Millwall, Yeovil Town, Chelsea and the most important thing in life

Before we begin

Ask me who I think the best manager is I say Brian Clough. Ask me who my favourite is I say Bobby Robson.

There are many reasons I have such high regard for the former England and Newcastle United manager and I am not alone in holding him in high esteem. The Brazilian Ronaldo was signed by Robson’s PSV aged seventeen and considered the manager a Second Father.

Robson brought a dignity to his football. When asked about Diego Maradona’s handball in 1986 he said only “Well, he knows he cheated”. When asked if he thought about what would have happened had his England side not lost on penalties to West Germany in 1990 his reply was a haunted “every day.”

When he watched his Newcastle United team beat Bradford City 4-3 and was asked about the poor defending on display he told the journalist who asked him that he has seen a brilliant game of football between two great teams and that he should go home to his family happy.

“That is what I’ll be doing.” he said.

Only one team in it

Shall we clarify how much of a favourite Millwall were presented as before the FA Cup Third Round. There was a chance of an upset at The New Den on the Saturday morning but when the game kicked off the media focus was elsewhere. The City game lurched back and forth with one team taking the lead, then the other. One wondered if there could be a cup tie giving more entertainment.

Two goals for Billy Knott and a couple of defenders struggling to cope with James Hanson who – if City lost – would probably have been the player sold in January to balance the books. The game seemed to matter.

At 3-2 with ten minutes on the clock it seemed that Bradford City would have something of an upset but Ricardo Fuller scored late and in the reply it was considered that City would have more of a chance.

Favourites now then. Valley Parade bustling after a successful campaign to hashtag-be-the-difference based on the anticipation of a fourth round trip which would take City to Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea.

Chelsea were and are top of the Premier League. It was anticipation. The chance to be against the best.

And then it began

And it was over very quickly.

The sixth minute dismissal of Mark Beevers was already against the run of plan. The Bantams had put in three corners before Andy Halliday put a ball forward to James Hanson who outpaced Mark Beevers. Beevers who pulled him back and the Referee did as they do.

Two minutes later Hanson was heading a flicked on corner in to suggest that City should start preparing for the trip to Chelsea. Ten minutes later and another ball in was loose in the box watched – watched – by three Millwall players. Jon Stead had time to cross oceans and acres to put the ball into the goal. He did.

The rest of the story, dear reader, you know. Halliday, then Knott again and Millwall ended up paying their supporters back for turning up.

And so we asked the question

Were Bradford City good or Millwall bad?

The question did not dare suggest itself until after Saturday’s trip to Yeovil Town. Millwall gave up but – it must be remembered – they gave having started from their position of strength in the first game.

When Lions manager Ian Holloway talks about how he has never seen a team collapse in that manner he excuses himself of amount of time which passed in which the advantage in the tie – not just the replay – past from South London to West Yorkshire.

That a team has a poor performance is almost always the result of a good display by the opposition. Bradford City had got into a habit of making games difficult for opposition sides from the divisions above in the League Cup. Make every free kick difficult, make every throw in prompt, run for every ball to make the defender run too, make every passage of play into something that presents a difficulty for the opposition.

Bradford, 2000

When Bradford City beat Chelsea 2-0 in the Premier League on Benito Carbone’s home debut the performance represented something of a high watermark.

I once saw David Wetherall – defender in that side – asked if he thought that City had only won because Chelsea were so bad that evening that they beat themselves. Wetherall could hardly understand the question and struggled to answer.

He mumbled “erm, not really.”

Bradford, 2015

As Millwall manager Ian Holloway kept his team in the dressing room for an hour following the game Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side took the plaudits.

There was a crispness to how the playmaker midfield – abandoned of late but reasserting itself – worked with Billy Knott in the forward midfield position and all over the pitch players could be proud of great performances.

The pitch was covered with high watermark performances. Filipe Morais’ ability to find the rhythm for the inside midfield role as distinct to that played when on the wing seemed like a justification for his two and a half year contract. Morais is a more useful player than first he seemed and his ability to play simple football most often sets him apart from other players who show off tricks to try convince all that they are more useful footballers than they are.

Andy Halliday was praised for his steady work ethic. The back four for their solidity. When Alan Dunne throw James Hanson into a wall and goalkeeper David Forde punched Billy Knott in the face City were even praised for how they all stood together in the brawl that followed.

For City talk moved to a game with Chelsea of course, but also to play offs and possible promotion. By contrast Holloway was telling his charges that eight changes would be made for Saturday and a new captain would be appointed as they prepared for something like a slaughtering.

And that night I remembered my favourite maxim of Bobby Robson.

Having won European trophies with Ipswich Town, and having been knocked out without a win of Euro 88. He had taken England to semi-finals but been the subject of very personal criticism Robson had experienced enough of football to advise this:

“You are never as good, or as bad, as people tell you you are.”

Yeovil, 2015

Perhaps it was the idea that the club he was playing was selling tickets for another match on the day they faced his side but Yeovil Town manager Gary Johnson sense that his team which had not won since September would get something against City.

It was in the air.

The Bantams too light in the tackle perhaps fearing suspension, too slight in the challenge perhaps fearing injury. Or perhaps a ten minute game against Rochdale followed by a mid-week cup tie on a heavy Valley Parade pitch just took it out of the team. Either way City were a shadow.

Gozie Ugwu scored the only goal of the game and Parkinson will have been pleased with a second half where his team pressed more but City suffered a second league defeat in two. This one was against the team bottom of the league.

And so in an atmosphere of discontent over tickettng for the Chelsea game Parkinson’s side were driving back into ill temper.

Not good enough was the general tone and in fact not good. The unexpected high watermark was expected to be the new standard.

Here comes the fear

Chelsea manager José Mourinho described the game against Swansea City as “the perfect game

The Londoners were magnificent in putting five goals past Swansea City without reply. They have a fluidity in their forward four which one doubts Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle will have faced before and they have John Terry and Gary Cahill ready to go man for man with Hanson and Stead.

It would be a folly to suggest that Chelsea have all the ability by City have character because without character Chelsea would not be the top of the Premier League.

And they are top of the Premier League, and they are playing well.

Chelsea are playing the best football in the country at the moment and they have won every league game at Stamford Bridge this season.

One wonders what to expect next week in West London. One wonders what we will go home and tell the family.

Lisbon, 1992

When he was appointed Sporting Lisbon manager in 1992 Bobby Robson appointed José Mourinho – then a scout at another club – as his interpreter. Robson took Mourinho to Porto, and then to Barcelona.

When paying tribute to Robson following his death Mourinho said that Robson had told him the most important thing in life:

“You are never as good or as bad as people say you are.”

Give the man what he wants

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Gareth Evans, Jon Worthington, Michael Flynn, Kevin Ellison | James Hanson, Jake Speight | David Syers, Scott Dobie

At the start of the second half watching Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Northampton Town it became apparent that discussion of new managers in Peter Jackson and Gary Johnson or players like Jake Speight and Guillem Bauza who made his debut for the Cobblers that the only man who was going to be the subject of discussion was Referee Rob Lewis.

So lets give the man who wants to be the centre of attention what he wants. His own match report.

The game started quietly and Lewis got to make his first impact on eight minutes when a cross came into the Northampton boss from one of the Bradford City players and was handled by Northampton man Seth Nana Ofori-Twumasi.

Ofori-Twumasi’s arm was out and some might have said that there was no deliberate movement of hand to ball but the fact that the arm was away from the body probably justified the award of a penalty. Four minutes later when the trailing team attacked a strong tackle from Jon Worthington – the Bradford City midfielder – took ball before man but knocked the man over. It was a strong tackle but not an aggressive one so Lewis’ decision to give a yellow card seemed a mistake.

If Lewis were to have seen the tackle as not having made contact with the ball before the man then then the card would have been justified but if he did he would be mistaken.

Some of the tedious football stuff took up much of the rest of the half before Lewis could reassert his authority awarding a free kick against a Bradford City defender who headed the ball away while coming into contact with a Northampton striker.

Lewis’ decision was a curious one. Both players have to be allowed to contest the ball and neither went in with a disregard for the other. One has to arrive first and the other second but both have to be allowed to contest it. If Lewis is t give a free kick against either then one can only assume it is because he feels one has used his head illegally – ie head butted – so he should have sent off the offender.

The offender – it turned out – was to be booked a minute later for a badly timed tackle on a defender as he tried to clear the ball. It was a mistimed tackle and one which injured the the booked Luke Oliver but the yellow card was fair under the laws of the game. I’m never comfortable with the idea of booking mistimed tackles that lack recklessness but the laws suggest it.

Next in the book was Bradford City player Michael Flynn who was guilty of taking possession of the ball after a free kick which was attempted to be taken out of position. Flynn took the ball to a position on the field, Northampton tried to take the free kick from a different place, Lewis told them to take it from the position Flynn had suggested.

There is a technical argument that sees Flynn booked but moreover this seemed like Lewis being a petty man, booking Flynn for not doing as he was told, when he was told. The problem with booking players for technical offences like the “kicking the ball away” or “delaying the restart” is that if it is done once is has to be done every time – otherwise the referee is operating a system of favouritism.

So after Northampton scored later in the game Rob Lewis saw nine of the players leave the field without permission – a technical offence which requires a yellow card as a punishment – but opted to ignore that. Most referees would but few choose to ignore a goal scorer who celebrates by leaving the field of play. Lewis decided he would ignore that.

So giving the centre of attention can have the attention he craves one has to wonder why Rob Lewis watches one technical offence and decides not to book it and sees another and decides to? Either the laws of the game are to be applied in all situations or they are not and a defence of “common sense” is not relevant here. Technical offences are mentioned in the laws exactly because they are not the subject of judgement calls.

The second half and Guillem Bauza of Northampton put in a late tackle. The ball had gone when he contacted with the Bradford City and so the booking was deserved in the context of the decision to book Worthington earlier although that was Worthington for his first offence and Bauza had been given a verbal dressing down in the first half and seemed to give Lewis some attitude back.

Contrast that with Northampton’s Byron Webster who seemed to spend most of the second half avoiding Lewis’ attentions having at one point pushed a Bradford City player with two hands in the chest – an action which would seem to suggest discipline – and kicking the ball forty yards away from the corner flag after a corner. Lewis saw both these offences and decided not to book them. One is – once again – a mandated booking.

A penalty was awarded when a Northampton striker and a Bradford City defender came together in the box. It seemed that the Northampton Town striker jumped at he Bradford City defender who was the last defender and as such one might have expected a sending off but Lewis lacked the courage of his conviction to do that and perhaps the referee – should he not feel that a Bradford City defender had fouled a Northampton Town striker in a way that denied a goal scoring opportunity – might have felt that there was no foul and should have considered awarding an indirect free kick for obstruction.

Many, many yellow cards followed and the game was ruined as football match with free kicks given for very little and Lewis’ inability to maintain a discipline – having spend his credibility cheaply – failing to keep a flowing game. Having flashed yellow cards for little – or ignored them on an ad hoc basis – he decided that a knee high tackle by Jamie Reckord on a Bradford City player which was reckless and did not get the ball should only be a (another) yellow card rather than the red which the laws state.

The football match ruined the game petered out so the only thing on show was Lewis and his ego. He booked Jake Speight for reasons utterly unclear and let us make no mistake about this when the Referee is booking a player and no one has any idea what it is for then the Referee is in error pretty much all the time. Perhaps it was “decent” and considering with the resultant free kick being taken from where a Bradford City player had won the ball rather than where Speight was one would guess it is.

Lewis watches players commit the technical offences that the laws of the game he is empowered to enforce are broken and chooses to ignore them but he will not ignore someone talking out of turn to him. The schoolmasterly ego of the football Referee that can forgive anything but becomes zealous when someone talks out of turn to him never does not turn my stomach.

Bradford City’s Jon Worthington was sent off as he tried to clear the ball and caught a Northampton Town striker – only the second time he has caused the official to blow his whistle – which as a decision smacked against Lewis’ decision to avoid booking Webster. Why Webster (or any player, including some of the Bradford City player) can commit offences that go unpunished and Worthington is booked for the only two offences he is pulled up for shows Lewis being swept up in the emotion.

It is the late in the game, there is a foul and Lewis gets wrapped up in the excitement which is exactly what he is on the field not to do.

In the last minute Kevin Ellison was booked for stamping his foot on the ground perhaps out of frustration felt by the rest of us that he wanted to be involved in a football match but instead had to be a bit part player in the tiresome afternoon exhibition with one man at the centre of it. If only Lewis’ would tell us what exactly it was that Ellison did that he thought was the equal of the knee height tackle, the kicking the ball away, the being cheeky of previous bookings.

Rob Lewis – the man who once did not see Pedro Mendes’ goal at Old Trafford – made the afternoon about Rob Lewis and as a result ruined what could have been a good football match.

One hopes he reads this match report, it is all about him, because he made sure he was the centre of attention.

Just as the man wanted.

The fifth midfield shows as City face Northampton

In a season which promised much and delivered little it has been difficult to bring to mind any reasons to be cheerful as City look to the future but – when those reasons are brought to mind – chief in them is the performance of David Syers.

Signed at the start of the season from Guiseley Syers arrived at Valley Parade looking very much like an unnecessary third wheel in the midfield. With Tom Ademeyi added to an assumed midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty it seemed that Syers was going to find first team opportunities limited.

His debut goal – the equaliser in a game with Nottingham Forest – did not harm his case but twenty starts later Syers’ honest endeavours have seen him not only elevated from signed up curio to hope for the future but also activate a second year clause in is contract.

Without a manager in place for new season let alone a set of players it is hard to see Bradford City 2011/2012 but were Syers to be within that somewhere and somewhere in the midfield.

The one thing that has united all four seasons of City teams in League Two has been midfield failure with the sum of parts so often being less than it should be. Doherty and co this season should have been a superb set up but not only did they often have the ball over their head under Peter Taylor but when they did get a chance to play they failed to take enough of a grip of matches. Doherty is the poster boy for this season’s midfield failure. A favourite of Taylor, a player of massive ability, but it just did not happen for him.

Nor did it happen for the Michael Flynn midfield under Stuart McCall the previous year. Flynn’s hard work did not cut a swathe through the division although the player himself performed well. In its way that year of midfield was no worse the much lauded previous season with Paul McLaren, Dean Furman and Nicky Law. All talented, none of whom were able to grab games by the scruff of the neck.

Paul McLaren – the senior professional – taken the blame for that but once again is a very talented footballer as was the first League Two midfield boss Paul Evans the fading of whom remains a mystery to me as well as one of the most disappointing player seasons I’ve ever seen.

Four season, four midfields and none of them simply poor at football but all of them coming up short.

Not so – at the moment – Jon Worthington who bestrode the City midfield like no other player at this level since we sank down. Worthington’s first full ninety minutes came last week at Morecambe and has he battled for every ball so did the rest of the team. It was inspiring to watch.

One has to wonder what Worthington – benched under Taylor who signed him – did to not impress the previous gaffer but in his old Huddersfield boss Peter Jackson Worthington has someone who knows the value of a proper holding midfielder.

The Flynn/Worthington midfield is a solid foundation – the Syers/Worthington one could have promise too – and one which has the kind of battering energy which is often seen in the teams which exit this league in the right direction.

Gareth Evans missed a penalty last week after a tireless display of not little ability while Kevin Ellison – who won said spot kick – seems set to take Scott Dobie’s place in on the left wing. Omar Daley has become available to recall from loan by Jackson after his first month at Rotherham and has let it be known to those who know him that he will play for anyone who gives him a contract for next season.

Also letting things be known this week was Jake Speight who tweeted to former City skipper Zesh Rehman spelling out the change in attitude at the club and his support for his new manager saying

speighty28: @Zesh_Rehman yes bro am good thanks! Yeah finally back playing new gaffers class 2 be fair! Its a lot better here now! How is it over there?

Rehman is enjoying Thailand – so he says – and is pleased that Speight is feeling the same as shows in his (that word again) energetic performances of late which hint at – rather than promise – goals. Perhaps the game with Northampton will be the day that Speight gets the goals that his input suggests but football can be unfair. Speight will be up front with James Hanson.

Jon McLaughlin may keep his place at the back after his clean sheet although Lenny Pidgeley hopes to be fit again. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien also celebrated a clean sheet and will be retained for the Cobbler’s visit.

Northampton sit below City in League Two – although they too have a new manager in the highly impressive Gary Johnson – and a win for the Bantams would do much to secure Football League status sooner rather than later.

Which would strengthen Peter Jackson’s claim for the Bradford City job long term – and perhaps this time long term could be more than a season – so the likes of David Syers might be able to be considered to be part of the club for more than a season by season basis.

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