Why did it not work out for Alan Connell?

Alan Connell is a bit too smart for a footballer.

It is said that when he was carpetted by then Swindon Town manager Paulo Di Canio for going for a drink with three teammates following the Wiltshire club’s League Two championship which coincided with the death of Di Canio’s father than rather than take the ire of the Italian Connell opted for reasoning.

Something along the lines of that while he was in no way pleased about the death in the family he thought it was not inappropriate that he and his friends have one or two drinks to celebrate a job well done.

The fact Connell ended up at City shows the response to that from the manager.

Phil Parkinson is a less autocratic man than Di Canio and his successes are in building team spirit. Connell has become a part of one of those teams but only a small part. The emergence of Nahki Wells rendered Connell a bit part player and that – on the surface – is why it did not work out for Alan Connell at Bradford City.

Perhaps though – Wells aside – Connell was never Parkinson’s sort of striker. The City manager when talking about former City forward Mark Stewart said that he thought he was a good player but that he did not threaten the goal enough and the same could be said about Connell. He had scored one in three at Swindon but at City he rarely looked like repeating that at Valley Parade primarily because he did not get past defenders, did not threaten the goal, did not shoot often enough.

Everyone who said that Connell was a Robbie Blake kind of player was right. His goals come when he joins in attacking movements in the third phase. He joins in the link up play in the first, takes position in the second and makes what he can in the third. Parkinson’s teams favouring a ball to James Hanson with a flick down to the speedy Wells were never really suited to Connell’s play.

Not Parkinson’s sort of striker but very much Parkinson’s sort of player.

Connell’s demeanor and his role as a senior professional – only 30 but one of the older players in the squad – the manager used Connell’s professionalism as an example. He came off the bench and toiled often for little reward. He trained well and set a tone that the likes of Wells and Hanson followed.

It seemed to work out well for Parkinson and for City but not really for Connell.

Grimsby Town are asking after Connell. He deserves to do well there.

Jamie Lawrence, the workaholic

Jamie Lawrence is approximately 60 metres away from me when he picks up possession inside his own half 67 minutes into an FA Cup tie with Grimsby. 10 seconds later, and I and dozens of people around me are hugging the Jamaican international following a sensational weaving run past numerous blue shirts than ended with the ball passed crisply into the back of the net.

It is a glorious solo goal and – in the days before football was breached by health & safety guidelines and players weren’t sent off for celebrating with fans – Jamie has chosen to run to the part of the Kop where I stand to celebrate with us supporters his special moment.

Lawrence only ever scored 14 times in his 170 appearances for the club, so this strike – which ultimately proves the winner in one of the last genuinely exciting FA Cup matches before the magic of the cup began to wane at all levels – can be viewed as a peak moment in his Bantams career. Certainly Jamie is fondly remembered for the occasional brilliant goal, such as against Norwich that same season, and West Ham and Tottenham in the Premiership a year later, but it wouldn’t be his first quality to come to our minds when we recall the Londoner’s time at Valley Parade.

Jamie was a battler, with a commendable work ethic that stood out even in a team featuring the likes of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. He would give everything he had to the cause, running up and down the right flank defending as equally effectively as he attacked. Most of us fans lapped it up – a rare real life example of the myth that we’ll always get behind a player who might not be the best, so long as they put 110% effort.

Not everyone agreed though, and in some ways there was almost a snobbish attitude displayed by Lawrence’s dissenters. Jamie was a poor player with limited ability, they argued, but he gets away with not being given a hard time because he hides behind his work rate. In the days when Peter Beagrie struggled to win over the crowd and was at one stage packed off on loan to Everton, some argued Lawrence should be criticised as widely too.

Yet Lawrence’s work rate and application levels stood out to me as inspiration rather than a disguise. Sure he wasn’t the greatest player in the world, but without working so hard on his game and displaying such passion, those skilful qualities he did possess would never have been seen either. Lawrence grafted to win our trust and respect, and once we supporters, team mates and management built up our faith in him we were rewarded by ever-improving levels of performances. While other members of the 1997-98 mid-table first division squad were left behind by the bar been risen the following season, Lawrence kept pace and became a key figure in the club’s promotion to the Premier League and successful survival in the top flight the year after.

The lessons we can take remain as relevant today as they were then. Without working hard, mastering the basics and showing the right attitude – none of us would progress so well in our own careers and even in life. I’ve personally learned from Jamie that demonstrating an aptitude for hard work can get you a long way in winning over people; and the greater responsibility and promotions you crave – offering you the chance to really show your worth – are the rewards. In contrast I’ve seen other friends go into a job believing they are above it and then failing to put in the effort or focus on improving, leading them to fall at the first hurdle.

Not all footballers can be as good at taking on players as Lawrence (I remember him selling Steven Gerrard a dummy once), nor are they capable of curling the ball into the top corner from 30 yards like he did at West Ham in 2000. But there’s no reason why any player can’t look to emulate him in the effort levels they put in on the pitch and at the training ground.

Sadly, players that came close to matching Lawrence’s work rate have been few and far between in recent years.

So I loved the fact I got to hug Lawrence at the front of the Kop that day. Because his stella goal was the result of him trying and succeeding to overcome personal failings and win over doubters; of recognising the need to improve and taking responsibility to do so; of building up confidence in yourself and in other people’s minds.

And of how anyone – if they work hard enough – can surprise themselves and those around them in what they are truly capable of.

Knowing what you have at Chesterfield

When Barry Conlon unceremoniously left Valley Parade following a fall out with Stuart McCall many were pleased to see the back of the Irish striker.

Conlon had sniggered – or so it is said – at a dressing down that he was given by the manager and thus when the chance came to push him in the direction of Grimsby Town it was taken. His time at Grimsby seemed to have similar results with some goals but an unimpressed manager who shipped him out.

Barry is at Chesterfield now and has scored seven as the Spireites stumble in a chase for the final play-off place with seventh being surrendered after a 2-0 defeat at Macclesfield last week. One doubts the blunderbuss forward has suddenly started to show the skills of Lionel Messi so when seeing Barry for a second time this season City fans can expect more of the same.

Big forward, a lot of effort, maybe a goal. That was what Conlon produced at Grimsby, that was what he showed at City, it is what he does.

The fact he does it well was illustrated by his replacement Paul Mullin – the Accrington Stanley forward who moved to Morecambe after a stint at Valley Parade – and the chasm in effectiveness between the pair. Barry did the business, Mullin did not and as the Bantams slipped from the play-off picture one had to wonder how many people who criticised him would have bought Barry all the booze he wanted in exchange for a goal or two.

So City are once again in a situation of not knowing what they have until it was gone. Conlon joins a list of players who have been Bantams, were pushed through the door and replaced with players who – well – were very little better. One could pull out any number of examples and argue the toss over most of them from Michael Symes – including the Grimsby boss who tried to swap him for Barry and money – who many look longingly at to Danny Forrest who was considered not good enough by club and many fans but – when watching David Wetherall’s side slip to the wretched 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield with wandering loanees up front – would have been much welcomed.

Players come, players go and the replacements come and then go with the expense of replacing or the unevenness of a constantly changing squad never seeming to be questioned. Barry’s replacement was no better and as he came and left within three months Paul Mullin seemed significantly worse.

Mullin’s replacement – however – is better than both and the exceptional thing about James Hanson – injured today at the end of a great first season – is that he represents a player who has come in and improved the squad. Examples of this over the past decade have been rare.

So perhaps the moral of this story is that if improvement is rare then as Peter Taylor looks to start working on his squad in the summer perhaps it is better to stay with what you know rather than change in the idea that the next free transfer to a league two club will be better. A Barry in the hand is worth any number of Paul Mullins in the bush, but a James Hanson is better than all.

Hanson’s absence as given Gareth Evans the role of chasing direct balls from the back and shaped Peter Taylor’s side’s approach seeing more channel balls and more chasing from the widemen of Leon Osbourn and Gavin Grant and the Bantams boss seems likely to repeat the 433 that has started the previous two wins however the return of Michael Flynn – the five o’clock hero last week – give the gaffer the ability to opt for the 4411 which won at Rochdale with Flynn and Evans up front.

So a three in midfield might see James O’Brien dropped for Flynn to partner Adam Bolder and Lee Bullock while a four would see another goalscorer Luke O’Brien recalled on the left with Grant on the right and Bolder and Bullock in the middle. Stephen O’Leary seems to have seen the boat sail on his chance to stay at the Bantams but James O’Brien seems to be well thought of by Taylor.

The back four seems to pick itself. In the absence of Simon Ramsden Jonathan Bateson plays right back and Robbie Threlfall at left back. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams take central defence.

In goal Jon McLaughlin – who played at Saltergate last season in what was an end of season affair – and suggested himself to many (on what it has to be said was slight evidence) as an able replacement for Rhys Evans. Of course Simon Eastwood was brought in and given the gloves for the start of the next season and McLaughlin had to wait until two weeks ago to get back into the side.

There is something there about knowing what you have.

Jacobs can’t shake off the staleness as City draw with struggling Grimsby

A  banner was unfurled over the edge of the Main Stand top tier as the players came out for kick off which seemed to be in support of Stuart McCall; but before we’d had chance to read what it said, it had been removed.

This didn’t appear to be an act of boardroom concealing, more concern from stewards that the banner was covering up advertising hoardings. Though it was a shame the supporter’s home-made effort wasn’t allowed to be draped over some of the thousands of empty seats.

It was not meant to be, and perhaps the same can be said of Wayne Jacobs as Bradford City manager. Having requested to Mark Lawn that he is interviewed for the vacant position during the week, this disappointing draw with second-bottom Grimsby was hardly the commendation he needed ahead of Monday’s meeting.  Already an outsider for the position, his chances seemingly reduced with each passing minute of goalless action.

Apart from Jacobs patrolling the dugout in suit rather tracksuit, it was difficult to recognise much different. For 90 minutes City huffed and puffed, but the well-organised visitors defended in numbers and carried a threat on the break. Oliver Lancashire and Joe Widdowson were outstanding at the back and, although the Bantams spent long spells camped out in the opposition half, clear cut chances were at a premium.

Robbed of injury to Omar Daley, Jacobs’ team selection could easily have been that of McCall’s. Though Gareth Evans was moved to the left instead of part of a front three, bringing more balance to the side than for last week’s defeat to Bury. Scott Neilson was recalled on the right and improved on a tentative start to produce an impressive second half display which was aided by Jacobs’ switching Simon Ramsden back to right back at half time, as City’s captain was more supportive going forward than Zesh Rehman in the first half.

But elsewhere confidence was obviously lacking. For much of this season City have been too desperate to get the ball forwards quickly instead of showing composure; and though midfield pair Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn impressed in patches, the middlemen were often cut out in favour of a long ball from the back towards James Hanson.

With Grimsby playing a higher backline in the first half, passes in behind the strikers from midfield was an effective option, but when Town dropped deeper it was back to route one. Initial panic was often caused from Hanson’s flick ons, but Town always seemed to have more numbers back to snuff out the danger.

Evans had the best chance of the first half when a good pass had set Hanson clear before he pulled the ball back to City’s number nine. But Evans’ confidence seems to have been unaffected by his double at Torquay two weeks ago and he fired over. It’s now three months since he scored at Valley Parade.

And it’s nine months since Peter Thorne – making his first start since going off injured against Rochdale in the JPT last September – scored anywhere. The top scorer of the past two seasons was effective in holding up the ball, but inside the area the sort of half chances he sniffs out seemed to allude him. Michael Boulding was introduced on 65 minutes and wasted a decent opportunity when shooting straight at Nick Colgan. Hanson and Neilson also fired over from promising positions, but the 0-0 looked inevitable long before the assistant referee signalled four minutes of injury time.

Matt Glennon was a virtual spectator, other than an important save from a well-worked Grimsby corner just after the break. Despite the visitors’ relegation worries, they seemed content with a point and made few efforts to push forwards in numbers during the final 20 minutes. It was an afternoon to forget.

Which quickly pushes the focus back onto the managerial situation and, with Martin Allen and Russell Slade watching from the stands, they and others would seem to be in a better position than Jacobs after he oversaw this mediocre display. Jacobs’ best hope of earning the job would surely have lied in truly differentiating himself from his former manager, given Lawn’s rather tactless hint McCall would have been pushed had he not jumped.

In time, Jacobs would surely stamp his own mark on the club. But his chance always lied in the short term and this City display was much of the same and therefore makes it more difficult for him to convince Lawn and Julian Rhodes he could do a better job than McCall.

But whoever does come in has a job to do in quickly building up confidence and belief in a team which has become too used to feeling hard done by. Not losing today means the spectre of falling into a relegation battle remains distant, but with two tricky trips to Lancashire to come before a visit from a Darlington side showing faint signs of improvement – however futile – the urgency for improved results is increasing.

Like this drab draw which was seemingly decided long before the end, City’s season seems to be drifting to an inevitable mundane mid-table conclusion. That Jacobs was unable to make an impact means it will surely now be an outsider entrusted with shaking things up.

Barry Conlon the short-term hero

There were plenty of notable results across England’s four professional divisions on Saturday – emphatic victories for Chelsea and Norwich, surprise defeats for Man City and Leeds – but while events at Saltergate provide an interesting talking point for Bradford City supporters, they should not come as a shock.

Barry Conlon, signed by Chesterfield on a month’s loan only that morning, marked his debut by netting the winning goal over Torquay United. The crisp strike from the edge of the area was typical of the Irishman – in the sense of starting well at a new club. It is the 14th transfer the Irishman has been the subject of, it is the 13th year of the 31-year-old’s playing career. There’s a reason he doesn’t stay anywhere long.

For Conlon has proved himself to be an effective short-term impact player. His one and three-quarter seasons at Valley Parade characterised by short spells on the sidelines and short spells in the team. It can be argued he wasn’t given a fair run of games in the team, it can be argued he made it impossible for manager Stuart McCall to give him that run.

I was always a fan of Barry, but it was Bury away almost a year ago that my tolerance of his short-comings vastly-reduced. Three days earlier at Luton, he’d come on a sub and made a decent impact in a second half the Bantams dominated. At Gigg Lane he partnered Steve Jones up front, and though the on-loan Burnley was unhelpful in his positioning and link up play, Conlon’s anonymous performance and miss of a sitter in the final stages of the 1-0 defeat summed up his lack of reliability.

It left me looking back over his City career up to then and realising just how inconsistent he generally was. It seemed to be a never-ending cycle. Brought into the team to give it a boost, he would make a good impact and often score. The next game he’d be a definite starter and usually carry on where he left off. But then the week after less effective, then the week after even less so. The hauling off as sub wasn’t far away, the bench his home again the following week. Then the odd cameo appearance before the cycle started all over again.

A perfect example was in late October 2008. Conlon came on as sub in a battling home game with Bury and scored a late winner. The following Saturday against Barnet, he started the game and scored two excellent goals. Then his performances began to drop off in away games at MK Dons and Wycombe. He was then dropped against Rotherham, before returning in the home game against Chesterfield, playing well and scoring from the spot.

When on form it wasn’t just Conlon’s work rate which impressed, he was very effective at holding up the ball and enabling others to get forward. He was had a great shot on him (often unlucky with some great efforts hitting the woodwork) and he showed intelligence in his passing and positioning. His poorer performances were notable in that the work rate was clearly missing. He wouldn’t chase causes as vigorously, he’d try illogical passes to others when he needed to show more endevour in trying the harder things, he’d fluff his lines in front of goal.

It was as if he only played well when he was under pressure or had something to prove – such as why he should be in the starting eleven.

Of course that point to prove led to him becoming a hero when he moved to Grimsby Town on loan towards the end of the season. Scoring in each of his first three appearances, he pulled a struggling outfit away from the relegation trap door.

In doing so, he also made life that bit more uncomfortable for McCall. Having allowed him to leave with rumours of off-the-field indiscipline circulating, Conlon’s on-loan like-for-like replacement Paul Mullin failed to work out. As Barry made the headlines in Cleethorpes, Mullin struggled to make any impact and City’s season continued to implode. Promotion hopes were as good as ended by a 3-0 defeat at Dagenham where Mullin looked dis-interested. At the exact same time, Conlon was smashing home a double which almost virtually sealed the Mariners’ survival.

But this was a few games, not a season. Whether he’d have made a difference to City’s collapse is highly doubtful. Since that double-strike against Barnet on November 1, he’d only managed one goal from open play during his final four months at Valley Parade.

Conlon’s ability to make a short-term impact was only re-affirmed. His capability of doing it long-term a remaining question.

And one still unanswered, for despite a bright start at Grimsby this season after making his move permanent, Conlon’s form faded badly and with the club struggling more than ever, this time he couldn’t be counted on when the chips were down. Two sendings off, more rumours of off-the-field misbehaviour, only one goal – a penalty – since October. When we went to Blundell Park in November, City were up against a mere shadow of the player Conlon could be. The work rate was nil, the passing poor, the finishing hilariously bad.

His manager has put him on the transfer list, with the excellent Cod Almighty stating, “Conlon is a player who might have been genuinely useful to the Mariners had his head been right but has looked less and less interested as Town have sunk deeper into the mire – so fair play to the manager for deciding to get shot.”

So Conlon is on the move again and, with Grimsby drawing 0-0 at home to Cheltenham on the same afternoon Conlon was a goal-scoring hero on his Chesterfield debut, it’s the turn of Mariners manager Neil Woods to feel uncomfortable.

Chesterfield have signed him on loan with a view to making it permanent for the rest of the season. McCall and Woods – not to mention the many other previous managers Conlon has exasperated – would probably advise John Sheridan to reserve judgement for a few weeks.

Mastering the winning habit

There’s a saying connected to self-improvement. It’s about how everything you can confidently do now, at one stage in your life was considered difficult.

As Bradford City’s campaign of personal development progresses from learning to create chances, to scoring goals, to becoming difficult to beat, to the new challenge of turning draws into three points more often, tentative steps were taken at Blundell Park towards elevating the Bantams to credible promotion candidates. And while it will be hoped last night is looked back on as significant come the end of the campaign, like a kid learning to ride a bike with stabilisers, it was a progression aided by support which won’t always be there.

You see Grimsby Town were just that bad.

It’s seemingly become a tradition for City to arrive at Blundell Park with the home side on a wretched run of form; but the lack of confidence, aptitude and intelligence the Mariners possessed last night suggests relegation from the Football League is no less a formality than that of rock-bottom Darlington. In each of the last three trips to Cleethorpes, City manager Stuart McCall has shook hands with three different managers in the opposite dugout. On Monday Grimsby appointed former City forward Neil Woods despite a winless caretaker stint. This removed the possibility of a short-term lift from a new appointment, though perhaps rather late in the day the Town board has grasped the concept of stability.

Stability for City was the return of the previously-successful 4-3-3 formation and more positionally-solid James O’Brien for an off-form Chris Brandon, with the result a well drilled team versed in the job it needed to carry out. Simon Whaley was handed a full debut ahead of a clearly exhausted Scott Neilson and brought an extra dimension to City’s play. Confident in possession at all times and making some clever on and off the ball runs, if James O’Brien’s hard-working performance put Brandon to shame, the more effective manner in which the on-loan Norwich winger drifted around the pitch will have been noted by Stuart too.

With Lee Bullock carrying out another unassuming but valuable role protecting the back four, the platform was set up for City’s forward players to attack inventively and Whaley’s long range effort sneaked past one-time rumoured Bantams target Nick Colgan to put the visitors 1-0 up on 24 minutes. City had knocked the ball around impressively at times, but the goal was the result of a more direct manner after Simon Eastwood’s long kick and Bullock’s flick on. Stuart has previously made no attempt to apologise for his team mixing up their play and this goal provided a strong argument for incorporating such a style.

Grimsby’s resistance was limited, defender Oliver Lancashire’s header from a corner forcing a stunning save from Eastwood the only time the impressive central defensive partnership of Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams was troubled. And the biggest concern at half time was that surely the home side couldn’t play any worse and of the increasing regularity second half leads have been lost by City this season – Burton, Barnet, Northampton, Port Vale and Accrington. Time for those self-help guides.

Yet with so many doubts to plague the mind, the continued assurance of City after the interval saw the predictable early second half Grimsby urgency dampened with ease. Nicky Featherstone shot wide and there were a couple of throw ins into the box to defend, but it didn’t take long for City to be back into the ascendancy and the determination to finish off the game was obvious.

Whaley and James Hanson both went close before a corner was only half cleared and James O’Brien whipped over a troubling cross which Town defender Paul Linwood bizarrely headed across his own goal, presenting Williams with an opportunity to head the ball into an unguarded net from two yards. As every City outfield player rushed over to congratulate the former non-league defender, the sight of Grimsby players’ heads down, not even bothering to berate each other for conceding so poorly, will surely have troubled every Mariners fan.

From there onwards the game was comfortable with City continuing to carry the greater purpose and intent. Gareth Evans, who’s not quite reaching top form at the moment, should have scored a third after been played through one-and-one and shrugging off a defender, but curled his shot wide. Luke O’Brien, also not quite at his best last night, hit the side netting. Hanson then finally wrapped up the evening after racing onto Evans’ through ball and finishing emphatically. It was the top scorer’s seventh of the season and the superb manner he lead the line all night – winning flick ons and also displaying no little skill with the ball at feet – was a contrast to his target man predecessor and now Grimsby’s number ten, Barry Conlon.

It’s at this point I should really add comment about how disgraceful it was that the majority of away fans booed and sang uncomplimentary songs about the Irish striker. Whatever his failing were in a City shirt, effort was not among them and the great moments he provided us City fans should not be discounted. So I should really add comment about it was a disgrace, but…well, to be honest, I have a sense of humour.

The stick he received was hilarious and the comedy was added too by how badly Conlon played. His big chance to silence the barrackers came shortly before half time when the ball flashed across the box towards his right foot. He ended up kicking fresh air. In response the abuse was interrupted by a mickey-taking chant of “Barry! Barry!” Once sung in affection, but as Conlon was subbed in the second half and Hanson scored a minute later, it was clear we’ve all moved on. Sorry Barry, though given the way you smiled towards us after chasing an over-hit ball which went out of play, I figure you have broad shoulders and a sense of humour too.

A late save from Eastwood preserved the clean sheet – important as it was only City’s second on the road this season. But while City have played better and not won this season, the qualities which delivered the three points stand them in good stead for the tougher battles ahead. In hindsight, that City were only 1-0 up at half time was the best thing which could have happened. A chance to face up to previous fears and play through difficult memories of tentative starts to the second half been punished by conceding.

Every player took responsibility in pushing City on, and by the end of the night every individual battle had been emphatically won. With Michael Flynn and James O’Brien driving the team forward and the movement of Whaley and Evans causing problems, the workmanlike performance was not without its flair.

The win elevates City to 10th and the distance to the play offs has been reduced to two points. After a week off which will allow the fitness of returning players to improve, the self-improvement programme of developing a winning habit continues. From a visit to second bottom of the league to a home game against second top, Rochdale.

This time City will have to do it without the stablisers.

City go to Grimsby waiting in the balance

Michael Flynn put into words the season for City when he said “If we had cut out a few mistakes, we would be higher up the table than we are.”

That Gareth Evans – who has put in much to his first three months at Bradford City and more than deserves the break for this – blasted a last minute penalty wide of the post on Saturday allowing two points to squirm away proved Flynn’s protestation. The Bantams are a team inefficient giving away enough goals to counteract the many good things that go on at the other end of the field but with a balance that when upset may tip one way or another.

Certainly Grimsby Town will have an empathy with such problems after sacking Mike Newell some half dozen or so winless games ago and giving one time Bantam striker Neil Woods the chance to take the team, well, not very far. Woods got the job on a full time basis on Monday afternoon underlining the effect of getting rid of Newell which seems to be that the former manager no longer has to turn up to work but still is paid while the new incumbent goes about the role with the same resources. The attempt to tip the balance of Town’s early season displays having either no effect at all, or a counter effect. Certainly the “new manager/new beginning” which is often hoped for simply had not happened at Blundell Park.

Not that any more than the usual would be of the opinion that the way to tip the season towards success would be a manager replacement but rather the manager himself looks for ways to cut out the mistakes starting with a 442 on Saturday that was – well – duller than the usual 433 but did stop the customary two goals a game concessions. Perhaps the return to two wingers was a preparation of sorts for the return of Omar Daley who would have been backin reserve team action this week were it not for a rearranged juniors match at Valley Parade.

The middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and one other has worked well – and provided no little excitement at both ends – this season but a pairing of Bullock and Flynn with Omar Daley on the left and new recruit Simon Whaley on the right could be the shape that the Bantams will take into the Christmas period. All of which is long sighted talking and rather harsh on Scott Neilson who has on the whole been excellent since joining the Bantams. It also assumed that Chris Brandon will not continued to be shoe-horned into the side or – if one rumour is to be believed – will be leaving for Greg Abbott’s Carlisle in the transfer window.

Evans and James Hanson are expected to retain the forward places with Michael Boulding restricted to the bench against the team that list him as a favoured old boy. Boulding performed well coming off the bench on Saturday and might get the nod over Scott Neilson in an attacking three but the hard work of the younger pair has been one of the base blocks of City this season and is not something to change.

The back five of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien in front of Barry Conlon Simon Eastwood is also expected to remain. Ramsden’s return on Saturday showed his quality while Luke O’Brien continues to be an able full back and an attacking force. The middle pairing impress some, but not all, and may have to cope with the attacking prowess of Barry Conlon as the former Bantams hopes to get a start against the club he left last season.

Far for universally loved Barry left City under a cloud of discipline and drink – letting himself down – but in his one and a half years at City his full energy performances showed a way forward that the Bantams have followed – James Hanson and Barry are not dissimilar players although Hanson’s ability to get both headed and kicked balls somewhere near his intended target puts Conlon to shame.

Much of last season was a debate about the merits of Conlon and Omar Daley but in the last three months of the season when one was at Grimsby and the other injured – effectively giving some supporters who used the words “get rid” a little too much for my tastes what they had wanted – the Bantams imploded. The balance upset, tipped the wrong way.

Not repeating this is the task Stuart McCall faces.

I’ll miss Barry

Barry Conlon has left Bradford City for Grimsby Town – seemingly the fall out of the discipline problems he and Matthew Clarke have had – and probably will not be back and I for one will miss him.

Of course Conlon was not the most talented player who has every pulled on a City shirt but few so obviously battled for the cause as Barry did. The list of players who – had they been able to put the effort in that Conlon did – would have been much better players than they were. Lee Sharpe, Michael Standing, Ashley Ward and on and on.

Barry gave it all and while that was not much what it did was give an example to the likes of Omar Daley that it was that level of effort – and no less – that would be allowable. I see Daley’s change in performances from slacker against Leyton Orient to committed winger this season as very much a lesson of the likes of Conlon.

That Barry had little to give – that Barry on his best day was only ever going to be as good as some players strolling through the game – arguably made that effort more admirable.

I could never understand the criticism of Barry. I reserve my disdain for the likes of Lee Sharpe who could have given more rather than the Conlons who gave all he could.

He carved out his career at City by giving all he could until – one supposes – the disciplinary problems which would seem to have brought about the end of his City career.

A Conlon that does not do give all he can is never going to be worth a place in the side and if Stuart McCall is of the belief that he will not be getting that 100% Barry then he is right to move the player on to Blundell Park.

All of which creates a tragedy of sorts. A man who has to struggle, has to give his all, to achieve what others find easier and slips from that, and is moved on for that slip but leaves a lasting legacy that for Bradford City, and for Stuart McCall.

One must give his all and if he does he will be backed to the hilt. Fall from standard and you are cast down far from grace and glory, or to Grimsby.

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.

City on the way forward again

City bounced back from their Gigg Lane fiasco with a convincing, but nerve wrecking win over Grimsby Town in this crucial game at Valley Parade on Saturday.

Tuesday night’s heartless display in a promotion six pointer had seen the Bantams slip to 9th position – a couple of points outside the playoff places – which made a win in this home fixture absolutely essential to keep pace with the chasing pack, jostling for automatic promotion and playoff places.

Wholesale changes were made to the starting lineup, with top scorers Thorne and Boulding recalled up front, Law and Furman in centre midfield, with Jones reverting back to his right wing role, and O’Brien welcomed back from illness at left back with Rehman switching to right back.

And the players selected – very much in contrast with Tuesday night – did not disappoint with confidence, effort and excellent play in defence and attack all over the field.

City had numerous first half chances to break the deadlock. Zesh Rehman, on his home debut, was thwarted twice from set pieces by Grimsby keeper Barnes with two excellent saves from powerful headers.

After homing in on goal Omar Daley pulled back an excellent ball to Nicky Law who took a touch to bring him within 10 yards of the goal, and just as it looked like he was certain to score, Barnes excellently kept out his left foot strike. And Steve Jones once again was frustrated in front of goal when his strike hit the outside of the post, as another nail biting afternoon ensued.

A key moment happened on 20 when Thorne flicked on to send Boulding in the clear, but his run was abruptly ended by a rugby tackle from Grimsby defender Atkinson. The referee judged him to be the last defender and swiftly sent off the Mariner’s man.

There was then only one question on everyone’s minds. Would City be able to break the deadlock? and grab 3 points at home, ala Morecambe, or would they be massively frustrated by a side who clearly lacked the City team’s more skilful individual players, ala Chester and Acrrington Stanley.

The answer, thankfully, was that City did manage to get that crucial goal that set them up for three very important points. From the moment that Grimsby went down to 10 men, it was apparent that only one team were in the running to score goals. Town were toothless in attack, even with 11 men, but to give them credit they didn’t just park their team bus in front of their goal – they did try and get the ball down and play.

The second half was another tale of City struggling to break down a dogged defence. Omar Daley flashed a fierce shot just over, and Steve Jones was looking dangerous every time he picked up the ball, but once again his shooting and ability to deliver an end product let him down again. Nevertheless, he was a threat, and did not give up persisting and produced some exciting wing play. One moment saw Jones lay an excellent ball all the way across the line that just needed someone to tap in – but no City player was on hand to read the ball played.

City’s defence looked very secure with Matt Clarke particularly outstanding and Zesh Rehman produced a very promising display. He looks a very good acquisition.

The crucial goal arrived when Boulding layed the ball over to Nicky Law, who drove forward in trademark fashion towards goal, and released a shot that slipped under Barnes to send the Valley Parade crowd wild and put an enormous amount of relief in the air. Barnes had kept out trickier shots, but the power on the shot from the industrious Law beat him.

Funnily enough, despite having literally all the play in the second half, City’s goal triggered Grimsby to apply a small amount of pressure and force 3 corners which were all handled excellently by the defence.

15 shots on target for City told the story of this game, and as Grimsby again tried to sneak a point in the dying seconds, the ball was cleared and City were presented with a 3 on 1 chance.

Joe Colbeck, on as a late substitute, continued his recovery from injury by releasing Jones in the dying seconds who confidently rounded the keeper and tapped in with his left foot to wrap up the points in this important home game.

Too often this season have City been unable to win games at home that they should be winning. Having only lost one game at home all season is admirable, but as admitted afterwards by Stuart McCall, home draws (7) have been too common so far this season and have impeded our chances of pulling away from the teams around us.

And so to Darlington’s visit to Valley Parade on Monday (weather permitting). The Quakers won a big game away at Dagenham today, but that will no doubt have taken its toll physically, not to mention the long trip back from London up north. It would be a good time to play them with confidence high and the Sky cameras ready to take in the action. What better time to prove that we have what it takes to get promoted this season.

An interesting area of debate at this stage of the season is, would you settle for a guaranteed playoff place at this point, but not be allowed to go up automatically? I wouldn’t. I firmly believe we are one of the three best teams in this division if we play to our potential and we should not have to go through and take a chance in the lottery that is the playoffs. Looking at the remaining fixtures, Brentford and Wycombe both have to visit VP over the next few months, which will prove to be crucial games – but surely gaining maximum points against the likes of Macclesfield, Aldershot and Port Vale in games like today against Grimsby are what will determine whether we give ourselves a chance of finishing in the top three. Our away form doesn’t concern me too much at all as we have performed pretty well away from VP ( with the exception of Bury away), its all about the final eight home games for me. Win a high percentage of those instead of costly draws against defensive minded teams and promotion the easy way (automatic) should be assured.

Getting back on the bike – Bradford City vs Grimsby Town – League Two preview

Those of us at Kenilworth Road on Saturday and at Gigg Lane on Tuesday will fully appreciate the range of emotions which supporting a football team can inflict upon you.

We left Luton ecstatic after an action-packed afternoon of football – one of this writer’s best ever – which threw up the improbable plot twist of Barry Conlon’s late penalty that left us cheering wildly and hugging each other. Minutes earlier we were in despair as it appeared we were on the wrong end of football’s cruellest way of losing – the last minute winner. Barry made the journey home that little bit quicker and the manner of City’s second half performance left plenty of optimism for the rest of the season.

Then came Tuesday.

In recent years we’ve all had to become battled-hardened to the despair of defeat and the frustration when things go wrong – but consolations can be taken when the team was unlucky, the referee let us down or some players still gave us something to cheer. On Tuesday there was nothing as we suffered from the most galling way of watching your team lose – because they simply didn’t show desire, passion or commitment to the cause.

And that’s why Tuesday hurt so much.

It hurt to see players you’ve spent much of the season sticking up for when others have criticised appear unwilling to put their body on the line when the chips were down, such as Paul McLaren. It hurt to see players with unquestionable talent look disinterested, like Omar Daley. It hurt to see players you’d seen do a good job Saturday fail to repeat what was asked of them, like Steve Jones. It hurt, because other than Rhys Evans no-one should have walked off the Gigg Lane pitch with their head held high.

The arguments over what went wrong are wide-ranging and see many accused but unsurprisingly the guy in charge, Stuart McCall, is at the centre of the criticism. How could a man who would never have given anything but 100% when a City player, who if we cut open might just bleed claret and amber, allow such a shambles to happen? What about his coaching staff Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall who, while not without their critics on occasions during their playing career, were never accused of lacking effort? 1,800 City fans packed the away end and backed the players ferociously for 90 minutes, and while that doesn’t mean we deserved to watch a winning team it should at least have been rewarded with a committed one.

But that was Tuesday and just as quickly as the mood turned from euphoria to exasperation it’s to be hoped it can be changed back tomorrow. There is nothing that Stuart and the players can do about what happened at Bury now, but they can at least begin to repair the damage. The recent good run of form of visitors Grimsby – unbeaten in three – may make this less of the home banker it looked a fortnight ago, but just like City’s one win in nine it ignores the bigger picture. This is a bunch of players which have lost 13 of their 26 league games so far, scoring fewer goals than anyone else in the division.

City simply must be targeting three points.

Team selection was a huge bone of contention on Tuesday night and the only thing which can be said with certainty about tomorrow’s team is that it will feature Evans in goal. Luke O’Brien missed Tuesday through illness and should reclaim his left back spot with loan defender Zesh Rehman eyeing up the place of either Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke or Paul Arnison but probably having to settle for a place on the bench for now.

In midfield Joe Colbeck is pushing for his first start since getting injured at Grimsby in October and looked more sharper when introduced on Tuesday than he did Saturday. That should mean Daley, outstanding in the second half at Luton, is switched back to the left and Law moved into the centre with either Dean Furman, McLaren or Lee Bullock alongside. My vote goes to Furman with a message sent to McLaren that one excellent performance should not be followed up by an average one.

Up front Stuart must play one of if not both Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. Thorne was not great at Luton but is never going to recapture his form if he keeps been brought in then dropped again while Boulding, facing an old club, was unlucky to lose his place too. I’ve written several times over the last 18 months that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency and relegation to the bench should be the only reward for such a sub-standard display at Bury. Many fans, and Stuart, have kept faith in the likeable Irishman and he has some making up to do. The fact Jones was hauled off at Bury adds doubts about his loan spell from Burnley been extended when it runs out on February 9, which few City fans would argue for.

Grimsby’s leading marksman only has four goals but we all remember Adam Proudlock’s hat trick at Valley Parade seven years ago. After a slow start to the season former City loanee Mike Newell took over as manager but his influence has been limited and the Mariners are one of a clutch of clubs grateful that Bournemouth and Newell’s former employers Luton aren’t making a better fist of overturning points deductions. A ‘real’ league table would show Grimsby propping up the rest.

In many ways 3pm Saturday cannot come quick enough as we get climb back on board the emotional rollercoaster. No one wants to feel as bad about their team as many of us City fans do right now and such hurt and anger needs heeling. It won’t automatically make everything right again in the world of Bradford City, but a home victory tomorrow would certainly be a good start.

We badly hope to experience that ultimate high of achieving promotion this season, it’s now down to the players to show they want it too.

That’s character

It wasn’t a night where the attacking swagger of football which characterised Bradford City’s excellent start to the season fully returned, but nevertheless manager Stuart McCall will have been delighted with those answers his players did provide to the questions raised of them.

In the wake of Monday’s disappointing defeat at Darlington, Stuart had stated he needed big characters to reverse a season in danger of slipping away and, after Matt Clarke’s controversial early sending off, the remaining players had 78 minutes to prove how much resilience they had. Whether the feeling of injustice helped spirit or it was a strong determination not to let things slip again, they responded by scoring a further two goals and then put in an excellent defensive shift which partially answers increasing accusations they aren’t good enough at the back to last the distance.

After the match Stuart admitted the referee had no choice to send Clarke off, though he did not have the benefit of such a good view of the incident as the 803 travelling City fans behind the goal. Grimsby’s Nathan Jarman had charged through only for the former Darlington defender to produce a risky, but clean, tackle to stop his route to goal. As both players laid on the ground referee Graham Salisbury consulted with his assistant before producing the red card and awarding a free kick.

It means that, in each of Sailsbury’s last three occasions he has officiated a City game, a red card for a player in claret and amber has been produced. The other two – Jermaine Johnson at home to Yeovil in January 2007 and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu in last season’s FA Cup win against Chester – were also questionable decisions and one is left to wonder how credible the term ‘coincidence’ can be to the decisions Sailsbury has made against City. Though given Clarke’s challenge had been inside the box, the home side will also feel aggrieved they were not awarded a penalty.

The red card punctured City’s excellent start to the game. Having taken the lead after six minutes when Omar Daley latched onto a weak headed clearance, beat the full back and charged across the penalty area before unleashing a fierce drive into the top corner, a convincing away victory looked probable. Graeme Lee caused panic in the area soon after and the home defence struggled to clear their lines following another corner. Paul McLaren and Dean Furman looked busy in the centre and Daley was a constant menace.

The sending off saw that particular threat deactivated as Stuart sacrificed the Jamaican for the on-loan Tom Clarke to make his debut at right back, with TJ Moncur moved across to the centre where he looks more comfortable. Both were kept busy as Grimsby sought to take advantage of the extra man, though the chances they did create were often wasted by poor shooting.

To City’s credit they did not sit back either and tightened their grip with a second goal on the half hour. McLaren set Colbeck away on the right and his burst towards goal was blocked on the edge of the area. Ex-Mariner Michael Boulding was following up and unleashed a superb low drive which flew into the bottom corner. It was Boulding’s fifth strike of the season and, the impressive manner he’s been tucking away chances when presented to him only adds to the frustration at the lack of service he’s been getting in previous games. City are still working out how to get the best of a player who scored 25 goals for a relegated club last season.

Unsurprisingly Grimsby exerted strong pressure at the start of the second half in an effort to get back into the game and Rhys Evans made two excellent saves, but it was heartening to see how many balls into the box were cleared by a City head. The Bantams more obvious quality going forward was soon rewarded again when a rare corner was met by Lee’s diving header at the far post. Had he and his colleagues been marking so badly at the other end a home win may have resulted, but captain Lee’s exuberant celebrations for his first City goal were much deserved during an evening that he led his team so well. Special mention should also go to the corner taker McLaren; he’s received a lot of criticism recently but his last few performances have shown improvement. Think back to some of City’s goals in recent weeks and consider how many have featured City’s number 4 in the build up.

With the game seemingly over Grimsby suddenly pulled a goal back through Liam Trotter’s header to set up a final 25 minutes of pressure, but it would be the only blemish on City’s defence all night. Evans hasn’t fully convinced in goal since joining during the summer, but had an excellent game with the confident manner he deals with high balls into the box something which can only spread through the rest of the team. It was also heartening to see Luke O’Brien stand up to such a big test and, with each recent game, he is blossoming.

The final whistle was met with some ugly scenes in the home end as some Grimsby fans tried to charge onto the pitch, with Mike Newell recently put in charge it was presumably the players who were the target of their anger. It’s 20 games since they last won; but while that might lessen the impressiveness of this result for City, how victory was earned and the recent dismal record when facing teams on such poor runs means the 10-men deserve plenty of credit.

It wasn’t a game won through the attacking ability the team processes – it was shown on occasions, but it’s nothing we didn’t know before – but the way in which the players, particularly at the back, stood up and showed a robustness which has been lacking. Promotion is not ultimately won during games against struggling teams, but it can easily be lost.

So it’s back to Valley Parade for games against Bury and Barnet and the target must be six points to continue the recovery. Expectations will be allowed to creep up again and, with the Shakers having enjoyed an excellent start themselves, the Valley Parade support needs to be rediscover its own early season form on Tuesday and offer the sort of backing which so impressively helped the team at Blundell Park.

Matt Clarke will be suspended, as too will Omar Daley after picking up a fifth booking of the season. Joe Colbeck is also a doubt after been stretchered off with ten minutes to go. It all adds up to a few headaches for Stuart, though after Friday’s win he can be confident his team has the character to still deliver.

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