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

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

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

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

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

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.

The week we lost patience

It was always coming – the loss of patience that has fractured Valley Parade this week – but the surprise was not that it has arrived in such a short space of time but that the harbinger of trouble came from a sight thought consigned to City’s history. Luke Oliver in attack.

Oliver lumbered into the forward line and five days later Peter Jackson – the man who called the job as Bradford City his dream come true – was walking out of the club leaving a stunned playing squad and a lot of questions.

Questions that everyone – including Jackson – will struggle to find answer to. As he woke up this morning the former Huddersfield Town, Lincoln City and Bradford City manager is no longer a football manager. The Bantams pulled Jackson out of retirement – he was literally in a nursing home – and gave him one of 92 jobs in professional football.

And, Jackson said, the job he really wanted over all others. Think about that for a moment. Right up until – as Michael Flynn testified to – Jackson put on his suit and headed to the board meeting at Valley Parade Jackson was a man (according to himself) doing the job he had always wanted. Two hours later he became a former professional football manager now. Before City no one wanted him, and his experience of the last six months will do nothing to add to his employability.

What could have happened in that boardroom which would make a man inflict such a destiny on himself?

Retracing the steps following the defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge on Saturday it is hard to say. During the week Peter Jackson went back on his ideas of building a squada squad we are told has been bolstered by additional funding – after a game which had seen his side booed off.

Jackson talked about how great the supporters had been to him, how they had stuck by the team, and in doing so drew a line between the malcontent and those who did get behind his side. There are people who use Valley Parade as a place to vent their spleens and I have made my thoughts on those people known but there are more people who have turned up to Valley Parade regularly over the past decade through some pretty thin thin. Ten years without much manifest progress.

Those people – who Jackson credited as sticking by his team – are wondering what must have happened in that two hour board meeting that means that Jackson lasts only six months compared to the years they put in.

The Daggers game saw patience levels tested. It was the second home defeat of the season in only two games which levelled the number of home defeats which Stuart McCall’s side suffered in the 2008/2009 season, the point being illustrated not being about managers but rather about promotion prospects. For those who – with levels of optimism unjustified – thought that City were in the title hunt this season that was enough to see them lose patience. Perhaps Jackson – or members of the board – were amongst them.

It is said that in one board meeting former manager McCall threw a DVD of a game at a board member after a badgering session. Perhaps there was nothing for Jackson to throw. McCall carried on that season until he felt that promotion could not be achieved, Jackson had 42 games left but – we are told – believed that the club could do better with someone else at the helm.

For Peter Jackson it seemed that his patience with his four strikers was at an end and he declared that he would be bringing in an experienced striker. Jackson’s decision had some logic to it – a team that is not winning because it is not scoring will do no good to the education of any of the squad – but even were one to accept Jackson’s analysis that the problem City are facing is to do with not having enough smarts in the forward line his solution was by no means foolproof.

Recall – if you will – Peter Taylor’s signing of Jason Price – a player who has since moved on to today’s opposition Barnet – who was very much the type of experienced striker that Jackson talked about bringing in. The thirty year old Price looked good at Valley Parade but his presence did not spark a turn around in Taylor’s side’s fortunes and on his exit we were left with the same squad of players we had before his signing, although their noses had been put slightly more out of joint by having someone brought in over their heads.

If Jackson was under pressure to sign a player and did not want to – and there is no indication that he was not keen on bringing someone in or that he had not attempted to do so – then he certainly toed the party line. If Jackson did try a quarter of the managers in football to try find a new player and drew a blank then the suggestion he resigned on a point of principal of the club recommending via Archie Christie a new forward would paint the City boss in the most churlish light. If you have spent all morning being knocked back for players, why get upset when someone else has helped you out? Upset to the point of leaving your dream job.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

It was a chilling sight when all six foot seven of Luke Oliver lumbered into the attack for the end of the defeat to Dagenham. Not that Oliver cannot be trusted to do whatever job he is given as well as he can but that the situation in which – James Hanson having been removed – there was the requirement for a target man seemed to suggest that having taken off Hanson Jackson had – in effect – changed his mind.

Four games into the league season and it seemed that Peter Jackson was flailing. Pre-season was spent with the players playing a tight passing game which lasted but a half against Aldershot Town. Since then there has been a commitment to putting foot through the ball and trying to win anything from James Hanson’s head. Players like Mark Stewart – signed with one way of playing in mind – are decided to be too lightweight for the hustle of League Two football.

There is an irony in League Two football. The teams in the middle of the division play a big man, hit-and-hope type of game splitting the teams in the league who try to play the game on the ground. Those who play a passing game well are able to beat the lump up merchants and so rise to the top while the bottom of the league is full of teams who get muscled out, fail to press their passing game, and suffer under the strength of players in the division.

The best and the worst teams play football in League Two. Playing a physical, hit-and-hope game practically guarantees a place in the division next season. Get a couple of big lads and ping the ball at them and – like Peter Taylor’s team – you will still be in League Two at the end of the season.

Which sounds a good prospect after four games and one point but – in two years time – when City feel they have developed the development squad to such a degree where a promotion push is needed then a new way of playing the game is needed to get above the morass.

City’s best performance of the season to date – the game with Leeds United – was based around the kind of passing game which Jackson did not deploy against League Two teams for fear that his players will be muscled off the ball.

Looking at City’s four goals in five games this season three of them have come from what could be classed as passing football, the other being a set play flicked on by Luke Oliver at Oxford. Jackson needed to have more faith in the players he had brought to the club – and in his own judgement that he could bring them in and put them into a starting eleven which could work in League Two – and perhaps it was the thought of retrofitting muscle into his side which played on Jackson’s mind during that board meeting.

One wonders what was said and between whom. For sure in the days and weeks to come both the departing manager and the joint-chairman Mark Lawn will speak about their versions of events and probably reality will sit between them.

In the back of a Ford

City face a Barnet side who seemingly had no chance of being in League Two this season. Adrift at the bottom of League Two they looked to be relegated but for a late season push which saw Lincoln City cast out of football once more.

Having had a trip to Burnley in the League Cup in the week Barnet arrive at Valley Parade without a win since the opening day and on the back of two 2-2 draws. They are managed by Lawrie Sanchez who twice wanted the Bradford City job and have the aforementioned Price, Steve Kabba and Izale McLeod as a potent strike force.

With Colin Cooper expected to be put in charge of the team it is hard to say what the side would be. Martin Hansen has returned to Liverpool after a loan spell which – if anything – should teach him of the need to shout more. Jon McLaughlin would hope to return having played in a Reserve game at Rotherham in the week but Jackson did indicate that Oscar Jansson will start and that the club want him to sign for a longer loan deal.

Steve Williams was in line to return to the back four and – on form – Guy Branston would have had to be man to step down for him with Luke Oliver putting in excellent displays however news of Williams’ set back in training questions that. Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore are expected to continue at full back.

Jack Compton will be wide on the left. Michael Bryan has yet to flatter and at the moment he – like most loan players – stands accused of using up a shirt that one of our squad could have. Not to put too fine a point on it but it is hard to see how picking Dominic Rowe in the three games Bryan has been at the club would have seen things pan out differently and Rowe would have been three games wiser.

None of which is to criticise Bryan just the wisdom of bringing him to the club given the long term aims that Archie Christie’s development project has outlined. Far be it from me to side with Mark Lawn but given a choice between what Christie talks of and the reality of signing more Michael Bryans, Ryan Kendals, or Louis Moults I’d side with the man who said that we should take a longer term view. Chris Mitchell could come in on the right.

Richie Jones and Michael Flynn – when they were not watching the ball sail over their heads – put in a good display against Dagenham and Redbridge. Dagenham, home of Ford, prompts a motor metaphor in most men and in this case it is that the pair represent an engine running away without the driveshafts and gears that connect it to the wheels. With Jackson’s 442 having been so static there was power generated but that goes to waste for the want of connections to the extremities.

Which returns us to the subject of Mark Stewart and how he would provide that connection dropping between the lines and allowing for some interplay between midfield and attack but – in a game of hoof ball – his skills are negated. Ross Hannah probably did enough to secure himself a starting place in the side next to James Hanson in the starting line up although Nialle Rodney might get a chance. All four of the strikers would – in my opinion – do well with good service.

Which is why the sight of a long ball being pumped to Luke Oliver is a good reason to lose one’s patience but probably not the reason that Jackson’s patience for the machinations of working at Valley Parade ran out.

There is a rumour that Peter Jackson wanted to bring in Danny Cadamarteri from Huddersfield for a second spell at City and that Mark Lawn blocked that on the grounds that having seen Cadamarteri he was unimpressed. This lacks the validity of being a good enough reason to quit your dream job, and again what could one say about a manager who thought Cadamarteri was the answer the City’s goalscoring problems?

Perhaps the biggest question of Jackson’s departure is how well he would have done in the fullness of time. He leaves an unimpressive record behind him of four wins, four draws in eighteen. There was a sense though that Jackson was just getting started and that things would improve. Would they have improved on the basis that Danny Cadamarteri was coming in to point us in the right direction? We shall never know.

Mark Lawn is expected to make a statement today about yesterday which was a remarkable day in Bradford City’s history and Peter Jackson is never shy of the media so will be getting his version out. Both will tell a story and it will probably involve an argument which got out of hand and a number of men who would not back down.

Patience, it seems, was in short supply.

Jackson veers between Kamara and Jewell

When the opening weeks of the season were put together by “the fixture computer” – which is to say some ludicrously complex set theory and a few blokes making sure that Hartlepool United get as long a trip away on Boxing day as possible – few people looked at the Bantams’ opening four games with any relish at all.

Aldershot Town looked like they could be tough – they were – and Leeds United away promised little. Following them up with trips on the road to Oxford United and Accrington Stanley and there was a sense that in these opening two weeks it would become apparent if the instant team alchemy which football managers dream of had taken place.

It had not.

Brighton and Hove Albion – now resplendent in a new stadium – and Chesterfield – then resplendent in a new stadium – both seemed to be touched by that alchemy last season with neither favourites for their divisions but both teams clicked quickly and they romped to titles. For everyone else it seemed there was but hard work.

And so there is for Bradford City. As everyone at the club and many in the stands talked about how this season the club would be starting to build long term and to create its own future rather than going all out for promotion. However an unhealthy – but not entirely unforgivable – hope that that future might start with a lightning strike of a team coming together instantly.

The 1-0 reversal at Accrington Stanley confirmed that City have – as was commented within my ear shot on Tuesday night – a long way to go. Having started that “long way” four matches ago that is hardly surprising and is sobering. Those looking at the Stanley team which finished fifth and lost a half dozen players miss the point of what the Bantams – and other clubs – try to build.

A half dozen players leave Stanley but the structures which have had the club progress to the level it enjoys remain, the culture remains, the team spirit remains. In short there is stability which enables Accrington to continue plodding along. This is very much the sort of thing that Bradford City are trying to build.

Bradford City and Archie Christie who arrived at Valley Parade from Dagenham & Redbridge in the Summer as the Bantams interviewed Daggers boss John Still and his backroom team before deciding that Still was the goods in the window and Christie the merchandise out back.

Christie’s plans are the dose of sense which has been missing from Valley Parade for over a decade. The Scot sees City as – perhaps – a better location to repeat what he had done in Dagenham on a bigger scale. The Daggers – fresh from League One – have come far with Still and company at the helm but getting it right at Valley Parade promises more than being a dot on the map of London football.

So Christie builds his development squad with the aim of bringing through three or four players a season who are good enough to press into the City squad. Logic suggests that might have to wait a two or three years to judge such long term plans rather than – as some seem Hell bent on doing – writing them off after that many weeks.

Christie’s work behind the scenes aims to create a stability for City to aid the manager who has struggled in his start to the season. Jackson – the man of Jose Mourinho action at Huddersfield Town – seems a reduced figure in the City dug out at the moment. What – when looking at in the Town dugout – seemed like calculated master strokes (Paul Barnes’ entry in 1998 which turned a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 jumps to mind) when viewed in the home dug out seem to be random flailings.

Having played a tight passing game in pre-season Jackson’s side too often favour a long punt to James Hanson and while the switches in formation are more noticeable it seems as if Jackson has yet to decide a shape for his midfield.

Consider – if you will – Chris Mitchell who for all the talk of his only being in the team for set plays spend an hour of Tuesday night making sure that when a blue shirt came forward he was standing between ball and goal. He delayed, he stood up, he made sure that Stanley would not get through and all to the tune of people talking about how he should tackle more, even when doing so and failing would have left a bus sized hole in the midfield.

And so it was when Jackson went to a midfield that more evenly distributed the weight between Michael Flynn and Richie Jones rather than had Flynn forward and Mitchell back that Stanley wandered through the middle of the Bantams to get the goal which won the game.

It is hard to find anyone who could say that Mitchell has played well but taking him out of the position he was in brought problems and a pragmatist such as Jewell would see that as justification to have him in the side while the Chris Kamaras – given to flights of fancy – would think that another player who could add more going forward might be trusted to that role on the hope that both could be done. It was such a fancy which Jackson gambled, and lost, on on Tuesday night.

So Jackson flits between: a defensive midfielder behind three more attacking players, a tight three midfield with one winger and the unit of five which worked well at Elland Road; but so far he struggles to maintain a shape in a way which gains the upper hand in games. The first half against Leeds and Jackson had everything going right, when Leeds changed he seemed inactive.

On Tuesday night with scores level Naille Rodney came on for Ross Hannah to play a withdrawn role and the midfield to press on which seemed to leave City with far too many players drifting between the Stanley midfield and defensive lines and no one grabbing the ball. Bit by bit Jackson drifts towards Kamara and his hit and miss deployments of players and tactics and one worries that – like Kamara – it might be possible that Jackson finds the right combination at times and then moves away from it not knowing what is good.

In that one recalls the dogmatic Paul Jewell who stuck with the team he wanted to play after it had returned two points from twenty one in 1998. Jewell had an idea of how he wanted his team to play, and who he wanted in that team, and the same at the moment (and at the time) can not be said about Jackson.

So the City manager goes into the game with injuries ruling out David Syers, Lee Bullock and Simon Ramsden but with pressure to make changes to a team which has but one of the five points Jackson might have targeted.

Jackson is under pressure to drop James Hanson for reasons much discussed but doing so would strike one as popularist rather than practical – especially considering the team’s tendency to hit the ball long. Mark Stewart played no part against Accrington a week after looking superb against Leeds United but Naille Rodney – willing worker – has staked a claim and may get the chance. Ross Hannah was praised for his rewardless efforts on Tuesday but one doubts that he will be selected against Dagenham. Perhaps Jackson will use a 433 having tried it against Carlisle United in pre-season.

The midfield could see Jack Compton on the left and Michael Bryan on the right with Michael Flynn and Chris Mitchell in the middle but Richie Jones looks like a capable player waiting to find a role to fill and should Jackson not want a defensive minded midfielder then he may slot in next to Flynn. Bryan started Accrington well but faded.

At the back Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall are making good at full back – Luke O’Brien’s continued absence is the stuff of conjecture but it seems that Threlfall has made good his chance and is playing well which is more than can be said for Guy Branston who has struggled to put in consistent ninety minute performances since arriving. He is partnered by Luke Oliver who played a superb game at Stanley and if Steve Williams does return to fitness then dropping Oliver would be a very tough decision, although one Jackson would make if he had a clear back two in his mind the excluded the former Wycombe man.

Martin Hansen continues in goal. He shouted on Tuesday night, a couple of times, and that is an improvement and something the keeper can work on. A young lad Hansen has years of improvement in front of him and should not chuck his gloves over just because he has let in a few goals.

Nor should the rest of us.

Managing the Expectation of Progress

If the trip over the Peninnes to Accrington was to provide City with the barometer test of their season so far it left a prediction of high pressure and potential storms ahead.

Whilst the pre-season emphasis has been on development, consolidation and forward thinking, the general mood of the City fans stood on the terraces prior to kick-off at the Crown Ground, was that of the familiar expectation of a result from a youthful looking Bantams team that featured Ross Hannah, new winger Michael Bryan and a 442 shape, with Mark Stewart and Ritchie Jones making way.

An undertone of negativity seemed to be present in the away as even before a ball was kicked some ‘supporters’ could be heard slating the likes of James Hanson and Mark Stewart for previous performances deemed ‘not good enough’, citing lack of work ethic and ability as the main downfalls. Hanson in particular seemed to attract particularly virile remarks, which set the tone for a testing night for the Bantams.

Both sides went into the match having collected just one point from their first three games and the slight nerves that come with a slow start to the season were evident in both defences early on.

The first defence to flinch was the home side’s, when in the 2nd minute City were almost allowed to grab the initiative when Stanley keeper Sean Murdoch played a sloppy pass out of defence which James Hanson intercepted and laid off to Hannah who cleverly lofted the ball over the onrushing keeper into the net. Unfortunately for City the linesman had already raised the offside flag against Hannah to save Murdoch’s blushes.

Later in the half it was Guy Branston left feeling fortunate when he switched off to allow Stanley winger, Nat Taylor, to sneak into the box unnoticed, only for Luke Oliver to clear his dangerous cut back.

Oliver’s display was excellent throughout the night, both aerially and on the ground, and the fact that he stood out as City’s man-of-the-match, says much about the midfield and forward threat posed by the Bantams in the match.

The majority of City’s attacks in the first half were to aim for James Hanson and hope that Ross Hannah took advantage of any flick-ons and despite early sharpness from Hannah, his confidence took a knock after being flagged up as offside on several occasions. This lead to the strike force drifting further apart as the half went on, leaving both strikers isolated and in need of support.

With a lack of chances the City fans took their frustration out on the linesman and he received a chorus of boos as the teams walked off at half time and when remerging for the second half.

With the exception of Oliver, both defences experienced a shaky opening 45 minutes and it seemed that a defensive mistake would be the decisive factor in the game in the second half.

A factor that was proved correct when in the 77th minute new Accy loan signing, Wes Fletcher, poked the ball under the onrushing Martin Hansen to trickle home the winning goal for the home side. The mistake in this case was made by Branston, who allowed Stanley sub Ian Craney to turn him too easily and provide the assist.

As the second half progressed the strain on City’s midfield seemed to increase with Scottish recruit Chris Mitchell struggling to have an impact; the play passed him by all too often and left the lively Flynn, who again looked solid, over stretched and in need of support to win the midfield battle.

Even when Ritchie Jones was introduced in the 64th minute and Mitchell pushed out to the right, it seemed that City seemed to lack the energy and industry of David Syers, who will be missed over the next three months.

City went in search of an equaliser and Nialle Rodney looked lively after replacing Hannah, but all too often when the ball was rushed forward a lack of passing composure caused play to break down.

And despite a few promising runs and crosses late on in the game from Jack Compton, City failed to register a single shot on target.

On balance, Accy just about deserved the points and displayed a confidence when passing the ball through the midfield that City seemed to be lacking, choosing instead to rush the ball forward and hoping for the best.

As the players trudged off the pitch following the full-time whistle, the object of pre-match hostility, Hanson, seemed to bear most of the brunt from some fans, but to most it seemed that the expectations were those that Lionel Messi would struggle to fulfil. The perception is that because of Hanson’s size he is expected to chase down and over power all those that stand in his way, even though for the majority of these ‘causes’ Usain Bolt would struggle to catch up with them!

For Hanson his expectations for the season have been set, and as the most experienced striker at the club and at this level, it may be a burden that he will need assistance with from a more experienced forward if we are to see the best of him and City this campaign.

Hanson’s plight seems to reflect that of the club’s in general, we are told that we want to see the development of the team and an improvement on last season would be deemed a success, but the high expectation levels of the past few years seem to be proving a hard habit to kick for some supporters, which only leads to added pressure on inexperienced shoulders.

The success of the season will depend on how Peter Jackson and the club go about managing these expectation levels, and it is hard to predict anything other than stormier times ahead, if the confidence of the Bantam’s fledgling side takes too many more knocks.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The speed of progress as City continue to stutter

It’s already clear that patience is going to be a key requirement for this longer-term thinking to prove successful. Yet as Bradford City trailed Oxford going into the closing stages this afternoon – thus facing a third defeat in three – it felt as though a tangible positive was quickly needed in order to defer those nagging fears that the club might still be moving backwards.

So when substitute Ross Hannah latched onto Luke Oliver’s flick on to fire home an equaliser that was dubious in both it’s validity and in how deserved it was on the balance of play, joy was supplemented with relief that the season is finally up and running. Hannah is probably the poster boy of City’s revised player recruitment approach, but until now he’s struggled to make an impression even during pre-season. The intelligence in making the run that was rewarded with a goal on his Football League debut indicated that Hannah can enjoy success this season – and so to can his new club.

There is, however, clearly a long way to go. Oxford’s noisy home support at one stage resorted to chanting about how City’s players were “a set of w**kers”; and the way in which the visitors sought to time-waste and defend deep in preservation of a point was probably sensible but hardly commendable. Oxford were the better team – though far from conclusively – and, but for a magnificently well-timed challenge by Oliver in his own box, would have earned a late winner. Too early in the long-term development of these young Bantams to expect dominant away wins, but the level of improvement needed is substantial.

The performance at Leeds on Tuesday will live in the memory for some time, but the team’s ability to cope with the greater physicality of bread and butter League Two football is lacking so far. Just like against Aldershot, the three players signed from Falkirk – Mark Stewart, Chris Mitchell and Jack Compton – in particular struggled to make an impression on opponents who simply refused to provide them with the time and space they appear to expect.

Stewart especially was anonymous today and, but for his outstanding performance at Elland Road, his lack of form would leave him first in line to be dropped and trigger greater concerns over his ability to make the step up. Mitchell had a very ineffective first half but got better as the game went on. The 23-year-old’s dead ball skills are proving more effective at least.

In the first half, City just didn’t look or function like a team. Manager Peter Jackson kept the same 4-5-1/4-3-3 set up that worked so well on Tuesday; but each unit was badly cut off from the other, leading to huge gaps in key areas of the park that Oxford were able to capitalise on.  James Hanson looked a lonely figure up front, though his body language and level of effort was not great and, for the first time this season at least, the criticism he attracts from some supporters was justified. Flynn seemed to be under instruction to support Hanson as much as possible, but in general the midfield five were inadequate both going forwards and defending.

It was this isolation problem that led to Simon Heslop being afforded a sizeable amount of space to run at City’s back four and strike Oxford’s goal, 28 minutes in. A long Oxford clearance had been headed powerfully away by Guy Branston but, with every midfielder committed too far forwards, Heslop was able to charge forwards and unleash a low drive into the corner that the recalled Martin Hansen might have made a better job of trying to keep out.  All four of City’s defenders had backed off rather than one looking to make a challenge. A poor goal, which so many people shared culpability for.

At that stage City had probably had the better chances, with Flynn’s fiercely-struck free kick forcing an unconvincing save from Ryan Clarke and former Bantam Jake Wright scrambling the loose ball over his own bar as City players rushed in. The Welshman had another shot from distance sail wide, before Robbie Threlfall took the next long-range free kick and fired just over. Oxford soon began to mount periods of strong pressure, which had City’s back four working hard while lacking enough support from midfield. Cue the Oxford goal, which was followed by even greater home territorial advantage and City fortunate to go in at half time just one goal behind.

Jackson sought to address the positional issues, and the cherry shirts seemed more organised and collaborative as the second half wore on. However the team’s insistence on playing direct balls to Hanson was still leading to possession been easily squandered and supported Oxford’s initial focus on finishing off the contest. So, whether to stop his players from taking this easy option or because of disappointment over his target man, Jackson substituted Hanson and switched to 4-4-2. The momentum began to shift.

Nialle Rodney and new loan winger Michael Bryan came on and had a greater impact than the players they replaced, though U’s manager Chris Wilder reacted to City’s new emphasis on wingers by getting his own to double up with their full backs and central midfielders to sit deeper. Finding space in the final third was a real problem for City, so it was probably no surprise that the equaliser came from a set piece. Hannah had only been on the pitch four minutes when he struck, with the excellent Michael Duberry arguing he was fouled. His enthusiastic celebration in front of us away fans was a joy to experience.

The last ten minutes belonged to Oxford, but they failed to create a meaningful chance and City held on with Oliver in particular outstanding and Branston enjoying his best performance so far. Compton might have snatched a winner when he was played through on goal just inside Oxford’s half, but pace is not his strong point and the defence were able to get back and put him off.

So City are off the mark, but so far in the league at least there’s been more nervous questions than positive answers – and the gravity of the development needed is plain. Clearly some good players have been brought into the club this summer, but harnessing their exuberance and building their confidence are the immediate priorities if City are to become more competitive.

It all comes back to patience. If we fans continue backing these players, they can in time translate raw potential into rewarding results. Yet if, as has happened so often in recent years, we snap and angrily turn on them, we could very easily destroy them.

Hannah’s goal helped the new-look team deliver its first repayment of the faith shown in them by everyone, but they will probably need to produce more reasonably quickly if this long-term thinking is to become truly and widely embraced.

Beyond revival, and revival

Two years ago to the day on Saturday, a goverment think tank suggested that Bradford, and other northern cities like it, were ‘beyond revival’, and that its residents should move south to places like Oxford, instead. Some people who may or may not be writing this match preview may or may not have had one or two things to say about that. It may have been some time in coming, but it feels like there’s a revival in this part of the city.

Bradford City have lost their first two games of the season. The team have a 0% record in the league, and have been knocked out of the cup by the team most of our supporters can’t even bear to say the name of, at least not without vitriol. In two games, the against column reads five.

I state these facts because, despite these, there is great pride amongst fans about the team — which should not be confused with misplaced optimism. After a shaky first match against Aldershot, the team played against Leeds on Tuesday in the fixture most of the squad had been looking forward to since the draw was made: and their interest in playing the game transferred into a good performance that, rightly, the fans have been proud of. The call of Saturday has returned for fans and players alike, it seems.

And so to this Saturday, where City take on an Oxford side who have likewise had two defeats. As we will hope that City will be galvanised by their spirit against Leeds on Tuesday, the U’s fans will be hoping that their side can also continue with similar spirit to that which saw them bow out in extra time against Cardiff. That town is looking for a revival of its own right about now.

In the preview of the match, this site’s editor spoke of what there was for City to lose out of the match with Leeds, and it seems that the answer to that was the impressive David Syers, down in a heap in the second half at Elland Road, after bossing the midfield, now seeking specialist advice on a knee injury, rather than a trip to the city we should all be living in this weekend. Steve Williams may also lose the chance to continue in a central defence that asks as many questions as it answers, after suffering a problem with his thigh. Ramsden and Bullock complete the list of the maladied.

This leaves Jackson with a choice of Premiership stoppers to stand between the sticks: if Williams makes it, the chances are that he will once again play alongside man-mountain Guy Branston, and it would follow that Jansson would continue alongside them, after their 90 minutes together in Leeds. Should Luke Oliver come in, a new centre-back pairing would give neither Jansson or Hansen the obvious communicative advantage. The impressive Liam Moore, who positionally is probably the most aware defender in a City shirt at the moment, will undoutedly continue at right-back, and it is likely that Robbie Threlfall will default to left-back, continuing to fuel the speculation surrounding Luke O’Brien’s availability and squad status.

On-loan winger Michael Bryan will hope to take a berth on the right-hand side of midfield. Whether he does or not will likely come down to his fitness relative to his new team-mates, as the extra half-hour of football played by on Wednesday by Oxford should be looked to be exploited by Jackson. Likely, Richie Jones will continue exactly where he left off on Tuesday in replacing Syers, and the Oxford midfield should look to bunch up around Michael Flynn, fearful of another strike like the one lashed in against Leeds. Compton will be unlucky to be dropped after putting in some hard work in both matches, and it will boil down to whether the team is to play wide (Bryan) or look for free-kicks (Mitchell).

Up front, neither of the burgeoning partnership of Hanson and Stewart are looking troubled by Hannah, Rodney or Wells, all of which have come on for a few minutes, and none of whom have yet to show their true mettle as yet, although there is a slim chance it could be Nialle Rodney who benefits from Syers’ absence, depending on whether the manager decides to use the impact player early, or late, on. It will be a huge surprise if his pace is not seen at all during the game.

For the yellow side (which means the excellent pink kit gets an airing), three of their employees took the think tank’s advice literally, and now ply their trade there instead of here: the manager, Chris Wilder, was part of the decent City 1997-1998 Championship-level side, as right back. Jake Wright was a youth-team throwaway who now captains the U’s, and Paul McLaren got paid far too much money for delivering far too little, far too recently.

Whether the revival bears fruit on Saturday or not, the change in attitude in City fans is refreshing to see. As with any study, a change in behaviour is only significant if it then goes on to be the norm. The think tank may have written Bradford off: but, despite many times thinking the team is beyond revival, the latest crop are showing that belief, passion, and pride are sometimes formed from more than the mere sum of parts.

The value of local bragging rights

Consider – if you will – Burnley and Burton Albion. Two clubs which have not much to link them other than the fact that they finished the place below Leeds United and Bradford City in their respective leagues last season. Burnley nudged in behind Leeds in 8th in the Championship while Burton wound up just behind the Bantams in the lower reaches of League Two.

Cast your mind forward five years and can one imagine Burton (or a team in a similar position) playing against Burnley in second tier game? The Championship has the likes of Peterborough United, Hull City and Doncaster Rovers in it showing a kind of movement between the leagues which suggests that the likes of Burton playing Burnley has a likelihood to it. Teams like Swansea City and Blackpool have battled – and won – for the play off places which Burnley aim for. Burton are not the close to Burnley, but they are in sight of each other albeit from distance.

In five years time could one imagine Burnley battling with Manchester United for the Premier League title and Champions League? Even with unprecedented investment Manchester City have not been capable of doing that (thus far) and more and more the top of European football where Manchester United reside recedes away from the rest of the game where the likes of Burton and Burnley play. In the world of Oil wealth and Oligarchs the chance of Burnley battling with Manchester United is minuscule.

For sure it would only take a promotion for the Clarets to enjoy the odd game against The Red Devils but that is a long way from competing at the same level which – in the case of Manchester United – would include a top for finish to qualify for the Champions League. The idea of a Burnley/Manchester United Champions League match seems far less likely than a Burton Albion/Burnley play-off game.

Which is to say that Burton Albion are closer to Burnley than Burnley are to Manchester United and by extension that when one considers the idea that Leeds United and their supporters are not concerned with the rivalry with Bradford City because they consider Manchester United to be their peers then one must wonder why they are so keen to be in a contest in which they are so massively the junior partner.

No win, no lose

Of course two years ago Leeds United supporters were celebrating beating Manchester United at Old Trafford – a 1-0 victory in the third round of the FA Cup – but there was no shifting of the tides as a result of that. Leeds went on to promotion, Manchester United console themselves with a record number of league titles. Were City to record a similar win at Elland Road then one doubts too that there would be a reform of West Yorkshire football recognised, but it would be fun. Likewise were City to be defeated then having lost to the team that finished 7th in the Championship is merely an “as expected” in what is on paper one of the most mis-matched ties possible. When it came out of the bag this was 27th in the ladder plays 86th.

In fact it is hard to imagine any situation in which this game can go against the Bantams. The money generated from the gate receipts and the SKY TV coverage funded City’s first six figure bid for a player.

A win and everyone in claret and amber is happy for a time but this time last season City beat a team who finished higher in the league than Leeds – Nottingham Forest but in no way was it a springboard to anything bigger or better and it has no impact on the league form at all, nor did it matter after a month of the season when results faultered.

A draw and resulting penalties offers no shame and a defeat is softened by the estimated £200,000 which goes a long way in League Two. Even if the season gutting 4-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town was equalled then it would be set in a different context. The club is following a plan in which talk of promotion is gone and replaced with Archie Christie setting City as a University for 18-21 year olds looking to learn football. Nothing that happens in the first week of that could change that but the money goes a way to funding it.

Why don’t we all just, get along?

And perhaps that is where I divert from much of the build up to this West Yorkshire derby in which there taunting talk is of Cup Finals and opening day defeats because – to be honest – I find much of the local rivalry of football counter-productive. If we generously exclude the horrors of the 1980s on the grounds that we should all condemn the sort of morons who burn chip vans, riot around the South Coast and generally disgrace their club (and my county and country) and focus instead on the football clubs then from West Yorkshire to the West Country all local rivalry in football does is to distract. While Derby and Forest, Bristols City and Rovers, and Leeds and whomever they feel are falling out then the higher echelons of the game carry on trying to kick the ladder away.

Squabble about who is kings of West Yorkshire all you want, it makes little difference should Manchester City’s Executive Garry Cook’s plan for a ten team Premier League with no relegation come about. Rather than the 72 football league clubs standing as one against this sort of perversion of football there is argument, and there is weakness.

Moreover though I personally find the West Yorkshire derby to be a tedious affair. The games are interesting or course but almost everything around it is not. Try strike up a conversation with another supporter and not have it follow a familiar pattern that involves the words “chip van”. Sadly talking about Leeds United is talking about the racism of the 1980s, the violence and death caused by the infamous, disgusting subset of their supporters, about the equally loathsome subset that sing songs about the fire of 1985. Who wants to discuss such things? Who wants to discuss them with someone who would not condemn them outright?

The end of the season

It look ninety minutes of Saturday’s football for some supporters of both these clubs to declare the season over. The first half display which allowed Aldershot Town to best City and with ten minutes left on the clock and three goals conceded at Southampton you could find a good few Leeds fans on social networks saying that relegation was probably unless Ken Bates left and took his Yes Man (former Bantam and current Leeds manager Simon Grayson) with him. Bates apparently needs to spend some money or get out of Elland Road. Of course Bates has just bought Leeds having taken control of the club from someone who we shall call Ben Kates, who is almost definately absolutely not Ken Bates.

It might be interesting to see how the Leeds supporters – watching a team robbed of Max Gradel to a call up for Côte d’Ivoire and featuring the unimpressive (although I thought he had his charms) former City man Billy Paynter in the forward line – would react to choppy seas in the game but the same is true of City fans with talk of scrapping in the main stand within thirty minutes in an argument about manager Peter Jackson.

Jackson once scored in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Elland Road for City – his best contribution in his second spell at City – and was the subject of a rather amusing rumour that he was in fact a Leeds United supporter. A blood sample would show if his loyalties are East or Pudsey or not.

Jackson’s team is expected to feature a new keeper with Jon McLauglin recovering from illness and Martin Hansen not allowed to play by parent club Liverpool. Spurs man Oscar Jansson has taken up the gloves. The twenty year old Swede arrives at the club on loan from Spursbut coming into the West Yorkshire derby as a late replacement keeper does not bode well. Neville Southall and all.

At right back Liam Moore – another loanee – may also sit the game out giving Jackson the chance to move Chris Mitchell back to right back the position he seemed to end up trying to play on Saturday. Mitchell’s delivery is impressive to say the least and one can expect a place to be found for him in the side. At left back Robbie Threlfall is expected to continue but with Luke O’Brien reported move to Preston North End for £50,000 being but a rumour there is a question as to how the former Liverpool man went from nowhere to the first team so quickly.

Steve Williams will hope to be fit to play alongside Guy Branston but Lee Bullock will stand by to replace him once again.

Jackson is expected to keep faith with the shape his midfield which improved towards the end of the game with Aldershot with Michael Flynn in the middle although if Mitchell moved back then Richie Jones – fitness willing – may look to come into the middle moving David Syers out to the right. Failing that Dominic Rowe may make his first start of the season on the right. Jack Compton is expected to feature on the left supporting Mark Stewart and James Hanson who will test themselves against the fine man marking of former Bantam Andrew O’Brien and the, ahem, robust Patrick Kisnorbo. Stewart was unhappy with his first display for City on Saturday and has a tough night against O’Brien, Hanson deserved to be pleased with his goal scoring opening day and Kisnorbo represents a similar tough test to the six strong men of Aldershot faced on Saturday.

The game is the first of three away trips the Bantams have before returning to Valley Parade on the 20th to face Dagenham & Redbridge while anything that Leeds could gain with a result on this night would be lost should a defeat follow in the league to Middlesbrough on Saturday. A place in the second round of the league cup has some value, and so do local bragging rights, although it is not clear what those values are.

The road from Falkirk to Bradford and on

At half time as Peter Jackson looked around his dressing room at a team two goals down to Aldershot Town on the opening day of the season he might have been heartened only by the fact that no matter what happened in the next forty five minutes – or the next forty five games – things would probably get no worse.

Being booed off is nothing new at Valley Parade (although it remains the province of the fool) and it was that sound which rang in Jackson’s ears and perhaps the City manager’s mind went back to the moment when Chris Mitchell delivered a ball from deep wide on the right and David Syers arrived late in the box to head over but probably he was thinking about how his side had inflicted two blows on themselves.

In a first half with a single shot on goal City had conceded a second after a fairly harmless cross came in and Martin Hansen – on loan from Liverpool – confirmed the worrying lack of communication he had shown thus far in his City career. Hansen came out late, flapped and goalkeeper, ball and all landed on Robbie Threlfall and rolled into the goal.

Threlfall’ inclusion at left back marked a rapid turn around from the position he was in two weeks ago when it seemed he had played his last game for the club. His afternoon saw him struggle to connect to Jack Compton who ran the left wing in front of him and for forty five minutes did so with little to no impact.

Compton – on loan from Falkirk – struggled to get into the game against a massive Aldershot defence who seemed to leave no room on the field for the winger. Very one footed with a worrying tendency to try beat men rather than play the ball without the saving grace of Omar Daley which saw him actually beat them Compton was battered around the field and one can only imagine how the reality of League Two football differed in his mind from the second tier of the Scots game.

Compton’s struggle was common for the other players who had arrived from Falkirk. Mark Stewart found space in the final third hard to come by – Aldershot’s brawn and numbers over skill approach to defending paid off but only because City’s giving away of goals rather than their ability to carve out chances – and was withdrawn after seventy minutes.

Third member of the trio Chris Mitchell was deployed on the right flank opposite Compton and alongside Syers and Michael Flynn and it was Mitchell’s loose play on the right which allowed for Aldershot left back Anthony Straker to have the freedom of Valley Parade to swing the ball into the box. Some good work from Alex Rodman saw a low centre to Danny Hylton who finished.

The lessons were obvious for all: Miss your chances at your peril, and pressure the ball because goals are scored not in the six yard box but three passes before.

So Jackson in the dressing room must have wondered what the likes of Falkirk – and for that matter Liverpool – teach the players and if a spell at the University of Bradford City will change anything. Oddly though while hearing his team booed off in his first game must have stuck for the City boss one doubts that he will have found back four of Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Lee Bullock and Robbie Threlfall wanting. The goals aside Aldershot were restricted to pretty much nothing and should have been down to ten men following two bad challenges in a minute by Jermaine McGlashan which seemed to suggest that we were still using pre-season rules.

As it was Jackson did not have wait long for improvement with the second half showing a City side offering more and more through Compton who – joined by Mitchell – started to improve. The side showed little sign of having blended together, but showed signs that it might. David Syers put in a robust display in the midfield and Michael Flynn pushed forward. After an hour it seemed that City had a chance to build a momentum to get back into the game but – disappointingly perhaps – Jackson seemed to watch this chance come and go.

Which is not to criticise a manager for not having Plan B but as City got on top the opportunity for Jackson to push on Naille Rodney into a forward three seemed to present itself but was acquiesced. Rodney came on and slotted onto the left with Compton going to the right and the removal of Flynn seemed to let the Shots off the hook.

There is a theory on Flynn that suggests that he could be improved on but often the evidence of games is that City with Flynn are more dangerous that City without the Welshman and as Aldershot breathed easier the number four was sitting on the bench probably wishing he had not killed Jackson’s dog or whatever it is that sees the manager so keen to sideline him.

Mitchell moved back to central midfield and started getting more of a grip on the game but very obviously his delivery – very dangerous – is needed on the field more than his play on the right hand side and the midfielder needs to get more of a presence for League Two football. Compton’s play is distressingly reactive but there is plenty of scope to work on that and as a player he shows some ability. It was Compton’s who put in a tidy mid-height ball play from the right with his left foot that resulted in City’s injury time goal.

It was too late for sure, and of course too little, it it was well deserved by James Hanson who facing a backline of massive men gave the defenders a tough time and showed a mental judgement which marks an improvement since his arrival at the club two years ago. Give him a good ball and he raced to where it would be, rather than waiting for it to drop, and when Compton put the ball back to Lee Bullock and his mid-height ball in saw Hanson read the play before the defenders and peeled off to head a smart finish. He deserved a goal, but some will disagree. My thoughts on Hanson are that if you are not able to appreciate his efforts today you probably should be watching another sport.

And perhaps the Falkirk Three are nursing bruises and considering how different the sport they are playing is from the one they ended last season in. The learning process has started and one could see the improvement in all three – and in other players – as the game went on but as long as the road from Falkirk to Bradford might be the road from Bradford to success may be longer.

Longer but – with effort and the attitude which saw players up their game in the second half – achievable in time. This would be a first step.

2011/2012 II/IV: The players

They can hardly lose – the players of Bradford City 2011/2012 coming in the season after the team were booed, jeered and dubbed “the worst in Bradford City’s history.”

Set against that the currently players – as a whole – can hardly do worse but with the club stopping focusing on promotion as the only aim and starting looking at Development as the means that end in a higher division then the players are individually charged with achieving personal aims.

So if the City players need to end the season having improved what should each player consider a success for the season, and what standard should they be held against?

Goalkeepers

A good season for Jon McLaughlin is a busy one. The keeper has kept his place in the squad while all around him have been released and retains the favour of supporters but thus far the former Harrogate shot stopper needs to be authoritative in his goalkeeping and commanding of a back four that too often looked nervous in front of him last season.

A good season is to keep the gloves all year, a bad one sees someone come in on loan and leaves McLaughlin looking for a new club after the season.

Martin Hansen‘s dream season is a first month – and then two more perhaps – where he is a brick wall for Bradford City and returns to Liverpool with Pepe Reina allowed to leave and the Danish custodian allowed to take over. That probably will not happen but a good display against Leeds United in the League Cup would help raise his profile and his season is all about showing he can perform in League football.

Defenders

Bradford City are Guy Branston‘s grand project. The defender looks at Valley Parade as his opportunity to add a final achievement to his promotions and play off wins and that achievement is to stamp authority on a team which badly lacked leadership last year. Branston’s sights are set higher than any other player for the Bantams this season and anything less than playing near every game (eighteen red cards in his career suggests that one might expect a suspension of two) and making sure that the men around him put in good performances and win clean sheets.

One of those men is Steve Williams who has two years left on his contract so perhaps this is not the “big year” that is being talked about for the defender but Williams needs to bring a more constant high level of performance. A good season for Williams is few mistakes at the back which tend to interrupt excellent displays, and it is nailing a place alongside Branston at the heart of the back four.

A good season for Simon Ramsden is one without injury. Since arriving at City Ramsden has put in infrequent but excellent performances at right back and central defence owing to injury and it seems that should he stay fit that Rambo will do well. A good season for Simon Ramsden is living up to the promise of his fleeting appearances so far.

For Luke O’Brien this season is about giving up childish things and graduating from being a good young player to being a reliable good player. For this year to be a success O’Brien has to go past his last season of being given the pass which young players to not needing such excuses and putting in mature displays most often.

For the forgotten man Luke Oliver it is hard to imagine how he can break into the side with Branston in his way but – eighteen red cards remember – a good season for Luke Oliver is to be the able replacement to be drafted in when needed. Whenever called on Oliver has played with enthusiasm and
professionalism. Not the best player in the world a good season for Luke Oliver is to not let anyone down when he is called on and – despite the moaning of the malcontent – he never has so far.

For right back Andrew Burns the season is all about development. City are looking for a loan deal for the young right back to give him a few months of experience. If the season is a success for him he will come back and put pressure on the first team. If he ends with a dozen appearances he will have done very well, half a dozen might be more realistic and is a good aim for the youngster.

Similarly Adam Robinson – who seems set to back up for Steve Williams in the role of mobile defender – needs experience and might hope to get a few months playing in the non-league but a successful season is winning a new deal after his initial first six month contract expires and perhaps getting a half dozen appearances in by the end of the season.

For Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall a good season seems to be finding a new club. How Threlfall fell from the player who people thought was too good for us to one who is thrown out of “the worst team in Bradford City’s history” is saddening and the fact that the club seemed to keep him in preference to signing Jamie Green promises something for the left back from Liverpool but all in all a good season for both is to end it as a professional footballer, and good luck to them both.

Midfielders

No player shows the potential of a successful season better than Dominic Rowe. Rowe is in the team in the absence of Omar Daley and mirrors the winger’s style of play charging at defenders with pace but differs in his type of delivery. While Omar went for the cut inside and attack the centre Rowmar goes around the outside to the byline and delivers.

A good season for a first year professional is to play a half dozen or more games but the likes of Burns and Robinson have players in their way. Rowe has the opportunity to get into the team and make Peter Jackson stop the search for a replacement. A good season for Dominic Rowe is to play a dozen games, get a few assists and a couple of goals but Bradford City – it seems – need more from the young winger.

In other words City need Rowe to have a David Syers season where his first proper year sees him establish himself as a first team player quickly. Syers’ challenge this year is not only to avoid the often talked about “second season syndrome” but to advance his game. As good as he was in his first year when given the opportunity to boss the midfield himself Syers was found wanting. A good season for David Syers is not measured in how many games he plays or goals he scores so much as how many midfield battles he wins. He needs to be everywhere on the pitch, as often as he can be.

Exactly the same can be said about Michael Flynn. Seemingly unloved by Peter Jackson Flynn’s performances have put him back into contention but Flynn has been in the heart of City teams which had soft centres. The decision for the manager is on if those teams failed because of Flynn, or inspite of him, a successful season for City’s number four is to make that decision for Jackson. Like Syers it is not just games played but midfields won which will be decisive for the midfielder in the year, the final year of his City contract.

At the other end of his Bantams career is Ritchie Jones who signed a potential four year deal with the club and has been brought in – aged 24 – to be a big player. Having slipped down from Manchester United to Hartlepool United to Oldham Athletic Jones has reached a place where he needs to stop the decline. League Two offers the base ground for footballers. If one does not make it at this level, one is not a professional footballer for much longer.

For Jones there is a need to make this season the one where he cements a regular first team place putting him in direct competition with Flynn and Syers. A good season for Jones taking the opportunity of being a new face at a new club and making himself undroppable.

Chris Mitchell may end up undroppable because of his delivery from set plays. A fine crosser of a ball Mitchell seems to offer City the sort of delivery which has been missing since – perhaps – Nick Summerbee left the club but arriving as a full back come central midfielder it seems that the young Scot will have had a successful season if at the end of it no one is saying that he is only in the team because of his delivery.

Jack Compton‘s season will have been a success if there is a battle for his services in January. His loan expires in the Winter and should the Bantams be trying to prise him away from Falkirk who have seen something they want back from the left winger then he will have done well. A traditional winger, and very one footed, there are worries about how Compton will fit into a team and a division in which every player has to work hard to get results but a partnership between O’Brien and Compton could have something of the Wayne Jacobs/Peter Beagries about it.

If he can be a regular between now and Christmas, and if he can provide the ammunition for James Hanson and his former Falkirk team mate Mark Stewart then he will have had a good half season.

A successful season for Lee Bullock is filling in. Peter Jackson has said that he wants to keep the midfielder because of his versatility. Bullock has played right back, centre back, holding and attacking midfield and perhaps for Bullock success is not judged in how many games he plays but in how many positions he plays them in. Not only that but how many loan players are forced to come in to cover injuries. If at the end of the year Bullock has filled whatever hole appears in the team he – and Jackson – will have justified his place in the squad.

For Luke Dean‘s place in the squad to be justified the midfielder who lost much last season to injury needs to start establishing himself as a member of the match day sixteen which – looking at the options available – could be tough. One gets the feeling that unless Dean gets a very lucky he will spend the season frustrated. A good season for Luke Dean sees him push ahead of the likes of Mitchell, Bullock and Flynn in the pecking order.

The likes of Alex Flett and Patrick Lacey have more time. They need experience on loan and a fist full of first team games but the onus on those players is to prove that they are worth another deal. Flett’s contract is up at Christmas and so has to impress quickly, Lacey has until then end of the season.

The same should be said about Scott Brown but to do so would be to ignore the anticipation around the young Scot who has a buzz about his early appearances and abilities. It is said that after watching Brown for fifty minutes Jackson got on the phone to get a contract drawn up for the sixteen year old so impressed was he and while it would be far too simplistic to say that the player needs to break into the first team he – more than any other brought into Archie Christie’s Development Squad – needs to start pushing for a place in the first team squad. He needs to make himself the default option when the manager starts looking for options. A dozen appearances would be excellent, but the proof of Brown and the Development Squad is in the number of loan players brought to the club to plug gaps perceived in the squad.

Forwards

Of all the players at Bradford City James Hanson has the longest current commitment to the club. Hanson is signed up for City until the middle of 2013 regardless of performance (Brown and Jones have longer options at the club’s discretion) such is the faith which three managers have had in the forward. Hanson divides opinion in City fans and there is debate about the player but – for me – there are two schools of thought on the player: Those who see him as a superb forward capable of winning battles against almost every player he comes up against and possessing a powerful, able strikers arsenal, and those who are wrong.

Success for Hanson is to be injury free of course – he will not like a season like last year – but it is also to carry on his weekly battles with the defenders of League Two and to create for his team mates. A dozen goals would be a good return but the same number and more of direct assists would illustrate the worth that he should be having in a team.

Benefactor of those assists should be new recruit from Falkirk Mark Stewart who comes to the club with a reputation as an intelligent player with the ability to link up with his fellow forward. A good season for Stewart is eighteen goals, a poor one and people will be making jokes that he is only playing because Jackson needs a Mar… Stewart up front. Perhaps realistically if the club are hoping for promotion in two or three years rather than one then a good season for Stewart is preparing for a second year promotion push rather than being judged on what he does in the next twelve months.

If Stewart fails then waiting is Ross Hannah. The chances of the former Matlock man improving on his 53 goals last season are slim but the striker will look not only to be getting into double figures for goals but will also hope to give Peter Jackson a selection headache. Hannah has to make it difficult for Jackson to decide which of his strikers he should be partnering James Hanson with. A successful season for Hannah is a good goal tally and a enough starts to suggest that Mark Stewart was not the default choice and to earn the extension to his contract for next season.

All of which is also true for Nialle Rodney and more. Rodney has only a one year deal and needs to suggest that he deserves another professional deal. A half dozen goals would suggest that the young man is delivering on his promise but games will be tough for Rodney if City are doing well, unless of course he is the man scoring the goals which bring good results.

Nakhi Wells is in a similar situation. A player who shown impressive touches in his early City career but will struggle to get games if the Bantams are doing well, and if the Bantams are doing poorly may struggle when he was in the team. A good season would be around twenty appearances and a half dozen goals but opportunities are limited.

More limited though seem to be the future for Leon Osbourne and Darren Stephenson. The former seems to have lost his place as the bright young thing and is now a very average player who has not been able to nail down a position and perhaps a good season for him is to establish himself with enough games to have proved a usefulness. The latter – Stephenson – has seen four players join the club ahead of him and will hope to get a loan move to give him experience and perhaps a half dozen games in the first team by the end of the season and the odd goal.

Pre-season ends on a bum note as Jackson’s three-man midfield is outgunned

A mood of despondency could be felt across Valley Parade’s main stand during the final 12 minutes that followed James Berrett’s clinching goal for Carlisle United. Pre-season results may be meaningless, but a third straight first team friendly defeat is hardly the greatest morale-booster for Bradford City’s new season. A hard week of training aside, all preparations are now completed and – as the final whistle sounded – unsettling concerns over how well this team can perform when it really counts next week were unavoidable.

Just like against Bolton the week before, in the end Carlisle’s greater quality had told following a strong second half performance that left City struggling to get the ball from them. It could easily have been different: before and after the three visitor goals, all the best chances fell to a Bantams side who were continually frustrated by a superb display from United stopper Adam Collin. But despite Jack Compton and Nialle Rodney almost triggering a late rally with well-struck shots magnificently saved, the optimistic mood in the stands and even in the dugout had been firmly punctured.

Indeed Peter Jackson and Colin Cooper – vocal for much of the game – were silent and apparently resigned to defeat well before the end. This game will have offered them plenty to ponder over, with numerous positives that should not be discounted. But perhaps the biggest lesson of all was the limitations triggered from employing a 4-3-3 formation, especially when games really matter.

As Compton and Nahki Wells were brought on as subs with 21 minutes to play, a frustrated Michael Flynn came over to the bench to ask if formation was to be changed because “we’re getting murdered as a three.” The Welshman, David Syers and Chris Mitchell had been deployed as a midfield three, with Mitchell instructed to sit back and protect the back four, but once Carlisle’s 4-4-2 got into their stride the Cumbrians were able to use their extra midfield man to pass the ball through City with far too much comfort.

The familiar problem of 4-3-3 was also evident – the opposition doubling up on the full backs. Andrew Burns was selected at right back and the Development Squad member had a highly impressive game, but on the left side an on-the-way-out the now-staying-at-City Robbie Threlfall was less reliable and easily outnumbered by Carlisle attacking two-on-one. Unlike Luke O’Brien, Threlfall was less willing to go forward and take people on. The result was a City side struggling to get hold of possession and attack with any greater subtly than direct balls down the channels for wide forwards Ross Hannah and Mark Stewart.

Though for a while the formation was working well. Just two minutes into the game, Hannah chased after a forward pass and did brilliantly to turn and hold off a defender, before laying the ball off into Stewart’s path. The Scotsman charged into the area and hit an emphatic shot into the top corner to give City the lead. Stewart had another hugely promising afternoon where his movement and clever running caught the eye. Supplying him with the ball in areas he can hurt the opposition is a must this season.

With James Hanson in the middle of the three-man forward line and maintaining his form from the Bolton game during the first half at least, City were a handful and attacked with regular frequency and purpose. Hanson headed over from yet another brilliant Mitchell corner, while Stewart hit a shot narrowly over the bar. Hannah then had a one-on-one chance but failed to beat Collin, before later hesitating in the area when a loose ball fell his way.

A special word on Hannah, who’s pre-season has been largely anonymous for City and who may have fallen behind Rodney in the striker pecking order. Today was easily his most effective performance and on several occasions he showed decent feet in beating his man, good strength in holding up the ball, while his running down the channels demonstrated an intelligent football brain. Not everything he did came off, but the fact he was mostly doing the right things bodes well for this season.

Rather unexpectedly, Carlisle found an equaliser seconds before the interval through their first meaningful attack. Good build up play left Threlfall up against two men, and the resultant cross was headed home Tom Taiwo with Lee Bullock having lost his man. Despite this mistake, the club’s third-longest serving player performed strongly as centre back and Bullock’s increasing versatility should prove a useful back option over the coming months.

The half time break helped Carlisle more than City, and eight minutes into the second half they had an underserved lead through a magnificent curling shot from Barrett. From then on the League One side assumed control and though the Bantams’ efforts to stem the tide showed spirit they lacked true conviction. Flynn and Syers firing efforts over the bar and a belated switch to 4-4-2 were not enough to suggest a comeback, and soon after Barrett hit another stinging shot that flew past Martin Hansen to complete the scoring.

Hansen’s 90-minute performance in goal showed promise, and there was certainly no blame for any of the goals. He handles crosses well and his kicking impressed, though his lack of shouting will hopefully be improved upon through the confidence of getting to know team mates better. Jon McLaughlin watched the game from the bench and – given he’s not played a minute of pre-season action – it looks as though the on-loan Danish keeper will begin the season City’s number one.

For Jackson, most of the other first game starters will already be pencilled in, though a few areas might cause concern. Defensively City looked reasonably strong, though Guy Branston’s approach of diving in for tackles worries me and at one stage drew the anger of Cooper. The City captain had charged into a tackle that he didn’t need to make, and though he won the ball on this occasion, this manner of defending could easily led to him missing the ball and enabling a striker to run through on goal. His style of going in for the ball straight away may work well if his central defensive partner is primed to cover for any mistakes, but staying on his feet more often would seem advisable.

Where to play Mitchell is also a nagging question. He did okay as defensive midfielder before getting overrun in the second half, and his slight lack of height may make him better suited to right back. His ability with deadballs is a massive weapon for City this season, meaning he needs to start games. Alongside him today Flynn continued his excellent pre-season form, though David Syers is yet to really find his rhythm. Who plays in the centre with Flynn is still questionable.

As is the formation. All pre-season long, Jackson has used 4-4-2 and the change this afternoon was curious given it was the final rehearsal for the season. The manager’s despondent outlook at full time may be caused by how limited it was in success, but even with Compton having signed on loan and looking impressive when he came on as sub, widemen are not the strongest areas of the squad. The unused sub Jamie Green is presumably not going to win a contract, especially now Threlfall is staying.

There’s no need to panic about the upcoming season on the back of a few friendly defeats, but as Aldershot and the campaign’s commencement comes sharply into focus there is a nagging feeling that – as promising as this squad of players looks and as pleasing as they potentially will be to watch – it may not be as ready as we’d ideally like. One can envisage a slow start to the season as players develop, which may not be tolerated by some with patience in short supply.

Perhaps it’s good to rein back expectations now. Unlike a year ago no one seems willing to talk up this season’s prospects. If we believe promotion is a possibility we’re not shouting about it. The quality of the players Jackson has brought in suggest a challenge for the top seven at least is a realistic target, and overall we should be excited rather than apprehensive.

But perhaps the despondency felt in the closing stages this afternoon was an acknowledgement that – while this season can prove much more enjoyable than the last few – there is likely to be a few more bumps on the road ahead yet.

Jackson left scribbling out his midfield options

I imagine that somewhere in the depths of Woodhouse Grove that there are any number of crumpled up pieces of paper with teams sketched out on them which Peter Jackson has produced as he tries to permeate his starting eleven for the first match of the season in thirteen days time and most probably the greatest number of changes come in the midfield positions.

The City team that lost 4-1 to Bolton in a performance which had no disgrace – more on that later – has a settled back four of Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien and while O’Brien was guilty of messing around rather than getting rid in the last minute to give the ball away cheaply and lead to the fourth goal by the visitors which was nicely finished by Ivan Klasnic the back four is stable and has promise.

Likewise the power of James Hanson up front and the movement of Mark Stewart seem to be the pair in waiting. Nialle Rodney bangs on the door after a superb dribble which took him by a number of Trotters and saw him apply a cool finish but it seems that Rodney and Ross Hannah will be bench sitters against Aldershot Town when the season kicks off.

The effectiveness of Stewart and Hanson remains to be seen. Hanson has the ability to dominate defenders but last season often that was wasted for the want of support. Stewart’s intelligent play seems to be a good match the idea being that if Hanson is winning the ball and Stewart running to where Hanson will nod the ball on to. Rodney and Hannah suggest that if Plan A does not work then there is something else in the locker. Looking over at Robbie Blake – playing for Bolton and warmly applauded by City fans – the mind drifted back to how Blake was the second choice to Isaiah Rankin back in 1998. The ability to make that switch in the season proved to be key.

Blake set up a fine second goal for Bolton running in behind the Bantams backline and picking out Darren Pratley who came out of midfield well all afternoon including a moment in the first half where having bested his marker he tumbled in the box under the sort of changeling from Mark Howard which is a penalty in pre-season at Valley Parade but will be a foul on the keeper at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

It was Pratley’s running which will cause Jackson to rip up more paper this week. He and Patrice Mwamba – who for my money should be in the England team – battled tooth and nail against City’s midfield two of Chris Mitchell holding and Michael Flynn attacking the the Bantams pair past muster.

Flynn seems to have gone from being stuck in the stiffs at Silsden and seemingly on his way out of the club to being the best Bantams player on show against the toughest opposition he will face all season.

Flynn’s attitude is obvious and excellent and his play saw him breaking forward and being a threat and he combined well with Chris Mitchell who’s holding abilities are second to his abilities from dead ball situations and one suspects that that second attribute is causing Jackson more scribbles. Mitchell’s corners to Hanson, Williams and Branston were a threat that nearly brought goals in the first half but one wonders if he is strong enough in the holding role to justify his selection.

Flynn too – while looking impressive in his own play – has been over the last two seasons a part of midfields which are soft centred. Was that Flynn’s fault or the fault of those around him, or the previous management, and could Jackson’s deployment of Flynn bring the best out of the player? This is where Jackson earns his money.

Mitchell and Flynn are joined in the mix by David Syers – the criticism of Flynn could be equally applied to Syers – Lee Bullock and Richie Jones. Bullock seems less in the running than the others but one can only imagine the permutations Jackson is running in training to try find an answer to this most pressing of questions. A good team needs a good midfield mix and history tells us that at City a good team needs a good start lest it be dragged down by a chorus of disapproval.

The widemen offer options. Jamie Green did not feature today with a potential third Falkirkian in Jack Compton on the left flank and Compton a more out and out winger than Green who could tuck in to provide strength in the middle. Strangely a lot seems to depend on Dominic Rowe who is improving game by game and if that improvement will manifest itself as quality performances in League Two games.

If Rowe can use his pace to effect and continue his habit of simple improvement of possession – when he loses the ball he does so in a better position than when he gathered it and this manifest itself in corners and throw ins – then he could find himself nailing down a place in the starting eleven. On his performance today that is a risk, but it might be a risk worth taking.

Pre-season matches at City are curious affairs. The crispy £10 handed over to watch the game could be the most that any of us pass to a turnstyle operator to watch the Bantams this year with season tickets making the per match price around £6 yet the expectation is often so low. Bolton’s third goal – like their first – was the sort of decision which they would never get in the Premier League and so seems of limit use to give in this game. If Owen Coyle can see his strikers barge Jamie Carragher and John Terry out of the way in the way that Guy Branston was and still be celebrating a goal as he was after Kevin Davies’ tidy lob then he will consider himself very lucky.

Jackson though will be considering his options. The chassis for a team is built, he just needs to figer out the engine.

Following the prevailing narrative

Pre-season allows a different view on football.

Nestled at the side of the pitch the players – who will be seen from the height of stands and the back of terraces – are up close and personal in front of a few hundred supporters. Players who look almost like a fleshly blur when at the far end of Valley Parade are right in front of you. Live and loud.

Very loud in some cases. Guy Branston’s “discussion” with the Referee at Nethermoor was the sort of language which very much would be both foul and abusive but not only did the officials do nothing about it they did not even break stride or blink, nor did the players. Par for the course perhaps, and not something one appreciates when watching from the stands.

Football is a sweary game up close and the players have nicknames, and they all end with “y” or “o”.

One thing one might notice about the players this season – not those on the field so much as those watching their team mates – is the fact that they are not wearing suits.

This time last year there was much talk about suits. The problem with Bradford City circa Stuart McCall was that the players were a shabby mess of leisure wear and lounging around and the solution in the new, sensible, and obviously better regime of Peter Taylor was to get the players dressing professionally. To this end Roger Owen provide the money to kit out the Bantams in a nice yard of cloth.

That was the narrative of last summer. The rise of professionalism under Peter Taylor and the need for things like overnight stays which would not see the season out and culminating with the clumsily named Make-Tommy-Doherty-Ride-A-Bus-All-Night-Gate.

Those things are not important now, or so the prevailing narrative of Bradford City tells us, because the key the success is the Twitter team and the Development squad.

The Twitter team aptly describing the trend started by Ross Hannah to use the social networking site to talk about the Bantam in a really, really, really positive way.

Hannah, Branston, Nialle Rodney. They beat the drum proudly for Bradford City and this is a good thing. You can buy the PR and good mood which has derived from reading the daily musings of the assembling City squad but it is safe to say that the people who brought you Santa Dave would not have invested in it.

The Twitter team strikes one as indicative of a good squad dynamic. Of young lads getting on well together and enjoying being footballers. It is many things good, and nothing at all to do with the need for suits which was so important a year ago.

Likewise The Development Squad and the rise of “Woodhouse Grove” as the training facility – a far cry but not a long way from “Apperley Bridge” which this time past year we were being told was suitable – are the essentials in the current story of the reconstruction of Bradford City.

Not that one wants to complain about these things. Almost everything that has happened at City this Summer has been a progressive step which will have improved the club at the end of the season regardless of promotion but the worry is that this time next year if promotion has not been reached will the Development squad be hanging up at the forgotten back of someone’s cupboard next to Roger Owen’s suit?

Will City players be banned from Twitter as their peers at Leeds United and would that move be trumpeted as increased professionalism needed to sort out something shabby. There is a cycle of what we are told is salvation one season being shoved out the door the next.

These things would seem dependant on the prevailing narrative of the club, and that is not a good thing.

The prevailing narrative is a powerful thing and one which governs how we view the club in terms of its progress and how the club view us.

City spun from being on our uppers to putting upwards of six figure bids in for players while Peter Jackson has moved from being the man who does not always say what he means when he swears that he bleeds blue and white to being the arbiter of truth when he says that Omar Daley has not been offered a deal by the Bradford City team he now manages. If it is the case that there is no deal then someone might want to tell Omar Daley that. Regardless this shows how Jackson has changed in perception at the demand of the narrative the club creates.

Like Taylor and his professionalism, and like McCall the Messiah, Peter Jackson as City manager is subject to his own narrative arc. He is cast as Saul, converted by the blinding light to the one true path and ready to make good for the faith not in spite of his wrongdoing but because of it.

So the Development Squad goes to Bradford Park Avenue while the seniors will entertain Premier League Bolton Wanderers in the first game at Valley Parade of the season.

Jackson is seeking a gatekeeper and will use both games to try out someone to perhaps replace the ill Jon McLauglin for the first game of the season. Mark Howards’ attempt to impress on Tuesday night was not impressive and so Iain Turner – a wanted man – will be given the chance to keep goal if he wants it against Bradford Park Avenue, or Bolton Wanderers, or both. McLaughlin’s illness keeps him out of both games. Goalkeeping coach Tim Dittmer has been given a squad number.

Simon Ramsden is expected to make a long awaited return against Park Avenue for a team which is thought to be mostly the development squad and Ramsden will feature at and he is expected to partner Luke Oliver in the middle of a back four with Lewis Hunt next to him on one side and Robbie Threlfall on the other. At times last season that back four could have started games for City. Andrew Burns and Adam Robinson could feature in either game but it seems that Peter Jackson is moving towards Chris Mitchell, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien as his first choice backline. Expect those to get a run out against the Trotters.

Jackson’s attempts to pair new signing Richie Jones and player of the season for the season where there was no player of the season David Syers met with mixed returns on Tuesday night and the Bantams looked a sterner outfit with Michael Flynn alongside Jones. Flynn seems to be being edged away from the Bantams first eleven but has responded in what seems to be typical fashion for the Welshman with some gutsy performances suggesting he will not go quietly into the night.

Should he play on the Friday night the future for Flynn may have been decided, if not then he has a chance of staking a claim. The development squad against Avenue is expected to feature Patrick Lacey, Alex Flett, Luke Dean and perhaps Lee Bullock while Bolton will face a midfield of Jones in the middle, the impressive Jamie Green on the left, Dominic Rowe on the right and one of the Flynn/Syers/Bullock mix in the middle.

Leon Osbourne is looking too developed for the development squad but not enough for the starting eleven. Scott Brown could play in either squad. Scott Brown is the future.

Up front Jackson is expected to give Nialle Rodney and Nakhi Wells a chance for go at Park Avenue as he tries to get a deal for Wells with Mark Stewart and James Hanson looking favoured for the Bolton game. Ross Hannah is in the middle, a decent place for a forward. Darren Stephenson, already, is starting to look like like he will struggle to get a chance.

Hannah, of course, is not for playing now. He is to be thrown on with twenty minutes left of the Leeds game in the first week of the season and to snatch a goal. That is his narrative, and deviation from it will cause some upset.

Playing the season out in July

Pre-season football matches should never be mistaken for football matches.

For sure they look like football matches and to the unschooled they would appear to be football matches: twenty two men hoof a bit of leather around and occasionally stop to score, swear or stop for some other reason; but they are not.

Chief amongst reasons for this contradiction between what seems to be and what is is that pre-season football matches are not processed as football matches are by supporters and listening in around Nethermoor as Bradford City recorded a 3-2 victory over Guiseley proved this.

Firstly – and not least importantly – is the result which drifts into irrelevance almost on the sound of the final whistle. It matters not that the Bantams were the victors, nor indeed is the manner of the victory especially important. City twice trailed the team from two divisions below and came back to win but no prizes are given for character in friendlies. Contrast that to the next time a teams from two divisions away play each other in Leeds.

What matters on an evening like tonight is extrapolation. Looking at performances and casting an eye into the distance of next May and assessing how that performance will pan out.

So Mark Stewart – starting for City up front alongside skipper for the night James Hanson – touches in an equaliser to make the game 2-2 and is dubbed a “natural born goalscorer” destined for fifteen to twenty goals a season. His smart and accurate touch at the front stick after good work from Hanson is impressive. Hanson wins much all evening against defenders who include former Bantams Daniel Ellis, Mark Bower and Simon Ainge and back to his best Hanson will be a force.

Ainge twice goes close to giving his new club the lead over his old as City’s back four struggle to clear their lines and it is a weak headed clearance by Steve Williams that allows Alex Davidson to score the opener. Branston has to sort out Williams soon, so grumbles go, or we will have a problem. Chris Mitchell can hit a dead ball, but one worries about him at the back, unfair on the strength of a single mistake.

Extrapolations on goalkeeper Mark Howard are not good. Gavin Rothery scores the home side’s second which takes a deflection but leaves the keeper looking flat. In-between the two strikes David Syers gets onto the rebound from a Stewart shot and equalises.

There is much extrapolation about Jamie Green on City’s left who is a big winner on the night looking a player of some ability in a first half in which City struggle to maintain a tempo. When the Bantams retain the ball they look good – and players like Richie Jones are impressive – but there are spells in which play becomes frantic. Dominic Rowe bursts with pace but lacks composure blazing wide and over a number of times but he shows a usefulness. Extrapolating Jones’ ball out to the winger, and the winger surging forward, is enjoyable as City go in at half time behind.

More troubling though is the extrapolation of a team which loses the ball being punished too readily, and of a team which is not able to maintain a consistent tempo being too easily pushed off stride. David Syers’ goal masks a performance in which he has struggled to take control of a midfield and his replacement with Michael Flynn turns the tide in City’s favour.

Stewart’s equaliser comes, and then a superb delivery form Chris Mitchell is headed firmly into the goal by James Hanson. Hanson celebrates a goal against his former club and could have another later as City – despite the odd worry over being turned around too quickly when giving the ball away – keep the ball better and pass around the field with more fluency. Nahki Wells and Ross Hannah both test the home keeper’s palms and in the end the scoreline could have been more tipped towards the Bantams, but the result does not matter.

What seems to matter is the mood of supporters who wander away happy. Guiseley supporters have seen enough to suggest that their next season may be successful enough while City fans have seen enough trailers of what is to come to extrapolate from balmy July night to the sunny afternoons of next May and conclude that it might be a season they would enjoy too.

Searching for answers

Following a short journey from Chesterfield to Matlock with my wife’s uncle, I parked the car and was greeted by a friend who I’d agreed to meet up with for this pre-season friendly game. The three of us walked through a tranquil park towards a fish and chip shop that my friend had spotted. As myself and my wife’s uncle had eaten before we’d set off, we watched my friend tuck into Britain’s favourite takeaway meal of white flaky fish and chunky potato chips.

Upon entering the three-sided Causeway Lane ground, I was greeted by an elderly gentleman selling programmes. The programme which I purchased contained some interesting information including the fact that Matlock Town are due to play either Huchnall (although I think they mean Hucknall), Holbeach or Lincoln Moorlands Railway at home on 17 September in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup. My wife’s uncle also spotted the name of Vince Adams in the Looking Back article. Adams joined Matlock Town from Worksop 44 years ago. Apparently the significance of this is the fact that my wife’s uncle went to school with Vince Adams.

We make our way to the main stand and took our seats as the players warmed up in front of us. As I’m trying to make out who our new signings and trialists are, Peter Jackson and David Baldwin are deep in conversation by the dugouts. Who knows what they are chatting about? The tannoy announcer presents the two teams to us although it’s difficult to hear what he is saying. However we make out the name of Nathan Joynes in the Matlock Town side who played a couple of games for Bradford City a few seasons ago, whilst on loan from Barnsley. In the starting side for Bradford City is ex-Matlock Town player Ross Hannah who is also our captain for the evening.

The game kicks off and Hannah produces an early left foot right wing cross which unfortunately doesn’t reach Hanson in the six yard box. Hanson is then found in his own penalty area heading clear an early Matlock corner. The Matlock Town supporter sat next to my wife’s uncle informs us that Ian Holmes, the Matlock Town number 9, has re-joined them from Glapwell FC and is the one to watch in the Matlock side. Holmes is soon in the thick of the action and is brought down by Guy Branston. However, the resulting free kick is cleared by Steve Williams.

After the early exchanges City come more into the game with Lee Bullock passing to Hanson who shoots high and wide of the target. Luke O’Brien and young Dominic Rowe link up well down the left flank and from Rowe’s cross David Syers heads the ball into the back of a Matlock player. Holmes then shoots from long range but his shot goes wide of Rhys Evans’ goal. Evans is on trial looking to earn himself a contract with the club who he played for during the 2008-09 season. However, it’s not long before Holmes is on the score sheet as he thumps a header past him from a Bettney cross.

The first half continues with Joynes attempting a lob which goes over the cross bar. This proves to be his last action in the game as he is substituted shortly afterwards. Hanson then goes foraging down City’s left flank and shrugs off the attentions of Featherstone to create a shooting opportunity which hits a post and bounces out too quickly for Hannah to convert into a goal. It is then Branston’s turn to attack at the central defender goes on one of those runs that excite supporters. His left wing cross goes just over Hannah’s head.

With City gaining more possession, Chris Mitchell crosses from the right for Hanson to head City’s equaliser. That’s a headed goal for each number nine. Shortly afterwards, Matlock are presented with a chance to take the lead following a wayward pass from Branston. However, Ryan Mallon shoots wide. As the first half draws to a conclusion Branston, for reasons unknown to me, hurls some verbal abuse to O’Brien. Branston then sprays a forward pass which is nowhere near to a Bradford City player. O’Brien. The ultimate professional, however, doesn’t retaliate and tell Branston what he thinks of that pass.

The second half commences with Mark Stewart replacing Hanson. Stewart is soon into the action as he shoots just wide after collecting a pass from O’Brien. Rowe then pulls the ball back for Stewart but his side footed shot is saved by Kennedy in the Matlock goal. Mitchell produces another telling cross which Syers heads over the crossbar. City are dominating the early exchanges of the second half and Stewart shoots again, but this time Kennedy palms the shot away. Matlock then make a plethora of substitutions and have their first corner of the second half. Thankfully, Rowe is stood by one post and is able to prevent Matlock from taking the lead again. This shows the importance of having men by each post when defending a corner.

Midway through the second half Jackson decides it time for a few substitutions. Recent signing Ritchie Jones makes a surprise, but welcome, appearance following his transfer from Oldham Athletic. Jones slots into central midfield with Bullock reverting to centre back as Branston leaves the field. Trialist Nahki Wells replaces local hero Ross Hannah, who receives warm applause from the home supporters. City have another corner which Williams heads over before Jones tries his luck from distance with a long range effort which narrowly flies wide of Kennedy’s right hand post.

Recent signing Andrew Burns joins the action replacing Lewis Hunt and shortly afterwards Luke Dean and Scott Brown replace Syers and Mitchell. Wells then shoots from distance but fails to alter the score line. Hanson can now be seen sat in the main stand with fellow players Flynn and Osborne, who are both rested tonight following their appearances at Silsden two days earlier. With the game approaching the final few minutes, both teams have a chance to win the game. First a Matlock substitute drags his right foot shot wide, then in the final minute Wells is played in by Jones but Kennedy makes another smart save. The game finishes 1-1.

As we make our way towards the exit, Branston is seen having his photograph taken with a City supporter whilst Matlock’s forthcoming fixtures appear on a chalk board on a wall behind one of the goals. Another chalk board next to the turnstiles notes that the attendance was 364. These quirky little things are what I love about pre-season friendly games at non-league grounds.

Whilst Matlock Town gave City a good work out and looked like a team that will do well in this season’s Evo-Stik Premier League, Peter Jackson was left searching for answers as to how Bradford City will be able to break down teams in the forthcoming Division 4 campaign.

Here comes everybody

Benito Carbone made his Bradford City debut against Fiorentina playing 41 minutes of adored football in front of a Bantams crowd which loved him at first sight. The Italian against the Italians, it seemed to work at the time.

Another Bradford City number ten makes his debut for the club. Signed from Matlock Town, and against Matlock Town, the excitement around Ross Hannah has at time rivalled that of the little Italian.

Not in any national way of course – the transfer has but the odd mention outside of West Yorkshire – and not really in the local media either who have sensibly avoided talking up the 52 goal former non-league striker but nevertheless supporters are excited in a way seldom observed amongst the reserved of the Valley Parade terraces.

Hannah’s own infectious enthusiasm helps as does the fact that during the Summer the player – who hung up gardening shears – followed in the path of Shearer and picked up a golden boot type of award for scoring a hat or two full of goals last season.

The excitement of Hannah is measure in the back page of school books and on ripped up fag packets. It is in poorly formatted 442 formations on Internet message boards. No one elects not to put RH up front – like BC before him – because the assumption is that RH will do the business.

So Ross Hannah faces the club at which he turned his career around in his first game for the Bantams and is part of a stronger, older City team than the one which beat Silsden 7-1 but one which is still younger than most recent Bantams sides.

Hannah is expected to start the game with James Hanson and Mark Stewart also getting a run out up front and perhaps some of the players who helped bag seven at Silsden will feature. The midfield has many options although Richie Jones is not one of them – he is excluded not being up to fitness as yet – but expect Alex Flett, Lee Bullock, Dave Syers and Chris Mitchell to feature.

Goalkeepers Rhys Evans – back again – and Iain Turner try out for the number one jersey while Luke O’Brien seems to be set for left back over Robbie Threlfall. Guy Branston and Steve Williams will start what Peter Jackson hopes will be a partnership and Simon Ramsden is expected to make his long awaited come back.

Shove in Lewis Hunt, a few trailists, the odd other player from the Silsden game and you have a mixture of initials to be scribbled on bits of paper.

Pretty much all of them have RH in them though.

City start the season hoping for a change of luck

The season starts at Silsden and the end is a long way away.

A long way in terms of the months until the start of May when the League Two season finishes. A long way in terms of minutes watching the Bantams and miles to travel to watch them. A long way in terms of the emotional turmoil which will no doubt follow in the forthcoming months.

Peter Jackson took over as City manager part way through last season having taken over from someone who took over part way through the season. He has transfer listed the entire squad, freed fistfuls of players, and brought people in. If things do not go well for Jackson then one might expect – if not welcome – a change to someone else.

City show the green shoots of recovery. More than recover they show signs of building for the future but the habit of habitual change may die hard and it may not be Jacko who enjoys the fruits of new training facilities and Archie Christie’s development squad.

So with this in mind Peter Jackson must select his squad carefully. Ross Hannah and Guy Branston have been headline signings. Hannah is a striker with enthusiasm aplenty. His personal goal tally for Matlock Town last season rivalled City and his zest for this second chance at League football is obvious to all. Branston – an experienced campaigner – it is said stopped on his way through Bradford to admire Valley Parade from a distance. Both Hannah and Branston seem to view the club as a graduation, or perhaps a deliverance.

Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell have come in under the radar from Falkirk. Of Mitchell little is said, of Stewart much. Mitchell can play right back and delivers a ball well from the right back or holding midfield positions. Stewart comes in with the sounds of negotiations around him more than the buzz about his abilities. Falkirk believe they are owed money for him, City that they owe nothing and it seems that The Webster Ruling is being deployed. Webster’s exit from Hearts to Wigan might re-write the rules of football transfers but the player did little for football and one will hope that Stewart is more successful.

A striker by trade Stewart is talked off in the same terms as Gareth Evans but one hopes that – unlike the player who exited for Rotherham in the summer – Stewart is more able to grasp the opportunities when they arise and nail down a place in the side.

One wonders how close to the side sixteen year old Scott Brown will get during his first season. Signed from Clydebank big things expected of Brown but at a tender age perhaps those expectations are too high. He and 18 year old Patrick Lacey – signed from Sheffield Wednesday on a one year deal – are looking for the break in the clouds that may allow them to shine through.

Nottingham Forest’s Nialle Rodney has joined on a one year contract. He is 20 and described (by Peter Jackson) as being “extremely quick, has a lot of pace and has a good goalscoring record” which must be at reserve level. Of all the new recruits Rodney seems to have furthest to go to impress, but pre-season and a new club offer a fresh start.

In addition Jackson has a clutch of names from last season to get the most out of. People like Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden, Lee Bullock and Robbie Threlfall have all got much to prove after last season.

I addition Jackson casts an eye over a half dozen or more names who look to secure a contract with City having joined the club on trial.

Chief in these names is twenty year old former Leeds striker Tom Elliott who having played for the tiresome team three times and been loaned out to a number of clubs brings his six foot four frame to Valley Parade. He has previously played for Hamilton, Macclesfield, Bury and Rotherham United but not especially impressed for any of those. At twenty he seems to to be lined up for the Development Squad rather than the starting eleven.

American central midfielder Steve Arau joined City from Steve MacLaren’s Wolfsburg but did not stay long – David Syers is not joining Rangers but having tried and failed to sign Gary Jones the need for a central midfielder seems there from Jackson.

21 year old left back Jamie Green has suffered from the rapidly changing manager’s position at Rotherham United being favoured by Mark Robbins but falling from the first team under the two later managers. The five foot seven full back has played 62 games for the Millers and was well liked for wholehearted displays. The Bantams though are not short of left backs.

However with only Jon McLaughlin on the books Scottish goalkeeper Greg Fleming has a chance of securing a deal. The 24 year old has played for Oldham Athletic and Gretna and is currently at Galway.

All are expected to get a run out for the Bantams as are the remainder of the squad from last season and while that squad was largely unloved expect tonight a note of cheer for the return of Simon Ramsden, long time injured and looking for better luck next season.

But aren’t we all.

Pre-season preparations hit some bumps – time to panic?

Despite the arrival of two young players last week, there’s little doubt that the very public rejections of Tommy Miller and Gavin Skelton have proved the larger contributors to the current overall mood of us Bradford City supporters. Hot on the heels of Ashley Grimes and Clayton Donaldson turning down opportunities to join the Bantams, the fear is that manager Peter Jackson is targeting the wrong people and could fail to build a squad good enough to fulfil this season’s objectives.

Time is ticking, with the start of pre-season friendlies this week acting as another marker on the road to the big kick off in just under a month’s time. Other teams seem to be making a much better fist of strengthening their squad, while there are some murmurs of criticism that Archie Christie’s Development Squad plans are disrupting the focus away from the immediate priorities.

BfB did put together some research into the speed at which City have historically signed new players during the summer. But of the 114 summer signings made between Darren Moore on 4th June 1997 and the Scottish duo of Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell on 1st July 2011 – there is no obvious correlation between how soon players arrive and how the team then goes onto perform. On average at this point of the summer, City have completed 50% of their business. The rejections of Donaldson, Grimes, Miller and Skelton would suggest Jackson is still less than 50% of his way through his summer recruitment plans this time around, but it may not mean that it’s time to panic.

For a start it’s worth considering what’s so good about signing players early? Do all the best players get snapped up immediately? Jon Worthington, Gareth Evans, Lenny Pidgley and Jake Speight all got signed up by clubs before July – would we have been happy to have signed them if they hadn’t played for us before?

As an example of the inconsistencies in the speedness of signing players we can look at two seasons where summer signings were made very late on. First in 2006, where Colin Todd had only made three of his eight close season signings with a fortnight to go before the campaign kicked off. The relegation that followed suggests it had a negative effect, though curiously City’s hastily assembled squad began that season in brilliant form.

Then there was the 1998/99 season, where Lee Mills was famously signed barely 24 hours before the season began and Isaiah Rankin a week after. Similarly with Todd in 2006, Paul Jewell had only made three of his seven summer signings a fortnight before the season began. No one needs reminding what the team achieved that season.

But when we do think back to those halcyon days, a lesson we can reflect on is the role players we weren’t sure were good enough went onto fulfil. The star players of that season included Peter Beagrie, Jamie Lawrence, Wayne Jacobs, Robbie Blake, John Dreyer and Darren Moore – some of which we were expecting Jewell to replace. Though Blake, Lawrence and Moore in particular had shown promise the season before, few would have predicted that they and other team mates were capable of scaling such heights as they did. It’s interesting to note that seven of the 11 players who started at Molineux on that never to be forgotten May afternoon were at the club the year before.

Which is why we shouldn’t write off the players who were part of last season’s dismal failures just yet. Jackson may have been keen to get rid of more when sorting out the retained list, but it would be wrong to tar them all with the same ‘not-good-enough’ brush and to assume a complete overhaul is needed if City are to have any chance of enjoying a good season.

A new goalkeeper has been targeted and is probably required. Jon McLaughlin had spells of good form last season, but perhaps isn’t ready to be entrusted with the responsibility of being number one for an entire campaign just yet. At full backs City were well equipped even before right back Mitchell arrived. A fully fit Simon Ramsden will seem like a new signing while Lewis Hunt hangs on; on the left side Robbie Threlfall and Luke O’Brien will continue to battle each other for the first team spot.

At centre backs City still have the talented Steve Williams to nurture. He was outstanding during the first half of last season before suffering a serious injury at Colchester in the FA Cup, but didn’t look the same player on his return and struggled to find form. Nevertheless he has a great future and should benefit from playing alongside new signing Guy Branston. There’s also the much-maligned Luke Oliver, who had a strong end to the season. It could be that Oliver leaves, but if he stays he can be a reasonable back up option.

In the wide midfield positions we come to the biggest problem, as Taylor’s reluctance to sign or keep hold of any wingers left City weak in this area. Should Jackson bring in wingers in addition to using youngsters Dominic Rowe and Leon Osborne, it will almost feel like a novelty to see players charging down the touchline and crossing the ball, instead of the route one stuff that was so often the main feature last year. BfB has heard an extremely intriguing piece of information over who Jackson is trying to recruit as one of his wingers. If it comes off, expect it to cause one heck of a stir.

In the centre City still have the hugely popular David Syers and are clearly looking for a regular partner to play alongside him. If this doesn’t come off though, City could do worse than turn to Michael Flynn. Jackson admitted he wanted to release Flynn at the end of last season and clearly hasn’t being able to see him at his best due to the struggles the Welshman had returning from injury. However if he can recapture his form of 2009/10 season – and with a full pre-season behind him there’s every chance – he can make a hugely positive impact. Lee Bullock is also a decent player to call upon, though it’s difficult to imagine he’ll get too many opportunities this season.

Up front the dearth of goals last season was a major problem, but it would be wrong to blame it solely on the strikers. The service they received was pathetic at times, and rather than them missing opportunities the team struggled to create any for them. Sadly James Hanson has been written off by a lot of supporters and is likely to become a major target of the moaners unless he begins the season well. I personally think he’s still got a lot to offer this club, and is capable of playing at a higher level if he can apply himself.

The summer recruits Hannah and Stewart have never played at this level, so despite their impressive goal tallies there is a big question over whether they can make the step up. For that reason Jackson probably needs to sign at least one more striker – someone with experience.

So a keeper, two or three wide players, a central midfielder and a striker. A host of trialists are attempting to fill some of these roles, but there are plenty of players available now or in the future who Jackson can target. A trickle affect runs through clubs’ recruitment efforts – sign the player you’re targeting, and a squad player is suddenly surplus to requirements and is sold to someone else.

Jackson will get there, and while players publically turning down his advances is not good for anyone’s morale, the squad he already has available is not as bad as we might sometimes think. In recent years City players have generally performed okay but failed to show it often enough. For City and Jackson, the key to this season may not lie in the ability levels of the players he already has and wants to bring in – but in the manager developing the players’ mental capacity to consistently perform to their true capabilities.

Scottish duo sign for Bradford City; more backroom additions

Their contracts North of the Border having expired yesterday Bradford City have completed the double signing of Falkirk’s Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell, with the Scottish pair doubling manager Peter Jackson’s total number of summer signings to date.

23-year-old Stewart – a striker who can also play wide midfield, similar to Gareth Evans – has scored 23 league and cup goals from 48 starts (and 42 sub appearances) since emerging through Falkirk’s youth ranks to make his debut in August 2006. Between 2008-2010 Falkirk and Stewart were playing in the Scottish Premier. Last season in Division One, Stewart netted 17 times.

The versatile Mitchell, a year younger than Stewart, is chiefly a midfielder but can also play out wide and in either full back position. Capped by Scotland Under 21s, Mitchell had started only 20 games from Falkirk, coming off the bench a further 23 times.

The pair arrive at Valley Parade as part of new chief scout Archie Christie’s brief of bringing in young players and grooming them so they hopefully become good enough for a first team place. Initially it would appear they won’t necessarily form part of Jackson’s first eleven plans – though a good pre-season is an incentive for every player looking to begin the season in the team – and be looked upon to come in as the season progresses.

Meanwhile City’s backroom restructuring has been continued with the arrival of Matt Alexander – son of the late Macclesfield manager Keith – joining as a scout and Wayne Allison arriving as coach. As a player Allison was infamously a target of Geoffrey Richmond in October 1997, when City were on the hunt for a striker. Then-manager Chris Kamara – unhappy at his Chairman’s interference and keen to retain his pride – insisted he’d prefer John McGinlay. So ‘Supa John’ signed and proved dismal, while Allison moved to Jackson’s Huddersfield and became a cult hero.

Mark Stewart “wants to join Bradford”

Speaking in a refreshingly frank way City’s new chief scout Archie Christie spoke about Falkirk pair Chris Mitchell and Mark Stewart in his update to the club website.

On the one hand Christie denied that Mitchell had signed for the club – BfB was told he had – and on the other he confirmed the club’s interest in striker Stewart. Christie said

We hope to be in a position to announce the signing of Chris Mitchell (Falkirk utility player) soon enough. Chris is someone I have admired for a number of seasons. The quality of his delivery is second to none and his ability to play in a number of positions will also be a valuable asset to the team. The rumour mill has also been working overtime in regards Mitchell’s team-mate Mark Stewart. I won’t lie – he is also a target for Bradford City. Mark has made his intentions clear that he would like to join Bradford, so watch this space on that one as well.

Christie also confirmed three younger players had joined the development squad and provided a route for supporters to contact him leaving BfB – once again – to praise Christie’s style and openness. More power to his elbow.

Chris Mitchell signs for City, Stewart may follow

Bradford City will complete the signing of Falkirk’s midfielder Chris Mitchell on a two-year deal.

Mitchell – who can play right back or midfield – has seven Scottish u21 caps and has played 39 times for the Falkirk. He is aged 22. His signing is up down to the appointment of Archie Christie and Dag & Red were interested in the player.

Striker Mark Stewart is also said to be thinking over a move to City although a fee would be due should Stewart join Mitchell at VP.

Mitchell’s signing creates a City squad of:

  • Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
  • Defenders: Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt, Adam Robinson, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams, Luke O’Brien, Robbie Threlfall,
  • Midfielders: Chris Mitchell, Michael Flynn, Luke Dean, Lee Bullock, Dave Syers, Alex Flett, Dominic Rowe, Leon Osborne
  • Forwards: James Hanson, Ross Hannah, Darren Stephenson

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