The worst kept secret, and why it is being kept

Dario Gardi let the cat out of the bag. City are keen on his striker Clayton Donaldson.

Depending on which set of rumours you believe Donaldson is already a Bradford City player just waiting to be unveiled, or the Bantams are stalking him like an obsessive runs after an unattainable pop star.

Either way it seems that Bradford City are interested in the 27 year old Manningham born League Two top scorer.

Donaldson is leaving Crewe Alexandra on a free transfer and Gradi mentioned City amongst the interested parties despite the pressing fact that City lack some of the basics to make a bid for the player.

Basics like money. Every player at the club – perhaps not including Ross Hannah and a half dozen younger players – has either been freed or is up for sale. Some suggestions have it that City will have a wage budget of half a million pounds next season, perhaps less. Not a lot of money to be signing anyone’s top scorer.

Yet still the club have these high ambitions.

The most obvious suggestion would be that City are planning for two eventualities one in which the club hits a cash crisis and heads to Odsal, or stays at VP with a vastly reduced budget, and another when negotiations over ground rent goes well and (however ill advised) there is a plan to go full tilt for promotion again.

The question then begs itself a plan made by whom? Mark Lawn suggested that the signing that Peter Jackson had made already in close season – Hannah from Matlock Town – is the sort of player that any manager would by thus dealing with the challenging question as to why it seemed Peter Jackson was spending money for next term when he was on week to week contracts. Surely that is for the manager for next season to do.

Donaldson represents more of a significant investment than the younger striker from Matlock Town and signing him sets in stone a chunk of the club’s spending for the next two years, perhaps longer. Not any manager would choose to spend a hunk of money on a centreforward and so one must either conclude that Jackson has approved the decision to make a move for Donaldson on the understanding that he is “his sort of player” or that the manager is not playing a significant role in negotiations over new players.

The former is a better prospect than the latter. A third way, that these things are planning on the fly, is too dark to think about.

It is not hard to see why City might want to keep the duality of planning under wraps but it is almost impossible to see how they hoped to achieve that aim.

No one at Bradford City has ever proved they are especially good at keeping secrets long before Tim Berners-Lee started his good work and they have not improved since. That City have to keep potential moves for players a secret is unfortunate.

Unfortunate but perhaps it is necessary. If a deal is struck with the landlords of Valley Parade then the Bantams will have to move quickly to assemble one sort of squad, if such a deal is not reached be the Bantams at Odsal or at VP paying more than they would like another sort of squad needs to be created and – possibly – a different manager is needed to do that which would explain why Jackson remains on a week to week deal.

When Mark Lawn sits opposite Gordon Gibb and Gibb asks him why the club are trying to sign players when they are pleading poverty Lawn replies that they are doing what they can to plan for two seasons next year: One with, one without;

In that context City are not putting forward the appearance that they know nothing because – in practical terms – they do know nothing.

Injury to Evans continues Taylor’s problems

Gareth Evans has been ruled out for three months following Saturday’s intersection with an adversing board leaving Peter Taylor scrambling for attacking options.

James Hanson is thought to be weeks rather than months from fitness while Michael Flynn – often used in an attacking role by Taylor in his early games at the club – played against Hartlepool United in the 1-0 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat last night.

Flynn came on for Omar Daley who adds to the attacking options which also include fit again Leon Osborne, Louis Moult – a player who is said to be enjoying his time at Valley Parade not one bit – and Jake Speight who on arrival at half time on Saturday as a replacement for Luke Oliver to rapturous applause seemed to suggest that the morality issue surrounding him on his signing for the club has now been given a perspective by some City fans.

Recalling the calls for Speight to be sacked at the start of the season the applause perhaps means “Beating up women is bad, but not as bad as being Luke Oliver.”

Oliver – like Flynn – is used nominally out of position as a striker although perhaps it is the success of Flynn’s performances that sees the one criticised and the other not. Either way it seems that Oliver’s time up front is coming to an end with Taylor reported to be signing Crewe’s former Newcastle and Tranmere striker Calvin Zola on loan this week.

Zola has attracted interest from Burton Albion and Southend but is expected to join City. The player cost £200,000 from Tranmere Rovers and was impressive enough last season to see Peterborough United offer £1m for him. Crewe – under the returning manager Dario Gradi – have returned to the passing football which City have turned away from.

Scorer of an impressive goal at Valley Parade last season Zola would seem a perfect fit for a loanee at Valley Parade but – should he be a success – finding the money to sign him would be not only difficult but also a huge backing by the board of manager Peter Taylor.

Should Zola not arrive then David Wetherall’s reserve side offers the sizeable Darren Stephenson who could be asked to step up to the first team. It also offers Chib Chilaka who is raw for sure but has strength. Chilaka’s impact since arriving may perhaps be measured by the fact that the first version of this article simply forgot him.

So Taylor’s fit options for the role of target man are the raw Chib Chilaka, out of positions Oliver or Flynn, the reserve Stephenson and – should he sign – Zola while his choices for the two play off roles are Daley, Osbourne, Speight, Moult and Lee Hendrie – the midfielder failing to get defensive side of the ball enough to suggest that he might be better dropping back from the attack rather than coming forward from the midfield.

However another defeat without scoring demands a response from Taylor and the exit of Evans helps him not. If a combination is not found soon, and the lack of goals continue, then one would be excused to ask what the much trumpeted management skills of Taylor are for if it is not this problem?

A defeat to be proud of?

I have never walked away from Valley Parade, having just witnessed a home defeat, with such pride and optimism for the future.

Crewe and City came into this game with starkly contrasting form. City unbeaten in ten games, league and cup, and Crewe having lost five games on the bounce. Nonetheless, the reinstatement of wiley old Dario Gradi ensured that a very different Crewe side would show up to Valley Parade compared with the team that had heavily unperformed so far this season following their relegation from League One.

The game began well for City – forcing a number of early corners. But it was Crewe who stuck first in devastating fashion. From an acute angle from a throw in, the live wire Calvin Zola produced an unbelievable strike that even some of the home fans applauded. It was the best goal produced at Valley Parade for some years – and was reminiscent of Luke Medley’s strike for City against Wrexham in 2007.

Zola, a real handful and danger every time he touched the ball, performed at a very high level in this game. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the best striker that has been on display at Valley Parade for many, many years. I guess that’s what £200,000 buys you at this level.

City fought back from the early set back with some more pressure, but were then let down by some naïve defending. Joel Grant almost doubled the Alex lead as he charged at Zesh Rehman with pace, who backed off and backed off even into his own penalty area without putting a challenge in, where Grant produced a couple of step overs, leaving Rehman on the seat of his pants. Grant drilled a low shot that cannoned off the left hand post. The warning signs of a 2nd Crewe goal were there for all to see.

And the Railwaymen did double their lead courtesy of Zola again. An uncharacteristic mistake by Steve Williams in possession at the back , left the loose ball to Zola, who quickly reacted and hit a fierce shot that stuck the post and curled into the back of the net. 2-0 inside 23 minutes. It was clear that City’s spirit was really going to be tested.

But they never gave up, and didn’t let the scoreline affect their performance. More City pressure ensued , and Micheal Boulding from six yards out was presented with a chance that was harder to miss that score. But he struck the bar, to the despair of the home fans. Boulding was being given some stick in the Midland Road stand right from the word ‘go’ from one fan in particular (“Thunder” as he was known in the days that we were in the Premiership, the predominant Voice of Midland Road) who slated Boulding for not chasing down a heavily mishit long ball from Rehman. Unbelievable.

And it came as a great relief to City and Boulding when a quality piece of attacking play reduced the scoreline to 2-1. Flynn sprayed the ball down the right for James O Brien ( who had an off day ) who produced a first time cross that Boulding headed into the back of the net on the stroke of half time. Game on.

City again pressed early in the 2nd half, but were dealt a killer blow as ex City Midfielder Steve Schumacher’s long range shot bounced awkwardly in from of Simon Eastwood and flew into the back of the net for 3-1. Previous City teams, even last year’s team, would have given up on this one.

But not this season. Scott Neilson was introduced for Chris Brandon and City reverted to a 4-3-3 which again seemed to work so much better than a standard 4-4-2. The absolute domination of periods of the 2nd half in this formation should surely convince McCall that 4-3-3 is the formation to start with home and away. And Micheal Boulding contributed to another City goal as he produced a quality cross that James Hanson volleyed in quite superbly. City continued to dominate, had shots that were cleared off the line, whistled wide, and a very strong penalty shout which was turned down in favour for a free kick just outside the box which was subsequently wasted.

But time ran out for City. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. And the home crowd showed their appreciation for City as the final whistle drew the game to a close.

McCall has assembled a squad that deliver the minimum requirements that the Valley Parade crowd demand. Effort, passion and determination. And we can even forgive the team for losing a game as long as every player has worked their socks off. It was very evident in this game that every player did. Simon Ramsden in particular had a solid game, but what really stood out was his appetite and commitment to get City back into the game even when they were facing adversity and 2 goals down. He had urgency in his play and even the simple things like making sure the ball was put back into play really quickly when it landed into the crowd was so good to watch.

Chris Brandon didn’t have his best game – but his work ethic and commitment could not be questioned. And McCall has got this from his players all over the pitch. There are no passengers or players not willing to put the work in, and that makes me as a City fan really proud. McCall’s ability to combine good seasoned Pro’s like Ramsden, Boulding and Flynn with non League talent like Williams, Neilson and Hanson who never stop working hard and are getting better by the game, has been the key to the recent unbeaten run and reason for optimism this season.

The key thing though, and only worry, is that we need to get into the playoff’s this year as a minimum as that is the only real sign of progression under McCall in this results driven business. Our home form this season has been too mixed – 2 wins, 2 draws, 2 defeats – and we really need to improve that sequence if we want to turn a fully committed team into a successful one.

The stats of the Crewe game (26 shots on goal, 15 on target, 16 corners) show that the players are giving their all to the cause. Whether they can match their effort with points on the board in League Two remains to be seen – and will be the key question come May.

But as far this team being a team who are enjoyable to watch and give their all to the cause, there is no question in my mind that it’s the best City side I have seen this decade. I just hope that success follows them as it is nothing less than they deserve.

The Crewe joke and how not to be the butt of it as the Alex come to Valley Parade

There was a joke in football in the eighties that went along the lines of asking who the strongest team in British football was to which the answer was, hilariously enough, “Crewe, because they hold the rest of them up.”

That such a jest is outmoded is largely down to the opposition manager Dario Gradi who took charge of that laughing stock club and in a near two decades made alterations which changed the public perceptions of the Gresty Road club.

Crewe, the Football League’s shining example of a well run club to writer David Conn in his 2003 book The Beautiful Game, became synonymous with the development of young players with a series of high profile internationals either coming through the ranks or were picked up following release and turned around.

Gareth Whalley, Stuart McCall’s midfield partner in 1999, came from Crewe.

This track record is largely credited to Gradi and his youth development skills but credit is shared by a whole club prepared to rise or fall on the strength of the talent unearthed. A poor crop of youngsters could see a bad season or relegation but that was never considered a failure of the system which brought rewards on and off the field and certainly not a reason to change that system.

Gradi moved upstairs after his sixtieth birthday but has been called back to the job as caretaker following the dismissal of one of his successors. Crewe, it would seem, have staggered from the light of what they did well for twenty years and perhaps that is why they find themselves back near the position of mirth.

City’s attempt at continuity in management seem to be more faltering with manager McCall given a break from the attempts to oust him as his team continue a run of ten games without defeat that was made more impressive by the changes made in the midweek penalties victory over an unamused Notts County who once again employed the technique hence forth known as “If not a win then spin.”

Ian McPartland tells the vast majority of County fans who were not at the game that they were robbed and that Graeme Lee should not have been sent off and it is not true but creating the suggestion takes some pressure off him.

To be clear City got everything they deserved on Tuesday night.

That this was the case came from a squad capable of fluidly filling in roles in a formation and take responsibility for the performance. Leon Osbourne has yet to win me over but he let no one down on Tuesday for the majority of the game and can take pride in his display.

The winger will no doubt be dropped with James Hanson ready to come back from illness but Michael Boulding is becoming increasingly hard to displace in the side and when Gareth Evans returns from suspension – and the Ref who sent off Evans would have had cause to red Graeme Lee three times despite the Magpies manager’s protestations – Stuart McCall might have to pick between Boulding and Scott Neilson on the right hand side providing an interesting pointer to the longed for day that sees Omar Daley back in claret and (reduced amounts of) amber.

Michael Flynn put in an outstanding performance on Tuesday as he continues to be the ball winning and passing midfielder of our dreams while James O’Brien is starting to look equally impressive. Lee Bullock will return pushing Chris Brandon back to the bench.

Jonathan Bateson is unlucky to have to step down following two good displays and a switch for Simon Ramsden to the middle is not out of the question but Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are likely to return at the expense of Bateson and Matt Clarke.

Luke O’Brien has been a joy to watch of late and one recalls the Crewe idea that a team might rise and fall on the strength of it’s young players.

If Huddersfield Town rise on the back of goalkeeper Simon Eastwood then it is because of Tuesday night’s two penalty saves which galvanize a player who was mobbed coming off the field.

Mobbed with the rest of the players. Slowly building, improving, not losing. Dario would be proud.

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