Applying Game Theory to transfers and why it is best to wait before signing

The League One fixture list was released this morning to a sigh of disappointment by Bradford City supporters. Swindon Town away. A long way, a bad roundabout and a difficult game. The League Cup draw at York City cushions the blow but City will be two games into the season before the season starts at Valley Parade.

In most quarters this was met with a gentle ho-hum but in some corners every season the fixture list seems to act like a tipping point for the disgruntled. With the start of the season now in sight then improvements should have been made and the failure to make them is a concern.

The day that fixtures are released seems to release a pressure valve on a meaningless fury and – albeit in a small section of the Bradford City community – there is concern. The concern is only of note because of its fundamental belief that the best time to sign players in a summer transfer window is early.

The wrong sort of data

When it comes to transfer deals we have but one statistic. The day that the deal was registered. There is no record of the first time a team made contact over signing a player from a club or recruiting him as a free agent. That data simply is not available and so a common assumption is that there is a correlation between an approach and a signing in the same way that there is between sowing seeds and reaping harvests.

And so if a player joins a club in the first week of August it is assume that the club got in touch a month before, or two weeks before, or so on. We probably have Championship Manager to thank for this. Everything takes a steady amount of time, and everyone behaves rationally.

Yet we know from Bryan Caplan‘s work that people do not behave rationally a good deal of the time when considering options which involve game theory as player recruitment does.

Let us consider the signings of Stuart McCall for his second spell at the clubs, and of Guy Branston. In both cases the player was highly motivated to the point where he would not have considered other offers with the assumption that no other offer would be significantly better. If Everton had asked McCall to rejoin following his exit from Rangers, or had someone in League One wanted Branston, then they may not have made the choices they did but in both cases the player had decided that they wanted to join the club and entertained no other offers.

Both deals were done early in the close season because the player was not interested in generating competition. Likewise the club wanted both players as marquee signings and so they had no other transfer priorities.

Both club and player made rational decisions because there was no competition in which to create a model of game theory. This is why I continue to raise the point that City made a poor deal when selling Nahki Wells. They allowed the buyer to “own” the rational decision rather than forcing them to be irrational.

The game’s afoot

When a second club becomes interested in a player or a club is interested in more than a single player there is a context for game theory – and Caplan’s thoughts on irrationality – to apply.

Let us consider two other signings from around the era of Branston’s arrival: Andrew Davies, and first Richie Jones.

Richie Jones was signed by Peter Jackson after he missed out on signing Gary Jones who stayed with Rochdale for another season. Richie Jones was not a player Jackson knew nor had seen but he signed him because he had failed to sign a player he wanted who was similar. In this way the club was the irrational operator. The manager decided to sign a (good) player he had not heard of because he had failed to sign a (also good) player he had and having failed in that there was an apparent need to succeed in another signing.

The irrationality is in Peter Jackson signing a player sight unseen to play in his midfield because he had not secured another target. The objective of the game was not to sign any player, it was to sign a specific player, and Jackson got that wrong but it is not an uncommon mistake to make.

City made a bad decision cause by Jackson’s out of date knowledge of the transfer market. Players were not scarce, they were just scarce to Jackson and as a result City made a bad deal. Richie Jones was a good player but he was no Gary Jones at that point in his career.

On Andrew Davies the player was persona non-grata at Stoke City but allowed the summer to pass waiting for someone to make an offer to sign him. No one did and he ended up at City on a fitness boosting free loan. In the cold light of day Davies’s decision is baffling. He joined a club which had lost to Accrington Stanley and Dagenham and Redbridge in the first month of the season and that was so far down the league he may as well have retired.

That the deal worked out speaks much for his abilities and character but the deal itself is one of the most strange in football. Seldom to Premier League players drop to League Two. Davies was acting irrationally.

Having attempted – one assumes – to find a better club over the summer and with the transfer window closed Davies had no rational options left. He signed for City on 23rd September 2011 which is a good four months after fixtures had been announced and is one of the better signings in the club’s history.

Davies was out of rational choices. As game theory is applied he had lost and as a result City were able to approach him with an irrational proposition – sign for a League Two club – and Davies had to comply.

What is to worry about

The aim of a player in dealing around a transfer is to create the game conditions in which irrationality favours them. This is the power of game theory in transfer deals. The clubs can believe they are in competition for a player even when there is no other offers. You and I engage in this kind of behaviour every time we offer more than asking price on a house that has no other bidders on it.

For clubs to get good value they need to lessen the irrationality involved in a transfer.

If one imagines a footballer – a goalkeeper – who today is considering deals from Bradford City, Wolves, Wigan and Crewe then one can imagine a player who would be holding out for Wolves, and probably not interested in Crewe. If City were to make an attempt to make a deal for that player now they would effectively be bidding against Wolves, and Wigan, and Crewe. To make a bid in that context is to enter into irrational action. There are a great number of variables most of which are unknown.

In two weeks time though Wolves may have signed another goalkeeper and Wigan might have taken one on loan after making it clear they have spent all their budget on a forward. The number of variables is reduced and City end up bidding against Crewe in a game which favours them, and so can make a better deal.

Of course one can point out that in this situation had City made their offer two weeks ago – and matched Wolves and Wigan – they would have signed the player but they would have done it on the terms that were comparable to Wolves and Wigan, and have less money to make other deals, and so a worse team.

And this is common in almost all transfer deals. The best deals are done for a club when that club is in a stronger position.

In short, and to recap

There are a few cases where the club wants the (free agent) player and the player wants the club in which the best deal can be done early but in almost every other transfer a club to make a deal early in close season will be forced to do a worse deal than they would have had they waited.

There are exceptions of course. There is only one David Beckham and if you have to bid against other clubs to get him you are forced into a bad deal but League One is not like that and players of League One quality are not so scarce as to mean that there is not enough to go around.

Signing players early does not mean – in most cases – that a team will be stronger because it had first pick it means it will be weaker because it had fewer picks.

Parkinson’s hardest job as Gary Jones leaves City

The biggest job Phil Parkinson has had since he got to Bradford City is to replace Gary Jones who will leave the club during the summer.

What is more Parkinson’s ability to replace Jones will be the decisive factor in if he is Bradford City manager this time next year.

Parkinson’s tribute to Jones vocalised exactly what City will miss about the captain. “Enormous contribution”, “right mentality”, “character”, “superb role model”, “heart and soul”, “I cannot speak highly enough of him both as a person and as a football player.”

Jones’ ability should not be understated – a League One club (like Rochdale) might judge from his performances last season that he was still worth a place in the team – but Parkinson will miss his leadership. Not since Captain McCall left had City been left with such a significant hole in the dressing room.

A good captain improves the players around him, he pulls them through games, and he inspires them to find something which without him they would not have. Stuart McCall was the example for his and anyone who watched him dragging a City team to the Premier League would have recognised those qualities in Jones at Villa Park, at Burton Albion, at Wembley.

Jones ensured performances from the players around him. After years of watching a team with the nominal leadership of David Wetherall, the withering leadership of Tommy Doherty, the slight times of Simon Ramsden, the shouting ineptitude of Guy Branston City had a player who led on the field and led well. Every great team has an avatar of the manager on the field and Jones did that for Parkinson.

Which leaves the manager with a problem. No matter who gets the armband next season Parkinson needs someone who shows Jones’ leadership. Someone inline with the manager, who can be the manager’s voice on the field, and can give Nathan Doyle a kick up the arse when needed.

Without that leadership any team stop being greater than the sum of their parts and then when parts start to misfire they become less still. We saw this as Stuart McCall’s side faded away for the want of the on the field character that, as a player, he shared with Jones.

That team was – and one could argue this at length – man for man “better” players than Parkinson’s side last season but they were a worse team and much of the construction of that team was in “right mentality”, “character”, “heart and soul” which Gary Jones brought.

And without that City – mid-table last season – cannot expect a better return next year and one doubts that a same again display from Parkinson will be considered acceptable for a boardroom which twitches more than not.

As Gary Jones exits Phil Parkinson has a lot of work to do.


Aside, from Michael Wood, on Gary Jones There was no way to fit this into the article above but as a story I think it says much about Jones. Before Wembley City were approached by The Sun to ask for single game on shirt advertising for the League Cup final. City would have worn The Sun logo on the shirt but at sometime before a decision was made the idea was presented to the two Liverpool born players: Gary Jones and Stephen Darby.

And it was Jones who replied that he did not want the club to take The Sun’s money.

Branston loaned out to Rotherham

Guy Branston has been loaned out to Rotherham United for three months.

Branston – who was recruited as City’s skipper in the summer – put in his best performance for the club last week in the 1-0 win over Torquay United and it was thought that he would claim a place in the side with Andrew Davies’ suspension but it seems that the return to fitness of Steve Williams and the signing of Marcel Seip have seen a shuffling of the pecking order.

As Peter Jackson’s headline signing Branston has suffered from the change of manager at Valley Parade more than most although the rise of Luke Oliver was unexpected and has afforded City options at the back.

Phil Parkinson confirmed Branston’s loan move.

The building of our squad is still an ongoing process and I felt that the offer we received from Rotherham was a very good one financially for the football club. This is an opportunity for him to go and get the guarantee of first team football that we can’t offer him at the moment.

Branston is expected to feature in the Miller’s squad for the game with Bristol Rovers tonight while City are expected to give either Williams or Seip a place against Hereford United. Branston will not play in the FA Cup for Rotherham, nor will he play against City which – considering Jamie Devitt’s abilities to turn a man and tempt a foul – might not be a good thing for the Bantams.

On his loan – a return to Rotherham after a five year spell there earlier in his career – Branston could not have been more pleased.

When he told me who the club was I thought it was an opportunity to come and play football which is what I`m all about. I don`t believe in keeping benches warm so I took the opportunity and I`ve got a big grin on my face.

Branston added “I’m a different person. I’m calmer and more relaxed.” The mind boggles as to what he must have been like before.

When you have to change a winning team

There is an adage in football that a manager should not change a winning team and as the Bantams celebrated the uplifting result over Torquay United last weekend one can imagine Phil Parkinson would liked to have kept what the Bantams brought off the pitch on against the South Coast club and put it straight into the game with Hereford United.

However, having passed up the idea of appealing Andrew Davies’ red card Parkinson is in the rare position of being able to change a winning team by adding another player to it.

And that player seems certain to be Guy Branston who came off the bench to great effect against his former club last week and looks set to replace Davies. The next three games offer Branston a gilt edge chance to do all his talking – and he does like to have his voice heard – on the field. If in three games time Branston and City have thoroughly put the habit of conceding one or two soft goals a game behind them then the captain will have convinced all.

However with Steve Williams playing the full game at Gateshead as the reserves won 2-1 the more mobile defender might give the manager a choice to make between Williams and one of Branston and Luke Oliver.

With Phil Parkinson new to the job it is difficult to guess what the manager will favour: two big men, one big and one nimble, and so on, and Saturday will start to tell us how the Gaffer likes his teams to play.

Matt Duke celebrated his first clean sheet of the season in goal and Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will continue at full backs. Luke O’Brien and Marcel Seip would both like a place on the bench but the new squads of sixteen rule looks like forcing Parkinson into a selection. Parkinson told BfB he is no fan of the drop from seven subs to five and preferred the more full bench. Personally I see no reason why a team should not be able to call on any registered player giving a limitless bench of which three substitutions could be made.

Also lighting up Gateshead on his first appearance and hoping to trouble the bench is Scott Brown although the sixteen year old looks like he may have to wait and watch Richie Jones and Michael Flynn who are growing into a superb partnership. It is hard to know who to praise more. Flynn for his comeback and the way he has worked well with Jones or Jones for his expansive play and work rate. Both are the sort of player you want in the heart of your midfield.

Kyel Reid will carry on on the left hand side. Norman Hunter – when City assistant manager – was once asked who the best player he had seen was and unexpectedly he answered “Leigh Palin.” The lightweight City midfielder – who struggled to nail down a place next to Stuart McCall in the mid-to-late-1980s – came with a caveat though as Hunter continued “for twenty minutes, and then nothing.”

Reid seems to have the same capacity to have a spell in the game where one is convinced that he is hardly worth a pair of boots and then another spell when one joins the flat footed defenders in being mesmerised by his play. If he could turn it on every week one doubts he would be in League Two, but as long has he keeps his defensive duties done then his on/off play does no harm and much good.

Adam Reed – who returned from Sunderland after going back North to get over injury in his first game at Burton – might trouble the right wing although Mark Stewart’s play when dropped back merited a standing ovation last week and could see him keep the spot. Jack Compton started in the position last week and will hope to feature again, Jamie Devitt is hoping to find a place in the side and could also feature.

Whoever does not feature at right wing may get a call alongside Craig Fagan up front. James Hanson may recover from injury and as with the central defensive pairing we will learn much about Parkinson’s approach to attacking options from who he picks. Playing with another big man would suit Hanson’s game and he could do well – as we saw against Barnet – in feeding as well as flicking the ball on. The likes of Devitt, Stewart, Nakhi Wells and Nialle Rodney all chomp at the bit for a place up front.

Which is good. City have a big squad – but a small playing budget, this season’s big squad costs less than Peter Taylor’s small one and one would struggle to say it is worse – and plenty of competition for places which Parkinson is a great advocate of. “It takes care of training” says the City boss.

Hereford United – second bottom of League Two – will be fighting the same fight as City won last week. The season starts to become established and teams do not want to be near the bottom when it starts to be set in cement. Last week’s win from City was great but to meet Phil Parkinson’s plan of being in the top half of the table by Christmas there is a need to pick up points at the least on the road.

The pressure on Parkinson – after last week’s result – will to be return with three and again we will learn something about how he approaches the game in how he sets out to get a win or keeps safe in looking for a draw.

Luke Oliver stands to his full height

It is cliché to say that six foot seven Luke Oliver stands head and shoulders over his team mates but on Saturday as City claimed a hard fought one goal win over Torquay United the defender put in the kind of performance that many of his more celebrated peers who have played the position over the past few season would have called a good afternoon’s work.

Signed by Peter Taylor and often seen (in a negative way) as that manager’s favourite Oliver has hardly spent his time at Valley Parade as the most popular player on the field but his honest work ethic and robust displays seems to have started winning over supporters as well as management. Since his arrival at the club Phil Parkinson has picked Oliver for every match.

Which is a turn around from the first friendly of the season when the rag, tag and bob tail under Peter Jackson were posted to Silsden FC with Oliver, Michael Flynn and Robbie Threlfall seemingly being sent a message to them that their time at the club was coming to an end.

Talk about “writing players off” Oliver – it seemed – was with Flynn and Threlfall part of Jackson’s cull of players. Four months later Oliver, Flynn and Threlfall have all played their way back into the first team but one might argue that of the three Oliver’s turn around is the most remarkable.

Peter Jackson signed and named as captain Guy Branston pairing him with Steve Williams in pre-season and Lee Bullock in the opening match against Aldershot. Draw up a list of players in the manager’s thought and Oliver would have been fourth or fifth. That same list now would have him around the top.

All of which is massive credit to the man who took some fierce criticism when playing up front for Taylor’s side and a good deal when he was back in defence. Such criticism I always found curious and could never agree with. Oliver’s displays were practical if not revelatory and his attitude excellent. A year ago today Oliver was leading the line for City in a 2-0 win over Barnet with little impact but great effort.

I could not say what other publications were saying about the player but looking forward to this season at BfB we talk about a player who had not let anyone down and could do a job when needed.

For the forgotten man Luke Oliver it is hard to imagine how he can break into the side with Branston in his way but – eighteen red cards remember – a good season for Luke Oliver is to be the able replacement to be drafted in when needed. Whenever called on Oliver has played with enthusiasm and professionalism. Not the best player in the world a good season for Luke Oliver is to not let anyone down when he is called on and – despite the moaning of the malcontent – he never has so far.

Which perhaps is the key to Oliver’s revival in fortunes. By offering a calm reliability he has created a platform to move onto a higher level of performance. None of which is to suggest that the player has room for complacency just that he has reason to be proud of his achievement in winning over the new manager.

And winning over fans. Last season one might have found long odds on the Bradford End signing “One Luke Oliver” but so they did on Saturday in appreciation of another clearance.

Watching him commanding at the back against Torquay on Saturday one has to admire Oliver for how he has stepped out of the shadows cast by higher profile players and claimed a first team slot. In doing so he provides a message for all City players who are looking to edge into Phil Parkinson’s side about the application needed to claim, and retain, a place in the starting line-up.

So far Luke Oliver is the success story of the season but – typically – that story has been told in quiet tones. No bluster or bravado just honest, hard working displays which have been noted and rewarded.

City will not be launching an appeal about Andrew Davies’ red card against Torquay and with the loaned suspended the question now is who will be partnered with Luke Oliver, and not if Oliver is going to be called on, and that is a great credit to the player who after a season too big to not be a target has now stood to his full height.

The enemies of football as Parkinson’s City claim a first win

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Andrew Davies, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Jack Compton, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Mark Stewart, Craig Fagan | Guy Branston, Luke O'Brien, Nialle Rodney

The last time he left Valley Parade happy Phil Parkinson was called “the enemy of football” by then City manager Colin Todd after his Colchester United team battled to a point. As Parkinson celebrated his first win as Bantams boss it seemed that no matter what how much of an enemy if the game Todd might think he may be, he is effective against the opposition.

Torquay United came to Valley Parade and were almost entirely neutered in their attempts to win the game thanks to a defensive effort from Parkinson’s side the match of anything seen at City for seasons and despite the Bantams having a man sent off.

Lining up with two rows of four, and Mark Stewart behind Craig Fagan Parkinson’s side were the picture of tight defending and – when they had to be – smart enough to kill off the game when legs got weary with the Bantams having to play over an hour with ten men following the sending off of Andrew Davies in the first half.

Now, dear reader, our views may divert (at least until television reveals more) but from my bit of plastic in the near 12,000 filled seats at Valley Parade Davies went in aggressively on Danny Stevens taking both feet off the floor and even in getting the ball the red card that Carl Boyeson showed was (as little as I like to see City players sent off) the right decision.

(Sunday note: Watching again the only way the Ref could justify a red card is if he believed that because the tackle was two footed that it was automatically either reckless, dangerous and endangered an opponent thus a yellow card even if it got the ball and, by virtue if the goal scoring opportunity denied, a red card. If that is the case Davies would get a one match ban. It was certainly not a violent or aggressive tackle which would merit a three match ban. Having seen it again, and in the context of other tackles in the game, I would not have even blown the whistle for a foul.)

My views were not shared by most and Valley Parade went into uproar and most (including t’other half of BfB Jason Mckeown) thought that Davies had taken ball hard but fair, that Stevens had made a meal of the tackles – he was booed for the rest of the afternoon – and that Boyeson was wrong.

If Boyeson did get the decision right then it was pretty much all he got right all afternoon in which time and time again he showed a near contempt for the rules that he was on the field to enforce. For sure we can all forgive mistakes – one or Jason and myself will be wrong about the red card tackle – but what can not be forgive is seeing offences and ignoring them.

So when Kyel Reid – on a foray into the Torquay United half when City were attacking on the counter – turned Eunan O’Kane on the edge of the box despite the midfielder tugging on his shirt only to be hacked at and pulled down in the box and Boyeson gave only a yellow card one had to wonder which part of the rules he was enforcing. The part that says that denying a goal scoring opportunity mandates a red card was ignored, and thirty years of football tells me that that was one.

Of the goalscoring opportunities City created the lion’s share with Matt Duke having to save once low down to his right but spending most of the rest of the afternoon watching the heroics of defenders Luke Oliver and substitute Guy Branston who blocked and blocked again whenever the ball penetrated the wall which the midfield pair Richie Jones and Michael Flynn had put up which was refreshingly not often.

In a game when plaudits were available for all special mention goes to Michael Flynn who put in a box to box midfield display which makes one wonder why at the start of the season he was seemingly on his way out of the club. His combination with Jones – who is a fine player for sure and one with a great engine – made for a powerful midfield display nullifying the previously excellent O’Kane.

Oliver and Branston – and Davies before his departure – were immense. Again Oliver was on his way out at the start of the season but his performance today looked like the best defender to have taken to the field for City since the slide into League Two. Graeme Lee, David Wetherall, Matt Clarke et al would have all loved to have put in a display like this.

Branston loved it too. Not wanting to dismiss the travelling supporters who applauded him last year he was gracious in victory but his display was the sort of showing which seemed promised when he signed.

Some of Branston’s tackles walked the line for sure, but so did much of City’s play and one was reminding of Todd’s talk of enemies when City got tough. City under Stuart McCall (in his first two seasons) and once or twice under Peter Jackson could be a joy to watch but they could also be a joy to play again for the opposition. A side that wanted to pass and impress an opposition side, Parkinson’s City were more aggressive.

Torquay United will return to the South Coast knowing they have been in a game. Michael Flynn was booked for a hard tackle, Richie Jones lucky not to follow Flynn into the book. Branston cleaned out everything, Oliver put muscle in and Craig Fagan leading the line gave his defender Hell. City, for want of a better phrase, manned up.

Sturdy at the back, giving nothing away, and ending up with a clean sheet all City needed to do was score – not something has been a problem this season – and so the goal came in the last ten minutes of the first half when a cross in from Robbie Threlfall was headed on by Luke Oliver, taken under control by Craig Fagan and struck in with power.

Fagan’s fitness is returning and he is looking like a very good player. He nearly got a second in the second half when he latched onto a the ball when racing against goalkeeper Robert Olejnik and lobbing the ball over the custodian only to see it hit bar and post and bounce away. Threlfall’s had a direct free kick pushed wide by a diving Olejnik later. Another goal would not have flattered City.

Not getting a goal though City played out the last ten minutes at game killing pace and the frustration started to show. Kyel Reid toyed with a few Torquay players and got a couple of kicks for his trouble one of which could not have been said to have been near the ball. Boyeson seemed to be happy to let that – as he did the many deliberate handballs he blew for against Torquay striker Rene Howe go without further censure.

Not one player will have left the field without the warm handshake from Phil Parkinson. Liam Moore battled hard at full back well supported by Stewart who dropped back to the right following the sending off. Kyel Reid turned a performance which seemed to be going nowhere into a great display. Luke O’Brien and Nialle Rodney put in great shifts from the bench. Parkinson has drummed in the need for hard work, and he got it today.

It was a new Bradford City modelled by Parkinson. More canny, a bit more nasty, and victorious. The sort of thing which Colin Todd called the enemies of football but without the ability to trust officials to carry out their jobs as detailed (and I reiterate that the red card, to me, seemed sound but one correct decision does not a performance make) City had to look after themselves today, and did.

Twelve games in and City have moved up the table to fourth bottom but it seems very much like this season has finally got going.

Seip signs for City

29 year old Dutch defender Marcus Seip has joined Bradford City on a three month contract following a successful trial. The Dutchman is touted as a right back who can play central defence but it is believed that City are looking at the player for his central defensive position and not his play at full back.

Seip joins on a free transfer having left Plymouth in the summer with Phil Parkinson excited to have the new recruit available for tomorrow’s game with Torquay United.

Marcel is another quality player. The more quality players you can get in the building the better. Phil Parkinson

Torquay’s arrival at Valley Parade reminds one of Guy Branston – signed from the South Coast club following a superb display last season – and poises questions about his future. With Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver the regular pair until Steve Williams gets back to fitness – and Davies to return to Stoke at some point – it seems that Branston is increasingly being moved away from the first team.

Meanwhile Luke Dean has joined Harrogate Town on a month’s loan deal.

The smile, and how to retain it

The wife woke up at 5.45am as usual on Wednesday morning, discovering that she had still not refound her voice that had been lost in the wake of Bradford City’s thrilling penalty shootout win over Huddersfield Town. She was tired. Too tired really. The journey back from the Galpharm seemed to involve a couple of wrong turns and so we got home later than hoped. No voice and feeling utterly knackered – not a good combination for a Primary School teacher.

Still on the plus side, one of her teaching colleagues was a Huddersfield Town supporter. Be sure to ‘bump’ into her today…

And that’s what derby victories are all about – the bragging rights. The opportunity to get one over our friends, family and work colleagues and to continue taunting them for months to come – no matter what they try to argue back. In the wake of Tuesday’s victory for the Bantams, there were some attempts from those of a blue and white persuasion to talk its significance down. “It was only a Huddersfield reserve side” argued some Town fans, in view of eight changes made. Given Phil Parkinson made six for City, so too was ours by this logic.

“The league’s the most important thing” whined Huddersfield’s BBC Radio Leeds pundit Kieran O’Regan, as though it isn’t for City. Presenter Gareth Jones beautifully caught O’Regan out by then asking the former Terriers player when he thought Town and City would next face each other in the league. (Para-phrasing here) “Well we’re going for promotion this season, I can’t see Bradford going up. So not for a while.” “So you’re saying it will probably be a few years until they play each other? Well until then, Bradford fans now have the bragging rights don’t they?” Long pause.

What a night. The penalty shootout was utterly nerve wracking, but after Nialle Rodney struck the winning spot kick – euphoria. When Michael Flynn missed City’s first attempt, it was easy to fear the worst. As the twists and turns unfolded with the packed away end cheering or groaning, my wife was completely frozen in fear. She couldn’t move, so gripped with worry she was. The celebrations in the end were wild, while the Town fans looked as devastated as we would have. At 1-0 a group of home fans on the left side had attempted to charge at us City supporters in anger, only to be stopped by stewards. Trouble occurred outside as we headed home.

That is the ugly side of football that no one should enjoy, but it showed how much the game mattered for both sets of supporters in attendance. Yes it was only the JPT, but as Stuart McCall once said a game of tiddlywinks between the two sides would matter. Yes it was via the lottery of penalties, but two League One sides have now been dumped out of the cup by the Bantams which is impressive. Yes there were no league wins in-between those two victories, but perhaps the corner is finally turning.

The victory over Town followed a better weekend that followed a bad one and bad one before that. Now the challenge is to maintain the upwards curve of improvement and finally start to make an impression in the league. There has still only been one League Two victory to date, and past form would suggest City will follow up a heroic cup victory with a cowardly league performance. That can’t be allowed to happen, not least with a bumper crowd expected and in need of being entertained.

Torquay will be no pushovers – beaten in the play off final last season, and with memories of a 3-0 stroll at Valley Parade last April still fresh in the mind. But at the same time they are no world beaters – even by League Two standards, as they are only 13th so far. There’s no guarantees in football and City are in no position to underestimate anyone, but another slip up will be difficult to accept and the team badly need to keep the fans’ post-Huddersfield mood in tact come 5pm.

The six changes Parkinson made on Tuesday worked well and will give him plenty to ponder for tomorrow, although the five players who kept their place after Burton Albion were the five who truly excelled. Matt Duke, Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall and especially Flynn were outstanding at the Galpharm (even if Threlfall could have used the ball better at times). Indeed it was noticeable that Parkinson choose to keep the backline in tact and was rewarded by further improvement even if two goals were again conceded – at least two have been let in for six consecutive games now.

Duke might have made a meal of a couple of Huddersfield shots, but produced a string of terrific saves that will have done his confidence the power of good. Moore played with a level of commitment not usually associated with loan players, while so powerful was Oliver’s header for 2-1 that it brought back fond memories of David Wetherall. Threlfall will also keep his place tomorrow, though Andrew Davies will be recalled over Guy Branston. It was a mixed night for the club captain, who was superb in many aspects but struggled with his distribution.

In midfield Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid should return, but Adam Reed is out and whether Jamie Devitt – on his way back from injury – comes straight back in too depends on Parkinson’s view on Luke O’Brien. I thought he was excellent on Tuesday taking people on, and he did a good job helping Moore when switched to the right midway through the first half. Chris Mitchell had another good game and set up the opening goal. He will probably be left on the bench and is unlucky to do so. Jack Compton should be back on the sidelines too, which seems right compared to what Reid and O’Brien offer. Flynn is the only certain midfield starter.

Up front, James Hanson’s absence on Tuesday offered fans calling for his permanent removal from the starting eleven a chance to press their claims. Rodney and Mark Stewart did well at times, but in my view Hanson’s presence was missed and when City struggled to clear their lines and keep the ball I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hankering for a target man of Hanson’s ilk. It was heartbreaking to see Ross Hannah’s big chance be ended by an awful challenge just seven minutes in, and with the former Matlock striker set to miss this game Stewart will probably take his place on the bench and Craig Fagan and Hanson – if fit- recalled.

Whoever is left out of the 11 from Tuesday can feel unfortunate, and for those who come in or who retain their place this week has seen the competition for places intensify. Parkinson needs to have a squad who can’t be sure of their places and who must deliver the goods at all times, and he needs to have people queuing up outside his office door pressing their claims for a starting spot.

Every reason then, to believe this squad should be sufficiently motivated to win tomorrow.

Every reason then, for the bragging to be able to continue.

Thrills and spills

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Jack Compton, Michael Flynn, Chris Mitchell, Luke O'Brien | Ross Hannah, Mark Stewart | Nialle Rodney, Andrew Davies, Kyel Reid

Following Bradford City is much like being a roller coaster enthusiast; we’ve found that what goes up must come (even further) down, we’ve been in some long queues for excitement and when the ride stops we’ve definitely felt a lot of whiplash. But we keep joining the back and queuing for more.

Last night was no different, we took our seats in The Galpharm carriage and long serving passengers will have carried little expectation against our local rivals currently unbeaten in 36 league games – although some may express their opinion, with a smile on their face, that they feel the play off final is an extension of the league.

Due to my own commitments playing for my local team on a Saturday, the game was a rare opportunity to see this season’s side in action and my first since the heartbreak at Elland Road. So I strapped myself in and winced at what may lay on the track ahead.

As many roller coasters do this one started slow – Bradford had made 6 changes as captain Guy Branston returned along with Luke O’Brien, Chris Mitchell, Mark Stewart and Ross Hannah. The players looked as if they may be a little rusty as Huddersfield controlled the opening exchanges. The early bumps in the track were provided by Bradford born Danny Ward who was being given far too much time on the left hand side and threatened with a couple of early attempts. To his credit Phil Parkinson was quick to address the issue and made O’Brien switch wings to deal with Ward’s threat, but unfortunately Huddersfield are not short of attacking options in their side and continued to press.

The game heated up following a dreadful challenge from Peter Clarke that ended Hannah’s contribution after only nine minutes and he was replaced by an impressive and energetic Nialle Rodney. Peter Clarke may count himself a little lucky to have got away with only a yellow but red cards early into a local derby are usually a rare occurrence.

Matt Duke had to be on his toes to parry away a couple decent efforts from Town’s forwards and although the keeper failed to hold onto to the attempts each time he pushed them well away from danger. Soon the pace started to pick up City attacked for the first time with real promise as Stewart directed Michael Flynn’s dangerous cross towards goal forcing a decent save from Nick Colgan in the Huddersfield goal and then Danny Ward once again wasted a decent opportunity when he found time and space in Bradford’s box but could only fire safely over.

Despite Town enjoying the best of the possession City had shown some promise on the break and Stewart appeared desperate to make his mark and take his opportunity to impress Parkinson as he saw a further effort deflected just over the Town crossbar.

Then the City fans felt their stomachs drop just before half time. A poor clearance by Branston kept City under pressure. Lee Novak jumped to meet the return cross and his header found the Bradford net, the ride appeared to have turned into Oblivion for City fans but the vertical drop soon flattened out with the linesman’s flag and we passengers could breathe again.

As the referee blew for half time the Bradford players’ couldn’t be blamed if they were happy to hear the half time whistle. The side had worked hard as you would expect in such a fixture but Huddersfield’s better quality had shown on the ball and created a number of decent opportunities. City fans queued for their pies and drinks and waited with both anticipation and trepidation for the ride to begin again.

The second half started as the first had ended, Bradford huffed and puffed but Huddersfield continued to control the pace of the game and Duke was again called upon to push another attempt wide as Huddersfield failed to convert a further opportunity. It appeared Bradford may be missing a Ritchie Jones character to look after the ball better or the energy of David Syers that had driven them on so well until his unfortunate injury in the Leeds game. Their alternative Flynn was playing like a man with a point to prove having been released by Town three seasons ago but the midfield alongside him were very quiet and O’Brien was helping Moore contain the impressive Ward.

One thing you can never criticise Flynn for is hiding away and every time Bradford retrieved possession Flynn was asking for the ball and looking to make things happen. He appeared to me the Michael Flynn who first joined Bradford from our opponents and nothing like the Michael Flynn I have heard about on the message boards who is ‘past it’ and ‘no longer has the legs’.

Bradford’s large following were certainly, singing, chanting and screaming like they wanted to go faster and spurred on by the superb support Bradford duly obliged. Bradford pressed forward and O’Brien won a free kick on the edge of the box. Bradford’s set piece specialist, Mitchell whipped in a dangerous delivery but it was not met by anyone wearing claret and amber. Instead Anthony Kay was on the end of it but the quality of the delivery meant he could only divert it into his own goal instead.

Bradford were about to experience a loop the loop and the euphoria did not last long as Huddersfield pressed forward angered by the fact their lower league neighbours had dare try embarrass them. From an unthreatening Town corner the referee pointed his arm in the direction of the penalty spot. It was difficult to see what had occurred at the far end of the pitch but supposedly Branston had needlessly impeded Clarke in the box and Tommy Miller – who was very close to wearing City colours this season – sent Duke the wrong way from the resulting spot kick and Town drew level.

The Bradford fans had no time to digest the sickening feeling before it all changed once more. Again it was from a set piece but this time a Robbie Threlfall corner that Bradford took the lead. The revitalised Luke Oliver, often one of the main targets of abuse under the Taylor regime became a City hero. His 6’7 frame unsurprisingly managed to get higher than all those around him and he powered his header into the Town net.

Unfortunately once again Bradford’s defensive frailties cost them as the previously one sided cup tie had become an action packed, end to end thriller. Andrew Davies has been brought on for Mitchell in the centre of midfield to try and steady the ship but he and all his team mates appeared frozen as they watched Clarke volley home another equaliser for Huddersfield. There was a horrible feeling of déjà vu amongst the City fans – dumped out of the league cup by not so dear rivals Leeds after being twice in front there was a very real possibility of the same occurring once more. It appeared a similar thought was being felt by the players as all composure left them.

Instead of winning the ball and looking for another claret and amber shirt when they retrieved possession their only thought was to lump it as far away from their goal as possible. Flynn who had been making Bradford tick in the second half was being bypassed as we went route one. Parkinson tried to add some fresh legs to change things by bringing on Kyel Reid but he wasn’t able to get involved as Bradford players were clearly happy to try their luck with penalties.

Both Davies and Moore produced brave blocks from thunderous Town strikes as Town moved in for the kill. Despite this the best chance to win the game still fell to Bradford – a rare moment of possession saw them charge in the opposition final third and Stewart delivered a dangerous cross into the Town box. Davies arrived to what should have been a free header in the penalty area but although no Town defender was near him Rodney got in his way and his header was put to safety by Jack Hunt. Perhaps Davies had not called, perhaps both players had wanted to be the hero but had Davies attacked the ball on his own he would have surely scored.

A tense final few minutes, including four minutes of injury time the referee had found somewhere, produced no goal and Bradford once again had a penalty shoot out in the JPT.

Huddersfield won the toss and opted to take penalties in front of an empty stand rather than face the vocal Bradford following and they converted their first successfully. Not content that they had put the fans through enough thrills and spills, Flynn, scorer of 3 out of 3 penalties this season, fired Bradford’s first over the bar.

Bradford were in need of a hero and Duke responded saving successive Town penalties while Stewart, Reid, Threlfall and Rodney all successfully converted their spot kicks.

Pandemonium began in the Bradford end as finally we had the bragging rights over our rivals. Huddersfield may be a team on the rise and may well finally achieve promotion from League One this season, but for tonight Bradford were the Kings of West Yorkshire. On the rollercoaster journey that is Bradford City these moments of jubilation have become very rare but it certainly gives you a taste for more and last night’s ride is certainly one I’d queue a long time to experience again.

City stuck in neutral looking for decisive performances

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Jamie Devitt | Ross Hannah, Craig Fagan

Framing City at the moment seems to be the question “What to do about players playing badly?”

Guy Branston was playing badly – or so it was argued by some – and Phil Parkinson seemed to agree dropping his captain for new signing Andrew Davies who put in an impressive début despite the scoreline not differing over much from that of recent weeks. Parkinson made a big decision dropping Peter Jackson’s captain and a brave one but when AFC Wimbledon’s Christian Jolley hit a ball from outside that box that looped over Matt Duke in the City goal then the City manager must have wondered how that decision seemed to result in so much of the same.

Jolley’s goal gave the Dons an unexpected win a game where they were distinctly second best in all but the most important part of football – turning possession into attacking chances – where they were very much better. Set up in a 532 Terry Brown’s side sat deep but came forward with an imagination which seemed lacking from a stolid Bantams side. The Dons did not attack in numbers, but they were direct and most importantly available for each other.

Which was not the case with the Bantams. After Midson’s equaliser mid-way through the first half – a result of the Dons’ striker speedily moving into the gap that Luke Oliver left after an impressive headed clearance and and Christian Jolley being able to play an over the shoulder flick under little pressure from Liam Moore – it was noticeable how the two sides attacking play differed. Wimbledon’s attacks were more random, less considered and as a result more direct.

City’s work in the middle of the pitch was very good. Richie Jones put in a performance which deserved to be a part of a win and with Michael Flynn alongside him the pair were in control of the middle of the pitch but when coming forward they lacked options as a result of their play. Jamie Devitt dropped off the forward line to take the ball but in doing so seemed to duplicate the midfield play rather than adding to the attacking options. Devitt’s dropping off allowed him space but with the back five of the Dons it meant that when he received the ball he was looking forward at too few options.

Chris Mitchell put in a good shift on the right but Kyel Reid will probably not suffer a worse afternoon in his entire career. Pushed wide by a full back and with cover for that full back in the occasions in which he beat his man Reid was far too often on the wrong side of the defender when Jones or Flynn was looking for an outlet. At half time Reid had put in a wretched first half and what does one do with a player who has put in a wretched first half? Reid can and has played better, keep faith with him and he might. In retrospect Parkinson should have taken Reid off, but many player has been given a half time rocket and turned in a performance in the second half.

That was not the case and so with Reid not as an option, with Mitchell quiet (but never a player to get around the back of a five) then City fed everything through Devitt and were rewarded with the first half penalty for a foul on the striker – dispatched by Flynn – but suffered from a predictability.

Devitt is a curious player. Excellent control, able on the ball, and looking dangerous when he touches it he puts one in mind of Chris Waddle or Benito Carbone because for all those abilities and skills – for all the good things he does – he seems to add a weight on the side that causes a sort of wind resistance. Like Waddle Devitt sets a pace and patten of play but – like Waddle – the City team he is in look limited when they play the ball through him.

Everything is predictable when it all comes through Devitt who slows the play down and while he looks good doing it he seemed to slow the attacking pace down. He and James Hanson attempted combination flicks, attempted, link ups, but in the end City’s best chances were a good delivery from the flank that Hanson headed and Seb Brown saved superbly holding well and Hanson’s hitting the post when charging down a Brown clearance.

The challenge for Parkinson is how to make the decisions on the distinction between the players who need to be replaced, the players who need to be backed to play better, and the players who need to play better in the team. Time for the manager to earn his money and make those decisions.

If he can do that – with Jones and Flynn purring away looking for passes, outlets and ways to attack – City could go far. As it is without a way of going forward on the field City under Phil Parkinson are stuck in neutral.

Davies join City on loan

26 year old Stoke City defender Andrew Davies has joined Bradford City on loan for three months as the club look to address the defensive problems which have seen goals shipped.

Davies, one time of Middlesborough and Southampton, is six foot three and has experience at England u21 level. His first team chance have been limited at Stoke but as a senior professional his dropping down some four divisions to join City represents something of a coup for the club.

His arrival is expected to bring about a resuffle in the Bantam’s backline with one of skipper Guy Branston or Luke Oliver stepping down for the AFC Wimbledon game and the other perhaps following when Steve Williams regains match fitness having returned to training yesterday.

Davies is expected to make his debut tomorrow.

Patience is here and there as Bradford City face AFC Wimbledon

When the history of early 21st century football is written, the emergence of clubs with AFC prefixes will surely loom large. Whether they will be portrayed as grassroots revolutions or romantic daydreams only time will tell. At present their impact on the greater game is limited. They are a curiosity more than a threat to the established structure of the game. However, if AFC Wimbledon progress further up the divisions their ethos and ownership structure has the potential to reverberate throughout the professional game. The watershed moment would surely arrive if AFC Wimbledon overhauled the MK Dons.

However, we would do well not to over romanticise AFC Wimbldeon. Multiple promotions, and even a debt controversy, suggest that they are not FC United-esque mid-life crisis, revolutionaries. AFC Wimbledon are a limited company, albeit one dominated by the shareholding of their Supporters’ Trust.

Interestingly they also have an Independent Supporters’ Association, which suggests, in parallel with revolutions everywhere, Lincoln City for example, that factionalism is a fact of football life. So, is Saturday’s match at Valley Parade an encounter between two former Premier League clubs, or a vivid example of how a well organised grassroots football club can rise through the leagues to meet a former Premier League club which has spent a decade fighting crisis after crisis?

All that will fade into insignificance once the whistle is blown at three o’clock. The Dons arrive at Valley Parade off the back of an impressive 4-1 victory over Cheltenham. However, their form, like many in the division, is erratic. It has included a four goal thumping at Macclesfield. Are we in for another high scoring encounter? Few City fans would put money on their defence keeping a clean sheet, so it is probably a question of outscoring the visitors.

City have injury doubts over Kyel Reid, Michael Flynn, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall. Phil Parkinson has shown a reluctance to change the starting eleven during his short stint at the helm. However, perhaps the injuries and the poor second half performance at Crawley will force his hand?

Fortunately, he has options, although it appears that the most popular change among some supporters, Luke O’Brien for Robbie Threlfall, is the most unlikely to happen with the former Liverpool player seemingly the most likely to recover. Undoubtedly the defence requires work. The return of Steve Williams in a couple of weeks appears to be a formality. For Saturday Parkinson’s options are limited. Whilst he has wingers to spare, the back four is highly likely to remain in situ. We can only hope that the defence, and the captain’s Twitter account, have a quiet weekend.

The Dons game is beginning to take on some significance. Despite the team receiving praise for their free flowing football, and pledges that the fans would be content to have attacking football this season, some are beginning to nervously glance at the table. However, a similar glance at the calendar will reveal that it is still September. We have a new manager and a restructured team. Patience is a dirty word at Valley Parade, but show me the options?

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