Making no excuses

It is all about excuses, and who has to give them.

Take Phil Parkinson for example. He stands accused after the 1-0 defeat at Macclesfield Town of making an excuse about referee Rob Lewis. Parkinson pointed out that his team – who have faced not one shot on target from inside the area in the last 180 minutes with the exception of that penalty – would have had something from the evening were it not for Lewis’ intervention. This was “making excuses” – or so we are told.

We get no excuse – the City fans who travelled to Macclesfield – about why the penalty was given and the Macclesfield supporters who shouted for a red card with some justification got no excuse from Lewis for what they were not sated. BfB tried to get the match report with our usual polite email to the Football League. We were told no. Rob Lewis need not give an excuse for ignoring the Laws of Football.

He may be called to give an excuse for his language towards Craig Fagan. It seems that Fagan asked Lewis about the booking he got and was replied to by Lewis swearing. Industrial language is not uncommon in football but the Laws of the game were used to send off players (and after the game) turning games and even seasons and we were told that there was no excuse for that behaviour. One wonders what Rob Lewis excuse will end up saying to the authorities, if they ask him as a result of the complaint City have put in about the official.

“Excuse” has been the phrase de jour for sometime around Valley Parade for some time. As a club “making excuses” has been verbalised from top to bottom of the club. Mark Lawn – when talking about training facilities – said that the lack of them could be used as an excuse while Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor were both “excuse making” when they talked about various issues which hampered their team’s performances.

Should a manager find something else to blame when the slings and arrows of Referee misfortune rain down on his team? Should he go straight to problem number two stepping over the first issue? When it comes to criticising officials Ron Atkinson had a hard and fast rule: “I never talk about Referees, and I’m not making an exception for that berk.”

What is Parkinson to do? His belief is that a robust team that do not concede will pick up points on the road. Michael Flynn’s red card stopped that robustness at Hereford, the penalty robbed a point at Macclesfield. If Parkinson can put hand on heart and say that he was happy with the performances otherwise then should he make something up rather than saying something that could be called an excuse?

Are we – as Bradford City supporters – really a community which is too immature to handle the interpretation of the game as the manager sees it and do we need to have that game retold to us in a way we find more palatable?

Which is not to say that Parkinson’s approach is to everyone’s taste, that is is great to watch or that it will work in the long term just that it is the approach that he has always used and the one he believes to be right. It is also the approach that many teams come to Valley Parade with and that has caused so many home reversals so it would be wrong to not point to a certain validity in the frustration game. If people are criticising Parkinson for using it away from home then they perhaps may recall if they criticised Colin Todd for not being able to break it down at VP.

The culture we have in the Bradford City community would reject excuses and anything that sound like excuses casting babies down Manningham Lane with bathwater to follow. It is to say that we have no truck with with anyone offering reason, it is the denial of the ability to be analytical.

Imagine if you will – and dear reader imagine it is so rather than questioning the premise if you have a mind to – that the only reason that Bradford City did not return from Macclesfield Town on Tuesday night with at least a point is because of atrocious Refereeing. Would you want to know that? Would you want to be lied to? Would you want Phil Parkinson to make changes to a team which would have performed well otherwise?

The question is yours to ponder, but as Macclesfield Town headed towards the play-off places and people without the ability to do basic mathematics said that City’s season was over they did so with an undeserved result, if you would take my opinion.

To paraphrase: “You train all week, you do everything right, and then Rob Lewis decides the result.”

City go onto Swindon Town to play against popular fascist Paolo Di Canio’s side who sit seventh in the division. The Robins are much talked about for the enigmatic Di Canio’s presence but more importantly they have not lost for five (four wins and a draw) which is a run started at Macclesfield.

City go into the game with Matt Duke in goal behind a back four which will probably see Marcel Seip step down to allow Andrew Davies to be recalled alongside Luke Oliver. Luke O’Brien is likely to come in at left back for the injured Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore will retain his place at right back.

Adam Reed looks is unlikely to play – his loan deal is up on Saturday and he does not have a clause in his contract that guarantees him a place – so Richie Jones and Michael Flynn will reunite in the middle. Chris Mitchell is hoping for a recall either on the right or in a three while Michael Bryan will hope that Phil Parkinson opts for a flat four in the midfield which would give him a place on the right. Kyel Reid continues on the left.

Craig Fagan will start up front alongside or to the side of James Hanson.

I have in my hand a piece of paper…

…or rather a collection of a pieces of paper stapled together in the top left corner. It was passed to me by Archie Christie – it has his first name under the staple – as part of the day we spent with him as an illustration of the work that get done at City.

I’m not going to tell you what is in the papers for reasons which will become clear, dear reader, but I can tell you what it says on the front. Under a large Bantams’ Badge reads the words “Bradford City Match Assessment” and under that – written in pen (although this is a photocopy) read the names “Macclesfield T” and “Northampton T”.

The date reads “17th of September” which was – according to the inscriptions – a dry and windy day.

For years, decades, I’ve heard about football clubs who “do their homework” on the opposition, who “have them watched” and for the first time I have the information (or a part of it) which Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin will be looking over to plan City’s team.

It is a coincidence that paper I got was between is City’s next two opponents but probably not that scout Nigel Brown who authored the document – it carries his name – took in the match. Nigel Brown and Archie Christie talked about arriving at City and finding a filing cabinet marked scouting reports which had sub-divisions for each league and each letter in that league but absolutely nothing in them. If someone had been doing the homework at Bradford City before Christie and Brown then the dog had almost certainly eaten it.

It struck me in the weeks after embedding with him that Christie’s role at the club split down three lines none of which were having that much attention paid to them before his arrival. The first and most obvious was the player recruitment and development side which is an all encompassing one taking in watching players as well as the activities with the Development Squad. Then, most celebrated, is his deal making as seen in George Green’s move to Everton. Potentially Green’s move is the largest transfer between the fourth tier and the top tier of English football ever. Finally there is the homework side and preparing information for the first team’s manager.

Christie started the operation from an empty cabinet and was taking in a game at Halifax Town when he bumped into Brown – Brown told us that most Scouts know each other – and Christie invited him to come in and help with the network. The pair of them assembled a team of around a half dozen scouts up and down the country. There is a private scouting network which clubs can subscribe to which provides information on any team for a fee which might account for where Peter Taylor was getting his information on visiting teams but Brown is sceptical about the merits of that. It struck me that if the aim of scouting teams is to find weaknesses then a report that is freely purchased by anyone will detail faults that a manager would be a fool not to fix. Christie and Brown’s scouting – if it contains a note on how a team can be got at – is known only to City.

The scouts (including Christie and Brown) go watch League Two games, non-league games, reserve games and fill in the type of form which sits in front of me today. The approach is detailed. Reserve games are important in case of suspensions forcing a change to the starting eleven while non-league games (and higher reserve games) allow information about players who may end up being recruited by the opposition. Christie tells a story of Dagenham being undone by a player who had not featured in the first team but cropped up on a Tuesday night on the south coast to frustrate the Daggers.

There was an obvious question about what Christie’s scouting network had thought about the City teams he had faced. Christie did not say anything against anyone who had stalked the halls of Valley Parade before him but the impression I got was that at Dagenham City’s team under Stuart McCall was considered to be nice to look at but soft in the centre and easy to get at, easy to beat. I loved watching Stuart’s side’s play expansive football but I’d have to agree with that analysis.

The empty cabinet is an interesting idea but we know that in the past managers at City have talked about watching clubs – Stuart McCall’s post-game interviews would often include a reference to having seen the team before – but the image remains. John Hendrie once talked about how City would often see unknown faces around the training ground who turned out to be the opposition scouts finding out the team for Saturday.

So one assumes that there must have been paper in this cabinet at some point, files on teams and players filled by McCall (who took a scouting role for Norwich after he left City), Colin Todd or whoever, but the open space tells a story of its own.

That story involves the recruitment of a scouting network to watch teams 70% of which are based in the South. It involves a network of contacts built up who fulfil Brown demanding criteria. Brown worked with Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn Rovers having a hand in the signing of Alan Shearer for £3.5m and the sale of him for “£16.75m” (which is not the figure widely circulated, but the one Brown told us) after “getting the best years out of him.” After working with Dalglish – “He never watched games, loved his videos” – Brown moved onto Wigan Athletic as Dave Whelan started building his tier three club built to compete at the top level from the ground up. Brown is the sort of man you hope a scout is, quietly spoken but deeply knowledgeable and with a steel in his eye for a player. While Christie believes that desire is the thing to look for in a player Brown wants acceleration over five yards. The two are a great combination – Christie calls Brown “Nigel Green” and Brown smiles back. “I can’t do the negotiations like Archie can” he went on to say.

The scouts who Brown and Christie got to join City were tasked with watching City too – the City they watched being the one which Mark Lawn commented on last week – and gave their opinions. Perhaps these informed Lawn’s comments and Parkinson’s changes since he took over. Certainly there were recurrent themes in the reports which Christie and Brown got back and it seems to me that those have been addressed, or have been attempted to be addressed.

The aim of the opposition scouting networking is to provide the manager with everything he could want. It is then up to the manager and his coaching staff to decide how much notice he wants to take of that information. Not all managers are interested but what I have in front of me makes fascinating reading and I could see no reason why a manager would not welcome this with arms open. The Damned Utd (not an historical source but a cracking read) has Brian Clough refuse to look at Don’s Dodgy Dossiers on the opposition, real life tells us he had Peter Taylor watching every inch of opponents.

Without showing the report it is hard to illustrate what it has in it but the circulated version of a report on Newcastle United written by Andre Villas-Boas when he was scout at Chelsea offers similar (although City use numbers and not pictures of shirts) and is indicative of the level of research which goes into preparing for a game.

There is no Bradford City Official Secrets Act (aside from Christie tell us not to go showing the report around, it has not left my office physically or virtually since) but I think it is best if what we know about them stays under wraps for now but I recall watching City over the past thirty years and seeing the odd event that would have been captured in this document and would not have poised a problem. The Paul Merson/Benito Carbone short corner that unlocked City in the Premier League, the wall of tiny Wigan players who created themselves in front of City’s wall at a free kick in the late eighties only to break off and leave many bemused and little else, Peter Jackson and Chris Branston’s antics from a corner at the McAlpine in the mid part of the decade.

Simple things like the fact that a number three might play in central midfield and not left back to more technical and detailed lore. The experience of watching City play Northampton Town at Valley Parade will, for me, come with a crib sheet and I wonder how that will change the way I see the game. When he was Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan was fond of appearing on Match of the Day saying how he and his players had worked all week on doing one thing and – for reasons of their own – the players had decided to do something else. I wonder if I will see the same.

Northampton Town arrive at Valley Parade on the back of a 3-0 defeat by Port Vale which saw questions asked but in generally rude form. They are seventeenth in the table.

City go into the game on the back of a disappointing result at Hereford United and have before them a familiar set of criticisms. Matt Duke is criticised because he could have been better positioned for the goals that Hereford scored (or so it is said) although the best position is always “in the way” and “not in the way” seldom has any merits. Duke’s single clean sheet was last time out at Valley Parade against Torquay United.

Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip are expected to retain the central defensive positions although Steve Williams is returning to the reckoning. Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will be full backs although looking at the report I might be… No, best not.

Michael Flynn’s two game suspension sees him sit out the match and allows Adam Reed and Richie Jones to take the middle positions with Kyel Reid wide left. Phil Parkinson could be tempted to drop Jamie Devitt to wide right, recall Mark Stewart for that position or give Chris Mitchell his place in the side back. City have missed Mitchell’s delivery in recent weeks. David Syers’ injury and Flynn’s suspension open the possibility of Scott Brown getting a place on the bench.

Craig Fagan is starting to be cemented into the forward line up in James Hanson’s absence though injury. Hanson may return and take a place in the starting line up although if he is not fit Parkinson may continue with his policy of having a man lead the line and another feeding off him and deploy Devitt or Stewart behind Fagan. All link men – the position in question – are judged by a standard of Peter Beardsley and Stewart seems most able to find space and move the ball on then make for an attacking position but Devitt’s game could be tweaked to do the same.

Such talk is the talk of scribbles on paper though – attacking diagrams done on beer mats – and football is played on grass and not paper. Some pieces of paper, however, certainly are worth a read before the boot sets foot on turf.

Parkinson’s free reign to tinker (but not the Tuesday after if City win)

As thoughts turn to Bradford City’s important home game against Northampton Town this weekend, manager Phil Parkinson will be in his rights to make changes to the team that lost 2-0 to Hereford the week before.

Matt Duke can be dropped, Luke Oliver can sit in the stands, Ritchie Jones can warm the bench and Craig Fagan can practice some more on his playstation. And if Parkinson wants to undergo these radical team selections and more, there can be apparently be no complaints from supporters.

Because the Bantams lost their last game, which means the manager has our “permission” to change the team.

Sounds nonsense to drop Oliver? Agreed. But in my opinion so is holding the manager accountable to a daft rule that he is not allowed to change a winning team. After an encouraging win over Torquay United that was badly needed, three changes (one enforced) were made at Hereford and many supporters have since blamed the resultant loss on Phil Parkinson (or Phil Plonkinson, as he was dubbed by one supporter on the Official Message Board) for changing a winning team.

Why is it so bad for him to have done so? Sure, the win over Torquay and the performance by the players was outstanding on the day. But does one victory really mean the previous problems have been fully solved and now all the manager needs to do is pick the same 11 players until the next defeat? Or shouldn’t he be entrusted to make further improvements if – in his qualified judgement – he feels it’s needed?

Let’s look at the two controversial changes. Jack Compton played only 27 minutes against Torquay before he was unfortunately subbed because of Andrew Davies’ red card enforcing a defensive reshuffle. He played his part in the win to a certain extent, but the decision to recall fit again midfielder Adam Reed and move Jones out wide – thus leaving Compton out – seemed reasonable.

Almost all season long – and this includes under Peter Jackson, Colin Cooper and now Parkinson – City’s midfield has been lined up with one out-and-out winger and three central midfielders, one of whom played a wide midfield role. The idea is to enable City greater dominance in the middle of the park, with three midfielders against either an opposition two or three. Over recent years we’ve seen numerous City sides play 4-4-2 with two direct wingers, and rarely has it worked well. Too often they are outgunned and the opposition can claim a draw or win.

Jones – who has played for much of his career as a wide right midfielder – seems a natural choice to take on that wide midfield role. I personally would prefer he stay in the centre with Flynn, and Chris Mitchell recalled wide right, but I can at least see the thinking behind Parkinson’s decision and – in the first half at Burton at least – Reed looked a very clever player. Going into any away game with two out-and-out wingers (which is what Compton and Kyel Reid are) would have left City very open. This approach is more acceptable in home games when the opposition will be more defensive, but not necessarily the best tactic on the road.

I like Compton, but I do think there are better wide players at the club. When he played at Huddersfield, it was notable that his lack of defensive awareness allowed Town’s Daniel Ward the freedom to give Luke Moore a difficult opening 45 minutes. Parkinson eventually swapped Luke O’Brien and Compton – so the left-footed OB played wide right – to nullify this threat. It made a big difference with O’Brien excellent as a right midfielder, and in my view was a negative mark against Compton.

As for the other Hereford change – Stewart for Jamie Devitt – while doubts about his style of play remain, the evidence so far is that Devitt is a quality player at this level who can improve the team. Stewart had a great game against Torquay, but all of his best work came outside the penalty area. So again, there is reason to understand Parkinson’s thinking in making this change, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

Too often there is a compliant in football, heard at City in recent days too, that the manager “doesn’t know his best 11.” Yet in this day and age few  managers ever stick with the same 11 players and football is about squads. Form – at this level especially – fluctuates and the theory a manager can decide his best 11 and stick with them for weeks and months is flawed. I’m glad that Parkinson doesn’t seem to know his best 11, because it gives everyone in the squad the opportunity to stake their claim and keep pushing others. Equally the best 11 to beat one type of opposition (say Dagenham) is not necessarily the best 11 to win against another style of play (e.g. Crewe).

We have a squad of 37 players – the ideal that Parkinson cannot choose the 26 who didn’t start the previous game, because it was won, is a restrictive and outdated view of football management.

The smile, and how to retain it

The wife woke up at 5.45am as usual on Wednesday morning, discovering that she had still not refound her voice that had been lost in the wake of Bradford City’s thrilling penalty shootout win over Huddersfield Town. She was tired. Too tired really. The journey back from the Galpharm seemed to involve a couple of wrong turns and so we got home later than hoped. No voice and feeling utterly knackered – not a good combination for a Primary School teacher.

Still on the plus side, one of her teaching colleagues was a Huddersfield Town supporter. Be sure to ‘bump’ into her today…

And that’s what derby victories are all about – the bragging rights. The opportunity to get one over our friends, family and work colleagues and to continue taunting them for months to come – no matter what they try to argue back. In the wake of Tuesday’s victory for the Bantams, there were some attempts from those of a blue and white persuasion to talk its significance down. “It was only a Huddersfield reserve side” argued some Town fans, in view of eight changes made. Given Phil Parkinson made six for City, so too was ours by this logic.

“The league’s the most important thing” whined Huddersfield’s BBC Radio Leeds pundit Kieran O’Regan, as though it isn’t for City. Presenter Gareth Jones beautifully caught O’Regan out by then asking the former Terriers player when he thought Town and City would next face each other in the league. (Para-phrasing here) “Well we’re going for promotion this season, I can’t see Bradford going up. So not for a while.” “So you’re saying it will probably be a few years until they play each other? Well until then, Bradford fans now have the bragging rights don’t they?” Long pause.

What a night. The penalty shootout was utterly nerve wracking, but after Nialle Rodney struck the winning spot kick – euphoria. When Michael Flynn missed City’s first attempt, it was easy to fear the worst. As the twists and turns unfolded with the packed away end cheering or groaning, my wife was completely frozen in fear. She couldn’t move, so gripped with worry she was. The celebrations in the end were wild, while the Town fans looked as devastated as we would have. At 1-0 a group of home fans on the left side had attempted to charge at us City supporters in anger, only to be stopped by stewards. Trouble occurred outside as we headed home.

That is the ugly side of football that no one should enjoy, but it showed how much the game mattered for both sets of supporters in attendance. Yes it was only the JPT, but as Stuart McCall once said a game of tiddlywinks between the two sides would matter. Yes it was via the lottery of penalties, but two League One sides have now been dumped out of the cup by the Bantams which is impressive. Yes there were no league wins in-between those two victories, but perhaps the corner is finally turning.

The victory over Town followed a better weekend that followed a bad one and bad one before that. Now the challenge is to maintain the upwards curve of improvement and finally start to make an impression in the league. There has still only been one League Two victory to date, and past form would suggest City will follow up a heroic cup victory with a cowardly league performance. That can’t be allowed to happen, not least with a bumper crowd expected and in need of being entertained.

Torquay will be no pushovers – beaten in the play off final last season, and with memories of a 3-0 stroll at Valley Parade last April still fresh in the mind. But at the same time they are no world beaters – even by League Two standards, as they are only 13th so far. There’s no guarantees in football and City are in no position to underestimate anyone, but another slip up will be difficult to accept and the team badly need to keep the fans’ post-Huddersfield mood in tact come 5pm.

The six changes Parkinson made on Tuesday worked well and will give him plenty to ponder for tomorrow, although the five players who kept their place after Burton Albion were the five who truly excelled. Matt Duke, Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall and especially Flynn were outstanding at the Galpharm (even if Threlfall could have used the ball better at times). Indeed it was noticeable that Parkinson choose to keep the backline in tact and was rewarded by further improvement even if two goals were again conceded – at least two have been let in for six consecutive games now.

Duke might have made a meal of a couple of Huddersfield shots, but produced a string of terrific saves that will have done his confidence the power of good. Moore played with a level of commitment not usually associated with loan players, while so powerful was Oliver’s header for 2-1 that it brought back fond memories of David Wetherall. Threlfall will also keep his place tomorrow, though Andrew Davies will be recalled over Guy Branston. It was a mixed night for the club captain, who was superb in many aspects but struggled with his distribution.

In midfield Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid should return, but Adam Reed is out and whether Jamie Devitt – on his way back from injury – comes straight back in too depends on Parkinson’s view on Luke O’Brien. I thought he was excellent on Tuesday taking people on, and he did a good job helping Moore when switched to the right midway through the first half. Chris Mitchell had another good game and set up the opening goal. He will probably be left on the bench and is unlucky to do so. Jack Compton should be back on the sidelines too, which seems right compared to what Reid and O’Brien offer. Flynn is the only certain midfield starter.

Up front, James Hanson’s absence on Tuesday offered fans calling for his permanent removal from the starting eleven a chance to press their claims. Rodney and Mark Stewart did well at times, but in my view Hanson’s presence was missed and when City struggled to clear their lines and keep the ball I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hankering for a target man of Hanson’s ilk. It was heartbreaking to see Ross Hannah’s big chance be ended by an awful challenge just seven minutes in, and with the former Matlock striker set to miss this game Stewart will probably take his place on the bench and Craig Fagan and Hanson – if fit- recalled.

Whoever is left out of the 11 from Tuesday can feel unfortunate, and for those who come in or who retain their place this week has seen the competition for places intensify. Parkinson needs to have a squad who can’t be sure of their places and who must deliver the goods at all times, and he needs to have people queuing up outside his office door pressing their claims for a starting spot.

Every reason then, to believe this squad should be sufficiently motivated to win tomorrow.

Every reason then, for the bragging to be able to continue.

Thrills and spills

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Jack Compton, Michael Flynn, Chris Mitchell, Luke O'Brien | Ross Hannah, Mark Stewart | Nialle Rodney, Andrew Davies, Kyel Reid

Following Bradford City is much like being a roller coaster enthusiast; we’ve found that what goes up must come (even further) down, we’ve been in some long queues for excitement and when the ride stops we’ve definitely felt a lot of whiplash. But we keep joining the back and queuing for more.

Last night was no different, we took our seats in The Galpharm carriage and long serving passengers will have carried little expectation against our local rivals currently unbeaten in 36 league games – although some may express their opinion, with a smile on their face, that they feel the play off final is an extension of the league.

Due to my own commitments playing for my local team on a Saturday, the game was a rare opportunity to see this season’s side in action and my first since the heartbreak at Elland Road. So I strapped myself in and winced at what may lay on the track ahead.

As many roller coasters do this one started slow – Bradford had made 6 changes as captain Guy Branston returned along with Luke O’Brien, Chris Mitchell, Mark Stewart and Ross Hannah. The players looked as if they may be a little rusty as Huddersfield controlled the opening exchanges. The early bumps in the track were provided by Bradford born Danny Ward who was being given far too much time on the left hand side and threatened with a couple of early attempts. To his credit Phil Parkinson was quick to address the issue and made O’Brien switch wings to deal with Ward’s threat, but unfortunately Huddersfield are not short of attacking options in their side and continued to press.

The game heated up following a dreadful challenge from Peter Clarke that ended Hannah’s contribution after only nine minutes and he was replaced by an impressive and energetic Nialle Rodney. Peter Clarke may count himself a little lucky to have got away with only a yellow but red cards early into a local derby are usually a rare occurrence.

Matt Duke had to be on his toes to parry away a couple decent efforts from Town’s forwards and although the keeper failed to hold onto to the attempts each time he pushed them well away from danger. Soon the pace started to pick up City attacked for the first time with real promise as Stewart directed Michael Flynn’s dangerous cross towards goal forcing a decent save from Nick Colgan in the Huddersfield goal and then Danny Ward once again wasted a decent opportunity when he found time and space in Bradford’s box but could only fire safely over.

Despite Town enjoying the best of the possession City had shown some promise on the break and Stewart appeared desperate to make his mark and take his opportunity to impress Parkinson as he saw a further effort deflected just over the Town crossbar.

Then the City fans felt their stomachs drop just before half time. A poor clearance by Branston kept City under pressure. Lee Novak jumped to meet the return cross and his header found the Bradford net, the ride appeared to have turned into Oblivion for City fans but the vertical drop soon flattened out with the linesman’s flag and we passengers could breathe again.

As the referee blew for half time the Bradford players’ couldn’t be blamed if they were happy to hear the half time whistle. The side had worked hard as you would expect in such a fixture but Huddersfield’s better quality had shown on the ball and created a number of decent opportunities. City fans queued for their pies and drinks and waited with both anticipation and trepidation for the ride to begin again.

The second half started as the first had ended, Bradford huffed and puffed but Huddersfield continued to control the pace of the game and Duke was again called upon to push another attempt wide as Huddersfield failed to convert a further opportunity. It appeared Bradford may be missing a Ritchie Jones character to look after the ball better or the energy of David Syers that had driven them on so well until his unfortunate injury in the Leeds game. Their alternative Flynn was playing like a man with a point to prove having been released by Town three seasons ago but the midfield alongside him were very quiet and O’Brien was helping Moore contain the impressive Ward.

One thing you can never criticise Flynn for is hiding away and every time Bradford retrieved possession Flynn was asking for the ball and looking to make things happen. He appeared to me the Michael Flynn who first joined Bradford from our opponents and nothing like the Michael Flynn I have heard about on the message boards who is ‘past it’ and ‘no longer has the legs’.

Bradford’s large following were certainly, singing, chanting and screaming like they wanted to go faster and spurred on by the superb support Bradford duly obliged. Bradford pressed forward and O’Brien won a free kick on the edge of the box. Bradford’s set piece specialist, Mitchell whipped in a dangerous delivery but it was not met by anyone wearing claret and amber. Instead Anthony Kay was on the end of it but the quality of the delivery meant he could only divert it into his own goal instead.

Bradford were about to experience a loop the loop and the euphoria did not last long as Huddersfield pressed forward angered by the fact their lower league neighbours had dare try embarrass them. From an unthreatening Town corner the referee pointed his arm in the direction of the penalty spot. It was difficult to see what had occurred at the far end of the pitch but supposedly Branston had needlessly impeded Clarke in the box and Tommy Miller – who was very close to wearing City colours this season – sent Duke the wrong way from the resulting spot kick and Town drew level.

The Bradford fans had no time to digest the sickening feeling before it all changed once more. Again it was from a set piece but this time a Robbie Threlfall corner that Bradford took the lead. The revitalised Luke Oliver, often one of the main targets of abuse under the Taylor regime became a City hero. His 6’7 frame unsurprisingly managed to get higher than all those around him and he powered his header into the Town net.

Unfortunately once again Bradford’s defensive frailties cost them as the previously one sided cup tie had become an action packed, end to end thriller. Andrew Davies has been brought on for Mitchell in the centre of midfield to try and steady the ship but he and all his team mates appeared frozen as they watched Clarke volley home another equaliser for Huddersfield. There was a horrible feeling of déjà vu amongst the City fans – dumped out of the league cup by not so dear rivals Leeds after being twice in front there was a very real possibility of the same occurring once more. It appeared a similar thought was being felt by the players as all composure left them.

Instead of winning the ball and looking for another claret and amber shirt when they retrieved possession their only thought was to lump it as far away from their goal as possible. Flynn who had been making Bradford tick in the second half was being bypassed as we went route one. Parkinson tried to add some fresh legs to change things by bringing on Kyel Reid but he wasn’t able to get involved as Bradford players were clearly happy to try their luck with penalties.

Both Davies and Moore produced brave blocks from thunderous Town strikes as Town moved in for the kill. Despite this the best chance to win the game still fell to Bradford – a rare moment of possession saw them charge in the opposition final third and Stewart delivered a dangerous cross into the Town box. Davies arrived to what should have been a free header in the penalty area but although no Town defender was near him Rodney got in his way and his header was put to safety by Jack Hunt. Perhaps Davies had not called, perhaps both players had wanted to be the hero but had Davies attacked the ball on his own he would have surely scored.

A tense final few minutes, including four minutes of injury time the referee had found somewhere, produced no goal and Bradford once again had a penalty shoot out in the JPT.

Huddersfield won the toss and opted to take penalties in front of an empty stand rather than face the vocal Bradford following and they converted their first successfully. Not content that they had put the fans through enough thrills and spills, Flynn, scorer of 3 out of 3 penalties this season, fired Bradford’s first over the bar.

Bradford were in need of a hero and Duke responded saving successive Town penalties while Stewart, Reid, Threlfall and Rodney all successfully converted their spot kicks.

Pandemonium began in the Bradford end as finally we had the bragging rights over our rivals. Huddersfield may be a team on the rise and may well finally achieve promotion from League One this season, but for tonight Bradford were the Kings of West Yorkshire. On the rollercoaster journey that is Bradford City these moments of jubilation have become very rare but it certainly gives you a taste for more and last night’s ride is certainly one I’d queue a long time to experience again.

Archie Christie Day: Part 2/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember The Name: George Green.


We have not left the Cedar Court Hotel car park and Archie Christie has taken five calls in fewer minutes.

“I’ve got great taste in music Lads, Sixties soul, all originals, I’ll have ye converted by the end of the day.” Christie had said on his way to the car, but once he settles into the driver’s seat of his Audi the phone starts to ring again and parked up in the hotel car park he takes each call, each call about a deal to be done.

There are deals in the offing but one gets the sense that Christie would not have it any other way. Dominic Rowe is going on loan to Barrow and Christie has all but ironed out the details but wants to make sure the paperwork is being done and so sends instructions to Kath back in the office, covering the details.

In-between he talks to three or four clubs who would both be comfortable in calling themselves in the group of the bigger clubs in Europe. As Christie gets off the phone after his five calls he has eight missed, and a stack of voice mails. They include chairmen of top clubs and internationally known managers leaving chatty voice mails. That manager who you have heard on Match of the Day a hundred times is calling him “Arch” and shooting the breeze.

The effect is surreal, and Christie cuts the calls before anything sensitive can be said. Over the course of the day he is as open as he can be with us, but canny enough to respect the privacy of other people in the game and asks that we do the same.

There is an intoxication to it all – Christie seldom takes a breath between dealing with City staff, other managers, his players – and questions fall out thick and fast. Already we are impressed with the shear amount of work which Christie has got through since we were talking about Carlos Tevez and doing lengths of the pool. Why did he come to Bradford from Dagenham?

“I never worked for Dagenham, I worked for John Still,” Christie explained. “Me and John go back years. We were at Barnet. I’ll let him tell it.” The phone is out, John Still is on speakerphone in seconds telling the story of the time he went to Portugal leaving Christie instructions to get rid of a young lad they had at Underhill. By the time he came back Christie had sold that player – Marlon King – for £550,000 and Still was happy to see both the back of the player and get more money than he hoped for.

“Archie gets things done.”

It is not the first time the phrase has been said about the man in the day, nor will it be the last. Talking to football agent Alex Llevak in the morning, he was unequivocal about Christie’s “knack of getting things done”.

Llevak was a part of the deal which took Paul Benson from Dagenham to Phil Parkinson’s Charlton Athletic and the negotiations which would have brought Benson to City. The deal broke down because of how the London club wanted the deal structuring and City walked away from it. Christie’s watchwords – “I’ll only do what is best for the club” – come back to mind.

Softly spoken Llevak is far apart from the burly Scot but believes that Christie’s great strength is his forthright communication. He says what he is going to do, Llevak adds, and then he does it.

Llevak cannot speak highly enough of Christie and his ability to take players who have lost their way and turn them around. “He has an eye,” Llevak says, “for talent and a knowledge of how to make a minor adjustment to get to that talent. A tweak here, a nudge there. Archie knows what to do.”

Doing A Deal

Back in the car and Christie explains “John would ask me to go look at a player, so I would, and I’d tell him what I think.” Dagenham’s success in moving from a self styled “pub team from Essex” at the bottom of the Conference to overtake City and reach League One speaks for itself. Names like Craig Mackail-Smith, Benson and Roman Vincelot were a part of that rise. Christie beams with pride when he talks about Mackail-Smith – a pride he showed in the trio of Dixon, Brown and Burns and in other players throughout the day – who Dagenham signed from Arlesey Town having been released by St Albans City. The Daggers sold him on to Peterborough who sold him on to Brighton in the summer, the London club having a 15% cut which will see them pocket £375,000 and could still see them get more.

Christie is keen to get those sort of deals done for City. “See Tom Cleverley, I looked at his contract and I went over to Manchester United and told them they owed me money.” The story is in the national record – City’s successful attempt to get what was owed from Manchester United for Cleverley – and that was Christie’s doing taking the contract out of the filing cabinet where it was gathering dust and finding the fine print to exploit. He tells us the figure that he prised out of Old Trafford. It is more than the annual cost of the running the development squad by some way.

“Manchester United said to me, and they said to Julian (Rhodes), we like doing business with you.” Christie’s straight forward approach validated.

There are more calls than there is time to answer them. For every Premier League person calling there is a local team’s manager touching base. Key to Christie’s development plan is his ability to loan lads out to the local sides, his aim being to build closer relations with the teams in the area. “The chairman of (club) one minute, the manager of Harrogate Town the next. That is my day.”

Sixties soul turned up and there is a break from discussions. Christie navigates his way from the hotel towards Woodhouse Grove. “This is my five minutes,” he says with a smile.

Already it would be hard to write a job description for Christie. Having got back from deal doing at one the previous evening he was up five thirty to take another meeting with a Premier League manager before we met him. City boss Phil Parkinson says that every club has a guy doing Archie Christie’s job – getting deals done, managing the details – and in a conversation about Liverpool loanee goalkeeper Martin Hansen, Christie talks about dealing with Anfield’s Director of Football Damien Comolli rather than manager Kenny Dalglish. He agrees with the idea that Comolli is his opposite number at the Merseyside club.

On the Hansen deal Christie confirms that he was guaranteed to play as a part of his signing pointing out that when City send a player out to a team below them then he insists on the same stipulation. When Comolli decided – after the deal was done – that Liverpool did not want their man cup tying in the League Cup or the Associate Members Cup (just in case Liverpool fancy a pop at the JPT one supposes) then Christie got on the phone to Harry Redknapp who quickly dispatched Oscar Jansson on a train to Bradford.

“Did Harry do that to earn a favour?” Michael asked, “No, he did it because he is a Gentleman, a real Gent” came the reply.

If it is hard to create a job description for Archie Christie it is even harder to nail down a title for him. He is nominally Chief Scout and Head of Football Development and could probably be titled Director of Football. When Frank Arnesen joined Spurs with such a title there was confusion about his role at the club which was summed up in the idea that when Frank Arnesen rings the head of AC Milan, he gets an answer.

Perhaps Christie is the same. When City’s staff approached Spurs about Jansson they were not successful, when Archie called Harry something was done. Talking about the deals being done during the day it becomes obvious that Christie is a man football people take notice of. “I’ve got one for you, and when I’ve got one, they know I’ve got one, ’cause I don’t do it often.”

Driving through Bradford the mellowed out sound of Sixies Soul plays on and Christie nods towards the CD player, “Trust me, I’ll convert ye.”

Archie’s Boys

We are at Apperley Bridge and Archie Christie cannot spot Chris Mitchell.

Driving into the training ground, parking up and looking out over the squad, the development squad and the youth team is the kind of feeling that you could happily get used to – but to wander up to a pitch and see players you normally only see in the thick of action running defensive drills is strangely unnerving. Today Phil Parkinson has the first team – including new recruit Adam Reed – lined up against the Youth Team who are trying to play like Burton Albion.

Talking to the head of Christie’s scouting network Nigel Brown reveals a story hard to fathom. On arriving at Valley Parade Christie – who had been doing opposition scouting for John Still at Dagenham – found what could best be described as four empty draws in a filing cabinet marked “Opposition.”

Not much is made of this but thinking back to the first day of the season and talking on the walk away from the ground about how the opposition had done their homework better than we had the idea strikes that we had not been doing our homework at all, or if we had that homework had been somehow removed from Valley Parade, or as good as. Perhaps it is this kind of blank slate that the club represents which attracted Christie and he seems to have relished constructing a network of scouts.

“Nigel is my right hand man,” he says introducing the one time retired scout who encountered Christie at a Halifax Town game and was pressed back into service. Nigel explains the meticulous preparation which goes into every game, how every opposition side is scouted three times including once home and once away, and how the reserves are watched to pick up on any players who might be drafted in. We cast our eyes over copies of the latest opposition reports, “detailed” would be a good summation, “very detailed” a better one. “I look at weather reports, get us prepared for that. It is business planning, only in football.”

And so briefed in are the youth team by Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin – new assistant manager who is impressed with the City facilities – on the basis of the details on Burton, they are playing as Paul Pechisolido’s men might against City’s starting eleven for the game.

“Good work James!” Christie bellows in the direction of five foot seven midfielder James Nanje Ngoe who piles into a tackle with Kyel Reid and come away with the ball. Christie has already told us the story of taking the Development Squad along with eight of the Youth team to Rotherham with people telling him that the Millers were fielding a strong team that would trash his young charges. Nanje Ngoe was one of a pair of midfielders who hunted in a pack in a game won 2-1. “He was one of my Xavi and Iniesta,” Christie explains, his face a picture of pride.

Here though Christie is but an interested spectator watching Nanje Ngoe – and the rest of the squad – but not involving himself. Here he is most like a supporter. When Scott Brown picks up the ball in the would be Burton midfield Christie’s eyes flick around looking for options and a small smile creeps across his lips as the youngster picks the right one. “Six foot one, sixteen, what a player.”

As the training game progresses we talk to Christie about some of the players he has helped to bring in. Chris Mitchell he likens to Phil Neville. “As Alex Ferguson told me, Phil Neville wins you trophies. You play him right back, left back, centre mid, right mid, left mind. They’re worth their weight in gold. They are not spectacular but they win you trophies and if Ferguson says you need a Chris Mitchell, you need a Chris Mitchell.”

Mitchell is an example of the value which Christie has brought to the club. Signed for substantially less than players that then manager Peter Jackson was targeting Mitchell offers quality without expense. Tommy Miller is discussed and later Rochdale’s Gary Jones is mentioned – and the figures that are talked about are substantial for a League Two club.

“How much does the Development squad cost?” we ask, “£145 a day” comes the quick answer. “Including all the salaries, all the expenses, accommodation, everything.”

There is an explanation about how Christie gets his budget provided by the club, how he has a role in generating revenue on things like the Cleverley deal and other deals which are buzzing around and will come to fruition, but in cold figures the Development Squad of a half dozen players including the likes of Brown, Burns and Nakhi Wells costs about the same as a middle weight League Two professional might make and – if you believed the rumours which were heard at the time – about a third of what Tommy Doherty was paid.

“I said to (the chairmen) ‘Take my wage and put it in the development squad’. I don’t get a commission but come to work with me and you’ll see I’m the hardest working person putting it all in for City. This is what I do every day, and I said I’d get it done, because I can.”

Wandering around the pitch towards the Development Squad game we see Mitchell wandering towards us kicking a ball. Archie offers a consoling word for the down looking player – obviously not going to be in the starting XI on Saturday – on a roasting hot day, something about keeping on trying, and that is all. His concern is almost paternal, and there is no suggestion that Christie could do anything to push Mitchell into the side.

The First Team

One thing lacking from our day with Christie is conversation about the first team, and its current struggles. When asked about Luke O’Brien and how he had played all pre-season but not started the year Christie replies that it was all and only ever Peter Jackson’s decision. Phil Parkinson, who has left the squad to watch the Development Game as we do, is the manager and Christie’s thoughts are middle to long term. They are about providing players for the squad at Christmas maybe, next season probably, a fact underlined by Terry Dixon rounding the the goalkeeper in the Development Squad game to put the ball in. “A Championship player in a non-league body, at the moment” says Parkinson.

Phil Parkinson chats to us for 15 minutes and comes over as a thoughtful man. He does not swear – a contrast to the sounds coming from a few of the players on the training pitch – and speaks softly. Christie was involved in his appointment and the two seem in tune with each other. “Phil wants a player, I get the deal over the line,” explained Christie “1,000,000% he decides (on players to sign). That is the way it should be, and I’m happy with that.”

When asked if he had vetoed any of Peter Jackson’s attempts at signing players Christie clearly states that he never has, and never would have, saying that his role is to provide players for the manager to consider that are good and cost effective be that through the Development Squad or the scouting network.

Richie Jones, toiling away on the pitch in the baking sun, is an example of this. Jackson’s attempts to sign midfield players having failed, Christie found Jones who wanted to join City to the extent that Christie tested his conviction by offering him less than he was previously on to drop down a league. Christie is pure fan talking about Jones. “He has had no pre-season, cause he got injured, but when he gets up to speed…”

Parkinson is casting his eye over players on trial in the Development Squad game and likes the idea of it. He explains about how players released from clubs get forgotten about and for the cost of running the squad it is worth offering that chance. “If out of ten, we get two, then it is money well spent.”

The new City boss is still settling into Valley Parade. As Christie’s phone buzzes again in the background and he continues dealing, Parkinson talks about how long it takes to put together a deal in football and how he would not have the time to do that in addition to his first team duties, outlining the need to have people at the club with connections into agents and players. The manager and Christie pass a story between them about a senior pro from Parkinson’s days as a junior, who Archie has encountered and passes on his regards. Parkinson puts a lot of success in football down to having good senior professionals who can set a tone and a culture at a club. On the pitch in front of us Andrew Burns puts in tackle after tackle after tackle claiming everything around him. Later Christie will smile as he recalls this.

Scout Nigel Brown has been brought in after decades of experience with the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Coventry City. He is a part of the network which Christie has assembled to scout “everything” to have it at the fingers of the manager, whoever that manager may be.

Brown is steeped in football talking about things to look for, about his times at Blackburn under Jack Walker. It is not hard to see why Christie has appointed Brown who is rigorous in his approach and with the scouts he employs. He talks about the need for thoroughness and how he demands it.

When talking about player recruitment Brown wants pace. “You can’t teach it,” he says, and Christie has a similar approach, stating, “I watch a player five or six times, I’m looking for one thing: Desire. Just the desire to want to go do it. No one can coach that into you. You just need it.” Christie sees his role as finding players with that desire and teaching them. “You can see how well we (Christie and the Development Squad players) get on, we have a great time but I’m tough. I treat this like a University, they are here to learn. I am tough, but they respond to that very well.”

Brown is unequivocal about Christie saying he an asset to the club, a great wheeler and dealer, and it strikes us that in the hours at Woodhouse Grove alongside Archie Christie meeting Phil Parkinson, Steve Parkin, Peter Horne and Nigel Brown that we’ve found complementary skills rather than competition. Christie speaks highly of his people, who speak highly of him, and each relies on the other to augment the club.

Walking off the training pitches Christie walks past all four of the club’s goalkeepers: Big Man, Jon, Callum, Stuart; and chats to each in turn offering encouragement, enquiry, advice and motivation respectively.

When discussing John Still, Christie mentions how when talking to Julian Rhodes Still had sung his praises but doubted he would come to City having knocked back two Premier League scouting offers. Christie talks in terms of plans that last four years, nothing beyond that, and certainly nothing less than that steadfastly refuting any idea of using the club as a stepping stone. Perhaps it was something about the blank slate that he saw when looking at City that attracted him? Perhaps something about the potential of a club which was in the Premier League a decade ago and has a stadium to show for it? Perhaps it is just his own bloody minded determination to get things done?

As we drive back to Valley Parade it seems like a good time to ask him.


Concluded tomorrow in Archie Christie Day: Part 3.

City stuck in neutral looking for decisive performances

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Jamie Devitt | Ross Hannah, Craig Fagan

Framing City at the moment seems to be the question “What to do about players playing badly?”

Guy Branston was playing badly – or so it was argued by some – and Phil Parkinson seemed to agree dropping his captain for new signing Andrew Davies who put in an impressive début despite the scoreline not differing over much from that of recent weeks. Parkinson made a big decision dropping Peter Jackson’s captain and a brave one but when AFC Wimbledon’s Christian Jolley hit a ball from outside that box that looped over Matt Duke in the City goal then the City manager must have wondered how that decision seemed to result in so much of the same.

Jolley’s goal gave the Dons an unexpected win a game where they were distinctly second best in all but the most important part of football – turning possession into attacking chances – where they were very much better. Set up in a 532 Terry Brown’s side sat deep but came forward with an imagination which seemed lacking from a stolid Bantams side. The Dons did not attack in numbers, but they were direct and most importantly available for each other.

Which was not the case with the Bantams. After Midson’s equaliser mid-way through the first half – a result of the Dons’ striker speedily moving into the gap that Luke Oliver left after an impressive headed clearance and and Christian Jolley being able to play an over the shoulder flick under little pressure from Liam Moore – it was noticeable how the two sides attacking play differed. Wimbledon’s attacks were more random, less considered and as a result more direct.

City’s work in the middle of the pitch was very good. Richie Jones put in a performance which deserved to be a part of a win and with Michael Flynn alongside him the pair were in control of the middle of the pitch but when coming forward they lacked options as a result of their play. Jamie Devitt dropped off the forward line to take the ball but in doing so seemed to duplicate the midfield play rather than adding to the attacking options. Devitt’s dropping off allowed him space but with the back five of the Dons it meant that when he received the ball he was looking forward at too few options.

Chris Mitchell put in a good shift on the right but Kyel Reid will probably not suffer a worse afternoon in his entire career. Pushed wide by a full back and with cover for that full back in the occasions in which he beat his man Reid was far too often on the wrong side of the defender when Jones or Flynn was looking for an outlet. At half time Reid had put in a wretched first half and what does one do with a player who has put in a wretched first half? Reid can and has played better, keep faith with him and he might. In retrospect Parkinson should have taken Reid off, but many player has been given a half time rocket and turned in a performance in the second half.

That was not the case and so with Reid not as an option, with Mitchell quiet (but never a player to get around the back of a five) then City fed everything through Devitt and were rewarded with the first half penalty for a foul on the striker – dispatched by Flynn – but suffered from a predictability.

Devitt is a curious player. Excellent control, able on the ball, and looking dangerous when he touches it he puts one in mind of Chris Waddle or Benito Carbone because for all those abilities and skills – for all the good things he does – he seems to add a weight on the side that causes a sort of wind resistance. Like Waddle Devitt sets a pace and patten of play but – like Waddle – the City team he is in look limited when they play the ball through him.

Everything is predictable when it all comes through Devitt who slows the play down and while he looks good doing it he seemed to slow the attacking pace down. He and James Hanson attempted combination flicks, attempted, link ups, but in the end City’s best chances were a good delivery from the flank that Hanson headed and Seb Brown saved superbly holding well and Hanson’s hitting the post when charging down a Brown clearance.

The challenge for Parkinson is how to make the decisions on the distinction between the players who need to be replaced, the players who need to be backed to play better, and the players who need to play better in the team. Time for the manager to earn his money and make those decisions.

If he can do that – with Jones and Flynn purring away looking for passes, outlets and ways to attack – City could go far. As it is without a way of going forward on the field City under Phil Parkinson are stuck in neutral.

The hare and tortoise approach to team building as Bradford City head to Crawley Town

The Manchester City defender Wayne Bridge will always hold a special place in Bradford City’s history – for it was his free kick goal for Southampton vs Wimbledon in 2000 that indirectly helped the Bantams avoid relegation from the Premier League. But in the wider football world, it seems unlikely he will be remembered beyond once refusing a handshake.

Bridge has recently been in the spotlight after turning down numerous offers of first team football away from Eastlands, in preference for stagnating in the reserves and training alone.

He has not started a Premier League match for Man City since last October. And though he may shortly be persuaded into joining a Championship club on loan, the £90,000-a-week left back apparently seems more concerned with living the footballers’ lifestyle than playing football itself.

The deep pockets approach to building a team

It didn’t have to be like this, and Bridge can hardly argue he wasn’t warned. He left Southampton to join Chelsea’s sudden Roman Abramovich revolution in 2003 – a star signing for the club at the time – but as the Blues progressed and could attract a better calibre of player, Ashley Cole arrived and took his place.

So when Man City, suddenly flush with money, came knocking in 2009, one might have thought he’d realise what would eventually happen and say no. Perhaps, with The Guardian quoting a Man City insider declaring Bridge has become “more interested in what he’s doing on his Saturday nights rather than Saturday afternoons”, he was happy to fulfil his fate.

Nevertheless Bridge has been both the beneficiary and victim of two of the highest profile team building strategies of recent years. Considered a key arrival for both Chelsea and Man City at one stage; each club’s speed of progress then left him no longer good enough for its ambitions.

Yet for both Chelsea and Man City this left a difficult problem. Huge wages were committed on signing the likes of Bridge, Hernando Crespo and Adrian Mutu at Chelsea, and Bridge, Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy at City – and with even bigger wages then needed to bring in the ‘next level’ players, a very expensive and unneeded reserve team was a legacy and a headache.

Man City might have bottomless pockets for the moment, but most other clubs do not. And so the folly of splashing out heavily on players, who can only take you some of the way towards your intended destination before you need to replace them, becomes clear in time.

2008/09 revisited – the flaw in the plan

At Bradford City, and on an altogether different scale of budget, such an approach was tried in the summer of 2008 when then-manager Stuart McCall was handed a budget of £1.9 million and joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes spoke publically of aiming for back-to-back promotions.

That money largely went on the wages of Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding. Let’s ignore for one moment the fact this strategy failed on account of the Bantams failing to go up, and pretend the season hadn’t collapsed with 11 games to go.

Had City crossed the promotion line, would these four players have been good enough to lead the Bantams straight through League One and into the Championship the following season? Or would they be near the top of a list of players needing selling, as McCall would have looked to spend money securing the on-loan season stars Dean Furman, Nicky Law and Steve Jones – on top of targeting other new signings?

And herein perhaps would have lied a significant problem. For the wages of Brandon, McLaren, Lee and Boulding would have proved too high to allow them to sit on the sidelines, and efforts to move them on would have been just as troublesome as they were when McCall had to try to get rid of them because the promotion effort had failed. Meanwhile to get Furman and co, plus others, would have needed the Chairmen to dig deeper once again. The path of progression would have come at a much higher cost, and may not have been sustainable.

£100,000 a year to sit on Crawley’s bench

Crawley Town arrive to Valley Parade tomorrow with very real concerns of this type. Benefiting from sizeable investment which is dubious in its origin, the Red Devils spent some £600k on transfer fees alone last season and were rewarded with a stroll to the Conference title. Having again been heavy spenders this summer, they began as pre-season favourites for promotion and have gone into their first ever Football League campaign with the pressure and expectation they will sail straight into League One.

Yet recent results are not good. Having not lost a league game since October 2010, they have been defeated in three of their last four games. Add in cup matches, and it’s five defeats from six. Last Saturday they were thrashed 6-0 at Morecambe, on Tuesday they were beaten 3-0 at home to Swindon. Not exactly the form of would-be champions.

And for the dislikeable Steve Evans and his wealthy benefactors, a new and perhaps unexpected problem is emerging. All that money has only got them so far, and to fulfil their ambitions it looks like they will need to spend a great deal more. Some of the players who may no longer be good enough are reportedly earning £100,000 a year – who else would be willing to match that and take these unwanted players off their hands? Last season Crawley were nicknamed the ‘Man City of non-league’. It looks like they could soon have a few Wayne Bridges of their own.

Work in progress

The contrast in the Bantams’ new approach is stark. So much has been talked about this building for the future outlook that it is getting repetitive, but with City electing to buy potential rather than buy expensive a more sustainable approach is developing. Relatively speaking most of the summer signings came cheap, and if they don’t prove good enough or can’t match the progress of the club they will not be expensive to move on. On the other side of the coin they may also become valuable assets if they develop strongly, potentially providing decent transfer fees.

If this strategy and this team can take City upwards, there would be a less likelihood of a nosebleed halfway on route to the top and fear that vast money must be found to sustain improvement. The speed of progress may be slower, but perhaps along the journey we’ll skip past a few clubs who had apparently spent their way to success, but are finding it a struggle to maintain momentum.

The midweek defeat to Port Vale emphasised that this is a slow burner approach. Eight games in and City have produced some wonderful football and the team is developing into one many of us have fallen in love with, because of their high work rate and commitment. Yet only one win has been recorded and four defeats have already been chalked up. As the league table begins to carry meaning, 22nd-placed City are one point worse off compared to last season’s dreadful start.

Promising displays are not yet turning into results. No one is panicking, but for now an uneasy feeling is difficult to avoid.

Bouncing back from a first defeat in five

Despite Crawley’s recent results, tomorrow is a tough test for a City side looking for an immediate response to Tuesday’s set back. Matt Duke is top of the list aiming for redemption after his howler for Vale’s second goal raised questions about his match sharpness. At the moment he is averaging two goals conceded per game; and while some of those were unstoppable strikes, we’ve not yet seen him make too many noteworthy saves to prevent opposition attacks.

The back four may be shaken up or Parkinson – who at half time at Vale Park told his defence not to sit so deep, which brought about an improvement – may be tweaking other areas of the set up to provide greater defensive protection. Liam Moore got through a tough first half to again impress, and his long throws are a useful weapon. Robbie Threlfall did okay, but the more attack-minded Luke O’Brien could flourish in this team. Guy Branston had a tough evening at Vale Park and – if Steve Williams is back soon – could be favourite for a breather with Luke Oliver showing better form.

The midfield four often becomes a five when Jamie Devitt floats deeper, and is impressing greatly when City have the ball but are a concern when they don’t. Michael Flynn has received some criticism for his performances this season, but to me it seems he is playing a deeper role than he used to which might be confusing some. Just like Lee Bullock two years ago, it seems Flynn is being asked to perform in a way that better conserves his ageing energy levels while still contributing positively. Ritchie Jones will play alongside him, with Chris Mitchell wide right and Kyel Reid wide left.

Mitchell is another with his critics in the stands. I had the misfortune of sitting next to a no-doubt-committed-but-ridiculously-negative supporter in the first half on Tuesday, who commented that Mitchell reminds him of Gary Locke because “he was half a yard off the pace too.” Mitchell is the kind of non-tackler, methodical player many fans always seem to hate, but continues to be quietly effective in his positioning and passing ability. The direct-minded Reid gets better every game – he is Omar Daley v2.

Up front Parkinson’s search for a striker concluded with the signing of Craig Fagan but the former Hull City man has not played much in over a year so will be lacking match fitness so expect James Hanson to partner Devitt. Hanson’s time in the first eleven is probably coming to an end for now, but in away games his value in holding up the ball to relieve the pressure on the rest of the team is especially invaluable and he emerged from Vale Park with plenty of credit. Ross Hannah bangs loudly on the door but the excellent Concentrate on the League website argues why he should be super sub for now. Nahki Wells has also moved up the pecking order; worrying times for Mark Stewart.

Undoubtedly the pressure tomorrow is on the home side. Defeat for Crawley and who knows what ambitious owners would do about Steve Evans. A loss for City would spell greater relegation fears but, as Micky Adams declared in midweek, this team has the potential to challenge at the top.

Crawley climbed to the summit much faster, but may increasingly become envious of the Bantams and their plan.

The show of solidarity

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, James Hanson | Ross Hannah, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart

To an outsider at least, Bradford City’s start to the season must appear to be on the brink of being labelled catastrophic. Yet within the four sides of Valley Parade this afternoon and over the past few weeks, it’s hard to recall the last time we felt so giddy with excitement.

Michael Flynn’s successful stoppage time penalty means City have struck a late equaliser two weeks running and stretches the unbeaten run to four games, though only once in this season’s nine league and cup matches to date have the Bantams won outright over the 90 minutes. Yet while in the past such form would prompt moaning, instead there is optimism. We’re not looking at the future with glass-half-empty despair, but with relish. No panic, just patience.

When at half time the players trooped back to the dressing room a goal down to a decent Bristol Rovers side they did so with the boost of a standing ovation from just under 10,000 home supporters. How many times has this scenario happened over the past decade? Typically when losing at the break, the only question is how loud in volume the boos would be; yet today there was a defiant and powerful message delivered to players – we’re genuinely right behind you.

And how richly deserved that standing ovation was. Lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation which allowed loan signing Jamie Devitt to operate in a free role behind James Hanson, City dictated the tempo right from kick off and produced a display of attacking, passing football that was remarkable to watch. The ball was passed back and forth with great accuracy and some dazzling attacking moves were only thwarted by a strong visiting defence or eventual slight inaccuracy in possession.

For the last four seasons in League Two, we’ve largely become used to a more direct style of football which has proved effective at times but at others was dismal to watch. Today City looked as if they’d spent the week watching DVDs of Arsenal and – dare I say it – Barcelona. Quick fire, one-touch football with the ball knocked across from wing to wing and ending up in the penalty area having remained on the turf on route, rather than hit high. On another day and against weaker opposition City could easily have been three or four goals up.

Devitt is skilful in possession and proved hugely effective in his free role, while fellow home debutant Kyel Reid looked a constant menace on the left wing and regularly had the beating of Pirates’ right back Adam Virgo. With Chris Mitchell again providing that mixture of width and central support alongside the again impressive Ritchie Jones and Flynn, the Bantams dominated the first half through their stylish approach.

Goalscoring opportunities were less frequent, though Devitt was unfortunate to see an overhead kick attempt sail over, Flynn could have gone better with an effort from the edge of the area and Devitt again came close with an excellent run but weak shot. The best opportunity of all fell to Jones, whose late charge into the box saw him meet Reid’s superb cross brilliantly with head and the gangling Scott Bevan pulled off a world class tip over. Aside from a moment of confusion where Bristol Rovers thought they had scored – only for the dismal referee Nigel Miller to eventually realise his linesman had flagged for a foul rather than goal – it was one-way traffic.

So when Matt Harrold got free of Luke Oliver to send a looping header over Matt Duke and into the net, following a superb pass from Stuart Campbell, there was no justice at all. City continued to press, but the downside of Phil Parkinson’s formation – which had been hinted before the goal – came into focus when two brilliant crosses into the box were missed by home players. There just weren’t enough people getting into the box and, as wonderful as the build up in the final third was at times, City lacked options when it came to finishing them.

Hanson bore the brunt of this frustration from supporters. Understandable at times as his work rate seemed to be lacking his usual high standards, but once again it seems a question of feeding him the ball in areas where he can hurt the opposition. Perhaps this new style of play means selecting a target man like Hanson isn’t going to be the most effective approach. But equally more runs into the box from midfield are needed to support him or whoever is selected up front instead, and as the half came to an end with that uplifting standing ovation the question to ponder was whether we are lacking a striker or just missing David Syers.

The quality of City’s play wasn’t as exceptional in the second half – partly because of Rovers’ manager Paul Buckle’s decision to place a deep-sitting midfielder right in front of his back four in an effort to curb Devitt’s influence – but enough of a head of steam was built up to find an equaliser on the hour.

Hanson’s header from a corner struck the post and Devitt’s rebound attempt was blocked by a defender, but as the Hull City youngster looked set to hit another shot at goal he was hauled down for a penalty. Flynn – second-choice penalty taker behind the benched Jack Compton – side footed it casually into the right corner and the strong backing from fans increased further in volume as substitute Ross Hannah forced Bevan into another outstanding save.

Disappointingly the Bantams sat back and Bristol Rovers re-took the lead when Eliot Richards was allowed too much space to send a powerful shot past Duke. It is a source of worry that a back four which looks solid for the most part of games can then switch off and is so often punished for doing so. Guy Branston, Oliver, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall couldn’t be faulted during the match, but Parkinson needs to find a way of tightening them up further.

City pressed hard in the closing stages, but just like last week you couldn’t see an equaliser occurring. But then, half way through the four minutes of injury time, a great piece of skill by Devitt lead to him being tripped in the box for another penalty. Compton – who again impressed when coming on – pressed his claim to take the spot kick, but Flynn was given the responsibility a second time, firing into the opposite corner despite Bevan’s best attempts to keep it out.

Another draw doesn’t do much for City’s league position, but there’s no doubt an upwards direction is being taken. From being unlucky to lose games at the start of the season, the Bantams are now somewhat unfortunate to be drawing matches. Parkinson’s ongoing search for a striker might prove to be the final piece in the jigsaw, but if the current standards of performance are maintained the victories will surely come.

And when they do, the joy is everyone’s to share. The atmosphere inside Valley Parade today was superb and while it might not intimidate the opposition it certainly makes a difference to our players. Everyone can see how much they care and are trying for this club, and only an incredibly heartless person wouldn’t appreciate their commitment.

Peter Jackson, Colin Cooper, Archie Christie and Parkinson have or are building a team that we can truly feel proud of, and the half time standing ovation proved how much we care about – and feel inspired by – our players.

Exciting times ahead, but perhaps we want more

Welshman John Hartson likes a good rant. When his Wimbledon team conceded a goal at Valley Parade in 2000 he ranted his way to a red card after reportedly nearly ranting his way to one in the tunnel before this game. Something in the last eleven years has convinced the good people at ITV that he should be given the microphone in support of the England vs Wales game in the week and so his rants moved into my front room.

Moving aside from the curiousness of his statements on the English having an Italian manager Hartson declared himself excited by the young Welsh team which claimed a gallant defeat at Wembley casting a critical eye on Fabio Capello’s England who had ended the game as victors, a draw off winning the group and qualifying for the European Championships.

Hartson’s excitement is justified – Wales look like they might have a team capable of undoing the wrongs committed against the country by John Toshack and getting back to the Mark Hughes side of 2004 where they nearly qualified for a major competition – but as a practical concern it misses the rather obvious point that what he is getting excited about has become tedious for the team he criticises.

No matter what one thinks of England’s performance there has become a kind of metronomic precision to the national team’s progression to World Cup’s and European Championships. Since the early 1980s England have missed three summers of what will be sixteen times of asking. While Hartson may be excited about the chance to be a part of one of those tournaments the reality of football is that England will be.

Which is because – as has been proved over the last two games, and the previous World Cup qualifying under Fabio Capello – England are good at winning games and getting results to get to the sort of tournaments which their group opposition aspire to.

Being good at getting results is not always something to get excited about but the last minute conversion of Jack Compton’s cross by Ross Hannah at Morecambe last week has pulses racing. City’s game plan seemed to have been blown away in the blustery coastal winds but Phil Parkinson’s new team showed a character to keep going and a resolve to nick a goal which turned a defeat into a good result.

Again a reality of football is that at all levels an away draw is always a good result and if a team wins home matches, draws away amassing two points a game then it will probably end up promoted. Parkinson is looking to build on that result with his first home game.

Parkinson inherited a City team which seemed to be growing in belief. The 4-2 win over Barnet showed what could happen if the young team got the ball down and passed it. In the league, since Peter Jackson left, City have a home win and an away draw.

Another former England manager – Sir Bobby Robson – said that a team needed a player who scored one in two and another who scored one in three and then it would do well. Up front James Hanson has three in six games and he may be partnered with Ross Hannah who has two in six. Mark Stewart would be unlucky to step down after some very good performances but Hannah has knocked firmly on the door. Nakhi Wells is back from international duty while Nialle Rodney is injured.

The midfield two of Richie Jones and Michael Flynn is growing in effectiveness. It is curious that Welshman Flynn – obviously a player capable enough to be in the side – was being cast aside by Jackson with no more explanation than the idea that the manager “didn’t fancy him” as if that were a reason to lose a good and useful player. Chris Mitchell will hope that his last league performance at Valley Parade has not been forgotten and Jack Compton will hope his pinpoint cross to Hannah wins him a place in the side but Kyel Reid and – especially – Jamie Devitt will be hoping to get places on the wing.

Matt Duke will keep goal behind an increasingly settled back four of Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall.

The Bantams face a Bristol Rovers team who are sitting in mid-table as they recover from relegation and are smarting from a 4-1 defeat by City’s opposition next week Crawley Town. Rovers have not won since the 16th of August and when a team is not winning then there is always a worry. As City found before Jackson’s surprise exit losing can be softened by an exciting, young team.

How long exciting losing under Jackson could have been tolerated we will never know, but perhaps John Hartson will tell us.

Comments off. Michael Wood is on holiday.

Cooper Provides Perfect Platform for Parkinson to Launch From

The Team

Oscar Jansson | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Jack Compton | James Hanson, Mark Stewart | Ross Hannah, Michael Bryan, Luke O'Brien

Tomorrow morning City’s new boss Phil Parkinson is due to discuss the futures of the backroom staff and that namely of Colin Cooper. Cooper took the helm to guide City to a second impressive display in four days, that saw the Bantams go through to the second round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, via penalties, at the expense of League 1 opposition. On this evidence it must surely be highly tempting for Parkinson to keep him on as his number two.

That is to say if Cooper wishes to remain in the role, because on the back of these two games he has done himself no harm if he was to go looking for a number one spot elsewhere.

His mantra seems to be to get the team passing, using the flanks effectively and pressing teams into their own half. It would be nice to see this ethos continued under the new boss as not only is it pleasing to watch, it has also yielded two positive results in as many games.

Whilst the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy offers an unhelpful distraction from the league to some, it offers others the chance of a cup run with a trip to Wembley at the end of it. City set up with the latter in mind and named an unchanged starting line-up from Saturday’s victory against Barnet. Megson’s team selection seemed to apply to the former, choosing to blood a sixteen year-old centre back, but nonetheless offered the Owls a chance to pick up their first away victory of the season.

Megson’s clear scepticism towards the tournament was further confirmed only minutes into the game when first choice Wednesday keeper, Nicky Weaver, was replaced by second choice stopper Richard O’Donnell. A slight bending of the rules perhaps, which stipulate that six first team players must be included in the starting line-up, and not, one would argue, in the spirit of the game or competition.

To add to this early surprise, after only fifteen minutes Megson made more changes, sacrificing former Leeds midfielder David Prutton and defender Jose Vitor Semedo. The sentiment that you can only beat who is put in front of you seemed to echo around Valley Parade and did not deter City, but surely spurred them on sensing a higher opposition scalp.

With these distractions aside, Bradford started the game brightly and looked to play a passing game through the midfield, feeding the wide men Compton and Mitchell. Compton particularly looked dangerous and increasingly demonstrated the confidence to go beyond his full back, this led to an early pull back for Mark Stewart who had the ball nicked off his toes just before connecting with his shot.

Continuity in selection seemed to be paying off for City as Michael Flynn and Ritchie Jones struck up a decent understanding that saw Flynn playing the aggressor, whilst Jones showed finesse to find a yard of space to push the Bantams forward. Indeed this was a refreshing sight following the midfield being by-passed far too often in recent memory.

Despite early amounts of possession and positive play, the Bantams rarely tested the Wednesday keeper and as the half wore on the Owls seemed to settle into the game and gain more possession themselves, but likewise, without every really threatening Oscar Jansson’s goal.

As the half drew to a close, the tenacity of Mark Stewart carved half a chance for the Scottish striker, his shot ballooned up into the air and straight into the path of James Hanson who could only managed to knock his header into the ground and agonisingly wide of the far post.

Despite the miss the near chance seemed to send the Bantams into the break with positive intent and left Wednesday looking vulnerable at the back.

Vulnerability that nearly proved costly only seconds into the second half, when a loose pass back to his keeper by sixteen year old Ayo Obileye, was nearly seized upon by the alert Compton, who saw his effort deflected wide by the keeper’s legs.

The City forwards continued to hustle the inexperienced Owls backline, Hanson using his brute strength and Stewart his guile to carve out more chances; Stewart’s best effort was pushed wide by keeper O’Donnell, whilst Hanson dragged his late effort wide.

Midway through the second half, City introduced boyhood Wednesday fan Ross Hannah who continued where Stewart left off and continued to pressurise the Wednesday defence. Mitchell was then also replaced by winger Michael Bryan, who again looked a little lightweight when up against opposition fullbacks.

Wednesday continued to pass the ball effectively through the midfield carving few chances on goal and never really testing Jansson, but as the half went on, it was City who finished the stronger.

Firstly, a Luke Oliver header that was cleared on the line (following a watch of the replay on TV it certainly looked over the line), the resultant clearance came to Flynn who volleyed an effort that was effectively saved once more by O’Donnell. Then Compton curled a vicious free kick just wide of the far post; Hannah tried to scramble a shot in on the turn following a Hanson knock down and Jones also had a powerful volleyed effort saved.

With the game drawing towards the last five minutes City introduced prodigal son Luke O’Brien for Compton. Early link up between O’B and Robbie Threlfall saw the Bantams force a free kick on the left flank; the ball was swung across into a dangerous area by Threlfall and was met again by the consistently impressive Oliver, whose header struck the bar and bounced to safety.

It seemed that it was going to be one of those nights for the Bantams, who’s endeavours went unrewarded. With the game finishing level, the lottery of penalties ensued and saw City keeper Jansson come into his own.

Sheffield Wednesday started the spot kick proceedings at the Bradford End, Clinton Morrison blasting his effort way over the bar. Ritchie Jones then stepped up and made it 1-0 with a coolly taken spot-kick. The Owls’ second penalty saw Jansson dive athletically to his right to push the effort wide, then Flynn doubled City’s lead with another well taken effort. Wednesday’s third effort saw the visitors get on the board, only for Ross Hannah to smash City’s third into the top corner. As Wednesday’s fourth taker stepped up, it felt amongst the crowd that the superior City performance was about to be rewarded and duly it was as Jansson dived low to his left to push the shot around the post.

If this is seen as a lesser competition then nobody told the Bantams’ players whose reaction was one of delirium as the arm-linked Claret and Amber stripes stampeded towards Jansson for a good old-fashioned pile on, topped off by a Guy Branston Swan dive (Ouch!). The team spirit was clear to see and it is hoped that Parkinson will now look to continue this in order to build on the confidence gained in the last two games.

The two victories represent a massive step forward for the squad and Cooper’s influence cannot be ignored. So it is hoped that Phil Parkinson’s observatory role tonight has shown him enough to know a good thing when he sees it and does all within his power to keep Cooper on. This will surely aid the transition and maintain continuity, whilst hopefully demonstrating to the new boss, cited in previous articles for favouring a tight 451 formation, that playing an attacking 442 formation can merit its own rewards and do it in style.

It will be interesting now to see how many new recruits Parkinson decides to bring in, as it would be a shame to oust the promising talent that has been on show in the last two games, without first giving it a chance. An experienced striker is still an attractive prospect, but the players handed over by Cooper must at least leave the new man thinking hard before spending Mark Lawn’s newly available funds.

Implosion avoided as the young Bantams come of age

The Team

Oscar Jansson | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Jack Compton | James Hanson, Mark Stewart | Nahki Wells

Perhaps Mark Lawn is being economical with the truth over the degree of influence and pressure he and his Boardroom colleagues placed upon Peter Jackson. But as it became obvious it was entirely the departed manager’s decision to quit, uneasy questions began to surface over the squad building he has overseen.

Just how bad were these players, to prompt someone apparently proud to manage them to quit after just five games in charge? Had he detected the ship is sinking and so clambered aboard the first lifeboat available before anyone seriously questions his leadership? When Barnet disrupted 15 minutes of promising home play by taking the lead this afternoon, the despair that flooded across Valley Parade weighed heavily.

Although at least the gloom didn’t last long, because James Hanson headed home an immediate equaliser that – in time – could be looked back upon as the crucial moment in City’s campaign. However, even during such a short period of time losing, the cracks of implosion could be heard. Barnet’s opener was almost an exact replica of Aldershot’s first in the opening day 2-1 defeat of the Bantams, with Guy Branston inexplicably allowing Ricky Holmes time and space to charge into the box and send a low cross that Izale McLeod couldn’t miss from. As the game restarted Branston’s next touch was greeted by a smattering of boos. The team was being turned upon by the loud minority. Yet again. Sigh.

Hanson’s goal halted the boos and frustration in the stands, while on the pitch it breathed belated confidence into a young side that in the past five games had simply been on the wrong side of narrow margins rather than humiliated. It was a goal of genuine quality, with Mark Stewart receiving the ball in the final third and expertly laying the ball off to wide man Chris Mitchell. His cross was superb, allowing Hanson to glance the ball into the net. From seemingly on the brink of panic, the corner was being turned.

In a match up between two teams better going forward then defending, City gradually began to take control with so many of the new faces in particular enjoying a season’s best performance. Stewart looked easily-bullied and weak in his two previous league starts; today he ran Barnet ragged with intelligent running and far greater strength on the ball. Liam Moore recovered from a poor start to enjoy a storming second half at right back. Ritchie Jones linked defence and attack up nicely, while Jack Compton was always a threat on the ball.

Ironically this was the same team set up and almost identical line up to the one which begun the season losing to Aldershot. Mitchell looked lost as wide right midfielder that day, but on his recall gave City the balance in midfield needed to allow them to increasingly dominate. He tucked in alongside Jones and the energetic Michael Flynn when an extra body was needed in the centre, and tracked back well to support Moore at moments Barnet tried going down the flanks. When City attacked, he popped up in different areas that included providing width on the right hand side. On this form he is the answer to a midfield conundrum that has plagued the club since dropping into League Two.

And there were his deliveries. His cross for Hanson’s equaliser was breathtaking. Early in the second half, Hanson’s excellent persistence earned City a free kick out wide which Mitchell delivered perfectly onto Branston’s head for 2-1. (And at this point let us say those who booed Branston had no right to cheer this goal.) Five minutes later Mitchell pick pocketed the full back for possession before firing across another glorious cross that Hanson tapped home for 3-1. It was a genuine surprise he wasn’t involved in the fourth goal that occurred early in stoppage time.

But Hanson was. All four of the goals included him. Substitute Nahki Wells may have robbed a defender, dribbled past another and slammed the ball home for a mightily impressive first senior goal, but Hanson’s bullying of his marker enabled it to happen. It was the kind of low-key contribution many fail to recognise the importance of as they slate target men like Hanson.

It’s hard to remember the last time the former shelf-stacker played as brilliantly as he did this afternoon. Yet still, at 3-1 up, numerous fans continued to get on his back and slag him off in the most derogatory of terms. It should leave every right-minded City fan angry enough to march over to the booers and rip their season tickets out their hand.

If you thought Hanson was poor today and so criticised him – you are a moron. End of. If you don’t like being labelled a moron, don’t read this site. I’m sick of people like you ruining the matchday experience and confidence of players for no obvious reasons other than selfish. The people who booed Branston today – who admittedly was at fault for both Barnet goals, that’s hardly the point – deserve to feel very stupid tonight too.

Back on the pitch, the difference in the players from kick off to full time was colossal. The Leeds game had showed the potential offered by the new-look squad, but doubts over where it really matters were finally eased by the way everyone grew in stature and confidence. Against such a turbulent backdrop in the immediate build up, caretaker manager Colin Cooper deserves immense credit for maintaining the players focus and should now figure in the Board’s thoughts if they haven’t already decided who will be next manager. In Jackson’s final two games he was apparently losing his way in team selection and tactics, Cooper brought back a level of organisation that laid the groundwork to an excellent performance.

A performance that could easily have included more goals. In the first half Compton, Stewart and Mitchell both came close with decent shots that flew just wide, while Hanson should have scored (boo!) from a looping Compton cross. Once 3-1 up in the second half City sat back more, but before Wells’ fourth Mitchell forced a smart save from long distance. The inside of the post was also rattled by Wells a minute after his goal.

Defensively there remain concerns with crosses into the box not dealt with well, though even in this area there was improvement as the game went on. Oscar Jansson made a solid home debut that included three excellent saves, but he was beaten by Mcleod for a second time deep in stoppage time to put a slight dampener on the afternoon.

Though the atmosphere – which grew positive from the moment Hanson equalised – remained stirring to the end. The minority digs at Flynn, Branston and Hanson drowned out by enthusiastic chanting. I can only speak for myself, but after the Leeds game and the brave way the players had attacked our bitter rivals I fell in love with this team. I struggle to recall a more honest, hard-working group of players since those halcyon days of 1998/99. For sure ability wise they are not the best, but for effort and determination I am desperate to see them succeed. We’ve had too many false dawns to get excited yet, but this really could be the start of something special.

Which makes the decision of Jackson to walk out all the more baffling. One wonders how he spent this afternoon and if he now regrets not giving it one more week. But most of all – as we enjoyed Stewart, Mitchell and others prosper instead of being replaced in the team by loan signings – one wonders whether Jackson falling on his sword might prove to be a blessing in disguise.

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