Drone / On

The 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers at Valley Parade followed on from the previous three one goal each affairs against Gillingham, Millwall and Oldham Athletic as Stuart McCall’s team continue to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

Delight in that McCall has in a short space of time managed to create a team which mirrors much of what was wonderful about watching the manager play his own game. One could argue that City have become – in seven or eight of the players – a team of defensive midfielders so calm in possession, so unhurried in their play, and so pleasing on the eye.

But frustrating that the defensive midfielder is not the creator and the team lacks creation. With James Hanson restored to the starting line-up Romain Vincelot opted to break the pattern of short passes between players who were alive to possession and hit the big man from afar with a well floated diagonal pass.

Le Rory, or Rory Le Cardle. The more things change, one is forced to think, the more they stay the same.

Last season’s Bradford City seemed to get exactly what they deserved from every game. If they were poor or off the pace they were beaten. If they were together and strong they got a point or sometimes more. This season’s vintage the opposite seems true in that every week one is left with the feeling that City were due more but that some Olympian conspiracy had denied them what was rightfully theirs.

This is a trick of the eye though and of the brain. If The Parkinson Years – which will be cemented as The Parkinson Rivalry with next week’s trip to Bolton – taught us anything it was to focus on results as being the purpose of a way of playing. Attractive football that does not succeed is ultimately not attractive football.

Because frustration is not attractive. Mark Marshall’s contributions today include a lashed shot in a crowded which bounced up in the defence and was headed in by James Meredith to make the game 1-0. His replacement after seventy-five minutes Filipe Morais’ contribution was a poorly selected pass to a closed down Haris Vuckic that saw Bristol Rovers break away and score.

Both seemed to be to be the result of this frustration. The City forward play too up much of the game but again one struggled to recall a lot of spurned chanced. Consequentialism suggests that what Marshall did was good – it resulted in a goal for us – and what Morais did was bad – it resulted in a goal for them – and one wonders if McCall is happy with his team playing on such a knife edge.

The knife edge was deep into injury time when Vuckic headed towards goal from a few yards out and Rovers keeper Kelle Roos saved well. Had Vuckic’s effort fell a foot behind the line then the lingering worries that this team does not create enough may have receded.

As it is those doubts still hover.

Hover

Sixty-five minutes into the game a drone hovered over Valley Parade.

It was an amusing story in the morning that the Referee took the players from the field and the game was delayed.

But what it was not was the reason to start a conspiracy theory but start one it did. The Occumist view applies here. There may be concerns about television rights, or about other teams scouting, or about using the drone as a method of attack but – probably – the Referee’s biggest worry was that it might drop on someone’s head.

Perhaps his own.

Taking back control of the result as Bradford City draw 0-0 at Barnsley

When talking this week about the need for Bradford City’s players to put in a Bradford City performance manager Phil Parkinson engaged in a little modesty, and a little evasion.

I don’t think there was enough out there in terms of the Bradford spirit and determination we’ve known – and that didn’t sit easy with me – Phil Parkinson

Four years ago on Tuesday saw the Bradford City manager who proceeded Parkinson go into a broad room meeting trying to justify a lifeless performance against Dagenham & Redbridge and failing. He resigned and within a week Parkinson came to the club after the cameo of a Colin Cooper 4-2 against Barnet.

Many wanted Cooper to have the job and Parkinson, less obviously attacking in his approach than Cooper, was criticised as he went about a process that made City more predictable and by virtue of that less interesting.

Jackson’s last side was as lifeless as one could imagine but it was not criticised for that having come after Peter Taylor’s weak outfits and Stuart McCall’s sides who famously could take an offside decision going against them in a win and sulk it up into a six game losing run.

This has been the way Bradford City have been perhaps since Paul Jewell left the club in the Summer of 2000. For those ten years we were a club often at the whim of external forces be they financial or on the field. To a greater or lesser extent until Parkinson arrived City were a club who seemed unable to control its own fortunes.

Unless one wants to journey back decades then it would be more accurate to say that it is not a “Bradford City performance” that Bradford City failed to show in the 2-1 defeat to Gillingham it was a Phil Parkinson performance.

Modus operandi

Having watched Phil Parkinson’s teams over the last four years it strikes one that first and foremost the City boss demands the level of effort which was lacking from his players on Tuesday night. For much of Parkinson’s time at the club he has been able to select a team from a squad who all were able to reach that level required.

That that situation was coming to an end has been obvious for some time. If one believes that the Gillingham performance would not have happened had Jon Stead been in the forward line, or had Andy Halliday been in the team, then one convicts oneself of the most idealised thinking.

On Tuesday night – and over the week – it became obvious that he did not have eleven who put in what Parkinson requires and so new faces were called in: Reece Burke on loan from West Ham United, Lee Evans from Wolves.

In the past four years Parkinson’s loan signings – as opposed to his loan to purchase deals – have largely been to decorate the fringes of his team. Burke and Evans came straight into the side recalling Parkinson’s first month at the club when the likes of Matt Duke, Jamie Devitt, and Andrew Davies were signed and put into the side.

Loan signings disrupt the flow of a team, but when the team is not flowing what is to lose?

Replacements in South Yorkshire

In the event Lee Evans turned in a fine performance in central midfield as the Bantams had more control of the central area than they had in any game previously this season. It should not be said that Christopher Routis is the sum of the problems at Bradford City but with him injured, and Tony McMahon ill, the middle two of Evans and Gary Liddle looked to have the kind of solidity which has been lacking of late.

Evans will be at the club for five months at least. He is young and has some ability. His signing on loan suggest is is an after thought but one finds it hard to believe that Parkinson can have thought that he could go into the season with such poor resources in central midfield and perhaps Evans’ two weeks sitting out games at Wolves focused his mind on how to progress his career at another club.

Only here for a month Reece Burke – 19 years old and having only played five games previously – slotted into the defence alongside Rory McArdle and never looked out of place. Burke put in a calm, assured performance as one might expect from a player on his debut but he seems to be a short term solution to the problem of replacing Andrew Davies.

Alan Sheehan – who has performed the role better than anyone else this term – was on the bench and is thought to be about to leave the club. Millwall defender Mark Beevers has had talks over a move but those talks came to nothing. Nathan Clarke is on the bench until such a time as Parkinson redeems him.

Redemption/reconstruction

While there were chances for Bradford City to win at Oakwell against Barnsley Parkinson’s City were not seeking a redemption so much as reconstruction.

Burke slotted into a back four which was supported by a central midfield who did not stray too far up field and most of the afternoon the full backs were supported by the corresponding wingers Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall.

Parkinson has made it clear that we are at a stage in the season were we can judge all the players (except for Brad Jones, once again absent having missed training all summer) but judgements on those two wide players – and a third Josh Morris – are not kind.

Anderson has – thus far – failed to live up to the hefty reputation he arrived with. His performance against Gillingham was risible and while he was defensively better at Oakwell he showed only very occasional abilities to go beyond the forward line and link onto what could be won by James Hanson.

There is much to do for Anderson.

Josh Morris – who replaced Anderson after just over an hour – has shown more in terms of the ability but is frustratingly easy to knock off the ball for a player with pretensions to take a central midfield role as well as a wide one. For defenders playing against Morris is about playing on the line of fouling and hoping that the Referee has no sympathy for the player who concludes every challenge looking back at the official and appealing.

More curious is Mark Marshall who has very good delivery of a ball when he happens upon the right position to deliver it from but getting Marshall into those positions seems to be a random process. Defensively he issues vague and wrong instructions to the full back behind him but such things are worked on in training and that could improve with time.

Going forward Marshall needs to position himself to take on defenders and go forward rather than to dribble past central midfielders and move sideways. A man who can beat a player is useful when attacking but dribbling through central midfield is dangerous at worse, and fairly pointless at best.

One understands Marshall’s frustrations even without agreeing with his way of venting them.

City’s trip to Barnsley was about keeping a clean sheet and in keeping a clean sheer starting building belief in the squad that it is master of its own destiny. The balance was in favour of defending and none of the wide players was given much of a remit to attack. Parkinson wanted to see if Anderson, Marshall, and Morris were prepared to dig in, that the team were prepared to do as told, and to be responsive for achieving an outcome, and the answer was a qualified yes.

In this context Steve Davies and James Hanson toiled up front with the latter often isolated and the former missing a great chance when one on one with Adam Davies in the Barnsley goal.

One doubts Parkinson will lose much sleep over that. He goes into training for the first time this season – and I would say the first time since Reading – with a team that can be said to have had control over the outcome of the game rather than been buffeted on the winds of occasion.

That was the first thing Phil Parkinson achieved when he arrived at City four years ago. He hopes to have won it back on Saturday.

Parkinson under pressure after City lose 2-1 at home to Gillingham

One wonders how quickly the pressure that swirls around football managers will start to swarm on Phil Parkinson after Bradford City lost a one goal lead to be beaten by Gillingham.

Pressure from results should be irrelevant. Results in football are both the most and least important thing in the game.

They are the most important because they are what the entire football club is geared towards achieving but the least for the same reason. As the sum of all the efforts of a club they aggregate out accurately in most cases. When those efforts are lacking then it is not important that the results are so much as it is an obvious effect.

Which was the case tonight as City’s early season crystallised.

Once again Phil Parkinson favoured the three man midfield with a playmaker but tonight the reason for that choice was not so much the dogged determination to force Christopher Routis into a position so much as the manager addressing the problems that were on the field against Gillingham, and probably seen in training for weeks.

And those problems were distributed around the field, and those problems were largely to do with the level of effort which the players applied and the amount of commitment which those players had.

The level of effort was not enough generally and it was not enough specifically in the case of Parkinson’s two wide players Mark Marshall and Paul Anderson.

“There go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them there.”

If there is an experience in football which fills me with dread its the winger who screams for the ball while hugging the touchline. They are the Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin of football. If only the ball could be got to them in whatever position suits them then they would use their influence to turn the game around.

The onus on the other players to serve them. It is the antithesis of the way of thinking and of playing which has seen Bradford City rise from League Two via Wembley and Chelsea.

And Parkinson – in August 2015 – has two of these players.

Marshall demanding the ball in his own half so he can run into the crowded midfield beating men but not making progress. Anderson getting the ball, turning from goal, and laying it off. Both of these players could be great in the future but if they are they need to make games like tonight far away exceptions to their common performances.

I have no truck with the idea that the other players on the field owed these touchline-huggers the ball.

Players get the ball when they are in good positions. When wingers run towards full backs effectively compressing their own team they are worse than useless. When wingers stand behind covering players they are worse than useless. When wingers watch the central midfield struggle from a distance they are worse than useless.

And it was obvious to me while watching Parkinson unleash his two wide men kept under wraps since signing that he must have noticed this tendency in both at the moment and that has forced him to pick narrow formations that exclude them.

There are two ways to play football: To make things happen, or to be a part of things that happen.

The last few years we have been spoilt with players who made things happen: Gary Jones, Andrew Davies et al; and out history as a club idolises them: Stuart McCall, Peter Beagrie et al; and the way those players was contagious.

And they spread their ethos of taking responsibility for the performance around the team. The culture at City in the last few years and at our best has been one of players taking responsibility for performances.

Tonight we had wingers standing with arms in the air. An illustration of the exact opposition of what brings results.

I refuse to write off careers on the basis of a few games but as far as I have seen of both Marshall and Anderson they have not even begun to show the character that success demands. This requirement comes into play before one considers the ability they may or may not have.

The questions marks

Wingers was not the sum of the problem.

We have a group of players who present with question marks over their character who have come into a group of players who had question marks over their character.

This is the team that surrendered to Bristol City, this is the team that were found wanting in the last third of last season following Andrew Davies’ injury, and those problems have not been addressed in the summer recruitment.

There is no pirouette to perform which says that it is the fault of the new players for polluting the old or the old players for not unleashing the new. There is a significant lack of character and willingness to take responsibility for performances that manifests in different ways and to different extents around the team and the squad.

And while some players are more guilty than others all players – and the manager – have to improve the collective. It is hideous in its cliché but the tide needs to rise, to float all the boats.

There is the continuing mystery of Gary Liddle who played a good performance in central defence rather than the much needed role in midfield. There was the problem with Tony McMahon who when put in central midfield represents the softest centre. I consider the role that McMahon plays in front of the back four as being the most important on the field and McMahon has not shown the capabilities to play that role thus far.

Again I do not seek to Damn him. He may be very good at that position but his very good performances will be a long way from this one not just in terms of the effect he has but in terms of how committed he is to the rest of the team and the performance. If he has a role in winning teams it will be shown character not present tonight.

The wrong side of history

This is the pressure on Parkinson. The parts he has brought together for this Bradford City team do not fit easily. He may try take responsibility for the defeat – as he did – but he can not take the players responsibility for the (lack of) effort away from them.

The players who did put in a shift tonight – and there were some – need to do more than just concern themselves with their own game. James Hanson, Rory McArdle, Alan Sheehan who put in good personal performances need to pull up the performances of those around then. That is what Gary Jones would do, and it is what Stuart McCall would do, and it is what Phil Parkinson needs from his senior squad members.

From a tactical point of view Parkinson needs to etch-a-sketch his team and start again.

Central midfield is the most important position in the team and out best player for that role should be there, so put Gary Liddle there. Hanson up front, Darby at right back, McArdle in the middle. All players you can trust to get a team out of a slump.

A shape emerges from that process and I don’t pretend to know what it is. I’ve banged on all season about Christopher Routis but watching Routis involve himself in play contrasted with Anderson hiding when the ball came forward, putting defender between him and the ball, it becomes obvious why Parkinson is picking the Swiss/French.

The pressure on Phil Parkinson comes from the squad he has assembled and making it work. I’m no fan of cliché like “Big Time Charlie” put unpacking that term is useful in analysis of Gillingham at home. Some players on the field felt that is was not their responsibility to win the game.

The wingers, McMahon perhaps, Ben Williams seemingly, Josh Morris, Billy Knott in parts (although his performance is a confusing one) and perhaps one, some or all those players think that they have made a bad move coming to Valley Parade, or that they are somehow apart from the performance of the team.

It is a long way from the Championship Play-offs to the bottom of League One but the blow of that distance needs to hit home hard – if it applies – and players need to make sure they do all they can to be a part of the a successful team.

Or they sulk, on the wing, or in midfield, or in goal, making out that it’s someone else’s job to get you the ball, or stop the man, or organise the defence.

And they fail, and we all fail.

Certainly I’m not going to be part of any criticism of the players who do show the characteristics in favour of new faces who meander the field.

There is no improvement in giving the ball to disinterested players and hoping that that sparks them into life. Anyone seeking to say that things would be better if only the players who has the bottle to win the ball shovelled it to those who did not have the weight of a history of Bobby Petta, Harpel Singh, Tim Steele et al to argue with.

Peter Beagrie did not stand on the wing with his arms in the air sulking because he could not get a pass. He rolled up his sleeves, hunted the ball, and supported his team mates.

The pressure on Phil Parkinson

Parkinson is under pressure but that pressure should be self applied.

It should be to make both his new signings and the players currently in the squad understand that there is a baseline of effort which they have to commit to win matches and that did not commit in the 2-1 defeat to Gillingham.

On the night James Hanson scored from a fine Billy Knott centre but weak attempts to control the midfield against an able and mobile Bradley Dack led to second half pressure from the visitors which too easily overwhelmed City’s rearguard and the game was lost through a Hanson own goal following a long range effort that went through Ben Williams as if he were not there.

The day after Parkinson needs to work out which of his players he can rely on to show character, and to put in effort, and turn performance around. He needs to deputise those players into forming the mentally weaker players – the followers if you will – to create an effective squad.

He needs to find or make a few Gary Jones/Andrew Davies in the current group and have them lead. The names which suggest themselves have been suggesting themselves for months: Rory, Stephen, Jim, Lids; but the team built around those men drifts.

I think that finding those leaders with the current squad might be the most difficult task that Parkinson has had as Bradford City manager.

I know that there is no other manager I’d want doing it.

Six months time

In six months time this article might be absurd.

Team building is a snowball rolling down a hill. It starts often in defeat and the response to that. Paul Jewell famously used the two points from seven in 1998 to build 1999’s promotion.

In six months time Paul Anderson might be everything we are told he is.

Mark Marshall might rip defences apart, Tony McMahon might be solid in central midfield, Stephen Darby might be improving the players around him, the defensive unit might be organised and on and on.

If all those things are the case are it will not be an extrapolation of the performance in this 2-1 defeat to Gillingham, or the (lack of) character shown in it, or the contempt for the effort that is required to win matches on display.

It will be the reaction to that. That reaction is the raw material which Parkinson has to shape his future from.

Post script

James Hanson played well.

Bradford City vs Gillingham being settled by threefold repetition

In the game of Chess there are five ways to draw. Most of them involve no move being playable within the rules but there is a method called “threefold repetition” in which a draw is called should the same position occur for a third time in a game.

The purpose of this rule is to avoid a situation in which the two players go into a stalemate situation. It is rare in the world of perfect objectivity which is Chess. Not so much a rule to say that a draw has happened, but one which pre-empts the draw.

Even before Gillingham substitute Antonio German scrambled a stoppage-time equaliser to give his side a 1-1 draw at Bradford City a threefold repetition could have been called on the game such seemed like the inevitability of the result.

Inevitable in that watching Peter Taylor’s teams for his brief time in charge of Bradford City – especially the way he set up his teams to play away from home – was seeing a manager comfortable with a point.

Inevitable in that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City teams hold close to the believe that games are on gradually rather than but great pushes and even when an own goal by Leon Legge following great work by Andy Halliday on the flank the Bantams did not commit to getting a second goal.

Inevitable that Gillingham keeper Stuart Nelson made two saves which turned goal-bound shots onto the post one in the first half from Billy Knott and a second from James Hanson in the second. With goal efforts at a premium Nelson’s reactions were as valuable for the visitors as Jordan Pickford’s were at Preston last weekend.

That City had the better of the chances seemed to suit their being the home side but as both teams were comfortable with a point a draw was the result.

Which returns to the the threefold repetition rule and its place at Bradford City. The rule is in place to stop games in which no progress is being made and on a cold November afternoon turned evening it seemed that no progress was manifested on the field.

All animals are equal, but some…

This week there had been talk from the Inner Party of the Bradford City Supporters Board that the club were aiming to be in the Championship by 2017. It was not clear why exiting administrator David Baldwin had made this claim to the selective group without adding any detail as to how they would be achieved – it would seem that the feedback from this curious organisation is a one way process – but make it (it seems) he did.

What is the plan for that? And why is there an assumption that everything tends to improvement. City seem to sit at a crossroads in the club recent history. There is the will to improve the clubs and many paths to take to do it. The management of the club is in a good position – Parkinson gets a lot out of his players – but there are questions about recruitment that were highlighted by Aaron McLean’s exit this week.

Likewise there are questions about the structure of the club the exit of David Baldwin – a man rated above his abilities in my opinion – and how to craft the business as it tries to grow. Further there are questions as to how those improvements would be translated into success. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s contention in Why England Lose is that the only real guide to one’s place in the pecking order in football is turnover and that increasing turnover moves a team up the divisions.

Aside from wanting it to be so, and hoping that the statistically improbable falls in a way that benefits, what right have Bradford City got to expect that next season will be better than this? If Andrew Davies were to leave when out of contract in the summer why would we expect someone better to replace him? Why is there an expectation that Gary Liddle – excellent today – should be better than Gary Jones?

These are points which need to be addressed before the club start talking about 2017 in the Championship.

So now then

Phil Parkinson’s side could have been accused of not being committed to trying to win the game but Parkinson was no more going to send his team to be gung-ho than Peter Taylor’s were of doing anything other than defend.

Two teams cancelling each other out and neither looking in a position to make progress. Phil Parkinson is a good manager doing a good job at Valley Parade but one wonder what he is up against week-in week-out and how the teams who do progress support managers?

This is an open question. I am not suggesting a plan to be followed but what I am wondering is who at Valley Parade had the domain knowledge that would be helpful to Parkinson? In a week where City have agreed to pay 75% of the wages of a player in a side chasing promotion I think we all have to admit that there is scope for improvement.

On the field some games are won, some are lost, and like today some are drawn and that is how it will stay unless for outrageous fortune one way or another. That or the intervention of the boardroom at the club who – at the moment – seem to have aims without plans.

Peter Taylor, a miserable night and a miserable football match, that all reminded me of what happens when the board have aims without plans.

Parkinson, Taylor and the case of the low standard

Gillingham boss Peter Taylor was kind enough to raise an arm to greet the Bradford City supporters who for a brief time watched him manage the side and for a time he must have wondered how the noise from the Bantams stands had changed.

Taylor once heard his own team booed off after winning a match, and his leader Tommy Doherty was booed on the field, to a point where the then City boss suggested that if the fans thought jeering was so beneficial he should work it into training.

When he watched Aaron McLean sprint into the box as a James Hanson header was fed out wide to Adam Reach and probably feared that the once feared hit man would dart past the defender and do what he had not done in eight weeks as a Bradford City player and score. He did.

McLean’s relief was obvious after his goal as was the affection for him from the Bradford City supporters. Such a drastic change since Doherty being booed, Taylor must of thought, and as City pressed on his Gillingham side in a tide which should have washed the Kent side away how right he was in his criticism of the booing supporters.

McLean has been nursed through every game by fans willing him to be all he could be. It warms the heart to watch.

But little else did as City squandered near total domination over Gillingham and ended up with a draw which it might be said both managers will be happy with but that Phil Parkinson should take no delight in at all.

Gillingham’s open midfield in the first half left an area between the back four and the midfield which City were able to exploit and did so. Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett started to show an understanding as if linked by sixty yards of elastic one showing one side when then other came in for the ball. Matthew Dolan moved forwards well and City had a chance to expand on the one goal lead but that chance – or those chances – were squander.

Amine Linganzi moved into the gap in the second half and Adebayo Akinfenwa came on and City would soon be looking at an equaliser by Cody McDonald and an afternoon where standards were lowered.

A word on Akinfenwa. He is often a joke of a player massive as he is but today Referee Michael Bull, and a good few of the City players, were taken in by that joke. Akinfenwa played by his own set of rules about the physical game and Bull allowed him to do so. It was like watching a kid at school who was rubbish so he was allowed to be offside to even things up.

But Akinfenwa is not rubbish, he is over weight, and he is allowed to throw that weight around with far less intervention from the Referee than other players on the field suffer. It is as tedious as it is disappointing and Andrew Davies must have wondered why Akinfenwa was allowed to spend fifteen minutes at the start of the second half jumping at him rather than with him (including in the build up to the goal) without a free kick being given.

But had Davies played with the spirit that saw him not even give Akinfenwa a kick at Wembley last May then City would have won and that leads us to the lowering of standards which was in evidence especially in the second half.

City have started to accept less than they should and this Parkinson should be worried about this.

First let me draw a distinction here between the idea that fans deserve more – a phrase I hate – or that players should always score with every shot or never make mistakes or other things which go under the idea of not accepting less and focus on this very specific issue of the lowering of standards.

Take Matthew Dolan on seventy minutes when the ball came to him thirty five yards out and when falling he lashed a ball which would not trouble the goalkeeper even slightly. Take Nathan Doyle putting in a half challenge in midfield and complaining that he has fouled. Take Kyle Bennett being challenged in his own half and unlike Adam Reach’s Elvis hips shimmy into the box in the first half falling and darting eyes to the Referee.

Parkinson needs to set a higher standard than this. He needs to underline to the players what playing well looks like and not accept that the players had a jolly good try at doing something else. Players need to play with their heads and with the trust in their teammates, and they need to play in a way that understands that they have teammates and that much of the time their jobs are to serve those teammates.

There was a moment in the game when Kyle Bennett, furthest forward, chased a ball and on catching it hooked it to the goalkeeper tamely. It was not understanding where your teammates are, it was not playing intelligently, and it was the sign of a standard slipped that Parkinson has to address.

Players are playing for contracts – they always are – and Parkinson will look at Adam Reach and feel that he has found a player who can raise the level of the team but many of the other players who may not be at Valley Parade next season are playing under a standard which they need to be to worth keeping at the club.

And again I underline the difference between holding a high standard and highlighting mistakes. It is not that players are pilloried for mistakes it is that some of the players will have left the field today feeling the did “alright” in a “decent result” and I believe that that is not the right attitude for a team looking to progress.

Today City needed to play to a higher standard and did not. Parkinson’s reaction to that – if he thinks that the way Matthew Dolan played today will replace Gary Jones (eventually) or the way Kyle Bennett played will be a substitute for how Kyel Reid played – will define next season.

2011/2012 IV/IV: The teams

Following last season’s disappointment a new air of optimism currently surrounds the much changed, younger City squad compiled by Peter Jackson, but what can we expect from those who the Bantams will line up against in the new season?

With the loss of Bury, Chesterfield, Stockport and Lincoln from League 2 last time out, the division this year has taken on a very Southern feel with the addition to the League of Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon, Crawley Town, Swindon and Dagenham & Redbridge. It seems that away day dedication will be pushed even further this year, with City set to clock up the miles – where are the Peter Taylor over night stays when you need them!?

The Favourites

For the first time since City were relegated to League 2 they have not been tipped for automatic promotion, that acclaim has gone to the league’s big spending new boys Crawley Town. Following last season’s romp to the Conference title and lucrative FA Cup run, only ended by the champions of England, Crawley have flexed their financial muscles once again signing the likes of Wes Thomas (Cheltenham) and Tyrone Barnett (Macclesfield) on huge salaries. Although popularity amongst other teams and fans will be in short supply, this is unlikely to phase Steve Evans who appears to have unlimited funds to see that the Red Devils make it back to back promotions. And with the likes of Dagenham and Stevenage proving that it is not impossible to make that immediate leap, it is unsurprising that the club have been highly backed at the bookies. Former Bantam Scott Nielson is still on the books and will no doubt be on the end of a ‘warm’ welcome when returning to VP, following comments he made after his City exit.

Hot on the promotional heels of Crawley are fellow league new boys Swindon Town. Over the summer they have introduced some Italian flair on the touchline following the appointment of Paolo Di Canio. Expect much gesticulation and passion when the Bantams meet The Robins in the final game of the season (and that’s just from Jackson!). In the close season Di Canio has signed the relatively unknown Oliver Risser and appointed him the club’s captain as well as several established League 1 players. Also don’t be surprised if a few hot prospects from the Premier League turn up on loan over the coming weeks – I’m sure Paolo will still have Mr. Redknapp’s phone number!

Former Torquay boss Paul Buckle will be hoping that he can use his League 2 experience to guide league newcomers Bristol Rovers back into League 1 at the first attempt. Signing the likes of Chris Zebroski (you may remember him drop kicking Matt Clarke in the face!) and Joe Ayinsah (Charlton), expect attacking football from The Pirates who visit VP in September.

As well as the new boys, League 2’s bridesmaids Shrewsbury Town have also been tipped to go well again this year. Following play-off disappointment for the past three seasons “Salop” will be hoping they can go one better and achieve automatic promotion this year. In the close season Graham Turner has signed proven League 2 players such as: Marvin Morgan (Aldershot); Andy Gornell and Joe Jacobson (Accrington) and will be hoping that these will provide the extra ammunition to get The Shrews over the line.

“Local” Rivals

With the loss of so many Northern teams from the division, local rivalries are few and far between for the Bantams this year. Nearest geographically are Rotherham United, who despite the loss of player maker Nicky Law to McGod’s Motherwell, will be hoping for a strong season under relatively new boss Andy Scott. Scott’s first priority will be to keep hold of the much coveted Adam Le Fondre, whilst quickly hoping he can get the best out of hard-working City reject Gareth Evans (‘The goal is that way Gareth…’). The Millers will be trying to make sure that they don’t fall away as they have in previous years despite promising starts. City host Rotherham in November, with the away leg early in the New Year.

One time City managerial target John Coleman, will be hoping that Accrington Stanley will be able to maintain their strong form of last year despite losing their best players to other teams (Ryan, McConville, Gornell). Coleman will have to manage once again on a shoe-string budget and has so far snapped up the likes of defender Danny Coid (Blackpool) and young striker Kurtis Guthrie, whilst former Bantam Rory Boulding still features in the squad. Expect Stanley to finish mid-table this year as the loss of quality players will surely take its toll.

Morecambe (Bradford-on-sea) are entering the new campaign with a rallying cry in the hope to recapture the ‘fortress’ mentality of Christie Park at their new home ‘The Globe Arena’ (incidentally it’s not an arena, it has 3 sides!). Shrimps boss Jim Bentley will be hoping the combative style of former Bantam loanee Kevin Ellison will help them improve on a disappointing 20th position, achieved last time out. A big City following will once again will flock to Morecambe in early September, with the return fixture at VP in mid-January.

Conference Call

Gary Simpson’s Macclesfield Town have been made favourites for relegation to the Conference this year. Despite a comfortable 15th place finish last season The Silkmen are tipped to struggle, with bookmakers offering them at 2/1 to drop into non-league. The Moss Rose outfit will be hoping that new signings Waide Fairhust (Doncaster), former Bantam Jonathan Bateson (Accrington), along with others like the quick forward Emile Sinclair, will be enough to steer them clear of trouble.

Second favourites to face the drop are Cheltenham Town, following their disappointing second half to last season, which left them with a 17th place finish – one place above the Bantams. This is not a sentiment shared by the Robins new signing Sido Jombati, who claims the club should be aiming for promotion. Cheltenham have invested mainly in non-league players, much the same as City, with the hope of bringing success to Whaddon Road next season.

Once again Barnet have been backed to struggle this term, despite retaining the majority of their top performers from last year. Lawrie Sanchez continues as boss as the Bees aim to gain compensation for the move of last year’s demi-saviour, Martin Allen, to Notts County. With plenty of forward options in the form of Izale McLeod, Sam Deering, Steve Kabba and Mark Marshall (remember him embarrassing City last year?), Barnet will be hoping that they can sort out their defence which saw them leak 77 goals last season.

Hereford United will be hoping to make things a little more comfortable this year following their close shave for survival last season. Former ‘physio’ boss, Jamie Pitman, has signed the likes of Delroy Facey (Lincoln) and Stefan Stam (Yeovil) in the hope of playing attacking, entertaining football next term. The Bantams travel to Edgar Street in late October, with the Bulls coming to VP in February.

League Newcomers

Cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle will face a race against time to assemble a squad before the big kick-off on the 6th of August. With the likely take over by Peter Risdale not yet finalised and the club selling off the ground and its land to a third party: ‘Bishop International’ (sound familiar!?) it will be a success just to put a team out for the Pilgrims next season. Already potential signings have swerved away from the financially stricken club, Antony Elding (Rochdale) opted to sign for non-league Grimsby despite initially agreeing to sign for Plymouth. Survival will have to be their first priority and it is hoped that with the re-signing of influential defender Stephane Zubar, others will follow to sign up for Peter Reid’s cause.

The Crazy Gang return to Valley Parade next season and it is expected that they will bring more than 53 fans when they visit Bradford in late-September. Following five promotions in nine years, since their formation in 2002, AFC Wimbledon will take their place in the football league once again. They will start the campaign without last season’s top goalscorer Danny Kedwell, who has signed for Gillingham, but have retained the services of their player of the season Sam Hatton. Boss Terry Brown has signed up several new recruits: Jack Midson (Oxford); Mat Mitchell-King (Crewe); Chris Bush (Brentford) and Charles Ademeno (Grimsby) in hope of maintaining the club’s position in League 2 next year.

John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge return to League 2 following only one season in League 1. The one-time City managerial target has managed to maintain the majority of his squad, but has lost key man, and former Bantams’ target, Ramon Vincelot to Championship new-boys Brighton. The Daggers are expected to finish mid-table this time out and will face the Bantams at VP in August, with the return fixture at Victoria Road in March.

Familiar Faces

Burton Albion boss Paul Peschisolido has signed several attacking options over the close season with the intention of pushing the Brewers further up the table than their 19th place finish last season. The Nottinghamshire club will be hoping to avoid the fixture congestion that plagued them last year. New signing Justin Richards (Port Vale) should be the main attacking threat and City play Albion away in October, with the home fixture in January.

Dario Gradi will take charge of Crewe for his 26th season at the helm. With the loss of Clayton Donaldson over the summer, Alex striker Shaun Miller will be hoping to fill the former Bradford youngster’s boots and build on his own 19 goal haul last season. Crewe have been internally backing themselves for promotion this year and will aim to get there playing attractive, technical football, the likes of which the Bantams experienced on the last day of the season.

Gary Johnson’s Northampton Town will once again carry high expectations into the coming season, with their expectant fans insisting that they improve on their disappointing 16th place last season. With a glut of new signings, including big striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, the Cobblers will enter the 2011/2012 season with aspirations of reaching the play-offs. City face Northampton at VP in late October and travel to the Sixfields Stadium in April.

Former City man Chris Wilder will be entering the new season in the hope that his Oxford United team can build on their promising first season back in the football league. Ex-City flop Paul McLaren will take his place for the U’s next season and will hope for more consistency in League 2 this time out. Experience seems to be the order of the day for Wilder who has also recruited former Leeds player Michael Dubbery and ex-Bury goal keeper Wayne Brown.

In a repeat of last season, Micky Adams will lead out Port Vale and will want to finish the job he started before leaving for a forgettable stay at boyhood club Sheffield United. Marc Richards remains the main danger man for the Stoke club and will hope that he can find sufficient support from new signings Gary Roberts (scorer for Rotherham from halfway at VP) and fellow striker Louis Dodds. Vale face the Bantams at Vale Park in September and at VP on Valentine’s day.

On the Buses…(or coaches)

Industrious Aldershot will be hoping to build on their solid 14th place finish last time out. The Bantams play host to the Shots on the opening day and will have to be wary of the goal-threat of defender Antony Charles who had success against the Bantams last year. Dean Holdsworth will be hoping that the recent loan deal for Reading’s attacking midfielder Jake Taylor will help get the Shots off to a flier… obviously after losing to City!

Gillingham have made several signings over the summer and diminutive boss Andy Hessenthaler will be hoping that by signing non-league success stories like Danny Ked well (AFC Wimbledon) will be enough to push the Gills one step further than their play-off spot last year. Hot striking prospect Adam Birchall, signed from Hessenthaler’s former club Dover, is already facing a 6 month lay off with knee ligament damage, which will leave the Priestfield club on the look out for another ‘Cody MacDonald’ type player from the loan market.

Southend will enter the new season hoping to gain the consistency that saw the play-offs elude them last year. Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock has made several signings to complement last seasons top performers Antony Grant and Barry Corr. City will once again travel to Roots Hall on a Friday night (Decemeber) and will host the Essex club, again on a Friday night, in April.

Torquay boss Martin Ling will want his side to go one better this year to soar into League 1. In order to replace target man Chris Zebroski the Gulls have signed former Morecambe hitman Rene Howe, and have strengthened their midfield with the signing of left-sided trickster Ian Morris (Scunthorpe). City travel to the English Riviera in mid-February (Brrrr…) and host the Gulls at VP in early October.

Defeat has left three hours of football for Jackson to claim the job

It has become an open secret that Peter Jackson will be the full time Bradford City manager as long as he does not mess up the next three games.

Open secret might be overstating things, it is a rumour might underplay them though, but one by one everyone you talk to about the City job starts saying the same thing. Jackson has three games to win the job. How many of them he needs to win you can only guess at. Today at Gillingham, Rotherham on Tuesday and Morecambe on Saturday and four points are probably not going to be enough so two wins might be the ticket, unless the board fancy appointing the guy who is doing “ok.”

Three wins to claim the job or three to save it if you prefer and if he does not do enough in the next seven days then John Hughes is the man. It’s like Jackson has arrived under pressure, fighting for his job, and in a way City have managed to find a way of limping from one manager needing wins to another.

So two wins in the next three and Jackson is to be anointed having proved to be too good to not give the job to – or so it will be spun no doubt – but Hughes is a back up in case the season slips again into relegation problems.

Jackson starts the fight well with City going at the home team who will accept nothing less than promotion with Luke Oliver spurning a chance with minutes gone to head in a deep corner. A couple of minutes later both Gareth Evans and Kevin Ellison could have done better.

Evans and Ellison are deployed as widemen in a 4-4-2 with Michael Flynn in the middle and Jon Worthington behind him. Worthington doesn’t last the first half going off bleeding and he is missed quickly when Gillingham’s massive strike Adebayo Akinfenwa scores after a sucession or cheap few kicks.

Cheap free kicks from a referee who at one point books one of the City subs so much does he struggle to keep the players on the rich in control that his bookings leak out to people who aren’t playing. A guy in Argentina sent off 36 players in one game this week, it could be worse.

Jackson’s laying out in the 4-4-2 Peter Taylor would not play, Stuart McCall loved and football managers risk being called old fashioned for using. The shape suits the players more and the look more assured and comfortable and as a result it is all more enjoyable.

Jackson – or Hughes – might wish he had Omar Daley back for the orthodox 4-4-2 which plays little man big man with Jake Speight and Jim Hanson and the kind if midfield pair that seems to work. Worthington knows Jackson from Huddersfield and is instantly back in the side. No one says the F word.

As a supporter who sees mostly Southern games, and away games, the performance was better than we have seen for sometime and some of that is new manager excitement but most is the way the players fit into the formation.

They look more at ease but when at the start of the second half Curtis Weston powers down the wing and smashes the ball into the too corner suddenly that ease starts to worry. The two widemen not know for their crossing, the little man up front who flatter to deceive, and Jackson faces the question as to if his team have the goals in them.

Flynn tries to respond quickly raising the tempo and Speight gets a chance after good work from Evans but the game seems out of reach from the moment of the second goal.

So for Jackson there is optimism from a good performance but the realities of football management for his predecessors have it that only winning is important and technical merit, and being the hero of fans, does not get you far at Valley Parade.

Hanson spends the afternoon winning everything but Speight does not read his flicks well enough and the two widemen are not able to join the attack with pace. It looks good but is not effective.

Luke O’Brien heads the ball off the line, making up for getting stormed past by Weston earlier, to give Jackson’s hopes of claiming this defeat as a creditable enterprise. City were always going to struggle at a promotion chaser and the result is no worse than can be expected, Tuesday night probably represents a better gauge.

Certainly the players will have plenty of time to think about it on the coach on the way home. It is about a five hour drive back to Bradford, Peter Jackson has three hours of football left to make a claim to be City boss.

The bus ride to Kent as Bradford City face Gillingham

If there is a place to want to be this weekend it is apparently on the Bradford City team bus that will be taking the players to and from the Priestfield Stadium for the Bantams’ important League Two clash with Gillingham.

Interim manager Peter Jackson has been quick to point out that there are a lot of southern players in the bulging squad he has inherited. He’s not saying there’s a North-South divide, just that no longer will players, who have friends and family close by the Southern excursions that form part of the League Two fixture programme, be allowed to get off the bus early. A statement that has attracted strong approval from some impressed supporters.

With such a strong keenness to get the full time job, it is perhaps understandable that Jackson is keen to differentiate himself from the previous regime and drop not-so subtle hints that he believes the more relaxed stance the last guy took was wrong. However a few media soundbites to curry favour with supporters willing to embrace new reasons for why Peter Taylor was a poor manager deserve to be taken with large a pinch of salt.

For much of this week, every word uttered by Jackson has seemingly been met with strong approval by some supporters – and there is already some clamour to sign him up before he has even taken charge of a game. But the simple, overlooked reality is that every new manager over the years is the recipient of warm approval for what they initially say, and the idea that Jackson forcing the players to eat breakfast together is a meaningful reason towards why he’d be the right man for the job is somewhat over-simplistic.

Just one year ago, Peter Taylor was receiving exactly the same treatment from some supporters. Every public utterance was not only considered over-whelming evidence of his brilliance – it was another opportunity to slate the last guy. So if Jackson feels the need to talk down Taylor’s approach – and he is entitled to do that if he believes it will earn him the job – he should do so knowing full well that, should he succeed in getting a contract, in one or two years time his successor will making similar statements about why his different methods will be more effective  – which will be leapt upon by some as evidence Jackson was a terrible manager.

It’s happened before, countless times.

City Director Roger Owen was last year quick to ensure we all knew that Taylor – unlike his scruffy, ill-disciplined predecessor Stuart McCall – was making the players wear suits on matchdays. ‘Brilliant’ was the general reaction, but it hardly boosted results. David Wetherall was quick to deride the players’ lack of fitness after taking over from Colin Todd in 2007, but his efforts to introduce a high-intense approach coincided with some of the worst performances of the season. Bryan Robson and Todd claimed they would play attractive passing football “unlike the previous manager who preferred direct football”, even though Nicky Law hadn’t actually played in this way.

And this need for a new manager to provide tedious reasons for they are different to the last man – in order to earn praise and encourage favourable comparisons to the outgoing guy – isn’t exclusive to City. Witness the always positive welcome new England managers receive. Sven Goran Eriksson supposedly failed at the 2006 World Cup because he let the WAGS stay in the same hotel; under Steve McLaren the squad didn’t eat their meals together. So Fabio Capello was praised for banning the WAGS and for not allowing players to leave the dinner table until the last man had finished, but England’s fortunes failed to improve.

All of this is not supposed to be intended as an attack on Jackson. BfB has been criticised in recent days for not being positive enough on his interim arrival; but, for me at least, it’s more a weariness about this reoccurring situation than anything personal.

The club continues to under-perform, and somehow all the blame for it ends its way solely on the manager’s shoulders, and he is got rid of. Then a huge wave of positivity greets the next man and he is initially praised for nothing more than a couple of nice comments in the press, before in time it all becomes his fault all over again.

Maybe Jackson is the right man; but after so many failed managerial appointments over the last decade, it seems foolish to dive into falling head over heels for him so willingly and so quickly.

Is he right to keep Southern-based players on the team bus all the way back to Bradford? Who knows, but the insinuation that Taylor failed because he made certain allowances for people who have family and friends hundreds of miles away from Bradford is misguided and somewhat trivial. Paul Jewell was known to make similar allowances to his players during the last promotion season, and team spirit wasn’t a problem then. At worst, Taylor stands accused of treating adults like adults.

Let us, for example, imagine the negotiations for signing Tommy Doherty last summer – someone who has previously played all his career in the South. Doherty might not have been keen to move so far North, away from loved ones, so Taylor may have offered a concession that he can go home at weekends after the match, including not travelling back to Bradford after a game in the South. As a result City can sign a talented player who would have proved more effective had an injury not hampered his efforts.

More realistically what Jackson offers the club is someone who will do things different to Taylor. There will be some methods he’d employ that would work better than Taylor’s equivalent approach, but other ideas which won’t. However we come to view Taylor’s time in charge, the facts are his strategy has delivered outstanding success at certain clubs but didn’t work at Valley Parade. That doesn’t mean those methods are wrong, more that we need a manager who’ll be able to flourish in the Bantams’ environment.

Jackson gets his first true outward opportunity to stake a claim for the job with the long trip to Priestfield tomorrow. The Gills have always been strong at home – even last season when they were relegated from League One – and though City have been able to enjoy success in Kent, most notably in the last meeting two years ago, it is the kind of place they often return from pointless. An interesting first test for Jacko.

It seems a waste of time to predict his team, other than to expect a 4-4-2 formation that will include some of the players who clearly impressed him during the reserves 6-2 hiding of Port Vale on Tuesday. So expect Scott Dobie, Gareth Evans and Jake Speight to be knocking on the door to partner James Hanson. In addition Jon Worthington, who played under Jackson at Town, will be hopeful of a recall.

Whoever makes the cut, it’s to be hoped the coach journey doesn’t prove to be the day’s only highlight.

A timely reminder

Being a Bradford City fan has hardly been something to shout about over the last few years. Since the end of our Premiership dream a decade ago, we’ve suffered more than most supporters – administrations, relegations, dreadful football, questionable management and not even a decent cup run to speak of (unless we count last season’s assault on the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, where a penalty shoot-out victory over the mighty Notts County sparked a farcical pitch invasion).

We’ve watched teams who are traditionally our equals, Burnley and Blackpool, reach the dizzy heights of the Premier League whilst we have tried to get ourselves enthused about trips to the likes of Accrington and Aldershot.

What many of us had believed would be a short stay in the basement division of English football has turned into a four-season nightmare, which has shown little sign of ending anytime soon. The realisation that we are now a ‘proper’ League 2 club isn’t easy to accept.

The opening weeks of this season haven’t given much cause for us to believe we will be popping the champagne corks come May – before Saturday our 6 league games had heralded a total of 4 points and 3 goals. The various City-related message boards have been a hotbed of negativity (some of which is difficult to argue against), Peter Taylor has already been forced to deny rumours of a boardroom rift and every move he makes – whether it be giving a short-term deal to Chib Chilaka or appearing as a pundit on Sky – seems to be scrutinised to the maximum.

The fact a section of our support booed a 1-0 victory on the second weekend of the season says it all – the phrase ‘doom and gloom’ could have been invented for our club.

At Saturday’s game versus Gillingham it felt as though some of our supporters had seen enough. Ian Ormondroyd remarked on The Pulse prior to the match that the stadium and surrounding areas had a quieter feel about them and the area in which I sit was significantly less populated than it had been for a while. Although the actual attendance of 10,722 was only slightly down on previous weeks, the general feeling of malaise within the stadium made it seem almost cavernous at times. Those that did attend saw little in the opening 45 minutes to suggest anything other than another disappointing afternoon was on the cards.

The introduction of Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne at half time seemed to have a slight galvanising effect on the team, if not all of the supporters. For much of the second period a goalless draw looked to be the only possible outcome, despite some uncharacteristically positive play from City. Whilst the atmosphere in the stadium showed a marked improvement on that of the first half, it wasn’t anywhere near the intensity we all know it can be – it didn’t seem to feel as though we could actually win.

Last week I, like millions of others, watched Arsenal practically destroy Portuguese side Braga in the opening round of the Champions League. After the Gunners casually knocked in goal after goal, seemingly scoring with every attack, I half-jokingly remarked, “I wish I supported a team like Arsenal.”

I’ve followed City for over 20 years and there is no way that I would ever switch allegiance to another team, but I watched that Arsenal performance with a mixture of pleasure and envy. I very much doubt that Bradford City could ever turn in a display like that in my lifetime and we are unlikely to ever have players who can match the skill of Cesc Fabregas or Andrey Arshavin.

Yet as I watched, I noticed something. With 10 minutes to go the Emirates Stadium was emptying rapidly. By the final whistle it must have been half full at the most. This reminded me exactly why I don’t support a team like Arsenal – who wants to be in an environment where success is treated with such apathy?

On Saturday, Steve Williams’ 92nd minute header provided a timely reminder of what supporting Bradford City is all about. As followers of our team we endure countless hours of sub-standard football, primitive facilities at away grounds and diabolical refereeing decisions but the sheer euphoria of a late, late winner makes it all worthwhile.

The scenes of jubilation inside Valley Parade were fantastic to witness after so much recent disappointment and the positive atmosphere among our supporters leaving the stadium made a refreshing change.

The win may have only lifted City 3 places up the table but there are 39 games still to play, which we can maybe begin to look upon with (extremely) cautious optimism. Nobody can argue that there aren’t still problems for our manager to address, such as the lack of experience up front, but for now we should enjoy the fact that City are unbeaten in their last two outings.

Whilst walking back to my car after the game on Saturday I heard that well-worn footballing cliché ‘the season starts here’ more than once. Let’s hope it really does.

Leaps To Feet, Falls Over Sideways…

The bookmakers’ pre-season joint favourites for promotion were playing each other. In their first twelve games of the season they have managed just two wins between them. The visitors had, however, scored eight goals (including five away from home) to the home team’s three, only one of which (a penalty) was a home goal. So Peter Taylor’s choice of main striker should not have come as too much of a surprise. Enter Luke Oliver up front, with David Syers and Gareth Evans on the bench.

One of the big things about Peter Taylor’s renewed contract was that it came with conditions, including that the pitch be completely re-done. Not just a few bits of turf stuck down with dodgy glue. No, the full works, complete with drains, levelling, a new top surface and some proper seeding. And a grand job has been done, it must be said.

With a pitch like that, who needs a striker whose only threat comes from his height? Shouldn’t the home team make best use of that wonderful surface and pass the ball along the ground – preferably toward the opposition goal – as often as possible? Why does the man watching his first Valley Parade game of the season comment about the excessive use of long high balls?

There were times during this game when too many in the amber shirts (my seat is too far away to pick out the claret stripes) felt that the choice was between passing square, passing backwards and kicking the ball high into the air, albeit in vaguely the right direction. I heard Peter Taylor’s radio interview before the game, when he talked about decision making and nervous players, most of whom end up on the scrap heap, he told us. Some of the starting eleven must have taken his words as instructions.

Poor Robbie Threlfall, in particular, didn’t seem to know whether to stick or twist with the ball at his feet. As for running into the twenty or thirty yards of beautiful clean grass in front of him, that seemed to be practically against the rules. It was little surprise that he did not survive the half-time cull and that Luke O’Brien, at least willing to take a chance, moved to full back.

Those twenty or thirty yards of space were helpfully created by Gillingham’s total lack of desire to fill them. The team that has now not won an away game for 30 matches looked like a 0-0 draw counted as a victory in their book. Credit where it’s due, in the 22nd minute they had the one and only effort on target in the whole first half. It may have dribbled gently into Jon McLaughlin’s hands, but it was one more on target than City had in those 45 minutes.

That is not to say that City did not have efforts at goal. The unfortunate Luke Oliver (I don’t imagine it was his decision that he play up front) had two excellent chances in the first eleven minutes. A Threlfall free kick eluded the visiting keeper, only for a feeble header from inside the goal area to miss the empty net. Then a Luke O’Brien cross found Oliver on the far post, only for this header to go some few feet over the bar. I mean no disrespect to the makeshift striker, but a real centre forward would surely have put both of those on target and the game would have changed out of all recognition.

Enter the new star. Lee Hendrie, who had played only Sunday League football since early May and had trained with his team mates for just one day, started the second half, along with Leon Osborne, the unlucky Jake Speight being the other player to be hooked. He may only be fit for half a game at the moment, but Hendrie showed what he can do. He made a difference. One of the biggest differences brought a cheer from the Kop, followed swiftly by a shake of the head from your reporter.

City were awarded a free kick some thirty yards out on the left. The ball had rolled toward the Kop and it was Hendrie’s sprint to fetch it and throw it back that showed what he means to do. This particular free kick was, however, to be taken by Tommy Doherty. He was apparently surprised by Hendrie’s urgency, took an age to amble across from the other side of the pitch and any possible momentum was lost.

Leon Osborne, a product of our own youth system like Luke O’Brien, showed that he was up for the fight. Perhaps he showed it a bit too much and Mr Langford produced his first yellow card of the afternoon as soon as Osborne committed the inevitable foul in retaliation for the several kicks his ankles and shins had taken in the previous minutes. At least the home fans appreciated his effort.

After the game cousin John’s radio interview with Lee Hendrie made great fun of the tamest of shots from the substitute, which probably had just about enough power to have crossed the line in the absence of the keeper. It might have been equally relevant to point out that in the regulation 90 minutes this 61st minute roller was City’s only effort that would have actually gone into the goal.

Seven minutes from time Stanley Aborah kindly sent his free header straight into Jon McLaughlin’s hands and two minutes later a Leon Osborne cross-shot was already going nicely wide before the referee decided that Lance Cronin had actually pushed it further away and that City should be awarded a corner.

In the last minute of normal time Barry Fuller chopped down Osborne once too often even to allow Mr Langford to keep his card in his pocket, but it looked as though Gillingham’s long sought after point was making its interminable journey back with them. Even the three minutes on the fourth official’s board seemed unlikely to produce anything, especially given the Midland Road linesman’s repeated inability to spot Luke Oliver’s shirt being pulled off his back.

However, it was this myopia that indirectly changed the game. In the 92nd minute the home crowd were giving the assistant so much stick for his latest failure that all eyes were in his direction. All, that is, except for those of Tommy Doherty and Steve Williams. Doherty’s return cross saw Williams braver than Cronin and the ball nestled nicely in the net via some part of the centre back’s anatomy. A home goal from open play!
Gillingham finally crossed the half way line again and produced a 93rd minute scramble in the home penalty area, resulting in a City breakaway that ended with an Evans shot going narrowly wide. City had deservedly thwarted the visitors’ plans.

If this is anything of a turning point, the credit goes to those players who put in the commitment and as much skill as they have. The two lads from the junior ranks showed what this means to them. Even if Lee Hendrie is doing nothing more than seeking to convince people he isn’t quite over the hill yet, so long as he impresses in a Bradford City shirt that’s fine by me. And I didn’t see what else the makeshift striker could have given. After all, he is not the new Bobby Campbell.

The scenes after the final whistle were as enthusiastic as might be expected from such a late winner. I was expecting to see Michael Flynn jump out of the stand to run around the pitch with his fist in the air. Instead I only noticed that Tommy Doherty, booed at the previous home game, walked to the dressing rooms leaving his team mates to acknowledge the applauding fans.

On my way home I received a text message. My mate John is in hospital recovering from a stroke. He must have followed the match on his iPhone or by some other technical wizardry. His text read ‘Woohoo!! (leaps to feet, falls over sideways…)’ Two weeks ago there was no way he was even staggering to his feet and he could fall over sideways while being propped up by a heap of pillows. Now that one is what I really call a victory.

The Taylor Factor

Put your self in the place of a professional footballer this summer. You have an eye on the World Cup like everyone does but that is not within your province as you find yourself out of contract having had a season in League One or Two.

South Africa is far away, West Yorkshire offers you a chance and that chance is a meeting with Peter Taylor and Mark Lawn about a new contract at Bradford City.

Such is the situation as Lawn reveals the Bantams have had discussions with some players. Talking to the Telegraph and Argus Lawn beamed

Two or three have come back to us and made it known that they’d like to play for Peter (Taylor).

Football transfers have changed beyond recognition in the last fifteen years. At the top level players are able to stride like Gods between clubs being flattered and wooed between clubs. Barcelona’s pursuit of Cesc Fabrigas is reported to include half of his salary of £9m paid on his first day.

Somewhere between Fabrigas and the lads City are trying to sign the balance of power shifts and players are left trying to impress potential clubs. A call after a meeting to say you would be excited about working with Peter Taylor is a wise move, but one suspects that the players involved would have been as excited about any gaffer, or at least say they were.

Players flatter the clubs that chase them, clubs flatter the player and one hopes that Peter Taylor has enough experience in the market to help Mark Lawn see through the flannel. Lawn negotiated the deal that saw Chris Brandon end up as a drain on the club but unable to play another game.

Much is being made in the message that comes out of Valley Parade about Taylor and it is not hard to see why. Taylor is Lawn’s man and much has been made of the new manager and his ability to get City into fighting shape over this summer to result in promotion next. He is not alone with new Gillingham boss (and former captain of Taylor’s Gills) Andy Hessenthaler being told that promotion is expected this term on the day of his appointment.

So Lawn begins to try maximise the Taylor factor with stories about the attempts to improve the quality of the pitch and the newly found training facilities being trumpeted as the tools a manager needs to do his job afforded to him by Lawn to get the job done. Let us not consider the £650,000 previously spent on players in preference to these changes.

Backing Taylor – and giving him what he wants off the field – is good sense but has so far not proved to be good business with season ticket sales down. Suggestions of how to address this problem are plentiful but it is worrying that should Taylor’s side not be riding high in January when next season’s tickets are to start to be sold then demand may fall further.

The Taylor factor depends on success – certainly more so than the support of Stuart McCall or Colin Todd the former being iconic, the latter clear on the restrictions he was working under – and should that success not follow then Lawn is hoisted on the petard he has created.

Every season we would like promotion but one worries if The Taylor Factor means that this season, for some people at the club, we need it.

No football for us but plenty for others

On a day when the team who finished in the top 10 of Division 4 with the worst goal difference gets promoted to Division 3, we, the Bradford City supporters can only think of what might have been if our form had been better in March. Well done to Gillingham for beating Shrewsbury Town 1-0 in the play-off final. We can only think back to 1996 and our 2-0 play-off final victory over Notts County.

At this time of the year when we have no Bradford City matches to go and watch, what else is going on in the world of football? Well, I’m sure that many of you who have taken the effort to read this article will know that our club has offered professional contracts to Rory Carson, Luke Dean and Lewis Horne. I must confess that I know very little about this trio of players but it will be interesting to see if any of them make their first team debut during the 2009/2010 season. Most supporters love to see a home-grown player forcing their way into the first team so lets hope that at least one of these three players can follow the like of Dean Richards, Graeme Tomlinson, Andy O’Brien, Joe Colbeck and Luke O’Brien.

An article has already featured on this website about Colin Todd taking charge at Darlington but now a player who could have been securing Hull City’s Division 1 status tomorrow is now been linked with a move to Darlington. Dean Windass could be a player-coach at Darlington next season. We are all aware of Dean’s love of playing football and following his loan spell at Oldham Athletic earlier on this season and now been unable to play for his beloved Hull City, Windass is looking to continue his playing career else where.

Whilst Windass has the relevant qualifications to manage in Divisions 2, 3 and 4, there will be two unqualified managers tomorrow trying to save their teams from relegation into Division 2. Much has been written about Alan Shearer taking over at Newcastle but why was he allowed to when he doesn’t have the relevant qualifications? I also believe that Gareth Southgate will have completed his relevant coaching qualifications but not until after the season has finished. Why do the supposed people who govern our game allow clubs to break the rules?

Speaking of breaking the rules, I’m sure that there are plenty of Sheffield United supporters who haven’t forgot about Carlos Tevez and West Ham. If Sheffield United can overcome Burnley with former Bantam Robbie Blake, on Bank Holiday Monday, I bet that the first fixtures they will be looking out for are the two against West Ham. But don’t count against our neighbours from over the Pennines. Whatever your thoughts are on Burnley, you have to say that for a town with a population of about 73,000, they attract fantastic support. It’s hard to imagine that this famous Lancashire club nearly slipped out of the football league 22 years ago. But Burnley beat Leyton Orient 2-1 and Lincoln City slipped into non-league football.

So as we, the Bradford City supporters can only watch the various play-off finals, find out if Hull City can preserve their top-flight status at the expense of two North-east clubs and see if David Moyes’s Everton can overcome the cash-rich Chelsea in the FA cup final, other supporters have much to look forward to over the next week or so.

Hardy people

Less then two hundred Bradford City fans saw us beat Gillingham 2-0 thanks to goals from Omar Daley and Michael Boulding but it was one less, I guess.

Stuart Hardy (Recently deceased fan for whom there was a minutes applause for last weekend at Valley Parade – Ed) was the sort of City fan who came to games like this. Long trips away to Kent were the reason why people like the Shipley Bantams existed or so it seemed to me and while I was hardly a regard on any supporters coach and I probably couldn’t have pointed to any of the regulars you see every other week at City away games and said “That’s him” I know the sort and I like the sort.

And knowing the sort and liking the sort I think that this win is dedicated to Stuart and the people like Stuart who trudge up and down this country watching the Bantams in bad times and, like today, the good ones.

City were really good today with Gillingham who were a place above us at the start of the game left chasing shadows at the end and lucky not to have been beaten by more.

Everything started pretty level with the Gills looking to play the ball about but City and Dean Furman seemed to have the make of the home team who were a couple of regulars down and easily broken down. As the exchanges continued and City frustrated the home side more and more one could see the dishearted mood of the team in blue grow and the belief begin to drain. City are a different team away from home. They can hit on the break and use the space behind teams which is not there when those teams are sitting deep at Valley Parade to set faster lads like Omar Daley, Steve Jones and Michael Boulding away.

It was speed that got City the first goal when Boulding ran and ran and used his strength to keep the defender who was chasing him away before tucking it to Omar Daley for a tap in. This is the stuff that the people who have a go at Daley don’t see. Away from home he scares the sheds out of any team who try come out of their own half. Boulding too and in the second half City’s second striker got the goal he deserved for a great afternoon’s work.

There were great afternoons all around. Dean Furman stands head and shoulders above the rest of midfielders in League Two. He breaks up play, he puts it forward, he is a class act and while we have no chance of making him a Bradford City player we should enjoy him while we can and we could get promotion out of him. The strength of the City midfield is why we have a shout of promotion. Joe Colbeck is back in City colours and set up Peter Thorne for what should have been the third in the last minute which would have made the scoreline reflect the pattern of the game better.

In the meantime City played nice stuff. The second half was pretty much the Bantams having the ball and not doing anything silly with it. Everytime it was lost and it wasn’t often then Furman and, well, everyone, worked hard to get it back and when we had it we had danger in the widemen. Simone Jackson stuck an offside goal in but on the Rhys Evans has not very much to do and the defence of Zesh Rehman, Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Paul Arnison who filled in for Luke O’Brien looked solid but they do that at home so that is less impressive.

Because City on the road are impressive and some people at Valley Parade should get themselves on the road to the odd away game to see this. You don’t know why Omar Daley is in the side? You probably have not seen him eat up the pitch with the ball at his feet and the home side in terror. Who is the best City midfielder? It is the guy who gets the ball to stop us being under the cosh away from home.

So much is talked by so many people about Stuart McCall and City’s tactics and all these things but 187 people were here today and 12,000 come to home games so a big chunk of people who talk about City do it without seeing the full picture.

Not like these Hardy people who went to Gillingham in hope and got a big reward and dedicated it to another Stuart.

How much is game in hand worth? Gillingham vs Bradford City Preview

Snow.

The world is full of it and if this country had proper snow ploughs then we would not have a question mark over this weekend’s game with Gillingham. No, we would have a question over whether a vehicle used once every twenty years would start on a cold day.

If the game with Gillingham goes ahead then City look at playing off with the Kent side for a play-off place with them in seventh and the Bantams a place below and the right set of results – or postponements – could leave either fourth on Saturday evening.

Postponements being the challenge of logic in football. Inevitably they occur – City already have an away game at AFC Bournemouth to attempt to replay as well as Monday night’s cancelled Darlington home game – and unrealistically they twist the table leading to the question “how much is game in hand worth?”

Shrewsbury are a place above Gillingham and two above City and a point ahead of the Bantams. Is it safe to assume that – that game played – we can adjust City above the men from Gay Meadow? Some – Bill Shankley for example – would say not and point to every point having to be earned. The grizzled Scot would say that you have nothing when you have nothing and dinne ye forget it.

Nevertheless with 45 point from 28 games City are picking up 1.7 points a game so extrapolating that average we could assume that we would get that point – and a bit more – at least. Taking an example Grimsby Town – 22nd on the league and a point and place below Barnet – score at 0.78 points per game and thus it is probably not safe to assume they will overhaul the club a place above them however the fact that they are one down in the played column – and no one in the league has the 30 games played that have been scheduled – gives them the optimism that they may collect all three points.

Indeed when City faced relegation from the First Division under Chris Kamara Grimsby Town looked at our game in hand against then high flying Charlton Athletic and could have worked out a similar logic with City as likely to collect three points at home on that Thursday night as they were at any other time during the season. We won that game and beat QPR to stay up with our game in hand counting for three points.

Countering that in 1988 West Ham United had five games in hand over Liverpool which – if they were all won – would have seen them snatch the league. They collected less than half of those points and one was left to reflect not that Frank McAvennie and co had blow a chance at the league just that it was a quirk of statistics that suggested they had one and had the games been played in their scheduled slots in the season they would have been the same unremarkable results and the Hammers would have ended up third in a less exciting way.

Games in hand create falseness. City pick up 1.87 points a home game and 1.31 from an away one but how one uses those stats to create an adjusted league table is no more an accurate reflection than assumption that every game not played will be won.

What we do know is that the Bantams beat Grimsby Town last weekend and Stuart McCall struggles with riches in the midfield – Joe Colbeck is expected to start the next City game be it this one or the game with Wycombe Wanderers on Valentines Day – and misfiring strikers up front.

The midfield of Colbeck, Dean Furman, Nicky Law Jnr and Omar Daley seems set to continue while Paul McLaren is injured – in my experience the people who suggest we do not need McLaren in the team also puzzle about our corners not beating the first man when he is not playing and I would yoke those two points together – but McCall has a liking for Steve Jones which could see him included somewhere. McCall had tried playing Jones as a forward having seen his own strikers notch but two in eight from free play.

Probable starter Michael Boulding believes both he and partner Peter Thorne can get to twenty by the season end and I am reminded of an old footballing adage about front men: How many goals does the front man of a winning team scored? Enough. City are a drawing team of late and the strikers need to improve, or at least have improvement visited on them with better service.

The defence at City is mean – almost as mean as its critics – and only seriously leaked when they lost the headed defensive clearances of Barry Conlon at Luton. Six foot plus Zesh Rahmen’s inclusion at right back was more to do with getting a third big man to mark at set plays than it was a reflection on Paul Arnison and Rahmen is expected to retain a place alongside Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke with Luke O’Brien at left back and Rhys Evans between the sticks.

Except, of course, they will all probably be at home, kicking their heels, talking about snow ploughs.

Only the usual conclusion can be made

Just like video goalline technology, winter breaks and the declining tradition of the FA Cup – the opinion “it’s a poor league” is one uttered on an annual basis.

In City’s case, it doesn’t seem to matter which division we are in – even during our second season of the Premiership the national media spent a few concentrated weeks deriding the standard of the top flight – or how well we are doing, the opposition are always poor and City firmly part of such mediocrity. It’s a viewpoint the vast majority of supporters also hold no matter who their team is, every league is always poor.

When looking at this season’s League Two table it can be tempting to trot out such well-worn phrases. Discount the points deductions of Luton, Bournemouth and Rotherham and the gap between top and bottom would be a measly 22 points after a third of the season. Everyone can beat everyone and, while that makes for an exciting and unpredictable league, it also leaves the playing standards open to accusations of poorness.

It’s been said that, unlike last season, there are no outstanding teams going to runaway with it like MK Dons and Peterborough; though a look at the League Two table this time last year offers few clues that was going to be the case. MK Dons had its noses in front, but Peterborough was back among traffic. This year Darlington and Wycombe hold the same advantage of the Dons, though the chasing pack remain closely on their tails. The six-point advantage both enjoy over ninth-place Bury is in contrast to a year ago where fifth-place Peterborough was seven behind MK Dons. Meanwhile the eventual Play Off Finalists, Stockport and Rochdale, were 15th and 17th respectively, a fact which will give Aldershot, Port Vale and Notts County inspiration this season.

Above those three are 12 clubs which retain credible aspirations of promotion, which illustrates just how competitive a league it is. That Wycombe remain unbeaten is a great achievement and the Buckinghamshire club will be hoping to turn a few more draws into wins to build on its impressive start. It remains to be seen how they will react to that eventual first defeat, but Peter Taylor has clearly been able to take the club forward after the good work of Paul Lambert last season.

Like Wycombe, Darlington lost in the play off semi finals last year but have responded strongly. Dave Penney is rumoured to be interesting Huddersfield and isn’t universally popular with Quakers fans, but on the evidence of games against the Bantams they look stronger this season. Much depends on if they can keep the impressive on-loan Billy Clarke, who’s Ipswich contract expires in January and is seemingly surplus to requirements.

Currently top of the of the six clubs on 27 points is Shrewsbury. Having spent big money on Grant Holt during the summer the Shrews are looking particularly strong at home and have a manager experienced enough to guide the club in lasting the distance. Rochdale has climbed after a slow start, though don’t quite appear as strong as last season. Brentford’s Andy Scott is cementing a reputation as one of the game’s bright young managers and Gillingham, relegated last season, are improving. The biggest surprise is Exeter still being up there, though the newly-promoted Grecians have suffered heavy defeats to City and Chesterfield suggesting they aren’t strong enough to last the pace.

Doubts which were also raised at Bury and Dagenham, which seem to be coming true as both fade away following impressive starts. Chesterfield and Lincoln, who both started slowly, are closing in and have the expectation and quality to force themselves into the top seven above.

Which just leaves the Bantams. Predictably Saturday’s defeat has lead to some fans writing off our chances of achieving anything better than a play off spot, but the injury situation which Stuart McCall is currently contending with is clearly going to slow things. Omar Daley is the only out-and-out winger fit and, while the Jamaican’s performances are remaining highly consistent, the lack of a similar threat on the other flank for a team which bases much of its style of play on the widemen is reducing chances for the forwards.

There are question marks still over the defence but, in general, the team has been able to respond to weakness at the back with potency going forward. The next few games may be a battle and not wield as higher a number of points as we’d like, but if City can approach Christmas in a similar position to now, with Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon due to come back, the prospects of a good run of form at the turn of the year are good.

It would take a brave man to bet on who will finish in the top three spots come May right now, but clearly the next segment of the season will be vital in reducing the number of possibilities. Next Saturday Lincoln entertain Shrewsbury; the Tuesday after Gillingham face Rochdale, who’s game after is Darlington away; City travel to Brentford the following Saturday; the Saturday after sees Shrewsbury host Wycombe. With the Christmas fixtures including Rochdale v Shrewsbury, Darlington v Chesterfield and Gillingham v Wycombe, the chances of anyone running away with it seem unlikely.

It’s a league where you don’t want to take your eyes off anyone, even if we are all ‘poor’.

McCall goes back to, and loses sight of, basics

Having apologised in public for underestimating the quality of City’s display last week Stuart McCall had clearly had a word in one of two ears before the Bantams started the battle for nine points in a week.

For forty-five minutes the Bantams did simple things impressively and should have been taking the first three of those nine points on the road. City faced Gillingham on Saturday, go to Darlington on Monday, and Grimsby on Friday and the Bantams are very much within – as opposed to ahead – of the pack leading League Two.

It was noticeable how the Bantams defensive line smashed the ball out of play when under pressure. how often Dean Furman and Paul McLaren got on the ball in midfield, how Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley moved wide when needed and came back when not. The simple things that when done well result in results.

So they would have over Gillingham had they been maintained for the full game. The Bantams battled with a Gills side who deserve a huge mention for playing an open game rather than trying to kill off the game when they arrived at VP and who would get their rewards. Those rewards looked distant when a free kick from Paul McLaren was headed towards goal by Furman – who had his best game for City thus far – and after a save and a scramble was smashed in by Peter Thorne for his tenth of the season.

All of which was City edging ahead rather than dominating but was a good return for the opening and deflated the visitors. That deflation saw Joe Colbeck batter in an impressive slip inside by McLaren from inside the box as McCall switched his wingers to allow the tired Daley to charge at the booked Barry Fuller but in that combination the problems that City would have in the second half – and had all day – were shown.

Colbeck and Daley are a quality pair of wide players and good enough for any team in this league but they are only best value when they are supported by full backs and today they were often left disconnected, flailing ahead without the back up a winger needs.

TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien were those full backs with Paul Arnison and Paul Heckingbottom on the bench and while O’Brien did not do much wrong at the back he offered little coming forward. Moncur – who replaced Paul Arnison in the side five games ago when the number two was injured in the Bournemouth game – was troubled while defending and failed to connect with Colbeck coming forward with unpredictable results.

From a statistical point of view since Arnison was injured five matches ago City have shipped ten goals and scored eight. Watch the team one sees Colbeck taking up good positions and being ignored by Moncur most of the time and the full back lashing in ineffective crosses. Arnison was criticised by some supporters but his crossing was better and he provided options for Colbeck which Moncur does not and after the defence got back to basics so – one hopes – will McCall.

Only once was Daley able to push the ball back to Luke O’Brien for support in attacking positions. In wins like Exeter The Full Pauls were a major part in making sure that Thorne and Michael Boulding had supply to score and that Daley and Colbeck had players to team up with that they could rely on to be predictable and constant.

As it is Thorne and Boulding feasted on scraps today and the game should have been beyond Gillingham’s reach but Simeon Jackson pulled one back for the Gills after getting beyond the pairing of Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee following head tennis and high feet and smashing home. Jackson’s pace troubled City all day but in the second half the Bantams put as much into their defeat a the visitors did.

The simple things that were done in the first half faded. Defenders began to try to put foot on ball rather than clearing, pinging the ball over the midfield and into the arms of a referee and linesman who flagged for offside incorrectly three or four times as the ball was pumped up to Thorne and Boulding. City looked alive and dangerous when the ball was brought through wide but neutered by the linesman’s flag and the defending of the men from Kent when whacked long. City stopped doing the shorter passing, the easy play, that had served so well now and previously.

So too often the Bantams wasted the ball and turned over when in dangerous positions for the want of application falling too easily into the trap of believing the besting the offside flag was the only way to score. When Peter Thorne was substituted with ten minutes left he arched his back in agony knowing the game was not won. He was right.

Despite Mark Bentley’s deserved dismissal for a two footed challenge on Paul McLaren too many City players seemed too ready to so the most obvious – rather than the most simple – thing and point to the man in the middle as wronging them.

So when Jackson burst through and scored an equaliser the Bantams seemed a long way from the team that had done the simple things well in the first half and the team that could roar into games earlier in the season. Five minutes if injury time saw the Bantams find that roar with Colbeck hitting a shot to the top corner that was excellently palmed away, Graeme Lee smashing a header from teh resulting corner against the bar and Willy Topp hooking the ball over his shoulder and the bar as City went close to a winner.

However in simple terms the Bantams allowed two points to slip away today in the way that Accrington did last week and did so when losing sight of the basics which they had done so well.

Darlington on Monday and everyone – players and management – should be looking at the things that work most often most of the time.

The rest of League Two – Preseason 2008/2009 [II]

The numerous season preview supplements produced at this time of year act as a reminder, if it were needed, that the hopes and expectations we City supporters have for the coming season are not dissimilar to the majority of League Two fans.

Much has been made locally about how last season’s promotion of the MK Dons and Peterborough has left a more levelled playing field, but we aren’t the only ones thinking such sentiments. Some clubs will look to Hereford’s unexpected promotion last season and be confident they can emulate it, others may be hoping it’s emerging young talent can push them forward in the manner of Stockport and Rochdale, while others are upping the wage budget in a bid to go for it. League Two may look weaker without the presence of the Dons and the Posh, but it’s likely to be just as competitive.

When considering who might be in the promotion shake up it’s typical to start with the clubs who have spent money, those who lost out in last year’s plays offs and those relegated into the division last season. The club record £170,000 that Shrewsbury Town has spent on Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else’s summer recruitment. Last season was one of underachievement for the 2007 Play Off Finalists but manager Paul Simpson will begin his first full season with expectations not much lower than at Valley Parade.

Holt made his name at last season’s play off finalists Rochdale, who are likelier to be up there come May. Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland and their counter attacking approach impressed last season. Arguably lacking a decent striker, the Dale will hope Halifax’s Jon Shaw can make the step up; especially as midfield playmaker David Perkins, twice the thorn in the side of City last season, has left.

Wycombe Wanderers parted company with manager Paul Lambert at the end of last season and welcome Peter Taylor – with more than a point to prove following a difficult couple of years. They will probably do better than the other semi-finalists of last season, Darlington, who have lost star players David Stockdale and, while not confirmed yet, Tommy Wright. Dave Penney spent big last summer but doesn’t appear to have significant funds this time around.

Elsewhere big things are expected of Lincoln City, who prospered last year under Peter Jackson before his time off through illness. New keeper Rob Burch was sought after by others, including City, while Frank Sinclair could prove a clever buy if he still has the legs. Chesterfield fans seem to dislike their manager Lee Richardson but have one of the best strikers in the division in Jack Lester, Alan Knill will be looking to continue his rejuvenation of Bury and they could be dark horses, while Grimsby has strengthened defensively and will hope young striker Danny North can fulfill his potential.

It’s a sad state of the continuing financial problems many clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League are suffering from that this year’s League Two relegation battle could be determined by point deductions. Three seasons ago Luton finished 10th in the Championship, but the odds are heavily stacked in favour of a third successive relegation and drop into non-league following the 30 points taken off them. Play off form will be needed just to stay up and, with the club still in a mess, that seems unrealistic.

Bournemouth and Rotherham’s hopes of merely beginning this season are still in the balance and respective 15 and 17 point deductions look like a best scenario. That may allow other clubs to breath easier but Chester City, another club with money problems, won’t be counting their chickens as they remember how last season’s dramatic collapse in form almost cost them their league status. Some of the division’s smaller clubs, such as Macclesfield, Accrington and Dagenham, will also be targeting the 50 point mark rather than any loftier ambitions.

Gillingham’s recent financial difficulties make it difficult to imagine they can achieve much beyond midtable but Port Vale, under former City defender Lee Sinnott, will be a better bet for an instant return to League One. The league’s new boys, Aldershot and Exeter, arrive with romantic stories of rebirth and should both be good enough for midtable, where they will surely be joined by Notts County, Barnet, Brentford and Morecambe.

The quality of League Two is derided by some, while others trumpet it as featuring real football and real fans. Last season many clubs enjoyed better form on the road but the ones who did make it to the division above were strong at home, too. This season’s League Two promises to be unpredictable, ugly and beautiful; and those successful in realising their pre-season expectations next Spring will probably be all three.

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