptually – and while it would be far from me to suggest that new owners would behave any different it is important not to idealise the current regime (not a problem I have) or forget how quickly things turned to see the exit of Peter Jackson, for example, or the situation at the club under Peter Taylor which Shane Duff reported as a picture of a manager undermined.

Worry about Parkinson’s job position under new ownership if you will, but if there is no takeover then worry about him under the current board too. The Devil you know might be better than the Devil you don’t, but they are both still Devils.

Bradford City are not so much managerially stable as they are successful. When Parkinson’s stock is low he beats Arsenal, or Chelsea, and it rises again. You can call this stable if you want but to do so is to ignore the meaning of the word as it is used in football.

If one were to buy Bradford City then chief in its assets would be Phil Parkinson and so removing him would seem counter-productive.

Were one to buy a League One club and look for the best manager available then Parkinson would be high on one’s shortlist anyway. It is not for me to ventriloquize Paladini but why buy Bradford City and sack Phil Parkinson? When looking at Bradford City’s structure or a vision on the field what else are you buying into?

Season ticket prices

Likewise if one were to buy Bradford City because of the support then why damage that with increasing season ticket prices? The current pricing structure has allowed for an increase in permanent support and the ability for City fans who are not taxed by massive home season ticket prices to spend more travelling away.

The broadness of City’s support which is not exclusive of people on lower incomes, nor the young, has given a lively and exciting fanbase. Why buy Bradford City if they intended to damage the support base?

One could increase prices per person with the drop in attendance and increase revenues in the short term but one risks decreasing numbers, (audio) volume and support levels to the point where City stop being an attractive club to buy.

Double season ticket prices and one might as well buy the comfortable few of Chesterfield, or the tidy support of Doncaster Rovers.

Sitting Bull

Phil Parkinson has ended a season having won plaudits on one hand, and been bullied on the other. In my hand I do not have a season ticket renewal form which – had it been issued around the time City were plastered over every newspaper in the World for beating Chelsea – would have guaranteed that the new owners would host 2015/2016 at 2014/2015 prices and probably been very well subscribed as a result.

This would have secured the impressive supporter base secured for another season. We hear constantly how the current boardroom act as custodians for the club but that does not extend to committing new owners to honouring the (good) practices in place for supporters at the moment, or so it might seem.

Bradford City has two assets: Phil Parkinson and the supporters; only bad business would change these on a whim.

The season ends, the season begins

Gary Liddle played well covering Rory McArdle in the centre of defence against an aggressive Barnsley attacking line up but his relocation from holding midfield seemed to highlight the problem of the season and why in a year of dizzying heights the Bantams end up firmly in the middle.

Liddle shifted out, Christopher Routis in midfield, Tony McMahon in the holding position, Billy Clarke in the role earmarked for Mark Yeates, Mark Yeates nowhere to be seen. The method of Phil Parkinson’s success is in character and – simply put – he does not have enough character to go around.

Rightly – in my opinion – Parkinson would rather play someone with good character out of position than give a shirt to someone who he believes does not have the mentality he is looking for.

Christopher Routis is the prime example. Often poor but also willing he goes his place because – to paraphrase – a better man than he is a footballer. With players out of contract in the summer the question that Routis poises (and he is by no means a great leader) is key.

How does Parkinson assemble a squad with both character and capabilities? What value do you put on each? Andrew Davies has both only plays two thirds of the season. Jon Stead has both but only for two thirds of the season and at other times his character goes missing. Should both be given contracts? Should either?

All season there has been an issue with players outside the match day squad struggling without Reserve football to engage them. Players who are decent enough when in the side are not options when in the squad.

The poster boy for this is Jason Kennedy who will leave City in the summer and look back at his time before Filipe Morais’ second half against Halifax Town as being his best while at the club. As soon as Morais started to play regularly and Kennedy stopped having games to play in it seemed obvious who should be selected and who should not be but it is easy to forget just how rusty players like Morais, like Francios Zoko, like Oli McBurnie become without Reserve team football to play.

Whatever reason there is for not entering a second string side into a Reserve League must be balanced against the impact it has on the fringe players of the squad. At the moment City can maintain around fifteen or sixteen players who can be called on to play and – tired legs, injuries and suspensions being what they are – that has proved too little to mount a promotion challenge.

The squad needs a depth of quality but – at the moment – the fitness of players outside the match day squad cannot be maintained and even when it can large squad beget their own problems with players too far away from a starting shirt to keep motivation and bad character creeping in.

If – as talked about – there is an influx of money into the club in the summer these questions become easier when answered by the fundamental questions remain unchanged. How to keep a squad of 22 players happy, and at peak fitness, and all getting on with each other. City and Phil Parkinson are nearly there and have been there at times this season, and over the last few years.

Get that right next year and – money or not – the end of season would be more than a 1-0 win over Barnsley.

The power of facing character comes into question as Bradford City lose to Chesterfield

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary MacKenzie, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Mark Yeates, Tony McMahon, Francois Zoko

I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. George Orwell, Why I Write

A poor place to start – when talking about events such as Bradford City’s 1-0 reversal at home to Chesterfield that squandered a play-off advantage – is with the self.

That one might have preferred to be elsewhere on the inexplicably snowy last day of March 2015 – perhaps watching England draw with Italy, perhaps doing one of any number of other activities – avoids the subject of the game itself and it was a game which presented facts, some of which are unpleasant to deal with.

Bradford City lost the game after a mistake by Gary MacKenzie which saw him head a ball back towards Ben Williams – and short – rather than in the opposite direction. Byron Harrison intercepted and scored. It was Chesterfield’s only goal from their only shot on target.

The mistake itself should be a problem to no one – mistakes are not infrequent and being able to overcome them is how we define character in football – and certainly that mistake aside defensively the truth is that Bradford City were untroubled.

But Bradford City were found lacking going forward. Chesterfield – a compact team who showed a significant commitment to curtailing any opening that City could force – achieved their aims of denying City space to play in by closing down quickly and making possession hard to maintain. It was not pretty, and perhaps not even admirable, but it was effective.

City – on their part – were cowed by the visitors. Specifically there was falling back by the Bantams players from doing what was difficult to taking easier options which were ultimately (and always going to be) fruitless. Billy Clarke – having problems with the 38 year old Ritchie Humphreys in the holding role – was guilty of taking soft options. Jon Stead was under the control of another veteran Ian Evatt all evening and again took softer options that were need to break a resolute defensive line.

No matter how valid it is Stead on the ground looking at the Referee saying he has been pushed over has never been the prelude to a penalty, but Stead on his feet pushing his back into a central defender has been the precursor to match winning goals in big games.

The Referee Jeremy Simpson was appalling – as usual – and many players may feel hard done to the morning after the night before but more resolution from the Bantams could have opened up Chesterfield. Claims and little passes out of danger did not.

Two Asides

Two points. One: The booking for François Zoko for diving which seemed to be the result of Zoko falling over the ball. No one asked for a penalty, no one suggested Zoko dive, but Referee Simpson had decided that he wanted to book Zoko. I can only hope that he had a personal reason against Zoko as a man – perhaps from a previous game where Zoko had gone unpunished – and was of a mind to book the Ivorian at the first opportunity because failing that one is left with two very dubious choices as to why the official did as he did.

Two: Christopher Routis continues to show the problems he showed as a central defender in central midfield. As a defender he was able on the ball but not drilled to the way the team plays. As a midfielder he is able on the ball but again does not play as the team needs him to. This is not a criticism of Routis specifically – he is the player he is – but the role he plays needs a player who can better balance the cause and effect of what he does with the players around him.

The player who plays that role has to understand the dynamics of the game. He has to understand when to stay close to Gary Liddle to look for a short pass and when to go long and wide and look for a ball behind the full back. He also has to understand when to not move forward into the areas that Clarke behind the front players wants to move into and when to do that to offer Clarke a chance to switch positions.

It is a tough position to play and it needs a player who can read the game in situ and Routis is not that player. As able a deputy as he proves trying his hardest to fill a gap the gap going forward has become more and more obvious and is repeated on the left hand side when Billy Knott is not playing.

Facing

The mix through of players who could not and players who would not commit enough to win the game was decisive and the chance to move sixth which presented itself receded. Tony McMahon had a late strike which Tommy Lee – a fine keeper – saved well but few of the City players will be especially happy with being bullied out of a game.

Phil Parkinson has made his career on pulling teams together and battling through. On Saturday I thought that City had to over-perform to win sixth place in League One and losing to Chesterfield 1-0 was a prime example of what happens when The Bantams do not do that.

One never wants to fall into cliché but there is a truism in games being won by the team that wants to win more. Chesterfield made it difficult for the Bradford City players to do as they wanted to do and so some of the players did something easier and less productive.

That is the test of character that we so often talk about Phil Parkinson’s City teams passing, that was failed last night.

The game was settled by a small margin – a mistake – but such is the nature of games between teams that have similar virtues. Parkinson – if this season is not to fizzle out – needs to find a way to have his players overcome stiff resistance or face the unpleasant thought that to progress he will need different, bigger, characters who can.

Bradford City contemplating becoming what they are after beating Oldham 2-0 at Valley Parade

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Gary Liddle, Mark Yeates | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Gary MacKenzie, Billy Knott, Tony McMahon

The month of attrition

Before Billy Clarke turned to scramble into the goal a ball that was bouncing around the Oldham Athletic penalty area it would have taken a brave man to suggest that Bradford City would definitely win the game and that the Latics would definitely lose it.

When Clarke slowly rolled a ball into the corner of the same goal twenty minutes later Oldham Athletic had sunk to 13th in League One with seven left to play leaving them – to all but the brave – with no chance of securing a place in the play-offs.

Without the odd goal in the opening hour – the Latics were on top for twenty minutes – it seems that the visitors are all but eliminated from promotion.

So we come to the defining part of the season. The month of attrition.

Duck week

Bradford City’s victory was as hard fought as any this season and all the better for it.

On the surface City spent a week in Portugal as reward for endeavours to date and perhaps away from the distractions at Valley Parade – and there were significant – the collective mind had been focused. Every game from now seems to hold the prospect of ending the season. Promotion places then are like the statue carved from marble. Bit by bit teams are chiselled away until it is complete.

The sight of Andrew Davies beating the ground in frustration after pulling up following a burst of speed to follow Conor Wilkinson worried. City with Davies are more likely to win and everyone in Valley Parade knows it. His replacement Gary MacKenzie looks assured and calm, authoritative even.

Oldham press early and Wilkinson looks useful up front although is often isolated. The early exchanged are for the Latics and City seem lost in the midfield. Mark Yeates and Christopher Routis are a pair alongside Gary Liddle who is prepared to push himself to a performance despite an obvious, creeping fatigue. Liddle is being talked about as Bradford City’s player of the season because of performances such as this.

Yeates struggles to get into the game and Routis’ positioning is poor while Billy Clarke shows both faults. It is a common feature of Bradford City teams under Phil Parkinson that players are faced with problems like these and, when faced with them, find a minimum performance. Keep going, and keep giving what you can, and see what happens.

As good as you are

Bradford City vs Oldham in March 2015 is what I go to football for. The game stands on a knife edge and until Clarke’s injury time goal it could have gone either way. The game is won not necessarily by the best team – because the difference between the sides is not significant – but by the team which takes the chance, that runs when tired, that puts in the head where it hurts.

The best thing about Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City is that they are a team who realise that they are as good as they are. The sum of the parts. The equal of the endeavour.

The reward, and the reason for the reward.

Billy, Billy

Billy Knott replaced Yeates and brought his high intensity pressing to the game as City pushed onto Oldham Athletic. It was a corner that both James Hanson and Jon Stead has attempts at heading that fell to Clarke’s left foot. From that City controlled the game by attacking and pressing the visitors.

A smart piece of fakery where Knott sold the dummy of time wasting to set up Stead, who rolled to Clarke, who scored put a gloss on the game. Half an hour before and it was hard to say who would win and Oldham deserve credit in defeat, but the defeat is probably terminal to their play off aspirations.

City go into the rearranged Chesterfield game on Tuesday night knowing a win will put City in sixth position, but the same can be said of Chesterfield, and with City looking to nudge ahead of a pack of peers one can only look forward to the game with some relish. Doncaster Rovers, Sheffield United and Barnsley all follow.

At the end of season of Stamford Bridge football and giant killing City are in a burly, knock down brawl. The next few weeks could be very enjoyable indeed.

A win over Peterborough United has City looking at the costs of survival

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Rafa De Vita, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Adam Reach | James Hanson, Jon Stead | Aaron McLean, Kyle Bennett

If the adage holds true that football matches are won by the team which needs to win most then Bradford City can feel some pride in besting a Peterborough United who needed to win far more than the Bantams did.

This time last season City were not far from the position which Darren Ferguson’s side occupy in League One. The last play off place and looking over the shoulder at those who would take it. And just as City battled at Chesterfield last term on Good Friday for a 2-2 draw so The Posh put up a fight against Phil Parkinson’s side who nearly mathematically assured survival in League One.

It is a survival that has come at some cost. At the end of last season Parkinson was unimpeachable in his position as Bradford City manager having taken the club to Wembley twice. This term there has been a misguided but concerted effort to unseat him from some people who follow the club.

The inerudite attack on Parkinson is that he has “no tactics” which is to say that he favours a 442 and often is over concerned to ensuring the opposition do not progress rather than that his team does. The manager favoured a 4312 with Adam Reach playing behind Jon Stead and James Hanson and added Raffaele De Vita to the right side of a middle three alongside Gary Jones and the also returning Nathan Doyle.

Parkinson’s midfield offered a survival chance for Jones and Doyle who have not shirked from responsibility this season but have struggled. Reach ahead of the midfield give Jones a smaller zone to play in and allows him to focus his energy. Doyle too, dipped back into a ball winning midfield zone, had perhaps his best game of the season. Add to that a De Vita looking more comfortable and a shape for next season that ensures that two of the players who excelled in 2013 might feature in 2015.

All of which comes from the failure for Kyel Reid to survive. As Adam Reach dropped between the lines in Parkinson’s 4312 City forwent wingers and so the team finally found a way to cope without the pacy wideman who – it is worried and it seems – will not play for City again. Perhaps while Parkinson watched a fluidity to the first half of the Bantams performance which had been missing since sometime before the turn of the year he may be convinced that the 442 with wingers would not survive either.

Reach was impressive in the playmaking role behind the front too. His runs invited fouls and from one by Jack Payne the on loan Middlesbrough player lofted a fine free kick over the wall and into Joe Day’s goal. From another Sean Brisley earned his second yellow card in two minutes.

Brisley had been booked for pulling down Stead on 38 minutes, Reach on 40, and while from a Bantams point of view Reach’s sliding interception was impressive Peterborough fans might have been surprised by the high line the visitors played for the first half. In the second, with ten on the field, things were different.

The play off chasing side had to drop back and pull back players from the forward line and worked hard in doing that. Their second half display was a model of football efficiency rarely wasting the ball but the Bantams backline covered the attacks well with pressure put on the ball in the Peterborough half and cover in the City half very secure.

Four of the back five of 2014’s play off final have survived and while Adam Drury is an able deputy it seems sure that James Meredith will return to make the five. Parkinson has a decision to make on if he has faith with the five assuming he can keep all at the club. It has seemed apparent that Parkinson believes that should his side take the lead then Jon McLaughlin behind Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Meredith are solid enough to see a game out. Parkinson’s case is made by City’s defence having conceded fewer goals than Peterborough’s this season.

Which suggests the problem – if retaining a place in League One could ever be said to be a problem – is at the other end of the field. While Peterborough attacked in the second half the Bantams took a step back and were balanced towards defending. One can hardly expect Parkinson to change in his next season and so if James Hanson and Aaron McLean – a second half substitute who came on to applause from both sets of fans – are to improve on this season’s returns then they either need to become more efficient in front of goal or they need to get more chances.

Which points to the decision Parkinson has to make in the close season. If he is to carry on with a 4312 – which has yet to last a full game – then he needs to find someone to play in the role Adam Reach took today. If he is to use the 442 then he needs to find a more apt set of widemen.

He should though get to make those decisions. After months without a win, after losing his centreforward, after losing Reid, after the chairman who could not keep his face off television last season going entirely silent on him, it seems that Parkinson has survived too.

What to want from the time remaining as City lose to Chesterfield

The Team

Lenny Pidgley | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Gareth Evans, Tom Ademeyi, Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn, Kevin Ellison | Scott Dobie | Jake Speight, James Hanson, Leon Osborne

Two thought tracks banded around in my mind as I was walking away from Valley Parade. One was a feeling of optimism, that if we show a similar second half spirit in the full 90 minutes against supposedly lesser opposition, Stockport, on Saturday then surely we’ll come away with a positive result. The other, more concerning thought, was whether Peter Taylor would be willing to set the team up the way he did in the second half (442), from the beginning, in the hope that playing positive football may in turn breathe some confidence and belief into players clearly lacking in these areas.

After having watched the Port Vale game on Friday night on the box it was obvious that City’s ambition and effectiveness was lacking with the 451/433 system that employed a front line of Dobie, Evans and Ellison. On that occasion, when 2-0 down, City switched to a 442 that included a lively Jake Speight and immediately seemed more likely to create goal scoring opportunities.

You would think then that after having a positive effect that this would be something that Taylor would employ from the start against table-toppers Chesterfield, in a bid to go toe-to-toe with League Two’s pace setters? Not the case. Back to 451. Speight back on the bench. The only change being the added steel of Lee Bullock for Leon Osbourne, which allowed Michael Flynn to push up in a midfield three.

In the first half City seemed to struggle with themselves, again looking confused as to what they were asked to do by their manager. At times they would hoof the ball aimlessly at an inter-changable front three in the hope that the one furthest up the field could hold up the ball and release either of the other front men. This proved ineffective and posed little threat to the Spireites, who were more than happy to play on the counter attack and force City to make the play.

On fifteen minutes, after another City punt forward had been collected by the opposition, it gave the away side the opportunity to break away down the left flank. A precise cross-field ball by Chesterfield midfielder Kieran Djilali, left Luke O’Brien indecisive as to whether to slide in or close down the on rushing winger Deane Smalley. O’Brien did neither leaving Smalley clear to smash the ball into the roof of Pidgley’s net.

Indecision seemed to be the theme of the half as City had the majority of possession but were often in two minds as to whether they should pass their way forward (a ploy mainly backed by the home support), or opt to by-pass the midfield in the hope that the forwards would hold up the ball for knock downs for the midfield. In the end neither tactic proved useful, leaving the half to meander to a close that was met with a chorus of boos from some City ‘fans’.

After a half time break of penny dropping, Speight was introduced and the formation switched to 442, one that oddly employed Speight up front with Flynn and Ellison and Evans on the flanks.

Speight looked a handful from the word go and caused the Chesterfield defenders problems that they had not had to face in the first 45 minutes. A number of Bantams’ chances were pushed upon the away team’s goal: Evans worked the keeper from the edge of the box; Speight turned on a few shots that went narrowly over the bar and when City introduced the Hanson in the 63rd minute, the partnership he made of providing knock downs for Speight to latch onto seemed to have City pushing for what would be a deserved equaliser.

Whilst City were looking brighter it was hard not to think that Chesterfield were playing comfortably in 3rd gear and if it were required then they could have raised their level a notch to cope with what City could throw at them. This being best exemplified by some neat play in the midfield followed by an accurate, powerful cross that dissected Pidgley and his defenders and only needed a tap in to put the game beyond doubt. A similar move resulted for City later on only to see the left foot cross of Flynn slice out into the Kop end.

City persisted to the final whistle and were vocally backed by all sides of the ground in search of an elusive equaliser. The best chance again fell to Speight, who wriggled his way past two defenders, feeding off a Hanson knock down, only to shoot on the turn and slice his effort over the top of the bar. It looked as if a little more match sharpness may have seen one or two or Speight’s efforts work the keeper more often.

His partnership with Hanson looked good, and for me personally, has been one I have been vying for all season as big man – little man combinations have proven successful in the past – cf. (Mills and Blake: 1998-2000).

For this reason I hope that Taylor takes note of the positives and attacking ambition shown in the second half and on Saturday, in a seemingly must-win game, I hope he opts not to cut off his own nose, but show the guts to play some positive football. It’s what the fans want, it seems to be what the players want and now we’ll see what Taylor wants from the remaining few months in charge of Bradford City.

Taylor looks for a repeat of his best week

In the immediate wake of such a demoralising weekend defeat – leaving Bradford City anxiously looking over their shoulders at the form of clubs in relegation trouble – it seemed impossible to believe the players could get anything from a Tuesday night tussle with the League Two leaders. But then City stunned everyone to beat table-toppers Rochdale 3-1 on their own patch.

It was a truly special evening – one year ago this week – with the team benefiting from a spine-tingling level of backing from their own fans which helped them to hit the heights after experiencing the lows at Accrington. Robbie Threlfall’s free kick to make it 2-1 prompted wild celebrations that were only bettered after Gareth Evans smacked an unstoppable volley into the roof of the net with three minutes to go. It was totally unexpected, which made the evening all the more special. A few days later bottom-of-the-table Darlington were defeated 1-0 and the clamour to extent new manager Peter Taylor’s contract grew momentum.

How Taylor will be hoping history repeats itself a year on.

The pressure on the City manager was pushed back up a notch after Friday night’s loss to Port Vale, and with tonight’s game against leaders Chesterfield quickly followed by a visit from second-bottom Stockport this could be a defining week for Taylor. Should City fail to accumulate more than a point from these two games, it might prove enough for time to be called on his rein.

Undoubtedly the Board are in a difficult position at the moment. There was some speculation – not for the first time – that the Wycombe game 10 days ago would have been his last had the team not delivered a much-needed win. It seems highly unlikely Taylor will be offered a new contract in May, but in the short-term the Board needs him to get some results so they aren’t forced to take action sooner – causing financial ramifications for next season’s budgets. Taylor shows no inclination to resign any time soon, so it would cost the club to sack him and find a replacement.

The Board clearly want Taylor to remain in charge for now, but ongoing poor results put them in a difficult position in that they have to balance the budgets against the possibility of the five-time promotion winner looking increasingly less capable of keeping the Bantams in the Football League. Stockport don’t play again until Saturday, so if City lose tonight and then to the Hatters the gap to the relegation zone will be just three points. Panic would ensue.

So Taylor and his employees need this to be a good week, and though the prospects of this evening defeating a side which has lost only twice on the road all season look slim, events a year ago this week underline how quickly it can change. Taylor at least has to believe City can win, and then his next job is to convince the players.

Of course it was only three weeks ago that the Bantams almost did defeat Chesterfield, when they were just 30 seconds of injury time away from a notable victory inside the Spireites’ new stadium. Despite the joy of equalising so late, that draw seemed to trigger a mini-wobble in Chesterfield’s outstanding season as they drew three and lost one of their next four; but a comfortable win at in-form Lincoln on Saturday has re-asserted their dominance and they lead the rest of the division by eight points. They have only lost one of their last 13 games.

The continuing rate of change and injuries seen at Valley Parade all season means that only six of the starting line-up at the B2Net stadium for that 2-2 draw are likely to be in the 11 that kick off the game tonight. Jon McLaughlin has again been consigned to number two behind the more experienced – and certainly more vocal – Lenny Pidgley, A year ago McLaughlin was also watching on from the bench with the more senior but not exactly notable Matt Glennon between the sticks. McLaughlin can look back with pride at the last 12 months, but his progress has not been as spectacular as it appeared it would be when Taylor turned to him over Glennon at the end of last season.

At the back it is disappointing that Simon Ramsden has managed to get injured so quickly again, and one worries if he was rushed back too early to play the full 90 minutes against Wycombe. Beyond that though, and given how many injuries he picked up last season too, one worries that Ramsden’s contract will not be renewed this summer because the manager – whoever that is – needs greater reliability at right back than the 29-year-old’s body will enable him. Lewis Hunt will continue to deputise on the right with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In the centre Steve Williams and Luke Oliver both made mistakes on Friday that may leave Taylor contemplating restoring Shane Duff to the starting line up. Oliver has featured in all but two of City’s league games to date but remains unconvincing at times. Williams’ return to match fitness – results were improving until he was injured at Colchester last November – could make a difference to a defence which has under-performed all season.

Whether Taylor opts for 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 in the wake of the Port Vale failings is yet to be seen, but whichever he decides it’s to be hoped he selects the right players to suit his system rather than the questionable midfield choices of recent weeks. Michael Flynn’s presence is massive, but despite decent performances in his last two outings there is more to come from him. Jon Worthington was quietly impressing up to the Wycombe game and, if his removal from the first XI continues, it will say much about Taylor’s high player turnover approach. Tom Adeyemi will feature somewhere from the start, Leon Osborne possibly not.

Up front Scott Dobie has shown some good things in his two games to date, but at other times has looked off the pace and in need of improved fitness. Kevin Ellison couldn’t make the same level of impact at Vale Park compared to his memorable debut, but will be a key player tonight. Jake Speight made a big impression on Friday and many will expect him to start, but Taylor may opt to keep the hard-working Evans in the starting eleven ahead of him.

How to approach this week? In a sense tonight is a game to get out of the way. A defeat is widely expected and, looking at the league table, it will be difficult to be too critical of Taylor if it goes the way of the form guide. Yet a second defeat on the bounce would really crank up the pressure on him and the team ahead of Saturday’s game, which is unlikely to prove ideal preparation.

So Taylor looks for some sort of positive result tonight in order to build some forwards momentum or – at least – slow the backwards impetus that is threatening to suck City into non-league. It can be argued that this period a year ago was the best of Taylor’s rein at City. He badly needs a repeat, because otherwise this week could prove to be his last in charge.

Despair to be consoled by

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Richard Eckersley, Luke Oliver, Shane Duff, Luke O'Brien | Leon Osborne, David Syers, Jon Worthington, Tom Adeyemi, Gareth Evans | James Hanson | Omar Daley, Michael Flynn

In the midst of another season of crushed expectations for Bradford City, an unlikely glimmer of hope emerged at the most unexpected of moments – only to be cruelly taken back through a 93rd-minute Chesterfield equaliser.

On the back of four consecutive defeats that have pushed the focus from promotion to relegation, no-one expected anything positive from a trip to the in-form league leaders. Yet when James Hanson rose to head the Bantams into a 2-1 lead eight minutes after half time, aspirations of a glorious end to the campaign could be dreamed of once more. City were holding on – not without a few scares, but still holding on – and a look ahead to a week featuring meetings with strugglers Lincoln and Macclesfield offered renewed optimism regarding the ‘P’ word.

But just as it seemed the season had turned, up popped Chesterfield substitute Jordon Brewery to smash home a loose ball past Jon McLaughlin. And once again we were confronted by harsh reality.

And it hurt. A lot. As home fans began celebrating, for a couple of seconds a part of you refuses to believe it has happened. That life can be so cruel. That City are once again being kicked in the teeth. Of course we never dared believe the three points were in the bag as we lead deep in stoppage time, but we could taste them. And they tasted rather good.

Instead we had to cope with the feeling of defeat that – pre-match – the majority of us had expected to bear and so had prepared our defences for. It was a damage-limitation type of afternoon. One where you expect the worse and anything better is a bonus. If someone had offered us a 2-2 draw beforehand I dare say every one of us would have bitten their hand off. Even though we got just that, we departed the thoroughly-impressive B2Net Stadium in utter despair.

But also consoled. City have not only been moving backwards in recent weeks, but stumbling towards a dangerous trapdoor that could easily leave us kicking off next August with a visit from Kettering Town (or worse still, not kicking off at all because relegation to non-league had killed the club). We needed to arrest the slide before it became serious, and at the very least the rot has now been stopped.

City took on the best in League Two and almost bested them, and while letting two points slip through the fingers at the death further reduces those promotion hopes we held just three weeks ago – the gap to the play offs is now 9 points, in case you’re still interested – the level of performance and commitment displayed strongly indicates City won’t be falling into a relegation fight.

Kicking off with an unchanged line up for the first time all season, manager Peter Taylor had gone some way to addressing the balance issues of Tuesday night by withdrawing Leon Osborne and Gareth Evans into widemen of a five-man midfield, with Hanson a lone striker. This allowed Tom Adeyemi and David Syers to push forwards from more central positions and, with Jon Worthington assuming a deep midfield role that attempted to dictate the tempo, there was no repeat of the midfield being out-gunned.

Nevertheless Chesterfield started well and bossed the opening stages, taking the lead on 11 minutes when Danny Whitaker swept home Jack Lester’s pass – though the true cause of the goal came seconds earlier. Chesterfield had a goal kick, and while normally this is signal for all the outfield players to bunch together on one side of the pitch, Drew Talbot moved to a position on the opposite side to everyone else – leaving him free and in acres of space. Keeper Tommy Lee aimed his kick at Talbot’s balding head; and though Luke O’Brien had reacted and tried to close him down, he was out-jumped and taken out of the game. Chesterfield roared forwards and, with so many City players caught out by this innovative tactic, Whitaker made it 1-0.

Still we expected this. What was less anticipated was a strong response from City which saw Hanson’s long-range shot superbly tipped over by Lee and, after the resultant corner was half-cleared, Syers left unmarked to head home an equaliser from a superb Osborne cross. City would go onto evenly contest the rest of the half and Evans forced another great save from Lee. At the other end Lester was played through on goal, only to be denied by a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Luke Oliver.

Not that Taylor’s 4-5-1 formation was proving a complete success, as the physical Talbot continued to give O’Brien a difficult afternoon with both his ability in the air and with the ball at feet. Part of the problem was inadequate defensive support from Osborne, which allowed others to provide options for Talbot; so Taylor made an early substitution by swapping the young winger – who it was suggested had picked up a knock anyway – with Omar Daley. As much as Daley has a poor reputation defensively, he made a positive difference.

Early in the second half Hanson headed City into the 2-1 lead and sparked scenes of jubilation that arguably made for the highlight of the season. Evans had made the goal with an excellent cross, after retrieving a loose ball that followed Adeyemi breaking into the penalty area.

And suddenly City had Chesterfield where they wanted them, and suddenly the impossible looked on.

The Bantams set themselves up to counter attack, with Daley embarking on some promising runs that were only let down by a poor final ball. Hanson could and perhaps should have made it 3-1 after heading over O’Brien’s cross, but the chances were all at the other end. McLaughlin made a couple of brilliant saves; Craig Davies shot narrowly wide and then headed over a simple chance. City’s backline were much improved, with Oliver enjoying an outstanding performance. Alongside him Duff was displaying the form of earlier in the season, if a little too casual on the ball at times.

And it looked like it would be enough, before that cruel moment at the end.  As the ball flew in there was stunned silence, apart from one guy in front of me who instantly rose to his feet and screamed at Taylor to “f**k off”. On reflection, it was the City boss who was the true loser on the day.

For City had showed that they should be too good to get sucked into a relegation fight, and that a midtable position is the most likely outcome of a disappointing season. But midtable is not going to be enough for Taylor to earn another contract at City, and it is surely now a matter of months before he departs the club.

Taylor badly needed these three points, and he badly needed them to spark an upsurge in form. He too might have taken a point before kick off, but he would certainly not have liked it to be realised in such demoralising circumstances.

Both he and an outstandingly-noisy away following had been offered a glimmer of hope that this story might have had a happy ending after all. Instead all we are left with is the consolation of at least feeling consoled.

Waiting to get lucky, but not the Andy Gray way

If you are planning something for the end of May, dear reader, the time is nigh where that booking can be confirmed.

Not that the optimistic Bradford City fan has given up on the season – not at all – but rather the focus of that optimism has slipped down somewhat from Champions, to automatic promotion, to play offs and now to the hope that the season will not contain a relegation battle.

Such slight returns are the stuff of football supporters. Seasons that start with a club tipped to go down end in the Premier League, seasons that start being about the promotion end with videos released called “The Great Escape.”

Managing the hard way, but not the Andy Gray way

Peter Taylor was appointed because Stuart McCall was not doing well enough and sits in exactly the same position with exactly the level of criticism. It is hard not to look back at this point to twelve months ago when the “not a proper manager” left the club in favour of the “experienced professional” and wonder how the dust settled so quickly that last season’s debates could be so quickly revisited without hint or irony or apology.

How many people were dubbed naive optimists for saying that replacing McCall would not improve the club? How many people promised an improvement under Taylor and are now saying the same about his replacement?

One would have thought that replacing McCall with Taylor to the net effect on movement towards promotion of not very much at all might have convinced one and all that the manager was not the problem but – having talked to Mark Lawn this week – then it seems fair to say that changing the man picking the team is not expected to change performance massively so much as it is an area which can be controlled when most cannot.

One wonders – assuming that Peter Taylor will be leaving City – what the next manager needs do to be more successful? There are hopes of changes in facilities and so on but those hopes are slim – City are not planning a ground switch as Chesterfield did at the start of this successful season for them – and so what is to be done to turn the club around?

The L word, no, not the one Andy Gray would use

Luck, it seems, is what City need.

Luck in a set of players. That when Player A meets Player B they gel, that they like each other on the pitch and off it. They the players become a team and that the team makes the players better.

Luck augmented by a manager for sure but the rapid changing of managers can not be expected to yield results even if we do know the reason for it now.

With luck the team wins early games, confidence grows and the unit is forged. A team like Chesterfield – buoyed by their new surroundings – go from also-rans to promotion probables on the strength of this.

Does luck exist in football? One recalls Golfer Gary Player’s comments on luck: “The more I practised, the luckier I got.”

Who will play, probably not Andy Gray although I doubt he is busy…

So this group of players – ineffectual for four defeats on the bounce games – go to the team chasing the League Two title and are called upon to create luck for themselves.

Jon McLaughlin shows a safe pair of hands, but he could shout more. Richard Eckersley looks good coming forward but he needs to tell the man in front of him that a full back can not defend on his own. Luke O’Brien on the other side is in a similar position. He motors back and forth well but he needs to tell the player who has watched a second man join in a flank attack that he (winger or wide forward) simply has to get back and defend.

The central defenders Luke Oliver and Shane Duff need to be more mouth on too but Oliver has to realise that as the big man at the back it is his job to organise the defensive line into a line and Duff needs to help him by paying more attention. Both do their jobs well individually – Oliver deserved credit for getting head up and sticking with it – but defending is not an individual thing.

If these lessons are not learnt then something of a cavalry arrives with Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Steve Williams all hoping to return to fitness soon. Ramsden and Hunt are hoping to make the bench.

New recruit Jon Worthington sits on top of a back four well and if he were to look at City and decide that a team which has had a half dozen captains actually needs a leader then he would not be far wrong. David Syers has been brilliant this season, he rarely goes missing, but he needs to realise that he adds more to the attack by arriving late than pressing early. Tom Ademeyi shows a powerful energy at times, but a more solid, constant flow in his game would make him a 90 minute, rather than a fits and starts, performer.

Those three might find the returning Michael Flynn takes back a position in midfield but Flynn is more likely to replace Gareth Evans in the attacking three with Omar Daley on the other side. Evans has shown admirable hard work and effort and that should secure him a place in the side, but seldom does, while Daley is Daley and at times unplayable. He needs to defend when told and he does.

James Hanson leads the line. He does that well and without thanks. He needs to get some thanks.

And he needs to get lucky, but not in the Andy Gray way.

City’s game with Chesterfield off

The Bantam’s game with Chesterfield on Boxing Day has been called off because of a frozen pitch by local Referee’s Assessor Graham Atkins.

Only light snow is expected between now and the start of the game but temperatures are not expected to go above freezing and the VP pitch is said to be rock solid.

City’s next game is to be the match at Cheltenham on the 28th which would be City’s first match in 17 days should it go ahead, which seems unlikely, offering up Lincoln City away on the first day of 2011 as the Bantams next match.

I’ve No Passion for this Hate

Editor’s Note: Details with the game with Chesterfield – a 1-1 draw with almost little to write home about – can be found on City’s official website. Rather than dissect the game of what for the Bantams was something of a meaningless affair the report is given over this this piece by Dave Pendleton about events around the game.

I love this country. In particular I love the north.

As we sit here in the wake of St. George’s Day, with a General Election and World Cup looming, I’m feeling less at ease with the in your face ‘Englishness’ that has suddenly appeared. From car flags to official parades involving press ganged school children, ‘celebrating’ Englishness is everywhere. Flying a few flags and kids enjoying an unexpected day out of the classroom is harmless enough, but there is undoubtedly a dark underbelly to this newly discovered ‘Englishness’.

Ever since the Bradford riots – which would be better described as young angry Muslim men riots – City fans have regularly had chants of ‘En-Ger-Land’ aimed at them by opposition fans. The fact that the people being chanted at are 90% white working class, and frankly have more reason than anyone to be angry about the damage the riots had on their home city, seems lost on the chanters. The point the chanters seem to be trying to make is that Bradford is not England in their eyes. By implication it seems that even white Bradfordians are no longer English.

I wish the chanters could point this out to the car load of young Asian men who last year informed me I should “fuck off home” when I was walking down Hall Ings – I was bemused by the incident given that here was an Englishman being abused by men of Pakistani descent on a street with a Viking name. There was a piece of wonderful irony at play here, but I didn’t see the point in trying to explain that to a car load of young men with cropped hair cuts who probably couldn’t spell Subaru Impreza, let alone irony.

But, enough of angry young Asian men, let’s return to angry young white men.

At Rotherham we were treated to the chant of ‘you’re just a small town in Asia’. What a piece of cutting wit from the ethnically pure, even smaller town, near Meadowhall Shopping Centre. What was funny that day, very funny, was Ronnie Moore’s face when James Hanson scored deep into injury time. We should have celebrated by singing at the Millers’ fans “have you ever had a bath with your dad?” Instead, we jumped around like demented lunatics on the Don Valley running track.

Cut to Chesterfield and the penultimate away game of the season. The English Defence League were leafleting the home fans. I agree with the EDL that I don’t want our country to become an Islamic State. Where we differ is that I’m fairly confident that a country that once built the largest empire in the history of the world, and who managed to fight off Hitler when he was staring at us across the Channel, is unlikely to suddenly cave into to the radical demands of a minority of its Muslim population. However, a section of our popular press seems convinced that a few hundred angry young men with beards are enough to cause our entire nation to fall to its knees, both in supplication and prayer. This in turn causes a few hundred angry young men in designer sports wear to mobilise in defence of their country.

So, why did the EDL choose to leaflet our match at Chesterfield? I once remember seeing BNP supporters in Sunderland leafleting when City were in town, telling the Wearside shoppers ‘don’t let Sunderland become like Bradford’. The retort, which nearly caused a minor riot, was ‘don’t let Bradford become like Sunderland’. Well, I thought it was amusing, even though we had to leg it to avoid being beaten senseless.

At Saltergate a small number of home fans decided to regurgitate the usual chants about ‘En-Ger-Land’ and much worse. Has Bradford become the sum of all their fears? Our city representing some imagined multi-cultural hell hole where white people fear to tread? Though Bradford is far from perfect, and has major problems with attitudes of some of its youth, both Asian and white, but if it was as bad as the chanters at various grounds seem to think shouldn’t we – i.e. the white people who live in the city – be the ones chanting ‘En-Ger-Land’? The fact that we don’t either tells you that life in Bradford actually is fine 99% of the time, or that we don’t give a flying one anyway. I’m inclined towards the latter.

At Valley Parade, and away, I want to leave politics, home life and work behind. I’m there to immerse myself in the football, scream and shout like an idiot for ninety minutes, then laugh, shrug my shoulders and go for a pint. The only colour I’m bothered about is claret and amber.

Perhaps the next time the chanters start up we should drown them out with ‘And it’s Bradford City…’ Us, whoever ‘us’ is, united for the afternoon in support of our team and our city and to hell what anyone else thinks about it.

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