Mark Leonard, for one night only

There is a moment etched into the collective memories of Bradford City supporters of a certain age in which City rake a long, high ball forward for a flick on and then for Mark Leonard to out jump his defender and loop a header into the goal. If you were at that game already you have conjured the moment in your mind.

Mark Zico Leonard scores against Everton.

The ball lofted forward was by Peter Jackson – putting a lie to the idea that he did nothing on his return – and Ian Ormondroyd’s flick on to Leonard would be repeated when Sticks headed down at Wembley eight years later. The Everton side featured a recently transferred Stuart McCall on his return to Valley Parade and the goal loops over Neville Southall – at the time considered the best goalkeeper in the country if not the World – who would finish his long, illustrious and brilliant career in that very goalmouth aged 41.

Watching the goal again does not dim the memory although things jar: The bars fencing in supporters for another, The way that Southall picks up and rolls out a back pass, The physical size of the players who to a man are seemingly a stone heavier than their modern day counterparts;

On that night Leonard shone as bright as any player might. Against the league champions, and uncharacteristically for a team starting to decline, that was Mark Leonard’s night.

The story wrote itself of course. Leonard had broken his leg having been hit by a car on the way to sign for Everton and this was his “unfinished business”. He had joined City from Stockport County with a good scoring record at the lower levels but had not been able to fill the not inconsiderable boots of Bobby Campbell competing for a place in City’s forward line with Ron Futcher in the season the Bantams made the Division One play-offs. Leonard scored 29 goals in 157 appearances for City, none of them recalled with the glee of the evening against Everton.

Leonard did not score a goal every other game, his knowledge of the offside law – or his ability to put that knowledge into practice – was massively limited and seldom has a City striker strayed beyond the back line to invite the flag more. His nickname – Zico – was ironic. For all his hard work, honest endeavour and tireless efforts the only flash of brilliance Leonard showed was that header.

Which damns the man with feint praise. Leonard worked hard as a player and that was appreciated by City supporters. Zico was ironic but affectionate. The mood might have wished for Leonard to be putting the goals at the rate that Mark Bright and Ian Wright – Crystal Palace’s deadly strikers that season who were first and second in the top scorers list – but the fact he did not was not for the want of effort. Leonard was one of football’s triers. Everton was his moment in the sun, but he never let anyone down in his years in the shade.

Indeed for a time he played at centreback before his unwept at exit from Valley Parade in 1992. He went on to win a promotion to the Football League for Chester City playing for Preston North End and Rochdale but never moving above City. When he left football became a top class crown green bowler ranking in England’s top ten. Perhaps he really was Zico when aiming at a Jack.

When thinking about Mark Leonard – Lenny to some, Zico to others – I wonder how he would be received by the modern Bradford City. Perhaps he would be a Gareth Evans of a player with as many critics as he had people in his corner, perhaps he would be a Jake Speight with his hard work ignored and eyes fixated on his goal tally, perhaps he would be a Barry Conlon.

Looking at Leonard’s goal scoring record one is struck by how the higher up the divisions he went, the lower his return. Like Chesterfield’s Jack Lester who seemed to work out after his spells at Nottingham Forest that he was more effective the lower down the leagues he was and one might have forgiven Leonard for staying low and being a good scorer in the bottom two divisions. As a rule though footballers though are built from ambition always want the bigger prize, and to play at the highest level, to forgo a good career in the shadows for some time in the light.

And for one night, Mark Leonard achieved that.

The mark of progress, or the lack of it

“I’ve got nothing to prove to Liverpool” said young midfielder Jim Magilton when he went back to Anfield as an Southampton player for a Division One game at the start of the Nineties.

Magilton had spent his youth career at the Reds but never made a first team appearance. He went to Oxford United and made 150 appearances, then on to Southampton where his full circle moment happened. After that he ended up at Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich where he was coverted by Paul Jewell’s City but ended his career at Portman Road. A good career no doubt but at no time did he ever eclipse the midfielders who replaced him at Anfield.

He had nothing to prove to those at Liverpool and in a way he proved nothing to them. He did not play at a higher level, he did not end up with a Champions medal, and whoever decided he was not the “good enough” was proved right.

There was a way to mark the progress of Bradford City which worked in the same way. Players come and go from clubs and City were forced to let a number of players go because of financial reasons and watched those players carry on good careers. Robbie Blake, for example, won promotions post-City and played in the Premier League.

Other players though were “got rid of” – to use the vulgarism – by the choice of the club because the club thought that it could do better. Players like Paul Bolland and Scott Kerr were young lads at the Bantams who were released and went on to good careers in the lower leagues but never rose higher than the club. The decision to allow those players – like Magilton – was never questioned.

One could add a whole host of players who the Bantams have disposed of (indeed that most clubs dispose of) who never troubled professional football again. The decision to allow Wayne Benn, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest, Joe Brown, Robert Morgan, Craig Bentham et al has never been questioned because those players have never turned up at a higher level than City.

I should qualify this with the idea that there is an impact in releasing a player on his career. Being released can be the making of a player’s career seeing him buck up his ideas but most often it kills a that career as real life problems and jobs take over.

In the last few years watching events at VP though there has been an increase in the players who were decided to not be able to cut the mustard who not only got their careers back on track but started to do well, better than the Bantams.

Michael Symes represents the best example of this. The Bantams were not impressed (nor was I especially) but turfing up at Accrington Stanley he ended up doing enough to earn a move to AFC Bournemouth where he plays his football a division above the Bantams. Perhaps one could put that down to the startling effect of being released, and perhaps one might conclude that he is only the player he is now because of our releasing him, but it is hard not to wonder why the Bantams were not able to unlock his potential.

Symes was a far more popular player than Gareth Edds who was jeered away from Valley Parade but Edds won promotion (after switching to a holding midfield role) with MK Dons and moved onto another League One club Tranmere Rovers as City idled in League Two. Not only are the players we cannot afford playing at a higher level but the ones we did not think were good enough are now too. Jake Wright’s red card at when Oxford United came to Valley Parade might have been an amusing moment in the season but the fact his current team ended the season a half dozen places over his previous one gave him the last laugh.

Gareth Evans – a part of the so called “worst team ever” – exited Valley Parade in the summer with the club deciding that they could do better. Evans rocked up at Rotherham United who finished higher than the Bantams and are preparing for another promotion push. Evans’ play in the last month of the season suggested that – perhaps – he knew he had something to go to next term but the spin from Valley Parade was most definitely that Evans was out because the club was going to improve.

I would underline that I believe that there are many players who left City and were never heard of again – one of them did the electrics for my boiler – who had the club given them the first team slot rather than someone like Luke Cornwall or Robert Wolleaston then they could have achieved something but when dealing with the likes of Symes, Edds, (perhaps) Evans and a number of others it seems that the club’s judgement on players in the longer term has become questionable. That players who we would like to have we are getting rid of.

The rapid turn around, the one year contract, the often changing manager, the levels of patience in the stands, the comparative quality of facilities here and elsewhere. All these things have contributed to the club which is letting players go who could do a job. We end up with this “worst team ever” but some of the off cuts of it are doing well for themselves.

James Hanson is being linked to Crewe, Omar Daley has gone from the club, Gareth Evans will come back wearing Rotherham United red. I’m not sure if the losing culture needs to be broken so much as a consistent plan to improve the squad is required.

Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

A glib statement of the obvious? To some, probably. But for me it’s a genuine, earnest desire. I mean I really want Bradford City to be better. A lot.

The statement isn’t a direct reaction to the club finishing in it’s lowest league position for 45 years this season, the winning of a mere 15 league games in a season that averaged less than a goal a game, or even the wrangling over rent and where we are to make home. I have, and will always, want Bradford City to be better.

As they walked out at Wembley. As Wetherall belly-slid across the Valley Parade turf. As we greeted a grinning Carbone and a beaming Geoffrey. I looked forward to getting better.

It’s a want that all connected to Bradford City share, from the boardroom to those in the cut-priced seats. The truth is, however, we seem to have forgotten how to get better. And as we have seen in the last ten years if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

In our four seasons and counting in the basement of English football, permanent and interim managers alike have bemoaned a lack of consistency from one week to the next. I find consistency an odd concept to embrace or value. I’m a believer that you’re either on the gain or on the wane.

Whilst sporadic fluctuations in the quality of human performance can be expected, and excused, more important is the general movement towards ‘better’ from the collective or any individual contained within it.

Great sportsmen and women will see a steep and long upward curve in ability and performance. They will then, at some point (and probably unknown to them) hit a peak, followed by a decent, which they will try to make as gentle and elongated as possible.

Tiger Woods will never eclipse the near golfing perfection he achieved at the start of the century. His challenge now is to minimise the rate of his decline and hope his still immense ability sees him to future victories as his powers diminish.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master at putting together team after team that have improved as a unit, then dispensing with those individuals that have peaked whilst retaining those with the longer curves of improvement.

We used to have knack for improving players. Remember that young, skinny lad McCall and his ragbag teammates in 1985 that grew individually and became more than the sum of their parts? Dean Richards oozing pure class from his debut to his departure and beyond. Sean McCarthy smashing up Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Cup before going on to score at Old Trafford for Oldham?

What about the lazy lad Blake we signed from Darlington? Wayne Jacobs seeing off an almost annual replacement left-back? Lee Mills? Jamie Lawrence? You’ll no doubt have your own favourite, dear reader, but what we saw were players getting better and our club benefitting from it greatly.

Bradford City players don’t seem to get better anymore. Last August the squad were pre-season promotion favourites, now, despite Jacko’s “everything must go” approach to the retained list, City would be forgiven for thinking the new telephone lines aren’t working properly . We witnessed the incredibly hard-working Gareth Evans seemingly give up on his City career with two months of the season left, and last week even the ever-positive Michael Flynn conceding that Bradford City is “a negative place to be“.

It’s telling that the last four Player of the Year recipients were all enjoying their first full season within the professional game, and as such, we cannot apply any metric of improvement:

  • 2008: Joe Colbeck. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. 16 disappointing months after his award he moved to Oldham, and then Hereford.
  • 2009: Luke O’Brien. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. Last seen sat next to Leon Osbourne on the substitutes bench as City were dismantled by Crewe.
  • 2010: James Hanson. Burst on the scene, all strength and no shortage of finishing ability. A second term disjointed by injury and questionable priorities.
  • 2011: David Syers. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and an eye for goal.

Time will tell if Syers can buck the trend, but the preceding three represented our most exciting and talented young prospects and all have failed to improve after their first season.

Jackson has signed the exciting prospect Ross Hannah, and the enthusiasm leaping from his twitter feed should hopefully see his first season in professional football be filed alongside that of Hanson, Syers and Steve Williams rather than that of Scott Neilson. But, in many ways, getting a good season out of Hannah isn’t the most pressing issue or biggest challenge for the next permanent manager of Bradford City.

Whether the board reluctantly appoint Jackson, or, as rumoured, continue to wait for John Coleman and subsequently expect him to repeat a decade’s growth and endeavour at Accrington in a 12 to 15 month period, the major challenge will be to get individual and collective development out of more established and experienced players. Creating a culture of improvement which is both inspiring and contagious within a dressing room.

There’s seems little point in throwing more of the precious wage budget at talents like Paul McLaren, Tommy Doherty, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee et al when we continually fail to get the best from them, and then discard them without examining why. League Two has never been about having the best players, it’s about getting more from your players.

Off the field there is a lot of work to do, but lots of opportunities to get better. For all the criticism and scepticism aimed at the board recently, it’s worth remembering that they too want things to be better.
David Baldwin’s announcement about the new training facilities deal with Woodhouse Grove is incredibly welcomed. Negotiations with our landlords continue with the hope that a deal can be worked out that’s better for Bradford City.

We, as fans, can help make things better. Rival managers and players talk often of how the impatience of our large crowds can play into their hands. It seems odd that the greatest strength of our opponents is something we control. Let’s make that better.

Where Bradford City will be in 12 months time, in terms of both league position and physical location, is pure speculation at the time of writing. My only hope is that we all feel that we’re moving closer to where we want to be, and, as much as possible, enjoying the process of getting there.

As the rebuilding begins, let’s not immediately concern ourselves with being the best. Let’s focus on getting better.

The replacement for Gareth Evans

It is hard to recall on the day that he exits the club but Gareth Evans caused some excitement when he joined Bradford City. Costing “some money” and having come from Manchester United via Macclesfield Town supporters were excited to see the striker and his fellow new arrival James Hanson seeing them as a contrast to Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding.

Two years on and Evans exits with that excitement hardly even a memory for supporters and – one suspects – for Evans himself.

Evans is included on a list of players exiting that club that has Omar Daley at the top (we said goodbye to him a few months ago, but I for one appreciated the encore) and also includes Shane Duff.

Daley seems to be heading North to Motherwell and one hopes he has as fond memories of his time at City as many fans have of him. Daley was never universally popular but the impact of his exit mid-season was immense and in a very real way his return did much to keep us in League Two. It seems that freeing up a chunk of wage budget which Daley represents – he and Tommy Doherty were the highest paid players – for the new manager has motivated the decision to not offer the winger a deal.

While many will be upset with Omar’s exit few will care about Shane Duff leaving the club. Injury – it could be said – means we never saw in Duff what Peter Taylor did but having spent ten years at Cheltenham and relocating north one wonders if City may look again at the policy of signing players and shifting them up the country while expecting short term results. One of the secrets of the not at all secret path to success for eight times consecutive French champions Lyon is their commitment to supporting player relocation.

The most surprising exit was Jon Worthington who seemed set to stay at the club as Peter Jackson’s lynch pin midfielder having put in a steel to the City team which helped stem the tide of defeats after the change of manager. One wonders if Worthington has something else lined up or – should he be given the job on a full time basis – Peter Jackson will make the midfielder his first call.

Also out are Ryan Harrison, Chris Elliott, Louis Horne, Chib Chilaka and Lloyd Saxton.

However it is Evans who sums up the season so aptly in his release. As a player he works hard and impresses some – his name features in the voting for Friday’s BfB player of the season award – but with every game he seemed to find more struggle than reward. Played on the right for most of the season Evans blew his chance when deployed down the middle by Peter Jackson and his exit seemed inevitable from then on but one wonders ho will replace Evans, and how long their shelf life will be.

What will the next Bradford City be looking for from a replacement? Effort, ability, presence, experience. Evans has all these. At a reported £1,200 he was not one of the cheaper members of the squad and perhaps – like Daley – freeing up funds was key to the decision to move him on.

One cannot help put worry though that as seems to happen most often the replacement for Evans will be no better, could be worse, and in two years time will be in the exact same position which the outgoing men find themselves in today.

Travelling more in expectation than hope

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Lewis Hunt, Lee Bullock, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Gareth Evans, David Syers, Jon Worthington, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Luke O'Brien, Steve Williams, Luke Dean

Thirty years ago if you were a member of St Anthony’s Primary School football team – or the brother of a member who’s Dad drove kids to games – then as a reward for a season of not much return you were given the chance to go watch Bradford City’s last game of the 1980/81 season as the Bantams took on Hereford United.

That was my introduction to Bradford City, and there is a certain symmetry to this afternoon’s entertainment as the Bantams travel to Edgar Street to meet Hereford United. The first game was a scrappy end of season affair – although at the time an impressive watch – where the visitors nicked a 1-0 win. Today a point for both teams would have secured League football for both next season and unsurprisingly a point each was the return.

Unsurprisingly because the home side set out to secure such a return trying to retain possession as far back the field as they could for as long as they could seldom venturing into the Bantams penalty area.

The illusion was a strange one. It seemed like City were penning in Hereford and certainly the Bantams were enjoying playing with a sense of freedom that allowed the likes of David Syers – playing central midfield well – and Gareth Evans to lash at goal following James Hanson’s early attempt which threatened to derail the Bull’s afternoon.

The Bulls afternoon though was taking place miles away at the Crown Ground, Accrington where Barnet played Stanley. The machinations of that game seemed to tilt to this. Barnet level at 1-1 and there was a nervousness in the home side’s play but that nervousness lifted as Accrington took a lead which proved decisive.

That took until the second half and after the first forty five minutes the scorelessness seemed like a fog never to lift. The Bantams were unthreatened – Joe Colbeck was given the reception by the visiting fans one would expect but that seemed to serve to suggest he was more dangerous than he was and while no one especially enjoys hearing themselves abuse the look on Colbeck’s face as he banged a cross into the middle which was attacked by nobody looked more like distraction than upset.

If a winger putting in crosses for no one makes a wonderfully illustrative example of the game then City’s striker with no crosses seems to make another. James Hanson – at times – seems to never lose a ball in the air and one wonders what he could have done with the type of accurate crossing that Colbeck could do, and that the likes of Nick Summerbee and Peter Beagrie did.

Colbeck’s time at City – and his time since he left and the schadenfreude some City fans seemed to follow it with – sends my mind back sprawling to that first game on the 15th of May 1981 and how football has changed since then. Thirty years allows a guy the chance to reflect and that reflection is in the level of hope which used to be the currency and how that has been replaced with an unsavoury expectation.

Reading articles about the Bantams last decade you often read the phrase “ten years of failure” and while this is true from the prevalent point of view that anything other than promotion is failure but watching this last decade they were no different to many of the two which proceeded it.

Consider – if you will – the 1996/97 season of Chris Waddle and Edinho where relegation was avoided on the final day of the season. What we had that year was built on the next. That season of struggle Chris Kamara signed players like Robbie Blake and Jon Dreyer who were on the pitch two years later at Wolves when the Bantams were promoted to the Premiership.

No one ever said that finishing 21st was a roaring success that season but no one ever lambasted all involved as failures either and after that season lessons were learnt that drew a line directly to the successes which followed.

At some point after that failure started to describe anything which not success – this is semantics – and the rhetoric is that the club and supporters demand the best and should have high aims lest they achieve nothing but the practical upshot of throwing the word failure at anything which has not been promotion over the last decade is that Bradford City systematically rip the club apart over the course of every summer, throw things in the air and see where they land.

Failure – finding it wherever it can be hinted at – is the obsession of the current football mindset from top to bottom to such an extent that progress along the path to success is talked of as being it. Those who run football clubs need to be strong and need to stress that if the right things are being done then those things will not be changed because they have not come to fruition yet.

Are Bradford City at present on this path? You will judge for yourself on that, dear reader, just as you will also have a view on the merits and effectiveness of addressing the “failures” of Colin Todd, or Stuart McCall, and how the attempts to deal with those so called “failures” have brought us to the position we are in now.

Would City have been any worse if Colbeck – squarely presented as a problem and the cause of failure – had remained at the club? Would the last few years have been so different had Danny Forrest been up front? Has the season on season change of right backs produced a player more effective than Gareth Edds or has it just given us a series of different players?

Different players who have the same problems and ultimately exit in the same way and we – as a club and as supporters – relinquish our responsibly for the impact of that. The justification for replacing players is that those players seldom go on to a higher level following their time at the club as if the confidence lost, the access to a better standard of coaching lost, the experience of playing league football lost has no impact on the (lack of) progression of those players.

Joe Colbeck wanders up and down the Hereford United wing on one side, Gareth Evans on the City wing on the other, both look like players who seem on the edge of dropping out of professional football not because they are not useful, or skilled, or have potential but just to appease a desire to smash up what is there in the name of not tolerating failure but with the effect of not allowing building.

I think back to Robbie Blake and his goal at Wolves in another final away game of the season and how many times – had the current attitude in football been the way of thinking then – he would have been bounced out of Valley Parade rather than being allowed to be a part of a team which matured.

In thirty years between two games with Hereford United expectation has overcome hope. Everything about Bradford City is about the expectation that better can be demanded. It used to be that better was hoped for, but if that hope failed then it was renewed over the summer. This is only important because in the times of hope, rather than expectations, things improved more often.

What do we have in the summer? Hope or expectation? Or neither?

Peter Jackson took his Bradford City team to Hereford United looking for a point to keep League Two status secure – a modest return – and Hereford’s Jamie Pitman had the same aim which once results started to fall into place bound the teams to a defensive display a little less. Both ended the day safe from relegation with Barnet’s defeat seeing them battle Lincoln City to stay in the division. Stockport County were relegated.

Ultimately – at Edgar Street – James Hanson proved too much of a handful for home defender Stefan Stam and after he was fouled Jake Speight scored a penalty with ten minutes on the clock. Stuart Fleetwood equalised a few minutes later with a great free kick. That shot was the home side’s only attempt on target of the afternoon but it was the draw that everyone seemed happy with.

For the summer though who can tell. Over the last thirty years – and specifically the last decade or so – football’s expectation level has outstripped its ability to bring enjoyment in a great many ways. Supporting was its own reward, but now all rewards are delayed until there is a manifestation of success. Goals are cheered, wins are welcomed, promotions are celebrated but anything other than those things – and including the build up to those things – are drawn out grimly.

Football League safety is assure and the summer yawns out ahead with its own troubles and with that the idea that the unifying mood in August will be one of hope seems very, very far away and utterly old fashioned.

The game after the one that mattered

The team huddle immediately prior to Monday’s vital game with Aldershot included not just the starting eleven, but the substitutes, manager and coaching staff. And its symbolism appeared to be taken on board by the majority of supporters in the stadium.

Sure, there are so many issues surrounding Bradford City Football Club right now, not least the feeling of being let down by this group of players. But for 90 minutes, it seemed everyone’s differences were put aside and we truly became one team working towards the same cause. The players were positively backed, the chanting probably its loudest all season. The usual groans and moans were largely reined in. The resultant 2-1 success felt like a collective effort, in which everyone deserved to share a slice of the credit.

And now we’re back to where we were, with at least one problem – the threat of relegation – seemingly addressed.

Tomorrow’s trip to Hereford is no longer the significant game it might have been; and, as is so often the case at this stage of a Bantams’ season, attention is more on those unresolved off the field questions. Nevertheless what happens between 3-5pm Saturday could have a major effect on one of those uncertainties – which can now firmly come back into focus.

Just who is going to manage City next season? Peter Jackson remains in the interim role, and arguably still holds pole position despite poor results in recent weeks reducing his popularity. The way he turned around the players from their pathetic no-show at Accrington to full-on commitment against Aldershot 48 hours later was hugely impressive.

Nevertheless results overall have not improved since it was determined Peter Taylor had to depart, and so Jackson now has several blemishes to his application to be permanent manager. The position was supposed to have been filled before Easter – along with announcing season ticket prices for next season – but the severity of the relegation problem saw those plans postponed. Next week should be the ideal time for the Board to finally make a decision.

John Hughes waits on in the wings, while Dagenham’s John Still – a star of a fantastic BBC Radio 5Live behind the scenes documentary that you should listen to if you have the time – continues to be heavily linked. Other names could still be in the frame; Jackson has let it be known, for example, that a couple of recently retired Premier League footballers have thrown their hat in the ring. They have offered to do it for free – such is the comfort of life from a career at the top – in order to get experience.

For now Jackson leads City to Edgar Street, with the hosts still harbouring relegation concerns. Having begun the season disastrously under Simon Davey, Hereford had improved significantly under the management of physio Jamie Pitman and climbed the table. However a run of one win in seven – oddly enough 3-0 against leaders Chesterfield – leaves them looking over their shoulders. While second-bottom Barnet find form, Hereford, Lincoln and Northampton have almost completely lost theirs. Who joins Stockport in non-league could be determined by who fails to climb out of their nosedive.

It is vital game tomorrow for Hereford, which makes for a very interesting assessment of Jackson’s City.  Although still needing a point to be mathematically safe, the Bantams basically have nothing to play for. As heartening as the effort levels were on Monday, all season the players have struggled to deliver the necessary level of desire supporters expect from them. If they want Jackson to be their manager – and if they want to be a Bradford City player for that matter – the greater need for Hereford to win should not be an excuse for rolling over.

Lenny Pidgley continues to keep goal, despite struggling to convince fans he should be picked ahead of the previously in-form Jon McLaughlin. The back four on Monday was – for a rare occasion – terrific and likely to stay the same. Lee Bullock’s performance at centre back was one of the finest individual displays of the season, especially considering it’s not his position. Luke Oliver is also ending the campaign well; while on Monday Robbie Threlfall at last put in a display to the standard of when he was on impressing on loan last season.

That said the demotion of Luke O’Brien is troubling and one has to wonder what he has done to merit a continuing omission from the starting line up. Many fans and the media have declared David Syers is the player of the season, despite no democratic vote taking place. He probably does deserve it overall, but for consistency and improvement O’Brien would have made a worthy rival for the award. Lewis Hunt plays right back.

In midfield Omar Daley’s wonder goal on Monday was a magic moment for those of us who continue to talk up the Jamaican, while others routinely dispute his worth to the team. Of his three games since returning, Monday was, arguably, his quietest so far. It is interesting that a team who has spent the season playing without wingers has struggled to provide Daley with adequate service since he was recalled to play his more natural wide position. Nevertheless his value has been clearly demonstrated.

Jon Worthington will patrol the centre alongside Syers, with Gareth Evans wide right. Evans is the current target of the Valley Parade boo boys, and it is sad to see a player struggling for confidence receive such little support. No one has acknowledged that it was his corner which set up Monday’s winner.

Up front James Hanson had an outstanding first half at least on Monday and will partner Jake Speight, who also impressed and was notably missed when he was subbed early due to injury. Chib Chilaka – Speight’s replacement – struggles to make an impact, though his particularly jubilant celebrations at full time on Monday did not go unnoticed.

A mass team huddle probably won’t be required pre-match; but if the players switch off again, for Jackson it might time to switch off the lights on the manager’s office for good.

I, as in team

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Lewis Hunt, Lee Bullock, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | David Syers, Jon Worthington, Michael Flynn, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Gareth Evans, Chib Chilaka

David Syers met the ball and headed it firmly into the back of Aldershot Town’s goal. I stood and raised two hands in the air and I heard sounds around me but I made no sound.

A contrast then. Within the first five minutes of City’s penultimate home game of the season City pressed well and Omar Daley won a throw in on the left wing. Robbie Threlfall acted quickly taking the throw from some way back and feeding Daley.

There is something about Daley which divides people – or so popular thinking goes – but there is no division when the Jamaican winger takes the ball forward. People might say pass when they see Omar heading towards goal and the certainly say it after an aborted forward thrust but when he is on the ball I’d wager that everyone wants the same thing.

The skip forward, the drag inside, the look up, the shot from twenty five yards out that arcs past a poorly positioned Aldershot keeper Jamie Young and into the far corner of the goal.

It is the goal anyone would want to score and when it ripples the goal there is an burst of relief audible and loud. Everyone on their feet, everyone cheering, everyone as one. It is times like that as Daley skids to a cheering slide and is mobbed that football is at its best.

Stay in the moment. The explosion of joy, the happiness. The weeks of following Bradford City have been grim but the moments on a Saturday justify those.

From then on it is all Bradford City coming forward with the sort of gusto that a confident team does. Michael Flynn prompted from midfield, Daley looked threatening but everyone wanted the ball and it seemed that that willingness would bring a second goal. James Hanson hit a long range effort that beat Young and bounced back into play from the post only for Jake Speight to catch the follow up with his knees and spur the chance.

Young performed better, saving a header from Luke Oliver following an Omar Daley corner, but ever corner which came over from the Bantams was battled between strikers and defenders. Young came for not one. This would prove conclusive.

Not conclusive but seemingly so was the moment though when Aldershot burst down the left flank following a Lewis Hunt overlap. Michael Flynn tracked back and a sudden snap was obvious as the Welshman’s hand reached to his right thigh.

Right leg lame, left leg darts out to take the ball in a tackle taking the ball. Flynn prostrate on the turf, probably his last kick of the season, maybe his last kick for the club, but he made the tackle. Outside of football the loudest sound I make is waking up at night with a cramp. That requires Mrs Wood to be awoken and sympathy give. One leg goes, the other tackles. Michael Flynn limps away to the sound of his name being sung.

It is the lack of that sort of personal effort which has put City into the position we are in. For a team of Michael Flynn.

Flynn’s absence saw Gareth Evans come on and David Syers move to central midfield. Evans is chunked to the ground in an attacking move and the ball attacks the weakened right hand side allowing Peter Vincenti to equalise. It is one of a series of decisions which referee Mathieson allows creating a kind of Wild West atmosphere on the field.

Tackles are hard and some use two feet. Gary Charles – one of the best defenders in League Two – pulls down Speight as he runs towards goal and is not cautioned when a red card seems the only option. Speight gets involved with defenders with pushing and shoving but no discipline. Both teams are lucky that Mathieson’s approach to refereeing does not leave them with injuries and one tackle that stamped into Jon Worthington seemed to be worth a red card.

Worthington is struggling though. Two games in three days seem to have sapped his energy and Syers is carrying much of the weight of the midfield. Evans and Daley put in effort for different awards. Daley jinks forward beating two men with a step over flick on which gets you to the edge of the seat, Evans makes mistakes but taps on a reserve missing for the last few weeks and keeps going.

Results ping around the ground. Barnet are winning, the they are not. Burton are ahead of us and then they are not and for a moment the mental image of Howard Wilkinson eating his dinner as Leeds won the 1992 Championship came to mind. Control what you can control, filter out what you cannot.

But there is a nervousness. Lenny Pidgeley is not over employed but there seems to a worry that Aldershot Town – nothing much to play for – have something in store for City. David Syers is booked. He has stepped up to a level of performance which carries the team. A real central midfield display of which one can only admire. A year ago he was a non-league footballer. Today he graduated.

Syers performance won the game but the performance as a team was excellent. Individual players taking responsibility for the collective performance. Syers gave City the steel and with that steel City took the midfield battle and – just – won it.

A free kick driven towards goal by Robbie Threlfall and Young excelled himself with a save. Gareth Evans hit the corner true and Syers heads the ball heading it firmly into the Aldershot goal just as the clock ticks into injury time. I hear noise around me but I am alone in my silence. In fifteen minutes the adrenaline kicks in and I start to rabbit to the people I’m walking back to the car with.

The game ends an age later and City have 51 points. There are mathematics which mean City could be relegated but they are slight and City are probably safe. Superb performance from David Syers, brilliant goal from Omar Daley. Individuals taking responsibility for their own performance, and the performance of the team.

The I, as in team.

Another chance to end the season that did not start

Watching Nottingham Forest sneak into sixth place in the Championship at the expense of Leeds United it was remarked that one might not have predicted Forest would do so well after their defeat to Bradford City in the second game of the season.

That evening David Syers’ debut goal and an extra time strike from James Hanson gave City a 2-1 win and seemed to kick start a season which promised much. That early indication was as close as the club got to the season starting in earnest and some eight months on as City fans watch a team struggle with relegation one feels a little robbed of a year of football.

Not that we expected much from the season – Mark Lawn and the rest of the Valley Parade board did to such an extent where The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled over the coals for predicting that the Bantams would be finish a place outside the play offs. Mike was – it seems – right that we would not be in the top seven.

One might wonder though what impact the predictions and preferences of supporters have on a football club. There was a school of thought – helped by the financial mechanics of the bookmaking industry – that City would be favourites this season which went alongside the predictions for Harrison (and from myself, for I was no more confident) and all these are set against a near constant stream of negativity which is tied to the club like a stone around the leg of a drowning man.

On that subject one can only look in envy at groups of supporters who realise the impact they can have on their team. City fans – it seems – have long since made a choice that the players are very much on their own and as the Bantams look for three points to end the season without relegation they do so alone.

Luke Oliver – a target for abuse regardless of his performances – sneered at City fans singing to him and his team mates that they were not fit to wear the shirt over at Accrington and will have gone into the dressing room to hear Peter Jackson agreeing but nothing in the club invites Oliver or his team mates passions.

One year contracts that make sure your future and the club’s are not tied together, abuse from supporters on the days you flog your guts out, and talk of the club not even starting next season.

For sure any professional pride you have might mean you want to win, but on the days when your opposition have the same professional pride and a crowd who want them to do well, who encourage them and who try lift them, playing for a manager who lives and breaths the club then one wonders what we want the mercenaries who we gather together every summer to care about?

Assuming the current crop of players – those who are “encouraged on” by being told they represent the worst Bradford City team in forty years – can steal three points in the next three games then the club – assuming that it can struggle into next season without the self inflicted wounds of administration – then let they be the last who are so poorly assembled.

My belief is that players are much of a muchness at this level and that the current set will be replaced by players no better, no worse, but that it is up to a club, a manager and a set of supporters to build those players into a team. The club can offer contracts of a length and a stability that encourage the players to realise that their futures are tied to the team’s performance, the manager can instil belief and desire in those players, and that supporters can – for once – decide to swallow the scream of abuse which vents their own frustration but creates or furthers the cauldron of negativity which Bradford City has become.

Or not, and we can try carry on like this.

Jon McLaughlin seems ready to return for Lenny Pidgeley in goal for the Bantams as we look to record a win over Aldershot which could end relegation fears. A defeat for Barnet at home to Oxford United and a win for the Bantams would see City safe mathematically.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Luke Oliver paired with either Lee Bullock or Steve Williams should Williams have recovered from illness. Luke O’Brien will hope for a recall at left back over Robbie Threlfall.

Tommy Doherty is – we are told – fit to play but not being selected. Mark Lawn spoke about only wanting to sign players who wanted to play for Bradford City and it seems that Doherty was certainly amongst the those covered in that criticism. Not that the criticism is especially valid. Most players we approach would want to play for the club but the trick is making sure that they still want to play for Bradford City after a few months.

Instead Jon Worthington and Michael Flynn make up City’s midfield. Flynn’s efforts are seemingly the target of criticism themselves by some supporters with the idea being that since he has returned from injury he has “struggled for form” or “been rubbish” depending on your vernacular. Dropping the players who put in effort, in an attempt to get more effort, is no solution I could subscribe to.

Kevin Ellison is fit to return but will most likely be kept to the bench as David Syers and Omar Daley take the wings although there is an idea that Peter Jackson will use Daley as a second striker alongside James Hanson with Jake Speight dropping to the bench alongside Gareth Evans.

With undoubted ability – recall Northampton last season – and a willingness to work hard on many, many occasions Gareth Evans cuts a forlorn figure which perfectly represents the Bantams lack progress.

Seldom does one see a football who has so obviously had all the joy of playing football squeezed out of him.

Now we ask players like him to squeeze out just one more win, before sending them away and replacing them with the next set of hopefully to be crushed on the broken wheels that make no progress.

Everybody ends up happy

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Gareth Evans, Jon Worthington, David Syers, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Michael Flynn | Jake Speight, Luke O'Brien

At ninety minutes no one was ecstatic, but everyone was happy.

Omar Daley was happy. Happy to be back after he was recalled by Peter Jackson’s Bradford City following a fall out with Ronnie Moore at Rotherham United that left him looking at “rotting in the reserves.” The change of manager in Sheffield did not signal a change in fortunes so back he came.

Daley’s return to City saw him quickly show what City had been missing. Omar is as he always was. He runs with the ball, makes things happen, and can frustrate some. After two months sat far back though I enjoyed on the edge of my seat again. Omar’s play ranged from the sublime – his thrusting down the left should have resulted in a goal for Michael Flynn but for a out of sync flag – to the ridiculous when he air shotted following a burst past the full back.

Lewis Hunt was happy. Happy to be back in the team and – one assumes – staying around for next season. Hunt has played his twenty games this season and in this one he let no one down with a solid defensive display in a back four which struggled to cope with a changed goalkeeper to an unsettled Lenny Pidgeley.

Hunt would not have been happy to see John McGrath run in from distance before half time and head in a goal which gave Burton a first half lead but will have looked for someone not picking up a man at the corner. He probably looked in the direction of Gareth Evans who started well but struggled in the end.

Neil Swarbrick was happy. He was a referee who seemed hell bent on avoiding anything as sensational as a yellow card and certainly wanted to make sure that there was nothing controversial. Goalkeepers protected when they jumped into defenders, advantages ignored, shirt tugs not penalised in the penalty area. Steve Williams jumped to try head in and produced a brilliant save from Adam Legzdins but his shirt was near off his back as he did.

Paul Peschisolido was happy. He set out his team to come for a point and as a result of setting his midfielders deep managed to catch David Syers in a net and leave Jon Worthington wandering. The Burton manager was unhappy when this same was rearranged but in the context of the end of the season the point will have pleased him.

And Peter Jackson will be happy too. He make the change from 442 to 433 which introduced Jake Speight and Speight scored with fifteen minutes from the end to equalise moving City up to 48 points and 16th in League Two all but ending lingering relegation fears.

Speight was obviously happy. His performance was lively – like Omar he has been out of the team while the team has been suffering and static – and his goal should give him confidence. Darren Moore – returning to Valley Parade to a standing ovation – will be happy too with a good performance.

Moore took the applause at the end of the game he left the match with a warm glow. Apparently the way City fans reacted to Joe Colbeck is not the way we treat all returning players and I’m happy about that.

So, in the end, everyone is happy.

Hate the team, I mean really hate the team

“Love the club, hate the team” or so went the special demotivational chant as City played Southend United on Friday night and its is almost impossible not to suggest that both players and supporters put in the level of effort that befit the result.

Which is not to criticise anyone who went down to Southend United for Bradford City – both players and fans were on the road for twelve hours that day – but that while some things in life are about the journey others are about what you do when you reach the destination and in terms of achieving a result it could hardly be said that either excelled.

It is said that one of the City players at the end of the game as he was “in debate” with a supporter colourfully told him – as a retort to something equally colourful – that he cared not about the abuse because he would not be at the club next season.

No more dog poo training pitch, no more hostile crowds, no more ludicrous level of expectation, no more revolving door on the manager’s office, no more seeing good players dropped for loanees, no more having the chairman tell people that you have under performed despite all the things listed. One can imagine that if you really hated the team the best punishment might be to trigger one of those contract extensions.

Which is only half in jest. While being a professional football is – no doubt – a superb job most of the time but like any job the minutia of it grinds and that grind must be apparent when after being dragged to and from Southend in a day the only thing to look forward to is more of the same. Certainly looking at Bradford City and they way that the club chooses to direct its resources would hardly fill you with anticipation that next season would be any better.

The club’s public position is that it has no money so there are no improvements in the offing and there is a tendency for the promises made one minute to be broken the next. Lewis Hunt is not involved at the moment, and as a player you will have your own views on that. You might also recall signing for a club which talked about having overnight stays which – seemingly – were not needed for Southend despite one assumes being budgeted for at the start of the season.

Against this backdrop the only real prospect of improvement is not from the club but from the players working together and summoning the individual character to improve and – in short – there is very little reason for them to do that. With many five game away from being out of work the motivation to put a foot in where it hurts (and by hurts one could say “leaves injured to make a trail for someone else in the summer impossible”) must be very low.

Such is the situation the players – and by extension the club – finds itself in. Fighting for Fourth Division survival with an army of near de-mob mercenaries. If we do have a club next season I do hope we stop this obsession football has with the season long contract and start giving players good, long, proper deals. To get loyalty, you have to give loyalty.

One wonders what loyalty Omar Daley will have left. Daley is out of contract at the end of the season and needs to impress with Rotherham United seemingly changed direction from the management which signed him two months ago and City being without a manager who can be sure of being in the big chair next season. The idea that he might be going to one of the Scottish Cup finalists lingers.

Daley will return to the City team on the left wing as Peter Jackson looks to recall the walking wounded for the game against Burton Albion which is being billed – somewhat curiously – as giving the winner a safe place in League Two next season.

The game is part of a good season for Burton which was ruined by games called off and the team has struggled with the arduous games in hand catch up of which this is the final one. The games in hand which people thought would propel them up the league have not and they hover nervously above the drop.

City hover above them, but are still nervous.

Jackson – who seems to see his hopes of being City’s full time manager evaporate in front of him – is tasked with getting the performance that has been lacking from his previous two matches and will try get the spark from Daley which has been lacking. Daley is expected to be on the left wing opposite Gareth Evans on the right but he could be deployed on the other flank, or up front.

However the Daley and Evans with Jon Worthington and David Syers in the middle seems to best suit Jackson’s style of play with Michael Flynn up front alongside the also returning James Hanson. Jackson’s dropping of A in a quest for more goals seems to have failed drastically. The replacements have looked no more likely to score than the maligned forward but the ball has spent less time in the final third.

Likewise the decision to drop Lewis Hunt is probably not the only factor in the seven concessions in two games but the disturbance to what was a decent defensive unit has helped not one jot. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien have suffered at right back and Jackson is left looking at youngster Adam Robinson making his debut or someone else filling in. Steve Williams is back to partner Luke Oliver and O’Brien is expected back at left back.

Jon McLaughlin keeps goal.

A win will move City to fifty points – since two teams started to be relegated from League Two no club has gone down with that many – but only twice have teams with 47 points been relegated in those eight years which is motivation for Burton who would reach that total.

One wonders how Burton’s fans think of their club, and if they hate their players.

Note No comments on this. We have no time to moderate them during the day and after the game comments are best directed at the report.

The vote of some confidence

If Bradford City are confident going into the Friday night game with Southend United then one might wonder why David Baldwin – when talking about the £1 entry into Tuesday night’s game with Burton Albion – described the match as a “six pointer”.

City need a win between now and the end of the season to ensure League Two safety – although even without that win the teams below would have to outperform many a previous year – but it seems that that win will be the six pointer of Burton and not the evening in Essex.

Nevertheless the club are sure of a win – seemingly – with Mark Lawn talking about how City cannot afford to keep paying for Valley Parade in League Two when discussing the possibility of leaving the club’s home which is owned (in part) by former chairman Gordon Gibb.

Lawn is seeking negotiations with Gibb and with Development Securities who own the offices in the hope of getting the £700,000 a year rent reduced. How much one might realistically expect to get knocked off that figure is questionable but if one assumed City could get a 10% reduction when in this division the £70,000 seen gets swallowed up by player costs. Is is worth leaving our home over a sum which equals one Tommy Doherty for a season? Certainly Mark Lawn believes so giving City two years at the current status quo.

Nevertheless Lawn seems to be prepared to talk about City being in League Two next season and so – one assumes – he believes that that win will come. Certainly the club is showing enough faith to be able to forgo using recognised right back Lewis Hunt and watching Lee Bullock trying to play the role and giving away a goal last week one might wonder how the club have the hubris to do such a thing.

If the club are worried about relegation – seriously worried – then weakening the side seems massively counter productive leading one to think that while the talk is of six pointers and so on the belief is that next season will be another season of football in the lowest division.

City go to Roots Hall to find a Southend United team expecting the same. The Essex club are staying at this level and wind the season down having not achieved all they would like on their return to the bottom division.

Peter Jackson – who we are told is one of two names in for the job along with Essex rival Dag & Red manager John Still – takes his City team into the game with changes afoot. Jon McLauglin is expected to retain his place in goal but Lee Bullock seems set to make way for 18 year old Adam Robinson to make his debut at right back.

Robinson was promoted from the reserves and has a chance to make a play for Hunt’s position as second strong right back for next season. The rights and wrongs of the Hunt situation aside if financial reasons push City towards being forced to use our young players rather than bringing in players for cover that could be no bad thing.

Luke Oliver and Steve Williams are expected to be the central defensive pairing with Luke O’Brien returning to left back and Robbie Threlfall being dropped.

The midfield is without Michael Flynn – once more in the forward line – so David Syers will get a chance to partner Jon Worthington again and will hope to make a better fist of his performance while Leon Osbourne seems set get the call on the left. The right hand side is more questionable with Gareth Evans choking in his chance to lead the line and seeming set for being out of his ear but for the injury to James Hanson. Evans may feature on the right should he not be used up front.

Without Hanson and Evans Jake Speight is likely to be paired with Michael Flynn.

Going through the motions

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lee Bullock, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Tom Adeyemi, David Syers, Jon Worthington, Luke O'Brien | Michael Flynn, Gareth Evans | Jake Speight, Scott Dobie

Following a credible performance and result against Macclesfield on Tuesday night, that all but guaranteed League football for the Bantams next season, it seems that the players’ minds were already on their summer breaks as City put in a below par shift against the promotion chasing Gulls.

Minus goal scorer James Hanson and defender Lewis Hunt, City lined up with Lee Bullock at right back, Luke O’Brien on the left of midfield and with a front line of Gareth Evans and Michael Flynn. The system smacked of square pegs in round holes and was to prove decisive as the ad-hoc line up were found wanting when it mattered. If the mass exodus of fans after Torquay’s third goal is anything to go by, and with the chairmen looking for a financial boost for next season’s coffers, Peter Jackson’s hopes of turning an interim position into a permanent one, have taken a major blow.

The optimism brought by pre-match sunshine and a pocketed dead cert for the 4.15 at Aintree, simmered away gently in the opening exchanges as both sides began evenly, with neither side really threatening the opposition’s goal. The majority of City’s play involved working the ball aerially to Evans and Flynn, in the hope that the giant Torquay backline would mis-time a routine clearance header; unfortunately for City, they didn’t.

Torquay scored the first of the afternoon following a couple of debatable decisions from referee Mr. Miller. Jon Worthington was adjudged to have taken the man before ball in what looked to be a perfectly decent challenge and from the resulting free kick the Gulls were able to work the ball closer to the Bantam’s penalty area. This lead to Steve Williams conceding a soft free kick on the edge of the box and presented Kevin Nicholson with the chance to drill the ball into John McLaughlin’s bottom corner.

Torquay grew in confidence and started to knock the ball around with considerable ease, Gavin Tomlin and Shrewsbury loanee Jake Robinson providing the main threat for the visitors.

The second half saw City replace the ineffective Evans with Jake Speight, a change that was almost immediately rewarded with Speight just unable to stretch far enough to convert a Tom Adeyemi cross. This was to prove a costly miss, as moments later Lee Bullock, when looking in control, was out muscled on the touchline, allowing Chris Zebroski to power his way to the by-line and pull the ball back for Tomlin to accept the simplest of tap ins.

Just as the dead cert was pulling up at Beecher’s Brook, the game was put beyond doubt, as more amateur defending allowed Nicholson to play an accurate cross-field ball to the un-marked Eunan O’Kane, for him to square the ball to substitute Billy Kee, who finished from 4 yards out. Some home supporters chose to applaud a good piece of play, most decided that the exit door was more preferable; a sight that won’t fill our joint-chairmen with too much optimism when it comes to rolling out season tickets for next season.

In a late attempt to get something from the game Peter Jackson switched to 4-3-3 and introduced Scott Dobie which proved to only increase the space at the back for Torquay to counter in. A poor, lethargic performance was epitomised by Steve Williams late shot from 30 yards, City’s second best effort of the afternoon!

The contrast in ambition between the sides could be comfortably measured in light years; one side taking a good run of form towards the automatic promotion places; the other in managerial limbo, lacking direction and desire and with one eye on a beach and the big blue. All of which will alarm the powers that be and do no favours for the interim-manager; Jackson looked agitated for most of the afternoon, gesticulating and remonstrating in his usual touchline manner, towards players who seemed content to take the safer instead of the incisive option.

The club are reaching the point where their future intentions need to be communicated, with the manager, ground, players’ contracts and season tickets all high on the agenda. Until that point is reached it looks like we will have to be content with simply going through the motions.

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